Saturday Ethics Alerts, 1/16/21: “Nevermore!” If Only…

Raven Addams

The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, prohibiting the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes,” was ratified by the requisite number of states on this date in, 1919. It was a great, botched, ethics experiment. Alcohol was too far embedded in the culture for too long and in too many ways, and the laws prohibiting alcohol were badly drafted and engendered public resentment and contempt. Still, as the Ken Burns documentary on the topic made clear, the damage being caused by alcohol abuse before Prohibition was permanently slowed down and reversed by the ban, though the ban itself was doomed from the start.

1. Quote of the Day: I just finished watching “We Bought A Zoo” again, and it reminded me of the quote, alluded to in the film, by the real life English man who did buy a zoo, and whose story was transferred to America in the film staring Matt Damon. Benjamin Mee said in his book (with the same title as the film) about the adventure, “You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”

He’s absolutely right, and this principle has enriched my own life too many times to count.

Continue reading

Further Ethics Observations On The Kevin Spacey Scandal [Part 2]

[Continuing the reflections on the accusation against Kevin Spacey and its aftermath…Part One is here.]

I have always assumed that Spacey had endured some kind of serious trauma that explained his aversion to confirming that he was gay, since, really, it was so, so obvious. Many actors become actors because of familial abuse and self-loathing: if you think about it, it makes sense. They don’t like who they are and what real life has been, so they seek the fantasy life of being someone else on stage, films and TV.  Maybe Spacey’s long obsession with performer Bobby Darrin provided a clue. (Spacey eventually played Darrin in his own vanity film project. “Beyond the Sea.”) You have to be really unhappy with yourself to fantasize being in the shoes of Darrin, the talented, troubled heterosexual  actor-singer who died before he turned 40. Thus I was not surprised when Spacey’s brother Randall Fowler, 62, a limo driver and professional Rod Stewart impersonator, described the home in which he, Kevin and their sister were raised as resembling the plot a  horror movie.

  • Fowler says he and his brother were both sexually abused by their father, Thomas Geoffrey Fowler (whom the children called “The Creature”), and that their mother knew about their treatment at his hands. Their older sister, Julie, was also abused before she fled home when she was 18. In a 2004 interview, Spacey’s brother described how their ultra-right-wing father was a member of the American Nazi Party. He was so enamored with Adolf Hitler, Fowler claimed, that he trimmed his mustache to resemble Der Fuehrer’s.

“I grew up in a living hell. There was so much darkness in our home it was beyond belief. It was absolutely miserable,” Spacey’s brother said then. “Years later, our mother actually wrote a letter to all three of us, trying to justify what had gone on by saying she was abused as a child and so was our father. Kevin tried to avoid what was going on by wrapping himself in an emotional bubble….He was so determined to try to avoid the whippings that he just minded his Ps and Qs until there was nothing inside. He had no feelings.”

Fowler described his younger brother was an “empty vessel” who had never been in a real relationship with anyone. “Neither of us had a chance growing up with two such damaged parents, ” he concluded.

No, I don’t know that what a Rod Stewart imitator and publicity-seeking sibling of a famous actor says is completely true, exaggerated, or a fabrication.  But it fits. Spacey should be given the benefit of the doubt, and accorded some compassion. We all deserve that. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Confused Ethics Observations On Caitlyn Jenner, Up and Down the Cognitive Dissonance Scale”

"Yikes! Doc says I have to go back to the Seventies and make sure Caitlyn Jenner wins the Ladies Decathlon!"

“Yikes! Doc says I have to go back to 1976 and make sure Jenner wins the Ladies Decathlon!”

It is testimony to the passion, breadth and erudition of the readership here that when I miss an ethics angle to a story, it almost always is raised, and well, by someone else. Here is a wonderful example, johnburger’s ethical objection to the instant, inaccurate and unethical recasting of Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner as female, because Jenner has adopted another gender identity more than 30 years later. I’ll have a brief note in the end,

Here is johnburger’s Comment of the Day on the post, Confused Ethics Observations On Caitlyn Jenner, Up and Down the Cognitive Dissonance Scale: Continue reading

Jerks, Liars, Hypocrites, Fools and Hoosiers: 10 Ethics Observations On Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act Controversy

Indiana5

1. The law was passed to make discrimination against gays, trans individuals and especially same-sex couples seeking marriage if not easier, to at least seem easier. Anyone claiming otherwise is lying, or being intentionally obtuse. Would Indiana be passing this law without the Hobby Lobby decision or the various court rulings requiring photographers, bakers, and other businesses to provide the same products and services to gay couples that they do to heterosexuals? Yes, you say? Tell me another.

