Trusting the Process

We’re at a difficult point, now, with the move. Everything is in motion, nothing is at rest, and the logistics are starting to weigh on us. This must be done before that. That cannot be started before this. When will we have time to do the other thing?

A brief update.

This was all more-or-less hypothetical before two weeks ago. Yes, we’d engaged the activities of a lot of people on our behalf, including the imaginations and well-wishing of our old friends in Fort Collins, and potential new friends in Ukiah, and it would have been downright rude to say, “Nah, just kidding.” We’d have had to cancel our contract with our realtor, which would have been a little worse than rude. But we could have easily backed out of the whole thing.

Two weeks ago on Friday, the house went on the market and entered the Fort Collins multi-list. On Saturday, the realtor held an Open House, and over 100 people showed up to look at the place. Sunday was Easter, but we had two informal indications of interest on Monday, and two written offers by Tuesday morning. So if we ignore Friday (late listing) and Sunday (Easter), the house was actually on the market for two days.

We signed a contract to sell on that Wednesday, and now it’s real. Really real. On May 15, 2015, we lose the right to live in this house, and while it isn’t done until the ink is dry, it’s done: inspection was waived, appraiser has come and gone, and now it’s just the paperwork grinding forward. Movers are hired and scheduled. We’ve sold stuff we don’t want. A buyer is delivering a check for the piano tonight, and will arrange to move it before we go. I’ve pulled books off my shelves for donation. We’ve worked out how to move the money around for the necessary expenses.

The only thing missing is our destination.

That isn’t exactly true. We’re working on the destination, and will hopefully have the logistics worked out sometime next week. The place looks perfect for us, is within budget — it’s a rental — and the owners, who are currently living there, have reviewed our rental application and are thrilled with the idea of us renting from them. There is willingness on both ends. It’s a matter of formalizing it, and the logistics.

But the T’s are not crossed, and the I’s are not dotted, and we are this weekend engaged in that terrifying void that is usually called a “leap of faith.”

It isn’t the kind of leap of faith made by an eighteen-year-old who hitch-hikes to New York or Los Angeles to become a star, much less the leap made by immigrants who walk across multiple national borders hoping for asylum in a far-away country named only in local legends. We’ve studied, estimated, visited, and conferred. We aren’t immune to bad judgment, but we aren’t entirely naive. We have contingency plans.

But as of this moment, with our house vanishing from under us on May 15, we do not yet have a new address. It’s a little scary.

Which brings me back to this idea of a “leap of faith.” What does that really mean?

I’ve gradually come to the understanding that the word “faith” is — like most words employed for political purposes — almost useless as a word. As Iñigo Montoya said in the film, The Princess Bride, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.” It’s been employed to invoke God or the gods, to signal political affiliation, to declare support for absurdities. I think that faith is a much simpler thing.

Faith means a perspective that declares the world to be fundamentally either livable, or unlivable. One can believe in a “good world,” where the air is breathable and the water and food wholesome, where people will help you in your time of need, and where the sun and the rain and the earth are generally sufficient; where life is, despite hardships, worth living. One can equally believe in a “bad world,” where the air chokes and the water and food are laced with poisons, where people will turn their backs on you or try to cheat you, and where the sun and water and earth are toxic; where life is, despite its momentary pleasures, not worth living.

Any faith beyond that simple assertion of a “good world” or a “bad world” is politics.

Despite my occasional pessimism, especially when writing, my faith rests in a good world. When I read the opening creation tale in Genesis of the Christian Bible, I see that God looked on all he had made, and it was good. When I look at evolution in the larger sense, I see congruent adaptation, life-forms that match their environment, not life-forms that struggle against their environment. Even in my callow youth, I never believed in the “conquest of nature” for human purposes. We are not inherently at war with our environment.

We belong here, on Earth. It was made for us. Or we, for it. Or both, for each other.

In our case, there is a wholesome sense of rightness to this venture, this adventure, which has been there from the first moment we contemplated it. We could debate where this sense comes from, but given the smoothness with which everything else in this process has moved, I like to see a kind of destiny involved: a congruency, if you will, like a parrot flying north due to global warming and finding just the right habitat. A sense of flowing with a river that is bigger than our arbitrary day-to-day decisions.

So even though we hang in a momentary weekend void where we know we are leaving, but do not know (exactly) where we are going, I find that my faith leans toward believing that it will all work itself out, as it should, as it must, as it will.

