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Tag: Marijuana

Hey, are you calling Carl Sagan stupid?

Marijuana_jointWith the onrushing Super Bowl featuring combatants from the two states that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, this seems as good a time as any to recall a conversation during a dinner party at our house over the holidays.

It was late in the evening, post meal, and 10 of us were sitting at the dining-room table, surrounding a mountain of empty wine bottles. There would be hell to pay in the morning. It was getting pretty loud in the room. And someone asked, “What’s the hardest drug we’ve all taken?”

When the question came around to me, I kind of ignored it. That’s how I deal with any problem Maybe it’ll go away. It’s how I handled the broken latch on the front door. I put off taking it apart, put it off, put it off… and then, one day, it was magically working again. It still is. Pretty cool.

But someone kept pushing me on the drug question. I guess they figured the local rock music critic would have quite a story here.

“I think you’re going to be disappointed,” I said.

They were. Just about everyone had larger experiences in narcotics than I have. Mostly hallucinogens. No one volunteered any encounters with exotic excretions from amphibians, but they hit all of the benchmarks. Acid. Mushrooms.

And every one of these reprobates is a solid citizen. With a job. A loving, long-term personal relationship. With well-balanced kids, or content pets. A creative force in music or art.

Their drug days are now over, or at least so sporadic as to hardly count.

Now, not for a minute am I suggesting that there isn’t a drug problem in this world. There is, and it’s significant. I have friends who have fallen prey to it. I raise this issue not simply because of Sunday’s Stoner Bowl, but because there has been a lot of odd talk about dope over the last month.

David Brooks is the frequently wrong conservative columnist of The New York Times. I say frequently wrong because Brooks likes to write about the economy, then his co-worker Paul Krugman, a Pulitzer Prize winner in economics,  follows up with a column that has to clean up the mess. So Brooks has a habit of writing about things in which he has no expertise.

But not marijuana. Brooks has expertise there. He used to smoke dope as a teenager. Then he got bored and moved on to bigger things, like telling the rest of us how to lead our lives. He started off the New Year by creating quite an Internet giggle with a column called “Weed: Been There. Done That.” His point, which you can read here, was Colorado and Washington were wrong to legalize it. He wrote:

What sort of individuals and behaviors do our governments want to encourage? I’d say that in healthy societies government wants to subtly tip the scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship.

I’m not going waste any time beyond this one sentence to point out the hypocrisy of the anti-government conservative folks suggesting our government should encourage specific individuals and behavior.

Brooks offers a half-hearted argument that smoking marijuana is a health hazard. Then, citing his personal experience as a young man, Brooks gets to his main point. That pot is bad because it makes you stupid.

I wonder if Brooks has ever written a column that called for the criminalization of alcohol. Because – besides studies that show it is more of a health hazard than pot – in most people’s experiences, getting drunk makes you act stupid. Other things Brooks might want to criminalize, because they make you act stupid: television, gambling, your college friends, Fox News, NASCAR, love.

Has Brooks ever eaten too much at Thanksgiving dinner, loosened his belt, flopped onto the couch and fallen asleep during the second half of the Cowboys game, rather than being productive and writing that next brilliant piece for the Times? Perhaps turkey should be criminalized.

Brooks isn’t the only buzzkill conservative. In a TV interview this week, Ann Coulter said American commerce is under threat because she suspects her pool cleaner was a pot head. On the very same day that Brooks gave us the straight dope on dope, the Washington Post‘s Ruth Marcus also attacked the country’s move toward legalization. After confessing that, yes, she has also done the deed. In her young, carefree, presumably immature days. “On balance, society will not be better off with another legal mind-altering substance,” is her argument. (Interestingly, that’s also how a lot of us feel about guns, which kill 30,000 Americans a year, way more people than marijuana.) Like Brooks, Marcus ignores evidence that marijuana offers some health benefits and cites studies that suggest smoking a lot of dope – lab rat and Tommy Chong levels, I suspect – lowers your IQ. I noticed that she makes this argument just a few sentences after she writes “an occasional joint strikes me as no worse than an occasional drink.”

