September 30, 2008
No Bail OutThroughout the strange economic drama that’s been unfolding in Washington and elsewhere, the predominant theme has been one of mystery; with most observers seeming to agree that something terrible could happen to the economy if emergency measures adding up to a “bail out” were not taken promptly, and indeed; a number of such measures, each of which was an unprecedented exercise of federal authority over a large financial institution, had already been taken, with no end in sight. Wall Street, as reflected by the Dow, was still reacting in muted fashion as were overseas markets, at least, to the extent reported here in the US.
A NYT editorial published the the day after Bush’s dissembling attempt to explain the crisis on National TV castigated him for lack of leadership and complained that the two men vying for his job were also being less than forthcoming.
After learning that the bail out had just been defeated by Republicans in the House, I can’t resist a faint hope that the financial crisis thus prolonged by their ignorance will at least allow a long overdue opportunity for less doctrinaire humans to come to grips with the role played by our species’ intellectual dishonesty, greed, and fear in the creation of these recurring debacles.
How could that happen? Hopefully, through a realization that judging a morally neutral universe in moral terms inevitably leads to folly and that if we really want honesty in government, genuine transparency is far more valuable than the (inevitably) false promises of politicians.
September 28, 2008
A Different Take on Cognition
From an atheist's point of view, man’s discovery of Science was more likely to have been a fortunate random opportunity than the plan of an omniscient deity. Indeed, so recently, and so rapidly, has knowledge of our own cognitive function been evolving that even though we’d already been on earth a few hundred thousand years and discovered literacy, commerce, and agriculture, it wasn’t until the same Scientific advances that produced an Industrial Revolution in the Nineteenth Century were further accelerated by an IT (Information Technology) “explosion” in the Twentieth that we would discover we may have been doing serious damage to the planetary Ecology; also that we have yet to learn its full extent.
Nevertheless, those most affected (and with the greatest vested interest in denial) have also been the most vigorous at resisting any cut in commercial activity. it’s also becoming increasingly clear that fixing our most difficult problems may require a thorough overhaul of human notions of goodness and morality. Indeed, the degree to which our species proves unable to confront its own intellectual dishonesty and think objectively could determine our recovery from the series of behavioral crises now confronting us.
It’s now clear that the most common error of the men who started thinking about the universe was also the most predictable: their ignorance of that universe would lead them to take themselves far too seriously and uncovered a strong defensive tendency: codifying that ignorance as (admirable) religious faith and thus helping a cruel prohibition policy to masquerade as “Public Healtrh.”
Clearly, until Mankind’s residual Science/Faith Dichotomy can be peacefully resolved, it’s difficult to imagine much progress in settling other basic conflicts. But I also now see some good news: the de facto acceptance California’s gray medical market is real and will have to be dealt with, just as will a parallel realization that our economy, which had been rigged in favor of rip-offs for decades, has just been pushed to a point of near collapse.
September 25, 2008
A More Realistic View of Human Nature
As mentioned earlier, we humans compete with our brains. What we seem to have lost sight of since Darwin came up with the concept now known as Evolution is that his explanation (“survival of the fittest”) implied a competitive relationship between various life forms without actually stating that one exists or exploring the concept in much detail. An additional implication, more widely accepted in Darwin’s day than now, was that the universe created by an omnipotent humanoid god would presumably be an orderly one. Given that organized religions were seriously divided over Darwinism by the Twenties, it shouldn’t surprise us that ardent creationists, who still abound, are working harder than ever to advance their agenda politically, a fact suggesting that religious beliefs have always influenced political reality despite the express wishes of America’s founders (also contemporaries of Malthus) to the contrary.
What we seem to have been even more oblivious to is that the population danger Malthus warned of wasn’t as simple as he believed, nor would it necessarily be restricted to starvation resulting from overgrowth of the available food supply. Rather; it is proving considerably more complex and seems to involve many of the attractive dangers produced by Science, the intellectual tool once assumed to be a key to human progress, but one we now find we may have exploited; and with uncertain consequences.
Hiding in Plain Sight
Next, I listened to pundits spin the day‘s events while never once questioning Dubya’s assumptions. No mention of endemic dishonesty; they seemed to think of the Great Depression as the worst possible disaster without realizing that the damage produced by a similar failure on today’s speeded up and overcrowded planet would be immeasurably worse.
This morning it finally hit me: There is very little difference between legal and illegal markets in the modern era because both faithfully reflect our human proclivity for dishonest competition, another characteristic we have extreme difficulty copping to for what may be the most existential of reasons: it would confirm, one way or another, that our species’ tenure on this planet is not unlimited.
All that’s necessary to adjust that concept to the modern world is to realize that, once it started evolving, Science would become an increasingly dangerous tool in human hands.
