October 31, 2009
Some Different Perspectives on a Failing PolicyThe most recent entry recounted how the fanciful, scientifically ridiculous assertions of a medically uneducated bureaucrat named Harry Anslinger became the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937; also how, following World War Two, the same law essentially became global policy after he was named the first UN Commissioner of Narcotics. Ironically; in 1969, after the Supreme Court ruled that the MTA was unconstitutional for reasons completely unrelated to its scientific shortcomings, it was rewritten as the CSA, thus endowing it with far more sweeping powers.
Even more ironically, ever since an inattentive press allowed President Nixon to bury the unexpected recommendation of his own special committee to study pot's potential medical benefits in March 1972, drug war apologists have routinely cited the completely unsubstantiated Congressional "Findings and Declarations", originally intended only to claim the new Constitutional basis required by the CSA, as absolutely inviolable reasons why there could be no revision of what has always been a failing policy of dubious Constitutional legitimacy.
As is now also painfully obvious: thirteen years after California’s medical marijuana law passed easily despite the protests of the federal government, there has been no diminution in stubborn federal opposition to voter intent. Despite recent conflicting signals from the Obama Administration, DEA raids have continued, albeit at a reduced rate, while the Agency's supporters have continued to urge their continuation. Almost a full year since his election, as President Obama's Administration struggles with Health Care reform, it will almost certainly remain refractory to any serious consideration of cannabis legalization; nor is it possible to imagine any Congressional retreat from our war on drugs in the near future.
That is particularly unfortunate because our study suggests that in a more rational environment, legal cannabis might be a big winner. Despite its undeniable limitations as a criminal or gray market product, pot has been consistently safe and effective in treating the anxiety disorders and related symptoms of its chronic users, while clearly reducing both their medical costs and the damage done to to their health by alcohol, tobacco, and other illegal drugs; benefits that have been unrecognized for years.
The possibility that legalization could enhance those effects while conserving much of the tax money now wasted on enforcement and incarceration, is nothing short of mind-boggling, not to mention the additional possibility of converting what are now criminal receipts into legitimate profits and tax revenues.
Unfortunately, the most basic requirement of an "evidence-based policy" is a willingness to look at the available evidence, rather than rejecting it out of hand, simply because it isn't consistent with the ad-hoc assertions of a failing policy that has always been based on ideology and false assumptions.
There is a glimmer of hope: hearings are being conducted in Sacramento, but the problem at the state level is that most of the reform organizations with a seat at the table are backing federal policy by agreeing that legal use should be restricted to those over 21. Perhaps the only finding solidly established by federally sponsored research over the past thirty-four years is that kids begin trying drugs in Junior High School and most adults will have tried all the drugs they will ever use well before the age of twenty-five.
Finally, the ability of California's pot smokers to support the impressive growth of their gray market has been well demonstrated. Remembering that at least half of all Americans born since the Baby Boom have been trying pot during adolescence, do we have an accurate idea of how many are still using it?
October 25, 2009
Pot Prohibition’s Ultimate AbsurdityOn several occasions, this blog has asked the same rhetorical question: how could a policy as ludicrous and destructive as marijuana prohibition have been endorsed by the whole world? The answer turns out to be critically important, embarrassing, and even more absurd than the policy itself.
In 1937, the “reefer madness” fantasy of a single uneducated bureaucrat named Harry Jacob Anslinger, with a big assist from the Hearst Newspaper chain, became the basis of a deceptive tax law that had the net effect of subjecting all the products of the hemp plant to criminal prohibition. The excuse used to justify that legislative sleight-of-hand was both highly imaginative and totally bereft of pharmacological validation, even by the comparatively primitive standards of 1937. Most notably missing was any clinical research on the effects of either inhaled or orally ingested cannabis on humans; nor were there any economic or demographic data on the use of what was then a legal product listed in the US Pharmacopeia.
The subsequent history of the Marijuana Tax Act and the drug war it eventually gave rise to is that neither was ever subjected to any more official scrutiny than the MTA received in 1937. Thus, billions of words of empty rhetoric, millions of felony arrests, and thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of avoidable deaths are traceable to Anslinger's imagination and Hearst's propaganda, as they have been interpreted and enforced by the US Federal Government over the next seventy two years.
