what if the worlds/were a series of steps/what if the steps/joined back at the margin

Leave a comment

What’s A Solution For Drugs?

The drug war is in the media a lot due to the miraculous amount of violence perpetrated against ordinary citizens by both the military, government, and drug cartels. Heroin has been in the news because of the number of overdoses. Marijuana has been in the news for the amount of money it is generating legally in Colorado. Drugs are everywhere in our cities, in our homes, and in our conversations. They’re on our minds, prescription or legal. Mind altering substances have been around since the dawn of man, since man knew consciousness. How societies and cultures deal with this human phenomenon has varied with time, but in our age there is a complete ban on all mind-altering substances as determined by the United States of America acting as a policing agent for the world regarding narcotics. While the United States allows recreational substances such as alcohol and tobacco to be used, it has determined a schedule for which outlawed drugs are classified according to potential medicinal use. As marijuana is a schedule one substance as is heroin, it seems to be an arbitrary drug classification system. Schedule one drugs are drugs which have no legitimate medicinal use. It can be argued that both heroin and marijuana can be used medicinally.

Tracy Helton, one of the subject’s of HBO’s Black Tar Heroin, agreed to answer some questions about heroin and the drug war for me. This was our correspondence:

What do you see as the biggest obstacle for wider naxolene distribution in the US?

The biggest issue for naloxone at the moment is that the movement to get it in the hand of users is parceled up among the states. The easiest solution to the problem would be for the FDA to switch the status of the drug from prescription to over counter. The process of creating new laws to get naloxone out where it is needed is a long one. Even in state’s where naloxone is available by law, there may be no place within a four hour drive where you can find it. Changing the status of the drug would make it easy to purchase on the internet, in brick and mortar stores, or through you medical insurance carrier. Naloxone isn’t just for heroin users. Anyone who uses opioids can be at risk of an overdose. Naloxone should be in every first aid kit.

Do you believe narcotic drugs should continue to be illegal or do you think lifting prohibition would be a better policy? If lifting prohibition would be better, what system should be adopted as a policy (ex. making drug users register and carry cards or having established red light districts)?

I don’t really have a position on the legalization of drugs. I believe we need to dismantle the Drug War to focus on treatment over incarceration. There are so few places where drugs have been decriminalized as test cases, I don’t have enough evidence to form an educated opinion. I believe Marijuana should be made legal. That as far as I can go.

In your opinion, has the United States’ effort to criminalize addiction and make drugs globally illegal made the drug world safer or more dangerous? Why?

The War on Drugs has certainly made the world a more dangerous place. The impact it has had in Mexico is a perfect example of that. Drugs have been used and abused by humans for thousands of years. They are not going away. We need to acknowledge this and formulate ways to make the experience safer for those that chose to indulge. In addition, we need to create common sense health and criminal justice policies that treat the use and misuse of drugs as a health issue, not a moral failing.

Tracy survived the hell of heroin addiction to come to the other side of not only her own recovery but the recovery of others as well. Many say that there are certain things that one cannot know the truth of in full without having experienced it. Most people can watch a movie and use their imagination to guess what the life of a heroin addict would be like. But the detailed day-to-day motions of it are often missed in the inexperienced imagination. Public policy is a little like this. A bunch of people sit in a room and attempt to essentially solve a problem, sometimes a problem that everyone acknowledges has no permanent end like drug prohibition. They imagine, they use evidence, guesswork, and time to evaluate the nuances of the problem. But at the end of the day, most of the people who institute public policy do not live the full consequences of it.

Drug policy is an extremely complicated issue because it is both a health and public safety issue. It is a health issue because addiction is a mental illness, and because there is risk of overdose when consuming a drug. This then brings the public safety issue to rise, which is that since the drugs in this country are illegal, they are unregulated. Consumers cannot be guaranteed that the product they intend to buy is actually the product itself, or that it has not been tampered with in a harmful manner. In fact, with some drugs such as heroin which is commonly cut with something consumers expect their substance to have been tampered with in unknown amounts. It is also a public safety issue because drugs should not be able to be obtained by minors, and because people can be unpredictable under the influence of certain drugs. There are a lot of important factors to consider when weighing the implications of use of drugs by a citizenry.

Heroin policy is absolutely behind the times. Naxolene should be widely available to users. Marijuana policy is absolutely behind the times. People should not go to prison or jail for the sale or use of marijuana. The public policy regarding drugs is an outdated and dangerous system of  prohibition stances that do not take into consideration realistic models of human behavior.

Leave a comment

Caitlyn Jenner Learns To Come As She Is

On the fifth episode of “I Am Cait”, she grows more into her identity as a transgender woman in a world that is not always welcoming and goes to her first pride parade to represent the “t”: transgender. As the series has highlighted, for some this issue is literally life or death because of the misunderstanding and hostility directed at transgender people. For Cait, some of her male friends aren’t calling her back, and her family is a little distant, but the transcommunity has welcomed her with open arms. It is necessary for transgender people to have each other’s backs, because the world at large pulls shit like this:transphobic

Do you see why it’s funny? Because its a man dressed in drag impersonating a trans woman! Oh my god its so hilarious because she used to be a man! Don’t you get it?! The Vanity Fair cover is in the shot, just in case you don’t see it.

