Monday, December 27, 2021

Because We Say So - Marijuana

Full disclosure:  I don't use marijuana.  I tried it once in college and was not impressed.  I also don't smoke cigarettes; with my tendency toward asthma, I don't like inhaling smoke.  And I no longer drink alcohol.  So I have no stake in this.

But I have always wondered:  why is it, that people can buy and consume booze and cigarettes with no issues, but for decades, if they bought marijuana, they were setting themselves up for arrest and possible prison.  It's not the addictive properties; as far as I know, pot isn't addictive, and alcohol and tobacco are.  Too much alcohol, too much tobacco, will kill you; even the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration admits that “No death from overdose of marijuana has been reported.”  I've lost at least 3 relatives to entirely legal tobacco use.

A very interesting post by Becky Little on (Why the US Made Marijuana Illegal) confirms what I remember reading elsewhere.  In the 19th century ("at least since the 1830s"), marijuana was a normal part of the medical pharmacy.  It has real medicinal uses; we've determined recently that it can help with epileptic seizures.  I've seen boxes in museums that were used by 19th century ship's doctors; they have a partition for marijuana.  This was a normal medical tool.  You could buy it in a pharmacy.  And yet, between 1916 and 1931, 29 states outlawed marijuana; and the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 (they couldn't even spell it) banned it nationwide, in the face of objections from the American Medical Association!

Given all our recent discussions of systemic racism, I concluded that it was banned in the '30s because it was a drug largely used by people of color - I was thinking about the Harlem Renaissance in the '20s.  I was right about the systemic racism, but wrong about which people of color.  According to Ms. Little, during and after the Mexican Revolution in 1910, a lot of Mexicans immigrated to the United States.  These Mexicans smoked marijuana to get high, and they terrified the good people of the United States, who didn't understand people who were too poor to drink booze to get high.

This has been fully written up by Eric Schlosser in his book Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market, but I have to share some of the details because they are hilarious - and sad.  The Texas police apparently believed that marijuana incited violent crimes (it doesn't), including a "lust for blood" (ditto), and that it gave people "superhuman strength" (no, it doesn't do that either).  But people were additionally terrified by a 1936 movie (?!) called Reefer Madness, which warned parents that drug dealers would invite their teenagers to jazz parties and get them hooked on “reefer.”  The Marihuana Tax Act passed the next year, and the feds and the states continued to increase punishments for the substance until the people they were arresting morphed into upper-middle-class white college students, in the late 1960s.

Marijuana is now legal in California, and in a number of other states; and so it should be.  I know people who use cannabidiol for medical conditions, especially cancer treatments.  It's still illegal at the federal level.  

We banned the use of marijuana because we didn't like or understand the people who used it, because they didn't look like us or speak our language, and in spite of the fact that we knew the substance was medically useful.  How stupid was that?  Let's eliminate the Federal ban and go back to the 19th century, but with better technology.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Education in Texas

 One of the people I follow on Facebook is Heather Cox Richardson, a political historian who writes interesting posts about current events.  She wrote one yesterday (10-16-21) on a new Texas law which requires teachers to "present opposing views on controversial subjects." Like racism. And the Holocaust. That's right, Texas teachers may be expected to present "both sides" of the Holocaust. I didn't think the Holocaust had another side, unless you are a Nazi who believes in Aryan superiority - aka white superiority.

Worse, Texas has passed a bill on Critical Race Theory (S.B. 3), which will go into effect in December, laying out exactly what should be taught about what we used to call civics: "the fundamental moral, political, and intellectual foundations of the American experiment in self-government; the history, qualities, traditions, and features of civic engagement in the United States; the structure, function, and processes of government institutions at the federal, state, and local levels.” This new law essentially limits the study of these things to certain specific documents and people.

I don't want to quote her entire essay, it's quite long, but if you are on Facebook, look it up. We should all read it.

What blew me away were the items and people who may not be taught: the writings of George Washington! Anything about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings! The history of Native Americans and of "founding mothers and other founding persons!" Frederick Douglass! I could go on. It essentially restricts the history of the U.S. and its government to the brilliant deeds of a few white men, leaving out anything that might make white men look bad. Like systemic racism, and genocide of Native Americans, and the fact that until the 20th century, married women were essentially their husbands' property.

