Independence Day With Ethics Alarms 2… Observations Upon Re-Watching “Gettysburg”

I began the Fourth of July this year by watching the last 90 minutes of “Gettysburg,” Ted Turner’s epic 1993 film.  My wife and I had begun watching on July 3, the date of Pickett’s Charge and the final day of the 1863 Civil War battle, but the more than four-and-a-half hour running time took me to Independence Day.

This was the extended version, the Director’s Cut, which adds 17 minutes of deleted  scenes to the version shown in movie theaters, itself one of the longest movies ever offered to the American public. We had last watched the un-extended film from beginning to end on a VHS tape almost 30 years ago.

Observations:

  • “Gettysburg” is an ethics movie, and a great one. I don’t know why this didn’t come through to me the first time I watched it. Primarily it celebrates the Seven Enabling Virtues discussed in yesterday’s post, but the film teaches us a lot about leadership, integrity, compassion, duty, loyalty, and conflicts of interest.

If the film isn’t routinely shown in schools, and I’m sure it isn’t, that is a lost opportunity. A whole course of study could be based on the film alone, and it would be more educational than most history courses.

  • Some of the added minutes extend the Pickett’s Charge re-enactment, and the length of the sequence adds to its horror and wonder. How could anyone enthusiastically follow orders to attempt such a deadly march into enemy artillery and rifle fire, while lined up like tin rabbits at a shooting gallery, in an open field, even having to climb over fences?

The film makes it clear, and this is accurate, that it was the men’s trust and admiration, almost worship, of Robert E. Lee that made such insane valor possible. At Gettysburg, Lee abused that trust. He was warned that the plan was madness, and he was so certain of his own invulnerability that he persisted.

  • The film made me realize that it is likely that Lee’s famous “It was all my fault!’ refrain to his returning shattered troops signified his realization that  his vanity and pride had been the direct cause for the Pickett’s Charge fiasco, and indeed the entire engagement. After the fiasco, the film shows Lee as a shattered man. General Longstreet, who repeatedly advises Lee to go around the Union entrenchment and take up a position on high ground between Pennsylvania and Washington, reminds Lee that even after the failed Confederate assault on Little Round Top on July 2, it is not too late for his plan to work. Lee replies that such a maneuver would be tantamount to a retreat, saying that he had never left the field of battle with the enemy  in control, and is not about to start.

If General Lee was capable of listening to what he was really saying, he would have realized that he was using a personal motive to justify a decision that could not be justified rationally. Continue reading

The Cancel Mob Comes For Kirk Douglas

I nearly wrote a tribute post for Kirk Douglas, the seemingly indestructible Hollywood Golden Age star who finally passed away at the age of 103 this week. He certainly had some impressive ethics moments. When Douglas’s production company set out to make  a big budget film version of “Spartacus,” the actor-producer not only hired blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo  to do the screenplay, but also allowed Trumbo to use his own name name in the credits. “We all had been employing the blacklisted writers,”  Douglas wrote in his 2012 memoir, “I Am Spartacus!: Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist.” “It was an open secret and an act of hypocrisy, as well as a way to get the best talent at bargain prices. I hated being part of such a system.” Some have speculated that Douglas’s defiance of the blacklist cost him one or more Oscars.

Later, after his film career had waned, Douglas worked with his wife on a project to build 400 playgrounds in Los Angeles. Together they established the Anne Douglas Center for Homeless Women, the Kirk Douglas High School for at-risk  students to get their high school diploma, the Kirk Douglas Theater. In 2015, the Douglases donated $15 million to the Motion Picture & Television Fund in Woodland Hills toward the construction of the Kirk Douglas Care Pavilion, a $35 million facility for the care of people in the industry with Alzheimer’s disease. Continue reading

Why Do We Pay Any Attention To These People And What They Think At All?

Wait. what’s the matter with non-traditional casting?

Hollywood continues to presume to tell the public what their priorities and values should be, despite indisputable evidence that the entertainment industry is large run by narrow, venal, intellectually limited, under-educated people, and always has been. My now-deceased friend Bob McElwaine, who was born in Hollywood as the son of a silent film producer, was baby-sat by Clara Bow and played pick-up football games against Mickey Rooney as a child, had wonderful anecdotes about his time as a writer and  publicity agent during Hollywood’s Golden Era. He often would relate these jaw-dropping tales without attribution out of loyalty and his vows of confidentiality—it was his refusal to go public with these stories that led to his memoirs being rejected by publishers. They wanted dirt, and Bob refused to spread dirt or even embarrassing anecdotes about those who had trusted him, even after the clients and employers were dead.