Following passage of the MTA in 1937, several states were persuaded to pass matching legislation, most notably in the South, where excessive penalties for illegal drug possession became legendary, especially in the case of minorities. Nevertheless, overall "marijuana" arrests remained so infrequent that no statistics were kept, a situation that persisted beyond Anslinger's retirement in the early Sixties, just after JFK's election. He was next appointed the first UN High Commissioner of "Narcotics," a position from which he promoted the Single Convention Treaty, which, upon ratification, had the effect of making his deceptive MTA, still bereft of clinical and pharmacological support, the basis of a policy binding on all UN member nations.
But the travesty didn't end there; indeed, the worst was yet to come: the election of Richard Nixon, a calamitous event, inspired at least partially by adult fears provoked by a youthful, cannabis-influenced Counterculture.
In the mid Sixties, what had started as a flurry of interest provoked by a literary genre critical of US culture and publicly extolling use of marijuana and several new psychedelic agents, resonated enough with the first Baby Boomers to encourage many of them to try marijuana. In 1965, Timothy Leary, an associate of many Beat authors, was arrested for marijuana possession at the Mexican Border and sentenced to 30 years in prison, a verdict that was finally overturned by the Supreme Court, which declared the MTA unconstitutional; not for lack of scientific validity, but because it required self-incrimination. The almost immediate response of the Nixon Administration and Congress was the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, essentially rolling all existing drug prohibitions into a single omnibus package; still without benefit of any research that would support its multiple erroneous assertions.
Even as the CSA was setting the stage for what would soon become infamous as the War on Drugs, a long overdue and non-binding review of 1972 evidence, by a committee Nixon himself had appointed, reported that cannabis possessed enough therapeutic potential to be decriminalized so as to permit appropriate medical studies. Once again, fate intervened when Nixon personally buried their report immediately after its release in March,1972, an event hardly noticed (and never protested) by the same "mainstream" press that would hound him from office two years later.
The MTA's lack of justification is now painfully obvious; Anslinger's faith in the power of arrest to "control" illegal drugs was never really tested until after the explosion in drug use that characterized the youthful Counterculture. By that time, so much political capital and administrative infrastructure had been invested in the belief that prohibition is a viable policy that admitting its failure is the last thing those responsible for it are likely to do without considerable external pressure.
One thing that might help get the ball rolling would be if the Gang of Four were to be challenged to modify their positions by a few well-known citizens with impeccable reputations for integrity.
The Drug War and AcademeLast week’s discovery that the clinically ignorant representative of a brand new academic discipline would be given an authoritative voice in a forum on the medical use of cannabis was a reminder that most leading drug policy academics are also bereft of clinical experience; yet they exert an important influence by protecting a threadbare policy against exposure of its many failures. Although few in number and relatively unknown to the general public, they are based at reputable universities and have, over time, become critical to the policy's survival.
In fact, the drug war probably could not tolerate honest scrutiny of even a third of its failures were it not for the cover provided by key respected academics I've come to think of as the drug war's loyal "Gang of Four."
All have published extensively, often in collaboration, and are accorded considerable respect within the academic community: Mark Kleiman of UCLA, Peter Reuter of Maryland, Jonathan Caulkins of Carnegie Mellon, and Rob MacCoun of UC Berkeley. Their considerable influence is dependent on the skillful substitution of rhetoric for logic thus allowing them to sound sincere and reasonable while carefully avoiding the criticism appropriate for a policy of perennial failure, and lacking any evaluation by reasonable standards. Our drug policy also prevents its victims from being studied clinically or objectively; Instead, their arrests for possession of forbidden agents ("drugs of abuse") automatically labels them as mentally ill, criminals, or worse.
The Gang typically cites the unreliability of data from criminal markets but never admits the obvious: that those markets were created by the policy itself and that all market participants, including law enforcement, have eventually been corrupted by the same excessive profits enabled by the policy. This reticence to criticize drug policy, has been the federal default since Nixon and renders any admission the policy may have been mistaken almost impossible. In that sense, it's path dependence in action; the global default now seems to be that whatever its flaws, the drug war is on a par with the global economy: too important to fail.
That the hard evidence behind my contrary assertions is unique can't be denied; however the fact that it's been collected from admitted drug users makes it vulnerable. That it also contradicts long-held beliefs that have been tacitly endorsed by highly esteemed policy "experts" doesn't help.
Also the fact that applicant demographics and initiation ages, provide a historical context for the expansion of a small criminal market that began to expand rapidly in the mid Sixties is data that can't be denied, but has always been conspicuously absent from official accounts.
Of course, that will be met with claims that my data isn't representative of the whole criminal market, a claim with which I have to agree. In fact, I suspect if that market could be measured, it might prove even bigger than the feds have ever realized; or would dare admit.