Yes, I get it. No, its not funny. Not even a little. Its demeaning and humiliating and says to trans people, “be afraid because your identity is not valid and we will make fun of you”. Making fun in some cases could be the least of a trans persons problem when attitudes such as this Halloween costume start cropping up. Someone might get the cool idea that maybe trans people deserve violence because they aren’t “really” a man or a woman.  Someone might get the idea that its okay to kill a trans person because they got aroused by the trans person and can’t handle what that might mean about their identity. In reality, it means nothing to their identity. If a woman is sexually arousing and happens to be trans, being attracted to that woman has no bearing on one’s sexual orientation (ex. I’m not a fag!). This is dangerous because it puts trans people in a constantly vulnerable position so that coming as who they are is made into a potentially dangerous feat. There is a lot of valid fear for trans people, they are much more likely to face job discrimination (which is totally legal), violence, and murder.

In “I Am Cait”, she learned in this episode that there was a bulletin put out outlining the correct ways to write about Cait’s transition when it first happened for the media. It was viewed 200,000 times in twenty-four hours. There are people who are willing to work with trans people to facilitate their new identities. But there is a lot standing in the way also. That wasn’t the only Halloween costume, this one does a really interesting job of making fun of Caitlyn:


DON’T YOU GET IT?! It’s Caitlyn in her Olympic winning ensemble with a sash saying “Call Me Caitlyn” because shes really a man! Hahahaha. She’s just like any other dude in a dress, she’s in drag and pretending. Once a man always a man.

These are dangerous sentiments. These are the sort of attitudes that get people killed. These “jokes” go from private whispering of friends to a hateful group targeting an individual. The more these attitudes are tolerated and embraced, the more severe consequences for transpeople. The consequences for transpeople can already be severe without having to see public displays of humiliation aimed at one’s identity.

One of the focuses of this episode was Cait getting her “straight guy friends” to return her calls and meet up with her. In an awkward scene, Cait goes to the hobby helicopter shop her pal Sergio runs. In all honesty of the scene, Sergio clearly does not know what to think of Cait’s transition. Cait makes jokes, that “nothings different with me”, playing off her obvious transition, and Sergio clearly doesn’t relate to Cait as he did to Bruce. Bruce was a man and that was simple, Cait’s identity is more complex. He and his coworker are welcoming and Sergio goes with the “whatever makes her happy” line of thinking, but one wonders if this was not on television how Sergio would have reacted in real life. Would he have been still goofily trying to accept it, or would he be more standoffish? Its hard to tell since the cameras have whats called a Heisenberg effect: matter changes simply by a person observing it. A situation changes when the subjects know that they are being observed.

This leads into the second part of the episode where Cait goes to a gay pride parade. It is explained to the audience that historically gay men and trans women have had a tense relationship, that some gay men did not accept trans women as “fully human”. It is all rainbows and smiles when Cait is received, her name even chanted by the crowd. If E! cameras were not following her, what would Cait’s experience be like coming out? Would it have been more lonely, without episodic necessity to insert people like Kate Bornstein into her life for ratings? Cait has admitted that her family has been distant, and one wonders what the lack of cameras would have produced in her life.

Transpeople can sometimes have difficulty feeling like they have a place in the world. Outcasted by the heteronormative gender binary, there is little room for a population so small to declare itself legitimate. The Heisenberg effect of Caitlyn Jenner’s transition can be positive for the public, indeed E! and Caitlyn are working to show the normalcy of transpeople. Cait often remarks about how she has meet all these transpeople “who are just so normal”. This is important for the public to see because like the Halloween outfits above, transgenderism in the public mind is distorted and uninformed. Some people say that they simply do not care because it does not effect them, but in reality, they may know a transperson and be completely unaware of it. Would they like it if someone treated that person in their life like a pariah for any other reason? Why should transgenderism be different? That is the sentiment “I Am Cait” is trying to get across.

Leave a comment

Light Summer Reading: Human Smoke: The Beginnings of WWII, the End of Civilization

I like to read heavy, thick books that get me lost. Human Smoke: The Beginnings of WWII, the End of Civilization is a comprehensive document of the lead up and beginning of World War Two using first hand documents as its base. The story is recounted in third person by the people who lived it through interpretation of their diaries and other documents the author, Nicholson Baker, compiled. Baker created a riveting story through which a modern audience can imagine how such a massive catastrophe such as world war could start and take off full speed. It is a saddening book, one that chronicles many deaths and political sweeps that seek to harm certain populations while benefiting other populations.

Stefan Zweig was a German writer from Vienna who is mentioned often in the book. His work was burned in Germany along with those of “Thomas Mann, Albert Einstein, brecht, Lenin, Marx, Engels, Zinoviev, Hein, Emil Ludwig, Helen Keller, Upton Sinclair, and Jack London” (38). He wrote a pacifist play called Jeremiah and wrote eloquently about the mounting worldly tensions. He observed the beginnings of  the conflict and when it threatened to go to the Pacific as well, he and his wife took poison despite living away from Germany in Brazil. People did not take this conflict lightly and the scope of the trauma it caused affected those who had lived it even thousands of miles away from the epicenter.

