Remembering Arturo Di Modica, The Artistic Ethics Train Wreck

Talented and bold artist? Shameless self-promoter? Hypocrite? Unethical jerk? Arturo Di Modica, the Sicilian-born sculptor who died earlier this year was all of these. He was also a one-man ethics train wreck.

In mid-December of 1989, the artist illegally dropped his “Charging Bull,” a 3.5 ton bronze sculpture (that’s a similar model he had mounted in China above), in Lower Manhattan one night in 1989. He claimed it was a gift to his adopted country, the United States, urging courage and defiance after its 1988 financial collapse. Maybe. Or he just wanted to grandstand and get publicity. Either way, you cannot put a giant statue in a public place without permission, permits, owning the property involved, little things like that.

This was a planned crime. Di Modica spent weeks prowling the Wall Street area after midnight, noting when and where police officers walked by. He had about forty accomplices waiting at around 1 a.m. when he loaded his sculpture onto a flatbed truck and drove to Broad Street, next to the Stock Exchange. But it was nearing Christmas, and the Stock Exchange had put up a huge Christmas tree where he had planned to drop “Charging Bull.”

So he put it under the tree.

Continue reading

Lazy Sunday Afternoon Ethics, 8/30/2020: A Letter, A Slapdown, A Poll, Sherlock Holmes, And A Dinosaur Walk Into An Ethics Post…

1. Oh-oh…Ethics Alarms has been and will continue to use “Wuhan virus” rather than various versions of Covid or corona virus as a matter of principle. China inflicted this contagion on the world and greatly abetted its spread by its cover-ups and lies, and pandemics and flus usually are identified by their site of origin. Furthermore, the political correctness edict against using the province where the first outbreak (we know of occurred) was yet another anti-Trump ploy, simultaneously covering for a brutal foreign adversary.

Syracuse University placed chemistry Professor Jon Zubieta on administrative leave and will be investigated by its Office of Equal Opportunity, Inclusion and Resolution because he used the terms “Wuhan Flu” and “Chinese Communist Party Virus” in his syllabus. In a joint statement from Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Karin Ruhlandt and Interim Vice Chancellor and Provost John Liu, explained,

“Syracuse University unequivocally condemns racism and xenophobia and rejects bigotry, hate and intolerance of any kind. The derogatory language used by a professor on his course syllabus is damaging to the learning environment for our students and offensive to Chinese, international and Asian-Americans everywhere who have experienced hate speech, rhetoric and actions since the pandemic began.”

There is no racism here, and the theory, much in vogue, that  irrational people reacting to factual statements by persecuting others justifies suppresng the truth is unethical and perverse.

2.  Res Ipsa Loquitur. This is the letter Portland mayor Ted Wheeler sent to the President of the United States.

Wow. Continue reading

No, The Trump Campaign Is Not “Stealing” Neil Young’s Songs

Despite what you may have read, Neil Young is being a jerk.  This month, the singer sued the Trump campaign over its use of “Rockin’ in the Free World” and  “Devil’s Sidewalk,” both of which were played at a Trump  rally in  June. In his suit, the musician accused the campaign of copyright infringement for playing the tracks without a license, and asked for the campaign to be ordered to stop using them, as well as for statutory damages.

It’s a dishonest suit. The real reason for it is also in the complaint, in which he says Young “cannot allow his music to be used as a ‘theme song’ for a divisive, un-American campaign of ignorance and hate.”

Of course, it is the party Young’s sympathies presumably  lie with that have been inflicting hate and ignorance on the U.S., but never mind.

Young was on sounder legal and ethical ground in 2018, when he wrote that he had  no legal recourse to stop Trump from using his music, writing on his website, “Legally, he has the right to, however it goes against my wishes.”

Well too damn bad, Neil. You sold your right to have your wishes obeyed in such matters. You’re just virtue-signaling, and I hope the Trump Campaign counter-sues.

