21 May 2012

Natty Bumppo Comes to Suburbia; Is that a Deer in Your Pocket?

A mild discussion has been in my mind much of the day. It began with the proposition that there are too many deer in communities and suburban areas and so thinning them out with some kind of hunt will help restore the Balance of Nature.

Some of the basic premises are okay. There are a lot of deer in some communities. Many people find the presence of deer annoying and usually it has something to do with eating gardens or ornamental vegetation. The “natural enemies” of deer (wolves, big cats) are missing in the eastern United States and are unusual in most of the Western United States.

Some communities have tried suburban deer hunts.  They found that if you kill a bunch of deer, you end up with fewer of them.

I rather like deer. When I go out in the morning and see that they have been breakfasting on the ornamental whatevers in the yard, I’m thinking “Good for them.” I do not hunt them.

On the other hand, I can hardly throw stones at people who do them hunt them. The turkey in that sandwich at lunch today didn’t die in an auto accident.

What disappoints me is that anybody thinks that we as humans are smart enough to do anything which amounts to other than an onageristic stab at restoring any kind of natural balance. If humans were eliminated by some big cataclysm, it would still take centuries for the rate of change to slow down to the point that anybody could say that Nature was in balance.

Do a little experiment. Call up MapQuest or Google Earth. Randomly pick areas in North America 3 or 4 km on a side. Look at both the map and photograph function and see how many of them show profound change by human action. That’s not necessarily bad, that’s not necessarily good, it is simply a whole lot of change.

One little example of human change is an area in Tucker County, West Virginia, called the Canaan Valley. Survey parties (including George Washington) passed through the Canaan Valley in the mid-18th-century. They described it as the most heavily wooded and wildlife rich place they ever saw. The valley was a large and dense habitat for bear.

Toward the end of the 19th century and into the early 20th century, the Canaan Valley gave up its trees to the timber industry. The hillsides and valley floor was clear-cut, leaving nothing to hold the soil. Much of the soil washed away leaving a large area with terrible drainage – not unlike a little swamp. I recall camping in the Valley in 1970 in the middle of heavy rains and having a difficult time keeping running water out of the tent.

Over the years, birds brought new plants into the Valley via their alimentary tracts, including some plant species which do well in a wet environment. At some point, everybody was getting all gushy over the fact that the Canaan Valley was this unique high altitude wetland. Okay, it is. But it is as an adaptation to human development, not as an evolution per the undisturbed process of nature.

Humans can do some absolutely stupid stuff which modifies the environment. Ever heard of the passenger pigeon? In the 19th century, they covered the eastern United States with the flocks of billions upon billions. They were also good eating.  Oopsie.  They were hunted to extinction.

Even when we fiddle with some part of nature with good intentions it’s tough to predict all of the consequences. DDT was a really effective insecticide. It boosted crop yield, it held down disease, the styff was great.  Another oopsie.  It interfered with the healthy reproduction of various bird species, most of which are still in the early stages of population recovery.

No, I do not want to see the picture of all the bald eagles on the beach in Alaska. One of you was about to pitch that well-known bit of anecdotal evidence that you damn well know s far from typical. Bald eagles used to be common birds of prey in West Virginia. Now, I am happy to know that there is one nest Marion County.

So, go ahead with the deer hunt if you can swing the votes.  But, for heaven’s sake, don’t get the idea that it will do God’s work and restore Nature’s Balance.

None of us are smart enough to do that.

16 May 2012

34 Years; And Why People Who Misrepresent Mother West Virginia Oughta Be Flogged


On 16 May 1978, only 34 years ago today, I opened my law office.

Snarl, Grumble, Growl:

Maybe a picture is worth 1000 words. Does that mean that pictures can mislead all the quicker?

When I need a little mind candy, I look at the cutesy little news items on AOL News, CNN, or someplace like that there.

Last week, there was a photo essay on one of the sites with the title Appalachia: Regression to the Mean.

I guess that’s a catchy title. But what the hell does it mean?  I’m not such an intellectual guy, but I do confess it looks pretty good. “Regression” denotes something pretty bad coming and “mean” may denote the arithmetic mean (which I doubt they intend) or mean as in low class or maybe even mean as in nasty.
That’s the thing about words and phrases subject of multiple meanings which are presented in an obscure manner – the writer can always claim that the reader is a nitwit who was incapable of understanding that point which dwells on some higher-level of human thought.

