It’s Theater Ethics vs. High School Ethics, And Incredibly, Both Win

New Jersey’s Cherry Hill School District announced last week that the planned Spring student production of the 1998 Broadway musical “Ragtime” would continue to be rehearsed and would proceed, despite the complaints of some parents. However, student actors would not use “nigger” and other racially-charged terms in the original script. They would be changed or eliminated, the District said.

A spokeswoman for the district, said at the time that officials had already been discussing the possibility of censoring the Cherry Hill High School East production when the Cherry Hill African American Civic Association and the NAACP offered their remedies: censorship, political correctness, and bye-bye free expression and thought. Of course this was their reaction. It is simple-minded, but typical of left-wing political correctness tyranny. It doesn’t matter what ideas are being conveyed, certain words cannot be used to convey them. Whenever possible, the heavy boot of government should crush the non-conforming expression. Also “of course,” lily-livered school administrators initially offered no opposition. Duck the controversy, and the real issues be damned. After all, it’s just a high school musical.

Unfortunately, there was the little issue of licensing agreements. “Ragtime” is a work of art, not that the NAACP cares, and artists have a right to control how their work is performed, even in Cherry Hill. The contract under which the school was allowed to produce the show specifies that the script and songs must be performed as written, no exceptions.

The National Coalition Against Censorship, the Dramatists Guild of America, and Arts Integrity Initiative wrote a smart letter urging the school officials “to reconsider and reverse [the] decision to censor “Ragtime”:

“Ragtime’s” use of racial slurs is an historically accurate and necessary aspect of a play that explores race relations in the early 1900s. Ragtime helps minors understand the brutalities of racism and the anger that has historically accumulated, partly through the use of racially offensive language. In contrast, censorship of such language ignores historical reality and presents a falsified, whitewashed view of race relations. Censoring the play will only perpetuate ignorance of our past. While we empathize with concerns about the emotionally disturbing effects of hearing or uttering racial slurs, we believe such concerns are to be resolved through educational means, not by censoring a renowned text. In our experience, similar concerns… have best been confronted through dialogue rather than censorship.”

Then the students, who had been rehearsing the show since before Christmas (no, real high school performers can’t prepare an elaborate show of professional quality in a few days, as “Glee” would have us believe), created a petition on Change.Org: Continue reading

Dear Guy In My Legal Ethics Seminar: No, Gene Autry Was NOT A Pornographer, And Shame On You

ORG XMIT: NY21 Singing cowboy star Gene Autry is shown in an undated file photo. Autry, who parlayed a $5 mail order guitar into a career as Hollywood's first singing cowboy, died Friday, Oct. 2, 1998. He was 91. His death came less than three months after the death of his great rival, Roy Rogers.

In a legal ethics seminar last week, I was talking about ethics codes and referenced Gene Autry’s version of The Cowboy Code as an example of how most ethics codes could be easily adapted to other professions. I noted that Gene had an amazing career for such an unimpressive looking and sounding performer, with five stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the only individual with that many. (Live performance, radio, TV, movies, and recordings).

“He was also a big producer of pornography!” an elderly lawyer in the front row piped up.

“What?” I said. “Gene Autry? Where did you hear that?”

“Oh, it’s true,” he insisted. “Made him a lot of money. He covered it up pretty well, but the truth came out.”

“Well, I’ll check on that. If true, it’s disillusioning. Thanks.”

But it was not true. I have a lot of material–Gene was active in both show business and Westerns, as well as baseball, so his career was and is very interesting to me—and I searched it and the web for any hint of a pornography reference. I can’t even find a web hoax alleging it.

Not only did that unsolicited bit of false biographical information undermine the point I was making about ethics codes, it spread false information about, by every account, a very nice man and an idol to millions. Now almost a hundred people have it in their heads that the guy singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Here Comes Santa Claus,” and “Back in the Saddle Again” left the studio and filmed orgies.

I don’t know who the guy was that did that to Gene, but it was an irresponsible, reckless thing to do. You can’t make a statement like that in public and smear a great man’s reputation unless you are absolutely certain of your facts.  Obviously he wasn’t sure of them, because they are complete fiction. It’s the kind of thing Donald Trump would say.

Here’s Gene:

KABOOM!* The YMCA Camp Slavery Re-Creation And I Can’t Believe I’m Typing This…

Another day of fun at the YMCA Camp!

Another day of fun at the YMCA Camp!

Maybe the reason I can’t believe it is that it’s difficult to believe anything when one’s brains decorate the walls.

