Ethics Movie Ethics Quiz: “The Edge” (1997)

Anthony Hopkins winning an upset Oscar this year reminded me of the action film he made with (yecchh) Alec Baldwin 25 years ago. I would have written about it then, but 1) I didn’t see it then, being driven to my sock drawer at the thought of paying for any movie with Baldwin in it, and 2) it was a long time before Ethics Alarms.

The film explores survival situation ethics, a topic that “The Walking Dead” has thoroughly beaten to walking death in the last decade, with the assistance of some sharp David Mamet dialogue. Hopkins, a wealthy, cocky and obnoxiously competent businessman, survives a small plane crash that dumps him and two other men in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness. One of them, the younger Baldwin, is secretly having an affair with Hopkins’ super-model trophy wife, whom they left back at the hunting lodge.

Hopkins’ encyclopedic knowledge of everything and Eagle Scout-level survival skills keep his wilderness ignorant companions alive and hopeful until a rampaging Kodiak bear eats the man who isn’t Baldwin (thus showing good taste). Then the remaining two become the hunted. Eventually, after many scares and narrow escapes, Hopkins and Baldwin solve their hungry bear problem and find an abandoned cabin conveniently stocked with food, guns, and a canoe. Baldwin, confident that he no longer requires Hopkins’ expertise to survive long enough to be rescued, takes a functioning rifle, loads it, admits that he’s having the affair with Hopkins’ wife, and marches Hopkins outside to shoot him. But Fate takes a hand: Baldwin falls into a pit before he can shoot and is rendered helpless, with a broken leg and other life-threatening injuries.

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“Denial”: An Ethics Movie (Part 1)

“Denial,” a 2016 British film that I missed (along with most moviegoers in the U.S.), tells, reasonably accurately, the story of a 1996 libel suit brought by David Irving, an anti-Semite, Holocaust-denying British historian, against Deborah E. Lipstadt, author of the 1993 book “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.” After the suit, her account of the ordeal, “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier,” formed the source of the screenplay.

Irving brought a lawsuit in Britain against Lipstadt (played by Rachel Weisz), and her publisher, Penguin Books, for calling him a Holocaust denier, a liar, and an anti-Jewish bigot. Irving is a long-time Hitler defender, and claimed there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz. British libel laws, unlike those in the United States, place the burden of proof on the defendant to prove that what was written was justified. Thus Lipstadt’s legal team must focus on proving Irving’s evidence is false, and that he knows it is false. The stakes were suddenly high, for if a court ruled that Irving’s theories had legitimacy, the results would have been catastrophic. For this reason, at least according to the film, a group of Jewish leaders urged Lipstadt to settle the suit before trial.

The movie is now on Amazon Prime. It is not a flamboyant legal drama but an intelligent and clear one (I would love to put it on stage). It also raises important ethics and legal issues, among them:

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Ethics Movies: And Speaking Of Conspiracies, Have You Seen “Conspiracy”? Do.

Conspiracy

I bet you haven’t. I hadn’t, and stumbling upon it yesterday on Amazon’s streaming service was one more reason I failed to get an ethics warm-up posted, but it was worth it.

“Conspiracy” is a remarkable HBO film that first ran in 2001, when my attention, and probably yours, was elsewhere. I never have read or heard a word about the film; no friend ever recommended it to me or my wife, who is a WWII buff. Nobody mentioned if on Facebook. (There it is! Finally a downside of ignoring the Emmys and Golden Globe Awards! The film was much honored.) I can’t believe that “Conspiracy” had a large audience: it’s a movie about a meeting, albeit a real one, and consists almost entirely of men sitting around a table, talking. (So does “Twelve Angry Men,” but “Conspiracy” makes that film look like “Die Hard” as far as action is concerned.) No women. No “persons of color.” This is because all of the attendees at the actual meeting were Nazi officers and officials, but never mind: if “Conspiracy” were made today, Adolf Eichmann would have to be played by Ice-T and Reinhard Heydrich by Jennifer Lopez because of Hollywood’s diversity rules.