Campaigns purchase the same right to play songs that radio stations, shopping malls  or concert halls do by paying for blanket licensing deals with licensing companies like ASCAP and BMI. They act as agents of artists to sell the public performance rights for millions of songs on their behalf, including Neil Young, in exchange for a fee. Campaigns purchase special licenses , allowing them to use songs at venues around the country.  The licensing organizations’ consent decrees with the Justice Department preserve a fair marketplace by requiring them to offer their catalogs of songs to any “similarly situated” party that wants to use the music. Continue reading

Monday Morning Warm-Up, 5/4/2020: Six Reasons To Be Cynical [Corrected]

“May The Forthe be with you!”

As Daffy Duck would thay…

1. Following a familiar unethical pattern...Eva Murry’s allegation about Joe Biden making a remark about her breasts at a political even when  she was 14 seems to have been decisively debunked. Biden’s schedule shows he didn’t attend the event, and the chair at the time confirms he wasn’t there.

What would possess someone like Murry to be so vocal and self-righteous about something that didn’t happen? As with the Kavanaugh mess, subsequent fake stories undermine the main one. Even though they have nothing to do with each other, Murry’s fiction, if Biden really didn’t attend the event, increases cynicism about Tara Reade’s account.

2. What a surprise…Harvard’s dedication to feminism stops at the bank vault. Harvard, while it was violating the constitutional rights of male students by punishing them if they belonged to men-only clubs off-campus, was also giving aid and comfort to convicted sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. The regime of first female Harvard President Drew Faust was full of dubious and virtue-signaling measures to ensure the esteemed university was sufficiently woke, including discriminating against one ethnic group (Asian-Americans) to elevate another ethnic group (African-Americans). Yet when it came to its attitude toward an infamous sexual predator, what mattered to Faust and Friends was, you guessed it, money.

Epstein, who was provided his own office at the school following his 2008 sweetheart plea deal that incredibly allowed him a quick release from prison to continue his <cough!> hobby, visited the campus more than 40 times between 2010 and 2018 often accompanied by young women who acted as his assistants, according to a report on the Harvard-Epstein alliance released last week. Apparently Epstein’s primary value to Harvard was connecting academics and scholars with financiers, VIPs and other sources of contributions, including Wall Street wheeler-dealer Leon Black, the founder and chief executive officer of Apollo Global Management Inc., one of the world’s largest private equity funds. Epstein also provided access to his pal Bill Clinton and retail billionaire Leslie Wexner. Continue reading

Pre-Thanksgiving Day Ethics Wrap-Up, 11/27/2019

Be thankful tomorrow, everybody.

There’s always something…

1. On unethical misleading language, Part A: Today’s “Nah, there’s no mainstream media bias” note: I was suddenly struck after reading one, two, three, four impeachment-related stories in a row in four separate news sources that they all used the phrase “dirt on Joe Biden.” Isn’t that strange? “Dirt” isn’t a description, it’s a characterization, and a deliberately  pejorative one that assumes that Biden is a victim of a dastardly action. It’s widespread use is one more smoking gun that demonstrates mainstream media bias aimed at smearing President Trump. The term “dirt” presupposes that if the President sought to persuade the Ukraine to aid the U.S. in an investigation, something it is obligated by treaty to do, it was only to assist his re-election chances. When the term “dirt” has been used in conjunction with a politition seeking damning information on Bill Clinton, either George Bush, or Trump himslef, it was always in the context of an election campaign. Few wrote that the Mueller investigation was a “dirt” seeking operation (though in truth it was). But it’s always “dirt on Joe Biden” that the Ukraine was allegedly asked/forced/extorted into looking for. When Jeffrey Epstein was being investigated, nobody said the FBI was seeking to smear him with “dirt,” because news sources accepted that an investigation was appropriate.

