Archive for July, 2010

30
Jul
10

Don’t fear the flower

If I’ve given the impression that I despise all things that smack of political conservatism, I’d like to take this opportunity to point out that my all-time favorite blogger is the conservative ex-brit, Andrew Sullivan.  So, okay, he’s a gay intellectual conservative with the sort of firm grasp of political history that eludes most of his fellow conservatives, and he probably despises republicans even more than I do, but I still think my admiration shows that I can be just a little open-minded, every now and again.

Or maybe I just like him because he’s been such an open advocate for legalization.  Well, I should say that he’s been an open advocate for legalization at least from the time that he got busted for possession.  It’s still a pretty brave stance to take for such a mainstream conservative writer.

Anyway.  Hat tip to Sullivan for linking to this beautiful cartoon.  Makes you think.  If we can be so easily frightened into the paranoid world portrayed above because of a flower, how long before the kitten police spring into action?  Or maybe the next threat we focus on will be cartoons.  Won’t somebody think of the children?

27
Jul
10

Wind them up, pt. 2

Ten people with cocaine addiction took ritalin and showed some kind of brain activity.  Based upon that “evidence,” the LA Times is reporting that Ritalin can help people overcome drug addiction.  Because Ritalin isn’t a drug, I guess.  And it must not be addictive, either.  And I’m sure you can just stop taking it whenever you want, with no serious consequences.

To be fair, the LA Times is only asking the question, not asserting the conclusion.  That’s the Fox News game, as in:  “Is Obama destroying America?”  See, there’s deniablility built in.  What?  We’re just asking the question.   The article is titled, “Can Ritalin help people overcome drug addiction?” and the fact that the question appears to be answered in the affirmative, with a scientific study (…of 10 people  …with inconclusive results) from Yale clearly indicates the speculative nature of the inquiry, right?

This is the part that really captured my attention, and it has nothing to do with cocaine addiction.  The article opens with the following statement:

The drug clearly helps many people with ADHD with mental focus and concentration. And although many parents fear giving the medication to children diagnosed with ADHD because it is a drug (and drugs can be abused), studies show that those children and teens who benefit from the medication are less likely to abuse drugs. Kids with ADHD who are untreated are at higher risk for substance abuse issues.

At the risk of sounding like I’m making light of a real medical condition, I have to point out the illogic hidden in this rhetoric.  The opinion masquerading as truth.

The journalist opens by asserting the truth that the drug maker asserts – ritalin helps people. And this isn’t just blind adherence to the drug manufacturers’ propoganda, either, because the journalist goes on to address concerns and put them to rest.   Sure, parents worry about feeding their kids drugs, but “studies show” that kids who take these drugs are less likely to use drugs, and who doesn’t want that?  Because, as we are told above, drugs can be abused.  Oh, except  that only applies to the kids who take the drugs and are helped by them – not all those kids who are convinced to take the drugs and aren’t helped by them.  Yeah, those kids are fucked.  They’ll probably end up abusing drugs or something.

And then the final warning to those parents so confused about the distinction between abusing drugs (bad), and simply taking an addictive drug every day for the rest of your life on the recommendation of your doctor (good).  Those parents who succumb to the irrational fear of doctor-prescribed drugs actually harm their children in the long run, because kids who aren’t given an addictive drug every day throughout their childhood will be at a greater risk of abusing drugs at some later point.  I’m sure studies bear that out, too.  And drugs are bad.

Oh well, at least there’s some hope for all those kids who form an addiction to ritalin without being helped by it, and all those kids who don’t take it and then develop drug abuse problems later in life as a result.  It turns out, ritalin can help them get over their drug addiction problems.  Or can it?  What?  I’m just asking the question.

26
Jul
10

Why do republicans hate america?

I’m not a democrat, but I support democrats because there’s no serious alternative, and hasn’t been for some time.  Libertarians are idiots, and they don’t have the numbers to do anything more than boost Glen Beck’s ratings.  The Green party isn’t a serious political party in this country, and won’t be anytime soon.  Both, however, should be taken more seriously than the Republicans.  Given the demonstrably bad results coming from republican policies over the past few decades, I think I could make a stronger case for voting for al-qaeda before supporting anyone running as a republican.  Since I don’t hate America, I wouldn’t seriously vote for either.  I do, however, hate Americans.  Here’s why.

