Pacific Coast Time Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/20/19: Guys and Dolls

Good morning from San Diego!

Well, I was speaking to 600 seats just now, but only about 300 lawyers. Several came up to me afterward, inspired or stimulated, and thankful. In ethics, as in the theater, I have come to adopt William Saroyan’s creed that if just one person sings your song, your life as an artist has meaning. Like Saroyan, I have come to adopt that out of self-preservation and to stave off insanity.

1. It looks like a Saturday Night Live writer plagiarized at least two skits this season. The story is here.

The combination of SNL’s insane schedule, the pressure to be different and edgy week after week, and the temptation of YouTube made this inevitable. The rules on borrowing, adapting, copying comedy material has always been a gray area, often settled by the good faith and collegiality—or not—of the comics themselves. By accident, I just saw an old “Everybody Loves Raymond” episode which was an obvious rip-off of an even older Dick Van Dyke Show episode in which Laura writes a children’s book, and professional writer Rob offers to help her improve it.? Plagiarism? Comedy skits in vaudeville were passed around like the flu: Abbot and Costello weren’t the first to do the “Who’s On First?” routine, they just did it so much better than anyone else that they owned it. Was Lucy plagiarizing Red Skelton with her “Vitameatavegimin” skit, where a pitch woman gets drunk doing multiple takes of a TV ad that requires her to drink the alcohol-laced product, when Red had been doing the same routine for years as “Guzzler’s Gin”? Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/18/2019: “The Pussy-Grabber Plays,” And More

1. The Comment Of The Day That Wasn’t. An aspiring troll calling himself “Alan P Siegfried, PharmD” attempted to post a debut comment on “Prophesy Confirmed: SNL And Our Nation Of Assholes,” which concerned Saturday Night Live mocking the war wounds of then candidate, now Congressman Dan Crenshaw as part of a campaign of ad hominem attacks on Republican. I considered making the post a Comment of the Day, as I have in the past with especially amusing rants, but it’s not that funny. I am going to reproduce it here, though, first, to provide another example of the kind of approach that the Comment Policies explicitly warn against. You don’t get leave to comment here by insulting me or condescending to your host, much as I am in thrall to the wisdom of pharmacists. I don’t know how someone can think that it is ethical to enter a house and immediately to start vomiting on the furniture, but commenters who do think that aren’t going to be tolerated. I also thought the attempted comment would be instructive on the question of why the current imbalance between commenters on the Left and Right here or late. Recent progressives have been arriving sneering and spitting; new moderate and conservative oriented readers have been acceptably civil. Why is that, I wonder? Here is the post, and my comments follow intermittently:

How many adults did you see ‘roll with laughter?’

This is called “a bad start.” I wrote that the mockery of Crenshaw by snickering Pete Davidson had the SNL barking progressive seals roaring with laughter, which it did. The first line also was signature significance, apparently suggesting that the vicious disrespect of a wounded veteran was mitigated if the laughter was muted. “Ah!” I say, when a comment begins like this. “An idiot!”

Or is that conjecture from a big city gal who dine went and lost touch with reality??

Wait—I’m a “big city gal”? I don’t even identify as one. Continue reading

Armistice Day Ethics Warm-Up, 11/11/18: Pettiness, Tit-For-Tat, And Fake All-Stars

Good Morning!

Why Nora Bayes? Let me tell you a story…

I learned about Nora Bayes (1880-1928) while mounting a production of a “lost” musical, George S. Kauffman’s Hollywood satire “Hollywood Pinafore,” which was essentially a parody of Gilbert & Sullivan’s classic, “H.M.S. Pinafore.” Nora was mentioned in a laugh line in the script, so the 1941 show assumed that the audience knew who she was. I had never heard of her, so I did some research. She was a fascinating character, and a huge vaudeville and Broadway singing and comedy star, household name huge. “Over There” was one of her biggest hits; another was “Shine on Harvest Moon,” which she wrote with her second husband (she ultimately had five), Jack Norwith. He also wrote “Take Me Out To The Ball Game,” another Bayes standard. According to one online biography, Bayes Bayes “provided some flamboyant, indeed extreme, examples of the broad social changes happening in the United States in the early twentieth century, namely the questioning of traditional roles for women as well as the challenges to male political and economic power that marked the women’s movement of the time.”

I almost wrote about her in April. As regular readers here know, I believe it is the our duty to honor the memories, accomplishments and cultural influence of past figures in American history, because the more we remember, the more we learn, and the wiser and more ethical we are. Somehow Nora Bayes, famous as she one was, had been in an unmarked grave for 90 years.  On April 21, a group of Nora Bayes enthusiasts placed a granite headstone over her plot. The New York Times told the strange tale here.

