Because I Got High

from legaljuice.com

‘Weed, dude…’ The dope-head said to my friend, after he’d lost his train of thought for the umpteenth time, ‘It messes with your short-term… your short-term… um…’ and trailed off. ‘Your short-term memory?’ My friend asked, and the marijuana-smoker replied in the affirmative. True story. The ‘weed’ he was referring to was, of course, cannabis, and I was reminded of the exchange last week as I listened to news of the row between the government and their chief scientific advisor on drugs.

Over the last few years, the government has pretty much ignored the scientific advice on drugs. From deciding on its policy on Ecstasy without waiting for the findings of its scientific advisers, to reclassifying cannabis from a Class C to a Class B drug, the government has demonstrated time and again that its objections to drugs are more social and ‘moral’ than scientific. This was borne out last week when Home Secretary Alan Johnson sacked Professor David Nutt, head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, because Professor Nutt had publicly criticized the government for ignoring the ACMD’s advice.

‘Ah!’ you say, ‘It all makes sense now! The pinko-liberal politics, the hippie attitudes to the environment and war, the beard… Jonathan Langley is clearly on drugs. And that’s why he’s about to defend their use, probably on the basis of hemp making good rope, just like a typical degenerate drug-addict.’

Well, sorry to disappoint, but, I’m not a fan of drugs. I’ve tried cannabis a few times, and it’s just not my cup of (green) tea. I am, as my editor never tires of telling me, relatively paranoid when on nothing stronger than coffee. Smoking illegal herbage (while at university), nearly scared me to death. In fact, in my experience, most of the illegal drugs my friends have used have made them vacant, shallow, insincere and, well, stupid. Of course, that goes for many of the legal drugs, too. But if you asked me, I’d advise you to keep away from drugs.

drugs are bad, mkay?

from southparkstudios.co.uk

And that means absolutely nothing. Why? Because I’m not a scientist. I can recognise that my opinion on a subject I know little about is not very important. But, apparently, successive Home Secretaries cannot. Some of them may genuinely believe cannabis is dangerous (though this seems unlikely considering how many of our top politicians have admitted smoking pot earlier in life and going on to fruitful lives). More likely is that they are afraid of the social backlash against them if they take a reasonable, measured, scientific approach to all recreational drugs (including alcohol). A backlash from people like us.

Because, for Christians, this is not an issue where we can dispassionately criticize the government. We are one of the reasons the government ignores scientists when they try to say that some drugs are not as dangerous as others, that mental-health fears with certain drugs are nothing more than scare-tactics. We, people in churches, members of campaigning groups, ‘the silent moral majority’ that tabloids make so much noise about, are the ones who, directly or indirectly, demand that the government take a ‘hard line’ on drugs, for many different reasons of vastly disparate validity.

But if we really want, for whatever moral, spiritual or other reason, to discourage people from taking drugs, perhaps we should try telling the truth about drugs and basing our laws consistently on that truth. I know that sounds crazy. It’s probably just the booze talking.

Here’s an amusing anti-drug advert (I’d love to post the old Dennis LEary MTV one, but the only rip of it contains some of his other opinions, most of which are, well, stupid.):

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Henman shoots fan

From the Telegraph

From the Telegraph

With the highest death-rate of any sport, you’d think it was dangerous enough without cheating. But some adrenalin-junkies just don’t know where the line is, do they? Yes, the high-profile, high-stakes world of Lawn Bowls was rocked (or rolled) last week by allegations of match-fixing. I can’t really back up the ‘death-rate’ thing, by the way. It’s just something my grandfather (a keen bowler into his 80s) suggested to me while telling me about friends who shuffled off this mortal coil as they shuffled onto the green. But the match-fixing scandal is very real. The New Zealand national team has been accused of deliberately losing to Thailand (rather than playing for a Thai, ba-boom.)

And this comes after a number of sex-scandals (or, specifically, ‘gender scandals’) in athletics, an apparently deliberate motor-crash in Formula One, and a rugby player going all Bella Lugosi with fake blood recently (he was no-doubt punished because if you can’t rustle up some real blood in rugby, of all games, you’re probably not fit to play at club level).

With recent news of Serena Williams threatening to kill a line judge (I swear I’m not making this up), one assumes that it is only a matter of time before Linvoy Primus punches a referee in the face and Kaka murders a nun for drug-money.

from actsport.com.au

from actsport.com.au

Personally, I am delighted by all this news. Mainly because it takes some of the heat off the world of music for a while. And while I don’t give a bunny’s bum about sport, music is something I care about. And now Eminem, Marilyn Manson, and (depending on just how out of touch the moral crusaders in your church are) Michael Jackson can breathe a sigh of relief (well, most of them can), knowing that they will not, for a while at least, be scapegoats. Sports stars will.

