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Germany In Defeat

July 8th, 2010 No comments

I had no intention of writing about watching Germany’s last World Cup match against Spain last night—there was really nothing worth writing about—but the aftermath today in terms of the city’s mood is somewhat interesting.

I went to the Lindener Marktplatz to watch the game at a big public viewing there at 8:30, and naturally all of the seats were already taken. I stood there in a cloud of smoke for the whole first half, and went to get some beer during the break to make it through the second half. The public viewing is much less fun when your team doesn’t score any goals. The most excitement came only when Germany’s goalie made a particularly good save.

After Spain’s goal, there was near silence. For the rest of the game, everyone was extremely tense, with lots of shouting at the screen in frustration that their team couldn’t get the job done. At one point I could have sworn I heard someone mention Paul the Octopus.

When the game was over I left right away, and was surprised at the level of noise I heard. I was expecting the city to be completely somber and subdued, but I hadn’t counted on there being so many belligerent Spanish people around. They were honking their horns and waving their flag around, even shoving it right in the Germans’ faces. I could hardly believe it—it was like they wanted to provoke a mob into beating the crap out of them.

This morning on my way to work I saw a broken vuvuzela on the ground, the kind that had been painted to look like a German flag. If I’d had a camera I would have taken a picture.

At work, my [dear sweet adorable] student Mandy was telling me that she lives in Linden and that the Spanish people had been much louder after their previous victory, when Germany hadn’t been the opponent. So I guess it was just a scattered few who were willing to taunt the Germans—the rest of them were wiser.

This morning I saw only one car with a German flag on it, and that was first thing in the morning. Yesterday nearly every other car had been bedecked with flaggery. The Germans wasted no time in re-suppressing their nationalism.

Mark, another one of my students whom I’d told about Paul the Octopus last week, was particularly depressed this morning. He came in half-way through the lesson and afterwards stuck around to express his astonishment that Paul had gone 6 for 6 in his predictions. I didn’t bother to tell him my theory that Paul’s picks were probably having a subconscious effect on the German team and might have contributed to their loss.

To think an aquatic creature in a tank somewhere with no awareness of nor capacity to comprehend the game of soccer might have such a huge impact on the sport’s biggest event.

This afternoon I ran some errands and made sure to take note of the general mood of the city—which as you’d expect was extremely downbeat. The return of excessive heat didn’t help either.

Clerks at German shops aren’t typically the most cheerful people, but when I approach them with my typical American surface-friendliness they usually respond in kind. Today, however, it was more like “What’s with the feux friendliness, guy? I thought we weren’t doing that today.”

The only cheerful person I came across was the clerk at the grocery story, whose name-tag read “Herr Brandes”. He left every customer with a, “Schönen Tag noch, ja?” as though he were asking: “No hard feelings, right?”

As for me, I had no emotions invested in this tournament. For me it was a mere curiosity. It would have been cool to see what Germany would have been like had it gone on to win the World Championship, but more of the national character might have been revealed by its atmosphere in defeat.

They Don’t REALLY Care About the Deficit

July 8th, 2010 No comments

I’ve written a lot about the corporate-controlled cronies in Washington want to cut all kinds of domestic spending like unemployment insurance and Social Security while they refuse to cut spending on the war in Afghanistan, but I haven’t yet addressed their purported reason for doing so.

If you spend enough time here in Washington, watching cable news, or reading the opinion (and sometimes the news) pages of major newspapers, you’re likely to be told that budget deficits are a top tier or even number one concern to the American people. Furthermore, moderates (the people, who, according to conventional mythology, decide all elections) REALLY care about these budget deficits. Therefore, it’s good politics to be a deficit hawk.

