New Rule: Stop pretending your drugs are morally superior to my drugs because you get yours at a store. This week, they released the autopsy report on Anna Nicole Smith and the cause of death was what I always thought it was: mad cow. No, it turns out she had nine different prescription drugs in her—which, in the medical field, is known as the full Limbaugh. They opened her up and a Walgreens jumped out. Antidepressants, anti-anxiety pills, sleeping pills, sedatives, Valium, methadone—this woman was killed by her doctor, who is a glorified bartender. I’m not going to say his name, but only because (a) I don’t want to get sued and (b) my back is killing me.This month marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of a famous government report. I was sixteen in 1972 and I remember how excited we were when Nixon’s much ballyhooed National Commission on Drug Abuse came out and said pot should be legalized. It was a moment of great hope for common sense—and then, just like Bush did with the Iraq Study Group, Nixon took the report and threw it in the garbage and from there the ’70s went right into disco and colored underpants.This week in American Scientist, a magazine George Bush wouldn’t read if he got food poisoning in Mexico and it was the only thing he could reach from the toilet, described a study done in England that measured the lethality of various drugs and found tobacco and alcohol far worse than pot, LSD, or Ecstasy—which pretty much mirrors my own experiments in this same area. The Beatles took LSD and wrote Sgt. Pepper—Anna Nicole Smith took legal drugs and couldn’t remember the number for nine-one-one.I wish I had more time to go into the fact that the drug war has always been about keeping black men from voting by finding out what they’re addicted to and making it illegal—it’s a miracle our government hasn’t outlawed fat white women yet—but I leave with one request: Would someone please just make a bumper sticker that says, I’m a stoner and I vote.
Bill Maher
When he was in college, a famous poet made a useful distinction for him. He had drunk enough in the poet's company to be compelled to describe to him a poem he was thinking of. It would be a monologue of sorts, the self-contemplation of a student on a summer afternoon who is reading Euphues. The poem itself would be a subtle series of euphuisms, translating the heat, the day, the student's concerns, into symmetrical posies; translating even his contempt and boredom with that famously foolish book into a euphuism.The poet nodded his big head in a sympathetic, rhythmic way as this was explained to him, then told him that there are two kinds of poems. There is the kind you write; there is the kind you talk about in bars. Both kinds have value and both are poems; but it's fatal to confuse them.In the Seventh Saint, many years later, it had struck him that the difference between himself and Shakespeare wasn't talent - not especially - but nerve. The capacity not to be frightened by his largest and most potent conceptions, to simply (simply!) sit down and execute them. The dreadful lassitude he felt when something really large and multifarious came suddenly clear to him, something Lear-sized yet sonnet-precise. If only they didn't rush on him whole, all at once, massive and perfect, leaving him frightened and nerveless at the prospect of articulating them word by scene by page. He would try to believe they were of the kind told in bars, not the kind to be written, though there was no way to be sure of this except to attempt the writing; he would raise a finger (the novelist in the bar mirror raising the obverse finger) and push forward his change. Wailing like a neglected ghost, the vast notion would beat its wings into the void.Sometimes it would pursue him for days and years as he fled desperately. Sometimes he would turn to face it and do battle. Once, twice, he had been victorious, objectively at least. Out of an immense concatenation of feeling, thought, word, transcendent meaning had come his first novel, a slim, pageant of a book, tombstone for his slain conception. A publisher had taken it, gingerly; had slipped it quietly into the deep pool of spring releases, where it sank without a ripple and where he supposes it lies still, its calm Bodoni gone long since green. A second, just as slim but more lurid, nightmarish even, about imaginary murders in an imaginary exotic locale, had been sold for a movie, though the movie had never been made. He felt guilt for the producer's failure (which perhaps the producer didn't feel), having known the book could not be filmed; he had made a large sum, enough to finance years of this kind of thing, on a book whose first printing was largely returned.