Ruth! Which is it?

I don’t know. Once again I hate to disappoint, but it’s very possible Brooks, Marcus and Coulter have smoked more dope than I have. My main concern with the criminalization of marijuana is that it’s a weapon in the drug war on poor people. Another thing we learned this week is the only person in the country who doesn’t agree that pot is less a hazard than heroin and crack is the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Michele M. Leonhart.

Does smoking pot make you stupid? Brooks and Marcus survived the experience and have been rewarded with coveted positions as high-profile commentators on the rest of us and our foibles. Does experimenting with drugs more powerful than pot make you stupid?  Somehow our smart and witty holiday dinner guests escaped the brain trauma.

But Brooks and Marcus don’t have to take our word on it. The astronomer and teacher who opened the limitless possibilities of the cosmos to us, Carl Sagan, was an enthusiastic consumer and pot advocate. He credited smoking dope with helping him focus on the big questions of the universe. Surely they’re not calling him stupid.

The Critical Mass

I read The Sunday New York Times, so you don’t have to: July 8

Today’s coffee is an unfortunate generic brand. I forgot to pick up something good at the market from Joe. First music of the day: Paco de Lucia En Vivo, a live set by by the renowned Spanish classical guitarist. And remember, social mediates, you can now follow me on  Twitter, @jeffspevak1.

1, So we were all worried about Super-PACS, the Political Action Committees that grew out of the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision that allows corporations to give unlimited contributions to their favorite political causes and candidates. Republicans, mostly. As Mitt Romney famously said, “Corporations are people too, my friend.” Turns out those people, the corporations, are a step ahead of us. “Instead, there is growing evidence that large corporations are trying to influence campaigns through another route,” The Times reports in its lead story. “Donating money to tax-exempt organizations that can spend millions of dollars without being subject to the disclosure requirements that apply to parties, candidates and PACs.”

2, Mitt Romney is in the Hamptons at a Republican fundraiser being hosted today by the conservative billionaire industrialist David Koch. The cost: $75,000 a couple. I’m betting newly married Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank and his husband aren’t invited to this one.

3, The Sunday Styles section expands on this notion, with Barack Obama skipping the Hamptons fundraising circuit in order to emphasize the difference between the two candidates; you won’t get John Kerry and Jimmy Buffett playing “Brown Eyed Girl” together while celeb chef Daniel Boulud prepars them bacon-wrapped Montauk tuna (at least Kerry was a leader in the locavore movement). But the Republican soires won ‘t have star power either. “There’s enough interest in  stopping Obama,” said one Romney spokesman, “that you don’t need to hire entertainment and celebrity chefs.” Certainly it should be enough to hang out for a day at Revlon chairman Ronald Perelman’s estate, called by one tree-society bulletin “the eighth wonder of the horticultural world” and “the most outstanding private conifer collection the United States, a living work of art.” Romeny’s three Hamptons parties this weekend are expected to net his campaign $3 million.

4, “Dr. Gabriel Nahas, Marijuana Opponent, Dies at 92,” The Times headline reports. “Dr. Nahas saw his anti-drug campaign as nothing less than a continuation of the fight against totalitarianism,” the obit says, “which for him began during World War II as a decorated leader of the French Resistance; like totalitarianism, he believed, drugs enslaved the mind.” While many of Dr. Nahas’ medical findings – marijuana users display chromosome abnormalities – were disputed at the time, and still are, his anti-drug reputation resonated with many conservatives. “In the 1970s,” The Times writes, “he marshaled his newly public persona to sign newspaper advertisements criticizing opponents of the Vietnam War.”

