May 24, 2011
Annals of Predictable NonsenseI must admit I’m still an optimist because I continue to hope the current crop of humans will, if presented with enough evidence, finally learn to think rationally about their current predicament. Silly me. A case in point is the disgusted essay I e-mailed to a colleague on Sunday a few hours after he begged off listening to me ventilate about what has become the dominant mantra of my old age: we humans are our own worst enemies:
What’s the best fix? A New Economy, a New UN, or a Somewhat Larger and Cooler Home Planet?
I’ve been following world affairs since shortly before Germany invaded Poland in 1939 (I was born in 1932) and can’t remember when the Earth’s human population was larger or more divided. One thing that huge population makes us more vulnerable to is all forms of natural and man-made disasters. Do the Insurance Companies (or their policy holders) really believe they can cover the floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis we’ve already experienced in this most turbulent of centuries? Beyond that, there are several seemingly intractable political disputes (Israel vs the PLO, India vs Pakistan) for which any “solution” seems out of the question. Then there’s the grotesque Drug War. My own nation continues to endorse it and seems utterly committed to it, even as its failure directly threatens the political and economic stability of Mexico. But hey, both nations are still pretending it doesn’t even exist (or could still be “won”).
That’s just for starters; I’m also personally aware of multiple behavioral anomalies that help reduce “stress” (Obesity, & Hoarding) which have become prevalent, but are never discussed realistically in the media, which, despite their childish partisan squabbling, seem firmly committed to denial of the world’s most pressing social problems (overpopulation, global warming, lack of medical care, rip-off student loans, etc.) while continuing to pay inordinate attention to individual foibles like shameless sexual behavior, especially when exhibited by celebrities or politicians.
Meanwhile state and federal budgets have become largely fanciful, but the rich are somehow getting richer while being taxed less; even as the middle class is being forced out of their homes by the same banks that sold them fraudulent mortgages while repackaging them as incomprehensible “derivatives” they then sold to the National Banks of smaller, even more gullible nations (which American taxpayers, the most indebted of all, may yet have to bail out).
On both the international stage and here a home, the “rule of law" has become a sick joke best understood as whatever rogue cops and crooked corporations can get away with. Oh, yes. We just heroically avenged 9/11 by invading a "sovereign" nation that's also hysterically religious in order to kill the chief 9/11 architect they were sheltering. Then we disposed of his corpse in a way that's guaranteed to maintain a level of Muslim hatred that could keep the FBI & other federal "protection" agencies busy for another decade or more.
So what’s the best option for coping with this bad behavior? Is it really possible to replace an economy in which people have lost all faith with a system they "can believe in?" Or would a new UN be a better choice? That may be a more logical place to start because it might control its member nations for at least few years before failing. In the meantime, everyone could get a fresh financial start.
As I was posting the bitter lamentation above, I heard the first TV reports of devastation in Joplin, a city what used to be Route 66 and may soon join Fukushima, as a prime example of the human complacency that is our biggest problem.
This morning (Tuesday) it’s even worse. I quickly found a bitterly sarcastic piece by Bill McKibben, well known advocate of the idea of Global Climate Change and was hardly surprised at the angry stupidity it provoked.
Perhaps there’s hope for me yet… now if I could only accept the even better-known and more contemptible stupidity of the drug war…
May 21, 2011
Annals of DisagreementThe World’s human population has never been larger, more knowledgeable, nor more contentious. Ironically, those three qualities are closely related. The size of the human population is a direct consequence of scientific progress which has enabled a greater life expectancy through better sanitation and medical care at all stages of the life cycle. Life expectancy increased first in more developed (richer) nations, but was experienced relatively quickly in the less developed “second” and “third” worlds. In addition to improved Public Health, food production and distribution were also greatly enhanced by technological progress. As the health and wealth of humans increased, so did their education and general level of knowledge and communication; we have never been better informed. Electronic books, newspapers, and scientific journals are now accessible in most countries and the internet makes much of it available without the need to travel.
However scientific progress has not made us happier, more peaceful, or less contentious; in fact, quite the opposite. The more we know, the more we disagree over what is “true,” what our major problems are, and how they should be dealt with. What has also become progressively more obvious throughout the last two centuries is that the resources of the planet will not sustain what a vast majority of humans now seem to want: a lifestyle comparable to that which had become available to the more privileged segments of society in virtually every nation by the third quarter of the Twentieth Century. Typically, recognition of that reality has been neither uniform nor complete because it, like just about everything else humans can disagree about, has depended on consensus which is never uniform nor peacefully arrived at. In fact, disagreement, by and among humans, has been the cause of theft, assault, murder and war throughout our known history.