The Detroit News  reports, in a story that I initially assumed was a hoax, that the YMCA Storer Camps in Jackson, Michigan included an  “educational” activity called “Underground Railroad”) in which black children were asked to play runaway slaves, as some teachers and camp instructors acted as slave masters, chasing them down using real horses. Once captured, the children were “auctioned off.” One of the young “slaves” complained to her mother, who wrote an e-mail to the elementary school that subjected its charges to this fun exercise, reading in part:

“As the mother of an African American son and daughter, I am dismayed that Pardee Elementary would authorize and condone such an extremely racially insensitive and damaging activity…The slave masters (camp instructors and teachers) had certificates which allowed them to pay for the slaves, and the students were required to hold up the certificates when they were bought or sold.”

“My daughter said she was scared,” another mother complained. “One of the guys (camp instructors) re-enacted killing a deputy. They should not do that in front of a 10-year-old, and not when kids are hundreds of miles away from home. If they want to teach black history, they should do that in the classroom.”

Ya think? Continue reading

Toward An Ethical Lottery

Powerball

Powerball, like all government-sponsored lotteries, is unethical in every way except that it is not fixed, at least as far as we know. The excitement over lotteries is also depressing. The whole scenario is like something out of a movie about a dystopian culture in which only a lucky draw can rescue citizens from despair and failure—this, in a society of unique personal freedom and opportunities for success. The worst aspect of lotteries—arguably, since there are so many bad things about them—is that they are cruel cheats. As often as not, indeed more often than not, winning a jackpot just provides conclusive proof of why the individual needed a lottery to achieve even temporary affluence. The poor decision-making skills, inadequate education and self-destructive tendencies of many of these winners lead to disaster and  financial distress incredibly quickly; many have lost all of their winnings within five years or less,.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are people, many of them, who have the skills, ideas, talents and character to achieve great things for themselves and society if they had a little help, like some spare time and extra cash. Some of these people achieve a great deal without the time or cash, but might do more good for society with some help.

I would like to see a merit, ambition and potential-based “lottery,” which individuals enter with an explanation of their aspirations and some valid support for their ability to achieve them. Have the entrance fee reasonable, say, twenty bucks, and allow nominations to be submitted by others for a lesser amount, say, ten. Wait until the pool reaches an appropriate size, like 20 million dollars, and have a selection committee choose finalists to interview. In the end, a group of  worthy candidates are awarded a million dollars (or more, or less—I’m not designing details here) to see what they do with it. There will be no further strings attached.

Naturally there will be frauds and failures; it will be the job of the selection process to try to sniff out and avoid them, but some duds will slip through. Never mind. This would still be a “lottery” that has a fighting chance of benefiting society rather than a lucky few who spent money on an upscale, state-promoted version of the numbers game they should have been investing in a college fund for their kids or in a degree for themselves.

It would have a chance of making life a little better, rather than worse, which is what the current “games” do.

Ethics Dunce: Washington Redskins Quarterback Robert Griffin III And Any Other Celebrity Who Has Somebody Other Than The Celebrity Send Out Social Media Messages In His Or Her Name

RGIII

I’m really sick of the “an intern did it” or ” a low level employee did it” explanation when a social media tweet, re-tweet, “like” or message goes wrong and causes an uproar that causes trouble for a celebrity or politician. It’s your name, the person sending the message is your employee and agent who you have authorized to communicate in your name. For the purposes of social media, they are you. Take your medicine, be accountable, own what “you” say online, or get off social media. It’s really as simple as that.

Robert Griffin III is the central figure of a pro football drama that many of those outside of Washington, D.C. or, better yet, those who recognize that pro football is ethics rot put in colorful uniforms to maim minds and and make money every Sunday for more than half the year. Once an NFL rookie of the year, a blooming super-star black quarterback in a majority black city, and the lord of all he surveyed, RGIII, as he is almost exclusively called locally, has fallen far, brought low by bad coaching, injuries, and his own hubris. His one great advantage has been the Skins’ owner’s infatuation with him, as Croesus-like Daniel Snyder runs his franchise like Fantasy league team, and also into the ground.

So how does “RGIII,” a.k.a. the anonymous kid who sends out his tweets and other messages when the star is busy doing what young millionaires do, decide is a great is a great way to show his loyalty to his patron and the man who pays his salary? “He” likes a post from an angry fan that features the hashtag, #inpeachdansnyder.

