I took a taxi here in Los Angeles about ten months ago. It turns out the driver was from Iran, and he was impressed that I knew of some of Persia’s great poets. He asked me to recite something that I felt was inspired by some of the poets I had read of. I did. He asked me to write it down for him. I did. Eight months later I called for another taxi and he was the driver. He pulled a page out from his papers at his side and gave me this. He translated what I had written from the Farsi he wrote. His version was far more beautiful. Funny world. Strange land. Amazing times
If reckless joy rips me apart
I hope I never heal.
If the scorching heat of love’s desire
should sear my spirit’s flesh,
I will dress it in a balm
made from the nectar of your soul.
Martin – Allo – Yes and yes – got the tea and Alex
got the DVD’s – that was
so nice of you – haven’t tried either one yet – I
finally went to the doctor
and got antibiotics – seems I had an upper
respiratory infection for weeks
and weeks and all I needed was an anti-biotic –
knocked it right out.
We have been in a vicious heat wave – looks like it
breaks tomorrow – it was
so hot I just stayed in Alex’s place with the air
conditioner while Alex has
been in San Francisco. He went up early last Thurs
for a meeting with Wild
Brain which takes place tomorrow. Tue.
I haven’t even looked at e-mail this past week – now
that I am means I am
getting better and the heat is breaking – I hate the
heat! That’s really all
that’s going on right now.
The courts keep hounding me for jury duty – I don’t
think they will bother
me much after I told them I thought the judiciary
was institutionalized class
warfare and racism; the supreme court is Hitler and
everyone in law
enforcement and the courts are the gestapo. Plus
they ask you to swear on a bible
under oath and that is unconstitutional; clearly an
separation of church and state. I told them to get
it all sorted out then call me
and that if I were on a jury, I would have to vote
not guilty no matter what was
before me since I cannot trust the police to be
truthful about anything.
I know I am on a list somewhere, probably a few,
probably so many that they
are all confused since I support and condemn
everything and everyone simply
on my whims. The US is barbaric and a revolution is
brewing. I want to be
Benedict Arnold. What thinkest thou?
And that’s the way it is: Los Angeles Monday 22 June
I once slew a beautiful beast. I brought you meat & a silver sable fur which kept us warm throughout the coldest winter in almost a thousand years. I was a saint who loved throwing miracles at your feet. I was a devil who incinerated your generous spirit with my savage desires. I ate your heart while it still beat in your magnificent breast. I was once an angel who held you tight through a long & devastating night. I was once your lover who gave you the world in the shimmer of a solitary black pearl which I foolishly lost in a canyon by the sea. I was once a man who cared a lot. I grew a gorgeous crop sustaining you … only you.
I grew up in the cracks of skyscrapers. I learned to run before I could walk. I’ve seen the world in flames. I’ve heard my Mother’s sobbing. I know your pain because I am an old man dying. I am the newborn’s breath. I am a tree standing tall and proud and … I am here to say it is more than fun or games or unbearable pain. It is joy and laughter. It’s the look of love and …
I am a young bird singing. I am its Mother weeping. I am the sun & I’m laughing all the way each & every perfect day. It is hard to believe but it’s been perfect from the start … every day in every way, yes, perfect from the start.
I was born a prodigal son with tattoos plastered across my face. In a mysterious & enchanting old world script they said, “Dear Mother, I will recklessly forget your glory. I will scatter the riches you give me upon a sweet, naive & unsuspecting full moon. I will choose suffering before healing. I will rip my soul to shreds. I will shine as bright as any star you have ever created. I will be folly before I flourish. I am your son. I am my mother’s son.
Don’t hurt me. Love me. Laugh with me. Smile with me. I will fulfill your plans for me because underneath a veil of chaos, my heart will never forget that whatever your will creates is divine & cannot be separated from its source. Whether I remember it or not, my soul knows everything. My soul is the beating of your heart at mid day. You rejoice in my healed and fractured mind because you know I know you never make mistakes.
And so it was. And so it is. So you see? I said come and see and She saw … She did come & the entire cosmos did see that I was never unworthy of her love because it is her desire that all life should flower eternally with joy regardless the path her beloved children choose to take.
Is it any wonder why I cry so hard? Is it any wonder why I laugh so loud? I am the wind that churns. I am a young bird weeping. I am the center of the hawk’s red eye and … it is hard to believe it’s been perfect from the start … yes … perfect from the start.
In various shades of suede stood Rex, King of the Goliathans. The Great Dane beauty had lived his life according to the laws of God. Kilos of muscle, tendons & fierce intelligence griped the cliffs to Heaven’s Gate. Behind him, carrying a pail of lotus leaves galloped Alex. I loved him for that. I saw a field of Mandarin Poppies bleed into the horizon. I saw both giants lay dying to their earthly vessels as much as deathly hues could burnish.
Where the sky meets the raging sea dreams did weep along the mouth of the mourning coast. Big Sur cried throughout the night. Angels sighed as the ocean, lapping needling pines, did show such compassion that the rains did come. As eve dipped into the pitch black ink of night, these two giants laying there gave witness to eternal splendor. I loved them both for that. Frosted magma breached the shores where I lay crying.