The book chronicles Churchill’s rise to power and his erratic nature. He was not a mild person by any means, and said of Hitler in 1940 “This wicked man, the repository and embodiment of many forms of soul-destroying hatreds, this monstrous product of former wrongs and shame, has now resolved to break our famous Island race by a process of indiscriminate slaughter and destruction”. When Hitler took to the skies to burn England, Churchill strategically planned counter-attacks on Germany through the skies and with the help of the United States. Many speculate that Churchill’s erratic style could have been the reason why he was able to strategically counter Hitler successfully; he was nearly as crazy as Hitler, in layman’s terms. Defending England was by no means an easy task and his bravado confidence directed toward the English people to “keep calm and carry on” points to his political mindset of don’t give in and don’t give up. Certainly without that attitude the war could not have been won.

The United States for much of the book is on the side-lines waiting for Europe’s near complete destruction to step in. However, it does provide back-door military support for England such as assembling aircrafts used in the German raids. Roosevelt knew that there was massive turmoil happening in Europe, and even “wanted to draft people into the U.S. Army even though the United States was not fighting a war” (208). For much of the book, the United States gives military support to the allies in silence while a larger and larger conflict brews. On December 8th, 1941, the United States declared war on Japan thus triggering war with the countries aligned with Japan, Germany and Italy. It was an awkward way for the United States to enter the war since it had vested interests in Europe not becoming fascist.

There are relatively obscure facts in the book, such as laying out Hitler’s plan to sent the Jews to Madagascar, a French colony. This was before the implementation of the “final solution” of committing genocide against the Jews when “the Jewish Problem” could have a solution that wasn’t completely large scale death. It also tells the tales of individuals who otherwise are glossed over in history, such as Reverend Bernhard Lichtenberg who was detained by the Gestapo after it was found out he was praying daily for the Jews. “Under interrogation, Reverend Lichtenberg said he was opposed to Mein Kampf, opposed to the persecution and deportation of he Jews. He was asked whether he had prayed for the Bolsheviks. No, the Reverend said, he hadn’t prayed for the Bolsheviks, but he would have no objection to including a daily prayer for them, too, ‘to heal their madness'” (416). The Reverend died on his way to Dachau concentration camp two years later.

One thing the book makes very, very clear is that there was a massive peace movement before the declaration of World War Two that opposed any and all military intervention in Europe. This was not limited to America but included Europeans as well. It was not only regular citizens who did not want to see a repeat of World War One but also politicians and other high-ranking members of society and governments. It was on the German side as well, “Ulrich von Hassell, the former German ambassador to Italy, wrote ‘So as far as I’m concerned, the one vital thing is to avoid a world war.’ Hitler and Foreign Minister Ribbentrop had reached, as von Hassell thought, a state of ‘criminal recklessness'” (132). While Hitler was elected democratically it is important to remember that the entirety of Germany was not necessarily pro-Nazi. Many people who were registered as Nazis did so for protection while lacking the belief structure, and some with pro-Nazi opinions never registered with the party.

The book also makes clear that war involves a lot of decisions that have many questions with no right answers. Some of Churchill’s decisions were successful and others not, such as purchasing a fleet of aircraft that did not work well. It is unclear what impact the United States could have had on the war if Roosevelt had made the decision to go to war earlier, if it would have saved Europe sooner or caused a ruckus from the American people who would not have had an ironclad reason to go to war without the Japanese attack. What is clear from the book is that the worst of the worst is brought out in war as is the more shining examples of human action. When people are put into war situations they often go above and beyond the necessary for their fellow man.

Leave a comment

Domestic Violence and the Law

“Every Fucking Day of My Life” is an HBO documentary about an extremely disturbing case of domestic violence that ended in the homicide of the abuser by his two of his victims, his wife and his son. Wendy Moldonado and her seventeen year old son Randy made a hasty decision to end the life of their tormentor after a night of abuse by Aaron Moldanado. This was a common and familiar occurrence in their home and that night, the two made an impulsive decision to stop Aaron forever. They perpetrated the crime together and Wendy immediately called 911, admitting to the homicide on the phone with the dispatcher. When the dispatcher asks “Did he try to hurt you”  she replies “Every fucking day of my life”.

Sadly, Wendy was sentenced to ten years in prison and Randy was sentenced to seventy-five months, or just over six years. The scope of the horror that the family endured at the hands of it’s patriarch were so extreme and horrifying it is difficult to accept justice in this case in regards to sentencing. The truth is, under justifiable homicide laws in Oregon, this case did not qualify. To meet the standards of justifiable homicide a person must feel that their death is imminent and the only way to prevent this and any greater harm that could occur at the hands of another individual is to kill them. When a case involves domestic violence that has occurred over the course of years and the threat of death is gradual instead of immediate, it does not meet the standard set by the law.

Should a person be able to commit homicide in the case of extreme domestic abuse? Why were other alternatives where the abuser lives not used? The truth is that domestic violence is a complex web of psychological terror designed to keep victims in their place. Other alternatives Wendy had may have included divorce, although both parties must consent and it is unlikely Aaron would have, or simply fleeing, but she may have had to leave her children behind which is not necessarily a wise decision in the best interest of her children. Abusers like Aaron also threaten to inflict harm to the victim’s family if they leave the abusive situation. In Wendy’s case, Aaron threatened to kill her entire family if she left. This is a logical deterrent from leaving because Aaron very well may have carried out his threat. Wendy says she knew she was “screwed” when Aaron told her that he fantasized about being a serial killer who would keep his victims captive for days and then rape everyone, including any men because “I’m not a fag but I’d fuck a man to prove” his point, as Wendy relays in the film.

