Monday, March 26, 2007

Home-Grown Political Prisoners

The best way to tell how dangerous any given drug is is to look at the ratio of effective dosage to fatal dosage. If two aspirin relieve a headache, how many kill you? If half a joint gets you laughing, how many would it take to put you under? This chart shows the ratio for many of the most common recreational drugs.

As you can see, just 5X the normal dose of heroin or 10X that of booze will kill you, while you'd need to take 1000X the normal dose of LSD to do the job, and the only way smoking marijuana would kill you is if you lit your hair on fire or ended up drowning face-down in a tub of ice cream. An interesting article explaining how these calculations are made can be found here.

So, if it's true that pot, mushrooms and LSD are utterly NOT dangerous, what do we call the hundreds of thousands of people currently sitting in prisons across the US, convicted of cultivation, possession or sale of these substances? People who not only did not hurt anyone, but COULD NOT have hurt anyone by their actions inasmuch as these substances are simply NOT medically dangerous?

I call them political prisoners.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

On Crying Wolf

The following is from a blog called Violent Acres. She's pretty funny normally, but makes a serious point in this post. Here she's focused on the role of governmental lying, but I'd expand it into commerce as well. My own conclusion is that as media has intensified its presence in social consciousness, we've come to accept the underlying (pun intended) premise of advertising (that it's all about style of presentation -- bullshit is fine as long as it's funny or memorable in some way). It's like a virus that's jumped from something we've created (media, advertising) into our own minds. Very strange, and certainly a worrisome development.

The Government Who Cried Wolf

March 15th, 2007

My husband’s youngest child has developed a bit of a lying problem. He lies to get out of trouble. He lies to avoid doing something he doesn’t enjoy. He lies to get attention or to get people to like him. Sometimes, he lies for no apparent reason at all.

I tried to explain to him that lying is probably one of the worst things a person can do. I expected him to accept my morality as fact and not question my Supreme Adult-like Assessment of his Bad Behavior.

Instead, he asked me, “Why? What’s so bad about it?”

Well, touché.

What is so bad about lying? We currently live in a culture that cumulatively lies our asses off on a nearly daily basis. We lie to get out of trouble. (I’m sorry, officer, I didn’t realize how fast I was going.) We lie to avoid doing something we won’t enjoy. (I’d love to go to your party; it’s just that I already made plans.) We lie to get attention (Oh man, I am feeling so sick today) and we lie to get people to like us. (I love your new haircut!)

At first, we told ourselves that Little White Lies were OK. After all, there were good intentions behind a lot of our lies. Most of the time, we were trying to be tactful. We were attempting to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. We were doing our best to remain politically correct. We wanted to make friends and keep them happy. What’s the harm in that?

Then, our lying got out of control. It was almost as if we started to glorify lying. Joe Millionaire was a likeable guy despite his steady stream of lies to potential new wives. The biggest and most skilled liar won a million dollars on ‘Survivor’ or earned a position working for Donald Trump. A greedy woman lied about being raped in order to sue a basketball star and escaped punishment when she was found out. Our very own president of the United States chose to perjure himself in a court of law rather than simply say, “Fuck off, it’s none of your damn business.”

So how does one explain to a child that lying is wrong when it’s so obviously in vogue?

For a minute there, I was just as confused as my husband’s son. Then I closed my eyes tightly and desperately searched my memory for what my Father told me. This is what I finally came up with:

“Because, someday, you are going to be telling the truth and you’ll need someone to believe you. But no one will.”

I consider myself to be quite the Average Joe when it comes to politics. By that, I mean I am mildly ignorant about what goes on in Washington and I go to the polls with only a vaguest understanding of the issues. Oftentimes, I end up voting with my gut or just giving up altogether and voting down party lines.

I don’t want to be ignorant. I want to make informed, solid, confident decisions. However, the more I read about the people in power, the more I have a sneaking suspicion that everything they say is all bunch of bullshit. Every time I attempt to do some honest research, I am confronted with nothing but lies.

The Democrats want me to believe that anyone who doesn’t support government sponsored programs that promote a victim mentality (such as welfare and social security) is a cruel, intolerant, selfish asshole. The Democrats want me to pay minorities for past atrocities (Through affirmative action, etc) committed against their ancestors based completely on the color of my skin. If I argue or point out the fact that my ancestors did not even live in America when slavery was rampant, they call me a racist. Should I be against gay marriage but completely supportive of homosexual civil unions, I am a homophobe. The Democrats want me to believe that supporting speech that is hateful strictly based on a person’s constitutional rights is akin to agreeing with the person being the jerk.

I am starting to wonder if ‘Intolerance’ is the Democrat’s big lie. It seems to me that they use that word as a weapon to demoralize people and create social stigma around any idea that is contrary to their own. Excuse me if that doesn’t seem very tolerant to me.

