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December 30, 2008

An Untold American Success Story; Part 6

Although iconic Beat writers like Ginsberg and Kerouac, in concert with “psychonauts” like Timothy Leary, undoubtedly played a role in motivating youthful baby boomers to sample the rich variety of exotic psychotropic agents that were appearing on the popular scene just as they were coming of age in the mid-Sixties, it would be a misleading oversimplification to blame either them or the youthful counterculture itself for creating the “drug problem” that had been coming into sharper focus a few years prior to Richard Nixon's unexpected election in 1968.

In fact, the most cogent interpretation of the best evidence now available is that the imponderable entity known as human nature, as well demonstrated by the behavior of the Nixon administration itself, was far more responsible than any other factor. In other words, our species has a penchant for creating its own biggest problems, one seriously compounded a common flaw we have as individuals: that of recognizing and correcting our collective shortcomings.

My personal route to that painful conclusion began with a decision to gather data systematically from those seeking pot recommendations. What that data discloses most conclusively is the absurdity of the assumptions underpinning our original drug policy from its legislative inception in 1914 and the dishonesty betrayed by another easily made observation: Nixon's punitive expansion of that original policy was crafted by lawyers intent on repairing the policy's claim to Constitutional legitimacy, without any serious attempt to analyze either contemporary scientific opinion or whatever federal experience had been accumulated between 1914 and the departure of Harry Anslinger in 1962.

Indeed, the record of any data gathered under Anslinger is almost non-existent and what does survive doesn't bear serious scrutiny, a fact further attested to by the near silence of Academia on either the FBN or its first director. Anslinger's tirelessly dishonest efforts on behalf of the scientifically uninformed and incoherent policy he protected throughout a long and influential career have been almost completely swept under the rug of history. Ironically, what does call the most attention to his career (and our human inability to deal with inconvenient truth) is the very absence of an academic Anslinger biography.

All of which brings up another example of how, once one is alerted to the frightening irrationality of human behavior referred to above, one can nearly always find examples. As this is written, Israelis, who have been attacking Arab "terrorists" in the densely populated Gaza Strip for five days, are seemingly oblivious to the fact that in the eyes of their fellow Arab semites and hundreds of millions of other Muslims around the world, their actions are seen as a form of terrorism.

Meanwhile, Republicans and Israelis, by gleefully repeating, ad nauseam, an (obviously) political statement by President-Elect Obama made during the recent campaign are already co-opting his presidency before he can even take office.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 03:46 PM | Comments (0)

December 28, 2008

An Untold American Success Story; Part 5

Although the influence he exerted on American culture from the middle of the Twentieth Century on hasn’t faded much since his death in 1996, Timothy Francis Leary's career was so varied as to defy classification; he was literally one of a kind.

Born in 1920, Leary was the only child of an alcoholic Springfield, Mass. dentist who abandoned his family in 1933. After High School, he attended Holy Cross and West Point, but left both without a degree before earning a BA from Alabama, an MA from Washington State and a PhD in Psychology from UC Berkeley in 1950.

He then stayed at Berkeley to teach for five years before moving on to Harvard, from where he was expelled by the faculty in 1963 for reasons that are still unclear.

His departure from Harvard under circumstances that would have destroyed most careers seems only to have stimulated Leary into an even more peripatetic life outside academia and added to his fame, influence, and ability to polarize opinion during the decade that will probably always be known as its century's most influential.

Leary's career eventually included six marriages. In addition to lecturing, the publication of several books, advocacy of personal drug use, controversial psychedelic research, and the support of variety of causes, he was consistently able to come up with support for his own lifestyle as needed.

His activities did result in several arrests for marijuana possession with the imposition of 2 long sentences, both of which were eventually reversed.

His first arrest was at Millbrook, by future Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy in 1966 when the latter was serving as the local prosecutor.