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Drying Up

images-1Two people responded to my Facebook post about moving to California with concerns about water. I’d like to talk a little about this, because it’s certainly been on my mind, too.

In the very worst case, if our experience turns out to be intolerable, we’ll leave. This move is a venture, even an adventure, not a life sentence.

In the meantime, I note that we’re coming from a low-water, drought-prone region. We’re accustomed to minding our water use. Marta replaced all of our toilets with low-flow units (she’s the handy-person in the house), and we’ve spent the last couple of years test-plotting various low-water vegetation around the house, with an eye to eventually eliminating the lawn and the sprinkler system (though we’d keep the drip lines in place). We’re prepared to do the same there.

I’m just beginning to learn about the water situation in California, but what I already know is that it’s considerably more complex than the simplistic disaster-porn headlines you see on the Internet.

The first thing to know about the water situation (anywhere) is that it’s almost always, and almost entirely, about agriculture. Here in Larimer County, only 17% of the water goes to non-agricultural purposes, and only 7% to “domestic use,” meaning those lush suburbs with their green lawns and automatic clothes-washing machines and backyard swimming pools.

The same is true in California. The water crisis is primarily about agribusiness, with the possible exception of the Los Angeles and San Francisco urban areas. If I were planning to buy a vineyard in Mendocino County, with the intent to make a living as a vintner, I’d certainly want to know a lot more about the water situation than I do. On the other hand, the existing vineyards aren’t pulling out their vines and replacing them with agave just yet.

The second thing to know is that seven-year droughts are normal to Northern California. With global warming, this could turn into fifty- or hundred-year droughts; it could even desiccate the entire state and turn it into a true, long-term desert. But the time-scale on global warming is fairly long, fifty to one hundred years on the inside, a thousand years on the outside. Yes, it makes sense to take action now to mitigate human behaviors that exacerbate global warming for centuries to come; that mitigation does not, however, include living in one place or another.

Another way to put this is to say that, yes, a century from now, Mendocino County may be an uninhabitable, waterless desert wasteland, in which case our great-grandchildren will not live there.  We do nothing to help or hurt the matter by living there now, while it is habitable.

Of more concern is the politics of water. The ghastly pictures you see on the Internet of dried-up lake beds and reservoirs has to do with draining them. They aren’t lakes that are just drying up of their own accord. They are reserves of water that are being used.

The same is true of the aquifers under the soil. These are not drying up: they are being used.

What drains the lakes, reservoirs, and aquifers is politics and free-market economics, and the lion’s share of that water goes to agribusiness. Perhaps it goes to fracking, too — I’m not sure where that boondoggle stands in California right now. Researching all that will give me plenty to blog about.

How it will play out over the next century is anyone’s guess. Neither of us will be around to see it. At the moment, however, Northern California got some rain this last winter, if not as much as they’d like, and the county has negotiated some additional foot-acreage in Mendocino Lake for local use, so the area continues to be eminently livable.

Far more important to me than any of these rational considerations about water, and foot-acres, and NASA climate modeling, is the question of whether our personal actions and life-choices are dominated by fear of what might happen, or joy in what might happen.

Our brains are wired to give more weight to fear than to joy. A big part of what we call “spirituality” has to do with overcoming this tendency to focus on the negative, and to instead cultivate an attitude of gratitude and joy. That’s true of Christianity (in its non-pathological expressions), Islam (in its non-pathological expressions), Tibetan Buddhism, Confucianism, Wicca, Druidry, and most other spiritual paths and practices you might care to list.

We’re moving from a land of forest fires, spring flash floods, drought, tornados, blizzards, and West Nile Virus, to a land of earthquakes, winter floods, drought, and whatever else.

It will be an adventure.

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As the Imagined Becomes Real

Sometime back in mid-February, an odd series of events sent Marta to the web, and what she found there made my jaw drop! (Isn’t that the Internet formula to draw readers?)

What she found was that the cost of living in Northern California is not very different from the cost of living in Fort Collins.

Marta and I both work from home, via the Internet. We can both live anywhere in the world with Internet access.

We have been restless and looking to move since 2006. We just didn’t have a place to go to, and it was important to us to be moving toward something. We’ve considered places as far away as New Zealand. We’d seriously considered Spain, and were in the early stages of planning another trip there. We’d talked about every region, and virtually every state in the United States. Every state, that is, except California.

