Monday, July 27, 2009

Concerning the new "Blood Test" DWI law in Texas...

Before going any further, I will explicitly state that I DO NOT condone the act of intoxicated driving. This criminal act was responsible for the death of my mother's oldest son, on my 17th birthday, and it changed the life of myself and the rest of my family in ways indescribable.

It was announced yesterday that the police in Texas now have the authority to order a blood test for drivers who refuse to submit to DWI testing via a Breathalyzer, without gaining a warrant.

To the best of my knowledge (because the State legislature's website hasn't been updated yet), this bill only covers "repeat alcohol offenders" (I think this covers ALL alcohol offenders, not just DWI offenders), those driving with a child younger than 15, or those in an accident involving death or serious bodily injury. For those not covered under this portion of the new law, there is also a clause that expands the definition of "judge" to include local unelected magistrates (to the best of my knowledge, their only requirement is being a licensed attorney in this state) who are available at the jail 24/7.

Okay, sounds good, right? Well, NO. But how can this be bad? It's gonna cut down on drunk driving, right? NO. Why? Because even today, right now, the state doesn't even need a genuine BAC level to arrest or even convict you of a drunk driving offense.

Yes, that's right. The state has the lawful authority to arrest someone for DWI, and can subsequently convict that person of DWI, WITHOUT needing any physical evidence of the driver's Blood Alcohol Concentration. The Texas Penal Code states that, in addition to a "blood, breath, or urine" sample showing a BAC of .08 or higher, a person can also be found guilty if that person does not have "normal use of physical or mental faculties".

That's the evidence that would have been presented against me in 2007, following my arrest in 2006, had the DA decided not to drop the charges down to a seatbelt violation. Apparently, they realized that a man getting noticeably angry at a state trooper's verbal baiting does not equate to a loss of "mental or physical faculties".

But enough about my experiences on that end. Let's talk about why this law is an awesome failure.

First and foremost, let's go over a few little facts about what is and is not legal in the state of Texas. You CAN lawfully drive a vehicle, immediately after drinking an alcoholic beverage. You merely cannot drive a motor vehicle with an open container in the cabin of the vehicle (unless it is a van, hatchback, or SUV, where said container must be out of reach of the driver), and cannot drive while being intoxicated. As stated above, the DWI law in Texas says you are legally "intoxicated" if you present a blood alcohol concentration test sample of .08 or higher, OR you are not "in possession of normal mental or physical faculties".

Anyone who knows anything about the mechanical workings of a breathalyzer knows to NOT EVER blow into a breathalyzer, because it is the LEAST accurate way of testing the Blood Alcohol Concentration. It relies upon a proprietary software that uses no less than six different ASSUMED variables that are different for every human body, calculates them using the same exact bargain-basement microprocessor found in the Atari 2600, and does not do any actual chemical analysis on the breath specimen.

How does it analyze your breath to detect alcohol, if it doesn't do any chemically-reactive testing? It shines a light through the breath sample and measures reflectivity. Then, it does serious calculations of the reflectivity amount through those six different variables that are different for EVERY human body, and assumes that these are correct. Of course, it takes that measurement of light reflectivity, and then calculates it against one of these assumed variables. Then it calculates that product against another assumed variable. It does this four more times.

Imagine that the average man drives a vehicle 75mi per week. Imagine that his vehicle gets 25mpg. Imagine that this vehicle can carry 4 people in its cabin. Imagine that this man has 4 people in his family (including himself) that always ride with him. Imagine that this man runs his air conditioning whenever he drives. Imagine that this man always pays $2.24 per gallon for gasoline.

In this scenario, the "average cost per person, per week" is $1.68. However, this is taking into account the assumption that every man's automobile gets 25mpg, he carries 3 passengers at all times, always runs his air conditioner, and always pays $2.24 per gallon for gasoline. Change any one of those variables, and shit changes drastically. If he's carrying additional cargo, or only two passengers, or doesn't run the air conditioner, et cetera the "cost per person per week" has been altered. The Intoxilyzer 5000 is no different, which is why you should NEVER blow into one if you are suspected of being intoxicated while driving.

The portable breathalyzer results are not admissible as evidence of intoxication in court, but merely allowable as probable cause for arrest. Why? Because they are even less accurate than the "big machine" at the station. Think about it...if it were really "accurate enough", why would they even have the "big rig" at the county jail? There wouldn't be any reason for it.

There are three tests admissible in court, and these are the NHTSA's "Standardized Battery of Field Sobriety Testing". They include the One Leg Stand, the Walk and Turn, and the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test. Of the three, only the HGN provides accuracy greater than the chances of surving a round of Russian Roulette. Unfortunately, it is also the ONLY field sobriety test that has results unable to be seen on a dashboard-camera arrest video, making it the officer's word against yours. Even the lower accuracy ratings of the other two tests have been repeatedly discredited by numerous studies that have actually been submitted for peer review (The NHTSA's findings have NEVER been submitted for peer review), because the NHTSA's results were gathered in extremely controlled environments without taking into account inclement weather, unassociated health issues of the driver, or even the type of shoes being worn. This, of course, is why you should NEVER submit yourself to a "Field Sobriety Test". There's a 95% chance that if the officer is willing to ask you to submit to one, he's already made up his mind, and your performance of the FST isn't likely to change it.

Now, we must look at the most important factor of WHY we have so many DWI arrests in Texas. MONEY, of course! The Texas Department of Public Safety is, perhaps, the only LE organization in Texas that benefits directly from a DWI arrest...which is why they make the majority of them in Texas, per officer. If you are convicted of DWI, they're going to get a minimum of $3,000 in "license surcharges" alone. Even a DWI arrest (just the arrest, not an actual conviction) will net them several hundred dollars if you attempt to keep your driver's license from being suspended while you await trial.

Local and county departments also arrest people for DWI, but they are quick to tell you "We aren't doing it for the money." Fines from a DWI conviction go into the county treasury, which does help to fund that county's Sherrif's Office. So what about the local cops? Do they not get any of the procedes?

OF COURSE THEY DO! You see, any cop will tell you that there is no such thing as a "ticket quota", which is technically true. However, that same cop would be lying if he were to tell you that his job does not come with "performance reviews", and that his supervisors do not look at arrest and citation statistics when it comes to promotions. On top of that, these same arrest and citation statistics are what creates the data sent to the higher levels of government, so that these departments can be considered for grants in the form of money and equipment.

If your local chief is claiming he needs additional funding for his department in order to fight "Crime X", he has to be able to show that "Crime X" is a big problem in his jurisdiction. It holds true for drug interdiction, DWI, and everything else. This isn't some sort of "grand conspiracy", it's merely common knowledge.

An officer has a definite need to arrest and/or cite someone on a daily basis, for some sort of "criminal activity", because failure to do so is evidence that he really isn't "necessary" for the general good.

Now, let's move on to "alcohol-related" traffic fatalities in Texas. To be considered an "alcohol-related" incident, it doesn't have to involve an intoxicated driver in order to be included in our state-issued statistics, nor does it have to be proven that alcohol was the actual cause of the accident. It merely has to involve the presence of alchohol. If Billy Bob gets off work, stops off at the Kwik-E-Mart to grab a beer on the way home, and dies in an accident because he was doing 60mph around that 35mph curve, it became an "alcohol-related traffic fatality" because he was able to drink half a beer before crashing his truck. NHTSA defines "alcohol-related" as having a driver with a .01BAC or greater. That's roughly half a beer for a man my size.

