Friday, February 20, 2009

Would Legalizing Drugs Increase Drug Use?

One of the main arguments used by supporters of drug prohibition is that legalizing drugs would increase drug use. Is that really a logical conclusion? Is there any evidence to support it?

To those who make that argument I ask - if drug use were legal, would you start doing drugs? I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that the answer is no. In which case, these people believe that, while they have the mental faculties to see that drug use has other negative consequences besides the threat of prison, a large portion of the rest of us do not. It's a little insulting. Do we really think that someone who hits the gym every morning and drinks wheat grass is going to turn around and start shooting up heroin because it is legal?

Of course the flip side of that argument is that the illegality of drugs prevents people from using them. Let's take marijuana. About 40% of all adults have smoked marijuana at least once in their lives. If marijuana's illegality is keeping people from smoking it, how many people are we talking about? Do prohibition supporters think another 30% of the population would smoke pot if it were legal? If 70% of the population wants to do something, something that causes no direct physical harm to others, why is a minority being allowed to dictate what we put in our bodies?

Occasionally, supporters of drug prohibition will provide examples that they say prove that legality would increase drug use. According to the Department of Justice, "Legalization has been tried before—and failed miserably. Alaska’s experiment with Legalization in the 1970s led to the state’s teens using marijuana at more than twice the rate of other youths nationally. This led Alaska’s residents to vote to re-criminalize marijuana in 1990."

The DOJ, however, does not back up the assertion on their website with evidence. On the other hand, in a report by the Cato Institute titled Thinking About Drug Legalization, James Ostrowski sites statistics for Alaska that show just the opposite. In fact, Alaska may have had less teen drug use that other states. And while the DOJ asserts that The Netherlands drug policy has tripled heroin addiction levels, studies show that The Netherlands has a lower rate of drug use than the United States.

I recently attended a drug policy conference. One of the speakers, Vanda Felbab-Brown, asserted that legalization would increase drug use. The example she presented was the high rates of addiction in China when opiates were legal there.

One estimate of Chinese opium smoking in 1890 (in Jonathan D. Spence's book Chinese Roundabout) puts the rate of use at about 10% of the population, with 3 to 5% excessively smoking. According to the National Institute on Drug Policy, heroin use in the United States is only about 1.5%. But are we really comparing like things here?

In China, opium use was not just culturally acceptable, but in some cases promoted by local and colonial governments. In contrast, heroin may be one of the least socially acceptable drugs in the United States today. Growing up I knew many people who would happily snort cocaine, but would not do heroin as that was reserved for "junkies." If we compare opium use in China to a more socially acceptable drug like marijuana, then 10% is exactly the same figure for adults who have used marijuana in the last month.

Drug prohibition in the United States is nearly 100 years old. The drug war has been actively fought since the Nixon presidency. It isn't working. The main argument for continuing drug prohibition just doesn't hold water.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

What's Curious About Benjamin Button is Who Takes Care of Him

Benjamin Button lived free and died young, very young. Here I am less interested in the young than in the free. He worked out on the ocean, traveling from port to port. Later, he hopped on a motorcycle and traveled the world.

The movie makes a point of showing that it is not money that prevents people from being able to do that. Button leaves Daisy all of his money before he takes off on his bike. What the movie does not look at is how an individual is able to pursue their interests so freely when the world is full of people (young and old) requiring care.

As a child, Benjamin's father walked away from his responsibility to his son. It was a woman who took him in and brought him up. When Benjamin had his own child, he left that child to another woman (the child's mother) to be cared for. When Benjamin ages, it is Daisy who takes care of him until his death. When Daisy dies in the hospital, it is her daughter and a female nurse that take care of her until her death.

Art imitates life.

Somewhere between 59% and 75% of all family caregivers are women. Even where men are providing family care, it is generally for less time than women. And the women who provide this care often have to juggle work with caring for children and aging parents.

Rich women have the option of pawning off this responsibility to poorer women, women like Queenie. Not only did Queenie take care of Benjamin, she took care of a house full of elderly people. Many of those people never had so much as a visit from their families. Rich women have options for taking care of their children as well. They can hire a nanny or fly in an Au Pair. They can afford expensive daycare.

And while the cost of daycare for a child or the cost of a home health care worker for an aging parent is astronomical, the workers themselves don't make a living wage. The average nanny or daycare worker makes about $24,000 a year. The median wage of a home health care worker is $9.62 an hour and nearly half are far enough below the poverty line to be eligible for medicaid. Even worse, home health care workers are exempt from basic wage and overtime laws.

I wonder who is taking care of poor people's children and elderly while they take care of everyone else?

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Immorality of Having Children

I received two emails this morning that really got me going. The first was from Planned Parenthood letting me know that it is National Condom Week. The second was from Alternet and contained a posting by Vanessa Richmond called Is Breeding a Sin?.

