“Bombshell,” Hedy Lamarr, And The Duty To Remember

I alluded to Hedy Lamarr in an earlier post about my favorite celebrities, those who manage to be outstanding in multiple diverse fields at once. The glamorous cult actress is a prime example, being known publicly for her pulchritude and in much more rarefied circles as a brilliant inventor. I had been waiting for the release of the documentary–produced by Susan Sarandon!—about Lamarr, called “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” ever since a friend and commenter here told me that it was in the works. Now it is on Netflix, and I watched it. You should too. I’ll just jot down some loosely connected thoughts about the ethics lessons of Lamarr’s life.

  • The sexual exploitation of young women in films may have been worse in the past than it is now, but Lamarr’s life is a reminder of how excruciatingly slowly cultures change. She was made infamous as the star of a sensational sex film in  Germany, shown naked, and also in an apparently explicit sex scene when she was too young (19) and naive to know what the director was doing.

The episode literally shadowed her life. Yet half a century later, very young actresses like Drew Barrymore and Dakota Fanning were similarly abused by directors, the main difference being that public attitudes now make the resulting stigma less permanent.

  • Antisemitism was sufficiently pervasive in the U.S. that Lamarr denied her Jewish heritage for much of her life.

Living a lie is not an ethically healthy existence, but Lamarr had few reasons to trust that she would be accepted for who she was….fewer than most, on fact.

  • There are few more vivid examples than Lamarr of a brilliant woman who rapidly learned that she had to rely on the favor of men based on her physical charms to have any chance of succeeding. Yet it is a bargain with the devil, for the price is not being taken seriously. The suppressed resentment and anger Lamarr reveals in interviews is palpable.

Sometimes I think it’s a mircale that women didn’t rise up and slaughter millions of men while they slept. They deserved it.

  • Hedy Lamarr is primarily remembered now as a running joke in “Blazing Saddles.”

Think about that. Continue reading

Incompetence Saturday Begins: That Annoying “Ten Concerts, One’s A Lie” Facebook Game

It’s a relief to know that I occasionally pay attention to what I teach.

When so many of my Facebook friends started rushing like lemmings to play the viral “Name ten concerts you attended, with one phony one” game yesterday, I hesitated, and not just because listing Al Jolson, Enrico Caruso and  Jenny Lind would reveal my true age. I had just been explaining to a group of Pennsylvania lawyers that they probably weren’t as competent in using technology and social media as they thought they were, and that if there was one thing of value to extract from the last Presidential campaign, it was a searing lesson in the consequences of being naive, lazy and gullible while using the internet. (Yes, I’m looking at you, John Podesta!)

By purest coincidence, yesterday also marked my four hour efforts, involving four phone calls, three phones, two websites, three passwords and a consultant (my son), to switch my e-mail address from Verizon to AOL, since AOL has purchased Verizon’s e-mail business. As I neared the finish line of this ordeal, I encountered AOL’s list of “Secret Security Questions.” One of them was “What was the first concert you attended?

Hmmmm… Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Have We Achieved The Ultimate No-Tolerance Insanity At Last?

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Wow, were kids sick back then, or what!

Wow, were kids sick back then, or what!

Could it be? Is it possible? Has school administrator incompetence, fearfulness, power abuse and cruelty finally reached its apotheosis?

In Loveland, Colorado, 7-year-old Mary Blair Elementary School student Alex Watkins was suspended by the Thompson School District for going through the motions of throwing an imaginary hand grenade at an equally imaginary box that contained “something evil,” with the admirable purpose of saving the world, doing so on what is anachronistically called a “school playground.” The imaginary grenade caused the imaginary box to be vaporized in an imaginary explosion.

The Horror.

The imaginary minds of one or more teachers who witnessed this carnage ignited in fear and anger. Of course, an overly-broad, incompetently drafted, utterly stupid no-tolerance rule was involved: Mary Blair Elementary School bans imaginary fighting and imaginary weaponry. The only bright side of this disgraceful abuse of an innocent child and blatant attempt at thought-control is that it might finally provide the absolute end point on the spectrum of school administration no-tolerance incompetence. Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz question for today is..

Is it? Continue reading

When “No Tolerance” Meets Anti-Gun Hysteria: How Silly Can School Administrators Get?

I have this sinking feeling that we have not yet seen the worst.

