Repeal ALL Drug Laws

It’s time to repeal the drug laws. ALL the drug laws. I know, I know, you’re all saying, but then ANYBODY can get drugs. But that’s the problem. Anybody can get them now. But the social cost is exorbitantly high. Look at what we’ve created: viciously violent drug cartels around the world, violent gang wars, adulterated drugs that are killing users every day, massive incarcerations of non-violent offenders for ridiculous amounts of time resulting in disastrously unequal treatment, and, to top it all off, a police-state mentality and pervasive police brutality driven by the so-called war on drugs. We have not made our society any safer, we haven’t helped those addicted to drugs, and we’ve spent billions of dollars on a pointless battle that could have otherwise gone to helping addicts and building a stronger society, including providing better education for everyone. In fact, as far as I can see, the only people who really benefit from the war on drugs are the dealers and cartels, the police, the big pharmas, and, of course, as always, the gun makers. Because if there’s one thing the war on drugs has created, it’s massive demand for more weapons.

So here’s an idea. Let’s end the “war on drugs” (which is actually just a war on American citizens) and start again. Repeal the drug laws, spend the money on education and treatment, and then institute a tax on drugs. Let’s do some serious research on how drugs can be used to treat some of our real problems, like the chronic pains of an aging population, research how natural medicines can be used in the treatment of disease (instead of just calling them “drugs” and banning them outright), and take the opportunity to create a more compassionate and equitable society. Because we know one thing for sure: what we’re doing now isn’t working, but is only making America and the world a lot worse. Maybe it’s time to try something different.

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Real Parental Authority

My parents didn’t believe in censorship and always said no one ever got pregnant from reading a book. So one day when I was eleven or twelve, and having been an avid mystery reader since I was about six, I came home from the local drug store with a hardboiled mystery called “Dead Dolls Don’t Talk.” My mother took one look at it and said, very simply, “I don’t really think you’re going to like that.” Whoosh! You’ve never seen a book hit a trash can so fast in your life. After all, if my mother didn’t think I’d like it, it couldn’t possibly be worth reading.

Now, this was the woman who’d been carefully guiding my reading since she started reading me “Winnie the Pooh.” Greek mythology, Nancy Drew, then the British locked-room mysteries, science fiction (as it happens, this was also the woman who first suggested to a very young Philip K. Dick that he should consider submitting the short stories he was writing in her class), first with Ray Bradbury’s “The October Country” and then onto “Fahrenheit 451,” “Brave New World,” then Isaac Asimov…So when someone like that says, “I don’t really think you’re going to like that,” Whoosh! Now that’s authority!

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Not Death-Penalty Offenses

And here we go again. A white policeman kills an unarmed black man, and this time by shooting him eight times in the back as he was running away. While running away might be annoying, it also means “NOT AN IMMINENT THREAT.”

Are we beginning to see a pattern here? And, if not, do we need new glasses? Yes, I’m sure there are plenty of good, well-meaning, non-psychotic police officers. But why do there seem to be so many who don’t meet those criteria? What we learned from the famous Ferguson report (and if you haven’t read it yourself you should; it’s a real eye-opener and is available at the DOJ website), is that entire police departments can become entrenched in blatantly oppressive and hateful practices. What we’ve learned from Ferguson and other incidents is that way too many people, usually white men, are hired as police officers who have no business being anywhere near any form of weaponry or power.

But what we’ve also learned from these incidents is that way too many policemen have no idea of what warrants lethal force. So, for the education of such officers (who of course aren’t reading this, but maybe someone will pass it along), here are some actions that do not warrant the death penalty:

1. Running away from police. In and of itself, definitely not a death penalty offense. On the other hand, if you KNOW you have a violent offender, call for backup, then WAIT for backup, then attempt capture in as non-lethal a manner as possible. See, guys, determiing whether the system gets to kill someone is the job of the court system. Remember the phrase INNOCENT until PROVEN guilty?

