Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/29/18: ‘Infuriating Stuff I Wish I Didn’t Have To Know About Or Write About’ Edition

Screaming from mountain tops does no good, I know, but this is the life I have chosen…

Good Morning.

(My beautiful Christmas tree is drooping already, despite meticulous care. (Did you know that in Philadelphia it’s called a “Holiday Tree”? Did you know they had gone mad in Philadelphia?) I’ve had some last until February first. Not this one, I fear.)

1. Like most of the journalism establishment here, only less subtle about itDer Spiegel reporter Claas Relotius was exposed this month to be that publication’s version of Stephen Glass, a star journalist who just made stuff up. He, however, made stuff up to play to anti-Trump sentiments abroad, writing multiple stories to show how bigoted and backward the town of Fergus Falls, Minnesota was, explaining why it went for President Trump in the 2106 election.

The New York Times story on the hoax shows how Relotius could have accomplished the same mission using just spin, slanted framing and old fashioned bias. Read the thing: it just drips with thinly veiled contempt for Trump voters, and the President, of course. “The election results speak for themselves,” says the Times, knowing how the typical times reader will take that. The Times reporters reveal that the town isn’t full of racist yahoos as if that is news in itself.

2. Can’t let this pass, unfortunately. President Trump and first lady Melania Trump were taking calls from young children wondering about Santa’s whereabouts on Christmas Eve, as part of the NORAD Santa tracker (which I think is a waste of money no matter what it costs, and an example of the government being involved where it should not be), and had  this conversation  with 7-year-old Collman Lloyd which was videoed on both sides;

Collman told the President about the Santa visit preparations underway at the Lloyd household, saying “Probably put out some cookies and then we’re hanging out with our friends, so that’s pretty much all.”

The President: “Well that’s very good. You just have a good time.”

Collman: “Yes, sir.”

The President: “Are you still a believer in Santa?”

Collman: “Yes, sir.”

Trump: “Because at seven it’s marginal, right?” 

Collman: “Yes, sir.”

The trivial exchange triggered more Trump-bashing and a ridiculous amount of negative commentary. This approaches blind hate at a pathological level. The focus of the attacks were that the President’s “marginal” line supposedly destroyed the girl’s belief in Santa Clause. Ugh.

  • She later said that she had no idea what “marginal” meant. We  all know Trump can’t talk: this is Julie Principle territory. The only way one assumes that his intent was to shatter the girl’s innocent faith is if one thinks the President is a monster…which is what the news media wants the public to think.
  • If I had to guess, I would say that he was noting that not all of her friends did believe in Santa—which is, studies say, true. My son was a skeptic at 6. I. in contrast, believed in St. Nick until I was 28…
  • Collman also said that what the Evil Scrooge Trump said didn’t cause her not to believe in Santa, though this could be called moral luck.
  • Even at seven, a personal exchange with the President of the United States would have meant so much more to me than any dents in my Santa Claus beliefs that I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Of course, when I was seven it was the norm that all citizens respected and honored the President, because that was whom our democracy chose to lead us.

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Encore: On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide

[As promised, here is the Ethics Alarms Christmas package, lightly revised, last posted three years ago]

I don’t know what perverted instinct it is that has persuaded colleges and schools to make their campuses a Christmas-free experience. Nor can I get into the scrimy and misguided minds of people like Roselle Park New Jersey Councilwoman Charlene Storey, who resigned over the city council’s decision to call its Christmas tree lighting a Christmas Tree Lighting, pouting that this wasn’t “inclusive,” or the  CNN goon who dictated the bizarre policy that the Christmas Party shot up by the husband-wife Muslim terrorists had to be called a “Holiday Party.”  Christmas, as the cultural tradition it evolved to be, is about inclusion, and if someone feels excluded, they are excluding themselves.  Is it the name that is so forbidding? Well, too bad. That’s its name, not “holiday.” Arbor Day is a holiday. Christmas is a state of mind. [The Ethics Alarms Christmas posts are here.]

Many years ago, I lost a friend over a workplace dispute on this topic, when a colleague and fellow executive at a large Washington association threw a fit of indignation over the designation of the headquarters party as a Christmas party, and the gift exchange (yes, it was stupid) as “Christmas Elves.” Marcia was Jewish, and a militant unionist, pro-abortion, feminist, all-liberal all-the-time activist of considerable power and passion. She cowed our pusillanimous, spineless executive to re-name the party a “holiday party” and the gift giving “Holiday Pixies,” whatever the hell they are.

