A Million Little Pieces

"I woke to the drone of an airplane engine and the feeling of something warm dripping down my chin," begins "A Million Little Pieces," James Frey's story of his ascent from crackhouse ground zero. "I lift my hand and feel my face. My front four teeth are gone, I have a hole in my cheek, my nose is broken and my eyes are swollen nearly shut." His clothes are covered with spit, snot, vomit and blood. He doesn't know how he got on the plane or where he is going, but as he soon finds out, he's on his way to rehab.

This is today's "Bright Lights, Big City." Instead of cocaine and The New Yorker we've got crack and a rehabilitation treatment center in Minnesota. The grungy editorial style diligently avoids glorifying the brilliant descriptions of medical torture, explicit (and often hideously demeaning) sex and even more explicit drugs. A stream-of-consciousness lite effect is provided by the absence of quotation marks and paragraph indents. Certain words are idiosyncratically capitalized -- the Bathroom, the Nurses -- perhaps to suggest that old cosmic paranoia feeling that comes with over-indulgence in hallucinatory substances; perhaps to be literary and cute.

Despite the Burroughs-inflected literary tics, this is an emotionally penetrating narrative that faithfully portrays the institutional rehabilitation process. It's very commercial, too. Unlike "Naked Lunch," it would make a nice gift for a friend considering detox (one of the Bush girls, maybe?), whether as a warning or a comfort. Faithful to hallowed marketing considerations going back to St. Augustine, all users are portrayed as hopeless addicts. Drug rapture is described in physical and sexual terms and always leads to horrible crashes. There are no hints that self-medication can be a very effective form of self-treatment for emotional and physical maladies.

James Frey operates in a literary zone where the worst case rules to the exclusion of all others. You can't write about the masterpieces that are created while enraptured, the psychological knots untied, the revival of the sheer joy of living. No one can handle drugs. Period. Got that clear? Begin writing. These days, when so many successful folks routinely rely on weird brain torques without requiring professional detoxification, it's not easy to get a gifted writer to fit a book into this Procrustean headlock, much less sign it. It appears that "Go Ask Alice," by Anonymous, the eternally best-selling classic teenage descent-into-drug-hell tale, supposedly based on a fifteen-year-old girl's diary, was faked. As far as anyone can tell, there never was any teenaged girl's diary. Beatrice Matthews Sparks, a Mormon lady from Utah, most likely made it all up.

In "A Million Little Pieces", they've got something better -- a real (and very talented) writer with a real story who believes very firmly in individual responsibility. The author portrays himself as quite heroic in both his rebellion and his determination to quit, reminding me of John Galt in "Atlas Shrugged." Although it has some synthetic moments, the book is obviously sincere, but the resolution finally boils down to "Just say no."

Frey's case demonstrates that the treatment model can work if the victim is a highly motivated upper-class college drop-out with a concrete physical infancy trauma that can be rooted out in therapy. It also helps to have a loving family show up to help out, even if Dad does have to leave in the middle on one of his emergency business trips. Then there are the political connections made in rehab that enable him to avoid having to do time for an outstanding conviction. Frey mentions these factors in passing, but mainly attributes his recovery to willpower.

"A Million Little Pieces" could be part of the softening-up campaign for the switch toward treatment rather than punishment. Venereal disease prevention in Paris in the 17th Century eventually led to the criminalization of prostitution. Now the high cost of drug criminalization results in the need to declare recreational drug use or self-medication to be symptoms of a treatable disease. Unfortunately, the involuntary treatment model as currently formatted is merely another take on criminalization. It's a lot better than jail for abusers of dangerous addictive drugs such as crack, cocaine, speed and heroin, but how many people would need treatment for marijuana dependency except to avoid prison?

The cost of scorched earth drug enforcement is distorting the entire criminal justice system so ferociously that government financial administrators at all levels are hard put to pay for it. Just as the mentally ill were turned out on the streets because it was so much cheaper, outpatient therapy enforced by the threat of imprisonment will now replace the war on drugs, at least for middle class whites. It probably won't work, but it doesn't use weapons resources that would better go to conventional wars of conquest.

