Saturday, June 25, 2011

SUMMER OF SMOKE: an Economic War on (Bad) Drugs

by Leslie Fish

Yes, there really is – or was – such an organization as the Midwestern Dope Dealers’ Association. I knew a few of its members back when I was in college, in Michigan. They were a mixture of students and ex-students who made their money by selling marijuana, hash, LSD and occasionally psilocybin – in other words, hallucinogens and “soft” drugs, all. They had nothing but contempt for the “hard” drugs – heroin, cocaine, PCP – and the people who pushed them.

Late in the spring semester of a certain year, they noticed that some of the Grass in town had nasty after-effects. Since the MDDA included some quite good chemists, they tested the Grass, and found that it had been laced with heroin. A few discreet questions revealed that this particular batch of Grass had been sold down at the town high school rather than the college campus.

From this information, the MDDA deduced that the Mafia was trying to move into the town’s drug business, which was very bad news. Organized crime, they knew, doesn’t like marijuana; the stuff is too cheap to make big profits, too bulky for safe transport, and not addictive enough to guarantee repeat business. However, it’s the most popular illegal drug in the country, and most kids have better sense than to have anything to do with heroin. Therefore the Mafia sells Grass laced with heroin to secretly get the kids addicted. From that point on, it’s easy to get the kids taking straight heroin – and the pushers have a permanent clientele.

Knowing this, the MDDA sat down and figured out a workable strategy to keep Mafia pushers out of their town. The only problem would be getting the police to cooperate, since whichever side got police protection would win. The Mafia’s usual trick is to find an ambitious young cop, become his informer and sic him on rival drug dealers. After the cop has made a name for himself, the Mafia agents get the cop to take money from them by some trick or other, and secretly film/photo the transaction. Then they reveal themselves, show him the pictures, and promise to ruin him if he doesn’t do as they say. And what they say is simple: arrest any and all rivals while leaving their dealers alone, and warn them if any special investigation comes up. That’s how the Mafia gets local police protection.

What the MDDA did was put together their strategy and make an appointment with the local police captain, who was known to be a reasonable man. They showed him their evidence, and their strategy, and promised to keep the Mafia out of town if the captain would do just one thing for them: order all his officers not to arrest anyone for drug-dealing or drug-possession, all through summer semester. By the time the fall semester started, the MDDA promised, they should have the problem licked. The captain looked over their evidence, and reluctantly agreed.

The first thing the MDDA did was post, and gossip, notices all around the town high school, warning the kids that the local Grass was poisoned, and to come buy clean stuff up in “campus town”. Next thing they did was to sell their products for a dollar less than the standard price, while keeping a close eye on the prices of tainted Grass down near the high school. The Mafia tried dropping their prices, so the MDDA dropped theirs lower.

In the absence of police drug-busts, they took to dealing in the campus student-union grill. I saw, once, a cop who was clearly annoyed with the no-bust policy come marching through the grill, glowering menacingly at the students – through Grass smoke as thick as fog. By the time he’d made one circuit of the tables, he’d breathed enough of the smoke that his steps were slower and his glower had turned into a silly grin. Finally he sat down at one of the tables and ordered a triple cheeseburger, with fries, and a super-size milkshake. So much for that.

And it wasn’t just Grass. On discovering that the Mafia was also trying to push LSD, one dealer, commonly called Big M, bought the base chemicals and made a good thousand hits. He sold the first 100 for a dollar less than the Mafia pushers. The Mafia tracked him down and sent some goons to beat him up. When he got out of the hospital, Big M sold the next 100 hits for two dollars less than the Mafia price, and fortified his house. The Mafia thugs threw a firebomb through his front window, but the firemen arrived in time to keep more than the front room from burning. Big M then gave away the remaining 800 hits for free – and left town and went into hiding.

Something similar happened with the hashish and psilocybin markets.

By the end of the summer, the Mafia gave up. Even with their cash reserves, they couldn’t keep up with these dedicated amateurs. They pulled back to Detroit and Ypsilanti, and quit trying to sell to the student crowd – thus concluding the one successful War On (Bad) Drugs ever fought in the US.

The MDDA, as promised, reported back to the police captain, who allowed his troops to start arresting for drugs again – but the MDDA had already passed the word, so students bought and consumed cautiously again.

The police captain, alas, didn’t fare so well. His superiors frowned upon his orders not to make any drug arrests for a whole summer, and demoted him. Never mind that he’d helped save his town from Mafia infiltration; he hadn’t arrested any Hippies! So he never rose to any higher rank, but retired with a full pension and benefits – and with at least the knowledge that he’d done the right thing.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Old School Try

My roommate uses MSNBC for background noise, and all today they kept re-running a program on innovation in America, and how it’s been falling off in recent years, and what we can do to revive it. Of course it fibbled off into What The Government Can Do, but it somehow never mentioned something as simple as improving general education.