I told Marcia straight out that she was wrong, and that people like her were harming the culture. Christmas practiced in the workplace, streets, schools and the rest is a cultural holiday of immense value to everyone open enough to experience it, and I told her to read “A Christmas Carol” again. Dickens got it, Scrooge got it, and there was no reason that the time of year culturally assigned by tradition to re-establish our best instincts of love, kindness, gratitude, empathy, charity and generosity should be attacked, shunned or avoided as any kind of religious indoctrination or “government endorsement of religion.”  Jews, Muslims, atheists and Mayans who take part in a secular Christmas and all of its traditions—including the Christmas carols and the Christian traditions of the star, the manger and the rest, lose nothing, and gain a great deal.

Christmas is supposed to bring everyone in a society together after the conflicts of the past years have pulled them apart. What could possibly be objectionable to that? What could be more important than that, especially in these especially divisive times? How could it possibly be responsible, sensible or ethical to try to sabotage such a benign, healing, joyful tradition and weaken it in our culture, when we need it most?

I liked and respected Marcia, but I deplore the negative and corrosive effect people like her have had on Christmas, and as a result, the strength of American community. I told her so too, and that was the end of that friendship. Killing America’s strong embrace of Christmas is a terrible, damaging, self-destructive activity, but it is well underway. I wrote about how the process was advancing here, and re-reading what I wrote, I can only see the phenomenon deepening, and hardening like Scrooge’s pre-ghost heart. Then I said… Continue reading

“Miracle On 34th Street”…An Ethics Companion, Chapter One: “Meet Kris Kringle!”

The Introduction us here.

The movie tells us right at the start that 1) the charming old man in the white beard can’t possibly be Santa Claus, and 2) that he’s nuts. That is, he tells adults who are paying attention this as soon as he starts complaining to a New York City storekeeper that his window display has the reindeer mixed up: “You’ve got Cupid where Blitzen should be. And Dasher should be on my right-hand side. And another thing…Donner’s antlers have got four points instead of three!”

Let’s see:

  • No Christmas display has ever distinguished between Santa’s reindeer (except for Rudolph), because the individual reindeer have never had any identifying characteristics in reality or myth. Are we to assume that there are name-tags on the models? If so, why wouldn’t Kris be complaining about the features of all of them, not just “Donner’s” antlers?
  • The names of the reindeer, even if there are flying reindeer, were 100% the invention of the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” or “The Night Before Christmas,” originally published in 1823.  No one has ever claimed that the author had some kind of special info on the actual names of the reindeer when he wrote,

    More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
    And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

    “Now, DASHER! now, DANCER! now, PRANCER and VIXEN!
    On, COMET! on CUPID! on, DUNDER and BLIXEN!

    …and anyway, if he did, those were their names 120 years before the movie takes place. Nobody has ever claimed the reindeer were immortal, either. I suppose Santa Claus, in a nod to the poem’s popularity (it has been called the most famous poem of all time), could have adopted the practice of always having the reindeer named after the poem’s versions, and when one Vixen dropped of old age, the young reindeer that took her place became the new Vixen.

I suppose. Continue reading

“Miracle On 34th Street”…An Ethics Companion: Introduction

As with most holiday movies, but perhaps more than most, the entire concept of digging into the ethics of the plot of “Miracle on 34th Street”  can be criticized as beside the point. The movie, at least the 1947 original, is a classic; it works dramatically and emotionally, it makes people feel good, and it has held up over time. That’s all a Christmas movie is supposed to do, and if it does it without really making sense or avoiding ethics potholes along the way, so what?

I sympathize with this view. However, our ethical standards and ethics alarms are affected by what we see, hear, like and respond to. If popular holiday movies inject bad ethics habits and rationalizations into our character, especially at a young age, that is something we should at least be aware of by the tenth or eleventh time we watch one of them.