October 21, 2009
A Dishonest Forumin conjunction with the spate of interest in “Medical Marijuana” generated by the Justice Department’s Sunday memo on pot raids, KQED, the Bay Area's NPR station devoted the first hour of Tuesday's Forum to the issue. I wish I could report it was enlightening or helpful, but it was just the opposite. I happened to be on my way to Oakland for a clinic and became so distressed after listening for a few minutes that I had to turn off the radio and wait to download the broadcast for more leisurely (and safer) listening.
That demonstrated the panel to be remarkably unqualified; its participants were long on uninformed opinions, but short on actual experience, clinical or otherwise. It was bad enough that a former federal prosecutor and a current police chief were given an opportunity to assert non-existent clinical expertise, but the people who were apparently supposed to balance them were timid and uninformed.
Worst of all, however, was the self appointed "medical" expert, a USC professor in a new and highly suspect discipline who quickly demonstrated that he is just as bereft of pharmaceutical and economic knowledge as he is of intellectual honesty.
That he could compare cannabis to both alcohol and tobacco and claim it is equally dangerous is simply wrong; beyond that, my study of California applicants published two years ago, shows that pot initiates consistently exhibit sharply reduced use of both once their use of cannabis becomes chronic. Dogmatic assertions contrary to published evidence do not deserve much respect, especially when made by an industry shill on behalf of the most lucrative products of the most inflationary segment of the Health Care Industry.
A good case could be made that chronic marijuana use has been a potent force in reducing health care expenses and might be even more helpful to Public Health if the unjustifiable witch hunt against it were to be replaced with a more rational and evidence-based policy.
October 19, 2009
Pot In The NewsIn a late-breaking item on Sunday,the AP reported that unnamed Justice Department officials had announced the Obama Administration would clarify its guidelines on the DEA’s controversial practice of raiding California marijuana dispensaries. As usual, the story listed all the states with medical marijuana laws without explaining why California has been the only one to experience such raids. As someone who has been following the medical marijuana issue since California's initiative made the ballot in 1996, I've learned to take all such claims with a large grain of salt.
Yesterday, even as the AP story was being aired prominently on NPR in the Bay Area , a trusted source e-mailed the actual text of the "official" Justice Department announcement; it emphasized that the CSA is the law of the land and that certain conditions would be sure to trigger "DEA interest." Among them was "sales to minors."
The rat I smelled on Sunday was suddenly a lot more noticeable.
Meanwhile, the detailed Newsweek account of a 2007 DEA raid on someone I'd come to know when he operated a dispensary in San Francisco in 2002 confirmed what I'd come to suspect from various sources: both the DEA and local cops use such raids as opportunities to trash the premises while plundering them. A fraction of seized money may be returned, but the illegal product never is. The victims are usually so happy to escape formal charges that they don't make too much of a fuss and often resume selling, even as they realize that they may be targeted for another official robbery in the future.
October 18, 2009
Continuing Border Woes Confirm Illegal Market is HugeIn September 1958, I began what would become five years of military service in El Paso as a dispensary officer at Fot Bliss, formerly the Army’s anti-aircraft artillery school; then transitioning into anti-aircraft missile systems. After an interesting year at Bliss, I moved across the highway to William Beaumont General Hospital for four years of training in General Surgery, my original goal in joining the Army in the first place. After completing the residency in September ‘63, I left El Paso for Japan. Although I haven’t been back to the Border, my pre-drug war memories are of peaceful cities on opposite sides of the Rio Grande. Both were safe at night; although parts of Juarez were honky-tonkish and could be less so for the belligerently intoxicated, they were generally OK for everyone else. That’s why lurid reports of extreme violence associated with the drug trade are, for me, utterly convincing evidence that American drug policy is contemptibly stupid.
That the commodity now generating the most income (thus the most violence) is low grade Mexican weed (“bammer”) is astounding, but should convince anyone with a bit of analytical ability and a modicum of intellectual honesty that America’s illegal marijuana market has become enormous; exactly what one would predict after half of all high school kids have been trying it since the early Seventies, particularly if a substantial fraction of the initiates had remained loyal consumers.
In fact, from the standpoint of a rational public policy, it shouldn't make much difference whether their chronic use is considered "recreational" or "medical," so long as smoking it was demonstrably less risky than cigarettes (and particularly if chronic users reduced their consumption of both cigarettes and alcohol).
