Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Last night I dreamed that some musician friends and I went down to the bottom of the ocean to play with John Coltrane. To get there, all we had to do was will ourselves to sink. At first, everybody was holding his breath but I realized we could breathe the water. It was a long way down. When we got there, the bottom was sandy. I was worried I might step on some life forms -- you could scarcely see as far as your feet -- but it was okay.

Pretty soon Trane showed up. I don't know how he knew we were there, and the ocean is mighty big, but somehow we were in the right place. He said sure, he'd jam with us. We started out with a standard blues. For some reason, we all just imitated the sound of our instruments with our voices -- only Trane really played. I guess my subconscious knew better than to have me blowing my sax with Trane. Anyway, he played straight ahead and didn't try to overwhelm us. Elvin Jones once said, to play with Trane, "You gotta be willing to die with the motherfucker," but Trane was cool, he was on our side.

That was the end of the dream, but it got me thinking about John Coltrane. He died much too young, proximally of liver cancer, but it went back to his youthful heroin addiction. He probably had Hepatitis C, and nowadays they would have diagnosed him and probably saved his life, but that was then. Trane's was about the last life you'd want to be cut short. His playing had a restless, searching quality and so did the overall development of his music. He was always changing, always growing. Every year was a radical break from the last one, as he kept looking for the answer in music, the meaning of it all. That spiritual quest started with his struggle to kick his addiction, and ended only when it reached out from the past to kill him. But too many people don't succeed.

There happens to be a serious heroin epidemic in this country right now, that started when the U.S. deposed the Taliban government of Afghanistan and much of the country devolved into narco-fiefdoms. Cheap heroin has been flooding the West every since. According to the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health, last year was particularly bad -- the prevalence of heroin abuse increased from .0006 to .0014.* That's probably not quite accurate but it's a horrific number.

We don't hear much about this because it doesn't fit with the narrative of the War on Terra, which was supposed to make us safer. This is just one more way it's killing our children.

*I originally misplaced the decimal points because of the odd way in which SAMHSA reported these numbers. These figures are volatile because they are based on a small number of respondents; in fact it's unlikely the prevalence really doubled in one year. But there is plenty of evidence that we've had an upward trend lately, and this does add to the weight of it. At first I didn't worry about the technicalities too much because I was making a qualitative point, but I realized I owe my readers more rigor.

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