When deciding which eight books would join me on my (literary and familial) pilgrimage to the Promised Land, (down to six at one point when I realised how much there may be to do in Israel and that they do have book shops there, up to a dozen at one point when I realised how little there may be to do in Israel and how much they charge for books there), I stuck with a recent rough ratio I have been following: 5:3 non-fiction to fiction, (it had taken me years to learn that those meant ‘real’ and ‘not real,’ so I add the translation
here in case you are like I once was).
When I found this in one of the charity shops
in Southend High Street, at around the price of a third of a Starbucks Frappuccino, how could I resist: an inside look at the seedy side of America, written by the guy who brought us ‘Fast Food Nation’, the watching of the movie
of the which was one of the factors responsible for me turning semi-vegetarian around a year ago, (or was that Food Inc
? Yeah, I think it was. But the point still stands).
(And in case you’re wondering, the answer is: Argentina. Ain’t no-one going to be staying vegetarian in Argentina or, as I like to call it, Arhentina).
Divided into three uneven parts, the tales told kept my interest in equally uneven amounts: starting with a lengthy look into the history and current (twisted) reality of marijuana use in the USA, proceeding through a short review of labour practices in southern California, and finishing with a look at the porno industry which takes half the book and is, unfortunately, far more John Grisham
than John Holmes.
The first section was the most interesting: as someone who has never even smoked a cigarette, but who finds most pot-smokers easier to hang around with than most drinkers, it was in danger of preaching to the converted. We all know marijuana
is all-but non-addictive, almost certainly has health benefits, and causes far less problems than drinking and smoking which remain inexplicably legal in contrast. What I didn’t know was how many people, it seems, don’t
know this, or, more commonly pretend not to for cynical political gain, and how much damage it is doing to the US prison system and the US population as a whole. The trivia was wonderful, too, right from the start: the first legal ruling in the States on marijuana was that every household had to grow it!
The short interlude on the Mexican immigrants who populate much of rural California was heart-breaking but not exactly ground-breaking news, before the history, trivia and investigative reporting continue with the biography of Reuben Sturman
, the all-but unknown king of porn for four decades. The make-shift and often unenforceable standards invented by the government over the years, (epitomised by the famous “I’ll know it when I see it
” of Justice Potter Stewart), continuously lead to the worrying reality that it is left to the personal preferences of individuals in power to decide what is good for the people, and what isn’t, be it with regards to drugs or images of naked people.
in 1970, for example, a two year, $2million independent commission released the conclusions of its research into pornography and obscenity, finding:
“There is no warrant for continued government interference with the full freedom of adults to read, obtain,or view whatever material they wish…”
.and that there was no evidence that showed a link between pornography and:
“‘…crime, delinquency, deviancy…or severe emotional disturbances.’ Indeed, sex offenders were less likely to have used pornography than the average man and more likely to have been raised in a conservative household.”.
Conservative reaction to these findings? A one-man attempt to sabotage, discredit and suppress the report, (from a rabid anti-pornography campaigner who had been appointed to the committee merely to fill a vacancy), and a subsequent U-turn from President Nixon on the issue worried about upcoming mid-term elections.
Nowhere is this theme of political expediency so sickeningly illustrated as in one throw-away paragraph on the man leading the charge to lose to President Obama in this year’s election: Newt Gingrich.
“In 1981 Congressman Newt Gingrich introduced a bill to legalize the medicinal use ofm arijuana. fifteen years later, as Speaker of the House, Gingrich sponsored legislation demanding a life sentence or the death penalty for anyone who brought more than two ounces of marijuana into the United States.”.
Must have been some pretty dramatic new evidence to lead to such a drastic turn around, right? Well, kind of: marijuana had been proven less damaging, and more beneficial over the years, but American jails still remain full of first time and personal users in a country which often, it seems, punishes pot smokers harsher than murderers, (whilst the kids of politicians get suspiciously light sentences).
With a bitter taste in my mouth from some of the facts garnered from this book, it was almost fun to end on one about the society which gave us both some of the highest culture and, it seems, somewhat less refined morals:
“In the satyr plays of Ancient Rome, the sex and violence were often real. The wealthy citizens who staged these spectacles put condemned criminals in the fatal roles…”.
It would be nice to think that we have come a long way since then. It’d be nice to think so.