This man sounds like an absolutely terrifying individual and from all accounts he was. It is not unreasonable to think that a person who says that they want to be a serial killer would terrorize his own family to the point of death. It is feasible that Wendy Moldanado’s death was likely, although perhaps not at the moment of her crime, eventually he could have killed her. He even wrote a song about her with the lyrics “I love you/I killed you always/see your bloody body/lying on the floor/looking toward a new life/a life of torture/have I sealed our fate dear/self murdered bitch I killed”. He literally fantasizes about murdering her as if it were a form of an acceptable love affair. That there is no way for her case to meet the standard of justifiable homicide is absurd. The threat was gradual, there was a level of endurance to the violence. When violence escalates, it is reasonable to assume fatal bodily harm could happen to an individual. An escalation of violence seems to have been the norm at the Moldanado’s. The threat of death omnipresent. When weighing the reality of Wendy’s situation, it is hard to come up with an alternative to her actions because of the atmosphere Aaron created.

The law has often been lagging in relation to the reality of domestic violence. At one time, it was legal for a man to beat his wife with a switch no larger than his thumb, hence the term “rule of thumb”. Post-feminist movement America is a different world however it is far from perfect from addressing the reality of those who suffer in domestically violent situations. When the police would arrive, the Moldanado family could not complain about Aaron because he had surveillance set up outside of the house so he could monitor what everyone did and said. This is an enormous level of control that took away any ability Wendy had to make healthy decisions concerning her life. She would have to send the police away while being beaten upon return was still a threat. Neighbors complained to the police but it fell on deaf ears, ears that were not tuned to the sophistication a predator like Aaron can conjure up. The children were so traumatized that after his death they kept “looking over our shoulders” as Randy describes their paranoia of expecting Aaron to return from the dead.

The lack of documentation on the violent state of their marriage may have contributed to Wendy’s long sentence. However, the reality is that domestic violence victims may not be able to make reports because of the controlling nature of their abuser, like in Wendy’s case. For these victims there is little recourse in directing their futures. Wendy could not direct her future and had to accept time in prison in order to free herself from her chains. Her actions were not premeditated, she says that it was two minutes before she killed him that she made the decision to do so. Justifiable homicide laws simply do not address extreme cases of domestic abuse in a realistic manner that protects the victim. If the criminal justice system were justly dealing with domestic violence, Wendy would have gotten a lighter sentence or not even one at all. It is time for the legal system to catch up with this disturbing reality.

Leave a comment

“Homeless Kids of Orange County” Documentary

California is one of the top ten economies in the world, and logically, one of the most expensive places to live in the United States. For families struggling to make ends meet, problems such as homelessness can be a burden placed upon a family whose breadwinners do not sufficiently make enough to keep a roof over everyone’s head. In places like Orange County, California, as one mother calculated, that would mean making at least $20/hr or $3,000 a month in order to cover just basic life expenses. This is beyond the reach for many in the non-skilled work sector without taking two or more jobs. Survival is very hard work for the living poor.

“Homeless Kids of Orange County” focuses on the families living in a motel across the street from Disneyland, in an ironic juxtaposition of tragic proportions. The children featured in the film have never been to Disneyland because of their families financial situations, but still climb the stairs of parking garages to watch the fireworks at night. They do not have a steady place to live, but remark with great insight that being homeless in America is better than other places because “the homeless get food in America”. Their small lives are filled with such intense instability and they are completely aware of it. One kid remarks that it “sucks” to be homeless, there is no privacy and few options for entertainment, with many scenes consisting of children creating toys out of resources like plants and things evicted families have left behind. The children witness violence, drug use, and a great police presence. It is not a suitable environment for them, and they are aware of this fact.

The film’s subjects attend Project Hope School, which is a public school also supported by a foundation that caters exclusively to homeless children so that they will not have to constantly go through the process of redistricting every time they move. Project Hope provides food and school supplies to the children and supportive resources that are specifically designed for the needs of homeless children. Since the school does not have a lot of students everyone is taught in a single classroom. Even though this is a supportive environment, one can see the impact of homelessness and their school environment on the children. There are complaints of not being able to focus because one’s younger siblings are in the same classroom bickering, there is observation of Miranda rights during a discussion on early American history when one boy utters “I have the right to remain silent”, a third grader is featured saying that he wants “a big mansions and all the guns”. The children are clearly effected negatively by their surroundings, some of them are doing their best and some of them act out negatively.

One very poignant moment in the film is when the Brewster family is evicted. The Brewster family consisted of five people and four dogs, and the mother worked in a parking lot at Disneyland making about $12/hr. homeless kids

Zack was a badly behaved little boy who was insufficiently and inappropriately entertained at the motel. Instead of receiving positive attention and stimulating experiences, Zack fell victim to what many children who live in poverty fall victim to: becoming his own worst enemy. Zack’s behavior was rambunctious and his working mother with three other children could not adequately give him the positive attention he needed in order to be properly functional. When the Brewsters were kicked out was one of the scarier points made in the documentary because it gave a storyline to how families are evicted from the property. A parent has control over their child to a degree, and in a desperate situation, may loose more control because of the choatic nature of desperate situations. When a child can be solely responsible for destroying the safety and welfare of a family’s living environment, the stability of that living situation was barely tenable at best. The instability of living in a motel is constantly remarked about in the film, especially since families are paying by the week to live in their rooms.

