Sunday, December 31, 2006

REPEAT VISITORS: Scroll Past Today's Entries for New Hazardous Material

To Supporters

Dear Folks,

I'm writing from the future of blogdom, at midnight on New Years Eve, 2006. For those of you planning parties, be aware that Aud Lang Syne falls on Sunday next year. Hooligan revelry may be overshadowed by penance and punishment, especially in America, where puritan values run deep and pious worshippers belt out Sabbath praises.

I've been grinding 80-90 hours a week, trying to get out the word on JUNK, a prohibition satire about a war on junk food. Throughout the writing process I've fought to keep the novel independent, deliberately eschewing corporate support (and control), and maintaining artistic autonomy. This critical choice means I'm dependent on grassroots efforts (this means you) to help this book fly. There's only so much an author and small publisher can do. They may produce a great novel, but the public must still ensure its dissemination.

JUNK is a covert to convert gig, a robust and intoxicating belch in the face of self-righteousness. The characters are absurd archetypes representing the skewed perspectives and moralistic attitudes associated with prohibition policies. JUNK is also a nonpartisan mockery of commonly held assumptions. It appeals to the collective unconscious - after all, everybody eats.

Assuming nothing and making no pretense, I humbly ask... Will you help me prove there really are viable alternatives to corporate publishing houses? Stimulate vigorous political debate about international drug policies. Think outside the confines of the cage. Share some gut-churning laughs. Divest a dime from the drug warriors and mobsters, and drop it in the patched pocket of a renegade writer who in 15 years went from being a teenage runaway, sleeping under bridges and dodging the police to being internationally published and having his first book suppressed by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the media who refused to cover the federal marijuana program, and the bureaucrats who ran Uncle Sam's Marijuana Garden but didn't want people to know about it (see previous posts for further explanation and exploration).

Please post a blog blurb or review the novel, share it with your friends (and enemies), pass it around like a peace pipe. Become an affiliate with my publisher ENC Press, and earn residual income on every book ordered through your site. If you're an independent artist, I'll be happy to swap links, play cerebral ping-pong, whatever. Just let me know.

You won't find JUNK in your McBookstore for a while, so don't bother looking. The first edition is available at select independent outlets, and online directly from ENC Press, a company that understands the fine art of tipping sacred cows while dodging the patties.

The vast majority of books published in 2004 sold less than 1000 copies, and many authors who don't appeal to the broadest audience (or pander to the lowest common denominator) simply can't afford to keep writing. This dynamic confines and drains the marketplace of ideas, centralizing political control over what you read (and think). At a time when libraries battle federal officials to protect your civil liberties, DEA officials covertly influence literature (see blog below), and mainstream media pundits are more beholden than ever to a synergistic conglomeration of government and corporate interests, your support is critical.

I hope you enjoy JUNK in good health - or else...

Happy New Year,

Chris Largen

JUNK Reviews - Backlog

For those of you who haven't yet visited the website for JUNK, here's a cluster of reviews for your perusal...

JUNK is a hit. I loved every second. I started reading it and didn’t stop until I was done. When I took a break and went into the kitchen for a snack, a chill went down my spine. I could never live in a world like JUNK; just the thought of it was quite terrifying. The book is great, and the thought of this marvel on film.... Oooo, I can’t wait! Bottom line — the characters were original, the story was entertaining, frightening, realistic and at times quite heart-wrenching. It blended together so well. JUNK is a bloody hit, man! Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m going to have myself a Charlotte Russe.” — Graham Armstrong, college freshman

JUNK is a profound and absurd tragicomedy, an engaging page-turner that reads like a film. Largen devours tough issues like morality, appetite, bigotry and bureaucracy with biting irreverence, and yet it is his characters who shine brightest. JUNK will entertain, intrigue and provoke, inspiring debate and exploration as humanity wrestles to define the relationship between health and public policy.” — Joe Camp, writer, producer, and director of the Benji films.

“A book specifically meant to be libertarian while taking an unorthodox tack is JUNK, by Christopher Largen. The book is interesting in its literary technique and in its approach. Largen takes the reader through fragmented, seemingly independent story lines and vignettes, tying them together as the book moves along. What makes this more interesting is that Largen writes very well, and very humorously. What makes it most interesting is that the stories all are fictionalized versions of actual events in the war on drugs in the US, though they are portrayed in the book as part of a fictional government war on junk food. JUNK is valuable to our choir because it can be used to persuade those who aren’t yet convinced. Largen covers his bases carefully – his characters use the same arguments, both moral and scientific, used today by supporters of the drug war. Read this book yourself because it’s fun and interesting, but to make it truly useful, be sure to give it to someone who’s sitting on the fence with regard to the drug war. It’s all fiction, but very convincing. It is a moral good to convince fence sitters that the drug war is evil.” — Brad Edmonds, author of There’s a Government in Your Soup

JUNK is a must-read for every starry-eyed activist. I couldn’t put it down! I was hooked from the first page, and I fear I may suffer withdrawal now that I've reached the end. It’s as compelling as Richard Bach’s Illusions, and as ominously foreboding as George Orwell's 1984.” — Erin Hildebrandt, Executive Director, Parents Ending Prohibition.

JUNK is an engrossing page-turner which had me hooked from beginning to end. Its narrative consists of three distinct storylines of a junk abuse counselor, a junk dealer and a police officer converges with the cathartic emotional intensity of a kick in the gut. These are not mere stereotypical cardboard cutouts, but three-dimensional characters trying to live life in a prohibitionist police state run amok: Where the price for security against one’s own bodily desires is the curtailment of civil liberties and where personal responsibility regarding decisions about how to live one’s own life is seen as dangerous. It’s satire which packs a ferocious punch, as it shows the deadly follies of the United States’ ‘War on SOME Drugs & SOME Terror’ and the therapeutic state, not only through the narratives, but also through the inclusion of letters and newspapers lifted from its own world, and just as great satirical social commentary should, mirrors our own with devastating accuracy. After all, after the ‘War on SOME Drugs & SOME Terror’ is ‘won’, what’s next?” — dr.bomb, Ph.D., editor of The ARID Site

JUNK is tragicomedy for thinking people. No partisan camp is immune from Largen’s wit and wisdom, and he takes no prisoners. It was only after pulmonary exhaustion quieted my laughter that I could discern the web of political, moral and personal issues that unite modern archetypes into a cohesive and frighteningly believable plot, set in a not too distant future.” — Dr. James Quinn, Professor of Addictions and Criminology, University of North Texas

“Brilliant! JUNK is satire at its best!” — Michael Constantine McConnell, author of Detroit Stories

JUNK is a classic comedy about America’s longest war in the style of Mark Twain or Will Rogers.” — Jack A. Cole, executive director, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

“I loved this book so much that I will read it again! JUNK is a hilarious, horrifying, thought-provoking ride… So simple, yet so eloquent! Read JUNK at your first opportunity, but eat a snack first. It might be the last treat you’re ever allowed to swallow!” — George McMahon, co-author of Prescription Pot

“A brilliant mockumentary with frighteningly Orwellian dynamics… Packed with insight, irony, and no small dose of hilarity, JUNK seethes like a District Attorney who just lost a case on a technicality… Pick up a copy of JUNK to get a taste of Largen’s tongue-in-cheek but serious take on the nation’s war on drugs.” – Renee Vaughn Hayes, formerly editor of Venues Magazine

“Portraying the worst and best in my profession, JUNK demonstrates real possibilities for America. It is a wake up call to lovers of liberty.” — Officer Howard J. Wooldridge (retired), Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

JUNK is laugh out loud funny! The novel covers every angle of the drug war with insight and humor.” — Suzanne Wills, Drug Policy Forum of Texas

“I laughed and I cried! JUNK is beautiful! Mr. Largen possesses a talent to touch people in a way they can’t forget.” — Rhonda Cheatham, Florida Cannabis Action Network

JUNK is priceless... a wonderful character driven satire, simple and straightforward, a searing indictment of prohibition policies.” — Al Byrne, Patients Out of Time

JUNK is a hoot! Largen exposes the frailties and failings of the drug war with humor and glaring insights into the heart of prohibition. After reading this book, sweets will taste a little sweeter.” — Dean Becker, talk radio host, Cultural Baggage

JUNK is Vonnegut styled, ironical witty satire that laughs out loud at misguided causes… I cared about the characters… There’s not enough of this kind of clean, neat prose anymore. The message rang loud and clear but never screamed at me. Carry on, Mr. Largen!” — Leslie Miller, Books to Enjoy

JUNK is hilarious and tragic! I ate 2 bags of extra butter flavored popcorn by page 100! The editing is fantastic!” — Mike Smithson, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

JUNK leads you down a familiar path and then BOOM — natural thought patterns are jolted into the unfamiliar... JUNK is a mind-boggling realization, a very imaginative approach toward a very real issue.” — Dr. Juliet Getty, Professor of Nutrition, University of North Texas

"Fast-paced... a scathing look at prohibition policies... covers the spectrum. The men and women in JUNK are recognizable yet compelling... a powerful message...entertaining... worth picking up... a fun, light read... hilarious." - Leah Anderson, The Gateway, Canada

Friday, April 28, 2006

Five Cops Taped Torturing Drug Suspect LISTEN TO FBI TAPE NOW!

http://wms.scripps.com/knoxville/siler/siler.mp3

When Tennessee law enforcement officials (including a local DARE officer) showed up at the home of Lester Siler, a convicted drug dealer on supervised release, they asked his wife and 8 year-old son to leave. They didn't know that Lester's wife had turned on a tape recorder in the kitchen. When Lester exercised his constitutional right not to sign a consent to search his house, these officers spent the next two hours torturing him. They beat him with bats and guns, held loaded guns to his head, threatened to shoot him, dunked his head in the toilet, burned him with lighters, attached his testicles to a battery charger, threatened to cut off his fingers, and threatened to "go get"his wife and take their child away from them. Then the cops arrested Siler for "evading arrest". It wasn't until his wife's tape made it to the FBI that all hell broke loose. And go figure, even though these officers have since been convicted in federal court, not ONE national media outlet gave this story the coverage it deserved. But that's okay. While these "civil servants" were being tried for torturing civilians, our media moguls were busy decrying the immorality of Janet Jackson's Superbowl nipple! These are the same "journalists" who refused to cover the United States Government's secretive medical marijuana program.