I wish I were kidding.

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Ethics Warm-Up, 1/22/2021, As Your Host Tries Not To Write Angry

Only the soothing tones of Johnny Nash could calm me down after this morning’s ordeal, and it hasn’t worked yet.

I set out with my wife to get her to a rather urgent doctor’s appointment at an office we had never been to before. I should have been forewarned knowing it was in Manassas (those who know Northern Virginia know what I mean.)To make a long, horrible story short, we never got there. The exits on Route 66 suddely skipped five numbers. There was a sign for Exit 47 A, which was also for 47 B without saying so. The construction everywhere made navigation impossible. After missing the right exit, detours and construction mad it seemingly impossible to get on 66 going the other way, The Google map directions were wrong. The GPS installed in the car refused to take the street number, and dumped us in no-man’s land. Naturally, everyone we talked to at the doctor’s office professed ignorance at how to get there. After wandering in the wilderness for two hours, we gave up. Then the last staffer at the doctor’s office said, “Oh, when you come back, don’t use Exit 47 like all the directions say. Use 44. That takes you right to our door and avoids all the construction.”

NOW you tell me that?

The over-arching goal of ethics is to make life easier and more pleasant for everyone else. If you work or live in a locale that is difficult to get to or find the first time, you warn people.

1. Welcome “Impeachment or Removal Plan U”! Well, not really welcome. Not really a removal plan either. Plan U is based on Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which was being thrown around as a way to punish Senator Hawley and Cruz for doing what Democrats had done every time this century a Republican had won the Presidency: challenge the electoral vote. When Republicans do it, you see, it’s an insurrection. Then teh second that word escaped their lips, coup-minded Democrats hit themselves in the forehead with teh palm of their hands, “I could have had a V-8!” style, and said, “Wait a minute! How did we let this get by us when we were trying to devise a way to get rid of Trump without winning an election! It was there all the time!” Then, choosing to ignore the fact that you can’t “get rid of” someone who’s already gone, this became the latest of 21—yes 21!—bogus anti-Trump plans. (I haven’t added it to the list yet. Give me a break.)

Let U stand for “Unbelievable!”

Section 3 provides:

“No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.”

Law profs Seth Tillman and Josh Blackman soberly analyze the theory here, saying in conclusion,

“…it is not clear that the House managers seek to disqualify Trump under the Impeachment Disqualification Clause, as well as under Section 3. The sole article of impeachment is opaque on this point. It references Section 3, but we think it is only referenced in the context of efforts to define a substantive impeachable offense. We expect that President Trump’s counsel will argue that the text of the House’s single article of impeachment does not give him fair notice that he faces Section 3 disqualification. Once again, the House’s rushed drafting may determine the fate of the Senate impeachment trial.”

That. and the fact that the impeachment was based on literally nothing.

2. Now this is a weird ethics movie…“The Killing of a Scared Deer, the 2017 film now on Netflix, raises a “Sophie’s Choice”-style ethical dilemma with solution that looks ridiculous but has at least surface validity if you can accept the premise: the character who has to make the choice is dealing with some kind of a curse.

3. Is it incompetent to employ a strategy that nobody knew was incompetent? Statistical analytics now show that the traditional football strategy of punting usually makes no sense. Now, college and professional teams are going for a first down when once they would have kicked the ball away.

The Chicago Tribune reports,

Punting has become far less prevalent in recent years. NFL teams punted an average of 3.7 times per game during the 2020 regular season, the lowest figure in recorded pro football history. Teams averaged 4.8 punts per game as recently as 2017, a rate that had held more or less steady since the mid-1980s but has declined in each of the last four seasons….The sudden decrease in punting comes over a decade after the football analytics community began decrying the punt as a counterproductive strategy, particularly in short-yardage situations near midfield or when trailing late in a close game. It doesn’t take much number-crunching to realize that if the average offense gains 5.6 yards per play (the 2020 rate), not only should a team be able to pick up a yard or 2 on fourth down, but it should also be wary of gifting the ball to an offense capable of marching right back down the field 5.6 yards at a time.