Morning came without her sirens and all was calm, when before mine eyes I surely saw a dream come forth. I looked to where the giants had laid down their heavy journey. On the very mark they had been supinely entwined near the raging sea with her eyes wide opened were two splendid giant Birds of Paradise. I loved God for that & I kissed her sky for the shear love of it all.
There is no way you can avoid this moon tonight.
Do you hear me?
There is no way you can avoid this moon tonight.
At this moment
It is framed by my giant regal avocado tree in bloom.
There is the face of Buddha in it.
That is very clear.
Or should I say, ‘He is very clear?”
There is a nucleus spinning rapidly.
There are lotus flowers morphing and diamonds too.
They are in the mix.
Another face but it is not human.
There is a new moon full tonight.
It is not like any moon ever before.
His ascension came twenty one days to the day he left his beautiful body. A silhouette was all that we could define through the sun drenched smile he wore. It is impossible to mistake his world class smile for that of any other. A starlight flurry of goodness blotted out the pain of our broken hearts just as dawn galloped in. We told each other later that we had witnessed a chariot of gold sutured with platinum thread; a glistening chassis beriched beyond conception with spinning, light-bolted studs & each masterpiece capped with an astonishing precious gem. Some jewels were not of this world. Some jewels were not even of this universe… such magnificence as none of us had ever seen nor would ever see again… a true sweet chariot of the gods propelled by the holy willed power of four & twenty black maned stallions of equal majesty. They pulled the suns & moons from galaxies nearest our own across a royal blue-blooded, yoke-tinged, cobra-laced sky.
Our souls, bedazzled & breathless, reflexively thrust an ovation onto the astrolabe of dawn. Only delicate golden orioles could be heard singing good morning to this beautiful day. Alex preferred it this way. In a favorite past incarnation he was a Roman Augur, therefore his heart was rich with fondness for every winged being he ever knew.
Ruby red diamonds, yellows, blues & Tahitian black pearls from yet another sweet time & place rained upon everyone~ pulsing unified code~surfing crazy shiny-mind waves of Mother Milky Way. Their mirrors reflected wondrous images. Among them were holy men washing the feet of beggar men & the women who keep the fires burning dancing a fantastic dance, millions of them & more but numbers do not go up that high, especially where numbers don’t count at all.
There were many women dancing a fantastic dance. I was reminded of the Black ladies who sing the gospels; from the hips, hands to the sky, left then right; a supplication out to front then down to the ground, over & over & over again. There were smiles everywhere & love, joy & more joy. If you could get close enough to these mahogany ladies you’d find that there is a lot of space & a great freedom around each one, yet from a distance they look packed together moving in unison; perfect choreography like a water dance; up, down, left, right & happy. Did I mention happy?
This must be the part of heaven God has reserved for poets, from the first poet to the last, from infant poets to great ancient oracles. Everything alive & electrical is heading the same way. Everyone loving the same because love moves in the same direction as our galaxy & the cosmos. It must be the joy of the spiral, from helical strands of DNA to the great spiraling universes. It is a perpetual blossoming. It makes a happy sound. Our nature is a happy sound. Laughter. Smiles. It is a great way to live. It would be a wonderful way to die if there was such a thing as death.
Alex smiled his way throughout the universe just as he had done throughout our lives. He never cared for anything in the world but pure love. God loved him for that. We all did. We all do. More than anything else, more than his mind blowing mastery of numerous forms of art & branches of science, Alex Johns was a great poet. They say the same about saints who come to visit us. The love of great poets defies profound. Such purity of soul makes you want to cry. I don’t know why they bother with us unless it is because they love us so much… as much as we love them.
And so it was. So it is.
Good morning ladies and gentlemen,
this is your flight attendant speaking.
Please fasten your seat belts.
The captain has asked me to remind you,
there is no smoking permitted in the lavatories,
and to tell you we are going down!
Our fiery crash landing into the fetid jungle below us
should be metaphorically painless but one never knows.
The temperature at the site our destination is uncomfortable.
Should you require assistance upon our arrival,
do not hesitate to call upon your flight attendant.
Beverages with continental breakfast shall be served at Heaven’s Gate,
located in the main concourse, compliments of Our Dear Sweet Lord, Jesus Christ.
Everyone is welcome but for the exception of Reverend Frederick Phelps of the
Hillsboro Baptist Community Church, Topeka, Kansas, sitting in aisle 2, seat A 4.
He is going to hell.
Because, Freddy, www dot god hates you dot com.
Thank you for flying our friendly skies.
And have a nice day.
HE SAID: I am only human. My voice is powerful so I never shout. We share many of the same thoughts. We come from the same womb. The source of all our inspiration never cries, but laughs a lot.
HE SAID: If you abort a child whose heart has begun beat, that is murder. If you have not, do not force your views. The Great Source of Our Belonging shall see to a loving rectification. If you have, do not worry, for I have seen the light of forgiveness in the eyes of eternity and your story must be told. Your wisdom must find its home, so speak your longing.
HE SAID: Do not take it upon yourself to sit in judgment of your fellow man. A man takes the life of one man, then you punish him by taking his life. Who will punish you for that very same offense? Compassion makes me happy. Forgiveness gets me high.
HE SAID: Be happy. It is your birthright to know joy forever. When pain comes ~ and come it shall indeed ~ embrace it rather than run away. You will never be able to hide. Sharpen your courage. Be kind. Love life. Kiss the ground you walk on. Take the path your heart most truly desires. This is my devout wish & hope & plan for you. He smiled a smile of ecstasy as he turned into a splended new day & slowly faded away.