Jules Siegel's reports on drugs, crime and alternate culture have appeared in Playboy, Rolling Stone, Village Voice and many other publications.

Penning Protests in New York

Thanks to Mayor Bloomberg, protesters in New York will be corralled together in tightly controlled police pens. But some plan to break out. With Monday's ruling against an orderly, nonviolent protest march anywhere on the streets of Manhattan this Saturday, U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones has steered the City of New York toward chaos.

Though event organizer United for Peace and Justice has stated its willingness to follow any route the New York Police Department designates, the only legal option at hand is for antiwar demonstrators to be massed in tightly controlled police pens stretching far up First Avenue, north of the United Nations. The current thin strip of a rally is expected to stretch up to some 25 blocks from its starting point north of the UN -- effectively makes any spectacular televised scenes of a vast, anti-war crowd gathered in Central Park impossible. (Before they decided they would accept any route for the march, UJFP wanted to march past the UN, then west, then up through Times Square and along Seventh Avenue to Central Park.)

It is expected that many will seek to avoid the pens and hope to sow confusion all around Manhattan. The online discussion of such tactics, honed at past free-form protests, suggest using cell phones to coordinate splinter actions. One contributor to the NYC Indymedia Center Web site called for: "a tactical plan for wide-scale CD [civil disobedience] throughout Manhattan. This could include surprise "people's inspections" of various corporate and governmental sites, traffic lockdowns, a mass die-in, street theater, prayer vigils, snowball fights, you name it. It's time to be both bold and creative. Let's transform Feb. 15 into a carnival of peace and resistance throughout Manhattan all afternoon. Save the protest pit for last call."

This is among the more temperate postings. Another stated mildly, "We can't settle for tired megaphone speakers inside a protest pen encircled by police--we gotta bust out into the streets."

It is unclear how many of the currently 29 UFPJ-sanctioned "feeder" marches -- by groups such as the "Queer Anti-War Contingent," the "Interfaith Ministers for Peace," not to mention the "Anarchist Red & Black Contingent" and the "Anti-Capitalist Bloc" -- will disperse and go off on their own.

As the national coordinator for the Independent Progressive Politics Network, which normally focuses on alternatives to the two major parties, Ted Glick represents such groups as the National Lawyers Guild and the Green Party. An organizer of Saturday's demonstration, Glick does not advocate illegally taking it to the streets, saying in an interview, "I doubt there will be a breach of police barricades -- it will be absolutely peaceful and nonviolent. We're not looking for a confrontation, but to manifest the views of millions of people."

Glick added that the city is seeking to discourage attendance by forbidding a march. "But to the extent they don't cooperate with those of us with a history of organizing peaceful demonstrations, then they put a lot of stress on what can happen," he said.

Brian Dominick, a veteran of many demonstrations, wondered about an exit strategy for both citizens and the cops. Based on his experience, he expects the marchers to prevail, "Unless the police want to keep us penned up there for hours on end, it's going to be chaos. In reality, there's going to be a march. People will be at a rally pumped up for it, and that's the natural inclination."

The ruling has seemingly transformed a largely self-policing, follow-your-nose, chant-and-sing march into an unpredictable and potentially chaotic cat-and-mouse struggle. Rampant hooliganism will besmirch the peace movement, true, but the ban itself is a black-eye for civil liberties in a country touting itself as a democratic example to the world.

Instead of effective, mass dissent, the city now invites struggle on both ends of a nightstick. Representing the UFJP, the New York Civil Liberties Union noted in its federal suit, "For decades people in New York City have paraded and marched through the public streets as a means of expressing and demonstrating their views in a wide variety of topics .... Marching in the streets is a time-honored tradition in our country that lies at the core of the First Amendment."

According to the NYCLU complaint, when the NYPD first rejected a march, "the reason given for the denial was congestion and related concerns arising out of a march." Subsequently, according to the NYCLU, after flirting with the idea of allowing a march, the city refused. "The only reason given for the decision was a concern about the NYPD resources required to police a march."