The majority of traffic fatalities involving an intoxicated driver DO NOT involve a driver with a BAC of anywhere near that arbitrary .08 mark. Most of them, in fact, involve a driver with a BAC of .16 or more. NHTSA won't, of course, release any data beyond that.

One interesting point of data I did actually find, however, was that "alcohol-related" traffic fatalities involving a BAC of .08 or higher comprised only one third of ALL traffic fatalities in 2004, which was the last year I could find data on both of these points. What does that mean?

You are twice as likely to be killed by a SOBER driver, than you are by someone who is "legally intoxicated"...which leads me to believe that maybe, just maybe, all this talk about "drunk driving" being so much of a problem just really isn't true. Perhaps we need to be more worried about people obeying traffic regulations in general, as opposed to hiding out down the road from bars waiting for closing time.

The thing that bugs me the most about the new mandatory blood test law, however, isn't merely the fact that it's really unnecessary. It's the fact that an officer can now threaten you with an invasive medical procedure based upon a nonsensical "implied consent" law (the one that says we "imply consent" to provide such evidence by driving a privately-owned automobile on roads that our tax dollars pay for), if you refuse to provide potentially damaging (not to mention inaccurate) evidence via a breathalyzer. If you resist having a needle stuck in your arm against your will, they will strap you down and take it. If you resist this, they can use any force necessary to strap you down...including the use of a Taser and/or nightstick. That really scares me.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

My response to State Rep D. Bonnen (District 25, southern Brazoria County)

The following are the questions asked by Rep. Dennis Bonnen's online opinion poll. The answers allowed are "Yes", "No", and "Undecided". Unfortunately, many of these questions appear to be "loaded", and the answers do not properly allow for an honest opinion on the subject to be given.

1) Do you support increasing the homestead exemption on property taxes?
Obviously, we need lower property taxes. However, in order to do this, we need to have lower government spending. Lower taxation upon one group of citizens (in this case, homeowners), with government spending left at the same level, leaves no option but to increase taxation upon another group of citizens (namely, business owners).

2) Do you support increasing the sales tax to lower property taxes?
Again, we do not need an increase in taxation ANYWHERE. We need less government spending and bureaucracy. If we were to cut but one unnecessary government employee from our payroll, and that employee was drawing a $30k annual salary, it would eliminate the need for property taxation on many of my relatives' homes. Of course, everyone should pay their fair share of taxes, but our taxation could be lowered overall...OR, we could be spending this money on things this county actually needs.

3) Do you support reforming the property appraisal system by requiring local property appraisal board members to be elected by the public?
I absolutely agree with this. To have any tax-collecting and/or appraising authority over the population, without having to directly answer to those they are responsible for taxing, is just asking for corruption.

4) Do you believe the State of Texas should sell toll road contracts to foreign investors or foreign businesses?
Any publicly-owned land, roads, or other property should NEVER be placed in the control of ANY entity other than the State of Texas.

5) Do you believe the State of Texas should toll existing roads?
Absolutely not. The state of Texas has used tax dollars to fund the construction and repairs of these roads, which means they have already been paid for. Texas drivers are already taxed for the privilege of driving on public roads, in the form of fees for vehicle registration and driver licensing. There is no excuse to further tax Texas drivers for the privilege of something they already own.

6) Should the State of Texas do more to prevent the entry of illegal immigrants across the Texas-Mexico border?
The state of Texas, for as long as it remains a part of the United States, has no lawful authority to enforce federal law until it adopts, as a state, legislation making it a crime at the state level to unlawfully enter the borders of our state. I have no problem with that, but such legislation must be enacted in order to prevent the dangerous legal precedent of having Texas enforce federal legislation. To the best of my knowledge, Texas has not yet done this. Please correct me if I am misinformed.

7) Do you believe sanctuary cities, where law enforcement is banned from asking persons their citizenship status, should be outlawed?
The answer to this question depends upon WHEN law enforcement is asking a particular person. If it has occurred AFTER a lawful arrest, there is no reason whatsoever that a law enforcement agency should not be able to ascertain that person's citizenship status and report it to the proper federal authorities if necessary. However, an attempt to determine such things prior to a lawful arrest is just asking for civil rights violations of bona fide American citizens. Surely, you are aware that many of your constituents are proud American citizens of Hispanic ancestry, and I think they'd reconsider voting for you, if you sponsored or supported legislation that would allow the police to pull them over merely on suspicion that they may possibly be illegal immigrants.

8) Do you believe illegal immigrants should receive in-state tuition rates to Texas state universities?
I'm honestly having difficulty believing that this question is even being asked, due to the fact that I was required to list my social security number prior to enrolling in the University of Houston (a public university). Is it not required at other universities? If you cannot provide proof that you are a legal citizen of (or visitor to) this nation, you should not be attending a public university, PERIOD. You certainly don't need to be getting "discount" rates.

9) Do you believe our schools are adequately funded?
While our schools are currently funded at a grossly inadequate level for what they are attempting to achieve, they are extremely OVERFUNDED for the purposes they are intending to serve. We need to abolish all the extraneous desirements and other unnecessary things, and focus solely upon education. We pay our teachers peanuts, but don't seem to have a problem spending millions of dollars to build the biggest and best classrooms, athletic facilities, et cetera. Get rid of the unnecessary expenditures, and start providing for our the actual education of our children. We can start by removing "standardized testing", which has done absolutely NOTHING to further the education of this state's children, and in most cases has actually prevented them from gaining any semblance of real education.

10) Do you believe your local school district spends your tax dollars efficiently and for their intended purpose?
Of course I think so. Our school districts should operate just as any other government entity should efficiently as possible, both in terms of economics AND end result. If we are lacking funding for teachers, books, et cetera, then do away with extracurricular programs such as athletics and music until we get to where we need to be. Knowledge of economics, science, English, and government is far more important than football practice.

11) Do you support granting automatic admission to state universities for any high school graduate in the top 10% of their class?
Yes. Not only should they be automatically admitted, their tuition and supplies should be funded by the state. 50% of profits gained by the lease of state lands are, according to our state constitution, appropriated for use by our state universities. Before spending on any other expenses, students that have proven themselves worthy should be allowed to attend the universities we pay for, and do so at no expense to themselves.

12) Do you support the expansion of legalized gambling to increase government revenue?
Yes, and no. I support the expansion of legalized gambling, because there is no valid reason to legally prohibit the regulated wager of one person's property against another person's property in a mutually consensual game of chance, other than a religious consideration (which is still illegal in this nation, under the 1st Amendment's "establishment" clause). As for doing it for the sake of government revenue, it should consist of no more than the price of a standard business license and the cost of a liquor license. I am not personally a gambler, but I know plenty who are, and the state's economy has lost out on a good deal of money from people who don't pay hotel occupancy taxes, sales taxes on food and beverages, et cetera when these things are paid for in out-of-state locations. Yes, you are going to see "gambling addicts" when you open a casino, but is that really any different from the man who spends $150 on lottery tickets at the gas station?

13) Do you favor alternatives to prison for those convicted of non-violent offenses to save money on new prison construction?
No. I favor a proactive approach to reducing the number of "criminal acts" on our books that have no actual and nameable "person" that can be called a "victim". I do not endorse illicit drug use, prostitution, pornography, gambling, or any other victimless crimes that harm absolutely no one but the consenting adult participants. Child neglect, child abuse, rape, murder, robbery, theft, and intoxicated driving are already crimes, there is no reason to criminalize anything that does not victimize any unwilling participants. We could INSTANTLY reduce our prison costs by 20%, solely by decriminalizing the sale and possession of currently-illicit drugs.

