Saturday Ethics Alerts, 1/16/21: “Nevermore!” If Only…

Raven Addams

The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, prohibiting the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes,” was ratified by the requisite number of states on this date in, 1919. It was a great, botched, ethics experiment. Alcohol was too far embedded in the culture for too long and in too many ways, and the laws prohibiting alcohol were badly drafted and engendered public resentment and contempt. Still, as the Ken Burns documentary on the topic made clear, the damage being caused by alcohol abuse before Prohibition was permanently slowed down and reversed by the ban, though the ban itself was doomed from the start.

1. Quote of the Day: I just finished watching “We Bought A Zoo” again, and it reminded me of the quote, alluded to in the film, by the real life English man who did buy a zoo, and whose story was transferred to America in the film staring Matt Damon. Benjamin Mee said in his book (with the same title as the film) about the adventure, “You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”

He’s absolutely right, and this principle has enriched my own life too many times to count.

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Ethics Hero Emeritus: Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992)

The great Marlene Dietrich, Ethics Hero

It was on this date in 1992 that the magnificent Marlene Dietrich died, in her sleep, in her Paris apartment at age of 91. She had hidden her face from the world since she had stopped performing over a decade before, saying that the public should remember her as she had been. Sadly, Dietrich is one of those former icons of Hollywood whom the public is slowly failing to remember anything about at all; most are more familiar with Madeleine Kahn’s send-up of her in the Western spoof “Blazing Saddles” than they are with Marlene herself. That is wrong, for she deserves better. Not only was Marlene Dietrich a unique performer and important cultural figure, she was also an Ethics Hero.

She was a rising German stage and screen actress when director Josef von Sternberg cast her as Lola-Lola, the beautiful, cynical leading character in “Der blaue Engel,” (The Blue Angel), Germany’s first talking film. The movie made Dietrich a star. Von Sternberg took her with him when Hollywood beckoned and signed her with Paramount Pictures. There Dietrich built her image and legend by perfecting her femme fatale film persona in a series of classic films directed by her mentor: “Morocco” (1930), “Dishonored” (1931), “Shanghai Express” (1932), “Blonde Venus” (1932), “The Scarlet Empress” (1934), and “The Devil Is a Woman” (1935).

Meanwhile, she had already begun fighting Hitler’s regime. Continue reading