The traditions and conventional wisdom in sports and other activities, wrong, counter-productive or silly though they may be, don’t indicate incompetence until data, changed conditions or experience indicate that they don’t work. Now it seems obvious that punting is usually foolish, just as baseball finally learned that sacrifice bunts were dumb except in very special situations. But when a culture accepts conventional wisdom and it it is embedded in that culture, one cannot call it incompetence to stick with tradition, unless and until there is access to information proving the accepted practice to be folly.

4. A reminder: Yahoo! and other news sources have reported that “Over 408,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 as of Thursday.” That’s false. It is the essence of fake news. As Ethics Alarms had noted repeatedly, over 408,000 Americans may have died WITH the virus, but there is no question that they all did not die OF the virus. I am still waiting for a well-publicized estimate of how many of those deaths were not super-seniors, cancer patients, or others who may well have died anyway. This is something we have a right to know.

5. A plea for a double standard from Joe. Associated Press reporter Zeke Miller asked President Biden if the vaccination goal was “high enough,” since “that’s basically where the U.S. is right now.” Biden responded with pique, although he did not call Miller a pony-soldier, saying, “When I announced it you all said it wasn’t possible. Come on, give me a break, man.” It’s a fair request, but if there was ever an instance when any journalist from a non-conservative news organization gave Biden’s predecessor a break, please refresh my memory. I can’t think of one. Besides, Biden is already getting one ” break” after another, as Mediate notes in a recent post titled, “Media Begins Biden Presidency With Overt Fawning and Flattery.”

6. Hank Aaron has died. The legitimate baseball career home run champ (I do not count Barry Bonds) was 86. He represented the very best of baseball ethics on and off the field throughout his career unlike the icon whose homer total he bested (Babe Ruth had no peer as a player, but had the ethics of a ten-year-old his whole life), and the miscreant who passed him by cheating, Bonds. The Hammer was always being over-shadowed by someone: Willy Mays, a contemporary, was more gifted and charismatic; Ernie Banks was more lovable, Roberto Clemente was never had a chance to grow old. Henry Aaron just did his job every day, seldom missing a game due to injury, leading the National League in various seasons in batting average, homers,runs, hits and RBI. Aaron only won one Most Valuable Player Award (in 1957, when his Braves won the pennant), but over his 23 year career, he proved more valuable than almost all of his contemporaries.

[Notice of Correction: I originally wrote that Hank never won an an MVP. Thanks to LoSonnambulo for the correction.]

“A Christmas Carol”

-A-Christmas-Carol2

I just found out that the Ethics Alarms link to the text of “A Christmas Carol” is suddenly bad, and being momentarily unable to figure out how to fix it (not that more than a handful of readers ever used that link, or any of my links for that matter), I’m embedding the whole 1951 movie version of the tale, the one starring Alistair Sim, as my penance.

This was the version I first saw when I was knee-high to Robert Reich. Mant aficionados of “A Christmas Carol adaptations think it is still the best. Because the movie is in black and white and has been superseded by so many other versions, it is hard to find it on TV except for the streaming services. Even the much inferior version starring Reginald Owen (with the entire Lockhart family, including young pre-“Lassie,” pre-“Lost in Space” June, as the Cratchits) is shown more than the classic Sim film. Now “A Christmas Carol” is most likely to be available, sort of, in the cynical form of Bill Murray’s “Scooged.” It’s not the worst version—the musical starring Albert Finney wins that booby prize (“Thank you very much! Thank you very much!” Yecchh.).

I have to confess that my personal choice for the best adaptation goes to the 1984 George C. Scott version, if you don’t count “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol,” and you probably shouldn’t. Nonetheless, Allistair Sim is mighty good, and if you’ve never seen him as Scrooge, you owe yourself the experience.

