Have you ever walked into someone’s bathroom and said, “Oh, if only this toilet could talk. I bet it would have so many interesting things to say. Mr. Porcelain Bowl, what mysteries lurk within your depths? What secrets can the chlorine never wash away?”
Me? I believe toilets should keep their secrets. It’s just one of those credos I’ve come to live by. Here’s another one. Never snatch a newspaper out of a rich man’s hand in a police station. It’s just good horse sense. But not everyone shares my worldview. At Oregon State University, proud home of the Flesh-Gnawing Whip-poor-wills, a group of scientists are very excited about listening to your bathroom plumbing.
According to an Associated Press story by Seth Borenstein, researchers collected a teaspoon of wastewater from wastewater plants in 10 American cities. The scientists analyzed the water for traces of drugs and announced their findings. They hope to help federal law enforcement agencies track the spread of drug use across the country.
The researchers refused to reveal which cities they tested, which is a shame, because I long to see the following paragraph in print:
BUCYRUS, Ohio (AP) _ Federal investigators have discovered chest-clutching-ly gargantuan amounts of opium in the wastewater supply of this sleepy Ohio town, known regionally for its Bratwurst Festival.
“There’s enough opium in the Bucyrus water supply to choke a Chinese elephant,” said DEA special agent Tom Smern. “It’s unreal. We only found trace amounts of waste matter, but there were huge clumps of opium in every teaspoon.”
The 10 cities sampled ranged from 17,000 to 600,000 in population. Jennifer Field, the lead researcher and a professor of environmental toxicology at Oregon State, declined to identify the cities because it could harm her relationship with sewage plant operators.
“Wastewater facilities are wonderful places to understand what humans consume and excrete,” Field said.
Yes, she put the words wastewater and wonderful in the same sentence. Clearly Field is the latest scientist to fall victim to Big Sewer and its sexy propaganda machine. That said, you have to admire how much she loves her work.
Although the identities of the cities were kept secret, researchers may have revealed more than they intended.
“One urban area with a gambling industry had meth levels more than five times higher than other cities.”
The story went on to say, “We can’t name the urban area in question, but we can tell you what happens there stays there.” In another paragraph, “Elvis, Frank Sinatra and Liza Minnelli all contributed heavily to this urban area with a gambling industry’s sewage system.” And finally at the end, “The urban area is Las Vegas. That’s in western Nevada. Everyone on the research team got matching forearm tattoos commemorating this fact.”
In the interest of continuing this column, I did some research into which states are home to the highest percentage of drug users. The map below shows illicit drug use among persons 12 or older in the years 2004-2005. (The purple and dark orange states have higher drug use.)
The more I looked at the above map, the more it reminded me of another map I’ve seen before.
This map shows the states that voted Democrat (BLUE) and the states that voted Republican (RED) in the 2004 presidential election. The results do not match perfectly, but I think it is fair to say that states whose voters are on drugs vote Democrat and states whose citizens are prudes vote Republican.
The big exceptions among red states were Montana – really, Montana? – and Colorado, which starts to explain the Denver Broncos’ orange and blue home uniforms in the 1980s.
The big exception among blue states was Maryland, which is where people who live in Washington move when they no longer stay out past 7:30 PM.
No offense to Maryland, but I would have pegged it for a drug state. I used to live in Washington and every night the lead item on the TV news went something like this: “A school bus plowed into a dog kennel in Silver Spring, Maryland, this morning, brutally mauling dozens of puppies in full sight of 30 horrified school children. The bus driver lost control when she spilled vermouth all over her lap.” Then the anchor would throw it over to a reporter in Virginia who would say something like, “Today in downtown Alexandria a rainbow brought joy to dozens of elderly people holding hands in a park. Over in Arlington a happy boy was spotted flying a kite. Back to you, Jim.”
The news reports were like this every night, prompting a friend of mine to utter the immortal words, “Only bad things happen in Maryland.”
Hey, at least your kids aren’t hopped up on goofballs, Maryland. So you’ve got that going for you.
Just for fun, here’s one more map. To be perfectly accurate, it’s not a map. It’s a cartogram. This cartogram represents the size of each state’s electoral value, and also what election night looked like if you were stoned.
These maps make one thing stunningly clear – cartograms always make Florida look chubby. Accurate cartography has a slimming effect.
OK. These maps make two things stunningly clear. As a nation we should not be sending scientists into sewers to find drugs. This is not the proper use of scientists. Scientists founded this country. They split the atom. They put a man on the moon. Now we’re sending them into sewers.
Let’s assume that new sewer research confirms what we already know about the nation’s drug use. I don’t think that’s a stretch. What we’re ultimately going to discover is very embarrassing and very telling. The Electoral College and teaspoons of wastewater both give us the same information.
The most efficient indicator of drug usage in this country is our presidential election.
If you don’t think that’s fitting, you’re on crack.
If you have a comment, e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more of my thoughts on the War on Drugs, check out The War on Drugs Starts at Foot Locker.