I stewed about this all morning - really. History is important to me. If we don't know how we got here, how do we know where we're going? And facts are important to me - if you don't know all the facts, you make wrong decisions. But as I stewed, something occurred to me.

These legislators have forgotten the Internet. (Based on observation of various elected bodies, many of the people elected barely know how to send email.) Many of the kids whose education they want to warp have access to the Internet, and know how to use Google, especially after the last year and a half of virtual learning. If you know how to ask the questions, the Internet will tell you anything you want to know, whether the State of Texas likes it or not. I encourage myself that at least some Texas kids may start wondering about what was left out, and asking the questions.

Sunday, September 19, 2021


 I had the impression that the anti-vax movement started with Andrew Wakefield, a British doctor, because of the flap around 1998 when he published a paper in the Lancet which suggested that the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella vaccine (MMR) had not been properly tested and could cause autism.  Usually publication in the Lancet means good research, but it turned out that he'd been paid to find out if there was evidence to support a legal case filed by parents who believed the vaccine had harmed their children.  He invented the evidence  to support his conclusion and his results couldn't be reproduced. By 2010 the British General Medical Council had ruled against Wakefield on several issues and the Lancet withdrew the paper.  Wakefield is no longer allowed to practice medicine in Great Britain.  This is just a summary, if you're interested in the Wakefield incident, read the linked article on him.

I got a lot of this from the History of Anti-Vaccination Movements, a 2018 article on the site History of Vaccines. I recommend the article to the interested.  It reminded me that people have been objecting to vaccines since before vaccines existed as such (the concept was developed by Edward Jenner in 1798).  The reasons aren't very different from what we're seeing now:  people don't trust doctors, or the government.  People don't like being told they have to do something.  People are afraid vaccines will harm them.

A lot of people on social media have been referring to the general acceptance of the polio vaccines in the 1950s, in the United States, as the standard for public acceptance of vaccines against a horrible disease, and comparing it to current rejection of the COVID-19 vaccines.  It was the exception.  There were public objections to the smallpox vaccine, to the Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis (DTP) Vaccine, and of course to the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) Vaccine.  The only reason there were no objections to a vaccine for the 1918 influenza is because a vaccine was never developed. There were objections in 1918 to wearing masks.

Apparently people in the 1950s were simply more afraid of polio than they were of the vaccine, a reaction we haven't seen in the people refusing the COVID-19 vaccines.  At least until they're in the ICU.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Remembering 9/11

Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attack.  I didn't start blogging until several years later, so I don't have a contemporary record, but I remember it.  Boy, do I remember it.  Living in California, I was getting dressed to go to work when I found out about it - I was working at the Bank of America's Concord data center, in the email support team.  

I usually listen to the news on NPR while I'm doing things like that, and I kept hearing some very strange things.  I remember going downstairs to get some breakfast and calling out to my husband, "What the hell is going on?"  Back in 2001 we had a television that we occasionally turned on, and he had it turned on, and I got a look.

The attack happened at 08:45 EDT, which was 05:45 PDT, so by the time I got up and got moving it had been going on for some time.  (I'm not a morning person.)  By 07:00 PDT or so, which is my guess on the time I came downstairs, the attack had been going on for an hour and a quarter.  Both towers and the Pentagon had been hit, the south tower had collapsed, and hijacked Flight 93 was within 10 minutes of crashing in the field near Shanksville, PA.  

The flight 93 hijacking seems to have begun around 09:31 EDT.  At 09:57 EDT, the passengers took a vote and decided to attack the hijackers, so during that period of a little over 10 minutes from 09:57 to 10:10 EDT when the hijackers crashed the plane, there was an active fight going on for control.  This is about when I came downstairs to have breakfast.

