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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Racism and Meth, YIPPEEEEE.

Here's a quick chat about two books I'm about three quarters of the way through. The first one is Native Son, by Richard Wright. I didn't know anything going into this one. It was on my list, and it was 2 bucks on the Kindle store, and I was like OK.

I'm not sure if that's the ideal way to get into it, but since it's the way I did it, I refuse to tell you more than only the barest of details. It's a protest novel about racism in 1940. It's based loosely on a true story, but I don't want to tell you what story it's based on, because then you won't have the same experience that I did and isn't that what life is all about? All of us doing things the same way and then meeting again and comparing notes about how similar our experiences were?


OK, I'll tell you one thing. It's almost unrelentingly bleak. So much so, that by the third act I was like, Yeah, Ima take a break. So I started Methland, by Nick Reding. Because the only thing that cheers me up more than crushing racism and terrible decisions is maybe the worst drug known to man.

This one I will talk a lot about. Because I can't stop thinking about it.

Welcome to Oelwein, Iowa. Population, about 6,000.

Anyway, yeah. Oelwein, in 2005 or so, we're definitely talking about Trouble with a capital P and that rhymes with pool. 

"I say your young men'll be fritterin!"

But listen, this is no time to be making Music Man jokes, 'cause guys, something in the rural U S of A is broken. 

I was going to look up some of the facts in this book, because they are straight up harrowing. But I thought instead I'd stick with some of the anecdotal information. For example: in Iowa they had to ban bake sales. Why? Because too many kids were bringing in treats with so much meth in them that they were making other kids sick. These aren't intentional drug-laced brownies like they have at your better dispensaries in California. Oh no, this is incidental to the cooking process in their homes.

Or how about this one? Two kids were found to have the most meth residue in their hair of any human being tested. Why, do you ask? Because their parents found a new way to squeeze just a bit more of the powder out of their coffee filters. It's by microwaving them. And, you know, it's the only microwave in the house. And most folks who are cooking meth don't spend a lot of time cooking meals for their children on the stove. 

According to Reding, between 1998 and 2002, meth production and sales went up by 1,000 percent. In 1998, 321 meth labs were busted in Iowa. In 2005 it was 1,370. And not just Iowa. Missouri topped the charts with 2,087. And here's the worst stat in the whole book: the Oelwein chief of police at the time estimated that for each lab found, another 10 existed without their knowing. If you take that number and look at 2003 and 2004, when 700 labs were dismantled in Iowa alone, it means that "at least 7,000 kids were living every day in homes that produce five pounds of toxic waste, which is often just thrown in the kitchen trash, for each pound of usable methamphetamine."

Methland doesn't just dwell on Oelwein, though, or meth all by itself. Reding looks at the impact of meth as a whole on the nation. The way it's been reported on in the news. The pharmaceutical companies' long fight against regulations on pseudoephedrine, and their number one defender:

From the book:
What the Hatch camp wanted in 1995 was proof that pseudoephedrine was being used to make meth. DEA had what it thought to be incontrovertible verification: nearly a quarter of all the meth superlabs it had dismantled in the last year had already made the switch from ephedrine to pseudoephedrine. Even in labs that were still using the old method, agents had founds bills of lading for bulk orders of pseudo, a further indication that the market was in the midst of a dynamic shift. Hatch, though, didn’t consider this compelling enough, and he tabled the proposal by calling for more investigation.

Yeah Orrin! He finally did buckle, though. Sort of.

It wasn’t until the spring of 1996 that Hatch and Haislip finally agreed on language that was acceptable to both the government and the pharmaceutical companies: vendors of pill-form pseudoephedrine would be subject to DEA licensing and bookkeeping unless those pills were sold in the now-ubiquitous clear-plastic containers with aluminum backing. Hatch’s logic, it seems, was that the narco-empire built around methamphetamine would crumble in the face of the tamper-proof blister pack.
Oh. Um.

You guys, I'm just getting to the surface here. This is a book you should read. This stuff is CRAY. And I haven't even gotten to the Mexican drug cartels and their use of meat-packing plants as the perfect cover for dealers. Or Tom Arnold's meth-empire-building sister. Or the Greek restaurant that serves mostly pizza, and not even Greek pizza!!