What A Difference A Month Makes: Re-Watching “Trumbo”

It was only in May that I had a quick note in a morning warm-up declaring the 2015 film “Trumbo” an ethics movie. That it is, but subsequent developments have made me realize it is much more, including frightening.

The film, starring Brian Cranston as the most famous member of the “Hollywood Ten,” now is a glass of ice water recieved full in the face, shocking viewers into the realization that the George Floyd Freakout is the catalyst for a second wave of McCarthyism. This one varies from the first in that the current version is being fueled by the Left rather than conservatives, and that it is far more violent, and potentially more dangerous.

After watching the film again and reviewing the history, for “Trumbo” is easily the best film about the blacklist, there is no question in my mind that this is true. Previously, I regarded the use of “McCarthyism” as a useful if over-used metaphor, like “witch-hunt.” (“McCarthyism” usually refers to the oppression and intimidation of the entire “Red Scare” period, including the blacklist, which was Fifties for “cancelled.” The “Hollywood Ten” were victims of the fascist House Un-American Activities  Committee, which was separate from the vicious Wisconsin GOP Senator, but “House Un-American Activities  Committee-ism” doesn’t roll off the tongue well.) Now it is evident that we are witnessing  in the United States  a mutated clone of what occurred across the country in the beginning of the 1950’s, with “racist” the current label being used to bully, silence, and ruin careers and lives, rather than “Communist.” Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/3/2020: Rationalizations #1 And #64

Well, maybe the Nicholas Brothers will cheer me up….

I wrote about Fayard and Harold here. Talk about victims of systemic racism: the only reason these guys aren’t as famous as Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly is that Hollywood wouldn’t let them be. Justice would be making sure every single American kid sees this routine before they are 18.

1. Of course rioting is domestic terrorism. What else would you call it? It’s calculated violence against innocent citizens to promote fear and to advance a political objective. That’s terrorism.

If the truth hurts, tough. Boy, Rationalization #64. Yoo’s Rationalization or “It isn’t what it is” has had a work-out this year!

2. New York Times priorities: Here’s the top front page headline in the Times today: “How Trump’s Idea For Photo Op led To Havoc in the Park.”  Riots, looting, attacks on police and deaths from the George Floyd riots, and that’s the story the Times believes should be first today. Nah, there’s no mainstream media bias. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Twitter

Twitter crossed the digital Rubicon this week, as we had to know it would sooner or later.  It added qualifying links to two of President Trump’s tweets  about mail-in ballots, in which he claimed they would cause the 2020 Presidential election to be “rigged.” The New York Times, typically, wrote that he “falsely” predicted that result, and there you have it: social media now is choosing to use its power to tell the public what opinions are “true.”…just like the New York Times and the rest of the mainstream media.

The links — which were in blue lettering at the bottom of the posts and punctuated by  exclamation marks — urged people to “get the facts” about voting by mail. Clicking on the links led to a CNN story that said Mr. Trump’s claims were unsubstantiated and to a list of bullet points that Twitter had compiled rebutting the “inaccuracies.”

Because CNN is where reasonable people go who want “the facts.”

Twitter, as a private rather than a government communications platform, can do this if it chooses, and the consequences to the company are likely to be far less serious than the consequences to public discourse. There is no way this kind of policing of speech, from the President or anyone else, can be done fairly, consistently and even-handedly. Already, Twitter has demonstrated hard ideological bias in its choices of which Twitter users to suspend or otherwise censor, and this escalation opens the door wide to more abuse. Will Twitter be similarly vigilant in calling out Democrats, activists, pundits and journalists on their excesses? You know they won’t; they couldn’t if they tried. Twitter’s wan excuse is that Trump’s tweets are special. I suspect the company is setting itself up for some serious federal regulation. Continue reading

The Knight-Gallup Freedom Of Speech Survey

A survey just released by the Knight Foundation and Gallup shows that More than 75% of the college students surveyed want “safe spaces” on  campuses that are free of “threatening actions, ideas, or conversations.” However, a majority of the same students support President Trump’s threat to withhold taxpayer dollars from universities that restrict speech.