Bob said that he witnessed this conversation in one studio executives ‘s office while trying to stifle giggles. A producer burst in full of excitement saying he had an idea for a blockbuster film. This was during the Fifties, when biblical spectaculars were the rage. “The Lord’s Prayer!” he said. “I know just the scriptwriter for it! Can you imagine the box office?” The studio chief laughed out loud. “The Lord’s Prayer! That’s ridiculous!” he chided. “Why, I bet you don’t even know The Lord’s Prayer.” Continue reading

Sunday Ethics Excursion, 11/17/2019: This Crazy, Unpredictable, Untrustworthy World

Greetings!

1.  So we can’t trust Intel, either. Good to know. Last May, Intel released a patch for a group of security vulnerabilities researchers had found in the company’s computer processors.  Intel implied that all the problems were solved. The official public message from Intel was “everything is fixed,” said Cristiano Giuffrida, a professor of computer science at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and one of the researchers who first reported the vulnerabilities. “And we knew that was not accurate.”

Indeed, the software patch meant to fix the processor problem addressed only some of the issues the researchers had identified.  A second patch, publicly disclosed by the company last week, finally fixed all of the vulnerabilities Intel had said were fixed in May…six months after the company said that all was well.

2. So they finally bullied the NFL into re-considering Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick, the mediocre NFL quarterback whose political grandstanding before games made him an albatross for the league and any team foolish enough to employ him, has had woke “fans,” who couldn’t care less about football but who loved his race-bating and police-bashing protests, claiming that he was “blackballed” from pro football for exercising his right of free speech.

This was never true—let a grocery store clerk try that argument when he’s fired for making political demonstrations during store hours—but never mind: Kaepernick was styled as a martyr anyway.  Why the NFL capitulated to bogus complaints and gave the player a showcase for NFL scouts, I cannot fathom. He’s 36, hasn’t played for three years, and wasn’t that good in 2016. If no team signs him, the NFL will be told again that it is racist and oppressive. If a team does sign him, the message will be that enough agitation can force an organization to elevate politics above its legitimate priorities.

3. This is why our politician aren’t civil, collaborative, respectful and ethical: the public doesn’t want them to be.  Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Minority Leader,praised Representative Peter King, the long time Long Island Republican House member who announced his retirement this week, by tweeting  warm words on Twitter.  “I will miss him in Congress & value his friendship,” the effusive message concluded.

For this once-standard professional reaction to a fellow Congress member’s retirement, Schumer was roundly attacked by Democrats and progressives on social media. To his credit, despite more than 10,000 mostly negative replies and even calls for his resignation, Schumer neither apologized for his tribute to a colleague nor took down the tweet. Continue reading

Netflix’s “The Laundromat” And Money Laundering Ethics

Now streaming on Netflix, “The Laundromat” is an entertaining and flamboyant  examination of the phenomenon and roots of international money laundering, brought to us by director Steven Soderbergh (“Erin Brockovich,” “Traffic”) using a screenplay by Scott Z. Burns. The often tongue in cheek film is narrated by actors Gary Oldman and Antonio Bandaras playing lawyers Jürgen Mossack and Ramón Fonseca , whose now defunct firm set up tax shelters and shell corporations for the rich, corrupt and criminal  all over the world. Their empire was shattered by the Panama Papers data dump in 2016.

The film’s tone veers from smug to blunt as it focuses on three adaptations of true stories involving  Mossack Fonseca clients, all narrated by the excuse- and rationalization-spouting lawyers, the real life versions of which tried to sue to halt the production.

“The Panama Papers” as they are now called consisted of 11.5 million leaked documents that detailed financial and attorney–client information for more than 214,488 offshore entities, many of which were legal, but that supported fraudulent schemes and other crimes.  The documents were the property of  Mossack Fonseca. Even now, the fall-out from the release of the documents is unclear, in large part because so many of them involve attorney-client privilege, and the rules and laws governing their legal handling are spread over many nations, laws and ethics rules. The leak itself was a crime, and the hacker responsible, who goes by the name of “John Doe,” has never been identified.

This is an international ethics train wreck, and one that is so complicated that I didn’t cover it in 2016. That was ethics commentary malpractice on my part, I think. It was the biggest ethics story of the year, even if it is still largely unresolved.

Whether the law firm itself broke any laws is still a matter of debate. As Oldman and Bandaras constantly remind us, Mossack Fonseca set up arguably legal structures, and, they claim, didn’t know or care how they would be used. This is still a gray area of legal ethics in the U.S., one that was highlighted when “60 Minutes” broadcast its Global Witness episode in 2016 . Partners in eleven large Manhattan  law firms were caught on hidden cameras  exploring possible ways to represent an individual posing as the agent of an “African despot” seeking ways to launder millions of dollars. The ethics rules say that a lawyer may not knowingly assist a client in a crime or fraud, but contrived ignorance can be an effective, if unethical, device for lawyers to avoid  accountability when representing  unsavory (but profitable) clients.  Remember, Enron’s law firm avoided any sanctions, while the company’s accounting firm, Arthur Anderson, was prosecuted and destroyed.