2. Resisting arrest: annoying, yes. Aggravating yes. Often probably insulting. But again, not a death penalty offense

3.  Mouthing off to police. See 2. above.

4.  Selling illegal, individual cigarettes.

5.  Selling illegal, individual cigarettes, plus mouthing off to police. Nope, still not a death penalty offense.

6. Broken tail light. What’s he going to do if he gets away? NOT get it fixed?

7.  Not paying child-support. Again, what’s he going to do if he gets away? Not pay MORE child support?

8. Being 12 years old and holding a toy gun. The child in this case was dead within two seconds of the police arriving on the scene. That’s not even enough time to assess the threat. If there is one. Which there wasn’t.

9. And, of course, the obvious, not being a white male. Definitely not a death penalty offense.

You get the idea. I think we need some new training for police along the lines of “It’s okay if he gets away. Consider the offense. We’ll catch up with him later.” Too many officers seem to think it’s their duty to assert the power of the state right now. The famous — or possibly infamous — OJ chase is a perfect example of a, well, fairly measured response. (Did we really need ALL those police cars following one guy who barely went over 30 miles an hour on the Los Angeles freeways? I mean, where’s he going to go?)

Let’s train our police to chill out a little. So the guy gets away for the moment. That’s what manhunts are for. You know, an organized group activity. The case of the Boston bombers is a good case in point. No one tried to play hero, even though it was practically the definition of exigent circumstances. Yes, there was plenty of gunfire, because the suspects started firing and lobbing explosives and they still managed to bring one guy in alive. (Mainly because he ran over and killed his brother.)

So how about a nationwide review of officers with questionable performance records or backgrounds. Why do officers with really awful histories in previous assignments get hired at all? And how about a review of ALL police departments to improve the degree to which they reflect the diversity of their communities? Call me cynical, but somehow I doubt that Ferguson is an isolated case.

But most of, all before you start shooting or strangling, or whatever, consider the offense. Then take a few deep breaths, then count to ten. Slowly.

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How to Sell Used and Rare Books

I recently ran across some questions on how to sell used and rare books, so I thought I’d put together a brief guide. At Reliza Books, I’ve been selling various types and conditions of books for nearly twenty years. I’ve sold used general purpose books from computer topics to novels to rare and antique books. I’ve used Amazon, AbeBooks, Alibris, and eBay, and I’ve had to learn a good deal about books along the way. So here are some thoughts.

Selling Used and Rare Books

You have two basic choices: sell the books yourself or sell them to a dealer. Dealers run anywhere from your local used book store to high-end dealers who can afford to pay thousands of dollars for really special or unique books. If you have what you think is an important book, say, the first edition/first printing of “Catch-22” signed by Joseph Heller to  a close friend acknowledging the friend’s contribution to the book (just as an example: I actually owned such a book by the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick; that one I took to a real dealer, who gave me a much better price than I could ever have gotten on my own, because he knew who would be interested and what they would be willing to pay), you should probably contact a serious book dealer, such as a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (search their members at.

If you want to sell the books yourself, do your research. Learn the official terms for describing a book and learn what each book condition looks like. “Fine” and “mint,” for example, are a far cry from “good” or even “very good.” Then, when you’re ready to describe your book, be  RUTHLESSLY honest. Don’t try to hide any details because your buyer will know. Take closeup pictures of every side of the book, including the page edges (also called the “page block”).

Now, more research. Search the Internet for the title of the book, including the publisher and the publication date. You may find you have a more important book than you realize. Here’s a recent example. When a certain publisher was about to bring out an author’s first book, the powers that be had a last minute crisis of faith and published only 6,000 copies of the book in the first printing. The book was called “Booked to Die,” by John Dunning and was a mystery concerning a Denver rare book dealer and book scout. The book was a runaway hit and went onto several subsequent printings. But those first 6,000 are currently selling for between $100 and $600, especially if they’re signed.  So make sure you know what you’re selling.

