The “Around The World In 80 Days” Curse, Or How Good Things Can Lead To Bad Results, Cont.: The Worst

I won’t keep you in unnecessary suspense. The worst of the “Around The World In 80 Days” -spawned monstrosities is, by far, 1967’s “Casino Royale,” the most misbegotten movie in history. In fact, it was  finally seeing this film all the way through that inspired the post. I had avoided the film in 1967, because I followed movie reviews scrupulously then and “Casino Royale,” was panned by almost every critic. In the intervening years, I attempted to watch the movie, or parts of it, at least four or five times, in each instance abandoning the effort after 15 minutes or less. Finally, this week, TCM ran it, so I resolved to stick it out.

The movie was even worse than I had thought it would be. It is unimaginably incompetent, and I would have said unwatchable, except that I watched it.

BUT the film includes in its cast (among others), David Niven, Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, Joanna Pettet, Woody Allen, Barbara Bouchet, Terence Cooper, Deborah Kerr, Orson Welles, William Holden, Charles Boyer, John Huston, Kurt Kasznar, George Raft, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jacqueline Bisset, Peter O’Toole, Stirling Moss, and Geraldine Chaplin.

What’s so horrible about the film? It was made because the production company had acquired the rights to the single Ian Fleming James Bond novel not sold to the Broccoli group, then in the middle of making the first wave of wildly successful James Bond films starring Sean Connery. Unable to squeeze enough money out of Broccoli to satisfy their greed, and knowing that the public would not accept heroic James Bond who wasn’t named Connery, the Agent/Producer Charles Feldman and his partners resolved to use the title to trash the franchise it couldn’t be a part of. “Casino Royale” is a film version of vandalism. The idea was to make “Casino Royale” into a spoof, and apparently their idea of a spoof was chaos. Continue reading

The “Around The World In 80 Days” Curse, Or How Good Things Can Lead To Bad Results

Movie impresario Mike Todd’s greatest legacy is the 1956 film adaptation of Jules Verne’s novel, “Around the World in 80 Days.”  The movie was a cultural phenomenon: the title song was inescapable, it was a “must see” for everyone, it dominated the Academy Awards the following year. Todd’s brilliant innovation was that he stuffed the movie with celebrity cameos. Current and past stars showed up in tiny bits and appearances. It was a clever gimmick: in a long, leisurely film, it gave the audience a “Where’s Waldo?” game to play, and the raft of VIPs provided a sense of grandeur and importance. Some of the appearances were inside jokes; some completely gratuitous. The effect, after one has seen, for example, Buster Keaton, Frank Sinatra and Edward R. Murrow show up in the same movie, was to wonder, “Who will be next? Donald Duck? Harold McMillan?” (No, but Noel Coward arrived.) It was like a party.

Since the trick worked (ATWIED was a huge hit), the obvious drawbacks of the concept were not considered, prime among them being that focusing attention on actors as actors rather than the roles they are playing risks destroying the crucial suspension of disbelief. The other problem is that playing the star game tempts film-makers into using the gimmick as a substitute for making a good movie.

In fact, an argument could be made that this is what Mike Todd did. Today, it is almost inconceivable that “Around the World in 80 Days” was regarded in its time as a great movie, or that audiences would sit still for it. Personally, I find it nearly unwatchable, and I recognize all of those stars, The average viewer under the age of 80 will not. Mike’s innovation has a limited shelf-life.

Ah, but “Around the World in 80 Days” not as unwatchable today as some of the movies it spawned, not even close. After Todd’s triumph, the idea that having many famous performers in small parts was a formula for a hit took root. It worked sometimes, in cases where the story was an epic or particularly important, as in “How the West Was Won” and “the Longest Day.” It created a fun “Which celebrity will die next?” game in the better disaster movies of the Seventies. However, the legacy of “Around the World In 80 Days” includes several of the worst big budget Hollywood films ever made, with some of the most stellar casts ever. Continue reading

Labor Day Ethics Break, 9/7/2020: Ironically, Somebody Needs To be Fired In All Of These Stories….

1. “Boy, he’s strict!”* Novak Djokovic, the top seeded player, defaulted from the United States Open after the ball he hit toward the back of the court in frustration hit a line judge in the neck. This violated the Grand Slam rule book’s  “physical abuse” provision, which states that players “shall not at any time physically abuse any official, opponent, spectator or other person within the precincts of the tournament site.” The  fine for this is to $20,000 for each violation of this rule, with the possibility of even more if it is deemed a “major offense.” In a statement, the United States Tennis Association said: “In accordance with the Grand Slam rule book, following his actions of intentionally hitting a ball dangerously or recklessly within the court or hitting a ball with negligent disregard of the consequences, the U.S. Open tournament referee defaulted Novak Djokovic from the 2020 U.S. Open. Because he was defaulted, Djokovic will lose all ranking points earned at the U.S. Open and will be fined the prize money won at the tournament in addition to any or all fines levied with respect to the offending incident.”