A quick look at the most prominent news items of the past week is enough to confirm the above generalizations. Obama’s well crafted speech on recent events in the Middle East provoked agreement from many, but screams of outrage from many right wingers who accused him of “throwing Israel under the bus,” a sentiment that is probably shared by the soon-to-arrive Israeli prime minister whose older brother was the sole casualty of the daring raid on Entebbe in 1976.
And so on; I have a personal perspective on medical care and our generally dishonest Insurance industry that’s clearly not shared by many, but I remember when medicine and surgery were not as high tech nor expensive as they have become. Unfortunately, as medical “miracles” have become more routine, they have prolonged the lives of people who may require expensive supportive care for years for severe residual handicaps, but have little potential for independent living. Clearly, one’s opinion on whether such expenses are “worthwhile" (or affordable) for society will reflect several variables including one's medical knowledge and religious beliefs.
To bring that home dramatically from current news: the killings of student demonstrators at Kent state in May, 1970 had a profound effect on world and American public opinion. Compare that with the current response to the wholesale shootings of anti-government demonstrators in Arab and Muslim nations that have become a part of the world's daily news since January.
One doesn’t have to be a genius to understand that the contemporary human world faces serious existential problems and that recent history is not at all reassuring; particularly in light of the fact that overpopulation can’t even be a part of the discussion because of contrary religious beliefs.
May 19, 2011
Annals of MisinterpretationAs noted in previous entries, America’s national drug policy began when the deceptive Harrison Act was signed into law by Woodrow Wilson in December 1914. Controversial from the start, it generated a series of affirmative 5-4 Supreme Court decisions based on erroneous assumptions about “addiction,” an entity with which the medical profession of that day was just beginning to grapple and still had little experience. Unfortunately, the premature intrusion of the criminal justice system into what should ideally have remained a medical problem politicized it and prevented its unbiased assessment. Addiction was actually a new facet of human behavior that was misidentified as a disease, an error which is more than just semantic and persists to this day.
Politicizing addiction placed it just beyond the reach of scientific scrutiny, a defect that couldn’t be remedied until California and Arizona passed similar “Medical Marijuana” initiatives in 1996. Even then, the dead judicial hand of the past was invoked by modern politicians to strike down Arizona’s initiative because its use of the word, "prescription” was deemed to violate existing law (the good news is that 14 years later, Arizonans barely managed to make their state the fifteenth with a medical marijuana law; the bad news is that the 2010 margin was much closer than in '96).
Thus had ninety-two years elapsed between the Harrison Act and Proposition 215, the first real opportunity to gather clinical information with which to scrutinize the bogus assumptions of the “War on Drugs.” That such an irrational policy could have survived and prospered to the extent it has is compelling evidence of a serious flaw in human cognition, the critical function that has allowed our species to dominate other life forms and now, it is argued, poses a grave existential threat to its own welfare.
That sad theme will be explored in a future entry.
May 11, 2011
Blame it on the BrainWe humans are a unique mammalian species. Gifted through what is now (grudgingly) conceded to be “Darwinian” evolution with unique brains; we have cooperated in scientific endeavors to accumulate and exploit new information at an astonishing rate.
Sadly, because of dense connections that have been retained between its separately evolving emotional and cognitive centers, our marvelous brains exhibit a flaw that now threatens the entire species. Beyond inspiring love, art, poetry, and music, our emotional centers also impel our most destructive impulses; lust, fear, and rage. Thus every early human civilization we’ve yet been able to study contains evidence, either implicit or explicit, of assault, murder and/or the systematic victimization of others for profit.
In general, such impulses, when endorsed by governments or religions, have to be justified as in the best interests of the group itself or humanity in general; most often on the basis of shared values or beliefs. World War Two, which included the mass murder of civilians by both winners and losers under color of the need to survive, may be the most extreme recent example. However, equally murderous local wars have been fought almost continuously somewhere in the world ever since 1945. For an increasingly imperial US, the fading communist threat after the Cold War was not accompanied by a “peace dividend” as hoped; rather it led somewhat unexpectedly to an old fashioned religious war justified by a typically cynical misrepresentation of basic facts. The results have been a protracted misadventure in South Asia, the avoidable deaths of tens (or hundreds) of thousands and a global financial crisis. Beyond those calamities are two pending threats: the probable disruption of long established climatic patterns and, ironically, a critical shortage of the fossil fuels thought to be responsible most responsible.
Needless to say, the many special interests with a stake in how these issues will be addressed are also in profound disagreement over the details; a situation that threatens cooperative human behavior at a time the stakes may never have been higher.
One of the reasons for my heightened interest in such issues is that the passage of Proposition 215 in California in 1996 provided me with a completely unexpected opportunity to study a population of humans in which the same destructive impulses mentioned earlier had clearly been unintentionally fostered during childhood but had been suppressed effectively through use of a safe herbal medicine- which through a series of almost diabolical misadventures- has been (and still is) also being prohibited with religious fervor on the basis of an illogical drug policy that’s so willfully ignorant of basic facts and bereft compassion as to be criminally culpable.
