The Message or the Messenger: The Mysterious Foundation For A Better Life

Does it matter who's behind the curtain?

The Foundation for a Better Life sponsors those slick TV spots promoting ethical values like kindness, sportsmanship, charity, and sacrifice. I have long wondered where they came from, and belatedly visited the organization’s website,, where I spent quite a while clicking through their extensive links to descriptions of core ethical values and inspiring stories. Not bad. The only deficiency I could see with the site was the lack of any explanation regarding how the Foundation was funded, who ran it and who was responsible for it. The site describes itself thusly:

“The Foundation is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, started in 2000. Our sole objective is to promote positive values, using print and broadcast media.

We want the stories we share about the positive actions and values of others to serve as inspiration for someone to do one thing a little better, and then pass on that inspiration. A few individuals living values-based lives will collectively make the world a better place.

The Foundation does not have a political or religious agenda. Our values are selected with the hope that most individuals would find these values universal, encouraging, and inspiring. The Foundation acknowledges that each person has a unique lens through which he or she views the world. Naturally there are religious, nonreligious, political, and cultural views that give meaning to our lives. Our objective is to provide a wide spectrum of values without any intended agenda or slant and provide an uplifting message around each one.”

And this appears to be exactly what the Foundation does. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “The Barefoot Contessa and the Compassion Bullies…”

Commenter Marlene Cohn has some well-reasoned insight on the issue of a celebrity’s obligation to comply with a sick child’s wishes. Here is her comment on The Barefoot Contessa and the Compassion Bullies: an Ethics Drama:

“I enjoy a bit of celebrity gossip just as much as anyone, and always find internet reactions to perceived celebrity slights to be fascinating. Having been on the internet far longer than the hoards willing to throw around the dreaded “c” word, I’ve been able to see a true shift in what people generally expect of others. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Prosecutor Kit Bramblett

Uh, Willie? The judge woul like you to put down the weed and sing.

In West Texas, Hudspeth County prosecutor has recommended an unusual set of penalties for country music legend Willie Nelson, who has been arrested for possession of marijuana as he has been many times in the past. County Attorney Kit Bramblett has recommended to the judge in the case that she allow Bramblett to drop possession charges if Nelson pleads guilty, pays a fine…

…. and sings “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” for in court.

His recommendation is ethically offensive on many levels, though it is probably not a violation of any Texas rule of legal ethics, for the Texas Rules of Professional Conduct does not directly address Ethics Dunces. However… Continue reading

The Barefoot Contessa and the Compassion Bullies: An Ethics Drama


A boy named Enzo Pereda, now 6, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2009. The Make-A-Wish Foundation asked him what his wish would be, and he said he wanted to meet the Food Network’s Ina Garten, the “Barefoot Contessa,” and watch her cook from his bed. Enzo’s wish was relayed to Garten through the Foundation, but she declined, saying that her schedule was too busy with a book tour. Enzo opted to wait. The request was made again this year, and Garten’s refusal was final and unconditional. Enzo’s mother, who has catalogued his illness in a blog called “Angels for Enzo,” was furious, writing: Continue reading

Your Tax Dollars At Work: Last Night’s Quality Programming on PBS

Masterpiece Theater presents....

I hate to belabor this, but I’m going to anyway: those who argue that PBS must receive taxpayer funding because it fills a void in quality programming that will not appear anywhere else are either lying, because they know this isn’t true, or never watch PBS, which means they are also lying by asserting something they have no knowledge of.

Last night, my local PBS station featured a two-hour program (it was a repeat of a 2004 PBS special) featuring commercial TV trash quiz show host Wink Martindale giving fake questions to a panel of Rip Taylor (see photo), the bread-ball and confetti hurling prop comedian from the Sixties and Seventies, Dr. Joyce Brothers, Dr. Phil’s forerunner who was a favorite guest of the late Merv Griffin, and Brett Somers, a Phyllis Diller-light comedienne best known for being Jack Klugman’s wife and as a regular panelist on the Seventies version of “The Match Game.” Continue reading

Liz Taylor’s Ethical/Unethical Final Joke

Liz's last laugh

Screen legend Elizabeth Taylor, who drove husbands, producers, directors and co-stars to distraction by her habit of being late to appointments. meetings and film sets, played a joke on her mourners when she arranged to be “late for her own funeral,” scheduling it to start 15 minutes after the announced time.

Anyone who plans a joke for their own funeral generally has my respect and approval. This one, however, is ambiguous as well as funny. Tardiness is disrespectful to those who have to endure it, and often is a sign of arrogance and lack of empathy. Movie stars like Taylor who keep crews and actors on the set fray tempers, inflate budgets and undermine shooting schedules. Being habitually late is being habitually unethical. Continue reading

Hey…Were the Gang Rapists of the 11-Year-Old Girl in Texas Abercrombie and Fitch Executives?


"And to think..our little girl is only eight!"

Well, no.


But since Abercrombie and Fitch is apparently eager to make its profits by turning little girls into 3-D child porn, this isn’t as unfair a question as it seems.

One of America’s largest clothing retail chains, Abercrombie & Fitch is marketing padded bikini tops to eleven-year-old girls…in fact, girls as young as eight.

The current spring line for Abercrombie Kids, a division of the fashion company dedicated to 8-14 year olds, is the “Ashley” Push-Up Triangle – a triangular-shaped bikini top which comes complete with thick padding for breast enhancement. And you thought Wal-Mart marketing cosmetics to twelve-year-olds was ominous. Continue reading

Now THIS is a Euphemism…

"Hey, where'd you get that lovely paperweight?"

While we’re on the topic of euphemisms, I want to show you one of the most intriguing.

The purpose of euphemisms, as in the case of the two in the recent Ethics Alarms Quiz, is often to avoid legal consequences. The Bush Administration didn’t want to brazenly violate the treaties it has signed banning torture, so it came up with a description of torture that made it seem like something else. President Obama doesn’t want to be accused (though he is anyway) of joining a war without Senate consent, so his Administration is calling the Libyan adventure a “kinetic military action.”

But they are both amateurs compared to the on-line marketers of brass knuckles, those  deadly metal devices one puts over one’s fingers to give an adversary the beating of his soon to be shortened life. Brass knuckles are illegal in many countries, and in most states here; their sale is also prohibited in various ways, and as weapons, they are subject to other regulations. The companies that sell them on-line, however, get around all this by calling them…

Paperweights! Continue reading

Exceptionalism and the United States of America’s Grand Ethical Dilemma

Today’s morning headlines were full of violence in Syria, Bahrain, Libya, and the threat of new conflict in Egypt, as popular uprisings against entrenched dictatorships continue to grow. As the U.S. tries to somehow avoid a lead role in the international intervention in Libya, the question looms regarding its responsibility to other nations whose people yearn to be free—or at least freer. As important as what America ultimately decides to do will be for the futures of these nations, the U.S. economy, and foreign relations, something far more important is at stake. These difficult choices once again challenge the United States to affirm or reject its ideals, the very essence of what has made America what it is.

We have come to these crossroads four times before. Continue reading