14) Do you support prayer in our public schools?
Prayer in public schools is legal, and will continue to be legal, unless we foolishly repeal the 1st Amendment of our constitution. On the same note, ADMINISTRATION-SPONSORED school prayer is illegal, and this is also due to the First Amendment. I support the freedom of religion, and that includes freedom of our public school students to NOT be forced to pray in a manner they do not agree with or believe in. Believe it or not, America (yes, even Texas) is populated partially by people who do not happen to be Christian. Furthermore, not every Christian believes in the same discipline, nor do they pray the same way. It is a violation of religious freedom to regulate the manner in which prayers are said in a public place.

15) Do you support a voucher system, whereby the state would pay a specified amount per student to any school (religious, secular, charter, home school) selected by the parents?
Absolutely not. The moment we begin to pay for private schools with taxpayer funds, they essentially become unregulated public schools. If our public schools are not good enough to send your child to, then you either need to demand that your tax dollars are spent more wisely, or you need to pay your child's way into a public school from your own pocket. I have no children at the present time, and I'm not entirely happy that my tax dollars are spent to fund the educations of children that aren't my own. I would be even more unhappy to see those dollars being spent on the private educations of other peoples' children.

16) Do you support the state using school property tax abatements to lure new businesses from other states?
If it can be shown that a temporary abatement will provide (after the abatement has expired, but within a time period equal to that as the abatement) that the district will recoup more property tax money than the original owner of the property would have provided in the combined time period (abatement period, plus equal-length non-abated period), then yes. If it is merely an excuse to bring businesses to the area, and those businesses are not contributing their fair share of taxes, then no.

17) Do you favor state-funded abortions?
Again, yes and no. I do not favor state-funded health care, as state-funded industry is typically far more wasteful and corrupt than private industry. However, if we are to provide state-funded health care, ALL medical procedures should be covered, other than those of a cosmetic nature.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Letter to the chief, Mk II

Chief Hromadka: I understand that you are undoubtedly a very busy man, but I also understand that ultimate responsibility for the policies of your department rest solely with you. I appreciate you having someone respond to my concerns in a timely manner, which is almost unheard of when dealing with government entities, but there are still several concerns I have regarding that traffic stop I wrote to you about on Saturday afternoon. It's my understanding that Lt. Traylor sent you a courtesy copy of his reply to me, in case there are any questions about it.

My minor disagreement regarding the "reasonableness" of stopping someone for drinking from an insulated bottle in plain view of a police officer notwithstanding, there are some very serious concerns I have with Lt. Traylor's explanation of why I was followed for almost a mile prior to being pulled over. It seems the safest possible place to pull me over would have been into the empty church parking lot a tenth of a mile away, where no doubt plenty of evidence could have been gathered if I was, in fact, intoxicated while driving my vehicle. It also had plenty of wide-open space that wasn't crowded by pedestrians and vehicles, like the Buc-ees parking lot was. If there was a fear that I may have been a safety hazard to other motorists, why was I allowed to travel for almost a mile and turn my vehicle into a two-ton projectile before I was pulled over? If it really is public safety, as opposed to generating citations, it seems absurd that I be allowed to be a danger to so many others for so long.

I'm also very worried about the fact that the city of Lake Jackson is keeping a database of personal information on people who don't live in Lake Jackson (or, for that matter, people who actually DO live in Lake Jackson). The state has a very well-maintained database of information on people living in the state of Texas, including names and addresses of residence. I really can't see as to how providing a home telephone number or place of employment would be pertinent, seeing as to how neither myself nor of my immediate family works or lives in LJ. For reasons of being "identified for criminal activity", such things really make me feel like I'm being treated like a matter how much anyone may say I'm not being treated as such.

As for being allowed to refuse such information, perhaps this is something your officers should be made aware of. While I was, in fact, allowed to leave the scene without providing this information, it was not as simple as "I don't think it's pertinent, and I want to leave". I can't help but thinking it was readily apparent that I didn't want to provide such information, and yet I was still detained while Officer McCullough was in possession of my driver's license...long after it was determined that I was, in fact, drinking bottled water.

Contrary to Lt. Traylor's belief, an arrest is a seizure of ones' person, and such unreasonable seizures do happen to be illegal in this nation as guaranteed under the 4th Amendment. Terry v. Ohio states that whenever a police officer detains a person for whatever reason, he has "seized" that person (see also, US v. Ramstad). Florida v. Royer states that an "investigative stop" must last no longer than the amount of time necessary to determine that a crime was or was not committed. US v. McKneely states that a traffic stop cannot be considered "consensual" if the officer is still in possession of the driver's pertinent paperwork (in my case, my driver's license), and that any detention beyond what is necessary to run my license for warrants is considered a de facto arrest. My attorney concurs, and I'm certain that yours would, as well.

Officer McCullough's suspicions that I may have been consuming alcohol while driving may have, in fact, been warranted. However, one of the first things she did upon approaching my vehicle was to ask me if I was drinking a beer. Aside from her mentioning the "reasonable suspicion" of seeing a bottle in a paper bag, after I very bluntly informed her that it was not a beer, there was never any further discussion or inspection of my beverage. There was never any questions about my driving habits, whether I was in possession of any weapons or illicit substances in the car, or any questions regarding possible involvement in a crime. All questioning, beyond the original question of the beverage in my cupholder, was related merely to my personal information.

As soon as it was determined that my beverage was not a cold beer, and that my license and insurance was current and valid, there should not have been any reason whatsoever for my detention to continue. As I see it, further detention constitutes a de facto arrest (an illegal one, at that), and should never have taken place. The moment it became reasonably apparent that I did not wish to answer such questions about my personal business, I should have been sent on my way. I use the words "reasonably apparent" for the same reason that "reasonable suspicion" is used by your officers...while there was no concrete proof that I was actually drinking a beer, a person would (according to your officers) REASONABLY SUSPECT that I may have been doing so. At the same time, while I did not actually specifically state that I did not want to answer any further questions, anyone would have been able to REASONABLY ascertain that I was not happy in the situation and did not wish to give any further information. One would REASONABLY think that such situations would be met with a "drive safely, sir, and here's your driver's license", as opposed to "Well, I'll just get my corporal to come down here and tell you why I need to know where you work." and "I remember you from high school. I'm sure this isn't the first time you've been pulled over.", and being made to wait in a crowded parking lot until the corporal decides to not show up...especially seeing as how doing exactly as Officer McCullough did just so happens to be a violation of my constitutional rights at this point, regardless of whatever justification she may have had for initiating the traffic stop. The officer had a legal right to run my license after such a stop, but the contact went much further than that, and this is the sole reason I am taking the time to write this letter.

I'm not writing you this letter because I harbor any silly ideas of suing over civil rights violations, or that I expect any kind of formal apology. It's just that I am a free man living in a supposedly free society, and I demand to be treated as such. I do not merely expect, but DEMAND, to be treated as a free man in a free society. I also demand that those I pay (via my tax dollars) to enforce the law also follow the law. Believe it or not, I actually do want to be able to drive down the street and not live in fear of the officer driving behind me. I want to be able to say "Hey, I know that cop...he/she is one of the good guys!". I want to be able to know that if there were ever any situation where I'd need to contact the Lake Jackson Police Department, I could rest assured that I can do so without being treated as if I am a criminal. For far too long, I have seen the worst of the worst regarding this county's municipal police forces. I know there are good officers out there, but every encounter I seem to have with them seems to make me feel like they are few and far between.