One ethical aspect of “Miracle on 34th Street” that must be flagged at the outset is competence. The film is so effortlessly engrossing and convincing that it is easy to forget how easily it could have failed miserably. Actually, it is also easy to remind oneself: just watch any of the attempts to remake the film. There have been four of these, starring, as Kris Kringle, Thomas Mitchell, Ed Wynn, Sebastian Cabot, and Richard Attenborough. That’s a distinguished crew, to be sure. Mitchell was one of the greatest character actors in Hollywood history. Wynn was nominated for an Academy Award (for “The Diary of Ann Frank”) and Attenborough won one, Best Supporting Actor Award in 1967 for “The Sand Pebbles.” Cabot wasn’t quite in their class, but he was a solid pro, and looked more like Santa Clause than Mitchell,  Wynn, or Richard Attenborough. None of them, however, were as convincing as Edmund Gwenn. He made many movies—all without a white beard— and had a distinguished career in films and on stage, but even audience members who knew his work had a hard time reminding themselves that he wasn’t Kris Kringle while they watched the movie. I still have a hard time. Continue reading

Afternoon Ethics Distractions, December 1, 2018 [UPDATED]

Happy birthday to me.

Birthday ethics quiz: When I was 13, my mother decided to throw me a real surprise birthday by having my friends and relatives hiding in our basement, but to stage the ambush four full days before the actual anniversary of my birth. She sent me down into our (creepy, musty) basement on a pretext, and the 25 or so people leaping out of the dark screaming scared the hell out of me. I nearly fell down the stairs. On your real birthday, there’s something in the back of your mind that prepares you for the possibility of a surprise party, however remote. When the surprise comes on another day, it feels more like an attack. As a consequence of that trauma, I detest surprise parties, and am afraid of dark basements. My mother, who loved scaring people, was always proud of her “surprise party that was really a surprise.” I thought it was sadistic and irresponsible, and still do.

What do you think?

1. The Drag Queen Principal Principle? Readers here Know Ethics Alarms frequently explores the various ethical dilemmas raised when a primary or secondary school teacher allows herself to appear naked of nearly so on the web. The tag is “The Naked Teacher Principle.”

This is a variation I haven’t seen before, out of Great Britain, from the BBC:

Andrew Livingstone, 39, is the head of Horatio House in Lound, Suffolk, and he also has a second job outside of work, as an entertainer called Miss Tish Ewe. According to the Eastern Daily Press, his act contains explicit material.

Great Yarmouth Community Trust, which owns the school, said it had agreed guidelines with him to ensure “a separation between his two jobs”. Mr Livingstone’s act is labelled on Twitter as “Queen of Quay Pride and Great Yarmouth!”, and boasts he has performed in places including Cardiff, Bristol and Dundee.

Mr Livingstone was appointed in July as the head of the independent school, near Lowestoft, and its proprietors said he brought “considerable expertise in education and school improvement to the trust”.

The school said his drag queen act came up during checks, but that it did “not believe that the two jobs are incompatible, and agreed with Mr Livingstone clear guidelines to ensure that there is a separation between his two jobs, including the use of social media in promoting his act”.

Both Norfolk and Suffolk county councils said they had not received any complaints.

Note that the key factor in most NTP scenarios isn’t present here. The teacher’s employers knew about the individual’s unusual avocation and approved of it in advance: there was no unexpected revelations or publicity. Note also that this is England, where drag has a somewhat different tradition and reputation than it does in the U.S.

2. George H.W. Bush death ethics. a) Incompetence. Here is the Washington Post’s first obit after the former President’s demise yesterday:

b) Nah, there’s no mainstream media bias! The New York Times dredged out the infamous photo it employed to help sink Bush’s reelection in 1992, purporting to show him being “amazed” at a supermarket scanner. Bush was “out of touch” with how real Americans lived, you see, unlike Bill Clinton, who “felt their pain.”  That was the false narrative the news media was pushing against THAT Republican President. It was a lie, of course. Times reporter, later editor, Andrew Rosenthal wasn’t even present at the grocers’ convention where the photographed scene took place. He based his article on a two-paragraph report filed by the lone pool newspaperman allowed to cover the event, who only noted that Bush had a “look of wonder” on his face, But President Bush was wondering at new  a new technology “regular” Americans would have wondered at too—a prototype  scanner that could weigh groceries and read corrupted bar codes.

