“The Queen’s Gambit” Gambit

the-queens-gambit-8b97b1d

In the final episode (mercifully) of the inexplicably popular Netflix series“The Queen’s Gambit,” an announcer delivering chess commentary while the show’s annoying fictional heroine, portrayed by Anya Taylor-Joy (above right), competes in a climactic tournament in Moscow says,“The only unusual thing about her, really, is her sex, and even that’s not unique in Russia.There’s Nona Gaprindashvili, but she’s the female world champion and has never faced men.”

That wasn’t true. Nona Gaprindashvili, the first woman to be named a grandmaster, faced and defeated many male players. Now 80 years old and living in Tbilisi, Georgia, Nona is furious about the false representation of her career. She’s suing Netflix in Federal District Court in Los Angeles, seeking millions of dollars in damages for what her lawyers claim is a “devastating falsehood, undermining and degrading her accomplishments before an audience of many millions.”

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The Baby On The Album Cover: Dumb Lawsuit, Valid Ethics Point

Naked baby cover

Thirty years ago, Spencer Elden, age four months, was photographed by a family friend naked and floating in a pool at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center in Pasadena, California. The striking and cute photo was then sold by his parents to be the cover of “Nevermind,” the rock band Nirvana’s second album that shot the Seattle band to international fame. (Never could stand Nirvana myself.)

Through the years Elden pretty much exhausted the opportunities to exploit his accidental celebrity, recreating the wet, wild and adorable moment for the album’s 10th, 17th, 20th and 25th anniversaries (but not with his naughty bits exposed, of course) “It’s cool but weird to be part of something so important that I don’t even remember,” he said in an interview with The New York Post in 2016, in which he posed holding the album cover at 25. Eldon even reportedly has “Nevermind” tattooed on his chest.But this year he needs money, or has a change of heart, or met up with an unethical lawyer, or something. Now Elden is suing Nirvana for damages, claiming his parents never signed a release authorizing the use of his image on the album, and more provocatively, that his nude infant image constitutes child pornography.

“The images exposed Spencer’s intimate body part and lasciviously displayed Spencer’s genitals from the time he was an infant to the present day,” legal papers filed in California claim. Lasciviously? The album cover indeed showed Elden as a baby with his genitalia exposed. Maybe it also made tiny Spencer seem greedy, since the graphic artist added a digitally added dollar bill on a fishing line, leaving the impression that the tot was trying to grab the dollar.

Of course, he IS greedy now.

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Oh, Good…A Non-Political Reason To Avoid Saturday Night Live

Sanz and Fallon

It’s a sad truth, at least for me: the more you know about comedians and comics, the harder it is to laugh at them. There are notable exceptions of course (and as always): Martin Short, John Candy, Carol Burnett and a few more apparently are or were genuinely nice and relatively normal human beings. As a rule, however, extraordinary comedy talent is nourished by misery and emotional pain, and misery and emotional pain have a strong tendency to produce broken, sick, untrustworthy people.

For a lot of audience members, this isn’t a problem. For me, it is. I love great comedy, I’ve directed comedies, I’ve written comic scripts, revues, parodies and essays, and I’ve performed comedy. But once I learn that a comedy genius was or is a horrible human being, or acts like one sufficiently frequently not to be trusted, I just don’t enjoy watching and listening to that performer any more. The list of those who have landed on my “Can’t Make Me Laugh List” is too long to compile, and I really don’t care to encourage debates about whether it should matter that Charlie Chaplin was sexually attracted to little girls, or that Danny Kaye was a cruel misanthrope. It matters to me.

There are a few compensating advantages of this mindset, though. I haven’t watched a single minute of Saturday Night Live for so long I don’t even remember exactly when I started finding the show repugnant after years of never missing an episode. The reason I stopped watching was the show’s increasingly smug political bias that began to swallow the satire whole. I know it was somewhere around the George W. Bush presidency. (I had a similar experience then with David Letterman and The Daily Show.) SNL’s conversion into a full-time shill for progressives and Democrats became especially nauseating when it became addicted to using left-wing thug Alec Baldwin as a guest. There is no one on Earth I hate enough to find Alec Baldwin mocking him or her funny, and when it comes to Baldwin’s Trump impression, only the biases of Saturday Night Live directors and audiences can explain its popularity. As a director, I’d consider his amateurish routine unacceptable in a Cub Scout skit.

Fortunately, a recent emerging scandal looks like it will give me a new reason to detest the show that has nothing to do with politics.