I live in this county, work in this county, and conduct a good deal of my personal business in this county...and that includes, obviously, driving through a small portion of your jurisdiction on my way too and from work. I have a strong desire to see this not escalate any further, but I must also reiterate that I will never surrender my rights as a free man. I also will never accept that it is in the interest of "the public safety" to do so, nor will I allow myself to be coerced into doing so, as long as I am able to make the choice. I just really didn't like being put into that position, and it's not right that a public servant should attempt to do so.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope that officer and citizen can both come to a better understanding and appreciation for each other out of this situation. If there is something I am still not understanding about the circumstances regarding the events of this traffic stop that you can enlighten me on, I would greatly appreciate the provision of further details.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A letter to the Lake Jackson, TX police chief.

I'm writing in reference to a traffic stop that occurred roughly 2:45pm near the intersection of FM2004 and Old Angleton Road, involving Officer ************.

There were a few things that occurred during this stop that sparked my interest about certain policies within your department.

Shortly after leaving work, I stopped at a local convenience store located at 395 Old Angleton Rd, and purchased a bottle of mineral water. Basic physics tells us that paper, while not the best insulator, really will keep a bottled beverage cooler for slightly longer than a bottle without the light brown I asked for and received one.

Prior to turning into this store, I saw said officer sitting in her parked car, which was partially hidden behind some foliage, presumably to catch those breaking the speed limit. Obviously, no one in their right mind is stupid enough to blatantly drink beer in plain sight of a police officer, especially at a store proudly displaying signs warning that such activity is a misdemeanor offense.

One would think that blatant consumption in front of a police officer, with otherwise flawless driving, would be a good indication that my beverage was NOT of the alcoholic variety. I'm assuming that my driving was flawless, because the officer's stated reason for stopping me was a "reasonable suspicion" of driving with an open container of alcohol, and I was followed for almost a mile before being pulled over immediately prior to crossing the jurisdictional line.

Without further digression, I have a few questions I would like to ask of you, because there are quite a few things I am concerned about. While the officer was very polite, the whole experience really seemed quite Orwellian.

First, I'm wondering why I was followed for almost a mile before I was pulled over, if it wasn't out of hopes that I might be caught swerving/speeding/et cetera in an effort to generate revenue for the department and/or up the officer's citation numbers.

Second, I'm wondering exactly what is necessary to constitute "reasonable suspicion". To the best of my knowledge, the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution clearly states that I am protected from unreasonable searches and seizures. Is pulling my vehicle over and detaining me in the parking lot not a "seizure" of my person, and inspecting my beverage containers not a "search"? Specifically, what creates "reasonable suspicion" when a man is seen drinking a beverage out of a bottle? Does a brown paper wrapper automatically equate with alcohol, merely because some people choose to put them on alcoholic beverages to also keep them insulated? Seeing such a thing, to me, tells me merely that there is a beverage present. Surely, there must be something else in this scenario to give a "reasonable suspicion" that alcohol is present. Perhaps I was being profiled, and an old 4x4 being driven by a grey-haired white guy automatically equates to drunk driving? Feel free to correct me if I am wrong, but I don't think being seen drinking a cold beverage when it's 90+ degrees outside is grounds for being pulled over by the police.

Third, I am really nervous about the fact that it is (as the officer stated) "part of the ID process" to ascertain a person's home phone number and place of employment. The fact that I am gainfully employed and may or may not have a landline telephone at my residence is of no concern to anyone except myself, my employer, and the phone company. It is certainly irrelevant in the course of a traffic stop, especially after it has been determined that I was guilty of nothing more than taking a swig of mineral water after spending half of my saturday at work. I neither live, nor work, in the city of Lake Jackson...although I do spend quite a good deal of my hard-earned money over there, money that is earned serving many members of your city's police and fire departments.

What troubles me even more than the fact that I was asked such questions, is the fact that I was met with resistance and an almost "harsh" attitude when I asked why such information was necessary. After the officer was unable to answer me, I was told that I could "wait, so the corporal could come out and tell me why" I needed to give up my personal information. Instead of offering a simple and straight-forward answer to my question, I was detained in a very public parking lot on a saturday afternoon, in front of God and everybody, with a patrol car flashing its lights behind me.

As someone who knows my employer personally, I am quite sure that you're aware of the fact that damned near everyone and their uncle has shopped at ******* at some point in the past 30 years. For the past two years, it's been my vehicle they see when they pull into the parking lot, and that's my face they see when I greet them as they walk through our doors. I really don't think it's necessary to be giving the public impression that I am some sort of criminal (because obviously, the police don't stop innocent people for no reason, do they?), when they see me in the Buc-ees parking lot on a saturday afternoon with a lit-up patrol car parked behind me. I don't want the people I come into contact with to be thinking I'm a criminal. Would you want the same for yourself?

I'm not knocking you as the police chief, the department as a whole, or even the officer. I'm just suggesting that your officers may need a little more training, with regards to the fact that the Fourth Amendment of our constitution is not something that can be completely disregarded. I know plenty of cops I would put into the "good" category, that do their jobs appropriately, with professionalism and respect for the rights of the citizen...including a few that work in your department. Unfortunately, I also have dealt with more than my share of "bad" cops, for literally more than half of my life, and these experiences have far outweighed those had with the good ones.

I'm not on some crusade or anything, I just want to get up, go to work, and be able to drive home without having to worry about being pulled over for drinking a bottle of water or have to burn more of my vacation time while waiting to see a judge so another random ticket can be dismissed. Our media is constantly bombarding us with stories about random people being beaten, shot, and harrassed by police officers for no valid reason, and that is already shining a very negative light on our men and women in blue. When we have our police officers pulling people over for taking a drink from a bottle that may or may not be a beer bottle, and after determining it was actually a water bottle, it doesn't help our perspective on the police when citizens are detained for not wanting to sit and play "20 Questions" about our personal business.

I thank you in advance for taking the time to read this letter, and I hope your doing so will result in some positive changes within your department, so this type of thing does not happen again to myself or any of my loved ones.

Again, thank you for your time.

Friday, July 17, 2009

At what point does "enough" truly become enough?

Once again, I'm reading today's local newsrag, and they have a nifty little article about eight people being arrested on drug and weapons charges. Sounds like a good thing, because drugs and guns are bad, right? Well, maybe. Maybe not. I'll let you be the judge on this one.

For starters, let's take a look at what was confiscated (read: STOLEN) by the police.

First, there was slightly more than 3 ounces of cocaine taken from one home.

Then, there was a pound of marijuana taken from another, as well as "several handguns" and one "sawed-off" shotgun, taken from another.

In total, there were eight people arrested.

Still sounds good, right? I mean, we got all this dope and all these guns off the street, right?

Well, on the surface, it might sound good. In reality, it sounds like you and I got royally screwed on this deal.

But wait, we got several handguns, a sawed-off shotgun, and a whole bunch of drugs off the street! How can this be a bad thing? We're protecting the public! How could this ever be a "bad thing"?

Well, let me break it down for you, once again. Here's the skinny, plain and simple...

