October 31, 2010
Control of Science by PoliticiansEven though Geology, Archeology, and Paleontology, can now provide Anthropologists with the context required for an understanding of humanity’s place, both in History and the Cosmos, our species still faces daunting challenges. The most pressing of all are obviously related either directly or indirectly to Science: its unending cornucopia of modern technology, our outmoded religious beliefs, and our unchecked population growth are all in conflict. Unfortunately, many humans can’t agree and we may be running out of solutions that could minimize environmental damage and reduce human suffering
One way of framing the issue may be to point out that empirical Science itself does not appear to have been a divinely preordained phenomenon, which was probably why the leading religious authority of Galileo’s era found it necessary to brand him a heretic and place him under house arrest. The same conflict is still in evidence: the most useful scientific theories often seemed completely improbable when first introduced. Over time, however, those that have endured not only offered better explanations of known phenomena when first proposed, and were also validated by later discoveries. For example, Darwin could not have anticipated the double helix postulated by Watson, Crick (and Franklin) in 1953; however, the molecular structure of DNA is the optimal mechanism for explaining the Evolution he first intuited in 1832 and subsequently fleshed out by 1959. When combined with Continental Drift, (derided in 1903 when Wegener suggested it but later confirmed by undersea discoveries in the Sixties). CD also helps explain how humans have adapted to weather cycles, how those cycles may have impelled our early hominid ancestors to leave Africa, and the dangers implicit in our current appetite for fossil fuels.
Perhaps the most important revelation of my nine year ad hoc study of cannabis users relates to human behavior under stress and the fact that of all Medical specialties, Psychiatry is the only one bereft of an objective nosology: we are still clearly struggling with the mind-body duality that has puzzled human thought from well before Plato and well beyond Descartes. One step that might help is recognition of the damage done by false assumptions, especially when codified by authoritarian regimes that force Scientists to shill for their pet theories; In that sense, Nazi racial doctrine, Communist ideology, and America's drug war are brothers under the same skin.
In that context, he results of next Tuesday’s election, both in California and in the nation, take on considerable significance.
October 27, 2010
The More Things Change...Today’s San Francisco Chronicle contained two silly items confirming what I’ve either known or strongly suspected about the vacuous drug war “debate” for several years: first, that rather than a real debate, it’s been a cacophony of monologues, none of which make much sense or approach problematic drug use with anything like systematic clinical analysis. In that sense, it echoes the futile exchanges before Proposition 215 passed fourteen years ago. That observation doesn’t mean that I expect Proposition 19 will win; it’s still a toss-up and the outcome could be decided by something as peripheral as election day weather or voter reaction to events occurring right up to November Second. If it loses, I think the margin will be small and the duration of further illegality short-lived: one or two election cycles, at most.
The first silly item was the Chronicle’s own editorial re-iterating its opposition to the initiative and adding the same reasons as Professor Kleiman and his Rand cronies: that the feds simply won’t tolerate legal marijuana; they will crack down as Holder just promised. What that argument loses sight of is that federal doctrine on marijuana hasn’t changed in the forty years since the the CSA was passed by the NIxon Administration; it simply hasn't worked, as demonstrated by the strength of the medical gray market. All illegal drug markets for Schedule one agents have continued to thrive (except for psychedelics which aren't used repetitively for long intervals).
That long term user loyalty to cannabis (often for decades) is unique among "drugs of abuse." It suggests that pot's medical benefits haven't been fully recognized and that "recreational" use may simply be an assumed default for the ignorant.
I've mentioned the main reason for feds’ perennial failures before: it's the same as Prohibition: the law itself creates irresistably lucrative illegal markets. Also, inhaled cannabis is a far more complex and effective therapeutic agent than any others; because it palliates such a wide variety of severe symptoms so effectively, the feds have never (and still don't) understand why discouraging its use by adolescents became essentially impossible for them once markets had developed in most high schools (probably by the early Seventies).
Ironically, that same weakness is replicated by the current initiative's exclusion of users under 21, which is one reason the response to Prop 19's fate could be so revealing: if it passes, would law enforcement come down even more heavily on youthful use than it does now? If so, would such a highly visible focus on youth create its own backlash?