I’ve always wanted to live in California. My first choice of graduate schools was Stanford: had I been accepted there, I’d have gone in a heartbeat. I wasn’t, so I didn’t. Then later in life, I accepted the common wisdom that anyone who owned a doghouse with attached water bowl in California could sell it, and use the profits to buy forty acres in Colorado and build a McMansion, and still live comfortably on what was left over. I’d heard many stories of well-paid (by my standards) IT and tech wizards living in their cars, because they could not afford any kind of housing. Some corporations would buy out entire floors of office buildings, or even entire office buildings, then convert them to dormitories for their key workers.

No, thank you.

Marta has lived in California, while she was in school in Monterey, and has always wanted to go back. Again, the barrier was cost.

So this cost of living information was Big News, and we started to investigate. The investigation turned into imagining, the imagining has turned to planning, and the plan is becoming real.

290-wagonTrain2Marta and I are moving to California!

Our landing spot is a very small town about two and a half hours north of San Francisco, near the headwaters of the Russian River, in the middle of the northern wine country and redwood forests: it’s called Ukiah, population 16,000.

There are two main issues driving this change of location.

The first issue is weather.

I’m pretty much done with snow and ice. When I was younger, the smell of snow in the air was always exciting, because it meant ski season. But I know too many friends — better skiers than I ever was — who now set off metal detectors in airports and have a first-name relationship with a physical therapist. I sold my skis and boots years ago, and don’t expect to be buying new ones in this life.

Nothing has taken the place of skiing for me in the winter. Nothing except shoveling walks.

There’s a story of a sailor who grew tired of the sea, so he threw an oar over his shoulder and started to walk inland. Many weeks later, a child asked him, “Hey, mister, what’s that thing you’ve got over your shoulder?” and he decided he’d walked far enough.

I want to throw a snow shovel over my shoulder and start walking.

Marta gets up early to walk the dog — I rise later, after a hard night’s blogging. More than once, I’ve awakened to the sound of Marta crying in the kitchen or dining room, and I’ve leapt out of bed to find that she slipped on a sidewalk during her walk and smacked her head, or her hip. I even blogged about one of those incidents. We’ve both had more than enough of that.

imagesUkiah has what is called a “temperate Mediterranean” climate. It does get hot in the summer — days can peak at over 110° F. However, it’s dry heat, and unlike Texas or parts of the Midwest, the temperature invariably drops at night into the 50’s or 60’s. In winter, they see snow every two or three years, a light dusting that closes all the schools and then melts in a day or two.

No one owns a snow shovel. Many might not even recognize one. It sounds like the ideal place for me to stop carrying that snow shovel over my shoulder.

The second issue is more subtle.

When I moved to Fort Collins in 1988, it had a population of 85,000. It now stands at 152,000, and it’s one of the fastest-growing urban areas in the nation.

Some time in the last twenty-seven years, Fort Collins changed from a town into a city. It’s a beautiful city. But it’s a city now, not a town.

The change from year to year has been subtle. Each year, the traffic is a little heavier. Driving across town used to take seven minutes; now it takes twenty. Supermarkets are crowded. Lines are longer. There is more noise, and fewer smiles. Even the bike trails, which used to be exercise in relative isolation, get crowded on a fine spring morning.

It all came home to me the Wednesday evening after we returned from our trip to check out Ukiah in person. I discovered that Joshua Bell, the violinist, was playing the next night in Fort Collins. I ran to my computer, but tickets were, of course, sold out. They’d probably sold out within 24 hours of announcing the concert. That exemplified, for me, the whole problem.

A little town like Fort Collins in the 1970’s would probably never have attracted an artist like Joshua Bell, certainly not on any regular basis. A city like Fort Collins in 2015 can attract such talent, but you have to be quick and aggressive to take advantage of such opportunities. If you aren’t quick and aggressive, you miss out. Events sell out; venues fill up; there are no parking spaces.

When I was in my twenties and thirties, I enjoyed opportunities like these. It didn’t bother me to brave traffic into the heart of Denver to see New Year’s Eve fireworks, or to park in some dodgy downtown parking lot to attend a talk or see a show. I would stand in line for hours at the theater to catch the first showing of a new film. I was perfectly happy to catch dinner at ten in the evening, stay out drinking until two in the morning, then get up the next day to drive to Larkspur for the Renaissance Fair.

