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Movie Review: The Train Wreck of “I’m Still Here”

I got to see the preview of I’m Still Here last night, another in a long list of reality, documentary, “real life” stories on film. So it’s shot with a handheld video and is grainy and old looking, as well as bad to incomprehensible sound quality in parts. Just like Blair Witch Project and all those other made-to-be-real stories. But it’s a documentary, sort of. Joaquin Phoenix, the star, or anti-star, of this documentary was filmed by brother-in-law Casey Affleck. Now in a way it’s unfortunate that Affleck let the cat out of the bag so early that in fact this is a mockumentary and not really Phoenix’s plummet into eccentric weirdoness. We sincerely hope–though stars going crazy, or doing too many drugs or booze is an old story and Phoenix seems to have had his brush with this in the past.

Joaquin as crazed hip-hop wannabe (from x17online.com)

In some ways, this reminded me of the documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, which had grainy handheld images by a novice videographer, for part of it. But let’s look at I’m Still Here as if it were being filmed as a true documentary. First, if Casey Affleck was revealed as the director at the beginning we then have to wonder, why does an actor with money and names at his disposal decide to use the lowest level of technology available to make this film about his brother-in-law? Only because it will look more like reality, but already I’m suspicious because it’s not some no name Joe and at least the filming should be a little more even, and the framing and sound better. That’s my first raspberry to the film.

Let’s not forget that for Affleck’s directorial debut it does keep production values and costs pretty minimal, and producing a film can be very very expensive. Not to mention paying those high price actors of which Joaquin Phoenix is one. But hey, he’s in on it and he’s Affleck’s brother-in-law and we know the Affleck boys are talented. So let’s do this badass hoax.

Phoenix, as always, is such a consummate actor that he’s believable as the tripped out, pot-smoking, coke-snorting, beer-drinking crazoid who wants to give up acting and become a hip-hop artist. However…through this increasing train wreck of two years, Joaquin gets fuzzier with a big untrimmed beard, uncombed hair, massive sunglasses held together by duct tape, sometimes a torn toque or shirt on his head and generally a slovenly appearance that radiates negative sex appeal. I kept wondering if they put a fat suit on him but it looks too real as he gains weight. Now there are many actors who have put on weight, starved themselves or gotten buff to play a role and I don’t doubt that Phoenix would do this.

However, I find it unbelievable that anyone who actually cared for the man, including presumably his brother-in-law and a sister somewhere (or the brief cameo of his father) would let a man slide for so long without wanting to stage an intervention, and that Affleck would put that in the video. Phoenix is crazed,  he’s drugged, he mumbles, he rants and is basically so fucked up that he’s unappealing to anyone but the sycophants/aids/assistants who are paid to follow and help him. But no one, not publicist nor marketing people nor agents ever say, “What the hell? You need serious help.” They just let him ride and let him slide, and that to me is unbelievable and missing from this mockumentary, hence making it a noticeable fake documentary.

As for the film itself, well there are funny moments because Joaquin is so crazed and the way he dresses so bad (because we know he’s a famous star) that you just have to laugh. His home doesn’t look anything like what a star would live in and seems half unpacked with his assistants living in bare bedrooms with no pictures on the wall and only a single size bed (also unbelievable–no one can love him that much). So yeah we laugh at his crazy looniness and at the lame-ass attempts at hip-hop, which, because the sound is never mastered in any way is hard to hear at times.

But those amusing moments don’t warrant a nearly two-hour film. It’s slow and drags and whereas Exit Through the Gift Shop moved along, had tension, humor, drama and a good story on several levels, I’m Still Here falls flat. So flat in fact that I kept trying to see what time it was when I wasn’t closing my eyes. An hour would have been long enough to document this style of train wreck life, whether real or not. Some judicious cutting would have helped.

If Casey Affleck hadn’t revealed that it was a mockumentary so quickly I’m sure that the critics would debate its veracity for months, (and more people would see the film) but probably Joaquin Phoenix is truly worried that people will believe it and that his movie career will plummet. Plus, he’s gotta get back in shape now. But like the phoenix Joaquin is named after, I’m sure this star will rise higher and that the only truly good thing in this film was the caliber of his acting.  As for Casey Affleck’s directing, well, with the right money and people in the right place, I know I could do as well if not better. I’d only give this film four stars out of ten. Watching my cat groom itself is about on par for the excitement in this film.

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It’s a Nutty World

This is not my parent’s world and I suppose it’s not my world either. At least it’s not in the sense that when I was a child or when my mother was a child, allergies were relatively rare to unheard of. And if someone had an allergy it was asthma. There wasn’t once in my twelve years of grade school that anyone had a deadly allergy, nor that we had to not eat or wear something at school because it could kill someone. It just didn’t happen. Or it did, but it was an extremely rare thing.

