Negotiating Traffic

I agree wholeheartedly with Nick Gillespie's editorial on Traffic ("The Thirteenth Step," March) but would add one additional point. Most liberal-minded folks agree that the drug war has been a colossal failure. Nevertheless, these same people still think that "something" needs to be done about drugs. For liberals, this "something" is stepping up emphasis on treatment, instead of incarceration.

I regard Traffic as propaganda for this view. The viewer walks away from the theater with the impression that the only approach that "works" is treatment, especially 12-step programming, which was working for Michael Douglas' daughter in the film. Never mind the statistics showing that treatment doesn't have any better a track record than the criminal approach. Drug use or abuse is largely a self-contained problem. Most people outgrow it on their own, and are not harmed by using drugs, including "hard" drugs like meth, coke, LSD, and heroin. Meanwhile, forcing young people into abusive mind-control "treatment"—Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, etc.—will harm a lot of people.

Lloyd Gaarder
Sioux Falls, SD

If everybody involved in the drug war debate studied the history of drug use in the United States, they would quickly discover that there was never any valid reason to outlaw drugs in the first place.

No one was robbing, whoring, and murdering over drugs when addicts could buy all the heroin, cocaine, morphine, opium, and anything else they wanted cheaply and legally at the corner pharmacy. When drugs were legal, addicts held regular employment, raised decent families, and were indistinguishable from their teetotaler neighbors. Overdoses were virtually unheard of when addicts bought cheap, pure Bayer Heroin instead of the expensive toxic potions prohibition put on the streets. (See the Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs at www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/library/studies/cu/cumenu.htm.)

Drug crime was once unheard of. Now we have prisons overflowing with drug users. The addiction rate is five times greater than when we had no drug laws at all. These are the consequences of a lunatic drug prohibition policy, not drug use.

Once we clearly understand that our preposterous drug crusade causes all of our "drug problems," the wisdom of legalization becomes apparent. Whatever problems remain will be much easier to deal with than the chaos we have now.

Redford Givens
San Francisco, CA

While agreeing with Nick Gillespie's critical assessment of the drug war, I experienced a strong visceral reaction while reading it. He goes beyond defending the right to choose intoxication, to outright championing of the intoxicated state itself. He reveals himself as an apologist for stupefaction. I find this at odds with REASON's masthead, which promotes "free minds and free markets," not bad choices. I believe that we are called to a life of virtue and that the value of reason is to help sort through all the noise that inhibits virtuous decisions. If reasoned thinking does not have this practical application, then it is just so much mental masturbation.

Such thinking is not an easy endeavor, and it requires a disciplined commitment to intellectual awareness. As a child of the '60s, I have observed that substance-induced intoxication does not enhance one's mental acuity. In fact, it invariably dulls the senses, leading to a state of "comfortable numbness." As Roger Waters of Pink Floyd passionately pleads, "This is not how I am." Our basic being is obscured, not revealed, by intoxication. Further, connecting to reality in receding waves of awareness is the antithesis of reason. Maybe we can tolerate this mind-altered state in an editor-in-chief, but I doubt if anyone would encourage it in more critical citizens, such as doctors, airline pilots, judges, teachers, and parents.

Randy Hoffman
Seaford, VA

The public is so conditioned—even brainwashed—that it cannot distinguish the danger of a drug's illegality from the danger of a drug's pharmacology. This is the hand the film producer is dealt. If he wants to be taken seriously, he cannot deviate far from that center. Steven Soderberg took a small but necessary step toward educating the public and regaining sanity. Next year, maybe another step.

John Chase
Palm Harbor, FL

As a recovering addict, I am incapable of understanding Nick Gillespie's assertion that there is such a thing as recreational drug use. Most people in my position can never comprehend how a social drinker can have just one glass of wine—it just doesn't compute. But I do agree that the current approach to fighting drug use is misguided and largely unsuccessful. I do not support legalization, but rather a redirection of forces and resources.

Arguing from a utilitarian perspective, decriminalization still does not compute. Sure, most people who use recreational drugs don't become addicts who burden the state. But the occasional weekend toke on a joint or dose of Ecstasy at a rave has consequences far beyond the brief escape from reality. The economic costs of drug use, including legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco, are staggering.

The Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University recently found that states spent more than $83 billion "shoveling up" the wreckage of substance abuse. Most of that sum was devoted to the criminal justice system, foster care, and social services (not including treatment). More than three-quarters of the average state's criminal justice spending and 25 percent of health spending was related to substance abuse. In Colorado, for example, 95 cents out of every dollar spent on substance abuse went toward cleaning up the mess, while just five cents was allocated to prevention and education.

I will grant that for many, drugs are fun and harmless. But a drugless society would be a better society. It may be more enjoyable to sit at home and get stoned or go to a bar to drink, but doing so means foregoing myriad opportunities for personal growth, public service, and community-building. I enjoy concerts and sporting events without ingesting mood-altering chemicals, and I can be productive the next day instead of nursing a hangover. The rewards I get from making my community a better place far outweigh any drug high.

We need to demonstrate that it is possible to enjoy a chemical-free life; there are alternatives to participating in a drug-based economy. But most importantly, Americans need to redirect our resources toward prevention and treatment or we will never win this war.

Mark C. Gribben
Lansing, MI

Please explain that the "public health" position of some misguided individuals is false. Typhoid, tuberculosis, polio, and other "communicable" diseases are public health concerns. Your neighbor sitting at home overindulging in pot—or alcohol or cheeseburgers, for that matter—is not. No one ever caught "addiction." Addiction is a choice. Taking drugs is a vice, not a crime or an illness. Drug use is a matter of private morals and social values of no concern to "public health" officials or any other therapeutic state moralizer.

Chris Buors
Winnipeg, Manitoba

2-D Violence

"The Whipping Boy" by Jib Fowles (March) illuminates the tendency of many Americans to pay lip service to the power of free markets. Television may promote violent behavior and various anti-TV violence groups may sincerely believe this, but rarely do these groups advocate that people stop watching TV. Instead, they want more government regulation or they want everyone to boycott sponsors or they want TV manufacturers to install V-chips; anything except taking responsibility for their behavior and turning off their televisions.

The average American child will watch 200,000 acts of violence and 16,000 murders on TV by age 18. Will this cause children to become violent criminals? I'm glad I will never know with my kids. My family stopped watching TV 10 years ago. Every consumer has this choice.

Paul Olson
Breckenridge, CO

The arguments presented in "The Whipping Boy" apply equally to the wars on drugs and guns. Yet television violence is not without blame. Brandon Centerwall's research focused on TV itself, not its content. As evidence of the influence of TV violence on behavior, we have "copycat" violence, increased Smith & Wesson sales post-Dirty Harry, and the interest generated in the obscure "Bren Ten" by Don Johnson's Miami Vice character. Frequent portrayal of military-style machine guns coincided with the misperception, cynically manipulated, that similarly styled semi-automatic rifles and shotguns were major crime tools. Sales of industry-hyped "assault weapons" rose as reports (or misreports) about them increased.

We shouldn't dismiss violent images. Although crime rates may not be greatly affected, lives are lost, and misplaced priorities increasingly erode our liberties.

William J. Durr
Cornwallville, NY

I am disturbed by Mr. Fowles' thesis that "television violence has never been shown to cause hostile behavior." This is a prime example of the current psychobabble pervading the intellectual idiocy of higher education. The idea that the constant portrayal of violence has no debilitating influence on behavior is ludicrous.

Fowles should back off from his voluminous vocabulary and go back to the basics of how a person is educated. We learn through our five senses. Of course TV informs us, via sight and sound, the most important learning receptors. What we are dealing with here are the young, impressionable minds of children. They lack the experience to discern the difference between fiction and fact and between right and wrong.

Byron Hawkins
Napa, CA

If TV violence begets violence in real life, it must be inferred that other depictions on TV are likewise impressed upon reality. After all, it ain't all violence on the boob tube. The very same programs full of mur-der, beatings, and chaos are also replete with empathy, altruism, heroics, charity, and the triumph of good over evil. Does fiction transcend fact? Where are those studies?

