Oh, Shut Up, Kate: Let’s End The Obligatory “God Bless America” Rendition


My father hated “God Bless America.” He particularly hated jumbo 40’s singer Kate Smith’s rendition of it, which he believed exploited patriotism and combined it with sentimentality and schmaltz to get ratings and sell records. Smith had an unadorned clarion belt that particularly suited Irving Berlin’s blunt melody, and for 30 years she used the song as her signature, as much as Judy Garland used “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Whenever Smith appeared on a TV variety show like The Hollywood Palace, he would order me to change the channel (yes, I was the family remote) for fear that he would have to hear her sing that song.

I assumed that was the reason why I have felt queasy about Major League Baseball’s 7th inning stretch ritual, installed in 2001, of having a recording of Kate or a live singer ring out the Irving Berlin standard at every major league baseball game since the Twin Towers fell.  In today’s Washington Post, however, a Methodist minister—my father was also a Methodist, as much as he was anything—explained why he refuses to stand for the song. He nailed it.

James Marsh writes, Continue reading

Ethics, History, and Robert Redford’s “The Conspirator”

James McAvoy as Frederick Aiken, a Civil War era Ethics Hero you've never heard of.

Throughout Hollywood history, there have been actors who regularly used their screen personas to explore ethical issues: Henry Fonda, Glenn Ford, Paul Newman, John Wayne of course, Clint Eastwood, and recently, George Clooney. None of these focused their artistic attentions on ethics more sharply than Robert Redford, however, in such films as “All the President’s Men,” “The Candidate,” “The Proposition,” and “The Natural,” and he has continues his exploration of ethics as a director, in such films as “The Milagro Beanfield War” and “Quiz Show.”

Redford’s most recent film, “The Conspirator,” is another ethics movie, as well as one that explores law and American history. I am a Lincoln assassination buff, and I was eager to see the movie until I read several reviews criticizing it as a heavy-handed allegory attacking the Bush administration’s response to 9/11. Score one for the confirmation bias trap: the movie is nothing of the kind. Continue reading

Memorial Ethics, Part Two: The Betrayal of 9-11 Donors

Where's the money going? Sometimes the charity has no idea.

A decade later after the attack on the Twin Towers, an Associated Press investigation has revealed wide-spread incompetence, dishonesty and waste among the many 9-11 memorial charities set up in the wake of the tragedy.

“There are those that spent huge sums on themselves, those that cannot account for the money they received, those that have few results to show for their spending and those that have yet to file required income tax returns. Yet many of the charities continue to raise money in the name of Sept. 11,” reports the AP. Among the fiascos recounted in the report:

  •   An Arizona-based charity raised $713,000 for a 9/11 memorial quilt that was supposed to be big enough to cover 25 football fields. Instead, there are only several hundred decorated sheets packed in boxes at a storage unit. One-third of the money raised went to the charity’s founder and relatives, according to tax records and interviews. Charity founder Kevin Held spent more than $170,000 of the donated money on travel since 2004, seldom traveling without his two Alaskan malamute dogs. Continue reading

The Fireman, the Cheater, and Media Muddling

Come on, Robert! It's less embarrssing than Joey's gonorrrhea poster!

One of the reasons I launched The Ethics Scoreboard and later Ethics Alarms was that I felt  the media did not recognize ethics stories and failed to cover them. Well, more ethics stories are finding their way into the news, but true to the warning “Be careful what you wish for,” the reports usually botch them, and get the ethics lessons wrong. The saga of Enzo and the “Barefoot Contessa” was a particularly nauseating example, but there have been others recently. For example… Continue reading