Nadya Suleman has received a shitstorm of criticism for using fertility treatments to have 14 children with no visible means of financial support. Richmond's article infers that it is wrong to criticize Nadya and applaud Brangelina for having a similar-sized litter. For Richmond, the only difference between the two cases is the amount of money they have.

While I see her point, nobody can possibly believe that the ability to support your children shouldn't be a factor in whether or not you have them. More importantly, not only is there a very big difference between 14 children and 6, much of the Brangelina crew is adopted. And that makes a huge difference.

Any public discussions about breeding in our country always revolve around the abortion controversy. The discussions never focus on the amount of children who are neglected, abused, and lost in the system. In fact, a common argument from anti-choice people is that all these unwanted children will be adopted into loving homes. Even John McCain said it in one of the presidential debates.

At least McCain had an adopted child when he said it, which is more than I can say for most anti-choice people I've encountered. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, there were nearly half a million kids in foster care as of September 30, 2007. And, according to a study by Mary I. Benedict and Susan Zuravin, kids who live in group homes are 10 times more likely to be physically abused and 28 times more likely to be sexually abused than kids in the general population.

But at least those kids have a roof over their heads and food on the table. According to World Vision, every day "nearly 25,000 children under age 5 will die from preventable or treatable causes". Basic nutrition, re-hydration therapy, immunizations, and antibiotics could save most of them.

If there was a starving baby on the threshold of your house, would you step over it on your way inside to go get knocked up? If you had been thinking about having a baby and that starving child showed up on your doorstep, would you take that baby in? If you could only afford one child, would you forgo having "your own" in order to take care of that baby?

I think a decent person would take that child in, even if it meant not having a biological child. And I think people who have children make that choice every time they bring a child into the world. They are choosing to give their love, and their resources, to a new creation rather than giving them to people already on this earth who desperately need it.

What is the only reason people can possibly offer as to why they insist on bringing more people into the world, a world where so many here are not being taken care of? Biology. As someone who was adopted, I find that repugnant. Implied is that my parents (and the parents of millions of adopted children) loved their children less. It's insulting.

Given the amount of children suffering and dying in the world, having children should be controversial. People who selfishly bring children into the world without thought to whether or not they can provide for them, nurture them, and raise them to be productive members of society are immoral. People who encourage people to have children they are not prepared to take care of (anti-choice activists and the pope included) are immoral. People who want only "their own" child and close their eyes to the suffering of other children are immoral.

It's time we started acknowledging that we all have a stake in the health and well-being of others. A child neglected or abused today becomes the mess that society has to deal with tomorrow. This is not a personal issue only. It is a social issue.

So the next time someone you know gets pregnant, don't just provide a knee-jerk congratulations. The next time some anti-choice person goes marching around with pictures of a fetus, make them stare at a photo of a starving child for a while. The next time some religious zealot says birth control is evil, read this story about a man who beat his toddler to death on the side of a road and tell me that man shouldn't have used birth control.

So yes. Sometimes breeding is a sin.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Freedom to Marry Week: Whose Marriage does the Church Approve?

join the conversationMost of the objection to gay marriage comes from religious people. As I've mentioned before, regular church attendance is the most telling factor when looking at who will be for or against gay marriage.

These people believe that marriage is a union before god. So if marriage is a joining of two people before god, do all gods count? If you are a christian, do you accept a marriage before Allah? Do you accept a marriage before the Buddha? Do you accept a pagan marriage? Do you accept a marriage between two people who don't believe in god at all?

If I were to start a religion (let's call it snarkism) whose main tenet was that only people of the same sex should get married, would that be an acceptable marriage before god? Even if it was christian in every other sense of the word?

Let's get real here. The objections to gay marriage come largely from people who think they can impose their particular idea of morality on the rest of us. And it doesn't matter if they get that morality from their religion or they use their religion as a shield for their prejudices. Enough already.

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Monday, February 9, 2009

The Wrestler: Selling Sex and Violence

Randy "the Ram" Robinson sells his body for a living. He is a wrestler. For decades he has been going out into a ring and punishing himself and others for public entertainment.

He is old and broken. He's living on pain medication and steroids. He's been punched, kicked, and (in a more gruesome scene) stapled. But even though he has no money, lives in a trailer, and is long past his prime, within his world he receives respect from his fellow wrestlers and admiration from his fans. He's a legend.

Cassidy also sells her body for a living. She is a stripper. She has also, presumably, been earning money that way for a long time. She is older than your average stripper, but not broken. Yet Cassidy does not get respect or admiration. She is looked down upon. She is dismissed by many of the patrons in her strip club. Even Randy, who treats her decently, seems surprised that she looks "clean" in her street clothes.

It isn't as though Randy wasn't also selling sex. He has coked up sex in a public bathroom with some girl who remembered his hot poster on her brother's wall. He does all the things a stripper would do to keep up appearances. He works out. He bleaches his hair. He hits the tanning bed and shaves all his body hair off.