LA CA US of A ~ March 18 2015
From this primordial cauldron, sulfur & nitrogen compounds fume, ghost-like, up into the ether. This is where stars are born & stars die. Here, a lazy lizard is apt to check you out up & down faster than a rattlesnake can rattle. This is where the trickster coyote crosses my path. No matter how congested Los Angeles becomes, the coyote finds me.
Just yesterday about 9 in the morning I was passing Benedict Canyon in my car when an unusually large doe gallops into my peripheral vision. She charges head-on for my car’s front bumper. Two seconds before impact she freezes… cocks her giant dewy eyed head from side to side gazing at me with unmistakable attitude; a sweet, sly humor.
Later in the day, a monarch butterfly of uncommon earthly hues glides into our garden circling twice before gently resting upon Alex’s head. I tip my gaze a fraction skyward just in time to catch two mischievous ruby-red throated hummingbirds hover above them… just a moment… before they return to their frenetic game of tag. I think I am witnessing still life in motion.
I rake the driveway free of the purple jacaranda blooms while our cat purrs upturned, side to side with the dogs; all three innocents hypnotized by the spring sun. Finally, just as I believe I’ve seen it all for one day, a swift & hungry falcon comes charging from the heavens to the top of our avocado tree, then she lunges at a flock of doves cooing blissfully in a chorus line perched on a limb. Feathers come raining down upon our heads. The falcon is stunned. We can see it dawn upon her; all the doves have gotten away.
I let pass without acknowledging to my only friend in the world, POKER, my beloved pop-eyed Siamese fighting fish, that yesterday was the 21st anniversary of the semi-great Northridge earthquake. I remember it was such a pretty day. At first I was fearful. Not then. Yesterday. Yesterday I was fearful that if I thought upon that day long ago I would fall into a blue grey melancholia. (Not really, I just felt like using that word.)
Alex Johns was up from San Diego to stay. We were young, smart, compassionate, talented, humble & very beautiful. Well gee whiz man, we were. This reminds me, Alex also used to say to me, “bragging isn’t pretty.” What the heck did that mean? I’ll never know. But we were happy to be together & that showed.
What did I tell ‘ya? Those were the good old days. All days past, present & future are the good old days … one day … some way or another … so these are the good old days too … come what may so they say … now … hmm … what was I just spewing forth about? Oh yes, the day the earth rattled the nerves of millions of people with lots of nerve.
Alex & me … were both gently bashed onto the floor from a mattress that was in the dining room because I was growing dope in my bedroom under two 1000 watt super metal halide bulbs.
We dressed quickly. The first thing we did was check on old lady Irene next door. She wasn’t phased in the slightest but I insisted on carrying her down to the street anyway. Five minutes later she wanted back up. She said she had enough so I carried her back up. She was almost 110 years old by then so I think she was kinda hoping the roof would cave in on her. Mainly because I suppose putting up with Richard (her gay pianist lover who was almost as old as she was) for so long had made her suicidal.
Irene was a piece of cake to haul around though. She weighed 20 grams if that, so it was no effort on my part. I should of tossed her into the hills. That would have been the time to do it but I was preoccupied with getting to trolling the neighborhood expectantly searching for mangled & bloodied corpses. Irene lucked out that time. I loved her like crazy though. If she were still alive she’d be close to 300 years old. I miss her still.
Alex & I went driving around looking for someone to help. Yeah, that’s right, help, sure. But everybody was fine … (damn it) … around us anyway. The only thing though, there wasn’t any electricity. You couldn’t watch the news or a good VHS porno on the boob tube, which is how I would have preferred to have spent that day. And you couldn’t get money from ATM’S … if you had any. We had a little sum on us; five grand at least & some change if I recall. Pocket money. Dope was a great business back then & it showed.
… Almost like out of a Twilight Zone episode, MEL’S DINER down the block up on Sunset boulevard was the only place in all of LA opened. I suppose they had a generator. Or they had made yet another pact with Satan as most folks on Sunset Boulevard do every day. “They did cook good omelets & stews & we might have stayed on with them there but our hearts cried out for you, California.”
Grateful & amused. More lucky then anything else. Not too many people had a warm breakfast that morning. And MEL’S was the place to be seen that day. But who cared really, we didn’t. Well, EVANGELINE obviously did but she deserved to be seen any time she wanted. So we had us some good Beluga caviar (farm raised in New jersey) omelets with diced palm tree shoots & lots of strong coffee then split.
What a great day that was. We had a lot of fun. I know some people were crushed to death that day, which is not funny, but everyday some people were getting crushed to death in LA. Nothing new. You wanna know something true? Everyday was a great day when Alex was still alive, every single day because he was astonishing, simply astonishing. No shit, Sherlock.