I recall in art college my boyfriend developing a patchy rash on his legs. He went to the doctor wondering if it was something he had eaten. The doctor told him you couldn’t get a rash from eating anything. I said, BS, people die from food allergies. So it did exist, the deadly anaphylactic allergies, but not enough that even all doctors believed it then. So what happened? Why has the world changed so much?

My mother has often said, “You never heard of leukemia when I was a kid. It was only after the War that people started getting it.” Now, I’m not a doctor but I have several theories on the increase in allergies. I likewise never had any issues as a kid and now have food allergies.

Overall, there are several factors that I believe add to the increase in and the great number of dangerous allergies. As little as a hundred years ago, people were still mostly using horses, staying in their cities and villages and travelling rarely. It was pretty hard for the common person to taste a pineapple or even get chocolate regularly (unless they lived in countries that had these all the time). The diet was pretty much what our culture is now trying to move back to: the 100-mile diet, or don’t eat anything that isn’t grown within a hundred miles of you.  One reason is to support the local agricultural economy. The other is that if you and your ancestors grew up in one region then the flora in your belly are used to and more adapted to certain food combinations.

Another reason for the increase in allergies is what we put on or in the ground. The highest incidence of celiac disease in the world is in Italy (with Ireland coming in second). Celiac means people can’t eat gluten, the substance found in wheat and therefore pasta, bread and other such items. How could it be that at least 600 hundred years of pasta eating has caused celiac disease? If it was this bad 200 years ago I’m sure the Italians would have stopped eating pasta long ago. Someone also once told me that a friend of his, anaphylactic to peanuts, tried organic peanuts and had no reaction.

So then it’s what we’re spraying on the plants, and it’s what’s going in the ground. Altering plants through genetic modification or grafting to new strains through time might make them hardier to grow in all climates and environments, but it might also make them harder for us to digest. This also means what’s in the air, those pesticides and the exhaust of cars and factories, is changing the oxygen composition and adding other metals poisonous to the human system, not to mention other animals and plants.

I developed more allergies after having to take amoxycillin and then prednisone. None are life-threatening but they’re damn inconvenient, causing rashes, swelling, diarrhea, and palpitations. The drugs fall into the aspect of what is in the ground and the air, or what we’re creating that is artificial. Our bodies don’t have millennia of these drugs, nor does the DNA passed down by our ancestors.

So we’re looking at modified food, fabricated food and drugs, unknown elements in the air, the ground and ourselves and more food than our ancestral bodies should be used to. The highest incidence of dairy intolerance is in Asian groups. In fact, people who are able to digest milk are a minority in the world populations. Anyone who is Asian who has eczema should look at cutting out dairy. After all, their ancestors lived for centuries if not longer, without dairy.

We’ve changed our world so much that people are dying from being around nuts, not even having to ingest them, just breathing in that air. Maybe it’s Mother Nature’s way of population control but I would think it’s more humankind’s blunder into changing things without understanding the repercussions first. It’s time that we looked before we leaped. Even if we cut out one of the factors I’ve listed, it would still take time for everything to settle and there are the other issues. But if you or someone you know is starting to be affected by what they eat (let alone what they breathe), then these are a few markers to look at first.

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Prince of Pot Purloined to Prison

Mark Emery, self-named the Prince of Pot, is on his way to a US prison. For years he ran a mail order seed business. Cannabis seeds that is. He is also a highly publicized advocate for the legalizing of marijuana, having spent thousands giving money to various advocacy groups. He has run for office before but never won a seat.

Emery ran his business for years Vancouver, BC, since 1995. In 2005, on request from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, the Vancouver police raided the BC Marijuana Party Bookstore and Headquarters. Emery was arrested but not charged for several years.

This happened because of one thing: George Bush. That the US stuck its nose into Canadian business and asked for a raid was not constitutional, nor should Canada be bending over to US demands, but Harper is George’s strange bedfellow. Every Canadian should be wary and upset over this, whether it was for pot seeds or stealing shoes. The US didn’t go through the proper channels and Bush’s war on terror seemed to extend to pot seed sellers.

Yet again, we have many dollars being wasted on something pretty innocuous. As I’ve said before, legalizing marijuana would put police resources to better tests than going after every person with a joint, or seeds, or pot plants. And in fact, organized crime would not bother to continue growing it once it was legalized. Already, the drug wars and shootings that go on are over the harder drugs on average.

You also never see people who smoke marijuana breaking into homes or cars, or robbing people on the street. It is the hard drugs that cause an addiction and a strong need to have another fix “right now.” But where would our right ring politicians be without some “cause” to fight. Too bad they and municipal police forces actually aren’t spending time on the real causes. Why? Because it would take real work and it’s easier to hit up a singular pot growing business. Which likens the strikes of police against organized crime to gnats buzzing around one’s head.

