Of Kanye And Caitlin: What Are Rational Ethics Standards For Halloween Costumes?


The standards of acceptable Halloween costuming, as you might have predicted given the catalyst President Obama has given to extreme restrictive political correctness, keeps evolving to the hypersensitive and the restrictive. The issue is easier with children’s costumes: children’s masquerades should be age-appropriate; they should not be manikins for their parent’s senses of humor or political views, and as long as they are in the spirit of horror movies, the criticism of those who don’t understand horror movies should be jeered at or ignored. The major controversies arise now over adult costumes. Ethics Alarms has been covering the phenomenon for  awhile: let’s review the topic as previously explored here before I delve into its 2015 edition: Continue reading

Ethics Reflections On The Sudden Death Of Wonderful Human Being


I returned from a legal ethics teaching tour to the horrible news that a friend of mine had died in a freak accident at his home. I had just seen him for the first time in many months when he showed up unexpectedly on the final weekend of my theater company, and the production I directed for it as a final bow. When I spotted him in the theater lobby that day two months ago, I shouted his name and gave him a long hug. He was one of those amazing people who just made you feel better about the world knowing that people like him were still in it.

Now, just like that, he’s gone. An e-mail from him that arrived right before my trip sits unanswered in my in-box. I didn’t rush to return it—what was the rush? Life, of course, is the rush, and this has happened to me before. Why don’t I learn? Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “’Bang The Drum Slowly,’ My Old Friend, and Me”

Gus Grave

Extradimensional Cephalopod was kind enough to post this wise and evocative reflection prompted by my recent post following the sudden, but really not so sudden, death of an old friend over the weekend. His thoughts helped me a great deal, and I am grateful: here, without further comment, is EC’s Comment of the Day on the post, “’Bang The Drum Slowly,’ My Old Friend, and Me”: Continue reading

“Bang The Drum Slowly,” My Old Friend, and Me

The American Century Theater's "Bang the Drum Slowly"

The American Century Theater’s “Bang the Drum Slowly”

I haven’t mentioned it here, but we are ending the 20 year adventure of my intentionally out-of-fashion theater company, The American Century Theater, after next season. One of the things I will miss most about it is that working so closely with the great works of stage literature we produce causes their wisdom and life observations to stick with us. Since I tend to choose works that involve ethical dilemmas, this has had professional as well as personal benefits.

I was thinking about the Mark Harris play (and novel, and movie) “Bang The Drum Slowly” in May, when I wrote about the kindness shown to Pasco High School student Vanessa Garcia, who was dying of cancer, because we were performing it at the time.  The story involves a baseball team and how it responds to a third-string catcher who is dying of Hodgkin’s Disease. It is about kindness and the Golden Rule, and the ways the impending death of someone in our life often brings into sharper focus the importance of kindness and our shared obligations on this perplexing journey to oblivion we all must travel together. But I really wasn’t thinking about “Bang The Drum Slowly” yesterday. Yesterday, I was just having a wonderful time talking about baseball, politics and family with my old friend from law school, who happened to be in a hospice. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The 9-11 Memorial Museum Restaurant

" So...who's hungry?"

” So…who’s hungry?”

I’m sure this will come as a shock to some, but there are ethics controversies that I do not have strong opinions on, because I think both sides have strong ethical arguments. The dispute over whether the planned restaurant at the recently opened memorial and museum on the site of the Twin Towers bombing is one of them.

Con is  stated succinctly by New York Post columnist Steve Cuozzo, who wrote, “A bar and grill by any name on top of burnt fire trucks and human ashes is just plain gross.” Also being criticized is a black-tie party held at the museum to celebrate the opening. Said a family member of a firefighter who died that day: “This is the final insult and desecration of these 9/11 remains.”

The Pro, or at least the “It’s no big deal” position, is laid out by Ann Althouse, who wrote:

“At some point the taking of offense itself becomes offensive. Maybe out of respect for the dead, no one who still walks the face of the earth should ever laugh or take pleasure in anything every again. More than 100 billion human beings have died, perhaps right where you are standing/sitting/reclining right now. How dare you ever do anything? Look out your window and visualize the ghosts of all the human beings who, over the course of history and prehistory, died within that view. Will you mourn for them… ceaselessly… until you are one of them?”

The ethics issue is obviously respect. What is enough, and what is disrespectful? The analysis involves finding the right analogy, perhaps. There is a gift shop and restaurant at the Gettysburg Battlefield Visitors Center, but not on the site of Pickett’s Charge. The Holocaust Museum has a gift shop and snack bar as part of the complex, but nobody was exterminated in Washington, D.C. There’s no gift shop or snack bar at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; you can’t buy a sandwich at the Alamo. Is the 9-11 restaurant like the one at the Pearl Harbor museum, or is it like having a fish and chips eatery over the SS Arizona? The Pennsylvania site where Flight 93 crashed is being treated as hallowed ground, while the section of the Pentagon where its victims perished on 9-11 is back to being a workplace.

Is this just the Ick Factor,  something that feels a little “off,” like watching musicals and comedies in Fords Theater with Lincoln’s empty, ghostly box looming over the stage, or something more?

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz today…

Is placing a restaurant over the 9-11 Museum, on the site where 3000 people were murdered, disrespectful?

Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Pasco High School (Dade City, Fla.)


I need this story to get the previous post out of my head.

In Mark Harris’s novel “Bang The Drum Slowly,” best known as the inspiration for the film that introduced Robert DeNiro to the movie-going public, a major league baseball team exhibits uncharacteristic kindness toward a third-string catcher who is dying of Hodgkin’s Disease. The book, like the film and the stage adaptation, is about kindness and the Golden Rule, an ethical value that seldom inspires literature or art. Kindness is not particularly exciting, but it may be the most ethical of all ethical virtues. The serious illness and impending death of someone in our life often brings the importance of kindness into sharp focus. “Everybody’d be nice to you if they knew you were dying,” says the doomed catcher, Bruce Pearson, to his room mate and champion, star pitcher Henry Wiggen.  “Everybody knows everybody is dying,” Wiggen replies. “That’s why people are as good as they are.”

Pasco High School student Vanessa Garcia  learned that she had an inoperable brain tumor when she was in elementary school. Until two years ago, treatment had kept the tumor  in remission, but the mass began growing again when she was 15. Undaunted, Garcia continued to go to school, work diligently, and keep a positive and uncomplaining outlook, earning the admiration of her classmates, teachers and school officials. Continue reading

The Hopelessly Muddled Ethics Of Halloween Costumes


“Anna Rexia”

Clearly, we need some rational ethics standards for Halloween costumes, but I doubt that we will ever have any unless political correctness is removed from the equation. The holiday is by its very nature in bad taste with a heavy dose of defiance. The tradition is all about invoking the things that frighten us, with death being tops on the list. Trivializing death or mocking it is any way is guaranteed to offend somebody. My solution: if it offends you so much, don’t participate in Halloween. Boycott it. Don’t give out candy. Let everyone else—you know, those enough to distinguish reality from make-believe and satire from insults—have a good time once a year.

Once Halloween is transformed into Halloweenie, as so many of the political correctness police would have it, it isn’t Halloween, and isn’t fun. We have properly purged the vandalism that once part of the ritual, and if every possibly offensive disguise and costume is deemed socially unacceptable, all we have left is an annual event where kids dressed in blinking lights (to avoid accidents) get non-sugar candy, fruit, dental floss or contributions to charities while dressed up as non-offensive politicians, Greenpeace captains, cartoon characters, occupations and maybe insects. Then parents x-ray the candy and limit how much of it the kids can eat. As for adults, they not only have to wear costumes that won’t offend their friends and fellow party goers, but also costumes that won’t offend somebody, somewhere, when an officious jerk at a party takes a photo with his phone and posts it for the world. What fun. Continue reading

Well, Crap. Again.


I am now in shock, having just learned that a dear friend of four decades is now in a hospice with complications of congestive heart failure, and not long to live. We had been exchanging cheery emails, and while I knew of his health issues, I was under the impression that they were manageable, and certainly not this dire. Naturally, we had kept planning on getting together for dinner or a ball game, but one thing or another always intervened, usually on my end, and I had not seen him since the Spring.

This has happened to me before, more than once. What will it take to make me take the time to show love and appreciation to the many people in my life who have earned it, and to try to enrich their days, however many they have left, in some small way, rather than allowing everything else to get in the way?


Graphic: Ronnie Tabor

The Best Of The Ethical Ann Althouse


In a recent post, I criticized blogger Ann Althouse for an ethics commentary misfire, along with the error of not allowing readers to comment on it, and thus point out where her analysis went wrong. I would not want to leave the impression that this was typical of Althouse in any way, or discourage any reader here from sampling her generally fascinating and well-written observations. Luckily, today she delivered a post which I would put among her best, a measured and deft take-down of Slate’s often silly feminist blogger L.V. Anderson, for a classic diatribe dripping with manufactured accusations of gender bias in a news story where none exists.

This is the real Ann Althouse, and you should read the entry, here.


Sources: Althouse, Slate

Graphic: Oceansbridge

Ethics Quote Of The Day: Lou Gehrig, July 4, 1939

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.”

—-Baseball great Lou Gehrig, beginning his farewell speech to Yankee fans on July 4, 1939, as they filled Yankee stadium to say farewell to “the Iron Horse,” who was retiring from the game after being diagnosed with the incurable disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), known forever after as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”

Lous Farewell

Lou Gehrig was only 36 years old when he learned that he was dying. ALS is a terrible wasting disease that has no cure, and in 1939 there was little treatment or assistance that could be offered to a victim as his body slowly ceased to function. It is an especially cruel disease for a professional athlete to face, and even more so one, like Gehrig, who was renowned for his endurance and seemingly indestructible body. When the progress of the illness, still then undiagnosed, caused Gehrig to remove himself from the New York Yankees line-up on May 1, 1939, it ended his amazing streak of 2,130 consecutive games, a baseball record that stood until broken by Cal Ripken, 56 years later.

Gehrig’s speech was from his heart. He was an educated and articulate man, but he had not planned on speaking at the moving ceremony to bid him farewell, as current former team mates, some of the greatest players ever to take the field, gathered to pay their respects. But the Yankee Stadium crowd of more than 60,000 began chanting his name, and after initially refusing, Gehrig moved to the microphone. Continue reading