Marijuana and the Family

This article’s title is vastly different from the one originally planned, more sedate and less witty – at least as far as I was concerned – than its predecessor.  While I’ve written about the changes in marijuana law and policy before (here, here, and here), this article was prompted by the flurry of articles referencing the President’s comments on marijuana in his interview with David Remnick of The New Yorker; the gist of most was that the purported Stoner-in-Chief was ambivalent about the legalization of pot and ran with an undercurrent of right-wing law-and-order disapproval.  The original opening paragraph was likewise offended by the comments, but then I decided that I ought to first read the article – and it’s a tome – in entirety and to my frank surprise, found that his comments mirror what’s being said in this household to the kids.

The President was asked about the legalization of marijuana and his opinion reflected the changes that my own have undergone as well in the past several years, with one caveat.  I’m not in favor of it but see how it will become more acceptable, having heard the debate points at the family dinner table about how pot is really not harmful and certainly not affecting the judgment or reflexes like alcohol.  Seriously, Dad, have you ever heard of someone having an accident while stoned? Actually, yes…  I also understand the President’s comments about the prevalence of marijuana convictions in today’s penal system, especially with racial disparities between young African-American teens and others.  One of my growing bugaboos about the country today is that we’ve developed a multi-tier judicial system and that the elites are sheltered from serving time in a penal system that in some cases has a financial incentive for incarceration.  So if we’ve got to fill beds, let’s fill ’em with the potheads since they’re young, politically stupid and generally more controllable than others in society…  The President and I are similar in our ages and both came of age in the 1970s but while the President smoked dope, I demurred since I frankly thought that the feeling wasn’t worth the money or the risk of legal trouble.  We’re also alike in that we have children who are now out and about in the school system, coming into contact with a wide variety of kids whose upbringing and family opinions don’t jibe with our own.

There are similarities as well in our conversations with the kids about smoking dope, although my language has been a bit different.  While I agree that it’s a waste of time (and money) and a vice, I found his description of pot-smoking as a bad habit hilariously off the mark.  I shared this short segment of the entire article with the two sons and commented that cracking knuckles and chewing with your mouth open is a bad habit, but smoking dope is something else entirely…  The kids are also aware that while it’s now legal in Colorado and Washington, we still live in Pennsylvania and it’s clearly illegal here and the household rule is the same as that with which my wife and I were raised, i.e. if you’re old enough to get into legal trouble, you’re old enough to deal with the consequences   Until society finally decides one way or another, we’re going to follow the company line and even then, I’ll choose not to indulge.  One of the other arguments against when discussing it with the kids is that there are long-term health consequences to smoking weed.  In 2012, a UK study over a four decade period found that those who started and used marijuana regularly while younger – especially below 18 years of age – had an average IQ drop of 8 points in their adulthood.  This is especially important for the youngsters as we’re all going to be entering a period in which everyone’s going to be competing more than ever before for limited resources and opportunities. 

There is one aspect that the President left unsaid.  One of the key aspects in the referenda victories was the notion of taxation for revenues and it’s here that family conversation has revolved.  My recurrent phrase to the boys at home has been follow the money, a reminder from the Watergate informer, Deep Throat, that the answer to many questions lies at a trail involving money.  After the referenda victories out west, there was a wonderously eloquent silence from the federal government and if you listened closely, that cricket-like sound was actually the noise of distant adding machines in Washington, DC tabulating the potential revenue windfall should legalization go national.  It was literally weeks before there was any substantive comment from the President and it was the simple statement that budget issues being what they are, the Justice Department has bigger fish to fry than the wholesale prosecution of marijuana producers and users.  This was the comment that is setting the tone for the public policy regarding marijuana and it’s the basis for a later family conversation about not just marijuana but also the role of government.  The boys learned that when Pennsylvania was considering a state lottery in the 1970s, one of the questions raised was whether the government should be in the business of profiting from the legalization of what is arguably – as per our President – a vice; it’s a philosophic question that is still relevant as the various levels of government prepare to profit from present and future legalization.  If the government is going to take a long-held position and throw it into the trash heap, ask yourself why and whether it really is a reasonable change or one based upon cynical calculation.