Leary's career was so interesting I will be forced to break up what was intended as one entry into two. The next will focus on the psychedelic agents he is most famous for using, some other, generally younger "shamans" of the Sixties and Seventies, and why I think the manifest ignorance of the drug war on the subject of psychedelics in general is such convincing evidence of our policy's intellectual bankruptcy (and our species' craven cowardice).

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 12:05 AM | Comments (0)

December 27, 2008

An Untold American Success Story; Part 4

The Baby Boom was a unique demographic phenomenon, one in which the largest generation in American history would be born and raised during the interval between a "just" World War they wouldn't be able to remember, and a more ambiguous and remote Asian conflict they would be expected to fight in right after High School.

Their childhoods had been spent in an era of unparalleled economic prosperity in which more material things were made more available to more Americans than ever before.

The prosperity that would characterize the Fifties began under the genial stewardship of World War Two hero Dwight D. Eisenhower, who might have had either major party nomination for the asking but, as an ex-general, was a natural Republican. He defeated Adlai Stevenson rather easily in '52 and the new prosperity made him nearly invincible in '56. Shortly after Ike took office, America ended its Korean combat with a shaky truce that still endures; we then overthrew the Iranian government with a CIA coup that continues to haunt us while maintaining our (expensive) military stand-off with the Soviets. While we did (providentially) transfer responsibility for space exploration to a civilian agency under Ike, his expansion of the Interstate highway network deepened our commitment to the automobile and cheap petroleum, while encouraging flight to burgeoning suburbs that quickly became the focus of TV advertising aimed squarely at a white, increasingly prosperous (and unionized) middle class.

Those benefits came at considerable social cost: more frequent divorce, greater dispersion of fragmented families, the de facto segregation of blacks within inner city ghettos, and the constant stress of possible nuclear annihilation.

Just before leaving the Oval Office, a less ebullient Ike, perhaps chastened by the U2 incident, Sputnik, and the Cuban debacle, presciently urged America to beware its growing Military industrial Complex.

Long before Ike's election, while WW2 was still in progress, two naive aspiring young authors met at New York’s Columbia University through a mutual association with Lucien Carr, a youth, they both admired for his sophistication. Although from very different backgrounds, they shared an intense desire to write and a contempt for contemporary American social norms. From the first, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg became friends, lovers, and long term associates who would, within a relatively brief interval, achieve considerable literary success in the mid-Fifties that was, to a degree, mutually interdependent and the beginning of their transition into both cultural icons and nominal founders of a literary movement.

Ironically, the Beat Generation had already been named by another mutual friend John Clellon Holmes when Ginsberg's reading of Howl facilitated publication of On The Road, bringing attention to him, Kerouac, and the San Francisco Renaissance.

Although the Fifties is the decade they are most identified with, it was clearly during the Sixties that the Beats exerted their greatest impact on American (and global) popular culture through their influence on the Hippie and larger counterculture movements, an influence which still revererates loudly in our troubled modern world.

The best historical overview of the Beat phenomenon I’ve found has been that of David Halberstam, who died tragically about the time I was reading his pivotal book, The Fifties, for the second time. The Chapter on the Beats (Twenty-Two) begins with the unlikely relationships that blossomed when Kerouac, Lucien Carr, and Ginsburg met at Columbia in 1943 and in a mere twelve pages, efficiently captures the Beats' political and cultural significance in every important sphere except the one which is, ironically, perhaps the one they should be best remembered for: personal drug use.

If there was one thing beyond literature that united the Beats, and set them apart from their uptight fellow Americans, it was their propensity for exploring and using drugs.

Unfortunately, events would unfold in such a way that facilitated the election of Richard Nixon, a man Ike supported, but certainly didn't particularly admire. Nixon's election would foreclose any possibility of honest discussion of drug issues for another four decades. Before speculating on current possibilities for holding that long overdue discussion, it will be necessary to add a bit of history about another pivotal figure who wasn't a beat himself, but whose charisma and use of psychedelics undeniably influenced both them and their era.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 06:29 PM | Comments (0)

December 25, 2008

Presidential Christmas Presents

Lest we forget; in our longing for the President-Elect to take office on January 20, we still have a President-in-Fact. While taking a short break from Part 4 of the Untold American Success Story to read today’s New York Times in e-mail, I discovered two lumps of coal from the Bush Administration.

