Saturday, February 07, 2009

Institutionalized Backwardness

This will be one of those posts where I start by reminding you that this is my opinion only and not any official position of It's just something that gets under my skin sometimes.

There is a situation in the news that just doesn't make sense to me. You've been seeing this story, and probably didn't give it a thought.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Record-setting Olympic champion Michael Phelps has been banned for three months by USA Swimming amid controversy over a photograph published in a British newspaper purportedly showing him smoking marijuana.

Phelps's financial support has also been cut off for the same three-month period, the sport's national governing body said in a statement on its website ( on Thursday.

"This is not a situation where any anti-doping rule was violated, but we decided to send a strong message to Michael because he disappointed so many people, particularly the hundreds of thousands of USA Swimming member kids who look up to him as a role model and a hero," the federation added.

"Michael has voluntarily accepted this reprimand and has committed to earn back our trust," the statement said. Phelps handed three-month ban by USA Swimming

A British newspaper published a picture of Michael Phelps taking a hit off a bong at a party at a university. The kid's twenty three years old. He won fourteen gold medals in the Olympics, more than anybody, ever. He holds seven world records. He won the World Swimmer of the Year Award in 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008 and American Swimmer of the Year Award in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008. And, we find out, he smokes marijuana.

Let me make a simple point. If marijuana was bad for you, would someone who uses the stuff be the one of the best-performing human beings in the history of the human race?

What if they had published a picture of Phelps drinking beer at a college party? Maybe it would've made the news, I guess, Twenty Three Year Old Drinks Beer, I don't know, it's not much of a headline. So why is Twenty Three Year Old Takes Hit Off Bong news?

This marijuana thing has gone too far. You cannot give one reason why the stuff should be illegal, yet our prisons are full of marijuana users. Our tax dollars are squandered by the gazillions on catching marijuana users and dealers. We do it because we do it, nobody has any good explanation for why marijuana users should be criminals. It's not addictive, it doesn't make you commit crimes, it doesn't make you crave hard drugs, it's not especially bad for your health, it may not be the greatest thing in the world but there is no reason to put somebody in prison for using it, or humiliate someone as they are trying to do in this case.

In case you're wondering, I have no personal interest in this topic, I lost my interest in the stuff in the sixties, I found I did not enjoy having a fuzzy brain. It's not for me, but I don't know why it's my business if somebody else likes it.

Look what the media are doing, and these stupid organizations. They have taken a man who is better than the rest of us, an excellent individual, he does things other people can't do, and they are trying to bring him down. Look at this story. "The federation" says that Michael is "committed to earn back our trust." Are you kidding me? How about they earn his trust! He's the hero, he's the champion, they're a bunch of wimps in suits, they'll never be what he is. So why is he supposed to apologize to them? This is just backwards.

Michael Phelps disappointed people, it says here, and again, I just don't get that. He won more gold medals than anybody in the freakin' world, and people are disappointed in him?!?!

The only reason you aren't supposed to smoke marijuana is that ... you aren't supposed to. There is no demonstrated health risk, physical or mental. It does not result in violent or risky or even incoherent behavior, like alcohol does, and alcohol is perfectly legal. Back in the day, I always thought the phrase "pot party" was an oxymoron -- a bunch of people sitting around staring into space, listening to music, hardly qualifies as a party. The stuff affects your consciousness, it's not an unpleasant feeling and a lot of people enjoy it -- I can't see why that justifies making it illegal.

It is entirely circular -- you can't smoke pot because you can't smoke pot. It goes back to the rivalry between the hemp industry and the cotton industry, and cotton won. Hemp is one of the most useful fibers on the planet but you can't grow it legally in this country (though we import more than any other country). It's not illegal because the plant can make you high -- there are lots of legal plants that are psychedelic and psychoactive in various ways. There's stuff growing in your yard that can make you high -- morning glories, for instance, might grow on your garden fence, jimson weed grows along the road, we have psylocibe and amanita mushrooms that pop up after a rain, you can buy hallucinogenic cacti at any nursery, and nobody cares. Marijuana is against the law, and some people try to justify that by making up stories about how dangerous it is, but it's not.

This is a pure Emperor's New Clothes situation. Michael Phelps didn't do anything wrong, he got high at a party, so what? Little people want to tear him down for it, people that will never accomplish anything in their lives like what he has done. Don't let yourself think this is acceptable, okay?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with Jim here. The illegalization of marijuana needs to end. If we want to produce jobs for law enforcement officers, crack down on violent gang crime in the inner city.

One thing, however, is that there are health consequences. I believe there have been studies connecting smoking it to lung cancer. It's just counter-intuitive, though, to believe that all that resin could accumulate in your lungs without effect. Unless, of course, you use the Bill Clinton "no-inhale" technique.