Now that the first steps have been made towards the legalization – and taxation – of marijuana, parents are going to have to think long and hard about their own family stance on marijuana since this is coming back into the parental faces.  Take some time to look at the studies and then examine your own history, remembering that it’s okay to have a different opinion about it than when you yourself were a teenager…that’s the value of maturity and distance.  Then go to the hard work of talking with the kids and forming a family line on the issue, and preparing to come back to that line again, and again, and yet again.  Because while the President might have some grounds for moral suasion on any particular question, the reality is that your kids will often listen to you and your commentary.  Even when you think that they aren’t.

Waterloo:  Old Dad versus Young Dad

There are the occasional periodic articles about how the average age of fathers has risen and the advantages of being an older dad.  Ed Pritchett, the patriarch of ABC’s Modern Family is a prime-time example of an older dad working through the fatherhood process.  I’m not ready to concede that fatherhood is indeed a young man’s game but after a recent Friday night campout, I’m willing to concede that I finally met my Waterloo.

The evening in question was a night spent at a Boy Scout Klondike Derby, a winter camping event in which scout troops gather to compete in various competitive events.  The Klondike aspect is that each troop must push or pull it’s own handmade sled from a starting line and then onwards to each of ten separate event stations; the sled can also be mounted on detachable wheels to allow it to run when there is no snow.  When the weekend is finished, each troop takes it’s sled back and stores it for the following winter Klondike.  It was questionable at the outset whether or not I would even be attending since my Saturday morning was already booked with a cub scout pinewood workshop at a friend’s shop and Middle had a Saturday evening concert that I planned to attend.  When there were some questions from Youngest, I agreed that I’d camp with him at the troop site on Friday night and return home Saturday morning, returning back to the troop site that evening after the concert was finished and staying to help break down camp on Sunday morning.  Parents with multiple children will understand the variety of plan permutations that are considered before a final resolution is made.

This year’s particular Klondike occurred in early January on the heels of the returning Polar Vortex so that the temperatures were, to say the least, erratic.  There was snow on the ground the day before the event was to begin and on the dawn of the day’s start, the temperature warmed to allow rain before finally dropping again below the freezing mark; our arrival was marked by the inability of Youngest’s troop to access the campsite without a four-wheel drive vehicle to haul the gear up.  Another local troop was forced to camp in the main dining pavilion because the trail to their site was completely impassable.  We pitched our tents on frozen, ice-covered ground in the rain and then set up the chuck box and cooking gear under a tarp that we threw over existing canopy poles.  A campfire was only possible because another adult brought along all manner of debris and paperwork that was used for firestarting – and it was here that I learned that potato chips cooked in lard actually make a decent firestarter, holding a flame long enough for the surrounding paper to catch.  When we finally turned in for the night, we found that everything was damp because the water simply permeated everything; ice, snow, rain and a London-quality fog caused by the mix of warming air and frozen ground.  Youngest and I shared a two man tent; even with an extra sleeping bag spread out under our own two bags, I was wet, cold and uncomfortable, a cocktail that bred a full-bodied ache through my middle-aged frame.  When the morning came – after only an hour’s sleep – I was barely able to move because of a longstanding physical impairment and had to tell Youngest then that there was no earthly way that I could spend another night there.  It was a painful moment of personal defeat, and not just physical.

Younger fathers do have it over us older guys.  They are more physically capable of participating in the activities and it was that morning that I’d wished I was twenty years younger.  We do have it over the twenty-somethings in that there is a greater breadth of experience but that’s a poor compensation when the issue is camping or the outdoor stuff that the kids often want to do. 

So what is the point here, apart from belaboring my own frailty?  The point is that fathers are going to be called upon to step outside of their comfort zone in any number of ways.  Guys who were bookworms might wind up camping and varsity football players might wind up coaching their daughter’s midget league basketball team.  And older dads will have to figure out how to navigate the physical activities that wouldn’t have fazed us two decades ago.  The point is that we try and if we fall on our collective asses, then at least we did so trying.  The kids aren’t stupid and they understand that dads – and moms – aren’t perfect.  But they also understand that we’re making the effort and if we fail, then at least we can also hopefully demonstrate how to respond to the defeats and knocks that life hands us.  And that is a bigger lesson than how to pitch a tent or roll up a sleeping bag.

The Klondike night was one that I don’t regret, but one that I certainly won’t repeat.  Youngest knows that while I’ll continue camping with him, there are simply some circumstances that will keep me inside.  What I hope that he’ll take with him as he ages is that it’s okay to admit defeat but that it at least comes after the attempt. 

