marijuana-24001_640

Marijuana is a Dangerous Drug

With all the talk of legalizing pot in the nation today, fewer and fewer people seem to recognize the true dangers of marijuana.

marijuana-24001_640

Voters in Colorado, Washington State, and now Washington D.C. have legalized the use of this “harmless” herb. They’ve done this without regard for pot’s obvious risks.

Personally, I got to see first-hand how pot use ravaged the state of Colorado. Where I lived in the mountains above Denver, hundreds of home-grow operations dotted the hillsides. To the locals, pot was seen as no more morally questionable than beer. In fact, it was probably less so — considering it was illegal to buy strong beer on Sundays under state law at the time.

Over the years I met dozens of horribly-misguided older retired folks who told me at one time had been spending upwards of $500 a month on prescription medicines for things like anxiety, appetite stimulation, pain relief, arthritis, nausea, depression, glaucoma, and blood-pressure regulation. They had been prescribed these medications in a specific order — each intended to offset the other’s undesirable effects. But that just wasn’t good enough for these old codgers. They had gradually replaced their meds with this simple herb they cultivated in their basements under grow-lights.

Sure, they seemed happy and vital, but what about their personal growth? What about pot’s effects on their brain development? What about their dreams? Admittedly, they were upwards of 75 years old and were still skiing and chopping cords of wood for their fireplaces, but what if they wanted to do something else with their lives in the future? I would have preferred to know they had stuck with nice, safe opioid compounds and advanced neuroleptics prescribed to them by doctors who weren’t really paying attention to the labels.

Plus, consider the economic impacts of the loss of $500 in subsidized drug purchases per month, multiplied by a few thousand people in that community alone. The impact to honest, legitimate businesses like Pfizer, Roche, and GlaxoSmithKline cannot be overstated. Pot impacts shareholder value disastrously. That means less money in the hands of political action committees to drive (and write) legislation to help Americans purchase more drugs from those same honest companies. It also means less tax revenue to fund our ongoing mission to civilize the Middle East and Central Asia so we can bring Wal-Marts to those poor, backwards people. They, too, want to save money and live better. We just need to kill a lot more of them before they realize all the advantages of doing things our way.

If pot is legalized, who is going to make up the lost profits to America’s liquor industry? Sure, people still drink when they smoke weed, but they generally drink less. Who will carry on our national institution of dangerous binge drinking? A beer or two doesn’t count. Someone needs to support the continued massive consumption of alcohol for the good the multinational corporations who give us Budweiser and vodka-that-doesn’t-taste-like-vodka. Drinking is fun, and it’s part of our American culture. Honestly, I think most of us owe our very lives to alcohol, really — especially those of us with an ugly parent or two.

Also, the prohibitions against pot have created great wealth in countries like Mexico — at least among a few hundred people there. Prohibition has been very profitable for our efficient and helpful banking sector as they’ve helped transform the earnings of illegal drugs into “nice” money — all for a small service fee. That means strong profits for banking, and banks help you and me, citizen!

Another concern is how the legalization of pot might put a monkey-wrench into the American law enforcement complex. We’ve spent trillions of dollars over the last 45 years to create a system where cops use military tactics to arrest people holding small Ziploc bags full of plant material, process them through a purchased court system with mandatory sentencing guidelines, and send them to for-profit prisons for years at a time. When released, they are essentially outcasts–unable to vote. Ha-ha! See how that works? Away with you, malfeasant!

Tell me, without prohibitions on pot, what remaining need would we have for the sheer numbers of heavily-armed cops that we currently support as taxpayers? How shall we reward them for SWAT raids on greenhouses full of leafy vegetable material, and violent arrests or even executions of dazed people who offer no resistance, some of them totally innocent? What are they going to do with all those planes, helicopters, MRAP’s, night-vision goggles, sniper rifles, robots, and countless other really fun toys that have cost billions in our holy crusade against a close relative to the hackberry bush, sometimes used to make furniture?

