January 23, 2013
Post Inauguration BluesOver the past weekend, I listened carefully to the parsing and analysis of President Obama's inauguration rhetoric without hearing any clear mention of my favorite subject: his take on America's drug war. My own ten year study of Californians seeking to use cannabis as Medicine convinced me long ago that President Nixon's "war" on drugs has been a classic government folly of the type lucidly analyzed by historian Barbara Tuchman in 1984. Indeed, given its shabby provenance and unbroken record of failure, the drug war's survival as UN policy is a disheartening comment on our entire species. That it compounds the costly error of domestic alcohol "Prohibition" is bad enough, but its exacerbation of the racist residuals of America's tragic embrace of chattel slavery is even worse.
Until his second inauguration, I was hopeful that President Obama's own biracial background, his having been raised by a single mother, and his adolescent cannabis use might combine to encourage him to use the expanded powers enjoyed by a second-term President to begin rolling back our drug war; but so far, there's been no evidence of an epiphany.
Quite the contrary, as Norman Solomon's bitter quip implies, and our summary executions of suspected civilian "terrorists" from the air suggests. Perhaps further questions will be raised; even leading some to question an American drug policy that has encouraged thousands of poor Mexicans to slaughter each other for the privilege of smuggling drugs over our border.
What history tells us is that we are a mistake-prone species inclined to adhere to false beliefs long after they should have been discarded for a variety of reasons.
Although varied, those reasons most often boil down to the ones exposed in Tuchman's historical examples and should be easily recognizable within contrived "logic" aired every evening on TV news broadcasts.
We Americans now seem to have decided what "truths" we will permit ourselves to discuss. Homosexuality and gay marriage are now OK, but legal pot is still out in the the waiting room.
January 18, 2013
The Great Gun Debate and other Random ThoughtsIn the wake of the Sandy Hook Massacre, there has been almost universal support ( excluding the NRA and Congressional Republicans) for the idea that the US needs tighter control of guns, ammunition, and the capacity of ammunition clips. What such thinking ignores is that our previous experiences with similar prohibitions involving alcohol and “drugs” were both rank failures, albeit for different reasons. The failure of the 18th Amendment was admitted by its non-government utopian sponsors after a mere 14 years; they then sponsored a Repeal Amendment mitigating some of the social damage done by the "Noble Experiment."
The four decade failure of drug prohibition, on the other hand, has never been conceded by its sponsors, the US Congress that obediently passed the Controlled Substances Act concocted by government insiders John Mitchell and Richard Nixon in 1970 right after the Supreme Court’s nullification of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1969.
The litany of failure I’m repeating may be boring to some, but it's also accurate, unlike much of the nonsense repeated daily on National TV. Speaking of TV, I continue to be fascinated by the several living examples of dysfunctional NRA "logic" recently paraded before us by Piers Morgan, a Briton amazed by the intensity with which some Americans cling to guns and attempt to portray the Second Amendment as tantamount to an 11th Commandment. Precisely because Morgan's interviews have generated so much heat, it's easier to demonstrate the inanity on both sides of the gun "debate" with pages of search results than by citing individual items references.
Some of the arguments made by the gun lobby have superficial merit. For example: rather than legislation, that will inevitably fail, we should keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. Of course the NRA has no concrete suggestions for recognizing them (many undoubtedly NRA members) also, as suggested yesterday, Psychiatry is singularly ill-equipped for the task.
Yesterday evening- primarily motivated the gun conundrum, I searched for the first American gun massacre I could remember: the Texas Tower incident of 1966, in which Charles Whitmanan, an ex-marine marksman, killed 14 people and wounded 32 others with a semi- automatic rifle. The more I read about Whitman's father, the more I was reminded of the principal, but still unpublicized, findings of the pot study I’ve been conducting and blogging about for years: namely that lack of paternal approval, as sensed by the pre-pubertal child, is a major cause of the anxiety disorder that seems to have predisposed a majority of my applicants to “initiate” (try) cannabis as adolescents.
There are many critical inferences that flow from that finding; all of which deserve further investigation. However, so long as our federal government is spending so much money to support its failing drug policy and stifle unbiased research, it will be difficult, if not impossible.
Further web research turned up recent evidence confirming that "mental illness" has indeed been playing a huge role in the uniquely American spate of mass gunshot murders that followed the Texas Tower incident.
Unfortunately, the Mother Jones study only went back to 1982, so we don't know how many occurred between '66 an then; but I'll bet it wasn't zero.
