Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 8/4/2019: Mass Shootings, Teddy’s Grace, Skaters’ Peril, California’s Cheat

“Never on a Sunday” just doesn’t apply to the ethics biz.

Historical note: in 1960, the English language version of the title song from the hist Greek comedy “Never on a Sunday” was constantly on the radio. My friends were singing it; the song won the Oscar for Best Song. Nobody seemed to mind, or bothered to tell all the kids singing the cheerful earworm, that the song was about a prostitute who wouldn’t accept payment to be boinked on a Sunday. The translated song’s word “kiss” was a euphemism.

1. That bastion of ethics, California! Senator Kamala Harris has come under fire for pursuing aggressive prosecution policies while California Attorney General, in stark contrast to he campaign rhetoric regarding mass incarceration of minorities.  Now the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has removed many of the more controversial arrest records during her term in office. from the  Washington Free Beacon:

The department removed public access to a number of reports on incarceration in the state, including when presidential candidate Kamala Harris (D.) was California’s attorney general. Twice a year, the CDCR releases information about the number of new individuals incarcerated in the California prison system as part of its “Offender Data Points” series. These reports provide important information on demographics, sentence length, offense type, and other figures relevant to criminal justice and incarceration.Until recently, these reports were publicly available at the CDCR’s websiteA search using archive.org’s Wayback Machine reveals that as of April 25, 2019—the most recent indexed date—ODP reports were available dating back to the spring of 2009. As of August 2019, the same web page now serves only a single ODP report, the one for Spring 2019. The pre-2019 reports have been removed….the reports contain information about Harris’s entire time as state A.G., 2011 to 2017.

As John Travolta memorably says in “Face-Off”: “What a coinky-dink!”

Is this a partisan abuse of power designed to keep information away from the public and the media in support of favored candidate? It is. An ethical recipient of this assistance would condemn it and demand the State records be restored.  In this case, however, it would be more in character for Harris to have requested the purge.

2. Another shooting, another misleading stat. Today’s shooting in Dayton, coming right on top of last week’s El Paso Walmart massacre, has revived the “mass shooting a day” trope that was used repeatedly in 2018. Thus USA Today wrote today that there have been 250 “mass shootings” in 216 days this year. That’s deliberately misleading and deceitful.

The trick seems to be based on the non-partisan Mass Shooting Tracker, which uses the definition of “mass shooting” that includes any time four or more individuals are shot, excluding the shooter. Thus the number is inflated with gang shoot-outs, domestic violence, and incidents like this one, from a high-crime section of President Trump’s favorite city, Baltimore, last month:

“Police responded to a triple shooting in Northwest Baltimore late Saturday that left two males with serious injuries. Shortly before 10:30 p.m., police were dispatched to the 2800 block of Boarman Avenue for a shooting. They found three males with gunshot wounds. One victim was shot in the leg, an injury that was not life-threatening.”

Do you think of the Gunfight at the OK Corral as a mass shooting?  It was by the USA Today standard, though only three men were killed. Two of the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday were shot, so it was a “mass shooting.”

When media outlets and politicians point to a true mass shooting like the one in El Paso, where 20 died and many were wounded by a madman, and say “this is the 250th Mass shooting this year,” that sounds like “we have had 250 shootings like this in 2019.”

And that’s what you are supposed to think. All the better to scare you into giving up your right to personal protection.

3. Teddy Roosevelt and “Mr. Dooley.” In Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “The Bully Pulpit,” she tells the story of how Finley Peter Dunne, the social critic, pundit and humorist who wrote in the voice of the fictional Irish barfly, “Mr. Dooley,” wrote a scathing review of then New York Governor Theodore Roosevelt’s account of his exploits in the Spanish American War, “The Rough Riders.” Dunne mocked Teddy as representing the war as a virtual one-man triumph, and suggested that the book would be better titled, “Alone in Cuba.”

Roosevelt wrote him soon after, saying, “I regret to state that my family and intimate friends are delighted with your review of my book. Now I think you owe me one; and I shall expect that when you next come east you pay me a visit. I have long wanted the chance of making your acquaintance.” They eventually met at the Republican Convention in 1900, and Roosevelt handed him a news scoop:  he would accept the nomination as President McKinley’s running mate.

They remained friends and correspondents even though Dunne, as Dooley, continued to lampoon Teddy. Dunne wrote later, “I never knew a man with a keener humor or one who could take a joke on himself with better grace.”