Yet there are many reasons and strong evidence suggesting that an investigation of Joe Biden’s alleged machinations to benefit his son by abusing his office and misusing his influence was (and is) also appropriate. The United States should not just shrug off corruption in its highest offices because a complicit individual is running for President, but that is the thrust of the current impeachment push by House Democrats. For the media to intentionally choose terminology—and slang, which is usually not in a newspaper style-book— to lead readers away from the argument that an investigation of Joe Biden was necessary and valid whether he was running for President or not shows a disturbing disinterest in fair reporting, and a preference for anti-Trump propaganda. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Thank God It’s Friday” Ethics Warm-Up, 8/2/2019: “Non-Reciprocal Loyalty, Woke Virtue-Signaling, Reasonable Vigilantes, And Pseudo-Plagiarism.” #4

I held out this terrific Comment of the Day by Isaac for almost a week, waiting for just the right moment. The right moment occurred when I decided that having to write one more word about mass shootings, “the resistance” losing its mind, or the news media finally giving up any pretense of competence and objectivity would turn ME into a mass shooter. The topic here is hip-hop and “beat-jacking,” of which I previously knew nothing.

Here is Isaac’s Comment of the Day on #4 in “Thank God It’s Friday” Ethics Warm-Up, 8/2/2019: Non-Reciprocal Loyalty, Woke Virtue-Signaling, Reasonable Vigilantes, And Pseudo-Plagiarism“:

Intentionally appropriating someone else’s song and adapting it, without permission from the original artist, I think would be considered unethical. In hip hop parlance this is “jacking,” “beat jacking” or “biting” and is considered okay by no one, even though it happens all the time. Hip hop history is filled with drama and fighting over stolen beats and songs. But where, if anywhere, the law needs to come in on this is a mystery. It’s near impossible to prove what’s intentional and what isn’t.

The line between “beat jacking” and just “sampling” (the foundation of hip hop and a few other genres) can be blurry but there is a difference. Here’s a quick and dirty guide:

-If you pull an MC Hammer or Vanilla Ice and basically perform karaoke over someone else’s music, that is obvious beat-jacking and you face cultural rejection and/or retribution. It’s also FIRMLY illegal to do this now, and it was toeing the line when Hammer and Ice did it (Vanilla Ice was forced to pay up despite having slightly changed the famous bass line of “under pressure” for his lousy song.) The more well-known the original, stolen song is, the less likely your peers will tolerate this, legal or not. Continue reading

Statue Ethics Stand-Off: “Charging Bull” vs. “Fearless Girl”

The Wall Street art ethics controversy pitting a nearly 30-year-old sculpture of an angry bull against the upstart statue of a defiant little girl has fascinating cultural implications. The ethical solution to the confrontation are simple and undeniable, however, though the legal issues a bit less so. “Fearless Girl” has got to go.

Arturo Di Modica created “Charging Bull” in response to stock market travails during the late 1980s. The three-and-a-half-ton sculpture was placed near Wall Street in the dead of night,  and was embraced by the financial ditrict and New Yorkers as iconic public art. The artist copyrighted and trademarked his work, which he has said was meant to symbolize “freedom in the world, peace, strength, power and love.”

I don’t get the love part, but okay: the point is that the bull is a positive metaphor, not a sinister one.

The “Fearless Girl” statue was positioned this year, the night before International Women’s Day, in a direct stand-off with the bull. It had been commissioned by State Street Global Advisors, a financial firm based in Boston, as a public relations and advertising move and classic virtue signalling. State Street Global’s home page trumpets the new statue’s message of “the power of women in leadership” and uses it to urge “greater gender diversity on corporate boards.” The metal girl’s  cynical and self-serving origins don’t seem to bother the work’s fans though.

The problem is that the message of “Fearless Girl” requires the participation of the bull to make any sense and to have any power at all. Otherwise, it might as well be Pippi Longstocking.  In essence, the new statue appropriates Di Modica’s work, and violently alters it. The artist is a furious as a charging bull that what he intended as a symbol of capitalist power and national vigor has been transformed into a sexist representation of male domination. Di Modica and his lawyers demand that the statue be moved away from its bull-baiting position, arguing that State Street Global commissioned “Fearless Girl” as a site-specific work conceived with “Charging Bull” in mind. It thus illegally commercialized  Di Modica’s statue in violation of the artist’s intent and copyright. They also claim that the city  violated the artist’s  legal rights by issuing permits allowing the four-foot-tall tyke to face off with the bronze bull without the artist’s permission. Letters to the Mayor DiBlasio, Ronald P. O’Hanley, the president and chief executive of State Street Global; and Harris Diamond, the chairman and chief executive of McCann Worldgroup, State Street Global’s marketing agency demand the removal of “Fearless Girl” forthwith.