Phil? Is that you?

Phil? Is that you?

In Woody Allen’s oddball satiric masterpiece “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?”, the hero, a dim-bulb Japanese version of James Bond named “Phil Moskowitz,” is being briefed on his quary, a Chinese super-villain named Wing Fat. Pointing to a map, the secret agent’s boss tel’s him, “This is the home of Wing Fat!” “You mean he lives in that little piece of paper?”the agent exclaims.

I always wondered what happened to Phil, considering his, ah, handicap. I should have guessed. He became a school administrator in Tan Valley, Arizona,.

Daniel McClaine, Jr., a freshman at Poston Butte High School there, made a web photo of an AK 47 against an American flag backdrop  as the desktop background on his school-issued computer and was suspended as a result.

NO, Phil, the piece of paper isn’t the real gun! Won’t you ever learn? Continue reading

The Main Ethics Lesson of the Congressman Lee Affair

By now, you probably have heard the saga of ex-Congressman Christopher Lee (R-NY), a married man who was trolling Craig’s list for girlfriends and e-mailed a candidate shirtless photo of himself to prove to her that he was fit..and also, incidentally, as dumb as an unusually dumb brick. The young woman sent the photo to Gawker, which broke the story, resulting in the humiliated Congressman, supposedly a rising GOP star, resigning.

What is the most significant lesson of this rapid fall from political grace?

It isn’t that middle-aged men who don’t comprehend how the internet works should avoid e-mailing photos of themselves that recall George Costanza’s effort to flirt with the Fotomat girl, although that’s true.

It isn’t that horny and untrustworthy individuals who can’t control their libidos should avoid committing themselves to high-profile leadership positions in our government, since the public looks to them to exemplify the best in ethical values and the entire nation is embarrassed when they disgrace themselves. This is true too, but it is painfully clear that such individuals will never learn this, and we are stuck with them, at least until they reveal their true nature. Continue reading

“Lawmiss” and the Plain Dealer’s Dilemma

The Cleveland Plain Dealer made one of those fateful first steps that ends in a journey to ethics no-man’s land when it decided to check the e-mail address of a repeat anonymous commenter on the paper’s website. “lawmiss” had been especially abusive in comments about one of the newspaper’s reporters, so instead of just deleting the comment for violating the site’s rules against personal attacks, an enterprising editor tracked down its source. Continue reading

Ethics Hero (sort of, maybe, a bit): Google

Google is a little like the turncoat in an action movie who almost sinks the hero but then makes a surprise return at the climax to save the day. In 2006, many of us were disgusted when Google agreed to help the oppressive Chinese government censor speech and information in exchange for getting a crack at the biggest market on the planet. We heard the company’s rationalizations about compromising their principles now to help open up Chinese society, but the truth always was that “Do no evil” Google was willing  to do evil for four years in exchange for a lot of yen.  At last the company finally decided that it couldn’t look at itself in its virtual mirror anymore, abandoned its agreement to help China control what its people could read and say, and moved its server to Hong Kong.

Google has garnered a lot of praise on-line and elsewhere for its decision. The company did the right thing, it is true, but it would have been far more admirable if it had taken the same position four years earlier, and refused to play the part of China’s cyber-muzzle in its quest for big bucks.

That feckless guy in the action movie who comes back in the last reel isn’t really a hero, you know. The only reason he is in a position to act like one is that he did the wrong thing in the first place. We’re glad he had a change of heart, sure. But let’s not get carried away.


Update: In the category of getting “carried away,” here is a stunning example from “Op-Ed News”:

“…again Google has found itself in a situation where its ethics are being challenged by one of the most oppressive governments (In our opinion) in the Global Community, and rather than backing down, Google has chosen to stand-up for their belief that moral values and ethics trump corporate profit, an occurrence so rare these days that we believe Google  deserves special recognition for refusing to compromise their core ethics of “Don’t be Evil,” even in a situation where it could result in the loss of huge profits in China’s booming economy and what may one day be one of the largest Internet markets in the world…”

The author, William Cormier, conveniently ignores the fact that Google’s decision that “moral values and ethics trump corporate profit” has only come after four years of letting profit trump its values. What does he think Google has been doing the last four years? Does he really believe China just started  censoring Google searches? You can read his entire, hilarious hosanna to Google here.