This is the mark of both a secure and a wise leader, as well as one with a sense of humor and proportion. We have had few such leaders, and fewer such Presidents. Imagine how much better off President Trump would be if he had treated critics like Stephen Colbert and Samantha Bee the way Teddy treated Dunne.  Imagine how much better off we all would be.

4. What? Young female athletes handed off by their parents to adult coaches and into unsupervised interaction with older male athletes are often sexually abused? How could that be?  Three-time United States skating champion and Olympic meal winner Ashley Wagner said  this week  John Coughlin, a male figure skater who commited suicide in January,  had sexually assaulted her when she was 17. (Wagner is  28 now.) Writes the Times, “The accusations have further raised concerns that the dynamics of figure skating feed a culture in which young women are all too vulnerable.”

Gee, ya think? It is, has been and will always be irresponsible parenting to send young athletes out of parental oversight into the clutches of strangers because the parents lust for vicarious fame and direct fortune.  At best, even if they avoid the molestation that is too common to ignore, they have been deposited into an unhealthy life path. Today’s Times recounts the story of how young Natalie Wood, being showcased to Hollywood studios by her aggressive stage-mother, was raped twice at an audition when she was 16. Her mother never reported it, lest Natalie be blackballed by the many Harvey Weinsteins in the industry. Women’s sports are no different.

As child star activist Paul Petersen wrote in the only guest post ever to appear here,

“In the Common Law, children are the property of their parents who, in law, “are entitled to the custody, income and services” of the child. The presumption is that parents will not willfully take advantage of their child’s vulnerability, and their inability to disobey. Sadly, the reality faced by children in today’s world is at odds with this presumption.”

This is a much a child endangerment problem as a sexual predator problem.

 

Guest Post: “Can We At Least Agree On This?”

by

Paul Petersen, guest blogger

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[This is Paul Petersen’s second guest blogger appearance on Ethics Alarms. Based on his own experiences as a child actor on “The Donna Reed Show” and what he observed in the treatment of his less fortunate colleagues in the field, Paul  created the profession of child performer advocate and activist, educating the public and assisting individual  performers. (His Facebook friend list is a Who’s Who of former child actors.) Although Paul is officially retired, he continues to speak out about conditions, legal and otherwise, that place child performers in financial, physical, and social peril. The number of child stars, current or grown, who are indebted to him and his organization A Minor Consideration are beyond counting. A true Ethics Hero, his work and statements have been referenced here many times.–Jack]

Can we at least agree on this? Children are a special class of humankind. They are uniquely unformed, utterly dependent, and slaves to the adults who brought them into this world and the society into which they were born.

We all know how children are created, right? They did not ask for this. They are, in a word, innocent. Biologically mature adults are responsible. Of that there is no doubt. Children are a special charge. The rules, for kids, are different…or at least they used to be.

When did they become sexual objects? Since when are they merely background players, mere props? Who decreed that a child immersed in a working environment in which all the contributory adults are compensated for their labor, could somehow NOT be themselves working? Continue reading

Seven Ethics Observations On The Josh Duggar Child Molestation Revelations

19 kids

Yes, this is an Ethics Train Wreck.

First, some background:

“19 Kids and Counting” is another reality show featuring the exploitation of children for their parents fame and profit broadcast by the  cable channel TLC, the same shameless bunch that bought us “Jon and Kate Plus 8” and the trashy Honey Boo-Boo Bunch.It began as “17 Kids and Counting,” became “18 Kids and Counting,” and but for this emerging fiasco, might have kept adding numbers, and little unpaid performers,  ad infinitum.  The show featured the godly, conservative, fertile Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and their nine girls and ten boys, all of whose names begin with the letter “J.” Since the show began, three of the children have been married and several grandchildren have been born. The series began on September 29, 2008.  February 17, 2015 marked Season 10.

In response to emerging reports that oldest son Dugger son Josh, now 27, was once accused of molesting five underage girls as a teen, Josh Duggar, his wife Anna, and his parents Jim Bob and Michelle jointly explained the circumstances, which had not been revealed outside the family until now. “Twelve years ago, as a young teenager, I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret. I hurt others, including my family and close friends,” Josh said  in a statement. “I confessed this to my parents who took several steps to help me address the situation. We spoke with the authorities where I confessed my wrongdoing, and my parents arranged for me and those affected by my actions to receive counseling. I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life.”

