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Daynotes Journal

Week of 20 June 2011

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Monday, 20 June 2011
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10:38 - Costco run and dinner with Mary and Paul yesterday. They mentioned that they were also watching Big Love, so I asked them what they thought about polygamy. As I expected, their attitude was similar to Barbara's and my own: as long as it's voluntary and only adults are marrying each other, it's no one's business but the people involved. Unfortunately, we had that discussion in the parking lot of Harbor Freight. We should have saved it for dinner so that we could have made our waitress's eyes bug out, as frequently happens. My favorite was the time we were talking about how to poison someone while avoiding being detected by the various forensics toxicology tests. For that one, we actually had several waitresses hanging out near our table to follow the conversation.

We're still making little progress on house-training Colin. It's bad enough that when he actually defecates outside, which has now happened only twice in the last six weeks, Barbara calls it an accident. Fortunately, he almost always goes to the hall bathroom, which has a ceramic tile floor. We keep a mop and a bucket of Lysol in there.

I'm a bit concerned because for the last few days Colin hasn't been eating much. We keep food down for him constantly (no, that's not an issue for house-training because he's completely unpredictable anyway) and he had been eating the normal amount for his age and weight, about 4 cups a day. The last three days, he's averaging only one cup or so per day, but he's not showing any distress and seems as happy and energetic as ever. I wonder if he's on a short growth break and doesn't need as much food. He doesn't eat unless he's hungry.

He's also changed his sleeping habits. Ordinarily, he'd jump up on the bed when Barbara and I went back to put on our pajamas, and then follow me out to the den, where I'd read for a while. We'd do a last time out and then go back to bed, where he'd jump up and chew one of his toys for a few minutes before jumping down and settling in for the night on his dog bed on the floor next to my side of the bed. The last couple of nights he's slept up on the bed all night, curled up against Barbara's legs.

This week, I'm starting to promote the kits by sending unsolicited commercial email. Spam, you say? Not really. I'm not doing indiscriminate bulk email. I'm sending individual messages to a mailing list of about 1,300 addresses, all of which are published contact addresses for various homeschool groups and co-ops, homeschool magazine reviewers, small private schools, and so on. I don't object to such targeted emails sent to me, and I suspect few if any of the recipients will object to what I send them.


Tuesday, 21 June 2011
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07:48 - I've no interest in beauty pageants, but this year's Miss USA was apparently notable for the "difficult" questions asked of the contestants. One of those was: "Should evolution be taught in public schools?" Now, it seems to me that that's about as difficult a question as asking if reading or mathematics should be taught in public schools, but apparently the contest organizers considered the question "difficult" because it would force contestants to straddle a fine line between rational people and religious nutters.

I didn't watch the program, so I'm depending on a video clip on YouTube. But apparently, of the 51 contestants, 45 were cowardly twinkies. Only six of them, including the eventual winner, responded affirmatively. That video starts out with some of the cowardly twinkies; the eventual winner, who describes herself as "a huge science geek", is at about 1:56 in, and she's followed by the others who spoke in favor of teaching evolution.

What interested me was how these young women came across. Ignoring whether they spoke in favor of or against teaching evolution, the ones earlier in the video come across as brainless twits, while just from their manner those from 1:56 on come across as thoughtful, intelligent young women.

08:38 - I got a call the other night from my three best friends from my former life in Pennsylvania. I hadn't talked to them in probably 15 years. That's Fred Shields on the left and David Silvis in the middle, both of whom were close friends from elementary school through college and beyond. Although Bruce Allshouse, on the right, lived only four blocks from me, he was outside the city limits and so went to the Neshannock Township schools rather than the city schools. We didn't meet until we were in college, where we became regular duplicate bridge partners.

I was going to say that I'd never have guessed how we'd all turn out, but that's not true. In fact, I could have guessed and probably not been far wrong. Fred is a registered nurse, David is an emergency room physician, Bruce is a CPA, and I write science books.