The filmmaker, Alexandra Pelosi, asks the kids “Why would god let kids be homeless?”. The first girl gives a dark response, she doesn’t know and doesn’t like it that god lets her be poor. The second girl gives a more poignant answer, “God provides what you need, he only gives you the things you really need not the things you wish for”. The different type of familial support that is constructed during a crisis period such as homelessness can be seen in the attitudes of different children. The children whose families decide to stick together, create rules, and move forward do better with their attitudes than the children whose families become depressed or stuck in the chaotic ghetto environment of the motel. Many of the children seem to exhibit at least some basic signs of depression, such as not having any hope for the future, “Nothing, nothing at all” the same little girl answers who gave the dark response to “why would god let kids be homeless”. It is very disheartening to witness because life is already such a burden to these young children and they already face so many obstacles that are completely out of their control.

The trials and tribulations of children may seem irrelevant to adults but the overall story line of this documentary is indicitave of how the American economy and government treats its poor. Corporate America seems dedicated to ensuring that a livable wage is just slightly beyond grasp for many working Americans. Taking two jobs seems to be the solution for many, which is absurd because a person should be able to make a living from one forty-hour work week job. Corporate America sees workers as expendable and figures, not the humans who have to go back to a crowded motel to live after a hard day’s work with no vacations and no breaks to relax. The American government provides a small amount of aid to needy families, such as food stamps, but there is still more need than services to go around. While the children remark that it is due to the American government that they have free lunches and breakfasts, legislators in Congress have yet to raise the federal minimum wage to a livable wage for working Americans.

The documentary “Homeless Kids of Orange County” pulls at the heartstrings while delivering a very concise message about the discrepancy of wealth in the United States.

Leave a comment

“Capturing The Friedmans” Documentary

The documentary “Capturing the Friedmans” by Andrew Jarecki is one of  the best documentaries I have seen because of the ambiguity factor. When creating a documentary, there are many different styles and flavors one can go with. It could be provocative, educational, or ambiguous in proving a point. “Capturing the Friedmans” revolves around the question of pedophilia and how far it went in one man’s life and to what extent it impacted his family.

Arnold Freidman was a school teacher who also taught computer classes to neighborhood children in his basement. He was also a pedophile who received child pornography through the mail from the Netherlands. Obviously, anytime it is discovered that there is a pedophile with close contact with children is troubling and warrants an investigation as to the conduct of the pedophile around the children. Freidman was charged with receiving child pornography in the mail and then charged with a number of sodomy charges that alleged to have taken place in the computer classes. He was convicted of the charges, as was his son Jesse, the subject of which the documentary seizes over the ambiguity of his guilt.

During the 1980’s and early 1990’s there was a moral panic over child sex abuse and satanic ritual abuse in the United States. Moral panics happen when a population seizes on to a certain subject which threatens social order and causes controversy and intense discussions of the particulars of the panic in order to resolve the issue. Media is key to moral panics because of the dissemination of centralized information. “Capturing the Friedmans” seeks to question the extent to which Arnold Freidman’s case was influenced by the moral panic over his pedophilia and questions if Jesse is even guilty at all. Police conduct is key in this case. Interviews with the policemen who conducted the investigation sometimes are out of sync with the facts. One detective remembers stacks of child pornography out in the open, an incorrect memory as pictures of the Friedman’s home are shown on screen. The way in which interviews were conducted is also significant. The detectives used a style that presumed that they knew what happened to the child, relayed this to the child, and waited for the child to confirm their suspicions. Psychologically, children seek to please adults. When an adult in power is saying that something happened to you and they know about it, the child may go along with this in an effort to please the adult. Child sexual abuse is investigated differently, letting children express what happened to them rather than giving them a story line to confirm or deny.

There is little to suggest Jesse’s guilt other than the confessions of the children which were guided confessions. It is questionable how having a parent who is also a pedophile effects a child. However, there is no correlation between Arnold’s pedophilia and Jesse in and of itself. Jesse’s guilty verdict is indicative of how wild this case got. The allegations against Arnold and Jesse are fantastical and absolutely horrific, tales of children being abused en mass during the computer classes in disturbing ways. Debbie Nathan, a reporter who focused on the child sex abuse moral panic, said of the allegations “the basic charges were completely implausible.. First of all you’d have to believe that blood is coming out of these childrens’ orifices, that they’re screaming that they’re crying” and that there is no evidence to suggest that this occurred as parents would regularly stop by classes as well. She also notes the significance of mass abuse cases where families bond over victimization and can cause social phenomenon that outcasts non-victims as outsiders of the community. Arnold Friedman’s case happened in a small town in downstate New York that typifies itself as normal and successful within a competitive atmosphere. People bonded over this case because of the moral panic surrounding it.

One of the brothers in the family, David, begins to record the family falling apart. These tapes are included in the documentary and give a good portrait of the inter-workings of the Friedman’s family. Elaine Friedman, Arnold’s wife, believes in Arnold’s guilt. This tears the family apart because the brothers either do not believe in the guilt of their father or they believe that he should not go to prison, it is unclear from the footage which it is. The dysfunction of Arnold’s pedophilia clearly affected the family because they did not unite in a fight against the state. The dysfunction allowed for Elaine to not support her husband in his trial over guilt or innocence. The fighting displayed in the tapes features shouting and swearing about this point of contention.