Mark Emery goes to take a martyr’s place in the long ludicrous history of the battle against marijuana. Alcohol causes more deaths through too much drinking and car accidents than pot does but it’s legal. Right wing governments seem to want to control people but why? What difference does it make when morphine is legal, when booze is legal? How is marijuana so bad it shouldn’t be legalized?

I haven’t seen any convincing arguments. Mark Emery will serve time and as much as many murderers, more in some ways. There are people who kill people and get a manslaughter sentence, often out of jail in less than five years. Like the Sasan Ansari who stabbed his friend to death thirty-three times. He only got five years because he couldn’t remember what he did and he was an ex-law student. And Mark Emery will get at least five years for selling seeds. Hardly the same scale. Perhaps he should just say years of smoking pot have faded his memory to black and he’ll get off in no time.

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The Death of Rock Stars

Untimely deaths in the world of entertainment may not be every day, but they are a little too common, and of course because these people are famous we hear of all the sensational aspects that went along with the death. Looking at three stars of the music world, we have Elvis Presley, John Lennon and Michael Jackson, to name a few but perhaps the most famous deaths.

Elvis made it to 42 and died from complications of obesity and drugs. His life of fame ate at him and like many stars, brought out the hollowness of always being in the spotlight and having money to satisfy every desire but a happy heart. His funeral was big and his grave still gets many fans at Graceland.

John Lennon, didn’t die by his own hand, but was shot down by a nut, at the age of 40 (and Lennon actually said in a interview that day that he would probably be popped off by a loony). I remember when he died and I was incensed that the local paper didn’t even mention it on the front page of the newspaper. But some deaths hit the front pages because they sell newspapers.Because Lennon had moved on from the Beatles to a new phase of his life, his death was big but probably not as big as Elvis’s though they had been contemporaries.

Michael Jackson made it to 50, so did relatively well of the three big stars. He too died from drugs, addiction and who knows what else. His funeral this week was a spectacle with rock and movie stars and the thousands who attended being chosen through a lottery. It was in one sense a big dead concert, with booklets being given out as souvenirs or mementos of his memorial.

Comparing funerals and the splash that any of these men made in death could be difficult. Even Sarah Bernhardt’s death in the 20s held a spectable. Jackson has died in the age of computers and internet, blogging and tweeting. That his death will have hit more media forms than any other big stars death is obvious. This will of course increase his impact on his fans, or the number of people influenced by him. On TV, there must be at least five stations with long, dedicated shows to dissecting Jackson’s life. Not to mention every news hour covered Jackson’s death in detail.

Although stars often do charity and public works, funneling some of the gross amounts of money they make into good deeds, they are not overall big on world impact. That often takes world leaders and the power of their countries behind them to make those changes. But the King of Rock n’ Roll, the King of Pop and the Fab Four were known for their music, for touching the hearts and souls of millions of people. On TV, in movies, on stage, they were more visible, more beautiful and more charismatic than our world leaders.

Is it any wonder then, that we idolize them, place them on pedestals and call them our modern gods? People must place their faith, hopes and dreams on someone. We may not all be famous but we can fantasize of these princes of music and try and dig into evey aspect of their lives. And we can hate them enough to pull them down or shoot them, should they show a flaw or just somehow be what we can’t be.

Michael Jackson, like Elvis and John Lennon, left a huge legacy. It will stay in the hearts and minds of people for a long time. It will be a hundred years or longer before they fade from memory. But other stars will rise and shine and burn brightly for a time, then fade. And amongst those supernovas, there will be millions of other stars, not so bright, but the lives of you and me and those around us who deserve attention and love while alive. The price of fame and fortune was that Elvis and Michael at least, sought drugs and were unhappy. So we, the little stars, should remember this and be happy that we have the ability to be obscure and not always in a spotlight that can singe us to the soul.

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Michael Jackson: Shooting Star

I grew up with Michael Jackson, or his music anyways. But that’s not hard to say for most of us. After all, when a career spans forty-five years, many people can say the same thing.

As the news rolled in, people and media have expressed their shock, that they were stunned. Sadly, I can say I was not. I have said that I expected that Michael would die an early death, like Elvis, than live to a ripe old age. I have called him a shooting star for years, for he is and was exactly that. A shooting star ascends high into the heavens, or so high up that everyone can see that light. But such a bright light eventually comes to an end. As opposed to a star that shines constantly and brightly for eons and then fades out at the end of a long lifetime, a shooting star seems all the brighter for its briefer lifespan, and that it will descend much quicker. The candle burned out long ago, to paraphrase Elton John.

