Afternoon Ethics Flotsam And Jetsam, 9/16/2019: Ethics Movies, Clowns And Harvard Professors

…As I prep for a CLE road trip…

1. I finally saw “Doubt,” the film adaptation of the John Patrick Shanley stage drama about a parish priest suspected of child abuse. It’s an ethics film, and unlike many ethics films, made a profit at the box office.

I had seen the play on stage, and found it didactic and contrived; the film did not, I’m sure because the cast was so excellent. Meryl Streep, Viola Davis and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the priest were all wonderful, especially Davis, whose single scene in which she runs down a series of desperate arguments and rationalizations to justify allowing her son to be molested—maybe—is an ethics cornucopia. Unlike the stage production I saw, the movie benefits by having its protagonists appear less sympathetic than its apparent villain.

This goes on the ethics movie list, which is due for an update.

2.  Yet another ethics movie of more recent vintage is 2019’s “The Challenger Disaster,” a fictionalized recounting of how the decision was made to allow the doomed space shuttle to launch despite the warnings of Morton Thiokol engineers.  I wrote about this depressing ethics case study here , in a tribute to the primary Cassandra in the tragedy, Roger Boisjoly, and here,  about his troubled colleague, Bob Ebeling. The film’s hero appears to be an amalgam of the two. Here is an excerpt from a review on The Engineering Ethics Blog:

Even if you are pretty familiar with the basics of the story, as I was, the film is almost agonizing to watch as the launch time draws closer….The focus is always on Adam [the fictional hybrid of the engineers opposing the launch]: his belief going in that the truth is always a sufficient argument (it’s not, as it turns out), his doubts that he’s done enough to stop the launch, and his retrospective descriptions of what went on in the hours leading up to the launch…. the generally underlit atmosphere symbolizes Adam’s darkening mood as the critical conference call comes and goes, and the decision is made to launch. After Adam drives home that evening, he just sits out in the driveway in his car until his wife comes and gets into the seat beside him. …Later, during the  hearings that Adam and his fellow engineers attend, they come forward out of the audience and interrupt the proceedings after they hear a Morton-Thiokol manager lie about his knowledge of the seal problem. After the hearing, a sympathetic commission member finds Adam and reassures him that there are whistleblowing laws to protect him from repercussions of his testimony.

While it is never good to kick a man while he is down, I wish the film had taken time to show in more detail the intensity of the ostracism that forced the real-life Boisjoly to resign from Morton-Thiokol after his participation in the hearings made him persona non grata at work. … Boisjoly made a new career out of giving talks to engineering students about his experiences. …For a complex, historically accurate, and thought-provoking take on the Challenger disaster, I cannot think of a better medium than “The Challenger Disaster”  for conveying the seriousness of the emotion-laden decisions that have to be made at critical times. It is not a fun movie, but it’s a good one. And I hope it does well in video-on-demand release, because engineers need to see it.

Also lawyers, doctors, corporate executives, military officers, government officials, journalists, students… Continue reading

Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 9/14/2019: “You Made Me Slam You (I Didn’t Want To Do It)” Edition

Welcome!

1.  To be fair to Kerry Roberts, while we should not and cannot eliminate colleges, this is also trueFrom The American Thinker:

….Sarah Sanders made one of the best observations in recent weeks when, reflecting on the Democrats running for president, she observed, “I’m pretty sure they don’t even like America.”  She’s right.  They don’t.  For those who are wondering how the Democrats could have produced such a distinguished slate of the sanity-challenged, it is because of radical liberal control of America’s colleges and universities.  The Marxist radicals of yesterday became college professors of today, seizing ideological control of much of America….American universities are radicalizing an increasingly large share of America.  This is aided by the fact that nearly 70% of kids now go to college, where most of them are taught not to think. Every candidate on stage is convinced that the lion’s share of Democrat primary voters are radical Marxists.  Sadly, they’re all largely right, which is why any candidate who sounds remotely reasonable is running about the same percentage of voter support as you.  These candidates should know their voters, since every one of them is likely a product of America’s universities.  It is hard to overstate the damage this institution is inflicting on America but that outcome was on full display during the Democrat debate.

