In the usual cloud of Kung Pao chicken exhaust I found myself loading up for a live event last week, which meant I would soon be off the Funky Butte Ranch for more than the couple of hours required for a hay run. Which in turn, I knew from experience, meant that I would be tactically bombarded by whichever motion picture release the most flush entertainment firms wanted the widest number of people to see. I read somewhere that they’re going for seven exposures per putative moviegoer. Across at least three distinct media (what laypeople call senses).
In exchange for my usual absence of TV (and I’m at the tail end of a low public radio phase to boot), someone was about to bend my ear about a new silver screen gem or (in the “news” realm) foreign threat, from highway billboard to plane jetway; heck, a golfing senior couple would soon be pitching me prescription medication on the airport shuttle van. When I talk (as I often do in these Dispatches) about the mental health benefits of quiet, I’m referring to marketing silence as much as car alarm and screaming sirens.
Luckily I didn’t have to worry about my bed and breakfast’s television – I don’t like touching the remotes. Plus, the local news scares me with its missing children, petty political corruption and exposes on hotel room remote control germs. Still, I left home watching the 1967 Dr. Dolittle on Netflix and returned knowing what body part the left side of the punditsphere felt was excessively protruding from Angie Jolie’s Oscar dress.
Every time I dance through this psychic ring of fire (to grasp how jolting it is, keep in mind I generally see more goats than people on any given day), I first have to transcend an initial shock of the “Holy Gazoley, someone with money thinks that people will still, eventually, believe that one of the McCandidates really might know what to do about the Whole Mess” school.
Once this wave passes, I’m cleansed, and I almost always return from travel with what feels like some kind of big societal revelation. For reasons that I suspect are by now obvious, the most common revelatory theme is: “Get back to the Ranch with maximum dispatch, young man. Stockpile at least a year of food and water. And generally stick to movies in which the actors’ behavior, if displayed in a real human, would allow them within a mile of your three-year-old.”
This trip (amazingly hosted by the hospitable and sustainably-determined folks at the University of Montevallo), possibly because of its proximity to the Oscars (and the Special Oscars Edition of Vanity Fair I found and read in the Bed and Breakfast — it included articles on Brigitte Bardot and the making of the film Diner), my at least perceived epiphany surrounded the identity-creating magic of film publicity.
The revelation was almost certainly an unintended result of my seven advertising bombardments, since the ostensible goal of movie advertising is to sell movie tickets. At least I think that’s still the goal. Maybe there’s a subservience algorithm embedded in the frequency of the advertisements themselves.
Either way, what occurred to me, when the face on a Dallas C-terminal flatscreen tried to assure me that, although Syrian civilians were dying by the thousands, Rush Limbaugh had apologized for saying what he gets paid to say, and it was vitally important to that I see a film called either Act of Valor or Battle of Valor (something to do with brave kinds of killing), was this: one effect of mainstream film promotion in the early 21st Century is to make omnipresent superheroes of our most professionally marketed performers.
By this I mean that when a movie comes out, I sometimes wonder if the lead actress has been cloned. Specifically, I think, “Huh, I just read in the Times, in an article given slightly more space than the peace negotiations in Sudan, that Ms. Jolie (or whomever) is now in Zambia (for tax reasons) shooting the film version of The Oxford English Dictionary (or whatever). I wonder when the heck she could have found time to beam up to the International Space Station to shoot this just-released Ms. Pac Man Marries a Cosmonaut (or whatever) about whose Friday opening (and on-location shoot) a film distributor so badly wants travelers passing through Texas to be aware.”
What we’re talking about, of course, is the delay between the creation of a piece of entertainment and its release. Because of the long and (to me) surprisingly formalized production pipeline in all of our mass entertainment branches, projects just seem to magically appear, whenever publicity departments, those latter day Copperfields, decide it’s time to conjure awareness of them in what I call with a rebelling straight face the cultural zeitgeist.
Then, as usually happens when I am casting some kind of ethical stones (because really wasn’t this revelation a form of judgment; a condemnation of Hollywood’s crime of temporal artificiality or at least manipulation?), I took a look at myself. Or in this case, at my new Web site (gorgeous design work by Ms. Amanda McPherson). I even surprised myself: I was so used to that Funky Butte Ranch-scape banner at the top of the page every time I posted a Dispatch that I said to myself of myself, “I wonder what he’s been up to.” Then I thought excitedly, “Maybe he’ll reveal it in his first Dispatch with the re-design.”
So that’s this. Those familiar with these Dispatches know that I usually have a point (Holy Gazoley, I hope that’s the consensus), even if it takes a good portion of your lunch hour to get to it – so if you want to hear about TOO HIGH TO FAIL, my new book, but don’t have time for the explanation of how it came to be, the short film and pre-order links are at the top and bottom of this Dispatch.
