“I have no illusions that your man will nominate someone who shares my orientation, but I hope he sends us someone smart. Let me put a finer point on it. I hope he sends us Elena Kagan.”
—The recently departed Antonin Scalia, speaking to Obama advisor David Axelrod seven years ago, as President Obama was faced with making his first Supreme Court nomination upon the retirement of Justice Souter.
Kagan, of course, was finally chosen to fill the second SCOTUS vacancy. Axelrod treats this conversation as somehow shocking, which I guess it would be to a political operative like him, to whom partisan warfare is everything,. Yet Scalia, who was known to be good friends with several of the more liberal members of the court, including Kagan, displayed with that private statement to Axelrod the professional attitude I have heard from many lawyers, and that perfectly describes my own. What is important to have on the Supreme Court are the best and most competent legal minds available. Assuming such judges also possess integrity, the third branch of the government will be in good hands. Continue reading
Apparently panicked by the negative reaction to its all-white 2016 Oscar nominations, and determined not to give MC Chris Rock more ammunition than he already has, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Scientists has rushed into place new voter qualifications for next year’s awards. Under the new rules, members who have not worked over the past 30 years will lose the right to cast Oscar ballots unless they have been nominated for an Oscar themselves.
What’s going on here?
1. Is this substituting real bias for unfairly assumed bias?
Sure it is.
As one soon to be disenfranchised voter told the Hollywood Reporter, “The Motion Picture Academy, in the spirit of Affirmative Action (which has worked so well in our universities), is determined to take the Oscar vote away from the Old White Guys…Personally, I wish they’d examine their complex preferential ballot procedure which clearly isn’t working right. But no, blame the Old White Guys.” Others noted that to assume older voters, many who were at their peak during the rebellious Sixties and the Civil Rights Era, weren’t voting for black artists was foolish. The new rules seem to be an obvious attempt to stigmatize and penalize older voters. The seniors, said one dissenting Academy member, are often “perfectly vibrant and very much with it and, while they may be retired, it doesn’t mean they aren’t functioning on all cylinders. They have earned the privilege of being in the Academy through their work and just because they’re no longer active doesn’t mean that they can’t be a good judge of what they’re looking at.” Former actress Delores Hart, who gave Elvis Presley his first screen kiss and who was the top-billed star of “Where the Boys Are?,” was direct, saying, “It’s age discrimination.”
Of course, Hollywood has long-accepted age-discrimination, and Saturday Night Live would never skewer the Oscars for that. Continue reading
Anything to avoid admitting the truth…
Apparently Mark Halperin still has a job with Bloomberg after his atrocious interview with Ted Cruz, since he is back in the news. He held a discussion with some Iowa voters who think Hillary Clinton is just wonderful—you know, morons—and when he asked them to name her accomplishments in the one job she has held requiring leadership and management, Secretary of State, they couldn’t come up with anything. None of them. This has caused comment among pundits and consternation among Democrats.
Well, what did Halperin expect them to say? Clinton was a disaster as Secretary of State, as evidenced by the fact that President Obama’s foreign police has reaped the wild wind. Hillary’s tenure left the U.S. with ISIS, a failed state in Libya, chaos in Iraq, a more nuclear Iran, Hamas attacks on Israel, a North Korean government that felt it could threaten a U.S. corporation with impunity, Russian incursions into the Ukraine, continuing violence in Syria, and, of course, a Mexico that encourages its citizens to have contempt for the laws of the United States. Meanwhile, she used her office to attract foreign and domestic interests to give large amounts of cash to her foundation, while paying her family large amounts of money through speaking fees that look suspiciously like access fees. Of course, it’s doubtful that these classic low information voters knew anything about her failures and misdeeds, either. The incident was nothing more nor less than supplementary proof that Hillary Clinton’s supporters have turned their brains and/or consciences off, and want her to be President in the absence of evidence or in defiance of it, not because of any rational analysis.
Nonetheless, the Hail Hillary team in the news media rushed to explain what needed no explanation, using a lot of rationalization and spin. In the Washington Post, Hunter Schwartz does himself proud with his skill in rationalizing and changing the subject:
“[N]ot being able to name specific things politicians have done isn’t that unusual for the average voters. Quick, name something that John Kerry has done as Secretary of State. Right. Think Iowa Republicans could do much better naming significant things Jeb Bush did as governor or Marco Rubio has done in the Senate? So, yes, while the stumped Democrats’ response might be short-term vindication for Republicans, it not necessarily that damaging for Clinton.”
Ugh. Continue reading
I had hoped to have my “Celebrity Code of Ethics” complete for this post, but it isn’t, so I’ll just allude to some of its likely provisions.
I like Ashley Judd, I really do. I’m not sure why she never became the reigning female light drama star of her generation; she’s every bit as good as Sandra Bullock or Julia Roberts, and that voice! Now she’s routinely relegated to repetitious action movies and will be playing Jennifer Lawrence’s mother any day now—oh well, that’s show biz. Judd is also more articulate and intellectually curious than the average celebrity, so it was with great pain and disappointment that I learned that she had recently said this, in an interview with Larry King, about the presidential prospects of Hillary Clinton:
“I think she might be the most overqualified candidate we’ve had since – you know, Thomas Jefferson or George Washington.”
