FOURTH TURNING ALERT. Granted, I'm procrastinating from grading exams. On the other hand, some of the students are going to have a close encounter with Hard America, very soon. Three opinion columns from the past couple of days might give you some insight into whether I'm disposed to be lenient.

Doug Giles is likely to earn a Derbyshire Award for some of the examples he introduces to support this assertion.
That’s why your and my country, the U.S.A., freaked me out, pre-9/11.

The latter part of the 20th century wasn’t characterized by bravery and courage. Buffoonery and cowardice were ascendant. The ‘90s especially were a decade of decadence, headed up by the crude King of nihilism himself, Billy Bob Clinton, a guy who resembled our forefathers’ illustrious character and accomplishments about as much as a Celine Dion CBS Special resembles a Godsmack concert.
Mr Giles suggests a mood shift is in progress.
The greatest commodity our nation has is the original spirit of our Nation’s framers. The greatest threat to our nation doesn’t come so much from Iraq or Iran or North Korea; it doesn’t come from Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and their terrorist freak posses. No, the ultimate threat is from those of our fellow citizens who would seek to separate the hardy, righteous, and sacrificial spirit of our forefathers from the heart of this generation. Because it is that courage, commitment and energy that will securely propel our country forward in victorious righteousness … the true blessing of any nation.
Kathleen Parker suggests there is more work to be done. She sees the decadence as contributing to the bad behavior of a few reservists at that Baghdad prison.
But some of what happened at Abu Ghraib, specifically the sexualized humiliations, may reflect American culture, especially in the instance of the naked human pyramid, which is nearly iconographic within the adolescent zeitgeist that spawned our current generation of soldiers.

The images from Abu Ghraib, now irreversibly tattooed on the Arab brain, were every frat-house cliche magnified. The human pyramid, males mooning, masturbation, bags over heads. What we saw, at least in part, was "The Farrelly Brothers Do Baghdad."
I am still waiting for a well-positioned university administrator to take advantage of the current resource crunch to announce "The era of Animal House is over" and balance that university's budget by raising tuitions, restricting enrollments, and ending spending on courses that attempt to do what the high schools have failed to do. Perhaps we'll be able to introduce into class discussion a serious parsing of the following hypothesis, without fear that somebody will be offended.
I don't want to overstate my case by insisting that the culture made 'em do it, but we'd be missing a few dots if we didn't admit that the culture that birthed our young soldiers has dumbed down the definition of human dignity.
The third column, by George Will, attempts to use Hard America, Soft America to read the political tea leaves.
Barone believes that promotion of competition and accountability -- hardness -- is the shared theme of President Bush's policies of educational standards, individual health accounts, Social Security investment accounts and lower tax rates to increase self-reliance in the marketplace. Barone's book is a guide to electoral map reading: the blue and red states have, respectively, softer and harder sensibilities.
(That's the 2000 blue -- went for Gore -- and red states. I believe the colors will be reversed for this fall's map.)

There is a bit more than political perspectives, however, to Barone's principal observation, "America produces so many incompetent 18-year-olds but remarkably competent 30-year-olds." My sister noted that they have different parents. That is part of it, as the schools have probably become less demanding over the years, and the parents possibly more distracted or less involved, and the culture coarser. On the other hand, twenty years ago, observers were fretting about the SKOTEs -- Spoiled Kids Of The Eighties -- who are presumably the competent thirtysomethings Mr Barone is now seeing.

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