Here he is…

“Miracle On 34th Street,”An Ethics Companion,Chapter 5: Boy, This Guy Sure Doesn’t ACT Like He’s Santa!

Bellevue ride

(The Introduction is here.; Chapter I is here.;Chapter 2 is here; Chapter 3 is here; Chapter 4 is here.)

Everything so far has been laying the foundation for the climactic and justly famous courtroom scene. But before that can happen, there needs to be a pretext for getting the story into court. Of course, the fact that Kris committed assault and battery on Mr. Sawyer would normally be enough to get him there on a criminal charge, but that wouldn’t have anything to do with Santa Claus, so we have a lot of dubious plot machinations that make no sense at all. in rapid succession—got to get to that courtroom scene!—we get…

Sawyer’s Perfidy

First, Sawyer acts like he’s been grievously wounded so he can credibly insist that Kris be committed. He’s a liar as well as a weasel. He’s also not very bright. He knows Macy’s has been using Kris a public relations cornucopia. He has to know that in any feud with a store Santa Claus who has made money for Macy’s, he’ll lose. Sawyer’s antipathy towards Kris to his own likely detriment makes no sense at all.

Doris’s Failure

Doris refuses to have anything to do with sending Kris to Bellevue, the NYC mental hospital, to be examined. She is, however, unlike Sawyer, responsible for Kris, and has said as much. Her duty is to Macy’s, and her employee attacked someone. This is where conflicts of interest get you in the workplace, and she should have seen this coming. Her job is to fix the problem, and instead she acts helpless. I find this to be nascent sexism in the film: “just like a woman,” Doris is being sentimental when she needs to be practical and decisive.

Actress Maureen O’Hara, a notorious tough proto-feminist, must have been seething.

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Comment Of The Day: “’Miracle On 34th Street,’An Ethics Companion,Chapter 3: Kris Joins The Macy’s Family!” And An Explanatory Note On The Holiday Movie Ethics Guides

Grinch

As promised, I am finally completing the “’Miracle On 34th Street’ Ethics Companion,” which I began a year ago and took so long to complete that I ran out of 2019 holidays. As a refresher, I am also, in this post, presenting a Comment of the Day on Chapter Three from all the way back to January 1 of 2020, an excellent analysis of a feature of the story that I missed, by A.M. Golden.

Yesterday’s latest installment attracted some flack from commenters. “Wow, what a Christmas downer, Jack. Channeling Scrooge or the Grinch?” wrote one. “I suspect we could poke holes in any film with respect to morality and ethics if we wanted to.” On the last observation,

  • I want to, because it’s my job
  • Movies are excellent for tuning up ethics alarms
  • Christmas movies, which are seen by children, have a special obligation to teach the right lessons, both prominently and subliminally, and
  • No, in fact you can’t poke holes in any film, at least not fairly.

I suspect this will be the last of the traditional holiday film fare to get the ethics work-over, along with “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “White Christmas,” which will have the annual Christmas season re-posting with updated text up today. The three classics were chosen for different reasons. IAWL was designed as an ethics movie with very important and profound ethics messages, and the more one examines it, the more there is to think about. Nonetheless, its cheats on the way to its most important messages are pretty flagrant—justified, but flagrant—and deserve to be flagged. “White Christmas” is different: it’s a musical, for one thing, and musicals never make sense (why are these people singing?), but it also is story about ethics, so it is fair to examine it on that basis. Moreover, one doesn’t need to poke holes in it, the story is full of ethics holes. None of them bothered me before I became a full time ethicist: Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye are two of my favorite entertainers of all time, and the ending still moistens my eye. But the movie is almost impossible to watch now, with my ethics alarms on, and even with my brain on. I had an obligation to dissect it. As for “Miracle,” I accept it as a classic, but the story was constructed to reach the climactic trial gimmick, and scant attention was given to consistency or playing fair. Moreover, I am a legal ethics expert, after all. You can’t honestly expect me not to analyze a trial like that.

