Archive for May, 2010

31
May
10

Support the troops, even when it’s inconvenient

I proudly served my country, and despite my grave dissatisfaction with the recent expressions of U.S. power, I feel my debt to U.S. servicemen and women in a profound way.   I know I’m far from alone in this sentiment, and even though we’ve become accustomed to using them as props, I’m happy knowing that respect for servicemen and women has become more of a default feeling than in the recent past.

Service comes with costs, as everyone knows.   I was fortunate.  I came out of my own service with almost no lasting problems and a whole host of personal improvements.  I know that I’m a better person than I was before my service, with a wider perspective on the world, a greater understanding of the inherent similarities of people everywhere, and a firm understanding of the tremendous privilege of being an American in a world rife with poverty, disease, oppression, commercial exploitation and hostility.

That’s not always the case, though.  In contrast to my relatively-benevolent experience, my partner came out of her service a little worse for wear.  She suffers from some permanent nerve damage, carries some lingering symptoms from a fairly intransigent infection and has a pretty typical case of PTSD.  I try to be understanding, but that’s not entirely in my nature so I fail from time to time.  Still I try to support her in her treatment and recovery, wherever that takes her and whatever is involved; part of that is helping her to improve her mental state.  I’m not the biggest fan of psychotheraphy, but I know that can be part of the solution for many people who have suffered as she has.  I have to admit, though, that I was a little shocked when my partner returned from a visit to a therapist with an unoffiial recommendation to treat her PTSD symptoms with cannabis.

Actually, that version of events messes with the narrative time-frame a little.   Like many who suffer from PTSD, she had been self-medicating for her symptoms even before she understood what was causing her problems and even before she started to see someone specifically for the PTSD.  True, she started out with a legal prescription to use cannabis to treat her debilitating migraines – and unlike all of the horrific prescription medications she’d tried before, the cannabis actually stopped her headaches, and without the raft of side-effects from the commercial-pharmaceutical options – but she soon found that the same medicine worked better at calming what she hadn’t learned to call her symptoms from the PTSD.

I’ve never been supportive of self-medicating.  In fact, I’m not a fan of medication in general.  I fear my pharmaceutical overlords much more than I trust them, and I’m not convinced that doctors can be trusted to shake off the enormous influence exercised upon them by those overlords.  That’s just part of the problem, though.  We’ve become a nation of pussies in many ways, and part of that is an overblown fear of pain.  Pain, in our current cultural climate, is something not to be tolerated.  I can’t count the number of friends and relatives who mindlessly swallow everything their doctors prescirbe them in the aftermath of even minor procedures and operations, without questioning how much of that crap is actually necessary and how much is simply convenient.    I don’t think I have a particularly high tolerance for pain, but I pride myself on not being a complete pussy, and I haven’t felt the need to deaden my senses after the last two surgical procedures I’ve had with anything more than aspirin or tylenol.  I have a stack of unused prescriptions for the harder stuff that I found to be completely unnecessary.  That’s not to say that powerful painkillers aren’t entirely appropriate in some circumstance and for some people; I’m just pointing out that pain meds are over-prescribed and over-used by a population that has stopped even considering the “whethers” and “whys” before automatically popping whatever pill comes their way.   Drugs are bad, ‘mkay?  Maybe cancer patients need Oxycontin, but do you really need smack to deal with an ingrown toenail?  I think not.  Maybe that’s just me.  Like I said earlier, being understanding is not entirely in my nature.

Anyway, as a result of my knee-jerk failure to empathize, I’d no doubt been harassing my partner about her increasing tendency to self-medicate.  So much so, that I’d convinced her to raise the issue with her therapist.  The therapist’s response?  “Good for you – in fact, you keep smoking your weed if that helps.”  I was shocked, if not exactly mollified.  It turns out, though, that she’d stumbled upon a fairly common solution, supported by some surprising cheerleaders, as the following article makes clear:

The Department of Veterans Affairs says it is developing a national policy, and the head of Veterans for Medical Marijuana Access believes a VA policy allowing medical marijuana “is inevitable.”

