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Saturday, March 26, 2005

Drug legalization

First, I would like to make it abundantly clear that I've never had so much as a sip of an alcoholic beverage or tried any illicit substances. I tried smoking tobacco a time or two, but I didn't like it, and given my allergies, it's probably not a good idea for me to willingly inhale any smoke. Also, there's the slight fact that tobacco kills many of its users. The only drugs I take on a regular basis are caffeine and ibuprofen (Advil).

That being said, I think people should have the right to place whatever substances in their bodies that they see fit, as long as they do no one else any harm. People currently have the right to get drunk off their asses in this nation, and while I personally think those who do so are idiots, as long as they don't get behind the wheel of a car or play with firearms, sharp objects, or other potentially hazardous materials while in the presence of others, it's their life and their choices to make. I can see no moral or ethical reason that the same reasoning is not used for any other illicit substance. We already have hundreds, if not thousands, of laws against harming people, and those laws should be enforced to the fullest extent of the law. However, we also have hundreds, if not thousands, of laws against people harming themselves, and this is an error the likes of which we haven't seen since Prohibition. Organized crime actually got its major impetus from that failed and long-since overturned amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and the reason for that came down to one word: Money. Where there's money, where there's the potential for profits, where there's people who want a product, there will be people to supply those people and reap those profits. I don't care if you're talking about apples at the local market, gasoline at the local filling station, or illicit substances. The only thing drug criminalization has accomplished is raising the profit margins of the drug dealers and suppliers, removed quality controls, and removed the option of civilized resolution of disputes for those who deal in those substances, which in the 1930s, translated into mobsters using Tommy guns to drive by competing speakeasies, and nowadays, translates into some of the worst of the regular occurrences you see on the news.

Furthermore, an overwhelming majority of people in the U.S., while supporting the "war on drugs", by a not quite as large but still overwhelming majority, believe that it's a "war" that will never be won. So now the questions are thus: "Do we continue to engage in this exercise in futility?" and "If church groups and parent organizations want to prevent youth drug use, what methods work without involving the government?" But that's another debate for another time.

Terri Schiavo, 8 days later

Well, the courts have repeatedly made clear the fact that they have no intention of doing anything other than abdicating their ethical obligations to provide relief to the Schindlers in this matter. Given that fact, it would be best for them to start preparing for her funeral, and the fight to not have her body cremated. I would like to express my deepest sympathies to the Schindler family on their loss, and would like to commend them for how pleasant they've been to Michael Schiavo, a man who clearly doesn't deserve it. I can guarantee that, if that were my sister, daughter, or mother, I would have been considerably less pleasant than they, and the demeanor with which they've conducted themselves speaks well for them. To quote a Leonard Cohen song, "Everybody knows that the war is over. Everybody knows that the bad guys won." Since that is more than amply clear, for them to attempt any further legal action would only exacerbate their already extreme heartbreak while accomplishing nothing.

But regardless of where you stand on this issue, one thing has been made amply clear: Advanced directives are a good and necessary thing, and not only should everyone have one on file, they should discuss that decision with their families. This type of discussion has been commonplace among those who want to donate their organs for years, and would prevent this type of nightmare from recurring.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Terri Schiavo

I think the removal of the feeding tube from Terri Schiavo is nothing less than court-sanctioned murder by torture. I find it particularly disturbing that this innocent woman is being subjected to a death that, were she a convicted murderer on death row, would be deemed unconstitutional by the very courts that condemned her to death by starvation. As I recall, there was another 20th Century leader who was all in favor of exterminating the mentally infirm, and he wasn't all that nice. To this day, people still curse his name, and rightfully so.

I saw on the news yesterday that her "husband", and I use that term very loosely, has been, for the last 5 years, been claiming that he's just doing what she would have wanted. She lapsed into her current condition 15 years ago, at which time, the doctors had to have asked him if he wanted the feeding tube inserted. So he's now claiming that he knows better what she would have wanted 10-15 years after she was last able to express those wishes, than he did shortly thereafter she was last able to do so. Ignore the fact that he's since knocked up another woman repeatedly, just for the sake of argument. I certainly don't remember what I said 10-15 years ago, or, with very few exceptions, what was said by someone I loved.

