Thursday, July 31, 2014

The green, green grass of home

The last time that I tried marijuana, Richard Nixon was still in the White House . Even though I owned a “bong”, and tried a few joints from time to time, my experience with the stuff was pretty much the same as the experience that Bill Clinton had when he was at Oxford. He tried it a few times, and found it a lot less satisfying than the occasional beer, so he gave it up.

Marijuana has had a long history in our country, and it’s absolutely true that our 1st and 3rd Presidents grew it on their farms. 11 of our Presidents (including Barack Obama) have been documented as using it at some point.

Due to the fact that the marijuana plant can be put to a wide variety of uses, its cultivation was encouraged during WWII.

During World War II, domestic hemp production became crucial when the Japanese cut off Asian supplies to the U.S. American farmers who grew hemp were even exempt from military duty. A 1942 U.S. Department of Agriculture film called "Hemp For Victory" extolled the agricultural might of hemp and called for hundreds of thousands of acres to be planted for the war effort.

Although Richard Nixon was no fan of marijuana, and was actually the President who started “the war on drugs”, it’s fun to imagine how much marijuana would have been grown by farmers during the Vietnam War if they had been exempt from military duty (as they were n WWII).

Marijuana has become decidedly more “mainstream” since my college days, and medical marijuana is now available in 18 states. 16 states have decriminalized marijuana use, and the vast majority of the rest of the states have classified possession of small quantities as a misdemeanor. Both Colorado and Washington State have gone one step further, and have made recreational use of marijuana fully legal.

Modern day restrictions on the use of marijuana can be traced back to 1930, when a man named Harry Anslinger was appointed as the first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics, a position that he held for 32 years.

Anslinger’s laws against marijuana were firmly rooted in prejudices against Mexican immigrants and African-Americans, who were associated with marijuana use at the time. Without a shred of evidence, he once stated his opinion that “most marijuana users were Negroes, Hispanics, jazz musicians and entertainers, and marijuana use by white women makes them want to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and others. It is a drug that causes insanity, criminality, and death - the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind”.

In view of the fact that he held the title of “drug czar” for 32 years, it’s not surprising that our official policy on marijuana has been mis-guided for a lot of years. If you think that the prejudices against Mexican immigrants and African-Americans died with Anslinger in 1975, you’ve been watching entirely too much FOX “news”, since the right wing hysteria against illegal immigrants (most recently young children from Central America) and the passage of restrictive voter ID laws in a number of states are proof that his prejudices are still with us today.

On July 26, the New York Times started running what they call “High Time: and Editorial Series on Marijuana Legislation”. Most of the articles can be viewed by typing “high time” in the search bar on the New York Times online website. The New York Times board’s reason for running the series can best be summed up in their closing paragraph on July 26:

“We believe this is a big issue for the country - not because we think everyone should be smoking pot, but because while you were reading this blog post, there’s a good chance that, somewhere in this country, a young man - probably an African-American man - was arrested on a marijuana violation. Even if he is spared a prison term, that arrest is likely to severely harm, if not ruin, his life.“

This morning’s Chicago Tribune published a series of pictures that were taken during the Prohibition Era, which was another grand experiment in preventing people from getting what they want. The net result was that we spent a lot of money enforcing an unpopular law, we wasted an awful lot of beer, and the government made Al Capone a very rich man.

Not all drugs that are currently considered illegal should be legalized, of course, but the recent trends regarding marijuana indicate that commons sense regarding the drug are becoming a lot more common. As it stands now, the “was on drugs” costs our government $51 billion a year, and at least some of that money could be spent on far better uses. For starters, some of it could be used to repair our crumbling infrastructure, which the American Society of Civil Engineers has consistently awarded a rating of “D”. According to the same group of engineers, America’s highways are now ranked 19th in the world, and are actually worse than the roads found in the African country of Namibia.

If all 50 states followed the lead of Washington and Colorado, and legalized recreational use of marijuana, the tax revenue from marijuana sales (if taxed at rates similar to those imposed on alcohol and tobacco) would generate $46.7 billion a year. By coincidence, the budget shortfall in Fiscal Year 2013 for all 50 states was $55 billion. In my opinion, it makes far more sense to close state budget deficits by legalizing recreational marijuana than it does to cut the pensions of policemen, firemen, and teachers.

If you listen carefully to the song made famous by Tom Jones (which describes a man awaiting execution) , you’ll realize that “Green Green Grass of Home” is not exactly what you’d call a happy song. However, if current legal trends on marijuana continue, the “green, green grass of home” CAN have a happy ending.

Tom Jones sings

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The man on the moon

The moon landing occurred 45 years ago today. Like a few other events that I’ve experienced in my lifetime (the Kennedy assassination, the 9/11 attack, and the airing of the last episode of M*A*S*H*) I know exactly where I was, and who I was with, when I heard the news.

If you’d like to relive a bit of the excitement from that day, you can watch the “moon walk” on You Tube - if you can spare the hour or so that it takes to watch it:

the moonwalk - before Michael Jackson

The early days of space travel were fraught with danger, and not all of the astronauts that went into space came back alive. However, for the ones who made it into space and back again, the views were pretty nice.

The musical group R.E.M. released a song titled “Man on the Moon” in 1992. Lyrically, the song is a tribute to the performer Andy Kaufman with numerous references to Kaufman's career including Elvis impersonation, wrestling, and the film My Breakfast with Blassie. The song's title and chorus refer to the moon landing conspiracy theories as an oblique allusion to rumors that Kaufman's 1984 death was faked. It’s a fun song to listen to (click on the link below) even though the lyrics themselves really don’t make sense.

if you believe they put a man on the moon

In spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, roughly 20% of the American population believe that the moon landings were faked. One of the chief proponents of the moon landing “hoax” theory is a Nashville taxi driver named Bart Sibrel. He’s filmed two documentaries on the subject, and has produced two other related videos. He also participated in a FOX (but, of course) television network special titled, “Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?.”

Although Neil Armstrong was the first person to land on the moon, “Buzz” Aldrin was right behind him. The photo shown below is a shot of Aldrin saluting the American flag:

Over the years, Sibrel has tried to interview the “moon landing” astronauts, but they have all refused to to meet with him. He eventually lured Buzz Aldrin to a hotel in Beverly Hills in 2002 under false pretenses, and he finally got exactly what he deserved:

a sock in the jaw

Bart Sibrel probably won’t just go away anytime soon, but the popularity of his theory, and of FOX “news” in general, proves (once again) the wisdom of the phrase that is widely attributed to P.T. Barnum:

“there’s a sucker born every minute”.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A dream come true

When we were kids, we all had fantastic dreams of what we wanted to be when we grew up. Some of us wanted to be cowboys, others astronauts, others policemen, and a few wanted to be firemen. (For the record, I never wanted to be a used car salesman, but spent a good many years doing exactly that.)

This morning, Sharon and I went to the annual pancake breakfast at the local fire station. We went, in part, because it’s a great pancake breakfast, but we also decided to go to show our support for the guys who helped put out the Slide Rock fire in Sedona at the end of May.

As we were leaving, an antique fire truck looking very much looking like the one pictured below pulled up in back of the firehouse, and the fireman at the helm was giving FREE RIDES. How could we resist?

Sharon and I happened to be at the back of the line when the vehicle pulled up, which meant that the two of us got to sit up front with the driver, who let us sound the siren and pull on the ah-ooo-gah horn. I used my phone to capture a video and a few still pictures of us sitting in the cab, and I’ll probably store them on my phone for a long, long time.

Both of us agreed that it was LOT of fun, and made us feel like kids again.

One thing for sure, though, is that pancake breakfasts will never be the same again!