Barbara said it would be only fair to post images of ourselves as well. I mentioned that I planned to Photoshop my head onto Arnold Schwarzenegger's body, but Barbara said then I'd have to Photoshop her head onto Callista Flockhart's body. All that Photoshopping seemed like work, so I decided just to post recent images of both of us. So here we are at the baseball game we went to a couple weeks ago, which is the only recent image I have of myself.


Oh, wait. I forgot that Barbara took this one a few days ago at Maker Faire North Carolina.

15:05 - For mid-June, it's a pretty nasty day. It's currently 95 F (35 C) and about 60% relative humidity. I just had Colin out in the front yard, trying to keep him in the shade, when the mail truck arrived at the house across the street. I shouted to the mailman to ask him if he needed ice or water.

During summers in college, I worked for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. And, despite all the jokes about guys standing around leaning on shovels, we worked our asses off. My first day, they told me I was to be the flagman, the guy who holds the big Stop-Slow sign to control traffic. I was quietly suspicious. Why would they give the FNG what seemed to be the easiest job? I soon found out.

Flagging is both the hardest and the most dangerous job on a road crew. It's easy to be run down by drivers who aren't paying attention, and that's not counting the ones who actually come after you on purpose. I once had a car actually follow me across the shoulder and several meters of wild grass and almost up into the trees along the road before the driver desisted. Twice, I ended up on someone's hood, and one of those times I nearly had to attempt a somersault over the roof of the car.

But overall, flagging is harder than it is dangerous. For one thing, you're often working when it's near body temperature in the shade, and there's usually very little shade. Our foremen carried a 5-gallon water cooler on the backs of their pickup trucks, and a crew of five guys very often went through three or four coolers a day. The sweat just runs off of you, and you have to drink water by the gallon and take salt tablets or you'll pass out or worse.

But the worst part is having to move to keep up with a moving crew. By the nature of the work, drivers always see the flagman standing still. The next time you're stopped by a flagman, after he passes your group of traffic, try looking in your rear-view mirror. Quite often, you'll see the flagman running towards you. The worst job is working with a paver.

Not those little tail-gaters that are hung off the back of a ten-ton dump and dragged along behind to repave small parts of the road. I'm talking about a paving machine, which is self-propelled and requires a fleet of dump trucks to keep it fed. Depending on how far away the source of the hotmix is, it can require 10 or more dump trucks to keep the paver from running out of hotmix. The thing only moves a couple of miles per hour, but that means the flagmen have to run at a Marathon or faster average pace to keep up. But you don't run at the average pace. You stand still for a long time and then sprint. You assume a position immediately behind the paver and stop traffic. After several groups of cars have been passed both directions, the paver is far enough in front of you that you have to run like hell to catch up to it and assume a new flagging position. That gets old the first time. Doing it all day long is torturous. Some days, I ran 20 miles or more.

The first time I got stuck with that job and understood the implications, I told the other guys it'd be no problem. They no doubt thought it was show of bravado. But at the time I was playing tennis seriously, and frequently played best of seven set matches in the summer sun and heat. As it turned out, the running wasn't the real problem, at least for me. What I didn't count on was what a pain in the ass it was to carry that damned 10-foot tall sign as I ran.

Which brings me to the beautiful girl part. Late one afternoon, I was almost done in. As I stood there with the Stop side of my sign displayed, a car pulled up with two pretty college-age girls in it. They'd apparently just made a stop at McDonalds. The girl in the passenger seat called me over, handed me her Coke, and said, "Here. You need this more than I do."

I fell in love with that girl instantly. Alas, I never saw her again or even learned her name. But I often think about her, and I hope that life has been good to her.

So nowadays, I've made sure that all our delivery people know that I'm almost always home and that they're always welcome to stop if they need a cold drink or a hot drink or to warm up or to cool down or to take shelter from a storm. And the truth is that I'd probably not have ever thought to do that had it not been for that girl so many years ago.