As I read it, if the ball bounced back and missed the line judge, the rule wouldn’t apply. If it did hit the judge, even though the result was unintentional, then the player gets the full penalty. What a moronic rule! I guess they’ve never heard of moral luck in the tennis world. Either it should be a serious offense to slam the ball anywhere on the court in anger whether someone is hurt or not, or it should be a violation to intentionally harm and official. The rules is incompetent and unethical.

Naturally, none of the stories about the episode point this out.

2. Oh no! Not this again! Seventh grader Isaiah Elliott of the Grand Mountain School in t just south of Colorado Springs. Colorado, was attending on online art class when a teacher saw Isaiah’s  toy gun a neon green and black plastic “weapon” with an orange tip with the words “Zombie Hunter” printed on the side. The teacher, an idiot, hysteric and bully,  notified the school principal, and Isaiah was suspended for five days. The school also called the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office to conduct a welfare check on the boy without calling his parents first. Here’s the toy:

This is even more idiotic than this story, which was discussed here in June, about the kid whose teacher called the cops on him because she saw his BB gun.

The teacher should be fired and the principal should be fired. Isiah’s parents appear to be raising  hell. Good.  They would be terrible and irresponsible parents if they didn’t. There is an ethical  duty to confront this creeping state child abuse and indoctrination. Continue reading

A Banner Date In The History Of The Barn Door Fallacy: The Day The Concorde Died

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The Barn Door Fallacy is one of the most striking example of persistent human and bureaucratic incompetence, as well as one of the most destructive.

It is just as illogical as the old saw it is named after, yet the reflex reaction to almost every accident, tragedy or chaotic event is to immediately adopt extreme measures that are deemed necessary to prevent what has already happened. This occurs despite the fact that most such events were in situations already operating with known risks and virtual certainty that the disaster that eventually prompts the Barn Door response would occur. Nevertheless, taking reasonable measures to prevent the catastrophe is somehow never recognized until after the bodies stack up, and then being reasonable  is no longer an option.

Examples of this phenomenon, a triumph of incompetence, emotion and fear of responsibility over responsibility and reason, abound: the aftermath to 9/11,  the over-reaction to the Oklahoma City bombing; the end of airship travel after the spectacular explosion of the Hindenburg, the death of nuclear power in the wake of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.  The pandemic will undoubtedly lead to some manifestation of the Barn Door Fallacy. It even infects sports: all it took was a televised career-threatening injury to a franchise star catcher to make Major League Baseball drastically alter the rule regarding collisions at home  plate, and a freak accident breaking the leg of a player in a take-out slide at second base during post-season play-offs to prompt MLB to ban a routine aspect of the game—and an exciting one— practiced and accepted for over a hundred years. Continue reading

Ethics Catch-Up, 7/23/2020: Waiting For Baseball Edition [Corrected]

This moment in “Field of Dreams” was how I started off my baseball and culture presentation this week. Ironically, the speech has always irritated me, because of its stagey blocking, and because it is a speech that sounds like a  speech, and is essentially right out of the book the film was based on. In the novel, “Shoeless Joe,”,the “Terrence Mann” character played by James Earl Jones was real life (and then, still living) recluse author J.D. Salinger. I dislike the speech, but the scene always moves me, for a personal reason.

As Terrance Mann stands, giving his speech, the ghostly players of the past silently assemble behind him in Ray Kinsella’s (Kevin Costner, of course) magic corn field. One of the players behind him has been identified in the film as Smokey Joe Wood, a 30 game winner with the World Champion 1912 Boston Red Sox. Just a few years before the film was made, I had been in the Fenway Park grandstands as  Smoky Joe, feeble, in his mid-nineties and in a wheel chair shortly before his death, barely threw out—more like dropped—the first pitch at a Red Sox Old Timer’s game, to a standing ovation.  And here he was, in that  corn field, but young and vital again.

Gets me every time….

1. Ethics query: is it ethical to perform “Piggies”? I just caught an old concert clip in which George Harrison and Eric Clapton performed the obnoxious pseudo-Marxist ditty “Piggies” (from the White Album) to thunderous applause.