Though 97% of college students believe that free speech is “an essential pillar of American democracy”, a  majority of students support policies to restrict of speech on campus. 78% of students support “safe spaces” where threatening ideas and conversations would be barred. 80%  favor the establishment of a “free-speech zone” where pre-approved protests and the distribution of literature are permitted. Continue reading

“Nah, Academia, Mainstream Media And Social Media Aren’t An Increasing Threat To Free Speech!”

The Atlantic, the increasingly progressive culture and politics magazine, has offered its readers an article by Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith and Arizona U. law professor Andrew Keane Woods called “Internet Speech Will Never Go Back to Normal: In the debate over freedom versus control of the global network, China was largely correct, and the U.S. was wrong.”

Yes, you read that correctly. Two distinguished law professors are celebrating Communist China’s censorship of the web in contrast to the U.S.’s silly approach, that crazy First Amendment thingy.  Here are some quotes to chill you to the marrow of your bones:

Covid-19 has emboldened American tech platforms to emerge from their defensive crouch. Before the pandemic, they were targets of public outrage over life under their dominion. Today, the platforms are proudly collaborating with one another, and following government guidance, to censor harmful information related to the coronavirus. And they are using their prodigious data-collection capacities, in coordination with federal and state governments, to improve contact tracing, quarantine enforcement, and other health measures. As Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg recently boasted, “The world has faced pandemics before, but this time we have a new superpower: the ability to gather and share data for good.”

Proudly working with each other and the government to censor the web!

“But the “extraordinary” measures we are seeing are not all that extraordinary. Powerful forces were pushing toward greater censorship and surveillance of digital networks long before the coronavirus jumped out of the wet markets in Wuhan, China, and they will continue to do so once the crisis passes. The practices that American tech platforms have undertaken during the pandemic represent not a break from prior developments, but an acceleration of them.”

You might think that the two authors are sounding an alarm over this development. Uh, no. They write, Continue reading

Stop Making Me Defend Woody Allen! And Another Victory For The Illiberal Mob…

This blog certainly forces me to defend some  unsavory characters.

Woody Allen is one among the small group of artists who I find so personally repellent that I can’t enjoy their work even while recognizing and appreciating its excellence. That does not mean, however, thatAllen’s work is not important nor that his life and career lack cultural significance. As I wrote here,

“I found myself unable to enjoy any of Allen’s films after he cheated on his de facto wife with his de facto daughter. I also don’t believe in enriching, even indirectly, horrible people in their professional endeavors if I can conveniently avoid it.”

That, however, is a personal choice that I would never impose on others, nor on the arbiters and trustees of culture, as it would be unethical to do so. Thus I wrote, just a few days ago, of Ronin Farrow’s demand that his publishers refuse to hand Allen’s memoirs because he believes his sister’s account that Allen sexually abused her when she was a child,

“I yield to no one in my contempt for Woody Allen as a human being, but he is a major figure in film and cultural history, and his memoirs are of obvious value and interest. Farrow’s publisher’s obligation is to readers and stockholders, not the sensibilities of one author.”

Now we learn that the publishers have been intimidated into dropping Allen’s book after all:

Hachette Book Group on Friday dropped its plans to publish Woody Allen’s autobiography and said it would return all rights to the author, a day after its employees protested its deal with the filmmaker“The decision to cancel Mr. Allen’s book was a difficult one,” a spokeswoman for the publisher said in a statement. “We take our relationships with authors very seriously, and do not cancel books lightly. We have published and will continue to publish many challenging books. As publishers, we make sure every day in our work that different voices and conflicting points of views can be heard.”

But she added that Hachette executives had discussed the matter with employees and, “after listening, we came to the conclusion that moving forward with publication would not be feasible for HBG.”