A number of photos were presented representing scenes from Appalachia. For my friends across the great waters, the Appalachians are the hills and mountains in the eastern United States. They run north to south from New York to Georgia, and West Virginia is the only state completely within that region. Generally, economic development in Appalachia has lagged behind that of other areas of the nation. I believe the reasons for that include the predominance of natural resources industries and transportation/access remoteness.

The photo essay did not say “This is typical Appalachia.” It did not, however, include lots of things you typically see in Appalachia. Absent a title like “Some of the unpleasant stuff you might see in Appalachia,” I think it is a fair conclusion that the photographer/preparer means to imply that these scenes are somewhat typical.

The scenes include:
  • A kid swinging on a rope at a swimming hole in a river or creek.
  • Women surrounding and touching another woman in an apparent “laying hands” presentation.
  • A “Jesus is the Answer” sign.
  • A coal miner in work clothes covered with grime and coal dust.
  • Kids playing outside a house on a swing set.
  • Two women standing clothed in a creek, apparently about to do a baptism.
  • A hog sale pen.
  • A Klan cross burning.
  • A snake handling preacher.
If you choose to accept that as Appalachia, I can’t stop you.  You can fix ignorant, but you can’t fix stupid.

The presence of the snake handler and the Klan cross suggest a negative theme.  I don’t see some of the things on the list as negative. 

The kid at the swimming hole?   Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.  The most enjoyable swimming I’ve done has been in the Monongahela River, and I remember one of those REAL LONG rope swings from when I was in high school.

The coal miner?  The guy is coming off a shift.  He’s dirty.  How the hell should a coal miner look after a shift?  Do you like things such as electricity to run your microwave?  Somebody has to get dirty to mine the fuel to turn into the electricity. 

The hog sale pen?  Did you think the bacon you ate this morning came from swine who committed suicide?

The mild religious stuff - The laying of hands, sign and apparent baptism.  It’s kinda sad that some people think these are yokel activities.  Hands & hugs is not a “magic” thing, it’s a support thing.  If people believe that it brings healing, who knows, maybe it does.  Surely it doesn’t harm the patient.  The sign?  Pretty mild as advertising goes.  And the baptism?  OK, that is pretty rural.  I don’t go for baptismal fonts.  Where you have natural water and decent weather, it seems far more meaningful TO ME to do it outside. But if you don’t like baptism, don’t get baptised.  Go to Vegas that Sunday.

The snakes and the burning crosses are just pernicious nonsense.  Why do we require a straw man to make a point?  Klan activity in West Virginia and Appalachia generally is near zero.   Is one Klansman too many?  OK, sure.  But if the choice is chasing down the last 10 Klansmen or the next 100 dealers, I know how I’ll vote.

And finally, the snake handling.  There are perhaps as many as 100 snake handling churches in North America.  Invariably, they are very small congregations.  (My theory:  Get more than a dozen people together and somebody is going to pipe up, “Hey, this is really stupid.”)

OK, I’m bitching about the negative portrayals of my home.  We already have enough challenges without the aid of brown-tinted lenses.

11 May 2012

Gay Marriage and My 10-Foot Pole

For the love of Jesus, Buddha and the seven dwarves, enough already!

We are being dragged into a political fugue state where astounding attention is being paid to the issue of gay people getting married.

That is distracting us from real problems and it is the people who profit from the real problems who are rending their garments about how we are all going to Hell if any gay people get married.

Jesus Christ (which isn’t a bad allusion), let’s put gay marriage to bed. (No pun was intended, but I’ll probably claim it was later.)

The solution doesn’t take a great deal of analysis. We seem to have a problem, however, in doing any analysis at all.


  • Gay people form romantic attachments to others of the same gender. Some of those relationships become committed relationships.
  • Straight people form romantic attachments to others of the opposite gender. Some of those relationships become committed relationships.
  • We provide legal benefits to some committed relationships.
  • To have those benefits, the couple has to have the union “solemnized,” that is, created in law much as you would create a Corporation. We call that marriage. Almost everywhere, marriage is limited to the second class of persons, those of opposite genders.

No, no, no, don’t skip to the bottom and see where I’m going with this. This is analysis, remember?

