© Andy Turnbull, 2006

Somewhere in a big city three teen-agers crouch behind a garbage dumpster, poring over a book.

"Whatcha got, kids?"

They jump at the sound of the voice, but relax when they see the stranger's snappy clothes and relaxed manner. This is no cop, this is a Dealer.

"Physics" the boy with the book says. He closes the book and holds it up to display the cover. "A genuine physics text!"

"Cool". The dealer is relaxed. "But it won't help you much without math." He looks around, then furtively throws a folded piece of paper on the ground.

"Try this. It's calculus".

Two of the kids reach eagerly for the paper but the third holds back.

"My mother says I should just say no", he says.

"Sure" the dealer answers. "They all say that -- but what does she know? She probably used to read herself when she was your age.

"Yeah", the kid says. "but it was legal then. They even used to have public schools, and you had to go."

"Do you believe that?" The dealer laughs. "I bet you even believe that drugs used to be illegal!"

"Of course not!" The kid is indignant. "I know better than that!"

But sad to say, it's true. Many years ago books were freely available to everyone, and the government even built public schools and libraries. At the same time most narcotic and hallucogenic drugs were illegal, and police were locked in an eternal struggle with drug dealers who had to peddle their products in back alleys.

But with profits from the sale of illegal drugs organized crime gained more and more power. Eventually the drug lords drove lesser criminals out of public office, and ruled the land.

They rationalized the laws to make books and reading illegal, paid crop support prices to marijuana farmers and opened thousands of government-managed crack houses. Drug addiction, once a major problem, was almost eliminated.

Then they closed the schools, banned books and made reading illegal. Within weeks, high-powered bookmobiles cruised the back alleys of big cities and sleazy 'pushers' distributed free sample pages to innocent children.

The police responded but they could not stop the trade. As they burned books the price of literature began to rise and underground printers set up clandestine presses in abandoned warehouses. When police raided their warehouses the printers moved offshore, and smugglers used fast boats to land tons of books on deserted beaches.

Writing and publishing are illegal, of course, but writers, editors, publishers and book dealers now make so much money they can afford to hire expensive lawyers and laugh at the law. Society as we know it began to fall apart as kids played hookey from government drug clinics to gather in back alleys and read illegal books.

Now book addicts gather at the back door of pool halls, in back alleys and in abandoned buildings to indulge their habits. With no shame or moderation they pore over books on physics, chemistry, mathematics and astronomy.

We must stop this filthy trade, and I have a plan. If we legalize books and make all our children learn to read ............


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