November 24, 2012
What's in a Name?Man’s innate curiosity about his origins can be inferred from evidence that religious beliefs were held by most, if not all, aboriginal humans yet encountered. Aborigines, a term used by early British explorers for native Australians, has now become generic for the earliest inhabitants of any newly discovered region. Theoretically it would have been more accurate than "Indians" for the humans Columbus discovered on Hispaniola in 1492. They have been belatedly renamed Native Americans, so I doubt there's much interest in renaming them yet again, especially among American Indians themselves.
Be that as it may, the recent discovery through DNA evidence, that today's "Native Australians" had probably descended from the first anatomically modern humans to leave Africa is well-accepted by believers in Evolution, who also agree generally that humans were the latest species to have evolved from a line of approximately 22 separate hominids, at least one of which, Neanderthals, preceded our ancestors out of Africa, but are now extinct. Fossil evidence indicates that the original Neanderthal's range was influenced by glaciation, but they had at least reached northern Europe and the Middle East before disappearing. Also, the degree to which they may have shared genetic material with modern humans is both controversial and under investigation. However, there is no 'Neanderthal Now!' movement that I'm aware of.
Thus human history can be considered as beginning with our speciation, a process generally recognized by scientists, but not by the creationists who deny that evolution even took place and hold that all life forms were individually created by a supreme deity.
That intense disagreement between religious beliefs and Science is still a major problem for our modern world is painfully evident from the continued hostile exchanges between Muslims and those they consider infidels, now expressed most openly in the Middle East, but extant everywhere. I was reminded of similar intense disagreements this morning after tuning in to CNN in the midst of an animated discussion between CNN reporter Randi Kaye and “Science Guy” Bill Nye. Kaye was challenging Nye's oft expressed view that the teaching of “creationism” in American public schools impedes the understanding of science by young people and thus works against our best interests. I couldn’t agree more, but also understand there are certain “third rail” ideas still avoided on television as a matter of course. Marijuana legalization, just approved by voters in two states, has long been such an issue.
It suddenly occurred to me that my fellow Cornell alum could be a great asset for the cause of federal legalization of pot if he would use his impeccable logic to lobby for an idea that has been even more effectively demonized than atheism by doctrinaire Republicans.
Whether one would call our drug war a policy of "enforced ignorance" or "enforced stupidity" is essentially moot because my clinical study of cannabis applicants has convinced me that it's safe and effective therapy; Also that the idea it can’t possibly be considered medicine is so biased and bereft of scientific support that it impugns the intellectual competence of its most adamant supporters.
I don't know if my fellow Cornell alum Bill Nye, ever used pot, but I'm so confident that if he knew the facts, he'd support both its medical use and legalization and add also add the persuasion of US government policy supporters to creationists as targets to be persuaded.
The factual battle over the medical benefits of cannabis would be over if available data could be pulled together and receive honest scrutiny. The political problem might also be reduced dramatically by appealing to the present occupant of the White House to rethink his adolescent toking in light of the benefits it has provided to people similarly deprived of parenting from their biological fathers. Finally, legalization of cannabis should be attainable within the four year window provided by re-election to a second term.
PS: after a bit more digging, I found out what had probably set Nye off. It's so gross even I find it hard to believe; also too complex for inclusion in an already complex entry. Rather than try to do that, I'll save it for next time.
November 22, 2012
“Nobody Died in Watergate”I occasionally watch Fox News just to hear their latest take on reality and was brought up short yesterday morning when I heard the flannel-mouthed Chris Wallace assert “nobody died in Watergate” in support of the Republican witch hunt about who said what and what relation it might have had to the deaths of four Americans at the hands of a Libyan mob in Benghazi back in September.
Don’t radical Republicans realize the election is over, the world has moved on, and we are in the midst of another crisis in the Middle East? Clearly, the answer is no; the election hasn't changed their need to oppose Obama any more than whatever temporary "peace" ends the new violence in Gaza and Jerusalem will end the hatred that has divided Arabs and Israelis since the state of Israel was founded by UN mandate in 1947.
The issue of culpability for “Benghazi” is now a shibboleth in an attempt to block the President's appointment of Susan Rice as Secretary of State to replace Hilary Clinton. Whatever the accuracy of Rice’s statement and her (perhaps) overlong adherence to an erroneous intelligence assessment, the idea that it was culpable in the deaths of our Ambassador and three others makes as much sense as blaming Robert Mueller for the the FBI's dismissal of specific warnings from Agent Colleen Rowley about to Zacarias Moussaoui well before 9/11.
Be that as it may, Wallace’s clueless reference to Watergate betrays an even bigger failure: the catastrophic social damage that resulted after "responsible" governments and "leading" social institutions accepted the unsupported assertions of the two principal Watergate culprits in the Controlled Substances Act they persuaded the US Congress to pass and the UN to accept without a scintilla of supporting clinical evidence.
I’m not claiming that either Nixon or Mitchell could have anticipated the catastrophe their rhetorical enhancements of Harry Anslinger’s clumsy 1937 ban on "marihuana" would lead to, only that there may be no better example of the ripple effects that can result when malevolence is incorporated into public policy.
Nixon's intention was not to protect the public against "drug abuse" as he claimed, but to punish the pot-smoking hippies who were then protesting his bombing of Laos and Cambodia to influence negotiations aimed at ending the Vietnam war.
What is most discouraging to me is the degree to which institutions and governments all over the world have endorsed Mitchell's formulations as essential to public health, but were clearly intended to punish youthful users of drugs that had never been studied as responsibly or competently as they should have been.
