Monday, December 27, 2010

Guest column: Proceed cautiously on marijuana

I've been taking a shellacking in the comments section for this column, dear reader, but it displays in stark manner (1) the mindsets of the "wicked local" residents of my hometown and (2) the absolute faith of those in favor of the legalization of marijuana, a faith that should be by no means rock-solid. But try telling them that. Anyway, enjoy:

(Previously published by the Watertown TAB & Press, December 26, 2010. Copyright 2010 Watertown TAB & Press / Wicked Local Watertown.)

One of the issues that keeps on re-occurring is the decriminalization, or legalization, of marijuana. Proposition 19, the California Legalization Initiative, recently suffered defeat in the Nov. 2 election. Massachusetts decriminalized marijuana via ballot question in 2008, and other states such as New Hampshire, Hawaii, Vermont and Oregon have, by referendums or State House bills, allowed possession of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes—to no avail, of course, because federal anti-drug laws will trump the initiatives, rendering them moot.
When it comes to the War on Drugs, there is no such thing as states' rights.
The libertarian impulse to legalize the herb is, from a face value point of view, noble. No government, be it municipal, state or federal, should have the right to dictate what we can or cannot do with ourselves, if it involves no harm to others. Naturally-grown cannabis is a relatively mild drug. Some of its more eager proponents assert that it's less harmful than alcohol; some would even put it on a par with caffeine in terms of both its ubiquity and non-life threatening nature.
It helps those suffering from pain that conventional medicines cannot touch. To deny these people relief is cruel. And the fact that so many jailbirds are non-violent offenders who got locked up for possession of amounts that make it clear, even to those with a brain the consistency of mashed potatoes (which rather adequately describes federal lawmakers), that they are not dealers is preposterous.
I would, as purely a matter of technicality, be perfectly willing to decriminalize marijuana. Free the dopey stoners; they are not a threat to anyone. Allow those suffering from glaucoma, asthma and multiple sclerosis access to it. Let's be honest—prohibition doesn't work. It's why alcohol was re-legalized. It's why we fight a war on drugs that is incredibly costly. Yet, drugs are still available. The black market provides, such as it always has.
Furthermore, the so-called legal highs like Salvia or K2 have been studied far less and their effects on the mind and body long-term are largely unknown. Sometimes, as with K2, they can be synthetic. There is no end to the variety of marijuana alternatives being produced, widely available over the Internet that could pose more of a danger than cannabis itself.
But if the government was to decriminalize marijuana or any other illegal drug, they would not only have to admit they were wrong, which is highly unlikely, they would have to regulate it. Do we want more tax revenue to be wasted on programs that benefit everyone except American citizens? I don't think anyone with a libertarian bent wants to place this kind of potential cash cow in the government's hands.
I previously used the phrase "naturally-grown cannabis." This is exactly what the government would legalize. There would be a scientifically determined maximum amount of THC to legal marijuana. This would not please connoisseurs of the stronger varieties, such as “skunk.” If the point were to defeat the illegal dealing of marijuana, such a measure would fail.
Furthermore, we cannot pretend that cannabis is a happy-go-lucky, hippie drug. This is disingenuous. Like any drug, it depends on how you're feeling, where you are, and who you're with when you take it. Users may be aware that a super-strong strain of marijuana is literally "one-hit s**t," but, apropos to the laws of human nature, they'll still smoke an entire joint of it in one sitting. As for the claim that marijuana is not addictive, perhaps it isn’t pharmacologically, but definitely is from a psychological perspective. There is no avoiding the fact that frequent use of cannabis affects the mind long-term.
Normally I would say that medicinal marijuana is a fine idea, to be regulated by the healthcare industry. Those who seek the pain-relieving qualities that cannabis provides would not care that it contained only government-approved levels of THC. There should be allowances for it in any competent healthcare plan.
ObamaCare, however, has largely rendered that option unworkable.
Conservatives don't like hearing about how things work in the Netherlands. But since we're likely to have death panels under ObamaCare, we might as well allow cannabis in government-sanctioned coffee shops as they do in Holland. But again, there's the ever-thorny issue of who is supplying the drugs. I've witnessed deliveries to coffee shops in Amsterdam. The suppliers didn't bother anyone; they did their job and went on their way. But they all had that ruthless "dealer" look to them. Does this make the Dutch experiment more or less laudable because they found some way around the fact that marijuana is not going away and it's better to use coffee shops as a middleman between dealer and user?
This is an issue that cannot be taken lightly. We cannot claim an absolute right to deny anyone the “Alice in Wonderland”-like existence they search for in the smoke—their bodies, and their lives. But legalizing marijuana could create an even more surreal experience for lawmakers, the judiciary and the general public. On marijuana, we must proceed cautiously or not at all.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Joyeux Noël!