You will never see me try to “poke holes” in the greatest of all Christmas stories, and arguably the best ethics story period, “A Christmas Carol,” because it is pretty close to perfect. (AND I now see that the link to the text on the home page has gone bad; I’ll be fixing it ASAP!). “A Christmas Story” is off my list because it is seen through a child’s eyes, and ethics has nothing to do with it. Critiquing “Holiday Inn” would be like shooting ethics eels in a barrel, but it’s just not worth the trouble.

There are also holiday films and ethics films that are written superbly, and have few if any ethics holes to find. Among these are “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo” (most of the Pixar movies, in fact), “Mary Poppins,” “The Sound of Music,” “Babe,” and even “Groundhog Day.” I’m not the Grinch, but if you set out to make an ethics movie, you had better pay attention to ethics.

Now here almost a year late, is A.M. Golden’s Comment of the Day on the post, “’Miracle On 34th Street,’An Ethics Companion, Continued…Chapter 3: Kris Joins The Macy’s Family!”

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Two Ethics Movies For The Holidays

I typically use this time of year to catch up on or revisit ethics movies, especially since the ones in the Christmas sub-category are embedded in my brain already. Two ethics movies that I recently watched again are Ben Affleck’s “Gone Baby Gone” from 2007 and “Seven Days in May” (1964).

“Gone Baby Gone” is the more obvious ethics movie thanks to its famous ending, which sparked thousands high school essay assignments at the time of its release. I can’t write too much about that ending without spoiling the film for you if you’ve never seen it; let me just state that the climactic decision made by the film’s protagonist, played by Ben’s brother Casey, is or should be an ethics no-brainer. It’s depressing to me that so many viewers agreed with the character’s ethically clueless, emotion-driven girlfriend that his solution to an admittedly wrenching ethics conflict made him a monster. There is literally no ethical system that would legitimately support her argument, which can only be backed by using an army of rationalizations. That a large proportion of the public, perhaps a majority, would back her analysis shows how miserably the education system and our culture has failed in teaching basic ethics problem-solving skills.

“Seven Days in May” presents more diverse and complex ethical issues to consider, and also is old enough after almost 60 years that I have no hesitation in revealing the plot: if you have never seen it, you should have.

That movie is also fascinating as a period piece, flashing ideas and images that seem surprisingly familiar in today’s context in rapid juxtaposition with moments that are hard to imagine today. Silent protests in front of the White House? Women picketing in dresses and men in suits and ties? I found a review of the film from The Harvard Crimson in 1964 that featured this:

[T]he film has a civil rights tinge. The producer has dutifully used Negroes in minor roles wherever he deemed it appropriate. A Negro in the Pentagon running an automatic door receives a good deal of film footage. Negroes sit in the airports. They march in the pro and anti-treaty lines before the White House. Finally, there are Negroes at the President’s press conference as the film closes. These are simply kowtows to the New Republic set; if the producer had real guts he could have cast Sydney Poitier in Kirk Douglas’ role. But then Producer Edward Lewis would have been troubled by the script’s implication that Douglas will some day sleep with Ava Gardner, who plays Lancaster’s former mistress. Miscegenation might have confused the good guys and the bad guys, particularly for southern audiences. Anything that controversial would have detracted from the film’s propaganda force.

Fascinating, don’t you think? Today, mixed-race couples on TV and movies are de rigeur, even when it makes no historical sense whatsoever. Today, it takes courage to resist the political correctness edicts that “actors of color” be gratuitously shoehorned into stories and casts based on skin-hue and little else. But today the motivation isn’t “civil rights” but rather affirmative action and “racial justice.” I really don’t care that in Netflix’s “Enola Holmes” blacks turn up in highly unlikely roles for Victorian England, I really don’t. OK, it’s a misrepresentation of history, but the film is a fantasy. However, such blatant virtue-signaling and diversity box-checking does take me out of the story for a moment, and that’s just bad direction. (How many black female martial arts tutors were there in Victorian England, I wonder?)