Wednesday, 22 June 2011
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08:50 - We're taking orders for and shipping the homeschool chemistry kits, so other than keeping an eye on inventory and reordering I can put the chemistry kits on autopilot and turn my attention back to the home biology lab book and kits, with the forensics lab book and kits in the on-deck circle.

Sometimes I feel like the ducks in a shooting gallery, with things constantly coming at me no matter how many I've dealt with. Oh, well. I wouldn't have it any other way.

12:48 - Pat Condell nails it again.


Thursday, 23 June 2011
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07:52 - Venus Williams was nearly beaten at Wimbledon yesterday by a 40-year-old Japanese player, the second-oldest player to make it past the first round in Open history. (The oldest was Martina Navritilova, who was in a class by herself.) Venus described how she was almost beaten.

"She runs down every ball," Williams said. "She hits every ball basically on the baseline, hard and flat. If you get it anywhere near the midcourt, she hits for the corners and comes to the net.

In other words, her opponent played proper tennis, especially for a fast surface.

I don't know when or how it happened, but most professional tennis players no longer keep their groundstrokes deep in the opponent's court. When I started playing at around age 14, our high school tennis coach frequently showed up to watch me play and to offer suggestions. One thing I'll never forget is how he kept harping on keeping the ball deep in the opponent's court. Doing that keeps constant pressure on the opponent and greatly reduces his options. Mr. Orlando would yell at me any time one of my groundstrokes landed more than 18 inches (50 cm) inside the baseline. And he was absolutely right.

Later on, when I developed a lot more power and started to hit nearly all my groundstrokes dead-flat, that was no longer an issue. A hard-hit flat groundstroke simply can't fall much more than 50 cm inside the baseline; if it was low enough to do that, it would have hit the net. But even when I (rarely, and usually under pressure) hit topspin groundstrokes, I made sure to keep them deep in the opponent's court.

If you watch tennis matches from the 70's or earlier, you'll see that was the common practice back then. Sure, there'd be an occasional short ball, but a player lucky enough to get one of those was usually all over it on his way to the net. Recently, with few exceptions--most of them top-notch players like Sampras-- it's become almost the norm for groundstrokes to hit just long of the service line, or even shorter. When I was playing, that would have been a fast way to lose the point, especially on grass or another fast surface, but even on clay. Giving an opponent a short ball lets him punish you with pace on his return, and it also opens up the angles. And yet, almost none of the pro players get any depth on their groundstrokes. When a player comes along who does, he usually ends up winning a lot of matches.

Colin very nearly got a squirrel yesterday.

I had forgotten just how fast young Border Collies are. Even at just barely four months old, Colin's top speed is close to that of an adult BC in its prime. I guess that's because in the wild, a puppy soon must be able to keep up with the rest of its pack. And his acceleration is incredible; from zero to top speed in about one full step.

Colin stalked the squirrel, who didn't seem to be paying him much attention. When he was about 20 feet (6 meters) from the squirrel, Colin floored the accelerator. By the time the squirrel could react, Colin had nearly overrun it. With no time to run, the squirrel did the only thing it could; it sprang straight up and made a frantic grab for the tree limb above it. Fortunately for the squirrel, its claws held.

Well, not really. If Colin had caught the squirrel I doubt he'd have hurt it. Border Collies have all the kill instinct bred out of them. I'll never forget the time Duncan caught a squirrel. He started from a goodly distance and the squirrel was too far from a tree to do anything but run for it. Duncan overhauled the squirrel in nothing flat, and knocked it rolling. An instant later, there were Duncan and the squirrel, nose to nose, with the squirrel sitting up on its haunches.

Not realizing that Duncan wouldn't hurt it, the squirrel made a fatal mistake. It bit Duncan in the nose. Too fast for the eye to follow, Duncan grabbed the squirrel and shook it once to break its neck. No more squirrel.

Hmmm. It seems that if the Greek government wants any more money from other European banks and governments, they're going to have to hold a fire sale. Everything must go. Roads, bridges, airports, just about anything that isn't nailed down. Oh, wait. Those are nailed down.