This is starting to add up to another idea people will hate, so I’d better leave it right here for now.
September 24, 2008
I never expected to be blogging about Economics on an almost daily
basis, but the real-time saga now unfolding before our eyes simply
can’t be ignored; at least by some of us.
One of the many questions literally screaming to be answered is: how can we trust the pathetic parade of liars “explaining” the financial crisis they helped create, but still clearly don’t fully understand, to a befuddled nation that trusted them enough to create it?
I’ve already provided my own credentials: seven years studying the results of pot prohibition, another amazingly dishonest US Federal Government folly, through the medical histories of its victims.
Yesterday, on the way home, I listened as Terry Gross received an emergency briefing from NYT columnist Greta Morgenson, who explained the crisis rather simply: it was just another Ponzi scheme like the S & L crisis of the Eighties, or the Enron debacle that oozed out of Houston shortly after “Kenny Boy’s” most important crony had been appointed to the Presidency by a Supreme Court packed by his wussy old man.
What Morgenson left out of her seemingly erudite explanation were answers to a lot of questions neither she— nor the other experts explaining the crisis— ever bother to ask:
1) What has been the role of a feckless and unnecessary “war or terror” that seems to have benefitted no one but the friends of the current administration while compounding our national debt at an unknown rate?
2) Hasn’t this same brand of reckless financial dishonesty been characteristic of human behavior for centuries? Wasn’t the tulipmania of Seventeenth Century Holland a prime example? As it turns out, those with a vested interest in speculation have, like modern Holocaust deniers, even tried to revise that relatively straightforward bit of history.
The really BIG question all experts, including those who were complicit in creating the current problem, are now posing is: if we don’t quite understand the problem, but now know “regulation” was inadequate, how can we believe that those asking for $700 billion won’t simply skim as much as they can and then leave the US taxpayer holding the bag?
Again, the question left unasked is even bigger: how will our creditors around the world respond to the so-far nebulous plan of the world’s biggest deadbeat to make itself (and them) whole?
September 21, 2008
Grim AssessmentWhatever else is happening in Washington, a hurry-up restructuring of US financial institutions and the policies that regulate them is being carried out piece-meal, almost in secret, and under duress, in what is increasingly seen as a crisis atmosphere. There is also a Presidential Election looming and the nation is bogged down in a controversial war that has been going badly and sapping the economy to an unknown extent for over five years.
it would be literally impossible to come up with a more desperate scenario, or a setting better suited for producing bad legislation. That’s especially so in view of two other considerations: wide spread thievery and dishonesty in and out of government were obviously at the root of recent financial debacles; also, based on what a recent study study of drug use and drug policy reveals about our own behavior, the prospects for our species dealing effectively with its problems in the near future are not very good; largely because the planet is now so critically overpopulated and we harbor two heretofore unrecognized tendencies that work directly against the recognition and solution of those problems: our individual tendency to cheat whenever we think we can get away with it, and our companion tendency to deny unpleasant reality.
As noted previously on these pages, without an accurate diagnosis, treatment becomes a guess and its success unlikely. I suspect that’s true for what ails us as a species as well as individuals.
On the other hand, the likelihood of our species undergoing the epiphany required to deal with its problems also seems remote at the moment; but that’s a situation that could change rapidly, depending on what happens next.
September 19, 2008
What Economy?Back in March, I pointed out that the housing crisis then being so vaguely described might be obscuring a national bankruptcy. Recent events: the demise of Lehman Brothers, the Freddy and Fannie bail out, an unprecedented federal loan to AIG, render that speculation less far-fetched. Even after those measures, the state of the economy was still worrisome enough on Thursday to push news of Hurricane Ike and the virtual destruction of Galveston from front pages and generate a meeting of shaken government leaders in DC.
After reading a few descriptions of how the sub prime mortgage mess had been created, I’ve come to realize that the rampant official dishonesty that had become intrinsic to the war on drugs has also become the standard for those charged with overseeing our economy. The principle difference seems to be that our drug policy stalwarts pay some attention to the criminal markets they oversee, whereas our financial regulators have remained oblivious to the ones they were permitting to develop.
Eight years of accelerated dishonesty and theft by the incumbent administration seem to have produced a perfect storm in which crises generated by their policies are popping up so rapidly in its last days that no one knows what the next will be: food riots? energy shortage? extreme weather? terrorist attack? or new market failure?
The major cause of that particular uncertainty here in the US is now obvious: few know how much they are worth for the simple reason that investor confidence in the stability of the world’s most critical markets has been shaken as never before, and we live in an interdependent world of almost seven billion people in which a larger fraction than ever depends on the global economy for sustenance.
