Adam Smith on Smoking, Whizzer White on Drinking, Liberals on Feeling Good, and Other Matters. Sacred Bodies

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Smokers' rights are collapsing everywhere (see above), but drunks and druggies possibly have more rights than is desirable. In employment situations, alcoholics have often been protected by the notion that they are ''handicapped,'' like folks who are blind or paraplegic. Drug abusers are protected in many contexts by another curious notion: that testing them would violate their right to privacy. But things may be changing, or so one wonders in the wake of two extraordinary developments. (1) The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against two veterans who demanded the right to receive GI educational benefits after the ten-year time period had expired (you are supposed to use them up within a decade of being discharged), explaining that they had missed the deadline because they were ''handicapped'' within the meaning of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the handicap consisting of this unfortunate tendency to be frequently drunk. (2) While the courts are still resisting drug testing in the transportation industry, there has been a major move in Congress to pass a law requiring a lot more testing. Amazing, eh? The Supreme Court case, Traynor v. Turnage, makes a satisfying read for your average neocon. Writing for the court's 4-3 majority, Whizzer White noted that the Veterans' Administration must give vets extra time if they miss a benefits deadline because of a handicap. They are handicapped if their alcoholism is a ''manifestation of an acquired psychiatric disorder.'' In this case, the VA found no such disorder. So the alcoholism counted as ''willful misconduct,'' and it was no dice on the extension. We count the judgment as definitely advancing the ball, although it is hard to read Traynor without groaning over the continuing lunacy of U.S. laws about the handicapped. The first thing you groan about is the explicit rule that handicapped veterans are entitled to benefits not available to others. A veteran who misses the GI benefit deadline because he's caring for a sick parent has no case in court, while any vet falling down drunk every day gets the extension if only he can prove a psychiatric disorder. The next groan is about all the weird psychiatric distinctions built into federal law. Are we really supposed to believe there's a class of citizens who are perpetually blotto but not psychiatrically impaired? Is it really impossible to write a law making veterans responsible for their behavior, period? Moving on to drug testing, we come to another weirdity. Did you know, dear reader, that the country's courts have held it is okay to routinely test jockeys at the end of the day's racing, but not okay to routinely test railroad workers after an accident? The jockey case was decided in 1986 by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which somehow was unaffected by Willie Shoemaker's lawyer, who had bleedingly argued that urine tests were inconsistent with the ''sanctity of the human body'' and were especially offensive to riders fighting ''to maintain their basic human dignity against the barbs brought upon them by their short stature . . .'' The jockey decision, which the Supreme Court allowed to stand, has subsequently figured heavily in arguments about railroad workers. A slightly insane decision in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last February labored to explain why the latter should be less closely monitored than the former. Explanation: The jockeys are licensed professionals in a heavily regulated industry, and so they should expect monitoring, while railroad workers are unlicensed and entitled to assume that regulation mainly concerns equipment and facilities. Bottom line: A railroad worker cannot be tested after an accident unless there is some evidence that he was stoned. This ruling came after a year in which there had been 179 railroad accidents in the United States. Post-accident screening, which was routine in 1987, showed that crew members involved in accidents tested positive for drugs about 20% of the time. So a lot of Congressmen want to overturn the Ninth Circuit decision, and a bill to permit routine testing is now in conference. The Locomotive Engineers union is predictably talking about witch hunts and Big Brother and Fourth Amendment privacy rights in the bodily fluids area. What the union really needs, however, is something that seems not to be in the Constitution: the right to work while stoned.