That Michael Jackson was a brilliant musician and stage presence, the greatest pop icon of his time, is obvious by the number of albums he sold and the money he made. It’s irrefutable. That he lived a happy and normal life is arguable. The signs are not so hidden at all that Jackson was a troubled and unhappy individual. Like many of us, I’m sure he had his moments of happiness, but like many of us he was also unhappy with who he was. And he had the money to do something about it.

He was a good looking, handsome black child who grew to adulthood and was still attractive. Looking at those early pictures of Michael, you can see he is still black, his hair curly yet fashionable. Slowly his wide, broad nose, narrowed and narrowed again to the skeletal aberration that it became. I certainly hope that the plastic surgeon who mangled Jackson’s face doesn’t advertise that he did the great Michael Jackson. Of course, Jackson also had surgeries to change the shape of his jaw, his lips, his cheekbones, his eyes until the face does not resemble the earlier Michael Jackson at all. How much plastic surgery is needed for a burn of long ago? Not that much, I would think.

He took to straightening his hair, getting rid of any semblance to the negroid curl. And his skin turned white. It’s said that he suffered from a skin pigmentation problem, vitiligo. On white people this sometimes shows as a darker patch, or a pinker patch of skin. On black people, it shows as white or pinkish skin. This could possibly be true but any person I ever saw who had this condition, where the melanin starts to leave the skin, had it in patches, not an overall and even discoloration. Though it’s possible that he started with this and had a chemical depigmentation performed using monobenzone, to even out the skin tone. He also did not exhibit conditions of albinism, evident by the darkness of his hair and eyes. (The Philipines, as one example, sells many skin lightening soaps.) There are numerous ways listed on the internet on how to lighten your skin tone. Michael Jackson had the money, which gives you the means, to do this to the extreme. Perhaps it started as a pigmentation problem but I believe he went in search of being a white man.

These extreme examples of changing his body indicate how unhappy he was with who he had been born. And proves that money can’t buy you happiness. He was too famous to walk anywhere without being recognized, therefore negating his chances of having normal life experiences. As Michael grew farther away from a normal life (even as a child in a performing family he was more used to spotlight than to family life) it became more unattainable.

Where were the family and friends that could bring him back to center? His family wasn’t a good example as they all lived in the limelight to one degree or another as well. If Michael’s only friends were other stars (as often is the case) then they may have been his yes men, only telling him how wonderful he was, never saying, Michael you’ve gone too far. Or Michael, you’ve got to eat or you’re going to die. But if there were those who tried to balance Michael’s extremes, maybe he just didn’t listen. After all, he was rich and powerful in the music world.

Michael lived in fantasy palaces, with private zoos and was probably happiest when he took his creative genius into the realm of  music where he was an innovator and a leader. I was never that in to pop music but I would argue that there is no better music for teenagers, because pop music is catchy, upbeat and fast enough to engage a young mind. Yet Michael was seen as a god, not as a man. I’m sure he was a romantic icon for enough teens as well.

We have a tendency in our world today to put rock/music stars and movie stars upon pedestals. They are our modern gods. But we (people, the masses) are a fickle lot, that get bored too quickly and demand too much. If our gods slip up, we will pull them down, we ridicule them and we hate them for the fame and money and beauty that we cannot hang onto ourselves. We will pick at their every flaw and as their pedestal crumbles we will hack it to pieces.

And then Michael, the unfathomable recluse who invited children into his palace, was charged with child molestation. Whether true or not, such an accusation is devastating and scarring to the core. It could not do other to a man estranged from a normal life who could only live on the idolization of his fans. Even the supposed three children he had with the rather plain woman (who disappeared from the scene shortly after) were suspect. No matter how a man bleaches himself, or suffers pigmentation problems, they won’t transfer to his children. And black being more dominant than white would show in the features, yet these kids (the few pictures that exist) are more white than anything else, one especially being extremely white.

Michael Jackson’s life had become a circus, the star on its descent. The millionaire who owed millions. When I recently looked at a progression of pictures of Jackson through his life and I saw how thin he was (not just slim, but very thin) I knew he suffered an eating disorder as well. This fits in with someone so desperate to change into someone else. Anorexia starves the body on all sorts of levels. Not enough nutrients to feed the muscles or the organs and then those organs must work harder. Anorexics, unless they try to seek help and recover, often die of heart attacks when the strain on their hearts become too much. It really was inevitable.