"Yep, here it is, mid-December and society is pushing that giant poop called Christmas-time out of its collective posterior and there's no escaping the eye-watering stink."
You know, I've been tough on Christmas. Not because I have any politically correct objections to it. What I resent about Christmas is that it is, without argument or conjecture, the most hyped-up, overly commercialized holiday in existence. You think Hallowe'en is bad? At least with Hallowe'en, you're not expected to be jumping around with feelings of bonhomie toward strangers that you'd sooner slug.
Ever since I started blogging nine years ago, I've thrown some sucker punches at Christmas, last year's entry, from which the italicized quote above comes, being no exception.
But I experienced a moment yesterday while food shopping which sums up how, if I'm honest, I really feel about this time of year. After I bagged and paid for my groceries, the cashier wished me a "merry Christmas." In America, cashiers and store clerks wait for you to say it; only then do they feel emboldened to return the favor. Here in Britain, despite all of our own zany political correctness—and, trust me, we have no shortage of it—"Christmas" has not been reduced to "Happy Holidays" nor has it become an unmentionable.
In a suburban London supermarket, you can still be wished a "Merry Christmas" without all hell breaking loose. I like that. It made me smile. Strangers don't normally get a sunny glimpse of my pearly whites, but that lady did.
I love Christmas from the pure Christian perspective. Christianity is part of my heritage and though I don't embrace all of its aspects, I acknowledge that tradition.
Furthermore, I never believed that song from 1963 which proclaims this "the most wonderful time of the year." Erm, harrumph, say what? Unless you have the unbelievably good fortune to be in Australia, it's the suckiest time of the year. Twenty hours of darkness (in England, we never see the sun anyway, so it hardly matters), freezing cold, snow and ice everywhere ... no wonder people want to bring trees, artificial or not, into their homes and festoon them with lights, drink mulled wine and sing a bit. It's what pagans did before Christmas and you cannot blame them.
So I'll give Christmas a break this year ... and take a break from writing for the next few days. In the meantime, I wish you, dear reader, a safe, warm and, above all, merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tax cut agreement was not "lousy"

So, dear reader, are you glad the deal to extend the Bush-era tax rate for two more years passed or do you think we should have held out for a better deal from January when the Republican Congress takes over?
I'm happy with it. The way I see it, if this incoming Congress is as efficient as we're hoping, let's strive for another tax deal and lower rates even further once those Republicans take their seats.
Sarah Palin said the agreement was "lousy." Sure, it was a compromise between the GOP and the White House. But she concentrated a little too much on this being a victory for Obama. She's right when she contends that "Obama is so very, very wrong on the economy," but I don't think the Prez "spinned" Republican tax-cut goals.
Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, supported the agreement, while Mike Pence advocates making the Bush tax rates permanent. John Thune, Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney have all indicated that the effect of the tax package remains to be seen, but stopped short of criticizing it.
If this is a victory for Obama, so be it. We needed, at the very least, an extension of the tax cuts to keep helping the economy to recover. It was necessary. Obama may have complained about it, spoke of being held hostage to it, and struck a somber note in announcing it. But in the end, he did the right thing, stood up to the far-Leftie "purists," and endorsed a tax package that will keep America on track.
So here it is: Good for you, Mr. President.
So let Anthony Weiner, Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi squawk all they like. They didn't get to screw the middle or working classes on a tax deal and that's what matters.
Besides, it's a little nauseating to see the die-hard Tea Party stalwarts moaning along with the far-Left. Do they really want to be seen to agree with Paul Krugman that this tax deal is "bad stuff"?
Now if we could just bury the DREAM Act once and for all, instead of watching its seemingly never-ending death throes, then 2011 is looking up.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Advertisers should sell products, not push agendas