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Saturday Ethics Booster, 8/7/2021: Looking For A Hero…

I hate to inflict that song on you (the singer/composer was the late Jess Cain, once the most popular disc jockey in Boston) but I have limited options. The 2021 Red Sox, who were sailing all season to what looked like a certain play-off slot , are suddenly in freefall,  with the hitters not hitting and the pitchers not pitching. They face a double-header today, and a double loss would be disastrous. After the 1967 Red Sox “Impossible Dream” season, the best summer of my life, when a team of virtual kids won the closest pennant race in baseball history by a single game after finishing in a tie for last place the year before, WHDH, which then carried Boston’s games, put out the cheesy but wonderful commemorative album above, containing clips from broadcasts of the most memorable games and Cain’s song, tied together by Sox play-by-play announcer Ken Coleman reciting one of the worst pieces of doggerel ever heard by human ears. At one point, Ken recounted a desperate point in the team’s underdog quest, and, having set up the rhyme with “zero,’ intoned, “We have to have a hero.” Cue the Yaz song!

I’ve been thinking about the need for a hero, indeed more than one, quite a bit lately, in matters more consequential than the Red Sox season (well, for normal people anyway.) The Sox sure need one today. If he shows up, maybe it will be an omen…

Incidentally, Yaz deserved the song. Modern metrics show that his Triple Crown, Gold Glove, MVP 1967 season was the second best of all time. (Babe Ruth had #1, naturally.) Anyone who followed that 1967 season knew it before the numbers were crunched.

1. More free speech threats in the Biden Era, but Donald Trump was a threat to democracyThe Baltimore Symphony fired Emily Skala, 59, the orchestra’s principal flutist for more than three decades, because she shared social media posts expressing doubt on the efficacy of vaccines and facemasks. Fellow musicians, audience members and donors complained, so it was bye-bye Emily. Skala, no weenie she, will challenge her dismissal, and accuses the orchestra of creating a hostile environment where she was being attacked for expressing unpopular views. I’d say that is likely. Musicians as a group are about as progressive and open to conservative views as college professors.

Skala angered many of her colleagues for sharing posts questioning the results of the 2020 presidential election—Oooh, can’t have that! She was also criticized for saying that black families needed to do more to support their children’s classical music studies. Wow, this woman is a veritable Nazi! Amusingly, the New York Times cites as among the examples of social media “disinformation” that got her fired were “false theories suggesting that the coronavirus was created in a laboratory in North Carolina” and posts “raising concerns about the safety of vaccines.”

That’s funny: it wasn’t too long ago that suggesting that the virus originated in a Wuhan lab was considered disinformation. And didn’t Joe Biden and other prominent Democrats raise “concerns” about any vaccine produced under the Trump Administration?

I’m just spitballing here, but if only we had some heroic organization that defended free speech, regardless of what side of the political spectrum it came from. It could call itself…let’s see…the National Civil Liberty Protection Alliance, or something like that…

2. Believe it or not, this Russian lawsuit isn’t frivolous, just mind-meltingly stupid. Thanks to Curmie for passing along the saga of Ksenia Ovchinnikova, an Orthodox Christian in Omsk, Russia, who is suing McDonald’s on the theory that its ads made burgers seem so yummy and irresistible that they made her break her fast for Lent in 2019 after years of successfully avoiding meat. She wants 1,000 rubles ($14) as damages for “sustained moral damage.”

The reason this isn’t frivolous (at least not in the US) is because a lawsuit clears the bar if it seeks a new interpretation of existing law, no matter how wacky. Of course, a heroic lawyer would tell the woman, no matter what she offered to pay, “You’re out of your mind, and I’d rather eat my foot than disgrace my profession by taking such a ridiculous case. By the way, would you like this  corndog?” Continue reading

Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 8/1/2021: Simone Biles-Free Zone Edition!

Tower shooting

I don’t think that we need to debate the ethics of deranged mass shootings. The first one I was ever aware of occurred on this date in 1966. Charles Whitman, a former Eagle Scout and Marine, brought a stockpile of guns and ammunition to the observatory platform atop a 300-foot tower at the University of Texas. He had packed food and other supplies, and before settling in for 90 minutes of deadly target practice, killing some victims from as far away as 500 yards—he was a trained marksman—Whitman killed the tower receptionist and two tourists. He eventually shot 46 people, killing 14 and wounding 32 before being killed by police. The night before, on July 31, Whitman wrote a note saying, “After my death, I wish an autopsy on me be performed to see if there’s any mental disorders.” Whitman then went to his mother’s home to murder her, using a knife and a gun. He returned home to stab his wife to death.

Whitman’s story does raise medical ethics issues. He was seeing a psychiatrist, and in March told him that he was having uncontrollable fits of anger. Whitman apparently even said that he was thinking about going up to the tower with a rifle and shooting people. “Well, your hour is up, Mr. Whitman. Same time next week, then?” The intersection of mental illness with individual rights continues to be an unresolved ethics conflict 54 years later. In addition, the rare but media-hyped phenomenon of mass shootings has become a serious threat to the right of sane and responsible Americans to own firearms. See #5 below.