Polls that suggest Americans are really concerned about the deficit are probably conducted by calling up people and asking, “Are you concerned about the deficit?” Most people would, of course, say yes. But if you don’t just ask a yes/no question and instead give them a list of options and ask, “Which of these is most important to you?” you get results far more reflective of reality:

Obviously, it’s in the best interests of the powerful (or so they think) to spend as little money as possible on the middle-class. More money for them, the thinking goes. So they have their propaganda machines at Fox News and the Tea Party groups howl and scream about the national deficit and how it’s going to be disastrous for everyone’s grandchildren, whom we’re saddling with so much debt they’ll never be able to repay.

So Tea Party people really think they care a whole hell of a lot about the deficit, so we definitely shouldn’t extend unemployment benefits or pay for people’s health care or improve our national infrastructure or basically do anything other than dropping bombs on people who worship a different God.

This concern for future generations seems surprisingly noble of them. Especially because these are the “Drill, Baby, Drill” people—the same people who decry global warming as a hoax, who refuse to acknowledge the oncoming worldwide energy crisis, and who dismiss all environmental groups as fringe wackaloons who have no idea what they’re talking about.

If they really cared so much about future generations, you’d think they’d at least give environmentalists some benefit of the doubt and be open to hearing their case. If they really feel that they have a personal responsibility to make this the best world possible for their grandchildren and their grandchildren’s grandchildren, they’d want to get all the facts about energy, the environment, and global warming, and they’d be out there demanding that we do something about these problems.

But they don’t really give a shit about future generations. They know the word “deficit” because Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh are always screeching about it, and it’s the easiest way for them to pretend they’re making an intelligent critique of Obama’s policies.

Believe me, if Obama wanted to freeze all government spending they’d be crying that he wasn’t spending enough. They just know the economy sucks and that the deficit has something to with economy. One plus one equals “I want my country back!”

Democrats should be trying to educate these people rather than pander to them. If they took that approach on every issue, we might actually get somewhere.

Voters too Stupid or Misinformed to Legalize Marijuana

July 8th, 2010 No comments

Of all the wrong decisions voters will make in this November’s elections, California’s decision not to pass Proposition 19 to legalize marijuana will probably make me angriest.

How do I know it won’t pass? First, because I really really want it to. As soon as one state makes it legal, that will start the ball rolling and before you know it marijuana will finally be legal across the United States and the rest of the world, making my life much much easier. And the gods always conspire against me to make sure I never get anything I really really want. Second, there are too many powerful interests opposing it. The prison industrial complex, for one, won’t stand idly by and watch this enormous chunk of their revenue—imprisoning people for smoking weed—just disappear. Third, most people are still grossly misinformed about marijuana and think it’s a dangerous drug; those people will assume that legalizing it will encourage more people, especially kids, to use it. Fourth, many stoners are idiots who don’t pay attention to the news and don’t vote. Just like in The Simpsons, they’ll probably be too spaced-out to remember.

Still, I have some hope, and as such I’m going to write some counter-arguments to those who argue against legalization. I strongly encourage my readers in California—of which I know I have a few—to engage people in debate (assuming they know people who are opposed to Prop. 19) and use some of these arguments if you find them useful.

I won’t spend too much time on the reasons for legalization, as most of my readers will be quite familiar with them. First and foremost is the argument that if cannabis is legal to grow and use, you eliminate the black market. Drug cartels earn 70% of their profit from the sale of cannabis, so if you cut this source off revenue you severely cripple them. You can be sure they’ll be doing everything they can to keep it illegal, as they stand the most to lose.

Other arguments include the fact that law enforcement resources are limited and should be put to better use, that the percentage of young minorities vs. white adults who are arrested for pot use is severely out of proportion, that legalization will increase the likelihood of citizens cooperating with law enforcement (pot-users almost never call the police), that the prisons are overcrowded with non-violent criminals, and that tens of thousands of new jobs will be created and billions of dollars in tax revenue will be generated, which will be enormously helpful in this time of economic recession.

Here are the arguments against legalization, taken from the Prop. 19 ballotpedia page, along with my counterpoints:

Joel Hay, a professor of pharmaceutical economics and policy at the University of Southern California, said in December 2009, “The carnage in this country due to alcohol and tobacco use is enormous. Why we would want to increase the use of another product that creates this kind of damage is hard to fathom.”

