First words out of the radio this morning:

“…and we’ll reach a high of 36 on this first day of spring.”

You want to know the roots of true moral decay in this country? It has nothing to do with thong underwear or church attendance or any of the rest of it. It’s the mass migration to the Sunbelt, where you’re far less likely to hear news like this before you’ve even had your coffee. Eh? Am I right? Buck up, Arizonans.

Actually, I visited Arizona, southern Arizona, a few years ago. In fact, I was there on the first day of summer. And the forecast was for a high of 100 degrees. And never mind that dry heat crap; 100 degrees is its own kind of character-builder. Weighing the two, I prefer 36 on the vernal equinox.

OK, then.

The tax project is unfinished. I didn’t have all my records assembled. Of course, who ever has all their records assembled, intact, on the first try? I’m a person of sometimes-casual organization but above-average intelligence, and every year I come through tax season thinking I just barely made it. Why in god’s name does it have to be so complicated?

When cleaning out my parents’ house a few years ago, I ran across their tax returns. Of course they’d saved them going back to the dawn of time. The earliest one I could find was nineteen-fortysomething, I believe. One page. You could have filled it out in 20 minutes, once you had all your records assembled. Today it’s like trying to choose one of those Part D prescription drug plans. The accountants and professional tax preparers of the world thank you, Washington.

Ah, enough bitching. Let’s move on. I was struck by this Richard Cohen column — which must have run in the WashPost, but I don’t know when — about drinking. No, about drunkenness:

Curses on William Ryan. Back in 1976, he published a book called “Blaming the Victim,” coining a valuable phrase and making it virtually impossible to do what his title suggested. Ryan was on to something, but he has nonetheless made it a lot harder to say, as I am about to, that some of the people we have made into victims had a hand in their own fate. Specifically, they were drunk.

In Aruba last year — as every devotee of cable TV’s “justice” shows knows — Natalee Holloway never returned from her last night out on her traditional senior year trip. The high school student simply dropped from sight — a victim of foul play, no doubt. She, too, is a victim, but from published reports, she too was doing quite a bit of drinking that night. A sober Natalee Holloway might have made that plane home.

On the Mediterranean last year, George Smith vanished from his cruise ship, Brilliance of the Seas. (This was another “justice” show staple.) Smith was on his honeymoon and both he and his bride Jennifer had been doing some hard partying. She was in fact so drunk that she remembered nothing of the night her husband disappeared. Did George Smith fall overboard? Was he pushed? She’s a victim, he’s a victim, no doubt about it. But, in truth, they both might be back in Greenwich, Conn., had they been a bit more sober.

He goes on. I’ve written about this myself. It’s a pot-kettle thing, because I drink myself. Although my seeing-double days are over, I will be the first to admit I have No Room To Talk. But really. Really.

The current culture of campus drunkenness was just getting revved up when I was there — the drink ‘n’ drown nights, which I recall fondly not because they were a license to get hammered, but because the pay-$5-and-drink-all-night pricing was good for a college kid on a budget. Later came the Wacky Shots model, which I always associated with frat boys, where they put you in a dentist’s chair, tipped you back and poured tequila and other noxious liqueurs directly into your mouth, which you opened like a boated bass.

I remember that once the novelty of getting wasted wore off, which it did quickly, I mainly liked alcohol as a social lubricant. I liked the way it loosened tongues and got everyone relaxed and chatty. I like sitting with friends in a bar and talking talking talking; my confession is that I always preferred talk and a jukebox to live music and the necessary loss of conversation.

Getting hammered is counter to good conversation. Getting really hammered, as Cohen points out, is counter to good sense, to self-preservation, even. I’ve ignored the Natalee Holloway case as much as it’s possible to ignore, but I’ve read a story or two, and they all left me thinking: What the hell sort of parent lets an 18-year-old girl go to Aruba with a giant group of kids to celebrate high-school graduation? I don’t care how smart and mature she was; we’re talking Devil’s Workshop stuff here. Wasn’t her mother ever young herself?

Probably she was, and probably she went on a trip or two like this herself, and survived, and figured oh well, a little puking won’t kill anyone. I used to wonder how I’d handle situations like this, and now I know: Tell yourself, your job has changed, it’s different now, and it’s time to do your job.

Posted at 10:22 am in Popculch, Same ol' same ol' |

22 responses to “‘faced.”

  1. Randy said on March 20, 2006 at 10:43 am

    This shows again how much victimhood is prized in today’s society.

    Admitting to any personal responsibility, however big or small, in these tragic events will jeopardize one’s victimhood, and make the story much less compelling for Oprah et al.

