“The US And The Holocaust”: Perfect Timing, But View With Care

Has an eagerly-anticipated prestige television project ever been so perfectly timed as  PBS’s Ken Burns documentary, “The US and the Holocaust,” which began last night with “The Golden Door” (Beginnings-1938)? I can’t think of any. Burns is either lucky, diabolical, or psychic. He is also, like all documentary makers, political, and so is his work. Burns still deserves praise for restraint: though “The US and the Holocaust” can be accused of subtly (and occasionally blatantly) advancing Democratic Party and progressive talking points, it also can be used to support opposing positions as well.

The legitimacy of either exercise is debatable, and will be a great debate topic. True, history repeats itself, but context and details matter. As I watched the first episode of Burns’ opus last night, I felt myself being drowned in striking analogies, many of them seductive and likely to be abused. There is so much summarized history and and so many factoids in just the first episode of this epic that it’s impossible to know when one is getting the truth, sort of the truth, part of the truth, intentionally-manipulated facts, cherry-picked data, ideologically motivated propaganda, or objective, fair analysis. Checking the series would take any individual at least as long as the years it took Burns and his team to make it. I got chills a few times thinking about how completely the typical PBS Democrat would swallow everything that was said last night whole, responding with a hearty, “Yum yum!Continue reading

Observations On “Flight/Risk”…And Related Matters

“Flight/Risk,” an Amazon production, was released on the streaming service today. The documentary is the most recent examination of the tragedy and scandals surrounding the crashes of two Boeing 737 Max planes within a five month period in late 2018 and early 2019. The horrible and disturbing story  is narrated by Pulitzer-winning Seattle Times journalist Dominic Gates, and revealed from the perspective of the deceased passengers family members, their lawyers, and whistleblowers.

Amazon’s fatuous description of its own product, primarily designed to be a “trigger warning,” explains that the movie may be too traumatic to watch for “some” and says the planes crashed “without anyone really understanding why.” That is, to be blunt and vulgar, bullshit. Lots of people understood why, including Boeing engineers, Boeing executives, FAA officials, and anyone (like me) who knows why large organizations are almost always incompetent, unethical and untrustworthy. {Ethics Alarms has several posts about the 737 Max scandal.]

What is so infuriating about the story is that it is so familiar. This is the Challenger disaster all over again, even to the detail of a whistle-blowing engineer being punished for having the courage to speak up, and eventually killing himself. In other ways, it is like the recent Ernst and Young cheating scandal, which Ethics Alarms discussed here.

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Introducing “Introducing Selma Blair”

Selma Blair

Ethics Alarms spends a lot of time and criticism on celebrities and the celebrity culture, so when one finds a way to use fame, even as it is fleeting, constructively attention must be paid. Meet Selma Blair, an always appealing actress previously known for her supporting roles over the past two decades. Blair was diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder multiple sclerosis, which attacks the central nervous system, in August of 2018. She revealed her illness with an Instagram post in October of that year; this in itself was unusual, for revealing an incurable and progressive disease is usually career suicide. Most Hollywood actors hide maladies from bi-polar depression and alcoholism to cancer for as long as they can.

Not Blair. As a former impish ingenue now in her forties, her career was already on the wain, and she felt that publicizing her struggles could help the many people who not only suffer from MS but other chronic diseases. Blair continued to track the course of her illness on Instagram. She attended Hollywood events with a jeweled cane. She did not avoid interview, allowing the public to witness her periodic difficulties speaking and impaired movement. “She was in turn glamorous and clumsy, funny and mournful,” writes Teo Bugby in the Times. (Ethics Alarms saluted her courage here.)

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The Ethics Dilemma That Has No Solution: We Can’t Trust Police, But We Have To

Ellis arrest

A Netflix documentary that debuted last year crystallized my conclusions about the current attack on police, policing, and the justice system as a part of “white supremacy,” and the so far successful effort by Black Lives Matter and its allies among progressives and the Democratic Party to unravel the core values of American society as part of the “solution.”

The documentary is “Trial 4,” and it tells the disturbing story of how a black Boston teenager named Sean Ellis was railroaded into serving 22 years in prison for the 1993 execution-style murder of a Boston cop. Yes, it’s a documentary, so it is hardly objective, but it is even-handed for the genre, and to this long-time Boston native, it rings true in most respects. It also brought back memories of my U.S. race relations course in college, taught by the estimable Thomas Pettigrew, which convinced me that the plight of the black community in the U.S. was probably beyond repairing.

