Friday, July 31, 2009

Working on the book

I plan to work on my own marijuana legalization book this weekend, with the goal of having the outline and sample chapter ready to submit to a publisher by next week. Feel free to prod me and ask uncomfortable questions about whether I'm really buckling down and getting it finished.

Marijuana legalization initiative in CA

I had the privilege of talking to Richard Lee, proprietor of a medical marijuana dispensary in Oakland and head of Oaksterdam University, on the phone about the initiative he submitted to the Calif. AG this week. The Register applauds. It went through 14 drafts and was fully lawyered. He says they've already raised half of the million bucks it will take to get in on the ballot and have hired a signature-gathering firm. He's aware of SF Assemblyman Tom Ammiano's bill and other efforts, but thinks it will take more than a year to get serious legislative consideration and could easily be vetoed. He's aiming for November 2010, though he's aware that the Drug Policy Alliance and NORML had been thinking about 2012. He says there are activists who would like to work on a concrete project.

Lee sounds quite serious to me, and he's not uncomfortable talking about raising $9-10 million for the campaign when it gets on the ballot. Some polls (Field, which is pretty reliable) in Calif. show 56% support for legalizing. One might like to have a higher margin to start, but there just might be a chance.

More on the particulars later.

Keith Miller finds his musical bliss

I love this story! Keith Miller will be the bass soloist at the Metropolitan Opera's summer recital concerts in New York parks, Aug. 7 and 14, but he has an unusual back story. He played fullback for the University of Colorado, playing in the Fiesta Bowl in 1994 and the Cotton Bowl in 1995. A few weeks after that game he went to see "The Phantom of the Opera" and was blown away by what he now calls "this goofy show." He started watching DVDs, at first of Brodway shows, and singing along, then"The Three Tenors," where Pavarottis's "Nessun Dorma" gave him the same chill. While he was playing football in Finland and then in the Arena league, he was learning opera, memorizing arias even though he couldn't read music yet, and he tried out for an opera at Moorhead College in Minnesota, got the part and one thing led to another.

My impression (and my experience) is that most people who end up loving opera fall in love with it at an early age. Keith Miller took a different path. Good for him. I'm going to look for the Met production of "Eugen Onegin" on CD, on which he sings, and give it a listen.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

One of those international Facebook moments

I had a moment last week that sort of brought home to me some of the potential of social networking sites like Facebook, which I joined about a month ago after some prodding. I was looking at posts when I noticed that somebody named Abdallah wanted to chat with me, so I responded and we did so for about 15 minutes. Turns out that he's a high school student in Ghana who would like to go to college in the States but doubts if he'll be able to afford it, even though his mother is in the U.S. (NY). I didn't inquire into what might be a complicated situation. Anyway, we chatted and I think we'll chat again. Pretty cool! I'm not what you would call a techno-geek (actually more of a late adopter), but I'm learning.

Our newspaper isn't dead yet

There's no question that the newspaper business has been taking it on the chin for the last couple of years, and the recession sometimes feels like the cherry on top (talk about mixed metaphors -- the brass in a knuckle sandwich?). But the Register, perhaps against some pretty stiff headwinds, is at least still profitable, if much less so than in palmier days. This piece from our publisher Terry Horne, who came to us from Freedom's paper in Mesa, AZ about a year ago and whom I really like, explains some of what we're doing to try to stay afloat. It still feels strange to an old dog to be thinking "Web-first," but we're getting used to it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Why not pay organ donors?

This has been at least a minor peeve of mine since then-Congo Al Gore got the law passed in 1984 making it illegal to buy or sell human organs, thus no compensation for organ donors. I had a nice phone call with Sally Satel at the American Enterprise Institute for this Register editorial calling for legalization of compensation for organ donors. I really don't understand the notion that it is somehow "dirty" or "demeaning" or "exploitive for an organ donor to be paid. The result of mandatory altruism, not surprisingly, is a chronic "shortage" of usable organs and almost 5,000 kidney patients dying each year -- more than have been killed to date in Iraq, and a thriving black market lacking, as black markets usually do, elementary quality control and featuring genuine exploitation. When did it become the mark of a "liberal" to be able to boast that he or she got something else outylawed?