No, Ethics Alarms didn’t cover the Global Witness scandal either, though I have talked about it in legal ethics seminars ever since. Clearly, money laundering has not had proper priority here. Again, my fault. I’ll do better. Continue reading

Hypocritical Or Just Responsible And Competent? Hollywood’s LGBTQ Problem

 

Before it went down the tubes, the leftist commentary website ThinkProgress posted a typical piece (that is, so crippled by bias and a progressive agenda that it was useless as advocacy unless the reader already agreed with it) bemoaning the fate of LGBTQ performers in Hollywood like Kristen Stewart. Stewart, once a rising young star with the “Twilight” Saga films, now approaching 30 without a clear career path.

You’ll get the article’s point of view from the kick-off:

“In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar UK, actor Kristen Stewart, who has been romantically linked to model Stella Maxwell since 2017, said, “I have fully been told, ‘If you just like do yourself a favor, and don’t go out holding your girlfriend’s hand in public, you might get a Marvel movie.’ I don’t want to work with people like that.” Stewart has said publicly she does not identify as bisexual or lesbian, and doesn’t want to choose a label for her sexuality. In the same interview she added, “I was informed by an old school mentality, which is — you want to preserve your career and your success and your productivity, and there are people in the world who don’t like you, and they don’t like that you date girls, and they don’t like that you don’t identify as a quote unquote ‘lesbian’, but you also don’t identify as a quote unquote ‘heterosexual’. And people like to know stuff, so what the fuck are you?’”

Although it may, at times, appear as though LGBTQ representation and participation in Hollywood has achieved some semblance of parity, Stewart’s experience is far from unique. Several young, openly LGBTQ actors such as Ellen Page and Ezra Miller have talked about how their gender and sexuality have affected how people talk to them about their careers.”

Well, of course it does. Continue reading

And Now For Something Completely Stupid: “Upbeat,” Unethical Website Of The Month,

Stay away from upbeat, Bart!

Let this incompetent, sloppy, website stand for all of its ilk across the web.

This is a pop culture site initially aroused my ire by tricking me into a slideshow. These are unethical devices used to artificially inflate traffic statistics; it would be like Ethics Alarms breaking every post into ten or more chapters that every view had to click on individually. The clickbait headline was “Hollywood Actors That Don’t Get Cast Anymore,” and the intro suggested that they all had been “blacklisted” for one reason or another. This itself is misleading and sloppy: when “blacklist” is used in reference to Hollywood, it means THE blacklist, the secret list of artists who the studios conspired not to hire because of the reality or rumors of Communist associations, sympathies and activities. To confound things, the slide show mixes in, as padding, I suspect, some figures who were blacklisted for alleged Communist connections.

There is no formal “blacklist” today, though some actors with conservative leanings claim, with some plausibility, that they have struggled after being placed on the bottom of the metaphorical pile because of Hollywood’s ideological intolerance. Communists, ironically, would be welcome in today’s leftist Tinseltown. Among those actors who picked the wrong era to be conservatives are James Woods, Patricia Heaton and the late R. Lee Ermey. Even they, however, couldn’t credibly claim to be blacklisted.

“Upbeat” doesn’t bother with these interesting cases, however. It would rather just make stuff up. Of Brendan Frazier, it says, “Fraser claimed that he had been sexually assaulted by [Phillip Burke] ..the former president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association… and whether the allegations were true or not, Fraser has not appeared in a film since. He now spends his time in his mansion outside of NYC, raising his kids and horses.” Continue reading

Perhaps Hollywood Was Just Virtue Signaling And Grandstanding On The “Inclusion Rider.” If So, Good.

Apparently there is some disappointment among social justice warriors that the much ballyhooed “inclusion rider,” promoted by actress Frances McDormand in her 2018 Oscar acceptance speech, has not taken the city by storm despite abundant lip service from the Tinsel Town “woke.”  What a surprise: a business that either thrives or falls on the quality and popularity of its product chooses to make artistic decisions based on talent and merit rather than tribal quotas.

The “inclusion rider,” in its most literal form, is essentially a pledge to engage in discrimination, and to subjugate the purpose of art to “diversity” goals. All one has to do is observe the practices of “inclusion” advocates like Ava DuVernay,  currently embroiled in controversy over her racially slanted portrayal  of the Central Park Five story in her series, “When They See Us. She has vowed to hire only female directors for her series “Queen Sugar.” And how is refusing to hire an entire gender for a project “inclusion”? Well, one has to comprehend the tortured logic of the Diversity Nazis to answer that question. Continue reading

Week-Opening Ethics Warm-Up, 5/20/2019: On Life Competence, Gender Math, Lying Stars, And Civil Rights Legislation That Isn’t As Good As It Pretends To Be

Ah, Monday…

1. Weekend Update: I am going to make a habit of flagging what I consider important issues from the weekends on Monday, since from late Friday to the end of Sunday these days, Ethics Alarms is populated by just a handful of stalwarts and tumbleweeds rolling down the deserted information super-highway. This time, I point your attention to…this.

