Scooby Dooby Don’t

There will always be some humans who say they have ‘the right’ to take drugs. Perhaps they do. Perhaps they don’t. Which is it? One thing is certain, when a person claims ‘It’s my body, I can do what I like with it,’ there is a flaw in their reasoning.

Does the argument change when a person believes that they do not ‘have’ a body, rather they ‘are’ a body? Listening to some, it is clear the belief in the illusive ‘I’ is alive and well, and why not? The foregoing, when considered at length, can bring a chilly realisation…

One can see, straightaway, there will be (or should be) several other persons involved in our lives who would wish it that we take care of the body we have or are. My aunt is rapidly dying from lung-cancer and I would prefer that not to be the case.

If drug-taking is wrong, what makes it wrong? This is easier to answer if the drugs taken are illegal. One could find sanctuary within the walls of the law. But that’s far too easy, and dangerous. Who wants to be left holding the logic which states if something is legal it is morally right? Not me, thank you. Then again, who wants to argue drinking caffeine is morally wrong?

I am happy to be corrected here, though I remember reading that, on a chemical level, nicotine breaks down caffeine and a person recently free from cigarettes should also cut their coffee intake because without nicotine, the caffeine has a greater affect on their brains.

The affect might be greater irritability, insomnia or restless sleep – the affects of caffeine are well known, yet their affects are not considered a moral problem. Why not? Caffeine, the common name for trimethylxanthine, is a drug, a chemical a person freely ingests which has affects upon their brains they might not experience if they didn’t take it, yet it gets a free pass from any moral questioning.

That free pass could be because of the affects themselves. Ingest enough C8H10N4O2 and you might be less calm, but unlikely to be up for a spot of the old ultra-violence because of the mixture of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen you just ingested. We all consume chemicals which are unnecessary for survival, so if taking illegal drugs is wrong, I doubt it’s wrong because they’re illegal; taking them is wrong because of their affects and it’s the affects which make them illegal. It’s a small point, but it’s one which filters coffee and cola out of an argument they should not be in to begin with.

The moral questions come about, Peter Hitchens writes, when the affects of the drugs taken stupefy the taker into incoherence or dangerous behaviour they would not otherwise indulge in. This argument tends to bring up the question of alcohol. If booze is legal and is the cause of sickness, murder and other kinds of death – then why should certain drugs, especially cannabis, remain illegal?

Hitchens devotes chapter seven to this question, ‘What about alcohol and tobacco, then?’  He points out that this question is one of the key parts of the debate and states (with dry humour)

‘Once a substance is legalised, it is extremely difficult to declare that it is illegal. That is why we should be so careful about legalising cannabis and other currently illegal drugs. If this turns out to be a mistake, it will not be easily put right.’

Who says Hitchens has no sense of humour? He obviously does. Next he’ll be telling us that ‘alcohol, taken in sufficient quantities, has been known to produce all the effects of drunkenness.’

It is to his credit that he uses humour this way. It might be a sign his arguments are so obviously sound that he can afford to inject a little humour here and there. A person could be forgiven for expecting a sermon or a bossy lecture from the chap. No doubt Hitchens is capable of that, but he doesn’t do it in this book.

There are other examples of his dry humour. On the question that a person has the right to do what they want to the body they either have or are, because doing so is a fundamental freedom, closely allied with freedom of speech and freedom of thought, he states

‘I realise that in our secular society, an appeal to the authority of Mount Sinai or the Holy Trinity is not likely to be decisive.’

Superb. He continues from humour to seriousness

‘It is perhaps hard to see how anyone who valued either speech or thought should wish to spread the use of a drug that fuddles thought and makes speech halting and incoherent, but it is so.’

That is a fair example of the book’s tone or style. You get simple, logical arguments, offered using plain English as their delivery system. Splendid.

Another example, after quoting several cases of cannabis users committing violent or mindless crimes – and to refute the idea that the drug ‘chills out’ (my phrase) its users, he says

‘I am making no claim here beyond these modest points: if cannabis is a peace-promoting drug then its effects are not always evident in its users.’

Well, quite. My eldest son has been far too fond of cannabis for some years and his behaviour when smoking the stuff is upsetting. He can be obnoxious, paranoid, needlessly argumentative, downright abusive and sometimes violent. During the periods he doesn’t smoke the garbage his behaviour is significantly different. Nothing else he ingests seems to have this effect on him. Without the example of my eldest son I might well shrug my shoulders and fall-in with the crowd who make the ‘what about alcohol?’ point, but I cannot. And I know my son’s mother has, many times, been anxious that he stop smoking it. My interest is declared.

I have never been fond of this country’s political class, at any level, from Westminster to ‘my’ local councillors. It is my belief they are – all of them – entitled to no privacy whatsoever and every aspect of their lives is a legitimate target for public scrutiny and press intrusion.

I should like to know what they do, where they do it and with whom, and how much of my money they spend doing it. (I have a good friend, a psychiatric nurse based in Cardiff, who told me he and his colleagues had been out on the town, more than once, on ward funds. Another friend, a finance officer in a school told me that, many times, school funds had been used to throw leaving parties for teachers and to buy presents for them and so on. Hardly is this Watergate, but it is significantly irritating.) Yet those politicians who are (possibly) not corrupt in that sense – don’t feather their own nests – but ‘tinker’ with the laws and carry out their social experiments on the rest of us, are perhaps worse than the politician who rakes off a few quid. Some of the characters within Hitchens’s pages – and not all of them politicians – are guilty of poisoning society in a sense. They might not have meant to do it, yet that says nothing about what they actually did do. You’ll have to read the book yourself.

