Picking up the pace 

When it comes to discerning cultural backgrounds, Americans aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer. We can't even tell people apart who are from here. For example, we're hard- pressed to differentiate between the Amish, the Shakers and the Quakers. But now we can, because we know the Amish are the ones with the coke.

The arrest of two Amish men for dealing cocaine for a bike gang (the Pagans, fergodsake) hit "the outside world" with a one-two punch. At first it sounded like either a really bad "Charlie's Angels" episode (with Farrah undercover as a bra-less milkmaid) or a really good drama (with Ethan Hawke as the little Amish crackhead and Robert Duvall as the implacable father he's rebelling against). But after our sneering surprise we reacted like a jaded older brother who just found out his younger, naive sibling had gone bad: "It's OK for me to screw up, I can handle it. But you're just a kid. Why would you want to wreck your life?"

After all, we like this funny-looking kid. The Amish have the cojones to live like they want, and you have to respect people who don't care about your opinion. They do their religious thing and never knock on our door asking if we've found Jesus (like they were looking for his house). We want to drive our minivans into their farmlands and treat their lives like a tourist attraction, then return to our shallow, glossy world thinking we'd done something really earthy. You'd think they'd look at us and see the same view they do from the buggy driver's seat: a bunch of horses asses.

Snow job

And then we find out MC Daddy Ezekial and Heavy Jedediah are standing on the corner with actual shovels hanging around their necks, saying:

"Brother Erastus, that eight-ball thou sold me last evensong was crap."

"Oh yeah? F--- thee."

No wonder those people can raise a barn without machinery. They're wired out of their skulls. That's why they have beards but no mustaches, which would catch any tell-tale white residue. The whole community probably started out with one charismatic Hoover Upright who said at a party, "I love all of thee so much, no really I mean it, I really love each and every one of thee. Let's get a big place and all live together." And there they are.

And now that they've found their way to Bolivia, it's only a matter of time before they start copying other big-idiot things that we do. When you think you're going to spend the rest of your life with your head in a bonnet making shoofly pie with women named Ruth and Sarah who look like the Smith Brothers, even our worst stuff starts to look good.

Before you know it, they're going to have their own "Jeremiah Springer Show" ("That ho stole my hoe . . ."), their own soap operas ("The Shunned and the Restless"), their own bike gangs (Heck's Angels), extreme quilting, Beanie Bibles, monster buggy rallies, hostile elders, wet bonnet contests, a sheep-and- cow fetishists support group, their own website (made of wood), transvestitism (wherein Amish women secretly wear one of those Abe Lincoln beards and parade around in front of the mirror when no one is about), and will start going to public schools so they can bring in guns like everyone else. See what happens when you name a town Intercourse?

Powder keg

As that older brother, it's our responsibility to tease and torment the younger sibling within an inch of its life, but it's not a nice thing to do, especially because they are kind of sensitive. Case in point: A wire story noted that an Amish cherry farmer asked the reporter whether the outside world was disappointed in them over the arrests. It is important, another offered, for them to set a good example. It was as though we gave them some firecrackers and they were afraid we'd be mad at them for blowing off their own fingers.

This is why we like this sibling better than the other extremists our motherland spawns like kudzu. They really mean what they say. It's hard to believe that they're perfect, but it's also kind of painful to think that our cheap way of dealing with things is undermining theirs.

So maybe this incident is an eye-opener for both sides. If they dealt a little more realistically with the uncomfortable problems their teen-agers are facing, their troubles may not have gotten this far. And if we practiced a little of the fortitude and contemplation we claim to admire so wistfully every time the Amish are profiled on PBS, we could simplify our lives a little and not have to feel like we're the negative role model all the time. After all, when siblings get a little older, they begin to realize they have more in common than they thought.

And the first thing we ought to do for our brothers is get them some phones up there. That way we can call and ask if they can hook us up with some pot. Aside from trying to set a better example, teasing unmercifully is just one of those things that we, as older brothers, feel obligated to do.

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