(Previously published by Blogcritics)

By this point in history, dear reader, you must surely have noticed that there's a certain bias against the male gender in advertisements and sitcoms. I don't worry so much about sitcoms because they're not coercing me to consider the purchase of a product and no-one watches them anyway.
But advertising is a different story. Consider the following scenario: I'm relaxing in front of the idiot box and a commercial starring a couple airs. They could be walking through the park, shopping, driving in a car, whatever. But the woman will be portrayed as all-knowing and wiser than Methuselah, even if she looks no older than 25, while the man will be shown to do or say something stupid. He will be belittled by the woman and the commercial will end. And then another will appear, with a stupid man thrown in the mix somewhere.
The ads don't even have to contain women. Advertisements for alcoholic beverages routinely make men on their own look idiotic. OK, alcohol and idiocy often go hand-in-hand, but still, why do we never see just how hideous members of the "fairer sex" get when they're loaded? Furthermore, the guys in the beer or alcopop commercials usually aren't even drunk yet.
By the end of this barrage, after I've been not-so-subtlely told that I must be a hopeless dolt simply because of my gender, I'm expected to seriously consider the purchase of any goods or services from companies that have just insulted not just me, but my male family members and buddies.
Remarkably, it's not just white men who are on the receiving end of this bigotry. If a black couple are portrayed, the black guy receives the same awful treatment. This is perhaps the only instance in which you can actually make a black man out to be a dumb-ass and get away with it.
It's a shame because, in the past, commercials were quite good at taking all the bits and pieces of our daily routine and making light of that. The tricky or annoying situations we so often find ourselves in, regardless of our gender, were being made fun of. It was effective but harmless humor.
Now advertising executives have taken it too far by twisting the logic to make men the constant source of what makes those bits and pieces of daily life so irritating. It doesn't do women much justice if advertisers think that there must be a man-bashing element to their sales strategy.
I think it's good and healthy for our society that women are now respected in a way they certainly weren't fifty years ago. Unfortunately, the live-and-let-die mentality is not being displayed here. Now that they've asserted themselves, the feminists in the news, entertainment and advertising industries have been hell-bent for years on turning the tables and "getting some get-back" with men.
The impact this insiduous attitude in our advertising has cannot be denied. Young males watch TV, get this garbage soaked into their brains that there's something wrong with them, and then grow up to be emotionally deficient, reckless and possibly self-loathing.Testosterone and low self-esteem do not make a good combination.
This "men as privileged" mindset is bunk. As Glenn Sacks and Richard Smaglick point out in their article Advertisers: Men Are Not Idiots, "Yes, men do make up the majority of CEOs, politicians and powerbrokers. They also make up the majority of the homeless, the imprisoned, suicide victims and those who die young." But one can only suppose that's not a concern to militant feminists in the ad industry and their left-wing, cojones-lacking sympathizers who are clearly given a reason to continue to make fun of men and all that's wrong with them.
It was believed for a while that men did not care how they were portrayed. But a 2005 study conducted by advertising company Leo Burnett Worldwide found that four out of five men were concerned by the anti-male bias in commercials and found that men suffer from an identity crisis.
In an age where soundbites are crucial, and no-one has the time or werewithal to delve into the logic behind them—especially when it's erroneous—how people are portrayed is a serious matter. It's time advertisers put the focus on selling their products, not persuing agendas or pushing propoganda.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A 21st century tale of "customer service"

