December 2006 "Easy Calls"
  • The Scoreboard's normal responses to watching two loathsome and self-obsessed celebrities like Rosie O'Donnell and Donald Trump verbally savage each other would be 1) "Who cares?" and 2) "They deserve each other." But the current feud between the two requires a passing mention here because of its corrosive effect on standards of civility. Rosie (naturally) set off the exchange by suggesting on ABC's "The View" that Trump's recent assumption of the role of moral exemplar by chastising and threatening to fire the reigning Miss USA for being a party-girl was more than a little ridiculous, given his own well-documented penchant for fast women and extra-marital affairs. Sometimes Rosie's full of beans, and sometimes she gets it right; this time she was right, but spoiled it by concluding her commentary with some unflattering name-calling. Trump, no girly-man he, immediately said he would sue O'Donnell, and then launched into an extended riff on how unattractive and fat she was, including the charming phrase, "pig-face." Classy as always, Donald. Rosie, being Rosie, responded by making Donald Trump-faces on TV and mocking his hair. Next, we can expect one of them to leave a flaming paper bag full of doggy-doo on the other's doorstep. Yes, anyone who admires either of these two annoying characters already has a problem, but there is no escaping the fact that both are celebrities, and as celebrities they contribute to establishing cultural norms of civility and conduct. This is especially true of Trump, who despite his low-life proclivities is a successful business executive. Resorting to personal attacks on an adversary's weight or appearance is disrespectful, unfair, cruel and indefensible. Doing so on national media is like firing a shotgun into a crowd. There are a lot of fat or unattractive women out there, Mr. Trump, who are smart, generous, productive, loving, intelligent people. Rosie's weight isn't the issue; her big mouth is. Fight fair. And Rosie: how exactly does Trump's much-maligned "comb-over" impugn his character? Rosie, given her political leanings, would doubtless call Rush Limbaugh "pig-face" while taking issue with one of his opinion, were she not personally sensitive to fat-baiting. Golden Rule, anyone? How are we to convince our children not to ridicule the personal traits of others, when those they see as rich, famous and successful do the same openly, shamelessly, and even gleefully? Donald? Rosie? You're both boorish and irresponsible. Take it outside. [12/24/2006]
  • In the "can you believe this?" category, we have the saga of Tempe police officer Sgt. Chuck Schoville, who was filmed and televised giving two black men a chance to avoid a citation for littering if they "just do a little rap." Which popular culture moment does this evoke most vividly? The racist cowboy in "Blazing Saddles" demanding that the black workers under his supervision sing "De Camptown Races"? (Instead, they break into a sophisticated harmony rendition of Cole Porter's "I Get a Kick Out of You.") Or the insane army general in a memorable episode of TV's MASH, who commanded an African American doctor to sing, saying "Why, it's in your blood, boy!" The local NAACP was understandably outraged at the officer's presumption that every black man was a rapper, but that wasn't even the main ethical problem with his conduct. This was abuse of power and authority. The officer can give a ticket or not, but his authority and sidearm don't entitle him to make demands on those he cites for his own personal amusement. Just because asking for a rap song to avoid a ticket is less disgusting than demanding sex (a far more common practice in traffic stops) doesn't mean that it isn't just as inappropriate and unethical. The two men complied with the officer's request in good humor (and then proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were not rappers), but this episode shouldn't be pigeon-holed as one more example of racial insensitivity. The Tempe police department needs to learn that its legitimate power to control the actions of others ends with requiring them to obey the law. [12/21/2006]

  • The "Vote Ethics" failure of the year was clearly the Louisiana district that contains New Orleans, which re-elected William Jefferson as its representative in Congress. Jefferson, you may recall, has been videotaped accepting a $100,000 bribe in an FBI sting operation, and $90,000 of the cash was subsequently found stuffed in his freezer. Unlike self-respecting Republican Congressional crooks like former Ohio Rep. Bob Ney and current jailbird Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who both resigned once they were exposed, or the Congressional page-stalking Rep. Mark Foley, who had the decency to quit his Florida seat once he had been disgraced by his indecent text-messages, or even former G.O.P. House Majority Leader Tom Delay, who declined to run for re-election while under an indictment that has yet to be proven in court, Jefferson apparently intends to stay in Congress until he is physically ejected or locked up. Jefferson is brazen and disgusting, but those who voted him to a ninth term are a disgrace to democracy, irresponsible, and dumb as dishwater. The suffering of the residents of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is tragic beyond words, but its voters' cynical rejection of honesty and integrity as requirements for elected office prove that the more appropriate name for "The Big Easy" is, sadly, "The Big Stupid." [12/16/2006]
  • A surprising indicator of America's inconsistent attitudes toward torture turns up in the 1950 movie serial "Atom Man vs. Superman," also notable as one of the first efforts to combine animation with live action. Turner Movie Classics happened to be playing the series over the holidays, and I was shocked to see Superman, that paragon of "Truth, Justice, and the American Way," employ methods that international accords, if not Dick Cheney, regard as torture. In Episode 5, Superman (played by the forgettable Kirk Alyn) intervenes in an unsuccessful interrogation by leaning out a skyscraper window and repeatedly tossing the miscreant hundreds of feet in the air. "If you won't play ball with us, I'll play ball with you!" the Man of Steel quips. It works; the bad guy spills the beans about the missing plutonium. In their best seller "Freakonomics," Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner relate how the Ku Klux Klan's popularity declined precipitously when Superman began fighting the organization in the comic books. Since Superman was always good, the Klan must be bad: this is cognitive dissonance working to modify opinions and attitudes. As Superman's use of sheer terror to extract information (call me peculiar, but I'd take water-boarding over being repeatedly tossed out a skyscraper window any day) didn't diminish his appeal or perceived virtue, it seems clear that the American public in 1950 was not opposed to torture when it was administered by "the good guys." This attitude, then and now, is squarely at odds with the absolutist position that a country can't resort to torture and still claim to be good. [12/4/2006]

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