Gilbert J. Strong Jr.
Maplewood, NJ

Censor Happy

I enjoyed Jesse Walker's "Intolerant Alliance" (March), but I have a problem with the assumed equation between protest and censorship. Certainly REASON has not hidden its light under a basket when it comes to pointing out the dangers of various corporate and governmental idiocies. One assumes you have no problem with government regulation of, say, lead in drinking water. So why does raising the question of whether images can be dangerous immediately bring on an almost hysterical reaction?

I totally agree that all the instances of censorship Mr. Walker cites were laughable and stupid. However, I would like some idea of what he considers acceptable and appropriate concern. REASON fights stereotypes of businessmen despoiling the earth. Some of us would like to fight the stereotype of Larry Flynt, fearless and noble defender of free speech.

Jozseph Schultz
Santa Cruz, CA

I found "Intolerant Alliance" fascinating. However, your reference to Abingdon Press as a religious right outfit suggests that you are clueless about the landscape of American Christianity. You should run your stuff by a fact-checker.

Dan Stichman
Lancaster, CA

Jesse Walker replies: Mr. Schultz need not worry: I don't equate protest with censorship. As the cliché goes, the solution to bad speech is more speech; if Mr. Schultz doesn't like what Larry Flynt has to say, he has every right to express his criticisms. But when the protesters turn to advocating censorship, or to pushing dubious causal theories from the censors' arsenal, it then becomes my turn to protest.

And speaking of protesting bad speech: Mr. Stichman is quite right. Abingdon does publish some conservative material, but it also publishes books that would give Pat Robertson hives. Mea culpa.

Election Wrap-Up

It is rare to find as much utter nonsense in an issue of your usually superb journal as is contained in the election analyses by Richard Epstein and Mike Godwin ("The Legacy of Election 2000," March).

Mr. Epstein blames Democrats and Republicans equally for the bitter dispute over the Florida vote. While this kind of morally equivalent approach will generate kudos from the politically correct, it reflects an intellectual fuzziness.

Mr. Epstein sums it up exactly: "Dem-ocrats take an expansive view of language and harbor a yen for social justice, while Republicans gravitate toward plain-meaning interpretations and the rigorous application of formal rules." He then proceeds with a lengthy analysis that indicates not a shred of understanding regarding the relationship between these two approaches to government and their impact on individual liberty and property rights. Plain language, rule of law, and rigorous application of same are fundamental prerequisites to a free society. Conversely, legal interpretation that changes with the winds in pursuit of indefinable notions such as "social justice" is a recipe for tyranny. I can only conclude that Mr. Epstein doesn't understand this relationship, doesn't believe it, or doesn't really care about individual liberty.

Then comes Mr. Godwin's screed in which he takes the U.S. Supreme Court to task for reining in the Florida Supreme Court, which, in the explicit language of its own chief justice, was issuing rulings with no basis in law. In doing so, he asserts that the Supreme Court violated its own previous interpretations of states' rights, and thereby "stepped over the lines that supposedly constrain federal court authority."

What rubbish! No theory of states' rights ever granted to any state court the authority to rewrite election law ex post facto, which is exactly what the Florida court was attempting.

Mr. Godwin's contention that the court's action was justified because the Florida legislature had "presented the courts with a crazy quilt of ambiguous and/or self-contradictory election laws" would have made a nice press release for the Democrats, but as legal theory, it's junk. Give courts the authority to rewrite laws they find confusing and/or apparently self-contradictory, and you have made judicial tyranny a fait accompli.

There are many lessons to be learned from the election, but these articles contain no evidence that Epstein or Godwin understand any of them.

Robert J. Stepp, M.D.
Monument, CO

Richard Epstein's and Mike Godwin's analyses of the 2000 Florida election were journalistically skillful, but they both ignored a factor that had a most profound effect on the election outcome. A large number of spoiled ballots was not a new Florida phenomenon nor one peculiar to the 2000 election. There is a long history of under- and overvoting in certain precincts due to the disproportionate number of literacy-challenged voters in those precincts.

This was well-known, as evidenced by the DNC's pre-election hiring of Tele-quest, a Texas telemarketing company, to call 74,000 voters on election day to raise concerns about punch card ballots. The script given to Telequest for their callers stated, in part, "some voters have encountered a problem today with punch card ballots in Palm Beach County. Voters have said that they accidentally punched the wrong hole for the incorrect candidate." The script went on to urge voters to return to the polls to formally register their complaint with election authorities.