5, International cheese authority Daphne Zepos has passed away from lung cancer at age 52. A writer up to her elbows in the cheese industry, Zepos campaigned hard on behalf of artisanal cheese in this country, The Times noting that her husband “said she might invoke Homer, Mark Rothko, the soul music of Stax/Volt Records and the pianist Glenn Gould in a single blissful breath.”  The Times also notes that Zepos was “a gerontologist of cheese. More precisely, she was an affineur, as someone who oversees the aging of cheese to its exquisite, carefully calibrated pinnacle is known.” As her editor at The Atlantic magazine said, “She loved looking at the light in your eyes when she put a piece of cheese in your mouth.”

6, In the Travel section, we learn about sidetour.com, where you can pay for one-of-a-kind New York City tour experiences that “include authors, artists, musicians, professional chefs, bartenders and restauranteurs, a farmer, a monk, a concert pianist and a handbag designer.” A 1 1/2-hour conversation at the Core Club with the jazz musician David Sanborn will set you back $200, but you can have drinks at the Knickerbocker Bar and Grill or 1 1/2 hours with a Rolling Stone journalist for only $20.

7, London is experiencing a beer renaissance, a need that I was unaware of. I figured London always had craft beers aplenty, but in 2006 it had just seven working breweries. “It used to be the worst beer city in Britain,” says one pub owner. That number has since tripled. Civilization moves on.

8, According to a Princeton University study, the household standard for comfortable living in the United States is $75,000 a year, after which “the beneficial aspects of money tapered off entirely.”

9, In the Sunday Review, Brian McFadden’s comic strip, The Strip, nails lazy journalism. One panel is labeled “Trend Spotting,”  and shows a reporter hovering over her laptop and urged to “Write a trend piece about the first thing you see” as a woman holding balloons walks by. “Balloons: Summer’s Hip New Accessory.”

10, Lamenting the incorrect reporting that followed seconds – and weeks later, still – the announcement of the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act, University of San Diego law professor Frank Portnoy blames our rush to judgments. “E-mail, social media and the 24-hour news cycle are informational amphetamines,” he writes, “a cocktail of pills that we pop at an increasingly fast pace – and that leads us to make mistaken split-second decisions.”

11, The candidates for president are a little leaky with their history. When Obama points to Americans working together to accomplish great things in the past, such as building the Interstate highway system, he’s overlooking how contentious those projects were, a couple of history scholars write in the Sunday Review. And when Romney says the Founding Fathers were against gay marriage, stop and think: When did Washington or Jefferson ever address that issue? Did gay marriage ever even cross their minds?

12, Columnist Timothy Egan writes of events such as last week’s Colorado wildfires: “In March, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in a special report of ‘unprecedented extreme weather and climate events’ to come. The events are here, though the skeptics now running the Republican Party deny the obvious, in large part because they are paid to deny the obvious.”

13, In the magazine, Sam Anderson has written an awesome piece on LeBron James. It spends a great deal of time with his exploits at the Greece Olympics in the 5th century B.C., as a Roman gladiator and then a 16th-century Aztec ullamaliztli player before arriving at his NBA career. James looks like “a sack of melons” Anderson writes, his face “a theater of strange beards and scowls.” Anderson uncovers a useful word – “uglyphine” – to describe James, “the paradoxical zone of attractiveness where beauty and ugliness meet.” Now that’s sportswriting.

14, It’s startling to hear the competitive Walker Cronkite described as “ruthless” when it came to competing with TV colleagues. Otherwise, he comes off quite as you’d expect in MSNBC host Chris Matthews’ review of Douglas Brinkley’s Cronkite. No subtitle needed on this book.

15, In My Cross the Bear, Gregg Allman describes the peak of the Allman Brothers Band’s success, and getting on the new private jet to find “Welcome Allman  Bros” written in cocaine on the bar. By his estimate, Allman was in rehab 18 times before it took. Happy at last, with a new liver, reviewer David Kirby says Allman’s last words are “I don’t know if I’d do it all again.”

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