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Friday, May 19, 2023

May 1998, 25 years ago this month.

Where did THAT time go?
In May of 1998, at the age of 52, I got my Master's Degree in "Ethics & Policy Studies" at UNLV. (I'd gotten my late-bloomer undergrad at Tennessee at the age of 39.) I was recently notified that the UNLV Library has now publicly mounted "archival theses and dissertations" in PDF format, mine among them. Nice. I just put up a right-column hard link to it on this blog.
In 1996, midway through grad school in Las Vegas (where I'd begun as a Master's in Statistics candidate in light of my prior work history in the wake of hanging up my axe, and prior to switching to EPS), my elder daughter Sissy was abruptly diagnosed with Stage 4-B hepatoma (end-stage metastatic liver cancer) in Los Angeles where she lived. I pretty much slept on a cot in her apartment in Hollywood for two years, driving up and down I-15 to and from Vegas episodically. I finished my thesis work in the winter of 98 (mostly in L.A.), drove up and Defended in March (I still know every high desert bush and rock on the 15).  Cheryl made me go to Commencement, taking our-then 15 yr old son—up & back in one weary day).
Sissy died six weeks after I graduated.

On April 19th, 1996
 my daughter "Sissy" (above, circa early 1996) was unceremoniously and without warning ripped from her daily routine by cancer. It was 9:55 on a Friday morning when I got the call that would instantly and irreversibly alter the course of our lives.

I'd just finished sending off some e-mail correspondence and was preparing to head down to the Las Vegas YMCA for the mid-day basketball run I so thoroughly enjoyed. Fridays were a particular treat. Once a week the staff lowered the rims at the ends of the gym, raised the center partition normally separating the sideways short courts, and let us run regulation 94-feet full-court; the Real Deal -- you can run your mouth, but can you run the floor? The weekly spectacle of our 'and-One!' hoops-gifted but ill-conditioned resident Air Jordan Walter Mittys gagging after three trips court-length was a continuing source of delight to this below-the-rim nebbish encumbered with mere backup-squad skills yet blessed with hard-won lungs and legs of steel. C'mon; one more to eleven, homie. Whatsa matter? You got time; check ball.

I never made it. My next stop, a half-dozen frantic and nerve-wracking hours later, would be that of the surgical service of Los Angeles County Hospital...
Twenty years later (2018), we would lose her younger sister to pancreatic cancer. Hard as I try to articulate things, "there are no words." WTAF?

I tweeted about developments since my grad work:
BTW, my old work-in-progress online thesis draft (about 75% of the final cut) remains here.

Drug testing is conventionally viewed as an effective and necessary means of both deterring illicit drug use and identifying those in need of “treatment” for their “addictions.” Widely employed in competitive amateur and professional sports, mandatory drug testing programs are now policy in 80% of major U.S. corporations according to an American Management Association report published in mid 1996. Recent federal legislative proposals have sought to extend mandatory testing to all branches of the federal government and to all direct or indirect recipients of federal funds (e.g., welfare and public housing clients, students receiving government backed school loans, businesses with federal contracts, etc.). President Clinton last year proposed testing for all probationers, parolees, and teen drivers’ license applicants.

The U.S. Supreme Court, after handing down three rulings declaring suspicionless drug testing constitutional under a variety of arguably dubious circumstances, recently struck down a Georgia law requiring drug tests of state and local political candidates. See Chandler et al. v. Miller, Governor of Georgia et al, Docket 96-126. This 8-1 decision (Chief Justice Rehnquist dissenting) held that “symbolic” government-administered testing programs such as Georgia’s are unconstitutional. The Court rejected, among other assertions, the Marion-Barry-Made-Us-Do-It rationale cited by the Georgia counsel at Orals. (Note: Additional information on this latest case is available in the antecedent Chandler v. Miller, Fed. 11th Circuit, No. 95-8230, 1996 apellate ruling, the ACLU Chandler v. Georgia Amicus brief, and a personal statment by Walker Chandler himself, as appended to an ACLU press release.) Unhappily for those objecting to indiscriminate private sector drug screening, however, majority opinion author Justice Ginsberg also reiterated the Court’s position that private sector drug testing opponents have no constitutional standing—that, in her words, the private sector is “a domain unguarded by Fourth Amendment constraints.”

 My thesis is that such premises are by no means incontrovertible; that mass drug screening fails to meet basic empirical criteria of epidemiological validity, methodological sobriety, and economic utility, while doing violence to Constitutional and ethical principle. As suspicionless drug testing programs are marketed to ever-lower prevalence strata, they become little more than 50 milliliter Loyalty Oaths. Equitable competition, safe and prosperous work environments, and a healthy citizenry are indeed noble ends—ends worthy of means more ethical and effective than those constituting little more than Potemkin science in service of political symbolism and private laboratory profits.