Ellis was finally exonerated just last month, as all of his convictions were either reversed or thrown out, with prosecutors (finally) deciding not to pursue any further action against him. Presumably he will get a large settlement from the city. He deserves one.

The details of the story are best followed by seeing the program, but key points are these;

  • The murdered officer, a white, Irish veteran officer, was a corrupt cop who was known on the force to be corrupt, but he was nonetheless honored in death as a paradigm of law enforcement virtue. Thousands of police officers, even from other states, came to his public funeral. The determination by his peers to find and punished the assassin who shot him five times in the face was intense.
  • The law-abiding police who knew the truth about the deceased officer, John Mulligan, never made any official complaints, hewing to the so-called “blue line.” In this they mirror all professional groups: doctors, lawyers, politicians, elected officials, and of course the clergy are all reluctant to blow the whistle even though basic ethical values require it.
  • Two of Mulligan’s fellow officers were running a series of illegal activities that Mulligan either was involved in or knew about, including overtime scams, planting evidence, arresting innocent black citizens and pressuring them into giving false evidence, and stealing drug money in legal and illegal searches.
  • These same officers (they flank Ellis in the photo above) took control of the investigation of Mulligan’s murder, and one of them manipulated his own relative to falsely identify Ellis as being at the scene of the murder. They also intimidated Ellis’s uncle, who was on parole and was threatened with being sent back to prison, to implicate his nephew.
  • Despite what looks in hindsight like huge, neon-flashing signs reading “Frame up! Frame up!,” the justice system lined up against Ellis and with the cops, even a supposedly reform-minded black District Attorney (who insisted of retrying the murder charges against Ellis after two hung juries mostly favoring acquittal) and the African American judge in the trials.

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“Abducted In Plain Sight”: Maybe People Really Are Too Stupid To Be Trusted With Democracy

Abducted

If that title sounds harsh, by all means watch the Netflix true crime documentary “Abducted in Plain Sight.” Otherwise, I’m not sure the ordeal is worth it, since it may throw you into a depression from which you never recover. That’s where I am now.

With the nation facing what might be—“I do believe in people, I do believe in people,” he says in his best Cowardly Lion imitation—an existential election, I really did not need any more reason to despair of the life competency deficit and declining mental state of the nation’s voters. In fact, I decided to watch “Abducted in Plain Sight” to take my mind off of The Big Stupid, with its ongoing efforts by the news media to keep Americans ignorant of the Biden scandal, the brain-melting tale of the Zoom adventures of He Who Must Not Be Named, and polls that seem to show that most of the American public is incapable of paying attention to matters that will effect their lives, family and nation.

Big mistake. What watching the 2017 award-winning documentary did was vividly remind me that normal, decent, religious middle-class Americans like those you live and work with may well be too moronic and irresponsible to be entrusted with children, never mind make decisions about leadership and public policy that will affect the rest of us.

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A Jumbo For The Ages And Other Ethics Observations on “Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich”

For me, the most stunning ethics moment in the Netflix documentary “Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich” was when Prince Andrew, a long-time pal of the late sex-trafficker/billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, appears on camera and engages in a spectacular Jumbo. In a televised interview, the brother of Prince Charles claimed he never met Epstein—though there are photos of the Prince standing with him. He also said he had no recollection of knowing the woman pictured in the photo above, who was one of the under-age girls Epstein sexually exploited and passed around among his friends. The woman in the background is British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, who served as one of Epstein’s procurers (and who was recently arrested as an accessory to his crimes). Yet when Andrew was asked how he explains the photo if he never had anything to do with the American teenager it shows him with his arm around, he said, incredibly, “I can’t explain it.”

Wow. “Photo? What photo?” “Teenage sex toy? What teenage sex toy?” “Pedophile billionaire? What pedophile billionaire?”

All Jimmy Durante had to deny was the existence of the stolen elephant he was holding at the end of a rope.