As GLAAD alertly pointed out, Governor Pence was surrounded by anti-gay activists when he signed the bill:

GLAAD Pence

This is res ipsa loquitur, and doesn’t speak well for the Governor’s candor or intelligence.

2. Context matters. The original laws of this sort (the Federal law signed by President Clinton is also called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) were part of the left’s long range pro-drug strategy, like medical marijuana. It was essentially a hippie law designed to create a slippery slope to recreational drug legalization by allowing fringe religious groups, specifically Native American tribes, to use peyote in tribal ceremonies. Now you understand why Clinton signed the bill.

Oops. Excuse me if I enjoy the spectacle of the clever members of the Church of the Perpetually Stoned—including the ACLU, which once supported such laws as long as they pointed the way to their young lawyers being able to have their Saturday night joints legally but now opposes them—being hoisted on their own petard.

“When the federal government adopted a religious protection act in 1993, same-sex marriage was not on the horizon,” whines the New York Times. Well, competent, well-considered, properly drafted, responsibly passed laws don’t suddenly become unbearable, then fine, then unbearable again with every shift of the cultural winds. The intent of the law was never to protect mainstream religions, but cloaked itself in language that did. It backfired.

3. That being stipulated, the good states need to read their own laws before they start grandstanding. Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy just announced on Twitter that he plans to sign an executive order banning state travel to Indiana in response to its Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Yet Connecticut, hippie enclave and bedroom community of rich, white, liberal New Yorkers that it is, happily jumped on the religious freedom train with a law of its own, one that, as the Federalist points out, makes discrimination on the basis of religion easier than the Hoosier version, which only prohibits the government from substantially burdening religion. Connecticut’s law does not include the word “substantially,” meaning that all government-enacted burdens on religion are theoretically illegal.

I wonder how Malloy is going to ban government travel to Connecticut? Is the theory that the same law can be good when liberal states pass it and evil when those bad conservative states pass it? It is more likely that the governor hasn’t looked at his own state’s law.

4. The hysteria being stirred up over the supposed horribles Indiana’s law will lead to is irresponsible. Jonathan Adler explains on The Volokh Conspiracy: Continue reading

Emmy’s Transgender Nomination: Important, Inspiring, and a Breach of Integrity

laverne-cox-timeThe Emmys made cultural history yesterday, nominating Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” actress Laverne Cox, who plays Sophia Burset in the prison drama, in the category of outstanding guest actress in a comedy series. It is the first time an openly transgendered actress has been nominated for an Emmy.

She joined several of her colleagues  on the show who were also recognized in various acting categories: stars Taylor Schilling, Kate Mulgrew, Uzo Aduba and Natasha Lyonne.

The problem is that Cox received the nomination for political and social reasons unrelated to her performing skills. This will be denied, of course, and since all awards are subjective, no one will be able to prove this is the case. It is, however. In the large, uniformly superb ensemble cast, Cox’s role is relatively minor, and I have a difficult time believing that anyone would objectively identify her as a standout in the show based on her acting. (In the current season, which I have seen in its entirety, her character is almost invisible). This isn’t intended to diminish Cox in any way, for in the role she plays, I cannot imagine it being played better. Nevertheless, there are many un-nominated actresses in that show—as well as other shows— whose characters are more vivid, who have to show more range, and who are more deserving of a nomination once the process is stripped of irrelevant political baggage. Among them: Taryn Manning, whose transformation into the complex religious fanatic Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett is frightening; Yael Stone, as the heartbreaking stalker Lorna Morello; Samara Wiley, as te alcoholic moralist Poussey Washington, and several others.

Everyone is thrilled for Cox, with Cox, reasonably, leading the way. “I’m on cloud nine. I’m through the roof,” said the actress, whose path to an award was  paved when she was featured on the cover of Time magazine.“What a wonderful, wonderful day for “Orange” and for black trans-women,” she said.

