Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Yo, Meathead!

So I might have used this column to write about the Super Bowl. Yeah, sure, it was a fantastic game. Sure, the Cardinals really have nothing to be ashamed about, taking the Steelers down to the wire after 61 years of not even sniffing a championship. Sure, Ben Roethlisberger’s final drive can be compared to Eli Manning’s in last year’s game against the Patriots. (In my opinion, Manning’s drive was the greater, against tougher odds, in a tougher situation, against a much tougher defense.)

But how could I write about anything today except for A-Rod?

Of course I can’t stand the guy, especially since he plays for the Yankees. But there’s even more to dislike about Alex Rodriguez. He’s obsessed with his image—to the point that in his new book, Joe Torre implies that A-Rod is more concerned with how he might look in a clutch situation than with helping his team win. He’s a major distraction to his team and baseball in general. He went out in public with strippers while he was still married. He’s an egomaniac but still acts like an insecure 10-year-old. (Remember how he pined for Derek Jeter’s friendship and approval for years until he was finally able to act like a man and move on? If he hadn’t trashed Jeter in the media, maybe it never would’ve been an issue.) Need I go on?

Now add in steroids to this equation, and A-Rod comes off as even more of a jerk than before, which is saying something. In his interview yesterday with ESPN’s Peter Gammons, in which he admitted his steroid use, Gammons threw softball after softball, letting A-Rod off the hook in a way that Katie Couric never did with Sarah Palin! Now we’re supposed to like A-Rod again because he admitted his mistake—even though he never really answered the tough questions, even though he wants us to believe that he didn’t know what he was taking, that he couldn’t admit to himself that he was doing something wrong, that his only years of indiscretion were 2001 to 2003. What a joke!

Anyone who knows me knows I have no love for the Yankees, but I certainly have respect for Jeter, Jorge Posada, and whoever plays hard and comports themselves with dignity inside the three-ring circus that is the Yankees organization. Now, once again, A-Rod has thrown spring training into an uproar. Does anyone really think Jeter relishes the idea of answering stupid question after stupid question about his teammate with the bloated ego and bloated contract? And another funny thing—that period when A-Rod was comparing himself to Jeter and saying that Jeter’s stats didn’t hold a candle to his, that Jeter wasn’t the guy in the lineup that was feared by the opposition? Guess what? Those were A-Rod’s ’roid years! Ya think Derek Jeter has even more of a reason to be peeved about it now, years after he has let it go?

Even though I dislike A-Rod, my hatred runs much deeper for Barry Bonds. I had high hopes of watching A-Rod approach, and then break, Bonds’s all-time home-run record, thinking that, yes, A-Rod’s an ass, but at least he’s clean, so take that, Barry! Now, even that dream has been ruined. Now I cringe at the prospect of watching A-Rod hit his home runs, passing Bonds while the Yankee fans adore him and the rest of the baseball world jeers. I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area while Bonds pursued the record, and the fan adulation, even in the face of overwhelming evidence of steroid use, made me gag. I know what the frenzy will be like among Yankee fans—it will just give me reason to hate the Yankees even more, if that’s possible.

As for the home-run record—it will probably need an A-Sterisk.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Everyone's Tokin' 'Bout Mike Phelps!