Now I think of Nora Bayes every time I hear “Over There,” “Shine on Harvest Moon,” and “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” Maybe you will too.

1. Truth in labeling. Major League Baseball has sent a team to Japan to play a series of exhibition games against a Japanese All-Star team, reviving a long-time tradition that had been suspended for several years. As you may know, the U.S. was critical in introducing baseball to Japan, and sent several major stars there to help get the sport established. Playing in Japan is mostly a lark for the American players, but the games are taken very seriously by the Japanese. In the first two games, the MLB All-Stars have lost, greatly pleasing the locals.

I don’t begrudge the Japanese fans their David and Goliath fantasies, but calling the U.S. team “All-Stars” is misrepresentation. For example, one of the pitchers who got clobbered in the last game, a 9-6  contest that began with the Japanese team jumping out to a 9-0 lead, was a Red Sox pitcher named Brian Johnson. I like Johnson, a crafty swing-man who had some good moments last season, but he’s a lifetime 6-6 pitcher who was left off the Red Sox post-season roster, and will have to battle to stay in the majors next season. I know you can’t sell tickets if the U.S. team is called the “All the players we could talk into coming to Japan Team,” but that’s what it is.

2. Tit for Tat  may be funny, but it’s not ethical. Representative Dan Crenshaw, the veteran who was mocked last week on Saturday Night Live for his disfiguring war wound, appeared on the show last night to mock the appearance of his tormenter, Pete Davidson. Crenshaw was unusually poised for a pol on a comedy show, and the bit successfully got Davidson and SNL, which had been widely criticized for its nasty routine, off the hook. Clever. Successful. Funny. Still wrong, however. This represents an endorsement of Donald Trump ethics, as well as the endlessly repeated rationalization for the non-stop ad hominem attacks the President has inflicted on him daily by the news media and others. The President famously—infamously around here—has always said that if you attack him, he’ll attack you back harder. His haters argue, in turn, that their tactics are justified by his. This is how the culture got in the escalating spiral to Hell it is in. I don’t blame Crenshaw: if he hadn’t accepted the invitation to get funny revenge on Davidson, he would have looks like a petty jerk. Nonetheless, he has now officially become part of the problem, not just a victim of it.

3. Stop making me defend President Trump Dept.  You see, I am kicked around on Facebook for not just falling meekly into line and declaring that everything Donald Trump does is an outrage and proof that he should be impeached. I tell you, it’s tempting. The mass bullying campaign to herd everyone into the undemocratic effort to overthrow an elected President using relentless criticism and flagrant double standards has been effective in stifling others, and it also serves as a kind of mass cultural hypnosis. I don’t like defending Trump. He is doing serious damage to his office, as are his unhinged foes, who are apparently willing to destroy the nation, democracy, and the Constitution to “save” it from him. But I will not be intimidated out of pointing out the revolting pettiness, hypocrisy and unfairness of his critics. Two examples surfaced yesterday. Continue reading

Prophesy Confirmed: SNL And Our Nation Of Assholes

The most unforgivable part of Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” mockery of Congressional candidate Dan Crenshaw was ridiculing a decorated veteran because of the disfigurement he recieved serving his country, though that was bad enough. It was his dismissive reference to the fact that he lost his eye in “war or whatever.” Yeah, my father had his foot blown up in “war or whatever.” Whatever.

My prophesy that electing Donald Trump President would rapidly convert the United States into a “Nation of Assholes ” was accurate, and here’s the proof. In any civilized community since our nation—indeed, any nation, began, a six-year-old who mocked a veteran for his wounds would be punished and every adult who witnessed such ignorant disrespect, even from a child, would be embarrassed to see it.  Now, however, that same infantile, disrespectful insult is featured on national television, as alleged adults roar  with laughter.

Donald Trump mocked a disabled reporter on the way to the White House. He denigrated prisoners of war like John McCain, and recently called Stormy Daniels “horseface.” Of course, the civilized and respectable approach to discouraging such rude and vulgar behavior is to condemn it, and shun its practitioners. The Left and the resistance are now emulating it. They have used mockery of the President’s physical appearance for years, the purest and most inexcusable form of ad hominem attack. Now they are widening the target area, so a veteran who lost an eye in battle is considered fair game. (As an aside, how does someone  like Davidson have the gall to mock anyone’s appearance? The guy looks like a ventriloquist dummy come to life….)

