The Rest Of The Story: “The Baby On The Album Cover: Dumb Lawsuit, Valid Ethics Point”

Last August, I wrote about Spencer Eldon’s “Hail Mary” lawsuit against the surviving members of the band Nirvana over their use of his baby photo (which his parents received compensation for) in an iconic album cover above for “Nevermind.” The verdict here was that the lawsuit was doomed, he was greedy, and the law supported the band. However, I also wrote,

...Nonetheless, parents who use their children for public display are engaging in unethical conduct. Yes, they have the legal right to do it, and no, there is virtually no chance that any law will be passed banning what I consider to be child exploitation and low-level, but still unethical, child abuse. My wife and I have been watching the long-running British TV series “Call the Midwife,” and every episode requires one or more infants who are forced, without their consent, to endure the stressful experiences of playing newborns or sick baby’s under lights, in the arms of strangers, often covered with fake blood.

Elden might be insincere and the lawsuit is probably hopeless, but he’s not wrong in one respect. “[When] I go to a baseball game and think about it: ‘Man, everybody at this baseball game has probably seen my little baby penis,’” he said in one interview. “I feel like I got part of my human rights revoked.” Not rights, never rights: parents will always have the right to inflict indignities, publicity and stress on their minor offspring for fame and fortune. From the Coppertone girl to Linda Blair to “Mikey” and the kid in “The Shining,” they have all been unethically exploited by their parents, just like Spenser Eldon, without informed consent.

It’s legal, but it isn’t ethical.

Continue reading

Monday Morning Ethics Warm-Up 1: Rittenhouse-Free Zone Edition

JFK assassination

President Kennedy was assassinated on this date in 1963, easily my most vivid memory of any national event in my lifetime. I am not an admirer of Jack Kennedy as a President or a human being, but it is hard to imagine a more wrenching disruption of the nation’s course, spirit, fate and future than what occurred that day in Dallas.

We watched everything unfold for the rest of the week on our black and white TVs, from Walter Cronkite’s somber announcement that the President of the United States was dead, to the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, through to the D.C. funeral procession and John-John’s salute.

The day still represents traumafor me, and I am sure to many others of my generation: when Grace and I were planning our wedding in 1980 and November 22 was suggested as the most convenient date, I insisted on the 23rd instead. This is also the date that kicks off the dreaded holiday season, stuffed with milestones good and bad (I count seven between now and New Years), periods of anxiety, nostalgia and anticipation in between, and too much longing and memories of loss to bear.

I hate it.

1. Yes, it’s an unethical Christmas tree. In the town of Grimsby in North East Lincolnshire, the official Christmas tree has been taken down from the town center after a local uproar declaring the 10 foot, conical artificial tree a “national embarrassment.” It also cost a thousand pounds. The town’s explanation was, shall we say, confusing, with Councillor Callum Procter claiming,

There are great plans for celebrating the start of the Christmas period next week. Unfortunately, the Christmas Market tree was installed too early, and we understand that people were confused and thought this was our civic tree. The tree has been removed temporarily today and our contractors are reinstalling again, for free, ahead of the market next week. I’m looking forward to seeing people enjoying the illuminations, the market, and the revamped St James’ Square with the civic tree and the special lighting on the Minster as part of the Christmas experience.

Wait…the town is going to put the same tree back up, and everyone will like it because it won’t be “too early”? I am dubious. Here’s the tree:

bsd tree

Continue reading

Depressing Dispatches From “The Great Stupid”

moronic-idiot

I wish I could post each of these separately, but I already used up the extra hour today…

Perplexing Statement of the Week

“I understand one stab, 2 or 3 or 5, but 40 times, that’s like hate.”

That’s Jose Aguirre of Phoenix, pointing to the spot where his neighbor, Rodolfo Garcia, was brutally stabbed to death on Halloween morning. This gets Inigo Montoya’s attention:

Of course, his comment does embody the warped logic of hate crime laws, which we now should recognize as one of the early victories of those who want race and color to confer special advantages in society. I think the word Jose was looking for wasn’t hate but anger, as fury, at least as explained repeatedly by the profilers on “Criminal Minds” when they encountered a death by overkill, is the approved diagnosis with death’s like Garcia’s. I will assume that anyone who tries to stab me to death one, two, three or five times doesn’t like me very much. And frankly, those extra stabs after I’m dead won’t bother me at all. Hey, go crazy, man! It’s your time and energy you’re wasting!

A Minnesota community is confused.

What a surprise.

The city council in the Minnesota city of International Falls voted unanimously last week to prohibit dressing its sort-of famous statue of Smokey the Bear  in seasonal attire during teh year as the local tradition has been for decades. Smokey will no longer don earmuffs in the winter, or fishing gear in the summer, or the wags responsible will face fines.  No,  the iconic anthropomorphic bear cannot sport any  garb other than his traditional blue jeans, belt, buckle and “campaign” hat, with his shovel in hand.

Thank God they dealt with THAT crisis! Continue reading

“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.”

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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