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Where were you when . . . ? The post looking at the question posed by Paul Berton, the editor-in-chief of The London Free Press, has been moved to my new blog. Please click on the link.

Thank you,
Cheers,
Rockinon

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Why am I dedicating a series of blogs to an examination of The London Free Press crystal meth series, On Thin Ice, almost four years after its publication? The catalyst was an Op-Ed column—Drugs Won the War—in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof. Kristof wrote: “This year marks the 40th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s start of the war on drugs, and it now appears that drugs have won.” He goes on to argue: “…we need to be less ideological and more empirical in figuring out what works in combating America’s drug problem.”

I don’t believe waving the white flag is what’s being suggested. I believe Kristof is looking for a more reasoned approach to the drug problem, an approach that feels like it is comes from a mature, clear thinking, adult. (With the death of Walter Cronkite, the Huffington Post reposted some of Cronkites blogs written for the Internet newsgather. Read Cronkite’s informed views in a piece he called, “Telling the Truth About the War on Drugs.”)

Faces of Meth

Faces of Meth

When the media stumbled en masse onto the “crystal meth epidemic,” everyone knew what the story would say, “Speed kills!” To prove this unarguable truth many media outlets ran the pictures of meth abusers obtained from The Faces of Meth website run by the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, of Portland, Oregon.

The London Free Press was no different, except that they did not make it clear that the before meth and the after meth pictures running in colour on a front page in October 2005 were not shot in London—nor even in Toronto.

I expect The Free Press was hoping to win awards in the annual journalism competitions with this series. Many called these Faces of Meth pictures propaganda, but not The Free Press. (Kate Dubinski delivered a rich, complex story looking at Krista, a real meth abuser living in London. That story shines in this otherwise cliche-steeped series. And it shines when compared to dozens of other meth stories written around this time.)

Theresa Baxter

Theresa Baxter 3.5 year later and not 2.5 years later.

Who were these people on the front page on The Free Press? -people with their lives clearly ruined by crystal meth.

One was Theresa Baxter, far left, in her booking picture after her arrest  for identity theft and fraud. The next picture is Baxter 3 1/2 years later in another booking photo, this time for theft and drug possession. Reportedly, a former heroin user, Baxter began using meth to escape depression. She said it was cheaper. . . In the last mention of Baxter that I could find on the Internet, we learn that Baxter has founded Methamphetamine Addicts for Christ.

Joseph Harris after only 3 months of meth abuse.

Joseph Harris after only 3 months of meth abuse.

Another of the faces run by The Free Press is of Joseph Harris, right, who apparently disintegrated after only three months of meth abuse.

Do these photos illustrate the results of meth abuse or the results of living an abusive lifestyle?

The third face was that of Jennifer Lundgren. Lundgren’s second booking picture was taken 17 months after her original photo.

faces6

Jennifer Lundgren after 17 months of meth use.

Still healthy after 26 years of Meth use.

Healthy after more than two decades of Meth use.

We have a problem. These pictures contrast sharply with Krista, a London meth user for 26 years.

The user in the National Geographic does not look wasted.

The user in the National Geographic does not look wasted.



The National Geographic also jumped on the bandwagon, running a story on meth abuse. The image of a user they ran does not show a severely wasted individual. After the flack the National Geographic took for moving the pyramids, I don’t think they would run a fake picture of a meth user. This picture can be trusted, as can The London Free Press image.

I believe the Faces of Meth pictures show us not what crystal meth does to users but what the present approach, especially in the States, does to drug abusers.

The Faces of Meth are The Faces of  the Victims of the War on Drugs.

Addendum:

UK: Police Urge State-funded Prescription of Heroin to Addicts

In England, senior police officer, Howard Roberts, urged the UK to follow Holland and Switzerland’s lead and begin the state-funded prescription of heroin to addicts, in an effort to treat them and reduce crime. The program would cost an estimated £12,000 a year per addict, but proponents believe treatment would be cost-effective as users steal at least £45,000 worth of property each year to feed their addictions. Widespread trials of such programs in Holland and Switzerland show users turning away from crime to feed their habits when they were prescribed drugs. Story from IndependentOnline.