As President Obama seeks $27.6 billion for federal drug control programs in his new budget, we talk to British journalist Johann Hari about the century-old failed drug war and how much of what we know about addiction is wrong. Over the past four years Hari has traveled to the United States, Mexico, Canada, Uruguay and Portugal to research his new book, “Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War of Drugs.” His findings may surprise you — from the U.S. government’s persecution of Billie Holiday, to Vancouver’s success in addressing its heroin epidemic, to Portugal’s experiment with full decriminalization of all drugs.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: One part of President Obama’s new budget that has received little attention is the war on drugs. The White House is seeking $27.6 billion for federal drug control programs, nearly $1 billion more than last year. More than half the money will be allocated for drug law enforcement by the Pentagon, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice and the drug czar’s office. Hundreds of millions of dollars have also been requested to be spent fighting the war on drugs in Colombia, Mexico and Central America. The budget also includes a line item that would clear the path for allowing legal sales of marijuana in Washington, D.C.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, today we spend the rest of the hour looking at the U.S. drug war with British journalist Johann Hari, author of the new book, Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War of Drugs. The book begins a century ago with the passage of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, the law that launched the modern-day drug war not only in the United States but around the world. The book also details the latest science behind addiction. Johann Hari recently wrote a widely read “piece”:”The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think.” for Huffington Post headlined “The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think.”
Johann, welcome to Democracy Now! What is it then?
JOHANN HARI: Well, it’s fascinating. If you had said to me four years ago, when I started on the really long journey through nine countries to write this book, “What causes, say, heroin addiction?” I would have looked at you like you were a little bit simple-minded, and I would have said, “Well, heroin causes heroin addiction.” We’ve been told a story for a hundred years that is so deep in our culture that we just take it for granted. We basically think if you, me and—I guess there’s about 20 people in this office—if we all took heroin for 20 days, by day 21, because there are chemical hooks in heroin, our bodies would physically need the heroin, and we would be heroin addicts. That’s what we think heroin addiction is.
The first thing that—I had a really personal reason to want to look into this: We had a lot of addiction in my family. One of my earliest memories is of trying to wake up one of my relatives and not being able to. And one of the first things, when I was looking at what really causes addiction, that alerted me that that story may—there’s something wrong with that story, someone just explained to me, if one of us steps out here today and we get hit by a car, right, God forbid, and we break our hip, we’ll be taken to hospital. There’s a very good chance we’ll be given a lot of diamorphine. Diamorphine is heroin. It’s much better heroin than you’ll score on the streets, because it’s 100 percent pure as opposed to, you know, massively contaminated. You’ll be given it for quite a long period of time. That is happening in every hospital in the United States. All over the developed world, people are being given lots of heroin for long periods of time. You will have noticed something odd about that: Your grandmother was not turned into a junkie by her hip operation. If what we thought about addiction was right, those people should be leaving hospital as addicts. In fact, they’re not.
When I learned that, I didn’t really know what to do with it, until I went and met an incredible man called Bruce Alexander, who’s a professor in Vancouver. He explained to me the old theory of addiction comes from a series of experiments that were done earlier in the 20th century. They were actually featured in a famous anti-drugs ad from the ’80s in America. Very simple experiment your viewers can do at home if they’re feeling a little bit sadistic: You get a rat, and you put it in a cage, and it’s got two water bottles. One is just water, and one is water laced with either heroin or cocaine. If you do that, the rat will almost always prefer the drugged water and almost always kill itself. And so, it was concluded, there you go: That’s addiction.
But in the ’70s, Bruce comes along and says, “Well, hang on a minute. We’re putting the rat in an empty cage. It’s got nothing to do except drink the drugged water. Let’s do this differently.” So Bruce built Rat Park. Rat Park is like heaven for rats. They’ve got loads of cheese—actually, I don’t think it’s cheese; it’s some very nice food that rats like—loads of colored balls, loads of friends. They can have loads of sex. Anything a rat can want, it’s got in Rat Park. And they’ve got both the water bottles: They’ve got the normal water and the drugged water. But here’s the fascinating thing. They obviously try both the water bottles; they don’t know what’s in them. They don’t like the drugged water. The rats in Rat Park use very little of it. They never overdose. And they never use in a way that looks like addiction or compulsion, which is fascinating. There’s a really interesting human example—there’s loads of human examples, but I can give you a specific one in a minute.
But what Bruce says is this shows that both the right-wing theory of addiction and the left-wing theories are wrong. The right-wing theory is, you know, you’re a hedonist, you party too hard, you know, that you indulge yourself—it’s a moral flaw. The left-wing theory is your brain gets hijacked, you get taken over. What Bruce says is it’s not your morality, it’s not your brain, it’s your cage. Addiction is an adaptation to your environment.
Really—and there’s massive implications of that, but there’s a really interesting human example that was actually going on at the same time as the Rat Park experiment. It’s called the Vietnam War. Twenty percent of American troops in Vietnam were using heroin a lot. And if you look at the news reports from the time, there’s a real panic, because they believed the old theory of addiction. They believed that if you—these troops were going to come home, and you were going to suddenly have enormous numbers of addicts on the streets of the United States. What happened? All the evidence is the vast majority come home and just stop, because if you’re taken out of a hellish, pestilential jungle, where you don’t want to be and you could be killed at any moment, and you go back to your nice life in Wichita, Kansas, with your friends and your family and a purpose in life, it’s the equivalent of being taken from the first cage to the second cage. You go back to your connections.