John Crowley
Henry, there’s something I would like to tell you, for what it’s worth, something I wish I had been told years ago. You’ve been a consultant for a long time and you’ve dealt a great deal with top secret information. But you’re about to receive a whole slew of special clearances, maybe fifteen or twenty of them, that are higher than top secret.I’ve had a number of these myself and I’ve known other people who have just acquired them and I have a pretty good sense of what the effects of receiving these clearances are on a person who didn’t previously know they even existed. And the effects of reading the information that they will make available to you.First, you’ll be exhilarated by some of this new information and by having it all—so much! incredible!—suddenly available to you. But second, almost as fast, you will feel like a fool for having studied, written, talked about these subjects, criticized and analyzed decisions made by presidents for years without having known of the existence of all this information, which presidents and others had and you didn’t and which must have influenced their decisions in ways you couldn’t even guess. In particular, you’ll feel foolish for having literally rubbed shoulders for over a decade with some officials and consultants who did have access to all this information you didn’t know about and didn’t know they had and you’ll be stunned that they kept that secret from you so well.You will feel like a fool and that will last for about two weeks. Then, after you’ve started reading all this daily intelligence input and become used to using what amounts to whole libraries of hidden information, which is much more closely held than mere top secret data, you will forget there ever was a time when you didn’t have it and you’ll be aware only of the fact that you have it now and most others don’t … and that all those other people are fools.Over a longer period of time—not too long, but a matter of two or three years—you’ll eventually become aware of the limitations of this information. There is a great deal that it doesn’t tell you, it’s often inaccurate and it can lead you astray just as much as the New York Times can. But that takes a while to learn.In the meantime it will have become very hard for you to learn from anybody who doesn’t have these clearances. Because you’ll be thinking as you listen to them: What would this man be telling me if he knew what I know? Would he be giving me the same advice, or would it totally change his predictions and recommendations? And that mental exercise is so torturous that after a while you give it up and just stop listening. I’ve seen this with my superiors, my colleagues … and with myself.You will deal with a person who doesn’t have those clearances only from the point of view of what you want him to believe and what impression you want him to go away with, since you’ll have to lie carefully to him about what you know. In effect, you will have to manipulate him. You’ll give up trying to assess what he has to say. The danger is, you’ll become something like a moron. You’ll become incapable of learning from most people in the world, no matter how much experience they may have in their particular areas that may be much greater than yours.'s Shadow: The Long Reach of America's Most Controversial Statesman
Greg Grandin
Peter Brown, that great historian of early Christianity, has given the most cogent explanation for the arising of the cult of the saints in the late Roman world. He explains that the emphasis of early Christian preaching on judgment, on the human need for redemption from sin, brought to the minds of common people — among whom Christianity was early successful — their social and political condition. Having strictly limited powers to remedy any injustice they might suffer, or to clear themselves of any charges of wrongdoing, they turned, when they could, to their social betters in hope of aid. If a local patrician could befriend them — could be, at least for a time, their patron — then they had a chance, at least, of receiving justice or at least escaping punishment. It is this hope of amnesty, Brown writes, that pushed the saint to the foreground as patronus. For patronage and friendship derived their appeal from a proven ability to render malleable seemingly inexorable processes and to bridge with the warm breath of personal acquaintance the great distances of the late-Roman social world. In a world so sternly organized around sin and justice, patrocimium [patronage] and amicitia [friendship] provided a much-needed language of amnesty.As this cult became more and more deeply entrenched in the Christian life, it made sense for there to be, not just feast days for individual saints, but a day on which everyone’s indebtedness to the whole company of saints — gathered around the throne of God, pleading on our behalf — could be properly acknowledged. After all, we do not know who all the saints are: no doubt men and women of great holiness escaped the notice of their peers, but are known to God. They deserve our thanks, even if we cannot thank them by name. So the logic went: and a general celebration of the saints seems to have begun as early as the fourth century, though it would only be four hundred years later that Pope Gregory III would designate the first day of November as the Feast of All Saints.
Alan Jacobs