If you read Ethics Alarms often, you know about my objections to euphemisms, which I also call “cover words” since their intent is to deceive readers and listeners about the real nature of what is being discussed. My ethical objections to using “cover words” for words that are considered taboo in various settings follows similar lines, except those cover words don’t fool anyone, and thus are not just efforts to deceive, but silly and insulting efforts. If “f-word means “fuck” and everyone knows it means “fuck,” then it’s ridiculous not to just say “fuck.” The same, of course, goes for “n-word.” When we discuss that word here, we use the word. There are no “banned words” under the First Amendment, and I don’t grant anyone the right to tell me what words I can use to express what I want to express when those are the best words to express them..
Civility is, as a cornerstone of the ethical value of respect, important to societal comity. In dramatic works and literature, however, civility isn’t the issue: ideas, emotion and expression are. The bleeping out of “bad words” or shoving mild substitutes into the actors’ mouths on television constitute artistic vandalism; it’s less common now, but still happens too often. The archaic practice is offensive and insults the audience’s intelligence: the first time I hear a character in a film say “Forget you!,” I turn the channel.
Movies, we all know, stopped worrying about such delicate matters decades ago, and let TV stations worry about their language (and sex scenes, and graphic violence) later. Imagine my surprise, then, to hear Steven Spielberg’s redo of the 1961 “West Side Story” movie begin with the same version of “The Jets Song” that was required by the prevailing stage language requirements of the 1950s. The new, updated, woke-minded, spruced up musical with re-written dialogue still starts with the teen-aged, switchblade-carrying gang of punks singing,
The Lincolnshire Wildlife Centre in Great Britain has a problem, or thinks it does. Billy, Eric, Tyson, Jade and Elsie, gray parrots all, joined to zoological park’s flock of 200 gray parrots in August, and quickly proved to be a bad influence. All five have a penchant for telling visitors to “fuck off,” and one reportedly has called a zoo manager a “fat twat.” Zookeepers believe the five were encouraging each other to be potty-beaks, and risked turning the entire group of gray parrots into little feathered versions of Bill Maher.
Can’t have that. The zoo is separating Billy, Eric, Tyson, Jade and Elsie for being bad influences on each other and threatening to corrupt the other parrots.
This episode has special resonance with me. In 1988, I had just joined the staff of The Association of Trial Lawyers (now called, to the group’s great shame, The Association for Justice because a consultant found that people don’t like trial lawyers) to run its various profit centers. Almost immediately, I found myself in Maui overseeing the group’s winter convention at the Ka’anapali Beach Hyatt in Lahaina. That sounds nice, but my convention manager was in the process of going nuts, and I was tasked with minimizing the damage when, among other things, she locked herself in our convention headquarters weeping and screaming.
I had other responsibilities as well, including dealing with rebellious exhibitors and moderating various meetings at which virtually no members were attending, given the lure of the warm breezes and Hawaiian surf. On the day ATLA’s new Executive Director screamed at me for not being able to talk my convention manager out of her fortress of solitude, and the exhibitors ambushed me at a meeting and called me a Nazi, I was walking, disconsolate and exhausted, from a meeting room back to the exhibit hall in the late afternoon. As I walked past a large, colorful macaw in a cage, I heard a voice say, “Fuck you!” I remember freezing, turning around, and staring at the bird. “Really?” I said. “Really? That’s just what I needed to hear today.” Continue reading →
It is a matter of constant amazement to me how many news publications and editors choose to either keep their readers uninformed and confused (by using a vague and ambiguous term like “a racial epithet” or “a vulgarity” when the word in question is central to an episode, or, in my view worse, use the juvenile “N-word” or “F-word” euphemism as if the actual word isn’t what these codes mean, so the pretense that they are anything but the equivalent on speaking in pig-latin because the kiddies are around is an insult to adults everywhere. I wonder: would it be considered benign to use “N-word” as an insult, as in “You stupid N-word!”? Would am employee still be fired if he told his boss, “Oh, go F-word yourself you mother-F-wording F-word head!”? If the euphemism means the same thing as the word, then why not use the word itself?
Another ‘N word’-in-context incident costs a university employee her job
That headline is over a story about how absurd and anti-free speech it is to punish a professor for using the word “nigger” in a discussion about free speech, and the publication still balks at using the actual word in the context of its relationship to the story it describes while condemning the university’s decision! What sense that does that make? It’s hypocritical and incompetent, as well as cowardly.