Apparently, the governments and banks are requiring Greece to sell off more than $70 billion of its assets before they can get any more loans. I can't imagine that anyone will be interested in buying Greek roads, bridges, or airports, which are, after all, in Greece. However, I do plan to bid if Greece puts the Parthenon up on eBay. If I win the bid, I'll disassemble the Parthenon and ship it to the US, where it can be reassembled in a suitable location.

Of course, the Parthenon can't be expected to produce much revenue for Greece. It's a fixer-upper, and would require a huge investment to return it to its original glory. But then the same could be said for most of Greece's assets, such as they are. Which makes raising $70+ billion via asset sales somewhere further from extremely unlikely and closer to impossible. Would you want to own real estate in Greece? I sure wouldn't.

But it's not the asset sales that are going to produce more rioting in Greece. It's their national sense of entitlement to live beyond their means at the expense of others, which they have been doing for many years. The so-called cuts that Greece has already made in pubic-sector employment, pensions, and so on are at best a sick joke. The fact that Greek protesters are rioting and throwing Molotov cocktails in response to such trivial spending cuts doesn't bode well for what will happen when the real cuts arrive, as they inevitably must.

Ordinary Greek citizens are demoralized, and for good reason. They're going to have to get used to, not just a lower standard of living, but to being dirt poor. Because that in reality is what they have been for years, what they now are, and what they will remain for the foreseeable future. All the Molotov cocktails in the world aren't going to change that. Greece consumes much more than it produces, and that's simply unsustainable.

Greece in particular and Europe in general is a sinking ship. Those who can are taking to the lifeboats. I read a brief interview recently of a Greek college student who's studying architecture. She's considering giving up pursuing that degree because, as she says, what's the point of being an architect when nothing that requires an architect is going to be built in Greece for a long, long time? Multiply her dilemma by those of all the thousands of other Greek students who are abandoning studying useful disciplines, and the disaster is obvious. Greece isn't eating its seed corn; it finished doing that years ago. It's hard to pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you don't have any bootstraps.

This is even more painful than watching the proverbial train wreck. We don't know exactly when the whole thing will come crashing down, but we know that, inevitably, crash it must. So, the world watches events carefully, knowing that it's just a question of time. If additional loans are not approved by the end of this month, and it's by no means certain that they will be, the fall of Greece will soon occur. If the loans are approved, that buys Greece a few more months, but does nothing to change the eventual outcome.

Poor Greece. The Cradle of Civilization is about to become the Graveyard of the Euro. Let's just hope the row of tumbling dominoes stops before it gets across the Atlantic.


Friday, 24 June 2011
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07:49 - Barbara left this morning on a bus tour to Chattanooga or somewhere like that. She'll be back Sunday. Meanwhile, it'll be wild women and parties for Colin and me. (I just caught him browsing a puppy porn web site.)

In other news, scientists have discovered at least two species of pathogenic fungi that are commonly present in dishwashers worldwide. These fungi are extremophiles, which means they thrive in conditions that would quickly kill non-extremophile fungi--or just about anything else--such as very hot water, strongly acidic or basic solutions, disinfectants, and so on.

Our friend Mary Chervenak used to be a research chemist in the Dow Chemical biocides division. (Incidentally, "biocide" has always struck me as a very strange construction. "Bio" means "life" and "cide" means kill. By definition, something has to be alive before it can be killed. So why not just call it the "cides" division?) I remember asking Mary one time if a quart (946 mL) of 5.25% sodium hypochorite bleach diluted with three parts water to a gallon would reliably kill on contact any microorganism other than spore-formers. Her response was something like, "Geez! If anything survives that, flee screaming from it."

It seems unlikely that even extremophile fungi would survive that treatment, but just in case I think I'll periodically spray the inside of our dishwasher with undiluted bleach. Either that, or 30% hydrogen peroxide.