Michael Phelps made a mistake by letting himself be photographed taking a hit of pot from a bong. Just look at the photo. He’s using it all wrong. For one, he doesn’t have the proper amount of water in there. Consequently, the smoke he inhaled was probably very harsh. A little crushed ice would have also been a smart move. In addition, it appears as though he’s not using the carburetor properly.
Poor Michael Phelps. Who knew his best event was the 420 Freestyle?
Sure, I jest. I can’t help it. But, I think this incident illustrates two things: 1.) Michael Phelps used really poor judgment and 2.) Marijuana should have been legalized a long time ago.
I have been saying it for 20 years now and my opinion has never changed. Pot is a weed that grows naturally in the soil. It is so much less harmful than the number one killer among teens and adults, which is cigarettes, followed closely by alcohol. You never hear about people dying in pot-related accidents. You never see folks vomiting in the gutter after smoking one too many joints. I’ve never heard anyone say, “Wow, I am so hungover. I smoked too much weed last night.”
I know you’ve all heard the arguments, so I won’t go into them here. I’m not defending Phelps so much as I’m saying that the fact that marijuana is still illegal after all these years is ridiculous—a mixture of fear, arrogance and ignorance. Economically, nothing makes more sense than to make it legal. You want an economic stimulus in this country? Legalize pot!
This appeared on the Huffington Post recently, written by John V. Santore:
Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps was recently photographed using a marijuana bong at the home of a friend. The photographic evidence made a denial impossible, which led to release of the following statement today:
"I engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment. I'm 23 years old and despite the successes I've had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner people have come to expect from me. For this, I am sorry. I promise my fans and the public it will not happen again."
Not too long ago, Chris Matthews reviewed transitioning public attitudes towards marijuana by reviewing the statements of past presidential candidates about their own drug use, from Bill Clinton to Barack Obama:
And during the last campaign, Stephen Colbert made light of the supposed "hope bong" then-candidate Obama was making available to the public:
All of this would be little more than an interesting and amusing cultural trend were it not for realities such as this:
A study released [in April, 2008] reported that between 1998 and 2007 [in New York City], the police arrested 374,900 people whose most serious crime was the lowest-level misdemeanor marijuana offense.
That is more than eight times the number of arrests on those same charges between 1988 and 1997, when 45,300 people were picked up for having a small amount of pot...
...Nearly everyone involved in this wave of marijuana arrests is male: 90 percent were men, although national studies show that men and women use pot in roughly equal rates. And 83 percent of those charged in these cases were black or Latino, according to the study. Blacks accounted for 52 percent of the arrests, twice their share of the city's population. Whites, who are about 35 percent of the population, were only 15 percent of those charged -- even though federal surveys show that whites are more likely than blacks or Latinos to use pot.
Among the pretty large population of white people who have used pot and not been arrested for it is Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Asked during the 2001 campaign by New York magazine if he had ever smoked it, Mr. Bloomberg replied: "You bet I did. And I enjoyed it." After he was elected and his remarks were used in advertisements by marijuana legalization advocates, Mr. Bloomberg said his administration would vigorously enforce the laws.
While marijuana laws have changed over time, and while past administrations have attempted to show that the situation isn't as dire as it appears to be, drug policy in the United States is immensely hypocritical and destructive. Today, public figures justify past drug use as "youthful indiscretions" and the matter is dropped. But huge numbers of ordinary Americans are introduced to the jail system because of minor drug offenses, and as the records show, the overwhelmingly disproportionate nature of drug arrests creates a justified perception of injustice and both economic and racial bias.
Will Michael Phelps have to go to court for his actions? No. (Nor should he have to.) Will any law enforcement jurisdiction in America conduct a systematic raid of a college dorm at a prominent university with the goal of arresting everyone in possession of marijuana? Of course not. If such an action was taken on a broad scale, the arrests would likely be in the thousands. At the same time, will poor Americans, overwhelmingly minority in ethnicity, continue to be arrested by local police for the possession of small amounts of pot? Absolutely.
Before he was president, Obama indicated that he was well aware that marijuana laws needed to be reformed and that the mythology of the "war on drugs" was nothing more than a fairy tale:
But this is only part of the problem. A 2006 ACLU report documented the difference in sentencing between the possession of crack and of cocaine:
The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, passed during the media frenzy following the death of University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias, established mandatory minimum sentences for possession of specific amounts of cocaine. However, it also established a 100-to-1 disparity between distribution of powder and crack cocaine. For example, distributing just five grams of crack carries a minimum five-year federal prison sentence, while distributing 500 grams of powder cocaine carries the same sentence. The discrepancy remains despite repeated recommendations by the U.S. Sentencing Commission to Congress to reconsider the penalties.
Because of its relative low cost, crack cocaine is more accessible to poor people, many of whom are African Americans. Conversely, powder cocaine is much more expensive and tends to be used by more affluent white Americans.
The report includes recent data that indicates that African Americans make up 15 percent of the country's drug users, yet they make up 37 percent of those arrested for drug violations, 59 percent of those convicted, and 74 percent of those sentenced to prison for a drug offense. More than 80 percent of the defendants sentenced for crack offenses are African American, despite the fact that more than 66 percent of crack users are white or Hispanic.
In the past, Obama has spoken out against the continuation of policies like this one. From a 2007 interview:
Asked if he would eliminate discriminatory laws that punish crack cocaine possession so heavily that it would take 100 times more in powder cocaine for the same sentence, Obama started off by saying the law was a mistake. He talked about his record in the Illinois Senate.
"I want to point out that I fought provisions like this and in many cases voted against provisions like this, knowing the way they could be exploited politically," Obama told the Trotter Group of African-American newspaper columnists last week after addressing the National Association of Black Journalists. "I thought it was the right thing to do. Even though the politics of it was tough back in the '90s, as a state legislator I took some tough votes to make sure we didn't see the perpetration of these kinds of unjust laws."...
...He said that if he were to become president, he would support a commission to issue a report "that allows me to say that based on the expert evidence, this is not working and it's unfair and unjust. Then I would move legislation forward."
In that same interview, Obama linked drug problems to larger issues of economic and opportunity disparities in America:
Obama asked if he could make a "broader" point. "Even if we fix this, if it was a 1-to-1 ratio, it's still a problem that folks are selling crack. It's still a problem that our young men are in a situation where they believe the only recourse for them is the drug trade. So there is a balancing act that has to be done in terms of, do we want to spend all our political capital on a very difficult issue that doesn't get at some of the underlying issues; whether we want to spend more of that political capital getting early childhood education in place, getting after-school programs in place, getting summer school programs in place."
Addressing the economic and social situations which encourage people to use and sell drugs is critical. But it is also important to take advantage of changing public attitudes in order to do away with hypocritical drug policies that undermine public faith in an impartial justice system and disproportionately harm segments of society which are already teetering on the brink of collapse. Public apologies like those issued today by Phelps ring hollow because he will not be persecuted for his actions by either a court of law or the court of public opinion. The fact the he feels he must apologize is simply an effort to pay homage to past American mores that no longer impact private behavior. But those mores still impact drug policies, policies that continue to hurt citizens to this very day. Some steps to mitigate the worst impacts of these broken laws, like those governing sentencing for crack/cocaine offenses have been taken in recent years. Let's hope that President Obama, who saw the impact of bad drug laws first-hand in Chicago, will continue these reforms.