But the ravages of pot use don’t stop with its effects on commerce. If you haven’t been in the presence of someone who — while blazing – just won’t shut up about some ’75 Chevy van he once owned, and how the brown shag carpet inside felt like a dog’s coat, and heard him recite the entire discography of the band Rusted Root, then you don’t know the meaning of the word “tedium.” You’ll want it to stop, but it’s not going to stop — not until he’s told you about that one concert in Tampa where Rusted Root opened for Santana and he met that girl in the apron dress and the Uggs and how he wonders where she is now. Maybe not even then.

He’s wasting your time. And time is money.

To those of you out there in states that haven’t yet embraced the insane idea of legalized pot, I implore you: Send a letter to your congressman and local politicians today telling them that pot must remain illegal. Do it for pharmaceutical companies. Do it for the military-industrial/law enforcement complex. Do it for the liquor business. Do it for our friends in the Mexican drug cartels, and our friends in international banking. Do it to send a message to garrulous former owners of Chevy vans.

Do it for America.

* * * * *

Hey. Hey man. Yeah. I wrote a novel. It’s cool. Check it out . . . where’s that link . . .  oh . . . hehehehehe . . . it’s here. . .  yeah. . . check this. Be cool: www.diamondtbook.com

EYE of the DIAMOND-T Now Available for Pre-Order

Hey! I made it. It’s here (almost). “Eye of the Diamond-T” debuts on 12/13/14. It’s available for pre-order now for Amazon Kindle/Barnes and Noble Nook/Smashwords everything else.

Links below the teaser.

Soft-cover will be available from Amazon on 12/13.

Yes, I am a bit excited.

diamondt-teaser-bridge1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon Kindle: LINK
Barnes and Noble: LINK
Smashwords: LINK

Follow me on my new blog at billlabrie.com

Moving! To Billlabrie.com!

I’ve been lured by the promise of new web gadgetry. Well, maybe not so new. But new to me.

My new home is billlabrie.com. Same as before, but this time hosted outside of WordPress.com. If you’ve always visited me at that address, nothing changes.

I’ll be leaving up this blog for while as I get accustomed.

Also, I wanted to share this:

diamondt-lancaster-fade

HIATUS–HI AT US!

This is to announce a brief pause in posts while I and the I Question your Questioning technicians, engineers, and designers are busy creating an entirely new web experience for you here at IQYQ HQ in the fashionable Biltmore district of Phoenix.

We’ve got them working double-shifts.

You are sure to be astounded by the new design when it’s released.

Until then, here’s something to tide you over:

Pssst…there’s a hint in it.

Non-Partisan American Political History for an 8-year-old

“Who was the other Roosevelt — that guy who’s on the dime?”

mad-cover-richard-nixon

“Oh, that was FDR. He did a lot of great things. So did his wife. Helped repeal prohibition. Created Social Security. Built a lot of campgrounds and bridges. He also probably goaded the Japanese into attacking Pearl Harbor so we’d have an excuse to go to war. There was a lot of public resistance to the idea in the U.S. — even in 1941. He insisted on absolute surrender by the Axis, too. That was unheard-of. Churchill didn’t want it. DeGaulle didn’t want it. I think even Stalin looked at him at that Yalta conference and was like “errr…whut?” I think FDR wanted to totally destroy the rest of the world’s industrial base and make everywhere look like America. That’s kinda what happened.”

“Who came after him?”

“Truman. Harry Truman.”

“What did he do?”

“Dropped the nuclear bomb on the Japanese. Twice. He got shot at by Puerto Rican nationalists. He tried to find something to do with the millions of soldiers who were coming home to no jobs and no homes. He also created the CIA, which was supposed to be just an information bureau at first. They started assassinating people and fighting wars without his approval. Around the time Kennedy got shot, he sent a letter to the New York Times saying he regretted authorizing the CIA. Go figure.”

“Who came after Truman?”

“Eisenhower. He had been the supreme commander of the Allied forces in Europe. Real stand-up guy and not a bad general at all. He was a Jehovah’s Witness, but no one knew it at the time. It didn’t matter. He didn’t let it affect anything. He integrated the armed services and the schools so black and white people could serve and study together. Sent in troops to the South so that little black kids could go to school. He doesn’t get enough credit for that because he’s a Republican and Republicans aren’t supposed to care about such things. He served two terms and in his farewell address he said we should beware of the “military industrial complex.” People shook their heads about that, and some still do. Here’s was a great general — a Republican President who oversaw the largest buildup of the military and industry ever, and he’s saying “watch out for this”. He was saying he was no longer in control of it. No one is, really.

