Quotulatiousness

April 9, 2014

QotD: “Perhaps being a boy is a learning disorder”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Health, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

… more children are being diagnosed with “autism spectrum disorders” than ever, specifically that diagnoses have gone from one in about a hundred and fifty to about one in sixty eight. A lot of these diagnoses are for children with extremely mild Aspergers, right at the borderline between normal (whatever that is) and Aspergers. Now this may be a result of more people suffering from ASD’s, especially extremely mild Aspergers, as a result of cumulative mutations and pregnant women being exposed to environmental risks. Or it could be that ever since the Fed’s started throwing money at diagnosing and providing educational services for kids with ASD’s they have become the diagnoses de jour. In fact, it is worth noting that since the Feds started throwing more money at ASD’s and less at ADD and ADHD the number of children diagnosed with the former has increased and the latter two decreased. Apparently getting more Federal funding causes learning/psychological disorders and getting funding cut cures them.

That or educators are blowing off the needs of kids with disorders that are not “getting the love.” My own personal opinion is that favored problems get over-diagnosed and those not blessed with Fed money get under-diagnosed. Shame on the education establishment either way.

It should also be noted that whichever disorder is getting attention it seems to hit males about four times as often as females. In fact, it seems that a lot of the descriptors of symptoms for various ASD’s and ADD read like pretty normal behavior for boys.

Perhaps being a boy is a learning disorder (there’s a large number of females who would nod their head in agreement with this thesis).

A.X. Perez, “Old News Interpreted”, Libertarian Enterprise, 2014-04-06

April 8, 2014

Choosing when to die

Filed under: Europe, Health, Liberty — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 06:52

Colby Cosh discusses the latest Swiss innovation to come to the tabloid newspapers’ attention:

Five or six times I must have read the story about the relatively healthy little old English lady who killed herself rather than struggle on through the “digital age”, and I still cannot quite think what to make of it. Surely there is something noble about leaving life on what are as nearly as possible one’s own terms, with some strength left, after a full, long, largely happy existence.

Unlike a lot of self-described “environmentalists”, she clearly believed the Malthusian script and took the recommended action: “The environmentalist was also worried about the damage being wrought on the planet by overcrowding and pollution.” If she was that worried about poor old Mother Earth, one might wonder why she took so long to take her leave of it.

I suppose Dignitas does its best to make sure oldies aren’t being urged to suicide by impatient heirs, but surely there is only so much the staff can do, and it is in their interest to do as little as possible. It is certainly easy to imagine ethically dubious ways of encouraging the irritability of a cranky, inconvenient old person. Oo, hardly worth the trouble of gettin’ out of bed in the morning, is it, gran? Oh, dear, are your lungs givin’ you a hard time again? Tsk, must make you want to chuck it all in sometimes. If you are a person of British descent, you take in a certain amount of this glum, boggy attitude with every meal anyway. It comes naturally.

And there is my only real concern about institutionalizing the right to die … that it will encourage a certain haste: not among the elderly or afflicted, but among their caregivers, descendents, and prospective legatees. I think you should have the right to decide when to die, but it is a situation that offers the unscrupulous and unprincipled a quicker route to impose their desires on others.

But who is ready to have the government issue packets of Nembutal every five years with Canada Pension Plan cheques? Whatever solution we decide on for the convenience of the legitimately ailing or hopeless, I want the doctors — who, after all, belong to a profession that cannot seem to stop prescribing useless antibiotics for upper respiratory infections — to have as little to do with it as possible. Physicians are not saints, and they will follow the “easier for me” heuristic, like other primates, if non-negotiable aspects of their duty are thrown open to fiddling. “Do no harm” has been at the top of the list for 2,400 years, and, please, keep in mind, it took them 2,200 of those to give up therapeutic bloodletting.

Exactly.

April 6, 2014

Obamacare, viewed from a distance

Filed under: Government, Health, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:16

Peggy Noonan attempts to look at Obamacare apart from the daily battles over details:

As I say, put aside the argument, step back and view the thing at a distance. Support it or not, you cannot look at ObamaCare and call it anything but a huge, historic mess. It is also utterly unique in the annals of American lawmaking and government administration.