January 17, 2013
Psychiatric ProblemsOf all medical specialties, the one most bereft of an objective system for classifying the conditions it treats is Psychiatry. That should not be difficult to understand; the human brain has been aptly described as the most complicated machine in the universe, thus psychiatrists could be forgiven for their inability to classify “mental illness” with the same precision as cancer or infectious disease can be diagnosed. But they should not be excused for pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo that pretends to be as objective and reproducible as the anatomy-based specialty of pathology developed by Rudolph Virchow, a Nineteenth Century German physician and near-contemporary of Charles Darwin.
In fact, Virchow's influence on Medicine has been as important as Darwin's on the larger issues of Biology and Cosmology. More specifically, Virchow's remarkably prescient insight; namely that changes in the microscopic anatomy of diseased cells accurately reflect the disease processes affecting them- provided modern somatic Medicine with an essential conceptual framework in much the same way that the Periodic table provided Physics and Chemistry with substrates to study and discuss in a common language.
Unfortunately, aberrant human behavior, although undoubtedly a brain function, has not yet been shown to be recognizable by microscopic changes in that organ.
That does not mean that some behavioral aberrations are not manifestations of "organic" disease: delerium can be produced by high fever; emotional lability is a classic manifestation hyperthyroidism, and several other conditions. However, Schizophrenia cannot be diagnosed either by biopsy or at Autopsy, nor can "Bipolar Disorder." Although both conditions are commonly recognized by experienced observers, neither exhibit specific diagnostic changes in the brains of afflicted patients.
The most troubling aspect of Psychiatry's lack of an objective system pf classification is how quickly psychiatrists embraced the drug war and its bogus theory of "addiction" after passage of the Mitchell-Nixon Controlled Substances Act in 1970.
The easiest way to understand Psychiatry's near total acceptance of the drug war has been its continuing endorsement of "drugs of abuse" as a valid concept and their acceptance of the idea that their use or possession should remain criminal matters. Finally, that the DEA is the Agency of choice for deciding the proper diagnosis and treatment of "addiction."
In that connection, Nora Volkov MD, a Psychiatrist and the current Director of NIDA, recently provided a justification of the federal position on addiction at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.
Needless to say, I don't buy it.
January 16, 2013
Annals of VindicationBack in June of 2008, The Atlantic, a magazine I have subscribed to since long before the internet existed, came out with a cover highlighting a lead article by Nicholas Carr asking rhetorically if Google was making us ‘stoopid.’
I took full advantage of that opening to compose a blog entry on one of my favorite themes: namely that US persistence in the enforcement of pot prohibition is powerful evidence of a national insanity.
On reading that earlier entry, the link to Carr's article in my blog was dead, but not to worry, I found the full text on his.
Unfortunately, things haven’t changed much; cannabis is still illegal and can't be considered "medicine" under federal law, while our gun nuts are just as crazy as ever: Ed Meese, the mush-headed “Great Communicator’s" ex-AG was featured today on Fox News for opining that if President Obama issues a Presidential Order directing more restrictive enforcement of existing gun laws, it might be an impeachable offense. All that told me was that Meese, who is my age, just joined John Mitchell and John Ashcroft to form a triumvirate of legal dunces who served Republican Presidents
As for American stupidity: no matter how it’s spelled, the current news tells us that it’s not the facts; it's how they are interpreted. We are now trapped on an increasingly crowded and overheated planet, despite having become demonstrably better informed than at any time in history. To paraphrase the NRA: knowledge doesn’t kill people, people do; or in the words of the mythical, Forest Gump,"stupid is as stupid does.”
January 14, 2013
Longevity and ResentmentOn Friday, I will be 81, an age equated with longevity in many parts of the world, but now being attained quite often in industrialized nations, particularly among segments of the population with a modicum of wealth. To what extent is longevity genetic and to what extent is it a result of individual behavior? Although we now know a lot more about the science of aging, there is still a lot to learn about both the old "nature versus nurture argument," especially as it relates to our individual genomes and the specific environment we happen to be born into. What I have learned about behavior from the unique opportunity Richard Nixon provided me with to study “criminal” drug use in California, has given me a chance to add considerable new information to what was already known.
Of course, having that information believed is another matter. We have many modern examples of people who came up with good ideas that were eventually accepted; Galileo and Newton are among my favorite examples.
Then there were men with bad ideas that were widely believed for a while. Some even had enormous influence, only to be discredited. Adolph Hitler and Richard Nixon are both good examples. Since they lived during my own lifetime, I am able to compare personal memories from direct experience based on their voices and physical images. My memories of both remain intensely negative, but the opportunity to have heard and seen both during life, together with the chance to analyze their impact on today's world has been incredibly more informative than similar impressions of more remote cnaracters like George Washington or Attila the Hun.