The reason so many people are acting like morons with poor ethical potty training is that they already know the answer in advance so they don’t bother with inconvenient things like facts or logic.

The legal benefits attached to marriage are considerable. They include such things as rights of inheritance and rights of access to medical insurance and pension payments. Marriage also creates an orderly manner to obtain equity between the participants if the relationship ever ends.

This “solemnization” draws a bright line and thereby avoids lots and lots of litigation about who is and is not a legitimate “partner.” Recall, for example, the Lee Marvin case in California around 20 years ago. It was a case where a long time girlfriend of the late actor sought some sort of alimony and ultimately was denied. Had they been married, we never would’ve heard about the dispute.

The second requirement, that the solemnization be opposite-gender-specific just isn’t rational any more.

Unions between gay people are formed in fact. No law is going to change that. There are laws on the books all over the place banning gay activity and those laws never stopped anybody. Given that we're going to have these unions, what is the justification to treat those people differently?

I hear two basic classes of them, which are sort of two sides of the same coin. There is a third which few people talk about but which does deserve mention.

It against what the Bible says. Okay, I suppose so. That being said, that hasn’t stopped a lot of sin. I think it’s a little bit cheeky to tell God to stand down, that we will handle this whole sin retribution thing.

Giving God orders has never seemed to work real well. Giving people orders in God’s name is hubris on the hoof.  And I'm doubting that the Lord God relays orders through idiots.

But okay, maybe our buddies at the Westboro Baptist Church (gotta love 'em – see below) are right and we should stone gay people.  Hell, the Taliban does it, so there IS precedent.

Okay, I’ll tell you what: Next Saturday at noon, I’ll meet you at Red Lobster and I’ll bring my camera. I’ll make a good clear little documentary of you assassinating everybody inside who is eating lobster, clams, oysters or crab.

Leviticus 11:9-12 (KJV) - 9 These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat.  10 And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you:  11 They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcases in abomination.  12 Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.

Oh, if I shut off the camera for a second, that’s because I’ll have to gun down anybody with tattoos:

Leviticus 19:28 - Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord.

In fact, even if the Westboro folks show up, I’m going to check what they order and look really close for tattoos.  You never can tell where sin can be lurking.

(My little Westboro story: Years ago, they came to town to protest something. I was having a very nice time interacting with them until one of my police officer friends came up to me and politely said, “Roger, knock that shit off and leave, or I’m going to arrest your ass.” Party pooper.)

The other principal argument we hear is that by opening the door, “gayness” is going to run wild. Suddenly, were all going to be doing the Wild Thing with someone of the same gender and we’ll be  licensing polygamy, polyandry, and polygons for all I know, and it will threaten marriages.

The whole poly-doodah thing is a reductio ad absurdum.  If you take any idea far enough, it will sound stupid.  If 18 year olds should vote, so should 17 year olds; and 16 year olds; and 15 year olds; ...

I have to tell you that I really don’t feel threatened. If we do the right thing, change a few words in a statute and say, “okay, you’re cool, get married, now let’s move on,” I’m still going to be staying with Eve and not moving on to Steve. Nor even Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice.

Do the people making all the noise believe that we are really that weak minded?  Look, we elected you nitwits to jobs, we didn't crown you Mommy and Daddy.

Oh, wait a minute, I thought of another argument I’ve heard. Most people don’t support the idea.

Hmmmmm.  That’s a toughie.  Most people don’t support the idea.  Darn, am I dead in my tracks? 

Oh, wait, yeah, pretty much everybody says they admire constitutional government and they revere the Constitution.

(By the way, some of them are lying.)

Let’s ban tobacco. It has no useful purpose. It is demonstrably lethal.

No can do – these darn inconvenient constitutional principles. But wait!  Fewer than 50% of the public smokes. So we can ban them, right? Nope, constitutional principles.

Some moron sashays around with a brightly colored sign, “God hates the USA.” Ignoring the questionable theology, I consider such an individual to be a turd in the alimentary tract of the body politic.  Okay, let’s ban those treasonous bastards.

Oopsie.  Constitutional principles.

The Constitution permits people to do stuff that other people don’t approve of. It requires us to keep our hands off unless we have a good reason to intervene.