The first came as no surprise; it revealed that a significant fraction of the economic pain that will follow Dubya’s unlamented departure will be traceable to his administration’s reduction in the federal oversight of big business.

The second reported on what was new information, at least for me; it was about a hazard of “clean coal” that also served to reinforce my annoyance at those dishonest TV commercials featuring an electrical plug inserted into a lump of coal.

Be prepared to move over Warren; you are about to be displaced.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 07:48 PM | Comments (0)

December 23, 2008

An Untold American Success Story; Part 3

Part 1 called attention to the virtual absence of a pot market between 1937 and 1967. The significance of that important negative has long been overlooked; at first, it was lost inf the blizzard of propaganda about pot's alleged evils after the Nixon Administration declared “war” on drugs. Then, following Watergate, anti-pot propaganda was toned down a bit under Ford and even more under Carter; but soon recurred and grew in intensity when PDFA, provoked “just say no” from the Reagan Administration. A vigorous drug war has been pursued by every subsequent administration; sadly, including Clinton’s.

Thus do both both sequence and things not mentioned loom as important in drug policy arguments. Similarly; although “marihuana’s” illegality did become an issue during World War Two, as illustrated by Harry Anslinger’s response to the report of the La Guardia Committee in 1944, the important negative is that during that War, there was never any mention of pot use by GIs. There was really no organized opposition to any aspect of drug policy until a young lawyer named Keith Stroup founded NORML 1972 in response to the growing number of pot arrests that had only started with Nixon's drug war

Perhaps because the connection between pot and the Counterculture became so well known, I had also missed the importance of the 30 year pot market gap until basic demographic data had been entered into a relational database. What suddenly came into focus was another key negative: prior to the Sixties, there could have been very little pot use by young people, which raises important questions never previously addressed. Why had pot suddenly become so popular with Baby Boomers at that particular time and why has the huge market that began with their interest continued to grow so irresistibly? Finally; why has the marijuana market developed so differently from all other illegal drug markets and continued to prosper despite the Draconian arrest and prosecution policies of both federal and local police agencies at every level?

Actually, all those questions can be readily answered once one understands that pot’s enormous appeal to youth has been a function of its very predictable anxiolytic properties.

The only residual question then becomes the historical one I intend to deal with next: just how was pot introduced to Baby Boomers in the Sixties?

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 04:24 PM | Comments (0)

December 22, 2008

An Untold American Success Story; Part 2

Both the title of this exercise and the narrative in Part 1 call attention to a key element in any fraud: the importance of what is left unsaid. The unraveling Madoff Ponzi scheme now astonishing the financial world is a convenient example; the characters and details are new, but the story is as old as the hills. The original intention may have been simply to make money; the fraud inevitably starts out small, but as losses mount, concealing them becomes an overriding objective and soon replaces any (transient) notion of repaying the original “investors.”

The American drug war is best understood as a federal government fraud, similar to Watergate, in which the goal was not money but the acquisition of political advantage. It began in the early Twentieth Century when a (now) largely unknown cast of characters sold the Harrison Act as a transfer tax. Their original motivation may even have been noble, but their legislative vehicle was deceptive from the outset and also rooted in an uninformed theory. An unfortunate precedent was established when Harrison survived judicial review. Essentially, the Supreme Court ruled, in a series of close (5-4) decisions, that “addiction” should be treated by a federal bureaucracy. That notion has since been converted into dogma by the passage of time and has remained beyond challenge; indeed, it hasn’t been reviewed by any court since.

The almost automatic tendency of any bureaucracy is to hang on to power to the extent possible and the moral imperative conceded to those "battling addiction" is considerable. Added to that is the understandable reluctance of both government and the electorate to admit that such a long term policy could have been so badly mistaken.