Last week, city lawyer Jeffrey Friedlander told the Associated Press, "We will not allow any event to jeopardize public safety or prevent people from going about their business." NYCLU head Donna Lieberman said, "A rally has a different tenor than a march. It's important to go throughout the city to express your views to the people of New York in places that are vital to that message." People trapped in holding pens have a limited ability to communicate with each other, to grasp any sense of the totality of the event.

Said Glick, "People want to see who's there. You can't do that if everyone is jammed, you can't see the vets and the women's groups and labor. Marching manifests who we are and shows the breadth of the movement. It might take a long time for everyone to march. But that allows the size of it to be seen - as the hours pass."

In her decision, Judge Jones defended the city's refusal "because of safety and security considerations."After Monday's ruling, the city's Friedlander stated that both the judge and the NYPD concurred that any march "would have put the public's safety at risk."

But both UFJP co-chairwoman Leslie Cagan and NYCLU's Lieberman stated at a press conference Monday that city officials testified before Jones that they don't anticipate any violence or terror attacks. Lieberman said, "The city argued it doesn't have the time to plan or the manpower, and it invoked 9/11 in terms of fear of attack. But it said it had no fear from the demonstrators."

She added that the city issued a permit for a peace demonstration less than a month after 9/11, when fears and emotions were at an even higher pitch than now. The city agreed once it was pointed out that the demonstration coincided with the Columbus Day parade. Apparently next month's St. Patrick's Day parade doesn't provide the same rationale.

The judge leaned heavily on the testimony of NYPD Assistant Chief Michael D. Esposito. Referring to the thousands of protesters, he said, "If they at one time did something or if somebody in the group had a device, I don't know how we would be able to stop it with that amount of people or see anything." But how will police be able to stop a device from people packed in pens for 25 blocks better than they might from the same group of people moving their feet?

Judge Jones however claimed in her ruling, "the police can more effectively monitor crowds for terror threats at stationary rallies than they can crowds moving in a procession ..." But she offered no support for her assertion that is key to the whole dispute.

During an anti-war protest of similar size in Washington in January, very few cops monitored the peaceful crowd. At the staging area on the National Mall, with tens of thousands of protesters, there were a couple of dozen U.S. Park Police. Ted Glick, who marched in April's big D.C. anti-war protest, said, "There were virtually no police, and there were no problems. The disparity with the seat of government and what's happening in New York couldn't be more stark -- and it's essentially the same people."

The NYCLU appealed Jones's ruling Wednesday morning before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In an oral decision Wednesday afternoon, Judge Jose A. Cabranes upheld the city's ban, saying his ruling applied to Saturday's demonstration only.

Whatever happens in New York, organizers believe that the important goal is to protest the war -- using whatever means available, be it in a police pen or outside it.

Daniel Forbes (ddanforbes@aol.com) testified before both the Senate and the House regarding the Clinton administration's secret payments to the TV networks rewarding anti-drug sitcoms and dramas. Work archived at www.mapinc.org.

Drug Czar Super Bowl Ad Features Anti-Abortion Subtext

No, the White House anti-drug ads don't work, the latest, stealth report from the federal government indicates. Commissioned by the Office of National Drug Control Policy and conducted under the auspices of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it states: "There is no evidence yet consistent with a desirable effect of the [Media] Campaign on youth." Though this semi-annual report builds on the poor results documented previously, the taxpayer-funded ads - despite their demonstrated inability to keep kids from drugs - do serve any number of purposes. One new use for the campaign made its debut during the year's high-profile advertising showcase, Sunday's Super Bowl.

As Joseph R. Giganti, Director of Media and Government Relations at the American Life League stated after reviewing the new anti-marijuana ad - entitled "Pregnancy" - on ONDCP's website, "Without question, there is a very strong but subtle pro-life statement presented in this commercial."

Saying that "abortion on demand" thrives on the notion that actions lack consequences, Giganti added, "This ad reinforces the consequences." Still commenting on the ad, he said, you can't "just slice and dice a baby and everything'll be good."