“We’re all on the same side,” said Michael Krawitz of Virginia. “My goal is a good outcome for the veteran, and that’s their goal…The irony in this … is it’s a common thing for veterans to tell me, ‘The VA is telling me if I just stay away from medical marijuana, we’ll give you all the pills you want, morphine, whatever,'” he said.

And it’s not just the hippie press reporting the efficacy of cannabis in treating PTSD.  Dr. Irit Akirav and research student Eti Ganon-Elazar, working at the Learning and Memory Lab in the University of Haifa’s Department of Psychology recently published a report in The Journal of Neuroscience reporting on the promise of the weed – and nobody knows more about messed-up human brains than the Israelis, so I’m inclined to trust their study.

Anyway, to return to my original point, I’d like to offer yet one more reason to support the decriminalization of cannabis.  More than that, though, I’d like to suggest that we work a little harder to de-stigmatize the use of weed for the treatment of PTSD.  Our recent national adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq have produced the largest population of returning, damaged soldiers since the end of the Vietnam War.  Those men and women served in dubious circumstances, but there’s nothing dubious about their service.   They deserve our support, in whatever way we can offer it.  If cannabis is better at treating the symptoms of the most ubiquitous harm that they’ll suffer as a result of their service, then we owe it to them to work to allow their doctors to prescribe them the best medication for their hurts.  Support our troops – but don’t just do it for yourself, and don’t just do it when its easy.  Give them what they need, rather than what’s convenient.

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21
May
10

Atlas Shirked, or, the Problem with Relying upon Libertarians

Following his surprising primary win in Kentucky, Rand Paul has become only the most recent public figure to reveal libertarianism as the sadly-deficient political ideology that it is; the hobgoblin of small-minded people.  Like his namesake, Ayn Rand, Paul has risen to prominence by touting a philosophy that appeals to the ignorantly-selfish, blindly-privileged masses lacking in the sort of rational perspective it takes to see the uneven playing field upon which we all find ourselves, those unwilling to see their own privilege when it becomes inconvenient.

All things being equal, libertarianism might be an appealing philosophy.  Call me when all things are equal.

If you’ve missed the entertaining display of political expediency and public ignorance recently emerging out of Kentucky’s Republican primary race, here’s Paul on the the Rachel Maddow Show, flailing to defend his opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (and institutional racism, in general):

Paul has been busy spinning his increasingly-contradictory views ever since, trying to make it look like he has some reasonable arguments underlying his objectionable viewpoints; and he’s been excoriated in the press and the blogosphere – mostly because he doesn’t.  As Ta-Nehisi Coates points out in his post, “The Proud Ignorance of Rand Paul,” these sorts of views seem to make sense in an inverse proportion to the amount of knowledge actually involved.

And this is where the problem comes closest to home – Cannabis activists have been overly-dependent upon libertarians for support for some time now, and that dependence might just become a problem as the realities of legalization set in.    After all, at some point, practical rules will be implemented to manage the coming out party for this billion dollar industry, and if there’s one thing Libertarians are bad at it’s the implementation of practical rules.

Bill Maher may be a useful spokesperson for the movement, but he’s no politician and politicians bring their own set of problems.  First of all, there’s the problem of consistency.  As Rand Paul’s own candidacy reveals, libertarians can be as changeable with respect to their deeply-held convictions as any other pol, and sometimes the appealing face of libertarian purity is simply a mask for the more typical biases of conservative populism.   Paul is running for office in Kentucky, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, but even though he seems perfectly fine opposing the Civil Rights Act on ideological grounds, he doesn’t seem as consistently committed on all issues.   As Time Magazine reports,

Paul has lately said he would not leave abortion to the states, he doesn’t believe in legalizing drugs like marijuana and cocaine, he’d support federal drug laws, he’d vote to support Kentucky’s coal interests and he’d be tough on national security.

So watch out for those political winds, because the support you count on may blow away when elections hang in the balance.

