Well, the social conservatives have long argued that legalizing same sex marriage was a slippery slope which would end with the legalization of, among other things, polygamy, and it looks like their predictions are coming to pass. (Story here).

Gay rights advocates are understandably worried by this, but for them to criticize the professor’s attempts to legalize polygamy on the same grounds used to legalize same sex marriage in California is to ignore the bigger picture, which is civil rights and the freedom for an individual to conduct his/her private life as s/he sees fit. LGBT is just the contemporary form of that movement. At one point it was about racial equality, today it is about equality across sexual orientations, tomorrow it will be equality for polygamists, and as a social libertarian I am absolutely fine with that. If one is truly devoted to the cause of liberty, one must fight for it consistently, across the board. I cannot imagine being in a polygamous relationship, I don’t think I could be a part of a successful such relationship, yet I can no more do so for a homosexual relationship. (Hell, after my last serious relationship I shudder to consider joining another human even in heterosexual matrimony). Does my inability to romantically love another male give me the right to prevent other males from making the plunge? If any number of consenting adults wish to be joined in civil union, who am I to deny them those basic civil protections?

Now, I should make it clear that, while I will often use the term ‘marriage’, I am talking about civil union in the eyes of the State, not the religious ceremony of marriage in the eyes of the Divine. Separation of Church and State means that the State can no more decide Church policy than Church can set State policy. If a religious body believes a marriage to be invalid in the eyes of their god(s), then that religious body has every right to withhold its sacraments. If the affected parties are unhappy with that, I suggest they convert to a more compatible faith, or take the initiative to petition their creator’s blessings without an intermediary. If, however, the State is to intervene in the personal affairs of the citizen, and deprive that citizen of a human right, then it must first demonstrate conclusively that damage which society would sustain through the exercise of that right. Looking at polygamy from a historical perspective suggests that it would actually be beneficial to society, and not damaging at all. Polygamy has been practiced in many thriving civilizations. Social conservatives should be pleased to note that even Confucianism with its strict emphasis on family as the basic unit of society allowed for it, and in the times of Mohammed it was a mechanism by which economically established males could provide for widows and their children by incorporating them into the wealthier family. (Of course, in our modern and progressive society polygamy cannot be defined simply as one husband with multiple wives, but rather more generally as a union of three or more parties).

Now, I can see this issue being skewed as a feminist one. And while it is important that polygamy be defined as a union of three or more parties rather than as one husband with multiple wives, as I stated before, I’ll admit that I imagine polygamy will tend towards the latter. I imagine that most of those interested in pursuing polygamy will be those involved in faiths which push such a traditional model, and I agree that women seem to get the short end of the stick in this situation. Having said that, those females who choose to be the many to the one have the freedom and the right to do so, regardless of how others feel, just as females have the right to be subservient to their husbands if they feel that is how they should live, or be housewives if that is their wish, or wear stilettos and bras and comply with any of the myriad awful demands society has of them. I have a female, mormon friend who believes her church is right to prevent females from entering the clergy. As a feminist myself I believe this is wrong, but more importantly I believe that it’s none of my business. I’m not a mormon, so I am unaffected entirely. I have the right to disagree with them, and even to be vocal about that disagreement, but I do not have the right to interfere with their affairs so long as they do not break the laws of the land. As a feminist I am perplexed by females who willingly subjugate themselves, but I do not have the right to make them live as I see fit. So long as those women have the freedom to choose in the first place, my fight is won. The belief in gender equality is a good one, but if the fight for that interferes with the fight for civil rights than the forest is being missed for the trees.

Polygamy may seem backwards and oppressive to some, and it is linked for many to times of antiquity when women were second class citizens. I myself am baffled by it. However, those who claim to be champions of freedom must realize that true freedom means a certain amount of discomfort. It means not only the freedom for you to live how you will, but also freedom for others to do the same. Will this lead to discussion of allowing incestuous marriages? Bestiality? Likely so, and a defender of personal liberty will continue to fight when those debates come up. For the present it will suffice to say that if three wives are happy sharing the same husband, (or three husbands happy with their one wife, or for that matter any gender distribution of any number of people of any sexual orientation), then I am happy for them and stand by their right to share each other even as I shake my head in wonder.