What it all adds up to is an illegal pot market far larger than policy wonks dare to admit. If pot remanis illegal, its market should continue growing until the oldest Boomers are about 80 before stabilizing. For me, the only uncertainty is how long current pretenses can be maintained; in other words, how much longer can such a failing, lame-brain policy be taken seriously?
October 16, 2009
Lessons Learned: Historical ContextAny serious attempt to evaluate the impact of America’s “War on Drugs” on the world at large should begin with an appreciation of the depth and complexity of our drug policy’s dishonest federal roots and the degree to which all three branches of American government have been cooperating for nearly a century to shield it from objective scrutiny. That statement isn’t intended as an allegation of conspiracy; rather it's an invitation to think seriously about how substance prohibition, a policy with an unbroken record of failure, both here and abroad, remains the global standard for dealing with the "drug problem."
The policy’s original key assertion— that federal agents should be empowered to arrest physicians for the way they were prescribing certain pharmaceuticals— was affirmed by a medically ignorant Supreme Court in the course of interpreting the deceptive 1914 Harrison Narcotic Act at a time when the science of Pharmacology was still in its infancy and there had been very little clinical experience with “addiction.” Harrison was passed in December 1914, the same year lurid special editions on heroin and cocaine had been published in the New York Times ten months earlier. Finally, the federal agents arresting physicians under the new law often didn’t bother to distinguish between those trying to treat "addicts" and those simply profiting from them; thus the new policy had an immediate and chilling effect on legitimate research while giving credence to the false, but resilient belief that addiction is a “disease” for which patients bear criminal responsibility. In a real sense, the underlying injustice has only intensified over the intervening ninety years as a failing and irrational policy has evolved into a major cause of felony arrest that has brcome responsible for increasing human misery every year it is in effect.
Over that same interval, the police powers awarded under Harrison have been increased several times in the absence of any relevant pharmacological or clinical research that would justify their expense or collateral damage. Heavily armed SWAT teams now routinely conduct raids on medical marijuana dispensaries in California while non-medical federal agencies pretend to an expertise on human drug use, a practice already evident when the first director of the FBN attempted to discredit an academic for criticizing his agency's tactics. The FBN's successor agency was later empowered (under the CSA) to block scientific studies of specific drugs; ironically because they were illegal and thus any use for research had been placed under the agency's sole control!
The adverse impact of a failing policy worsened significantly after the largest generation in history began coming of age in the mid-Sixties. As they discovered several newly available psychedelics and acquired a taste for “reefer,” their drug use and other disaffected behaviors frightened their parents into electing a feckless president for whom intensification of America’s policy of criminal prohibition made perfect sense; as may be inferred from his misplaced confidence in Operation Intercept in September, 1969.
Even after his own commission recommended a different approach in the Spring of 1972, Nixon buried their report and proceeded with his drug war. Unfortunately, the ensuing surge in pot arrests was all American police needed to become avid supporters of the intensified policy. A decade later, increased Congressional and public support "just say no" stimulated by a crack "epidemic" helped push our scientifically flabby "Behavioral" Sciences into an orgy of complicit guilt-by-association research in support of the never-validated Gateway theory. In many respects, Gateway became for cannabis prohibition what Eugenics theory had been to Nazi racial doctrine: superficially plausible, but terribly misleading.
The grotesque failure of the "War on Drugs" is certainly not the only such example of collective human cruelty and dishonesty; but it is a convenient example of several of our species' key failings. Ironically, the pattern established since our discovery of the cornucopia of wealth enabled by Science has been one of even more repressive control of their greatly expanded populations by fiercely competitive national governments.
The outcome of the Disaster Movie we are now living through will depend on how quickly well we are able to recognize the problems we have created for ourselves and how efficiently we can deal with them.
October 12, 2009
Lessons Learned in 8 Years as a Pot DocWhat I’ve been privileged to learn from pot smokers has been both fascinating and troubling; this is the beginning of what I hope to continue as a (more or less) organized report.
After starting to screen Prop 215 applicants in 2001, the first thing I realized was that I didn’t have a clear idea of what to ask them. I was so naive that I was even surprised none of them were cannabis naive and thus began asking them when they first tried it, etc. It wasn’t too long before I also became curious about their experience with alcohol and tobacco, and later with other drugs.
The pattern that began emerging after about 4 months convinced me to organize a study by developing a menu of questions and spend more time on each interview. That led the club owner to recruit more MDs. I can say unequivocally that he supported everything I did and didn’t protest my reduced output.
