‘And I am the Drug Policy Alliance’…

I’m often quite happy to miss the ‘news’ on main stream television, particularly when I read of interviews and exchanges such as the recent ‘debate‘ between Fox News and the Drug Policy Alliance.

The Alliance has just released a rather poignant video highlighting the need for a rational, evidence-based and research-informed approach to drug policy. Rather than focusing our efforts and resources on criminalisation and incarceration, we should re-focus our attention on a human-rights based approach to drug use and policy. I fully embrace this approach, which is not at all surprising given what I do for a living.

A smattering of viciousness and derogatory language from Mr O’Reilly and his co-host Megyn Kelly highlight their inability to understand the issues at stake and how damaging and unhelpful the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ has been and remains.

Thus, the message in the Drug Policy Alliance’s latest video was completely and utterly lost on them. In addition, their segments (three, that I could find) were not based on intelligent debate, but on rhetoric and unsubstantiated claims, many of which are simply false.

Drugs have been legal and regulated in several countries to varying degrees for many years now. I spend about 25% of my time in the Netherlands these days, and there is very little in the way of ‘drug-related crime’. In fact, within the last year or so, I was told by Dutch that the state was forced to close prison facilities because they did not have enough prisoners to fill them. That is, prisons were sitting empty rather than bursting to capacity such as those in the US. Think about that for a moment.

John Stossel, also from Fox News, quite rightly made the point to Mr O’Reilly that prohibition drives the behaviour underground. Indeed. The prohibition of drugs has worked much the same way as the prohibition of alcohol—people will find ways around the law and will go to great lengths to hide it from the authorities.

The real shame in driving behaviours underground is that even if an individual does wish to seek help for dependency or any other medical and/or social issues, they are less likely to do so if they believe they run the risk of incarceration or any sort of reprimand. Thus, any programme designed to reduce drug- or substance-related harm, such as needle-exchange programmes, are less likely to reach them. In an age of HIV, this represents a tremendous shortcoming and travesty.

I support and applaud the Drug Policy Alliance in their efforts to advocate for a human-rights based approach to drug use. And I fully support an end to the War on Drugs.

Reproductive and sexual ‘freedom’….?

Alice Walker's book, The Temple of My Familiar, is one of the most moving fictionalised accounts of FGM.

It must have been 1992 or so when I first heard about the practice known as ‘female genital mutilation’, or simply, FGM. Sadly, it was not through a text or lecture on practices in a faraway land, but as a part of a public health debate in the greater Atlanta area.

The case was particularly troubling not merely because of the desire of a parent to have their young girl undergo a particularly severe form of the painful practice, but because it was being driven by the young girl’s mother. This was a fierce slap across the face to my young feminist leanings.

For those unfamiliar with the practice, the roughly 100 to 140 million girls and women who have been subjected to FGM have received no health benefit of any kind from the practice. It involves the partial or complete removal of the external female genitalia, and may result in severe bleeding, problems urinating, and potentially complications during childbirth. In its worst incarnation, known as ‘infibulation’, the vaginal opening is narrowed to such an extent that it needs to be cut open later to allow for sexual intercourse and/or childbirth’. Sexual pleasure is unsurprisingly limited if not altogether impossible for those who have been ‘circumcised’.

FGM is internationally recognised as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. While it is largely carried out in developing countries, it is not uncommon in the United States.

What’s more troubling is that it is becoming more common.

The practice in the US and in the UK is known as ‘clitoroplasty’. The procedure is increasingly on girls, young women and women when  the clitoris is deemed ‘too large’ or ‘unattractive’. For more on  the practice in the UK, try to find a programme entitled, ‘The Perfect Vagina‘.

Part of the concern and outrage surrounding FGM in general is that it is not merely the physical harm that are worrying, but also the psycho-social damage which lasts far beyond the physical wounds that make it so reprehensible. How then can we not be outraged by a physician at Cornell University in New York who takes that harm to an altogether different level?

Tell me, why is this a medically ‘necessary’ procedure? Who decides that a young girl, one who has not even enjoyed that right of passage known as puberty, has ‘abnormal’ genitals? And, by determining that a particular girl’s genitalia are ‘unattractive’ or ‘abnormal’, are we not then causing the very psychological harm we condemn for more ‘traditional’ brands of FGM? Finally, what sort of harm comes from ‘testing’ the ‘success’ of the procedure by using stimulators such as vibrators on girls as young as 6?!

And, how then can we ever attempt to advocate for reproductive rights or sexual freedom beyond our own borders ever again?

A tribute to the Fuller men

I have never met my own father. Father’s Day as celebrated in the US has always been about the father figures in my life, largely my grandfather and my uncle. Neither one my father, but both served as the best substitutes a girl growing up could ever need.

I spent a lot of time with my grandparents when I was growing up. Each summer until I was 14 or 15, I would spend with them. From the time I was 7, this would often involve trips to various destinations across North America in a fantastic motor home they bought for their retirement. My grandfather would mostly drive, although occasionally my tiny little grandmother could be seen behind the wheel of that great big huge thing. It was grand. We’d drive from historical site to national park, all the while my grandfather quizzing me on state capitals and past presidents and other factoids which I still remember without blinking.