But there’s another, even more significant problem lurking behind the appealing face of libertarian support for legalization, and that is that libertarianism seems appealing in inverse proportion to the practicality of its tenants.   Those paranoid fears of big business taking over the industry?  That’s exactly what a libertarian regime would bring about (if any such thing could exist).  Not because libertarians favor big business, but because libertarians turn a blind eye towards the routine exercise of practical power.   They choose not to acknowledge the realities that exist, because doing so would undermine their ideological positions, but that willful ignorance is the same as tacit acceptance of the status quo.  Just because you believe in a level playing field doesn’t mean it exists, and businesses have perfected the art of unleveling playing fields in the U.S.  for good reason – because it profits them to do so.  Turning a blind eye to that practice only makes their jobs a little easier.

I’ve been railing against the Tea Party movement lately, and not just because it so clearly basks in the racist, nativist, xenophobic climate of the aging conservative movement, but because it celebrates a platform of non-governance.  Non-governance in the abstract might sound appealing, especially given the problems that governance has presented us with for much of the 21st century, but given the practical power exercised in our society by business forces, retreat is surrender, and I’m not in favor of turning over the levers of power to the business interests who already have their greedy hands on too many of those levers.  Flawed though it may be, government is all that stands between the unimpowered citizenry and the evil that men do.  Attacking the sole force capable of representing our collective interests against those forces seeking to exploit our weakness is simply insane.  And if you had to come up with a philosophy that enshrines that sort of insanity, you’d call it libertarianism.

All things being equal, we wouldn’t have to rely upon government to protect our interests.  Call me when all things are equal.

12
May
10

The gateway drug to extinction

If you’ve ever wanted to see any of the living organisms in the Gulf of Mexico, now’s your chance.  Maybe your last chance.   I believe in protecting the environment as much as I believe in anything, and I’d bet that most of my neighbors in this enlightened, beautiful place feel much as I do.  We’re responsible for the extinction of everything that lives in the Gulf, all the same.

Kym’s post on the inherent anti-environmentalism of indoor growing got me thinking about how little responsibility I take for my share in the great American past-time.  By the way, it’s energy consumption, not baseball.

I’ve been reading everything I can find on the recent spill, hoping for good news, but nothing has been encouraging.  It’s hard to think about, because it’s such an ongoing, seemingly unstoppable disaster.  Maybe it’s in reaction to the horror, but I’ve noticed quite a few people trying to spin this latest oil spill as a good thing.   Lexington’s current article on the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf for the Economist makes the case that oil spills can be instructive, but even his own argument seems to belie that position.    He writes:

So long as Americans do not reduce their consumption of oil, refusing to drill at home means importing more of the stuff, often from places with looser environmental standards. The net effect is likely to be more pollution, not less. Nigeria, for example, has had a major oil spill every year since 1969, observes Lisa Margonelli of the New America Foundation, a think-tank. Putting a price on carbon would eventually spur the development of cleaner fuels, and persuade Americans to switch to them. But in the meantime, oil is both useful and precious. Extracting it domestically, with tougher safety rules, would bring a windfall to a Treasury that sorely needs one. When the current crisis is past, Mr Obama may remember this.

While I’m glad to see that someone can find an oil-stained silver lining in this disaster, I question the logic behind the conclusion.  Nationalism is as fictional as money, and it doesn’t matter how powerful those two fictions seem when oil is spilling into oceans that know no national boundaries.  Spill here, spill there – everything dies all the same.  I find it hard to believe that increasing oil exploration anywhere is the answer that we need.

I know it’s not the point of the article, but how instructive can disasters like this be when there’s been an average of one every year in Nigeria?  Do we only care about destroying American oceans?  Thirty years after Jimmy Carter tried to get Americans to change their oily ways, a cynical old fool and his moron sidekick almost won the presidency by shouting “Drill, Baby, Drill!’  to crowds of dumb and dumber.

I guess there’s always hope that Americans will wise up.  Maybe this disaster will be instructive.  Maybe we’ll finally figure out how water works.

08
May
10

The Difference between Outlaws and Villains

Are the arguments getting shrill or is that just the sound of an engaged public?