In any event, information provided by all patients seen between July and December 2002 was later presented at the 2004 Patients Out of Time Meeting in Charlottesville, VA in May 2004 and eventually reported in a local Bay Area journal devoted to Proposition 215. It was at the Charlottesville meeting meeting that the strong hints of unhappiness with my work that originally surfaced in e-mail discussions became unequivocal. Nothing overt was said, but the signs were as unmistakable as the current absence of any mention of my participation from the P.O.T. website.
As the study continued, it became increasingly clear that my pot doc colleagues were resistant to incorporating similar questions in their histories, a reluctance that continues to this day. They also wouldn’t (and still won’t) engage in discussions of possible self-medication for psychotropic symptoms. I am so offended by that denial that I now avoid their company whenever possible. It was sometime around the end of 2004 that I decided to separate myself from the “movement” and simply do my own research. Somewhat ironically, it was also then that some funding became available for the creation of a database dedicated to the study. Peer-reviewed publication (November 2007) would have been impossible without the database. Equally ironically, its almost unavoidable presence on Pubmed searches involving “marijuana” made its prolonged omission from related reports all the more noticeable; however, I'm now in a position to report that the discussions I'd hoped to provoke are finally beginning to appear.
Managing a large ongoing study in a setting of professional isolation and without funding has been daunting, but it has also provided me with my biggest challenge: understanding the uncanny degree to which recognition of the obvious psychological benefits of inhaled cannabinoids was avoided by just about everyone writing on the subject. As of this writing, that avoidance finally appears to be waning, a development that should please the twenty or so patients I have contact with each week who continue to confirm that inhaled cannabis, despite the limitations imposed by its illegality, is so safe and effective they prefer it over heavily advertised pharmaceuticals.
How I Became a Pot DocAs mentioned previously, I hadn't learned anything about cannabis during my Forties high school daze because the tiny pot market then in existence was for "hip" insiders and almost completely invisible to straight adolescents. Thus to understand how I would find myself screening pot smokers at an Oakland cannabis club in 2001, one has to start with my reasons for despising the drug war: first, its interference with pain relief for surgical patients, and second, I simply couldn’t understand how a government that had been forced to abandon alcohol prohibition in the Thirties because of its failures could remain blind to the failures of its drug war for exactly the same reasons. In short,it was a growing disgust with the intellectual dishonesty of American drug policy that eventually led me to discover its nearly invisible political opposition in 1995. By pure chance I was then living in the Bay Area and the unexpected passage of Proposition 215 was about to create, albeit in slow motion, a huge new gray market for marijuana, two additional developments no one could have predicted in 1995.
As I became more seasoned in the “movement,” I quickly learned that a majority of my fellow activists were pot smokers; that was because its redolent odor filled hotel corridors at every national meeting I ever attended. Even so, I had no way of knowing then that they were really self-medicating in the same fashion as the Prop 215 applicants I would begin interviewing in November, 2001.
I now also realize how irritating my profiles of pot use must have seemed to most of those same activists; here I was, someone they knew to be a novice, suddenly telling them things they didn’t want to hear (and considered unflattering) about an activity they'd long been engaged in. An e-mail from one summed it up neatly: “when I read your stuff, I feel like someone is holding a mirror up to my face-- and I don’t like it.”
One phase of my early policy explorations led me to a small, elite coterie of drug policy academics at leading universities, often in prestigious schools of ”Public Policy.” I soon realized they provided critical intellectual cover for the policy I'd come to despise. Obviously very smart and committed to (at least) an appearance of neutrality, they always took extreme care in their writings to avoid outright condemnation of certain critical items of drug war dogma, the most important of which is the idea that illegal drugs are "bad” because of "addiction." A critical, but unspoken, corollary is that drug control is a moral imperative; thus designated "drugs of abuse" must be controlled to the extent possible.
I realized through that early scrutiny of a policy I hadn’t ever paid enough attention to, that their academic standing was providing important cover for the drug war; also that refuting them would not be easy, if for no other reason than “science,” as it pertains to illegal drugs, has always been tightly controlled by the policy’s official minders.
In that connection, there have been two important historical eras of federal "control" (the word "prohibition" is never used). The first was dominated by Harry Anslinger, the first director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, appointed as its first Director by Herbert Hoover in 1930 and ruled by him with an iron hand until he was forced into retirement by JFK in 1962 for reasons that remain uncertain. The obvious comparison is between Anslinger and J. Edgar Hoover who not only ruled a rival federal police agency for a longer interval during the same era (1935-1972), but died in harness.
