A significant day for the more paranoid conspiracy theorists of the United States — the 50th anniversary of the shooting of President John F Kennedy. John Semley in Esquire:
American culture’s enduring fascination with the Kennedy assassination, and the general presumed sense that it was animated by a conspiracy of some kind, have helped develop a kind of wary civic diligence. In the fallout of revelations about the National Security Agency, drone wars abroad, and wiretaps on Angela Merkel’s cell phone, it seems naïve to not believe in the existence of history-manipulating government conspiracies. The continued fascination with the death of President Kennedy represents all of this mistrust, confusion, and obsession in what feels like a manageable microcosm.
Without falling into the lure of cultural paranoia, I think many of us from many different places have experienced historical moments when the optimistic idealism of patriotic feeling is darkened and made seedy or sinister by unsuspected violence and political lies. Adam Gopnik puts it well:
Worlds that seemed far apart at the time are now shown to have been close together, unified by men and women of multiple identities, subject to electric coincidences—no one more multiple than J.F.K. himself, the prudent political pragmatist who was also the reckless erotic adventurer, in bed with molls and Marilyns, and maybe even East German spies.
The passion of J.F.K. may lie in the overlay of all those strands and circles. The pattern—weaving and unweaving in front of our eyes, placing unlikely people in near proximity and then removing them again—is its own point. Mailer was right when he claimed that the official life of the country and the real life had come apart, but who could have seen that it would take a single violent act, rather than “existential” accomplishment, to reveal how close they really were?
The language games we play when we talk about addiction. Congressman Trey Radel defined himself as an alcoholic with a disease
who made an irreponsible choice
to use cocaine after being arrested for drug possession. What is that all about? From The Economist
Mr Radel feels on solid ground ascribing his misbehaviour to alcoholism, but isn’t willing to talk in the same way about his drug use. Alcoholism, apparently, does not carry the type of stigma that would prevent Americans from empathising with or, potentially, re-electing Mr Radel. He expects that his readers will share his view of alcoholism as a disease. In contrast, he terms his cocaine use “an extremely irresponsible choice.” Alcoholism is a disease; cocaine possession is a choice. Because, after all, something can’t be evil or criminal if it’s involuntary. How can it be a crime to have a disease? Right?
We have two different self-exonerating discourses in conflict here. Choosing to use cocaine felt like a free choice. Being alcoholic involved losing all power of choice. Nevertheless, to be an alcoholic is not to be an addict. You can have a disease that leaves you powerless over a certain addictive substance while choosing to use another legally outlawed addictive substance that is not part of your disease. Does this make any sense at all?
The Economist continues:
This is ridiculous. People who develop substance-abuse problems need treatment. Whether the substance they’re abusing is cocaine or alcohol carries no moral weight, and it shouldn’t carry any legal weight either. Trey Radel should not be able to excuse his cocaine use by pointing to his alcohol use; neither is any better or worse than the other. The same goes for Toronto’s Rob Ford: we, the public, should not have the synapse connections that make it possible for Mr Ford to say he may have used drugs while “in a drunken stupor” and expect that to serve as an excuse.