Ethically, “Fearless Girl” doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Continue reading

Inauguration Cake Ethics (No, I Can’t Believe I Wrote That Either)

cake-2

THE LATEST PROOF OF PRESIDENT TRUMP’S DEPRAVITY!

He specifically asked for an exact replica of Barack Obama’s 2013 Inauguration cake! The HORROR!

Apparently nothing is too trivial to use to attack Donald Trump. Focus, guys, focus!

The scandal:

Trump asked the baker who made the official Inauguration cake—until today, I hadn’t given any thought to the Inauguration cakes of either Trump of Obama. and I was a happier man for it—to make an exact replica of one of Obama’s cakes. Why, I have no idea. I think both the original and the copy are tacky. Don’t you?

cakes

Celebrity baker Duff Goldman of TV’s “Ace Of Cakes” then tweeted that the cake at one of Trump’s Inauguration balls was a rip-off of his design. Social media Trump-haters immediately pronounced this as “100% plagiarism.” Donald Trump is plagiarizing cakes now! Is there anything he won’t do? I bet Hitler plagiarized cakes.

Whether this really is plagiarism is an interesting, if stupid, question. A design made for one-time only use commissioned by the White House was duplicated and used again by the White House, though with new occupants, four years later. Was it a derivative work? Homage? Fair use? Does the White House own the design, having commissioned it originally? All we have is a two-dimensional representation, and there is no definitive evidence since both were, you know, eaten. I’d say a copyright infringement claim would be futile, and petty. Here, you try to figure it out. Continue reading

Concept Stealing Or Creative Evolution? “The Trip To Bountiful” Controversy And The Ownership Of Conceptual Innovation

"Pay up! Timothy Wilson owns that color!"

“Pay up! Timothy Wilson owns that color!”

The late playwright Horton Foote’s gentle drama (all of his dramas are gentle, come to think of it) “The Trip To Bountiful” is being revived on Broadway, and is stirring up the kind of nasty controversy he would have detested. (You probably know Foote better as the screenwriter who brilliantly adapted “To Kill A Mockingbird” into the classic movie it became.) The production has an all-black cast starring Cicely Tyson, and some are arguing that director Michael Wilson stole the idea of presenting Foote’s tale as the story of an African American family.They also claim that he owes Timothy Douglas, the professional director who first staged the play this way (in Cleveland, in 2011) public acknowledgment, and possibly compensation. Alisa Solomon lays out the theatrical ethics controversy here, and explores many related issues, including the murky distinction between colorblind casting and non-traditional casting.

As an ethicist and a professional stage director, I have a simple and direct answer for what Solomon seems to believe is a complex question: Baloney. Continue reading

When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Unethical, As A School Board Ponders The Profits of Child Labor

child laborWe learn about how seriously our institutions take their ethics when money gets scarce. States suddenly decided that ol’ devil gambling wasn’t so bad after all, once they realized that lots and lots of poor, desperate people without a lot of mathematical skills would fork over billions they needed to buy food with or save to move out of the ghetto in the hope of becoming a tycoon. I’m sure as soon as states realize that their legislators don’t have the guts to make the wealthy and powerful pay for lousy schools, more and more of them will get into the drug dealing business, like Colorado, and let the lives, families and businesses destroyed by the inevitable results of legal pot and cocaine become collateral damage.

Somewhere in between those irresponsible and cynical policy decisions way come ideas like this one, from the Prince George’s County Board of Education (in Maryland.) There is a new proposed policy in the perpetually corrupt Washington D.C. neighbor to make all work products created by teachers or students the intellectual property of the County, not the individual who created it: Continue reading