Well, I still had to go to work, so I ate breakfast.  And since this was during the period after my right knee went bad and before I got it replaced, I drove to Concord for work.  Everyone in my department was trying to follow what was going on back East.  I remember someone taking one of the TVs they used for video training and faking up an antenna with a wire coat hanger.  They trundled it, on its wheeled trolley, over to one of the windows where it would pick up a signal, and managed to get a news broadcast covering the attack.  In fact I think they hooked up antennas to two TV monitors.  After that, everybody wandered past there regularly to see what was going on.  I remember thinking, at one point that afternoon, I have projects to work on, and nothing I can do here will affect that.  So I went into my cube, away from the TV, and tried to get some work done.  I don't recall what I was working on or whether I succeeded in getting anything done.  

I don't have any other particular memories of the day, although I'm sure I had the news on the car radio as I drove home, because I always do.

This is hardly great history, but it's what I remember of an event that changed our world, so I thought I'd share it.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Cops and Guns

There has been a lot of public discussion lately of why police are armed, and why armed police are called to situations which could be - and maybe should be - solved with something other than armed force.  This is especially the case when unarmed people of color end up being shot.  On one NPR discussion the other day, I heard a commentator ask why cops need guns anyway; and I didn't hear anyone respond with the reason that came to my mind.

Full disclosure here:  I am a community policing volunteer, and have been for over a decade.  I'm on the steering committee of a local council that is supposed to be a conduit between Neighborhood Watch groups in our area and the police.  I've worked with a number of cops, who were about as varied as most groups of humans.  As for their attitudes toward people of color, I couldn't tell you.  The neighborhood I live in is about as white and upper income as Oakland, California gets.  But I never heard of any of the cops we worked with shooting anyone; and believe me, in this area when a cop shoots someone, it makes the news.

But why do cops need to be armed?  British cops aren't, among quite a list of others.  I say American cops need to be armed because Americans, as a group, are armed.  In a 2017 survey cited in Wikipedia, there were 120.5 firearms for every 100 citizens in the U.S., the vast majority of them not registered.  And Money magazine says that, during 2020, nearly 40 million guns were bought legally (note the caveat!), and another 4.1 million just in January 2021.  There are literally more guns than people in this country.

This has nothing to do with how cops are trained to handle situations, or their general attitude toward people of color, which is a whole different issue.  But an unarmed policeman in America would be an absolute sitting duck.  He assumes the people he's looking at are  armed because, in fact, they may be.

Our problem in the U.S. today is not cops with guns.  Our problem is too many guns, generally.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021


 We will all remember January 6, 2021.  That was the day a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building, pushing past the Capitol Police, breaking windows to get into the building.  If you were living under a rock and missed this, you can find details in any major newspaper or online; I followed it on CNN and in the New York Times.  You might prefer the Washington Post, which provides the coverage free.

Donald Trump sat in the West Wing and watch the television coverage as his supporters mobbed and ransacked the Capitol Building, forcing the evacuation of Congress.  I watched the coverage and was amazed that I saw so few firearms among the mob, although one woman was shot and killed.  I gather from CNN that as the situation got worse, his staff begged him to go on television and try to calm the mob, and he refused.

These people think they are patriots; I think they are a mob.  I know Donald Trump is no patriot; his only interest is his own interest, the state of the country means nothing to him, as we can tell by the way he ignores the pandemic death toll.  Unfortunately, Donald Trump is one of the greatest con men since P. T. Barnum, and he has somehow managed to convince these people that everything he says is gospel, and if he says the election was rigged, it must be so.  So the "patriots" mobbed the Capitol building and accomplished - absolutely nothing.

I suspect today's rally was intended to whip up the crowd to where they would do something, anything, to stop the certification of the electoral college vote, in hopes of delaying Biden's inauguration.  It failed.  Congressional leaders have already said they will continue the process tonight.  

It is not patriotism to refuse to accept the outcome of an honest election, just because a liar says it wasn't.  It is not patriotism, when an election has taken place and been certified by every state, to try to overturn the results because you don't like them.  I've voted in a number of elections where I didn't like the results.  I don't care what their t-shirts say, nobody who took part in that mob was a patriot, and I hope any who did actual damage (like, breaking windows) will be arrested and charged.

I have two worries about this.  First, Trump is in office for 2 more weeks, what in God's name will he try now?  Second, all these people will still be around after Joe Biden is inaugurated.