Sally got a kidney d0nated by Virginia Postrel in 2006, or she might not have been around to talk to me. She's written a book calling for donor compensation, which I plan to get, read, and report on to you and others.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Merce Cunningham, dance visionary, dies

I'm not a huge fan of dance. I recognize the discipline, body control and artistry required to do it well, but what usually draws me to it is the music, much of which -- Tchaikovsky, Gliere, Adam, Prokofiev, and all those Balanchine appropriated -- I simply love. I also loved Nureyev and Baryshnikov. I think I've only seen one full ballet live, though I've watched a fair amount on TV. But still, just a casual fan.

Even I knew, however, the Merce Cunningham, who died Sunday night at 90 in Manhattan, was one of the giants of the art. American artists of great accomplishment deserve to be celebrated, even by those of us who appreciate more than love their accomplishments. RIP.

Recession reduces immigration

I have argued numerous times, in numerous places, that the most effective approach to immigration is to let the marketplace, rather than government bureaucrats/central planners set arbitrary quotas. For years we had low unemployment and significant illegal immigration because the marketplace -- in a somewhat bubblicious manner in retrospect, to be sure -- was able to absorb the work of millions of immigrants when native-born Americans were at close to full employment. Now the bubble has burst and the recession is upon us, and sure enough, immigration has dried up -- the most recent figures in the studies cited in this Register editorial are from 2008 and some 2007, and you can be pretty sure more recent stats will show more decline. Get the bureaucrats out of the way and let the martkethandle things it can handle so much better.

An interesting irony the editorial notes. Fewer Mexicans than might have been expected have returned to Mexico; many seem to have chosen to ride out the recession in this country. The drug-law-related violence down south is part of the reason, but a significant reason is beefed-up border enforcement that makes crossing th bordere more inconvenient and expensive than it used to be. Bet that makes immigrant-bashers happy!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Ending the F-22 -- good, but no reform

The Register thinks ending the F-22 fighter program, which all the relevant Pentagon top guys signed off on, was a good thing, but not all our readers agreed. As we also note, however, ending a weapons program designed to counter the Soviets took an extraordinary effort by DefSec Bob Gates and support from the president. It doesn't reform the Pentagon procurement process, which still emphasizes planting subcontractors in as many states and congressional districts as possible, creating, in essence, lobbyists for continuation of the project, preferably with beaucoups overruns, no matter how useless it is. In fact, uselessness may be an advantage. When the inevitable costly delays and cost overruns occur, the top brass doesn't get upset because everybody knows it's useless anyway, and it's only the taxpayers' money.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Obama's health dreams fading

It shouldn't be surprising that as people learn more about the congressional Democrats' plans for nationalizing health care opposition would grow. It's fascinating, however, how quickly the plans are falling apart, especially since people expected Obama to learn from Hillary's mistakes. Never mind, as this Register editorial reports, he's found ways to make his own mistakes.

Guantanamo more complicated than Obama hoped

The suspicion keeps growing that when it comes to national security policies -- even those that Obama has promised to abandon or change from the bad old Bush days -- Obama is turning out to look a whole lot like GWB. The atmospherics are different, of course, as are some of the priorities. But as noted before, he's maintaining dragnet electronic surveillance and using the state secrets flim-flam to keep cases from going to court, just like Bush.

Now the delay of two panels, one on interrogation and one on closing Gitmo, engeenders further skepticism. There's no reason, in my view, and as this Register editorial contends, to delay a report on torture -- just announce you're fgollowing the Army Field Manual. Guantanamo, on the other hand, embodies some legitimate complications. There are probably some -- fewer than the government thinks, I suspect, but some -- there whom almost nobody would want released, yet who can't be tried in a U.S. court for various reasons.

Gates and Cambridge cops: maybe no hero?