Michael Jackson may have had other conditions too; it’s not clear. But one thing that is, is that he was fighting his body his whole life. To be so gifted and die so conflicted. Could most of us ever hope to shine so brightly? Could any of us fear to burn so painfully? I feel sad for his life, that he couldn’t have loved himself more. Michael Jackson joins the other shooting stars, the famous who died suddenly before their flame burned out naturally: Jimmy Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, River Phoenix, Princess Diana, John Lennon and many others.

Reports are saying that he died of a drug overdose or a cocktail of deadly proportions. Not really a surprise. Jackson was reportedly addicted to painkillers (Vicodin, Demerol, etc.)  since the face burning episode. Put on top of that, the numerous surgeries and his anorexia and you have a collapse just waiting to happen. A bit of a star’s standard way out, whether planned or accidental. This shopping list of pharmaceuticals does support my theory of a man disenfranchised and unhappy with the way his life continued to unfold. So he closed the book.

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Amoxycillin and Me

About ten years ago I had a sore throat that wouldn’t go away after a month and a half. So I went to the doctor and she prescribed amoxycillin. It’s a particular form of the cillins, like penicillin. Before that I never had had a problem with penicillin but also hadn’t had any in years.

I proceeded to take the medication and a few days later when friends were visiting I was feeling feverish and having trouble breathing. That eventually passed a day later but I started to break out in a rash. The rash proceeded to hives, which proceeded to cover my entire body.

I went to the doctor and for whatever reason she thought I had the Australian flu, a particular virulent version going around that year. I continued to take the medication. I now was itching head to foot, slathering myself in calamine and welting up. I couldn’t brush my teeth or hair, wash my face, touch any part of my body without giant welts forming. I was a mess and scared.

The Thursday night (everything had started the previous Saturday/Sunday) I could feel welts in my throat and on my gums. I asked a friend to call me in the morning because I was afraid I wouldn’t wake up. In the morning, luckily I did, but things were not getting better. I called my doctor’s and burst into tears. I went in (the third visit that week) and she gave me an epinephrine shot. Unfortunately I overreact to epinephrine with racing heart, numbness and tunnel vision so she could only give me half a shot.

The shot worked for about a half and hour and then everything continued, so I went back in that afternoon. My doctor sent me over (rushed me in) to the dermatologist’s who asked me about five questions and said I was having a severe drug reaction. He put be on one drug to stop the itching and prednisone to stop the hives and welts.

The problem with the anti-itch drug was that it makes one eat and crave carbohydrates more. The problem with prednisone, a steroid, is that it puts weight on you. Because prednisone takes over for one’s adrenal glands a person cannot quit it right out. Doses must be tapered down so that the adrenal function comes back on. People can die from stopping prednisone cold turkey or screw their adrenaly systems permanently.

It took three weeks for my symptoms to go away. In the process of taking the prednisone I put on 40 pounds in a month, became very round and puffy and grew sideburns. My face was as round as the moon and I got something like zits but closer to cysts on my body. My nails grew longer and straighter than they ever had done and the stuff kept me out of the hospital. It gave me an appreciation for asthmatics who must use prednisone to breathe and the weight problems they must then deal with.

It took about 6 weeks to two months to be tapered off of the drugs. And once off I lost all the weight relatively fast. I also did a four-day juice fast as soon as the drugs were gone. Growing up with an eating disorder had left its mark and the way I was eating while on prednisone scared me. Luckily the eating disorder didn’t resurface.

Unfortunately I was left with some long term and permanent affects of prednisone and amoxycillin. I can no longer take any of the cillins for fear of an adverse reaction. I’ve run into other people who have had severe reactions from amoxycillin and I would caution against it. It contributed directly to the illness of my cat and subsequently his death months later. He had a persistent ear infection and the drug nearly killed him. I stopped it because he wasn’t eating or drinking and was vomiting. I forced water into him but his kidneys were damaged and six months later my very robust cat was dead from cancer. There is no proof that the cancer came from the amoxycillin but he never fully recovered from the amoxycillin.

Prednisone also permanently changed me. My hair had always been bone straight like the rest of my family’s. Now it has a medium wave throughout. I have spots on my body where there had been cysts from the prednisone and they will swell up from time to time. I had, before prednisone, been sensitive to dairy, couldn’t eat oats or lentils, and couldn’t drink grape juice. That was it.

Afterwards, I began to develop itchy red patches on my face, neck and arms. Eventually I had to go to my doctor about this and she sent me to an allergist who was a research doctor. This doctor told me that many food allergies cannot be tested with just the scratch test because if you’re affected by eating, surface areas do not accurately reflect this. I tried a few different diets and we found that I was reacting to foods that contained histamines. So those old cysts would swell up when I had too much and eczema would develop (which is now a chronic condition for me).