Its biggest proponent in Congress, the Democratic speaker of the House, literally said — blithely, mindlessly, but in a way forthcomingly — that we have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it. It is a cliché to note this. But really, Nancy Pelosi’s statement was a historic admission that she was fighting hard for something she herself didn’t understand, but she had every confidence regulators and bureaucratic interpreters would tell her in time what she’d done. This is how we make laws now.

Her comments alarmed congressional Republicans but inspired Democrats, who for the next three years would carry on like blithering idiots making believe they’d read the bill and understood its implications. They were later taken aback by complaints from their constituents. The White House, on the other hand, seems to have understood what the bill would do, and lied in a way so specific it showed they knew exactly what to spin and how. “If you like your health-care plan, you can keep your health-care plan, period.” “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor, period.” That of course was the president, misrepresenting the facts of his signature legislative effort. That was historic, too. If you liked your doctor, your plan, your network, your coverage, your deductible you could not keep it. Your existing policy had to pass muster with the administration, which would fight to the death to ensure that 60-year-old women have pediatric dental coverage.

[...]

The program is unique in that the bill that was signed four years ago, on March 23, 2010, is not the law, or rather program, that now exists. Parts of it have been changed or delayed 30 times. It is telling that the president rebuffed Congress when it asked to work with him on alterations, but had no qualms about doing them by executive fiat. The program today, which affects a sixth of the U.S. economy, is not what was passed by the U.S. Congress. On Wednesday Robert Gibbs, who helped elect the president in 2008 and served as his first press secretary, predicted more changes to come. He told a business group in Colorado that the employer mandate would likely be scrapped entirely. He added that the program needed an “additional layer” or “cheaper” coverage and admitted he wasn’t sure the individual mandate had been the right way to go.

Finally, the program’s supporters have gone on quite a rhetorical journey, from “This is an excellent bill, and opponents hate the needy” to “People will love it once they have it” to “We may need some changes” to “I’ve co-sponsored a bill to make needed alternations” to “This will be seen by posterity as an advance in human freedom.”

March 28, 2014

Putting the WHO global pollution death figures into perspective

Filed under: Economics, Environment, Health — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:56

James Delingpole agrees that the most recent WHO report on deaths due to pollution is shocking, but points out where the press release does a sleight-of-hand move:

Even if you take the WHO’s estimates with a huge pinch of salt — and you probably should — that doesn’t mean the pollution problem in some parts of the world isn’t deadly serious. During the 20th century, around 260 million are reckoned to have died from indoor pollution in the developing world: that’s roughly twice as many as were killed in all the century’s wars.

Here, though, is the point where the WHO loses all credibility on the issue.

    “Excessive air pollution is often a by-product of unsustainable policies in sectors such as transport, energy, waste management and industry. In most cases, healthier strategies will also be more economical in the long term due to health-care cost savings as well as climate gains,” Carlos Dora, WHO Coordinator for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health said.

    “WHO and health sectors have a unique role in translating scientific evidence on air pollution into policies that can deliver impact and improvements that will save lives,” Dr. Dora added.

See what Dora just did there? He used the shock value of the WHO’s pollution death figures to slip three Big Lies under the impressionable reader’s radar.

First, he’s trying to make out that outdoor pollution is as big a problem as indoor pollution. It isn’t: nowhere near. Many of the deaths the WHO links to the former are very likely the result of the latter (cooking and heating in poorly ventilated rooms using dung, wood, and coal) which, by nature, is much more intense.

Secondly, he’s implying that economic development is to blame. In fact, it’s economic development we have to thank for the fact that there are so many fewer pollution deaths than there used to be. As Bjorn Lomborg has noted, over the 20th century as poverty receded and clean fuels got cheaper, the risk of dying of pollution decreased eight-fold. In 1900, air pollution cost 23 per cent of global GDP; today it is 6 per cent, and by 2050 it will be 4 per cent.

But the third and by far the biggest of the lies is the implication that the UN’s policies on climate change are helping to alleviate the problem.

