Archive for August, 2010

31
Aug
10

Game changer?

Professionally-documented, peer-reviewed, scientific evidence proving what every bleary-eyed smoker already knows – that while smoking medicinal cannabis can be fun, it also holds medicinal value.

From the Canadian Medical Association Journal:

Conclusion:  Our results support the claim that smoked cannabis reduces pain, improves mood and helps sleep.  Duh.

Okay, I added that last part.

So, how do you enforce criminal penalties based upon the premise that there’s no medicinal value to the drug when the CMAJ offers scientific evidence to the contrary?  First, you have to be an American…

...and that's why I get to set public policy.

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25
Aug
10

Less is less (no matter what the Feds say)

Gil Kerlikowske and the usual suspects over at the ONDCP have recycled their hysterical, illogical arguments in today’s L.A. Times, this time in support of the continued criminalization of marijuana.  Reefer Madness in the house, yet again.  I’ve outlined my opposition to their arguments in the past – the logical fallacies, the self-serving untruths, the ridiculous defense of the status quo, etc. – so I won’t re-hash those points.

Well, are you, punk?

I did notice something new this time, though.  Responding to the carefully-defensive wording of Prop 19, the drug warriors have come up with a new dumb argument that rivals even the dumbest of their previous arguments.  Kerlikowske is arguing that decriminalization will not only NOT free up all of those law enforcement officers currently wasting their time busting people for weed, to go after real crime, but that it will create even more drug policing work.   Less is more, apparently.  Can “up is down” be far behind?

You could say the devil is in the details (though I think he’s actually writing press releases for the ONDCP).  Regardless, here’s what Kerlikowske is talking about:

In their attempt to seem like reasonable people who don’t actually want to corrupt the youth of America, the Prop 19 backers went to great lengths to assure voters that they only want to decriminalize the evil weed for adults.  You can check out the full text for yourself here, but basically, they’re saying just what we say about cigarettes and alcohol, spelling out the punishments that would apply to adults who provide minors with weed, with the added prohibition about imbibing around minors.  Translation: No weed for kids, no getting high around kids.  Doesn’t seem so very objectionable, right?

Here’s what Kerlikowski and his writers have to say about that seemingly-reasonable proposal:

Another pro-legalization argument is that it would free up law enforcement resources to concentrate on “real” crimes…Law enforcement officers do not currently focus much effort on arresting adults whose only crime is possessing small amounts of marijuana. This proposition would burden them with new and complicated enforcement duties. The proposition would require officers to enforce laws against “ingesting or smoking marijuana while minors are present.” Would this apply in a private home? And is a minor “present” if they are 15 feet away, or 20? Perhaps California law enforcement officers will be required to carry tape measures next to their handcuffs.

I could point out that cops pick and choose the laws they want to enforce depending upon their mood, and if they so choose, they could enforce a whole raft of onerous, burdensome laws that would take up all kinds of time and effort.  For example, they could choose to enforce that bit about “arresting adults whose only crime is possessing small amounts of marijuana.”  But then, as Mr. Kerlikowski so disingenuously points out above, that would be a pretty ridiculous burden.  And from the sound of things, they don’t seem to have any problem ignoring that law.  After all, when the head of ONDCP tells you that cops don’t bust people for small amounts of weed, I guess you have to believe him.

Will life imitate art?

Alternatively, I could point out that Kerlikowski is basically calling all cops stupid – and not just a little stupid, either.  I dunno, but when the head of one of the largest law-enforcement agencies tells me that the po po have to use a tape measure to figure out when something is happening in the presence of another person, it makes me wonder if we should allow those guys (and gals – equal opportunity stupidity here) to carry guns.  After all, if they’re that stupid, they just might forget which end goes bang.

Really, though, it’s all the rest of us that he’s calling stupid.  Because he’s assuming we’ll believe him when he says that decriminalizing weed will force cops to bust more people, instead of less.   That’s not just a little stupid, either.