I'm warning you now, this is the most disturbing recording I've ever heard in my life. But EVERYONE needs to know about this. Our war on drugs is a complete failure, and the national media is following a code of silence on related humans rights abuses.

The link at the top of this letter will open the actual audio recording of the torture. And a Yahoo! search on "Lester Siler" will give you access to Tennessee media coverage of the story. PLEASE FORWARD THIS OUT!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Open Letter to Bill O'Reilly

Mr. O'Reilly,

I applaud your recent coverage of judges who sentence child rapists to minimal or no prison time for their crimes. However, you have thus far only selected liberal judges to profile. This is in spite of the fact that I repeatedly informed you of the situation in Denton County, TX (where I reside). Denton County is currently home to nearly 70 convicted child predators who were sentenced to no jail time. Every judge in Denton County happens to be Republican.

The murder and rape of children is not a partisan issue. As an outspoken advocate for children and survivor of child pornography, I believe that nobody should use the horrific trauma of these children and families to further a partisan political agenda.

Rather than prioritize the protection of children, you have targeted a select few liberal judges. You have not informed your viewers that this deplorable dynamic of releasing child rapists is occurring all over the nation, due to the unacceptable sentences of judges from both major parties. Your coverage has thus far obfuscated the real issue behind a sordid veil of partisan rhetoric.

You are not helping kids by using this issue to divide people who should be coming together for the protection of children. And when you target judges from only one party, you appear to be using the rape and murder of children for political advantage. I pray that you will search your heart, change your stance, and give this issue the broad, accurate coverage it deserves. Until you do, I'm asking every person who reads this letter to pass it on to their friends, feature it on their websites, and help spread the truth.

Your Iconoclast,

Chris Largen
Founder of Building BLOCK (Better Lives for Our Communities and Kids)
www.building-block.org

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Federal Air Marshals Caught Smuggling Cocaine

This should come as no surprise...

Drug sting led to arrest here of two federal air marshals
By HARVEY RICE
Copyright 2006
Houston Chronicle

Air marshal Shawn Ray Nguyen was consorting with the dark side of the law long before he and another federal air marshal were arrested on drug charges, according to a criminal complaint made public Monday.

Nguyen, 38, of Houston, began hanging out with a person he knew associated with a drug trafficker and had been involved in credit card fraud, twice giving the person thousands of dollars to invest in drug trafficking, the complaint says.

His confidence turned out to be misplaced. The person, identified only as a cooperating witness, or "CW," in the complaint, recorded Nguyen's conversations and helped set up a fake cocaine deal that ended in the arrest of Nguyen and air marshal Burlie L. Sholar III, 32, of Houston, last week.

"I ain't greedy, I've done this ... before," he said at one point in a taped conversation with the informant, the complaint says.

As he and Sholar were preparing to transport 15 kilograms, or 33 pounds, of cocaine, "Nguyen told Sholar that he has done this many times and there are things that need to be done," the complaint says.

Nguyen also suggested that Sholar might have been involved in other questionable dealings in his official capacity, saying in a recorded conversation that Sholar was involved in a Hawaii money laundering transaction, the complaint says.

Federal officials said this is the first time an air marshal has been accused of using his official capacity to smuggle drugs.

Hearing set for Thursday

Nguyen and Sholar made an initial appearance Monday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Smith on drug conspiracy charges. Smith scheduled a arraignment and detention hearing for Thursday.

Nguyen's attorney, Kent Schaffer, said, "It's premature to be slamming the prison door shut." He said new information would shed "a whole different light on what is being portrayed today."
Sholar appeared without an attorney.

A federal official said both had been suspended without pay.

Little information was available about Sholar's background, but the complaint said Nguyen was an agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration from 1997 to 2002.

They are accused of conspiring to smuggle 15 kilograms of cocaine supplied by federal investigators for $4,500 per kilogram.

Harris County Sheriff's deputies arrested Nguyen and Sholar on Thursday shortly after they left Nguyen's Houston home, where the informant had delivered the cocaine in two black pieces of carry-on luggage with $15,000 in "up front" money, according to the complaint.
Probe started in November

The complaint says deputies found $5,000 in marked bills on Sholar and a firearm and methamphetamine in his pickup. The cocaine and $9,342 were found at Nguyen's residence.
Nguyen and Sholar are charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, which carries a sentence of 10 years to life in prison and a maximum fine of $4 million.

The complaint says the two air marshals had agreed with the informant to bypass airport security at Bush Intercontinental Airport to smuggle the cocaine on board a flight bound for Las Vegas, Nev.

The Office of Inspector General for the Homeland Security Department and the FBI began an investigation in November after learning that Nguyen had been involved in narcotics sales, the complaint said.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Don DeGabrielle declined to discuss how officials first became suspicious of Nguyen.

The complaint said that after twice giving the informant cash to invest in drug trafficking, Nguyen told the informant he wanted to help smuggle drugs.

Before the sting operation that led to his arrest, Nguyen smuggled cash from drug sales and forged documents through airport security and on another occasion smuggled 2 kilograms, 4.4 pounds, of cocaine, according to the complaint.

Nguyen is accused of accepting $10,000 in cash Dec. 21 to bypass airport security with a package containing $25,000 in drug proceeds and fraudulent government documents.
On his second effort, he bypassed security with 2 kilograms of cocaine supplied to the informant by law enforcement.

Later Nguyen discussed smuggling larger loads of cocaine with the informant and the need to bring in others to assist, according to the criminal complaint. Sholar, whom Nguyen referred to in recordings as "my boy," is accused of joining in the plan to smuggle the 15 kilograms of cocaine, making hotel and airline reservations for himself and Nguyen.

harvey.rice@chron.com

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Reject the War on Drugs

URL: http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v06/n201/a02.html
Pubdate: Wed, 15 Feb 2006
Source: Baltimore Chronicle (MD)
Contact: editor@baltimorechronicle.com
Copyright: 2006 The Baltimore Chronicle and the SentinelWebsite:

REJECT THE WAR ON DRUGS

Both conservatives and liberals have waged their war on drugs for decades, and they have reaped nothing but drug gangs, drug lords, robberies, thefts, muggings, murders, dirty needles, overcrowded prisons, decimated families..... Conservatives never cease to fascinate me, given their professed devotion to "freedom, free enterprise, and limited government" and their ardent support of policies that violate that principle. One of the most prominent examples is the drug war. In fact, if you're ever wondering whether a person is a conservative or a libertarian, a good litmus-test question is, How do you feel about the war on drugs? The conservative will respond, "Even though I believe in freedom, free enterprise, and limited government, we've got to continue waging the war on drugs." The libertarian will respond, "End it. It is an immoral and destructive violation of the principles of freedom, free enterprise, and limited government."

The most recent example of conservative drug-war nonsense is an article entitled "Winning the Drug War," by Jonathan V. Last in the current issue of The Weekly Standard, one of the premier conservative publications in the country. In his article, Last cites statistics showing that drug usage among certain groups of Americans has diminished and that supplies of certain drugs have decreased. He says that all this is evidence that the war on drugs is finally succeeding and that we just need to keep waging it for some indeterminate time into the future, when presumably U.S. officials will finally be able to declare "victory."

What conservatives never tell us is how final "victory" in the "war on drugs" will ultimately be measured. Of course, we've heard this type of "positive" drug-war nonsense for the past several decades, at least since Richard Nixon declared war on drugs back in the 1970s. What conservatives never tell us is how final "victory" will ultimately be measured. Like all other drug warriors for the past several decades, Last doesn't say, "The statistics are so good that the drug war has now been won and therefore we can now end it," but rather, "Victory is right around the corner. The statistics are getting better. Let's keep going."