That doesn’t work for me any more. I am not, in fact, growing quicker and more aggressive as the years pass. Nor is Marta. We miss most of the opportunities that a city offers, and a missed opportunity is not much different from no opportunity at all.

For a town of 16,000, Ukiah is surprisingly vibrant. We timed our trip there to coincide with First Friday, the Art Walk the town sponsors on the first Friday evening of each month, similar to the First Friday that Fort Collins sponsors. The event in Ukiah was more active and far more sociable, and we felt welcomed, though we were complete strangers. We went to the Saturday Farmer’s Market, held every Saturday year-round (unless Christmas falls on Saturday), and found the same kind of sociability, as well as fresh organic produce: the entire county was doing “organic” back in the 1960’s. There’s a symphony orchestra, an active music scene, and a long tradition of fine arts. There are numerous good restaurants, and they were all busy the nights we were there, in the middle of the town’s off-season (they do have a tourist season). They have festivals of one sort or another nearly every weekend, starting in spring and extending into the fall, like many of the small towns in Germany that I visited in 2002.

The best part is that the way people interact reminds me a lot of the town that Fort Collins used to be. People meet your eyes, smile, and greet you in the street: it’s a small town, not a city. It feels like going home.

So the imagined is becoming real for us.

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Spare the Rod

He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently. — Proverbs 13:24

“Proverbs,” of course, refers to one of the books of the Christian Bible, located in the Old Testament between the Psalms (Protestant/Roman Bible) or The Prayer of Manasseh (Orthodox Bible), and Ecclesiastes.

“The rod” refers to beating a child with a stick.

This traditional wisdom says that beating a child with a stick is a sign of love, and that not beating a child with a stick is the sign of an unloving, uncaring parent. This one passage in the Bible underlies the entire US American idea of “spanking” and “corporal punishment.”

Let me propose a purely hypothetical consideration. Let’s say — just for argument’s sake — that beating a child with a stick, however lovingly, always and without exception causes lifelong and irreparable damage to the child: not so much to the body, which will heal with minimal scarring, but to the mind, the heart, and the soul. Let’s also say — just for argument’s sake — that this can be clearly demonstrated to anyone willing to examine the question.

Given this hypothetical situation, how many parents would still insist on beating their children with a stick?

I think the answer would be, “Many.”

There are first the parents who actually want to damage their kids, or who don’t care if they do, or who are acting out some fantasy of an unbalanced mind: these parents beat their children out of their own need to commit violence. It has nothing much to do with the child at all, and any evidence that it harms the child is at best irrelevant.

Then there are the ignorant parents — the ones who have heard proverbs like the one above and have never had any opportunity to learn otherwise. Their own parents doubtless beat them with a stick, and they’ve managed to stagger more-or-less erect into adulthood despite their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual scars — indeed, surviving that violent childhood assault by a parent may be the one thing in their life they claim to be proud of — and they figure this is just part of growing up, like getting through measles and puberty. Any child who doesn’t make it through all that, they believe, is weak and probably doesn’t deserve to live, anyway.

Then there are the herd-followers: the parents who already know they are harming their children, but fear even more the consequences of going against the Proverbs of their tribe. They reason that it is better for their children to suffer a relatively minor physical or spiritual scarring now, at their hands, than for them all to face the uncontrolled wrath of a community that will destroy them for the blasphemy of ignoring the Proverbs.

Finally, there are the ideological purists. These are the parents who believe in the ideology of punishment, who claim loyalty to the ideology, and who will persist in upholding the ideology regardless of any and all evidence that it is harmful. These are the parents who say, “Don’t confuse me with facts: this is my belief. It is God’s Will, and you are a blasphemer.”

Maybe it’s just my training as a scientist, and my long career as a technologist, but I tend to insist that solutions to problems actually solve the problems, and without causing more harm than good. Folding the candy-bar wrapper after eating the candy-bar to make it “thinner” isn’t going to solve a weight-gain problem; and while cutting off your leg will, in fact, reduce your weight (and quickly!) it’s hardly what I’d call a satisfactory solution to being overweight.

Solutions that don’t work are not solutions. Solutions that cause more harm than good are not solutions. In my view, it isn’t in any way “disloyal” to abandon them: to the contrary, it’s merely good sense.