Some foods that contain natural histamines are: citrus fruits, all seafood, caffeine, dairy (cheeses, milk, cream, etc.) including whey, casein, milk solids and lactose, eggs, tomatoes, eggplant, pumpkin, spinach, vinegars and fermented foods, alcohols, preservatives such as sodium benzoate, sulphites, sulphates, tartrazine, prepared meats like bacon, salami, sausages, soy and red beans. There may be a few other categories but those are what I remember off the top of my head. And you can be sensitve to some but not all.

The elimination and testing period are long and tedious and I could never stay on it long enough to test everything. But some foods became self evident, such as when I eat vinegar or an orange and get itchy immediately, breaking out in a rash and possibly suffer from diarrhea. I may welt if the citrus touches my skin. I’ll get eczema as well. I’m not just sensitive to dairy now but will bloat, get stomach aches, bags and dark circles under my eyes, and break out–a full allergy.

And in the past year, my once hugely annoying eczema has progressed into rosacea but I’ll talk about that another day. Needless to say this is a cautionary tale about amoxycillin and prednisone and just some fo the things that can go wrong.

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Should Drugs be Legalized?

This should be justified as, should recreational drugs be legalized? With Vancouver’s recent spate of gangland shootings (13 in less than three weeks) this topic has come up that they’re fighting over drug money. A very good supposition and though there are those that say it has to do with pot, I’m guessing there’s a full gamut and the relatively cheaper marijuana is at the bottom of the list, which is topped by crack cocaine, crystal meth and heroin.

So, should drugs be legalized? Remember prohibition, when alcohol suddenly became illegal (having been drunk for years) and the religious right screaming temperance? Of course there were some legitimately good reasons for limiting alcohol intake. The Wild West gained its moniker for a good reason and the TV series Deadwood is not far off the mark, when only men came to new areas to mine gold or trap or work in lumber mills. Vancouver’s own early history is so colored, with the first women in the townships being the bar girls and First Nations women, sometimes married to a lonely man.

But prohibition only meant that what people wanted now had to be procured through illegal means. The underground became more established and organized crime ran booze in from various areas. Rum runners became a common aspect of the prohibition years in the early 20th century. Prohibition did linger in that there are now certain laws around the consumption of alcohol. 

Once alcohol was legalized the only way organized crime could make money off of it was to bring in far larger quantities at cheaper rates. Or say, smuggle tobacco and the far more lucrative and illegal drugs.

So yes, if we legalize all those illicit drugs, we take the cash crop away from the gangs and put it in the hands of the government. Marijuana, which is far less nasty than alcohol in its affects on humans should be legalized to save the cops time for the important issues. Like the drug addled crimes of addicts breaking into homes and cars for their next fix. They don’t tend to do that on marijuana.

So let’s say we legalize all drugs. The cost goes down for the drug, which takes down the cost of law enforcement and break-ins. The price of health care might be the same or might go down. It may not be as fun to take if the drug is no longer illegal. Will there still be addicted people? Yes, but maybe fewer. And they won’t be as stigmatized. Well, maybe. After all, we do have alcoholics in all walks of society and there is still a stigma, but many of them hold down jobs to pay for their habits. They’re less likely to be breaking into someone’shome or car with readily available and cheap liquor. Ask the lawyers and business people who are alcoholics. (Note: this is just an example of a few professions but like I said, it’s in all walks of life.)

There is another aspect. Yes, it’s sad to see people addicted and this often speaks to underlying problems, many of which can be tracked back to one form of abuse or another. So the money saved in crime prevention can be put towards mental health, and the cost and distribution of drugs lessens. It would take time to implement but it can work. This last aspect is that we stop controlling another person’s decisions and let them be responsible to themselves. It’s not perfect and we need laws with which society must function. But changing some of the laws on drugs could lessen the gang crime and the substance abuse.

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Depression: The Invisible Battle

In the last decade there have been more books on depression and people talking openly. Although I think there can be a point of over-saturation, we’re not there yet and more dialogue on depression will people help recognize and understand it better. There are still too many people who live under the black cloud of despair or more tragically, kill themselves out of depression.

I speak not from an outsider’s point of view but from the intimate perspective of having suffered mild depression to full-blown clinical depression. The first time was probably in my twenties when my boyfriend of three years and I broke up. I moved to Vancouver and lived for another three years in a somewhat different personality. It was a bit kamikaze, reckless, unhappy and angry. I ended up going to my doctor who sent me to a psychiatrist. He determined that I was working my way out of the depression by that point and didn’t put me on meds. That’s pretty rare for psychiatrists who are married to the pharma industry. Psychologists aren’t covered in Canada’s medicare but psychiatrists are.

Perhaps I dipped into depression a few times after that but it was when I was dealing with my eating disorder that I was first put on anti-depressants. I can’t say they changed my mood or state of mind but eventually it seems my brain chemistry balanced out and I stopped the binging and quit the meds.