Still, libertarian that I am, I believe we can make our own risk decisions.

btw, I know some kids at USC and they all told me about Michael Phelps adventures last fall. Don't know how the media missed it for so long.

It could be that they knew and thought it didn't need to be disclosed. If so, they were right. The British press has always been more obnoxious than ours.

February 07, 2009 1:38 PM  
Blogger Hazumu Osaragi said...


To a progressive, your argument makes perfect sense. Michael Phelps' actions hurt no one but himself, and maybe not even that (any more so than willfully consuming tainted peanut butter or smoking cigarettes (and act the RIGHT points out to be a lawful choice, BTW.))

Progressives see him as a basically good person with an incredible talent. Caught doing a bong hit? Big deal...

Conservatives apply the conservative morality, which allows no deviation from the straight-and-narrow. No matter what your talent, what your contribution to society, if you[re caught when you] break the rules or deviate from the straight-and-narrow, 'we' have to disqualify you and you get put into the penalty box while someone less talented (but 'more worthy') gets your place/your position/your job -- after all, if you can't follow The Rules, you don't deserve those rewards your talent, training and dedication otherwise attained for you.

And your time in the penance penalty box does not begin until you return to The Moral Straight And Narrow (and repaired the guard rail where you deviated.) Only then will you be let back in line to strive for that position that rewards your adherence to The Morality.

By those rules, the transgenders of Montgomery County, Maryland, DESERVE to be summarily tossed out of places of public accommodation, to be denied renting a living place, or from using the public loo that corresponds to their gender presentation -- all because they deviated from The Morality.

Dr Dana Beyer would be denied the ability to freely and lawfully practice medicine. Other transgender persons would be unable to defend against similar indignities...

And someone like Michael Phelps should be summarily knocked from 'our' pedestal, to protect it and cleanse it and to keep it pure, so that it will be ready for the next Hero that we anoint.

And thus we will protect the one real principle of the RIGHTeous Conservatives, "Don't (get caught) [screw](ing) up!"

February 07, 2009 1:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're confused, H.O., the liberals are the ones that think we need the government to tell us what to do. Conservatives favor individual accountability and responsibility.

The last time I remember this being an issue in a campaign, I was living in California in 1978. The Republican candidate for governor, Evelle Younger, announced his support for legalization. His Democratic counterpart, Jerry Brown, responded, "oh, I think it's a substance that should be controlled".

You see, Democrats are so much wiser than the rest of us. They realize we need them to take care of us.

February 07, 2009 2:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, I don't normally comment on this sort of thing, but I have to say something. In one respect we are in total agreement, a person has the right to do whatever they want with there body, as long as they aren't hurting others, and to a certain extent themselves. Now that I've said that, this whole incident brings light to something I feel very strongly about. The fact is, Michael Phelps is not a hero. He's a dude who can swim fast. Thats great! There's nothing wrong with the fact that that is his profession, and that he makes good money doing it. However, this rampant deification of super stars, be they athletes, singers, actors or actresses is going crazy. Kids don't need to go to famous people as role models. In High school I always loved Pink, and while she helped me come out, she is not a role model to emulate! I'm sorry, but this People magazine culture as I call it, is symptomatic of herd mentality of epic proportions. In my opinion, Michael Phelps was wrong, simply because he was in a position where he was artificially declared a hero. But the onus is truly on us as a society that put him there. Its true how he broke all those records, and congratulations to him, but at the end of the day, HE'S JUST A DUDE THAT CAN SWIM FAST. What greatness has he achieved other than balm the pain of people too scared to achieve greatness for themselves? In any case, I hope one day to see more awards for true contributers in society, Teachers, Doctors, Fire Fighters, and not corrupt and/or big name types, people that work every day for years, relentlessly searching for real ways to improve everyones life, even if it means risking their own. I'm not a social conservative, I loathe the way society tries to keep us always between the lines. But we need more National love, attention, pride and praise for the great doers and thinkers that make real contributions 24/7 not just once every four years. Martin Luther King Jr, Harvey Milk, Princess Diana, Gandhi, these are the people we need as role models, not just some big eared bozo who can swim fast!

February 07, 2009 3:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I generally agree with this last anon.

Our society's idolization of athletes is not healthy.

He's not a hero.

February 07, 2009 3:18 PM  
Blogger BlackTsunami said...

I live in the area where all of this happened. And it is my sheriff (Leon Lott) who is thinking of prosecuting Phelps. So what I want to know is:

Who took the picture?

February 07, 2009 5:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Today, February 7, is Internation Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, to increase awareness of the devestating effects of this epidemic on the African-American and African communities. The CDC collects HIV/AIDS epidemiological data on the basis of race and means of infection, but does not publish stats related to poverty.