Undoubtedly. It’s not such a great day for the acting profession generally, the Emmys, or the principle that awards based on merit should be decided based on merit, and not social and political agendas. I would say, “But that’s Hollywood,” except that it isn’t just Hollywood. Continue reading

Bob Newhart, Legatus And GLAAD: “What’s Going On Here?” Is Tricky To Answer

"Hey, Bob---What's going on here?"

“Hey, Bob—What’s going on here?”

The news item about comedian Bob Newhart cancelling an appearance for the Catholic executives networking group Legatus under pressure from GLAAD is fascinating.

From the perspective of Ethics Alarms, it illustrates a peculiar phenomenon I experience often, where a prominent story seems to have been designed by the Ethics Gods specifically to combine and coalesce several issues that have been discussed here recently. For Bob’s travails neatly touch on the issues of pro-gay  advocacy groups attempting to restrict expression they disagree with( The Phil Robertson-A&E Affair, Dec. 19), a comedian being pressured to alter the course of his comedy (Steve Martin’s Tweet Retreat, Dec. 23) and an entertainment figure being criticized for the activities of his audience (Mariah’s Dirty Money, Dec. 23). You would think I could analyze the Newhart controversy by just sticking my conclusions from those recent posts, plus some of the more illuminating reader comments, into my Ethics-O-Tron, and it would spit out the verdict promptly.

It doesn’t work that way, at least in this instance, and that prompts the other observation. In most ethics problems, the starting point is the question, “What’s going on here?”, which forces us to determine the factual and ethical context of the choices made by the participants. Here, the question can be framed  several diverging ways, leading to different assessments of the ethics involved. Thus, asking “What’s going on here?” in the Bob Newhart Episode, we might get: Continue reading

On Cracker Barrel’s Poll-Driven “Principles”

Well, they got the color right...

Well, they got the color right…

Cracker Barrel just proved that integrity and principle are alien concepts, if not to the entire corporate sector, then at least its cheesy, weaselly corner of it. Watching a company so blatantly hold its wet finger to the wind waiting to see where the “principles” with the most profitability lie is revolting, but instructive to those of us who like to believe there are such things as ethical corporations. I think we’re probably fooling ourselves. I think they are nearly all like the spineless, pusillanimous, grovelling Cracker Barrel, but just smarter about it. But then, a box of hammers could be smarter about it.

First, reacting to A&E’s craven PC punishment of Phil Robertson of cable’s Duck Dynasty clan for expressing the basic religious convictions of millions of Americans (they think homosexuality is voluntary, and a sin) in response to an GQ interviewer’s question, Cracker Barrel pulled products with Phil’s likeness, saying in a statement,

“Cracker Barrel’s mission is Pleasing People. We operate within the ideals of fairness, mutual respect and equal treatment of all people. These ideals are the core of our corporate culture…. We removed selected products which we were concerned might offend some of our guests while we evaluate the situation.”

I thought this was unusually weasel-worded, and I was right. The translation, in retrospect:

‘We at Cracker Barrel have no principles whatsoever. We are a blank slate; we go with the flow. There is no right or wrong for us: whatever position we feel we have to hold to get the most people to buy our products, you can count on us. If 51% of America begins worshiping Baal, hey, sacrifice a goat for in our name, because we’re all in. If the majority want to ban, hey, anything or anyone, we’re in full agreement. We aim to please, in any way that helps our bottom line.’ Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Day (“Duck Dynasty” vs Political Correctness Division): Reason’s Brian Doherty

“There may have been a good reason why classical tolerance of expression was summed up in the epigram: ‘I disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it!’ That has a different feel than: ‘I disagree with what you say, I think you are evil for having said it, I think no one should associate with you and you ought to lose your livelihood, and anyone who doesn’t agree with me about all that is skating on pretty thin ice as well, but hey, I don’t think you should be arrested for it.”

—– Reason Magazine’s Brian Doherty, writing about A&E choosing to punish its reality show star, Phil Robertson, for expressing his religious beliefs about homosexuality in response to a magazine interviewer’s question.

dynasty

Nicely done, Mr. Doherty. Continue reading

A&E’s “Duck Dynasty” Suspension: Reality Show Ethics And Political Correctness

duck-dynasty-gq-

TV’s reality shows, particularly the cable variety, are like 19th Century freak shows. They are guilty pleasures where Americans can go to stare, gawk, snicker, be horrified and repulsed, and often feel superior to the weird mutations of the human species that they see exhibited. The phenomenon doesn’t speak well for the purveyors, the audience or the culture, but the it is popular and profitable.  Yesteryears’s dog-faced boy is today’s Honey Boo-Boo. Viewers aren’t offended by the awful things the stars say and do..they are entertained by them. Sometimes, sadly, they are inspired by them.