John Baichtal posted an article about the home chemistry kit on the MAKE blog Wednesday (as well as on Geek Dad; Thanks, John!) The description of the kit mentions that it's suitable for use with a secular curriculum or a religious curriculum. One of the commenters took issue with that, wondering what possible difference there could be between kits designed to support a secular chemistry curriculum and those designed to support a religious chemistry curriculum.

He's right, of course. There's no such thing as Christian chemistry or Jewish biology or Atheist physics. There's just chemistry, biology, and physics. Religion has nothing to do with science, period. I posted the following response (well, actually, John posted it for me because the MAKE blog wouldn't let me log in.)

Religious home schoolers are often concerned that a secular science kit, such as this one, may include explicit or implicit criticisms of or hostility toward their religious beliefs. Although our company (and we) are secular, we wanted religious homeschoolers to know that nothing in our chemistry kit should be offensive to their religious beliefs.

As another commenter noted, this situation is particularly common with geology (and biology) materials that might contradict the religious beliefs of fundamentalist Christians, particularly Young Earth Creationists. We have many science kits planned for future release. Some of those, such as forensics and physics, are unlikely to offend anyone regardless of their religious beliefs.

Other kits, such as earth science and biology, will be secular and may indeed offend the sensibilities of some (not all) religious homeschoolers. We will flag those kits prominently to warn anyone who is concerned about their content that these kits may not be suitable for some religious homeschoolers.

Because I'm not particularly sympathetic toward religion, particularly fundamentalist religions, I'm sure some people wonder why I care if fundamentalist religious people buy our kit. Or perhaps they just assume that I've sold out my principles in order to sell more kits. If you think that explanation is possible, you don't know me.

The real reason I'm marketing kits to both secular and religious home schoolers is straightforward: I want all kids, regardless of their or their parents' religious beliefs or lack thereof, to be exposed to real, hands-on science.

In fact, teaching science presents a real conundrum for fundamentalist home schoolers. The world of science is inherently secular, so these parents have two choices, neither of them good from their point of view. First, they can teach what I'll call simulacrum science using curriculum materials from Bob Jones, A Beka, or other religious publishers. The problem with that method is that it teaches their kids fake science, and those kids go out into the world poorly prepared to deal with reality, not to mention college science courses. The alternative is to teach their kids real science. The problem with that method is that it teaches their kids to think critically, and once kids learn to think critically, they are going to start thinking critically about things that their parents would really rather they didn't think critically about.

I can't begin to count the number of emails I've gotten from young people who were raised in fundamentalist Christian homes and tell me that learning real science opened their eyes. Some of them have remained in their churches, but no longer believe what those churches teach. Others have joined mainstream churches that do not deny scientific truths such as evolution and the age of the planet. Many have become explicitly agnostic or atheist.

So what's a fundamentalist Christian parent homeschooler to do? The usual solution is to teach their kids "religious science" and hope for the best. Some send their kids to religious colleges like Bob Jones University or Liberty University, which actually do a reasonably good job of educating their children, with one major exception. Where reality conflicts with scripture, which it does frequently, those colleges teach the scripture and ignore the reality, which does their students no favor.

And the latest author to begin self-publishing is ... J. K. Rowling. Yep, Harry Potter's mom will self-publish the Potter canon. She claims she still doesn't plan to write any additional Potter novels, but she does say she'll be adding newly-written material.

And when I say Rowling will self-publish, I mean she's really going to self-publish. She has her own website, obviously, but she'll be selling her ebooks exclusively through that site. Amazon and B&N don't get a cut. If you want to buy the ebook, you have to buy it directly from Rowling.

Rowling's ebooks will be DRM-free, although she does plan to watermark them. I'm not sure why. That horse has already bolted. Anyone who wants to can find all the Potter novels for free download with about five seconds of searching. Rowling is also format-agnostic, so you'll be able to read her ebooks on any ereader.

Interestingly, although Rowling has cut Amazon and B&N out of the picture, she is going to give her publishers world-wide a percentage. Presumably a very small percentage, since it's very likely they're legally entitled to nothing at all. Rowling was smart enough to keep her ebook rights.