Marlon Anderson, the janitor we discussed last month who was summarily fired for using the word “nigger” to tell a student not to call him a “nigger,” said, in the course of his defense, “So if the class is reading ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and the teacher is reading the book out loud and it gets to the part where the N-word is, the teacher gets fired?” Continue reading →
Six computer crashes already, but I’m going to get this %$#*&@ post up if it kills me, and I’m STILL calling it a “morning” warm-up.
1. Speaking of %$#*&... Senator Lindsay Graham used “fucking” on both CNN and Fox News, live, coast-to-coast. He was quoting former from one of FBI agent Peter Strzok’s texts, to illustrate the anti-Trump bias among those investigating him, as well as Hillary Clinton. “Trump is a fucking idiot,” Graham read. He added, “Sorry to the kids out there.”
Good for him. If the word is relevant to a legitimate issue, and part of a quote or an example, then use the word. The principle is the same as when professors of linguistics or social studies utter the word “nigger” to raise questions about the way the word itself is used in society.
2. Unethical industry seeks guidance from unethical organization. So desperate is American horse racing to reverse its precipitous decline that leaders in the sport are seeking guidance from PETA.
That will work out well, I’m sure. Any time a business seeks guidance from an outside group that really doesn’t care about whether the business lives or dies, the end is near….not that this is a bad thing in this case. Horse deaths have been increasing across the country, and the anger of animal rights activists is threatening the very existence of “the sport of Kings.” California is close to banning the sport already. The use of drugs to keep sick and injured thoroughbreds running until they drop and the use of whips are the main sources of contention.
The popularity and profitability of horse racing has been falling for a long time. ONce, it ranked with boxing and baseball as one of the three top professional sports in the nation. Those days are gone for ever. Meanwhile, more than $15 billion was bet on races in 2002; last year, the total was $11 billion. In 2002, nearly 33,000 thoroughbred foals were registered as racehorses. 19,925 were registered last year.
Like boxing, horse racing appears to be doomed by its very nature The NFL, it it looks really hard, should be able to see its future, or lack of it. The process takes an infuriatingly long time, but people do become more ethical as time and experience accumulates. Continue reading →
The “The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage,” pompously sub-titled, “The Official Style Guide Used by the Writers and Editors of the World’s Most Authoritative Newspaper,” has always inveighed against the paper publishing vulgar or obscene words. In particular, it has never allowed the printing of the word “fuck” or any version of it anywhere in the paper. On one occasion, the Times stage reviewer had to review a play with “fuck” in the title without ever revealing what the title was.
Ethics Alarms has consistently held that 1) if a vulgar word is a substantive part of the news story, then a newspaper should print the word. Codes like “the f-word,” “F-bomb,” and “f—” convey the word fuck, so why not just print it? The practice is juvenile (remember the camp song “Shaving cream”, in which a line that was set up by a previousl line rhyming with “shit” and suggesting “shit” would substitute “having cream! Hilarious! Well, if you were 11…) and yes, the position here is the same regarding so- called taboo words like “nigger.” In 2015, there was a huge uproar after Kentucky guard Andrew Harrison muttered “Fuck that nigger” behind his handinto a live microphone after answering a post-Final Four game news conference question about Wisconsin player Frank Kaminsky. Yet despite the fact that the words he used were the issue, no newspapers, and certainly no TV news outlet, actually reported the words. I wrote,
It took me 15 minutes and visits to six web sites before I could find out exactly what it was that Harrison said. Most sources vaguely reported that he had uttered “an expletive and a slur,” or plunged readers into a game of “Hangman” with the statement being reported as “_ _ _ _ that _ _ _ _ _ _.” The Washington Post settled on “[Expletive] that [N-word].” Which expletive??? This is ridiculous, and as inexcusably bad journalism as refusing to show the Charlie Hebdo cartoons that caused the Paris massacre. The story is about what Harrison said, and it is impossible to inform readers about the incident without saying exactly what was said.
U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo ruled that the Mahanoy Area School District (In Pennsylvania) violated a student’s First Amendment rights when it kicked her off the junior varsity squad for writing “fuck” repeatedly in a Snapchat post. Do you use that mouth to cheer with, honey?