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First, change in plans. The Face of Meth blog has been pushed back to the first of next week. Instead, I offer you the following:

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On Thin Ice was a six part series.

On Thin Ice was a six-part series.

In 2005 the media menace-of-the-moment was the crystal meth epidemic. It was an insidious monster, by many reports, marching across North America devouring our young in its path. Within the decade it will be the number one drug threat, we were warned.

But, a 2008 release from the Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health says, “The most current research . . . does not show that there is an increase of use of Crystal Meth among the general population. The Ontario Student Drug Use Survey (OSDUS) indicates that Crystal Meth use among youth populations is only 2% . . . there is no reason to believe there is any increase of use among high school students . . .”

Another release, this one from the Canadian Medical Association Journal, says, “Despite growing media attention about crystal meth, the level of use reported by school youth over the past 8 years has declined in Canada and the United States.”

But if they do use speed, they become addicted, right? Wrong! In a British Columbia study focused on teenage students lifetime use of amphetamines (speed, crystal meth) was down from 5% in 1998 to 4% in 2003 and only 1% reported using more than 3 times.

This low percentage of repeat users is not surprising to me as it agreeds with what Dubinski and I learned at the offices of London’s Youth Action Centre. There Dubinski and I met a young London man who had been a binge meth user—once. He took a one time, won’t-do-that-again, binge.

The 19-year-old told us: I ended up on the streets when I was 17. I’d play guitar, play parties, and . . . be getting paid in (ketamine), (ecstacy(sic)) and (cocaine).

Tired of London, Ontario, he headed off for Vancouver with an older friend Josh. Their first stop was Toronto, and after a week in a Toronto homeless shelter, Josh scored some crystal meth. When the buzz started to wear off the next day, the young man didn’t want it to stop. Josh knew a dealer who gave out meth “like candy” and so began a full six-day binge.

He told us: I scared myself straight. I lost 15, 20 pounds. My tongue was all cut up. The six day binge was so intense I returned to London and haven’t used for a year and a half. A six-day binge and our young man simply walked away from meth. (This does not mean that crystal meth is not addictive but it does say that it does not gets its addictive hooks into you the moment it enters your body. One more scare story bites the dust.)

The boy was a bit of dud when it came to illustrating the terror of crystal meth. This of course was good for him but bad for our story. However, during the interview the young man’s fingers moved constantly and his legs bounced nervously. The story got a little punch by leaving the impression that the young man’s fidgety demeanor may have been the result of his brief encounter with crystal meth. Was it?

I don’t know. I had my doubts. Having read the Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs by Edward Brecher, I knew that full recovery from speed-induced intellectual disorganization and psychosis is expected after six months to a year of abstinence. (Here, I must be note that the speed available in the ’60s was not the potent drug that crystal meth is today.) As to lingering uncontrolled fidgeting,  I had never read anything that would lead me to believe that this was possible after only one, albeit multiday, encounter with methamphetamine hydrochloride or crystal meth.

Researcher and journalist Mike Males wrote “High on Lies” back in 1996 in which he said the U.S. media were being taken in by a “manufactured hoax.” Manufactured crystal meth didn’t attract all that many extra disciples over the intervening years but the manufactured hoax found a multitude of new followers.

Cheers,
Rockinon

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On Thin Ice was a six part series.

On Thin Ice was a six-part series.

My first blog made it clear why I did not read the full series On Thin Ice when it ran in The London Free Press back in October of 2005.

To write today’s blog I had to force myself to read the complete series and now I have to force myself to eat some crow.

Fifth Estate Dark Crystal

Fifth Estate Dark Crystal


Before continuing, it is important to understand the climate in which The London Free Press series was conceived and written. You see, in March of 2005 CBC’s the Fifth Estate aired Dark Crystal, detailing the supposed facts on crystal meth use across Canada. The crystal menace was reportedly as cheap as it was toxic and its popularity was spreading fast. In the city of Kamloops and the area around it, crystal meth was now the drug of choice for young people .