22
Aug
10

News is a drug

David Gregory must wake and bake.

In my effort to replicate the best parts of the “back-to-the-land” movement of the 70s, I’ve been trying to avoid the siren song of cheap electronics, mass-produced in China by slave labor.  I left my television back in southern California.  I gave up facebook and ipods and tivo, along with the stress those things produce.  I couldn’t give it all up, though.  I still need my pc for work, and I’m still wired.   I try to avoid using it for all the other temptations it provides, but every once in a while, the spirit gets weak.  I’ve been particularly angry about the debate over the Cordoba community center that’s been taking place lately, so I broke down and watched a couple of news shows this morning to catch up.  Now I’m coming down, and it doesn’t feel good.

One of the reasons that I was so happy to abandon my television when I left L.A. was that I felt poisoned by the constant stream of idiocy beamed out by news shows.  (“News show” by the way, is a perfect example of a modern oxymoron, since the “show” dictates the absence of anything that might be based in fact).  Anyway, I slipped up today, and caught a few minutes of Meet the Press, a show I never really liked all that much even when Tim Russert was still hosting, but one that I”ve come to despise ever since Gregory took over as host.  What a tool that guy is.

The various discussions about the Cordoba community center in lower Manhattan were as disappointing as I thought they’d be – “good Muslims”?  Really? –  but I was caught off-guard by the way Gregory slipped in the republican talking-point about raising taxes as though it were true.  Dave did the same thing on his blog a couple of weeks ago, and it made me just as unhappy to see it there, but I think Gregory has a slightly bigger audience than Dave, so it’s that much worse.

It’s bad enough that the new amnesiacs in the republican party – sorry, I keep forgetting to apply the new brand – in the Tea Party can so loudly spout off about deficits out of one side of their mouths while simultaneously proclaiming the need to re-up on the dumb tax cuts that weren’t even paid for the first time they supported them (back when they were running things and didn’t care about deficits).  Even worse than the hypocrisy, though, is the way they’re trying to spin a new version of reality to support that hypocritical position:  instead of the temporary tax cuts coming to an end as they were designed to do,  the new reality they’re spinning as though it were true is that Obama is proposing massive tax hikes.   I suppose I should feel grateful that they’re not having the news clowns call it Obama’s Ramadan Tax…   or reparations…

But okay, redefining reality to better suit their goals is, after all, what partisan hacks do.  They spout ridiculous nonsense as though it were obvious truth.  Fair enough.  It used to be that the careful viewer could discern a little space between the partisan hacks and the journalists, and in an ideal world, the journalists keep the hacks honest.  Or, at least, more honest.   Tim Russert was a blowhard, and he could get pretty caught up in the showmanship that passes for reality in DC, but at least he was willing to resist the unreality from time to time.  In contrast, Gregory seems to delight in repeating the phony talk as though he’s proud of being able to remember what he hears other people say.

Sad.  I’m going to go wander in the forest until I stop thinking about it.

UPDATE:  I’m not saying that a Nobel Prize winner has to poach ideas from me, but it must mean something that Paul Krugman’s complaining about the same thing today that I was complaining about yesterday.  (Maybe that my ego is outgrowing my cabin?)

12
Aug
10

Support your local cartel

How many of us need to admit that the war on drugs is lost before we finally declare defeat and go home?  Does anyone in law enforcement or government seriously believe that keeping marijuana illegal does anything but enrich drug cartels?

The latest news from – of all places – Wisconsin:  ‘Marijuana Megafarm’ Hidden In Wisconsin National Forest

Cheesehead weedgrowers in the forest?   Nope.

Drug investigators believe Mexican cartels are largely responsible…Growing the drug here helps them get it to major American markets more quickly. They often import unskilled laborers from Mexico to help find the best land and tend their crops.