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. And sometimes, the two things seem to happen in equal measure. Life's a bit odd like that. It's remarkable how often you win and lose at the same time with the business world.
Exactly one year ago, Squirrel and I ordered a security door from a windows-and-door company that has a high recognition factor here in Britain. I won't mention them in this space only because we have not gotten our deposit money back yet, although we've been told we will. However, if you're curious to know, dear reader, I'll be happy to name-drop via e-mail.
The door was one of those pre-framed, uPVC doors that are impossible to open without a key or an explosive. In January, a fitter came out to take measurements, and we awaited the big day when our new door would arrive.
That day came at the end of March. I had gotten everything out of the way and taken the decorations (apartment letter, fox door-knocker, etc.) off the current door. The fitter said he had "the wrong door," that the measurements taken were from a left-hinge position as opposed to our current right one. The fitter said he'd call back later that day; he never did.
Now, even that one incident, you'll agree, was enough to ask for an apology and perhaps even a discount off the price of the door. I talked with the manager and got the huffy attitude that I had no right to discuss such things until after the door was installed. I would have told him to go crap in his hat at that juncture, but Squirrel really wanted the door.
An installment was booked at the end of June. We insisted on the end of the month, because that's when we both get paid, and according to this company's contract, deductions come out from the day of installation. Once again, I had everything taken out of the way. I received a call from the main office informing us that the installer's van had broken down. Soon after, we received requests from the company that the installation take place sooner. We said "no, it'll be the end of the month or nothing." No hint of apology this second time around.
At the end of July, on a Friday, the installers arrived and took less than a minute to inform me that our doorway consisted of the wrong kind of timber. The company's main office said it was the right kind and that if it had not been, it would have been noted during the January visit. They offered to have it installed on the coming Monday, and as this was still the end of the month, we said OK.
The installer, yet another different one, started bombarding me with questions about parking. I lost count of how many times I told him, "I can't advise you. Neither of us drive. So we have never taken any notice of parking restrictions." Isn't that this guy's job to find out these things? I'd never been moaned at before about parking arrangements, so I figured the man must have obsessive-compulsive disorder or something. He offered to come back the following Sunday when parking wouldn't be an issue, and I was so frustrated by then, I said "ok, fine," forgetting that by then, it would be the beginning of a new month.
Again began the frustration of dealing with the company's main office to cancel that date and arrange another end-of-the-month appointment. That was slated for the end of September. Before then, however, we received a letter from the main office to the effect of: "We are pleased that you are happy with your new product, etc." It was obvious to us by now that the people of this company didn't communicate with the installers—or simply didn't know their asses from a hole in the ground.
One more chance. The day in September arrived and the installers started preparing. I was called out to have a look at the door. "Why?" I asked. "I've just taken off my boots. What are you telling me?" I was urged to have a look at the door. So I went out in the drizzle, my stockinged feet on the cold, wet pavement of the sidewalk to look at the door in the van's compartment bay. Damaged. A huge crack ran through it.
"Obviously, we can't install it like this," I was told. No duh!
We were desperate now to cancel and get out of this never-ending nightmare, but we'd signed the contract and paid a deposit. We had not heard anything at all from the company since that day in September. Yesterday, we finally managed a breakthrough and got the company to cancel the contract. Freedom!
In total, five incidents, more phone calls placed and e-mails written to the company than we care to remember, and perhaps just two weak-assed apologies.
We will give another security door company a chance, but we will tell them this sordid tale and if just one thing goes wrong, we will demand cancellation of that contract. I will lay it on the line to them, because I refuse to go through this again.
We might have won back our money, as well as the recognition that we've been screwed with for too long. But we lost time and faith in any company to deliver on their promises. We learned that this is what customer "service" and corporate responsibility amounts to as we head into the second decade of the 21st century.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Weiner: Tax bill benefits "only 32,000 people"