Beyond that, it has become obvious to me that there has been a general failure by nearly all interested parties to understand that “reefer's” appeal to youth in the Sixties depended on the fact that cannabis, when smoked, is an easily controlled and short-acting anxiolytic, while more traditional "edibles" were (and still are) far longer acting and more difficult to titrate. These obvious clinical differences (and others) have yet to be even recognized, let alone studied; either in humans, or in laboratory animals.
Finally, cannabis can be grown year round, indoors and out, in all parts of the country; thus rendering interruption of its domestic supply unlikely and further highlighting the enormous (and still increasing) demand for the generally low-grade Mexican product being smuggled across our 2000 mile Southern border.
The second silly item in the Chronicle was a report of the million dollar gift by billionaire George Soros to the war chest of Proposition 215. I consider it silly only because it demonstrates how little he and Ethan Nadelmann have learned since 1996. In fact their rhetoric is little changed from that of the late William F. Buckley Jr. in 1995: "drugs" are “bad,” but laws making them illegal don't work and may do more harm than good. Duh.
We should know the fate of the new proposition by November 3. The federal response will be interesting no matter what happens; but don’t look for any change in pot’s now-overwhelming popularity (however the motivation for its use may be categorized).
October 25, 2010
Rand Corporation: not exactly neutral on Proposition 19Almost exactly a year ago, in a an entry predating the Proposition 19’s qualification for the ballot, I criticized a specific group of academics for their unfailing, albeit tacit, support of the drug war. A more recent entry, emphasizing both the drug war’s (and our species’) habitual dishonesty pointed out how dishonest "expertise" can be translated into support: by appearing to take a dishonest and chronically failing policy seriously, "reputable" academics automatically diminish the most telling criticisms that might be leveled against the policy in question while also shifting the burden to those who who oppose it. Beyond that, critics of drug policy can be (and often are) accused of supporting use of “drugs of abuse” by "kids," especially by federal agencies paid to support the policy.
Sure enough, in the the run-up to November 2, in which Proposition 19 has emerged as the issue commanding the most voter interest but the fewest advertising dollars, the original gang of four, together with a newcomer, has been hard at work in their usual vein. Typically, they are also being fronted by the same think tank where I first encountered the genre in 1995: Santa Monica’s Rand Corporation, a major recipient of federal dollars.
A telling example of how Rand researchers manage to make conflicting statements is revealed by comparing two recent publications on Prop 19: in a paper published in July the Rand group suggested that passage of the initiative could dramatically lower the price of marijuana while increasing consumption. In the press release accompanying publication, they were quoted as estimating a ten-fold reduction in the price per ounce.
We didn't have long to wait for the inevitable switcheroo: another paper published by the same group in October opines that even if Proposition 215 were to pass, it wouldn't have much impact on the activities of the Mexican drug cartels now engaged in a bloody turf battle over lucrative smuggling corridors into the United States. They also estimated (in the press release) that the revenue estimated to accrue to cartels from marijuana smuggling is actually far less than has been estimated without citing any basis for that estimate. In essence, the Rand researchers were contradicting themselves without appearing to do so.
Of course, both papers cite the notorious uncertainty of any estimates about supply or demand related to illegal markets without ever acknowledging that the policy they have consistently supported is responsible for both the markets and the crime they generate.
These academic shills for the drug war have a share of responsibility for the totally corrupt policy they support so deviously and consistently. Never in their "research" have they ever bothered to ask the most pertinent questions about "marijuana" as an illegal product: just when did its popularity with adolescents begin? (it was the mid-Sixties). Also: why was that popularity delayed for thirty years? Finally: why has marijuana, of all drugs of abuse, retained such customer loyalty throughout the four decades since Nixon?
One would have thought that such basic questions would have long since occurred to recognized "experts" with advanced degrees in public policy. Didn't science begin only after Galileo had enough data to question the Catholic Church's time-honored (but false) assumption about Earth's relation to the Sun?