The teen made the vulgar post on a weekend in May, 2017, off school grounds. It pictured her and a friend holding up their middle fingers with the cogent text, “fuck school fuck softball fuck cheer fuck everything.” She was dressed in street clothes, not her cheerleading uniform, with no pom-pons. I don’t know how schools got the idea that they could control every aspect of a student’s life and speech to this extent, but too many try. And too many get away with it. Continue reading →
Back last night from a whirlwind day of ethics in NYC, and leaving today on an auto safari to Washington County, Pennsylvania, where I will address bar members to kick off their annual meeting. See Facebook? THEY don’t think I should be muzzled! Meanwhile, I will be celebrating the non-birthday of the pirate apprentice hero of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance,” who was, you recall, indentured to a pirate band until his 2ist birthday, and since he was born on Leap Year, legally committed to a life of crime until he was 84 years old.
1. Nah, Democrats don’t automatically default to race-baiting… Well this was certainly ugly and embarrassing. During House Oversight Committee hearing with Michael Cohen, the fallen Trump fixer accused the President of making racist comments about African Americans. Let me interject here that this was obvious pandering to Cohen’s new pals in “the resistance.” It would have no probative value as hearsay even if the speaker wasn’t testifying with his pants on fire. Thus there was no need for Rep. Mark Meadows to try to rebut Cohen by asking Housing and Urban Development staffer Lynne Patton, who is black, to silently stand before the committee to (somehow) disprove that Trump is racist. Meadows (R-N.C.) said that Patton had told him there was “no way that she would work for an individual who was racist.”
Then Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) characterized Meadow’s stunt as racist, saying, “Just because someone has a person of color, a black person working for them does not mean they aren’t racist,” Tlaib said. “And it is insensitive that some would even say — the fact that some would actually use a prop, a black woman in this chamber in this committee is alone racist in itself.”
“You’re one of my best friends,” Cummings said to Meadows. “And I can see and I feel your pain, and I don’t think Ms. Tlaib intended to cause you that, that kind of pain.”
Tlaib then apologized to Meadows, saying it wasn’t her intention to call him racist. She just said that what he did was racist.
2. Stop making me defend the Northam family!Gotcha! Just as Virginia Governor Northam was beginning to extract himself from the embarrassment of having to confess to being a Michael Jackson imitator via shoe polish, an enterprising black legislative page decided to nab her 15 minutes of fame by accusing Mrs. Northam of the dreaded “racial insensitivity.” It appears that Virginia’s First Lady, while narrating a tour of the Governor, triggered her my alluding to slavery.
“When in the cottage house you were speaking about cotton, and how the slaves had to pick it,” the teenaged page’s letter says. “There are only three Black pages in the page class of 2019. When you went to hand out the cotton you handed it straight to another African American page, then you proceeded to hand it to me, I did not take it. The other page took the cotton, but it made her very uncomfortable. I will give you the benefit of the doubt, because you gave it to some other pages. But you followed this up by asking: ‘Can you imagine being an enslaved person, and having to pick this all day?'”
“The comments and just the way you carried yourself during this time was beyond inappropriate, especially considering recent events with the Governor. From the time we walked into the mansion to the time in the cottage house, I did not receive a welcoming vibe.”
Ah. Now we see why Bernie Sanders was attacked by Democrats for saying that race shouldn’t matter. Mrs. Northam treated the black pages like she treated the rest, and that made this page feel unwelcome. And if Virginia’s First Lady had only given the cotton to the white pages? That would have been insensitive too, I’m sure.
To her credit, the Governor’s wife has not apologized. She responded that she has given “the same educational tour to Executive Mansion visitors over the last few months and used a variety of artifacts and agricultural crops.” Her intent is to illustrate “a painful period of Virginia history.” She said that she began last year to tell the “full story” of the governor’s mansion, including the Historic Kitchen. “I believe it does a disservice to Virginians to omit the stories of the enslaved people who lived and worked there — that’s why I have been engaged in an effort to thoughtfully and honestly share this important story since I arrived in Richmond. I regret that I have upset anyone,” she wrote, but she reiterated that she is still committed to chronicling the history of the Historic Kitchen, and “will continue to engage historians and experts on the best way to do so in the future.”
Now, if she had given the tour made up as Janet Jackson, that would have been inappropriate.