As to the ad's outcome of a young teenager having her baby, Mary Jane Gallagher, Chief Operating Officer of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said, "They coded the message to make it seem this was this woman's only option." According to Gallagher, "Such speaking down to viewers - that keeping the child is the only alternative - I'm not used to that from the government in a democracy."

Alerted to the ad, Nellie Gray, President of the March for Life Fund and organizer of the annual anti-Roe v. Wade demonstrations in Washington, said: "A government agency properly uses this scene of a pregnant mother's drug abuse and grandparents' youth to help viewers understand that there is no justification for anyone intentionally killing a preborn baby." As to any possible ill effects on the baby from the mother's "drug abuse," Gray added that her group has a "no exceptions, no compromise" policy on abortion.

I've reported on the Clinton White House granting the networks some $22 million in ad time they owed it in exchange for inserting government-approved (and even government scripted), anti-drug plots in TV shows. More than one source worried that if the government got away with that, there'd be scant reason to limit its social engineering to drugs. Someday, some administration gripped by a perceived responsibility to instruct people how to live might soon train its sights on reproductive rights, or so these First Amendment advocates thought. Fearing that anti-abortion themes might conceivably start cropping up in sitcoms and dramas, no one worried they'd be flaunted in the ads themselves.

Well, the Clinton Federal Communications Commission eventually ruled the government couldn't pay for messages embedded in TV shows without alerting viewers to that fact. Such notice robbing those messages of much of both their ability to influence viewers and their appeal to government social marketers, the Bush administration commendably scrapped that part of its anti-drug campaign.

However, it took only about a year of his running the national ad campaign for Bush Drug Czar John Walters to launch his first attack on abortion in the guise (or so said the two anti-abortion activists quoted above) of his increasingly outrageous ads.

The woman holding the pregnancy test strip in the ONDCP Super Bowl ad is certainly young and curvy enough that, in a cute little bit of misdirection, viewers no doubt assumed the test was for her, especially since her daughter is off-camera. But we soon learn the parents of the girl who looks about 14 and got pregnant via the demon weed, are - pay attention now, America - soon to be, "the youngest grandparents in town." Ramming the point home, the ad tells us, "There will be an addition to their family soon." As for the also young, but balding grandfather-to-be, he probably doesn't look nearly as frayed by life as he soon will.

That's because, in the ad's self-contained world, options apparently aren't available to this family. "Youngest grandparents" - that's the only outcome that's indicated. And, as mom embraces her, the ad ends with the young girl's face registering fear and what looks like acquiescence as we're informed: "Smoking marijuana impairs your judgment - it's more harmful than we all thought."

For many, of course, having the baby would indeed be their choice. But - for now, anyway - there are other choices, not that viewers would glean that from a government ad that seeks to model 'correct' behavior. Gallagher, of NARAL Pro-Choice America, asserted that, "The government's message didn't portray the legal options available to this young woman under Roe v. Wade: to keep the child, to put the child up for adoption, or to seek a safe and legal abortion."

Katherine Minarik, Director of Campus Programs for the Feminist Majority Foundation, said that government commercials should try to paint a picture of reality. "And if in that picture you eliminate the concept of reproductive freedom, then you're doing an enormous disservice to not only the health, but the lives of young people."

Saying that her legal team will ponder action regarding the ad's public funding (the total ONDCP Super Bowl ad buy exceeded $4 million), Gallagher said, "We can't let this effort go unchecked - that they take these social policies that run counter to the majority of Americans' views and push them down our throats."

Ken Diem, Chairman of the New York State Right to Life Party, countered that government advertising, "should be promoting abstinence and respect for your body, which involves no drugs and no promiscuity." Saying that the ad meshes well with his party's concerns, Diem said, "The government should promote an abstinence program hand-in-hand with the anti-drug message." In fact, he'd like to see it part of any Bush administration faith-based initiative. As to any criticism of the government's involvement in the abortion issue, Diem said, "Poppycock. The government has been involved with a woman's right to choose since day one. Only when the government stands up to respect the sanctity of life do they cry foul."

