September 30, 2013
An Escalation in Border FutilityMy first year in the US Army (1958-59) was spent working in a dispensary at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. Then I was transferred across the highway to William Beaumont General Hospital to do a 4 year residency in General Surgery.
In five consecutive years on the Border I never heard of a marijuana arrest. The most serious "drug-related" problem we dealt with was when drunken GIs got into Saturday night bar fights in Juarez; fairly common events that produced at least two GI deaths I can recall.
Since 2006 and before, the most egregious modern examples of federal "drug control" futility- and American media hypocrisy- have been the smuggling operations of brutal Mexican cartels moving tons of marijuana into the US across and around the border while engaging in brutal turf battles with each other that have killed an estimated 60,000 Mexicans since 2006. Juarez, a city I used to visit frequently without trepidation became one of the the world's most dangerous and remains so despite a recent reduction in killings.
Also, an improbable change in cartel tactics just reported by a New York tabloid is nevertheless convincing: American GIs, desperate for money and trained to kill in Iraq and Afghanistan are being recruited to function as cartel hit men on the American side of the border.
The most obvious questions then become: how much longer can our "mainstream" media pretend not to notice such blatant federal hypocrisy? Also, how long can the Obama administration pretend Mexico is on another continent while Nixon's DEA squanders millions in its pursuit of failure?
September 24, 2013
Our Brain's flaws & a Ray of HopeWe humans, (Homo sapiens), may have arrived at a critical moment in our existence as a species. Although many remain unconvinced, we are highly evolved mammals, one of the many concepts dependent on observations made by the youthful Charles Darwin during a brief stopover in the Galapagos Islands in the course of his now famous eighteenth Century voyage, but not published until formally until 1859.
During its early history, our species is thought to have survived several episodes of near extinction only to rebound. The most recent such event was caused by a series of epidemics thought to have reduced the population of Europe by half in the 14th Century, but soon balanced by the discovery of two previously unknown continents, each with their own indigenous populations who were mistakenly called "Indians" by Columbus, who had been searching for a western passage to Asia.
Ironically, Columbus had been correct in assuming that the Indies could reached by sailing West from Europe, but he hadn't known his way would be blocked by two continents, nor that the isthmus connecting them would be breached by a Canal four Centuries later.
Those indigenous populations, also unknown to Europeans, would today be called aborigines, but that very concept had not been considered until after the (disputed) discovery of Australia- yet another continent "discovered" (first reported to Europeans) in the early 17th Century.
Descendants of the misidentified Indians have continued to inhabit both "Americas," but have suffered considerably at the hands of Europeans who immediately claimed sovereignty over them based on their own Christian beliefs which led them to assume a cultural and religious superiority.
In other words, because the Europeans Columbus represented thought they were bringing the blessings of "Civilization" to the "savages" he had encountered on the "New World," they and their descendants assumed the right to enslave them in the name of a Christian deity; even as Europe itself was being torn by religious disagreements over how that deity should be worshiped.
That the last inhabited continent "discovered" by Europeans was not only the world's smallest, but also the home of aborigenes is also interesting because recent genomic studies have confirmed that they are probably the descendants of the first of many human diasporas from Africa.
The point of this rambling essay is that the biggest current threat to our survival seems to be our inability- as a species- to control our destructive behavior. Although 500 years may might not seem very long compared to the time required for Evolution to have produced the human brain; that organ- when augmented by the disciplines of Science- has greatly intensified our impact on both our species, and its planetary environment.
Unfortunately, that enhanced cognitive impact has been a mixed blessing; not only has it multiplied our numbers, it has intensified the number and intensity of the disputes we are so prone to engage in.
Although not everyone agrees, there is an abundance of evidence that global warming is a viable hypothesis; however, one can easily find many web sites deriding it as a scam or a liberal plot. If the hypothesis proves "true" (accurate) failure to act now will have huge consequences down the road- and in very little time.
Today's greatest irony may be that many conservatives see global warming as political- a liberal scam- almost certainly not true and one that must be opposed in any event.
Thus has our cognitive ability allowed our species to dominate its global environment, but our serious emotional flaws encourage us to compete for dominance, much the same as males in most mammalian species compete for reproductive dominance and leadership.
Recognition of that flaw should now be possible through the same cognitive processes that have produced quantum theory, space exploration, genetic engineering and organ transplantation, yet both the historical record and the events being reported in our daily media show us headed in the wrong direction: directly away from the critical understanding that any effective solution requires.
It would seem self-evident that in order to solve a problem, one must first understand it and to do that, one must be able to discuss it freely and honestly.
In that context, humanity's "drug problem," became a dominant issue right after Richard Nixon's Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1970, a law still enforced as federal US law and UN policy. Rather than a "solution" Nixon's "drug war" serves as excellent example of- and metaphor for- our cognitive frailty.
Our species doesn't yet seem capable of realizing that its long term survival now hangs in the balance; thus it will require some critical changes in both our thinking and our collective behavior to avert several looming catastrophes.
The hour is late; but there is a glimmer of hope. President Obama's speech to the UN this morning was the clearest articulation by a world leader of our need to get along and renounce violence that I've ever heard. He hit all he right notes and carefully avoided inflammatory rhetoric in making a plea for peace and rationality. That he was also a beneficiary of adolescent cannabis use, I see as both a blessing and a teaching opportunity.