2.  Stipulated: Using PolitiFact as an authority in any political debate is proof that the user is either so biased he can’t recognize partisan slant when it’s right under his nose, or lying. I remember how most of the Ethics Alarms boycotters from the progressive collective, before they turned tail and ran, liked to cite the obviously manipulative fact-check service, the worst of the worst, if you don’t count Snopes. (FactCheck.org, though leftward tilting, is by far the fairest one of all, according to my magic ethics mirror on the wall…) Kudos, then, to Ted Cruz, who took the time to point out in a tweet:

“Just a reminder, when I said it, PolitiFact (a wholly-owned subsidiary of the DNC) rated ‘Beto wants to take our guns’ as FALSE,.” “Maybe they should buy one of his new t-shirts.”

You know..these:

Now I’m tempted to imitate Cruz’s tweak with my Facebook friends who indignantly protested when I described their favorite party as the champion of open borders, gun confiscation, and late-term abortion. Continue reading

Shameless Self-Promotion Dept.: My Upcoming Smithsonian Program on Cross-Examination

I don’t know how many Ethics Alarms readers live in the vicinity of Washington, D.C.—I suspect quite a few—but if you do and are interested in seeing me and my sister present a lively two-hour program exploring many of the legal ethics issues that I have tackled here, along with plenty of history, popular culture and trial technique (and are willing to pay $45 for the privilege as well as some take-home materials),  maybe I can meet you on the evening of October 21st.

The event is called “Courtroom Drama: The Art of Cross-Examination,” and here’s description: Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Month: Actor Peter Fonda (1940-2019)

“I believe that one is only truly free when learning, and one can only learn when one is free.”

—-Actor Peter Fonda, Henry’s son, Jane’s brother, and Bridget’s father, who died yesterday.

Memorable ethics quotes come from unexpected places sometimes, and this is a striking example. It’s also important, wise and true. I have never heard or read of anyone putting that thought quite that way.

Fonda’s observation focuses nicely on the roots of today’s existential cultural peril. A vast segment of the population has grown to adulthood with insufficient or defective knowledge, making them easy prey for power-seekers, demagogues and charlatans peddling theories and nostrums that a basic comprehension of history would instantly undermine. Instead of being imbued by their teachers and parents with intellectual curiosity, a healthy and intrinsically American suspicion of authority, and a reluctance to follow mobs of any kind, they lack the intellectual defenses to fend off ideological cant, the most dangerous of which holds that society will only be made virtuous by the unthinking acceptance of approved doctrine. That requires locking in dogma early, and creating a public that is inoculated against learning by being cut off from non-conforming information. Continue reading

Sunday Ethics Catch-Up, 8/11/2019: Cape Cod Dreams And Nightmare Jerks

Sigh.

This would be the week that my dad typically took his vacation. At this moment, when I was 10, I would be on a beach in Dennisport on the Cape, sampling the sandwiches my mother packed,  sitting in bathing trunks on my father’s army blanket that he carried all over Europe during the war, and listening to Curt Gowdy describe the Red Sox game on mt transistor radio  . Nothing could have been farther from my mind than ethics. Those were the days…

1. Once again, 7-11 ethics in Alexandria, VA.. I’ve written about several ethics encounters at my  local convenience store. This time I was patiently waiting for a space to open up (eventually I am going to tell one of the jerks who have finished their errands and sit in the space texting and surfing on their smart phones while others are desperately seeking parking spaces that he or she is an antisocial blight on the community) when a car backed out almost in front of my vehicle. before I could slide in around him from the right, an SUV that just entered the parking lost quickly moved into the space. The driver had seen me; he just did it because he could. As the young black male moved toward  the store, I got out of my car and shouted: “Classy. You knew I was waiting for the space, and you jumped in ahead of me anyway. You’re an asshole.”

Two thirty-something African American women exited the car in the space next to the one I have just lost. “Sir?” one said. “My girl friend just said exactly what you did. He is an asshole. Some black men just don’t care abut anybody, and I can say that, because I’m black. It really pisses me off. Look—take my space. I can park across the street. Please.” I told her that really wasn’t necessary, but she insisted.

My wife came back to the car after she had purchased the items we came for, and as we drove away, I could see the Good Samaritan giving hell to the young man who had snatched my space.