ZAmanda CanadayAmanda Canaday, a pretty young teen from the town of Barriere, 45 minutes north of Kamloops, was one of those featured in the television report. The CBC Fifth Estate site tells us, “At a community meeting about crystal meth, Amanda read a poem she’d written about her addiction.” This makes a great story and it was probably great television, very touching but also not true. Canaday did not write the poem. Versions of the poem have been available on the Internet for years. (It seems no one at the Fifth Estate thought to check the Internet.)

Newsweek Cover Story

Newsweek Cover Story

Five months later, in August of 2005, Newsweek ran the cover story Meth: America’s Most Dangerous Drug. Soon afterwards, Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert was waving a copy of the U.S. weekly news magazine containing the story and declaring, “I don’t ever want to see that kind of headline on the cover of Macleans.”

Slate ran an excellent article, Meth Madness at Newsweek, by Jack Shafer. He wrote: “But for all Newsweek‘s hysteria, it fails to deliver. For instance, if meth is America’s most dangerous drug, how many people has it killed? Newsweek doesn’t bother to explore the topic . . . you’d think the magazine would have provided some sort of body count.”

But Newsweek was read by more folk than Slate and the CBC had a strong, influential media presence in Canada. The infatuation with crystal meth in the media was spreading as fast as the “epidemic” itself. Crystal meth was a big story, it had to be covered and as all the facts were apparently already known, it was a story that just about wrote itself.

Which brings me to my plate of crow and my nod to the excellent reporting skills of Kate Dubinski. Possibly I should also be tipping my hat to the newsroom leadership at The Free Press, such as Paul Berton and Joe Ruscitti.

An important part of any series like this is bringing the topic home, giving it a strong local angle. Kate Dubinski did this in spades. Dubinski introduced us to Krista, a London speed freak to use the term from my youth. Krista, 42 at the time of the interview, was 16 when she first got high on crystal meth. She found speed graceful, shadowy, and for 26 years it had been a part of her life. Some people like a glass of wine; Krista leaned towards a spot of speed.

Krista is not the meth user of almost all other reports.  Krista, as Dubinski draws her, is a real woman, with a name, a home, children. Krista’s life is made up of successes and failures, as are most lives, but Krista has one constant through it all: crystal meth. Dubinski is hitting her stride as she writes, “Krista is the other face of methamphetamine use.” Krista was not one of the teens officials were worried about; Krista was the woman those teens could become.

Krista was a mother of three but it was not an easy, comfortable relationship that she enjoyed with her children. Her 26-year-old son had cut her out of his life, while her daughters, 12 and 16, had been removed by the Children’s Aid Society.

Krista hadn’t lost her teeth to crystal meth but she had lost her children to her addiction. And this seems so much worse. Of course, Krista didn’t see herself as an addict. She’s not a junkie. She’s a speedo, a drug-using regular person.

Reading about Krista made me recall my summer of 1969 spent in San Francisco, California. A popular album among the freaks of the day was The Street Giveth and the Street Taketh Away. Krista said that speed, her street drug of choice, gave her happiness. Yet at Christmas, or when the kids had birthdays, meth seemed to taketh away. She would get high four days before Christmas, and again before the kids’ birthdays. She missed all these traditionally important family times.

I found myself pulling for Krista. Even now, as I write these lines, I think of Krista and pray she has kept monster meth on the short leash. I hope she has kept to her schedule and kept her health. Or, better yet, maybe she has faced her addiction, fought it, and been reunited with her family. I don’t know.

But, Dubinski’s writing made me care.

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Faces of Meth

Faces of Meth

The next blog in this series will look at the Faces of Meth. A well done bit of propaganda published by everyone doing a meth story. The London Free Press was no exception.

Addendum: The NYT opinion piece by Nicholas D. Kristof, Drugs Won the War, has elicited a response: Time to End Prohibition for Drugs by Michael G. Brautigam, a former prosecutor. Read his response and following comments.

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I’m back. My week-long break from blogging over, I’m using today to introduce a new feature, Musings.

Now, I read a lot. I start each morning perusing on-line newspapers and then I open The London Free Press which is delivered to my door. The stuff I read often makes me think, and often it’s The London Free Press providing the seed around which my thoughts crystallize. So, if I seem to focus on The Free Press, please do not assume that I do not like the paper. I do. That’s why I read it.