Whenever sporting celebrities are caught doing things they shouldn’t I am puzzled by the public reaction. If a professional tennis player tests positive for marijuana, he could be banned from competing, even though I’m pretty sure, judging by the Cheech and Chong films I’ve seen and the slow-moving stoners I’ve known, that the drug could hardly be described as ‘performance-enhancing’. The hypothetical ‘grass-specialist’ would be punished, as some in Athletics have been, for ‘setting a bad example,’ particularly to children.

The term ‘role model’ is bandied about a lot in such discussions, but I want to say that if we’re looking to people whose major achievements in life revolve around strength, stamina and coordination to be our ideals for morality, that seems a little like asking bikini models to inspire the scientific community or Jeremy Clarkson to teach us about politics. Sure, it may sometimes work, but it’s a little silly to expect it to. Not to mention unfair. Like denouncing high salaries for footballers without denouncing the salaries of executives.

The last people in the world who should buy into the ‘sportsmen and women should be good role-models for our kids’ nonsense are Christians. We know that no human but Christ is perfect, we know that all have sinned and we know that prophets and teachers of God’s truth often turn up in unexpected forms. We should be the first to explain to children that sportspeople are just people, and we should be the first to cut them some slack when they fail and fall.

The Coke side of war

Kids these days, eh? In my day, soldiers in Vietnam would get stoned on marijuana, listen to the Doors or Jimi Hendrix and draw peace-signs on their helmets (I may be relying somewhat on Hollywood for that picture). Today, our squaddies are hyped-up on Cocaine, listening to Britney Spears and James Blunt. It’s enough to break a parent’s heart. Primarily because everyone knows (particularly former hippies) that nice people don’t do Coke. To someone unfamiliar with drugs and drug users, the distinction may not be clear, but to give an illustration: the music of the 60s and early 70s (The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, everyone who played at Woodstock and hundreds more great artists), was fuelled by Marijuana (heretofore referred to as ‘Dope’ for the sake of both brevity and not sounding like an old man) and to a certain extent LSD. The first Cocaine generation of the 80s, however, gave us Phil Collins and MC Hammer.  

I’m not going to get into a discussion of the relative merits of various illicit drugs. Long-term use of Dope, in my experience, makes you lazy and stupid. Coke makes you loud, arrogant, unjustifiably over-confident and, well, a bit of a @#!*%. Neither is a good idea, but I think the fact that last week’s news revealed that  18 British servicemen in Iraq are testing positive for illicit drugs every week, with Cocaine topping the list, should trouble us. It should trouble us for several reasons. First off, it’s obviously a bit unnerving to know that there are stoned people running around with guns (though I guess better there than here, eh?). That’s probably not going to help our reputation in the country we’ve liberated anyway, but the fact that it’s Coke, a drug that tends to make one cocky and aggressive, rather than Dope, which tends to make you passive and indolent, that tops the list must be particularly troubling in an already volatile situation.

More than all that, as Christians (who have very specific tastes when it comes to getting involved in global issues and prefer not to get ‘too political’), there is something we should all be worrying about. Are these drugs FairTrade? Sure, the MoD tells us that the drug is cheaper these days, but, as we’re told again and again, someone is paying for it. How can we be sure that the Coke our soldiers are using comes from farmers who were paid a decent wage to grow it? For that matter, is it organic? Is this yet another crop that we learned about last week, which the government has given chemical giant BASF permission to genetically modify? Discovering that ministers have secretly been funding research into GM food crops while claiming neutrality is bad enough. But mess with our drugs? Just say no.

Luckily, Cocaine’s raw materials are mainly grown in South America, rather than Afghanistan (where the Heroin comes from), so we don’t yet have to deal with the moral quagmire so bedevilling diamond buyers and wonder if our military are snorting ‘Conflict Coke’. These things, rather than the larger, ‘overly political’ questions, are important, after all.

In seriousness, though, the fact that troops representing this country, risking their lives to make us safe, need to resort to drugs, according to experts quoted by last week’s Independent, as a form of self-medication, a way of dealing with the stress and trauma of the fear and violence they are having to deal with on a daily basis, should make us think. It’s a small indicator of what we are putting these brave young people through, and another thing that should give us pause, the next time someone cries ‘War!’ when we are frightened. 

 

Lose the war! Yay!

