Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 8/1/2021: Simone Biles-Free Zone Edition!

Tower shooting

I don’t think that we need to debate the ethics of deranged mass shootings. The first one I was ever aware of occurred on this date in 1966. Charles Whitman, a former Eagle Scout and Marine, brought a stockpile of guns and ammunition to the observatory platform atop a 300-foot tower at the University of Texas. He had packed food and other supplies, and before settling in for 90 minutes of deadly target practice, killing some victims from as far away as 500 yards—he was a trained marksman—Whitman killed the tower receptionist and two tourists. He eventually shot 46 people, killing 14 and wounding 32 before being killed by police. The night before, on July 31, Whitman wrote a note saying, “After my death, I wish an autopsy on me be performed to see if there’s any mental disorders.” Whitman then went to his mother’s home to murder her, using a knife and a gun. He returned home to stab his wife to death.

Whitman’s story does raise medical ethics issues. He was seeing a psychiatrist, and in March told him that he was having uncontrollable fits of anger. Whitman apparently even said that he was thinking about going up to the tower with a rifle and shooting people. “Well, your hour is up, Mr. Whitman. Same time next week, then?” The intersection of mental illness with individual rights continues to be an unresolved ethics conflict 54 years later. In addition, the rare but media-hyped phenomenon of mass shootings has become a serious threat to the right of sane and responsible Americans to own firearms. See #5 below.

1. The King’s Pass in show business. A new book by James Lapine tells the antic story of how the Sondheim musical “Sunday in the Park With George” came to be a Broadway legend. Lapine wrote the book and directed the show. The cult musical—actually all Sondheim shows are cult musicals–eventually won a Pulitzer Prize ( you know, like the “1619 Project”) and bunch of Tony nominations. I was amazed to read that the show’s star, Mandy Patinkin, at one point walked out on the production and was barely persuaded to return. Lapine writes that he never fully trusted Patinkin again. Why does anyone trust him? In fact, how does he still have a career? Patinkin has made a habit of bailing on projects that depended on him. He quit “Chicago Hope,” and later abandoned “Criminal Minds,” which had him as its lead. To answer my own question, he still has a career because of “The King’s Pass,” Rationalization #11. He’s a unique talent, unusually versatile, and producers and directors give him tolerance that lesser actors would never receive. Mandy knows it, too, and so he kept indulging himself, throwing tantrums and breaking commitments, for decades. He appears to have mellowed a bit in his golden years.

2. Speaking of Broadway, the ethical value missed here is “competence”…There is more evidence that the theater community doesn’t realize the existential peril live theater is in (the medium has been on the endangered list for decades) as it copes with the cultural and financial wreckage from the Wuhan Virus Ethics Train Wreck. Just as theaters are re-opening, the Broadway theater owners have decreed that audience members will be required to wear masks at all times.

I have one word for that: “Bye!” Maybe some fools are rich, submissive and tolerant enough to pay $100 bucks or more for the privilege of being uncomfortable for three hours. Not me. My glasses fog up when I wear masks. I have been vaccinated; I’m fairly sure I was exposed to the virus before then and had minimal symptoms, and much as I believe in live theater, I will not indulge the politically-motivated dictatorship of virtue-signalling pandemic hysterics. The industry is cutting its own throat, but then theater has never been brimming with logic or common sense.

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The Scott Rudin Reckoning

Rudin

If you are not a active follower of show business, you may not recognize the name Scott Rudin. Heck, I am an active follower of show business, and I only began actively registering his name in my RNA lately because of the sudden shift in his fortunes. Rudin, in case you’re normal and barely noticed, has long been one of the most celebrated and powerful producers in Hollywood and Broadway. His productions have made billions; he has created too many stars to list, and his work has earned an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and 17 Tony Awards. The problem, except that it wasn’t a problem until recently, is that Rudin is a toxic, bullying, abusive jerk who makes working with or for him a living hell. He’s not a sexual predator, like Harvey Weinstein, so his misconduct has not been strictly illegal. Moreover, while he is an extreme case, his obnoxious type has hardly been rare in show business. One could say it is closer to the norm.