March 17, 2014

QotD: Psychology

Filed under: Health, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:05

It’s extremely important in this connection to remember that psychology is not a science, not even remotely. It is not the product of careful hypothesis-formation and controlled, repeatable, peer-reviewed experiment. It is nothing more than a collection of folklore and the armchair opinions of committees, less credible and valid than global warming. The authority it speaks from is purely political.

I know all of this because in college, I was a psychology major, myself, until I saw how empty the field is of anything resembling science or a decent, genuine regard for the well-being of other people. I read Dr. Thomas Szasz, beginning with his The Manufacture of Madness — in which he defines schizophrenia as a particular relationship between a therapist and his patient — and changed my major.

Five hundred years ago, if you were discovered to be in possession of a volume of the Book of Common Prayer that had a misplaced comma on Page 151, you might ultimately be burned at the stake for heresy. This had absolutely nothing to do with religion, it was simply an easy way for the political elite to justify disposing of its perceived enemies.

Psychology, as a body of “knowledge”, is more than just a little fallible. It will commonly declare some violent criminal “cured” and fit to interact peacefully and productively with society, following which the monster will immediately go out and axe-murder an entire family.

Psychology can be fooled into incarcerating individuals who are perfectly sane, as it once did with Nellie Bly, a courageous reporter investigating conditions in a New York mental asylum late in the 19th century. Nor have its powers of diagnosis much improved since then. On the other hand, if, like Ezra Pound or Frances Farmer (look them up), you hold opinions contrary to those the government wants you to hold — especially today on global warming, gun ownership, race relations, or the meaning and significance of the U.S. Constitution — it will more than question your sanity, it will lock you up and tear it to bits.

And today, when it does that, uniformed and armored thugs will show up at your home to shoot your dogs, stomp your kittens to death, terrify your family, empty out your gun safe, and murder you if you resist. Soon it may be enough to say that if you own guns you must be insane.

L. Neil Smith, “The New Inquisition”, Libertarian Enterprise, 2014-03-16

March 16, 2014

QotD: American “cheese”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Europe, Health, Humour, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:05

Everyone thinks America Alone is about Islam and demography, but in fact it has a whole section in it on cheese, called “The Pasteurization is Prologue”. Page 181:

    I’ve never subscribed to that whole “cheese-eating surrender-monkey” sneer promoted by my National Review colleague Jonah Goldberg. As a neocon warmonger, I yield to no one in my contempt for the French, but, that said, cheese-wise I feel they have the edge.

    When I’m at the lunch counter in America and I order a cheeseburger and the waitress says, “American, Swiss or Cheddar?” I can’t tell the difference. They all taste of nothing. The only difference is that the slice of alleged Swiss is full of holes, so you’re getting less nothing for your buck. Then again, the holes also taste of nothing, and they’re less fattening. But, either way, cheese is not the battleground on which to demonstrate the superiority of the American way.

Most of the American cheeses bearing European names are bland rubbery eunuch versions of the real thing. I wouldn’t mind if this were merely the market at work, but it’s not. It’s the result of Big Government, of the Brieatollahs at the United States Department of Agriculture:

    In America, unpasteurized un-aged raw cheese that would be standard in any Continental fromagerie is banned. Americans, so zealous in defense of their liberties when it comes to guns, are happy to roll over for the nanny state when it comes to the cheese board… The French may be surrender monkeys on the battlefield, but they don’t throw their hands up and flee in terror just because the Brie’s a bit ripe. It’s the Americans who are the cheese-surrendering eating-monkeys — who insist, oh, no, the only way to deal with this sliver of Roquefort is to set up a rigorous ongoing Hans Blix-type inspections regime.

I’m not exaggerating about that. Nothing gets past their eyes, and everything gets pasteurized. That’s why American “cheesemakers” have to keep putting stuff into the “cheddar” — sun-dried tomatoes, red peppers, chocolate chips — to give it some taste, because the cheese itself has none. And, if you try to bring in anything that does taste of something, the US Government’s Brie Team Six seizes it:

    The US fate of the bright-orange, mild-tasting French cheese has been in jeopardy for months and the Food and Drug Administration has blocked all further imports.

    Why? Because US regulators determined the cantaloupe-like rind of the cheese was covered with too many cheese mites, even though the tiny bugs give mimolette its unique flavor.