1. The King’s Pass in show business. A new book by James Lapine tells the antic story of how the Sondheim musical “Sunday in the Park With George” came to be a Broadway legend. Lapine wrote the book and directed the show. The cult musical—actually all Sondheim shows are cult musicals–eventually won a Pulitzer Prize ( you know, like the “1619 Project”) and bunch of Tony nominations. I was amazed to read that the show’s star, Mandy Patinkin, at one point walked out on the production and was barely persuaded to return. Lapine writes that he never fully trusted Patinkin again. Why does anyone trust him? In fact, how does he still have a career? Patinkin has made a habit of bailing on projects that depended on him. He quit “Chicago Hope,” and later abandoned “Criminal Minds,” which had him as its lead. To answer my own question, he still has a career because of “The King’s Pass,” Rationalization #11. He’s a unique talent, unusually versatile, and producers and directors give him tolerance that lesser actors would never receive. Mandy knows it, too, and so he kept indulging himself, throwing tantrums and breaking commitments, for decades. He appears to have mellowed a bit in his golden years.

2. Speaking of Broadway, the ethical value missed here is “competence”…There is more evidence that the theater community doesn’t realize the existential peril live theater is in (the medium has been on the endangered list for decades) as it copes with the cultural and financial wreckage from the Wuhan Virus Ethics Train Wreck. Just as theaters are re-opening, the Broadway theater owners have decreed that audience members will be required to wear masks at all times.

I have one word for that: “Bye!” Maybe some fools are rich, submissive and tolerant enough to pay $100 bucks or more for the privilege of being uncomfortable for three hours. Not me. My glasses fog up when I wear masks. I have been vaccinated; I’m fairly sure I was exposed to the virus before then and had minimal symptoms, and much as I believe in live theater, I will not indulge the politically-motivated dictatorship of virtue-signalling pandemic hysterics. The industry is cutting its own throat, but then theater has never been brimming with logic or common sense.

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For Ethics Alarms, The Controversy Over The Unmarried Pregnant Art Teacher Is An Easy Call

pregnant teacher

I lost an ethics training client over the issue now raising its ethically-muddled head in New Jersey. Several years ago, during a day long seminar I taught for a teachers association, I stated that a teacher who taught grade school, middle school of high school students while pregnant and unmarried was harming her students, and that responsible school were ethically entitled to make pregnancy outside of marriage grounds for dismissal. Literally all of the attendees were outraged (even the two men in the group), though none could articulate a valid argument against what I said. (“The right to choose!” is not a valid argument in this context.)

I was right, they were wrong. The controversy now over a Catholic school art teacher who is demanding that she should have been able to keep her job despite being pregnant is much easier, or should be.

Victoria Crisitello was an art teacher at the New Jersey’s St. Theresa elementary school in Kenilworth. In the course of negotiating for a raise, she mentioned that she was having a baby. Weeks later, she was fired by the principal, a Roman Catholic nun, who explained that she was being terminated “because she was pregnant and unmarried.” “Sex out of wedlock violates a fundamental Catholic belief that the school in this instance felt it could not overlook,” lawyers for St. Theresa’s wrote in a petition to the state Supreme Court. Crisitello’s lawsuit was tossed out by two trial court judges, only to be restored each time when an appeals court sided with the ex-teacher. Now the state’s highest court, acting on an appeal by the school, has agreed review the case, which raises the continuing thorny question about the relationship between the government and religion.

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Law vs. Ethics #1: Harvard Screws Over Its Students, But It’s All Legal, So There

Harvard welsome

Two rueful thoughts before I begin:

  • One of my college graduating class’s big reunions is next year. Harvard always does an amazing job of throwing a party (having a bank account larger than the treasuries of some countries let you do that , I have many friends and room mates I yearn to see again, and I haven’t been back home to Boston in 17 years. But I’ll be damned if I’ll honor Harvard with my presence. It has been an ethics disgrace consistently for several years, and I am ashamed of my association with the institution, as well as my family’s association (my father and sister graduated from the college, and my mother worked there for over 20 years, culminating in her becoming an assistant dean.)
  • I could really enlighten NPR’s listeners about the difference between law and ethics in this case, if I hadn’t been blackballed for daring to explain how accusations of sexual harassment against public figures like Donald Trump were not necessarily fair even if they were sincere. Oh, well—NPR can bite me.

With that introduction, be it known that in the case of Barkhordar et al v. President and Fellows of Harvard College,  Harvard University won a dismissal today of a lawsuit by students over its decision not to partially refund tuition when it evicted students from dorms and moved classes online early in the Wuhan virus pandemic. Continue reading

Ethics Heroes: “Critical Race Theory” Victims William And Gabrielle Clark

Clarke

Gee, we seem to be having a lot of race-bullying and race-based indoctrination stories here of late. Well, don’t blame me. Blame those perpetrating it for the advancement of their political and cultural power, and the cowards and weenies who are making it easy.