Last failed to mention what is happening to the people of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, where drug lords compete violently to export illegal drugs into the United States to reap the financial benefits of exorbitant black-market prices and profits that the drug war has produced. Recently drug gangs fired high-powered weapons and a grenade into the newsroom of La Manana, killing Jaime Orozco Tey, a 40-year-old father of three. Several other journalists have been killed in retaliation for their stories on the drug war, and newspapers are now self-censoring in fear of the drug lords. There are also political killings in Nuevo Laredo arising out of the drug war, including the city's mayor after he had served the grand total of nine hours in office. According to the New York Times, "In Nuevo Laredo, the federal police say average citizens live in terror of drug dealers. Drug-related killings have become commonplace." The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says that the U.S.-Mexico border region is now one of the world's most dangerous places for reporters. Not surprisingly, Last did not mention these statistics in his "We're winning the drug war" article.

During Prohibition, there were undoubtedly people such as Last claiming, "Booze consumption is down. We're winning the war on booze. Al Capone is in jail. We've got to keep on waging the war on booze until we can declare final victory." Fortunately, Americans living at that time finally saw through such nonsense, especially given the massive Prohibition-related violent crime that the war on booze had spawned. They were right to finally legalize the manufacture and sale of alcohol and treat alcohol consumption as a social issue, not a criminal-justice problem.

Both conservatives and liberals have waged their war on drugs for decades, and they have reaped nothing but drug gangs, drug lords, robberies, thefts, muggings, murders, dirty needles, overcrowded prisons, decimated families, record drug busts, government corruption, infringements on civil liberties, violations of financial privacy, massive federal spending, and, of course, ever-glowing statistics reflecting drug-war "progress." Americans would be wise to reject, once and for all, the war on drugs, and cast drug prohibition, like booze prohibition, into the ashcan of history.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Marijuana Study Dispels Link To Depression

URL: http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v06/n183/a05.html
Pubdate: Thu, 09 Feb 2006
Source: Daily Trojan (U of Southern CA Edu)
Copyright: 2006 Daily Trojan
Contact: dtrojan@usc.edu
Website: http://www.dailytrojan.com/

MARIJUANA STUDY DISPELS DRUG'S LINK TO DEPRESSION
The study's results show marijuana users are less depressed than non-users.

A recent study co-authored by a USC College researcher has discovered that there is no real link between regular use marijuana and symptoms of depression, dispelling a widely held assumption regarding the drug's use. Tom Denson, a USC doctoral candidate in psychology worked with Mitch Earleywine, an associate professor at the State University of New York, Albany, in conducting the study and writing the report. To Denson's surprise, the study found marijuana smokers to be less depressed than their non-smoking counterparts. The study was reported in the scientific medical journal "Addictive Behaviors" in June 2005. Earleywine was previously an associate professor at USC and the author of "Understanding Marijuana."

In addition to the report he co-authored with Denson, Earleywine has recently conducted and published three other studies on marijuana. In running the study, Denson and Earleywine contacted frequent users of marijuana and a smaller control group of non-users through the Internet. The test subjects completed Web-based surveys to gauge the level of marijuana use and researchers gauged depression levels using a scale developed by the Center for Epidemiologic Studies. Participants were categorized into those who consumed marijuana daily, once a week or less, or never in their lives. The survey also grouped subjects into various degrees of symptomatic depression ranging from none to severe.

Through the Internet, researchers were able to reach even those who might have been reluctant to be quizzed in person or on the phone. "We had nearly 4,500 respondents - the largest study of its kind," Denson said. The findings concluded that those who used marijuana had a less depressed mood, more positive effect and fewer somatic complaints than non-users, according to the report.

Overall, recreational and medicinal marijuana users were less depressed than non-smokers, but in a separate analysis, medicinal users reported more depressed mood and more somatic complaints than recreational users. Denson cited ambiguity in the scientific literature as to whether marijuana was associated with increased risk of depression as the initial motivation for conducting the study. "Numerous studies had found no link ( between marijuana use and depression ) while other studies found weak relationships between use of the drug and depression. We had initially suspected that these weak relationships may be due to the inclusion of medical users who may be rightfully depressed about their illness," Denson said.

Denson added that on another level, the researchers wanted to test whether marijuana users were really afflicted with "amotivational syndrome," as government-sponsored public service announcements frequently claim. "There is a tendency to associate the drug with an 'amotivational syndrome' in which marijuana users are presumed to be made apathetic and lazy due to the drug's effects," Denson said. "Our data and other research do not support that notion." Denson said college students who smoke marijuana receive comparable grades to those who abstain. Although the statistics for USC is unavailable, a study by the Harvard School of Public Health found that 15.7 percent of American college students had smoked marijuana in the past month. The study's findings on marijuana and its effects on depression contradict statements made recently by government officials.

In a May 3, 2005 release from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, director John Walters wrote, "Marijuana use, particularly during the teen years, can lead to depression, thoughts of suicide and schizophrenia." In response to the statements made by Walters, Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., argued that "science should be used to inform policy, not manipulated to scare the public," according to the group's Web site, www.mpp.org.

When asked what the controversial results of the study meant for college students and current users, Denson's answer was straightforward. "It's probably not a good idea to start smoking marijuana if you never have. However, if you do smoke marijuana, even every day, you are not putting yourself at any additional risk for depression," he said.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Kurt Vonnegut: A Requiem for the USA

To readers and reviewers who have compared JUNK with Vonnegut, I admit claiming him as one of my favorite authors. And when I was 11 years old, I performed in a Texas Christian University production of Vonnegut's only stage play, "Happy Birthday Wanda June", playing the role of Paul. The script was full of sublime profanity, and I was overjoyed to see the mortified looks on my grandparents faces as they sat in the raucous audience of college students and wondered how in the hell their grandson had become involved with what they could only consider a lurid display of excess.

'All the other species are dying and so will we. I’m whistling as I walk past the graveyard... whistling as beautifully as I can'

Kurt Vonnegut is dwelling on the apocalypse. It’s not that his omelette isn’t good. It’s not that his mood is downcast, but for the third time over lunch in Manhattan, America’s funniest and most pessimistic novelist is explaining why he will welcome the end of the world. “I don’t like life very much for what it does to other people,” he says. This is by no means the most depressing statement he makes between starter and main course, but somehow, by the time we leave the restaurant I feel inspired and full of hope.

Taken at face value, Vonnegut’s worldview is appallingly bleak. He tells me that “all the other species are dying and so will we”. He argues that almost everybody is “humiliated, frustrated, terribly disappointed”, and compares life to an enforced spell in the army lasting 80 years instead of three. An hour in the company of such an acutely-aware Eeyore could be dispiriting, were it not for his belief in the redemptive power of creativity and his endless capacity for jokes. “I’m whistling as I walk past the graveyard,” he admits, “and I’m whistling as beautifully as I can.”

A Man Without A Country has been presented as Vonnegut’s final testament, eight years after he announced that he would never publish again. It contains many familiar themes, some old gags, and several passages lifted verbatim from previous essays and speeches, most of which first appeared in the left-wing magazine In These Times. He credits his publisher, Daniel Simon, with “doing for me what Jesus did for Lazarus”.

“I was so dead I stank,” he continues, “I’m as surprised as anyone to be back at the age of 83 and I’m embarrassed to have lived so long. I was in a house-fire some years ago and it would have been much more tasteful to have died back then.”

For all the references to his advanced years, and his continued loyalty to unfiltered Pall Mall cigarettes, Vonnegut is in remarkably good health. His wheezing laugh, the tar-pit depths of his baritone and the occasional coughing fit testify to 70 years of smoking, but he doesn’t light up. In New York, even literary icons must keep their habit at home. A glass of wine is declined because “it hits me too hard these days”.

It has often been remarked that as he grows older, Vonnegut increasingly resembles Mark Twain, one of his heroes. The curls are tighter and darker, the moustache less pronounced, and despite his frailty he looks younger than Twain in his declining years, even though Huckleberry Finn’s creator never saw 75. The picture on the front cover of the new book, taken by his second wife, the renowned photographer, Jill Krementz, is a good one. “It’s a good face, fer chrissakes,” cackles Vonnegut.

Manners are important to him, and he regrets their passing. He is unfailingly courteous, and once wrote that if he dined with Richard Nixon’s defence secretary, he would discuss global annihilation with a smile. If promoting a new book is a chore, it never shows. He tells the waitress: “This place is great … I eat less than this on Thanksgiving.”

And so on.

Born in Indianapolis in 1922, Kurt Vonnegut Jr was encouraged to believe that once the Great Depression was over, technological advances would ensure prosperity for all. His father, an architect, insisted that he should become a scientist like his brother. “What actually happened,” he recalls in his collected speeches, “was that we dropped scientific truth on Hiroshima. We killed everybody there.”

As he had recently experienced his mother’s suicide, fought in the second world war and witnessed the fire-bombing of Dresden as a captive of the German army, he decided, not unreasonably, that there was no longer much cause for optimism. “I predicted that everything would become worse,” he says, “and everything has become worse.”

In 1958, Vonnegut’s sister Alice died of cancer the day after her husband John was killed in a train crash. Vonnegut and his first wife adopted their three children. They already had three of their own.

“I try to be truthful,” he continues, “My God, after the Holocaust isn’t it time we gave up as a species? After the first world war wasn’t it time we gave up? We’re perfectly awful animals and we’re intelligent enough to know about it.”