Reasonable minds may disagree about the worst ethical breaches on display in the documentary; there are so many. Epstein, of course, was scum—a predator, a sociopath, and a crook. I found no surprises regarding him personally. I also knew that wildly wealthy villains have the ability to corrupt everyone around them, but the supporting cast of the Epstein story provides  bracing reminders, such as… Continue reading

Regarding “Athlete A”….[Corrected!]

“Athlete A,” the Netflix documentary that tells the awful story of USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar’s decades of sexually abusing young female gymnasts—perhaps as many as 500 of them—, how he was allowed to continue his crimes after complaints from parents and others, and the young women who finally sent him to prison with their testimony, is both disturbing and depressing. I watched it last night with my wife, who was horrified that she didn’t know the Nassar story.

Ethics Alarms wasn’t as much help as it should have been. Its first full post about the scandal was this one, which, in grand Ethics Alarms tradition, slammed the ethics of the judge who sentenced Nasser to 60 years in prison, essentially a “Stop making me defend Dr. Nasser!” post. I’ll stand by that post forever, but it didn’t help readers who are link averse to know the full extent of Nasser’s sick hobby of plunging his fingers and hands into the vaginas and anuses of trusting young girls while telling them that it was “therapy.”

The second full post, in August of last year,  was more informative regarding Nasser, but again, it was about the aftermath of his crimes, not the crimes themselves. That post  focused on the the Senate hearings following the July 30 release of the report of an 18-month Senate investigation  that found that the U.S. Olympic Committee and others failed to protect young female athletes from Nasser’s probing hands, detailing “widespread failure by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (the “Committee”) and other institutions to keep athletes safe.”  Then there was this: Continue reading

The Man Who Coarsened America

He didn’t set out to, of course. Like most figures in cultural history who leave the culture a little (or a lot) worse than they found it, Craig Gilbert, who died this week, just wanted to try something new he thought might work, and, of course, to make a buck. He was successful on both counts, but unfortunately, the law of unanticipated consequences took over.

What he wanted to try was the reality TV show, though he didn’t call it that. In the early 1970’s, Gilbert was an established documentary-maker of note and  a producer at WNET, the New York PBS station. He had the inspiration of  having a camera crew follow a real, ostensibly typical American family as it went about living for months, to let the public see what happens behind the closed doors of their neighbor’s homes.

WNET agreed to spend $1.2 million to finance the project), and Gilbert set about seeking an appropriate family for the venture.

Gilbert searched for a family that was ostentatiously middle class with a lot of kids spanning different age groups. He settled on the the Loud family, Bill and Pat, with  their five children, Lance, Kevin, Grant, Delilah and Michele. The Louds didn’t know what they were getting into, because it was something no family had ever gotten into before. Over 300 hours of filming over seven months in 1971, they were recorded in increasingly intrusive ways, creating scenes that made the Louds into national soap opera stars, except that it was their real life being watched and talked about. “An American Family” was broadcast two years later as a 12-part series, and gradually took over the lives of the family members. Continue reading

“Tiger King” Ethics…If You Can Control Your Gagging

You should watch the current hit Netflix documentary “Tiger King” as an ethics exercise, if you can keep focused. It’s difficult. The seven episode horror show/freak show/ “Well, it’s time for another shower!” thing is rife with revelations about America and its culture as well as the infinite variety of humanity that breeds and mutates under rocks and over them. But it is also so teeming with freaks, sociopaths and morons that it often makes you feel like you are watching “The Anna Nicole Show” or one of the other reality shows that exploits its dumb, attention addicted stars.

Focus, Jack! Focus! There are a lot of ethics issues here, largest among them the icky exotic animals trade.  (Fun Fact!  There are more tigers in the U.S. than in the rest of the world combined. Now: Is that a good thing for tigers, or a bad thing?) There are also clinical cases of  corrupt business owners, narcissism on steroids, marriages that make Bill and Hillary Clinton look like John and Abigail Adams, toxic personalities (once you have met series star “Joe Exotic,” you may never think of anyone as a narcissist again…no, not even you-know-who), astounding hypocrisy, the infuriating twilight world of young, healthy people (well, physically healthy anyway) whose lives consist entirely of getting stoned or waiting to get stoned, abuse of the legal system, idiots with guns… the list is ridiculously, depressingly long. Continue reading