Yet suddenly, Hollywood, Broadway and the entertainment business have begun a cultural shift. It was undoubtedly spurred by #MeToo, but in the end it may be more significant that #MeToo. This highly influential industry is beginning to reject the King’s Pass. As much as I hate to say anything good about show business culture, this is an unquestionably ethical development that could have wide reaching effect far beyond movies, plays, TV shows and music.

The King’s Pass is described in the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List thusly:

11. The King’s Pass, The Star Syndrome, or “What Will We Do Without Him?” One will often hear unethical behavior excused because the person involved is so important, so accomplished, and has done such great things for so many people that we should look the other way, just this once. This is a dangerous mindset, because celebrities and powerful public figures come to depend on it. Their achievements, in their own minds and those of their supporters and fans, have earned them a more lenient ethical standard. This pass for bad behavior is as insidious as it is pervasive, and should be recognized and rejected whenever it raises its slimy head.  In fact, the more respectable and accomplished an individual is, the more damage he or she can do through unethical conduct, because such individuals engender great trust.

It is one of the most pervasive of all ethical perversions, and throughout human history, as reliable as an aspect of human nature. If you are successful and valuable to organizations and people, you can get away with bad, even terrible conduct that ruins lesser mortals. The rule reigns in business, academia, politics, government, sports and, of course, entertainment. One can speculate on why Scott Rudin’s unexpected fall has become a possible catalyst for weakening the iron grip of The King’s Pass, but for the moment, let’s focus on the fact that he has.

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Dr. King’s King’s Pass

King sculpture

Maybe everyone knew this, but I sure didn’t. Or maybe most people didn’t know this because we aren’t supposed to know it.

The story came to my attention while discussing this post, about the title “Dr.” being used in dubious circumstances. I was looking at the degrees of other famous figures knows as “Doctor”—Dr. Ruth (like Jill Biden, just a doctorate in education, nothing medical) , Dr. Joyce Brothers (a PhD in psychology), Dr. Phil (once a medical doctor, but he lost his license), Dr. Laura (a degree in…physiology???) and others. Then a commenter mentioned Martin Luther King, Jr., who was frequently and still is frequently referred to as “Dr. King.” The civil rights icon had a doctorate in philosophy from Boston University (my Methodist minister father-in-law had a doctorate in theology from Harvard, and it never occurred to me that he was a “doctor,” nor did he ever suggest that anyone address him as such), but that’s only half the story.

I discovered this, from 1991:

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Ethics Corrupter: The Boston Red Sox

red_sox disgraced

Sometimes, a mere “ethics dunce” designation isn’t enough.

The decision, announced yesterday, by the Boston Red Sox to rehire disgraced manager Alex Cora to a two-year contract that will again put him at the helm of the team is disgusting and indefensible, unethical to the core. For me, it constitutes 2020’s second major ethics offense by an organization and a sport that has been important on many levels throughout my life, substantially challenging my loyalty and affection.

I was going to call the post “Ethics Strike Two On the Boston Red Sox,” but that formula would require me to give the team a third chance to disgrace itself before I called it “out” of my life, and I don’t know if I can do that. Nonetheless, I’m going to attempt to keep the emotional component of this most recent ethics breach on the metaphorical bench in this post as I try to be objective.

I won’t promise that I will succeed.

Cora was fired by the Red Sox in January after he was found to be the architect of the Astros’ 2017 sign-stealing scheme, one of the worst scandals in Major League Baseball history, trailing only the 1918 Black Sox scandal and the illegal player steroid era in its degree of damage to the sport. Commissioner Rob Manfred later suspended Cora through the end of the 2020 postseason. The revelation that Cora, a bench coach for then Astros manager A. J. Hinch,  had been at the center of an organized cheating scheme that helped bring the Houston Astros a World Championship also cast a shadow over the following year’s World Championship achieved by the Boston Red Sox, which had hired Cora as its manager. Did the cheating mastermind from Houston bring his unethical ways to his first managing job? Why wouldn’t he?