I haven't been able to get to blogging here of evenings, but I did tke not of the Henry Louis Gates situation over at the Register's Orange Punch blog. Entries here, here, and here, all with a fair number of comments from readers. Apparently the situation is fairly interesting to a range of people. I guess I'm struck, however, by how closely ideological predilections tracked attitudes. Conservatives in general sided with the police and some even came up with conspiracy theories -- he was trying to sell a book and figured publicity would help -- to discredit Gates. Liberals generally blamed the cops. Facts emerged gradually that had the potential to change attitudes, but I don't think many attitudes changed.

I'm inclined to think -- to having been there either, of course -- that there's plenty of blame to go around. One can understand that Gates was pissed, but the police report says he immediately played the race card and shouted interminably. Bad move. Contempt of cop is more likely to get somebody arrested than a real offense. On the other hand the Cambridge cop could have walked away as soon as he determined that Gates wasn't a burglar but the legitimate resident of the house. Unprofessional in my view.

Encouraging news about young musicians

I've mentioned it before but it's been a while. One of the PBS stations our cable system shows has a show called "From the Top at Carnegie Hall," featuring pianist Christopher O'Riley with young classical musicians, ages 11-17. Tonight's program had an 11-year-old cellist, a 17-year-old french horn player from a gang-infested neighborhood in Salinas (not one of the finer cities in Northern California), and a string quartet from Chicago playing an Astor Piazzola tango featuring lots of slides, pizzicato, and using the instruments as drums.

The players are simply marvelous, at least all the ones I've seen in the last year or so, and it makes me feel a bit more optimistic about the future of classical music. Apparently it still has the power to grab young people by the gut, as it did me so many years ago, and inspire them to do the hard work -- and it is hard work -- to achieve excellence.

Anniversary in wine country

Yesterday was our 28th wedding anniversary, so Jen and I went and had lunch in the Temecula Wine Country and did a little tasting. For anybody who lives even close to the area who has not visited Temecula wine country, you're missing a treat. The valley just outside town has a good microclimate because there's a gap in the coast range that allows cool evening ocean breezes into the inland. It doesn't match Napa, of course, but there are at least 20 good wineries, one of which specializes in Champagne, all of which produce pretty solid wines. Most have tasting, some host weddings, all have a nice ambience. It was very hot yesterday and the parking lots didn't look as crowded as usual on a Saturday. Maybve it was the heat and maybe it was the recession. Anyway, we had a nice time and are still happy to be married to one another.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Obamacare coming unglued

It looks as if Obamacare is in deep trouble, which doesn't exactly break my heart. He's pretty resilient and determined, but I don't think the approval numbers for his jury-rigged health care scheme will go up no matter how many speeches he gives. Maybe the reverse. The fact that about 80% of Americans are moderately satisfied with their health care and might see the gummint as endangering it is starting to tell.

Roderick Long needs help

Libertarian/anarchist philosopher (yes, he teaches philosophy at Auburn) Roderick Long is in trouble with the IRS and could use some $$$ help. Here's a YouTube explaining. And Roderick explaining. His address (PayPal or cash): 402 Martin Ave., Auburn, AL 36849.

Music hath charms . . . but

Here's a poignant story I've had on my "I should blog this" stand for some time, but it's hardly a daily news cycle kind of thing. It shows that music has power that can transcend politics -- and that politics can be a powerfully destructive force that soils almost everything it comes in contact with.

Four Palestinians who play classic Palestininan music on traditional instruments (here's a YouTube and another) call themselves the Oriental Music Ensemble, but they are hardly ever together. They can practice together only when they're on tour. Here's why, per the NYT:

"The men are a cross section of the Palestinian experience in miniature: two Muslims, a Christian and a Druse. They live in Israel, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and abroad. The West Bank member cannot go to Israel because of Israeli travel restrictions on Palestinians. The Israeli Arab cannot go to the West Bank because of Israeli travel restrictions on Israelis. The one who lives in Sweden has a Jordanian passport but can travel to neither the West Bank nor Israel. And the one who lives in East Jerusalem said he is denied entry to Jordan for what he called “political reasons.”"

And yet they continue to do it. "We have to keep on," says Ahmad Al Khathib, who plays the oud, which is a bit like a lute. "It's part of our identity, this cultural struggle." They've been together, after their fashion, since 1997. They respect that the music has its own integrity, that "it shouldn't be so connected to the political situation." Yet politics obviously impinges on them and sometimes they write pieces with a political cast -- one inspired by the Israeli siege of Ramallah, another named after an Israeli prison. They played at a festival in Morocco in July.