RGIII, recognizing that this was an especially bad time to tick off his guardian billionaire (he had just been benched by the Redskins’ coach), sent out his own, genuine, reallyreallyreally what he thinks post blaming his intern:

@rgiii I just wanted to set the record straight on this one. I did not “like” that IG post ridiculing our team. I have not been social media active consistently for awhile now and am ultra-focused on working to get back on the field and trying to help this team. One of our interns who helps with Instagram liked the post. As soon as I was made aware of it, it was immediately unliked. That is not how I feel and I appreciate your understanding.
#HTTR

No, actually “you” did like that post, Mr. Star. And if you have “not been social media active,” stop paying someone you obviously don’t supervise to keep you socially media active.

I’m glad they benched you.

(At least Donald Trump makes his own offensive tweets.)

Prediction: Stories Like This Will Be Compared To “Reefer Madness”

ReeferMadness_04

Because elite potheads love their weed, nobody has the guts to stand in their way, and consequences be damned.

The CNN story describes a new study that suggests that smoking a lot of pot, especially if you are young, makes you dumber.

It’s not conclusive, of course. Research seldom is. It also doesn’t matter, since a combination of relentless pro-stoner advocacy, resulting contempt for the law and the fact that a disproportionate number of minorities and poor are getting caught with the drug and going to jail—making the prohibition itself racist in today’s “race trumps everything” political culture—has assured that marijuana will join tobacco, alcohol and legalized gambling as socially destructive—but lucrative! Profits! Taxes! Yum Yum!—forces in our society. Lives will be ruined, shattered and lost, real costs in money and productivity will be huge, and little positive will be gained in exchange.

It just seems so obvious that we should know how harmful these kinds of things are before we legalize them, and not start looking into it after the horse is gone, the genie is out and Pandora’s Box is open and lying on the floor.

It just seems dumb to…Hey! Wait a minute…

________________

Pointer: Fark

Facts: CNN

KABOOM! “Discrimination In Portugal,” The Sequel

exploding_head

First I checked, double-checked and triple-checked to see if this was a hoax. Then, once I was confident that it was true, I allowed my head to explode.

The headline to today’s head-blasting post requires a bit of explanation.

As a senior at Arlington High School (Massachusetts), I was editorial editor of the school newspaper, The Arlington High Chronicle. I had to choose, edit and publish the best of the submissions from the staff, and usually wrote the lead editorial myself. Well, one week I was up against a deadline and had nothing to fill an empty space on the page except a dog’s breakfast of miserably written options. Desperate, I decided to turn the crisis into an opportunity. I took the worst of the articles, cut out each line, mixed them up in a bowl and picked them out at random. Then I retyped the incomprehensible result, adding capitals and punctuation, and headlined it “Discrimination in Portugal.” That was how it was published. I always suspected that nobody read the editorials; this was my chance to find out if my suspicions were correct.

Nobody said a word. The paper got one letter from a student saying that he disagreed with the piece, but other than that, there was no evidence that anyone noticed that one of the editorials was complete gibberish.

Now this, from Nature:

“The publishers Springer and IEEE are removing more than 120 papers from their subscription services after a French researcher discovered that the works were computer-generated nonsense.

“Over the past two years, computer scientist Cyril Labbé of Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble, France, has catalogued computer-generated papers that made it into more than 30 published conference proceedings between 2008 and 2013. Sixteen appeared in publications by Springer, which is headquartered in Heidelberg, Germany, and more than 100 were published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), based in New York. Both publishers, which were privately informed by Labbé, say that they are now removing the papers.” Continue reading

Governor Cuomo’s Selective Anti-Gun Fervor: And This Is Why So Many Americans Have No Respect for Laws Or Lawmakers

Guns are a public menace! We must not permit lawless, reckless gun possession! Unless its a member of my staff, of course, in which case, meh, no biggie.

“Guns are a public menace! We must not permit lawless, reckless gun possession! Unless it’s a member of my staff, of course, in which case, meh, no biggie.”

[UPDATE: Jerome Hauer disputes some of the reported facts in this post. I have yet to find any sources that have different facts, but I will revisit both the story and my conclusions, and make appropriate revisions, retractions, or clarifications if and when warranted. You will find Mr. Hauer’s comment, and my reply to him, below.]

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been the source of some of the most excessive anti-gun rants making up the sorry legacy of the Post Sandy Hook Ethics Train Wreck. It was a year ago that a unveiled a package of strict gun restrictions, saying that with “the senseless massacre in Newtown, Connecticut… New York must say enough is enough to gun violence.” Oh, Gov. Cuomo hates guns, believe you me.