...Finally, on the necessity of “privacy”: Whether one believes that the Fourth Amendment phrase “ in their persons...” is synonymous with a proscriptive legal right to bodily and psychological privacy, I shall argue that the need for privacy is a fundamental aspect of personality, one seen and respected in one form or another throughout millennia and across cultures. The cardinal elements of virtuous moral character (e.g., courage, temperance, justness, industriousness, honesty) and the behaviors they guide are not mere functions of the prod of ongoing surveillance. Indeed, one can make the case that virtue is a matter of behaving morally even in the absence of observation or threat of apprehension. Those who framed our Bill of Rights were far more noble than a cynical conspiracy of tariff-averse fur traders and rum-runners motivated by nothing more than a desire to hog-tie authority. They knew that liberty—which we ostensibly revere as a founding principle—requires respect for individual moral agency: respect for the private absent probable cause justifying its breach...
Make up your own minds.
From January of 1986 through about May of 1991 I served under a series of personal services contracts with a laboratory owned by a major environmental engineering and remediation firm in Oak Ridge. We performed environmental and health physics support analyses for clients with radiation and mixed waste contamination and exposure problems (mixed waste is that which is composed of conventional chemical toxins and radionuclides). Since much of our work involved litigation support, we were trained to—and continually reminded of the need to—perform to forensic standards (i.e., to a quality level sufficient for our analytical results to stand up as viable evidence in court). 

It was my job to develop, install, and maintain custom, procedure-specific software for use by the technicians in calculating radionuclide concentrations and dose exposures. I also worked on statistical quality control applications, applied research toward development of analytical correction factors, and helped write and subsequently administer our Software Quality Assurance procedure. While at this complex I worked amid much of the very same analytical technology (e.g., High Performance Liquid Chromatography, Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry) also employed by drug testing labs, as much of our specimen workload consisted of urine samples suspected of contamination. I also learned just how difficult it can be to substantiate analytical results. We underwent frequent adversarial lab audits that would be the envy of a Spanish Inquisitor. I have been audited right down to my rounding algorithms.

During this period a couple of emotionally charged episodes involving suspicionless drug testing hit the news in East Tennessee. First, the local school board sought to enact a mandatory drug test policy aimed at teachers. When the teachers’ union protested and sued to enjoin the policy, Board Superintendent Earl Hoffmeister went ballistic in the press, accusing the teachers of “hiding behind the Constitution” in order to cover up drug abuse among their members.

There was no evidence of drug abuse among Knox County teachers.

Also during this period, Knoxville Police Chief Phil Keith made an incredible statement during an on-the-record interview with the local paper. He opined that he should have the power to order anyone “to go take a drug test right now; don’t ask me any questions, just go do it.” He had been fighting with his police officers over a proposed random drug testing policy for the department, a policy the rank-and-file vigorously opposed.

These highly visible controversies made for interesting lunchroom conversation at our lab. Our chemists derided the notion that commercial clinical labs could do high-quality work on the cheap in mass production mode. The CEO of a large local clinical lab that performed the bulk of the drug testing in East Tennessee, had stated to the press that his lab’s technology was “absolute; if we do everything correctly there is no possibility of error” (Knoxville Journal, 12/13/90, emphasis mine). 

A very big if. This comment brought forth torrents of rebuke in our facility. The manager of our mixed waste lab, a bright and experienced chemist himself, remarked: “I’m exempt from that sh--; I’d have to think long and hard before going to work for a company that wanted to make me take a drug test.”

The local teachers’ union President was a member of my church. We talked about the dispute with the school board at length, and I provided him with extensive technical lab information to use in his fight against the policy. The teachers ultimately won a permanent federal court injunction against the board, and the whole idea was dropped and faded from public view.

By this time, though, the issue had gotten my continuing attention, and I followed the progress of similar disputes around the country. Suspicionless drug testing programs expanded rapidly in the late 1980’s in the wake of President Reagan’s Executive Order 12564 (Drug-free Federal Workforce) and the federal Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1998. At every turn, those who objected to forced testing were subjected to withering ad hominem attacks. Dissent was equated with “support for drug abuse” or the dissenters’ need to hide their imputed drug use and legalization agenda. Indeed, several years ago former “Drug Czar” Lee Brown, publicly rebuking then-Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders for her musings on the utility of scientific study of drug legalization issues, flatly declared that “[T]here will be no discussion on drug legalization; even the discussion is harmful.”...
 What a crazy time. I tried to do a good job in grad school. It was a fine interdisciplinary program. I guess I did OK. They invited me back for an Adjunct faculty gig.

UNLV subsequently killed EPS. Too expensive per capita (they'll never admit that).

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