c) Paranoia! Confirmation bias! Newsbusters and Instapundit found the Associated Press’s obituary nasty and biased. Read it. The piece is fair and accurate. Mine would have been much tougher. Bush joined James Buchanan as men who became President because they had held every other conceivable elected and appointed government post and it was the only step left. That’s a lousy reason to run for President, and both Buchanan and Bush learned that lesson the hard way.

d) This is how it is done, John. The Bush family made it known that President Trump would be attending Bush’s funeral. President Trump was much harder on the Bushes than he was on John McCain. [CORRECTION: I mistakenly and carelessly posted that the Bushes “boycotted” Trump’s swearing in. W. and wife were there; Jeb wasn’t, but he was not obligated to, and H.W. was old and frail enough that he had an automatic excuse, though I doubt that he was inclined to show up. I apologize for the error.] But living ex-Presidents and the one in office traditionally attend the funeral of one of the exclusive club. The Bush’s understand that respect for the Presidency takes precedence over dislike of the man in it. Continue reading

Fake News Update: Fake History, Santa’s Number One Elf, And The Ornery Irishman

maine

Consider this three-headed post an exploration of just how tangled and gray the Fake New Ethics Train Wreck really is.

Let’s start with…

1. The Irishman.

Last week the obituary of Chris Connors was viral on social media. The first part of it read,

Irishman Dies from Stubbornness, Whiskey

Chris Connors died, at age 67, after trying to box his bikini-clad hospice nurse just moments earlier. Ladies man, game slayer, and outlaw Connors told his last inappropriate joke on Friday, December 9, 2016, that which cannot be printed here. Anyone else fighting ALS and stage 4 pancreatic cancer would have gone quietly into the night, but Connors was stark naked drinking Veuve in a house full of friends and family as Al Green played from the speakers. The way he died is just like he lived: he wrote his own rules, he fought authority and he paved his own way. And if you said he couldn’t do it, he would make sure he could…

I instantly liked Chris, as did millions of others. This was published on the obituary site, Legacy.com. People like me sent the obituary  around to friends, thought about it, and talked about it, because it made us feel good. Now there’s someone who did not go gentle into that good night!

Do I have any idea if this obituary is 100% accurate, or accurate at all? No. How often are obituaries fact-checked, if they aren’t written by a reporter? For normal people, like Chris Connors, almost never. Do you care? Do you care in this case? I don’t I am pretty sure that the obituary gives a fair sense of the kind of man Chris Connors was, even if it is hyperbolic, as I assume it was. Nevertheless, the obituary made me feel good, as it was supposed to. Christmas is starting to depress me as the years mount up: too many memories, too many lost loved ones, the sense of time passing too, quickly , of time running out. Chris’s story, which may have been only partially true, was a great, bracing, much-needed slap in the face. He had the right idea, or if he didn’t, whoever wrote his obituary did. Is there any harm anyone can attach to this inspiring farewell? If it was fake news by Facebook’s new standards, does it matter?

2. Santa’s Number One Elf

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Ethics Quiz: The Ethical Duties Of Santa Claus Imposters

11 photos for movie review running Thanksgiving Eve. Billy Bob Thornton in Terry ZwigoffÕs BAD SANTA. Photo Courtesy of Tracy Bennett.

A post yesterday described the outrageous conduct of the management at the Six Flags Over Texas theme park, which declared a local man named Jerry Henderson person non grata and kicked him out of the park because he “looked too much like Santa Claus” (they want him to shave his white beard to resume his park privileges). He also gave candy canes to children after their mom asked him to pose with her kids for a photo.

A regular Ethics Alarms commenter related this 180 degree variation on the story:

My kids take swimming classes at our local park authority pool, and last week, while we were signing in, one of the managers came out of the back office dressed as Santa. However, he was doing it as a gag for the other employees, not for the kids. (About 80%+ of the people there were children.) My kids went running up to him shouting, “Santa, Santa!” He did not acknowledge them or the other kids, didn’t even say hi, and just walked into one of the workout rooms.

I thought my kids were going to cry. I had to tell them that Santa was busy right now, but not to worry, we would go see him tomorrow when he had time to talk to them.

Your “Bad Santa”-themed Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

If you look like Santa Claus, are you ethically obligated to act like Santa Claus?

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