It must be excruciating and exhilarating simultaneously, what they go through to keep making music. I guess I won't whine too much about not being in a chorus that will challenge me musically just now.

Sotomayor seems pretty inevitable

It's hard to tell whether she has actually never thought too much beyond platitudes on the kind of controversial issues the Supreme Court is likely to address -- abortion, property rights, the Second Amendment, incorporation, eminent domain -- or whether acting that way seemed like the best strategy to assure a comfortable Senate approval. But the Sotomayor hearings were remarkably lacking in drama or information. The only things that excited me was her approval of state protectionism when it comes to interstate wine sales, one of the issues on which the current Supremes reversed her. Here's the Register's editorial after the first day, along with a few subsequent blog posts, here, here and here. She probably won't be a disaster, but there's no evidence that she is intellectually distinguished or even especially curious about constitutional issues.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Space: another government bungle

Maybe it's because I attended a conference where Burt Rutan, the mastermind behind SpaceShip One, spoke and shared his vision of human beings in space, but I see the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 a little differently than almost anybody who has been publicized by the media. Peggy Noonan, I think, said that the way the space program has gone is a little as if Columbus had discovered America and then nothing else happened. A couple more moonwalks and then the ill-conceived shuttle program, the spacegoing equivalent of a horse designed by a committee.

If only we had decided to turn space over to the private sector after those initial forays, I'm convinced a great deal more would have happened -- maybe not Mars, but possibly a colony on the moon and plans to venture beyond. We let the private sector take over after government developed or subsidized some of the early airplanes and the Internet. As Burt Rutan, who pushed ahead despite NASA's near-monopoly and seems almost ready to establish a viable space tourism business, noted, the Internet didn't start to become useful to a great number of people until after several years of playing and experimenting -- literally, barnstorming for airplanes, and some of the first widespread Internet uses were to play video games. NASA seems almost ready to cede the effective monopoly it nursed and protected for so long. Whether it will focus on basic research and let the private sector do the operational stuff remains to be seen. But that would be a much better model.

Hot and lazy days

This was probably the laziest weekend we have had in years. It really was too hot to do much outside except lounge in the pool and water thirsty plants. I like hot weather but when you have back-to-back-to-back-to-back 105s, it does tend to take it out of you. So Jen and I did the absolute minimum required yard and house maintenance, spent time with Steve and Amanda, and didn't do much else. Didn't even work on the book. Shame on me, but it felt good.

Why do we need a surgeon general?

President Obama has appointed one Regina Benjamin, who actually seems to be an outstanding person and physician, to be the country's surgeon general. The question this Register editorial asks, is why do we need such an office? The position was created shortly after the civil war and has a goofily military air to it -- the "general" gets to wear a quasi-military uniform if he/she so desires. But in practice the job has devolved into being a national scold on things like eating right and avoiding tobacco. Yawn. Oprah does it better, as does Sanjay Gupta, who probably figured he would not only keep making more but could reach more people with medical information as a CNN commentator. Obama could have given us symbolic gesture in the direction of reducing needless health-care spending -- not that the money would be all that much when we're talking trillions here -- but there's no change to see here. Move along.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

So Larry Franklin just wanted to stop the war

Congressional Quarterly has a fascinating interview with Larry Franklin, the former Pentagon analyst who was the only one who ended up getting a sentence in the Israeli spy scandal. Franklin, you may remember, was charged with passing classified information to two AIPAC (American Israel Political Action Committee) officials, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, who were presumably expected to pass it along to Israel. Franklin got 13 years (later reduced to probation. The Rosen/Weissman trial was expected to be a sensation, but the charges were later dropped.

Franklin, his life pretty much ruined (he was mopping floors at a Roy Rogers restaurant), says he was trying to discourage the U.S. from invading Iraq. As an Iran specialist, he had access to information suggesting Iran was planning to disrupt things and kill Americans if the invasion went forward. Money quote:

"But back in 2003, with the invasion of Iraq only weeks away, he was desperate to persuade the White House to put on the brakes.