But the same people who deride the President’s boorishness, viciousness and lack of ethics alarms are not justified in adopting his bad habits, and corrupting the culture. When they act like President Trump, they are subject to the same standards. Davidson’s ugly routine wasn’t a joke. This was “We all hate conservatives and Republicans, so isn’t it funny to mock how they look!” Sure it’s funny, if you’re ten. Continue reading

Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 10/7/18, Part II: Fake Satire, Fake Racism, Fake Harvard

Good Morning AGAIN!

My OTHER favorite hymn when I’m feeling blue..

3. If I were the producer of Saturday Night Live…I would strongly push the show to do what satirical shows are supposed to do: make fun of everyone. It is just good business, as well as comedic integrity: make everyone watch to see who gets skewered.  But no: despite the over-abundance of potential and indeed near mandatory targets of parody and mockery, SNL took sides—the same one it has been taking now, virtually exclusively, for years. There was no Spartacus sketch, despite the preening of the absurd Cory Booker, and a skit that virtually writes itself. Lindsay Graham was cruelly mocked, but not Kirsten Gillibrand, nor Diane Feinstein. Ah, but Senator Susan Collins, who made a brave, clear, invaluable speech about her choice–women get choices, I hear—to buck the #MeToo bullies and lynch mobs and confirm Brett Kavanaugh, was mocked for THAT last night, aan portrayed as weak dupe. Yet despite the mannered, baby-talking, confused presentation by Blasey-Ford, whom I would deem a satirist’s dream, the show’s writers didn’t have the guts to touch her.

4. Speaking of jokes…Georgetown prof C. Christine Fair, who the college thinks can be trusted to be neutral and fair to white men in her classroom despite her racist and violent tweets, had an explanation after her Twitter account was suspended. She had written, you will recall,

“Look at [this] chorus of entitled white men. All of them deserve miserable deaths while feminists laugh as they take their last gasps. Bonus: we castrate their corpses and feed them to swine? Yes.”

Come on! Don’t you get the joke? She was kidding! Fair told the Washington Post, whose reporter didn’t have the integrity to respond, “How stupid do you think I am?”…

“Maybe this was not my most eloquent attempt,” Fair said. “And I will certainly concede I was attempting to make people feel uncomfortable,” but  “this idea I’m somehow calling for actual violence is preposterous.”

Gee, why can’t white supremacists and racists excuse their “jokes” the same way?

The Post’s writer, however, completely accepts Fair’s alibi, and impugns anyone who took offense at it as “extreme right wing.”  Read the article.

Nah, there’s no mainstream media bias! Continue reading

Sunday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/30/18: Gay Bashing, A Stupid Social Experiment, And The Brett Kavanaugh Nomination Ethics Train Wreck Keeps Rolling Along…

Good Morning!

It’s the last day of the regular season for baseball, or should be: there could be two tie-breakers tomorrow, and they are officially considered part of the season. There were more baseball ethics posts this year than ever before. You can review them here.

1. And now for something completely stupid. I was temped to make this a free-standing post, but it triggered my stupid alarm, and doesn’t deserve it.

In Los Angeles, Boguslaw Matlak  and Laura Quijano decided to stage a “social experiment” to determine whether bystanders would act to protect an  endangered child. As their hidden cameras ran, they stuffed their 3-year-old son Leo into the trunk of their car. In truth, the back of the trunk had been rigged so Leo could climb into the back seat. He was in no danger.

“I was thinking maybe I should do a video to show people that they should do something about it when they see something wrong, to get involved,” Matlak said.  They got involved, all right. Witnesses called the cops, who arrested the couple and took Leo into protective custody.  The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services  placed the child with a relative. For the last three weeks, the couple has been trying to get him back.

“They are hurting my son emotionally at this point,” Quijano told reporters. “He’s not home with his parents who love him very much and what else do they want from us? I just don’t understand at this point.”

The agency recently informed the parents that it would would be returning Leo to their custody. Matlak  now faces one count of misdemeanor child endangerment.

Observations:

  • Ethics lesson #1: Don’t use human beings as props.
  • Ethics lesson #2: Three-year-olds can’t consent to such treatment.
  • Ethics lesson #3: Police have enough to do dealing with real crimes. Staging fake ones to see what will happen should be illegal, if it isn’t already.
  • What’s there to complain about? The social experiment was a success!
  • Is proof that parents of a small child are idiots sufficient to remove him? No, I suppose not.
  • The problem with this episode is that the child, who was innocent of wrong doing, is the primary one being punished.

Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/21/17: Dead Ethics Alarms All Over, And This Just In…Ana Navarro Is Still Stupid

Good Morning, all!