Recently, columnist Larry Cornies wrote a piece entitled “Ontario can’t miss this train” in which he discussed the proposed high-speed rail link to run the length of the Windsor–Quebec City corridor. He began by recalling the fierce debate that surrounded the construction of Ontario’s 401 superhighway running east from Windsor all the way to the Quebec border.

Cornies’ take on the mood at the time was dead-on. I was born in 1947 in Windsor and the heated discussions surrounding the construction of 401 continued in my home well into the ’50s. Cornies writes, “As plans for the massive project were unveiled, significant numbers of Ontarians firmly opposed it.” My father and his friends had been among those naysayers.

They would sit in our living room and loudly argue about, as Cornies writes, “…the bisection and destruction — especially in Southwestern Ontario — of some of the province’s richest farmland. A single interchange along the highway, they said, would gobble up enough land to sustain at least one family, maybe more.”

It is hard to imagine the outrage that greeted the first cloverleaf interchanges.

It is hard to imagine the outrage that greeted cloverleafs when they first appeared on the highway scene.

My father had been born on a farm, as had many of his closest friends, and they would rail against 401 as four lanes of concrete desecration, a destroyer of irreplaceable Essex County farmland. A sin. The monster highway was slicing hundreds of family farms completely in two as it carved its way across the province. A crime. They looked at the cloverleaf interchanges, the large looping curves trapping even more rich farmland, and shook their heads. A travesty.

My dad was not wealthy. He worked as a drapery salesman in the days before minimum wage. My mother had been a teacher but she quit work to devote her time to raising her daughter and later her delightful little boy — me.

The first family car from my boyhood

The first family car from my boyhood

My dad had a ’38 Chevrolet but having a car didn’t mean we drove everywhere — no, far from it. When my mom did the shopping, we usually walked. If she had to go downtown to Bartlett’s department store or visit the family doctor, we took the bus. I say we because I was too young to leave alone and my parents could not afford a babysitter. I never, not once, had a paid babysitter. She hauled me everywhere and without a car.

When we travelled to Brantford to visit my grandparents, we often took a bus to the Canadian National train station (now gone), rode the train to Brantford and finished our trip by taxi. None of this seemed odd to me nor did I feel hard done by. You see, even though my grandfather was a pharmacist running his own drugstore, he walked to his store, used taxis for longer distances and took the train if he had to journey to Hamilton or Toronto.

In the my young eyes, grandad was quite the success. He had a huge fridge in his store filled with tubs of ice cream; He owned a brick home with a big front porch and not one but two staircases — a large one right at the front door and another much narrower one off the kitchen. If a man as well-off as my grandfather didn’t need a car, there was no stigma to travelling by bus or by train.

TrainToday if one sees smoke on the horizon, one immediately thinks “building fire.” When I was a boy, one thought “locomotive.” They were everywhere. The Essex Terminal Railway ran right through my residential neighbourhood and its shunting to and fro often blocked the few through streets that continued across its steel tracks. (The ETR provided such a needed and efficient service that it is still running today.)

Missing tracks denote withdrawn railway service.

Missing tracks denote withdrawn railway service.

Trains carried everything, or so it seemed — car parts, produce, raw material going into factories and finished goods coming out. We watched freight cars loaded with stuff slowly disappear down sidings, sidings which have themselves now disappeared.

Cars were good. Cars were even necessary at times. But trains and buses, now they were indispensable.

A few years ago my wife and I stayed in a century farmhouse facing 401 in the eastern part of the province. It was an elegant bed and breakfast filled with lots of original, beautiful, dark, carved wood. The farmer who built the home obviously had a very successful farm. The farmhouse is still in the family but not the large farm. 401 squats heavily on acres of the once huge tract. The farmland on the far side of the four lane highway was essentially orphaned and had to be abandoned and sold. With no nearby overpass, the fields were now miles distant by tractor.

I mentioned 401 to the aging owner, just a teenager when the highway construction destroyed the family farm and a rewarding way of life. I heard once again my dad’s arguments against the superhighway — arguments that I now know were made by thousands of others.

It’s possible Ontario has already missed the train. Cornies is right, let’s not miss this one.