"So when Steven J. Rosen, an official with the American-Israel Public affairs Committee (AIPAC), told Franklin that he was friendly with Elliott Abrams, head of the Middle East desk in the White House National Security Council, Franklin said he "jumped at the chance" to get the information to him.

"As it turned out, however, the FBI had an open investigation of Israeli espionage in Washington, going back to the 1990s."

Franklin says he didn't realize at the time that the information he passed on was classified. I'm not sure if I credit this story or not. As much of a warhawk as Elliott Abrams was, it doesn't seem likely that having information about Iran's intentions would be likely to cause him to urge the Bushies to put on the brakes -- let alone the likelihood that the White House would have listened even if a war whooper like Abrams suddenly began urging caution. But maybe Larry Franklin didn't know this or knew a different side of Abrams.

But maybe this is the real story.

Government creates suffering

As usual, Lew Rockwell has an almost uncanny ability -- all right, intellect backed by sound philosophy backed by wide experience -- to put his finger on problems and detect contradiction. In this piece he notes two NYT pieces today -- one noting that Obama wants to mandate that employers provide health care and another noting that California's unemployment may rise to 15 or 20 percent unless an unlikely burst of common sense breaks out in Sacramento. Related? Sure. Placing mandates on employers makes it more expensive to hire people, so unemployment will rise. California has beaucoup mandates and the legislature is always busy dreaming up more, even during a financial meltdown.

Smoke pot yourself to discourage your kids?

Several of my Facebook friends linked to this article suggesting, with I don't know just how much tongue in cheek, that parents should smoke pot because it's the best way to discourage their kids, who will see, as the writer claims she saw as a kid, how pointless it is and how little mystery or attractiveness is involved. Maybe. Didn't work out that way with my kids.

Progress on marijuana book

My last day of vacation wasn't completely unproductive, as I had implied. I actually made a fair amount of progress on the outline for my marijuana legalization book, and I might even have the sample chapter done by the end of this weekend. Nag me about it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sonia and the Senate play the game

I had to watch a good deal of the Sotomayor confirmation process today to write tomorrow's Register editorial, and was struck by the fact that this elaborate charade is even more phony than Supreme Court approval hearings usually are. Everybody knows that she benefited from a double standard on the "wise Latina woman" comment -- culturally-approved minorities can almost do no wrong -- and everybody knows she will be confirmed. She's replacing a "liberal" so she won't shift the balance of the court.

It's amazing to me that some conservative forces are so bent on putting a a full-court press of opposition. Strikes me as a waste of resources. Does "the base" really demand a campaign claiming she's the most radical nominee ever? She is probably slightly more radical than her judicial record would suggest, and she hardly strikes one as intellectually distinguished, but she may be the least ideologically-committed of those Obama considered seriously, and because of her background as a prosecutor will probably be fairly"conservative' (which means awful from my perspective) in criminal justice matters. The GOP senators were more restrained, as is politically wise. Jon Kyl and Lindsey Graham pressed her fairly effectively on the speeches while paying enough respect so as not to alienate too many Hispanics . The other GOP senators, considering that this is the most significant TV time GOP figures will get this year, were generally pathetic.

They could have made a fairly serious case for constitutional judging, but presenting the notion that the rule of law in our system produces predictable results untainted by ethnic or ideological predilecetions (which are far more significant than ethnic is simply absurd in the face of all the 5-4 decisions the court routinely hands down. A significant educational moment wasted. Maybe tomorrow will be better, but I doubt it.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Palin's resignation about money?

One of the advantages of being on vacation has been the I wasn't required to offer some sort of thumbsucking bit of guesswork on Sarah Palin's resignation as g9overnor of Alaska. Somebody at the Register (probably Greenhut but I don't know) had to, but I think the best comment (commending Charlie Cook, who noted Palin can attend more events and bank more money as an ex-governor) came from The American Conservative magazine's editor, Daniel McCarthy.

What can you say on cable news?