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Ethics Alarms Translation: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Explains It All

NBA I cant breath

In a recent interview, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver gave a useful and predictable, if disheartening, response to a question about the National Basketball Association’s crashing ratings, and the widespread (and surely accurate) belief that many fans have been alienated by the league’s endorsement of aggressive Black Lives Matter propaganda in the arenas, on the courts, on players’ uniforms, and in other aspects of the sport.

Rachel Nichols on NBA Countdown asked the businessman, and I use that term pointedly,

The NBA has certainly been the most visible billion-dollar organization championing social justice and civil rights. As you noted in your press conference the other day, though, that has not been universally popular. How committed are you to being that going forward?

I have to interject here: “not universally popular” is craven equivocation by the interviewer, echoing several Ethics Alarms rationalizations like, 19A The Insidious Confession, or “It wasn’t the best choice.” I hate that crap; as I get older, I hate it more: “It wasn’t everything we hoped for” used to mean, “It was a complete disaster,” and similar weasel words to avoid being direct and honest. The NBA’s Black Lives Matter boot-licking wasn’t “not universally popular,” it was unambiguously unpopular. Such deliberate avoidance of the truth is deceit, and is a variety of fake news.

Silver responded,

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Theoretically Tuesday Ethics Nightcap, 10/6/2020 (All Right, Both Of These Should Be Individual Posts): The Impending Wauwatosa Riots And Reflections On The Distinction Between Racism And Being Treated As A Minority

Back to the Future

Why “theoretically”? This post was almost finished at about 6:15 pm yesterday. Then I heard a scream from my wife: Spuds, our delightful rescue dog of a month’s duration as a Marshall had somehow shed his lead and dashed off in the direction of the field behind the school near our house. I had to fumble for my shoes (I’m barefoot most of the day—keeps the gout away!) and a sweater, pause for a brief, clearly unfair “how could you let this happen?” exchange with Grace (that I paid for later,) and went running in the direction of my wife’s “He went thataway!” finger. The odds were high where Spuds would be. Of late he has frequently joined a small group of delightful dogs (there’s Snow, Star, Minnie, Hunter, and other occasional drop-ins) and their owners for a sundown romp. He was not scheduled for a playdate, but had decided, I assumed, to schedule one himself. Sure enough, there he was, wrestling with Snow the Samoyed. It only took me about twenty minutes to collar him: he knew he was in trouble.

After that adventure, I was beset by one vicissitude of life (my Dad’s phrase) after another, and never got back to the office….until now, at around 4:30 am Wednesday morning. Spuds woke me by rolling over onto my face, and I decided to finally get this post up.

1. Oh great: here comes another one. Wauwatosa, Wisconsin police reported that a 17-year-old fired a gun before he was fatally shot by a police officer in a Mall parking lot in February. There is no question that the shooting victim, Alvin Cole, had a 9 mm semiautomatic handgun and ammunition on his person when he was shot; they were recovered at the scene. The gun had been stolen. Police were summoned after a disturbance was reported inside the mall; Cole ran from police and according to the police report, fired first. Officer Joseph Mensah fired five shots at Cole, police said, killing him.

Tomorrow, that is, on the October seventh, the DA is  supposed to hand down the decision of whether to indict Mensah. Fortunately, Mensah is black, so the racist cop trope is a bit harder to maintain that in other recent incidents. But now, thanks to so much of the culture swallowing whole the false litany of Black Lives Matter,  the assumption is that any time a black man, and especially a teen, is shot in a confrontation with police, it’s an example police brutality. If Mensah was white, I assume the riots would have started already. The city is preemptively closing the schools and City Hall among other pre-riot measures. Once again, Facts Don’t Matter.

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