Now, it turns out that this post has nothing to do with children, or beating them with a stick.

It’s about the War on Drugs.

On my flight back from Australia — it’s a long flight — I read a book called Chasing the Scream, by Johann Hari. The subtitle is “The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs,” and I certainly hope it is an accurate subtitle, because the War on Drugs has very nearly wrecked the US American nation in ways that run so deep, it’s frightening.

Not drugs, mind you: the War on Drugs. The War on Drugs has been put forth as the preferred solution — the only solution — to the drug problem. It doesn’t in fact solve the drug problem — it makes it substantially worse. And it causes a great deal of secondary harm in the process of not working.

The book begins the story of the War on Drugs with the rise of Harry Anslinger, who in 1930 inherited control of the defunct Bureau of Prohibition, renamed the Bureau of Narcotics, and remained in control of that bureau until 1962. President Richard Nixon escalated the war that Harry started during his term in office (1969-1974), and Ronald Reagan escalated it again during his term (1981-1988). During this entire period, Anslinger’s Bureau pressed the entire world into copying his Prohibition model, strong-arming them as necessary through threat of US sanctions.

At the core of the War on Drugs is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of drug use and addiction.

The War on Drugs model is drawn directly from Medieval demonology.

In the Medieval view of demons, if you consort with the Devil, His demons will possess you, and you will lose your will and your way. In the modern case, the demons are any psychotropic drug, whether it is Demon Rum or Demon Marijuana or Demon Cocaine or Demon Heroin or Demon Meth. These demons, though they are merely chemicals, have a Demonic Power, which is the power to steal your soul. Once your soul is in thrall to the drug, you have no more will power: you have no choice but to do the Evil Bidding of the Demonic Drug and thus, the Devil.

The only possible way to combat this possession by drug-demons is, first, do not get possessed (Just Say No); second, if you do get possessed, you must have the demon driven out of you, typically through some form of severe punishment of the flesh, rigorous asceticism, and heartfelt prayer: the more severe the punishment, the more profound the asceticism, and the more earnest the prayer, the more likely you are to regain your soul. But rather than have a priest of the Church lock you in an Iron Maiden until the demon leaves you, we call upon Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona to lock you in an iron cage exposed to the Arizona sun until the heat bakes the demon out of you.

If the treatment kills you — well, you were too weak. You deserved death anyway, for dancing with the Devil: it is no great loss to any of the rest of us. Indeed, we went far outside our way to even try to save you. It isn’t our fault you died.

If the treatment succeeds, then you will have your soul back, but you will never again be robust and whole — should you so much as glance back at your wicked ways, much less “fall off the wagon,” you will be gripped again by the demons. So you are not trustworthy; you are a moral leper to be shunned forevermore, denied jobs, voting rights, and any participation in normal society. You are a drug felon.

It should not be terribly surprising that scientific research into addiction tells us that this Medieval myth is total crap, top to bottom, and the alleged “cure” is nothing other than thinly disguised sadism.

One of the early scientific supports for this Medieval model of possession comes from rat research, in which a rat is placed in a cage with two bottles of water, one normal, one laced with cocaine. The rat comes to prefer the cocaine-laced water, and begins to drink, and drink, and drink, until the cocaine kills the rat. The rat has lost its will to the Demon Cocaine, you see, and has been dragged into Hell. A television commercial, paid for by The Partnership for a Drug-Free America, propagandized and popularized this research extensively in the 1980’s.

Another researcher named Bruce Alexander reviewed these experiments, and noticed something interesting: the rats in the experiments were always alone in a cage with nothing to do but drink water. So he re-created the experiments after constructing something he called Rat Park: an environment where rats (which are social animals) could interact freely with other rats, and had toys to play with and places to explore. His control — rats stuck in solitary confinement with nothing to do but drink cocaine-laced water — killed themselves, exactly as before. The rats in Rat Park did not: in fact, they tended to avoid the cocaine-laced water. Those that used it, used it recreationally. They controlled their intake, remained healthy, and continued to act normally. None of them died.

They took the experiment one step further: they let rats in isolation drink themselves nearly to death, allowing them to become as completely addicted to cocaine as is possible for a rat. Then they removed the addicted rats from solitary confinement and put them in Rat Park.