What happened next in 1937, and again in 1970, was that the scope and impact of those bad Harrison decisions were magnified by even worse legislation and compounded by further judicial ineptitude. The net result has been that American drug policy has been converted from a relatively minor program administered by a small agency tightly controlled by a single ignorant bureaucrat in the Fifties into today's multi-agency, multi-billion dollar monster nominally headed by an impotent “czar,” but actually dominated by a cluster of semi-autonomous agencies motivated primarily by their own survival. In the aggregate, they employ thousands of people to crank out “scientific” propaganda defending a policy that is filling our prisons, degrading our schools and keeping us entangled in futile wars around the world.

From Afghanistan to the Andes, and across the Pacific to Burma, rogue nations and terrorists are supported by illegal economies directly dependent on American drug policy for market protection and price support. Perhaps the most amazing thing about this global fraud is its dependence on our domestic policy of cannabis prohibition; if that single aspect were to be discredited, the whole elaborate structure might lose much of its credibility and collapse.

That's why I think John Walters spends so much of his time and energy railing against medical marijuana in California.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 04:33 PM | Comments (0)

December 20, 2008

An Untold American Success Story; Part 1


Cannabis, an herbal remedy with a long history of medical use in Asia, was vilified as "marihuana," and outlawed by act of Congress at the behest of a medically ignorant bureaucrat in 1937. Thirty years later, it suddenly emerged as the favorite drug of the largest and most rebellious generation in American History.

Twelve years ago, voters in California defied the unanimous urgings of their federal representatives by voting to allow a limited (but vaguely defined) trial of "marijuana" as medicine. Several rulings by both federal and state Supreme Courts have done little to resolve the controversy while a "gray" medical market has gradually emerged to take its place alongside a still-flourishing black market of unknown size.

For the past three years, it has been been my contention that systematic clinical interviews of chronic users who were motivated to apply for a medical designation have revealed hitherto unknown insights into both the medical benefits of cannabis and, increasingly, into several little-appreciated characteristics of human behavior.

The following is a rough draft of what is planned as a published article that will address the most important and easily demonstrated revelations of my ongoing seven-year study, together with the reasons behind pot's success with the counterculture that emerged in the Sixties. Finally; I hope to comment on why I think we humans find it so difficult to face certain issues.

In 1937, the US Congress was persuaded to pass a transfer tax on hemp on the basis of claims that adolescents became prone to fits of homicidal rage after smoking “marihuana." No credible supporting documentation was presented (then or ever). Nor were there any estimates of "marihuana" production or its market dynamics.

Nevertheless, a deceptive tax on "marihuana" that effectively punished all production and use of hemp with harsh criminal penalties was introduced, passed by voice vote with minimal discussion, and signed into law by Franklin Roosevelt later that year.

Over the next few years, there was little mention of either “marihuana” or "marijuana" by the media. Shortly after World War Two began, the federal government was forced to initiate a “hemp for victory” program to compensate for the loss of imported fiber needed for the war effort.

Other than widely reported celebrity arrests (Gene Krupa in 1943 and Robert Mitchum in 1948) the Forties and Fifties passed with little mention of pot, except in connection with a small, disaffected coterie of "Beat" authors that attracted attention for their rejection of corporate American values, primarily in New York and San Francisco.

In fact, it wasn’t until baby boomers, born in the immediate aftermath of World War Two, began coming of age in the mid-to-late Sixties that a surge in pot arrests occurred.

I can validate the absence of a pot market accessible to youth from the time of the MTA on from personal experience; starting with my arrival at a boarding school in New York City in 1945 at age 13 and extending for 19 years through undergraduate education at Cornell, medical school back in New York, internship in San Francisco, military service in El Paso and an Army Hospital in Tokyo, Japan. During that interval, “marijuana” was literally invisible to me: never seen nor smelled, (not that I would have recognized it) and certainly never tried.