Today we have an episode from Democracy Prep, a public charter school in Las Vegas, Nevada. William Clarke attends the school. He lives with his mother, Gabrielle (above), who is biracial. She works at a local fast food restaurant. All Democracy Prep seniors are required to take what is clearly a Critical Race Theory and intersectionality-based class called Sociology of Change. In that “re-education” class, William and all the other students, were told to openly declare their race, gender, religious, and sexual identities. The next step was to attach negative labels to those identities, after which students were instructed to “undo and unlearn” their “beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that stem from oppression.”  

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Some Enchanted Evening Ethics, 3/11/2021

The New York Times this week referred to the “killing” of George Floyd, which presupposes what the trial of Derek Chauvin is taking place to determine. This is disgraceful journalism. The more I consider the trial, the clearer it seems that this is an unethical show trial, devised to keep the mob at bay, punish a white cop by putting him through an ordeal, and putting off the inevitable mindless riots as long as possible. Potential jurors are already saying that they are frightened. A mob shouting for “justice” was outside the courthouse yesterday during jury selection. Chauvin can’t get a fair trial; not in Minneapolis, not anywhere. The news media and the riots made certain of that.

1. Self-portrait of a self-promoting weenie. Stacy Dash, whose major acting achievement was “Clueless’ 25 years ago, became a darling of the Right and Fox News as a black, female conservative and Trump supporter bucking the Hollywood lockstep. Celebrities, especially B-listers, are always suspect when they take a position that garners publicity. Stacy thought she had a profitable niche. Now that it’s clear that niche has dried up, Stacy has decided it’s time to launch Stacy 2.0. Read this, if you can, without rolling your eyes so hard they come out your ears…

“I’ve lived my life being angry, which is what I was on Fox News. I was the angry, conservative black woman. And at that time in my life it was who I was. I realized in 2016 that anger is unsustainable and it will destroy you. I made a lot of mistakes because of that anger There are things that I am sorry for.Things that I did say, that I should not have said them the way I said them. They were very arrogant and prideful and angry. And that’s who Stacey was, but that’s not who Stacey is now. Stacey’s someone who has compassion, empathy…God has forgiven me, how dare I not forgive someone else. I don’t want to be judged, so how dare I judge anyone else. So if anyone has ever felt that way about me, like I’ve judged, that I apologize for because that’s not who I am…I’m not a victim of anyone. Working for Fox at the time, that was my job. I did my job from the place I was at. Stacey now would never work at Fox, would never work for a news network or be a news contributor.”

As for her vocal support of President Trump, Dash said, as a cock could be heard crowing three times, “He is not the president. We have a new president. Being a supporter of Trump has put me in some kind of box that I don’t belong in. But he’s not the president. I’m going to give the president that we have right now a chance.”

Good luck with the reboot, Stacy. But you’re pathetic and desperate, and have the integrity and loyalty of Tessio in “The Godfather.”

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I Hearby Forgive Prof. Jonathan Turley For My Having To Toss My Completed “What An Idiot!” Post On Rep. Swalwell…

Village idiot

…because Turley did such a superb job showing how ridiculous Swalwell’s lawsuit is. I couldn’t possibly compete.

I saw the note about Swalwell filing a a 64-page complaint against Donald Trump ( and Donald Jr., Rudy Giuliani, and Rep. Mo Brooks) alleging nine counts in tort ranging from negligent emotional distress (suffered by Swalwell) to negligence, in an “incitement to riot.” That news sparked three thoughts: 1) “What an idiot!” 2) “Who was the hack lawyer who agreed to file such a suit?,” and finally, 3) “This will be a fun post to write!” And it was, except that while I was formatting, editing and arranging tags, commenter Steve Witherspoon dropped me an email that said in part, “Did you read Turley’s blog post about Eric Swalwell posted a couple of hours ago? WOW!!!”

I hadn’t, I did, and “Wow!” indeed. It’s a tour de force.

The take-no-prisoners defenestration of Swalwell is unusually merciless for Turley, who begins,

“French philosopher Voltaire said he had only one prayer in life — “O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous” — and that it was uniformly granted by God. The answer to Donald Trump’s prayers may be Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.)”

Do read the post. And as you do, remember that the idiot Turley is writing about was hand-picked by Nancy Pelosi to be one of the House Managers in the second Trump impeachment trial. The University of Maryland School of Law must be measuring the heads of its board, administrators, alumni and faculty for paper bags to wear, because that school gave Swalwell a law degree.