It gives us rights, too. You don’t like gay marriage? Don’t marry a gay person. Problem solved.

Attention, my gay friends: I’m leaving you standing at the altar.  Deal with it.

The practical effect of giving this group equality which is seldom discussed is how much expense will be added to benefits, chiefly in the form of insurance, pensions and Social Security. I have heard estimates such as “minimal,” and “considerable,” and “horrendous,” but I’ve never seen any numbers. A financial argument without numbers represents sloppy thinking. We do know that gay people are quite in the minority. We know that the rights which marriage affords are very important.  That's why straight people like them.  And that’s why I’m comfortable thinking financial considerations are not nearly enough to derail fixing this glitch in the law.

What we seem to be missing is the damage having this idiotic debate is doing to our nation and our political system. Nobody seems to recognize that this is a distraction. Moreover, the distraction is not an accident. If Congress and the executive branch are tied up in knots on this, they are just “too busy” to mess with certain other little things:

  • In America, 13,000,000 million children go hungry every night. In America!
  • In America, we throw away 26,000,000 pounds of food a day. In America! Do the math. 
  • We have military people to avoid all over the globe. Many families of enlisted personnel who are sleeping on sand or on ships in the Indian Ocean qualify for food stamps. In America! 
  • “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” Blah, blah, blah. The fact is, the previously comparable middle class is moving toward the just-scraping-by class. 
  • Chinese and Saudi banks own a great slice of our national debt. If they call the loans, we are so screwed. How do you like having the cadres and the sheiks holding on to you by the short & curlies? 
  • Organized crime has already taken over most penitentiaries. Organized crime is steadily taking over city after city, town or town.  The drug dealers have so much money now, they no longer count it: they WEIGH it. 
  • We have been stuffing 1 trillion here and 1 trillion there down the toilet, the interest bills are rising and the rate of interest increase is nearing the point that it will be non-sustainable.

So to my friends, I suggest we all calm down, think this through and require our so-called public “servants” to pass the gay marriage stuff, quit running their mouths and start doing stuff that matters.

This whole thing really pisses me off.



09 May 2012

Elections, mostly; Awfully Bloody Boring

Personal notes:

The Lord God has placed us on injured reserve over the past week. We are hopeful that our coffee break soon will be over.

Holy Mackerel, I have been working on the dictation of Oce Smith today.   It is a touch challenging to switch from first person plural to first person singular.

It has been interesting watching some parts of the medical system in action. The lady doing an “echo” procedure (it uses sound waves) swung the screen around so I could see the images, watch and learn.

When told I was coming to his unit, one nurse got a rise out of the people sending me with the comment, “Send that dirtbag up!”

Of course, he is a very old and very good friend from my old rescue company.

Do not expect “bulletins.” I don’t do that. This is part of life.  Sometimes, God kicks you in the ass, yelling “Hey, dummy!”

The West Virginia primary:

I was speaking to someone from the political arm of the national group of which I am a member a few weeks ago.  He inquired what kind of money should be allocated for the presidential race in West Virginia. I suggested that they spend 20 bucks on bumper stickers and call it a day. Pee-wee Herman would beat Obama West Virginia. That sounds like it’s supposed to be a joke. It’s not. Pee-wee really would.

Obama was opposed in West Virginia by one Keith Judd of Texas. Keith Judd is an inmate in a penitentiary. Obviously, he is pretty quirky. Nevertheless, he nearly made 40% of the vote in the primary of the Democratic Party.

West Virginia does not consist of a bunch of ignorant Hicks. However, it consists of people who have a very low opinion of the current administration.

Supreme Court:

No surprises here, incumbent Robin Davis led the ticket and Tish Chafin, who spent the most money and worked the hardest, claimed the second spot. I do note that Justice Davis did not campaign very hard and didn’t spend very much money, at least in this part of the state. It is unusual that someone on the Supreme Court gets that kind of incumbent security.

Circuit Judge:

The appointed incumbent, Michael John Aloi, took 52% against two challengers. One is my friend and brother Jeff Taylor who ran a moderately funded, vigorously grassroots and very energetic knocking on doors campaign. The third candidate was Greg Hinton, who is an exceedingly nice fellow and a former mayor of Fairmont. Greg has been teaching full-time at the college and has not been actively practicing for a number of years.