1 Dead Ethics Alarms on the Hill. Just as I cannot conceive of what kind of ethics alarm malfunction allows any man to think that parading his reproductive organs before unconsenting women in a work-related setting is anything but gross and wrong (Charlie Rose???), I cannot comprehend by what tortured logic an elected member of Congress reaches the conclusion that I should pay for his sexual harassment hobby. The latter is the height of arrogance and abuse of the public trust. Yet the Washington Post reported that Congress’s Office of Compliance paid out $17 million for 264 settlements with federal employees over the past 20 years for various violations, including sexual harassment, and now we have at least one name and specifics: John Conyers, the ranking member of the House Committee on the Judiciary. Perfect.

From Buzzfeed:

Michigan Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat and the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015 with a former employee who alleged she was fired because she would not “succumb to [his] sexual advances.”

Documents from the complaint obtained by BuzzFeed News include four signed affidavits, three of which are notarized, from former staff members who allege that Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the powerful House Judiciary Committee, repeatedly made sexual advances to female staff that included requests for sex acts, contacting and transporting other women with whom they believed Conyers was having affairs, caressing their hands sexually, and rubbing their legs and backs in public. Four people involved with the case verified the documents are authentic….The woman who settled with Conyers launched the complaint with the Office of Compliance in 2014, alleging she was fired for refusing his sexual advances, and ended up facing a daunting process that ended with a confidentiality agreement in exchange for a settlement of more than $27,000. Her settlement, however, came from Conyers’ office budget rather than the designated fund for settlements.

Well, this section of the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck is doing some good, by throwing some light on this unethical practice. Congressional sexual harassers need to pay their hush money out of their own pockets. That’s the least they can do.

2.  Live from New York! It’s Double Standards Live! Although Saturday Night Live did have the integrity to mock alum Al Franken following the Senator’s sexual harassment accusations regarding his conduct when he was just an obnoxious comic, 36 SNL staffers, including original cast members Lorraine  Newman and Jane Curtin, felt it was appropriate to release this letter:

SNL Women Offer Solidarity in Support of Al Franken

We feel compelled to stand up for Al Franken, whom we have all had the pleasure of working with over the years on Saturday Night Live (SNL). What Al did was stupid and foolish, and we think it was appropriate for him to apologize to Ms Tweeden, and to the public. In our experience, we know Al as a devoted and dedicated family man, a wonderful comedic performer, and an honorable public servant. That is why we are moved to quickly and directly affirm that after years of working with him, we would like to acknowledge that not one of us ever experienced any inappropriate behavior; and mention our sincere appreciation that he treated each of us with the utmost respect and regard.

We send our support and gratitude to Al and his family this Thanksgiving and holiday season.

Ugh. This is blatant Ethics Accounting, as if the fact that Al was fun to work with has anything to do with his misconduct, or mitigates it in any way:

21. Ethics Accounting, or “I’ve earned this”/ “I made up for that”. You cannot earn the right to act unethically by depositing a lot of ethical deeds in the imaginary ethics bank, nor can unethical conduct be erased by doing good for someone else. The illusion that one can balance the ethics books this way is referred to on the Ethics Alarms blog as “the Ruddigore Fallacy.”  Nobody earns the right to be unethical, not even once, no matter how exemplary their conduct. An unethical act is just as unethical, whether it is performed by a saint, a hero, or a villain.

Even more ridiculous is the “he never harassed me!” bit. This is reminiscent of Greta Van Susterin’s embarrassing defense of Roger Ailes, where she “stood up for” her boss and cast skepticism on his accusers because Greta had never been abused. The SNL letter drips with similar skepticism and bias. It is “appropriate” for Al to have apologized—never mind that the apology itself stunk on ice—and Al’s conduct may have been “stupid and foolish,” but come on, it wasn’t the worst thing.

What does standing up “in solidarity” mean, when it is in support of an accused harasser? It means “we don’t believe the victim, and anyway, we like the accused sufficiently that we will give him a pass.” I’m just guessing here, but I bet there are many, many women Harvey Weinstein worked with that he never molested, and that Louis C.K. hasn’t masturbated in front of every women he ever encountered. Those lucky women should sign a letter.

3. ” Gee, you mean I really have to pay it back?” In 19 states, government agencies can seize state-issued professional licenses from residents who default on their educational debts, while South Dakota suspends driver’s licenses for the same provocation.  The tone of the New York Times article on the topic is disapproving, even though seven of the 19 states don’t use the laws that allow such suspensions, and the others mostly employ them as threats to get deadbeats to take their responsibilities seriously. Nobody in any of the states loses a license who sets up a payment schedule. Continue reading