One would think this announcement would have created a shockwave in the traditional publishing world. After all, Rowling is just the first of the small group of true superstars, most or all of whom will be abandoning traditional publishing over the coming months and years. Traditional publishers have to realize that Rowling's actions doom them, and sooner rather than later. And yet, when I read the announcement yesterday and immediately checked trad publishing trade journal websites, there wasn't a word. Dead silence. Of course, I guess there's really not much to say. The fat lady has already sung.

If you think I exaggerate, consider this: although it varies slightly from publisher to publisher and genre to genre, publishers generally lose money on about 80% of the titles they publish. In other words, if they publish 100 titles, they're likely to lose money on about 80 of those. Of the remaining 20, they might make pocket change on 15. Of the remaining five, they might make a reasonable to good profit on four, but not nearly enough to cover their losses on the bottom 90 titles. What earns the traditional publishers real money, what allows them to keep their doors open and their lights on and their rent and salaries paid, is that remaining one title, the blockbuster title. That 1% of their overall catalog--actually, it's usually more like 0.1%--is far more important to them financially than all of the other titles combined. And it's that 0.1% that is about to disappear, along with many of the titles by authors from the tier immediately below the superstars.

This should come as no surprise to the traditional publishers. After all, why should authors like Rowling continue to, in effect, subsidize those publishers and less popular authors? No doubt, those publishers have offered Rowling and her few peers much better royalty rates than they pay lesser earners, but the publishers simply can't afford to offer them royalty rates anywhere near what those authors can earn by self-publishing. In short, those authors who can sell in huge numbers have no reason whatsoever to do anything other than go it alone.

Prediction time: later this year or early next, Dan Brown will announce that he's going to self-publish. When that happens, the traditional publishers will no longer be able to hide their heads in the sand. It's already obvious to nearly anyone who follows what's going on that trad publishers are doomed and cannot survive no matter what they do, but the publishers themselves are in industrial-strength denial. When Dan Brown jumps ship, he won't be the only one jumping. Meyer, Patterson, and many other big-name authors will jump into self-publishing, and the trad publishers will be jumping out of their office windows.


Saturday, 25 June 2011
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08:56 - Colin and I both miss Barbara. We wander around the house whining.

I downgraded our Netfix account yesterday to the one-disc-at-a-time plan. Given what cable TV charges for 157-channels-and-nothing-on, I think Netflix underprices their streaming service. I could have downgraded to the $8/month unlimited streaming plan, but there's still some stuff we want to watch that's not available streaming, so I chose the $10/month plan that gives us one disc at a time. With more and more stuff becoming available for streaming every day, that should hold us.

I'm shipping another batch of kits today. Frankly, given that early summer is the slowest time of year for science kit purchases and that such a kit is not an impulse purchase for most people, I expected pretty much dead silence after we made the announcement. Instead, the kits are selling steadily, which is encouraging. Busy time should hit around mid-August, with people buying kits to start the autumn semester.

Unfortunately, I still have no idea what "busy" will mean in terms of units. It could be three orders per day, or it could be 30. If it's the former, we'll have no problem keeping up with orders; if it's the latter, we'll be busier than the proverbial one-armed paper hanger. And, of course, component lead time is an issue. We don't want to have the kits backordered, but on the other hand we don't want to be covered up in unused components. Fortunately, most of our wholesalers ship pretty quickly, but they too can have backorder situations.

Ah, well. I'm not one for counting chickens, so we'll just do the best we can and learn what we can.

09:36 - Hmmmm. Digging through the freezer in search of something to defrost for dinner tonight, I came across a forgotten package of DNA restriction enzymes*. It occurred to me that that would be an excellent question for one of those "Are You a True Geek?" tests. Having DNA restriction enzymes in one's personal freezer should score a lot of points.

Fortunately, Barbara has a sense of humor about these things, although she does draw the line at culturing anything more than BSL-1 pathogens in her house.