The notion that across-the-board tax cuts improve the economy has long been seen by economists as idiotic, but the US voting public disagrees.  Free lunch?  Yes, please.

Bill Clinton left the country with economic surpluses, and then GW Bush came into office and squandered them and left the country with the biggest economic crisis since the great depression.  So, who do Americans trust to handle the economy?  Republicans.

Barack Obama inherited a host of problems too numerous to list, from an administration so widely derided across the globe that it challenged even the cartoonish caracature of itself that also spanned the globe.  Despite the poor starting position he inherited, Obama promised to work in a bipartisan manner to solve the nation’s ills, and made legislative and rhetorical gesture after gesture to reach out to the republicans, even buying into the dumbest of their dumb ideas in the hopes of gaining some across-the-aisle support.  Despite historically-large majorities in both houses, he refused to enact the democrats’ pet projects, hoping to attract republican support for his policies by pre-emptively conceding ground and pretending that it makes sense to include the silly ideas that the opposition claims to support.  Meanwhile, the republicans have uniformly voted against almost everything in another historic first.  So, who are American voters poised to support in the coming election?  Republicans.

Over at the Financial Times today, Martin Wolf has an intriguing column on the centerpiece of the republican political platform for the past 40 years – the fictional/political position known as “supply-side economics.”  That’s the same policy that George H.W. Bush called “voodoo economics,” back before he signed on as Reagan’s side-kick and then followed him as head Voodoo Chieftain.

Given all the recent hand-wringing coming from the conservative press over the newly-discovered problem of deficits, along with all the sound and fury they’ve added over allowing Bush’s anti-american tax-cuts to end, I find the following passage from Wolf’s article worth repeating:

Greg Mankiw, no less, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under George W. Bush, has responded to the view that broad-based tax cuts would pay for themselves, as follows: “I did not find such a claim credible, based on the available evidence. I never have, and I still don’t.” Indeed, he has referred to those who believe this as “charlatans and cranks”. Those are his words, not mine, though I agree. They apply, in force, to contemporary Republicans, alas,

Since the fiscal theory of supply-side economics did not work, the tax-cutting eras of Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush and again of George W. Bush saw very substantial rises in ratios of federal debt to gross domestic product. Under Reagan and the first Bush, the ratio of public debt to GDP went from 33 per cent to 64 per cent. It fell to 57 per cent under Bill Clinton. It then rose to 69 per cent under the second George Bush. Equally, tax cuts in the era of George W. Bush, wars and the economic crisis account for almost all the dire fiscal outlook for the next ten years (see the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities).

Those are facts, and you’d think they would have some persuasive force, right?  So who are Americans going to reward in the upcoming elections?  The Libertarians like Rand Paul who think business owners should be allowed to exclude black people?  Maybe.  The nut-job tea partiers who think Obama is a Kenyan spy?  Hopefully not, but I wouldn’t rule it out.  The weak-willed democrats who are trying to address problems seriously while at the same time hoping to appear to believe all of the stupid shit that most Americans believe?  Almost certainly not.

How about those republicans promising more tax cuts to solve our problems, along with a repeal of all the things that Obama has done to destroy the country?  Did I hear someone say “Free Lunch”?  Yes, please.

Again, I’m not saying I support them, but at least al-qaeda is up front about what they’re trying to do.

23
Jul
10

Wind them up, wind them down

ABC’s “news” show, 20/20, will be airing a segment tonight at 10pm on kids using medical marijuana to treat OCD and ADHD.   I haven’t seen the trailer, so I’m interested to see how the show’s producers will segue from the anecdotal tales of successful treatment to the same old warnings about marijuana being a gateway drug.

In my last post on college students smoking away their time in college, I briefly addressed the far-more-troubling problems associated with abuse and overuse of truly harmful substances like alcohol, ecstasy, cocaine, but I neglected to mention the most recent of the college-related drugs – the prescribed amphetamines like adderall and ritalin, used to “treat” all of those newly diagnosed attention-deficit problems.   Break up your pills and snort them before all-night study sessions, trade them with your friends, then restock from your most reliable dealer you’ll ever know – Mom and Dad and the family doctor.

As safe as jumping on a trampoline with scissors!