The most contentious point of the film is Jesse’s guilt or innocence. One of the detectives admitted that there was a “dearth” of physical evidence and that the case was heavily circumstantial. While Jesse did plead guilty, he did not do so out of guilt he claims but because otherwise he was facing a life sentence. This is not unheard of in the criminal justice system, someone pleading guilty to a crime they did not commit because the likelihood of being found innocent is so small. Five of the children who testified against Jesse have now recanted, as has the only adult who testified at the trial. Even a federal Court of Appeals asserted that it seems Jesse was wrongfully convicted. However, Jesse is still in prison because exoneration for a crime is a process that requires the proper channels of authority to admit wrongdoing and fix it. Authority figures usually do not like to admit wrongdoing and so Jesse’s exoneration has been stalled.

Crimes like the one Arnold Friedman committed, receiving child pornography through the mail, are and should be punishable offenses. However, the moral panic over child sexual abuse in the 1990’s heavily influenced the authorities in this case to questionably create another catastrophe when there was none. Jesse Friedman should walk a free man, and hopefully someday his case will be exonerated.

Leave a comment

The Heroin Problem

Recently I found out an acquaintance died from a heroin overdose. I had not seen this person in about a year, yet have clear memories of him that now seem sad in hindsight in the way that death overcasts a person’s memory. According to the New York Times, “heroin related deaths quadrupled between 2002 and 2013” and is becoming a scourge in many American neighborhoods. Heroin dealers are shrewd for money and power. Heroin users are looking for a fantastical escape that is bigger than themselves. It is a clear problem for which we are not finding a solution.

The documentary “Black Tar Heroin” is a comprehensive examination into the daily lives of heroin users. The documentary aired on HBO in 2000 and captured the attention of the public due to its honest portrayal of the struggles of heroin addicts.

One of the subjects in the film, Tracy, now writes a fantastic blog about her heroin days in hindsight now that she has been clean for many years. In the documentary, the audience meets her in the midst of heroin’s claim over her life. She notes that “it looks like I’ve gotten dropped in a dumpster” due to the physical toll shooting up in her legs took, and generally seems very out of touch with reality. After getting out of jail and doing a shot of heroin, she notes the disappointment of the hit and that the anticipation was the driving force to get her to shoot up. She is depressed and lost, a person with promise who turned to the most powerful substance to numb her pain. Her boyfriend in the film, Ben, also does crack cocaine which is a source of argument for the couple. When couples use drugs together, things get very distorted because of the enabling nature of the relationship and lack of genuine affection because all energy is reserved for the procurement and administration of the drug. Tracy says “recently all I’ve been thinking about what I’m gonna do when I quit heroin…and it seems like getting there is easy all I have to do is kick…even if I wasn’t doing heroin I don’t know what the fuck I want to do with my life I would’ve just done it”. She vacillates between wanting to not use and accepting her use. Junkies use many excuses to justify their bad behavior and often act as victims of their circumstances whether it is true or not. Fast forward several years and Tracy was able to kick her habit with dedication, support, and sheer will. However as her blog notes, the experiences of using heroin and the atmosphere that heroin use creates is not something a person can simply escape from, it stays with you and creeps up in the night.

For another subject, Jessica, the documentary remains a testament to her demise due to the streets, heroin, and a prostitution lifestyle. Jessica turns to prostituting in order to pay for her habit which is a very common decision for many female addicts. On her refrigerator a poem about the heroin lifestyle is scrawled, “Dead End Street Kid-bloody needles/full of junk/never bathing/smell like skunk/strict-9 acid/fuckin’ bunk/drink 40s/goddamn punk”. She says that in prostitution “you get through with them you try to clean up yourself in the car…and you stand back on the street and it feels like you’re a tissue being wiped”. She acquires AIDS and doesn’t stop prostituting, being so jaded that she no longer cares about putting other people in danger. It is clear in the film that she is dying, the last scene with her in it is very dark and disturbing. With her head shaved looking androgynous, she states that shes tired of “the sex trade business, I’m about to the point of just robbing people but I can’t do that because I’d go to jail because some stupid person would have to try to take a swing at me and I’d have to cut them up into little pieces”. She knows she lives a risky life, with the possibility of being raped and/or robbed a daily threat. “At the rate I’m going in a year I’ll be dead”, she says to the camera, with full knowledge of where the consequences of her actions are going.

wages of sin

This photo “for the wages of sin is death” is shown at the beginning of the film. However, heroin use in and of itself should not be considered a “sin”. Drug abuse is a recognized disorder on the DSM-V and addiction is a medical condition that must be treated carefully. Drug addicts may do bad things due to the nature of addiction (ie. stealing money from family to buy drugs), but saying that they are sinful is reducing their problem to something too basic. Due to the likelihood of any person becoming addicted, this disorder could theoretically happen to anyone. That is why it is so important to understand how addiction works and why it is so important to destigmatize drug addiction, something that could possibly cause more people to receive help for their addictions because of the reduction of the shame factor. Shame factors are enablers of negative behavior because it makes the person feel so negatively about themselves that they become unable to seek proper and adequate treatment.

