The skunky air, &c.

A woman lights a joint at a pro-pot demonstration in Philadelphia, July 28, 2016. (Dominick Reuter / Reuters)
On the pervasive smell of pot; the degeneration of New York City; violence on the right; Oxford kids vs. the queen; and more

Look, I went to high school and college — and junior high, for that matter: I know what pot smells like. Or smelled like. The new pot, which is pervading New York City, is much different. It is harsh and scorching and sickening. And, again, it’s all over town.

A few days ago, some of us were sitting in a restaurant. The weather was heavenly, and the windows were open. We were talking about the curse of this new pot — and, as if on cue, in it wafted.

The new kind of pot is like an assault. I mean, an assault on passersby, and innocent bystanders. I can only imagine what it is to users.

Several years ago, talking about the oncoming wave of legalization, Mark Helprin worried about “a nation of zombies,” or the zombification of America. I wonder if we are getting there.

As I mentioned in a previous column, the French bakery and café in my neighborhood was replaced by a pot dispensary. I have a hard time not reading that as a sign of the times.

In bleakest moments, I think the country is going to pot, literally.

• Question: What’s government’s job? Answer: It depends on the government (federal, state, local). But almost everyone would agree that the most important job — Job One — is the physical protection of the citizenry. And, in this, New York City is failing.

Menace is in the air. It’s on the street. Police are absent, or thin on the ground. Troublemakers and outright bad guys walk with a swagger, knowing they are unopposed, knowing they have the run of the place.

Many of us have written about New York and safety over the years. A lot of people said: “After 20 years of Rudy and Bloomie — 20 years of being able to sleep in Central Park, practically — New Yorkers will not go back. Accustomed to a new standard, they will not allow a return to the bad old days — the ones that Tom Wolfe depicted, memorably.”

I don’t believe this is true.

I also remember something that Bill Kristol said in the 1990s: A lot of us on the right like to scorn, mock, and dump on government, for plenty of good reasons. Many people are “anti-government.” But government — good government — is very, very important. It is key to civilization. It stands between us and barbarism. (Of course, governments can act barbarously too.) If government is absent or hapless: Look out.

• From Reuters, an arresting report: “Trump-inspired death threats are terrorizing election workers.” Yes, they are. The report begins,

Late on the night of April 24, the wife of Georgia’s top election official got a chilling text message: “You and your family will be killed very slowly.”

A week earlier, Tricia Raffensperger, wife of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, had received another anonymous text: “We plan for the death of you and your family every day.”

That followed an April 5 text warning. A family member, the texter told her, was “going to have a very unfortunate incident.”

And so on and so forth. I have been following these matters for more than half a year now, and commenting on them. People on the right are in no mood to listen. They hate hearing about the subject. They tend to huff, “What about Antifa? What about BLM?”

The Right has a violence problem. And I think people are responsible for their own house. They need to get their own house in order, particularly before lecturing the rest of the neighborhood.

Brad Raffensperger was formally censured by the Georgia Republican Party. Why? Because he would not lie for Trump. And lying for Trump is de rigueur in today’s GOP, as the travails of Raffensperger, Liz Cheney, and a few others will show you.

• Out of Oregon, there is some good news, I think. Mike Nearman, a representative in the state legislature, was expelled from that body. Why? As this report says,

Lawmakers removed Nearman because he let far-right demonstrators, some of whom were armed, into the Capitol on Dec. 21 while lawmakers were holding a special session. The Capitol was closed to the public due to the pandemic and remains so.

The vote to expel Nearman was unanimous (except for one vote, Nearman’s own). Even his fellow Republicans voted to expel him. They knew how reckless he had been; they knew he had exposed all of them to danger.

• In the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan’s latest column is headed “Why We Can’t Move On From Jan. 6.” The subheading is, “If you weren’t appalled by what happened that day, you have given up on American democracy.” What she says is true. She says it with an eloquent pen, a keen mind, and a patriotic heart.

• Should I give up on Magdalen College, Oxford? I have long prized that place. It is the home — the alma mater — of some of my nearest and dearest: David Pryce-Jones, Paul Johnson, Cameron Hilditch. There is Oxford, in my book — and there is Magdalen, which is like ultra-Oxford.

Stuart Stevens and I were talking about Magdalen last week. “I went to Pembroke,” he said, “and the Magdalen crowd were like royalty. It was like we were heathen, painting our faces blue and eating peat.”