Apparently you can be a “professor of pharmaceutical economics” and still be completely clueless. First of all, what kind of “carnage” is caused by tobacco use? Yes, lots of people get lung cancer, but that’s not even the least bit comparable to the carnage I’ll readily admit is a result of alcohol use. If your only argument against marijuana use is that it’s bad for your lungs, I’d remind you that smoking it is not the only way to ingest it (just the most enjoyable).

Second of all, I’ve never even heard the word “carnage” in the same sentence as marijuana. Yes, alcohol is a dangerous drug that makes people belligerent and do stupid, crazy things. Marijuana makes you subdued and calm, and far too paranoid to take the kind of crazy risks that seem like a great idea when you’re drunk. Ask any law enforcement officials how often their domestic abuse calls involve alcohol consumption, and how many involve solely marijuana consumption. My guess is they all involve alcohol and the only ones involving marijuana are in combination with other drugs. Getting high doesn’t make you want to yell and scream and beat your wife. It just makes you want to chill out and eat potato chips.

So if anyone tells you that adding marijuana to the list of legal drugs will lead to “more carnage” try to resist the urge to laugh in their face and calmly explain to them that it will do just the opposite—that if someone is looking for a legal high, marijuana is a far safer alternative to alcohol. If you can go to the corner store and choose between a bottle of vodka and a pack of joints, and a lot more people start buying the joints, I guarantee you crime will go down.

Skip Miller, a partner in the Los Angeles law firm Miller Barondess and chairman of D.A.R.E. America, a drug-abuse prevention program, says, “Two beliefs drive this push to make pot legal: that new tax revenue will stave off deeper budget cuts and that marijuana is a relatively benign drug. Neither is true. Legalization almost certainly would bring with it additional substance abuse in the state, and the long-term public costs associated with that would vastly exceed the relatively modest amount of new revenue legal weed might bring in.”

He’s making two mistakes here. First, he says that marijuana is not a relatively benign drug. It is. Anyone who thinks otherwise has obviously never tried it. If your only exposure to weed is watching movies and after-school specials, you’ll probably think that marijuana is terrible and scary and does serious brain damage. I’m not saying there are no harmful effects whatsoever, but those effects are closer to the level of over-the-counter flu medicine than that of cocaine, heroin, or LSD. Studies show that long-term marijuana use does tend to slow down your mind a little bit, but I know plenty of intelligent, productive people who are no less intelligent or productive because they regularly use marijuana. Skip Miller must not know very many people.

And that defeats the second part of his argument as well, that we’re going to have all kinds of public costs associated with marijuana abuse and that will off-set the revenue generated by its sale. This is ridiculous. What does he think will happen? Gangs of criminals high on ‘the reefer’ will be roaming around, roughing up citizens, and smashing things all over the place? Like I said, they’ll be too busy sitting on the couch eating Doritos for that. Or maybe he means that we’ll have to deal with all kind of medical bills from people overdosing on marijuana? Apparently the chairman of D.A.R.E. America (a program proven to be counter-effective if anything) doesn’t know that it’s impossible to overdose on marijuana. Yet another reason it’s much much safer than alcohol.

According to Marcus Wohlsen of the Associated Press, “…full legalization could turn medical marijuana dispensaries into all-purpose pot stores, and the open sale of joints could become commonplace on mom-and-pop liquor store counters in liberal locales like Oakland and Santa Cruz.”

I’m sure you can guess my reaction to this one: Bring it on! Like I said, given the choice between liquor and weed, weed is the much less harmful choice.

Too many parents are still brainwashed into thinking that marijuana is in the same class of drugs as cocaine, heroin, and LSD. They think that if you legalize it, in spite of the benefits to the economy and the damage to the drug cartels, you’ll basically be encouraging kids to use it. Some news for those parents: your kids are already using it. Do you want them to go to jail for it? And how many times have you had to rush them to the hospital because of it? None? Thought so. It’s harmless, parents. It’s like drinking a glass of wine at the end of the day, only even less harmful.