Next, still more research. To get the best price for your book, go to eBay  and search for the book title and author. Add any special characteristics, such as “first edition” or “signed.” Click Search. Now, here’s the really useful part. When eBay returns the search results, scroll down until you find the check box for Sold Listings on the left side. Check this box and eBay will now show you recent sales prices for your book.Now comes the the hard part: setting a price. A book, or any other item, is worth only what the market will pay. You may think what you’re selling is a priceless antique, but if the market doesn’t agree, you’re in for frustration and disappointment. So study the market. If there are similar books currently on offer, take a few days or weeks to see what they sell for. Now you’ll have an idea of a reasonable price to ask.

Finally, pick where you want to sell your book. If it’s an ordinary book, of course, there’s always Amazon. If it’s antique or collectible, look at AbeBooks, or Alibris, or eBay. Finally, decide how to sell your book. All three of these sites allow you to set a fixed price, but only eBay allows to run a real auction. Auctions are often nice if there’s a fairly large market for a book. That means you’ll likely have a lot of bidders driving the price up. If, however, there are thirty or one hundred copies of the same book on offer, buyers will compare the condition of the book and then select the lowest price.

If you have a lot of books to sell, particularly if those books could use a little spiffing up, pick up some books on book restoration, cleaning, and repair. If you end up doing or having someone else do major repairs to a book, be sure to state exactly what was done, like “end pieces replaced” or “spine rebacked.” Every change to a book affects its value, but some repairs, like reattaching boards that have separated from the spine are unavoidable. For major repairs such as these, make sure you find a reputable craftsman to make the repairs. You can find them by searching for “book repair” or “book binding.”

If all this seems too daunting, find a good book dealer or two and get estimates. In either case, good luck. Dealing in books is a fascinating business.

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Our Kind of People

Our Kind of People (Link to Amazon)

by Uzodinma Iweala

In “Our Kind of People,” Uzodinma Iweala takes a hard look at current attitudes and approaches towards the African AIDS epidemic, and he identifies some disturbing truths as well as some promising approaches. It’s an important book.

According to Iweala, rather than tossing drugs and condoms at the problem or swooping in at the last minute to rescue orphaned children, we should be focusing on treating the epidemic as part of larger societal problems, especially poverty and abandonment. He argues, quite persuasively, that much of the West’s approach to African AIDS is tainted by an essentially racist (my word, not his) approach that regards Africans, and especially Africans living with HIV/AIDS, as both Other and lost.

Back when I was really keeping up with AIDS issues (it is, after all, a fascinating disease), far too many people in the back corridors of power in the fields of public health and global politics and money were whispering, “Africa is lost.” The argument generally went: (a) African sexual practices are spreading HIV/AIDS more rapidly than anywhere else in the world, (b) too many Africans are already infected, (c) even if we pour drugs into Africa for those with HIV/AIDS, the rate of infection is already so high that the rate can’t be reduced, (d) no matter how many condoms are available, most Africans won’t use them, (e) drugs are the only way to slow the rate of infection, and (f) there’s not enough time or money to save those with full-blown AIDS, let alone treat those who are only, as yet, HIV-positive.

“Our Kind of People” (from the phrase “Our kind of people don’t get AIDS”), argues that,in fact, Africa is not lost. Iweala suggests a different way of approaching the problem, one aimed at stabilizing entire communities, reducing the rate of infection through community-building and education, and focusing more than we currently are on treating those who are HIV-positive. After all, treatment for “positive people” can reduce the rate of infection by itself by reducing the individual’s viral load, thereby reducing the ability of the virus to spread.

Providing assistance to positive people, Iweala argues, helps to stabilize the community by enabling them to return to health and work. It is widely agreed that AIDS is a disease of poverty (not exclusively, but to a great extent). Therefore, getting people back to work strengthens the work force and reduces dependency on already strapped resources for support. The goal, he suggests, should be three-fold: treating those who already have full-blown AIDS, providing anti-retroviral drugs for those who are HIV-positive, and reducing the spread of infection through community action and education. In places in Nigeria (the central focus of the book) where such a three-pronged approach has been implemented, infection rates have already begun to drop, making his position hard to argue with.