But I digress. “Seven Days in May” was indeed anti-war, nuclear disarmament propaganda in 1964 at the height of the Cold War, but that’s not one of the ethics issues central to the film.

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Ethics Alarms’ Annual Holiday Re-Posting Of The Complete “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide, Updated And Reconsidered, With A New Introduction

Clarence

2020 Introduction

There is no better year to watch Frank Capra’s masterpiece “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I sincerely hope that President Trump screens it again, assuming he has ever seen it.

“It’s A Wonderful Life,” as I wrote last year, “would be an excellent basis for a middle school ethics course. I haven’t seen a better, richer film for that purpose come along since, and I’ve been looking. Despite the many ethics complexities and nuances that the film glosses over or distorts, its basic, core message is crucial to all human beings, and needs to be hammered into our skulls at regular intervals, far more often than once a year.”

But in addition to being a movie about ethics, it is also a movie that is itself a result of an ethical instinct.

Director Frank Capra was already known as Hollywood’s master of celebrating common Americans doing extraordinary things, the nation’s families, the power of love and American exceptionalism. They called his movies “Capra Corn”: “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,” “Meet John Doe,” and other critical and box office hits. He spent World War II making inspirational documentaries about the war effort. When the war was over, he sensed the dark mood in much of the nation, despite the exhilaration of victory. Returning soldiers found the culture changed and their emotions raw. Families whose .loved one had died or returned with disabling wounds struggled to believe that their sacrifices were justified. The atom bombs that ended the war also opened up a dangerous new era of paranoia and fear.

The post-war movie that seemed to capture the mood of much of the nation was William Wyler’s “The Best Years of Our Lives,” a film my World War II veteran father refused to watch for fear that it would send his mind and memories to dark places he struggled not to go.

Capra had a new production company, and decided that “It’s A Wonderful Life,” based on an idea by author Philip Van Doren Stern. Unable to get his short story published, he had sent it to friends as a 21-page Christmas card. Film producer David Hempstead read it, and bought the movie rights for Capra’s company. The story was just what America needed, Capra reasoned, to restore its belief that what the nation had accomplished was worth the pain, loss and sacrifice, and that the nation itself had led a “wonderful life.” The new film could restore the nation’s flagging optimism, pride and hope.

Capra immediately thought of actor and now war hero James Stewart to play protagonist George Bailey. Three years of flying bombing raids against the Nazis in the US Air Force had left the the 37-year-old suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome. He returned home in 1945 to find that everything had changed: his contract with MGM had run out, his agent had retired, and other stars had taken his place. He trusted Capra, even though the story he described sounded depressing. Stewart signed on.

Production finally began on the film in April of 1946, and the cast and crew felt they were making an important movie. Bedford Falls became one of the largest American film sets ever created to that point at four acres, with 75 fake stores and buildings, a three-block main street, and 20 full-grown oak trees. To avoid the traditional problem of fake-looking snow, the special effects department invented a new and more realistic process.

The story also touched the cast, especially Stewart, who was still suffering from the effects of the war and at times was close to quitting. In the scene where George, in a roadside bar, desperate and defeated, is praying to a God he doesn’t believe in. He rubs a trembling hand against his mouth, and starts to cry. The gesture wasn’t in the script, or requested by Capra. It was real.

Stewart explained years later,

“I felt the loneliness, the hopelessness of people who had nowhere to turn, and my eyes filled with tears. I broke down sobbing. That was not planned at all.”

Stewart felt it was his best performance (it is) and Capra believed he had made his best film. “I thought it was the greatest film I ever made,” he said later. “Better yet, I thought it was the greatest film anybody ever made.”