October 23, 2010
Credibility: the Central Mystery of the Drug WarThe aspect of American drug policy that always intrigued me, even before I knew much of its details, was its ability to retain credibility in the face of two glaring handicaps; both of which have also become progressively more obvious since I began studying it seriously in 1995. One is the clinical absurdity of its uninformed doctrine on addiction (I soon learned US addiction dogma is rooted in the assumptions underpinning a cluster of narrow pre-1920 Supreme Court decisions). The other handicap has been the perennial failure of our (and the world's) drug prohibition bureaucracy to come close to policy goals throughout their lifespans. That those failures were qualitatively identical to those of American alcohol Prohibition between 1920 and 1933 is just as obvious as our federal bureaucracy's treatment of them with far greater denial than curiosity. Ditto the grotesque failures of our stubborn attempts to apply the techniques of alcohol Prohibition to "drugs" between 1920 and 2010.
An inescapable conclusion, ironically facilitated by the scope of the failures themselves, is that denial, hypocrisy, and self-deception are far more deeply embedded in "human nature" than we have heretofore wanted to admit. In fact, our species' biggest single problem may be its own dishonesty
Worse, that characteristic appears finally to have exposed us to real dangers, some of which had always existed, but couldn't have been recognized until we'd discovered empirical Science. Ominously, some others: rapid climate change and the threat of human overpopulation for two, are also largely dependent on human activity, but still denied by a majority of living humans.
Worse, they (and their dangers) are compounded by the extreme disagreement extant at the level of human political leadership, clearly more responsive to emotions than to logic.
October 17, 2010
Straws in the Prop 19 WindAlmost a year ago I reported on my attempt to qualify as a (pro-bono) expert on behalf of a former patient, one well known to me and whose history had been among those suggesting that a systematic study of pot applicants might be useful. As noted, the prosecutor had demanded all my raw data from that study less than an hour into my testimony and the trial judge, despite a reputation for being “reasonable,” has been taking the request seriously ever since.
Now, over eight months later, the issue remains unresolved despite several additional court appearances during which not one more word of testimony has been heard. I now have since been fortunate enough to be assisted by my own (pro-bono) attorney; he has introduced a statement on my behalf stating why I believe the prosecution’s request should not be granted. Meanwhile, the patient is still on trial facing a possible prison sentence, albeit free on OR and collecting a pension from a neighboring county. He is also allowed to smoke marijuana medically, thanks to a court order from the same trial judge. I still have no way of knowing whether the judge or prosecutor have even read the peer-reviewed paper reporting the data at issue; nor can I ask because I can't address the Court until recognized as a witness.
Such is the logic of “Justice” in a state unable to pay its rank and file employees.
The most recent notice came from the defendant's lawyer: the trial will resume on November 10th, eight days after Californians will vote on a "legalization" initiative that is both badly crafted and poorly understood; both deficiencies reflecting the damage done to truth by nearly a century of contemptibly stupid drug policy exacerbated by forty years of drug "war."
As important as the vote itself will be how its results are interpreted. If Proposition 19 passes, will that focus California's enforcement bureaucracy on users under 21? Will the state's cases against my patient and other Proposition 215 defendants be dropped? How will the Obama Administration respond to such decisive rejection of a failing policy by the nation's most influential state?
One recent straw in the wind was Friday’s raid by local police on a Santa Clara dispensary. Ironically, it was justified because of (alleged) "profits" in the world's leading champion of capitalism. What I also suspect is that those profits are often simply confiscated by police without any public accounting.
Other straws were warnings from both the Drug Czar and the Attorney General that the feds will not tolerate "recreational" use, a position that implicitly concedes that medical use exists, even though explicitly denied by present law: the key disagreement that led to Proposition 215 in 1996.
Even if "legalization" fails in this election cycle, Baby Boom demographics (apparently still unknown to most federal policy supporters) auger well for an eventual end to the drug war as more pot-smoking Boomers age into Medicare eligibility every year after 2011.
Finally; that all three federal branches will stubbornly defend their failing policy ad absurdum was further emphasized when the "liberal" Ninth Circuit dismissed ASA's 2007 suit as "premature." Go figure.
October 06, 2010
False Assumptions from AcademiaAs November 2nd approaches, more state-wide curiosity about the fate of California’s marijuana “legalization” initiative (Proposition 19) has been evident than when Proposition 215 was on the ballot in 1996. Even the Los Angeles Times, which had taken little note of 215; either before the 1996 election or while LA's local "medical" industry was evolving in the first several years after it passed, is displaying considerable interest in this year’s initiative.