It's almost enough to make me crawl back into my non-news cocoon. There's a big flap over a guest on MSNBC using the world "blowjob" (about the unlamented ex, Bill Clinton). Apparently "oral sex,"which somehow sounds dirtier to me, is OK, but "blowjob" is beyond the pale? Who decides these things? Well at least it got her 0n twitter and going viral.

Medical marijuana disappointment in N.H.,

This is my last day of vacation, and I have done almost nothing productive, which was my plan. Yesterday was lovely, with Muazzam and Nancy Gill coming over for BBQ and good talk, but today is lazy. At 100+ yardwork can be only of the non-strenuous variety. I haven't even watched the Sotomayor hearings.

I have found time to catch up on some medical marijuana developments. The least encouraging news is that New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch -- a Democrat, no less -- has vetoed a medical marijuana bill. At least some media outlets are encouraging a veto override, which seems possible if those who voted for it stick together. The resistance on the part of conventional politicians to medical marijuana is curious and goes way beyond rationality; one must believe in dire consequences that have occurred in no other jurisdiction and go against overwhelming public opinion. The psychological ramifications of making the war on drugs a Holy War will likely be with us for some time to come.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Audit the Fed!!

Here's the Register's editorial heartily endorsing Ron Paul's bill, HR 1207, to audit the Federal Reserve System. Since the Fed was a major contributor to the recent financial meltdown and is slated to acquire even more power under Pres. Obama's -- and Ben Bernanke's -- plan for federal financial regulatory overhaul, perhaps it's not surprising that the proposal has received so much support, sometimes from unexpected quarters. I suspect they'll never have committee hearings or move the bill to the floor -- and I'm not sure whether an audit would uncover enough sexy corruption, as compared to massive power misuse -- but its very presence on the docket is a healthy sign.

A narrowly-conceived Supremes term

Here's the piece I did for the Register on the just-completed Supreme Court term. Obne could argue that it continues to be Justice Kennedy's court in that he's the swing vote and he was in the majority 92% of the time. But one could also argue that Chief Justice Roberts, who has long argued that he wants the court to be less divided and generally narrow in its rulings -- avoiding constitutionallly-based edicts when possible, being a court of "conservative minimalism" -- has begun to put his stamp on the court in earnest. Even the Ricci decision, which will no doubt be much discussed this week, what with hearings on the nomination of Sotomayor, is narrower than it might have been. The case of the Hillary movie, which just might lead to a substantial overturning of the McCain-Fenigold campaign finance deform abortion, scheduled for September. mioght be an exception to this pattern of cautious decisions.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Not quite over in Iran, I guess

It looks as if those who predicted that Iran would not be quite the same after the massive post-election protests, even in the wake of the government crackdown, were onto something. Looks like fairly large protests and marches in the face of pretty severe crackdown stuff. Still not sure if it's a real revolution or even a revolutionary precursor -- look for security forces to start siding with the protesters as a sign the regime is really on shaky ground, though whether such moves would be reported given how restricted foreign media are is a good question. Whatever happens in the short term, however, the mullahs' regime is on notice that a significant number of Iranians simply consider it illegitimate and are ready for it to expire. Love to see governments feeling vulnerable.

A thorough homebody

Anybody miss me on the net? I'm on a vacation week -- fortunately not a furlough, thins are tough enough in the newspaper business. We were planning to go to Las Vegas for FreedomFest but pain and a necessary trip to the dentist screwed up those plans. So Jen and I have mostly been puttering round outside -- moving pots and plants, rearranging deck chairs, keeping the pool clear and spending time in it, transplanting a few flowers, building a couple of things. The yard is certainly nicer for it, but it's taken all the daylight hours and I haven't even felt like logging on at night until now. Either it's a very good vacation or I'm losing a teeny bit of my obsession with the news -- one newscast a day seems to suffice.