Strippers and other sex workers are seen as beneath other people, even by (perhaps especially by) supposedly feminist women. I went out with some women from my work the other day. They were relating a story about how they had some drinks with a couple the night before. The husband was an attorney for the Department of Justice. The wife was a stripper.

One of my coworkers seemed quite proud of herself for treating stripping as though it was just another occupation - at least to the stripper's face. She didn't believe that the couple was really husband and wife, because she didn't believe an attorney with the DOJ would be married to a stripper.

The implication is that a stripper is "below" a DOJ attorney in our societal hierarchy. It's a pretty outrageous statement when you think about it. We recently learned that members of the justice department wrote memos justifying torture.

And we know that the justice department illegally fired attorneys for their political affiliation. Yet I am supposed to believe that former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, a man who had to resign due to criminal allegations, is somehow "above" a stripper?

There is a hilarious line in one of Chris Rock's stand-ups about a father's job being to keep his daughter off the pole. Is stripping really the worst thing that could happen to someone? Would you rather have your daughter writing memos condoning torture? Would you rather have your daughter beaten up every night in a ring?

Why is the way Randy "the Ram" sold himself more acceptable? Why is selling violence (with a little sex on the side) more respectable than selling sex? Why is sex dirtier than violence?

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Remembering vs. Forgetting

What’s more important, revenge for your ancestors or peace for your children?

When there is tragedy, be it personal or social, there is a tension between the need to remember and the need to let go. At best, we want to remember so that we can avoid future tragedies, so that we do not make the same mistakes over and over.

But remembering does not guarantee that the same mistakes are not made. I've heard "never again" used to justify the Israeli government's "self defense" and as a rallying cry for human rights activists fighting against those same actions.

At worst, people remember out of anger. They remember because they want revenge, although they would almost certainly couch that revenge in terms of wanting justice. Revenge is an understandable emotion, especially if you have suffered greatly at the hands of another.

Forgetting doesn't work out so great either, especially if not everyone forgets. When we invaded Iraq, the Muslim world had visions of crusades and colonialism. They have been invaded by western christians many times. The western christians seem to have forgotten.

But the remembering that comes with violence and anger condemns future generations to the same fate. Retribution will never bring peace. What if letting go would ensure that future generations would not have to suffer the same fate? Isn't that worth the price?

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Feminism and Work: Where Things Went Wrong

The 1950s ideal was a nuclear family where the father worked, the mother stayed home to take care of the kids, and everything looked like Leave it to Beaver. Many people still hold onto that ideal and there may even be people who live it and love it.

For others that ideal was anything but idyllic. Women who craved intellectual pursuits felt stunted. Those who worked, out of desire or necessity, were relegated to the least interesting jobs at half the pay. Women were dependent on men and sometimes financially trapped in abusive situations.

But women's lack of opportunities for employment, financial freedom, intellectual stimulation, and positions of prestige were not the only problem with that system. And in their zeal to correct the injustices that women were experiencing, many feminists do not appear to have taken the time to examine the bigger picture.

The system was flawed in fundamental ways for men as well. Men were expected to be providers. They were valued for their purchasing power alone. They were, and often still are, treated like automatons with no ability to fulfill emotional needs.

Having worked for many years for divorce attorneys, I saw first hand how these societal roles played out in the worst situations. Yes, I saw women who gave twenty years of their lives to husband and family and then got dumped for a younger woman. And I saw deadbeat dads who refused to pay child support and flitted around the world living like kings while their ex wives waited tables to pay the rent.

I also saw cases where men were assumed to be of little value in child rearing and where the wife received preferential treatment in deciding where the kids would live. And I saw many wives keep children away from their fathers out of spite.

But the problem was more fundamental than how people were stunted by the gender rolls they were playing. What women should have been doing is questioning the hierarchy that we are all serving. They should have been questioning the assumption that only paid work is deserving of admiration. They should have been questioning how much of ourselves we are giving to our employers and how much is left over for ourselves.

A middle class family could once support itself on the wages of one decently paid man. Now most families have two wage earners and struggle. That isn't news to anyone. Rarely, however, do I hear that issue couched in terms of how many family hours we are giving to someone else. If a family used to give 40 hours a week to the company and is now giving 80, 100, or more, we went terribly wrong somewhere.

In fairness, we should have split that working week with men. We could have had some of that intellectual stimulation and income, and they could have become more a part of the emotional lives of their children and the civic lives of their communities. Even more importantly, we would not be relying on poor women to clean the homes and take care of the children of the more privileged.

The people who have benefited the most from the gender wars are our employers. They have been able to get more and more out of us and we have received less and less in return. It's time we stopped battling each other and started working together to bring that family work contribution back down to forty hours.

Then men and women can go back to fighting over who is going to do the dishes.

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