So what do you think happened when it was revealed that Jerome Hauer, Cuomo’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner appointed in 2011, had not only been carrying a handgun to work ever since, but also, incredibly, took out the gun and used the laser sighting device attached to the barrel as a pointer in a presentation to a Swedish delegation on Oct. 24? Hauer was not only breaking the Cuomo-backed law barring state employees from packing a weapon at their workplace, but also was modeling the kind of ignorant and dangerous firearm misuse that undermines any claim that he was a safe, responsible, well-trained gun owner.

What happened appears to be this: as soon as the Governor got word that Hauer’s illegal and reckless conduct was about to be revealed in the press, the Homeland Security chief received a quick waiver from New York’s Office of General Services Commissioner RoAnn Destito. The waiver, of course, could not make his prior conduct legal. Continue reading

Ethics Heroes: Senate Republicans

crack

Just say “No.”

Sneaking expensive entitlements into long-term national policy is craven, dishonest, and continues the dangerous trend of sloppy, election-driven legislating that has become virtually standard operating practice in recent years. Senate Republicans generated some hope for transparency and the future of honest debate on governing philosophy by using the threat of a filibuster to block yet another extension of the supposedly “short-term” extensions of unemployment benefits.

I’ve written about this recently, so I won’t belabor it, but there was nothing in Democratic rhetoric surrounding the extension to disprove my suspicion, which was  full-blown three years ago, that this is nothing but a strategy for embedding  a permanent government subsidy of unemployment without a national debate regarding the consequences of such a policy. A ‘temporary” benefit is permanent if elected representatives lack the integrity and courage to end it; for an example one need only look to the supposedly short-term “Bush tax cuts,” which a Democratic President and legislature, despite exorbitant rhetoric about how irresponsible they were (and irresponsible they were), extended, and they are in place still. There is not a single Democratic argument in favor of the supposedly temporary extension that would not apply to a policy of paying the unemployed forever. Here are some quotes from “The Hill” yesterday:

  • “We’re one Republican vote away from restoring benefits to 1.7 million Americans.  There is one Republican vote standing in the way of a lifeline to these 1.7 million people.”-Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)

1.7 million, 1 million, 657,000…when would such benefits not qualify, in Reid’s words, as a “lifeline”? If the answer is never, and it is, why would anyone believe these are intended to be temporary benefits? Isn’t the money just as crucial to an unemployed worker whether he or she has 1.7 million companions in misery, or fewer? Continue reading

Ethics Observations On Sticks, Leadership, And Chris Christie’s Vindictive Bridge Closing Scandal

Christie apologizes

Before we delve into the starting point for most ethics inquiries—What’s going on here?— a summary…

Last September, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey closed all but one lane of the George Washington Bridge , horrifically tangling commuter transportation in Fort Lee, New Jersey, just across bridge from Manhattan. The lane closures  delayed emergency responders to four calls, and may have resulted in at least one death. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s office had attributed the lane closures to a traffic study.  But smoking gun e-mails emerged proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that the bridge closing was far more sinister: top Christie aides engineered the gridlock specifically to cause problems for Fort Lee, whose mayor had angered the Governor by refusing to endorse him for re-election. It was political payback of a particularly brutal and Machiavellian sort.

“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” wrote Bridget Anne Kelly, a deputy chief of staff to Christie, in an email on Aug. 13 to David Wildstein, Christie’s appointee at the Port Authority. Wildstein resigned in December after news of the scandal first broke; he has since refused to answer questions in a hearing on the matter, citing the Fifth Amendment. Christie fired Kelly yesterday, and in a long and emotional press conference, profusely apologized while insisting that he knew nothing of the plot, but accepted responsibility for the actions of his staff. The incident is attracting national interest because Christie, a Republican,  is an intriguing and controversial  potential candidate for a 2016 Presidential run.

Observations:

  • This is bad, and there is no defense for it. Government power should never be abused like this, by anyone. Distorting one’s duties to the public to harm members of the public out of such motives as spite, revenge, retribution, intimidation or personal and political gain is the moral equivalent of a crime.
  • In fact, it should be a crime. It can’t be, because the problem is that some degree of such distortions of the duty to act in the public’s best interest are essential political tools that cannot be jettisoned without undermining effective leadership as well. Politics works through the carrot and the stick, and the stick virtually always causes collateral damage. At every level of government, refusing to do what a powerful leader wants must have negative consequences, or nobody will do what the leader wants, and he or she will no longer be effective. That, in the end, hurts the public too–presumably more seriously than the short-term harm from political payback. Continue reading