Essentially I followed one sustainably-grown cannabis plant from seed to patient and explained — with the usual harrowing misadventure — how many billions of dollars the overall industry will be worth to the economy when the War on Drugs is finally called off.
For those without a supervisor, rival, too-looming-of-a-deadline, or crying infant in danger of intruding, I’ll get to more of that “what” after explaining the “why.” Because I’m a real person, and I recognize that even without a marketing department, even without intending to, I have a long history of facing such “wait, when did that happen?” questions about my own projects.
Although not in the case of the above films: I turned down both the coveted role of the verb “expostulate” in the Dictionary epic (I couldn’t get a contractual guarantee that my ad-libs would make the final cut) and that of the lovable Space Station stowaway in Ms. Pac Man — the mundane sticking point on that one was simple money: Carrot Top was pulling in fourteen mil as a biosphere vegetable (not even a speaking role! All he had to do was grow, spiritually), and my agent was asking less than half that for a role with three nude scenes and a simultaneous crying/vomit/space walk breakdown that was pre-slated for supporting actor Oscar buzz.
Boy I hope everyone realizes I’m kidding about the film stuff. As anyone who reads the trades knows, my man Carrot (we call him The Follicle) never leaves his decompression chamber for less than twenty large.
No but really, my own moves seem, to the few billion who don’t follow them on a daily basis, to be evidence of levitation, if not teleportation or outright time travel. When Not Really An Alaskan Mountain Man came out, for example, people scratched their heads. “Huh,” the multitudes (or dozens) wondered, “I thought he was that guy who reported from Burma and Rwanda for the Washington Post and Salon and, well, whomever would pay his airfare.”
When Farewell, My Subaru hit shelves (books used to be printed on physical atoms and appear stacked according to an indecipherable system on “shelves” in places called “stores”), folks ruminated, “I thought he was the guy who kept nearly drowning and getting eaten in those last Frontier NPR dispatches where he hung out with whales, bears and libertarians.”
Well, now is the time to wonder when the Goat and Solar Guy who Gets the Munchies from his truck’s Vegetable Oil Exhaust researched and wrote a book about the Drug War. Or as I think of it, The Coming Drug Peace.
Let me assure you I’m still that guy. The marginally-competent, often-outsmarted Goat Fellow and would-be neo-Rugged Individualist Organic Cowboy. In fact I’m just in from the morning milking as I type.
And I don’t see that ever stopping. Especially when the courting owls hoot to each other from opposite sides of the canyon every night and soaks in the local hot springs evaporate every iota of stress into effervescent steam. I still live to get petroleum out of my life, and as I alluded to above, I returned yesterday from, film commercials aside, what turned out to be a wonderful speaking event in Alabama about my latest Carbon-neutral Misadventures (summary: the goats are still getting into the rose buses).
I’m trying to say that I never plan to cease writing and speaking about sustainability. I’m fairly sure I won’t be able to stop myself. There’s something about having a place to live that allows humans to breathe and drink that feels important. Guess it takes all kinds.
All that said, I did disappear again. Largely to protect some brave sources, I quietly spent most of 2011 in the solar-powered cannabis fields of northern California researching this now forthcoming book. And this is a project which, back in the relative safety (if you don’t count coyotes and Climate Change) of the Funky Butte Ranch, I’m thrilled to announce today.
While the Middle East dictators kept toppling (they always topple, don’t they? They’re like Weebles) and the bankers kept devising new kinds of financial instruments to circumvent whatever “regulation” they and their former colleagues (now in government) concocted, I was sleuthing in one of the first places in the United States to declare a Drug Peace. Why?
Bottom line: the War on Drugs had just celebrated its dubious fortieth anniversary, during which time it has cost you and me a trillion dollars without making a dent in supply or demand (actually both have increased). I wanted to know: is there a sustainable solution that can put billions back into the economy every year while decimating the murderous drug cartels?
That’s what I’ve been looking into for the past year and that’s the topic of my new book, TOO HIGH TO FAIL: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution (Penguin/Gotham, August 2, 2012).
I essentially spent a growing season in domestic medical cannabis fields following a single flower from planting to patient. I shadowed a cadre of American farmers (some new, some third generation) looking at what a cannabis economy would be worth to the U.S. balance sheet if (perhaps we should say “when”) the Drug War ends.
The folks who invited me in to learn the details of their once-secret industry sported tastefully framed permits from local law enforcement and were Chamber of Commerce members. Sustainability standards were written into local regulations. Crime in the region decreased. Quite the brain teaser for a fellow raised during Just Say No.