The addicted rats stopped using the cocaine. They got healthy, and started to behave just like the other healthy rats in Rat Park.

Of course, that’s just rats. Rats aren’t people.

Well, it turns out that humans behave exactly the same way, and Hari gives numerous examples. It’s fascinating and heart-breaking to read about them. That’s when the full sadistic brutality of the Drug War comes into full focus.

This is the same story I’ve heard from the high-functioning drug users I’ve known: they are often self-medicating, not tripping, and they manage their “addiction” quite well. I knew one woman years ago who sprinkled just a bit of crystal meth in her coffee every morning, and for her it served much like the Ritalin (an amphetamine, in case you didn’t know) that we force our “hyperactive” children to take — it calmed her down, steadied her nerves, let her focus on her work. She wasn’t looking for a “high.” She took it to have a normal life, because her “normal” life required focus, and her natural brain chemistry and psychological history didn’t permit focus. In exactly the same way, narcotic addicts typically use narcotics to mask horrific chronic pain — physical or mental — that prevents them from functioning at all.

Studies show that approximately 85% of all chronic illegal drug users hold jobs, have marriages, go to church, and function in society. They may be thoroughly addicted, but their addiction is self-regulated, and it’s something that helps them to survive and continue to function.

The remaining 15% have a deeper drug problem, but it is usually layered on top of serious psychological problems, most often childhood trauma resulting from a too-liberal application of “the rod” by overzealous (or psychotic) parents, or an underlying mental illness, or both.

Drugs are not demons, and Medieval exorcisms and tortures don’t solve the problem. In fact, given that most users — even the 15% with a real drug problem — are self-medicating to manage underlying pain, the brutality of our legal “solution,” which includes incarceration, violence, isolation, torture, and lifelong ostracism, is pretty much guaranteed to make their drug problem worse.

Our Drug War system is like the old saying: the beatings will continue until morale improves.

Apart from its grotesque failure as a means of solving the drug problem, the Drug War itself is enormously destructive to society.

The biggest problem is that the Drug War creates nearly all the crime, and all of the most violent and disruptive crime, associated with drugs.

We saw this play out with the prohibition of alcohol in the US, beginning in 1920, and ending in 1930 when prohibition was repealed. We’ve seen exactly the same process in the subsequent Drug War, and the outraged question asked by anyone who even glances at this history is invariably, “How can our government be so stupid?”

I don’t really know how to answer that question. Mark Twain once commented that a flea can be taught anything a Congressman knows. Whether our modern Congresscritters are fully twice as intelligent as Twain’s Congressmen, or only half as intelligent, it isn’t surprising that they don’t learn much from history.

However, it’s worth noting that the government in Mexico is currently all-but ruled by the Mexican drug cartel leaders, and one has to question to what extent the US government is also in the grip of the cartels.

You see, the drug cartels, worldwide, love the global Drug War. In fact, they can’t exist without it.

Without Prohibition, Al Capone was a two-bit hood from New Jersey — with Prohibition, he became one of the richest and most famous men in the country. There is not a single drug lord in Colombia, Mexico, China, Turkey, or the US, who does not owe his position to the US-led criminalization of drugs. The last thing they want to see is the end of the Drug War, and the rise of legitimate businesses that supply their black-market product to their customers.

It also seems that the last thing the US Government wants is an end to the Drug War.

Maybe it’s just reflex. Government Bureaus become autonomous money-eating machines, and the DEA is certainly no exception.

Maybe it’s an “enemy of my enemy” thing. Drug cartels and the US government both want the Drug War to continue, not because they’re actually working together, but because they both benefit enormously from the War.

Or perhaps the US government is one of those parents that will continue to beat their children with a stick regardless of the damage that it does, because they are ideologically committed to solutions that don’t solve the problem, and cause more harm than good.

Or just possibly the US government is in bed with the cartels, just like the Mexican government. I’ve heard repeatedly that a lot of CIA black-money comes from drug trafficking, and that simply isn’t going to happen without cartel involvement.

I don’t know. What is clear is that the cartels want the Drug War to continue. It’s the source of all their wealth and power.

The link between the Drug War and crime isn’t just a statistical correlation based on Prohibition: there’s a straightforward cause-and-effect involved.