As this ‘war’ drags on, the US refuses to acknowledge the failure of its policy in the face of a staggering prison population, a crumbling Mexico, and global criticism. As the debt problem develops into a debt crisis, US law enforcement continues to squander enormous resources on an unconstitutional and counterproductive fight against various recreational drugs. Despite the harm caused by the War on Drugs (WoD), the nation’s leaders remain fairly unanimous in their efforts to uphold current policy and ignore the glaring evidence of its failure. (In the current general election season the only viable candidate acknowledging the need to repeal the entirety of this misguided legislation is Dr Ron Paul, whose reward is often to be slandered as a proponent of drug abuse by opponents who rely on defamatory soundbites rather than reasoned arguments). Of those who question current policy, many stop at the decriminalization or legalization of marijuana. Their opponents criticize them on the grounds that legalization of marijuana would erode the WoD as a whole, that the legalization of one drug is a slippery slope leading to legalization of all. In fact, it is critical that reform of current drug policy not stop at marijuana. It is critical that the entire War on Drugs come to an end.

The WoD began with the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, implemented by the Nixon Administration. The legislation divides all controlled substances into five schedules based on potential for abuse, medical potential, and safety. Title 2 of the act goes on to regulate or restrict the production, sale, and use of various drugs as well as the materials required to produce them.  50 years before, the US had enacted a prohibition of alcohol with disastrous consequences. As organized crime syndicates grew from the black market created by the ban, they clashed with authorities and with one another, leading to a decade of violence and bloodshed. 13 years later the ban finally ended, as former proponents across the nation acknowledged its utter failure. It was a lesson hard learned, yet it was soon forgotten.

Within a few years, wealthy and powerful men such as Andrew Mellon, the Secretary of Treasury, and Randolph Hearst, a democratic congressman, began to feel threatened by the production of hemp. A government report had been released concluding that a new technique made it possible to produce paper from the fiber more cheaply and easily than from wood, which threatened Hearst’s vast timber holdings. Mellon had invested heavily in nylon, and for the emerging industry to get a foothold it had to compete with traditional hemp fiber. Such economic interests created a political environment hostile not only to the strain of cannabis used to produce hemp, but all strains of cannabis by association. In 1937 a new tax was created by the Marijuana Transfer Tax Act to discourage the sale of the drug, with severe penalties for violation, and the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics began a campaign against marijuana use. The Boggs Act of 1951 created minimum sentencing for possession of marijuana and the Narcotic Control Act of 1956 made the penalties harsher yet. The various anti-hemp/marijuana legislation was rationalized with absurd claims of widespread addiction and users driven to madness. As the drug was more popular among the hispanic and African-American populations, campaigns were often laced with racist rhetoric to generate public disapproval. (This racist element is still strong today).

Fast forward to the Nixon administration and the WoD begins in earnest. As a global initiative, the WoD wasn’t merely a matter of US domestic policy, but also became part of the USA’s imperialist agenda of using economic sanctions/aid and military force to defend its interests and push its policy across the world rather than leading by example and allowing other nations to manage their own affairs as friends and equals. (For example, in 1989 the US invaded Panama to remove then general-dictator Noriega, a known drug trafficker who had formerly worked with the George H. W. Bush administration and the CIA to resist the spread of Communism in South America).

Since then, the efficacy of the WoD has all too often been measured by the arrests made and the product destroyed. These numbers are high and rising, and proponents point to this as proof of the ban’s success, but remember that the goal of the WoD is not (ostensibly) to arrest people or burn things, but to stop the use of ‘dangerous’ recreational drugs and improve public health. These measures, then, indicate not success but collateral damage. They demonstrate that there is a struggle, and that lives are being ruined, but do not indicate what effect this has on society. Meanwhile drug use continues to rise internationally and at home.

The WoD, like alcohol prohibition before it, has also created a booming black market, and as a result a powerful criminal element at home and abroad. Rather than taxing and regulating the drug market as a profitable and relatively safe industry, the US government has turned it over completely to gangs and criminal cartels with no oversight. Many of the claims levied against illegal drugs, that their purchase strengthens criminal elements, that the industry is unregulated and so the consumer is often at risk of purchasing products produced in unsafe conditions or cut with other, unknown products, etc are results not of the drug industry itself, but of our turning that entire industry into a criminal market. I have even heard the high costs of the WoD itself, the money spent and lives ruined, touted as proof that drugs are harmful to society, rather than as serious consequences of our policy.