That wasn't because I was averse to trying, or using, drugs. Indeed, I'd tried both alcohol and tobacco in my first two months of boarding school and was still using both when I arrived in Japan. In fact, the discovery, from my early questioning of pot applicants, that nearly all tried both at around the time they were also trying pot, is what made me realize that had pot been available when I was in high school, I'd have probably been a pot smoker myself and my whole life would thus have been very different.

In other words, the drugs "kids" find most readily available (and easiest to try) from about the age of twelve on have important impacts on both their own lives and the societies they will join as adults.

That's why profoundly mistaken, yet untested, assumptions about drug initiation, use, and "addiction" made over the past four decades by policy makers are having such far-reaching and destructive effects on our troubled planet.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 09:40 PM | Comments (0)

Cryptic Questions (Are we at the brink yet? Which brink?)

Thus far, only a minority of economists seem to think the economic crisis now claiming center stage may be a repeat of the Great Depression. On the other hand, the breathtaking scope of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme and its cast of dupes tells a story of its own: it takes the bursting of a really big bubble to expose such a lucrative scam.

Speaking of scams, the one I’ve been preoccupied with for years is America’s drug war, which has co-opted its own cast of suckers through the usual cognitive mechanisms: insecurity and greed leavened with a dollop of truth, all of which are convincingly armored by a hard shell of fear.

Admittedly, that metaphor could be readily adapted to most human follies, those we already know about and those we have yet to discover. All of which leads me in roundabout fashion, to the question du jour: how is new scientific truth usually discovered? The answer is that it’s often by exposure of false assumptions, many of which seemed quite reasonable and were often protected by dogma. Galileo remains the classic example, but there have been many others. Also the first skeptic to question accepted dogma was more often ignored or punished than praised and rewarded.

The usual starting point for most such new “truths” was the questioning of a false assumption, which raises a further question about Galileo, Newton, and Einstein: did they fail to ask an even more basic question, namely: is belief in God/gods necessary for “ultimate” human understanding of the cosmos?

Or, perhaps more basic: shouldn't we stop putting the cart before the horse before it's too late?

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 06:08 PM | Comments (0)

December 18, 2008

Good News, Bad News

Among the few items of general agreement in the modern world are a need for a universal calendar and a respect for international schedules, which is why our species is forced to endure President Bush’s bizarre victory lap while most impatiently await his replacement on January 20.

Inevitably, several completely unforeseen distractions have surfaced during the obligatory waiting period. One such was the revelation that the Governor of Illinois has apparently been attempting to profit from the Obama victory by auctioning the balance of the winner’s senate term to the highest bidder.

Nor are all the distractions directly related to the election of a new US president; most distressing is the melt-down of the global economy now casting a pall over commerce everywhere and provoking comparisons with the Great Depression of the Thirties, which, I’ve suggested may turn out to be trivial in comparison.

Who’s right? I certainly have no economic credentials; in fact, my only claim to exclusivity rests on an ongoing, largely solitary, ad-hoc study of cannabis users. In that context, both the blog and the study have been ignored, despite their credible suggestions that American cannabis prohibition has been a global calamity and our species’ crown jewel— its cognitive ability— is leading us into chaos.

As I wrote about the Automobile Industry only yesterday, we shouldn’t have to wait for long to find out.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 05:20 PM | Comments (0)

December 17, 2008

Questions for a Species on the Brink

As the grim financial news worsens, there still seems little awareness of the problems awaiting our urbanized, technology-dependent species in the near future. Taking just the latest disaster as an example, the discovery that hedge fund operator Bernard Madoff may have made fifty billion dollars disappear, is really just another regulatory failure analogous to the sub-prime mortgage crisis which has already siphoned away billions of tax dollars, allegedly to rescue (some) Wall Street firms in a bail out we'd been warned against in April. That same treasury secretary was later forced to admit (confess?) that bailing out “Main Street” was more complicated than he'd thought; so he had simply punted.

