"Crack-smoking aside" is a lurid clause. It can feel a little like, "Other than that, how did you enjoy the play, Mrs. Lincoln?" Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoked crack. Therefore he is unfit to rule. What's left to discuss?
Yesterday after Ford finally admitted to having used crack cocaine "in one of [his] drunken stupors"—a winsome choice of words—my colleague Matt O'Brien asked Twitter, earnestly, "Has Rob Ford been a bad mayor, crack smoking aside?"
A compelling case can readily be made that the answer is yes. The fact that it takes crack cocaine to call attention to it is interesting.
"Let's get one thing straight. Crack is cheap," Whitney Houston famously defended herself to Diane Sawyer in 2002. "I make too much money to ever smoke crack."
"Crack," she said, "is wack."
And it is still discernibly wack. The notion is also a punch line. Rhetorically at least, it's a casual dismissal of crazy ("Are you on crack?"). Not powder cocaine so much, but crack. In the last season of Girls, the bellwether of modern culture, Lena Dunham's character Hannah did coke in a nightclub, became endearingly manic, and danced around in a transparent tank top. In another episode, her friend Shoshanna accidentally tried crack cocaine and ran through the streets of Greenpoint freaking out at realizing it—the gag was the premise, the juxtaposition of a prim white girl trying crack.
Crack cocaine, though, is powder cocaine minus one hydrochloride molecule. That gives crack a lower melting point. It can be smoked, offering a more potent high. Chemically there's not much difference, in that both are very addictive and can ruin lives, though most who experiment are not ruined. The more pertinent differences are psychosocial and historic. There are deep-seated notions about who's expected to use them and who's not. The powder means Hollywood, and the rocks mean ghetto. (Today both are everywhere.)