Richard Cowan to lead medical marijuana defense outfit

Well, As soon as I get back to the 0ffice and my address book, I'll have to give him a call. My old friend Richard Cowan, former NORML national director, and publisher of has agreed to head something called the Dispensary Defense Group, whose mission is to defend medical marijuana dispensaries -- mostly from unfriendly gestures by law enforcement, I'd warrant. Considering all the cities placing "temporary" moratoria on dispensaries and/or harassing them, there probably can't be too much effective defense. I don't know whether Dick's group will be working with Americans for Safe Access, which has already taken it upon itself to provide legal defense for dispensaries and their operators and secured a number of legal victories. The DDG is sponsored by Weedmaps, an online guide to dispensaries, and at least one dispensary and an evaluation group. I'll have to call. Dick will have information that will be useful for my book, and it's been a long time since we talked. I'm sure we'll have things to catch up on.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Beginning the Iraqi pullout

U.S. combat troops have pulled out of Iraqi cities (some trainers remain), the first step toward what is scheduled to be a complete U.S. military withdrawal. The Register thinks it's been a lot more pain than gain, and hopes the people are more skeptical the next time some yahoo in government wants to start a war of choice.

Medical marijuana update

In New Hampshire a medical marijuana bill has passed and is waiting for a signature from Gov. Lynch. The pressure not to sign apparently still comes from law enforcement, as this editorial in favor of the governor signing points out. I try to give people credit for actually believing what they say and not i9ntentionally lying, but this Portsmouth police chief is peddling pure claptrap. I hope he follows the evidence in a criminal case better than he did here. Too bad the editorialist was apparently not familiar with the report from the National Institute of Medicine, which said there was simply no scientific evidence for the "gateway theory" of people starting with marijuana and going on to "harder" drugs because of biochemistry or composition of drugs -- but that the theory that using marijuana sometimes leads to harder drugs because it is illegal and using it brings one in contact with a criminal subculture in which other drugs are available and pushed has some validity.

In Montrose CO, a patient living in Section 8 subsidized housing was tossed out for using marijuana, and he plans to sue. I suspect this suit will not be successful because Section 8 is a federal program and federal law is still complete prohibition, despite logic and common sense. Need to get my book written more quickly.

In Michigan, which passed a medical marijuana law last November, the program is experiencing some growing pains. More than 2,500 patient ID cards have been issued. but there's no safe, reliable source for legal medicinal-quality marijuana. In addition, some cops claim to be confused (oh how confused they can be when they're foot-dragging) about whether a patient with a doctor's recommendation byt no state ID card is in violation of the law. Obviously some cops would rather bust patients still than implement the new law. With good will such kinks can be worked out, but if California is any example, some people with the power to arrest are not overly endowed with good will.

Meanwhile in California, proprietors of dispensaries in Oakland are offering to increase the amount of taxes they pay during the state's fiscal crisis. It will hardly close the $25-billion-plus state budget gap, but it might help. Of course in South Lake Tahoe city attorneys are threatening to close three dispensaries that have opened in the past year. Do these officials have a death wish? Every level of government is facing budget problems, and these guys want to close down a source of revenue? And they believe they're the ones with right on their side. We still have a lot of work to do.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Freelance fireworks -- Yes!

Once again this Fourth of July I am inordinately proud of the little town of Lake Elsinore, where Jen and I have lived for the last 25 years. From out back yard on the Fourth, we can see not only the fireworks display from the stadium (though no show this year, but the fireworks from Canyon Lake and Perris. What is most thrilling, however -- perhaps it doesn't take much to impress me -- are the fireworks from freelancers at about a dozen points around the edge of the lake. Whoever these people are, they don't just get a few bottle rockets. Many of them have near-professional fireworks -- rocket to the sky, boom n bloom. And they shoot them of for more than an hour -- with the occasional shot up until midnite. All quite illegal, of course, and we hear sirens as well as explosions, presumably from the cops in a vain (I hope) effort the find and arrest these miscreants. To me, they're symbols of independence.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Medical marijuana growers can sue cops

A state appeals court in Sacramento has ruled, in what is called a "landmark" decision, that David Williams of Paradise, CA, can sue a county sheriff's deputy for money damages for ordering him, in 2005, to uproot all but 12 of the marijuana plants he was growing for a seven-patient collective. It turns out that he was authorized by California law to grow as many as 41 plants for seven patients, and that the order to uproot them was unlawful. The court also found that a Butte County policy requiring all members of a patient collective to participate in actual cultivation rather than contributing money to the operation was unlawful.