In 2001 I had gone through a few things and had a boyfriend, but I was pretty poor and nothing seemed to be going right for me, My health was deteriorating, partly caused by a repetitive stress injury in the movie industry and now I was poor. Everything built up. I was freelancing but not full time so I’d go and work, then come home and crawl into bed. I forced myself to eat a bowl of soup a day. I couldn’t deal with anything: answering the phone, changing a doctor’s appointment, coming up with answers to questions. I cocooned for months. And then September 11th happened and that added to the fear and gloom. My elbow was also hurting and no amount of physiotherapy was helping. After many sessions the physiotherapist said she couldn’t help anymore.

I went to my doctor with this symptom and she mentioned depression. I didn’t want to see a psychiatrist because I don’t think they do much (the last one when I had the eating disorder, didn’t) and I didn’t want to go on anti-depressants because they’re hard on teeth and can cause increased cavities (less salivation occurs and bacteria builds up). I also argued that I had reasons to be depressed and listed them. My doctor said, true you can be depressed and have good reasons but it’s not about the reasons but how you cope. In essence, I wasn’t coping very well at all.

My doctor gave me a questionnaire to fill out and bring back. Of all the questions the only one I didn’t have a dire answer to was the one about suicide. I’ve never been suicidal, not even when depressed. My doctor took one look at my answers and said, “You’re going on medication.” So I did and luckily she got me a compassionate prescription, which is free through the pharmaceutical companies because there was no way I could afford it and I would have stopped buying them, if I had to pay.

Since that time I try to gauge where I’m at, watch my moods and feelings. But depression is a tricky thing. It doesn’t always manifest the same way every time. Sometimes you can function but you can’t eat. Sometimes you’re just in physical pain that won’t go away. Sometimes you are fine during the day and plummet every evening. Sometimes you can’t eat, or you eat too much, can’t sleep or sleep too much. For me, it’s never been quite the same so it gets hard to know for sure.

I sometimes have to look back over a period of a year and see if I have shifted much. I try to catch it before it gets as bad as 2001. I don’t like being in that space and everything is far too dark. I tend not to read or watch the news because the concentration and the repetition of the bad and horrid gets to me. Even the radio can be too much but I do like to know what’s going on in the world.

Depression is not a physical ailment but it can become one. It can make people as sick as any disease and kill them. Understanding what a person may be going through will help people heal. Calling them crazy and whacked, which we all do, may describe their current state but it won’t help them get better. Depression is a disease with varying symptoms, and understanding will help those who have it and those who have to be around it.

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Politicians, Pot and Prohibition

In the last week two NDP candidates have had to step down because there were pictures/videos of them smoking pot. And another candidate once upon a time skinny dipped in front of teenagers. There were never any charges laid, none of the teenagers or parents ever complained, and RCMP cleared him of wrongdoing. Yet he’s had to resign from running. Something that people need to understand about the West Coast and the island communities is that it’s not abnormal for people to be free an easy. To get your knickers in a twist over someone skinny-dipping is a little over the top. The politicians are really desperate if that’s all they can find. I certainly would rather have someone dipping into the drink nude than have them scam the country of a few million or outright lying.

But that’s the lesser issue. There is the oh so horrible aspects of marijuana. Granted it was pretty stupid letting yourself ever be filmed if you have aspirations in politics but smoking pot is pretty much so minor that it doesn’t amount to even a crime. Being filmed driving under the influence of anything is a little more serious.

But let’s look at this. Pothead politicians. Hmm. When a person is high on pot, they tend to sit around, maybe eat, maybe sleep. People on pot are never seen as being zippy and really, how much crime is contributed to just potheads? I’m not talking grow ops or dealing but just plain ole smoking. Compare it to drinking. Drinking alcohol and buying/distributing it is legal. A person drunk can cause way more damage, possibly get in fights, and then drive cars. Our premier Gordon Campbell was caught and fined for drunken driving in Hawaii and he certainly thumbed his nose at everyone and didn’t step down. So why should someone who smokes pot, or swims naked do so when they’re not even in the government yet?

This comes down to the decriminalization of marijuana. The only reason it hasn’t happened yet is… Why? I wish I really knew. There are illegal grow ops everywhere, the Hell’s Angels and other criminal organizations are involved in it and make millions every year. If it was decriminalized and regulated like alcohol was, then the government would actually make money on it, like it does on alcohol. When prohibition was in effect, more in the US than Canada, criminals raked in the money and not only that, became better established. We all have images of Bonnie and Clyde times (though they were bank robbers) and moonshine.