My conversations about legalization have turned into arguments, but even as the volume goes up, the “arguments” against legalization remain entirely uncompelling.  Is the Emerald Triangle getting a bad rap in the press?  Are they unfairly portraying us as a greedy, hypocritical community by shining a national spotlight on a cynical few growers  coming out against the legalization of marijuana just because it’ll hurt their bottom line?  I dunno, maybe you all are just having to face the prospect that capitalism isn’t as discriminating as its most vocal advocates.

If there’s a moral argument to be made in favor of the status quo, I’ve yet to hear it.   In fact, if there’s an argument against legalization that isn’t either outright immoral or based upon easily-disproveable misinformation, I’ve yet to hear it.   At least the people foolish enough to believe that pot is a social danger are acting out of good faith when they oppose legalization.  You really can’t say the same about the people sporting those nifty “Keep pot illegal” bumperstickers.

That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of arguments, though.   The socialist government is infringing, the soulless corporations are encroaching, big Pharma is funding the proposition.  Bah.  Teabags full of weed is all I see.

Sift through all of the anti-legalization arguments that have been sprouting up in the past few months, and here’s what you’re left with:  There’s money to be made, and soon there might not be.   Boom, meet bust.  Again.

I empathize, but I don’t sympathize.   Sure, this area has suffered this sort of thing more than many areas of the country, but we haven’t exactly cornered the market on unemployment.  There might be a powerful curse up here, but it sure isn’t as powerful as the one the Cherokees left in Appalachia or the one the Ford family left in Michigan.  Still, I like the community.  I’m not eager to see what happens when yet another keystone industry shuts down and lots of people living up here lose their primary sources of revenue.  Again.

That said, there’s a thin line between living as an outlaw and living as a villain.  I’m not sure the rebel growers I’ve been talking with lately recognize that line, but they’re in danger of crossing it all the same.

I’ve always been an outlaw at heart, so even if I’m not making my living as an outlaw, I want to remain open to what is good about the outlaws I live amongst.  I’ve never really believed the bad things that people say about you weed growers – you’re not all spilling diesel fuel into the forest, you’re not all kidnapping poor campesinos from Mexico and forcing them to guard your guerrilla patches in the national forests, you’re not all spraying Raid on your spider-mite infested product and passing it off as organic.  The few bad apples shouldn’t be allowed to spoil the whole barrel, and certainly the growers I’ve met up here resemble nothing so much as pretty much every other working man or woman I’ve ever known, doing just about anything else just to get by.   You’re “us,” not “them.”   Regardless of how you’re portrayed in the popular media.

So, outlaw weed-growers supporting the continued criminalization of marijuana, I’m about as sympathetic an opponent as you could hope for.  Unlike your natural opponents, I don’t automatically hold it against you for operating outside this particular law, because this particular law has been stupid, ill-conceived and vindictive in its application from the start.   And most of the arguments coming from your natural enemies are as stupid as the law you break.  Beside the diesel-spilling, forest-ruining, campesino-running tropes that have been circulating in the mass media for years, the one I’ve heard most often in the context of legalization focuses squarely on the money.  Specifically, I’ve heard some critics whine about the fact that you growers don’t pay taxes.   That’s a disingenuous argument at best, and it’s even a little misleading.  Because you do pay some taxes – sales tax, gas tax, cigarette tax, property tax, telephone tax, etc.; you just don’t pay income tax, but that’s because you derive your income from a source that the government won’t let you pay taxes on.  (Well, they will, they’ll just arrest you as soon as you do.)  So I’m not holding that against you.

In fact, there’s lots I’m not holding against you.  But that doesn’t mean I buy your cynical justification to continue the stupid, ill-conceived, vindictive law in question, just because you can make a good living off of it.  When some people go to jail to keep your profit margins high, that’s valuing money over people.   And it’s morally indefensible, especially when legalization is in reach.

Sure, there are legitimate concerns to be worked out.  Legalization as an end in and of itself doesn’t necessarily represent the best of all possible worlds, depending upon its eventual implementation.  But the criminalization of weed is an outright bad thing, and it should be ended as quickly as possible.  I’ll concede that if legalization turns marijuana into the next alcohol/tobacco/pharmaceutical industry, that might not be a good thing (though I still think it would be better than what we have now), but that future isn’t yet written.