The Republicans want me to believe that anyone who is an Atheist possesses no morals and will someday commit a crime. They tell me that I only resent being spied on because I have something to hide. If I support abortion because I believe it is more merciful to end a life than to bring it into the world unwanted and abused, they accuse me of being a heartless murderer. If I say it is better for a child to be raised by a gay couple as opposed to being completely abandoned, the Republicans say I lack family values. If I insist that school should be a place for education and not religious training, it is obvious to them that I don’t give a shit about the children.

Perhaps ‘Family Values’ is the Republican’s big lie. That phrase is being used to shame the opposition into supporting religious agendas in a country that prides itself on religious freedom. Just because I am not a Christian does not mean that I do not see the value in a strong family unit, nor does it make me a criminal.

The Feminists tell me that men and women who complete the same job do not make equal pay. If true, I agree that is unfair. However, when I make note of the fact that men do not get equal rights in family court, I notice that the feminists are suspiciously quiet.

Is Feminism about equality or superiority? Do they even know anymore?

Some scientists say global warming is a very real phenomenon. They say that unless we act now, there will be tragic consequences for the future. Other scientists say that the Earth has gone through varying climate changes for billions of years. They note the tropical climate back when dinosaurs walked the planet and the ice age that soon followed.

Who shall I believe when both groups hold their hands out for more grant money?

Every time I turn on the TV, I hear varying versions of the phrase ‘SEE HOW YOUR CHILDREN ARE IN DANGER, NEWS AT 11!’ Undoubtedly, I am worried and I quickly tune into the news that night….only to watch a report about a steep set of stairs or a chair that is being recalled because of its tendency to pinch thighs. Serious Thunderstorm Alerts turn out to be minor rainfall and scary viruses that sweep the nation are nothing more than common colds.

When did the news embrace cheap scare tactics in lieu of unbiased, factual reporting?

We are told that we’ve gone to war to prevent more terrorist attacks similar to the one that took place on September 11th. The President assures us that he is trying to prevent the loss of more American lives. But as the war rages on, one can’t help but notice the death toll is rising. We were told the Middle East had Weapons of Mass Destruction. Then someone said that they didn’t. Then we found some chemical….things? I don’t know. Something doesn’t quite add up anymore.

My gut tells me that everyone currently in power is a liar. But if that is the case, then who do I believe? Where do I go for unbiased facts when every legitimate source is suspect?

I consider myself an Average Joe in that I have lost faith in it all. I have turned my television off and I have canceled my subscription to the newspaper. I have lost the will to sift through partial truths, minor falsities, purposeful deceptions, and bald face lies. Instead, I have focused all of my attention on My World and I pay little mind to what goes in The World.

But, someday, I wonder what will happen if some vital information was suddenly stumbled upon. Perhaps the politicians will try to warn us and we will all sneer at them in disgust. Maybe the media will frantically attempt to report the news…to billions of people who only roll their eyes in response. Scientists and Activists may beg us to believe them only to be met with bored, apathetic sighs.

I wonder if one day this world will be met with tragic consequences simply because those in power refused to stop crying wolf.

If so, we’ll all be royally fucked. But at least we can take our children by the hand and say, “This. This is why lying is bad.”

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"Primitive" Politics

"Human beings will be happier - not when they cure cancer or get to Mars or eliminate racial prejudice or flush Lake Erie but when they find ways to inhabit primitive communities again. That's my utopia. "
Kurt Vonnegut

Of the many lessons we could learn from pre-agricultural cultures, one of the most valuable may concern politics. In hunter-gatherer societies, political power is diffuse and fluid. Leaders are generally not really "chosen" in any concrete way; people just gravitate toward those who seem to inspire confidence, based upon their track record, character and generosity. So one person might be "leader" when it came to questions of where to hunt, while another might be "leader" in questions of domestic disputes, and so on. But there is one quality that universally disqualifies anyone from becoming a "leader" in these societies: the desire to be a leader.

Wanting to be in a position of authority is seen as a sure sign of lack of character and is a clear demonstration of bad decision-making. After all, being a leader is a pain in the ass. The leader is expected to be generous, so he/she normally has the smallest hut, shares the most food, is the first one awakened to deal with any late-night crisis, etc. Who, but a fool, would choose such responsibility?

What we call ambition is seen as disgraceful self-importance, a pathetic lack of self-respect and perspective.

Perhaps this is why our political system so often seems like a beauty contest where only the ugliest can compete. Look at the pantheon of self-important, attention-starved, ass-kissing losers we have to choose from! Witness the self-humiliation required for entry into the contest, even from someone like McCain or Kerry, who one would think are above such a need.

The only light on the horizon, as far as I'm concerned, would be a Draft Gore movement, that succeeded in convincing Mr. Gore to come to the aid of his party and planet. He seems genuinely uninterested, so such a movement would have to be passionately convincing. And this is as it should be. We should have to convince reluctant leaders, otherwise they're not worth following.

The political process in the United States today reminds me of looking for darkness with a flashlight. The process defeats the purpose. With apologies to Groucho Marx, I wouldn't want any leader who would want to be my leader!