Having been a student before the onset of this new cultural craze, I was constantly shocked by the number of students who would approach me on the first day of class with their medical documentation, identifying themselves as part of that new class of students allowed to take more time on tests, while – in all likelihood – medicated to the gills by parents determined to fix their tragically broken children.

How on earth have we come to believe that a “normal” 18 year-old should be happy to sit in one place for an hour-long class, listening to someone twice their age talk about abstract concepts?  The problem is not just that we’ve been convinced to see that sort of unnatural behavior as normal, but that we’ve become convinced that anyone incapable of that sort of “normal” behavior needs to be treated into submission.  Given the widespread denial of evolution that’s taken place in this country over the past few decades, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by the wholesale embrace of such an odd practice.   I’ll admit that the zombie kids hopped up on adderall perform better in the class than the stoner kids who are only marginally present, but they’re way more off-putting to deal with.  And that’s a drug habit that really is a habit, one that has the full support of the medical profession, the pharmaceutical industry, the schools and the family.

Check out this sad blog on living the ADHD drug lifestyle and tell me that any rational parent wouldn’t rather have their kids smoking a little weed.  At least stoners can still feel happy.

15
Jul
10

Addicted to ignorance

In the course of welcoming a new blogger to my blogroll, I happened to trip over my temporarily misplaced sense of self-righteousness, teacher’s edition.   As a teacher, my immediate instincts upon hearing from an (admittedly) articulate, goal-oriented and seemingly lucid college student who’s writing about her stoner lifestyle was to lecture her to ‘just say no.’   I held back for a time, and there was a moment there where I even considered refraining from passing judgement, entirely.  I’m on sabbatical, after all.  And she’s not my student.  And it seems rude to respond to a kind request with an impromptu critique.  Beyond those specific concerns, I really like the sense of social equality that’s encouraged by the blogosphere, and I didn’t want to upset that by asserting an unwelcome hierarchical inequality.  But the moment passed, the better angels of my nature lost out to the more persistent devils, and the rush to judgement won out in the end.  (Hi Writerpro.  Glad to hear that you’re educating yourself and being thoughtful about your drug use and returning to “near-normal levels” for your classes every so often [he writes, sarcastically… {see what I mean?  It’s like I can’t control the impulse.}])

Cradle to grave, baby!

I blame the impulse on being a teacher, but the motivation probably runs deeper than my choice of profession.   I blog about weed, so I’m obviously not a tee-totaler.  I don’t believe the hype.  Still, the idea of establishing an identity around one particular drug – any particular drug – seems limiting to me, and more than a little odd.  Especially for the very young, for whom all things are still possible, at least, theoretically.

Living up here hasn’t changed those views any.  And now that I think about it, those views have probably remained unchanged from my first encounter with cannabis the drug (as a drug) as a teenager.  Back then, I hung out with stoners of varying degrees – mostly because they were among the nicest people around, as Writerpro alluded to a bit earlier – and I smoked a little with them, though I wouldn’t claim membership.  My illegal use of illegal marijuana wasn’t much different than my illegal use of legal alcohol, really – like the alcohol, weed was around during events, so I indulged socially.  But occasionally, as opposed to regularly.  That was mostly true in college, too, though I found that it was around more frequently, of a higher quality, and with greater competition from intoxicants other than alcohol.  I certainly didn’t say no, and I was more than certain about my decision.

Years after the fact, I feel the same about my consistently-occasional use of drugs as a young adult as I did at the time – that it was beneficial in all sorts of ways, and caused me no harm at all.  I knew there were other options, too.  I knew people who overdid it with weed, alcohol, coke and other substances.  The only people I avoided for their drug use were those who consistently overdid it with the alcohol and the coke – though the wierdest guy I knew as a college student was a dormmate who was so terrified of “drugs” (other than alcohol – he was a BIG drinker) that he would run from the room if someone even joked about sparking up.  I still find that behavior just as weird as I did back then (though I now also suspect something pathological behind it).  My attitude is and was, absent lasting consequences (such as ecstasy-induced brain holes), why wouldn’t you want to expand your mental horizons, if only for the experience?