Speaking of high costs, the federal government spent around 15 billion dollars fighting the WoD in 2010. State and local governments that year are estimated to have spent an additional 25 billion dollars. In 2009, around 858,000 Americans were incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses alone, and of those citizens approximately 89% were charged with possession only. And what of those arrests? Who is arrested and are they reformed? Non-violent drug offenders are placed in hostile and dangerous prison environments for years before being released again into society, with a severely compromised ability to seek education or employment. Do we truly believe that this sort of treatment will make them more willing and able to function as law-abiding citizens? Our nation’s leaders, more interested in currying political favor than enacting sound policy and afraid of being labeled ‘weak on crime’, pass mandatory-sentence legislation which cripples the power of the judge to decide what punishment is appropriate on a case-by-case basis and leads to legally enforced racism. (For example, mandatory sentencing for crack cocaine is much harsher than for powder. Crack cocaine is much cheaper than powder cocaine, and so much more prevalent among poorer minorities than their white counterparts.)

I have discussed the pragmatic aspect of the WoD, but there is a considerable ethical element as well. In favor of the WoD, there are those who believe, for personal or religious reasons, that the use of drugs to adjust one’s state of mind is immoral, though strangely enough this belief often does not extend to such drugs as alcohol, tobacco, anti-depressants, ADD medications, etc. That is all well and good, but it is also fairly arbitrary. I, personally, do not believe it is immoral, and as an American I am guaranteed protection of my personal human rights against the whims of others. Ethically opposed to the WoD is the US Constitution itself. The government is no more entitled to tell me which drugs I can put in my body than it is entitled to regulate my diet and exercise, because it is not the government’s role to oversee my personal health. That is my role alone. The role of government is to protect my rights as a citizen and as an individual. One may argue that there is no protection in the Constitution specifically for the use of drugs. In fact, one could go on infinitely listing individual rights which are not specifically protected. Many of the founders were, on these grounds, opposed to an inclusion of a Bill of Rights entirely, believing it impossible to list all rights and that the exclusion of a right from any list could be used as grounds to empower the government. That is why the founders included the 9th amendment, which states, “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” This means that a right being left out of the Constitution is not grounds for denying that right. In the case of Roe v Wade, this amendment was even interpreted such that federal protection was given to abortion. This means that if the State wishes to deny the citizen of a right, then the State must demonstrate that the citizen’s exercise of that right is sufficiently damaging to society as a whole to justify its being stripped. In the case of the WoD it has often been demonstrated that the stripping of the right to do what one will with one’s body is itself harmful to society, (see paragraphs above), and not the use of drugs at all.

I also find it interesting that, in discussion of values, personal responsibility is generally left out. The US was once a nation which prided the strength of the individual to take care of itself without government intrusion, as evidenced by the uniquely American transcendentalist movement. The poor came here and made something of themselves, and the self-made man was an all-American image. In the days of Emerson, the individual was expected to be strong and independent. Now we have become a welfare state, and the government is expected to care for us. Unfortunately, hand in hand with this expectation of government care has come government managing of the citizen’s life. This resembles much more the Confucian idea of the parent-child relationship between the State and the citizen than the traditional, American ideas of personal responsibility and freedom from government interference. It has gotten to the point now, with the WoD, that the government is mandating to the citizen what substances the citizen can and cannot put in its body, and the people have accepted this as natural and necessary. Even assuming that the government is actually carrying out this interference in the interests of public health, this creates a truly dangerous precedent. If the individual is not responsible for his/her own health, then it falls eventually to the State to regulate such facets of the citizen’s lifestyle as diet, exercise, medical care, and pastimes. Riding a motorcycle, for instance, even with a helmet, is much more dangerous than driving a car. Health care costs related to transportation could probably be reduced by outlawing the use of motorcycles, and the citizens who no longer enjoyed the right to choose whether or not to use such a device would be kept safer for it.

The WoD has not only proven entirely ineffective and impractical, but as legislation establishing a dangerous precedent for government managing of the individual’s habits is also unsound on Constitutional grounds. You needn’t take me at my word, though. The Global Commission on Drug Policy, comprised of several former presidents, prime ministers, international human rights activists, US statesmen, and even the former Secretary General of the UN, Kofi Annan, released a damning report concerning the global WoD and the failure of US drug policy. They aren’t the first to do so, and unfortunately they are unlikely to be the last.