You may have noticed, dear reader, that New York Representative Anthony Weiner—schmuck extraordinaire, but we'll get to that later—is fast becoming the face of the modern Democratic party. His young looks, however, don't prevent it from being ugly.
His recent interview with Megyn Kelly on FOX News on the subject of the tax bill deal was telling in terms of how he does not acknowledge reality, about how "principles" refers only to what he and his left-wing fellow travellers feel, not what Americans want or, indeed, what's good for the country.
Weiner is, obviously, unhappy with the compromise President Obama reached with Republicans on the tax rate bill. When he talked with Kelly on FOX News, it's not bad enough that he talked down to her: "The President has had negotations with the Republicans, and now he's going to have some with Democrats. That's how this process works."
Thanks, Congressman Weiner, for the civics lesson. Kelly and her audience did not already know that. As you know, we're dumb, for we are not pulling all the stops for higher taxes—"the best deal for the American people"—the way you and your Democrat colleagues are. Alas, I digress ...
What's best for the American people, according to Weiner, is not "to add another $80 billion in debt to our children to pay for the estate tax burden that will only be lifted for 32,000 people in the entire country." This is the same man who derided the "Tea Bag Party" for opposing the Dream Act, which will affect these children, indeed all children who are American citizens, when they start losing out to the entitlements the offspring of illegal aliens will receive.
The tax rate being proposed is the same one we've been paying for nearly a decade now. It is not a hand-out to millionaires or billionaires. But, according to Bernie Sanders, a citizen making £200,000 a year is a billionaire. Weiner, no doubt, agrees.
Kelly rightly pointed out the time on a tax deal is limited, that if a bargain is not struck between the President and the Congress to determine the tax rate before December 10, it will affect workers' paychecks and hurt small businesses who might have to file twice, and will delay tax refunds. Obama, for once, is doing the responsible thing here, acting as a President should, and Weiner thinks that it's vital that efforts continue to stop a vote on the tax bill?
Chuck Schumer couldn't sell a Democrat-authored package on the floor of the Senate, yet the President, who admittedly feels he was "held hostage" to this deal, has to continue to fight? At whose expense, Mr. Weiner, the American people's or your principles? Ah yes, but your principles are shared by all Americans. Silly me, I forgot.
Also, according to Weiner, if you pay your taxes and invest in an estate, there should be another tax paid on that because "you'll be dead." In other words, those who are due to inherit an estate should be punished. Weiner told Kelly, "For people who inherit money, that money gets taxed at a lower rate than if they worked seventy hours to earn it. That's just not fair."
Again, we're "aiding only 32,000 people," so let's pretend that money that was earned should not be free to pass on to another generation because it adds to the debt. I don't see how that works. Unless, of course, you're using smoke-and-mirrors to make it seem as though only the rich are getting tax cuts, which simply isn't true.
Weiner knows full well that this isn't a tax cut for the rich. But we're not penalizing those "millionaires and billionaires." That's what has him up in arms over this tax deal. He and most of his Democratic allies don't realize that the middle class don't need government programs to assist them. They need those rich business owners, those who invest private money, to create jobs for them. The middle class doesn't benefit from a stimulus package. They benefit when those with cash create real jobs for real people.
But don't tell Anthony Weiner that. It would violate his sense of fairness and principled convinction of what's good for the American people.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Time for the Senate to slay this beast

The bad news: Yesterday, the still Democrat-controlled House approved the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, a.k.a. the Dream Act.
The good news: The measure is unlikely to survive passage through the Senate. Even Dick Turbin ... excuse me, I mean Durbin, admitted that getting the sixty votes needed for Senate approval is "an uphill struggle."
Good. Whose dream is engendered by the Dream Act? It's been sold to us by liberals as a way of acknowledging that foreign-born children brought to the U.S. by their parents had no say in the matter and therefore should be given the chance to gain legal status. The Dream Act stipulates that these lawbreakers' offspring will be eligible for legal status up to the age of 35, though some reports say the cut-off age will be 29. A 29-year-old is a minor? Better tell them they're not allowed to drink any cervesas until they turn thirty.
Once these 12 million illegals gain their amnesty—because that's exactly what this legislation proposes—they'll be able to bring over their extended relatives and, before you know it, welfare dependency will skyrocket.
Of course, there will be illegals who will work due to the unscrupulous nature of some businesses and service sectors. Why should they hire a Miller, a McCarthy or a Moretti when there's a Mendoza or a Morales who will do the job for less and doesn't give a stuff about employee benefits and whatever else is considered important to pampered American workers.
The Obama White House has called the immigration system "broken." How dare they? The immigration system was working fine before the Hart-Celler Act of 1965 smashed our ability to control immigration to pieces. Gone were the caps from the 1924 and 1952 Immigration and Nationality Acts. The Simpson-Mazzoli Act of 1986, which Ronald Reagan was duped into signing or actually believed would place restrictions on illegals—he later called this the worst mistake of his Presidency—granted amnesty to 3 million illegals. Mr. Obama, the American immigration system was broken long before you came into office; now you just want to break it even more.
(Not that I entirely blame you, Mr. President. Your predecessor, George W. Bush, was every bit as mush-headed as you when it came to amnesty for illegals.)
If the 12 million "minors" who are depending on passage of the Dream Act don't like what their parents did, then they can prove their willingness to respect the country by standing in line and jumping through hoops in order to gain legal citizenship. You know, the way it used to be done before Lyndon Johnson screwed us all.
The Democrats and their loony-Left allies know this is the last chance to achieve "immigration reform," hence the struggle to rush it through a lame-duck Congress. It's up to the Senate today to slay this beast. The "Dream" may die, but sanity will at least remain on life support with a chance for improvement.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Hunters don't like being in the crosshairs themselves