When you criminalize the sale of a product that people want, they obtain it through the black market. A legitimate business can draw up agreements — call them treaties or call them contracts — with other businesses, and can rely on the government to enforce those agreements. The black market is, by definition, unregulated by government, and contract-enforcement must therefore be done by the business itself: typically through violence. As Hari points out, however, it isn’t enough to just kill partners who cheat you, or competitors who move in on your territory, because there are always more willing to take their place and do it again. If you want any profitable peace in your business at all, you have to terrify your competitors into not even thinking about crossing you. So violence quickly escalates into ever-more-grotesque atrocity.

Read about the way Al Capone personally handled the partners that he believed had cheated him. Read about the atrocities happening right now in Mexico. This violence isn’t the consequence of drug use. It is the consequence of an unregulated drug business. And it is an inevitable as water flowing downhill.

The Iron Law of Prohibition mandates that popular but mild drugs like beer or marijuana be replaced by hard drugs, like whiskey or heroin, not because the users want harder drugs, but because the profit margins are higher and these drugs become the only things the users can get on the black market. Prices rise, and addicts are forced into crime to afford their fix. Drugs are resold by addicts and dealers alike after being cut with all kinds of adulterants, which cause health problems that weaken the users until they can’t function and end up on the street. Drugs are taken in secret, leading to overdosing and death.

It’s a social catastrophe. It’s been a social catastrophe from the start.

Here’s what happens when you fully legalize (and regulate) drugs — all drugs — and shut down the Medieval exorcisms managed by our prisons-for-profit legal system. According to Hari, this is not theory — it’s what has already happened in the cases where countries have had the nerve to go against the will of the US government and its Medieval War on Demon Drugs.

First, the drug cartels get out of the business. No one buys hooch on the black market any more, like they did in the 1920’s: instead, you go to the liquor store and buy high-quality beer, wine, and whiskey for reasonable prices — you take your conservative in-laws on brewery tours, or take them on a vacation to Napa to sample wines. After legalizing drugs for sale and use, the drug cartels vanish and their leaders either retire to the Bahamas or move into the shadows of some other black-market trade.

All of the violence associated with the unregulated drug business vanishes — or rather, it moves into contract-law offices and the courts. Drug-business-related gang activity drops. Street dealers disappear.

Because the wildly inflated black-market prices for drugs drop, addicts no longer have to commit as much crime to support their habit. They might even be able to take a normal job and still pay for the habit, just as Great-Great-Aunt Tilly used to buy a spot of morphine for her aching joints in the form of Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup.

Adulterated drugs are replaced by inspected high-quality drugs that are readily available, so addicts’ general health improves: they now know the dose they’re getting, and they are no longer injecting talcum powder or corn starch into their veins. They can obtain and use clean needles. The AIDS rate drops. The rate at which overdosed dead bodies pile up in alleyways drops.

Since drug sale and use is now legal, cops are no longer forced to violate the Fourth Amendment on a regular basis. Relations with their communities improve, and their jobs become easier and less dangerous. The prison population drops. The racism inherent in the Drug War — built into it by Anslinger, who was an unashamed racist, and used race-fears freely in the drug-propaganda of the 30’s and 40’s — declines.

Drug usage patterns shift. Many hard drug users will shift back to softer drugs as they become available, just as beer replaced whiskey when Prohibition ended. Some alcohol users will shift to marijuana, which will by itself be a significant benefit to society. Some users — particularly among the 15% of addicts who are not able to manage their addiction — will increase their usage, or move to stronger drugs.

Then drug use stabilizes.

Now you can take things a step further, by treating the addicts like people instead of dehumanized host bodies for Demonic Influences.

You can do as they do in Portugal — anyone caught taking drugs in public is issued a ticket, requiring them to go to a clinic for evaluation. The clinic tries to determine if they are merely recreational users, or addicted. If they are recreational users, they’re given medical advice on doses, safe practices, the need to have friends around rather than shooting up alone to avoid overdosing, and are told to stop making a public spectacle of themselves. Then they walk away, and that’s the last time the recreational user interacts with the law.

If they are addicted, they are given free treatment options, much of which involves developing alternative ways to cope with whatever agony they are using the drugs to mitigate. But the most important part of their therapy is integrating them into a meaningful, productive life: a community that is not their old drug-using community, and assistance in getting and holding a decent job. They are integrated into a Rat Park of human dimensions, and that’s often enough, by itself, to get them off and keep them off drugs. Just as with the rats.