It has to be pretty scary when a physician who never took Econ 101 can put his finger on the problem. Yesterday, it was suggested that global anxiety is having an increasing impact on human behavior.
Few developments could be more anxiogenic than a global economic melt-down. Osama bin Laden’s attack on the West seven years ago can now be seen as an almost perfectly timed invitation to suicide.
September 18, 2008
Connecting More Dots (Personal)I haven’t tried to hide the fact that writing for this blog has evolved into a personal learning experience. At first it was driven by a perceived need to explain the merits of an unusual clinical study of illegal drug use to skeptics. However, by the time that study was published, I’d become aware that all sides of the medical issue had unique, and somewhat different, ideas of “valid” use. Since only a small minority of reform activists seemed to agree with the picture my study suggested, it was ignored, even though it was the only one attempting to describe cannabis applicants as a population.
What I would next learn were the lengths to which federal and local supporters of pot prohibition would go to restrict the gray market that began developing within the state right after 215 passed. At first that market was visible only in the Bay Area, scattered pockets up North, and a few special venues like WAMM in Santa Cruz, and LARC, a club in West Hollywood with a large gay clientele. The two latter were among the first raided by the DEA after they joined local police in attempting to suppress a growing (and gradually more visible) medical market.
That was a few years before local police began coordinated lobbying of local governments to shut down retail outlets already operating in the community by denying them business licenses or preventing new ones from opening. Apparently what had transpired was an increase in patients with “recommendations,” produced in turn, by the quiet state-wide expansion of two Bay Area “pot doc” operations. More patients meant more demand for retail pot in venues offering choice, convenience, and stable (if inflated) prices. The largest areas of growth were San Diego, LA, and the Central Valley, tending to confirm the huge size of the illegal market and suggesting (to me, at least) it may actually be far more “medical” than anyone realizes (or admits).
Typically, the other confirmatory evidence was a negative: none of the literally hundreds of local accounts of municipal council meetings written by cub reporters I read in 2004 and 2005 betrayed the slightest hint that their perspective even included passage of the initiative in 1996.
Other phenomena supporting the notion that most repetitive pot use is medical are the recent global increase in prevalence of anxiety syndromes, the growing popularity (and profitability) of psychotropic pharmaceuticals, and the sudden “epidemic” of obesity, all of which I think reflect the gradually increasing toll of stress on a human population that’s been growing larger, more competitive, and more resentful by the year.
September 17, 2008
More on Denial; how pot’s anxiolytic properties led to a perfect storm in 1968Regular readers of this blog (I’ve met a few) will recognize that I’ve become preoccupied with denial; especially in the context of what is never admitted about American drug policy: that it’s been an abysmal failure almost no one will discuss truthfully and its tax-supported propaganda is being produced by the Behavioral Sciences under duress from the federal government.
Lately, I’ve also been stressing that drug policy isn’t the only thing we don’t discuss truthfully; in fact we humans tend to avoid a whole range of potentially embarrassing subjects, especially those that require admitting a mistake. One of the more obvious results of that mass denial is the current fragmentation of media markets which is further encouraged by new technology allowing simultaneous publication (broadcasting) of several different flavors of truth (“spin”).
A logical consequence in a world where time and the need for sleep have remained unchanged is that the reasons behind unpopular rival opinions are rarely discussed, let alone seriously considered.
To return to my study; its original objective, that of defining the medical use of marijuana, was accomplished fairly quickly once I understood why pot had become so popular with American Baby Boomers as they began coming of age. In essence, pot’s unique anxiolytic properties made it a favorite with troubled youth. Unfortunately, the sheer size of their generation and the assertiveness with which they were rejecting their parents’ values also led to the disastrous election of Richard Nixon in 1968.
It can now be appreciated that whereas World War Two had been accepted as a necessary evil by their fathers, the prospect of being drafted right after High School and sent to fight in a poorly understood war wasn’t seen in the same light by their boomer sons. 1968 became a watershed; the Tet offensive in February prompted Lyndon Johnson to withdraw from the presidential race in March, the assassinations of MLK in April, and of RFK in June, were seen as progressively chaotic events by a majority of conservative elders and rebellious young people were seen as the cause. It also became logical to blame the counterculture for the police riot broadcast on national television during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The summation of events combined to give Nixon an early lead that might not have lasted had Eugene McCarthy chosen to speak out before Election Day.
Another unforeseen consequence was that, thanks to Harry Anslinger’s malign influence at the UN, the drug war had been internationalized in advance and served to jump-start individual global criminal markets for whatever items would listed on Schedule one by a medically ignorant Attorney General.
