Penn Jillette on Obama’s Marijuana Hypocrisy

Penn Jillette is awesome for many reasons. As such I’m a fan of his new weekly podcast, Penn’s Sunday School. It always delivers, like last week when he went on a rant about President Obama’s continuation of the unwinnable, anti-liberty drug war and his hypocrisy. It’s brilliant and can be fully experienced in the clip below in a way the transcript can’t deliver.

Like Mr. Jillette, I’ve never consumed drugs or alcohol, but I do not care if another wants to do so. My only criterion is what I use for everything: do it voluntarily and without harm to another. Ingest drugs? No harm. Rob someone to get money to buy drugs to ingest? Harm. Drive while under the influence? Harm. It’s not complicated.

Contrast that with President Obama’s comments in his interview with Jimmy Fallon (video via NORML):

Notice the nanny-state mentality where anything that might be an individual problem automatically becomes a matter of “public health”. No one is an individual, just a cog in the machinery of the state to be managed and used.

Of course, Obama’s hypocrisy goes further. (As it does for all politicians, who are, by default, moral defectives.) Via the same NORML link, he clarified his remarks in an interview with Rolling Stone (from April):

Let me ask you about the War on Drugs. You vowed in 2008, when you were running for election, that you would not “use Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws about medical marijuana.” Yet we just ran a story that shows your administration is launching more raids on medical pot than the Bush administration did. What’s up with that?

Here’s what’s up: What I specifically said was that we were not going to prioritize prosecutions of persons who are using medical marijuana. I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana – and the reason is, because it’s against federal law. I can’t nullify congressional law. I can’t ask the Justice Department to say, “Ignore completely a federal law that’s on the books.” What I can say is, “Use your prosecutorial discretion and properly prioritize your resources to go after things that are really doing folks damage.” As a consequence, there haven’t been prosecutions of users of marijuana for medical purposes.

The only tension that’s come up – and this gets hyped up a lot – is a murky area where you have large-scale, commercial operations that may supply medical marijuana users, but in some cases may also be supplying recreational users. In that situation, we put the Justice Department in a very difficult place if we’re telling them, “This is supposed to be against the law, but we want you to turn the other way.” That’s not something we’re going to do. I do think it’s important and useful to have a broader debate about our drug laws. One of the things we’ve done over the past three years was to make a sensible change when it came to the disparity in sentencing between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. We’ve had a discussion about how to focus on treatment, taking a public-health approach to drugs and lessening the overwhelming emphasis on criminal laws as a tool to deal with this issue. I think that’s an appropriate debate that we should have.

Only to a politician does “not prioritize” mean “vigorously pursue”. And, sure, cutting off supply of marijuana to people who may legally possess and use it within specific states isn’t “prosecution”, but it sure isn’t the same as federalism or a passing nod to his campaign promises. Nor, circling back to Jillette’s destruction of Obama’s hypocrisy, is his implied wrongness of recreational use vindicated by anything he’s said or done. He’s nothing more than a bad parent’s slogan: Do as I command, not as I do.

Government Preparation for Adulthood

This story is almost two weeks old, but it still has value.

A two-page oral sex encounter by an awkward teen at boarding school in the coming-of-age novel Looking for Alaska was deemed too racy by Sumner County schools last week.

The district banned the book from its assigned classroom reading list, becoming at least the second in the state, after Knox County in March, to keep students from reading it together in class.

The teen novel is the first in several years to be stripped from Sumner classrooms. Wilson, Rutherford and Williamson county schools say they haven’t banned the book or any titles in recent years. Metro schools didn’t have information on the book as of Monday.

In this case, he said, the value didn’t outweigh the controversy. The book was not pulled from any district library shelves, [Sumner County schools spokesman Jeremy Johnson] said.

I oppose censorship. This is clearly a form of censorship, although not quite as bad as removing the book from the school system entirely. A public school board prohibiting a book from the classroom curriculum is insulting to both teachers and students. It also provides excellent support for a libertarian rant against public provision of education. The argument against home-schooling seems centered around the willingness of some parents to avoid facts. This is no better, since the government engages in the same behavior. It’s also unnecessary. In high school, I had to seek parental permission to read The Catcher in the Rye for an essay because it featured adult language and themes. That’s an imperfect, reasonable solution which leaves discretion to parents and provides a learning opportunity for all students.

The school board’s decision is awful, and especially so because the book is part of a high school curriculum in which students are presumably being taught to think critically. Still, this strikes me as worse:

“Kids at this age are impressionable. Sometimes it’s a monkey see, monkey do,” said parent Kathy Clough, who has a freshman and a senior at White House High School, where the book had been assigned reading. “I’m going to trust that my school board made the right choice. … If they feel like this book is a little too graphic, I’m all for it.”

Or she could read the book and decide for herself. Just an idea.