[Notice of correction: I originally wrote that “Piggies” was a Lennon composition. All these years I assumed it was, heavy-handed and juvenile politics that it was. I am stunned that the song was George Harrison’s doing; I thought better of him.]

This was well after the Manson murders: I had never heard anyone perform the song in decades. Admittedly, it is just moral luck that a madman seized upon the White Album Beatles songs as his inspiration to mastermind the slaughters of  Sharon Tate, her unborn child, and her house guests, as well as supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary the following night. However, “Piggies” was the one song referenced directly in both murders. It is not inconceivable that if the White Album had omitted that song—no great loss, either–at least the LaBianca murders might not have taken place. I know I can’t hear the song without picturing carnage, and it seems to me singing the song is like a celebration of Manson’s work. I wouldn’t ban it; I don’t believe in banning anything.  I just think it’s bad taste to play it or perform it.

Is that inconsistent with my objection to “canceling”  “Dixie,” “My Mammy,” “Rockabye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody,” “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” “Oh Susanna!” and other songs that are redolent of the Old South? I would argue that those songs have the virtue of being great tunes and important cultural touchpoints…in other words, works of musical art that justify themselves. “Piggies,” in contrast, is musical junk, like about 20% of the White Album filler. Continue reading

Friday Evening Ethics Gallimaufry, 7/17/2020: SCOTUS, Di Blasio’s Delusion, And DiMaggio’s Luck

Speaking of gallimaufry, “A Heavy Dragoon” is one of the best Gilbert and Sullivan “list” songs, but you seldom hear it. Erudite is the listener who can identify all the historical figured named! The song is from “Patience,” the firs show I ever directed, and still one of my favorites. The singer in the clip above, Darrell Fancourt, played the part of the Mikado more times than anyone, and even dropped dead while playing the role.

1. In baseball history, it’s Moral Luck Day. On July 17, 1941, New York Yankees center fielder Joe DiMaggio didn’t get a hit against the Cleveland Indians, in great part due to a pait of great plays by Cleveland third baseman Ken Keltner, finally ending his historic 56-game hitting streak, the longest in MLB history then and now. Largely on the basis of the streak, though it helped that the Yankees won the pennant, DiMaggio was awarded the American League MVP award, despite the fact that Boston’s Ted Williams hit .406 that season, nearly 50 points higher than DiMaggio. In fact, Williams outhit the Yankee during the same 56-game period.

The end of The Yankee Clipper’s amazing streak was luck, and the streak itself was luck. All hitting streaks are. Baseball is the  sport most governed by random chance, especially hitting: a well-hit ball can become an out if it happens to be hit within a fielder’s reach, and a ball barely touched by the bat can dribble down the  baseline for a cheap hit. DiMaggio was undeniably a great hitter, but many players in baseball history were better; he just was lucky—good, but lucky—for a longer stretch of games than anyone else. Yet of all his many achievements, the 56 game streak in 1941 is the first thing baseball fans cite when assessing  the greatness of Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio.

2. It isn’t what it is! Yesterday, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said that releasing prisoners onto the city’s streets to avoid their infection by the Wuhan virus  in jail had made New York City safer, saying, “We now have fewer people in our jails than any time since World War II and we are safer for it and better for it.”  De Blasio’s office announced  that more than 1,500 inmates had been released from city jails in three weeks, reducing the number of prisoners to its lowest level in 70 years.

The problem is that his assertion is ludicrous. De Blasio’s boast that the prisoner release made the city safer defied  the evidence of the results of the prisoner release the NYC Bail reform law required in January 2020. Of those who committed felonies that were no longer eligible for bail, 19.5% were re-arrested at least once after an initial non-bail eligible felony arrest, 1,798 of 9,227 individuals were re-arrested. 2020 recidivism resulted in 1,452  major crime arrests (murder, non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny, and grand larceny of a vehicle) vs. 681 in 2019. Meanwhile,  shootings in the city were up 205% in June  compared to a year earlier. Continue reading

A Brief Note To Commenters…

I am so proud of you all, and Ethics Alarms,  today. The quality of discussion on multiple posts and threads is outstanding, as varied, eloquent and and thoughtful as I have ever seen it. I offer my sincere thanks and appreciation to all participants.

And since I’m here, I might as well note that July 16 is Ethics Ambivalence Day, or perhaps Watch Out For Moral Luck Day. Which of these events that occured on July 16th can be confidently and uncontroversially  designated in retrospect as “good”?

  • In 1790, Congress declared Washington, D.C. the new capital.