In Vancouver, with all the crime we have (home & car break-ins) you never hear that some crazy pothead was doing it or that potheads are living on the street. No, it’s crack and crystal meth and heroin that puts people on the street, and leads them to prostitution and burglary. Legalizing marijuana would actually make it far more controllable. I’m not even sure who is against it, some conservatives obviously that feel that it’s what, the devil’s tool, undermining our youth? I just don’t know but the harms of pot are far less than alcohol and people aren’t killed in car accidents by multitudes of pot smokers. Sure there may be some accidents but the majority are alcohol induced. Better the devil you know.

As far as I can see it, some guy running in politics who confesses to having smoked pot seems such a minor misdemeanour compared to a drunk driving premier. (But then Campbell was in good company with the equally drunken Klein–actually Klein was much more an expert at drinking and only cursed beggars and threw money at them.) It would be better for our resources if police could concentrate on serious crimes and just think, the proceeds of selling marijuana could go to fighting other drug crimes.

I think we have a very skewed society where true perpetrators of crimes and politicians who break promises and rip up emplyment contracts (Campbell) can stay in power (including the mayor of PoCo charged with violence and yet won’t step down) and some skinny dipper has to give up running. It makes me even more dubious that anything can ever change in this country because the old crusty suits still run the show in outmoded ways. Do I find a broken campaign promise worse than a guy smoking pot? Yes. I certainly wouldn’t care if he did smoke pot. And like past US president Clinton, these guys should have said that they didn’t inhale.

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Drugs, Thugs and Hugs

Vancouver is starting a community court as an attempt to stop filling up the court system with repeat criminals who happen to be drug addicts and stuck in the perpetual cycle of addiction>money>crime>drugs>addiction.

There are several stats that contribute to trying something new. I’ve always contended that our criminal justice system is broken. The Downtown Eastside is considered the poorest postal code in Canada, as well as having the worst and largest number of addicts. Vancouver suffers from a high number of crimes ranging from car to house break-ins. Many of these can be contributed to addicts looking for that fix and needing money. So in their jittery, drug addled state, they trash cars, or steal purses and backpacks or invade homes.

I’m not speaking speculatively but as someone who has been a victim of these crimes. I’m not particularly rich, don’t drive an expensive car and don’t live in a ritzy neighborhood. That doesn’t matter in Vancouver. When I had a Honda Civic (the most stolen car in BC at the time) it was broken into sixteen times. Licence plate, registration, sunglasses, ashtray w/coins, first aid kit, half a tire jack, gear shift knob, cassette tapes, etc. were taken. Some can be contributed to kids and car thieves (gear shift knob, licence) but the ease of getting into a Honda was well known.

Although the break-ins happened all over the city, the majority happened where I live in East Vancouver. My next door neighbor, who at one point had a nice heritage house, became an addict. We had no proof that he was the perpetrator but the crime rate on our street was very high while he could still pay the mortgage on his place. My apartment (part of a heritage house) was broken into when I was away but my landlords were watching it and at home that night. We’re pretty sure it was the drug addict neighbor who even seemed to be paying a couple of teenagers to scout out places.

Twice more my place has been invaded. The second time I was actually home and someone walked into my back door (facing into the back yard) and took my purse. I suspect it was my no longer homeowner neighbor who had lost his house to drugs. The last time was last year when some other addict crowbarred my French patio doors and stole my camera.

This happens time and time again in Vancouver and although some criminals are of a higher organization, most of these crimes are caused by drug addictions, homelessness and sometime mental health concerns. Locking up these petty criminals for a short time doesn’t solve the problem overall. Most get very minimal sentences and are back time and again in the courts.

The community court (that some are labelling Hugs for Thugs) is to deal quickly with the criminals, where they meet with a triage team of counsellors and/or social workers. They’re sentenced to varying degrees, where community work or reparation is included, and sometimes jail time. This court has just begun and has been successful in other geographic areas. It’s the first in Canada and hopefully, along with the safe-injection site, will help keep the crime down and maybe, just maybe get people off drugs and off the street.

We’ll need affordable housing, which there is a lack of for even people who are poor and not yet homeless, as well as those on drugs or suffering from mental health issues. But I wonder how it will work if the addicts don’t want to change. And I know, after talking to someone who was a police officer for 25 years, that those on crystal meth will be the hardest to reform. Crystal meth literally eats the brain, making those addicts the most violent and least likely to be able to get off the drug. They usually have a five-year lifespan from when they get addicted.

But considering the rampant crime and the ineffective court system for this problem, I’m willing to hope this could be a win-win situation, with everyone suffering less from crime and people getting off the street and off drugs.

The official community court, justice reform site: http://www.criminaljusticereform.gov.bc.ca/en/justice_reform_projects/community_court/index.html

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