Sing it with me: ‘War! (Uh!) What is it good for? Habsolutelynuthin! Huh!’ Yup, I hear you. You’re saying: ‘lawks a mercy, not another Iraq War protest column, ah cannae take it! I hannae got the poower!’  Yes, in my mind, the irritated Baptist Times reader always resembles Scotty from Star Trek. And yes, Scotty, in my mind, uses traditionally English minced oaths like ‘lawks’ to start his better known faux-Scottish exclamations. If Simon Pegg can play him in an upcoming prequel (as was revealed last week), I figure the character is pretty much fair game. And don’t worry. It’s not about Iraq. Well, not mostly.

But it is about war. A high-ranking police official suggested last week that we decriminalise drugs, from heroin to cannabis. There were howls of protest from people who don’t use drugs (you can spot them easily: they use words like ‘cannabis’) and, I assume, drug barons (who, despite their ruthlessness, cunning and pure evil, must know in their hearts that Glaxo Smith Kline would crush them like bugs if it came down to it). Why the outrageous suggestion? Because we are losing ‘the war on drugs’.

But why? Could it be we are fighting too many wars? Wait! Stay with me. It’s not what you think—I know Iraq around the, er, claq can get tiring to read about. This is not about the justness or otherwise of the war in Iraq or Afghanistan (not even the news coverage of reaction to the civilian massacre attributed to American mercenary outfit Blackwater last week). I just want to know if war is always the best approach to a problem. Be it Iran, North Korea or, um, France, there are many who can’t get enough of war as a global political tool. It certainly has its uses. But a war on drugs? An abstract concept, a set of chemicals?  That’s just odd.

And inevitably such a war turns upon human targets. Drug users are generally victims of addiction circumstance and bad choices (and when they say they want to get bombed, war is so not what they are talking about). The petty criminals running drugs are hardly the cause, themselves caught in a trap of abuse, poverty and generational criminality. The farmers growing the raw materials for narcotic production are often peasants, unable to make a living from another cash crop. Drug barons (as opposed to Drug Czars –  a small but important distinction) are few and far between. Jail them, sure. But is war really the most efficient response?

The same goes for a ‘war on terror’. Bad people have struck terror into the hearts of your population—what do you do? Strike terror into the hearts of another civilian population. As Christians we have no excuse for assuming that lives in our country are worth any more than those in another, so the convenient justification that we are protecting ‘our people’ (if there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, Cockney, Iraqi or Samaritan—good or bad) does not exist. And ultimately, through escalating revenge, terror begets more terror. The ‘war’ approach too often turns to the cause of a problem as a solution.

In medicine, using the disease against itself in a vaccination works. In other areas of life, the same is not true. You can very rarely bomb for peace. Terrorising people abroad will not make you less afraid. Buying more (even if it is eco-friendly or fair trade) is not a good way to fight materialism, greed and over-consumption. Getting people stoned is unlikely to end addiction. And war, with its dehumanising effect on those we deem combatants and civilians alike, is very very rarely a good way to restore humanity.  

Here’s a link to avoid if you’re easily offended

I blame Marilyn Manson. I’m nostalgic that way.

‘Drink, drugs and broken homes.’ It’s not the title of a Country and Western song, or part of Keith Richards’ backstage requirements. It’s actually what the Conservatives are blaming (this week) for the alarming levels of violent crime among young people in the UK. Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, said last week that drink, drugs and broken homes have ‘spawned this plague on modern Britain.’ The plague he is referring to is, of course young people. Young people, with their beady eyes and sticky little paws, their iPod3 players plugged into their ears playing their gongster wraps, running about in hoodies, refusing to go to grammar school.  Okay, they’re not really the plague he refers to.  But they might as well be. He clearly agrees with the director of the Victims of Crime Trust, Norman Brennan, who characterised part of the ‘national crisis with knife crime’ as mainly being down to ‘feral youngsters who are roaming our streets.’

First, let me say: way to go on the ‘engaging young people’ agenda. You is down wiv da kidz, yeah, blud? Second, let me say: fair enough. Kids in this country scare me. And the past few weeks’ news of knifings, shootings and beatings either taking place or being sentenced, most involving young people, should be enough to convince anyone that there is something going seriously wrong with our young people. But what is it?

Davis chose to blame drink, as did a senior police chief in whose area a father of three had been murdered by a gang of youths. The thing is, I’ve been drunk. I’ve never beaten, shot or stabbed anybody, not even by mistake. I’ve also seen young people drunk. Certainly they behave more stupidly, but that in itself takes a trained eye to detect.