As for the American auto industry; we’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, there is still no definitive answer to the nagging question of global warming and whether we have the means, as a species, to keep the lights on and the engines of commerce running while we scramble to find (and deploy) the alternative sources of energy that many who are either scientifically skeptical or ignorant (take your pick) insist we don’t need at all.

Against that troubling backdrop, I have a few questions: where will the millions of homeowners who can no longer pay their mortgages live after the banks that won’t be able to sell or maintain the houses they are being evicted from do force them out on the street? Who will do the evictions? And who will protect those houses against occupancy by squatters when the cities where they are located can no longer afford to pay their police after their tax base disappears?

As the grim financial future that may be awaiting us draws ever closer, I will have other disturbing questions to ask; right now I’m simply waiting to see when/if they will finally occur to others.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 04:26 PM | Comments (0)

December 12, 2008

Not with a Bang, but a Pink Slip

In earlier entries, I noted that humanity had come perilously close to nuclear winter during the Cold War on at least two occasions; perhaps more often. The “Peace Dividend” theorized after the Cold War ended has proven ephemeral, thus we must still worry about the possibility of nuclear exchanges, especially between nations that have conducted secret weapons programs in defiance of both international treaties and world opinion.

In addition, we find ourselves facing global economic problems of unprecedented scope and magnitude; largely because a loosely organized, but efficient terrorist movement developed directly from the Cold War’s last major struggle in Afghanistan and has successfully nurtured long-standing Moslem resentments and also lured the Bush Administration into a disastrous war in 2001.

In a series of recent developments more reminiscent of the soap operas and cliff-hanger serials of the Thirties, we have also had to deal with a string of unforeseen financial emergencies: whether (and in what order) to save Wall street, Main Street, the Financial Services and the Auto Industries during a critical interval, while the new administration waiting in the wings was just blind-sided by an inopportune scandal.

Even including Lincoln and the attack on Fort Sumter, it may be that no new administration has ever faced more critical challenges; including the possibility that by January 20th, our economy may be on the verge of collapse.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 09:26 PM | Comments (0)

December 11, 2008

The American Contribution

The title is a play on The American Disease, by David Musto, MD of Yale. Musto’s original edition (1973) was written at a time when the drug war was receiving more hostile scrutiny from academia than now, and reported his original research on the role of Hamilton Wright,MD in sponsoring the invidious Harrison Act of 1914. It was a valuable contribution to drug policy scholarship, however, in multiple subsequent editions, Musto has taken a far more expedient and policy friendly position.

One of our nation’s more unfortunate contributions to the modern world (there have been several) has been our drug policy, which, since the First Nixon Administration, has also become the whole world's drug policy via UN treaty.

Beyond that, the UN’s American clone has become one of its more enduring policies, especially since the Carter Administration was flummoxed enough by Iran’s abrogation of the Vienna Convention to lose to Reagan. In essence the entire world’s current (but failing) attempt to ban certain drugs is identical in concept to earlier bans of tobacco and opium, both of which were completely unsuccessful, a situation which, by itself, should raise the logical question that is avoided in all official drug policy discussions: why does such a lame idea continue to receive any respect at all?

The most likely answer is that we humans are, by nature, loathe to admit failure and a lot more dishonest than we want to admit. Those conclusions are well supported my own study of pot smokers; ditto, the cascade of new developments signaling the deepening descent of our overpopulated world into profound depressions, of both the economic and psychological varieties.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 11:02 PM | Comments (0)

December 09, 2008

An Improbable End to a Dismal Year

With each passing day, as the chaos grows while a progressively frightened world waits uneasily for Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and January 20th, one is forced to wonder what could possibly happen next. The rapidity with which “melt-down” and “bail-out” have become familiar economic terms; to say nothing of the growing body count of once-powerful corporate entities, suggests that nothing can be taken for granted and also reminds us that the Great Depression, ushered in by a stock market crash in October 1929, was a global phenomenon that took over two years to develop and wasn’t finally over until World War Two was ended by the first-ever use of nuclear weapons in August 1945.