Only no one told the feds. From my perspective as a writer, the usual carnage, misadventure, and investigative revelation ensued. When confronted with Drug Warriors (funded by my own taxes), I often had to dig deep into my belief in the U.S. Constitution, since I saw an enforcement and incarceration bureaucracy (on the federal level) whose operators were behaving not too differently (that is, extra-judicially) from the way the current batch of deciders in, say, Burma or Guatemala do. And I say that as someone who is generally a vociferous defender of law enforcement. In fact former Seattle Police chief Norm Stamper puts it this way: “…besides causing thousands of deaths worldwide and costing billions of taxpayer dollars, the drug war’s most serious collateral damage has been to undermine the role of civilian law enforcement in our free society.”
Oh, that it were just civilian law enforcement: in the 2012 U.S. federal defense appropriations bill, drones have been approved for use in domestic cannabis eradication. And how I loved that fourth amendment to the Constitution!
The very good news is that, as was the case toward the end of alcohol prohibition, many localities, from Sheriff’s office to regional government, are having none of it. Another way of putting this is that, in any war (and make no mistake, the War on Drugs is at least in part an American Civil War, with millions of real casualties known as non-violent inmates), someone has to just decide to end it. To stop fighting. When it’s the losers, we call it “surrender.” This time it’s the winners calling it off. Opting for Drug Peace.
What I discovered amidst the Northern California redwoods is what both a majority of Americans and Pat Robertson already sense (according to a 2011 Gallup poll): taxing cannabis like alcohol will bring a half-trillion dollars into the American economy in the first five years after prohibition ends and will play a significant role in balancing the U.S. budget, while jump-starting an American agricultural and manufacturing revival.
It’s already happening in Canada, where the cannabis industry is growing at 20% a year. That’s where the organic hemp seed oil in my morning shake comes from. It’d be a federal felony to grow it here. But we can buy it from other nations. Or from cartel criminals (to the tune of tens of billions of as yet untaxed dollars every year). At a time of massive national debt. Don’t you love good policy?
And on the sustainability front, I learned during the research of TOO HIGH TO FAIL that the cannabis plant, thanks to its aerating, foot-long taproots that grow in a month, can even help ravaged soil recover from a century of monoculture. As I put it in the book, ‘One tries not to sound like one of those “cannabis can do anything including bring about world peace and an end to Ring Around the Collar” people, but [from my Omega-balanced breakfast shake alone] I felt I deserved some kind of Canadian tax rebate”.’
As the highly decorated (and very popular) local Sheriff in the community where I did my primary research puts it, “The plant isn’t going away. We can tax it, or we can let the drug lords make the profits. If a law enforcement professional or a politician doesn’t realize after forty years [of Drug Warring] that the sun still rises and there’s still an America with cannabis on the convenience store shelf, it might be time for him to retire.”
It was, perhaps needless to say, a fun book to research. Hope it proves that way to read. Click on the cover image to head to the pre-order page or to see the short film about the whole season-long, seed-to-patient adventure.
The pre-order is on now (the book ships August 2), and you’ll see options there (whether your books these days are made from trees or electrons). Please also forward this page’s link far and wide: a large pre-order helps TOO HIGH TO FAIL‘s promotional effort immensely. Thanks as always for your support. I never forget that it’s you who allow me to keep writing about the topics that feel important and amusing to cover.
And this one, believe me, feels important. At least as important as (and sometimes overlapping with) the issues raised in FAREWELL, My SUBARU. As for amusing, well, that’s for you to decide. Now that I’m no longer in constant risk of a helicopter crew’s mishearing the phrase, “I’m just media!,” I sure find myself laughing a lot. As Ed Abbey put it on the sustainability front, ““It is not enough to fight for the land. It is even more important to enjoy it.” Same holds true when it comes to civil liberties, sustainability, and good government.
Note: for those of you blessed humans who ordered my previous books directly from me, this time please use one of the options you’ll see here on this site: it’s part of my agreement with the publisher that we’ll do it through stores this time, whether independent local bookstores or Amazon/Barnes and Noble/Apple.
If you want your copies signed, I’m happy to do it. The best way is probably to come to the live events as they line up in the second half of the year. There you’ll also see the unintentional comedy performance known as my show. Hope to see you on the tour.
Postscript: Meanwhile, these Dispatches continue: sometimes they’ll cover the new topic, sometimes they’ll analyze my trifecta of major issues (sustainability, civil liberties, interstellar communication) and, of course, often they’ll ruminate on my progress toward establishing the new Olympic Event of Wild River Innertubing.
I can’t tell you how excited I’ve been to announce this project — the fun topic aside, it entailed a year of pretty consistently hard work (and a lot of mountainous vegetable oil-powered driving) to get it right. As soon as I hit “post” I’m off to trim the goats’ hooves in a canyon screaming spring: saw the first wildflowers of the season on a hike up an arroyo today (blood oranges were the vital snack), which means the nectar-thirsty hummingbirds can’t be far behind. That annual migration is always cause, as much as anything, for a life phase high in optimism and characterized by a distinct lack of Big Picture worry: justified of not (and I think it is, pretty much always), this, I believe, is the state of mind in which to go through life.