What this show us is, I think there’s huge implications for the war on drugs. And obviously, the war on drugs is built on the idea that chemicals cause addiction, and we need to physically eradicate the chemicals from the United States. Now, I don’t think that’s physically possible. We can’t even keep them out of prisons, and we’ve got a walled perimeter. But let’s grant the philosophical premise behind that, right? If in fact the chemicals are not the primary driver of the addiction, if in fact huge numbers, in fact the vast majority, of people who use those chemicals don’t become addicted, if in fact the driver is isolation, pain and distress, then a policy that’s based on inflicting more isolation, pain and distress on addicts is obviously a bad idea. That’s what I saw in Arizona. I went out with a female chain gang that are forced to wear T-shirts saying, “I was a drug addict,” and, you know, made to dig graves and collect trash. And, you know, the idea that imposing more suffering on addicts will make them better, if suffering is the cause, is crazy.
I actually think there’s real implications for the politics that Democracy Now! covers so well and that we believe in so much. We have created a society where huge numbers of our fellow citizens can’t bear to be present in their lives and have to medicate themselves to get through the day with these drugs. You know, there’s nothing—a hypercapitalist, hyperindividualist society makes people feel like the rats in that first cage, that they’re cut off, they’re cut off from the source. I mean, there’s nothing—as Bruce explains, there’s nothing in human evolution that prepares us for being as isolated as the—you know, as the ideal citizen of a hypercapitalist, hyperconsumerist country like yours and mine.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, in your book, you delve into the origins of our modern drug war and come up with some surprising information, that initially it was actually targeting key figures, African-American figures, in the musical world. Could you talk about that?
JOHANN HARI: Yeah, not far from where we are now, in 1939, Billie Holiday stands on stage in a hotel, and she sings the song “Strange Fruit,” which obviously your viewers will know is an anti-lynching song. Her goddaughter Lorraine Feather said to me, “You’ve got to understand how shocking this was, right?” Billie Holiday wasn’t allowed to walk through the front door of that hotel; she had to go through the service elevator. To have an African-American woman standing up, at a time when most pop songs were like twee, you know, “P.S. I Love You,” that kind of thing, singing against lynching in front of a white audience was regarded as really shocking. And that night, according to her biographer, Julia Blackburn, she’s told by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, “Stop singing this song.”
Federal Bureau of Narcotics was run by a man called Harry Anslinger, who I think is the most influential person who no one’s ever heard of. Harry Anslinger takes over the Department of Prohibition just as alcohol prohibition is ending, and he wants to find a new purpose for it. You know, he’s got this huge bureaucracy he wants to run. And he’s really driven by two passions: an intense hatred of African Americans—I mean, this is a guy who was regarded as a crazy racist by the crazy racists in the 1930s; he used the N-word in official police reports so often that his senator said he should have to resign—and a really strong hatred of addicts. And Billie Holiday, to him, was like the symbol of everything that was going wrong in America. And so, he gives her this order.
She refuses. She basically says, “Screw you. I’m an American citizen. I’ll say what I want.” She had grown up in segregated Baltimore, and she had promised herself she would never bow her head to any white man. And that’s when Harry Anslinger begins the process of stalking her, and eventually, I think, playing a role in her death, as was explained to me by her friends and by all the archival research.
The first person he sends to stalk her is an agent called Jimmy Fletcher. Harry Anslinger hated employing African Americans, but you couldn’t really send a white guy into Harlem to stalk Billie Holiday—it would be kind of obvious. So Jimmy Fletcher follows her around for two years, and she was so amazing, he fell in love with her. And he felt ashamed his whole life for what he did. He busts her. She’s sent to prison. The trial—she said, “The trial was called The United States v. Billie Holiday, and that’s how it felt.” And when she gets out, exactly what happens to addicts all over the United States today happens—what’s happened to those women I met in Arizona: She can’t get a job. You needed a license to be able to perform anywhere where alcohol was sold, and they wouldn’t give her the license. So, you know, her friend Yolande Bavan said to me, “What’s the cruelest thing you can do to a person is to take away the thing they love.” She sinks back into addiction.
When she’s in her early forties, she collapses here in New York City, she’s taken to hospital, and she’s convinced the narcotics agents aren’t finished with her. And she was right. She says to one of her friends, “They’re going to kill me in there. Don’t let them. They’re going to kill me.” She was right. In her hospital bed, she’s diagnosed with liver cancer. I spoke to the only surviving person who was still in that room—who had been in that room. She’s handcuffed to the bed. They take away her record player and her candies. They don’t let her friends in to see her. One of her friends manages to insist to the doctors they give her methadone, because she had gone into withdrawal. She starts to recover a little bit. Ten days later, they cut off the methadone. She dies.
Her friend Annie Ross—you know, there are lots of things that—I think there’s lots of things in that dynamic that tell us a lot about the drug war, that it’s founded in a race panic. At the same time that Harry Anslinger finds out that Billie Holiday is using—is a heroin user, he finds out that Judy Garland was a heroin user. He advises her to take slightly longer vacations and tells her she’s going to be fine. Spot the difference.
But the most amazing thing to me about the Billie Holiday story that really helped me to think about the addicts in my life is she never stopped singing that song. She always found somewhere to sing it. You know, she went wherever they would have her, and she sang her song about lynching, no matter how much they tried to intimidate her. And to me, that’s really inspiring, not just for resisting the racism of the drug war, but actually for realizing that addicts can be heroes. All over the world while we’re talking, people are listening to Billie Holiday, and they are feeling stronger. And that is an incredible achievement. And the people resisting the drug war who I met all over the world, from a transsexual crack dealer in Brownsville, Brooklyn, to, you know, a scientist who was feeding hallucinogens to mongooses to see what would happen, to the only country that has ever decriminalized all drugs, there is heroism in resistance to this war all over the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Johann Hari, we have to break, but we’re going to come back to this discussion. His book is called Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs.