September 20, 2013
Guns, Drugs & Racism ; three dots requiring a ConnectionThe news that another mass shooting- this time in Chicago- had occurred so quickly on the heels of the rampage by Aaron Alexis in Washington should not surprise us any more than that it happened in Chicago, which is now the unofficial murder capital of the US. That it was gang-related shooting was also not a surprise. The main surprise in this instance is that not one of the thirteen people wounded in Chicago has died yet.
The connection between guns drugs in racism implied by the title of this entry should be obvious: our American insistence that drug prohibition is an essential policy has given rise to huge tax-supported illegal markets at home and abroad. They provide revenue for criminal gangs around the world, especially youth gangs like the ones in Chicago that were almost certainly feuding over turf with cheaply produced guns from China that have made our domestic gun market such a financial success. The idea that certain drugs have to be illegal is such a failure that it calls into question both the sanity or the intellectual competence of our species' leadership. In any event, it calls for a rational explanation that will, predictably, never be offered by either the DEA or NIDA, two agencies created by Richard Nixon to enforce and defend his inane Controlled Substances Act.
Finally, we come to the issue of racism, another American sacred cow.The idea that the nation that compromising on chattel slavery in its Constitution 11 years after famously agreeing that "all men are created equal" and later fighting a Civil War over that same hypocrisy without suffering any long-term consequences seems, at the very least, far-fetched.
September 14, 2013
Mixed Signals from ColoradoI was intrigued by two items aired by CNN Saturday morning that when taken together, illustrated the reality gap that has been developing around events in Colorado, one of two states that voted to "legalize" cannabis in 2012. Both concerned weather, another topical issue I've referred to frequently as an example of the many mutually contradictory beliefs (cognitive dissonance) held by supposedly responsible, well-informed humans on a variety of subjects, most notably politics, religion, and cannabis.
The first such event- or rather catastrophe- involved the flash flooding that caught me completely by surprise, together with an unknown number of stranded travelers and ordinary residents of Colorado communities that quickly began to resemble New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the main difference being that New Orleans is flat and much of Colorado is not.
The other CNN item was about the Pike's peak longboard races that were held less than a week ago. As a pot doc who is much too old to have been caught up in the extreme sports phenomenon, I have nevertheless, learned from many of my patients how popular skateboarding has become among pot smokers, thus I wasn't as surprised as I'd been by the flash flooding.
At least, not until I googled "Longboarding at Pike's Peak" and learned how much skateboarding has evolved since my then thirteen year-old son made one in the mid-Sixties by attaching steel roller skate wheels to a piece of wood .
A Shocking Presence at Important Negotiationsi have never forgiven Henry Kissinger for his role in facilitating Richard Nixon's prolongation of the Vietnam war in order to "Vietnamize" it. I have followed his post-retirement career closely enough to know he remains as uncritical and unrepentant of his role in that fiasco as ever.
Far from the great statesman of his imagination, I see Kissinger as a clever worm who manages to insinuate himself into situations in which his primary motivation has always been the limelight
That's why I almost gagged this morning when I turned on CNN and recognized him standing between John Kerry and his Russian counterpart.
While not quite the kiss of death (sorry), the Kissinger presence so close to critical negotiations is far from a good omen. Of course, I could always be wrong.
In fact, given the stakes and the lateness of the hour, I hope I am wrong and that a prolonged detente with Muslim extremism similar to the one that avoided nuclear war between the US and the Soviet Union between 1973 and 1989 will follow.
September 12, 2013
The Pace of Legalization May be ChangingI just heard from a fellow activist that Senate hearings on state laws relating to "marijuana" legalization began this past Monday, August 10.
The good news is that Patrick Leahy is the chairman. The bad news is that the Senate is not a great forum for intelligent discussion of drug war issues, but real legislative change has to begin with Congress and I was told by my source that the witnesses have been generally positive and quite persuasive. The URL is:http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/StateMar
September 05, 2013
The Genomics of GenderA few months ago, I was given several books by another physician in return for a favor. All were written by Bryan Sykes, a well-known British geneticist I'd never even heard of- an increasingly common phenomenon in our complex, over-informed and overpopulated world.
Dr Sykes (not a physician) writes beautifully about things that are inevitably centered on Genetics- a science in which he's been a modern pioneer- especially as it applies to the hereditary elements of our species that impact our modern world: complex new concepts falling under the rubric of Genomics, a subject that had almost immediate resonance within Academic Medicine.
To my considerable surprise, I soon discovered that much of what I've learned about the behavior of cannabis users seeking "legality" in California has enabled me to identify with a major theme in Dr. Sykes' work: the damage done to our species and its global habitat by the militantly aggressive Y chromosome and its "need" to dominate its more nurturing and compliant X partner with which it must combine if a new human is to be produced.
In genomic terms, sustained male dominance, as mediated through the Y chromosome can be thought of as patrilineal and its behavioral opposite- mediated through its X partner- is matrilineal. Of course, that's not how contemporary humans have become used to thinking about issues of sex and gender, but as Sykes outlines them in Adam's Curse, I quickly began to catch his his drift.
Throughout its relatively short history, Homo sapiens, has been exclusively patrilineal, a characteristic which, as Sykes explains, may not have been the best way to insure our long-term survival. In that context, it's also necessary to understand that there are several other important variables- some of which may not resonate well with contemporary beliefs- but all have been well established by the Medical sciences- especially Genetics.
I will have more to say about these admittedly complex issues when I can find a bit more free time.