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For an interesting, in-depth but a bit long, take on high-speed rail, read the New York Times magazine article: Getting up to speed. The article focuses on high-speed rail proposed for California but draws on the experience in France with the original TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) and the newer AGV ( Automotrice à Grande Vitesse). I’ve taken the TGV and found it to be a great way to travel. Loved it.

Read how the Strasbourg line, about 300 miles long, has exceeded ridership projections and has expanded rail’s share of that travel market to about 70 percent from 40 percent. (The ultimate goal is 90 percent.) And reflect on how high-speed rail would impact on travel along our Windsor-Quebec corridor.

Could this be in Canada's future?

Could this be in Canada's future?

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First: This is my last blog until June 9th. You see, I do have a life.

It’s a weird world when David Gough, the blogger covering environmental concerns for The London Free Press, comes out against a bylaw designed to stop the practice of idling a car for more than a minute.

Gough wrote: “Five minutes makes sense, one minute just seems to be cutting it too close.”

He goes on to argue that dropping his son off at the arena might easily force him to idle his car for more than a minute while his son putzes around undoing his seat belt, turning off his video game and getting his hockey bag from the trunk. Gough says he could see his son costing him money.

Dave, the idea is to turn off your car. It’s easy. It’s fast. It’s green. And, it’s old fashioned.

That’s right, old fashioned. When I was a boy, my father never let his car idle for more than a minute — not even in winter. He had been told by a mechanic that the manual choke made the carburetor fuel mix richer and this could cause a soot-like build-up on the plugs. This dirt, the mechanic said, caused engines to run-on when turned off. Furthermore, the mechanic said the engine oil pump was not efficient when the car was idling. It worked best with the car underway and the engine reving higher.

Four decades ago, my father taught me: If you are stopping for more than a minute, turn off the car. If my dad could do it, we can all do it. And, my dad wasn’t even green.

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An open letter to Paul Berton, editor-in-chief, The London Free Press:

The newspaper stock and mutual fund tables are disappearing from the business pages of our local dailies. This is not a big loss for most of us as we have switched to the Internet for this information.

Carrying those tables is expensive and inefficient. Most of us are interested in one or two dozen entries at most. But some readers are missing those pages and are upset.

Paul Berton, editor-in-chief of  The London Free Press, addressed this recently when he wrote, ” . . . it’s a hard pill to swallow for those who a) like tradition, b) live in a rural area and have only dial-up service, or c) don’t have a computer or the Internet at all.”

Earlier Berton pointed out, when it comes to these tables, “you can get them more efficiently at money.canoe (sic).”

Money.canoe.ca brings up a screen with a stock and mutual fund search box at the top of the page. This is O.K. for searching one or two stocks or funds but it is painfully inefficient for checking one’s portfolio.

This is where Berton and newspapers in general are dropping the ball. The Canoe site is quite good and a lot of work has been invested in making it perform some neat tricks for the Internet-savvy investor interested in keeping careful tabs on his portfolio.

Sell the site, Paul. Coax tradition-bound readers to migrate to Canoe and to The London Free Press on-line. Sow the seeds of future growth. Make these readers feel you have their best interests at heart, and not just your bottom line. Don’t let it be, “. . . tough on them . . .”

Hold their hand. Give them a step by step guide on how to track their stocks and mutual funds, using the tools so generously supplied. Tell them, that it’s free and it’s incredible.

And, if the site is slow for those without a high-speed Internet connection, work with Canoe and Quebecor to supply a dial-up friendly site as well. Don’t give your readers an incentive to go googling in search of another portfolio tracking package.

Negative stuff like the comment from P.J. Harston, business editor of the London Free Press, has no place here. P.J. wrote, “Change is sometimes a bitter pill to swallow and I certainly lament anytime that pill comes from us. But change, like death and taxes, is inevitable — perhaps more so now than ever before . . . The switch will be difficult for some and then it will get easier for everyone.”

For most the change is not bitter. And if clear instructions were being provided the switch would not be difficult for anyone. Make it easy for all, right from the start.

You’ve got a good product. Sell it.

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If you read this in the past, you may notice today that I have corrected some (maybe even all, hope springs eternal) of the spelling errors. Oh, how I miss a human editor. I should go back and check more of my posts. And then there’s punctuation to tackle…

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