“Who came after him?”

“Kennedy. Kennedy was a big-time tax-cutter — which many people don’t remember. Lots of people loved him, but the wrong ones really didn’t. He made the mistake of trying to lead and actually act like a President. I guess he didn’t listen to Eisenhower’s last speech.”

“And then?”

“Johnson.”

“What did he do?”

“Got us into war in Vietnam. Built a lot of bridges to nowhere in Texas. Spent a lot of money. Gave interviews on the toilet. Signed the Voting Rights Act.”

“And then?”

“Nixon.”

“Who was he?”

“A real putz.”

photo credit: Jasperdo via photopin cc

katie3

INTERVIEW: How Katie Paetz Will Change the World

Katie Paetz wants to make one thing perfectly clear: “No matter where you come from or who you are when you start, that does not determine your outcome.”

katie1The throbbing music in the central Phoenix coffee shop accentuates the points she’s making, her hands almost matching the rhythm in the air. Her energy is almost palpable.

Katie is running for one of the two open spots on the Osborn School District board. She’s driven by a determination born of frustration in seeing students’ potential wasted by an education system twisted toward substituting testing for teaching. She’s seen the results of both approaches first-hand in her nine years of teaching music in inner-city elementary schools, and she makes it plain that the move to standardized testing is destroying both the hopes of students and the motivation of teachers.

She tells of the remarkable transformation of “Alex”, a 14-year-old still stuck in 7th grade. He came to her music class as a failing student with little hope of ever catching up. Minutes after picking up a guitar for the first time, he was strumming and plucking out notes. It sounded like music, and music was the magic that ignited his life as a student. His discipline problems soon came under control and his skills in math and writing improved — all in service of his newfound passion.  His first successful school year perhaps ever culminated with his class presentation on Frankie Valli, a performer he had taken as his personal inspiration.

In a later conversation that started with his introduction to slide guitar using a bottleneck, Alex was inspired by the fact that the bottleneck could have come from a beer bottle. Katie recalls “He said ‘I used to drink and do drugs. But I don’t anymore. It’s because of the music. The guitar saved my life.'”

Although Katie was delighted with his progress, the school was still forced to mark Alex as a failing student due to his results on the standardized AIMS (Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards) test. AIMS was blind to Alex’s particular situation and the altered trajectory his new love for music had provided, and it showed no regard for his future as a student.

“It’s programs like that that are extremely difficult to measure in our current assessment system. And it’s extremely difficult to communicate out to our leaders if they have no current experience in the classroom.”

If elected, Katie would be the only schoolteacher on the Osborn board, and the only one with experience as a full-time teacher.

“There’s this thing about educators not being involved with policy or the process because of the idea that education shouldn’t be political. But one side wants to eliminate funding for education as we know it, and the other side wants to continue what has made the US tops in education. ”

Tops?

“Yes, 22% of US children live below the poverty line. We’ve taken on the task of educating everyone in this country without regard to poverty or disability. When you factor that in, the US education system is the best in the world. That’s at the core of our democracy, the belief that the ordinary person can do extraordinary things.”

Katie grew up in the small town of Ottawa, Illinois–home to a few grade schools, one middle school, and one high school. She discovered her talent in music when she was introduced to the French horn in the third grade. Her parents’ decision to move to Arizona coincided with the start of her college years. “You can stay back in Illinois where it snows or you can come out to Arizona with us,” her parents said. She chose the warm climate of ASU and went on to take a master’s in music instruction.

Upon graduation, she specifically chose to teach at an inner city school. She took a position at the Creighton district in an older, urban section of Phoenix. Over the course of her five-year career at Creighton, she established programs in piano, guitar, and voice. But with the advent of standardized testing, trouble arose. She started noticing more and more students like Alex — students whose promise was wiped out by the blind, high-stakes evaluation imposed by AIMS.

katie2

“You tell me that kid was ‘falls far below’ that year,” she demands, citing the AIMS rating given to challenged students like Alex.