Josh then resigned from his position at the Family Research Council.

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar had this to say about their son:

“Back 12 years ago our family went through one of the most difficult times of our lives. When Josh was a young teenager, he made some very bad mistakes, and we were shocked. We had tried to teach him right from wrong. That dark and difficult time caused us to seek God like never before. Even though we would never choose to go through something so terrible, each one of our family members drew closer to God. We pray that as people watch our lives they see that we are not a perfect family. We have challenges and struggles every day. It is one of the reasons we treasure our faith so much because God’s kindness and goodness and forgiveness are extended to us – even though we are so undeserving. We hope somehow the story of our journey – the good times and the difficult times – cause you to see the kindness of God and learn that He can bring you through anything.”

TLC cancelled the show. It said, on its Facebook page,

“Effective immediately, TLC has pulled all episodes of 19 Kids and Counting currently from the air. We are deeply saddened and troubled by this heartbreaking situation, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family and victims at this difficult time”

Then GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee issued his own Facebook statement in support of Josh and the family:

“Janet and I want to affirm our support for the Duggar family. Josh’s actions when he was an underage teen are as he described them himself, ‘inexcusable,’ but that doesn’t mean ‘unforgivable.’ He and his family dealt with it and were honest and open about it with the victims and the authorities. No purpose whatsoever is served by those who are now trying to discredit Josh or his family by sensationalizing the story. Good people make mistakes and do regrettable and even disgusting things. The reason that the law protects disclosure of many actions on the part of a minor is that the society has traditionally understood something that today’s blood-thirsty media does not understand—that being a minor means that one’s judgement is not mature. No one needs to defend Josh’s actions as a teenager, but the fact that he confessed his sins to those he harmed, sought help, and has gone forward to live a responsible and circumspect life as an adult is testament to his family’s authenticity and humility. Those who have enjoyed revealing this long ago sins in order to discredit the Duggar family have actually revealed their own insensitive bloodthirst, for there was no consideration of the fact that the victims wanted this to be left in the past and ultimately a judge had the information on file destroyed—not to protect Josh, but the innocent victims. Janet and I love Jim Bob and Michelle and their entire family. They are no more perfect a family than any family, but their Christian witness is not marred in our eyes because following Christ is not a declaration of our perfection, but of HIS perfection. It is precisely because we are all sinners that we need His grace and His forgiveness. We have been blessed to receive God’s love and we would do no less than to extend our love and support for our friends. In fact, it is such times as this, when real friends show up and stand up. Today, Janet and I want to show up and stand up for our friends. Let others run from them. We will run to them with our support.”

Observations: Continue reading

Note To Advertisers: Babies Are Not Props. Do You Really Need To Have That Explained To You?

Let’s take a little break from the Ferguson Ethics Train Wreck, picking up passengers so fast that I can’t keep up with the manifest, and let Bill Cosby hide for a while, as suddenly all sorts of associates and colleagues are finally admitting that he wasn’t such a nice guy even when he wasn’t raping actresses, and focus on some child abuse—but funny child abuse!

Here’s a recent Halos recent commercial:

Wrong. This is an extreme example, but I frequently see infants being used—that’s the clue, “being used”—in TV shows, ads and movies featuring environments and  conditions that have to be stressful. Making babies cry to sell products or tell a story is unethical: they haven’t consented, they are helpless, and doing this to them is an abuse of power. It is also cruel.

How could a set full of techs and actors not feature any faint ringing of a single ethics alarm while a baby was duct taped to the back of a door? One disturbing sidebar to this “funny video”: some idiots have actually done this:

Go ahead, Halos, give those happy child abusers out there some new ideas.

This one was flagged by child actor advocate, and my friend, Paul Petersen, who has taken action to make sure Halo doesn’t engage in this kind of abuse again.

Babies aren’t props. They are human beings, This shouldn’t have to be taught to any adult, but it obviously does.

Caring Letter From A Child Star

Sarah and the Baron.

Sarah and the Baron.

This remarkable letter is old—2005—but I just became aware of it, and it is an important document in the ongoing problem of the mistreatment of child performers.

