Zippidy Doo Da

I'm not stupid, I'm from Texas!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Prohibition, Civility, and Political Discourse

After enjoying episode two of Ken Burn’s “Prohibition” on PBS tonight, I happened to catch him addressing the National Press Club on CSPAN3. (Available online at

What a performance! He spoke about our loss of civil discourse and our inability to compromise, comparing today’s loggerheads with the Civil War and Prohibition eras. He said movements for sweeping legislation to settle moral questions such as abortion or gay marriage were unlikely to be successful in the light of American skepticism of such solutions after the experience of Prohibition. We will however continue to suffer such wedge-issue politics because the media feeds on the controversy.

He addressed the obvious parallels between Prohibition of the 1920’s and the war on drugs, noting that marijuana is America’s largest cash crop. He said that the two differ in that alcohol has been used throughout the ages while marijuana has been but a sub-culture. Drug violence would not end with legalization because we would be unwilling to sanction the use of cocaine and heroin, so their violent trafficking would continue.

Burns has spent his career making documentary films for PBS and the NEH. He defended these entities against those who would shut them down, noting that they also receive complaints about their conservative bias. He spoke of his friendship with William F. Buckley, who appeared on PBS and PBS only for 30 years. Rather than bias, his films concern themselves with the facts, which are neither Democratic nor Republican. He assembles his teams of experts, consultants and researchers from across the spectrum, and tries to present an average. He says that “newspapers are essential to the survival of our republic,” and that much internet reporting consists of rumor and innuendo. Public broadcasting, while underfunded and much maligned, provides the best in childrens, science, nature, history and news programming. “No other venue would permit me to do as deep a dive, without commercials.”

I knew that Burns was intelligent, but boy was he articulate. He spoke his piece without a halt or stammer, without a misstep. He took questions after, smart as a whip, without a pause. Even if he had been provided the questions in advance, which he apparently hadn’t, it would have been an amazing feat to memorize his responses. I would suggest you have a look at this show if only to remember what a public speaker ought to sound like; you sure won’t see anything like it watching this year’s debates.


At 6:06 AM , Blogger Rick Janes said...

Thanks for the article. Burns is a good speaker, but I have one complaint about what I've seen so far in his new "Prohibition" series: unless I missed it, there's been no mention of the fact the most of the WCTU women who were breaking up bars with axes, including Carrie Nation, took patented 'tonics' daily that were higher in alcoholc content than beer or wine -- some as high as 25 percent. In other words, these women were often ripped to the gills on alcohol as they wielded their axes to end alcohol consumption. Just another thudding irony of that misbegotten age.

At 7:45 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

One man's "culture" is another man's "mere sub-culture." Burns is straining to find differences between the prohibition of alcohol and the prohibition of marijuana but they just aren't there. The very same rules apply--people will put what they want into their bodies, and we can either accept that or quixotically try to stop it (or perhaps regulate it to some degree, but even that is mostly futile--how many folks do you know who waited until their 21st birthday to have a drink?)

Marijuana has 10,000 years of recorded use (without a single death or overdose, by the way), it just doesn't happen to be the drug of choice of white men, especially powerful white men who write and enforce our laws.

Burns is also disingenous in implying that it doesn't make sense to legalize pot because we can't possibly legalize cocaine and heroin. HUH? Amsterdam has de facto legalized possession of small quantities of pot and they have virtually NO problem with hard drugs, as opposed to the very real problems we have in this country. Burns' argument is 100% wrong on its face. Decoupling marijuana from the harder drugs would be a powerfully good thing for society.

Not impressed with this series at all. Burns seems to ADORE drinkers and uses any argument to present them as much-aligned men (always men) just doing what men will do...the fact that he doesn't believe the same argument applies to potsmokers or drug users of any kind completely invalidates his perspective in my opinion.

At 5:05 PM , Blogger liquiddaddy said...


Cops always steal my weed.

I went to the wall street demonstration the other day and when I threw my but on the ground, an half-dozen nazi's acosted me and made me pick it up. "we don't want trouble," was uttered by one.





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