The new Congress chose a swampy, humid, muddy and mosquito-infested site on the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia to be the nation’s permanent capital. Brilliant!

  • In 1918, the Romanov family was executed.

This ended a 300-year imperial dynasty,  and sent Russia down the road of Communism.  But they got rid of those damn Czars!

  • In 1935,  the world’s first parking meter was installed.

The world’s first parking meter, known as Park-O-Meter No. 1, was installed on the southeast corner of what was then First Street and Robinson Avenue in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, eventually helping municipalities to balance their budgets nation wide.

  • In 1951, “Catcher in the Rye” was published.

J.D. Salinger’s only full-length novel, about a confused and nihilistic teenager would be taught in high schools for half a century. Why, I will never know.

  • In 1995, Amazon opened for business.

No comment.

  • In 1945, at 5:29:45 a.m., the Manhattan Project resulted in the first atom bomb successfully exploding in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

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

Third Of July Ethics Concert, 2020, Part 2: The Less Grand And Not Historic, One Hopes

For historical and quirky reasons, “The Egg” is my favorite song from “1776.” The number takes place on July 3, as the Continental Congress debates Jefferson’s handiwork, and Tom, Ben Franklin and John Adams sit outside, hesitant to witness  the rhetorical carnage they know is coming. I played the role of Adams in several musical reviews, a part I would have loved to have tackled on-stage in a full production, but I am about 7 inches too tall.

Some productions cut this number, which is both bad history and bad theater. (The number to cut is “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men,” a cheap shot at conservatives, and a lousy song.)

1. And I will say, “None of your business, officer!” A new Virginia law, the Community Policing Act that took effect this week, requires police officers to ask individuals pulled over during traffic stops for their race, ethnicity, and gender. I very much doubt that the law will withstand a legal challenge. The change is part of the Governor Ralph “Call me Michael Jackson” Northam regime of enacting every oppressive progressive agenda item he can get away with. This one is aimed at eliminating “bias-based profiling,” and requires officers to record the driver’s race, ethnicity, age, and sex while conducting traffic stops.

Like so many other misguided approaches to fixing “systemic racism,” this one attempts to protect the rights of African-Americans by infringing on the rights of everyone else. If I am pressed to answer the question by an officer, I will answer that I identify as Asian and female. I urge my fellow Virginians to do likewise.

2. Wuhan virus ethics train wreck update: Continue reading

Third Of July Ethics Concert, 2020, Part 1: Pickett’s Charge, Custer’s First Stand, And More

Charge!

The anthemic music is the finale to the 1993 film Gettysburg, which has one of my all-time favorite scores, by Randy Edelman. I have worn out three CDs, and this particular selection, “Reunion and Finale,” almost lost me my drivers license once when I was playing it loudly in my car and blew past the speed limit by 25 mph or so.

I will be interested to see if any channel shows Ted Turner’s epic this weekend. I’m sure it is now regarded as politically incorrect because the film does not portray the Southern generals and soldiers as vicious racists, and the balance that the film was praised for when it was released is now regarded as “pro-Confederacy propaganda.” That is a fatuous take on the film, which is about human beings, not politics, and arguably the most historically accurate historical drama ever made, based on what may be the best historical novel ever written, “The Killer Angels,” by Michael Shaara, just a wonderful book. Read it. You can thank me later.

Unlike July 2, one of the most significant dates in U.S. history with multiple major events, July 3 stands out for one momentous event. Even in the sequence of events leading to American independence, July 3 was relatively boring:  it was devoted to the debate over Jefferson’s Declaration, resulting in more than eighty additions and redactions.

July 3  was the final day of the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, reaching its bloody climax in General Robert E. Lee’s desperate  gamble on a massed assault on the Union center. In history it has come to be known as Pickett’s Charge, after the leader of the Division that was slaughtered during it.

At about 2:00 pm this day in 1863, near the Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg,  Lee launched his audacious stratagem to pull victory from the jaws of defeat in the pivotal battle of the American Civil War.  The Napoleonic assault on the entrenched Union position on Cemetery Ridge, with a “copse of trees” at its center, was the only such attack in the entire war, a march into artillery and rifle fire across an open field and over fence. When my father, the old soldier, saw the battlefield  for the first time in his eighties, he became visibly upset because, he said, he could visualize the killing field.

The battle lasted less than an hour. Union forces suffered 1,500 casualties,, while at least 1,123 Confederates were killed on the battlefield, 4,019 were wounded, and nearly 4000 Rebel soldiers were captured. Pickett’s Charge would go down in history as one of the worst military blunders of all time. Continue reading