Rather than engage in this obfuscation, why did not the DNC flood the vulnerable precincts with pre-election voter training sessions in town halls and churches using easily-prepared charts to explain the ballots? As it happened, they would have needed to prevent errors by only 600 voters to achieve their ends. Would not this have been more honorable than the attempted ex post facto judicial rewrite of Florida election laws?

Ronald M. Wade
Rockwall, TX

I enjoyed reading the judicial analyses of Election 2000. I read all of the legal documents from both the Florida Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court, listened to the pundits, and came away with a view very similar to Epstein's.

I am a Democrat who did not care much for either candidate. Despite his protestations, Godwin came away as heavily partisan, which was best reflected by his last sentence, which contained the phrase "there's no disputing." Maybe he hasn't been listening, because there is plenty to dispute. This sort of arrogance from both political camps left a bad taste in my mouth.

The fact is that we Democrats screwed up, from nominating a weak candidate to creating butterfly ballots to not doing more to educate our members about how to vote. Furthermore, the fact that anyone would ever want to count a dimpled chad as a legitimate vote disturbs me greatly. Sure, the Republicans screwed up too, especially with the absentee ballot controversy. I just hope the lesson we derive from this nonsense is to avoid such screw-ups in the future so we don't have to depend on lawyers and judges to decide elections.

Terry J. Woodfield
Irvine, CA

Objective Art

We appreciate that Charles Oliver credits us with making a "provocative case" for Ayn Rand's theory of art, and with providing a "fascinating critique of the muddled thinking of most modern artists and critics." But we question some important errors and omissions in his review of What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand—tellingly entitled "Beyond Taste: The Perils of Defining Art" (March).

Most egregious is Oliver's assumption that, because we favor an objective definition of art, we would approve the acts of censorship (and abrogation of property rights) that might result from it under present law. Since our book, as we stressed, is a study "not in political philosophy but in the philosophy of art," we deliberately confined our analysis of the governmental and legal implications of Rand's theory to the points most relevant to the concept of art, within the existing body of law. Oliver's presumptions about what legal measures we would advocate, if any, are therefore ill-founded.

Regarding the 1990 obscenity trial in Cincinnati, for example, Oliver mistakenly infers that we faulted the jury for "refusing to convict" the Contemporary Arts Center's Director, Dennis Barrie. What disturbed us was not that "Barrie wasn't forced to spend some time behind bars" (as Oliver suggests), but rather that his defense was based on the false claim that the disputed photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe met the legal test of "serious artistic value." (We argue that, regardless of content, no photograph qualifies as a work of art if that term is precisely defined.) Even more disturbing to us was the likelihood that such a claim had contributed to the dismissal of the far more grave (and justifiable) charge that two of the photographs constituted child pornography. Nevertheless, we would not have advocated a jail sentence for Barrie.

To avoid undesirable legal consequences, Oliver favors a "purely subjective" theory of art. Such theories have held sway in the art world for decades, however, and have adversely affected far more than just those laws and government programs that libertarians would rightly abolish. They have corrupted the private and nonprofit sectors as well. In this regard, Oliver ignores our argument that recent corporate and foundation support has been as misguided as any government arts program. Spurious work by "avant-garde artists" is richly rewarded, while true art, especially painting and sculpture, is largely relegated to the margins of the cultural marketplace.

Oliver also omits any mention of other key portions of our book which lend further credence to the argument we make for an objective definition of art. These include entire chapters dealing with the nature of music, photography, and the decorative arts—as well as with dubious modernist and postmodernist innovations in dance, music, and literature, and with bogus postmodernist genres such as "performance art" and "installation art."

Finally, Oliver fails to consider what we regard as the most important public implication of Rand's theory in today's culture: that a destructive influence is being wrought on the young by the rampant irrationality and politically correct agenda of the contemporary arts establishment. In chillingly Orwellian fashion, school children are taught, among other falsehoods, that literally anything can be art—if a purported expert says it is. Surely this is one very real "peril" of not defining art, since free minds depend, above all, on cultivating the capacity for rational thought.

Louis Torres
Michelle Marder Kamhi
New York, NY