    Oh wait, *Oprah decides* when you take personal responsibility, and when you don’t. My bad.

    345 chars

  2. John said on March 20, 2006 at 11:08 am

    Don’t forget Imette St. Guillen, the latest of the “don’t blame the victims”.

    Dan Abrams (usually one of my favorites) got on his high horse about not blaming her actions in any way for her death. If nothing else comes out of these deaths, then perhaps some sobering education can be spread out amongst the young.

    God knows that there were many times I tempted fate, but the older I got and more tradegy I saw changed my behaviour to one of a more genteel lifestyle.

    473 chars

  3. MichaelG said on March 20, 2006 at 11:08 am

    What’s your email address now, Nance? I can’t make sense of the listing on your sidebar. I have a SacBee editorial about the Big Newspaper Deal to send.

    154 chars

  4. nancy said on March 20, 2006 at 11:10 am

    nancy -at- nancynall.com

    24 chars

  5. MichaelG said on March 20, 2006 at 11:10 am

    Maybe this will work:


    I don’t know how to make it into a link, but you can try cutting and pasting.

    176 chars

  6. JRG said on March 20, 2006 at 11:39 am

    I watched “Murderball” this past weekend, the story of guys who play wheelchair rugby. It’s an interesting story in many ways, not the least of which is that drinking was involved in the grievous injuries suffered by three of five characters who were profiled in the film. The guys do not feel sorry for themselves, but it was hard to watch and see these young guys and realize that, but for too much drinking, they could all be walking around on two feet. It was equally disturbing to learn that, even now, some of them drink heavily (in recreational settings, not sorrowful, all alone drinking). That can’t be good for people whose internal organs are already compromised. I’d think it would be especially hard on kidneys.

    729 chars

  7. 4dbirds said on March 20, 2006 at 12:03 pm

    Here is another case of girl goes drinking and it turns into a horror. http://pinkofeministhellcat.typepad.com/pinko_feminist_hellcat/oc_rape_case/index.html

    158 chars

  8. JRG said on March 20, 2006 at 12:32 pm

    The current case in which a cadet at the Naval Academy in Anapolis, MD is another example of a case in which liquor was involved in an apparent sexual assault. The woman in question was, by her own admission, so drunk that she wasn’t entirely sure about what had happened to her. The assailant, too, said that he had been drinking.

    There’s a fairly complete article (based on what I’ve seen in other sources, in the 3/8/06 Baltimore Sun. See http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/local/annearundel/bal-owens0308,0,4986706.story?coll=bal-home-headlines

    552 chars

  9. NHB said on March 20, 2006 at 12:42 pm

    If we added up the toll alcohol has taken on society, my guess is that it would still be ten times that of all the crack+meth+pot+acid+heroin and every other illegal drug ever dropped, shot or smoked. And I’m probably guilty of underestimating the proportions. It’s not blaming the victim to point out that all of the stories you mentioned have ne thing in common; not just drinking, but drinking to near incoherence.

    Yet on college campuses, drinking is not only condoned, it is seemingly encouraged as the great social lubricant. I haven’t seen the numbers, but alcohol related deaths have to dwarf all other causes of death of men and women 14-25.

    So, of course you feel for Holloway’s family, and for the other families too, but shouldn’t FOX, MSNBC, etc. talk about drinking too? And Nance is absolutely right about her family; what he hell were they thinking in letting a high school girl go with a group of other young people, essentially without adult supervision, to a place where partying is not just the major activity, but seems to be the only activity. We’re not talking about a field trip to Disneyland or D.C.

    1136 chars

  10. nancy said on March 20, 2006 at 12:53 pm

    Well, here’s the thing, though: People make mistakes. I doubt there are many people in the world who drink and have not, occasionally, drank too much. There’s a learning curve to drinking, the same way there’s a learning curve to driving. It happens.

    At the same time, as Cohen points out, it’s the culture around it that’s changed. Drinking to the point of incoherence is not a regrettable side effect anymore, something to be learned from and avoided the next time, but as NHB points out, the very point of drinking in the first place.

    You’re never going to take away the desire to self-medicate; that’s as old as humanity. But you can take away the support system.

    675 chars

  11. Jeff said on March 20, 2006 at 1:19 pm

    Soooooo . . . are we saying no establishment should ever sell a second anything to anyone? Which is one answer, i suppose. Or at least a third? I really struggle with this, right now even more so, with this post just fuel for the fire.