There may be several messages lurking among today’s chaotic events; perhaps the most urgent, albeit least likely to be implemented right away, is the need to come up with an entirely new economic model to replace the one our species has been evolving for thousands of years and even predates the writing systems with which we have been recording our history since sometime after the last Ice Age.

In fact, long before that; as we now know with considerable confidence from Archeology, our ancestors were trading with, stealing from, and making war on each other long before they could write.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 03:22 PM | Comments (0)

December 07, 2008

Too Little too Late?

Two recent items in mainstream media could be characterized as both hopeful signs of a needed awakening and way overdue; the first was Christiane Amanpour’s unusually blunt exposure of the almost universal cowardice of world leaders in responding to several overt examples genocide since World War Two.

The second is the savage editorial comment on the Bush Presidency in today’s New York Times. What I have finally come to understand is that such behavior (dishonesty and denial) has always been the default for our species; unfortunately, it may be too late for us to change in time to dodge all the looming catastrophes that now threaten us.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 08:56 PM | Comments (0)

December 06, 2008

Theory vs Observation

As noted earlier, the origins of Western Science are imprecise, as is the arbitrary division of history into various eras. With that distinction in mind, we can posit that our present modern era began around the end of the Enlightenment when the basic disciplines of modern Science had already evolved and the technology they gave rise to in Europe and North America began an Industrial Revolution, which is, arguably, still in progress.

This entry is less about precisely defining historical eras than it is about the belief systems that characterize them and have critically shaped both recent history and our contemporary world.

With that brief introduction, I’d like to go to what I consider frequently misunderstood differences between two important concepts: observation and theory. In its simplest form, an observation is a description of a natural phenomenon recorded by humans; a theory is a proposed explanation of how various observations are related. A key underlying requirement of both concepts is that bias must be eliminated to the extent possible. Although observations may vary in detail and accuracy, depending on circumstances (especially if complex equipment was involved) they should be reproducible by other competent observers.

Similarly, theories are neither “true” nor “false.” Rather they are more or less useful, based on their ability to coherently relate valid observations.

Although it goes without saying that the concepts of observer bias and the validity of a theory can always be sticking points in the acceptance of scientific data and their interpretation, the proof of the pudding has been that science works on a practical level most of the time: light bulbs illuminate, airplanes take off and land safely, antibiotics cure once lethal infections at predictable rates. Also, whenever failures occur, the reasons for them can usually be discovered.

In stark contrast to the flexible empiricism that characterizes Science, religious belief systems, including those essential to some modern political ideologies, tend to be absolute; no deviation from essential doctrine is tolerated. In the last hundred and fifty years or so, we have seen the rise and fall of several doctrinaire belief systems. Some, such as the American War on Drugs have simply been incorporated into existing systems; others, such as Communism and Nazism were clearly intended as either total or partial replacements.

In general, the less ambitious doctrinaire beliefs have had more staying power, probably because they can be so easily made part of the earlier religious/metaphysical beliefs that preceded Science and were already in positions of dominance within Academia, itself a cloistered and intensely hierarchical environment.

I plan to have more to say on this general subject later, but this snippet seems coherent enough to stand on its own. One of several discoveries my clinical interaction with pot smokers has led me to is that the intellectual continuity of valid observations rarely has to be forced, whereas that of invalid theories tends to break down sooner or later for the simple reason that supportive data simply don't exist.

In that context, a major reason the drug war has yet to be repudiated is that it has received so much support from federally sponsored peseudoscience

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 06:09 PM | Comments (0)

December 05, 2008

McCzar: killer, pimp, liar, crook

If Barry McCaffrey doesn’t reinvent himself as often as Madonna, it won’t be for lack of trying. He first gained fame in 1991 by leading the 24th Division’s “left hook” in the waning hours of Desert Storm. When he retired five years later as the Army’s most decorated general, he was immediately asked by Bill Clinton to become the new drug czar when (because?) Bubba was under attack from Orrin Hatch for being soft on drugs during an election year.