Unfortunately, as is often the case when the subject is “marijuana,” intelligent appraisals are hard to find for the simple reason that our nation’s power structure is still strongly biased in favor of the war on drugs. Two recent opinion pieces were published by the Times , each was authored by a concerned faculty member from a local university. Predictably hostile to the initiative, they serve as good illustrations of how vested interests and wishful thinking can combine to induce well-educated people to support bad policy.
The first, authored by Mark Kleiman of UCLA in July, predicts that even were Proposition 19 to pass, it would be resisted so effectively by the federal government as to have little effect. He supports that opinion with another completely unproven (but widely shared) assumption: that there are easily determined differences between the “recreational” and “medical” uses of marijuana. It was the same idea that inspired NORML to petition the DEA to reschedule as far back as 1972.
As it turned out, that idea didn't gain much credibility until 1988, when conservative Administrative Law Judge Francis Young issued his widely quoted ruling. Although summarily overruled by his administrative superior, that same idea, after maturing for several more years, would eventually evolve into Proposition 215. Ironically, Doctor Kleiman himself would play an important role in that process.
In my opinion, Kleiman should take more heed of historical reality: although the the Prohibition Amendment never lost its support in Congress, it was Repealed by another Amendment because the nation was broke. Given our current economic debacle, it's not that unlikely that the same thinking might prevail.
The second opinion piece was more recent.
Written by a specialist in "Addiction Medicine" whose bias in favor of the drug war is even more transparent than Kleiman's, it parrots, albeit in milder terms, many of the standard, never-proven DEA assumptions about the dangers of inhaled cannabis. That "Addiction" has never been satisfactorily defined, and that neither he nor the DEA even recognize a significant difference between cannabis when eaten and when it's inhaled tells me all I need to know about the validity of his (their) opinions.
My own opinion on Proposition 19 is that although its wording is flawed for the same reasons as Proposition 215's, it's also a big step in the right direction because it will force more people to ask why this "drug of abuse" has remained so popular since it was first discovered by "kids" in the Sixties.
Perhaps the most important lesson taught by Science is that until erroneous assumptions can be questioned, ignorance will prevail.
October 03, 2010
Suicide, Cognition, and Political BeliefsThe last entry focused on historical events around VJ day as examples of human behavior that could shed light on contemporary global problems. That humans are a single species with common problems (and a history of repeating the same mistakes) is a theme recently developed by polymath/historian Jared Diamond. My own experience certainly agrees with his point that rapidly evolving technology may seduce us into seeing old problems as unique, and thus amenable to new high-tech solutions. Over the long haul, history seems to depend more on critical decisions about allocation of whatever limited resources humans considered essential at a particular time. An important corollary is that those resources might have varied considerably from one era to another: salt and fresh water were critical to the Roman Empire, while there is no immediate substitute for petroleum in our energy-starved world. Also, recent food riots in Asia were an unexpected response to diversion of American corn into ethanol production.
History has also shown that when serious mismatches develop, affected civilizations may become threatened with a phenomenon Diamond has termed a “collapse,” also that collapses can occur with startling rapidity. In that respect, our modern danger may be unique in only one critical respect: our numbers may have reached an environmental tipping point predisposing to global collapse from which recovery could be historically slow and uncertain.
Suicide is a uniquely human behavior that has always been controversial, but remains surprisingly common. Although variously classified as either mental illness or a sin in Western cultures, it has been praised as valid protest by Buddhists, legitimate defense by others or as valid religious expression by Islamic militants.
The use of piloted aircraft, first by Kamikazes in World War Two, and later the 9/11 hijackers, "weaponized" suicide and greatly expanded the number of potential casualties. In fact, the most significant addition to that combination would be a nuclear weapon, which is what prompted this line of thought.
The first, and only use of nuclear weapons in war was by the United States. 10 days after a vaguely worded warning issued as part of the Potsdam Declaration on July 26, 1945, the city of Hiroshima was nearly destroyed by a single uranium bomb to encourage the Japanese government to accept "unconditional surrender." After three days of silence from Japan, Nagasaki was attacked on August 9th with a plutonium bomb.