“That was happening on a regular basis with a lot of our students. I started speaking out against it. I started talking to my principal and to other teachers about this system that was based on testing, scores and data, and not on learning.” But soon after she called AIMS into question, the district chose not to renew her contract.  “I wasn’t asked back. That was probably the hardest year of my career.”

She shakes her head at the groupthink within typical schools that silences dissent. “Within the school district and within the school building is not the place to have policy discussions or to try to fight the system. They’re all in it together and are all slaves to the higher policies.”

But her dismissal was the low point that would later inspire her to run for the school board, and she didn’t stay out of the game for long. She soon took a contract in the Roosevelt district and has gone on to transform music instruction for her 600 students at Rose Linda school.

She notes one major, essential problem with standardized testing: It forces the focus off the student and onto the institution. “All of the sudden the teacher’s job, evaluation, pay and feedback is no longer based on (service to) the student as an individual but instead on how the institution has decided to measure it. We’ve made a shift from honoring the student to honoring the institution.”

She sees parallels to teaching in the way kids first encounter music lessons. “The first things kids do when being introduced to a new instrument is to test timbre and dynamics (tonality and volume). The typical music curriculum tries to teach melody and rhythm first. That’s backwards, but that’s also shows what we’re doing wrong with teaching. As they mature, kids test the parameters of independence, personality and humor.” She laughs and shakes her head. “I had to learn not to take it personally.”

As she grew into her career as a teacher, she noticed kids test life like they’d test an instrument. They are looking for feedback from their teachers, and the teachers must provide it on a personal basis.

“Closing that circle is 60% of what we do. If (students) don’t have interpersonal skills, content is never going to get through. When a kid does something that is seen as misbehavior, that’s the teachable moment. A system that only encourages high test scores in content undermines and demotivates the teacher in the room to engage the students in those teachable moments.”

katie4At 32, first-time candidate Katie is among a new breed of politicians.

Over 90% of her funding has come from small, private contributors. Her colleagues and friends have helped her start a strong organization from scratch. She advises other potential candidates to build their networks and support while making sure to take care of themselves to better serve their chosen causes. Additionally, she points out there’s more help than ever before available for new, young candidates–especially women.

Following the disillusionment of enacting hope and change from the top-down over the last six years, a new approach is needed. Instead, hope and change need to come from the bottom up, starting in races for posts as minor and yet deceptively important as spots in school boards. If change is to come it will start at the local level with people who are able to make changes locally and affect their surroundings–and who have kept their ideals strong.

More information on Katie and her campaign is available here.

 Words and Images ©2014 Bill LaBrie

 

 

The Artist’s Greatest Fear

I think a life of destitution as an unknown in service of art isn’t the artist’s greatest fear.

homeless-artist-reclining

The greatest fear is to become successful (and famous) for the wrong thing. The thing you didn’t want to become your career.

Did you know William Shatner was in a film of the Brothers Karamazov? Yeah. Captain Kirk. TJ Hooker.

He’s had a blessed life. He’s got no reason to complain. Guy’s like King Midas. Earned hundreds of millions off those Priceline commercials. Look it up. He’s a rich old guy now. He’s long since made peace with all the corny crap he had to do to get here.

But for the rest of us–the ones who aren’t William Shatner–I think the fear of the wrong version of success haunts us still like nightmares.

Say that you’re some Ivy-Leaguer who takes all the right classes and makes all the right connections. You go to Hollywood to push your serious screenplay about Rigoberta Menchu or Jimmy Hoffa’s secret gay history or something. Whatever.

You go to L.A. and share an apartment in Silverlake with three other waiters-cum-screenwriters for a while. They are stealing your towels. You need dental work. You start getting hungry. You’re not getting laid. You’ve got school loans to pay.

On a drunken whim you turn in a treatment or screenplay called “Farty McFarterson’s Golden Retriever Farts Rainbow Basketballs.”