Now, I don’t expect celebrities to be historians or experts on anything other than their profession and areas of specialty. However, one tenet of celebrity ethics is the same as that of doctors: “First, do no harm.” That means, for someone like Judd, a celebrity has an ethical duty to recognize that a disturbing number of people think that because she is rich and famous, she is necessarily informed, responsible and wise, as well as a role model, and therefore, unlike the usual drunk on a barstool, when that celebrity says something outrageously ignorant, stupid and misleading, hundreds of thousands of people believe it and align their own beliefs accordingly. That’s harmful, and doing it is unethical. Continue reading
“One of these things is not like the other…”
The Bill Maher Ethics Conundrum is not what you probably think it is.
Maher, the alleged comic and anti-conservative scold who hosts an HBO program, was chosen by a student committee to be the commencement speaker for the University of California-Berkeley’s December graduation. This was a lazy, embarrassingly juvenile and politically-loaded selection, but Maher had also just recently used his show to join fellow atheist and neuroscientist Sam Harris in a condemnation of Islam, calling it “the only religion that acts like the mafia that will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture or write the wrong book.” Later on Maher nodded approvingly as Harris also called Islam”the mother lode of bad ideas.”
This caused Muslim students at Berkeley to prove Maher correct about their religion’s entrenched intolerance of opposition, and they have been joined by other political correctness censors in the student body—there are a lot of them—to demand that the university rescind Maher’s invitation because of his “hate speech.”A Change.org petition—-now THAT site is the real mother lode of bad ideas—now urges students to boycott the decision and asks the campus to stop him from speaking. It has gathered more than 1,400 signatures. The committee that chose Maher, naturally, backed down, but the University, so far at least, is sticking to its decision to invite him.
Yes, yes, universities ought to be marketplaces of ideas where all views are welcome, and yes, it is hypocritical and offends the traditions of liberal education to stop Maher from stating his views on Islam, or re-telling “The Aristocrats,” or making a fool of himself, or whatever he’s going to do because some students or all students disagree with him, just as it was for Rutgers students to force Condolezza Rice into withdrawing after she was invited to speak at Rutgers. The dilemma illustrated by this flap is a classic ethics problem, which I will henceforth call the Bill Maher Conundrum, which has been long debated and never decisively settled:
Is the ethical nature of an act defined by its intent, or by an objective assessment of the act alone without reference to motive? Continue reading
Here is Senator Diane Feinstein explaining her qualifications to lead the charge on Capital Hill to restrict firearms, after Sen Ted Cruz (R-Tx) implied that she was not sufficiently schooled in the Second Amendment: “I’m not a sixth grader. Senator, I’ve been on the committee for 20 years,” Feinstein said angrily. “I was a mayor for nine years. I walked in, I saw people shot, I’ve looked at bodies that have been shot with these weapons, I’ve seen the bullets that implode. And Sandy Hook youngsters were dismembered… I’m not a lawyer, but after 20 years, I’ve been up close and personal with the Constitution. I have great respect for it.” Her emotional statement echoed her similar response to a challenge during another assault weapon ban debate, twenty years ago, when she was a freshman and could not cite her legislative experience. Then she said,
“I am quite familiar with firearms. I became mayor as a product of assassination. I found my assassinated colleague [Harvey Milk] and put a finger through a bullet hole trying to get a pulse. Senator, I know something about what firearms can do.”
So now we know. Diane Feinstein has reason to know guns can kill people, and has been personally traumatized by them. That is supposed to qualify her as a cool, rational, balanced and fair legislator in deliberations over whether citizens who have never broken the law and don’t intend to can buy the weapons they want to. Continue reading
WordPress, for only the second time in three years, was kind enough to include my recent post about Stephen Sondheim’s footnote lament that musicals were the only art form largely reviewed by incompetents. This has brought a lot of new visitors to Ethics Alarms, and I hope they are interested in ethics as well as musicals. One such new reader is a Prof. Ratigan, who apparently does some reviewing himself. Here is his Comment of the Day, on the Jan 3, 2013 post (Here’s something weird—last year’s Jan.3 post was also about Sondheim!) Are Musicals Reviewed By Ignoramuses?…
Two points. The first is the literacy issue. I think it’s interesting that it would appear that a good reviewer is either a novice or a master where everything in between is amateur. I’ve been reviewing movies for the past year (on a blog) and I’ve definitely felt that in my own stuff. The more movies I watched and connections I could draw, the more it became apparent how much I really needed to do to become proficient. I needed to read a lot more literature, read a lot more scripts, and watch a lot more movies. Otherwise, I would start to create a context but have a nagging feeling that the director/writer/actor (who are often scholars of film) might/probably know more than me and were doing something else. It seems that these musical reviewers aren’t expected to take the next step from reviewer to analyst. Continue reading