Friday Ethics Warm-Up, 4/19/2019: There’s More To Ethics Than Mueller Freakouts, You Know…

Happy Easter weekend

(For me and other Greek-Americans, Easter presents a yearly choice: Greek Easter is calculated on a different calendar (it also has only boring red eggs), and just once in a red moon coincides with the non-Greek holiday.  This year it’s a week later, so we’re not putting our eggs in any baskets until next Sunday. We celebrate Greek Easter in honor of my Mom, who was fanatic about all holidays. The Greek Orthodox Church was dead to us once a priest told the congregation that the offspring of “mixed marriages”–that is, Greek and non-Greek spouses like my parents—were considered illegitimate by the Church. (My dad walked out of the service.)

(The other Churches became dead to us a bit later, and for varying reasons.)

1 A brief Mueller interlude…a) Rep. Gerald Nadler is grandstanding by demanding the full, unredacted report. Giving secret grand jury testimony to Congress would be  illegal. Anything to inflame the public, I guess…b) It’s incomplete, but Scott Horton, a smart libertarian who has been tracking the various complexities of the Russiagate investigation far more closely than I have, tears the Mueller report to shreds in convincing fashion. I’m accepting the conclusions of the report on faith, but Horton demonstrates how open to attack the investigation may be. The post is long and overly colloquial, and I don’t have time to check Horton’s facts, but it is worth reading. c) April Ryan, the CNN hack who has a long history of attacking Trump press secretary Sarah Sanders, now says Sanders should be fired for “lying.” Sanders at one point said that “countless” FBI agents had said that they had lost trust in James Comey, then later said that “countless” was a misstatement. With very few exceptions over the last 50 years, Sanders’ job is that of a paid liar and obfuscater; I got tired of flagging all of the lies and spin issued by Obama’s three spokesmen. They all should be fired, I guess, but not for offenses like using the word “countless” when the correct word would be “plenty.” Heck, I even heard through contacts and back-channels that FBI agents were disgusted with Comey. How could they not be?

2. And now for something completely different: Walrus Ethics. This isn’t a Climate Change Denial post, it’s a “See, this is why so many people don’t trust climate change doomsday scenarios” post.

Netflix’s climate change propaganda documentary  “Our Planet,” narrated by David Attenborough, showed masses o the walruses climbing up cliffs in northeast Russia because, we were told, of a lack of sea ice. Then we saw the large pinnipeds over the cliff edges onto the rocks below, leaving hundreds of dead animals piled on the shore. Attenborough said their poor eyesight made it hard for them to return safely to the ocean.

 Dr. Susan Crockford, a Canadian zoologist specializing in evolution and the ecology of Holocene mammals (including polar bears and walrus), claims that the scene was a hoax. She called Netflix’s narrative over the “Our Planet” scene i“contrived nonsense… fiction and emotional manipulation at its worst”:

“The walruses shown in this Netflix film were almost certainly driven over the cliff by polar bears during a well-publicised incident in 2017.” Even if the footage shown by Attenborough was not the 2017 incident in Ryrkaypiy, we know that walruses reach the top of cliffs in some locations and might fall if startled by polar bears, people or aircraft overhead, not because they are confused by shrinking sea ice cover.”

Anthony Watts, a weather technology expert and author,  also suspects the footage captured was the 2017 Siberian incident.

I’ve been able to show that Crockford’s supposition about the geographical origin of the footage is correct: analysis of the rock shapes in the film and in a photo taken by the producer/director both match archive photos of Ryrkaypiy. The photo was taken on 19 September 2017, during the events described by the Siberian Times.

But whereas the Siberian Times and Gizmodo website, which also reported on the 2017 incident, were both quite clear that the walruses were driven over the cliffs by polar bears, Netflix makes no mention of their presence. Similarly, there is no mention of the fact that walrus haulouts are entirely normal. Instead, Attenborough tells his viewers that climate change is forcing the walruses on shore, where their poor eyesight leads them to plunge over the cliffs.

This is all very troubling as it raises the possibility that Netflix and the WWF are, innocently or otherwise, party to a deception of the public.

If the climate change urgency is as real as we are constantly told, why can’t it be demonstrated with real facts rather than fakery like this?  Is it any wonder the public is skeptical? [Pointer: Legal Insurrection] Continue reading