In fact, the parallels between our most recent overseas wars and the invidious war on drugs are truly uncanny...
May 10, 2011
The Drug War: 1/3 of the Nixon TrifectaIn November 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, a controversial initiative authorizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes, as defined by a licensed physician. Before the new law could take effect, then-federal Drug Czar, Barry McCaffrey went on national TV to threaten any physician who dared to discuss marijuana with a patient with loss of their federal DEA license. That move signaled two things: that the old issue of states rights versus federal power which had bedeviled American government since the Constitution went into effect in 1789 was still a huge bone of contention; also that implementation of the new law was still very much in doubt. The issue of implementation was resolved quickly when the Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals ruled that the general’s edict was an unconstitutional breach of the First Amendment.
Rather than resolving the issue, that ruling simply marked the beginning of a controversy now in its fifteenth year and still marked by serious disagreement over multiple issues, but perhaps the one remaining stubbornly at the center and still unrecognized by most Americans is whether Medicine should be practiced by physicians or by the legal profession and- through them- by law enforcement agencies.
When one looks closely at the history of drug prohibition in the United States, it’s quite clear that it began with the Harrison Act of 1914, itself so controversial that it quickly generated several cases requiring Supreme Court adjudication within five years of its passage (Harrison was unanimously repudiated by Linder in 1925, but tragically that case was never cited). Unfortunately, the key decisions that ultimately controlled federal policy (all 5-4) were monumental mistakes that placed what should have been medical decisions firmly in the the hands of the judiciary and through them, law enforcement agencies. The process was continued by Harry Anslinger’s fanciful Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 and ultimately completed by Richard Nixon’s Controlled Substances Act of 1970 after it was fleshed out by his executive orders creating the DEA (1973) and NIDA (1974).
Thus ironically, did the most destructive president ever to occupy the White House complete the unwholesome trifecta (Watergate, extension of the Vietnam war to Laos and Cambodia, and the War on drugs) that became his legacy. He did so in the record time of six years before yielding to a hand-picked successor who would dutifully grant him a Presidential Pardon for the two that were actually crimes.
The Nixon legacy didn’t end there; time doesn’t permit a full recounting of the invidious influence of the drug war on subsequent administrations, including that of the present incumbent. To assume that it's merely a sideline, an affordable exercise in quasi-religious hyperbole, would be to miss its far greater significance.
May 05, 2011
A New Obama UnveiledThe rate of change in human culture continues to increase, fueled mostly by forces few seem fully aware of. Indeed, it’s questionable if any one human could even be aware of all the relevant forces, let alone devise a coherent model explaining their current integration. The culprit is change itself: not only do we live in a constantly changing universe, the more we learn about it, the less comprehensible it becomes. Not that we haven’t realized great technological success from Science- our most effective tool of inquiry to date- it’s just that Science under control of the contentious leadership represented by the current UN model is more likely to create new existential problems than to solve them.
Shifting to the more mundane arena of domestic politics, every newly elected American President with a desire to be remembered favorably by history (and they all do) faces an immediate problem: how to assure a second term. To put that into context, Barack Obama has had forty two individual predecessors since George Washington set a 2 term precedent that was hardened into a Constitutional Amendment after FDR. Only ten presidents since Washington were elected to a second term in the next election cycle and it is from that select group, plus a few exceptions, from our most honored presidents are selected. Even the exceptions: TR, Truman, and LBJ, all successor Presidents, won election on their own after serving a decedent’s term. Calvin Coolidge, the one exception to that profile is remembered mostly for his inactivity.
The bottom line is that the North American experiment in government launched by a few dissident British colonies on the eve of the Industrial Revolution has succeeded in ways that clearly weren't anticipated by those who signed our Revolutionary manifesto in 1776 or the delegates (including eight holdovers) who wrote a Constitution in Philadelphia eleven years later.
To update to the present, it now appears likely that Barack Obama, despite the enormous twin handicaps of being perceived as “black” and the disastrous fiscal and international legacy of eight Bush-Cheney years, has grabbed a lead in the 2012 White House sweepstakes that will be difficult to overcome. Just how he did that is perhaps the most important facet of his leadership, one which I must admit I had overlooked in my concern over his waffling on drug policy. I now understand that waffling as a normal reluctance to risk taking the lead on a marginal issue. Decisive punishment of Osama bin Laden for the crime of 9/11 was the more obvious choice and Obama has accomplished that with such dispatch and aplomb that his political enemies should be very worried.
It now remains to be seen if the latent impact of the Bush-Cheney disaster on the world's economy and weather patterns can be kept at bay through November 2012; to say nothing of how they will be dealt with in the intermediate future.