For generations now, everyone from Certified Experts to the kids themselves have bemoaned the rotten state of the public schools in America and made suggestions for improving it. Some of those ideas have been tried, and some of them have worked a little.

None of them have worked as well as one idea you’ve probably never heard of.

More than 25 years ago, in one of the Midwestern states beginning with “I”, there was a school district whose ratings were so bad that the school board grew desperate enough to try a truly radical experiment.

It paid the kids to go to school and get good grades.

The kids studied all week and were given tests on Friday. The teachers graded the tests over the weekend and paid the kids on Monday, so any student who wanted money for the weekend had to learn to save it. The kids were paid for every hour they’d spent in class that week, and the amount was determined by their grades. For the high-school students, an A would give them $4 an hour – which, in those days, was legal minimum wage – a B paid $3, a C yielded $2, a D was $1, and an F paid nothing. Junior-high students got half that, and grade-school kids got a quarter of it. Of course, any student who acted up in class got an F for that hour.

Can you guess what happened to the students’ grades, and school behavior?

Yes, grades skyrocketed and discipline problems took a nosedive. Over the course of the school year, the truant officer and several other bureaucrats common to public schools found themselves with nothing to do. The accountant assigned to monitor the experiment reported that the savings on school-property destruction, alone, more than paid for the students’ wages. Most unwisely, he also went on to say that the school could now afford to fire those bureaucrats.

That was the kiss of death. The school board terminated the experiment at the end of the year, swore the teachers to secrecy, then scattered them throughout the rest of the state – and beyond. All records of the experiment, particularly its results, were locked up under every legal seal of secrecy that civilian government officials could get. Ah, but teachers gossip among themselves, especially after they’ve retired, which is how my mother – a music teacher in New Jersey – eventually heard about it.

The lessons to be learned here are obvious. First, paying the kids to go to school, behave themselves and get good grades gets solid results. Second, threatening the jobs of government bureaucrats is dangerous to everyone else.

Friday, June 3, 2011

I'm Baaaaack.

Hi fans, I'm back from the wilds of Ohio. I hadn't been to a MarCon in ten years at least, and I was impressed by the changes. Despite the Depression, MarCon has grown until it filled the local Hyatt and had members spilling over into the hotel next door. There were more than eight tracks of programming, and some serious GOHs. Besides me (blush), there were Eric Flint and Harry Turtledove, whom I ran into at the autograph signing and a couple of panels. The ConSuite ran 24 hours a day for the whole convention, and the food was remarkable.

I had a great time singing at the Friday night filk and the Saturday concert. I'd been told I'd get an hour's concert, so I brought enough songs to fill an hour handily, and only then learned that I had another half hour to go. Well, seeing that a lot of the fen had brought songbooks and laptops, I asked for requests and then for the words, if anybody had them. Finally, I wound up singing "The Horse-Tamer's Daughter", complete with choruses on all 15 verses. The fen loved that, since almost nobody ever sings that pizza-song -- let alone me.

But the really fun part was learning that the Columbus Hyatt had decided to go Pure -- totally non-smoking, anywhere in the hotel or within 20 feet of the door -- only on the plaza outdoors -- but, thanks to their contract with MarCon, they had to reserve one last smoking-room for me. Heheheheheh. So I held a party -- the Last Sin-Pit in the Columbus Hyatt. The signs I put up advertized the party as "All drinking! All smoking! All Politically-Incorrect songs!" The hotel tore down the signs, not liking the reference to either smoking or booze that nobody paid them "corkage" for, but I announced the party at every concert and panel I worked on, and I had a lot of them. *Snicker* The Sin-Pit was very well attended, and went on almost until dawn. Also, judging by the sheer numbers of people out on the smoking plaza at all hours, I daresay that neither the fen nor the Columbus natives are as Pure as the Hyatt's managers like to think.

Footnote: I noticed that a lot of the folks out on the smoking plaza were fascinated by my electric cigarette. Checking the subject later on the Internet, I learned that e-cigarette sales have skyrocketed in the past year. Those pundits who cheerfully claim that most Americans have quit smoking these days have overlooked the ones who simply switched to "vaping".

And by the way, the nasty cold that I got at PantheaCon has lost most of its effects. I've got my range back to three octaves, it's just that my tone at the extreme ends of my range needs more work. Well, it'll get it.

Altogether, MarCon was really great fun, and I hope to get back there soon.

--Leslie <;)))>< )O(