Not all of the addicts are necessarily ready to quit, so (in Portugal, where heroin is the main problem) they can receive free methadone for as long as they need it.

You can now take this one step further, and simply regulate, prescribe, and administer hard drugs to the addicts, be it cocaine or heroin or meth, in conjunction with helping them come to terms with the underlying pain they are trying to escape.

As it happens, even hard-core addicts, if they live long enough, tend to taper off and eventually stop using the drugs. Who knew?

But even if the drug use were to eventually kill them, as with the rats in solitary confinement — well, at least they go out peacefully.

Compare that to Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s little slice of Hell on Earth in the Arizona desert, where a bipolar woman convicted on drug abuse charges was placed in a cage in the sun and allowed to bake to death, in full view of the guards: when she asked for water, they ignored her, and when they finally decided to call the medics because she was “unresponsive,” her internal temperature was over 108 — the thermometers didn’t go any higher — and she died a few hours later.

Baked to death in the sun.

As for the cold-hearted conservatives who only want to count bottom-line costs and don’t want “their” tax money being wasted on drug addicts, I invite you to do the math.

How much does it cost to arrest, try, convict, imprison, and bake an addict to death in the sun?

How much does it cost to offer an addict a free shot of heroin three times a week for the rest of his life?

Are you really that hung up on torturing them?

I hope Johann Hari is right, and that the various humane drug treatment policies breaking out around the world will, indeed, spell the end of the Harry Anslinger’s Drug War.

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Home from Down Under

20150216_140906I just got back from a business trip to Australia, and some snapshots are up on the Images page. Enjoy.

The trip was for a two-day company conference in Sydney (SID-nigh). I had six presentations. (Yes, that is a lot.)

Dealing with the International Date Line is fun. I left LAX near midnight on Saturday, endured the Longest Night as the plane chased the long-set sun, and approached Australia near dawn after nearly 16 hours in the air. When I arrived, it was Monday morning — Sunday had vanished during the flight.

Coming back was even stranger: wheels left the ground near sunset on Saturday, and after experiencing the Shortest Night and Shortest Morning, arrived a bit after noon on Saturday. Yes, I arrived the same day, before I left. Wish I’d thought to e-mail myself some stock tips.

Sydney is a beautiful city, and it is, of course, high summer right now, which would be beastly hot anywhere but the coast, which was fortunately where I was. It was still hot and (to my senses) extremely humid. One fellow who had flown in from Singapore liked the dryness of Sydney — so remind me to never travel in Singapore.

One thing that really struck me about Sydney was how clean it looked, and smelled. Most oceanside cities I’ve been near have a “harbor smell” that can be hard to tolerate at times: a bit like the “smell of money” near a cattle or pig feed lot, though different, of course. You could certainly smell the sea all around Sydney, but at it’s fishiest, it smelled like fresh crabmeat — that is, edible fresh crabmeat.

I did not do a lot of touring in my one week there.

Monday (my arrival day) I hung out on the beach and tried to stay awake until after sunset (which would have been about 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning on my body’s clock) after a very crappy Longest Night’s dozing on the plane.

Tuesday, I took the bus into downtown Sydney for a Long Lunch on one of the Captain Cook cruises, and wandered about downtown until dinnertime.

Wednesday and Thursday were filled with the conference, and talking with the people who use our product.

Friday, I was mostly burned-out by the conference, and decided to hang out at the beach. This turns out to be a significant pastime for many Sydney citizens. I stayed at the Coogie (KUH-jee) Sands Hotel Apartments, at Coogie Beach. The more famous Bondi (BAHN-digh) Beach, known for its surfing, was a little north of me, but it would have been a very long walk over almost San Francisco-like hills. Coogie, Bondi, and Manly Beaches were all highly-recommended, but I think the right way to do it would be to take the bus to a Quay (KEE) and get a Hop-On-Hop-Off pass and travel the beaches by ferry. Traveling overland takes forever, and taxis are very expensive. Busses are cheap.

I had thought to fit in a tour of the (insides of the) Sydney Opera House, but as packing, check-out, and breakfast played out, I realized I’d be seriously stressing to fit in a tour, manage luggage, and get to the airport in time. So I took a long breakfast with one of the other conference attendees (the one from Singapore), then headed for the airport.

Enjoy the pictures and the comments (click to advance — or just wait — and hover for the comments).

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