That said, part of what I liked about the experience was that it was forbidden.  And another part of what I liked about it was the whiff of danger – not just that it was possible to get caught, but that it was possible to overdo it, and to overdo it to such an extent that bad consequences would follow.  In that context, seeking the experience seemed smarter than running from it in terror or forgoing it out of fear of being caught, but choosing moderation made me feel freer and more thoughtful than my acquaintances who chose otherwise.  Though it wasn’t something I consciously considered before I offered my unsolicited advice, upon reflection, I think I lived the experience that I now encourage.   Not so surprising, perhaps.

But completely aside from what I might have claimed as lessons from my personal experience, I still feel strongly that too much, too early is a bad thing.  So much so, apparently, that I’m willing to lecture strangers without really understanding my own reasons.  And it turns that what I know to be true probably has as much to do with my biases as anything I actually know.

There’s a fascinating study on decision-making and political views that’s making the rounds, and it got me to wondering how much of what I believe has anything other than my belief to back it up.   Here’s the surprising conclusion from the study, specifically about political views, but more widely-applicable:

Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

Here’s how facts can lead to the opposite of what you might expect.  The study found that people have such a difficult time simply admitting that they’re wrong about something, that being confronted with irrefutable proof of being wrong provokes a defensive reaction known as “backfire” – described as “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”  The cognitive dissonance, in this usage, being the indication of unanticipated truth.  Turns out, we really can’t handle the truth.

I was immediately reminded of an interview I’d seen on The Daily Show a couple of months ago, where Jon Stewart interviews the clearly-overmatched conservative nitwit, Ken Blackwell, author of the idiotically-titled “book” – The Blueprint: Obama’s Plan to Subvert the Constitution and Build an Imperial Presidency.  At the 7-minute mark of the interview, Stewart challenges Blackwell’s assertion that Obama has uniquely altered the balance on the courts by appointing more judges than GW Bush.  Blackwell obliviously parries with interpretation, saying, “Well, let me put it to you this way…,” and Stewart interrupts with the sort of response that I’ve been waiting to hear from a journalist, but had to hear from a comedian: “It’s a fact; it’s not – ‘let me put it to you another way’ – it’s a number that’s larger.”

exclusive—ken-blackwell-extended-interview-pt–1

As a follow-up, Ken Blackwell ably demonstrates the tendency illustrated by the Michigan study cited above.  When his conclusion is revealed to be based upon a demonstrably-false argument, boiled down to the simplicity of one number being larger than the other number, Blackwell doubles down on his specious argument.    He not only went on to defend his ridiculous point for another 15 minutes on the air, he contributed a follow-up article to redefine all the numbers to prove that he was right all along.   It’s crazy.

But not as crazy as this story on the new threat of i-drugs.  NewsOK/The Oklahoman calls itself “the state’s most trusted news,” but I guess you gotta remember that they’re talking about Oklahoma, so that’s pretty faint praise.  Anyway, the threat that’s identified here – of children listening to sound patterns on youtube – is immediately dismissed as a non-threat on factual grounds at the same time that it’s hyped as another slippery slope/gateway drug.   Of all the illogical arguments that have been used to support the criminalization of marijuana, the gateway argument has got to be the most illogical, and the most easily disproven of the bunch…and yet, that’s the one that seems to reoccur, over and over again.

Here’s how the thought-crime is presented the article about the non-harmful effects of online soundwaves:

“I think it’s very dangerous,” said Karina Forrest-Perkins, chief operating officer of Gateway to Prevention and Recovery in Shawnee. While there are no known neurological effects from digital drugs, they encourage kids to pursue mood altering substances, she said.

The spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drug Control put the matter in more familiar terms, arguing that although the “i-dosing effect is likely sort of a placebo rather than a valid threat to children’s brain waves…The bigger concern is if you have a kid wanting to explore this, you probably have a kid that may end up smoking marijuana or looking for bigger things.”  And don’t forget that the main threat behind marijuana is that it, too, is a gateway drug.  That’s like a gateway to a whole ‘nother gateway, and who knows where that could lead?

So, the danger isn’t the actual behavior.  The danger is that the behavior (that produces no harmful effect) indicates a willingness to engage in future behavior that (might possibly, in some way, be linked to an effect that some people would argue) is harmful.  Seems reasonably, right?  Rest assured – the Oklahoma school system is lurching into action to put an end to this potentially harmful impulse.    Is it any wonder that students don’t listen to teachers who lecture about drug use.  Anyway, I sure didn’t.

