Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 2/2/2020: The “Let’s Not Watch The CTE Bowl And Think About Ethics Instead” Edition

Good Afternoon!

I almost managed to ignore football completely this season, and I’m proud of it.  There were few rogue kneelers in the NFL this year, and the New England Patriots, my hometown role models for the Houston Astros, finally bit the dust. Meanwhile, there was little new on the CTE front, not any more is needed to prove that cheering young men in the process of destroying their brains for a handful of well-compensated seasons as football heroes is immoral and unethical.  I did recently watch the Netflix documentary, “The Killer Inside,” about Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots star who murdered a friend and perhaps two others. I didn’t know that after his suicide in prison, it was found that Hernandez suffered from CTE, and that  his brain was one of the most damaged scientists have ever seen.  The documentary also says that the New England Patriots coaching staff saw signs that he was deteriorating and becoming unstable, as well as using drugs, and they made no effort to intervene. After all, he was playing well, and the team was winning.

That’s pro football. To hell with it.

1. “The Chop.” I have written about this perpetually silly issue a lot, and recently, but the New York Times, being the Official Paper of the Woke, has felt it necessary to publish three pieces this week on the the so called “Kansas City Chop,” the tomahawk motion used by Kansas City Chiefs fans (The Chiefs are in the Super Bowl, you know) when cheering on their team. The chop is most identified with the Atlanta Braves (How satisfying it was to watch Jane Fonda dutifully chopping along with then husband Ted Turner when the  Braves finally made the world Series in 1991!), but Chiefs fans started copying Braves fans. It is, of course, intended to rally the team, has nothing whatsoever to do with any kind of commentary on Native Americans, those who pretend to be seriously unsettled by what fans of an NFL team do to show their affection for their team are either faking or need psychiatric care. But here’s CNN:
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Lost Tuesday Ethics Scraps, 12/11/18: Statues, Tucker Carlson And “To Kill A Mockingbird”

Good whatever it is.

I guess I’m not as recovered as I thought: one high energy ethics presentation to a sluggish audience today and I was fried. This better not be encroaching old age, or I’ll be pissed.

1. Thank you for making the open forum this morning active: I wish you all had been in my audience today. I haven’t read any of it yet (I did finally get your excellent comment out of moderation, Michael R!); I’m trying to get my own posts up.

2. Stolen art ethics. No doubt: the looting of art from the Old World by American tycoons and museums is a long-time ethics scandal, and the international court battles settling the disputes will continue for a long, long time. The argument over a 2000-year-old bronze statue, known as “Victorious Youth between the Getty Villa and Italy, however, is not as clear as most. Italy’s highest court has ordered that the sculpture should be returned to Italy. Currently, it is on display at the villa on the outskirts of Los Angeles, which is part of the J. Paul Getty Museum. It was retrieved from Adriatic waters by Italian fishermen in 1964, and sold to successive collectors and dealers. After a decade-long legal battle, Italy’s Court of Cassation ruled  that the statue should be confiscated and brought back to Italy, rejecting the Getty’s appeal. Getty is not giving in.

The ethics as well as the law is murky. This is not a case like King Tut, where Indiana Jones-style archeologists and adventurers, just uncovered foreign cultural treasures and took them home. Before acquiring the prized artifact, the Getty undertook a comprehensive, five-year study of whether the statue could be purchased legally and in good faith. Their due diligence extensive analysis of international, Italian, American and California law and of Italian court decisions pertaining to the work.

In 1968, Italy’s Court of Cassation ruled that there was no evidence that the statue belonged to the Italian state; after all, it is Greek. Although the fishermen took the statue onto Italian soil, the court did not find that its brief presence in Italy transformed the sculpture into a component of Italian cultural heritage. Eventually the statue made its way to a German art dealer who put the statue up for sale. According to the Getty, in 1973, acting on a request from Italy, German police initiated an investigation into whether the German dealer had received stolen goods. The investigation was dropped for lack of evidence of wrongdoing. In 1977, the Getty purchased the bronze in Britain for almost $4 million from a gallery affiliated with the German dealer. The bronze has now been publicly exhibited, studied and cared for at the Getty for 40 years. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/17/2018: Mockingbirds, Headlines, And Reasonable Doubt

Good Morning, Scout!

1 Assorted blog stuff. I’m going to have to fly to Boston next month for the hearing on my motion to dismiss the specious defamation suit against me by an Ethics Alarms  commenter to whom my responses were no more defamatory than what I have said to many of you when provoked…Every now and then some blog or social media participant with a huge following links to an old post here, and I am swamped with visits from a lot of individuals with no serious interest in ethics. They almost never comment, and if they do, the comments typically don’t meet my posting standards. Still, they swell the traffic stats, and I’ll take ’em. In 2017 I had none of these fluky hit avalanches, after a 2016 that had several. This time, the post suddenly drawing interest is a 2014 essay about a letter written to director Terry Gilliam in 2005. You just never know…Expect a lot of Comments of the Day this weekend: I am way behind, and I’m sorry. Tough week.