I am a fan of film director (and Monty Python member) Terry Gilliam, and a great admirer of Canadian actress/director/political activist Sarah Polley. So naturally I love “The Adventures Baron Munchausen,” Gilliam’s epic fantasy that starred Polley when she was the tender age of 9, and gave one of the most impressive performances of any juvenile actress, ever. In 2005, Gilliam was filming another movie with a young star, and 17 years after working with him, Polley felt obligated to write this letter, which speaks for itself, and eloquently too:

Hi there, Terry.

Continue reading

Shia LaBeouf, Plagiarism Addict, With Much Worse To Come

Shia past and present, with apology...

The child star past and present, with apology…

Actor Shia LaBeouf, known to Disney Channel aficionados as the annoying little brother on “Even Stevens” and to movie fans as Indiana Jones’ son and the Transformers Guy, is so much more, and not in a good way. His rapidly expanding list of reckless and socially-clueless episodes, including the obligatory misconduct behind the wheel of an expensive car, signals that he may be the new Lindsay Lohan, a talented former child-star raised to adulthood without basic life-skills, respect for others, and an appreciation of the difference between right and wrong. This is a tragic scenario that we are cursed to witness again and again—we saw it in 2013 in the increasingly obnoxious and desperate conduct of pop star Justin Bieber. Give a child wealth, power and adulation without first imbuing him or her with values, discipline and humility and what do you get? A menace.

As LaBeouf’s acting career has waned with his growing reputation as an untrustworthy (and sometimes violent) jerk, he has refashioned himself into an aspiring artist. Unfortunately, he lacks some basic traits of successful artists, like integrity and creativity. His inclination, being raised, like most child stars, in an unstable environment by self-absorbed and dysfunctional parents, is to cheat. In 2012, LaBeouf attached his name to three short graphic novels and a webcomic series. This year, we learned that at least two of the graphic novels contained text plagiarized from other writers. Then LaBeouf attached his name as writer to the short film (which he also directed) called “HowardCantour.com,” which was unveiled at the Cannes Film Festival and received some praise there. The  short, about an online film critic, included a strong resemblance to Daniel Clowes’ 2007 comic “Justin M. Damiano,” as well as large sections of dialogue directly lifted from it. No one picked up on the plagiarism until LaBeouf  released his film online.  Continue reading

Should Child Actors Be Banned?

Amanda Bynes: A child star's evolution

Amanda Bynes: A child star’s career path

I posed this question years ago to Paul Petersen, a noted child performer himself (on the classic “The Donna Reed Show”) and for decades the courageous advocate for past and present child stars. He has fought for legislation to protect their assets and their welfare, often attracting hatred and attacks from stage parents in the process, but draws a hard line at banning kids in stage, screen and TV. “Gotta have those cute kids, Jack” he replied, essentially admitting that as brutal as pre-adult careers in show business often were, the public would never give up their lovable moppets. I don’t dispute Paul’s clear-eyed acceptance of reality, but I also think his answer ducks the question. As he knows better than anyone (you should check out the website of his non-profit organization here, and consider sending a contribution his way), the carnage on young lives a too-early introduction into one of the most callous and mind-warping of professions brings is well-documented and undeniable. Enablers and apologists, not to mention greedy parents willing to cash in their kids’ chances at a healthy childhood for fees and residuals, point to the prominent child stars (Shirley Temple, Brooke Shields) who did not grow up miserable, dysfunctional, and lost, but that is like arguing that child abuse is tolerable because some victims recover from its wounds.

The evidence of child stardom’s destructive effects is ever-present, so much so that the public has become inured to it, and hardly notices. Incidents and quotes exposing Justin Bieber’s gradual evolution into a narcissistic jerk have been regular features of the tabloid news, as have weekly hints that former Disney star Miley Cyrus is heading off the rails. Her infamous fellow alumna from the Mouse Factory, Lindsay Lohan, continues to cement her credentials as the poster girl for child stars gone bad, and just yesterday, former Nickelodeon comic Amanda Bynes was ordered to undergo psychiatric examination following the latest in a year’s worth of weird conduct.

Over at Cracked, a former child star who managed to escape the Biz with her sanity, values and reputation intact weighed in with an unusually sensitive (for Cracked) essay entitled, “7 Reasons Child Stars Go Crazy.” The author is Mara Wilson, now virtually forgotten despite the fact that she is barely in her thirties and the Broadway musical adapted from her most popular film, “Matilda,” was a 2013 Tony winner.  Wilson identifies the key factors dooming her less fortunate colleagues as… Continue reading