 Alcohol is a crutch, but it can’t force you to walk anywhere violent. The same goes for Marijuana. Personally I cannot stand the stuff, but I’ve known many dope-smokers. And if there is one thing that I’ve noticed, it’s that smoking dope never made any of them more likely to go outside, chase someone down and kill them. Mainly because it makes people unlikely to leave the couch, never mind the normal bounds of civilized behaviour. That’s its problem. Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that drugs and drink are good for kids (or anyone). Drugs tend, in my experience, to make people radically stupider over time. Alcohol is a neurotoxin. Neither of these can be a good thing for society as a whole. But can we blame them (or the supermarkets selling them cheap—I mean alcohol, not drugs, but give Tesco a few years) for violence on our streets? And what about divorce? Certainly it’s a trauma for children but do only broken homes breed thugs?  

Part of me is in favour of this sort of broad-brush scapegoating. If people are blaming the three Ds (drink, drugs and divorce) they might leave the two Ms (Marilyn Manson) alone for a while and he might get saved. But wait a minute. Weren’t we all up in arms about gangsta-rap music last year? And what about violent computer games? Movies from Child’s Play to Reservoir Dogs and Old Boy, aren’t they to blame? I think they play their part. I think the three Ds and even the two Ms in the hands of the wrong person could too. More relevant, though, is a society in which the concept of absolute truth has been eroded (by secular postmodernism and Christian liberalism) to the point where concepts like ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are not just situational, they are completely meaningless for most people. Of course young people kill. They have no reason not to.

Equal pay for wombles?

The unthinkable has happened. As last week’s news will have informed you, Wimbledon has caved. Female athletes will now be paid as much as the men. The days of Richard Krajicek, who famously said that the difference in pay was because 80% of women playing in the big league were ‘fat lazy pigs’ are over. Krajicek of course backed down from that statement saying that only 75% were fat lazy pigs, a paradigm shift that I am sure warmed the heart of many a feminist.

The issue will no doubt be used in churches and private conversations (impossible in churches) to highlight the remaining inequalities between men and women in our society. And while I’m not sure I’m with tennis dinosaur Pat Cash who last week wrote a column in the Sunday Times arguing that male players work longer hours, I feel he has a point. The opposing argument that this is a spectator sport and therefore issues of money should obey market forces and relate to television audiences is also a good one, mainly because that might do away with boring men’s tennis altogether, as well as all female players who do not look like Anna Kournikova. At least that’s how it would work in my mind.

So does that mean I will do what so many Christian columnists must do when discussing controversial (or in fact any) issues, namely plonk my buttocks upon the nearest fence, resolving to see both sides? Hell no. When asked: ‘what do you think of women getting equal pay at Wimbledon?’ my short answer is a resounding ‘I don’t care.’ The long answer is: ‘how can I rejoice for female players getting paid more at Wimbledon when I already think that they, along with their male counterparts and all professional sportspeople everywhere are paid an obscene and unjustifiably extravagant amount of money already?’ Talk to me about real people doing real jobs and perhaps I’ll care more. Do I mind they are getting paid more? No. Would I care if the female players had their winnings docked and were forced to wear clothes ‘more becoming of their sex’ (I’m torn between bikinis and Victorian dresses—equally oppressive, equally funny)? In the words of Maria Sharapova and Alexander Volkov: ‘Nyet’. But honestly, even expressing that view is treating this ‘unthinkable’ news with more seriousness than it deserves.

Other, more relevant ‘unthinkables’ were in the news last week. One that’ll be a big hit with tabloids and knee-jerk conservatives (the ‘knee’ there is optional) is the proposal to give heroin on prescription to drug addicts. The pinko liberal proposing this was, predictably, a police chief. What? Yes, Ken Jones, President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, last week voiced this not entirely new idea, which will no doubt be denounced and campaigned against if it ever had a shot of being implemented. Which is a shame, really, since it might actually break the power of the criminal syndicates that supply illicit narcotics (by taking away their most regular customers, since before the ink was dry on any law allowing it Pfizer would no doubt already be producing ‘Heroagra’ by the truckload) and make the streets safer by being free of desperate junkies. Women selling their bodies for their next hit of crack could rather just go to the doctor, choosing another soul-destroying way to earn their money, like call-centre work or accountancy.

Obviously there are issues and potential problems associated with such an approach, like not being able to look down on addicts quite as easily as we currently do since they will be less likely to nick our wallets, or doctors at your local NHS no longer saying ‘Hi’ because they get tired of hearing ‘not yet’. But it’s an idea, like so many others, that should be considered rather than being consigned to the realms of the unthinkable. Perhaps it will be, if we could only teach those junkies a useful trade. Like tennis.