AMY GOODMAN: “Strange Fruit,” Billie Holiday, here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Our guest is Johann Hari, British journalist, author of the new book, Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. Juan?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Johann, in your travels around the world to delve into this story, you found places that have chosen another way. Could you talk about, specifically, Portugal and the importance of what’s happened in Portugal in terms of drug addiction, and also Vancouver, where you’ve spent some time?
JOHANN HARI: Yeah, I was so inspired by what I saw in both those places. It was fascinating to go to the places that have abandoned the drug war model and tried the alternatives.
In Portugal in the year 2000, they had the biggest—one of the biggest drug problems in Europe. One percent of the population was addicted to heroin, which is kind of mind-blowing. And basically, every year they tried harder the American way—they cracked down harder—and every year the problem got worse. So one day the prime minister and the leader of the opposition got together, and they said, “Look, let’s just set up a panel of doctors to figure out what would genuinely solve this problem, and let’s agree, in advance, that we’ll do whatever they tell us to do.” So it just took it out of politics.
So, the panel goes away for a year and a half, led by an amazing man called João Goulão, and they come back, and they say, “Look, decriminalize everything, from cannabis to crack. But”—and this is the crucial thing—”transfer all the money we currently spend on arresting drug users, imprisoning drug users, trying drug users, all of that, into incredibly good drug treatment.” Now, partly, that’s rehab, psychological support, that kind of thing. But, actually, much more, it’s the stuff that learns the lesson of Rat Park. We could be drunk now. All three of us could be drinking vodka now, right? We’re not, because we’ve got a job we love, we’ve got something to do, we’ve got a purpose in life. The goal of the Portuguese decriminalization was to say every addict needs to be given a purpose in life. So one of the biggest things was just subsidize jobs. If you used to be a mechanic and your life fell apart, they go to a garage, and they say, “Employ this guy for a year, and we’ll pay half his wages.” It was all about getting addicts reconnected. It’s getting them out of the first cage, into the second cage, if you like.
And it’s been 15 years, nearly 15 years, and the results are in, and they’re kind of incredible. Injecting drug use is down by 50 percent. You know, every study shows addiction is significantly down. Overdose is massively down. And one of the most moving interviews I did was with a guy called João Figueira, who led the opposition to the decriminalization, was the top drug cop in Portugal. And he said—I’m paraphrasing; the exact words are in the book—but he said, “Everything I said would happen didn’t happen. And everything the other guys said would happen did.” And, you know, he talked about how he was ashamed that he had spent 20 years arresting drug users, and he hoped the whole world followed our example.
The other really amazing example—and I think it’s particularly relevant to Democracy Now! listeners and viewers—is the story of what happened in Vancouver. Again in the year 2000, there was a homeless street addict on the streets of the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver called Bud Osborn. It was the area with the worst addiction in North America. And Bud Osborn was watching his friends die all around him. People would use behind dumpsters so the police wouldn’t see them. Obviously, the police can’t see, and no one else can. And Bud said, “I’ve got to do something. I can’t just watch all these people die.” But he also said, “I’m a homeless street addict. What can I do?” He had a very simple idea. He just said to all the other addicts, “Why don’t we start just patrolling the alleyways? Why don’t we just start—when we’re not using, we’ll have a rota. We’ll patrol, and we’ll monitor each other, and we’ll call an ambulance.”
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Bud Osborn—
JOHANN HARI: OK.
AMY GOODMAN: —speaking in 2011 at a Health, Harm Reduction and the Law forum in Vancouver.
BUD OSBORN: a flame burst inside me
fueled by grief and rage
like a spontaneous fierce combustion
flashing up through my nervous system
and roared in my head like a psychic explosion
because of another
because of too many
because of an unnecessary
two words repetitively in my head
No More! No More! No More!
of this heart-breaking family-shattering community-diminishing
of overdose deaths
AMY GOODMAN: That was Bud Osborn.
JOHANN HARI: I feel a bit emotional looking at that. What Bud achieved was incredible. So, overdose started to fall, because they’re doing these patrols. And then they started to get a bit energized, and the addicts started to think, “Oh, maybe we’re not the pieces of rubbish that people have been saying we are. Maybe we can do things differently.”
They started to learn that in Frankfurt, Germany, they had opened safe injecting rooms, where people could use legally and be monitored by doctors, and it had massively saved lives. So Bud and his friends, a big group of them, started to stalk the mayor of Vancouver everywhere he went, a guy called Philip Owen. He was a kind of right-wing businessman. Think Mitt Romney, right? A guy who said that addicts should be taken and put in an army base somewhere, right? For two years, they follow him, everywhere he went, with a coffin. And the coffin said, “Who will die next, Philip Owen, before you open a safe injecting room?” This goes on for years. They get a bit demoralized.