In fact, even a worst case scenario sounds exponentially better, for vast numbers of people, than the status quo:  You say that big Pharma will just create a whole slew of unnecessary and expensive weed products to sell to the masses, and that’s a bad thing.  Okay, but at the same time, altruistic medical researchers finally get the opportunity to apply modern science to something that already looks a little like a miracle drug in its raw form, one that’s been off-limits to them for a century.

You say RJR Reynolds is going to plant acres of corporate weed and undersell you out of business.  I feel for you, but at the same time the police lose their easiest excuse to funnel the disadvantaged into the prison industrial complex while at the same time getting the drug cartels out of the marijuana trade.   It might be true that good people who operate in the shadows will lose money, but you can’t deny that there’s some nasty shit in those shadows, and that goes too.  No more diesel spills or forest grows or mexican mafia stories circulating in the news.  At least, not for cannabis growing.

The proposition currently on the ballot is deliberately vague about how the new legal industry would work, and the fact that the Feds would still put anyone who reports marijuana income in jail probably makes this round of legalization moot.  I would hope that small farmers would be protected and supported by local laws, but who’s to say.  Maybe instead of opposing legalization, all you decent hardworking growers should be working to convince your local representatives to support your livelihood.

Regardless of how much money a few good people might lose if California legalizes, opposing legalization in one place while it goes through in others makes the opposition look idiotic.  Legalization will probably become a reality in more states than just ours, so I don’t see the upside in dragging our feet.  If legalization doesn’t pass in California, but it does pass in Nevada, Colorado, Oregon, etc. – local growers will still be out of a job.  There’s a new economic reality coming one way or another, and I think it’s better to be in on the discussion of how that new economy is shaped than to sit on the sidelines and watch what happens.  The past might have been nice for some, but it’s not coming back.

Here’s why I don’t have much sympathy for those who want to vote no strictly to protect their own way of life.  Sure, some of my neighbors have put together a nice life based upon the high prices that come with illegality.  How many people have ended up in jail to ensure those high prices?  I don’t know, but I know that people have ended up in jail to protect those high prices.  That’s why I find the position ethically indefensible.  On a strictly utilitarian basis, the suffering of those who have been persecuted outwieghs the pleasure enjoyed by those not yet caught by the police or the feds.

Here’s the other thing that has my goat recently.  I keep hearing growers complaining that they won’t pay taxes, even if it becomes legal and safe to do so.  And why?  Because they feel like they’re on their own – they make money from their own hard labor and risk everything to keep what they earn.  They don’t feel like they have to give back, because they don’t feel like anyone in the community has helped them.  But of course, that’s just what every ignorant anti-tax crusader says, and they say it because they’re either tragically ignorant or willfully ignorant.  Because we all benefit from the tax base – roads, electrical grids, the availability of social services, hospitals, safe drinking water, fire protection, schools, etc., etc., etc.  Only Americans who have never been to a third world country have the balls to say that they do it all on their own, and only because they can’t conceive of what life would look like if they really had to do it all on their own.

So, anyway, now growers have the possibility of going legit in reach, and actually pulling their own weight as members of the community that they’ve always belonged to, but haven’t fully contributed to.  And they want to vote no.  Because they won’t make as much money.  Yeah – no sympathy.

Maybe this proposed legalization isn’t as good as some, utopian version of legalization that might turn up in the future. Might…Maybe…but that works both ways.  There’s no way of knowing what might happen if California rejects the current proposition.  But like I said, I haven’t heard a good argument for why anyone who knows how harmless marijuana is would reject the benefits of legalization being offered, other than simple greed, and that’s nothing to organize a rebellion around.

And in case anyone isn’t clear about what’s really at stake here, watch how the seven-year-old child in this video reacts to the SWAT team shooting her pet corgi, all because her dad had a couple of ounces of weed in his house.   If you had the opportunity to prevent that, and you decided not to because you could make some money off of the law allowing that, how could you call it anything but indefensible?