Some info:

• When we look at HIV/AIDS by race and ethnicity, we see that African Americans have more illness (even though blacks account for about 13% of the U.S. population, they account for about half (49%) of the people who get HIV and AIDS; shorter survival times (Blacks with AIDS often don’t live as long as people of other races and ethnic groups with AIDS); and more deaths (for African Americans and other blacks, HIV/AIDS is a leading cause of death. • HIV/AIDS affects black children the most. In 2005, 104 (63%) of the 166 children under the age of 13 diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 33 states were black. • According to information from 33 states, during 2005, among men, 41% of men living with HIV/AIDS were black; among women, 64% of women living with HIV/AIDS were black. • Of all black men living with HIV/AIDS, the primary transmission category was sexual contact with other men, followed by injection drug use and high-risk heterosexual contact. • Of all black women living with HIV/AIDS, the primary transmission category was high-risk heterosexual contact, followed by injection drug use. • Of the estimated 141 infants perinatally infected with HIV, 91 (65%) were Black (CDC, HIV/AIDS Reporting System, unpublished data, December 2006). • Of the estimated 18,849 people under the age of 25 whose diagnosis of HIV/AIDS was made during 2001–2004 in the 33 states with HIV reporting, 11,554 (61%) were Black. • Since the beginning of the epidemic, blacks have accounted for 397,548 (42%) of the estimated 952,629 AIDS cases diagnosed in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

February 07, 2009 6:02 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

I have one minute to throw out a comment here. I don't deify athletes, I hardly watch sports and have not had much respect for jocks and the jock mentality since high school. But the fact is, this is one high-performing dude. He swims fast, yes, he is one of the most efficient physical beings to ever exist. He excels, and I do think that the pursuit of excellence is worthwhile. Besides having a natural gift, he trains harder than anyone, and has earned his awards. It doesn't make him a god, but we can appreciate that he can do some things we can't do.


February 07, 2009 7:08 PM  
Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

Jim writes,

Look what the media are doing, and these stupid organizations. They have taken a man who is better than the rest of us, an excellent individual, he does things other people can't do, and they are trying to bring him down. Look at this story. "The federation" says that Michael is "committed to earn back our trust." Are you kidding me? How about they earn his trust! He's the hero, he's the champion, they're a bunch of wimps in suits, they'll never be what he is. So why is he supposed to apologize to them? This is just backwards.

I am not sure what the media is doing, but it is clear that an organization dedicated to keeping the image of a sport like swimming squeaky clean is making an example of Phelps. Since Phelps is at the top this is an all the more powerful example to be set, i.e. that nobody, even Michael Phelps, is above the rules.

In truth this says so much more about you, Jim, than it does about anything else. Don't like a rule, law, policy, etc? Ignore it...rationalize violating it...etc. For those that pine for those revolutionary times of the Sixties this is the usual sentiment.

Frankly I don't think it is that big a deal either, but by virtue of his accomplishments, Phelps has become a role model. Now the organization that represents the sport has taken appropriate action to make it clear that they will not tolerate this sort of behavior. With the very recent revelation that Alex Rodriguez once took steroids, it becomes all the more clear why a bright, bold line must be drawn. Perhaps if Major League Baseball had taken that step long ago, they would not be where they are now with this story, not to mention Bonds.

February 08, 2009 3:48 PM  
Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

Here's some more of that "institutionalized backwardness"...LOL!

Octuplets' birth spawns outrage from public,0,2129396.story

Time once was that first came courtship, next came marriage then came infant in a baby carriage, BUT NO, not for Graduate Student/Single Mom Nadya Suleman.

Why is anyone surprised? Really now...

February 08, 2009 5:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Orin for more eloquently summerizing my rant, if I may say that you did so. If Michael Phelps want to be a hero/athlete/sports stars great for him, if he wants to be a pot smoking kid, thats a great choice as well. You don't get to be a genie without the cufflinks, you don't get to be a superstar, then get to act just like everyone else, at least not publicly.

February 08, 2009 8:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrea-not anon
I don't follow sports- though of course, I know about the superstars. Michael Phelps just didn't understand that everyone is not his friend and that lots of people are more than willing to sell out famiy and friends much less a famous stranger for the price paid by a tabloid.

As to most sports-I am not surprised anymore when someone is proved to have used steroids, beaten someone up, gotten someone pregnant, cheated (I guess alex rodriguez covers 2 of those himself)

February 08, 2009 9:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WASHINGTON (Feb. 9) - Marijuana use may increase the risk of developing testicular cancer, in particular a more aggressive form of the disease, according to a U.S. study published on Monday.
The study of 369 Seattle-area men ages 18 to 44 with testicular cancer and 979 men in the same age bracket without the disease found that current marijuana users were 70 percent more likely to develop it compared to nonusers.
The risk appeared to be highest among men who had reported smoking marijuana for at least 10 years, used it more than once a week or started using it before age 18, the researchers wrote in the journal Cancer.

February 09, 2009 2:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really, Michael Phelps

February 11, 2009 11:27 AM  

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