I don’t understand that kind of parental abdication. Of course her concern is probably quite appropriate, given how willing she seems to turn over the raising of her children (who are nearly adults) to a government body. But this is infuriating because she assumes all parents are as incapable of teaching the idiocy of “monkey see, monkey do” as she implies she is, and therefore, no parents should have the choice for such books to be a part of their teen’s education. If she thinks a “child” 14 or older isn’t aware that oral sex is a thing, she’s mistaken. If a child teen between 14 and 18 hasn’t learned enough to distinguish literature from a directive, the school system is worse than just a censoring band of thugs. It’s an incompetent, censoring band of thugs. All parents should be vehemently opposed to ceding more control to that school system, as Ms. Clough is happy to do.

Here’s the author, John Green, explaining this scenario when it occurred elsewhere in 2008:

Via John Green on Twitter.

Update: Post updated because I found evidence that I had to ask permission to read The Catcher in the Rye.

I Prefer FPS Over MMORPG

I’m not a fan of privilege as a foundational argument. It’s confining and limiting. It’s focused on generalizations without regard for the individuals involved. It establishes a hierarchy for problems with the result, if not purpose, of minimizing any X that is less severe than Y according to the person wielding the argument. It’s claptrap that eventually resolves to “Shut up”.

Such is the case with John Scalzi’s recent post, Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is. From the beginning it sets out the argument’s flaw as a definitive, justifiable rule that allows anyone who agrees with it to “prove” that the person who disagrees commits an error. Usually being dense, or something similar. It’s a way to shut down debate rather than start or continue one.

I’ve been thinking of a way to explain to straight white males how life works for them, without invoking the dreaded word “privilege,” to which they react like vampires being fed a garlic tart at high noon. It’s not that the word “privilege” is incorrect, it’s that it’s not their word. When confronted with “privilege,” they fiddle with the word itself, and haul out the dictionaries and find every possible way to talk about the word but not any of the things the word signifies.

It starts with condescension. Straight white men need to be educated, and if you challenge the argument, you’re proving your need to be educated. It’s stupid. It signals that there are default rules, either implicitly or explicitly assumed, that no one may disagree with. The only real question it allows is who’s next in needing to be educated about their privilege with respect to someone else under a simplified set of rules: straight minority males or non-straight white males.

Mr. Scalzi’s argument on privilege is easy enough to understand:

Dudes. Imagine life here in the US — or indeed, pretty much anywhere in the Western world — is a massive role playing game, like World of Warcraft except appallingly mundane, where most quests involve the acquisition of money, cell phones and donuts, although not always at the same time. Let’s call it The Real World. You have installed The Real World on your computer and are about to start playing, but first you go to the settings tab to bind your keys, fiddle with your defaults, and choose the difficulty setting for the game. Got it?

Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.

As a generalization with no context, sure. But that’s shallow thinking. It’s meaningless. We don’t live our lives as generalizations. Our interactions are more complicated and messy than simple identifying characteristics. Mr. Scalzi’s argument rests on the basis that sexual orientation, skin color, and gender are the three supreme defining characteristics and life should be judged accordingly. All else being equal, would I encounter an easier, harder, or indistinguishable challenge in working with Mr. Scalzi as a Straight White Male than a Gay Minority Female would? I bet on indistinguishable.

He acknowledges other characteristics within the metaphor but makes them subordinate to these three:

Likewise, it’s certainly possible someone playing at a higher difficulty setting is progressing more quickly than you are, because they had more points initially given to them by the computer and/or their highest stats are wealth, intelligence and constitution and/or simply because they play the game better than you do. It doesn’t change the fact you are still playing on the lowest difficulty setting.

I disagree that these three are the complete, highest characteristics. Is a straight white female born with genius-level intelligence, a trust fund, and a respectable family name playing on a more difficult level than a poor, stupid straight white male? What’s the scenario, fixing a flat tire on the side of the road? Being treated respectfully at the Mini Mart?

A later argument demonstrates the largest hole (emphasis in original):

And maybe at this point you say, hey, I like a challenge, I want to change my difficulty setting! Well, here’s the thing: In The Real World, you don’t unlock any rewards or receive any benefit for playing on higher difficulty settings. The game is just harder, and potentially a lot less fun. And you say, okay, but what if I want to replay the game later on a higher difficulty setting, just to see what it’s like? Well, here’s the other thing about The Real World: You only get to play it once. So why make it more difficult than it has to be? Your goal is to win the game, not make it difficult.

My goal is to “win” the game? According to whom? Judged by what criterion/criteria? By whose criterion/criteria? In which game? The argument fails because it neglects the reality that straight white male, gay minority female, and everyone in-between are people with unique, complex mixes of characteristics playing – or not playing – the game to which Straight White Man is the lowest difficulty setting. There are many games. There are different players. And there are different game masters. Context matters. Generalizations bludgeon.