And one day, to his eternal credit, Philip Owen just says, “Who the hell are these people?” And he goes, and he meets loads of addicts, and he spends a load of time on the Downtown Eastside. And it opens his heart, and he says, “I had no idea it was like this.” And he holds a press conference, and they have the chief of police, and they have the coroner, and they have an addict. And he says, “I’m never going to talk about addiction again without having an addict here. We’re going to open this first safe injecting room in North America. We’re going to have the most compassionate drug policies in North America.” They open this injecting room. Philip Owen is deselected by his own right-wing party, because they’re so appalled. He’s replaced by a candidate who continues keeping the drug room open, from a more liberal party.
And, you know, it’s been 15 years now—10 years now, sorry, and the results are in. Overdose is down by 80 percent—80 percent. Average life expectancy in that neighborhood is up by 10 years. Those are figures you only get when a war ends. And I spoke to Philip Owen, and he said it was the proudest thing he ever did, and he would sacrifice his political career all over again.
And looking at Bud, I was thinking—you know, Bud died last year. He was only in his early sixties, but having been a homeless addict during a drug war takes a toll on you. When he died, they sealed off the streets of the Downtown Eastside where he had lived, and they had this amazing memorial service. And there were a huge number of people in that crowd who knew that they were alive because of what Bud had done. And I would say to anyone watching this, you know, it’s so easy to feel daunted by the big political challenges we’ve got. It’s so easy, especially with something as huge as the drug war. You are so much more powerful than you know. Bud was a homeless street addict, and he started a movement that has transformed Vancouver, transformed Canada, and saved thousands of people’s lives. If he can do it, we can do it. This war has been going for a hundred years. We can end it now if we choose to.
AMY GOODMAN: Why “Chasing the Scream”?
JOHANN HARI: Oh, it’s from the story at the beginning. This guy we were talking about, Harry Anslinger, the origin—who launches the modern drug war, this kind of genius—and I don’t say that with admiration—when he was 10 years old, he lived at a farmhouse next to a woman, a farmer’s wife, who was an addict. And one day he turns up, and she’s screaming. And the farmer says, “Go to the pharmacy and buy her some heroin,” because you could buy it legally then—opiates, it wouldn’t have been heroin. And he kind of rushes there. He comes back. She takes the opiates and calms down. But he always remembered those screams. They haunted him. And he was convinced that he was taking on this big war, and he could eradicate these drugs, and therefore he could end that screaming. The tragic irony is he created a lot of screams in his turn.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, could you talk about President Mujica of Uruguay?
JOHANN HARI: Oh, he’s one of the most amazing people I’ve ever interviewed. Mujica was the leader of the Tupamaro guerrilla movement. He was a dissident. He was kept at the bottom of a well for two years by the dictatorship. And he emerged to become the leader of his country. He lives in a shack. I went to the shack. I mean, it’s no exaggeration to say David Cameron and Barack Obama wouldn’t keep their shoes where Mujica lives. And he led his country to legalize marijuana, first country to legalize marijuana since the drug war begins in the ’30s, because he had seen what happened. And I went there to see this in northern Mexico, where the cartels have—if a large part of the economy is illegal drugs, the armed criminal gangs have more money than the state. They can hijack the state and take it over. And he saw if that comes in his Uruguay, they’re screwed. It’s a small country. They don’t have much military force. And really, the horror that I saw—I mean, I interviewed the only person to ever be at the heart of one of the Mexican drug cartels—
AMY GOODMAN: Ten seconds.
JOHANN HARI: —and make it out to tell what it was like. And, you know, this is one of the most horrendous atrocities of the war on drugs, is what it does to the supply route countries.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Johann Hari, I want to thank you for being with us. His book isChasing the Scream. It is just out. The subtitle: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs.
I see a river of flames pouring through the sky of my mind. I witness Star Pine Marionettes in deep green silhouettes making love to the powder blue canvass of dusk. I see a cluster of Bumble Bee Palms milking honey from thin air … and smiles everywhere … in this silence that is our universe unfolding I hear a voice from deep within my inner knowing. It says, “Brother Jesus is a diamond polished by the sea. He is the sunrise bleeding ruby reds & royal blues into each & every day. Buddha is a butterfly. His flutter-wings are a soothing balm for hearts on fire such as ours. Yogananda is a sacred pearl shimmering black & glittering blue. His is a simple beauty composed of pure grace lacking nothing but kindness for you & me. Muhammad is the desert wind shifting shapeless upon the landscape of our souls. He is nothing at all yet everything there is. Confucius is the rain. He nourishes the very clouds we walk on. Jasiah is a songbird singing good morning to the day. Mary is our mother. It is her breast milk which gives us life.”I shudder. I feel the breath of our loving creator; our mother divine cleansing our hearts with most compassionate love every moment of every day. We believe her when she holds us in her loving arms & tells us we are all diamonds polished by the sea … every day in every way.
In this dream I am falling free without fear.
Suddenly my descent is intercepted by swift moving clouds.
Each one has a distinct face yet they all share the same radiant smile.
They carry me along for thousands of miles,
pointing out strange and wonderful lands.
The spectacular sight below of fantastic creatures roaming free
upon a paradise found makes my heart tremble like fine rice paper.
In this superworld unfolding
predators are never triumphant because predators are never born.
Without warning, the cloud faces are gone.
I continue gliding along the path of the rising sun
in the company of a thousand golden eagles.