Nickelodeon picks it up. They pay you for it. They want to hire you on to the project. There’s a weekly series about happy little Farty making fart noises and his farting golden retriever defeating the evil Republican-looking possums with basketball farts on a basketball court. There’s a movie. Everyone loves it–at least everyone in that critical 4 to 9 year-old-demographic, with secondary support from teens and old men. You get a cut of merchandise sales. You move to a nice place in Laguna Beach. You get a Bentley Continental GT.

medium_6807050275

You go to parties with other cokeheads and say:

“I have a project, yeah. . . yeah.. . . ”
“So what is it?”
“It’s a project for Viacom. Series. There’s been a movie, too.”
“Cool! Duuuude! So what is it?”
“It’s a well. . . . it’s… Farty McFarterson’s Golden Retriever Farts Rainbow Basketballs
“Oh. That’s you? Oh. Well, great. Hey, I think I see Carrot Top over there. Hey! Catch you later, braahhh!”

See what I mean?

You will forever be haunted by your “success.” Try getting a job anywhere else in Hollywood with a résumé like that. Where are you going to work? “That’s my Skidmark!” or “Smegma Avalanche!” on MTV? Try New York instead.Fuck. But when the cancel the show, you need to start looking. You have appearances to keep up, after all. Not going back to that apartment only to get your towels stolen.

So, see, it’s important to be successful. It’s more important to be successful for the right reasons…

At least I think so.

photo credit: fensterbme via photopin cc

What I Learned Selling Cub Scout Popcorn

“Hey! Wanna buy a bag of popcorn? It’s only twenty dollars.”

popcorn-sales-cub-scouts

It took a lot to get me to say that to people without blinking. It was much easier to get the words to come out of my son’s mouth. To him “twenty” is just a number. It’s not lunch or a fraction of a car payment. He’s a much better popcorn salesman than I.

But over the course of a month, both of us had to get past our shyness. We have only three bags left in a box that was once full of dozens among a bunch of other boxes full of dozens. Looks like we will have made our goal and he’ll be able to participate in the pizza-party/scoutmaster-dunking or whatever goofy thing was offered as the inducement.

We didn’t participate in the popcorn sales last year. My son had just started in Scouts and I was getting my bearings as a specimen of that dubious genre, the “Scouting Dad.” When I had to deal with these things before at his school I’d just say “we can’t participate in the cookie dough/magazine/fetus key-chain promotion, but please take this check as a contribution to your cause.” That didn’t wash with the Scouts. They were looking for us to make a $700 vig. They’re looking for good earners in the Scouts. Not just some two-bit hoods with ten dollars from daddy. Fuggetaboutit.

So we loaded the pickup with cartons of popcorn bags and boxes showing ideal, smiling boys plaintively offering delicious-looking kernels in hopes strangers would fund their annual camp-out and give them the opportunity to humiliate a grown man in shorts while eating pizza. I thought it would be a good opportunity for my son to learn to make the sale.

Life is about sales, no matter who you are. Online, I talk to a lot of students going into things like engineering and microbiology and counselling. They scoff at my assertion that sales is everything. I counter with this: “When you’re trying to convince someone to give you a job, or an assignment, or funding, you are giving them the information they need to make their decision, but you are also persuading them by gaining their confidence and charming them in a way. You’re convincing them that you are the right person with the right product and they must take action, now. That’s sales, you a-holes.”

Sales is thus an invaluable life-skill I felt my son needed to learn.

And here is what we learned selling twenty-dollar bags of popcorn:

  • A smile still works wonders.
  • The phrase “can you help me?” — especially in the voice of a small child — melts hearts and overcomes resistance
  • “Hustle” helps. There’s an infectious quality to urgency. One of my favorite harangues to my son became “YOU ARE WALKING LIKE YOU ARE IN A FUNERAL PROCESSION!”
  • Most people want to be generous. They really want to help. The most generous people are those who appear to be least able to afford it. Be nice to everyone. Everyone is a potential customer.
  • Karma is a motivator.
  • Noticing and showing interest in the potential customer always helps. A nice comment on a scarf, t-shirt, or shoes humanizes the pitch and virtually demands a response.
  • If you believe in what you are doing, and what you are selling, your results increase tenfold. My favorite pep talk to my son was “Think of the little boys who want to join Cub Scouts but whose parents can’t afford the dues. That’s who this is going to help.” Suddenly it became not just another dumb thing he needed to do. It became a cause. Even an 8-year-old can understand that.