Michele Bachmann wins poll at GOP’s Iowa carnival. The traffic was crazy, the lines were long and the sun was hot two days ago at the straw poll in Ames, and this isn’t the headline I was hoping for in return for my trouble. I attended, dragging two friends along, to support Ron Paul. Dr Paul did come in second by less than 1%, an impressive and important achievement for a candidate whose viability is so often called into question, but so slim a margin separating my chosen candidate from victory is bittersweet. Second place and 27.6% of the vote is far from a bad outcome, and as I said it sends exactly the message that Dr Paul’s campaign needs to send regarding viability, but of course to be so close and yet so far stings a little. And it doesn’t help to have lost it to Bachmann, of all competitors. Really, Iowa? Are you still so hung up on the gay marriage thing?

Other than that, there isn’t much to tell about the whole affair. I wasn’t kidding about the lines. My friends and I showed up having skipped lunch, voted right away, went to see the candidates speak in the Coliseum and then didn’t quite have it in us to wait it out for the free t-shirts and food. The candidates all had enormous tents in areas set aside for them, from which drifted non-stop mediocre music, and everything was packed.

Inside the Coliseum Dr Paul’s speech fell a tad flat as well, not terrible but certainly not so stirring as I’ve come to expect from him. I was very disappointed that he started out and spent so much time on abortion, I suppose in an effort to find common ground with a party in which he is often (ironically) seen as a fringe candidate, and given the time constraints this resulted in a cursory skimming over the major issues which really make his campaign unique and superior. Many issues, like the patriot act and the out-of-control military spending were only briefly touched on. Others, such as ending the expensive and counterproductive war on drugs, were left alone entirely.

The thing to take from the straw poll is this: Ron Paul is absolutely electable and viable. If he had spent the first part of his speech blasting homosexual marriage instead of abortion he probably would have won. He just forgot which state he was in. Ron Paul has gone from being a fringe candidate stealing votes from more serious contenders to being the serious contender who needs to reclaim votes from some of the fringe candidates in order to get the edge. And so far it doesn’t look like he’d need to attract very many votes to come out ahead. In fact, I know multiple people who have thus far withheld their votes because they believed him unelectable. With such proof to the contrary, (Dr Paul even won the CPAC straw poll), I wonder how many votes will trickle in without trying to win voters from other, less likely candidates?

I know I don’t have much for readers right now, but if you’ve somehow wandered across this page I have some questions. Did you support Pawlenty or do you support a fringe candidate such as Karger, McCotter, Cain, etc? Would you consider shifting support to Ron Paul? What would it take for that to happen?

I spent the better part of my day today in a very familiar activity: zoning out to an endless succession of youtube videos. I often get caught up in these video chains, each one linking to three or four more which interest me in hydra-esque fashion until I have a couple browser windows crammed full of tiny, illegible tabs, and the sun has gone down without my noticing. I’m waiting for the day when I am sucked into such an internet vortex, (wikipedia has a way of ensnaring me in like fashion), never to return.

It all started this afternoon with a video of Bill Hicks berating his audience. I quickly lost interest in his rants but it was too late. There before me was a link to Dave Chapelle doing anything and from there the situation quickly spun out of control. Before I knew it, and don’t ask me how I got there, I was watching the New Hampshire GOP presidential debate. I’ve known of Ron Paul and followed him since his 2008 presidential run, but this was my first chance to get a look at some of the other candidates. Overall: not interested. Michelle Bachman kinda freaks me out with the whole homophobia/religious right thing, and Newt Gingrich introduced himself by referring to the current financial crisis as the ‘Obama depression’, which just blows my mind. Cain seemed to have a solid idea of how to go about trying to stimulate the private sector, but was unwilling to address the fundamental issues of our failed economic policy. Also, he totally dodged that ‘do you distrust muslims?’ question, and after some squirming, too. The rest of the candidates were just uninspiring, and mostly came off as running on a ‘not Obama’ platform. None of them were  willing to tell it like Dr Paul. None of them were willing to address our failed economic policy, the issue of a runaway federal reserve, our overextended and devastatingly expensive military, or our oppressive and counterproductive foreign policy in general. Ah well, it’s nice to see that the debates are as silly an affair as ever they have been. Mostly vapid soundbites, lots of talking with nothing being said. I’d like to take a tally and figure out what percentage of the questions are actually answered… And Paul doesn’t get to speak until 14 minutes in when he’s asked whether or not he supports any of a democratic administration’s economic decisions? Still no content, still no real debate, still no love for the good doctor.