3. My own private boycott: I will not buy products that continue the coarsening of our culture by employing juvenile references to gutter language to sell their wares. Now Mr. Clean joins the list, with the ad for “his” Clean Freak Mist. Today’s TV ad screamed out “Big freaking news!” As with Booking.com’s evocation of “fucking” its ads, this is neither clever nor novel. Shrug it off if you like.Continue reading →
It should be. It’s amazing to me that this issue has to take up the time of the Supreme Court, it’s so obvious.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review that case of Iancu v. Brunetti, and decide whether the Lanham’s Act’s ban on “immoral” and “scandalous” trademarks violates the First Amendment. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had refused to register a trademark for a line of clothing called “FUCT,” reasoning that “FUCT is the past tense” of a vulgar word and is “therefore scandalous,” a federal appeals court said. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit had struck down the ban on scandalous and immoral trademarks in December 2017, but clothing designer and artist Erik Brunetti had agreed that the Supreme Court should hear the case even though he had won. The cert petitions are here and here.
The Supreme Court struck down another provision of the Lanham Act in June 2017, when it held that the ban on “disparaging” trademarks violated the First Amendment. The case, Matal v. Tam, was filed by an Asian-American rock band that wanted to trademark the name the Slants. The vote was 8-0 because Justice Neil M. Gorsuch did not participate in the decision. That decision also squashed efforts begun by Democrats and the Obama Administration to force the Washington Redskins to give up their “offensive” team nickname. The team’s trademarks had been cancelled in 2014 following complaints from “offended” non-football fans and a small minority of Native Americans. Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the Court,”It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend.” The opinion rejected the government’s argument that protected trademarks become a form of government, rather than private, speech. Continue reading →
Haven’t featured the Battle Hymn of the Republic for a while: it was the musical climax of my Dad’s funeral service at Arlington National Cemetary. My many performer friends sure came through that day. “Wow,” the chaplain exclaimed when the rousing three choruses were finished.
1. On Wisconsin. After a party flip in state governments, the party on the way out will occasionally try to pass lame duck legislation to try to hamstring the new majority. I’m pretty Ethics Alarms has covered other examples of this in the past; if not, it’s because the stunt is usually grandstanding for the base, or mere politics Such laws often fail to withstand judicial challenge. If a legislature can get away with it, then it’s in the ethics gray zone of politics.
On Monday, the GOP majority Wisconsin legislature will try to pass as much as it can of a huge bill with many dubious or controversial provisions, including some that would limit the new governor’s powers to control the state attorney general, and others that would constrict broad powers the same legislature gave to the defeated Republican governor, Scott Walker. As long as a legislature has power to act, one cannot logically criticize efforts to benefit that legislature’s majority party and its constituents until it has the power to do so no more. If the parties mutually agreed to informally ban such lame duck tricks, that would be wonderful.
As it would be if I could win an Olympic swimming medal.
1. The Jim Acosta Affair. I suppose my analysis of this hypocritical flap will surprise no one. No White House reporter who behaved as Jim Acosta did at the press conference yesterday would have been defended by his employers or other journalists. Dan Rather (with Nixon) and Sam Donaldson (with Reagan) were rude and confrontational (Funny how the only examples of journalists being disrespectful to Presidents involve Republicans–nah, there’s no mainstream media bias!), but nothing like Acosta was and has been. Imagine a journalist defying President Obama like that! It wouldn’t happen, but as with so much else, the rules are somehow different for President Trump. This news media’s reporters have decided, consistent with the attitude of progressives and the “resistance,” to withhold even minimum respect and deference to the Presidency as long as Donald Trump occupies the office.
Acosta was not asking questions, but arguing his position with the President. That’s not his job, or his privilege. When the President told him repeatedly “That’s enough,” Acosta did not stop. That, all by itself, justified pulling Acosta’s credentials. The White House was foolish to concentrate on Acosta pushing the intern away. He had crossed the line before that; indeed, he had crossed the line of what the White House should require from a journalist many times before.
If Acosta apologizes to the intern and the President, and promises not to abuse his opportunity to ask questions at press briefings and press conferences, to exhibit a minimal level of respect, then the White House should give him another chance.
Commentators calling Acosta’s punishment a First Amendment violation should be ridiculed for the hypocrites they are. Ann Althouse points out that journalists were up in arms when Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was charged with battery for grabbing Michelle Fields, a reporter. The level of contact in the two cases is similar. “Either both instances of battery matter or neither does. Pick one,” says Ann. But there’s a problem that Ann somehow doesn’t see. She writes, “I found myself thinking that Trump and Acosta are both in control and choosing to do this theater of mutual hate.” Acosta and Trump are not equals, however. Acosta is obligated to give due respect to the President of the United States, but the converse does not apply. Continue reading →