While her brain is severely damaged, that which is required to keep her alive is not very complicated or uncommon. She is in no need of a respirator or heart bypass machine. All she needs is a feeding tube, which is something that is used by numerous people with a variety of conditions; and someone to exercise and bathe her. Other forms of therapy would also be beneficial, though not strictly necessary to keep her alive. From the last few times she has had her feeding tube removed, it's clear that she still has a will to survive. Her parents and other family who actually care about her have offered to take over custody of Terri's care; yet Mr. Schiavo would rather get the life insurance money and starve to death the woman he promised to care for in sickness and in health.

The only good thing that's come out of this is the obviation of the necessity of "living wills". If it were me, I certainly would not want to be kept on a ventillator or heart bypass machine indefinitely. However, if all I needed were a feeding tube, even if I were in a persistive vegetative state, I would certainly want my family to keep me on that. The way I see it, this is a very plain, very simple moral issue that the courts in Florida have taken an extremely wrong-headed stance on, simply in the name of politics, and when an innocent person's life is on the line, that is far beyond being inexcusable. Therefore, I applaud what the U.S. Congress is doing in an attempt to ameliorate this situation. Congress doesn't always get things right, but they're certainly doing so in this case, even going so far as to skip their Easter recess. Their actions show an unusual amount of moral courage, and those responsible for the fast-tracking of this legislation certainly have my respect.

Gay marriage

First, I would like to open this by saying a bit about myself. I'm a straight male, and I'm very comfortable with that fact. As long as an activity is occurring between/among consenting, non-related adults in the privacy of their own bedrooms, in some seedy motel room, or other private venue, I feel that's their business. That being said, I don't understand why Christian conservatives are so adamant about claiming that gay marriage is an assault on the institution of marriage. To me, that displays a truly mind-boggling level of self-involvement and poor reasoning.

Let's look at that argument from two different angles. First, I honestly don't see how people who would in no way be inclined to marry someone of the opposite gender could possibly threaten traditional marriage. How could they threaten something in which they would never engage? Second, aren't there greater threats to traditional marriage than a very small segment of the populace? Wake up and smell the divorce rate. Take a good look at the Montel show, Dr. Phil, or any of dozens of other television shock jocks. While what they show are extremes, but they are a good window on the whole. How many people do you know who are single parents, or have been divorced, or engage in marital infidelity? Look at how many people fall into one or more of those categories, compare that to the number of gay people, and tell me which is the more credible threat to traditional marriage.

So, of course, I'm opposed to a national constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, but not for the reason you may think. In the last 227 years, the U.S. Constitution has only been amended 27 times, the first 10 times (the Bill of Rights) being so that the rest of the Constitution could pass. With the exception of the 27th Amendment which simply bans any pay increases for Congress from taking effect until the next session of Congress, these amendments have been over weighty issues. In the modern era, the amendments have had a 7 year time limit for ratification. The only ones that have passed since then are the 26th Amendment (18 year olds voting) and the 27th Amendment, which was proposed at the time the Bill of Rights was proposed and was not subject to that time restriction, though that did have to take a trip through the courts to verify that. The Constitution dictates that any power not expressly given to the federal government be devolved to the state or local governments, or to the people themselves. Since it is, with extremely rare exceptions, the states and municipalities that handle marriages, this is most properly their bailiwick, and the decisions on that matter be left to the several states. The states will figure out what's right for themselves, and in my opinion, no state should be forced to recognize a union that takes place in another state.

As for me, I think gay couples should be privy to the same benefits and responsibilities as straight couples. They want to get married? Fine. That's another group for divorce attorneys to have as their clientele. They want to adopt children? As long as it's a loving, safe environment, a child that's adopted is going to have a better life than one who is stuck in foster care or orphanages. And I certainly feel that a person should be able to name whomever they wish as their beneficiary/spousal equivalent for life insurance, medical insurance, Social Security, etc. If a person cares that deeply for another person, then they should be able to name who is the beneficiary if something were to happen to them. I'd even go so far as to say that, for example, a widowed parent be able to name one of their children as a spousal equivalent to make medical and other decisions for them should that parent be afflicted with Alzheimer's or another degenerative disease, and so that that grown child can place that disabled parent on their workplace's medical insurance plan.

Well, that's all I have to say on that topic, for now.