This dim view of humanity permeates Vonnegut’s fiction, without ever becoming corrosive, thanks to an endless parade of wild ideas, elegantly constructed comic set-pieces and cheap one-liners. Slaughterhouse Five, widely regarded as his definitive statement, views the horrors of Dresden through the eyes of a man who has become unstuck in time. Billy Pilgrim leaps from 1950s America to the planet Tralfamadore and back to Dresden again, a device Vonnegut describes as “the equivalent of [Shakespeare] bringing on the clowns every so often to lighten things up”.

Writing it was a painful experience lasting more than 20 years, and by the end all he felt able to conclude was: “I’ve finished my war book now. The next one I write is going to be fun. This one is a failure, and had to be, since it was written by a pillar of salt.”

The novel has been a staple of US high school reading lists for three decades now, but Vonnegut’s work remains under- appreciated next to his avant-garde peers Thomas Pynchon, John Barth and William Gaddis. For too long, critics and academics stacked all science-fiction with the trash, assuming that books thousands of teenagers were enjoying on their own time did not merit serious consideration.

That stigma has faded, but there is still a sense that Vonnegut is both too whimsical and too accessible for America’s literary custodians, an issue he has himself addressed, writing that “clarity looks a lot like laziness and ignorance and childishness and cheapness to them. Any idea which can be grasped immediately is for them, by definition, something they knew all the time”.

In A Man Without A Country, Vonnegut plays with this notion that he has been cheated of due recognition, claiming that he hasn’t been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature because he once ran a Saab dealership that went bust and consequently bad-mouthed the Swedes. “I think it was great that Pinter won,” he says “and it was a fine speech. Perhaps as a result of this book they’ll give me one too. I just need to make it to October and I get a million dollars.” He’s kidding, although his publisher points out that his work is always translated into Swedish, just to make sure it doesn’t slip past the Nobel committee.

If there is a lingering hunger for acceptance, Vonnegut hides it well. “I’m just the asshole who broke the bank at Monte Carlo,” he says, and if it’s a well-worn line, he seems ready enough to believe it. “Listen, I have no idea how it happens,” he continues. “There are plenty of artists that have no idea how they did it. I don’t think any of us know what we are. I seem to have had a destiny, so I did it.

“Beethoven died shaking his fist at God because all this music was still pouring out of him. I don’t know how the hell I did it. What people say is they’re possessed, and I suspect that we’re more possessible than we realise. Something just takes over.”

Vonnegut has threatened to quit several times. Long before he formally declared that Timequake would be his last book, in 1997, he was fond of reminding people that of all the great writers only Tolstoy produced his best work after 45. Is there not some slim chance that he will be possessed again?

“I don’t care,” he answers, “I don’t think it would be particularly good news. I feel like I’ve fulfilled my destiny. I’m completely in print. I’ve been allowed to say everything I’ve wanted to say. I’ve said that this country needs another novel the way the world needs another Sistine Chapel or another Beethoven’s Ninth.”

As to what the country does need, Vonnegut is less sure. His last book, if it is his last, is an excoriating attack on modern American society in all its greed and stupidity, but there is no pay-off or conclusion. It ends not with a revolution but with a requiem.

Vonnegut’s contempt for George Bush and his government is expressed with great force and clarity in A Man Without A Country, but his feelings of alienation from his homeland are nothing new. In 1972 he covered the Republican Convention for Harper’s Magazine, describing Nixon as “the first president to hate American people and all they stand for”. It was there he concluded that the USA’s two party system is one of winners and losers, rather than Democrats and Republicans, and the winners win no matter who gets into office. This being so, surely there is some consolation in the fact that the current president is such a ripe satirical target?

“I suppose so,” he acknowledges, “but the country is terribly at risk, because his stupidities have terrible consequences, leading to deaths of many people, rotten schools, rotten healthcare. He should be protecting us not only from insurgents or terrorists but from disease and ignorance, and he’s not about to do either.

“Still, there’s not much difference. [Democratic candidate, John] Kerry said out of the side of his mouth at one point that he’s not for re-distributing wealth. He and George Bush belong to the same social class, went to the same university, belong to the same gentleman’s club. Can you believe that, in a country of 300 million people, we have to choose between two members of Skull & Bones [a secret society] at Yale?”

Vonnegut votes Democrat, but describes himself as socialist, in the tradition of Carl Sandburg, Eugene Victor Debs and Powers Hapgood. Does he find it troubling that there is no socialist party of note in the US, that historians of the right can claim that the left has demonstrably failed?

“They have socialised medicine in Sweden and Canada, I wish to God we had it,” he answers, “there are socialist experiments going on everywhere. In the Communist Manifesto, what they demanded was free education and free healthcare. One of the most beneficial social experiments in this country was the GI Bill Of Rights – when we came home we could all go to college for free.”

Last week, George Bush used his annual State Of The Union address to declare that his government is meeting its responsibility to provide healthcare for the poor and the elderly and spearheading a global quest for peace. Vonnegut’s stump speech states the opposite. In the land of his internal exile, corporate profiteers rule unchecked, extended families have been split into desperately vulnerable nuclear groups, “lethal injection and warfare are forms of entertainment” and Americans are “as feared and hated all over the world as the Nazis once were”.

When challenged about this last statement, Vonnegut repeats that US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and vice- president Dick Cheney are “jut-jawed, like Nazis” and argues that the main difference is that the Germans were justly feared for their military prowess.

“We have no army,” he says, “What makes us the most powerful nation on Earth is our willingness to kill people in their thousands with remote-controlled missiles, the fact that we’re prepared to set off nuclear explosions in the middle of unarmed people – men, women and children.

“Only one country has been crazy enough to set off a nuke in the middle of a civilian population. Did it twice, and that’s when members of my generation, soldiers, could see that ‘we’re not the good guys any more’. We were very careful not to hurt civilians.”

In his rage and despair he invokes the true guardians of America’s soul, quoting from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address and Christ’s Sermon On The Mount. For a confirmed humanist, he mentions the Beatitudes surprisingly often, arguing that the President’s fundamentalist friends have forgotten the meek, the merciful, and the peacemakers.

Vonnegut once observed that he was at his funniest two days after Martin Luther King Jr was shot, because he was speaking to an audience “full of pain that they couldn’t do anything about … there was an enormous need to either laugh or cry”.

The punchline count is high in A Man Without A Country, as it has been in every one of his novels. On the first page he explains that, as the youngest child in a family of five, making jokes was the only way to get noticed in adult conversation. Reporting on the fall of Biafra in 1970, he noticed he still cracked wise as the Nigerian army approached, writing that “joking was my response to misery I couldn’t do anything about”.

Crucially, it has not been his only reflex. What elevates his work above gallows humour and exposes him as an idealist in pessimist’s clothing is his palpable compassion and the way in which he appeals to his readers’ better natures. “Practising any art is a way to make your soul grow,” he writes, and it is clear that this has been his own salvation. As we speak, he raises a glass : “To the arts.”

Later, when the food arrives, Vonnegut talks about the teacher who inspired him, James C Bean, reminding me that “the Great Depression was going on, and there were no good jobs, so it was a wonderful break to get to be a teacher or a mailman. Some of the best and smartest people in Indianapolis were teaching in school.

“All it takes is one great teacher,” he continues, and though he would never be so conceited as to admit it, he has evidently been that teacher, for his seven children, for students at various American universities, and for three generations of science-fiction fans.

What he has consistently taught is that art alone can rescue his homeland, through a series of personal revolutions. This belief in the transformative power of creativity is expressed beautifully in the preface to Wampeters, Foma, & Granfalloons (Opinions). “I now believe,” he writes, “that the only way in which Americans can rise above their ordinariness, can mature sufficiently to rescue themselves and to help rescue the planet, is through enthusiastic intimacy with works of their own imaginations.

“I am not especially satisfied with my own imaginative works, my fiction. I am simply impressed by the unexpected insights which shower down on me when my job is to imagine, as contrasted with the woodenly familiar ideas which clutter my desk when my job is to tell the truth.”

At 83, Vonnegut has been convinced by a publisher from his children’s generation that his last task is to tell the truth. He has decided that the proximity of environmental catastrophe will probably make him unfunny for the rest of his life. He is unrepentant in his pessimism, and he wishes he wasn’t a writer. He wishes, as he has always wished, that he was a musician.

“Music gives pleasure as we never can,” he reasons. “I’ve said that the purpose of the arts is to make people like life more than they had done before, and people ask me if I’ve seen this done and I say, ‘Yes, the Beatles did it’ – it was an amazing event.”

In Breakfast Of Champions, Vonnegut’s satirical take on the madness of consumer society, science-fiction writer Kilgore Trout longs to be seen as “a representative of all the thousands of artists who devoted their entire lives to a search for truth and beauty – and didn’t find doodley-squat”. It is his master’s voice. Vonnegut’s lifetime of searching has left him weary, and he is reluctant to claim much credit for the wonders he has unlocked for millions of readers.

After lunch, as he climbs into the back of a waiting car, he offers this parting shot: “Remember, I don’t know how I did it.”