The film ends with Tracy dumping her used needles into a bin at the needle exchange, a very important health care service that addicts need in order to be safe and protected from diseases. This is a strategy of the “harm reduction” school of thought, which states that since people are going to engage in potentially risky behavior, there should be services that provide ways for drug users to stay as safe as possible. Harm reduction does not label people because of their medical condition of addiction but rather seeks to recognize that the humanity these people have includes the right to be as safe as possible in their decisions, and if there is a way to facilitate that safety, it should be done. This strategy is more honest than the school of thought that prohibition of narcotics is the superior way to eliminate drug use.

In our society, it should be clear that prohibition is not working. It is a propaganda ploy to create power structures that are unbeatable. It creates black market jobs that are filled by dangerous people and causes people who are addicted to hide away from the public creating acute medical crises across the country. There will never be a “solution” for heroin use, that is heroin use will never completely go away. However, recognition of what the disease of addiction actually is could improve the conditions that come with heroin use.

Leave a comment

Caitlyn Jenner’s Freak Show

Into episode four of “I Am Cait”, Caitlyn’s transgender identity is becoming more developed, but she is still hyper aware of what she calls the “freak factor” in her new life. In a conversation with Kate Borenstein, one of the most influential transwomen in America and author of Gender Outlaw, Cait asks “How do you get over the freak factor?” to which Borenstien answers “Owning the freak factor with heart”. Cait and Borenstein mindfully discuss how there will always be some segment of the population who views transpeople as “freaks” and as such feels that they are lesser humans than cis gendered people. For Caitlyn, this is intensified since her journey as a transwoman is being actively exploited by the paparazzi. To cis gendered people who feel transfolks are “freaks”, there is little understanding of how sex and gender are different and sometimes unrelated, and there is active fear about the transidentity and what it means for the person’s worldview. To understand that the gender binary is false is to unlearn something that was presented as true for much of one’s life. Cait asks Borenstein “How do you get over the freak factor” to which she replies “Owning the freak show with heart”. Essentially, Borenstein tells Cait, there is nothing a transperson can do about the people who feel they are a freak, their minds are closed and their perspective is too harsh to listen. However, one can relish in their freakishness and make it part of their identity, to understand it, to own it. This is a monumental task for transpeople, and requires the support of allies.

Borenstein clarifies what she thinks an ally is versus what is generally thought of as an ally. To most people, they assume that they are trans allied if they are accepting of the trans identity. For Borenstein, this does not meet the burden of an ally by simply being supportive. Active support is helpful, but action yields more results. An ally must be a person who responds to the needs of transpeople, as she says ally means “you ask me what I need, I tell you, and you tell me how much you can actually supply”. She then goes on to give the example that she may need an ally to act as a body guard in a crowd that she needs to get through. Why would Borenstein need an ally in a crowd of people? This is because transbodies are viewed as public property due to the freak factor. The twentieth century was awash with “freak shows” which treated people with abnormalities as exploitable commodities that the public had a right to access. All the humanity for these exploited people in the freak shows was lost, they were simply an exhibit to ponder. A transperson may not feel comfortable in a crowd because of how their bodies have been treated by cis people, as if they are an exotic specimen to be inspected by touching or being asked inappropriate questions. Cis people who feel transpeople are “freaks” are also curious about transbodies and trans lives. They will often become preoccupied with the transperson’s genitalia and their private sexual lives and sexual orientation. To be made into a freak is to have one’s personal space invaded and colonized. Allies must work in congruence with transpeople as to how best assess their most active needs and lessen the amount that the freak show factor has on them.

As Caitlyn’s family found out in episode one, Caitlyn is the same person as she was when she was Bruce, she just has a new identity to work into. Transpeople are still humans, their change of gender is akin to changing one’s clothes in terms of affecting the essence of a person. Clothing relects a peson’s thoughts about their identity, and chosing the proper gender is the way for transpeople to express to their satisfaction their identities. Obviously, the person will change with a transition, but the core of them remains intact. The freak factor takes this away and asserts that a person is the summation of their ability to be “normal” and any deviancy from normalization is paramount to betraying what is natural and what is right. Borenstein reminds Cait that the beginning of a transition is like a second adolescence, a time when people are very vulnerable to bullying and the outside opinion of the world. Acting as a true ally requires cis people to fight the notion that a person is a freak simply for transitioning genders and actively challenge real cis gendered people when they make transphobic comments.

While this episode positively and successfully gave cis people information about how to be an ally, as is a goal of Cait with this show, it also revealed the extent of the privilege Cait has as a rich trans person living in Los Angeles. There are several support groups and resources mentioned in the show for transpeople in Los Angeles, which makes sense as it is a large city in California and the center of the entertainment industry. However, these resources and support groups often do not exist for transpeople living in areas like the South or the Midwest whose populations may not be as comfortable with the idea of transpeople. Cait has professionals come to the house who specialize in trans issues to help support her through her transition, another thing many transpeople do not have access to due to location and the culture of where they live. This is an issue the show has yet to address or acknowledge in a significant way. There was a nod in the first episode by Cait to her privileged nature, however, the show overall has failed to note how privileged Cait is actively over other transpeople. It is sometimes a frustrating feature of the show because few things about Cait’s life are humble, and it would be constructive to see Cait humble herself and acknowledge with active mindfulness that the support she receives is a privilege that few are able to get.