2. Today’s baseball ethics note: Yesterday, the falling New York Mets lost their second straight game while getting less than three hits (that’s bad, for those sad members of you  who don’t follow baseball) in part because their recently acquired superstar, Robbie Cano, didn’t run hard to first base to try to avoid hitting into a double play. This, in turn, has placed the continued employment of Mets second year manager, Mickey Callaway, in jeopardy, as loafing players on losing teams always will. This is the Star Syndrome (or Rationalization #11, the King’s Pass) in operation: if Cano gets to do what lesser players would be fined, benched or released for doing, then the double standard threatens team unity and respect for the manager.

Cano’s excuse was that he thought there were two outs when there was really only one, because the scoreboard was wrong. A player is supposed to know the number of outs without having to check the scoreboard, but now photo evidence seems to show that the stadium scoreboard was correct, and showed only one out.

Oh-oh. Continue reading

Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 5/4/2019: No Trump, No “Resistance.” Enjoy!

Good Morning!

This song, the only “hit” (kind of) by “The Carpenters” sung by Karen’s brother Richard, matches my conflicted mood today. Richard’s teasing and criticism played a part in killing his sister, who possessed one of the most wonderful voices of any popular female vocalist in U.S. history, but who was doomed by anorexia. I am also both perplexed and amused that someone with a lisp would choose a song that repeats “Saturday” as his break-out solo. I wonder if Karen teased him about that?

1.  More on high-testosterone competitors in women’s sports. As I recently wrote here, I am floating in an uncharted sea of uncertainty on this issue, especially regarding Caster Semenya, the intersex South African track star. I do know, however, that I applaud her defiance of the recent court order dictating that she will have to take testosterone-lowing medication if she wants to compete. After a race this week, which she won, as usual, Semenya was asked if she would take the drug. Her answer:  “Hell no.”

Athletic organizations are treading through a mine field here. If they regard taking performance enhancing drugs as cheating, as they should, demanding that certain competitors with natural physical and genetic advantages should take performance-handicapping drugs seems like a double standard.

2. Stop making me defend Woody Allen! I have been unable to watch an Allen movie, even old favorites like “Bananas,” “What’s Up. Tiger Lilly?,” and “Annie Hall,” without gagging since the comic/director cheated on Mia Farrow with her adopted teen-aged daughter, to whom he was a virtual father, and then married her. Thus I have watched none of his films at all. I didn’t need to make a judgment about his daughter’s claims that he sexually molested her, which Allen denies, and since I have no more evidence than the she said/he said (and my certainty that Allen is a certifiable creep), I can’t. However, once Dylan Farrow and her vengeful mother Mia renewed their accusations against Allen while #MeToo was raging,  virtually all of Hollywood turned on Woody, even actors who had worked with him well after Dylan first made her claims. What changed? Nothing, really, except that now they are afraid of social media retribution, so they are pretending to be horrified at what didn’t bother them previously and assuming Woody’s guilt because “believe all women” is the “woke” place to be.

Well, Woody is a creature of Hollywood: this is unethical and unfair, but as Hymen Roth would tell him, “This is the life you have chosen.” Translation: if you voluntarily spend your career in (and benefiting from, and contributing too) an ethically warped culture, don’t expect a lot of sympathy when it turns on you.

This is more troubling: apparently Woody has a completed manuscript of his memoirs, which would have once sparked a publishers auction and an eventual multi-million dollar advance. Now, however, no publisher will pay a cent for it, because “while he remains a significant cultural figure, the commercial risks of releasing a memoir by him were too daunting.”

That means that the publishers are afraid of boycotts. How courageous. Allen is a significant cultural figure as well as a talented humorist. His memoirs have cultural importance, and they belong in the historical record, loathsome as find the man. Easily as loathsome are William Jefferson Clinton and his wife, yet both of them managed to score 7 figure book advances for memoirs they didn’t even write themselves.

Essentially what is happening to Woody is human statue-toppling. He is being erased from the culture despite never having been charged with or tried for a crime (unlike Bill Cosby and O.J. Simpson) because it is a sign of virtue among sufficient numbers of people with social media access to assume he is guilty. The boycott and progressive bully culture is a direct threat to basic freedoms. I’d regain some respect for Woody Allen if he would say so. Continue reading