2. Keep hope alive! Yesterday’s New York Times front page headline perfectly embodied the fake news-by-innuendo tactic that has marked the mainstream media’s efforts to pander to the “resistance.” The Special Prosecutor’s fishing expedition just subpoenaed the business records of the Trump organization relating to its dealings in Russia. Says the Times headline: “Investigation nears President.” Ooooh! Scary!

Hype, and unprofessional. This is the “He’s getting closer! And closer!” narrative the anti-Trump journalists have been flogging for a year. Yeah, I guess any time an investigation involves someone’s business it is “near” the owner, but why would that obvious fact justify a headline?  The reality is that Trump’s organization had business dealings in Russia (legal and unremarkable), the fact that Mueller is looking does not prove or suggest that those dealings had any connection to the campaign, and Mueller could have asked for these records a year ago. There is nothing ominous about the request from the President’s perspective at all, unless, as this whole fiasco has presumed from the moment Democrats seized on Wikileaks and fake Facebook news as the designated excuses for Hillary’s inexcusable defeat, there really was “collusion.”

That an investigation has been launched does not imply, suggest, or indicate wrongdoing. The news media’s reporting continues to suggest otherwise because they want the President to be guilty of something heinous. Imagine that: there are Americans who want their elected President to be proven guilty of wrongdoing.

3. To kill a “To Kill A Mockingbird.”  Harper Lee’s estate filed a complaint last week in federal court in Alabama, arguing that a Broadway bound stage adaptation of “To Kill A Mockingbird” by “The West Wing” creator and “A Few Good Men” writer Aaron Sorkin violates a contract, between Harper Lee and the producers that stipulates that the characters and plot must remain faithful to the spirit of the book. (I wrote about the complexities surrounding Atticus Finch’s character in a 2015 post.) Continue reading

Of Atticus Finch, “Go Set A Watchman,” And Icon Ethics

AtticusToday Harper Lee’s “sequel” to “To Kill A Mockingbird” is officially released, though reviews have already been published. The big story is that the new novel’s now grown “Scout” discovers during the civil rights upheavals of the 1950s that her father and hero Atticus Finch is a racist, had attended a Klan meeting, and is prone to saying things like …

“Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?”

The new Atticus is providing ammunition to those who enjoy tearing down American heroes and icons. Finch is perhaps the most revered fictional lawyer in American culture, admired by the public as well as the legal profession. The American Bar Association named its award for fictional portrayals of lawyers in films and literature after Finch, whose pro bono defense of a wrongly accused black man in a bigoted Alabama town forms the central conflict of Lee’s classic. Burnishing Atticus’s reputation further was the beloved portrayal of the character, reputedly based on the author’s father, by Gregory Peck in the Academy Award winning film adaptation. Peck received the Award for Best Actor as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and as a civil-rights activist often stated that he admired Finch over all his other roles. In 2003, American Film Institute voted Finch as the greatest hero in American film.Wrote Entertainment Weekly, “[Finch] transforms quiet decency, legal acumen, and great parenting into the most heroic qualities a man can have.”

Atticus, however, has had his detractors through the years, notable among them the late Monroe Freedman, a  habitual iconoclast and contrarian who wrote two law review articles declaring that Finch was neither hero nor a particularly admirable lawyer. He wrote in part: Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Strange Case Of The 2902 School Shooting Victim

Who knows what dark thoughts lurk in the imagination? And does it matter?

Who knows what dark thoughts lurk a teacher’s imagination, unless he tells us? And should  it matter if he does?

Patrick McLaw, an eighth grade language arts teachers at Mace’s Lane Middle School in Cambridge, Maryland, has been placed on indefinite administrative leave by the Dorchester County Board of Education and the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office. This measure was taken after it was discovered that McLaw had several aliases, two of which he has used to write novels. One of those novels was about the largest school shooting in the country’s history, set in the year 2902.

Because these books terrified parents, apparently, Dorchester County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Henry Wagner felt it necessary to announce that  the Dorchester County Board of Education had moved swiftly, saying, “We have advised our community that the gentleman has been placed on administrative leave, and has been prohibited from entering any Dorchester County public school property.” That’s not all that happened. McLaw was taken into custody for an “emergency medical evaluation.” The same day,police swept Mace’s Lane Middle School for bombs and guns.

This sounds like a Kafka novel. Of course, if Kafka had been a middle school teacher in Cambridge Maryland, parents probably would be afraid that he was going to turn their kids into cockroaches.