Although Nixon was driven from the White House by his own malfeasance, the drug war remained intact until the DEA and NIDA could be created under the caretaker Ford Administration. Next, Jimmy Carter’s political ineptitude and the first stirrings of what would eventually become a frightening cocaine market set the stage for the Reagans and “Just say No.” Finally, the irrational fear inspired by crack stampeded the Democrats into becoming drug warriors.
Thus there are several misconceptions that will have to be undone before we can contemplate a rational drug policy. Unfortunately, the human penchant for denial, along with our preoccupation with more pressing errors, may keep us from realizing that our own competitive nature and innate dishonesty are key elements we will have to deal with first.
September 10, 2008
Proposition 215 and the Drug War: 1As the twelfth anniversary of Proposition 215 approaches, I thought it might be a good time to review what a study of applicants hoping to use cannabis under the terms of California’s initiative reveals about use of cannabis (“marijuana”) in contemporary America and perhaps more importantly: what the rigorously enforced criminal prohibition of its use tells us about “human nature.”
The following is part 1 of a still undetermined number of entries I hope to finish by November 4. Just how many installments it will take will depend on how busy I am and how much detail I’ll be satisfied with. Like everything else in this blog, it’s very much a work in progress.
In November 1996, 56% of California voters surprised experts by approving the nation’s first medical marijuana initiative (Proposition 215), defying the near-unanimous advice of all living ex-presidents, most state officials, and an overwhelming majority of elected politicians. Although I’d favored the initiative myself, expected it to pass, and thought I was reasonably well informed on drug war culture, the degree to which both 215’s supporters and opponents were lacking a coherent plan for the post election period surprised me. I now realize I had underestimated both the depth of their disagreement and the willingness of drug war supporters to completely disregard the letter and spirit of the new law. Later I would discover the degree to which the reform side was willing to shoot itself in the foot because of rigid commitment to a strategy which, although less implacable, was almost as blind to new information as their opposition.
California legislators usually pass “enabling” legislation to guide the implementation of successful initiatives, but in this case, the determined opposition of police and other key participants froze that process at the committee level for over seven years. It wasn’t until October 12, 2003 that a severely watered down bill (SB 420) was signed by Gray Davis, who would soon be recalled himself, one year into his second term.
After eight years of legislative gridlock, and nearly four of chaotic law enforcement, SB 240 has produced a statewide pattern in which harassment of participants in the emergent gray market varies from county to county and time to time; however the default has consistently been anti marijuana. Nevertheless, the big picture seems to be slowly changing in one important respect: opponents of any marijuana use seem to have finally accepted that the initiative can’t be canceled. They are now using their bureaucratic dominance to obstruct it to the extent possible. That they are enjoying some success is confirmed by scattered press accounts and troubling anecdotes I hear on a weekly basis from people seeking recommendations.
To return to the (almost forgotten) interval between 1997 and 2001, the vacuum following 215’s passage was critically important because it allowed scattered gray markets offering some form of quasi-legal retail distribution through “buyers’ clubs” to spring up in pot friendly areas. After that, passage of SB 420 and the predictably hostile June, 2005 Supreme Court decision in Raich, severely jostled those markets, but it now appears that, in the absence some external calamity, rapidly acting cannabinoids and/or cannabinoid agonists will eventually become legally available by prescription.
I’m basing that prediction on recent developments in those still-evolving markets and a growing public awareness that “stress” is both endemic in modern society and an important cause of individual and societal dysfunction; also an increasing parallel awareness that cannabinoids can safely and effectively counter the most common anxiety syndromes.
This seems like a good place to stop. The next installment will deal with a fundamental issue: inhaled pot’s efficacy and safety as an anxiolytic.
September 02, 2008
Unscheduled ReplayEver since this amazing Presidential campaign began (right after Dubya's second inauguration) it’s been obvious that the last quarter of 2008 had the potential to become a political watershed rivaling that of 1968. Given that both Labor Day and the GOP National Convention had long been scheduled for September First, an improbable replay of Katrina on the same day became an unanticipated opportunity to watch history being revised in real time.
I can’t help noting that the simultaneous cancellation of most GOP opening ceremonies in Saint Paul actually heightened my own understanding of the degree to which greed and the pursuit of financial power have been central to the GOP's denial of global warming and its stubborn denial that petroleum consumption has impacted weather patterns has not impressed many others with an ability to understand the logic of empirical science.
A further irony is that FEMA’s frantic efforts to show how much they learned from Katrina also reminded many of how inept they were three short years ago. Indeed, an important reason FEMA’s job was easier this time around is that New Orleans' population is still only a fraction of what it had been before Katrina.
Parenthetically, I’m able to point out a few of the most grotesque absurdities now evident only because history is being so compressed by technology that its principal actors have such limited time for devising plausible cover stories.
A remaining variable, one that will be tested later this Fall, is the degree to which the American public has overcome its endemic racism.