March 12, 2012

With our widespread reputation as a “€œtop-ranked meth state,”€ it’s no wonder I never meet people in my travels who know that Tennessee technology is poised to spark the singularity. They never imagine HAL 9000 with a hillbilly accent (“€œI’m a’ skeered, Dave. Mah durned mind is goin’…”€)

Instead, Yankees and coastal-dwellers invoke vivid images of trailer-park babies choking on caustic vapors while Daddy #3 hovers over his explosive two-liter laboratory. Urbanites imagine grease monkeys sniffing bumps off open-ended wrenches, ice-smoking evangelists with nostrils blasting fire and brimstone, spooky-toothed welfare recipients with infected scabs, and cranked-out Klansmen gathered under a Confederate flag. I’m not denying any of this, but let’s tell the whole story.

Tennessee is ranked second in meth-lab seizures. That doesn’t mean we top the list for meth manufacturing or consumption, only that our law enforcement has been more successful at busting producers. Yeah, we’re up there on the makers-and-users list, but most crystal meth now comes into the United States from Mexico and is largely snorted up by the chronically drowsy folks on the West Coast. So put that in your latte and sip it.

In 2009 methamphetamine accounted for 27% of drug treatment admissions in California, 12.9% in Oregon, and 12.4% in Washington. Compare that to the 3.3% of admissions in Tennessee. If treatment statistics are any sort of measure for drug use, head West if you”€™re looking for tweakers. Actual meth users are less common here than most states west of the Mississippi”€”or coke-sniffing yuppies from coast to coast, for that matter.

Tennessee makes an easy target for sneering city folk who like to think of us as a bunch of trailer-park tweakers. Yes, over 10% of Tennessee’s housing units are mobile homes, and meth cooks gravitate toward disposable dwellings in rural areas and trailer parks. But that shows foresight and discretion, right? Only an idiot would be inconsiderate enough to blow up a real house with his stupid mobile meth lab.

I’m all for decriminalizing any intoxicant”€”with one exception. I want the cops to crack every tweaker skull in sight before they expose whole neighborhoods to toxic fumes. Tennessee’s police force would have held onto the #1 spot for lab busts if it wasn’t for an abrupt disruption of federal funding, and I’m rooting to take the title back in 2012″€”no matter what image that projects.

I can’t say that I’m as excited about the ongoing upgrades to Jaguar, though, which will give our supercomputer twice the calculating power of the current champion by October. It’s difficult to feel tribal pride when you tell people that the smartest Tennessean is a computer.



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