First and foremost, there were AT LEAST SIX DIFFERENT AGENCIES working on this operation. FOR MORE THAN TWO YEARS.

Let's do the math here. Let's assume that the cops make as much as I do, which ain't exactly much. Let's also assume that there were only one cop PER AGENCY on this operation, with nothing but their yearly salary taken into account. That's 360,000 dollars. Yes, you read that right. That's 3/8 of a MILLION dollars.

Now, let's take a look at what was taken. We're talking, ON THE HIGH SIDE, $4k worth of drugs, one shotgun, and "several" handguns.

Let's say they found nine handguns valued at $500 a piece, and one shotgun also at the same value...and that's a very liberal estimate, considering the quality of people we're dealing with. We're talking about $5k worth of weaponry.

We just spent, at a minimum, $360,00 dollars...for a net worth, at a maximum, $9,000. We arrested eight people. 360 thousand, minus 9 thousand, leaves 351 thousand dollars. Divide that by eight people, and you have 43k+ per person.

Keep in mind, this is a liberal estimate of capture v. a conservative estimate of expenditure.

When I looked at my check stub yesterday, I saw how much I was being hit for in income taxes...and I can't help but wonder what my share of this was.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

You won't hear me say this too often!

But today, it's true. The local newsrag ran a story in today's edition about a local police department having complaints filed against it by irate parents, and I actually support the police department here.

Three teenage boys, one of them armed with an air pistol, climbed a fence and pointed said air pistol at a woman as she was jogging. The police were called, and responded to the call with their weapons drawn.

Now normally, I'm not too fond of having the police draw guns on children. In this instance, it was highly appropriate. A report of several young men pointing a pistol at a jogger came over the radio. That act, in and of itself, is enough to warrant drawn guns.

Although the online edition didn't provide pictures, the front page of the print edition DID provide a picture of the air pistol in question. It bears a striking resemblance to a Springfield XD .45, just like the cops said it did. Had I seen it from a distance of more than 15 feet, I would have felt a bit jumpy myself.

Often times, when one hears the phrase "Well, that guy shouldn't have been a jackass!" in response to hearing about how a cop has tasered, drawn a gun, or struck someone in the line of duty, the situation surrounding it is typically consisting of someone being told to follow some random "command" that is totally unnecessary and met with a citizen exerting his rights. Other times, it's just completely uncalled for in any a prisoner being kicked in the nose for swallowing dope in Clute, a mentally retarded man being tasered for standing up after being told to sat on the curb following a traffic stop in Freeport, an elderly man being beaten to death on the street in Pasadena, my front door being kicked in by a cop with a locked and loaded pistol pointed at my head for having too many cars in my driveway, et cetera. This isn't one of those times.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not exactly praising the police because they did what they get paid to do. When three youngsters with one gun are met by four men wearing body armor and holding pistols, it's not exactly much of a "fair fight". It's not supposed to be. The cops don't exactly want it to be. Hell, even I wouldn't want it to be. No one in their right mind would. Every normal-minded person would want to have the utmost advantage over their opponent, especially when we're talking about potentially getting into a gunfight.

No, what I'm saying here is that the police were called because the teenage boys were doing something that was extremely dangerous. First and foremost, while a BB pistol isn't exactly what I'd choose to bring to a gunfight, it really can cause serious injury and even death. The instruction manual even states this. When I was in RA's (the Southern Baptist equivalent of Boy Scouts), we were taught that BB guns were every bit as dangerous as real firearms, and should be treated as such. I'm going out on a limb here, but I'd venture to say that if you see someone running around pointing guns at random people for no reason, they probably haven't had any serious gun safety instruction...which leads me to believe that they can't shoot for shit, so you really have no idea if they're going to "get lucky" and put your eye out with it.

Strike two in the "public safety" area is the fact that if someone can reasonably assume that the BB pistol you're pointing at joggers in a park is actually a full-on real deal pistol (after having seen the picture in today's paper, I couldn't have told the difference!), the jogger herself AND the person who saw and called the police would have had ample legal justification (as well as good reason) to open fire on these punk kids in a public park. Like it or not, sometimes innocent bystanders get hit in gunfights, no matter how good a shot the shooter may be.

So yes, these kids were universally stupid with their actions. They threatened the actual AND perceived safety of another person, which is the only legitimate reason for ever having a policeman draw his weapon on a citizen. I mean, it's not like the cop was giving them a hard time, and decided to draw his weapon when one of these kids smarted off...they actually had good reason to believe there was a safety issue that needed to be resolved. Armed men pointing pistols at joggers in the park definitely need to be addressed...and the appropriate way to deal with this is to ensure that the threat is subdued using the safest possible means, even if those means include outnumbering them with armed officers.

Kudos to the West Columbia Police Department. Good job.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The case for decriminalization...

Author's note: This was written several years ago, in response to an argument with my sociology professor. Take it with a grain of salt...

Making the Case for Decriminalization of Marijuana Usage in the United States of America


Barry H. Rhodes

Author’s Foreword

The purpose of this essay is not to create an entire nation of “hippie dopeheads”. It was not written to argue that a person is able to smoke marijuana for every waking moment of his life and not have any ill effects. It was not written to promote the music of Bob Marley.

My “drug of choice” is sold in a twelve ounce can with a red and white label, and I am of the legal age to both purchase and consume this drug within the confines of my home. I am also legally allowed to drink this beverage in any establishment licensed to sell Budweiser, and even drive myself home after doing so, provided I have not consumed so much as to make myself intoxicated.

The purpose of this essay is to explain the manner in which the negative consequences of marijuana criminalization have consistently outweighed any positive effects. To date, there are four major areas of concern, which I will address in this essay.

Marijuana, when consumed for medicinal purposes, is known to have far better results at treating life-threatening aspects of chronic diseases than many other prescription drugs. However, due to the US federal government’s refusal to allow marijuana to be grown and used as a medicine, people are forced to rely upon prescription drugs which often have very adverse negative side-effects, and in many cases, are not as effective as a simple puff or three from a “joint” would be.

The negative affects caused by generations of skewed statistics and, occasionally, outright lies, has caused a nation of teenagers and young adults to distrust the wisdom of those who are in the best position to provide advice which will protect them from actual harm. If a drug such as marijuana is proclaimed by authority figures to be “dangerous”, and a reasonably intelligent person realizes that it is not, such a reasonably intelligent person is far less likely to trust that same authority figure when he says that snorting cocaine or guzzling scotch whiskey is bad for one’s health.

The price upon society, in both emotional and financial drainage, has been unparalleled by anything this country has ever faced, with the possible exception of the US civil war. The prohibition of alcohol has showed us the evils that will present themselves within society, when there is a vast market for something that has been outlawed. In addition, the stigma associated with a person being known to have used marijuana can be severely detrimental to that person’s future. Being arrested for a marijuana offense can mean the difference between getting a job that will provide food and shelter for a person’s family, and working a job where the employee asks if you would “like fries with that”. The cost of tax dollars alone spent on arrest, prosecution, incarceration, and community supervision of those arrested for simple possession charges goes far beyond the billion dollar mark. That’s BILLION, with a “B”. In today’s geopolitical situations, with terrorist threats looming from every corner of the globe, all that money could be better spent protecting this nation from smugglers of arms, “hard drugs”, illegal immigrants, and terrorist operatives.