I was not surprised by the result, but the margin was a good bit more than I expected. I had scored it as nearly a dead heat.


Incumbent Sheriff Joe Carpenter was reelected.

Okay, he was renominated. But in Marion County, there’s not been a Republican Sheriff since Hoover was the president.

Joe got 50% of the vote and he had six challengers, some of them serious. That was not real good news for Joe, but it’s about what I expected. Joe is an absolutely uninvolved politician. I don’t even say that as a criticism, I think he sees that as “selling out.” He works his ass off, but he doesn’t do it out in public. He is honorable and principled.

It would be nice if elections were determined solely on qualifications, honor and principle. I don’t look for that to become a trend. You heard it here first.

Yeah, it's boring.  But all  politics is local.


03 May 2012

Nuking our Drug Delusion?

In a thoughtful comment to the post of 1 May 2012, friend and brother Pastor Josh Patty raised a couple of interesting wrinkles regarding consideration of the national/global drug infestation problem.

First, he mentions the common attraction of “nuclear options,” such as bombing Columbia back into the Stone Age, and correctly points out that we’re already using fairly extreme options with long prison sentences.

Second, Josh accurately points out that history is not exactly full of examples where any society has eliminated or even significantly reduced drug use unless that reduction was in favor of yet another intoxicant.

Nuclear options:

Extreme reactions, even beyond those currently in play, are popular subjects of political planning, public discussion and even popular fiction.

In the past year or so, there was a proposal to release a genetically altered biological agent (I’m not sure if the sponsors were talking bacteria, virus or fungus) into cocaine producing areas. The plan was that such an agent would be lethal to the coca plant or at least alter that species to the extent that it would no longer produce cocaine. Thankfully, saner minds prevailed. There are something on the order of 330,000 known plant species, 60,000 vertebrate species, 1.2 million invertebrate species.  It would be pretty cheeky to “guarantee” that a genetically altered biological agent would be limited in effect to a single species.

There are lots of species that are some what useful. Indeed, cocaine itself has some minor medical applications which pale, of course, when compared to the effects of its abuses as a recreational drug.

Other species are critical: Imagine turning something loose that would accidentally kill off the corn crops or wheat crops. While that might be improbable, it’s not very bright to do something that has a low but existing probability of causing catastrophic harm.

The Tom Clancy novel Clear and Present Danger was based upon a plot where American special forces are inserted into cocaine growing regions in South America to destroy processing facilities and kill drug dealers. It’s fiction, but it still has some delicious attraction if you forget things like national sovereignty and the fact (see below) that drug gangs are, by and large, not a bunch of sissies and are indeed both violent and capable.

Other proposals in both the real world and fiction have been made to “tighten the borders” because a significant portion of illegal drugs are from plants which cannot be grown in the continental United States. The proposals are usually of the “think once, shoot twice” variety. And, indeed, there are certain “tells” which make it more probable that any given aircraft or ocean vessel are carrying narcotics. Shooting them down, blowing them up, certainly would have the obvious boost to an effective border control.

Of course, you were also up the “oopsie” factor a mite.  Two years ago, a joint American CIA/Peruvian military drug interdiction operation intercepted what they considered to be a suspicious aircraft over the Amazon.  Controllers directed that the plane be shot down, and it was – killing two of the four members of a missionary family aboard.  They had nothing to do with anything illegal.

It’s pretty standard that when you apply one or more remedies, you look to see if they are working and how well they’re working. If they’re not working or not working well enough, it may be you have the wrong remedy. It may be the remedy you have is being applied with insufficient (or even excessive) force. At some point, overwhelming force will become effective regarding a single problem, but seldom does that happen without adverse consequences.

Posit for example that we decide to summarily execute drug dealers. Someone holding a brick of heroin (that’s 50 little 10 mg packages), shoot his ass. It’s simple. It’s effective. But you know and I know were not going to do it. It violates the Eighth Amendment bar against cruel and unusual punishment. [Actually, while the Eighth Amendment says that it bars “cruel and unusual” punishments, it really bars “cruel or unusual” punishments.] But we don’t those punishments because the Eighth Amendment says so. The Eighth Amendment says so because shooting people out of hand, torturing them and so forth offends our fundamental values.