05 February 2006
© 2006 newsquest (sunday herald) limited

Saturday, February 04, 2006

A Bomb For You...

For those of you who retain any last shred of faith in our justice system, it may come as a shock to learn that Denton is home to dozens of people convicted of sex crimes against children 13 and younger, all the way down to an appalling age 4, who never served a single day in jail. You may be more shocked to discover that some of these predators have been convicted of multiple offenses against multiple children. You may be even more shocked to realize this same injustice is occurring all across our nation. If someone rapes a child in America, he or she might not serve any jail time.

Sit with that a moment… The same system of “justice” that sentences vandals, petty thieves and marijuana users to jail, might release a child rapist back into your neighborhood. As if personal property and morality were more important than public safety, and pot smokers and pilferers were more threatening than perverted predators.

This disparity is not for lack of resources. After all, the United States leads the world in incarceration rates, largely due to Draconian drug policies implemented in the name of “protecting the children”. Our judges lock up a higher percentage of our population than Iraq, China, Iran, and North Korea, yet many of these judges fail to even temporarily incarcerate child predators. And American children are being abducted, raped, videotaped for the perverse pleasure of monsters, tortured, and murdered. In at least one case last year, a beautiful little girl named Jessica Lunsford was murdered by a previously convicted molester who was set free to enter her bedroom window, abduct her, rape her repeatedly for two days, and bury her alive in her neighbor’s yard.

This is inexcusable. It should make us sick at heart, angry in spirit, and most importantly, active. A national judicial scandal of this magnitude should cause massive political reverberations, as people elect to replace the legislators, district attorneys and judges who lack the insight or the concern to prioritize the protection of children, families, and communities.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for the national media to cover this issue. Pundits have repeatedly reported that Vermont Judge Cashman sentenced an admitted child rapist (the girl was six years old, with assaults occurring over a four-year period) to a pathetic 60 days in jail. However, these reporters spun the story as an isolated incident involving a single renegade judge who needs to be removed, and they failed to cover the broader issue.

None dare call it corruption, but information regarding probated sentences for child rapists is easily available online at sex offender registry sites. At the very least, media moguls have been negligent. Are they hoping people will simply raise an outcry against one judge, engage in primal scream therapy, and then move on to the next flavor of the month, without changing the system itself?

I was determined to find out, so I contacted representatives at CNN, FOX, and MSNBC, and they didn’t even want to talk about it. They didn’t return my calls or my emails. I’ve contacted the Denton Record-Chronicle over several months, to no avail. Finally, while waiting for police to arrive at my home so I could report a toy bullet that was suspiciously left in the back of my car on Martin Luther King Day, I called our local child advocacy center about the possibility of joining forces. I was told they didn’t want to get involved in political issues that might upset the system of cooperation between law enforcement officials, district attorneys, and therapists. The one group that remained unmentioned was the children themselves.

The truth is painful, but we have to face the fact that our society is failing our kids. We teach them to obey adults, to respect their elders, to stay quiet, to not resist. Our school districts are often less secure than our shopping malls, lacking sufficient security to prevent violent individuals (including predators, terrorists, or mentally unstable students) from harming children, yet we expend resources to teach these kids the ultimate lesson in acquiescence, forcing them to drop their pants and urinate on command, when being “drug free” (excluding “good” prescription drugs like amphetamines and anti-depressents, which render children easier to control) takes precedence over freedom from violence. Then we fail to provide them with information about their bodies and their rights. Having rendered them psychologically helpless to defend themselves, we then release convicted child predators into their neighborhoods. And when children who are raped grow up to develop drug dependencies (as many do, trying to self-medicate symptoms associated with depression, anxiety, and PTSD) or to become prostitutes (again, trying to self-medicate), we’ll throw those crime victims in jail for their involvement with prohibited drugs and prostitution, while child rapists walk the street to create more victims (and therefore more drug abuse and prostitution). To add insult to injury, our federal government will deny the drug-using rape victims financial aid for college (thanks to a controversial anti-drug clause contained in the Higher Education Act of 1998), while their rapists attend universities with our tax dollars. That's right. Our federal legislators don't want tax dollars to support the illegal drug use, but they will buy the knife, duct tape, pharmaceutical drugs and videocamera the child pornographers will use on their next victims.

As a survivor of sexual abuse and child pornography who gave personal testimony to a Texas committee hearing on child advocacy, my blood is boiling. As a father of two beautiful children I delivered with my own trembling hands, I am afraid for them. More importantly, I am bound and determined to do anything in my legal power to change this deplorable injustice.

You can join me and other survivors, parents, and advocacy groups, who are creating a new organization called Building BLOCK - Better Lives for Our Communities and Kids, which will expose this nightmare, along with the authorities who perpetuate the perpetration. Building BLOCK will offer an interactive U.S. map that will provide county by county contact information, case profiles, broad data, and photos of these renegade judges, district attorneys, police chiefs, and school officials, who refuse to prioritize public safety over private morality and health.

Incompetent and corrupt officials take note. The people have grown weary of the ineptitude and apathy that allows fundamental liberties to deteriorate while violence devastates our communities. If you do not prioritize public safety over personal morality, we will ensure you are deprioritized at the ballet box, and shamed in the public eye. If you have kids, hug them tight when you tuck them in tonight. They deserve your protection. And if you aren’t enraged yet, you must be dead or asleep. Here’s to waking up and breaking the silence.

Committee wages fight against junk food

Just what we need, another war. Who says JUNK isn't prophetic?

Nutritionist leads charge in Idaho schools

BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- Stephanie Rose walked into the lunchroom of the Idaho Falls High School with a homemade chart and tallied what she found: Canisters of potato chips. Heaps of candy. Cellophane-wrapped cakes. High-caffeine sports drinks.

Twelve percent of the foods offered by the district a la carte program were granola or cereal bars, fruits, vegetables, or low-fat chips or pretzels. The other 88 percent included nachos, corn dogs, chips and cookies.

"For 25 cents you can buy 310 calories," said Rose, a nurse and diabetes educator who attended Idaho Falls High in the 1980s, when she had to take a helping of beans on her plate whether she wanted them or not.

These days, the school promotes "Corn dogs: two for a dollar," she says. "Good Lord, what are you trying to do here?"

Rose studied the food offerings for a school wellness committee, and she's campaigning to get rid of junk food. But she's facing opposition from some parents and school officials who say that if they ban school snacks, the kids will just buy them somewhere else. It will also cut off money that pays for equipment and programs.

It's a sticky question that many schools face these days.

Balancing health, choices

Idaho Falls High School Principal Randy Hurley says he wants the kids to eat well, but his main concern is keeping the school clean.

"If we become more restrictive here, within half a block the kids can go purchase what they're interested in," Hurley said. "One of our greatest concerns is they'll bring in the big beverage cups. You spill a 44-ounce drink and you have half a gallon of liquid to clean up."
Tracie Miller, a mother and school board member who is on the wellness committee, hears that argument a lot. It doesn't sway her.

"A lot of them leave campus and buy cigarettes. Should we sell cigarettes to make money?" Miller said.

Then there's the question of choice.

"If you just take everything away from them and say it's all bad, you're not teaching them to make a decision," said Cindy Ozaki, head of the Parent Teacher Organization for Longfellow Elementary. "We are telling parents, we're going to tell you how you should raise your children and what you should be buying."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture allows school districts to sell "competitive" food such as candy and cookies alongside the regular lunch. Ozaki's PTO and other school groups also make money selling cookie dough, cheesecakes, candy and other items -- money that goes for school equipment and programs.

Laws try to curb obesity

As in the rest of the country, Idaho residents are getting fatter. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2003 that nearly 60 percent of adults in Idaho were considered overweight or obese. Rose said one-third of the patients she sees who are at risk for diabetes are under the age of 18.

The Idaho Falls district wellness committee is the result of a federal law that directs all school districts to have a policy in place by the end of June. But the law has no teeth in it; nothing happens if districts don't come up with a plan.

For now, the Idaho Falls committee is proposing minor changes -- banning sales of candy in the lunchroom and limiting the size of sodas sold in vending machines. Miller and Rose want to get rid of all school junk food.

Miller questions the whole premise of school snack sales, noting that the companies providing the products make a profit. She suggests that asking people to give money directly to the school makes more sense than selling a tub of cookie dough for $12 and splitting the profit with the vendor.

Then, she and Rose will take aim at the rest of what's offered -- like lunch plates piled with pizza and French fries slathered with ranch dressing.

Rose believes she and Miller will find support in Idaho Falls, a town of about 50,000. The federal law is prompting everyone to take a look at school food, she said.

"It's going to sort out the school districts who care about their kids from the ones who don't," she said.

Find this article at: http://www.cnn.com/2006/EDUCATION/02/03/diet.school.food.ap/index.html

Friday, February 03, 2006

Editorial: Bush's War on T-Shirts

Let me get this straight. Capitol security forces twice diverted resources away from protecting the building from terroristic attacks during the State of the Union Address, in order to crack down on two menacing t-shirts? Sounds like a serious misprioritization, not to mention a violation of fundamental constitutional principles. Check this out...