The last aspect I wish to address is the very notion of individual liberty in this nation, which is supposed to be the “land of the free”. It is my personal belief that when a grown man, who has reached the age where our government has decided he is old enough to make a choice to wear a uniform and possibly even die for our country, that man should have every legal right to do whatsoever he chooses within the privacy of his own home, as long as exercising these rights do not interfere with the rights of others. Instead, a man is forced to hide his guilty pleasures not only from his neighbors, but also from his employers and the law enforcement community. It makes no sense whatsoever that a man is legally allowed to purchase enough Vodka to kill a small elephant, and at that same liquor store purchase as many cartons of cigarettes as he can afford, but will be arrested if he has a marijuana seed in his ashtray while being pulled over for speeding on the ride home.

I would like to dedicate this essay to two of the most important women in my life, my mother and my aunt. Both have been afflicted with hereditary and incurable life-threatening diseases. One is afflicted with Multiple Sclerosis, and the other with Lupus. One once had a prescription, while living in another area and under the treatment of another doctor, for Marinol™, but is now forced to manage her symptoms with dangerous prescription painkillers. The other never had a prescription for medicinal-use marijuana in any form, but continues to smoke marijuana as a pain reliever, and to this day risks going to jail for doing so. To protect their anonymity, I will decline to say which falls into what circumstance. It is for their sake, and for all others like them, that I attempt to make this argument for the decriminalization of marijuana.

Medicinal Usage of Marijuana

Contrary to popular belief, marijuana is legal for prescription consumption by human beings in all fifty of these United States. Of course, you cannot legally grow it yourself, in your own yard. You cannot legally purchase it from some guy down the street. You cannot legally go into a pharmacy and fill a prescription for a “quarter ounce of pot”. You can, however, go to any pharmacy in America and fill a prescription for Marinol™, a synthetic form of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol.

Unlike Naboline™, Marinol™ is not merely “similar in chemical structure” to the active ingredient in actual marijuana. It is chemically identical, even though it is created in a lab, as opposed to being grown in a field. Naboline™, which was scientifically engineered to provide a chemical which would reduce nausea without creating the euphoria associated with marijuana, was shown to be ineffective at performing the task of reducing nausea in cancer patients.

Cancer patients receiving chemotherapy and radiation therapy for the treatment of malignant tumors have long been known to suffer from uncontrollable nausea as a result of their treatments. Such nausea is known to reduce the appetite, and also make the patient vomit. Without a desire to eat, and the inability to digest what little has been eaten, the body is deprived of precious nutrition.

A side effect of the consumption of marijuana, one which many “potheads” consider a negative side effect of “getting high”, is the inherent stimulation of appetite. While the recreational user may ingest marijuana to experience euphoria, the cancer patient ingests marijuana to be able to eat. The recreational user ingests marijuana to stimulate his mind, and looks at the desire to eat a case of Twinkies as a negative consequence; the patient ingests marijuana to consume nutrition and sees laughing hysterically at C-SPAN as a negative consequence. Either way, neither is harmed by the “negative consequences” of marijuana.

To date, a dozen states in our nation have decriminalized the usage of actual marijuana (in herbal form, as opposed to a tablet of Marinol™), provided the user has a valid prescription written by a Medical Doctor licensed to practice in that state. These states include Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

The only actual medical doctor currently sitting in the US Congress, Dr. Ron Paul (R-Surfside, TX), has publicly stated that marijuana is both safe and effective as a treatment of a multitude of ailments.

There have always been a number of medical organizations which backed the use of marijuana as a medicine, but in the past several years, there have been an increasing number of legitimate medical organizations which publicly support the use of marijuana for treatment of chronic diseases. Among them are The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (America’s second largest cancer charity), The American Academy of Family Physicians, The American Public Health Association, and The American Nurses Association.

Myths, Misinformation, Propaganda, and Problems

Before going further, it should be pointed out that the subject of whether or not to decriminalize marijuana should not be looked at lightly, as if it were a debate over whether it should be illegal to wear white shoes after Labor Day. There are, as with any other drug, serious consequences which can arise from its misuse. There are certain facts that should be brought up here, and it does no good to hide them.

Marijuana smoke contains four times as many toxic chemicals as the average cigarette. Marijuana intoxication is associated with its very own set of mental disorders, as classified by the DSM-IV. Marijuana usage has been known to decrease sperm count in males. Marijuana usage is known to alter the hormonal balance in both males and females. Smoking marijuana is known to weaken the immune system defenses against bronchial infection, and also the immune system as a whole. Marijuana is known to cause hallucinations, psychosis, delusions, and paranoia. It is known to reduce short-term memory.

All of these things sound absolutely horrible, don’t they? Well, to the unknowing, they would. However, words are meaningless if their true meaning is unknown, and statistics are equally useless, when not studied objectively.

Marijuana contains four times as many toxic chemicals as your average Marlboro. However, for a marijuana smoker to ingest as many toxins as a “pack a day” smoker of Marlboro Full-Flavor Kings, he would have to consume five “joints” in a single day. Even “regular smokers” of marijuana would be hard-pressed to find themselves smoking five joints per day.

Marijuana intoxication is known to cause certain mental disorders, as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders version IV. These include Cannabis Abuse, Cannabis Dependence, Cannabis Intoxication, Cannabis-induced Anxiety Disorder, Cannabis-induced Psychotic Disorder Hallucination, and Cannabis-induced Psychotic Disorder Delusion. These sound terrible, but are they? Not really.

”Cannabis Abuse” is diagnosed under the criteria of taking a larger dose than anticipated, gaining a tolerance to cannabis, or spending too much time finding that next quarter bag.

“Cannabis Dependence” is defined as having unsuccessful efforts to stop or reduce the use of cannabis, or seeing a marked and noticeable reduction of other activities because of cannabis usage.

“Cannabis Intoxication” is simply the effects of the human mind when under the influence of marijuana.

“Cannabis-induced anxiety disorder” is nothing more than the idea that your mom already knows you are high, and is playing a big elaborate hoax on you when she asks you about your day.

Much has been said about the ability of cannabis to cause “psychosis”, but many fail to realize that A) marijuana psychosis is only temporary, lasting only for the duration of the “high”, and B) psychosis, in and of itself, is nothing more than a “detachment from normal perceptions of reality”. Psychosis with delusions is basically what leads a pothead to think “Three’s Company” was one of America’s greatest television series, and “psychosis with hallucinations” is merely the idea that the television got really loud all of a sudden. Of course, both of these (as well as all other “mental disorders” associated with marijuana) will gradually fade away within hours of ingesting the herb.

On the other hand, there are many other propaganda myths perpetrated by the powers that be, which lead to distrust among the youth of our nation. Among them are the notions that marijuana smoking, in and of itself, is inherently as dangerous as any other illicit substance.

Unlike LSD, smoking marijuana has no permanent effects upon the human brain, other than damage to brain cells caused by lack of oxygen. It will not “fry” your brain the way LSD can, by causing irreparable damage to the nervous system. Holding bong hits until you pass out, however, is every bit as dangerous as holding your breath until you turn blue and pass into unconsciousness.

Unlike cocaine, heroine, cigarettes, caffeine, methamphetamine, and the myriad prescription painkillers on the market, marijuana has absolutely ZERO physically addictive properties. You will not get nauseated, run a fever, get chills, break a sweat, start twitching, or anything else if you don’t get that “next hit”. You may become annoyed with life in general, but you will not become sick.