The two attacks succeeded in ways that could not have been anticipated precisely because they were, like the atomic weapons themselves, completely unprecedented. Then another unprecedented event took place: for the first time since Japan began its campaign of military aggression by invading Manchuria in 1931, Emperor Hirohito (Showa) intervened personally to overrule his divided military advisers by surrendering. The result was far more than mere surrender; because of his god-like status as Emperor, a civilian population that had been ready to resist invasion to the death surrendered meekly and cooperated with the American Occupation because he had told them to. That cooperation was sustained through four years of extreme economic privation and extended to acceptance of Douglas MacArthur's one-man rule and his imposition of a Constitution renouncing war.
Ironically, it would be a war on the Korean peninsula would jump-start Japan's delayed economic recovery in 1950. Equally ironically, it was made possible by Truman's decision (fiercely disputed by some Republicans) to resist the invasion of South Korea by Soviet puppet Kim Il Sung. Finally, the current modern dilemma posed by nuclear arms on the Korean Peninsula are all products of several unpredictable decisions made under duress by specific (and very fallible) humans in the last month of World War Two and in June 1950.
The next entry will explain the relationship between this historical analysis and my nine year study of cannabis applicants.
October 01, 2010
Cognition, Hirohito, Suicide, & Nuclear WinterThere can be little doubt the physical and psychological injuries humans inflicted on each other in the course of two World Wars between August 1914 and August 1945 shaped the Twentieth Century to a critical degree. However, contrary to what one might logically assume, the millions of deaths caused by those conflicts did not curb growth of the human population. Quite the contrary; as we now know, the number of humans living on Earth increased spectacularly: from approximately 1.5 billion in 1900 to about four times that many by 2000. Thus far In the new millennium (which, contrary to popular belief began in 2001) we have probably added another 600 million or so and are still believed to be on track to reach nine billion by mid-century.
There are several reasons why the World Wars that blighted the early Twentieth Century didn’t curb human population growth as one might have intuitively assumed. One is that the Industrial Revolution, enabled by the discovery of empirical Science, remained in full swing- especially in the nations that did most of the fighting- while much of the population growth took place in relatively undeveloped nations where enhanced sanitation, transportation, and food production- often developed as part of support for the war effort- were increasing both human numbers and life expectancy.
However, the most important reason population growth continued unchecked may be what didn’t happen in the aftermath of world War Two: the Cold War that began almost immediately between the victors persisted for almost fifty years and ended without becoming a nuclear war, thus contradicting two well established historical patterns. One was that the dominant rivals in particular areas (Athens and Sparta, Rome and Carthage, France and England, for example) usually become directly engaged in a series of wars until a clear victor emerges. The US and its allies, as opposed by the Soviet bloc, clearly qualified as dominant rivals after World War Two.
Another tendency was for new weapons technology produced in one war to be used at the first opportunity. While the Cold War did spawn several proxy wars starting with Korea in 1950, the United States and the Soviet Union each managed to avoid any hostile use of nuclear weapons for its duration; even as both actively pursued nuclear programs that produced enough warheads to destroy the world several times over.
Finally, it's generally agreed that the 1962 Cuban Missile crisis, which took place long before Nuclear Winter had even been hypothesized, was the closest the world came to a hostile nuclear exchange. Thus neither Kennedy nor Kruschev, the principals solely responsible for the compromise that avoided nuclear war, could not have known what they were avoiding, a circumstance that begs the question of what did deter them. The most logical answer would seem to be that it was their memories of Hiroshima.
To explore that premise in some detail it's necessary to remember that World War Two ended abruptly in 1945 only after the United States' unannounced use of nuclear weapons that destroyed the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and August 9th, respectively. Although (as with most such unique historical events) there is still not universal agreement on all details, there is good reason to believe that the unprecedented use of atomic weapons shortened the war significantly; which was also the stated intent of President Harry Truman. There is also little doubt that another unprecedented event, the surrender broadcast by Emperor Hirohito on August 15 announcing acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration obviated what had been anticipated as die-hard resistance by the Japanese people to any invasion of their home islands. In fact, the ritual Banzai Charges by Japanese garrisons on Pacific Islands overrun as Americans were tightening the noose around Japan after the Battle of Midway gave credence to that belief, as did the formal use of Kamikazes by the military in the latter stages of the war.
NEXT: Suicide, cognition, and political beliefs.