How can this hysterical reaction to a teacher’s novel be justified, legally, logically or ethically?

Your Labor Day Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz  involves yet another possible variation on “The Naked Teacher Principle”:

Is there an “Alarming Novelist-Teacher Principle” ?

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A Proposed Guide To Spoiler Ethics

"It SINKS??? You spoiled the ending!!!"

“It SINKS??? You spoiled the ending!!!”

I was just admonished on Facebook by a friend (a real friend, not just the Facebook variety), for referencing the end of the last episode of Season One of “Orange is the New Black.”  He hadn’t finished viewing the season yet, and this was a breach of spoiler ethics. Or was it?

Ever since I encountered for real someone who was angry with me for “spoiling” the end of “Thirteen Days,” ( “Yes, World War III started and everybody died”), I have been dubious about spoiler etiquette. The advent of DVDs and Netflix has made this all the more annoying. If I’m in a group of five, and one individual hasn’t kept up with “House of Cards,” are the rest of us obligated to censor our discussion? As a devotee and fanatic devourer of popular culture, I admit that my first instinct is to say, “Keep up, get literate, or pay the price.” If I actually live by that rule, however, I will be a walking, talking, writing, spoiler machine.

Chuck Klosterman, “The Ethicist” in the world of the New York Times, recently pronounced himself an anti-spoiler absolutist:

“I’m an anti-spoiler fascist. I don’t believe that any conversation, review or sardonic tweet about a given TV show is more valuable than protecting an individual’s opportunity to experience the episode itself (and to watch it within the context for which it was designed). I’ve never heard a pro-spoiler argument that wasn’t fundamentally absurd.”

Even Klosterman, however, excepted sporting events (the question posed involved mentioning World Cup scores to a friend who was annoyed that the game had been “spoiled” for him) from his fascism, writing, reasonably:

“I must concede that live, unrehearsed events are not subject to “spoiler” embargoes A live event is a form of breaking news. It’s not just entertainment; it’s the first imprint of living history. …Because this guy is your buddy, you might want to avoid discussing the games’ outcomes out of common courtesy — but not out of any moral obligation. It’s his own responsibility to keep himself in the dark about current events.”

For once I agree with Chuck. But what are reasonable ethics rules for dealing with the other kind of spoiler, involving literature and entertainment?

Luckily, this is not new territory, though it is evolving territory. The underlying ethical principles include fairness, trust, consideration, compassion, and empathy, which means that the Golden Rule is also involved.

Back in 2010, an erudite blogger calling himself The Reading Ape proposed a draft “Guide to Responsible Spoiling.” That blog is defunct; the promised successor is not around, and so far, I haven’t been able to discover who the Ape is. Whoever he is (Oh Aaaaape! Come back, Ape!) , he did a very good job, though some tweeks might  improve his work, especially in light of the emergence of Netflix.  (I have edited it slightly, not substantively…I hope he doesn’t mind, or if he does, that he’s not a big ape.) His approach is to frame the problem as an ethical conflict, in which two competing ethics principles must be balanced. I think that’s right.

Here is his “draft”—what do you think?

“A Brief Guide to Responsible Spoiling”

by The Reading Ape (2010)

The objective is to balance two ethical principles:

I. The Right to Surprise: The inherent right of any viewer or reader to experience the pleasure of not knowing what’s
going to happen next.

II. The Right to Debate: The inherent right of any viewer or reader to engage in public discourse about the content of
a given work of narrative art.

Part 1: When Spoiling is Fair Game

In the following circumstances, one can discuss crucial plot details and reveal endings with a clear conscience. Continue reading

The Betrayal of J.K. Rowling

Mr. Gossage may have a difficult time practicing law in his new body...

Mr. Gossage may have a difficult time practicing law in his new body…

J.K. Rowling, she of “Harry Potter” fame, had a secret. She had written a detective novel using a pen name, a not unusual tactic for an author identified with a particular genre who wants to diversify without the handicap of reader and critic biases. The usual course, as practiced by other popular writers like Stephen King, is to launch the new novel or novels under a pseudonym (King’s was Richard Bachman), harvest positive reviews and healthy sales without their true identities being known, and then give sales another boost by tearing off the mask.

But Robert Galbraith, author of the detective novel “Cuckoo’s Calling,” was outed to the press as Ms. Rowling prematurely, and Harry’s creator was understandably miffed. Who did it?  All the suspects shrugged,looked behind them, and exclaimed, “Not me!”, perhaps afraid of being turned into a rat, a fate the inventor of Hogwarts is probably capable of executing. Finally, however, the truth emerged: the culprit was one of her lawyers. Continue reading