Iweala’s focus on treatment for those who are HIV-positive raises some issues that some may not want to discuss: treating people who are not already ill with full-blown AIDS. As he says: “People from Nigeria and abroad don’t want to hear that their donations and aid work are going to support another person’s ability to do the things we all have to do, but this should be our goal in the struggle with HIV/AIDS: to mitigate its impact so that lives become livable again.” Those who argue against this approach explain that, after all, there is only so much money, only so many drugs, only so many doses.

Much of the difficulty the West has in dealing with the African AIDS crisis, Iweala argues, stems from centuries-old prejudices against Africans as Other. Their lives are different, their sexual practices are different and perverted, and they’re too uneducated to be able to appreciate all the wonderful things white people want to do for them. Iweala provides some excellent discussions of the world’s attitudes towards Africans, especially Westerners’ attitudes toward African sexuality. In fact, he has an entire chapter titled simply “Sex.” He references sources back to Joseph Conrad and earlier that describe African “otherness.” At the same time, at least some of the antipathy towards treating HIV-positive people stems from the kind of deer-in-the-headlights blindness caused by the extent of the suffering and death. Overwhelmed by the catastrophe, our instinct is to focus on helping the sick and dying, an approach, unfortunately, which does not focus on reducing the rate of infection or stabilizing local economies.

So where do we go from here? Iweala’s primary argument is that we need to “humanize” the epidemic in Africa. Rather than treating the continent as “lost,” we need to focus on eliminating the stigma of HIV/AIDS by, among other tactics, talking about it. Back when AIDS was considered the “gay plague,” almost no one in America wanted to talk about it. And, yes, I do remember those days. If you don’t, read Randy Shilts’s brilliant history of the first years of the epidemic, And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic, 20th-Anniversary Edition.* Once people started talking about the problem (especially when non-gay people realized it wasn’t just a gay disease), infection rates started to fall. Iweala’s chapter, “Speaking of AIDS,” focuses on the difficulties of getting Africans to talk about AIDS, as talking about AIDS inevitably means talking about sex, not a popular topic of polite conversation in Africa. Gosh, sort of like America in the eighties, when the “gay plague” first began to get people’s attention.

The key to humanizing the epidemic, Iweala insists, is to remove the stigma of HIV/AIDS, treat the infected as well as the sick, and integrate those living with HIV/AIDS back into their local communities: including jobs, social supports, and medical treatments. In the chapter “Healing,” he focuses on a number of programs aimed at doing just that. His examples and the testimony from “positive people” are compelling.
“Our Kind of People” is an important book. Because it is limited to Nigeria (where the infection rate is only 4%, compared to 20% in Botswana and South Africa), it’s a short book and, thanks to Mr. Iweala’s lovely style of writing, a quick read. But don’t let its brevity fool you; there are critical lessons here. So read “Our Kind of People” and then tell everyone you know to read it, as well.

*For the science wars, see Science Fictions: A Scientific Mystery, a Massive Cover-up and the Dark Legacy of Robert Gallo. Excellent analysis of big science in action.

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Future planning

We used to think it was funny when people talked about “future planning.” Now they’re talking about “pre-planning.” Any day now we should start hearing “future pre-planning.”

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CIA Logic (NOT)

The CIA is up to its old tricks again, specifically censoring a book before it’s been published. Here’s their rationale, which is classic:

“Just because something is in the public domain doesn’t mean it’s been officially released or declassified by the U.S. government.”

To paraphrase the old line about the Time magazine style, backward runs the logic till reels the mind. Sort of like Felafel’s latest threat that the rebels cease and desist lest he turn Tripoli into a sea of blood. Oh, yeah? You and what army? The ones who are running away and throwing away their uniforms as fast as they can?

Here’s the link:

So let’s go back to that logic again:

“Just because something is in the public domain doesn’t mean it’s been officially released or declassified by the U.S. government.”

Perhaps we should review the phrase “public domain.” To quote “When Harry Met Sally”, “It’s out there. You can’t take it back, it’s already out there.” I believe there’s also something about shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted.”

All I can say is, if this is what they’re using for logic in the CIA, it’s no wonder they couldn’t stop 9/11. Truly pathetic.

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