So overall, a good experience I was glad to have with him. I hope that these early exposures to what it really takes to persuade and relate to others will help him through life. My bet is that they will, even if he becomes a microbiologist.

Dogs

Dogs are terrific. I miss having a dog.

image

New friends at my coffee spot. Serge and Rudy: Made for each other.

Somehow — eons ago — a few of the wolves that existed at the time decided that humans weren’t so bad. We were generally entertaining, had a steady supply of food and opposable thumbs that helped remove thorns and rub ears. Domestication soon followed. Mankind went on to take those proto-dogs and bend their basic genetic makeup into all sorts of fun shapes. And here we are.

My first dog was a corgi mix who was companionable enough. I think my best memory of her came when she was barking from the window of the motorhome as we watched it burn from a short distance away. My dad — who wasn’t a physically bold man at all — strode up to the burning wreck and grabbed her out of the window, saving her life at the risk of his own. She was so happy to be out of there. That’s also probably my best memory of my dad. He did what he needed to do. Penny the dog had provided the occasion.

She lived a few years after that, but the smoke inhalation had probably weakened her. One day at the mall my dad told me that we wouldn’t be seeing her again. He didn’t do such things well. He went on to describe all the dogs he’d lost in his long life and in so doing, quickly broke down in tears. We all cried in consolably. Poor Penny.

But there were many other dogs that followed. We had a Doberman named “Vashti” who did a good job of pulling me around the neighborhood at top speed during nightly walks when I was a teenager. She was AKC-registered and my dad had hoped to get her bred and for us to start a small Doberman puppy mill in our backyard. Like most business plans, that went awry. She had a tilted uterus or something and couldn’t get pregnant. So we just kept her as a pet and depended on her to scare the neighborhood vandal kids. She fulfilled that duty even as she became one of the fattest Dobermans anyone had seen. The vet made us put her on a diet of green beans and a small serving of Kibble. She kinda hated us after that.

Then there was Milly the German shepherd. I named her after a girl I didn’t particularly like. Milly the Shepherd was generally irritating. I think in a pack she would have been a beta or a gamma. She did provide us with one cherished family memory: Mom had baked cookies and we were standing around the kitchen eating them and interacting like … like a normal family. Milly must have been so elated with this peculiar spectacle that she leapt up on top of the counter and started eating the cookies straight off the sheets. There was a brief silence as we — as a family — grasped what we were seeing happen right before us. Then, like a team of superheroes, we all jumped her and started kicking her ass as she scrambled away with the last of the cookies. We had that one warm family moment in the ten years of my adolescence and Milly the Dog was there trying to fuck it up. However, upon reflection, she did succeed in turning it into a David-Lynchian twisted instance of freakishness, which was probably somehow more fitting for us Westside LaBries.

While we still had Milly, we added Kaiser the Doberman. Kaiser was like Milly’s assistant. When you have two dogs you obtain at different times, the second one to join the organization tends to recognize the authority of the first dog by being stupid. Kaiser was, if anything, unfathomably stupid.

In the master bedroom of that house we’d leave the sliding-glass door open through most of the summer, allowing the evaporative cooler to push the curtain out with its chilling breeze. The dogs would hear noises in the backyard and come running through the hallway at top speed and out under the breezing curtain to scare off the passing garbage truck. Well, around November the cooler was no longer needed so we started shutting the door. I was on the bed playing Atari one afternoon when Kaiser comes running down the hallway like he’s on fire. The door was closed. He didn’t know. He rammed his head straight into the closed door, causing a thunderous shake and nearly breaking it. He dropped, shook his head and yelped. I felt bad for him and got up to tend to his wounds, but before I could reach him, he had risen, run back down the hallway, made a u-turn, and was halfway back towards his second door/skull collision of the preceding fifteen seconds or so.

After my dad died and our family left that house, my mom donated Kaiser to the Border Patrol. A year later, he made it on to a set of trading cards commemorating famous drug-sniffing dogs of the US Border Patrol. He was the first member of our household to make it in the world. He had become a cop.

…which kinda figures, I mean . . .