* DNA restriction enzymes are used to cleave DNA at specific nucleotide sequences. When you see one of those DNA gels on TV with lots and lots of bands, restriction enzymes were used to break the DNA into numerous fragments, which were then run on a DNA gel electrophoresis apparatus. Larger fragments move more slowly through the gel, so those bands are actually a graphic representation of the number of base pairs in each fragment produced by the restriction enzyme. Because the target nucleotide sequences occur at different positions in different people's DNA, the number, spacing, and intensity of the bands provides a "fingerprint" of that particular DNA specimen. Aren't scientists clever?

10:55 - Hurray! New York is the latest state to legalize same-sex marriages. This is particularly significant because it's the first time a state with a Republican-majority legislature has done so. At least some of the Republicans voted their consciences rather than toeing the party line. We can hope that Republican legislators in other states will do the same.

The usual hate groups, led by the state's Roman Catholic bishops, have threatened consequences. I wonder by what rationale they have anything at all to say about marriage, given that they've voluntarily given up their own right to marry. Of course, they do have plenty of choirboys available.


Sunday, 26 June 2011
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11:34 - Barbara gets home this evening. Colin and I will do our happy dance.

I finally got around to reading the details of that pharmacy shooting, and what struck me was that here we have four more deaths attributable to the government's futile "war on drugs". An elderly man who'd stopped in the pharmacy to fill a prescription for his ill wife. A young mother of two working behind the counter. A middle-aged pharmacist who was filling in for a colleague on Fathers' Day. And, perhaps most poignant of all, an 18-year-old girl who was about to graduate from high school.

Four more deaths that can be laid at the government's door, among thousands of such deaths every year. And all in a futile attempt to prevent people from taking drugs that the government deems unacceptable. These deaths are notable only because of how they occurred. Thousands of other deaths go unnoticed because they're not newsworthy, but you can blame the government for those deaths as well. Drive-by shootings, drug deals gone wrong, junkies dying from an overdose or contaminated drugs, meth houses exploding and burning down. Every one of these is a direct result of the government's ridiculous and futile attempt to control drugs.

The so-called war on drugs has been going on for decades. We've spent hundreds of billions of dollars on the effort, built and staffed otherwise-unneeded prisons, and done what may be irreparable damage to the Constitution. And drugs are as readily available now as they ever were. But the government has succeeded in one respect: they've made something that should be cheap very expensive. Expensive enough to be worth killing for.

I was stunned the other day to learn that the street price of oxycodone is $1 per milligram. I am not making this up. An 80 mg oxycodone tablet sells on the street for $80. Is it any wonder that the body count keeps rising? If the free market were operating, that $80 oxycodone tablet might cost about $0.25. With no money to be made in drugs, drug cartels and drug dealers see their business models disappear overnight. And the high level of corruption among legislators, police, and judges would also take a major hit. When the flood of money disappears, most other drug-related problems disappear in its wake.

At least one politician recognizes the problem and is taking action to roll back this ridiculous war on drugs. That politician, of course, is Ron Paul. He's attempting to get a bill through Congress that would eliminate federal laws against marijuana. A small start, but a start nonetheless. Paul rightly argues that this is a states' rights matter, which should make it very difficult for the Republicans and Tea Partiers to do anything other than support the bill. They won't, of course.

But we can hope the bill passes, somehow. Eventually, all federal controls on drugs should be removed, both for street drugs and prescription drugs other than antibiotics. Doing that would eliminate most or all of the drug problem. And, lest anyone argue that legalizing marijuana and cocaine and heroin would result in a huge increase in the number of users of such drugs, be aware that the converse is much more likely to occur. We saw that with the end of Prohibition. The number of people who drank declined, as did the average consumption among people who still drank. The same will almost certainly happen if all drugs are legalized.

It's long past time to recognize the futility and the ridiculous costs--financial and otherwise--of government attempts to control drugs. Let's declare this war lost and move on.


Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.