The “oopsie” factor already is bad enough as it is. Not a month goes by that we don’t see someone being released from a long term imprisonment because new technical evidence, usually DNA testing, as shown that they are actually innocent of that for which they were convicted. And I understand the argument about needing to break eggs to make an omelette, but if you or someone in your family is one of the eggs that just got broken, you’re going to have a different view.

And yet when considering extreme or “nuclear” options, we need to recall that this whole “war on drugs” thing is not just some campaign against human nature or human failings. Goodness knows, that’s hard enough.

The drug war is a real war against real, determined, motivated and organized forces. These forces also, by and large, are ruthless and barbaric.

The motivation part is simple to understand. There’s money, there’s power, and there is a peculiar respect that getting those things gives you.

The ruthlessness and barbarism are much less easily understood. It is certainly more pleasant to pretend that they don’t exist or minimize them.

Traditional Mafia-type organized crime and traditional criminal gangs do illegal, violent and immoral things. However, they will tell you that they do have a strong sense of personal honor. Many people disagree, but those folks by and large follow some rules. For example, if they’re going to attack or punish someone, family usually is off limits.

Not so the drug gangs. Any active drug agent will tell you that a huge problem in dealing with the Mexican, Central American and South American drug gangs is that they operate on the principle of terror. Those guys can teach terrorists what terror really is. If someone crosses them, they’ll kill everybody in that person’s family out to the second thousands. These drug gangs (and others the world over) use violence of the most gruesome nature.

Here, I have the choice between glossing over or giving detailed – and accurate – descriptions of how bad it gets. I have a tough time just passing over the details, because the kinds of brutality we’re talking is WAY beyond stuff you see in the movies. On the other hand, including accurate descriptions would look like an appeal to some violent salaciousness.

What to do?

Honestly, you cannot believe the degree of sickness, brutality and depravity in these people’s minds.  Maybe down deep somewhere they have a few threads of humanity, but I can’t prove that. But this terror is useful. Even law-abiding citizens stand clear of this degree of evil. Many police agencies in the host countries back off work or conveniently find other “more important” things to do.

Communities join in the almost as common conspiracy of silence. Many members of the communities substantially cooperate with these gangs. They become some sort of sick folk heroes, and they go to the extent of making up ballads about their little adventures.  For some reason, we keep seeing this strange predilection to hang around or suck up to “exciting” people.

For that matter, these criminal organizations note provide some benefit to the people where they operate. That’s one of the storylines in HBO’s “Sons of Anarchy,” a sappy and lurid depiction of a 1%  motorcycle club. The storyline is that they keep the violence out of their fictional town in return for being protected here.

So, nuclear options? I just don’t know.

I do know that turning the other cheek to some sorts of genuine evil is really, really stupid.

Historical reductions of drug dependence:

Josh is right, examples of societies cleaning up their act are extremely rare.

The failure of alcohol prohibition United States is a common icon the resistance of people (particularly Americans) to interference with their pleasurable sins. Voluntary behavior modification away from pleasure just doesn’t seem to happen.

In fact, I can only think of one example out of American history where a widespread culture has gone away from drug use, and that is not even a very strong example. In the early 19th century, the Shawnee chief Tecumseh toured the eastern United States putting together a confederation aimed at driving the Europeans off the continent. He was an extremely charismatic leader, very moral by his culture’s rules, and had at least extraordinary luck which coincided with various natural occurrences such as meteors and earthquakes.

The American Indians made largely ceremonial use of smoking pipe’s for tobacco and other herbs including the herb which “took away the will.”  Tecumseh exhorted his followers to knock off the marijuana, and as long as the federation hung together, they followed that advice.

But other than that, I just can’t come up with other significant examples. Can anyone out there?

That’s not even particularly surprising. Let’s face it, addictive behaviors of all sorts are doing for damage to everyone. Everyone. Me? Food, Obesity. Addictive as hell. Others? Maybe booze. Video games. Women/men. Porno.

And again, I hate to talk problems without talking solutions. On these issues, solutions really are escaping me.

And it seems that we all are too lazy, too distracted and too scared to talk seriously and really go looking for the solutions.

01 May 2012

Just Say No to Delusions

I was in Court in the 19th Circuit today for a criminal docket.  Over the past year, I’ve moved a good part of our trial practice to that Circuit because the bar was shrinking and I’ve always enjoyed the people there.

