“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

Hey, Oprah: Why Is Michael Jackson A Child Molester Now If He Wasn’t A Month Ago?

Stipulated: I have long-believed that Michael Jackson was a probably a pedophile. The circumstantial evidence is voluminous; he was obviously beset with psychological and emotional problems, he had the wealth and influence to cover up his conduct, and a grown man who admits to sharing a bed with young boys and insists there is nothing wrong with it is justifiably suspect. However, the plain facts are that Jackson has never been proven to be a child molester.

In case you haven’t followed this story, here is the Wikipedia entry on Jackson’s first molestation scandals—it’s long, but we can’t fairly discuss it without common reference points. A bulleted summary from that article: Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/27/18: Welcome Nausea, Disillusionment, Guilt, And Apathy…

Well, it’s morning.

1. Nausea. This is a real headline from this morning’s New York Times:

Truce on Trade Follows Route Obama Paved; Trump Claims Victory in Crisis He Started

Gee, the Times morphed into Media Matters so slowly that I hadn’t noticed!* In fact I had noticed, but that headline is a virtual declaration that the Times is now a fully committed partisan organ of the Democratic Party, and is no longer even pretending to be practicing ethical or objective journalism. Not only does the headline represent opinion rather than reporting, the Times was so desperate to color the story of the European Union tentatively reaching a new trade agreement with the U.S. that it felt it had to project its bias before anyone could read the story.

*With a nod to blogger Glenn Reynolds, who uses this as a regular jibe

2. Disillusionment. Netflix has finally concluded “The Staircase,” the now 13 episode documentary following the bizarre case of novelist Michael Peterson, who was convicted of murdering his wife Kathleen in 2001. Directed by French filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, the first eight episodes aired on the Sundance Channel in 2005 and were an immediate sensation. It would be unethical to spoil the story or the documentary for you if you haven’t seen it, but a couple of spoilers lie ahead.

Anyone who continues to argue that it is ridiculous and “treasonous” for anyone to challenge the competence, objectivity, motives and trustworthiness of law enforcement, including the FBI, and prosecutors after watching this horror show has astounding powers of selective outrage.

The series also made me want to throw heavy objects at the TV screen as a result of the lazy, passive, indefensible conduct of the prosecutors and the North Carolina judge, who resided over every iteration of the case for 15 years. Since there was no way a rational jury could find Peterson guilty beyond a reasonable doubt based on the evidence, ethical prosecutors would never have charged and tried Peterson. (A jury finding a defendant guilty on inadequate evidence doesn’t necessarily mean that the case was a just one.) It is especially infuriating for the viewer (so imagine what Peterson thinks) to hear the judge today blandly concede that two controversial pieces of evidence he allowed into the trial were, upon reflection,  unjustly prejudicial, and that he believes that there was ample reasonable doubt for the jury to acquit. Then he tries to make the argument that the “system works” based on a mess of a case and an investigation that still hasn’t explained how Kathleen Peterson died.

It does explain, however, why so many Americans don’t trust the justice system or the alleged professionals who run it. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/7/ 2018: Murder, Fake Journalism, Hatch Act Games, And California Defiance

Good Morning!

1  “A Murder in the Park.” The 2014 documentary about how the Northwestern University “Innocence Project” freed a guilty murderer hours before his execution and framed an innocent man who was eventually exonerated is now available on Netflix. I wrote about the case, which had the unanticipated consequence of causing Illinois to ban the death penalty, in 2014. Then I concentrated on how badly the whole mess reflected on the justice system. As I watched the documentary last night, however, what struck me was the self-satisfied smugness and certitude of the journalism students who participated in selective investigation, advocacy instead of objective reporting, manipulation of witnesses, cause driven conclusions and more. The documentary shows us why journalism has become whatever it can be called now–certainly not journalism. Northwestern has one of the elite journalism schools in the nation, and David Protess, then the professor who ran “The Innocence Project,” was teaching students that corrupt journalism was honorable. Protess at the time was perhaps the most praised journalism teacher in the nation. It seems that he was less the exception than the rule.

2. Real discipline would be nice for a change. The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) informed the Trump yesterday that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway violated the Hatch Act twice.  The  findings were referred to President Trump “for appropriate disciplinary action.” The White House promptly denied the charges, so we should assume that Kelly won’t be disciplined at all.

The Hatch Act allows federal employees to express their views about candidates and political issues as private citizens, but forbids them from using their official government positions try to influence elections. Of course Conway violated the Act. On Fox and CNN, she made it clear that voters in Alabama should reject Democrat Doug Jones. The White House ludicrously claims that Conway did not advocate for or against the election of any particular candidate. Nah…she just told Fox viewers last November,

“Doug Jones in Alabama, folks, don’t be fooled. He will be a vote against tax cuts. He is weak on crime, weak on borders. He is strong on raising your taxes. He is terrible for property owners.”

On CNN,  she said in part,
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“The Keepers,” The Catholic Church, And Bishop Fulton J. Sheen

I began watching Netflix’s new “true crime” series “The Keepers” last night. I may not last through all seven episodes. In addition to the documentary story-telling methodology, which moves at the pace of a slug-race, the story of how unsolved murder of a Baltimore nun might  be part of  (yet another) horrific cover-up by the Catholic Church made me so angry and frustrated that I quit in the middle of the third episode. The series makes the case that the nun, Sister Catherine “Cathy” Cesnik, was killed because she was about  to reveal ongoing sexual abuse of young teenage girls by the priest running the Archbishop Keough High School for girls.

The abuse and the extent of it is not speculation. As in so many other places, the Catholic Church in Baltimore eventually paid millions in damages to multiple victims of multiple predator priests who the Church moved around the  region—so they could molest and assault new victims—rather than handing them over to law enforcement. It is hard to imagine any priest worse than Father Joseph Maskell, however, if even some of the allegations against him are true. Victims say he used student files and illicit police connections to target teenage girls who were already being sexually abused. He manipulated them using a sick combination of religion, guilt, hypnotism and intimidation, sexually abused them, and even delivered some over to members of the Baltimore police department for more abuse.

The documentary focuses on the school’s Class of ’69, though there must have been equally abused girls before and after. The conspiracy of silence began to crack in 1992, when an especially  victimized member of the class suddenly realized that she had repressed memories of horrible experiences, and finally complained to the Baltimore Archdiocese, setting off the kind of despicable Church defensive strategies too familiar to anyone who has seen “Spotlight.”

This documentary isn’t good for my state of mind. It makes me wonder not only if all is lost, but also if all wasn’t lost long ago. I was raised in a largely Catholic community. I am not religious, but as an ethicist I recognize the important, civilizing role religion has played in teaching and enforcing moral principles for the majority of the public for whom ethical analysis is too challenging. Episodes like the Father Maskell scandal raise questions that I rebuke myself for asking, like “How can this be?” “Jane Doe,” the star witness in the documentary, is still a devout Catholic. Her immediate response to every dilemma is to pray. I don’t get it. She was savaged, threatened and abused by a priest that she knows the Church allowed to prey on the vulnerable students entrusted to him. Why would she still trust the Catholic Church?

Why would anyone? Continue reading