The Casual Blog

Let’s start peace talks in the war on drugs

America’s war on drugs has been a catastrophe.  The immediate human cost of criminalizing recreational drug use is staggering, with millions of lives wasted in prisons that are schools for real crime.  The economic costs are also huge.  The war creates a separate off-the-books, criminal economy that is enormously profitable, and the forces of organized crime in turn corrupt the forces of order.

We waste billions of dollars a year on fighting drugs, and we”ve been doing this for decades.  It’s now clear there will be no victory in this war.  We have caused untold misery, and accomplished close to nothing.

This waste and hopelessness of the war on drugs is usually invisible to those not in prison or inner cities, but it’s coming into sharper focus.  Afghanistan is a failed narco state, and Mexico is on the brink of becoming one.  Drug lords have armaments and forces that are more powerful than the police, and are sufficient to battle the federal army.  Mexico had  6,000 drug related killings in 2008, and beheadings and shootings are almost routine.  Corruption of the police is rampant.  The possibility that our southern neighbor will become ungovernable is now real.  This is serious.

Last week The Economist, a reasonably conservative publication, put this issue front and center in its cover story, “How to stop the drug wars.”

The British weekly put the issue simply:  “legalisation is the least bad solution.”  The benefits of legalization are many:  ending the drug gulags, reducing the scope of organized crime, reducing corruption, and saving billions of dollars of public resources.  If we taxed and regulated the recreational drug business, we would have sufficient funds for new programs of education and treatment and resources left for other valuable social programs.

There will be problems, including risks of more addiction.  But we already accept those risks with regulated alcohol and tobacco (a much more dangerous substance than most illegal drugs).  We manage them with public education and medical treatment for addicts.  We ban sales to minors and raise prices to limit consumption.  Europeans have experimented with these approaches, and have shown that they work.

We need to put this issue on the public agenda.  Our drug war is more than a tragedy — it’s a time bomb, and it’s ticking.

Happy diving in Grand Cayman

One week ago today that we were waking up on the island of Grand Cayman. We had a sweet four-night get away.

We got off to a rough start, when we missed our 6:00 a.m. flight by seconds.  Note to self:  check in and security lines are more crowded at 6:00 than at 7:00.  I’ve forgiven the TSA agent who confiscated Sal’s moisturizer for being in a 4 ounce (rather than 3 ounce) container, but I can’t get over how idiotic the rule is that cost us half a day of vacation. I’ve also forgiven the gate agent who closed the door as we were approaching and refused to open it as the plane sat there for a couple of more minutes, but it was a bitter moment.  Sal was in tears.  We regrouped and got a flight four hours later.  Instead of arriving at 1:30 in the afternoon, we got there at 9:00 p.m.

A lunatic rooster started crowing around 5:00 a.m.  Apparently this is the national bird of the Caymans. Our resident rooster was reliable every morning.

We stayed at a scuba oriented hotel named Sunset House.  Palm trees and turqoise water, a cheery thatch roofed open air bar, and dive boat right in front.  It was my first time diving since completing my certification in January 2008, so I was hoping I could get my rental equipment properly assembled  and avoid both embarassment and accidents.  There were no real problems, though I did put the weight belt on the wrong way.

I did two dives every morning.  The boat trips were all less than 30 minutes, and some less than 15 minutes.  Water was beautifully clear, though a tad chilly.  Some highlights:  Eagle Ray Rock, Cheeseburger Reef, Great House Wall, La Mesa.  The coral reefs were amazing, teeming with flora and fauna, thousands of little fish and many bigger ones (barricuda, tarpon, grouper).  I swam with sting rays and sea turtles for the first time. It was peaceful and so beautiful.

Sal took the resort course again, and I joined her for guided diving in the afternoons.  Her teacher, Lauren, was extremely complimentary about her technique.  We covered the reef in front of Sunset House, which was well worth visiting.  The last day we saw three sea turtles and a large sting ray.

We made it a point to try as many different colorful rum drinks as possible.  Georgetown, which was about a mile from our hotel, was not especially charming, but we enjoyed our dinner overlooking the bay at Guy Harvey’s.  We also ate one evening at Fisherman’s Reef at Morgan’s Harbor, where it was very windy.  Our cabbie on the ride back was Diana, and she filled us in on the local politics and points of interest.

The trip home involved a substantial wait at the Grand Cayman airport and a four-hour layover in Miami.  We finally learned the reason for duty free shops:  cheap liquor.  We also tried out the new electronic gadgets in Brookstone, including video enabled glasses.  I made substantial progress on A. Lincoln, by Ronald White, and listened to the entirety of the Marriage of Figaro and Bruckner’s Third.  We made it home before midnight.