I wouldn't be surprised if this decision was appealed, although Butte County officials might look at the money San Diego County and the city of Garden Grove wasted trying to validate their desire to have more restrictive approaches to medical marijuana than is authorized by state law. If this decision is upheld, it could be something of a landmark. One can imagine patients (or that invaluable organization, Americans for Safe Access, taking up the legal cudgels, as it did in this case) suing to overturn "temporary" moratoria on medical marijuana dispensaries or cooperatives, or for failure to pass a responsible authorizing ordinance. It would be nice to see some DEA agents sued and held personally responsible for the damage they have done to patients, but since federal law is still full-on prohibition, one might not be able to make a case. But various local law enforcement and city officials may have been put on notice here that it's time to implement the medical marijuana voters passed way back in 1996 rather than trying to limit or thwart it.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Marines push into Helmand, Afghanistan

In what is being billed as a test of Obama's more assertive Afghan policy, 4,000 Marines and a contingent of Afghan soldiers have launched an offensive into Helmand Province, reportedly a stronghold for the Taliban and a place where lots of opium poppies are grown. First reports indicate little resistance. I'll be surprised if that isn't because the Taliban have simply moved elsewhere or are hiding in the hills. Guerrilla forces have known forever that you avoid direct battles with better-armed conventional armies, but move out to live to fight another day, catching them by surprise if and when they start to get complacent.

"Bones" mystery solved for Buffalo Soldier

A couple of years ago Jen and I liked the TV show "Bones," about a bone/skeleton/paleontology specialist chick at the "Jeffersonian" who solved murders, but it got a bit soap operaish for us. Maybe it's not just fiction. A fascinating piece here about researchers at the Smithsonian who have analyzed some bones and solved some mysteries about a Fort Craig in New Mexico, apparently remote outpost which was abandoned in 1880. People thought all the bodies buried there had been discovered and reburied, but when a guy who used to poke around for relics died a few years ago a skull was found in his possession, a friend told archeologists where he thought it was found, people started digging carefully, the bones of 39 people were found, and they have now been analyzed and reburied. One (identity found through old military records) was Thomas Smith, one of the legendary black Buffalo Soldiers, probably a former slave.

Perhaps Rachmaninov's most "Russian" music

As I write I am listening to Sergei Rachaminov's Vespers, Opus 37, for chorus and soloists. To my ears it is among the most characteristically Russian-sounding of any of Rachmaninov's music with which I am familiar. The fact that it is sacred choral music sung in Russian probably has a good deal to do with it. When I was a teenager I bought an LP of Russian liturgical music -- some composed in the 19th century, some traditional with older roots sung by a Russian choir in Germany, and I just fell in love with it. A proper Russian choir has at least a few impossibly deep-voiced bases able to sing notes lower than I can think of reaching, and they give the ensemble a sense of deep rootedness, as if the music is rising up from the good Russian earth and engulfing you.

The tradition in the Russian Orthodox church is not to have instruments, and perhaps partly as a consequence the harmonies are rather simple -- elemental? -- mostly open fifths and fourths. Rachmaninov's Vespers has much the same feel as the traditional Russian liturgical music, which was what I think he was going for. Op. 37 would be early in his career. His later music, undoubtedly influenced by western European music but unmistakably his, sounds (to me) more "romantic" than as distinctively Russian as this piece.

The Temecula Vintage Singers performed the Vespers the year before I joined (David Harmon, one of those impossibly deep basses, who later became a good friend, helped fill out the sound) so I have never sung this music. I am sure I would enjoy it, however.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Opposition media thriving -- except newspapers

On the Register's Orange Punch blog I did a post that linked to a story by Glenn Garvin, TV critic at the Miami Herald, noting that during the era of Obama, that it turns out to be CNN sinking and Fox rising during the age of Obama. It seems fairly natural to me. There's usually a media market (and often good fundraising times for political organizations like the ACLU or NRA for those in opposition to the current regime.

Unfortunately the current economic climate for newspapers -- Freedom Communications just announced a top-to-bottom 5% pay cut, which our family will definitely feel -- seems to override that equation.