From The Ethics Alarms “Law vs Ethics” Files: The Deadly Hexes Of Sally Quinn

In a newly published memoir, Sally Quinn, the famous journalist who married iconic Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and became a D.C. society matron, then a religion columnist, reveals a lief-long obsession with mysticism and the occult. Ouija boards, pentagrams, witchcraft, charms, spells, seances, messages from the dead (like Ben), voodoo, the whole thing: Quinn writes that she has had an  “epiphany” revealing that “believing in magic is as legitimate as any religion or faith.”

I’ll buy that. I wouldn’t say that the next step is an application to Hogwarts, however.

So these are the people who presume to tell Americans what to think, eh? Good to know.

But I digress. In a recent Washingtonian Magazine profile contrived to puff the release of  “Finding Magic,” Bradlee’s widow says that she not only believes in hexes, she’s used them. And they work!

She reveals that, in her less mellow days, she put hexes on three people who promptly wound up having their lives ruined, or ended.

The first, cast in 1969, was spurred by old-fashioned jealousy. Some exotic beauty at a Halloween party inspired lust in Quinn’s beau at the time—and then killed herself just days after Sally cast her spell.

Her second victim was Clay Felker, the longtime editor of New York magazine who oversaw a brutal profile of Quinn in 1973, just before her catastrophic debut on the CBS Morning News. Quinn hexed Felker not long after flaming out at CBS and returning to Washington. “Some time afterward, Rupert Murdoch bought New York magazine in a hostile takeover, and Felker was out,” she writes. “Clay never recovered professionally. Worse, he got cancer, which ultimately caused his death.”

Target number three: a shady psychic who, the autumn after Quinn Bradlee was born, ran afoul of Sally’s maternal instincts. The woman dropped dead before year’s end.

This raises a classic ethics question that I nearly posed today as an Ethics Quiz. I didn’t, because I know the answer and have no doubts about it. (If it’s an ethics quiz, I at least have doubts.) The question would have been:

Ethically rather than legally, is there any difference between Sally Quinn and a murderer?

The answer is no.

I’d say that the first two victims make her the ethical equivalent of someone who is guilty of manslaughter, and the last one, after her first two hexes led to her targets’ deaths, was, again ethically rather than legally, premeditated murder.

Sally says that after the psychic dropped dead, she swore off her Death Hex. That’s admirable. The fact remains, however, the while believing an instrumentality would lead to harm when employed against specific individuals, she employed it, got her desired results, and believed that she was the cause of their subsequent deaths. She also doesn’t express any remorse or regret. Continue reading

The Strange World Of Magic Ethics

A recent controversy surrounding a hit magic show on Broadway has resurfaced an ethics tangent I was aware of but had forgotten about: magician ethics.

Magician Derek DelGaudio accused another magician of surreptitiously recording a video of an effect during a performance last month of his one-man show, “In & Of Itself.” The rival magician denied the allegation—it’s complicated, and you should read the whole tale here-–but the basic problem arises from the nature of magic tricks. They can’t be patented, because the patent would reveal how the magic trick was done in a publicly available source. This means, however, that a magician whose unique illusion he or she labored on and developed at great expenditure of time and expense can be stolen by another magician with the illusion’s creator having no legal recourse.

For a field that is all about fooling and deceiving people (who have consented to being deceived), magic has old and well-developed ethical traditions. Houdini, who took his name from a french magician named Robert Houdin, later exposed his role model as an unethical magician whose most famous illusions were stolen from other conjurers without payment or credit. Still, if a magician can figure out how another magician’s trick is performed by simply watching it, nothing legally or ethically dictates that that magician can’t perform the illusion as well. However, since magic is practiced by people who deceive for a living, it should come as no surprise that unethical practices are rampant. Continue reading

No, This Didn’t Quite Make My Head Explode, And That’s The Scary Part

Not quite...

Not quite…

In Kermit, Texas, a nine-year-old boy was suspended for telling a classmate that his replica of the “one ring” from “The Hobbit” could make him disappear. This was taken as a “terroristic threat,” it seems.

There was a time, long ago, when this kind of child abuse, cruelly and stupidity on behalf of school administrators would cause my head to do its Mount Vesuvius impression. That was before I was exposed to so many other similar episodes of educator incompetence, from sea to shining sea. It was before I recognized that the educational profession has become infested with frightened, deluded, power-abusing fools who care less about the children in their charge than avoiding lawsuits and converting the next generation into spineless, fearful, unimaginative, submissive puppets. Continue reading

Ethics Hero Emeritus: Dorothy Young, Houdini’s Assistant

Dorothy Young knew how to keep a secret.

Dorothy Young, who died March 24 at the age of 103, was the last in a series of scantily clad magician’s assistants for Harry Houdini, the greatest escape artist who ever lived and America’s iconic magician. She remained active in show business for many years after Houdini’s death in 1926. Young appeared several times on Broadway, including the  “New Faces of 1936.” Later, she was half the team of “Dorothy and Gilbert,”a touring nightclub dance act that specialized in a dramatic combination of rumba and bolero—the “rumbolero.”

Young married Gilbert, who was Gilbert Kiamie, heir to a silk underwear fortune. She wrote a novel about her career, “Dancing on a Dime,” that inspired a 1940 Hollywood musical of the same name. Young eventually became a successful painter, and in 2003 gave New Jersey’s Drew University $13 million to endow an arts center.

Why is she an Ethics Hero? Continue reading