Pig Wrestling

There are a multitude of lessons to teach the kids as they move on through life and it’s a good thing to have a brief descriptive tagline that, after you explain it originally, you can fall back upon as a reminder when the need arises.  And in this household, one of the taglines is the phrase pig wrestling.  The term is an old one and applies to the lesson that when you wrestle with pigs, they just love it and you just get dirty.  It was a phrase that’s been used repeatedly in this household as the kids learn to deal with unpleasant people who simply enjoy stirring up trouble for no other reason than to sit back and enjoy the resultant fireworks. 

But the phrase’s most recent use came upon relating a story to the three kids at a recent meal.  I related that  I’d been sitting at a fast food place enjoying a cup of coffee when a mother and her two late ‘tween daughters entered and sat at the next table.  One child was silent almost the entire time while her sibling put on a brat show worthy of a failed Nick Junior pilot; the mother took the orders from her children and went to the counter while they sat and the Princess proceeded with the show.  She spoke with a stereotypical brat whine and refused to even look at the menu board, easliy visible from her seat, requiring the mother to read the menu to her loud enough that the entire dining area could hear; a peripheral glance allowed me to see that her vision was fine since she was nose deep in her iThingy.  When her coffee was delivered without sugar, she made her mother – the woman actually responded to her daughter’s peremptory order – return to the counter with the coffee and add the sugar for her,  She even openly insulted the staff on some point not to her satisfaction.  My comment to my kids was that I wanted to reach back and pop her, Gibbs-style, across the back of her head and when Middle asked why I didn’t at least say something to the girl, I could only shake my head and say pig wrestling.  My wife nodded and explained that this type of person would only complain and it was likely that Mom would feel compelled to come to the brat’s rescue; my real options were to leave or stay and marvel at the show.

The sad fact that most adults know is that there are people who simply don’t care how offensive they are or how they alienate others.  My own parents’ lesson to me was that they should simply be avoided whenever possible and engaged only when absolutely necessary; protesting their behavior and commentary was simply a waste of breath since these people often also enjoyed provoking others for their cheap entertainment. 

While kids today also have to learn that lesson, it’s also more difficult than it was two or more decades ago for two reasons.  The first reason is the insidious effect of the gangsta culture that’s been propagated through American society via the mass media.  One of the prime tenets of the gangsta culture revolves around the notion of disrespect; any instance of perceived disrespect has to be remedied immediately, even to the point of physical violence or death.  The two older kids have related stories from their middle and high school years in which being dissed was a prime component of potential violence amongst teens in a hallway.  One of these tales was even tagged with Eldest’s startling remark, Dad, it’s not a real fight until there’s a knife… The second reason is the simple fact that the prevalent electronic devices and sites – Facebook, Twitter and the like – mean that rude or threatening comments are no longer simple verbal, but posted with an indefinite lifespan to perpetuate the real or perceived insult and rub salt in wounds of pride.  When the prevalent youth culture is influenced by the gangsta vibe, the foundation is laid for real violence.    Even if you tell your kids to avoid the Twitterverse, some lunkhead can save a screenshot and pull it out at the lunchtable to share. 

You might not think it at times, but the kids will listen to you and what you advise.  The immediate response to proffered advice might be dismissive but there’s a decent chance that they’ll actually think about it and heed it.  But for this to happen, you have to pay attention to what’s going around both you and them.  You have to be able to set aside your own activities when you note even a potential issue and you have to also pay attention to those electronic forums in which they’re engaged.  You have to have an ongoing dialogue about daily events and be willing to dig when the circumstances demand it.  You also have to understand that there can be contention as the kids hear and process what you say, seeing how that advice can run against the grain of the tween/teen subculture.  And when the circumstances require it, you’re going to have model the pig wrestling mantra, letting meaningless slights roll away.  The kids are watching you and the lessons take on greater meaning when they see them taken to heart.



PracticalDad Price Index:  Deflation, It’s What’s For Supper…

The debate about inflation versus deflation continues as we wade through the uncharted territory of Federal Reserve monetary policy.  The Powers That Be are desperate to avoid deflation and while they’ve officially cut back on the latest round of Quantitative Easing by $10 Billion each month, a huge surge of liquidity continues to flow into the American economy.  But while the financial guys continue to call for inflation, particularly in commodities because of these monetary actions, the reality on the local grocery store shelves is revealed a bit differently in the January 2014 edition of the PracticalDad Price Index.

