Wednesday, October 29, 2003


It's still raining and I've been lying low so I'll give you the wrap-up on my little vacation. I found this picture of the Village Pump on the Village Grille website. The Grille and its martini bar caters to the tourists but they sponsor a great outdoor music performance on Friday nights. They block off the street and put tables out.

It was great vibe on a warm night when I arrived last week. I was surprised to find the scene and the band was fabulous. The Dave Camp Band was belting out some steamy Cajun blues. I caught half a set on my way out to see Sully and Patty on Las Olas. It was a five man gig and every one of them were superior musicians. They all knocked me out, but I was most impressed by the woman playing the huge antique sax.

I didn't realize the Pump was part of this operation. It makes it all the more miraculous that it's a traveler's bar and not just another tourist trap in that tiny center. It's also one of the longest running establishments in the county. They've been in business since 1949 and hold the number six liquor license.

Okay, so I'm done cheerleading, but it really was the best place on the beach to meet real people. In case any of them are reading this, Annie, Joe, Bill and Tom (thanks for the walk on the pier), it was a pleasure to meet you all. And Randy, thanks again for ehancing my experience in your little town.

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It was a funny thing about Lauderdale-by-the-sea. Even though it was busy, they didn't allow highrises in those few square blocks so it did have this small town quality in the midst of an absolutely frantic city. Still it was hard to find a peaceful spot there. There were two. There was a charming little public park on the block behind my hotel with an exquisite tall fountain with marble benches around it and there was the pier.

The pier was open 24 hours a day and there was always fisherman on it. Best bargain in town, one dollar to get through the gate. I went out to the end of it several times and had great conversations with the gatekeepers. My most cosmic moment there happened late Saturday night. The weather had turned and the sea was raging. The breakers had been building all day. The surfers were out.

The wind was blowing cold, ripping through my clothes at 30 knots, nonetheless I stood at the end of the pier watching the whitecaps rise in the black water for a really long time - it was my last night. The sea flattened in front of me and I felt some sudden urgency to move. As I made my way around the corner, a group of young students moved into the space I vacated. I didn't hurry but I didn't linger.

I no sooner had made it two feet down the pier when the breaker hit exactly where I had been standing. Even the fisherman were surprised. There had been no overt sign. It was huge, I actually ran when I heard it hit and felt only a passing mist. It washed right over the top of the shelter. I stood there dry while the kids staggered by me, shrieking and soaked to the skin. I felt blessed.

* * * * * *

Most of my trips end up with some kind of inadvertent theme. My trip to Europe turned out to be the Virgin Mary tour and this short sojourn turned out to be the Blessings of the Universe. I don't always have so positive an experience. On this one however, I had so many charming encounters that I can't tell them all in this space so I leave you with a few of my favorites and close this chapter of my story.

The second time I had breakfast at Louie's, his grandkids showed up. He has a lot of them. He underwent a remarkable metamorphosis when they arrived. They swarmed around him at the grill asking for hamburgers and he melted from this gruff kind of macho guy into this beaming teddy bear of a man.

On my way back from that breakfast, there were two parrots sitting on a whitewashed wall. The owner of the adjacent hotel was hosing his driveway and giving his birds some air. I talked to them, but I didn't get that close even though he said only one of them bites.

My last night there was the night of the World Series. I was in bed watching the end of the game at the hotel in the dark when they won. I was about a block away from the center. I could hear the roar of the crowds cheering and dancing in the street. It felt almost as good as it would have if the Red Sox had beat the Yankees.


So vacation is officially closed and it's time to back to the serious business of ending this War on Some Drugs. First this breaking news out of the United Kingdom where MPs voted to downgrade the criminal classification of cannabis. The vote carried by a solid majority in the Parliment. Why can't we get this kind of sane policy passed in the US?

* * * * * *

Maybe it's because we allow an ineffective agency to dictate our policy here. According to to a recent U.S. Justice Department report reported in last week's Drug Policy Alliance newsletter, the DEA is not making the grade.

The article notes,

This is the second time in less than a year that doubt has been raised about the effectiveness of the federal agency. In February, days after the White House accused several countries of failing to meet the U.S.’s anti-narcotics expectations, an Office of Management and Budget report highlighted the DEA’s inability “to demonstrate progress in reducing the availability of illegal drugs in the United States,” including a lack of long-term strategy and financial management.

So why are our Congress critters continuing to fund them and more importantly why do we let them do it?

* * * * * *

As a final thought tonight, a look at the link between the prison industrial complex, the military industrial complex and the War on Some Drugs. The article is long but well worth reading to get a sense of how connected the whole scheme is and keep in mind that the warm bodies the DEA is supplying to the prison industrial complex is what's keeping the military supply side alive.

I leave you with these excerpts,

US soldiers are well-equipped with guns to fire, clothes to wear, vehicles to drive, radios to call and maps to help them navigate, thanks in large measure to the 21,000 inmates working for Federal Prison Industries (FPI), a quasi-public, for-profit corporation run by the Bureau of Prisons. In 2002, the company sold $678.7 million worth of goods and services to the US government, over $400 million of which went to the Department of Defense.

Over the years, FPI has grown exponentially, now ranking as the government's thirty-ninth largest contractor – in no small part due to the quantity and diversity of apparel items it manufactures for the Department of Defense. The company has churned out more than 150,000 Kevlar helmets in the past 24 months, more than $12 million worth. Aside from the battle-dress shirts sewn at Greenville, the company is also a major supplier of men's military undershirts, $1.6 million of which it sold to the Pentagon in 2002. In that year, FPI made close to $3 million fashioning underwear and nightwear for the troops. Inmates also stitch together the vestments donned by military pastors and the gowns cloaking battlefield surgeons. If an item of clothing is torn in combat, it will likely be sent to the prison shop in Edgefield, South Carolina, where it is mended at a cost of $5 per shirt and or pair of trousers. In 2002, 700 prisoners based at FPI laundry facilities located in Florida, Texas and Alabama washed and pressed $3 million worth of military apparel

The inmates are not allowed many breaks and the production lines are reported to be kept in rapid motion. Doesn't sound that different than a chain gang to me. Look at the profit numbers at the link. Do you see any incentive to stop putting people in jail and what better line workers than non-violent drug offenders? I imagine they are more employable than murderers and rapists. Do the math.


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