Unfortunately, the same is still true: transporting small amounts of "marijuana" across the border of any UN signatory nation is a "crime" that, if discovered, can result in immediate arrest of the smuggler; yet once we finally had had an opportunity to do clinical research on career pot users, self-appointed "experts sans expertise" arrogated the right to decide what research should reveal.
Ironically, how President Obama, himself a toker in High School, deals with the conundrum created by voters in Washington state and Colorado will be a major determinant of his legacy.
There's still a lot to say about this complex and terribly misunderstood issue, but this seems like a good place to stop for the moment.
November 15, 2012
Armistice Day and BeyondNovember 11 was once called Armistice Day to commemorate the 1918 cease-fire that ended hostilities in World War One on the "11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month." As a practical matter, by allowing a pause in which to contemplate the impact of well led, capable, American units on exhausted Western Front combatants, the cease-fire became decisive by permitting Britain and France to essentially "declare victory" over the Central Powers they had yet to defeat on the battlefield. The downside was that although most rational observers believed Germany and its allies must inevitably lose the war, the contrary belief powerfully expressed by a resentful, charismatic new German leader was able to persuade Germans they had somehow been cheated out of victory by a Jewish cabal and thus convince them to follow him into the even greater tragedy of World War Two less than Twenty years after the Treaty of Versailles officially ended World War One.
If there is any better demonstration of the power of human emotion to trump logic on a grand scale, I'm unaware of it. Except for Hitler's preliminary deal with Stalin that allowed their joint dismemberment of Poland (and also provoked England and France into declaring war on Germany) the European script for World War Two closely followed the basic outline of World War One: a two-front war that Germany simply couldn't sustain.
A significant detail I'll return to later is that the German populace remained trapped in Hitler's folly until he released them by committing suicide in the Bunker on April 30, 1945.
The United States was involved earlier and more deeply in the Second World War; we were also impelled by its greater scope and the probability of having to invade Japan to "weaponize" nuclear energy and use the two "atomic" bombs produced by the Manhattan Project on two Japanese cities in order to end the war in the Pacific as quickly as possible.
Whatever Truman's motivation, my own thirteen-year old's recollection of Hiroshima coupled with four years spent as an American Army surgeon in Japan during the Sixties (including a visit to Hiroshima) have left me convinced that while our use of nuclear weapons undoubtedly saved many lives on both sides, it created a huge risk for our species, one that persists to this day. Although we have avoided nuclear war since 1945, there are many new members of the "nuclear club" and we still lack a reliable way to discover which nations may be cheating or prevent those with nuclear weapons from succumbing to nuclear paranoia.
In other words, World War Two provides convincing evidence that entire nations can both manifest and act upon the same delusional behavior as individual humans. In a nuclear world where Psychiatry is still bereft of a coherent system for even classifying our peculiarly human behavioral disorders, that's hardly reassuring.
November 01, 2012
Sandy's Delayed Effects: Anxiety & the Demand for WeedOn November 7 2000, after voting for Al Gore and Joe Lieberman, I went to bed close to midnight thinking they had a safe lead, but the next morning, I awakened to find- along with millions of others- that the election was still in doubt. As we now know, it was eventually settled in December by an unprecedented act of Supreme Court arrogance and dubious Constitutionality. In its aftermath, Joe Lieberman ultimately became a Republican and Al Gore, the disappointed Presidential candidate, went on to become an advocate for the idea that Earth's climate is being altered by carbon dioxide emissions produced by human activity, and slowly accumulating in the upper atmosphere for centuries, but are now influencing Earth's climate by trapping heat through their “greenhouse effect.” Debate over that hypothesis was quickly politicized along party lines; Republicans were almost unanimous in ridiculing it or condemning it as a "hoax," while Democrats were generally more supportive, although with considerably less fervor than their GOP counterparts.
The non-partisan effects have been mostly commercial: industry after industry has loudly proclaimed itself "Green," which almost overnight became the color of sustainability, whatever the impact on CO2 production. Although Gore popularized the idea of a Greenhouse Effect; it was neither original with him nor particularly new, having first been proposed in 1824 and subsequently concurred in by several well-known scientists by 1900. What had been lacking from those earlier speculations had been the ability to measure atmospheric CO2 concentrations, a capability that became available in the 20th Century and has, along with ice core measurements, lent considerable credence to the idea the Earth is gradually warming.
There has also been recent weather history: readily available in news accounts documenting a steady rise in the planet's average temperature in concert with an increase in the number of "extreme" weather events: Katrina in 2004, Irene last year, and Sandy this month; to say nothing of monster tornados in the Midwest capable of destroying whole cities in an afternoon. That the possibility such events were not random was barely mentioned in the mainstream media, is a circumstance that tends to confirm my own fear that the planet is most likely in the early stages of coastal inundation, as this blog has been suggesting for over five years (a search reveals five separate entries, all written before 2009).
Perhaps the disappointment I've often expressed at conflict between the obvious cognitive ability of our own species and its unwillingness to deal with equally obvious reality will become more understandable.
In any event, until global leaders can even agree that we have a climate crisis, I see little reason for optimism. As for my favorite cause: pot legalization, it seems even further in the future. One bright spot is that its illegal market, despite recent (and effective) federal pressure on "dispensaries" should continue to thrive, based on continued demand for an effective short-acting anxiolytic that should continue to be generated by serial weather disasters.
FWIW, the most overlooked factor of all in increased CO2 production is the spectacular (but never discussed) growth in human population over roughly the same time interval that CO2 production has become a problem.