Best of times, worst of times:
Ah, the fifties.  Things have changed so much.  In those days the US was basically all middle class.  There were a handful of super rich and a handful of derelicts.  The homeless were so mostly by choice.  There were institutions for people who nowadays would be thrown out on the street or put in jail.  Everybody else worked.  The middle class is gone now, or just about so.  Everybody spoke the same language and felt part of the same greater community, by and large.

Of course relatively speaking we were poor, cars were dangerous, dogs played with children in the yards, race relations were a problem, special effects in movies were nothing to brag about.  Relatively speaking the jail industry was rudimentary.  Mind destroying drugs were not readily available.  People were polite or had to deal with social ostracism.  So progress has been made in many ways. 

It is generally assumed that the present is always better than the past, but sometimes I wonder whether we really are happier and better off.

Then I think about root beer.  It was made by boiling the roots of the sassafras plant.  We sometimes called it sassafras tea.  If you knew which plant to collect you could wander out into the woods, pull yourself up some and then make it at home.  It has been so long that I can’t swear how to do it, but I’m sure there are recipes.  Then somebody fed some to some rats, which had an increase in their rate of bladder cancer. 

Now as I remember that took a lot of the concentrated extract.  If there had been a significant lobby looking over the government’s shoulder they would have insisted on better evidence.  But there is nobody about to lay serious money down to hire a professional lobbyist to talk to a congressman.  On the other hand if you own a chemical factory and can make something more or less like real root beer then it is definitely worth your time to put pressure on people to get the real stuff outlawed.  Once it’s outlawed then selling the fake stuff under the name of the real stuff is no longer false advertising. 

Of course you can never go back now.  People really do get bladder cancer.  Make it legal to sell the real stuff and sooner or later somebody who drinks it will get bladder cancer.  That’s a slam dunk really big law suit.  So don’t even think about going there.

The thing is that real root beer was really good.  Back in the fifties powerful cars were just coming on the market.  They’d been developed by country boys and used as bootleg wagons but the technology finally reached the mainstream.  So you are a teenager and you have this really marvelous car.  What do you do in the evening?  Well you go out for a root beer, of course.  It was sociable.  It was harmless. 

Then the tycoons got the stuff outlawed and teenagers began to turn to marijuana.  There are worse things to do to yourself, but it does nothing to make you smarter.  The fateful day fell in February of 1960.  That decade would bring us the “sexual revolution,” the acceptance of drug addiction as a valid life style, the Viet Nam war and a bunch of other radical changes.  I think we might have been better off keeping our root beer.

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