The next time (if there is a next time because he seems to have sorted his life out at the moment) my eldest son punches holes in a bedroom door while his younger brother and sister are watching, I might invoice Paul Mcartney for the repair.

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Cool as Air

Poor Maria Sharapova. She’s going to be banned from Tennis for some years, and for a stupid reason. No thinking person believes she was cheating because the substance she tested positive for was only made illegal in January this year. She deserves sympathy. It’s almost certainly her ‘team’ who are at fault, here. What are they paid for?

Below is an account of a better day in Sharapova’s life, and one hopes she’ll have more in the future.

Maria Sharapova walked onto court to begin her attempt to win her first French Open and the expression on her face was one of stark unfriendliness. She had the look attractive and popular head-girls at English public schools reserve for uglier and poorer first-years. If it was a look of superiority, then unlike most English public school-girls, it was a justified superiority. Sharapova had more than a little fight in her; it was her natural ruthlessness which dragged her talent up to meet it. It seemed in Sharapova there was no talent without the desire to draw blood.

Her opponent, Sara Errani, playing in her first Grand Slam singles final, brought her special racket, Excalibur, to the match. It was a particular racket, one she had struggled to have the right to use after buying herself out of a contract with another manufacturer. One of the commentators remarked that the match, with Sharapova in blood-letting mood, was a gunfight. That comment summed up the contest. Errani’s blade versus Sharapova’s bullets. The match was not much of a contest at all.

In interview before the match, Sharapova had spoken to the press and appeared to have nothing of the “ice-queen” personality she wore on court. Her eyes appeared to change colour from a pale brown to a soft green depending on her expression, which was never cold. When she smiled she showed rounded yet prominent cheekbones which suggested the looks of a model, yet her mouth seemed to disagree. She had a serious mouth, a slightly tight bottom lip, perhaps too used to being stretched into serious expressions for her model’s face to be complete. Her eyebrows suggested her looks were not her primary concern; though shaped, there was no excessive work plucked into them. She wore diamond earrings, small stones linked into tear-drops, which were a subtle indicator of her significant if not limitless wealth. Sharapova’s attractiveness was different from, say, Kournikova’s. Kournikova had glamour, though she made one think of pretty, colourful plastic, whereas Sharapova has elegance and appears graceful and artistic on and off court. It must be said of her that she is unreasonably beautiful. One thing her face did suggest is that she had long-since mastered the art of being stubborn; here was a woman who knew what she wanted and was used to getting it. As she walked onto court one got the impression that Errani was the short, less pretty first year up against the popular head-girl. One feared for her. If a match can be lost before a ball has been struck – if a player’s sense of place can determine the outcome – then it happened here.

Sharapova served first and won her first point with her second hit of the ball and took the first game easily. She broke Errani’s serve with her first break-point, taking the second game and battered Errani to take the third game with an ace. 3-0 in the first set to Sharapova and she did it in 8 minutes. At this point the commentators were concerned that Errani might not get on the board. The fourth game went to Sharapova. It was then her serve deserted her and she double-faulted to love-30 to gift three break points to Errani who, sensing she was playing for pride, took the game to the relief of the commentators. They didn’t want the Russian to humiliate her opponent but Errani’s serve was close to ten mph slower than the Russian’s, so holding it was always going to be a problem when Sharapova’s returns were fired like bullets. Swords bring nothing to a gunfight. The first set went to Sharapova 6-3 and one got the impression that score was a generous one for Errani: More a case of unforced errors from Sharapova than strong winners from her opponent. The first set should have been taken 6-1.

The first game of the second set saw Sharapova go straight to love-40. Errani’s serve had gained nothing from the experience of the first set and Sharapova offered her opponent’s short-comings powerful and precise shots to rip the first game of the second from Errani. In the first game of the second set Sharapova did violence to her opponent. The match was won with that game. It was only a matter of time. Errani was never going to win.

Errani played better tennis in the second set, pushing Sharapova out wide on a couple of occasions and winning the odd point on merit with skilful drop-shots, but one got the impression this annoyed the Russian rather than worried her. For all her superior muscularity, Errani could not match the power being pumped out by Sharapova’s more slender frame. Technique beats muscle every time.

The final game was the most entertaining. Sharapova was serving for the championship and went down 0-15 but brought things equal straight away. Then, after some scrapping, Errani hit too long to gift 30-15 to the Russian, yet remained composed enough to lob Sharapova and get back to 30-30. Could she take the game? Sharapova took 40-30 to bring the championship point but hit too long herself – another unforced error – and it was duece. Errani, perhaps smelling a chance for the game played a sweet drop shot to take the advantage, but held it only for moments as Sharapova smacked a cross-court forehand with vicious power to drop Errani’s advantage back to duece. Sharapova then aced to take the advantage and Errani showed she had some reserves of character and dropped Sharapova again to take her back to deuce. Then it was the Russian’s turn to show what she was made of. She aced Erran to rip the advantage back and her opponent had nothing left. Moments later it was over and Sharapova was on her knees, face in hands, and she started life as the 2012 French Open champion and one of only ten female players to do the singles career slam.

She revealed her face from behind her hands and all the warmth and friendliness was back. The bitchy head-girl was gone and the smile was not one designed by professional image-consultants or one preferred by her sponsors, but the radiant smile of a happy young woman. One hopes the “ice-queen” tag might melt into disuse.