But why go all the way to Mexico when you can find good help right here?  The feds found evidence of money being wired to Modesto.  And then there’s this:

An unnamed informant arrested at the Seymour house told detectives on Wednesday he was in San Jose, Calif., several months ago when he was approached by a man who asked him if he wanted to work at a ranch. This person arranged for the man to travel to Green Bay, where he met Nunez-Guzman.

The informant said he helped dry marijuana at the house and Nunez-Guzman, also known as “Green Bay,” was the boss. He came to the house every 15 days to check on the operation and sent a runner into the woods every three days to check the crop.

Yep.  It’s that easy.  Time to declare “Mission Accomplished” and stop all this foolishness.

08
Aug
10

An array of non-problems

With all the actual problems facing us as a nation right now – our involvement in two stupid wars (that we’re losing), our stalled climb out of a recession, persistent and significant unemployment, a rapidly shrinking middle-class, our dependence upon toxic energy sources – it’s a little surprising that what animates the voting populace is not the problems that actually exist, but the non-problems that don’t.  By non-problems, I mean the puffed-up issues that make people angry, but which aren’t real problems in the sense that they will produce any bad consequences in the near future.   Right now, the pressing non-problems are illegal immigration (which is no different now than it was over the past decade), the national deficit (similarly, no different today in any real way), gay marriage, and mosque building.   And, of course, the perennial non-problem: drugs.

Not so surprising, I suppose.  US History is chock full of non problems, and the various populist firestorms that follow.  Miscegenation has probably been the most significant and long-standing non-problem to grip the citizenry in our history, spanning the centuries.  For those not up on their racism, miscegenation is the problematic mixing of the races in general; though in our history, the angst has centered around the mixing of black and white.  Makes a nice point of reference, too, since miscegenation is so obviously a non-problem today that even the people who cling to their racism like cheerleaders for the 19th century have abandoned it as a rationale.  Or maybe it’s just that the issue has worn out its political relevance.  Or maybe it’s just become too difficult to spell for the sort of people who would still champion the idea.

If Fox News were around in the 19th century, this is the sort of thing they'd be selling.

You’d think opposing slavery would have been a no-brainer for the citizens of a nation established with liberty and equality as its organizing principles, but sometimes its the no-brainers that make up the majority.  Despite its obvious appeal to slaveowners, slavery as a regional institution should have been something of a hard sell, especially since it only enriched a very small segment of the white voting population during the 18th and 19th centuries, and it probably lowered wages and limited jobs for the vast majority of southern whites.   So, how did those who benefited from the system get poor southern whites to vote against their own interests?  Same way we do it today, by puffing up some non-problem; specifically, by getting them all riled up about the imaginary problem of race-mixing and exploiting their fears of the imagined consequences.  Miscegenation was the non-problem cynically dreamed up and sold to the easily-persuadable as the political rationale for preserving our peculiar institution.

Unlike real problems, the genius of the non-problem is that a non-problem can’t ever be solved.  Because it doesn’t really exist.  So it never goes away.  It’s like the imaginary gift that keeps on giving.  Long after the institution of slavery met its well-deserved end, the fears of miscegenation that had been dredged up by those selling slavery to the masses remained.    And since it would be a shame to let good fears go to waste, the industrious people of the time found a way to put those fears to work again.  Thomas Dixon was one of those industrious people, a writer who made a career marketing fears of miscegenation to a welcoming audience.   But it was really D.W. Griffith who made Dixon’s vision of miscegenation a star.

A classic American film, unfortunately.

The film promoted shockingly simplistic views on racial difference, using white actors in blackface to portray black people as some kind of demonic sub-species of human with an uncontrollable hunger for white women.  The truly shocking part is not that the film was so faithful to Thomas Dixon’s racist imagination in portraying black people as something other than people, but that his vision was so tremendous appealing to the large crowds who flocked to see the film at the time of its release, a full fifty years after the end of slavery.  Woodrow Wilson’s defense of the Klan was quoted in the film, and though he might not have actually responded to the screening with the oft-quoted comment –  “it is like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true” – it’s really not so hard to believe that he would have said something like that.   Things have changed in lots of ways, but given the sort of mass hysteria on display since Obama took office, I’d bet you could still find enough of an audience to support a remake.  Hell, the RNC website already leaked the promotional posters:

What, me racist?