No one, in the history of mankind, has ever died of an overdose from marijuana. The reasoning behind this is quite simple. The portion of the brain which controls involuntary muscular movement such as breathing and heart rate has very little cannabinoid receptors, and is largely unaffected by the use of marijuana. On the other hand, drugs such as cocaine, heroine, alcohol, and prescription painkillers directly affect these regions of the brain, and can lead to death or permanent injury by overdose.

Contrary to the “just say no” campaign, marijuana is not a “gateway drug”. While it is a generally accepted fact that smokers of marijuana are far more likely to try other drugs than persons who have not smoked marijuana, that does not mean smoking marijuana makes a person snort a line of coke or start eating Xanax from a PEZ dispenser. A person willing to try heroine is, most likely, also willing to smoke marijuana. A person unwilling to try heroine is, most likely, also unwilling to smoke marijuana. A person with a history of speeding tickets is ,most likely, going to have obtained a driver’s license at one point in his life. A person without a driver’s license is less likely to get behind the wheel, therefore that person is less likely to get a speeding ticket. Getting a driver’s license does not cause a person to break the law.

All of this misinformation has had an effect upon those who blindly accept whatever those in positions of authority will tell them. Smoking marijuana is against the law, therefore it must be bad. However, the majority of people on this earth do not blindly accept what they are told.

If a policeman says “the sky is green, the grass is blue, and Spam tastes good”, a few people will actually eat a Spam sandwich. Many others, however, will think twice about opening that can. They know that the person making that statement has proved himself to be untrustworthy when he said the sky was green and the grass was blue. When you tell a person “don’t do this, it’s dangerous”, and that person knows it to be false (often from the experience of others he actually trusts), he is less likely to believe you when you tell him the truth. Because of this, we have an entire generation of children raised under the Nancy Reaganite agenda of “Just say no!” who don’t really know that much about drugs one way or the other, but know they can’t trust what those who are supposed to be teaching them are actually saying. Things like this lead people to believe that “snorting a line or two won’t hurt”.

It is only through absolute truth that a man can have absolute trust from his fellow man. Until propaganda is stopped, there can be no trust.

The Price We Pay

During the year 2005, there were over 90 thousand people arrested for the sale or manufacture of marijuana, by state and local police agencies. There were almost seven hundred thousand people arrested for simple possession, by those same local and state agencies. Let’s do some simple math here.

Assume the arresting officer makes ten dollars per hour, and spends only one hour total while filling out paperwork, making the actual arrest, et cetera. Assume the district attorney makes only 40k per year, which equals out to slightly more than 19 dollars per hour, and that district attorney spends a total of only one hour on each case, including reviewing the case, attending hearings, et cetera. That’s 10 dollars for police x19 dollars for the DA x688,690 cases. That’s over one hundred and thirty million dollars in a single year, wasted on simple possession charges, spent to cover the wages of only two people involved, for only one hour of work per case.

Of course, this number does not include the money used for undercover drug sting operations, sophisticated Infrared camera equipment used to spot marijuana “grow houses” from helicopters, the cost of incarcerating offenders, or any of that sort of thing. The US federal government spends BILLIONS of dollars every year to fight a “war on drugs”, and over half of that money is spent on marijuana cases.

The prohibition of alcohol has shown this country that the criminalization of a substance the population wants will only lead to crime, unnecessary taxpayer expenditure, and death or injury due to impure and unregulated product. On top of that, a very substantial amount of tax revenue is lost due to the inability to collect taxes upon something when it must be sold outside the boundaries of the law.

When we once had bootleggers and mafia “whackings” due to territory infringements concerning the sale of alcohol on another gangster’s turf, we now have liquor stores with neon orange paper signs showing the new low price of that half-gallon of budget tequila. When we once had a nation of people who showed complete disregard for the law because the law made booze illegal, we now have a nation of people who don’t mind the enforcement of reasonable laws regarding the sale and service of alcoholic beverages.

As long as marijuana is illegal, marijuana will be a lucrative cash crop for those willing to make a profit without regard to the law. It will remain an untapped source of tax revenue. As long as marijuana is outlawed, it will be enjoyed by outlaws.

This does not even begin to cover the personal cost of those who are caught using or even possessing marijuana. I have a personal friend of mine who was pulled over for a minor traffic offense, and was arrested for “possession of drug paraphernalia” because an acquaintance left a cigarette paper (perfectly legal to purchase at any gas station, but apparently illegal to possess, since it can be used to roll a “joint”) in the ashtray of his car. That person now has a criminal record involving a drug offense, and that record will remain with him until the day he dies.

He can no longer fill out a job application without being required to disclose a drug conviction. He cannot purchase a new firearm from a licensed dealer, which requires signing a federal BATF “yellow form”, because he has a drug conviction. He cannot receive federal student aid for an education, because he has a drug conviction. He cannot serve in the United States military without a waiver, and is permanently disqualified for several jobs within the military (including many which need to be filled in our time of war), because he has a drug conviction.

Personally, the criminalization of marijuana has also affected me and my relationship with a member of my immediate family. Because a member of my family has an incurable illness, and uses marijuana to manage pain instead of a destructive and addictive prescription opiate, I can no longer visit this person’s home out of fear that I may be arrested in a drug raid. I cannot associate with certain friends of mine in public places, because of the “guilt by association” phenomenon known to happen around people who are known to use marijuana. A few use it for valid medical reasons, but most use it for recreational purposes. Regardless, I must stay away from them, because I hold great value of my ability to have access to federal financial aid in order to further my education.

Land of the Free?

Perhaps the most important argument that can be made for the decriminalization of marijuana is the blatant hypocrisy associated with making a plant illegal. Marijuana has been used as both a medicine, and a recreational drug, for as long as mankind has had recorded history. Eating cannabis is assumed to have been experienced for thousands of years before drinking fermented fruit juices ever brought us around to the modern age of breweries, mainly because there was no processing needed other than to sit and wait for the buds to blossom. Honestly, we may never know for certain, because recorded history has been with us for only a few thousand years, but getting hammered on pot and booze have been part of man’s history since the beginning of the written word.

As I write this essay, I am also quenching my thirst with an ice-cold bottle of Budweiser beer. That bottle of beer was manufactured less than an hour away from my home, under the appropriate license provided by the state of Texas and the guidelines of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. It was transported via a registered and inspected tractor/trailer to Del Pappa Distributing, where it was then shipped to a convenience store less than half a mile from my home. The convenience store paid a fee for a Business Permit. It also paid a fee to the state of Texas to obtain a license to sell alcoholic beverages. When I purchased that six-pack of beer, the clerk was under legal requirement to ascertain my age, to insure that I was of legal age to purchase said beer. Upon paying for my purchase, I also paid around eight percent of the original cost, to cover the sales tax…which was then forwarded to the City of Angleton. After that, I drove home, and then enjoyed my beer in the privacy of my own home.