The current hot property in the genre is A&E’s “Duck Dynasty,” the saga of Louisiana’s willfully odd Robertson clan, who have become millionaires through their invention of effective duck calls, wear long beards as trademarks and are proud, God-fearing Christian conservatives of the most primitive variety. Their “Deliverance” lifestyle and profoundly counter-Obama Era attitudes are part of the  Robertsons’ “entertainment” package, just as  the late Anna Nicole Smith getting carried through her fat, drunk and stupid days by her greedy sycophants and enablers was part of hers. This is reality TV, Americans! Be proud.

“Duck Dynasty’s” patriarch Phil, however, made the mistake of stepping out of the bayou for an interview with Gentleman’s Quarterly, in which he held forth on, among other topics, his views on homosexuality. Lacking Rick Santorum’s subtle touch, Phil declared:

“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

and on sin…

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there…Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men…Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers — they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

Horrified that an unsophisticated, ignorant Bible-obeying Christian conservative heterosexual would dare to express the typical views of an unsophisticated, ignorant Bible-obeying Christian conservative heterosexual, GLAAD and other groups attacked Robertson and  pressured A&E to punish him for being exactly what A&E hires him to be. Setting some kind or record for absurd dudgeon, Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Group proclaimed,

“Phil Robertson’s remarks are not consistent with the values of our faith communities or the scientific findings of leading medical organizations. We know that being gay is not a choice someone makes, and that to suggest otherwise can be incredibly harmful. We also know that Americans of faith follow the Golden Rule — treating others with the respect and dignity you’d wish to be treated with. As a role model on a show that attracts millions of viewers, Phil Robertson has a responsibility to set a positive example for young Americans — not shame and ridicule them because of who they are. The A+E Network should take immediate action to condemn Phil Robertson’s remarks and make clear they don’t support his views.”

I know this disrupts the thrust of this post, but I can’t led it pass. Allow me to deconstruct Griffin’s absurd statement, which is—I’m sorry, but sometimes only one word will do—crap: Continue reading

GLAAD Joins The Hilaria Baldwin Ethics Lionel Wreck

model_trainwreck2

Ethics train wrecks can develop at any time, though sometimes the participants and the incidents involved limit the results to small-scale ethics damage. Let’s call these “Ethics Lionel Wrecks,” in honor of the model train sitting in a cardboard box in my basement. This week’s tale of Hilaria Baldwin’s mistimed tweets defines the genre.

The progression:

1. George Stark Starts the Train

This one began when the pregnant wife of actor/ pitchman/liberal blowhard/ bully Alec Baldwin was called out by the Daily Mail for tweeting trivial, giddy messages during the funeral of recently departed actor James Gandolfini. That would have been certifiably disrespectful conduct in the rare sub-category of Funeral Ethics; indeed Ethics Alarms certified it. The problem is that Mail reporter George Stark was wrong.

Salon explained that the error was caused by “a technical glitch on Twitter that reflected GMT instead of ET…an analysis of the source code of Hilaria Baldwin’s tweets reveals that she tweeted between 11 am and 2 pm, as opposed to 8 am to 11 am. The Daily Mail has stated that “the tweets did appear accurately timed on mobile devices such as smartphones and iPads,” but “the only way MailOnline was able to establish the REAL time the tweets were sent was by viewing the twitter web page source code, something almost no normal member of the public would ever do.”

I have no idea what the hell that means, but I was one of the people who relied on Stark’s report, which seemed convincing, with screen shots of the tweets themselves and their timestamps. Was he unethically sloppy, as Baldwin and others have claimed, or was this just an excusable mistake? Twitter is new enough that there may be some justification for not checking the source code before using the time stamp to conclude something from a tweet: I can’t determine whether there is a journalistic protocol for this at the Daily Mail or elsewhere. Before a reporter attacks the conduct of a pregnant woman at a friend’s funeral, he would presumably be obligated to be certain of his facts, since readers, like me, will assume that he was. If this really was, as Salon says, a freak Twitter glitch, then Stark was unlucky rather than unethical.

2. Ethics Alarms rides the rails Continue reading