The yellow peril was another non-problem, similar in scope and purpose, though a little later. No surprise about the link, and no surprise that many of the Chinese workers who were recruited and brought to the US in droves (in part because they could be paid low wages for hard work, and in part to deprive newly-freed black people of paying jobs) wanted to stay.  And why did the Chinese so quickly transition from the good minority to the same old threat in the political theater of the period?  It’s the economy, stupid.  Or, it was.  Cheap Chinese labor is a good thing when there are railroads to build, but not so much once they’re done.  And how do you manage to convince the masses who had no actual knowledge of Chinese people as people to mobilize against them?  Unfortunately, it’s a no-brainer.  In fact, it’s the same no-brainer as the last one.

Mmmmmm....White Women!

Poor underclass, racist stereotypes, white women.  Once established, I guess it’s hard to resist tapping into that manufactured anger.  Rather than focusing on the real structural problems in the economy, it was just easier to hold up a racist caricature of the poorest and most vulnerable population among us to distract those struggling with the real problems in the economy.  Make the Chinese immigrants into the national scapegoat, and distract the voting population.   So legislators sprang into action, enacting our first immigration laws – fundamentally unAmerican legislation like the Page Act of 1875, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Scott Act of 1888, all of which singled out Chinese immigrants and Chinese-American citizens for “special” treatment under the law.

And just as with the previous example, the fears dredged up by the invention of those non-problems don’t dissipate with the non-problem, because there never really was a problem to begin with.

The complexities of the US geopolitical involvement in the Pacific during  the 1920s and 1930s probably escaped most US citizens back in 1941, but an attack is an attack, so I understand the reflexive anger that followed the destruction of Pearl Harbor.  But to understand the power behind the imagery used to mobilize the US citizenry in the wake of that attack, you need to look a little further back than the 1920s or the 1930s, and certainly further back than the attack itself.  Otherwise, how to explain this:

So, okay, the Germans wanted our white women, too.  Maybe the populations mobilized by these images didn’t realize they already had their own?

Anyway, here’s to the current US legal system for undoing at least one of the non-problems that has been plaguing the nation for the past few decades – the threat posed to the institution of marriage by gay people wanting some for themselves.   In fact, the recent decision on Prop 8 is worth celebrating not only because it so persuasively put down the notion that gay marriage is a problem, but because it has unmasked the fact that it’s the overreaction to gay marriage that is the real problem.  In the words of Vaughn Walker, “Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights.”  Seems like a no-brainer, right?

I guess it helps that gay men aren’t interested in our women.  Watch out, though; if history is any guide, we might just develop a lesbian problem.

Marijuana use is obviously another non-problem, though one that looks likely to be solved by the voters rather than the courts.  I wish that were an indication of their intellectual development, but I’d wager that a significant proportion of those same voters would elect to expel the 10-20 million poor Latin American workers currently propping up our economy. There sure seems to be an unusual amount of support for the proposed repeal of the 14th amendment, and for the equally dumb Tancredo/Dobbs idea of deporting the 10-20 million people who have been quietly working away at the jobs that we wanted them to do for us a few minutes ago.

Just because it’s a dumb idea, though,  doesn’t mean it’s impossible.   It’s worth remembering that we did it once before, and it’s especially worth remembering because we’ve tried so hard to forget it.    Back in the 1930s, when things were tough all over, they were toughest on Mexican-Americans and Mexican immigrants.  We sent over a million people of Mexican ancestry back to Mexico.  Including US citizens.  Native English speakers, born here.  Because when the problems are unreal, real principles cease to matter.  Of course, things are different now.  We can’t just deport US citizens these days.

If only there were some way to retroactively take away US citizenship…that would solve our non-problem.