Published on Thursday, February 2, 2006 by the Madison Capital-Times (Wisconsin)

Minutes before the U.S. president would tell Congress how much he appreciates "responsible criticism and counsel," the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq was dragged from a gallery overlooking the House chamber, handcuffed and arrested for the "crime" of wearing a T-shirt that read: "2,245 dead. How many more?"

Cindy Sheehan, who had been invited to attend George Bush's State of the Union address by Rep. Lynn Woolsey, the California Democrat who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, did not put the "dangerous" shirt on for the event. The woman whose protest last summer outside the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas, drew international attention to the anti-war movement had been wearing it at events earlier in the day.

Indeed, as Sheehan, who had passed through Capitol security monitors without incident, noted, "I knew that I couldn't disrupt the address because Lynn had given me the ticket and I didn't want to be disruptive out of respect for her."

No one has suggested that Sheehan was in any way disruptive. So why was she arrested?

Because, as Sheehan recounts, she was identified as a dissident.

Before the arrest, media reports buzzed about official concern over Sheehan's presence. And, as she was being dragged from a room where Bush would shortly extol the virtues of freedom and liberty, police explicitly told Sheehan that she was being removed "because you were protesting."

Capitol Police and other security officials, whose rough treatment of Sheehan was witnessed by dozens of people who attended Bush's speech, said she was arrested for "unlawful conduct." Conveniently, she was held until after the president finished speaking. The next day. the charges were dropped.

Is there really a law against wearing a political T-shirt to the State of the Union address? No.
The Capitol Police do have protocols that are followed in order to avoid "incidents" during major events. But their own actions Tuesday night confirm that Sheehan was singled out for rough justice.

Beverly Young, the wife of Rep. C.W. Bill Young, a Florida Republican who chairs the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee, showed up for the State of the Union address sporting a T-shirt that read, "Support the Troops Defending Our Freedom." When Capitol Police asked her to leave the gallery because she was wearing clothing that featured a political message, Young says, she argued loudly with officers and called one of them "an idiot."

But Young was not handcuffed. She was not dragged from the Capitol. She was not arrested. She was not jailed.

Sheehan, who caused no ruckus, was arrested not because she engaged in "unlawful conduct." Rather, by all accounts, she was arrested because of what her T-shirt said and, by extension, because of what she believes.

That makes this a most serious matter. Rep. Pete Stark, the California Democrat who is one of the senior members of the House, is right when he said that Sheehan's arrest by officers he refers to as "the president's Gestapo" tells us a lot more about George Bush and the sorry state of our basic liberties in the midst of the president's open-ended "war on terror" than anything that was said in the State of the Union address. "It shows he still has a thin skin," Stark said.
It also shows that the father of the Constitution, James Madison, was right when he warned that, in times of war, the greatest danger to America would not be foreign foes but presidents and their minions, who would abuse the powers of the executive branch with the purpose of "subduing the force of the people."

This one incident involving one T-shirt is a minor matter. But, seen in the context of the mounting evidence of constraints on legitimate protest, warrant-less wiretaps and the abuses of the Patriot Act, it reminds us of the truth of Madison's warning that "no nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."

© 2006 The Capital Times

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Police Apologize for First Amendment Violation

A victory for Americans who believe that free speech and expression is more important than dress codes...

Police Apologize, Drop Charge Vs. Sheehan
By LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press

Capitol Police dropped a charge of unlawful conduct against anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan on Wednesday and apologized for ejecting her and a congressman's wife from President Bush's State of the Union address for wearing T-shirts with war messages.

"The officers made a good faith, but mistaken effort to enforce an old unwritten interpretation of the prohibitions about demonstrating in the Capitol," Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer said in a statement late Wednesday.

"The policy and procedures were too vague," he added. "The failure to adequately prepare the officers is mine."

The extraordinary statement came a day after police removed Sheehan and Beverly Young, wife of Rep. C.W. "Bill" Young, R-Fla., from the visitors gallery Tuesday night. Sheehan was taken away in handcuffs before Bush's arrival at the Capitol and charged with a misdemeanor, while Young left the gallery and therefore was not arrested, Gainer said.

"Neither guest should have been confronted about the expressive T-shirts," Gainer's statement said.

Gainer added that he was asking the U.S. attorney's office to drop the charge against Sheehan. The statement also said he apologized to the Youngs and "share the department's plans for avoiding this in the future."

"A similar message has been left with Mrs. Sheehan," Gainer said.

For his part, Bill Young said he was not necessarily satisfied.

"My wife was humiliated," he told reporters. He suggested that "sensitivity training" may be in order for Capitol Police.

A foreign-born American citizen who was the guest of Rep. Alcee Hastings (news, bio, voting record), D-Fla., also was taken by police from the gallery just above the House floor, Hastings said Wednesday.

The congressman met with Gainer and said he also requested a meeting with House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., about the incident.

"I'd like to find out more information," Hastings said in an interview, identifying the man only as being from Broward County in Florida. "He is a constituent of mine. I invited him proudly."

Sheehan's T-shirt alluded to the number of soldiers killed in Iraq: "2245 Dead. How many more?" Capitol Police charged her with a misdemeanor for violating the District of Columbia's code against unlawful or disruptive conduct on any part of the Capitol grounds, a law enforcement official said. She was released from custody and flew home Wednesday to Los Angeles.

Young's shirt had just the opposite message: "Support the Troops — Defending Our Freedom."

The two women appeared to have offended tradition if not the law, according to several law enforcement and congressional officials. By custom, the annual address is to be a dignified affair in which the president reports on the state of the nation. Guests in the gallery who wear shirts deemed political in nature have, in past years, been asked to change or cover them up.
Rules dealing mainly with what people can bring and telling them to refrain from reading, writing, smoking, eating, drinking, applauding or taking photographs are outlined on the back of gallery passes given to tourists every day.

However, State of the Union guests don't receive any guidelines, Hanley said. "You would assume that if you were coming to an event like the State of the Union address you would be dressed in appropriate attire," she said.
___
Associated Press writer Liz Sidoti contributed to this report.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Rant N' Roll

America holds tremendous value for the world, particularly through the ideals which are espoused through the smudged print of its brittle constitution. But I feel great sorrow and anger when I consider that principles such as personal liberty and responsibility are treated as antiquated relics or impediments to "getting the job done", and are harnessed as sound-bite opportunities for political gain in a tainted system. Many of our so-called representatives have sold the interests and civil liberties of the people down the river, as if they were livestock to be traded.

Some fear-mongering politicians claim we must choose between liberty and security. They advocate warrantless wiretapping, specious wars (on drugs, Iraq, obesity - pick your flavor), and torture. Though they know our courts are imperfect (innocent people are often convicted), they support the death penalty (none dare call it murder), even for nonviolent (though ethically repugnant) crimes such as drug smuggling. They have built the world's largest prison system, incarcerating a higher percentage of the population than any nation on earth, in the name of a war on drugs to "protect the children", while simultaneously releasing thousands of child predators, rapists and killers onto our streets. These corrupt officials act like latent pedophiles, treating their constituents like children and then looking for any excuse to put their hands all over them, even inside them, "for our own good". They have attempted to mechanize humanity. And this is happening right here, in the "land of the free". We don't even own our own bodies anymore. It seems that slavery was not abolished after all, it merely became more covert.

The chickens have finally come home to roost, and the wolves are in our hen house. The pigs may be eating from gold-encrusted plates, but they can't hide their stench. Though America is the world's longest existing democratic republic, the citizenry must remain vigilant against all enemies, foreign and domestic. The founding forefathers did not include constitutional protections to protect us from foreign invaders, but from tyrants that might ascend within our own government. Now those protections are methodically being rendered impotent, one by one, by pigs who've seized the palace.

Wake up, people! Our nation is in crisis! Sound the alarms! Bury your remote controls! Forget the Superbowl and "reality" shows! Put down your booze, your tabloids, and your toilet seats! Call your senators! If you must gripe, do it to the right people! Who cares if the Liberty Bell is cracked? I bet the sucker still rings! Congress needs an enema! Take to the streets, raise your voices, and use your votes this November to flush these corrupt officials like royal turds!

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Mad Scientists – GEOPARISITISM

Welcome to the dark underbelly of experimental psychedelic jazz funk, where conspiracies have global relevance and humanity (to quote brilliant comedian Bill Hicks), is “a virus with shoes”. The Mad Scientists descend into their laboratory to blaze musical trails like hallucinogenic tracers, mocking and deconstructing the capitalism, competition, greed, selfishness, waste, and spiritual disconnection that lead our human race to the precipice of self-annihilation. Geoparisitism will challenge listeners musically and socio-politically. A few of the songs function as fine singles, but this eclectic fusion is rich with sonic layers and overarching lyrical themes, and so deserves to be experienced in full, with a macrocosmically enlightened ear.

Steve Kubby Sick in Jail After Arrest at SF Airport

In a prohibition-free nation, law enforcement and judicial resources could be divested and focused on taking (and keeping) violent criminals off the street. But the public (and public safety) is simply not served by medical marijuana patient Steve Kubby's imprisonment. The District Attorney might claim this is simply enforcement of the law, but if that's true, then the law needs changing. Besides, the DA chose to prioritize this case. Does he care more about power than people?