Leave a comment

“Lost Angeles: Skid Row Is My Home” Documentary

Homelessness is a societal problem with many different implications for the homeless persons. To a degree in the United States, homelessness is now becoming illegal as is helping the homeless. For certain, a society can be judged how it treats its homeless, and in the United States, the legal establishment has not been kind to the homeless.

The documentary “Lost Angeles: Skid Row Is My Home” focuses on several homeless persons who live in Skid Row in Los Angeles. Skid Row is a fifty block conglomerate of primarily single adult housing units and is a low economic area with arguably the nation’s largest homeless population. It was established by a court case, Jones v. City of Los Angeles after it was found unconstitutional under the eight amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment that police could not destroy homeless camps in Skid Row because of the city’s housing shortage and thus the actions of the homeless could not be criminalized. Skid Row is a place of institutional proportions because it is also home to a large number of mentally ill persons. When the mental asylums were closed in the 1980’s by President Reagan, the policy toward the mentally ill became one of pharmaceuticals and little else support. The reason why so many people are homeless also have mentally health issues is because of the lack of community support, and in Los Angeles, many of them end up at Skid Row. Similarly, the Cook County Jail, LA’s jail, is also the largest mental health facility in the United States. The prevalence of jail and homelessness for the mentally ill makes logical sense since many cannot create the stability in order to lead productively healthy lives. Skid Row is an institution in and of itself for the mentally ill.

One of the characters the audience meets is Lee Anne, an eccentric old cat lady who cares for the cats and birds on Skid Row. She has a full shopping cart and a fiance who follows her around, a fellow by the name of K.K. Both share a mutually beneficially relationship by taking care and looking out for one another. K.K. remarks that to a degree, they have both chosen to be on the street. For him, he wanted to be “wild” and engaged in the drug lifestyle. For Lee Anne, she prefers to live outside despite having an apartment, K.K. reveals. Lee Anne has a mental illness where she collects trash, however, she seems to be one of the souls of Skid Row who is genuinely trying  to make it a better, more improved place to live by taking care of the animals. We meet Emanuel Compito, a man who voluntarily literally cleans up the streets of Skid Row with a broom and occasionally takes time to wash the streets with buckets of water. When the city continued to refuse to clean the streets, Compito took it upon himself to improve conditions for himself and his fellow Skid Rowers.

There is a great tension within the city of Los Angeles between the business owners, government leaders, and the advocates of  the homeless. People who are homeless exist because we live in a capitalistic society where peoples’ value and worth is measured  in financial terms. In capitalist societies, there are more people than jobs to create demand for jobs at the same time there is more available housing than there is people in the housing. Homelessness, theoretically, does not need to be a problem, it is the system it exists within that creates the problem. William J. Bratton was brought in to assist the city with “cleaning up” Skid Row. Bratton infamously helped “clean-up” New York City in the 1990’s. Bratton is a proponent of the “broken-windows” theory of policing that dictates that small quality of life policing is more conducive in the fight against crime and the chaos crime can bring. This means stopping people for simple violations and essentially taking a zero tolerance policy on law breaking. It means that the police become a large, unstoppable force with which there is no reckoning, and it wrecks devastation on the citizens it is enforced against. There is a disturbing scene when the police harass Lee Anne; she puts the contents of her cart and the belongings of other homeless folk in the street because the police informed her that they would be cleaning the street that day. In a chaotic exclamation of calamity, Lee Anne tries to salvage the belongings while managing to keep track of everything. She later finds out that she was being harassed by the police, that there was no street cleaning scheduled for that day and that because of the debacle some homeless people lost all their sleeping blankets. It is a scene that crystallizes the struggle of the homeless plight.

Bratton enforced quality of life arrests because it disproportionately puts pressure on the homeless person to live their lives in a way that does not favor their current lifestyle, the policy is intended to force these people out of homelessness as if many of them weren’t trying to begin with. For example, people violating the ordinance stating that no one can sleep on a city side walk can be fined up to $1,000, a sum of money a homeless person surely does not have.

Legally, the battle in the courts over homelessness is an issue of conduct versus status. That is, a homeless person may be protected under the law like in the Jones case against cruel and unusual punishment if they were left with no other alternative for their conduct and thus their status as a homeless person allows them more protection. However, the conduct of a homeless person for example lying on the street could be construed as illegal because of city ordinances or other public safety rules, therefore allowing the conduct to be criminalized. It is a chicken versus egg issue, one whose coin can be flipped depending on the judge or set of judges at trial. It is one in a barrage of examples of how the lives of the homeless are often left up to chance.

The film ends to remind us that:

skid row

From beginning to end “Lost Angeles: Skid Row Is My Home” is a documentary that showcases the brilliance and resiliency of the human race. However, it reminds us that the comfort of our homes is one of our own making, that any one of us really can become homeless. We meet Danny Harris, a man at the beginning of the film, who won a silver medal in the Olympics for sprinting and became homeless on Skid Row. Life is filled with an endless amount of land-mines that must be navigated in order to continue. “Lost Angeles: Skid Row is My Home” is a documentary guaranteed to make one think of what makes life worth living and what the essence of humanity is.