Sunday, June 28, 2009

What Have We Been Drinking?

The use and abuse of alcohol causes incredible amounts of damage to individuals, families, and society itself. Everyone knows that, but few people really consider all the details. Let’s think about those.

Drinkers often suffer a loss of work productivity, either from drinking or from hangovers the next day. They may develop or exacerbate weight issues by consuming the empty calories in alcoholic drinks. Excessive drinking can cause medical problems through damaging the liver or other organs. The loss of judgment that comes from drinking can lead to any number of bad results from poor decisions – from bar fights to dangerous stunts to unwanted pregnancies.

Families, of course, suffer from all the problems of the individuals. In addition, they can be damaged by the drinker turning violent, spending too much money on drinking, and patterning poor behavior in front of impressionable children. Perhaps the most drastic damage comes from drunk drivers, who can devastate or destroy an entire family with one alcohol-induced accident.

Society has to deal with all those problems writ large. The medical issues increase medical and insurance costs – likewise the drunk driver accidents. Hangovers have a noticeable effect on our Gross National Product every Monday morning. Police have to deal with the aftermath of the bar fights, the stunts, the accidents. Even the raw materials for alcoholic beverages divert agricultural resources away from more nutritional products, thus raising food prices for us all.

And yet, very few people would suggest making this disastrously dangerous drug illegal. Why? Well, we tried it once. It didn’t work. It led to a massive increase in the size, wealth, and power of organized crime. It increased the levels of violence in the streets as those criminal mobs fought the police and each other. It led to horrible corruption in the police and government officials, who found it easier and more profitable to cooperate with criminals than to combat them. Most of all, it turned a large percentage of previously law-abiding citizens into criminals as they turned to illegal sources to get the alcohol they wanted. That had to lead to a lessened respect for the law in general – a small but significant step away from the rule of law, and into anarchy. All that…and we still had all the negative effects from alcohol consumption, since the law did little to actually stop people from drinking! In a few years, we discovered that the "cure" of Prohibition was worse than the disease it purported to treat - and we stopped.

It took fourteen years for our nation to realize that the Eighteenth Amendment was a mistake, and that prohibition of alcohol didn’t work. We’ve been fighting the “War of Drugs” for at least 40 years. How long will it take us to relearn the same lesson?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Politics and Anarchy

In the last several weeks, there have been a shocking number of what I can only call terrorist attacks here in the U.S. An anti-choice protester murdered a doctor in a church. A Muslim convert murdered two soldiers. A racist bigot murdered a guard in the Holocaust Museum. All in such a short time…I began to wonder if our nation was truly headed for disaster in the form of sectarian strife and war.

Then I heard about the election in Iran.

It’s truly an illuminating counter-example. The election may, indeed, have been stolen by Ahmadinejad – so I certainly understand the urge to protest, even riot about the results. But it shows how weak the respect for the rule of law is in Iran as compared to our own society. After all, when’s the last time you heard of such massive demonstrations and widespread violence here?

One might assume that the difference is the importance of the event – a Presidential election, after all, is fairly significant, so would seem to inspire greater anger when it goes awry. I don’t think that’s the real difference, though. We’ve, arguably, had our own Presidential elections stolen. I believe that there is ample evidence that Bush supporters used fraud and other illegal means to change the outcome of the vote in Ohio in 2000, shifting those electoral votes from Gore to Bush, and thus changing the overall results for the nation – and that’s not even considering the travesty of Florida’s election that same year, or the unquestioned fact that Gore won the popular vote. A great many others believe that our current President is constitutionally unqualified for the office under the “natural born citizen” restriction – though I personally feel you have to look at the evidence through a blindfold to believe that nonsense.

Disagree with me? Think that Bush won fair and square, and Obama is secretly a Kenyan atheist Muslim Indonesian socialist criminal? Fine, leave me a comment and we can discuss it – but it doesn’t matter for this. The real point is that significant numbers of our population have reason to believe that one or more Presidential elections were stolen…and their responses to that were overwhelmingly non-violent. They write letters, post on blogs, complain around the water cooler, file hopeless lawsuits, whatever. What they don’t do is go out and riot.

And that’s the right answer. Frankly, even if those elections were stolen, I think the damage to our society from such anarchism is worse even than having a criminal occupy our nation’s highest office. Al Gore showed a similar belief when he quietly accepted the Supreme Court’s decisions against him that gave Bush the Presidency, as did John McCain in failing to support or even acknowledge the birther controversy.

In Iran and many other countries, the result of political disagreement is rioting and destruction. That trickles down – I once heard a military intelligence officer bemoan the difficulty of tracking terrorist incidents in Kosovo, because it was too hard to separate someone throwing a grenade at their neighbor’s house because they were the wrong ethnicity or religion from those throwing a grenade because the neighbor’s dog barked too long at night. It is a credit to our nation that the violent political statements of lone lunatics are significant enough to be noticed.