I wonder how many child molesters, rapists, armed robbers, spouse batterers, murderers and terrorists will be free in Placer County for the next six months, while Steve Kubby sits in jail, denied his medicine, getting sicker and sicker.

CALIFORNIA NORML RELEASE - JAN 26, 10:30 PM PST

Steve Kubby was arrested by a dozen police immediately upon landing at the San Francisco airport and has been whisked off to the Redwood City jail. A welcoming party of supporters and media were disappointed to discover that he had been spirited away out of sight through a back entrance.

"I'm really sick already," Kubby said from jail two hours afterwards, "I'm gonna start puking my brains out." He says his guards laughed at him when he requested Marinol. Kubby says he hasn't had marijuana for half a day and has begun to experience all of the symptoms of his life-threatening disease - nausea, headaches, swollen kidneys. He has chills and has not been able to get a blanket from the guards. "They don't understand that they're dealing with someone with cancer," he says.

Kubby is upset that he was arrested immediately off the plane, when he had offered to turn himself in voluntarily in Placer County on Tuesday. San Francisco airport police said that they had arrested him at the request of Placer County authorities. They said Kubby will be arraigned in court tomorrow morning, though it wasn't clear where - in Redwood City, where he is being detained, or in Placer County. Kubby did not even know where he was being detained when he called California NORML.

Aside from his inhumane medical treatment, Kubby says police have treated him politely. He embarked on his trip in good spirits in the hopes of finally resolving his fight with the law.

PROTEST INHUMANE TREATMENT OF STEVE KUBBY!

Kubby's attorney, Bill McPike, urges supporters to call on the Placer County authorities to release Kubby immediately.

Please contact: Bradford R. Fenocchio
Placer County District Attorney
(530) 889-7000(530) 889-7129 fax
bfenocch@placer.ca.gov
to voice your disapproval over Steve Kubby's inhumane treatment.

- D. Gieringer
California NORML
(415) 563-5858
canorml@igc.org
2215-R Market St. #278
San Francisco CA 94114

Sunday, January 22, 2006

JUNK Review - David Brensilver

"Christopher Largen's use of a War on Junk as an allegory for the War on Drugs is particularly successful at reminding us that what might seem, on its face, absurd, is no more absurd than the reality of certain blemishes on the face of American society. We know the idea that chocolate causes acne is a myth, just as we know that chocolate is not a gateway to more dangerous foods, such as the combination of ingredients that was my artery-clogging breakfast this morning. If marijuana is a so-called gateway, it is only a gateway to the foods made illegal in Junk. However, marijuana is illegal. The gateway to that dangerous bag of Cool Ranch Doritos in your pantry is closed, while alcohol, tobacco and firearms remain as legal as a tossed-salad, regulated for your safety. After all, we know that, individually and certainly in combination, alcohol, tobacco and firearms couldn't possibly be the gateway to anything dangerous. Largen's Junk is a must read for anyone not already a member of the choir. So, have a bacon cheeseburger and dive into Largen's satire. Or, try to convince yourself that the right gateways are secured for your own safety."

David A. Brensilver
Author of ExecTV, published in 2005 by ENC Press

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Open Letter to Ohio Senator Jim Jordan

I sent the following letter throughout the Ohio legislature...

Senator Jordan,

I'm an internationally-published writer, book author, and public speaker. My best friend and co-author, George McMahon, is one of seven patients who receive legal medical marijuana from the United States Government's Investigational New Drug program, administered by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. George smokes the federal marijuana to treat symptoms of pain, spasms and nausea related to surgical maltreatment, multiple accidents and injuries, and a rare genetic disorder called Nail Patella Syndrome. Prior to being accepted to the government program, George underwent 19 major surgeries, was declared clinically dead on several occasions, was taking 17 different pharmaceutical substances on a daily basis (including 400 morphine tablets per month), and used a wheelchair. Since being accepted to the federal marijuana program 16 years ago, George has had NO surgeries or hospitalizations, he no longer takes pharmaceutical substances (aside from the occasional antibiotic), and he swims, rides his bike, and travels the country to educate legislators about the medical value of cannabis. He even ran for Vice-President of the United States in the 90s, and is a recipient of the National Certificate of Heroism.

The other federal patients receive marijuana to treat symptoms associated with bone tumors, Multiple Sclerosis, and glaucoma. All of the federal patients, their doctors, and expert researchers report marked symptomatic improvement in these patients, with fewer side effects than pharmaceutical alternatives.

You were recently quoted in the Columbus Dispatch as saying, "Every place they try to do this, they say it's for medicinal purpose... I'm just totally opposed to that concept, which is why I'm not excited about having a hearing and will probably wait as long as possible to schedule one." I hope your comments merely reflect your lack of knowledge regarding the subject, rather than a bitter spirit bloated with power. Throwing sick and dying people in jail for using cannabis to treat their symptoms is morally repugnant and politically risky. A majority of your constituents support legalization and regulation of medical marijuana. It is your constitutional duty to represent them, not to threaten their sick loved ones with prison, or block legitimate attempts at receiving a fair and balanced hearing. Though you are ineligible to run for another four-year term, you must live by your conscience and your honor. The people you represent deserve better than misrepresentations, distortions, and obstruction of justice.

If your mother was undergoing cancer chemotherapy and could benefit from cannabis, would you really handcuff her to a wheelchair? Are you truly a conservative who supports smaller government and more liberty? Then take the time to educate yourself about valid scientific research from the international community. Search deep inside your heart, and then do the right thing.

Your Classic Iconoclast,

Christopher Largen
Author of Prescription Pot (New Horizon Press, 2003)
and JUNK (ENC Press, 2005)

DEA Agents: Thug-Smuggling

DEA agents involved in drug smuggling, kidnappings, and murder? I wouldn't put it past some of them. And I wouldn't trust internal investigations within the Department of Justice, especially under the Bush administration.

US TN: Wiretap Whistleblower Or DEA Dupe?
URL: http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v06.n082.a06.html
Pubdate: Thu, 19 Jan 2006
Source: Nashville Scene (TN)
Copyright: 2006 Nashville Scene
Contact: editor@nashvillescene.com
Website: http://www.nashscene.com/
Author: John Spargens

WIRETAP WHISTLEBLOWER OR DEA DUPE?

Local Assistant U.S. Attorney's Explosive Justice Department Allegations Make National Waves

The seven-page document reads like the screenplay for Scarface, had it been written by a Justice Department attorney instead of Oliver Stone. U.S. Drug Enforcement agents in Bogota, Colombia, help local drug lords traffic narcotics. When a confidential informant tips off DEA agents in Florida about the illegal actions of their Bogota counterparts, a Florida agent alerts DEA higher-ups and is put on administrative leave. Meanwhile, DEA agents in Bogota summon an informant to a meeting; as he leaves, he is murdered.

It's not Scarface. It's a December 2004 memo written by Thomas M. Kent, a lawyer then working in the Justice Department's Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section ( NDDS ) who is now an assistant U.S. attorney in the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the middle district of Tennessee. It was first reported this week by The Narco News Bulletin, an online newsletter that publishes Latin American and U.S. news about the war on drugs. Kent, whom present and former colleagues praise as smart and honest, sent the whistleblower memo to NDDS Chief Jodi Avergun and deputy chief Michael Walther with the subject line, "Operation Snowplow-Dissemination of information on corruption within the DEA and the mishandling of related investigations by OPR to the Public Integrity Section." The memo, which is stamped "Confidential," contains explosive allegations.

Corrupt DEA agents stationed in Bogota allow U.S.-friendly informants to be locked up, kidnapped and killed because they're disrupting the narco-trade that lines the agents' pockets. These same rogue federal law enforcers leak damaging details about informants to people who want them dead. A Bogota informant makes jailhouse contact-in one case, videotaped-with a member of an armed Colombian insurgent group who wants to obtain illegal communication equipment. Eventually, the informant tells Miami DEA agents that there is weapons-grade nuclear material for sale in Spain.

Time and time again, Bogota-based DEA agents shut down the investigation against colleagues' wishes. Eventually, they claim that the informant is a pedophile, although a Bogota agent "could not provide any evidence to support it," Kent wrote. Just as important as Kent's allegations of corruption in Colombia, though, is his contention that the Justice Department covered it up. "The first allegation was brought to OPR," he wrote, referring to the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility. "

By all accounts OPR did nothing about it. When confronted with the allegations, the investigators at OPR treated the reporting agents as if they had a disease and did not want anything to do with them or the evidence they amassed." Kent wrote that one agent was fired and another was retaliated against after blowing the whistle on corruption; he also claimed that OPR failed to transmit damning documents to the Inspector General's office. Furthermore, he wrote, an informant with incriminating information against Bogota DEA agents passed a polygraph test, but the examiner was "instructed by OPR not to report on the test. He was instructed that the test never took place."