But it was a catastrophic flop. The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther wrote that “the weakness of this picture is the sentimentality of it”, describing George Bailey as “a figment of simple Pollyanna platitudes”. The New Republic’s Manny Farber accused Capra of taking “an easy, simple-minded path that doesn’t give much credit to the intelligence of the audience”. The movie lost money and crippled Capra’s production company. His career never retained its former status, and what he believed was his greatest work was forgotten for decades. Republic Pictures, which owned the film’s copyright, didn’t bother to renew the rights in 1974. It was essentially free to local television channels, and they began showing it constantly.

Well, all you have to do is see it. Capra was right, Stewart was right, the cast and crew were right. It is a classic. The story accomplishes just what Cara intended it to accomplish. In a Times piece about the movie by a self-professed cynic, Wendell Jamieson wrote about seeing the movie for the first time as teen in a classroom showing, and confessed,

It’s something I felt while watching the film all those years ago, but was too embarrassed to reveal.

That last scene, when Harry comes back from the war and says, “To my big brother, George, the richest man in town”? Well, as I sat in that classroom, despite the dreary view of the parking lot; despite the moronic Uncle Billy; despite the too-perfect wife, Mary; and all of George’s lost opportunities, I felt a tingling chill around my neck and behind my ears. Fifteen years old and imagining myself an angry young man, I got all choked up.

And I still do.

Yeah, me too.

  In an earlier version of The Guide I described the message of the film this way:

Everyone’s life does touch many others, and everyone has played a part in the chaotic ordering of random occurrences for good. Think about the children who have been born because you somehow were involved in the chain of events that linked their parents. And if you can’t think of something in your life that has a positive impact on someone–although there has to have been one, and probably many—then do something now. It doesn’t take much; sometimes a smile and a kind word is enough. Remembering the lessons of “It’s a Wonderful Life” really can make life more wonderful, and not just for you.

Lets’s try to make what’s left of the holiday season as epiphenal and joyous foreveryone in our lives as it was for George Bailey.

And away we go…

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Weekend Ethics Update, 10/18/20: As The Election Nears…Seeking Contrast And Perspective

  1. Ethics movie alert. Its heart is true blue—this is an Aaron Sorkin film, after all—but “The Trial of the Chicago Seven,” now on Netflix, is excellent, as well as must-watching for the astounding number of Americans under 40—50? 60?—who know almost nothing about the previous period of liberal arrogance, political incompetence and institutional failure, the late Sixties. The cast is excellent and star-studded; whoever came up with the idea of casting Sasha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman should win a casting Oscar, for example. For me, the movie brought back memories sharp and grim: what a shitstorm that trial was. Frank Langella, whom I just watched in his remarkable performance as Richard Nixon more more than a decade ago in “Frost/Nixon,” is a memorable if unsympathetic Judge Julian Hoffman. Hoffman, I think, deserves better: like Judge Ito, Hoffman never had a chance to avoid judicial infamy once that trial became a circus, and that bwas something no judge on Earth could have stopped.

Then there is the frightening reality that the Chicago Seven (and Bobby Seale made Eight), who seemed like fringe-y, juvenile extremists at the time, look moderate and reasonable in comparison to today’s antifa, Black Lives Matter followers, and…dare I say it? … a nearly critical mass of Democrats.

2. Speaking of which…Senator Diane Feinstein is under attack from that nearly critical mass for indulging in traditional professional civility and bi-partisan responsibility by not pushing the recently completed hearings on the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett nomination to turn into a hyper-partisan fiasco, like the Kavanaugh hearings. She even praised her Republican counterpart, Senator Graham, for doing a good job (it wasn’t that good a job) in chairing the hearings, unlike, to just pick an example out of the murky past, the job Senator Joe Biden did during the infamous Clarence Thomas hearings. Feinstein is nearly 90, and should not be in the Senate at that age just as the unjustly sainted Justice Ginsburg should not have been on the Supreme Court long enough to die in office. Nonetheless, she is trying to hold the line against forces in her own party that would make peaceful and functioning Democracy impossible.

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