10
Jul
10

Putting the medical in medical marijuana

Someday, scientists will finally manage to take the fun out of pain relief.  This article from science guys shows why the “medical marijuana” political platform is a slippery slope to someplace other than where most of its supporters think it’s going.   Whee?

In rats, treatment with MDA19 effectively reduced specific types of neuropathic pain, with greater effects at higher doses. At the same time, it did not seem to cause any of the behavioral effects associated with marijuana.

Here’s my question:  What sort of sick bastard devotes his life to taking away the one thing that makes life as a lab rat bearable?  Oh well, maybe they’ll finally be able to focus on some way out of that cage.  Meanwhile, I’m just going to keep hiding from scientists.

What, me worry?

07
Jul
10

Interest, if not approval

Sure, newspapers are increasingly irrelevant, but I still found it telling that the L.A. Times website  devoted an entire “section” of the online paper to Marijuana today.

The upcoming election is the proximate cause, as this article on the potential benefits of Proposition 19 makes clear.  Here’s the hair-standing-on-end/hair-pulling upshot:

The Santa Monica-based, nonprofit research institute [Rand’s Drug Policy Research Center] predicted the cost of marijuana, which runs between $300 and $450 per ounce, could plunge to about $38 by eliminating the expense of compensating suppliers for the challenges of operating in the black market.

Scary, right?  Or enticing?  I guess it depends on where you stand.  At least the Rand Center had the good sense to follow-up by admitting that they don’t really know what they’re talking about:

The researchers noted that projections for marijuana use and tax revenues hinge on estimates of use, prices, how use changes with price, taxes imposed and evaded, and numerous other factors. The report is peppered with caveats about the assumptions researchers had to make.

One of the most amusing aspects of the study is that the savings come from legalization, but the assumption is still that the product will be grown in “1,500 sq foot houses.”  Why, exactly?  Once it’s legal, and inexpensive, why would anyone grow it in a house?

Oh, and there was no mention of the actual costs involved in producing the product, just the proposed market value. That’s the more troubling element, to my mind, signaling an ever-widening gulf separating those who grow (and those who know something about them) from those who don’t (and don’t seem to know that they don’t know something).   Hardly a new development, I suppose, but it’s something that’s about to become politicized in a new way.

Someone get Neil Young and John Mellencamp on the phone, cause it’s starting to feel like the 80’s all over again, and there’s a new class of farmer in need of aid.  On second thought, that didn’t work out so well for the farmers back in the 80’s, so maybe we could use a better model.   It makes me wonder, was there a time when people cared about food production, or was our interest just limited by our technology and our income?  It seems like the reason that most of the food most people in the US consume (that used to be grown by members of communities) is now grown by machines and humans who emulate machines is that most of those food-buyers don’t have a clue about how their food is produced, and frankly don’t much care.  That’s not a beneficial attitude for anyone still pulling for the humans.   And I don’t see much of a distinction here between growing food and growing cannabis, at least in the price structure supporting the individual grower.

Beyond all the variables that the Rand center can’t figure, the one clear (though unstated) finding the study supports is that the purchasers of the product aren’t much concerned with the interests of the growers of the product.  At least those farmers back in the 80’s had the sympathy of the people putting them out of business.  Emerald Triangle growers – you’re on your own.  And never mind L.A.; you don’t even have much support from your own community.  I’m always a little surprised to read comments from residents of the Emerald Triangle (like the ones on Kym’s recent post on the benevolence of community members who happen to grow) that feed the perceptions of those who don’t actually have any contact with the grower community up here – guns and pesticides and deforestation and water pollution and mexican mafias and so on – because they seem so unreal to me.

I’ve tried my hardest over the past year to meet up with as many growers as I could, and even the scariest of those folks don’t seem to fit the stereotype.  I’m not saying they don’t have guns, but – seriously – who doesn’t have guns?  My old neighbors in L.A. were all armed to the teeth, too, and all they had to protect was their iphones and xboxes.  I’m much more sympathetic to the view that Kym takes, and mostly because I’ve met lots of growers who donate to their community and I haven’t met any of the ones who do all the bad things they’re all blamed for.  I know there are some bad actors out there, but I suspect that they’re a tiny minority.  And I’d bet that we’ll see way more abuses once we run the individual farmers out of the business.