Sounds pretty Orwellian. But is it true? In response to media requests, a branch of the Justice Department is looking into it. "DEA takes very seriously any allegations of misconduct, abuse of position or criminal action," says agency spokesman Garrison K. Courtney, in a statement provided to the Scene. "The allegations that are reported in the Narco News Bulletin are extremely serious. DEA's Office of Professional Responsibility is reviewing the allegations that have been made." Courtney says the Justice Department's Inspector General is in charge of any investigation that may or may not be conducted in response to the memo's disclosure. One insider says that an investigation was done by the Inspector General's office in 2002, and Kent's charges all proved false.

"It's absolute B.S.," says a Justice Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It's been completely investigated, and it's totally baseless. Tom is a smart young lawyer, and he was, I believe, taken in by a couple of disgruntled DEA agents who had an axe to grind at the agency, and were part of a rivalry between DEA Florida and DEA Bogota." According to this official, confidential informants are the lifeblood of DEA investigations, and Kent stepped right into a turf war without knowing it. His four-alarm memo was well intended, then, but false, the source says.

Kent, who now works on wiretapping for Nashville-related federal drug investigations, didn't return calls for this story. His current boss, U.S. Attorney Jim Vines, says he's an outstanding attorney and a great asset to the department. "He does a great job, he's a very experienced prosecutor, very knowledge about T3s," says Vines, referring to the complex federal statutory scheme for wiretaps-the kind for which you still need court approval. "It's a very tricky area, and you can get in trouble when you don't do it correctly.... To have him assigned here has been a godsend to us."

Before he moved to the Justice Department, Kent worked for the New York attorney general in a special narcotics office in Manhattan. He eventually moved to the federal Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, where he wrote the memo, before taking the job in the local U.S. Attorney's office. Vines tells the Scene that he didn't know about Kent's memo until recently, although one source says the Nashville U.S. Attorney's Office knew about it before Kent was hired approximately one year ago. Regardless, his supervisors and colleagues say he has their full confidence-and more importantly, he's very good at what he does. But he's either one of the biggest whistleblowers in DEA history or a super-sized sucker who put his career on the line for a few washed-up law enforcement jerks.

According to the Justice Department source, the investigation prompted by Kent's 2004 memo didn't lead to any disciplinary measures against agents in Bogota or Miami, nor did it hurt Kent's career. "[T]he cracks in the lid DEA and OPR has [sic] attempted to place on this problem are getting bigger. It is only a matter of time before this thing explodes," Kent wrote 13 months ago. "If we are unable to arrange for a sit down between the reporting agents and those attorneys within the Department of Justice who are tasked with ensuring that corrupted agents and officials are held accountable, then I firmly believe that we will watch from the sidelines as the allegations play out in a courtroom, on the news, and/or on Capital [sic] Hill." Did Kent get taken advantage of by disgruntled DEA agents, or was he silenced by his Justice Department superiors? Only a handful of people can answer that question, and so far, Kent's not talking.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Questioning US Arrest Statistics

Who would you rather have living next door to you, a pot smoker or a pedophile? The following article raises serious issues for police, judges, criminologists, and citizens...

Pubdate: Wed, 18 Jan 2006
Source: Christian Science Monitor (US)
Copyright: 2006 The Christian Science Publishing Society
Contact: http://www.csmonitor.com/cgi-bin/contactus.pl
Website: http://www.csmonitor.com/
Author: Scott Christianson
Note: Author is a former NY state criminal justice official, is the author of several books about crime and punishment.

QUESTIONING US ARREST STATISTICS

SAND LAKE, N.Y. -- Policing in the United States has changed a lot during the past 50 years. Higher education and training requirements have led to greater police professionalism, and most departments' ranks have benefited from huge increases of personnel, stunning technological advancements, forensics breakthroughs, and affirmative action policies that presumably have led to a more representative workforce sensitive to civil rights. Policing's academic side has also prospered from decades of ample government research grants. Many observers credit the police because reported crime in the nation has generally been going down for nearly a decade. Reported homicides in New York City and other jurisdictions recently hit their lowest level in more than 40 years.

But discussions of police performance often fail to note another important but overlooked trend, apparently unrelated to the falling crime rate: Federal statistics reveal that the nation's "clearance rate" - the percentage of cases for which police arrest or identify a suspect - has fallen dramatically. And this shift is fraught with implications. The arrest clearance rate for reported homicides recently dropped to about 60 percent compared with about 90 percent 50 years ago. This means that a murderer today has about a 40 percent chance of avoiding arrest compared with less than 10 percent in 1950.

The record for other FBI Index Crimes is even more dismal: The clearance rates have sunk to 42 percent for forcible rape, 26 percent for robbery, and 13 percent for burglary and motor vehicle theft, all way down from earlier eras. In Boston, the homicide clearance rate plummeted to only 28 percent in 2004 - a shocking development for a city that gained lavish praise for crime reductions in the 1990s.

Judging a police department or the criminal justice system as a whole based simply on arrest statistics wouldn't be wise, for the police can and do fulfill many crucial functions in our society, such as maintaining public order and helping to protect citizens from terrorist attack. But ignoring measures of how the police deal with reported serious crime isn't smart either.

It's not that America's cops haven't been making arrests - in fact, their total annual arrests jumped from 3.3 million in the nation in 1960 to 14 million in 2004, a staggering number that helps to explain why the United States imprisons more of its citizens than any other country in the world. So, if reported crime has been going down and arrests have gone up, what accounts for the plummeting arrest clearance rates for murder, robbery, rape, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft?

Part of the answer must involve drug law enforcement - victimless offenses that aren't reported to the police or included as FBI Index Crimes. Instead of arresting suspects for burglaries and other serious reported crimes, cops today spend much of their energy going after illegal drugs. Their arrest rate for drug possession ( especially marijuana ) has shot up more than 500 times from what it was in 1965.

And what are some possible implications of this shift? For one thing, it may give criminals the impression they can get away with nondrug related crimes. For another, it may lessen public support for the police. Polls show those who live in "high crime" neighborhoods are generally the most dissatisfied with the police. Maybe this is because they have reported to the police that they have been victimized by robbery and other serious crimes, then witnessed that the police are not arresting anyone for it but are instead aggressively waging a "war on drugs" in the community.

Nevertheless, the matter of falling arrest clearance rates hasn't received much scrutiny from the police or the public. Asked why the arrest clearance rate has dropped so much, one leading police scholar, Professor David Bayley of the State University of New York at Albany, said, "I haven't a clue. I've been involved in the field for 40 years and best as I can tell, nobody has even raised this stuff. Hearing about it now is like being hit by a bus."

One interpretation might be that the changing statistics actually indicate that today's police are acting more judiciously, for as one former New York Police Department homicide detective, now a private investigator, put it, "Just because cops were more likely to arrest somebody in the old days than they are today doesn't mean they didn't make a lot of mistakes back then, by beating false confessions out of innocent people and such." Whatever the reasons, this significant trend in the police response to reported crime should prompt some serious discussion about contemporary law enforcement's priorities and effectiveness.

I Found A Bullet In My Car

I never imagined that a stray bullet would show up in the back seat, especially on Martin Luther King Day. When I bought my car ten months ago, it was totally clean, to my knowledge. I do not own a gun, so the ammunition had to come from somewhere else.

This bullet has worried me. I used to protest Ku Klux Klan rallies across Texas. My writings have attacked certain government officials, drug kingpins, and child molesters. I have counted some very nasty people among my political opponents. So if the ammo was purposefully left in my car as a veiled attempt at a threat, it could have come from anywhere.

I've dealt with threats before. My car has been vandalized repeatedly, and I receive my share of hate mail. But I can't let angry individuals intimidate me into silence. I value my words too much to render them impotent because of the reactionaries in our midst.

I will be filing a report with the City of Denton Police Department today, in the event this bullet was more than an idle threat. And I promise to keep my readers posted on any further developments. Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Cracked Cop Needs Refresher Course on First Amendment

Didn't this officer have more important things (like child molesters and murderers) to worry about than a citizen merely exercising free expression? You be the judge...

US CO: Driver: Pro-Pot Sticker Led to Ticket From Offended Cop
URL: http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v06/n073/a04.html
Pubdate: Sat, 14 Jan 2006
Source: Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO)
Copyright: 2006, Denver Publishing Co.
Contact:letters@rockymountainnews.com
Website: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/371
Author: Javier Erik Olvera, Rocky Mountain News

DRIVER: PRO-POT STICKER LED TO TICKET FROM OFFENDED COP

AURORA - The rear window of Paul Wansing's Ford pickup truck is decorated with an array of political stickers, including one with the message: "Legalize Marijuana - Just say know more." Wansing claims that's the reason he was pulled over by an Aurora police officer who he says told him he was "offended" by the sticker then cited him for a cracked windshield.

On Friday, two days after the traffic stop, Wansing stood with members of the pro-pot group SAFER outside Aurora's municipal building. "In my eyes, this is a violation of freedom of speech," said the 26-year-old Aurora chef. "My mission is to let people know that rights are being violated by certain members of law enforcement."

Mason Tvert, a founder of SAFER, which persuaded Denver voters in November to legalize possession by adults of small amounts of marijuana, said "anti-marijuana madness has got to end." "The demonization of marijuana in this country is apparently so out of hand that police officers feel it appropriate to pull someone over for simply suggesting that marijuana should be legal," he said.