Minarik agreed with Gallagher that the ad makes it appear the young woman has but one option. "But teenagers still have choices after an unintended pregnancy. And we as a society can never let them believe they have no choice. This is just another example of a broader policy of eliminating access to needed information on reproductive health," she said.

Everything old is new again. Harry Anslinger, Walters' ideological and official progenitor both, could have warned the ad's father to lock his daughter away from those fiends hopped up on that reefer stuff. This a new century, not Anslinger's 1930s, the young wanton was apparently a willing participant, wacked as she was herself on pot. How else to explain a teenage girl falling prey to a boy's pressure? (Simple decency requires shrinking from the notion of such a young girl's lasciviousness unmediated by marijuana.)

Giganti said the point that sex has its consequences is driven home by the girl's "fearful" expression as the ad ends. There's no "easy solution" to this family's dilemma, he said. "It's realistic that the parents are concerned." He applauded that they're not being "complicit in the murder of their own grandchild." By being "loving, concerned and comforting," the parents are "taking a bad situation and making the best of it."

Gallagher, however, felt the ad was wildly unrealistic: "It indicates this will be easy for the family to tackle. It's absurd."

Giganti doubted that Walters intentionally sat down with his creative team and in the context of a hard-hitting ad for teens, reached for a message on abortion. Acknowledging the ads' "subtext," Giganti said, "I don't know if it's intentional. I believe not." He added, "I don't think it was set up to reflect a pro-life view. Though in a perfect world that might be what happens."

The ad was created gratis by McCann-Erickson Worldwide Advertising and filtered through the Partnership for a Drug-Free America for subsequent approval and purchase of airtime by ONDCP. Both the partnership (which, to its credit, has refused to get involved with the White House drugs = terrorism ads) and ONDCP declined comment. McCann-Erickson refused to make its creative team available for an interview; spokeswoman Susan Irwin would say only that McCann-Erickson was "responsible for the idea." Irwin elaborated no further, so it would seem, therefore, that the get-pregnant, have-the-child (though you're a child yourself) message originated on Madison Avenue.

Since McCann-Erickson won't say that Smith or Jones on its staff cooked up the idea -- and what prompted their thinking -- what remains clear is that the White House approved the ad. And it paid for its inclusion in the year's most-watched show amidst all the other high-profile ads that debuted on Sunday.

This came less than a week after President Bush addressed by phone hookup a massive anti-choice protest in Washington seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade. Voicing his hope to ban a type of late-term abortion he termed "partial-birth" abortion, Bush spoke on the 30th Anniversary of the Supreme Court decision. He told the crowd that a "self-evident truth calls us to value and to protect the lives of innocent children waiting to be born." Not wanting to risk a photograph of himself at the rally for later use by pro-choice advocates (and yes, he was out of town, but the anniversary occurs on the same date every year), Bush continued Ronald Reagan's weaselly tradition of addressing the annual protest only by telephone.

Lest you un-American eggheads who don't watch television and don't let your kids watch consider yourselves immune to the ads, consider this from an ONDCP press release: "[T]he Campaign is designed to reach Americans of diverse backgrounds wherever they live, learn, work, play and practice their faith."

"Play" I knew about, having seen a White House ad emblazoned on the backboard at my local glass-strewn, schoolyard basketball court, the bent, naked rims without a net. (Never mind the social science proving that spending on decent athletic facilities, along with the after-school programs to use them, go further than any TV ads to keep kids from abusing drugs.) But I haven't detected the White House's heavy hand in my quirky little church yet. Given the administration's evident willingness to breach the church-state divide, perhaps it's only a matter of time.

Daniel Forbes' report on state and federal malfeasance to defeat treatment-not-prison ballot initiatives was published by the Institute for Policy Studies. His disclosure of the Clinton Administration's secret multimillion-dollar rewards to the networks led to his testimony before both the Senate and the House. Forbes' drug-policy work is archived at: www.mapinc.org.

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