A small aside to those who think that those who support the Iraq war have no stake in it

I read this interesting article on CNN's website discussing how around half a dozen members of Congress have children who are serving or have served during the current war in Iraq. Congress is comprised of 535 members. This makes it roughly 1% of all members of Congress who have been directly affected by the war in Iraq, who sent their own children into harm's way. While it must have been a truly heartbreaking decision for each and every one of them, this is something that goes far beyond politics, and as such, the only reason anyone in that situation would vote in favor of the war in Iraq is if they truly felt that it was the right thing to do. So to Michael Moore-on and his ilk, think about that the next time you feel like ranting about how it's just mean old men sending other people's kids to war. Though, to be honest, thinking would be a new activity for people on the far left, and, to be fair, the far right.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

My thoughts on Iraq

I'm one of those Americans who believe Saddam is better off in a prison cell than in one of his "palaces". No, Saddam wasn't directly aligned w/ Bin Laden, though they had similar goals and had allies in common (al-Zarqawi being the most infamous and malignant of the lot). The main reason I think it was the right, in fact, a moral imperative, to arrest his sociopathic arse is 20th Century European history. Mass graves and use of WMD against his own people and his enemies are eerily reminiscent of another European world leader, born in Austria, who later became the Chancellor of Germany.

The policy of the U.S. government, dating all the way back to the Clinton Administration, was regime change in Iraq. Europe loved Clinton because he focused far more on talk than action, and managed to accomplish almost nothing in his 8 years in office. I can see where some may be angry at President Bush for exposing the irrelevance of France, Germany, the U.N., and Russia, and their inexcusable theft from the Iraqi people of several thousand millions of pounds/euros/dollars or whatever currency you prefer. I can see where Blair's support for these actions may cause concern. As for me, I'm just thankful.

Can you imagine Libya giving up their WMD program, the peaceful protests in Lebanon and the Ukraine that led to peaceful regime change, the quieting of other parts of the globe had President Bush not led the coalition in this? Events of that magnitude do not just "happen". They have causes, and I think there's a very strong case for saying that the proximate cause is President Bush's actions in Iraq.

While I do disagree with some of President Bush's policies, it's not so much his foreign policy, which he's handled as well as any principled man can. He's even managed to get some begrudging support from the left-leaning Der Spiegel magazine in Germany, who said that they had opposed Reagan's stance on the Cold War and how, 20 years later, they see that he's right, and wondered if they might not do the same with Bush's Iraq policy. It's aspects of his domestic policy that concern me. But that's another topic for another time.

The Environment

The largest, by far, of the myriad problems with the modern environmental movement is that their leaders have displayed virtually no strategic ability, and those few that do are the ones way out on the fringe. To quote from Yeats' poem "The Second Coming," "The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity." The natural allies of the environmentalist movement are the hunters and fishers, those who directly benefit from nature and actually go there for something more than just a photo op. You'll find among them the most avid, most sensible conservationists around; yet the two groups are too often separate, and that's largely the fault of environmentalist groups who turn their noses up at the people doing the real work. Combine that with the alarmist tendencies of even the more moderate of the groups, and it's easy to see why they've made so little headway over the years. So how do we solve this problem? First, get the intellectuals and the hunters/fishers/growers together to determine what the problems are and how best to solve them. Second, use language those in power understand. For example, in the case of oil, I feel the best way to increase investment in alternative fuels is to mention the fact that this resource is controlled, for the most part, by nations that have a very shoddy record on human rights and whose people and/or leaders have shown less than a lot of love for us. And finally, SOUND REASONABLE AND PROPOSE REASONABLE SOLUTIONS!!!

I love the environment, and any useful, feasible, legal, and honorable means to preserve the environment are pretty okay in my book. However, whenever the steps used to "correct" problems end up causing more harm than good, I won't pretend that it's good or makes sense. A prime example of this is paper recycling. It requires far more chemicals and energy to convert post-consumer paper into usable paper than it does to fell trees and make new paper from the fresh pulp. And since 90% of all paper is made from trees that were grown on tree farms owned or leased by the paper companies, trees that were grown for the express purpose of being felled and used for this purpose, all of the arguments in favor of recycling paper fall flat. Any "solution" that requires more money, energy, and resources than the original "problem" is not a solution at all; it's just an exacerbation of a problem. That isn't to say that I'm against using something that was originally used for one purpose to fulfill another purpose. That would just be stupid. I'm all in favor of taking, for example, used paper that has no confidential information on it, cutting it up, and having it used for scratch paper. But taking it to have it recycled, where it will be subjected to all sorts of nasty chemicals that will have to be dumped somewhere, creating more direct waste in the form of those toxic wastes and indirect waste in the form of the byproducts of the energy that's needed to operate these facilities... That makes no sense to me whatsoever, and I won't pretend that it does.

Summed up as succinctly as I know how, I'm in favor of people using their heads for something more than holding their hats. Too bad that doesn't happen as often as we'd like.