I soar around Mother Earth sailing effortlessly
on a grand solar wind in the company
of a thousand beautifully plumed golden eagles,
and the sky goes on forever.
BOOM BOOM GOES MY HEART
Exterior Shot of MICHAEL’S ART & SUPPLY STORE:
Shot of Alana working at the counter/register area:
FADE TO: Shot of Van walking up to counter where Alana is. He checks her out then swoons. Freeze Frame:
Note: If you are online as you read this you can right click the link, press control, right click again & it will take you directly to the link.
AUDIO CUE #1 Boom Boom Goes My Heart by Alex Swings Oscar Sings: Chica Do The Cha Cha Cha: Youtube link – Seconds 15 to 28
A: “Welcome to Aaron Brother’s. How may I help you?
Alana checks Van then swoons. Freeze Frame:
AUDIO CUE # 2 Boom Boom Goes My Heart by Alex Swings Oscar Sings: Chica Do The Cha Cha Cha: Youtube link – Seconds: 1:44 to 1:57-58
V: “Hi, I need to buy a frame”
A: What size are you looking for?
V: “I don’t know. Not sure. What sizes do you have?”
A: What’s the frame for?
V: A photo of my Mom.
A: That’s so sweet. You’re a momma’s boy?
V: Is that bad?
A: My daddy doesn’t think so.
V: That’s so cute. You’re a daddy’s girl?
A: Is that bad?
V: My momma doesn’t think so.
(They smile at each other. They connect in that moment)
A: I’ll be right back. [CAMERA FOLLOWS HER]
V: I’m not going anywhere.
AUDIO CUE #4 as ALANA moves … walking away mouthing “WOW!’ He’s So Fine by the Chiffons Youtube link: Seconds 5 to 21-22
We see Alana grabs a few frames as she check’s herself out & perfecting her hair.
Switch to: Music Cue #5 She’s So Lovely by Scouting For Girls Youtube link: Seconds 15 to 27
Van straining to look cool as he impatiently waits for Alana. He straightens himself out in a mirror.
FADE TO BLACK
(VO) Voice Over: Recorded: Narrator:
[NOTE: This is a simple draft of a short monologue that can easily be recorded, either by Michael under my direction, or me, who has a knack for that sort of thing. Here is a link to a piece I recently wrote and performed .
The content can be funny, sweet, romantic, profound, profane, whatever you wish. I can write monologues like there is no tomorrow. Alana, I remember your dad telling me you and Van were thinking of performing a dance. Did you get to that at all? I was just wondering because if you have not you could it here. If you have you could still do it here.]
Well, we all know what happens next. Our lovers fall head over heels for each other as lovers have done since the beginning of time. But never have lovers ever lived who carry as much compassion and caring for each other as Alana and Van. They are, more than anything else, friends. Isn’t that the truth? Hell yeah!
I was going to make a few jokes here. Get you all to laugh. I still might. But before that let’s ask Alana and Van to get up on their feet and give us a dance. What you say people? Would you like that? Then come on, clap your hands for Alana and Van:
Alana and Van get up and go to the floor and Music Cue: # 5 My Heart Goes Boom Boom: Chica Do The Cha Cha Cha by Alex Swings Oscar Sings: From the beginning:
Footnote: You know what might be fun? I have discovered that there are a slew of Youtube videos on this particular song showing how to do a line dance with it. What if the entire wedding party, the bride’s maids and the groom’s guys all got up after Alana and Van have gone through a few bars on their own? It would take approximately 3 rehearsals to get these steps down. I know time is of the essence but I thought I would through that out there.
A video of what it would look like:
A diva doused in deep scarlet diamonds; glitterati eyes, black sable & hair electric blue held her place before me as our elevator fell free from the top of the World Trade Tower. Between heaven & hell I fell in love. This much I could feel. This much I was sure of. I felt shame at being nothing & nobody she could love. I flashed back to the ghetto I was branded by. Blank-eyed, my head tilted forward, out & down, my perspective was a hawk’s eye view of Hades. Fifty-Third & Third … mine, mine, mine … used to be mine … my corner … I was fourteen.
Upon the littered streets of Chelsea, Sheridan Square, Christopher Street, the pier, the trucks & my old neighborhood over off Bank street by H. B. Studios lay debris & detriment & minced miniature genitalia of yesterday’s used up action figures greeting good morning through hazed, petrol glassed, excremental eyes. That was yesterday. Today? Well, today … I felt her. She felt it. Damn it! Oh, oh…truth hurts. I hurt. It hurt. Immediately. Yet my fantasies still flew wild just as the hawks on Fifth Avenue do when the pigeons fly their loops.
As her black satin heels hit the curb I found the courage to raise my head. She had glee’d me into submission with her eyes & then she tore my heart to shreds. A praying Mantis widowed black is unbearably attractive. A trickster out tricked by a trickster! That’s a switch. I was sure she was the one. I felt it. She made me feel that way. This must be what it feels like to be an old whore after Mardi Gras.
In the first moment, being mortal, I suffered profoundly. In the next, my blank stare turned starry as I gazed in wonder. Her eyes darted to and fro as her gold leafed head turned circles, I wondered just how she did that? I wondered if she even knew. And then those eyes, those eyes, those oscillating glitter-opticals illuminating my barren heart … what could I do? I simply turned to dust & blew away as she shimmered towards the fading light.