    We’ve been hearing about a judge with 8 DUI’s in Ohio, and i just went to participate in the burial of a wonderful young man, 18, a freshman in college, who was hit by a guy with 11 DUIs. His girlfriend died immediately and was buried last week; Andy was tough enough to not quite die for eight days.

    The other driver was .24, so .8 doesn’t really matter let alone .10; he was 47, so age restrictions don’t matter here either; his girlfriend had been cited *twice* by the state police with written warnings to not loan him her vehicle, so that’s covered; and as for DUI legislation, with his 4 more than a judge who still sits on the bench . . .

    I guess what i’m saying is: we can’t pass more laws or add punishments to what we’ve got, and we can’t spare any more 18 year olds, fine ones or even the annoying sort. Short of my kindly wife’s suggestion: “Do we have to cut their legs off?” — is there really any other reasonable approach than putting some serious effort behind treatment and recovery? It’s that or spend the same amount of money down the rathole of lifetime incarceration after they kill someone.

    Doesn’t that sound like a fiscally conservative approach, too?

    1431 chars

  12. 4dbirds said on March 20, 2006 at 1:20 pm

    My young co-worker told me she was required (required?) to drink 21 shots on her 21st birthday. 21 shots? Shots mean pure liquor right? I don’t think I’ve had 21 shots over the course of my life and I like a drink every now and then.

    237 chars

  13. Dorothy said on March 20, 2006 at 1:37 pm

    My son got home last Thursday for spring break and he turns 21 on April 8th. I asked him about the 21 shots thing – I read about it somewhere. He flat out swore to me he would not do anything foolish. He works in Student Safety at Ohio State University and frequently sees the aftermath of too much drinking – and he has been known to drink too, of course. But not to the excess he has seen on the streets. I think this job more than any frat party has taught him the difference between having fun with friends, and drinking enough to put you in the hospital for alcohol poisoning.

    I followed the link that 4dbirds posted, and it seems that girl was also given the date rape drug in addition to her own drinking. Hers seemed to be a rather extreme case among the ones noted here. And it made me sick to my stomach to read it.

    835 chars

  14. nancy said on March 20, 2006 at 1:52 pm

    We had a similar drunk-driving horror show here last year; the case was just pled out. Guy was so drunk they need a new word for it, driving 70 on a road where the limit’s maybe 40, piloting (what else?) an enormous, full-size SUV. Hits a Honda Accord carrying a mother and her two children, kills everyone except himself.

    He’s going to prison for what will be, effectively, a life sentence. Throw away the key on that guy.

    But about culture: A friend of mine is a partner in College Humor, a website devoted to guess-what. Click on “pictures,” subcategory “alcohol.” Just surf around in there for a while. It’ll curl your hair.

    This is what I mean by the culture; I mean, I look at this stuff for a while and what amazes me is that a Natalee Holloway doesn’t disappear every weekend. Although surely a lesser tragedy happens several times a week. For every drunken rape that makes the headlines, there are scores that no one talks about, because they don’t get reported. Maybe no one remembers them. That would be merciful, eh?

    1340 chars

  15. Jeff said on March 20, 2006 at 2:45 pm

    Having just talked to a cop about this whole issue, he illuminated something i’d just never consciously wondered about: why do the drunks usually live? He explained that, unlike the normal human body which tenses and stiffens on impact, they stay “loose and limp,” which actually helps in the bouncing around stage. The drunkeness which led to the crash also leaves them a step and a half behind reacting to the events, and they flop about until they’re pulled out of the smoking vehicle.

    He also told me that he and most of his colleagues have had to fight down a strong impulse to pull out their service weapon and put a bullet through the head of the lolling lump asking them “wha’ happened, buddy?” as other cops are pulling broken corpses of kids out of the car in the opposite ditch. “But hey,” he says, “that’s where the training kicks in. Never happens, but you think about it. Is that normal, ya think, preacher?”

    I told him that, as far as i could imagine being in his shoes, i figure it’s pretty much normal. But not shooting them is heroic. Or so it seems this week, two funerals later.

    1112 chars

  16. Dorothy said on March 20, 2006 at 3:11 pm

    Off subject but I just have to ask Nancy:

    Do you think Tony Soprano is going to pull through? I love the dream sequences where he is not talking in his Jersey tough guy accent. Dream sequences have to be done just right and I think David Chase is doing a great job with this one. The voices of his wife and kids don’t match when Tony calls home, but the fact that he has an ordinary job in his dream says to me that he’s entertaining some degree of yearning for a non-mob life, even if it’s just in his subconsciousness. The lost brief case and mistaken identity are just extensions of that. And he can’t get home – a sign that inside the coma he wants to be out of there but doesn’t know how to get there.