May 02, 2011
Humanity’s New Reality?Yesterday’ somewhat disjointed entry was interrupted by the announcement of bin Laden’s death before I could make my somewhat tortuous point: cannabis prohibition’s complex legislative history, which NORML’s founders had no way of knowing in 1970, had obviously blinded them to the dishonesty they would be encountering from NIDA and the DEA for the simple reason that those agencies were created after NORML. Thus NIDA with its Congressional mandate to only fund research that favored policy, also had the tactical advantage of being able to counter “reform” arguments without revealing their own considerable ignorance. Meanwhile clinical research on actual users was literally impossible because they had been decreed to be both "criminals" and "recreational" users by Anslinger's machinations in 1937 years before the CSA had even been thought of.
When my study began in 2001, the Controlled Substances Act had compiled an extensive track record of failure deeply rooted in that same ignorance. It was also being provoked into fresh errors by Big Pharma’s burgeoning interest in endocannabinoids and pot’s expanding medical market. As I would finally, learn, there are surprising gaps in the clinical knowledge of both sides, tending to confirm the general lack of clinical research other than the standard student surveys.
But there’s still lots of time to point out those errors. What I‘d like to focus on today is the weather, which I see as further confirmation of a dangerous warming trend and another example of how intrinsic human dishonesty has set us up for disaster.
Neither natural disasters nor their consequences are under political control; beyond a certain magnitude, they are also almost impossible to ignore. We may have a lot of floods and tornadoes in our immediate future at a time when money for rebuilding is scarce, the fed is tapped out, and energy prices are going through the roof.
May 01, 2011
An Abundance of IroniesIn yesterday’s entry (Pimping for Prohibition) I opined that the fledgling organization(s) ostensibly devoted to the idea that cannabis is medicine were already following the lead of Addiction and Pain Medicine “specialists” by preparing to sell out the patients they claim to represent.
To be clear; there is as yet no organization representing cannabis patients comparable to those claiming to speak for patients in chronic pain or people troubled by “addictions.” However, the problem facing the multiple organizations now representing “marijuana” users (as well as the users themselves) is Illegitimacy; primarily because of dogmatic federal insistence that simple possession of “marijuana” is a crime; a policy belied by both logic and the clinical scrutiny of a large number of chronic users who were interviewed systematically as part of their application for a "medical" designation. In essence, there is overwhelming evidence that the majority had initially become repeat users because of cannabis' efficacy as a user controlled anxiolytic.
The registry of just over four thousand patients reported in 2007 has since been expanded to over 6300. Equally helpful has been the enhanced quality of information provided by an increasing number seeking annual "renewals." There is simply no question that, in terms of both its humanitarian and intellectual consequences, "marijuana" prohibition has been a 40 year Public policy disaster on a par with the secret compromise by which chattel slavery became part of our Constitution in 1787.
That I seem to be the only one so far to seek the relevant data from applicants is a problem; but it's one that should be resolved as more qualified observers begin to ask the same questions; a process that should increase as more baby reach Medicare age.
To back up just a bit further, a prime example of the degree to which various "reform" organizations remain behind the reality curve can be understood by parsing the NORML (National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws) acronym. The organization was started by Keith Stroup, who was both a recent law school graduate and a “marijuana” smoker in the late Sixties who was so distressed by the wave of pot arrests then in progress that he started the organization with seed money from Hugh Hefner. His story, plus a description of NORML’s formative early years has been told by author and historian, Patrick Anderson: High in America, which can be read on-line in its entirety.
From an historical point of view, NORML was the first-ever full-time opposition to US drug prohibition as policy since its had been endorsed by the Supreme Court (through its Harrison decisions) during the second decade of the Twentieth Century. That becomes ironical once one realizes that a Prohibition Amendment banning commerce in alcohol went into effect in 1920 shortly after Harrison’s de facto prohibition of opiates and coca had been upheld by the Court for a second time following its passage in late 1914. That Harrison was not seen as prohibition by either the Court nor the general public is obvious. The probable reasons are that alcohol had been such a part of America’s social fabric from Colonial times on that it had not been considered a "drug," nor had its excessive use been regarded as sinful.
Most importantly, the same has never been true of agents considered to be addictive “drugs,” particularly when they were injected or smoked.
Stated as directly as possible: the American Public in 1920 seems to have been more likely to see drug use as a sin and drinking, even when excessive, as a variant of normal behavior. One test of the validity of that idea, might be to imagine how likely the election of either an atheist or a "druggie" to the Oval Office would be thought of in 2012.
Parenthetically, that such thoughts should be coming to mind in the present setting of Donald Trump's inane posturing, tragic weather events in the South and Midwest, and long-awaited news of Osama Bin-Laden's fate is nothing short of amazing.
It also seems like a very good time to take a break...