2. Hollywood ethics, confused as usual. Universal is temporarily cancelling the release of “The Hunt,” an R-rated satire in which progressive elites hunt “deplorables” for fun.  The film was scheduled to open in September. The reason for the cancellation was apparently the recent mass shootings. “While Universal Pictures had already paused the marketing campaign for “The Hunt,” after thoughtful consideration, the studio has decided to cancel our plans to release the film,” the studio said in yesterday’s statement. “We stand by our filmmakers and will continue to distribute films in partnership with bold and visionary creators, like those associated with this satirical social thriller, but we understand that now is not the right time to release this film.”

Interesting question: what is the “right time” to release a film like that? The answer, I would think is either “never,” or “now is as good a time as any.” It’s an ugly, tasteless, offensive idea for a film, but Ethics Alarms will defend to the death Hollywood’s right to make ugly, tasteless, offensive films. On the other hand, maybe releasing this film while the antifa is roaming the fruited plains and Democrats are encouraging people to harass and attack anyone wearing a MAGA cap is a tiny bit irresponsible. On the other hand—there I am with three hands again—if we are going to go down the road of speculating what bad behavior movies and TV might trigger, we’ll end up with Care Bears, Smurfs, and not much else. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/8/2019: Hating Hate By Hating The Hateful Haters

Good morning.

Are you nuts? I’m not. Yet.

1. You want deranged? This is deranged. MSNBC put analyst Frank Figliuzzi on the air to explain the Nazi symbolism at the White House.  Figliuzzi is a former FBI assistant—think about that as you read this—and he has been given media credibility of late because he had  predicted that white supremacist violence was potentially imminent due to President Trump’s rhetoric. Of course, I predicted months ago that the relentless divisive rhetoric from “the resistance” would get someone killed soon, and nobody’s calling me to blather on TV…and I’m not insane, like this guy.

Figliuzzi alerted MSNBC World about the sinister numerical connection between neo-Naziism and the Trump administration’s decision to fly flags at half-mast until August 8 in honor of the victims of the Dayton and El Paso shootings.

“If we don’t understand how they think, we’ll never understand how to counter them,” he said. “The President said that we will fly our flags at half mast, until August 8. That’s 8/8. Now, I’m not going to imply that he did this deliberately, but I am using it as an example of the ignorance of the adversary that’s being demonstrated by the White House. The numbers 88 are very significant in neo-Nazi and white supremacy movement. Why? Because the letter ‘H’ is the eighth letter of the alphabet, and to them the numbers 8-8 together stand for ‘Heil Hitler.’ So we’re going to be raising the flag back up at dusk on 8/8. No one is thinking about this.”

Once again, this calls for Sidney Wang...

The reason that nobody is thinking about this, you idiot, is that it is deranged. How crazy can “the resistance” get and not start a stampede to the President, in reflex revulsion to the lies, the disrespect, the paranoia, the smears and the hysteria? The Times this week was musing about why Trump’s approval ratings are rising even as the mainstream media has been proclaiming that he’s a Nazi racist and responsible for every shooting in America.

To ask the question is to answer it.

(I just realized my piano is a Nazi…) Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, July 1, 2019: Movies, Cultural Literacy, “A Nation Of Assholes,” And The Mystery Of The Fake Public Defender

Good Morning!

1. Any ideas about what was going on here? I’m stumped. This is New Orleans public defender—that is, former  New Orleans public defender—Ashley Crawford:

She began working for the Orleans Public Defenders last October, and since that time apparently handled over a hundred cases without having ever acquired a license to practice law. The Orleans Public Defenders said the bar certificate of good standing she presented to the office last fall when she was employed had been falsified, and Ashley used the bar number of another attorney. She’s fired now, and facing charges.

Crawford  graduated from  the Loyola University New Orleans College of Law in 2016, then  clerked for a New Orleans judge beginning that fall. Judicial clerks are not required to pass the bar exam, though many do.

Why would she—would anyone—do this? Now she is facing criminal penalties, and will never be able to practice law legally. It should be far easier to pass the bar exam and be admitted properly than to fake having a law license. She also has caused havoc for the judicial system: any defendant convicted while being represented by Crawford has an automatic right to a new trial.

There’s a lesson, a tragedy, a made-for-TV movie here; I just wish I knew what the lesson is. Continue reading