    714 chars

  17. Nance said on March 20, 2006 at 4:10 pm


    I’ve heard that loose-and-limp explanation; don’t know if it’s cop wisdom or based in actual fact. I think in this case it was pretty clear: In Denali vs. Accord, particularly when the Accord is stopped and the Denali’s going 70, Denali wins.

    The guy did get a broken neck, but he recovered and can apparently walk, so it wasn’t that bad.

    However, this case will drag on for a long time. When he was in the hospital and supposedly incapacitated, he did manage to sign his million-dollar vacation house over to his parents, which action is being rather hotly disputed at the moment. Like I said: Here’s the wastebasket, throw in the key.


    Yes, Tony’s going to make it. I just feel very sure of this. And I love the dream sequences, too. Via TVWoP, found this column by a New Jersey TV writer dealing specifically with this episode. David Chase says, that’s no dream, that’s Purgatory.

    Here Tony’s stuck in Orange County, quite possibly the most personality-free corner of the world, with no way to leave (a k a Purgatory). On one end of town is a shining beacon (Heaven), on the other, a raging forest fire (Hell). Over and over, he stops to assess the worth of his own life, asking, “Who am I? Where am I going?”

    I also liked the obvious Hotel California reference. Chase always did love rock ‘n’ roll.

    1476 chars

  18. alex said on March 20, 2006 at 7:37 pm

    This whole discussion calls to mind an old judge in Fort Wayne back in the late ’70s or early ’80s. He caused quite a flap when he called a woman a “trollop” and scolded her for (1) leaving her children unattended while (2) carousing in bars in the wee hours on a weekday night (3) wearing a miniskirt and (4) getting into a car with a strange man she’d met, which is where the alleged the rape occurred.

    A lot of people were indignant that a judge would put the “victim” on trial, particularly over her demeanor and dress. But in all honesty it’s hard to feel sorry for someone who puts herself in such a situation. In fact, the court would be remiss if it didn’t allow these facts into evidence. The sort of “perpetrator” in a case like this is not the same as the man who breaks into a woman’s house or physically abducts her on the street and drags her into an alley.

    I’ve heard people argue the rationale that “no” means “no.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t always mean that to a drunk, particularly when uttered by another drunk. The trouble with cases like these is that they diminish the crime of rape and in the end real victims are probably taken less seriously than they ought to be.

    1196 chars

  19. brian stouder said on March 20, 2006 at 11:01 pm

    Re HBO series – we have been getting a free HBO weekend, which for some reason has continued through today – so I have seen the first couple of episodes of Big Love.

    I confess the show is enthralling and sort of sickening all at once. I also peered into Sopranos – and it is like picking up a book and flipping to the last third to begin reading. I’m sure the shrewdness of the show are lost upon me – but that said, I think Anthony is dead. Hell – they can bring him back for any feature movie….in fact if he dies and goes to hell, that can be the hook; he can be the repentant Don of Cosa Nostra Past, haunting all the goombahs as they scurry along their rat trails.

    Re drunks – many years ago the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette ran a series on the awful and unrelenting carnage on the highways between Fort Wayne and Hicksville Ohio, back in the days when the local young folks would drive to the clubs there to dance and hook up and fill their bellies with beer, only to smash their cars and shatter their bodies in the wee hours of Sunday mornings. It was an awful, excellent series – the sort of thing the J-G has always excelled at. It raised my conciousness.

    1171 chars

  20. alex said on March 21, 2006 at 7:33 am

    And Ohio raised the drinking age. I was on the cusp of that whole deal — get stamped at the door for 3.2 beer. At least I never got wrapped around a tree on Highway 37.

    169 chars

  21. Carmella said on March 21, 2006 at 7:39 am

    My husband and his buddies used to RACE from FW to Hicksville. And back probably. As newly liscensed teens.

    109 chars

  22. Dave said on March 23, 2006 at 12:09 pm

    Someone killed my brother’s stepdaughter last summer in Columbus. She was drunk, underage, in a bar she had no business being in, with her friends who were too drunk to notice that she’d left with, well, they just flat didn’t know. They found her three weeks later, it’s an ugly story all the way around, one of those things you think won’t ever happen to you but it does, sometimes. Alcohol, youth, what can you say about it that hasn’t been said, I’ve got a scary story or two in my past, too, just like your husband, Carmella, I’m still here to tell them but you think, if one little thing had gone wrong, anything, you’d just be a fond and sad memory to someone now.

    673 chars