The difference between now and then is the acceptance of narcotics.
I have always felt a fondness for Richard Brautigan’s story “A Short History of Oregon,” with its Hemingwayesque language and its clever use of nostalgic understatement:
I would do things like that when I was sixteen. I’d hitch-hike fifty miles in the rain to go hunting for the last hours of the day. I’d stand alongside the road with a 30:30 and my thumb out and think nothing of it, expecting to be picked up and I always was.
“Where are you going?”
That meant something in Oregon.
I try to imagine that scene today and in a matter of seconds, some woman is on her cell phone and minutes later the cops show up, service weapons drawn, tackle the sixteen-year-old, and throw him in the back of the cruiser.
It was a different world, but it was already changing, becoming this one, when Brautigan’s story appeared in the February 1969 Rolling Stone. There is no shortage of things to blame the changes on: welfare and out of wedlock births, the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill, the waning of organized religion, loss of manners, the Sexual Revolution. A lot of people say it was drugs. I recently read Cormac McCarthy’s novel No Country for Old Men and came across this line of interior dialogue from Sheriff Ed Tom Bell:
I think if you were Satan and you were settin around tryin to think up somethin that would just bring the human race to its knees what you would probably come up with is narcotics. Maybe he did.
In an effort to show the moral decline of public education, politicians like to cite the infamous “School Troubles List,” a survey that compares the worst problems in public schools in the 1940s with those of the 1990s. Supposedly, in the 1940s, the worst problems were chewing gum and cutting in line, while today they are murder, rape, and drugs. The list was proved a hoax back in 1994, though it is still frequently cited as fact. McCarthy even references it in No Country For Old Men.
I am probably the wrong one to ask. I did not attend public schools, and I don’t have much experience with them beyond what I read. My son attends a top drawer Catholic high school and there seems to be a lot less drug use there than at the Catholic high school I attended in the late 1970s, when Cheech and Chong ruled the box office and the number one song was Styx’s “Light Up”:
All I need is just one hit to get me by
‘cause baby when you’re near I’m halfway high
Hoax or no hoax, things have changed. One look at the U.S. Bureau of Justice’s drug arrest statistics is enough to see that. In 1970, there were an estimated 415,600 drug arrests. By 2006, that figure had soared to 1,889,800. Same with homicides. In 1950, there were around 7,020 murders. Homicides peaked at 24,703, in 1991, during the height of the drug gang wars, and have settled at 1970 levels, still more than twice what they were at mid-century.
I AM INCLINED TO agree with Sheriff Bell. Most of the problems of modern society can be traced to one source, and that is narcotics. Whether we are talking about poor schools, white flight, high murder rates, single parenting, exploding prison populations, crack-addled babies, prostitution, organized crime, human trafficking — they all begin with the drug trade.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online