Magdalen kids have their own deer park. The Rolling Stones once played at a dance for them, as Stuart pointed out. (The Stones played for the students, I mean, not the deer.) And do you know this one?

According to legend, an Indian prince was talking with his tutor at Magdalen. The tutor asked him, “What does your name mean?” “Son of God,” the prince replied. “Yes,” said the tutor, “the sons of many prominent figures have come here to Magdalen.”

Some years ago, one of David Pryce-Jones’s grandchildren, Jack, was showing me Oxford. It was winter. At Magdalen, students were having a mad, raucous snowball fight. Jack grinned and said, “Behold the cream of England.”

Anyway, do you know what these lil’ SOBs have done lately? Have a headline from the BBC: “Queen’s portrait removed after vote by Oxford University students.” (Article here.) Students at Magdalen College, triggered by a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II? I thought they were made of sterner stuff. Poor babies. May they grow up.

• I thought I had heard all of Tony Daniels’s stories. (Anthony Daniels is the British doctor-writer who also works under the name “Theodore Dalrymple.”) But I had never heard this. He slipped it into a book review for The New Criterion. I love it so much, I can hardly stand it.

Curiously enough, at the height of self-esteem’s popularity most people knew, or at least had some inkling, that the whole idea was completely bogus. Sometimes when patients would say to me, “I have low self-esteem, doctor,” I would reply (admittedly not in every last case), “Well, at least you’ve got one thing right, then.”

The doctor continues,

Far from becoming angry, they started to laugh, as if they had been caught out in a naughty game that they had been playing. It came to them almost as a relief: they didn’t have to pretend to believe an evident absurdity any more, and then they could begin to examine the real causes of the devastation of their lives, some internal and some external.

Right on. Bull’s-eye.

• Megha Rajagopalan — young though she is — is one of the outstanding foreign correspondents in American journalism. I learned a lot from her, about what the Chinese government was doing to the Uyghur people in Xinjiang Province (or East Turkestan). She was one of the early warners about the impending genocide. I did a podcast with Megha in January 2019, here. Last week, I learned that she had won the Pulitzer Prize — which was welcome news.

• A little music? For a post on a recital — live from La Scala — by Marianne Crebassa, the French mezzo-soprano, go here. Extraordinary singer, and musician.

• Spotted in a Cracker Barrel, in Gaffney, S.C.: a T-shirt reading, “I Like Pig Butts, and I Cannot Lie.” (This is an allusion, as you surely know, to the rap classic “Baby Got Back.”)

• A little language? Some words, we have trouble spelling — I mean, we as individuals. Everyone, I think, has a word that he trips on. I have about three — and they all have to do with double letters.

“Barrel” is one of them. (Not “barrell,” right? I have to pause and think.) “Vacuum” is another. (Two c’s or one?) And my third tripper-upper: “raccoon.”

• In the New York Times, an obit was headed, “Cornelia Oberlander, a Farsighted Landscape Architect, Dies at 99.” The lady grew up in Düsseldorf and Berlin.

Writes Penelope Green,

With the Nazis rising to power in the 1930s, Cornelia, like so many other Jewish children, was forbidden to attend her school. The family’s passports were taken away, as was the steel business that was the source of their wealth. Their butler began to hide his own money under a rug for the family so that it might help them should they escape. They were finally able to flee in late 1938, two weeks after Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom against Jews, with the help of Geoffrey Lawrence, a British judge and family friend who would go on to oversee the Nuremberg trials.

Earlier, I mentioned the Pryce-Jones family. Judge Lawrence, FYI, was the great-uncle of Clarissa Pryce-Jones, David’s wife. The judge’s daughter, Enid Rosamund Dundas, is her godmother.

More from the obit (and how wonderful this is):

At Harvard’s School of Design, she met Peter Oberlander, who was studying urban planning. Viennese-born and also Jewish, Mr. Oberlander had ended up in Canada in 1940 after having been in a series of internment camps. Cornelia caught his eye at a student picnic, and so did the dessert she had brought, an Austrian Bundt-style cake called a gugelhupf.

“It was ‘a place in time cake’” that sealed the deal, said their daughter Wendy Oberlander — a kind of madeleine that created an instant bond between the two young European refugees.

One more thing:

As was her habit, Ms. Oberlander, at 5-foot-2, was marching along swiftly, and [a] film crew was struggling to keep up. When [someone] asked her to slow down, she told him: “When I was young, I was always the fastest. My mother said I had to slow down and let the Aryan children win. I swore I would never slow down again.”

Thank you for joining me, my friends, and have a very good week.

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