The quality Nixon and Hitler had in abundance was clearly resentment, an emotion I've come to recognize as one of the most destructive any human can express. In other words, to the extent a bright, charismatic male is able to project resentment in ways that influence his contemporaries (it’s almost always a man- more on that later), he can become very dangerous indeed.
In that connection, also consider how voice amplification and moving images have influenced history. Would Hitler have had the same impact on German behavior without a microphone and Leni Reifenstahl’s marvelous directorial skills?
Would the Japanese have behaved the same way in World War Two, absent their quasi-religious belief in the idea that surrender to an enemy was so disgraceful that suicide becomes the only acceptable way to atone for it?
That such firmly held beliefs became the basis for the inhuman behavior exhibited by two otherwise improbable allies in World War Two is undeniable.
It would also be absurd to believe that the US, which had become a true melting pot for shared genomes after our successful rebellion against British rule in the late Eighteenth Century had been somehow immunized against similar resentments by that experience.
January 09, 2013
Annals of American InsanityOne of the modern world’s major conundrums is the peculiar American fascination with guns and our related propensity for using them to express resentment through the mass murder of strangers. Piers Morgan, the urbane British TV import who replaced Larry King as host of the CNN prime time call-in spot, seems to has come into his own with his dogged pursuit of the gun/mass murder issue in the wake of the tragic killings of 20 first graders and six school staff at an upscale Connecticut primary school in December
On Monday of this week, Morgan had as his guest, Alex Jones, a right wing talk radio host from Austin Texas. I happened to catch it in real time on the West Coast where the Morgan show airs between 6-7 PM. The show was already underway, and not knowing a thing about Jones or his background, I was horrified at his over-the-top bombastic style. He literally took over the Morgan’s studio. Having heard similar gun-nuts rant privately, I was familiar with the genre. I have also been exposed to the same kind of hatred from total strangers after trying (vainly) to explain marijuana use to them, so I am not unfamiliar with the underlying personality. It’s one of the reasons I can only tolerate Rush Limbaugh in tiny doses before I'm forced to change the channel/station. That both he and Jones can command such large, approving radio audiences is one of the reasons I think the United States is in an advanced state of intellectual and political decline.
It goes without saying that almost all right wing talk radio hosts are ardent supporters of Nixon's drug war hoax.
January 05, 2013
Still Haunted by Nixon’s GhostIn retrospect, there were several troublesome features of the Controlled Substances Act Richard Nixon and John Mitchell proposed as replacement for Harry Anslinger’s 1937 Marijuana Tax Act after it had been declared unconstitutional by the Warren Court in 1969.
Their new version, while more rhetorically coherent on the surface, was far more punitive. Its rhetoric also concealed a breath-taking expansion of what had always been a failing US policy of criminal drug prohibition, one originally based on devious transfer taxes that allowed untrained federal police to impose their medical judgment in areas that Medicine itself had not (and still hasn’t) defined objectively: the diagnosis and treatment of “addiction.”
Beyond that, the three Schedule one criteria devised by Mitchell for deciding which “substances” (drugs) to outlaw (“control”) were scientifically ludicrous; the first two- “dangerous” and “habit forming” were impossibly vague and the third- “of no recognized use in American Medical practice” ignored the fact that medical standards are constantly changing in response to new clinical and laboratory research.
Although the CSA's provisions were impossibly vague and imprecise by medical and scientific standards, they struck exactly the right political notes with the “silent majority” of the electorate Nixon was courting.
They had been horrified by the rebellious youthful behavior of post-war “baby boomers” who seemed hell-bent on rejecting the values their elders had fought to preserve in Word War Two and Korea by refusing to serve in Vietnam, living in communes, practicing free sex, taking illegal drugs like marijuana or the even more disturbing psychedelics advocated by Timothy Leary and others.
By 1968, the public wanted someone to solve the problems that had undone Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam while also presenting a strong response to the monolithic threat it perceived from both Russia and China. As for the hippie movement, the dramatic events of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago reflected their attitude. The public found little fault with the brutal treatment of youthful demonstrators by Mayor Daley’s police. It excited little protest from the press and was quickly forgotten by most.
Ironically, a few months later, the youthful opponents of the war whose hero was Minnesota Senator “Clean Gene” McCarthy, may have played into Nixon’s hands by refusing to vote for another Minnesotan- Lyndon Johnson’s loyal Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Thus young anti-war activists may have tipped a very close election to a man who would compound the misery in Southeast Asia by bombing Laos and Cambodia and also push through a punitive drug policy that quickly escalated into the global “war on drugs” that continues to ruin lives long after its sponsors were disgraced out of high federal office by Watergate and have long since departed this mortal coil.