There are those pesky rationalizations again! Oh, it’s a hard decision, so that excuses it from being a bad decision. This is 19 B. Murkowski’s Lament, or “It was a difficult decision” again, which I reviewed yesterday. Next, we get this nauseating sequence, which perfectly embodies 64, Yoo’s Rationalization, or “It isn’t what it is!”

The statement says that “We have published and will continue to publish many challenging books. As publishers, we make sure every day in our work that different voices and conflicting points of views can be heard,’ and follows it up by saying that it will not publish this “challenging book” and thus this different voice and conflicting point of view  will not be heard. Seldom does such complete hypocrisy define itself in the span of so few sentences.

The “difficult” decision that contradicts the company’s stated values results from nothing better than cowardly capitulating to a mob carrying out the goals of cancel culture. In this case, those goals include infringing on free speech and the public’s right to know, if they want to know. Our democratic ideals and the principles enunciated in the Bill of Rights have no chance of surviving if those who own and run companies like Hachette emulate the spineless administrators of educational institutions and dissolve into pools of passive submission every time holding to those ideals and principles threatens to entail a risk of sacrifice or adverse consequences. Continue reading

FIRE Names The Ten Colleges That Most Abuse Freedom Of Speech. Yes, Harvard Is On It. Of Course It Is.

And yes, for the exact reason that caused me to turn my diploma to the wall.

Here are the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s 2020 selections as the 10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech:

Babson College (Wellesley, Mass.)

Babson College fired adjunct professor Asheen Phansey for a Facebook post parodying  President Donald Trump’s (dumb) tweet threatening to bomb 52 cultural sites in Iran. The professor’s satire wasn’t exactly Dave Barry, but it was obviously a joke:

“In retaliation, Ayatollah Khomeni should tweet a list of 52 sites of beloved American cultural heritage that he would bomb. Um… Mall of America? …Kardashian residence?”

The post was shared by a local gossip blog, and Babson administrators suspended Phansey pending an “investigation,” intoning that the college “condemns any type of threatening words and/or actions condoning violence” and that it was “cooperating with local, state and federal authorities.” That was some investigation: less than a day later, Babson  fired him.

FIRE  protested to Babson  earlier this month, pointing out that Phansey’s post was  obviously a criticism, not an endorsement, of threats of violence, mixed with sarcasm about American culture.

Ethics Alarms covered the incident here.

Jones College (Ellisville, Miss.)

Last spring, administrators and campus police at Jones College twice stopped student Mike Brown  when he tried to recruit students for a campus chapter of Young Americans for Liberty, telling him he needed the school’s explicit permission to speak on campus. When  Brown and two others displayed a sign inviting students to give their opinions about legalizing marijuana, a staff member called campus police. Brown was taken to the police chief’s office and, according to Brown, was told  he was “smarter than” to engage in such conduct on campus without permission. Two months earlier, a Jones administrator called campus police when Brown and a friend produced  an oversized beach ball they dubbed a “free speech ball” for students to write messages while Brown  talked to them about free speech and Young Americans for Liberty.  The Horror. Yes, the police told them they were not allowed to have a provocative beach ball on campus without permission from the school.

Brown has filed a First Amendment lawsuit with FIRE’s help. The Department of Justice has piled on, telling the school that its policies are unconstitutional.

Harvard University (Cambridge, Mass.)

Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/28/2020: Transcripts! Audacious Defense Lawyers! Canadian Defamation! “Bombshells”! [UPDATED]

Good morning…

1. Here’s a typical unbiased New York Times front page headline regarding the impeachment trial (from last week):

“One One Side, Piles of Evidence, On the Other, Heaps of Scorn”

Here’s some more scorn: there is no evidence at all of impeachable offenses on  that pile, and scorn for the President is being treated as evidence.