Every year, at the start of the hunting season in Massachusetts, conservative radio personality Howie Carr gleefully aims his gun at the "outdoor enthusiasts." His November 25 column for the Boston Herald stated: "Shotgun deer-hunting season begins in Massachusetts tomorrow, but it just ain’t what it used to be. The native hunter population has scattered south and north. Gun and rod clubs rank high on the moonbat hit parade. And the spread of dental insurance has reduced the number of toothless yahoos stumbling drunkenly through the woods around here every first Monday after Thanksgiving. Still, tomorrow will not be a good day to be a cow in Massachusetts—or a stop sign."
Last year, he wrote: "On your way to work tomorrow, when you notice the pick-ups off to the side of the road, remember that deep in the brush, some toothless moron may be guzzling his final Budweiser."
And in 2000, he said of hunters, "[T]hey return from the woods, hungover as all git-out, to take crayon in hand and write me about how an armed citizenry is the final bulwark, the ultimate defense against insane politicians bent on stealing elections and eradicating our liberties with the help of an out-of-control judiciary."
Carr has been doing this for at least a decade now, and yet the hunters still get agitated and think they have something worthwhile to contribute to the debate. In response to his most recent hunting column, a letter writer to the Herald bemoaned, "[I] find it particularly offensive that Carr belittles and insults the unfortunate individuals who were involved, injured or killed while hunting. Making light of the demise or injury of a person or persons to get a laugh among readers is beyond reprehensible."
I would call the demise of these people either of two things: Darwinism or justice. You might also look upon it as "thinning the herd" of a different sort.
Still, the hicks with rifles cannot contain themselves. On, in response to one of Carr's hunting columns, somebody posted, "There's no hate like anti-hunter hate." I suppose there's the kind of hate that another poster on the forum exhibited. He remarked, "I wish more hunting accidents occurred in and around the offices of the Boston Herald writers, more specifically Howie Carr's office." Or, how about this gem: "I hope this farkwad hits a deer tomorrow, and does several thousand dollars worth of damage to his pussy pink Toyota Prius. It's only fitting for someone who doesn't understand wildlife management."
I think it would be news to Howie Carr that he drives a pink-colored Prius. But yeah, go ahead, use the cheap shot and claim your moral high ground.
In response to his 2009 column, somebody on a Free Republic website thread whined, "Thousands of idiot liberals die of drug overdoses and gang violence, and AIDS—but as usual, contempt is held for white middle class men who happen to hunt." Shall I cue the violin music and fetch the tissues? No-one mentioned anything about idiotic liberals; the subject is your idiotic hobby.
The Black Bear Blog, a Maine-based hunting website, featured an anti-Carr article entitled "What's Good For the Goose is Good For the Gander." (I wonder how long it took the writer to come up with such an original title for his opinion?) In the piece, the author stipulates, "What this overweight, biased, two-fingered, keyboard-pecking moron does is then carry on about all the dumb things hunters have done causing accidents. Like any uneducated fool, he spans the country and Canada to find stories that make all hunters look to be drunken, bumbling idiots."
No. What Carr does, with relatively little effort, is make hunters out to be the big crybabies that they are, an intolerant group of dopes that cannot believe that anyone could fail to see the fun in bloodshed.