Yes, beer is a legal substance. It is, however, a very dangerous drug. It is known to cause death by overdose, commonly known as “alcohol poisoning”. It has led to numerous deaths, especially while involving the operation of a motor vehicle, including the death of my older brother. It has been consistently proven to be a very addictive substance among some people, causing severe physical symptoms if the addiction is not “fixed” on a regular basis. In contrast to the eight mental disorders listed in the DSM-IV caused by marijuana, alcohol is known to cause fourteen…almost twice that of marijuana. The effects of alcohol, unlike marijuana, do not “go away” after the initial intoxication has worn off. Alcohol is known to cause irreparable damage to the liver, brain, and several other organs. If I consume enough alcohol so that I am not in control of my “normal physical or mental faculties”, I am guilty of a crime the moment I step outside of my home. If I am intoxicated from ethyl alcohol, and attempt to drive a motor vehicle on a public street, I am liable to spend the next six months or more behind bars for driving while intoxicated. If I intoxicate myself from alcohol and harm another individual, either intentional or unintentional, I am guilty of (at the very least) criminal negligence and possibly more serious charges. If I am in the care of children, and become intoxicated by an alcoholic beverage, I am guilty of endangering the welfare of a child. If I provide alcohol to a child, I can be arrested for contributing alcohol to a minor. Still, on top of all of this, I am able to purchase as much beer as I can afford, so long as it is after 7:00 in the morning and before 12:00 midnight.

Is there any reason why a man determined mature enough to enlist, vote, get married, smoke a cigarette, buy a gun, watch pornography, purchase land, et cetera should be unable to make a simple decision about sitting around his own home and burning a doobie? I’m quite certain that if a man is mature enough to understand the consequences of picking up an M16 and pointing it at another human being, that man is mature enough to understand the consequences of picking up a dimebag and spending a Friday evening listening to Jimmy Buffet.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A bit of reminiscing on the idea of freedom...

So yesterday marked 233 years since the people in this nation declared its sovereignty from the British crown. Excessive taxation with no representation, suspension of essential civil liberties that had been guaranteed to British subjects since the Magna Carta, and having soldiers "standing guard to ensure peace and safety" on our street corners, were the reason we became fed up with the British crown.

You see, when the Declaration of Independence was signed, it wasn't signed as an intention to become a separate nation. It was a renunciation of the tyranny we suffered under the British crown. Had they pulled back their troops, stopped taxing the colonists into oblivion, and given us adequate representation within the government, we probably wouldn't have started a war.

But they didn' we did.

233 years later, the reason most Americans celebrate "Independence Day" has been largely forgotten. Just like the way Christmas has become a corporate holiday with Santa Claus at the mall, our independence day has become about "celebrating America" as opposed to celebrating freedom. It's almost as if Americans, as a whole, are celebrating the very thing our founders fought against and died to stop.

Take, for example, the small plot of riverfront land my father and uncle purchased together several decades ago. It wasn't much, just our own little slice of Heaven...our very own Temporary Autonomous Zone. As a child, we would go there on Independence Day, New Year's Eve, and other random times to enjoy certain freedoms that could not be had a mere ten miles away at our homes inside the city limits.

It's where we shot our Roman Candles and bottle rockets, tried to blow our fingers off by holding firecrackers as long as we could before throwing them, and engaging in all manner of other reckless fireworks-related activities that would get us arrested if we did them at home.

It's where I first shot the rifle my uncle bought me for Christmas one year when I was a kid, as well as the pistol my father bought me for my 16th birthday. Between those two firearms alone, there was a recyclists' dream with the amount of brass we left piled on the ground. In addition to the many lessons in general manhood that my father taught me, I also learned to become an excellent marksman. Years before I was old enough to hold a driver's license, I could handle a rifle in a manner that would leave a few Marines feeling inadequate, no doubt due to the countless thousands of rounds' worth of shooting instruction provided by my father.

A few years later, after my uncle had moved out of the little one-room shack, "the river" became a place where one could go to spend some "alone time", drinking a few cold ones and contemplating life in general. It was a place I'd take one of my former girlfriends, if we knew there would be a good thunderstorm worth watching...something about the way crashing lightning would light up that dark little shack was just great. From September of '01 through the spring of '02, when the height of my depression hit the lowest of its lows, I could go there and have a "mad minute" with my Mossberg and a box of shells, contemplate the benefits of saving that last one for a contingency plan, and everything would be alright for another week or so.

All in all, the river was something that represented, in a word, freedom. Freedom to do what I felt like doing, how I felt like doing it, with whom I felt like doing it with.

Over the past several years, the encroachment of "permanent resident" neighbors that prevent me from truly reaching my Temporary Autonomous Zone have increasingly reminded me of our government's encroachment upon our essential liberties...

Perhaps if everyone had their own little place on the river to go to once in a blue moon, they might understand the importance of freedom.

Instead, they celebrate "America", instead of freedom. Don't get me wrong, this nation is unlike any other in the world, as far as freedoms are concerned. I love the ideas this nation was built upon, no matter how much I may disagree with the manner in which my government is attempting to destroy and dismantle them.

Like so many others in my family before me, I swore an oath to defend my constitution "against all enemies, foreign and domestic". Unlike the majority of those before me, I didn't do it because I was conscripted into our military or merely looking for a job with a decent insurance plan.

I did it because I held this crazy notion that freedom was important for everyone. How silly of me...

Ever notice how you never hear anyone say "Well, it IS a free country!" anymore? Yeah...that's because it really isn't.

With respect to the colonists who wanted freedom from excessive taxation, intrusion upon our civil liberties, and armed "enforcers" around every corner, I was actually saddened last night.

You see, I didn't go out and enjoy a mass gathering of friends last night. I didn't go hit up any of the local bars that were having any celebration of July 4th. As a matter of fact, I didn't really do anything, other than have dinner and watch a movie with a lady friend of mine, mainly because I was scared shitless of being one of the many who were randomly arrested last night...and I can assure you, there were plenty.

It really doesn't take much to get yourself arrested in this day and age, especially on a "holiday weekend crackdown". Our government thrives on arrests, because those arrests are what determines what next year's budgets are going to be.

I was afraid to go set off some fireworks with my friends last night, because I wasn't completely sure what was considered a "prohibited firework" according to the local burn ban...and furthermore, didn't want to subject myself to having my fireworks inspected by the local police, so they could ensure my compliance (for "the sake of public safety").

I was afraid to go out and have a few beers at one of the many bars in the area, because they happen to be located on major thoroughfares in the area, and were crawling with police.

Instead, I found myself traveling out of the county in order to see a movie. While I did have a few beers at the theater (Alamo Drafthouse, they bring you beer to your seat, it's awesome!), my date drove home so as to avoid any complications if we were randomly stopped. I limited myself to three beers for the evening, as to ensure that I wouldn't be hassled by the police as I drove home from my date's residence 30 miles away from my own.

I actually was able to find my "temporary autonomous zone" last night, and ironically, managed to find it on SH288 between Freeport and Angleton. By the time I got back into my vehicle, two hours after the last of my three beers, I was beyond sober and it was past midnight, on the Saturday of a holiday I cranked up the stereo, and purposely drove 5mph over the speed limit, just so I might have the ability to tell a policeman "FUCK OFF, AND GIVE ME A BLOOD TEST IF YOU THINK I'M DRUNK!", knowing full well that I was completely sober.

Sadly, that was my celebration of freedom last night. I couldn't shoot off some bottle rockets, because I was prohibited by law from doing so. I couldn't drink a few beers and still have it on my breath when I got ready to go home, because I might be one of the completely random people I saw getting hauled away in the "holiday crackdown". I wasn't able to properly celebrate the freedom that our Independence Day holiday is supposed to represent...because quite honestly, it just simply isn't there.

I yearn for the day when the people of this nation are able to have a good time on what is supposed to be a national holiday celebrating freedom, and hearing people telling others to be safe on the drive home instead of telling them to "Be looking out for the cops, I can't afford bail money!".

When I see that happening in this nation again, I'll celebrate freedom. Until then, I'll continue to mourn its loss...