2. This is astounding. (From johnburger, and thanks) Check out this.

Continue reading

The Ethics Mess That Is US Race Relations, Chapter I: The Killingly Redmen Fiasco

In Killingly, Connecticut, the local high school’s mascot has long been  a Plains Indian, and its athletic teams have been called the Redmen. Then, in 2019, the Nipmuc Tribal Council across the state border in Massachusetts complained that the name and mascott were offensive. [There’s an interesting discussion of the association of the color red with Native Americans here.]  Once the complaint was made, other Native American groups decided, “Yeah! We’re offended too!” along with usual gang of offended-by -proxy political correctness zealots. (Does this all sound familiar? It should.)

As typically happens in such situations, the people in charge decided to take the path of least resistance—this is how political correctness and expression suppression take hold, as you know–and in July, the Killingly  school board voted to eliminate  “Redmen” and the mascot and change it to “Redhawks.” It’s just a name, right?

Well, not this time. The uproar was so great that restoring “Redmen” became an election issue. Supporters of the old name and mascot took  control of the school board in the November 2019 election. However, while the new members had enough votes to eliminate the “Redhawks” name, they couldn’t muster enough to restore “Redmen.” “There is no mascot at this point,” said Craig Hanford, the new Republican board chairman, and he sent the dispute to a committee.

Fans of the football team, it was reported, shouted “Go Redmen!” during games during the rest of the season, wore Redmen jerseys and hats, and told anyone who asked that there was nothing racist about the name. One fan wore the grammatically perplexing sweatshirt, “Born a Redmen, Raised a Redmen, Will Die a Redmen.Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/8/2020: War, Defamation, Bias, Abortion…What Fun.

ARRGH!

Another day, another “crisis”…

Current reports indicate that Iran regards its casualty free missile strikes last night as a sufficient “tat” for the killing of their master terrorist “tit.” If so, the “ARRGH! WORLD WAR III!!” anti-Trump hysterics were, as usual, wrong, and just embarrassed us, nothing more.. Meanwhile, Iran is refusing to hand over the black box of the Ukrainian airliner that just coincidentally crashed right around the time the missiles were flying. The fact that so many Democrats have allowed their brains and loyalty to rot to the extent that they defend  this awful place in order to attack their own nation’s President is all we need to know about the trustworthiness of their party.

1. Wrapping up the Golden Globes’ ethics issues…Michelle Williams is getting predictable hosannas from her acceptance speech at the Goldden Globes, in which she thanked abortion for her success. She said she wanted a life “carved by my own hand” and “wouldn’t have been able to do this without employing a woman’s right to choose.” The New York Times called these words “potent.” I call them deceitful. I’ll praise an equivalent speech when the woman has the integrity and courage to thank the human being who involuntarily gave up his or her chance to carve out a life with their own hand. The use of “choice” as euphemism for “I get to kill someone who stands in my way” is self-deception.

2. Thinking about Trump’s threat...The President backed down from his threat to target Iranian cultural cites in retaliation for any attacks on Americans after being informed that this would be a war crime under international law. I confess, I did not know this was prohibited, and I am not certain what to think about that. I knew the destruction of ancient architecture and important cultural cites became an issue for the Allies in World War II, but this has yet to make sense to me. The whole concept of the “nice” war is ethically incoherent. The idea of war must be to win as quickly as possible, minimizing deaths and chaos on both sides, especially one’s own. If the prospect of losing a nation’s treasured cultural structures is a deterrent to war, then to say that has no “military value” is simply not true. If you can’t tolerate risking your cultural treasures, don’t get into wars.

The values involved in this controversy are also incoherent. In “The Monument Men,” George Clooney’s sort-of accurate account of the special forces whose job was to track down and rescue great artworks stolen by the Nazis, the question is asked repeatedly, “Was retrieving this painting or statue worth sacrificing a human life?” I have no problem voting “Sure!” If the question is changed to refer to a thousand lives, or 10,000, I’m not so sure. Continue reading