I also remember his lovely imitations of Santa Claus with a deep East Texas twang on the cassette tapes he’d send to me before Christmas, advocating on my behalf that I had indeed been a good girl and deserved more than a lump of coal in my stocking. He was the perfect grandfather and I can’t help but smile when I think of him. He spoiled me rotten, and I worshiped him.

My uncle lies somewhere between a brother and an uncle. We are very nearly polar opposites on just about everything in life. From our beliefs to our politics to our interests to what we do for a living. I love him dearly because of and in spite of these differences.

Because he and my grandfather shared a dental practice, I would hang out there when I was very young. Just out of dental school, my uncle was working on my mother and a rather common occurrence rendered half of my mom’s face black and blue. It was harmless, but has provided our family with much laughter and chiding in the years since. However, as a four-year-old precocious sh*t watching my uncle at work a few days later, I said something like, ‘are you going to make that nice lady all black and blue like you did my mommy, Uncle Ralph?’ He simply said, ‘Out,’ at which point I left the room. His hygienist at the time stifled laughter I’m sure. But, he did not. And, the patient certainly didn’t.

One of my fondest memories of time spent with my uncle was during a visit home several years ago. He plays golf regularly with a group of very close friends. They’re all a hoot and I certainly cramped their style as the only woman in the bunch. I tagged along with him as his ‘caddy’ (even though they take advantage of the golf carts), and they all behaved as fine Texas gentleman do. It was a bit chilly on the back nine, but lovely and quiet and still in the spring morning. Deer roamed freely through the course (this is Texas, after all), and one of his oldest friends played through 18 holes with him that morning. It was lovely.

He was so happy on the golf course and it was a joy to see him so relaxed and in his element. We went home after a few cocktails in the clubhouse and made ribs (his finest meal by far and a real accomplishment on the BBQ). I helped by making the trimmings. It was one of my favourite days spent with just my uncle. And, I cherish it.

The memories I have of these two men are countless. I love them both dearly and think of them often. The two men are more alike than either’d care to admit, most likely. Proud, strong, stubborn, intelligent men surrounded by equally strong, proud, stubborn and intelligent Southern women. Poor fellas, as we say in Texas.

Happy Father’s Day to my Papa (Ralph Shaw Fuller, Sr) and my Uncle Ralph (Ralph Shaw Fuller, Jr). Thank you both for always being there for me. I love you both dearly and miss you terribly.

Extra-ordinarily (un)common

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about things which used to seem exceptionally extra-ordinary that have become rather banal and common.

What started this train of thought was the tragic story of a young man from the UK who summited Mount Everest but ultimately died on the mountain after suffering from blindness and not being able to climb down unaided. Rather than risk the lives of the entire team, he was left to die alone on the highest peak in the world.

Many have died there undoubtedly. But, what struck me was how many actually attempt to summit Everest each year now and how many of them die in the process. It seems to me that attempting a super-human feat such as summitting the highest peak on the planet should not be a goal undertaken by just anyone.

But another story of ordinary individuals attempting and succeeding in exta-ordinary feats also serves to inspire me.

Recently, several individuals from a South African-based organisation called Positive Heroes ran an 89-km marathon. What made this such an amazing tale is that all of the individuals are HIV-positive. Further, this was not their first time running the marathon and they’ve managed to incorporate the rigid routine of taking their anti-retrovirals during the marathon.

These are truly positive heroes. They demonstrate in an extra-ordinary way the amazing feats that ordinary individuals can aspire to and use as inspiration to others.

Congratulations to the ultra-marathon runners on their success and victory! And, many thanks for demonstrating the true meaning of extra-ordinary.

Happy World Environment Day 2010

The United Nations Environment Programme celebrates World Environment Day on 5 June this year.

The idea behind WED is to ‘celebrate positive action for the environment’. Tree plantings and naming baby gorillas provide Rwandans with an opportunity to celebrate their country’s rich ecological niche. Bahrain organised a Cultural Environment Week which folds in nicely as a part of the International Year of Biodiversity. Arts and essay competitions along with photo exhibitions have been combined in many countries with invitations extended to local artisans to create works that focus on biodiversity and the ecological riches found the world over.

Contrast the idea of WED to the travesty occurring in the Gulf of Mexico at the moment.

An oil-covered brown pelican found on the Louisiana Coast on 4 June 2010. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images, reposted from The Huffington Post.

A few days ago, new images of pelicans and other seabirds, dead fish and dolphins appeared, all of which were covered in oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The images were vile and stomach-churning to say the least. I’ve seen a few news items within the past few weeks where some claim that the impact on the eco-system surrounding the spill won’t be impacted too badly. The damage won’t be ‘that bad’.

My question to those who make such claims is this: what do you consider ‘not that bad’?

There are so many things about the tragedy in the Gulf that impact those beyond the workers on the platform or the company (-ies) losing precious cash. Those who live in the Gulf will be perhaps impacted the most—from the fishermen who benefit from the delicate eco-systems to those who work in the tourism industry in a region of the US that is amazingly beautiful. With news that the Gulf currents could extend the effects of the spill up the Eastern seaboard and beyond, another place close to my heart could also be profoundly impacted—Cuba. If it took the area effected by the Exxon Valdez oil spill 30 years to recover, how long will it take the Gulf? And, is the immediate pay off worth the sacrifice?

Our—Americans’—reliance on oil is and has been gluttonous. On World Environment Day, shouldn’t we consider the impact of that gluttony and move towards less detrimental means of enjoying our way of life?