To get back to Anslinger, he was such an obvious fraud and so unscrupulous in protecting both his agency and its contrived mandate that no serious biography has ever been written, a shortcoming I have attributed to the difficulty of doing so and still presenting his policy in a positive light. In that connection, it is important to remember that most UN member nations maintain agencies like the FBI and CIA, but because the concept that drug prohibition must be a global mandate was so obviously Anslinger's, our American fingerprints would be all over its failures, were they ever to be publicly acknowledged.
October 09, 2009
Age of AnxietyWe live in times best described as paradoxical: never before has our species been more numerous or knowledgeable about its extended environment, yet never before has its future seemed more bleak. We remain at each others’ throats in the same murderous ways as our first powerful civilizations thousands of years ago, yet we are armed with high tech weaponry of unimagined destructive capacity. Even so, our scientists are discovering a cascade of new, uncontrollable forces that have been lurking within our home planet and its solar environment for millions of years, any one of which could render the most powerful weapons in modern arsenals puny by comparison.
Although we are historically loathe to blame ourselves for our predicaments, any search for a culprit in our present problems must ultimately lead directly to the age-old question of “free will.” To what extent are we humans responsible for our own problems? The corollary is, of course, what can be done about them? Underlying those questions are two more: are those claiming to have answers sincere? Do they even know what they're talking about?
For the past several years I've been privileged to study a population characterized by their use of a complex herbal remedy in an often unwitting attempt to deal with the same existential uncertainties. That it provides them with benefits far superior to those claimed for their products by our Pharmaceutical Industry, and that the official formulations of US policy on the same issues are nonsense, should be as apparent to most knowledgeable observers as their own craven reluctance to say so.
My apparent temerity is inspired by the degree to which those tacitly supporting US drug policy are unwilling to acknowledge reality. A good example can be found in the recent publication that I hope to tackle in the next entry.
October 04, 2009
Human History as a Disaster MovieBecause it permits us to consider a wide range of possibilities, language has become a critical component of human cognition and behavior. When we compare ourselves to social insects like bees, their cooperative division of the hive's chores into separate tasks is mediated neuro-chemically by pheromones. Unlike the automatic, unquestioning response of drones, human workers use their brains to consider working conditions and a variety of other factors before agreeing to perform repetitive tasks on a schedule. Even so, the highly variable interpretation of similar evidence by individual humans is such that all modern societies must have extensive mechanisms for resolution of the labor disputes and myriad other civil conflicts that characterize our behavior.
Human history and its study both originated with the first writing systems. It's now well accepted that we are a single species that originated in Africa and were then widely distributed in a series of migrations that occurred before the last Ice Age. It's thus quite likely that most of the physical characteristics exhibited by different “races” were adaptations to the variety of climates the survivors of those original migrations have had to contend with over the intervening millennia.
Only after empirical Science gave us the tools to do so, have we been able to add significantly to our knowledge of pre-literate humans. The physical and biological sciences have allowed us to study and hypothesize about the evolution of our planet, its solar system, and the universe itself, but because a multitude of religious beliefs had already developed from pre-literate myths based on what appears to be a universal human curiosity about our origins and purpose, the most recent scientific theories are only incompletely accepted by the political and religious interests that have retained control of the "civilized" world since Galileo's early Seventeenth Century challenge to Pope Urban VIII.
The above reference to a "disaster movie," although intended as provocative, is also accurate; particularly as it relates to events since the Industrial Revolution that began about the time 13 British colonies rebelled against the world's dominant power. Their subsequent exploitation of North America has since allowed US population to grow relatively faster than the rest of the world, thus outstripping (for the moment) all other nations in both wealth and military power, even as we forget that the rest of the world is also growing.
At the same time, it was only recently that enough was learned about the 1815 eruption of Mt. Tambora to understand the much greater disaster it would have caused a century or two later. Nor is much concern expressed over the fact that global population growth since 1800 has locked us into a host of similar potential problems, or that our narrow escapes from comparable phenomena suggest such events are neither rare, nor avoidable.
That very lack of concern raises key questions: Is human denial a basic evolutionary flaw? If so, what can be done about it?
Only in the movies are looming disasters inevitably avoided at the last minute. Banking on either divine intervention or some unknown deity's final judgment to deal with the statistical certainty of eventual human catastrophes seems indefensible to this observer.
That's particularly so since I've come to understand that cannabis prohibition has been following a similar course as it has progressed from a set of unproven assumptions into a full scale social catastrophe, one still largely unrecognized by the world at large.