McCaffrey soon became flamboyantly effective at his new job, which consisted mostly of shilling for our chronically failing, but politically correct drug policy (I became particularly familiar with his lies because the 4 years I spent editing Drug Sense weekly overlapped his tour). McCzar, as I soon began to call him, was ONDCP’s longest serving czar, at least until he was followed by Dubya's appointee, the far less colorful John Walters, well after 9/11.

In May of 2000, some five months before he left ONDCP, McCaffrey was harshly criticized for conducting a “turkey shoot” two days after a cease fire began (and ‘left hook” ended) in a long, carefully researched New Yorker piece by Seymour Hersh, the same journalist who had broken the My Lai story. Although it created a flurry of interest, particularly among drug policy reformers, it apparently didn’t tarnish McCaffrey’s image with TV networks enough to keep NBC from using him as a consultant on an amazingly regular basis, or from becoming part of the gaggle of high ranking ex generals engaged in the thriving cottage indutry of military insiders now selling (and profiting from) America’s wars.

My one direct experience with McCzar was at a luncheon sponsored by the Commonwealth Club in SF right after his appointment in 1996, and a few months before passage of proposition 215. It was right about the time Big Tobacco was being sued in civil actions by the attorneys general af several states; I got to ask the first question in the Q & A after his talk: how did it made sense to pursue a policy of criminal arrest and prosecution of smokers of one allegedly addictive drug while we were going to court to reduce the profits from a legal market producing another one known to be far more dangerous?

He answered by preaching a sermon against tobacco, but I was able to retain the microphone and point out he hadn’t answered the question. His response: that relaxing criminal penalties would “send the wrong message,” came across as particularly weak. and I looked forward to a small victory that Friday in hearing it broadcast on local Public Radio.

Of course it wasn’t. When i called the station to find out why not, I was eventually told that decision was up to the sound engineer, who was on vacation. Eventually I was told by his representative that my exchange with McCzar (which followed immediately after his talk and the only one that didn’t make the cut) had been edited out for “lack of time.”

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 06:25 AM | Comments (0)

December 03, 2008

Down Mexico Way

The article on El Paso in the current Newsweek caught my eye for a good reason: I'd spent five years there- between the Summers of 1958 and 1963- first as a dispensary officer at Fort Bliss fresh from a civilian internship at San Francisco General Hospital, and then from September ‘59 through August ‘63 as a resident in General Surgery at William Beaumont Army Hospital. Although I haven’t been back since, I retain many intense memories, most of them pleasant, of that formative time in my life.

Newsweek’s description of the changes that have taken place on the boder in the intervening forty-five years can only be described as appalling; they also aptly illustrate two of the major problems that beset our modern world, neither of which is being addressed or discussed as they should be. The first is runaway population growth: when I was there, El Paso and its cross-border neighbor, Juarez, numbered about 250 000 people each. Both cities felt safe, and Nixon’s drug war was still six years in the future when I departed. The idea of a feared drug cartel anywhere in Mexico would have been considered bizzare.

How thing have changed! There are now a total of 2.1 million people in both cities, and while El Paso still has relatively few murders, the same can't be said of Juarez, which counted 1300 last year alone. The balance between the cities is also rapidly changing as the cartels increasingly cross the border to abduct or murder those thought to owe them money or suspected of cooperating with law enforcement. The carnage described in Newsweek, and apparently taken for granted on both sides of the border, is attributable almost entirely to the wrong-headed and counterproductive prohibition policy being aggressively pursued by both governments. Also, the fraying economic conditions now troubling both nations won't improve the situation.

Meanwhile, the US is trapped between presidential administrations while the incumbent is busy adding to his mischief and his successor is forced to wait in a power vacuum. If I believed in a deity, I might ask him/her for help, but as it stands, I’m left with the hope that Obama is as smart and honest as he seems, and lucky enough to avoid either assassination of nuclear war before January 20th.

Even if those wishes are granted, it will still be day to day for quite some time.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at 09:51 PM | Comments (0)