The results are honestly startling on one level and frankly angering on another level.

Month          Total Index          Food-Only Index          Spread

10/13           107.83                  112.98                            4.63

11/13           107.83                  112.81                            4.98

12/13           109.35                  113.41                            4.06

01/14           109.30                  112.39                            3.09

The Total Index for the 47 item market basket declined slightly in January 2014 to 109.35; the upshot is that since the index’s inception in November 2010 (11/10 = 100.00), the price of the market basket has risen by 9.30% although this is still almost 1.5 percentage points higher than the index level of 107.83 two months earlier. 

What’s startling is the activity of the 37 item Food-Only Index – which has been stripped of the 10 non-food items – over the past several months.  Again, the month of November 2010 is equal to 100.  While the index level spiked by .6 points in December 2013 from November 2013 – 113.41 from 112.81 – it collapsed in January by more than a full point to 112.39. the lowest level since October 2012, fifteen months previously and still almost a full two points below the Food-Only Index peak of 114.33 in December 2012.  For food, this is frankly deflationary. 

So what’s notable?

  1. Foodstuffs immediately relatable to commodities – meats, oil and vegetables – declined by signficant amounts.  In the one month between the December 2013 and January 2014 pricing trips, 21% of the basket items – 10 of 47 – had nominal price declines,  Offsetting this was the finding that 17% of the basket items – 8 of 47 – had nominal price increases.  For a full explanation of the PracticalDad Price Index basket components, see here.  But of these declines and advances, the huge majority of price declines – eight of the ten – were in the food category; there were items that could be considered statistical noise but a pound of chicken dropped by 3.8%, a 48 ounce bottle of canola cooking oil declined by 5.6%, a five pound bag of potatoes fell by 6.7% and a one pound pack of hot dogs plummeted by a full 10% as one or another grocery store somehow managed to put the same product on the shelf for a considerably less amount than before.
  2. Not all aspects of price inflation are related to monetary policy, but are instead purely business decisions.  Such was the case in the 7.2% increase in the cost of a size 3 box of diapers, purely due to the stealth tactic of decreasing the package size while maintaining the nominal price.  An October 2013 article in Zerohedge reprinted an internal document from Kimblerly-Clark Corporation that they were planning to decrease the package sizing of their Huggies brand diapers – which they consider to be a high margin product – in keeping with competition.  I was surprised to see this so soon as one of the grocery store generic diaper package decreased in size from 96 to 84 diapers per pack (although I have converted each back to a 100 count unit price for the sake of uniformity), a 12.5% rise in the price of their product.  This comes on the heels of a significant stealth inflationary rise in the cost of formula and I fully expect that this will occur in the other store in the next several months; note that the third store simply removed their quantity sized box of diapers from their shelves more than a year ago, probably because the customer base doesn’t purchase enough to make it worthwhile to carry in inventory.
  3. The activity within the 47 item market basket leads me to wonder what’s occurring within the foodstuff supply chain.  First, there have been instances in which products have had signficant price declines in a particular store while the other stores have been unchanged.  Such was the case, for example, with a box of spaghetti and can of tomato sauce in a particular store and most recently, a huge 20% drop in the price of a one pound package of meat franks.  This is good news on one hand, but it would worry me if I was particular about the contents and quality of that particular item. 
  4. The other aspect of the supply chain – and one that could link back to policy – is that there are now occasional items which are intermittently missing from a particular store.  One store has wholly dropped the quantity box of diapers and quantity offering of Enfamil formula from their product offering, most likely due to a lack of customer demand and subsequent profitability.  But when I began the index in November 2010, there were no instances where a random product would be not only absent from the shelf, but wouldn’t even have a shelf sticker.  It’s one thing to not have the inventory out, but another completely to not even have it available, as demonstrated by the complete absence of shelf stickers…and I actually do check for the stickers, even if I search for the sticker on the very bottom shelf on hands and knees.  It’s sporadic and intermittent, but it’s now occurring.  It didn’t happen when I shopped last week, but December 2013 had three instances of food items simply not there, a 2.7% rate (3/111 food items across three stores).

So pay attention to what you hear on the news, but understand that the commentary is just that.  Commentary.  Because we really are in uncharted waters…