In smaller circuits, some judges have docket days where 10 or 15 cases are all set for 9 AM, and we go through them in whatever order makes sense.  (In some metro areas, a similar system is used because there are too many cases to schedule for “times certain.”)

Today, 8 or 9 defendants entered guilty pleas and were sentenced to various alternatives such as “community corrections,” which is a very closely monitored probation.  Of those cases every one - EVERY DAMN ONE - featured some sort of drug addiction, and several also had alcohol added to the mix. 

Every one.

In the 19th Circuit, the Judge inquires of any defendant who is pleading guilty how they got into trouble.  When drugs are a problem, he’ll discuss with the defendants how the drug use started, how it grew and what the now-convicted person is going to do about it.  There are lots of reasons that’s a good idea.  One is that confession is indeed good for the soul, at least once a person has decided to plead guilty.  Also, we need to know what’s happening and how bad the drug problem is getting.

Sorry - am I boring you?  Goodness, this has been the subject of public service announcements, solemn pronouncements about what great things we’re doing, editorials, studies and political bloviating for the last 40 years.  We’re all getting numbed.  That’s a problem, because the extent of  the costs of drug addiction are overwhelming.

I can’t not pontificate about what “the answer” is to the whole mess.

First, I don’t have a clue.

Second, anybody who says there even IS “the” answer isn’t very bright.  And the simpler their “answer” is, the dumber they are. 

“All you have to do is ...” can be interpreted accurately as “I’m a blowhard AND a dumbass.”

I also hate to talk problems without at least suggesting some solutions or even just some lines of inquiry.

The best I can offer tonight is to identify some things that aren’t working.  That’s not totally useless.  Edison wasn’t joking when he said that he had to find 10,000 ways NOT to make a light bulb before he found one which worked.

I cannot even say that the things society is doing are worthless - just that the current mix and intensity isn’t really denting the damage done by drugs.

Long sentences - Those are popular.  After the federal government started using “sentencing guidelines” (and some states followed suit), drug sentences got MUCH longer.  That is effective to some extent because those particular dealers put in the penitentiary are not out dealing.  On the other hand, those sentences do not much deter other players from getting into the business.  The money to be made is considerable and the consideration those folks have for their own futures is limited.  Indeed, there is a profound fatalism in Generation Whatever-The-Hell-the Current-One-Is-called. 

When one dealer goes away, that just creates economic opportunity for others.

By the way, in the penitentiaries, there is a brisk trade in drugs, primarily REAL hard drugs because they concentrate strength in very small packages.

How about education?  Cute public service announcements haven’t done much.  (“This is your brain; this is your brain on drugs.  Any question?”  Remember that one?  Clever but still a laugher.)

Parental education?  I’ll tell you what got me on this subject this evening.  Today, I heard a really sad statement by a parent of one of the guys pleading guilty, after the defendant described his years of drug abuse.  The judge asked the parent, “When did you know your son was a drug addict?”  The parent replied - I wrote it down - “We knew that he smoked marijuana now and then, but we didn’t know it was serious until he was arrested the first time.”

Sigh.  This is a blog. Blogs are supposed to rant and roar, like Dutton Peabody to expose the rotten underbelly of society.

What’s the use?  Was it the old Greeks who said “Against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain”?

But a little weed?  That’s already serious.

Oh, yeah, the STUDIES.  Darn, I ought to pay more attention to that stuff. 

I have not done academic research on drug abuse.  I have not gathered any statistics.  (For that matter, the last time I massaged statistical data, I was using a punch card machine.)  So all I have is anecdotal evidence.

At some point, you amass enough anecdotes that the points which are very common start to sound valid.

And what we hear in these plea hearings these days is, “I started using marijuana when I was 14 [15, 16, or 17], then pills and then ...”  Sometimes, they start on pills, and sometimes later than 17, but not often.

We know the rest.  We’ve heard it time and time again - weed as a gateway drug; the kind of people in that culture; cost and the need to do illegal things to cover the cost; the violence because so much money is moving; and so forth.

But it’s still the truth.

How do we come to a place where drug use is considered unacceptable, genuinely immoral (as in it really DOES offend nearly everyone) and the demand lessens?

I.  Don’t.  Know.

In the name of God, I wish I did.