Trust me, you want mom-and-pop liquor stores to sell packs of joints. You’d much rather have a stoner for a kid than a drunk. Believe me. Don’t take my word for it either—ask your kids.

Finally, there’s the fact that being illegal is part of the allure of marijuana. Cigarettes are a great parallel. When kids are at the age where they need to rebel against society, smoking cigarettes is cool. It’s illegal before the age of 19 so you feel like a badass if you smoke when you’re younger. But as soon as it’s legal, you just feel like a jackass. Nobody above the age of 19 thinks cigarettes are cool. But because marijuana is illegal no matter how old you are, even 39-year-olds can feel like bad-asses for smoking a joint. Don’t take my word for it either—ask your parents.

Full legalization will lead people to consume marijuana without the advice or guidance of a medical professional, and that could be dangerous for a number of people. Kevin Reed, who owns the Bay Area Green Cross medical marijuana delivery service, says, “This ballot measure, which likens cannabis to alcohol or tobacco, instead of ibuprofen or aspirin, hurts patients.”

Boo-hoo. Do you need to consult with a medical professional before drinking a beer? Then why should you have to ask a doctor before smoking a joint?

And guess what—because it’s currently illegal most kids never hear a word of guidance from doctors about the physical effects of marijuana (not that they need any). But if you make it legal they might very well ask their doctor about it, especially because there’s no reason to be afraid of talking to adults about weed. As long as it’s illegal they won’t want to tell anybody, and thus won’t get any guidance whatsoever.

Full legalization will change the culture of how marijuana is currently grown and sold in the state for the worse, moving it from mom-and-pop style small business to corporate big business: “To me, it’s been about the patients, the little guys, the people at home growing Marijuana to stay out of the system. I see all those little patients struggling to exist anymore. They’re being pushed out by big enormous growers. I see for a fact those patients are going to be priced out of the market the minute you have corporations growing warehouse style.”

Anti-corporate crusader that I am, this argument almost effects me. But seriously—anyone who owns a marijuana dispensary who votes or campaigns against the passing of Prop. 19 out of their own personal financial interests can go fuck themselves. Weed before greed, man.

Sure, if you legalize marijuana that will change the whole culture. As I alluded to before, it’s illegality is a major part of the allure. But you’d still have a marijuana sub-culture—it would just be paranoia free. Pot-users would no longer have to worry about drug-lords or police informants. They could meet out in the open, sitting in parks and offering their hospitality to anyone who walks by. Believe me, any change in the culture—be it the sub-culture or the American culture at large—would be tremendously positive.

There are a few other arguments but it’s mostly bureaucratic bullshit about the specific way the law is written, and I don’t think anyone is going to vote against the initiative because of a few fine-points of legalese. Any problems with the law as written can always be fixed later on.

But the most common argument you’re going to hear against any legalization measure will be, “But what about the children?!” So I’ll leave you with the three points to keep hammering home to all those people who think they are protecting children by keeping marijuana illegal.

1- Children are already using marijuana. Making it legal means they won’t have to worry about getting arrested, and more importantly that they won’t have to hide it from you.

2- Marijuana is less harmful than alcohol. Your kid is far more likely to get into a horrible accident or do something stupid and crazy while drunk than while high. People are far more careful when they’re high.

3- Prohibition causes far more harm than it prevents. There will always be a demand for drugs like alcohol and marijuana, and if it can’t be on the regular market it will be on the black market. Would you rather have your kids buy their weed from the corner store or from some scum-bag underling of a Mexican drug-lord?

Legalizing marijuana is so obviously the right thing to do that you just know voters will never do it. So please fight the good fight and help set the record straight among the well-meaning but grossly misinformed members of the older generations. When Proposition 19 fails this November, at least you’ll know you tried.

Assuming I’m not in prison by then, I’ll be ready with a blog post to rant about it.