This debate gave me some hope, though. In 2008 I could hardly discern between the republican and democratic candidates. I ended up voting for Obama because he ran a refreshingly clean campaign and I figured any democratic administration was likely to provide a better atmosphere for progressive social movements such as the LGBT rights movement. Now, in 2012, it seems that while Dr Paul himself is still largely ignored or marginalized by the mainstream media, his ideas at least are gaining ground and attracting attention. Perhaps in response to the tea party movement, it has become fashionable in this cycle for republican candidates to espouse republican values. As I mentioned before, none of the candidates were willing to touch the  fundamental ‘500lb gorilla’ issues which are so central to Dr Paul’s platform, yet they allude to him in many of their responses and their stated policies are drifting in his direction. I honestly have no idea whether or not Dr Paul can win the Republican nomination, but no matter what happens he’s making himself heard like never before. No matter what happens, the ideas that he promotes and the example he sets will be increasingly difficult for the establishment to ignore. No matter what happens, a growing population of the US is waking up to the fact that we need real, fundamental change in foreign and fiscal policy, and we need this change not to avert a crisis, but to minimize the crisis which is already upon us.

Also, now I’m crazy pumped to hit the straw poll in Ames!! I’ve got some questions for some of the candidates that weren’t touched on during the debate. I still don’t know where most of them stand on the Federal Reserve or the War on Drugs, for instance. Plus, there’s free food. Flippin’ funnel cake, dude.

It’s the Final Countdown

Posted: August 10, 2011 in Shanghai-ed!

Well, it’s done. The transaction is complete. Money has crossed hands and there are no refunds. I’m returning to Shanghai, making my exodus through O’Hare on the 14th of September. It’s suddenly become more imperative that I find a job.

I’m finally moved out of the Monastery, once again to entrench myself in my parents’ basement for a spell before I ship out. The upstairs television boasts Netflix streaming, but the viewing experience is much more harrowing at night for the proximity to my sleeping predecessors. I watched Theremin: an Electronic Odyssey late last evening on that same set, and each time the documentary switched to footage of live performances the volume shot up such that it would suddenly sound as if there in the very living room were Dr. Theremin himself playing the infernal contraption for all the neighborhood to hear. I had to be fast with the remote to deal with this issue, and each time the scene changed my jaw dropped as I fumbled ineffectively with the controls in the dark… The film included some fascinating interviews, and the story of Dr. Theremin is like something from a movie anyway. This guy was kidnapped by the KGB in New York City and forced to work on technology for the Soviets, (he was Russian originally), none of his friends in the US knew what happened to him until he returned in the 90’s, an old man. Crazy stuff!

Anyway, the time to set off is nearly upon me. I’m planning to stay with my friend Paul (都佳辰) when I first get to Shanghai. He keeps a quirky little apartment in the French Concession, my favorite district. It has a second level reached via ladder, where I will sleep, and a porch on that same level with a decent view. I won’t have a kitchen, and the bathroom is in a different part of the building which must be accessed from the outside, so I expect I’ll be looking for a new place before long, but I have another friend in the same neighborhood who can help me with that. In fact, I have friends all over Shanghai, and thank goodness for that. This should be a much smoother transition than the last time.

For those who don’t know, I studied in Shanghai during the 2009-2010 academic year. It was a life-changing experience and all that stuff, but in all seriousness I met some movers and some shakers over there. I came back home and graduated and found myself delivering sandwiches again, so I’ve decided to return to meet up with said movers and shakers and see if I can’t make things happen. That’s… about as specific as the goal is right now. I’ll have a drummer and another guitarist lined up for a band, in Nik and Paul respectively, and hopefully I’ll have set up my computer to record by then. In any case, I’ll have fun and my Chinese will in all likelihood improve dramatically. If I can find a good job and decent hours I could even build up some cash!

Oh hey, this is pretty much my first actual post. Although that test post went really well.

One Two Three Four

This is how it is done.

Okay, did it work?