    No formal ban has been put in place, but 1.5 tonnes (3,300 pounds) of cheese were blocked from being imported, and nothing is going through US customs.

“No formal ban has been put in place” — because that would involve legislators passing laws in a legislature and whatnot. So they just banned it anyway.

Mark Steyn, “Live Brie or Die!” SteynOnline.com, 2014-03-13

Alcoholics Anonymous and addiction

Filed under: Health — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:27

In Maclean’s, Kate Lunau talks to Dr. Lance Dodes about Alcoholics Anonymous:

Dr. Lance Dodes has spent more than 35 years treating people who are battling addiction, including alcoholism. In his new book (co-written with Zachary Dodes), The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry, Dodes takes a hard look at Alcoholics Anonymous, a worldwide organization that describes itself as a “non-professional fellowship of alcoholics helping other alcoholics get and stay sober.” Today, there are more than 5,000 AA groups in Canada alone, which are free and open to anyone. Dodes, a retired assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, argues that some groups — and many for-profit private rehab centres based on the 12-step model — are often ineffective, and can cause further damage to addicts.

Q: How did you come to work on addiction?

A: I first became involved with alcoholism and addiction in the ’70s, when the place I was working, which is now part of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, needed to develop an alcoholism treatment unit. I was director of psychiatry, so I said, “I’ll develop it.” Afterward, I became involved in various addiction treatment programs, including running the state’s largest compulsive-gambling program. Over the years, I became very familiar with AA. It became clear that, while AA works for some people, the statistics just didn’t back it up. The real problem is that [doctors] refer 100 per cent of their patients with alcoholism to AA, and that’s the wrong thing to do 90 per cent of the time.

Q: AA has more than two million members around the world. You say its success rate is between five and 10 per cent. How, then, do you account for its enduring popularity?

A: AA is a proselytizing organization. The 12th step is to go out and spread the word, and they do. Because there are so many people in prominent positions who are members of AA, it gets tremendously good press. If AA were simply harmless, then I would agree that a seven per cent success rate is better than zero. But that’s not the case. It can be very destructive. According to AA, AA never fails — you fail. AA says that if you’re not doing well in the program, then it’s you. So you should go back and do the same thing you did before: Do more of the 12 steps, and go to more meetings.

March 3, 2014

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – bacon and booze

Filed under: Health, Humour — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 14:30

At The Register, Lester Haines fights the killjoys in public health journalism to bring forth the revolutionary booze-and-bacon diet:

“Bacon is particularly problematic,” doomwatched the Daily Mail, a noted proponent of the “if it’s tasty it’ll kill you” school of scientific killjoyery.

It gets worse. Scientists have indicated that bacon also reduces fertility, while a daily consumption of of more than 20g of processed meat in general — “equivalent to one meagre rasher of bacon” — is a surefire shortcut to the hereafter.

Or so they’d have you believe. Among the amazing powers of bacon is its ability to cure hangovers. The negative effects of excessive alcohol consumption are well known — impotence, cirrhosis of the liver, maudlin pub musings, alcopop-fuelled teen pregnancies, the Saturday-night reduction of British city centres to vomit-spattered warzones, and so forth — but booze too has extraordinary properties.

In fact, it benefits cardiovascular health, fights asthma, provides immunity to Mike Tyson and, critically, wards off dementia and makes you clever.

So, here’s the thing: if bacon can be used to combat the negatives effects of alcohol, while alcohol can prevent you from losing your marbles as a result using bacon to counter the downside of alcohol (something we have dubbed the “Baco-Booze Harmonious Feedback Loop”), then you are in a position to exploit the increased intelligence alcohol confers.

March 2, 2014

QotD: The voices are coming from inside your head

Filed under: Health, Quotations, Science — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

The thesis of the article was simple: though the content of schizophrenic delusions changes wildly in different cultural contexts, there’s an underlying motivation for them that never varies and produces a fundamental sameness.

The simple, constant thing is that delusional schizophrenics lose the capability to identify all the thoughts in their head as belonging to themselves. In an effort to make sense of their experience, they invent elaborate theories which attribute their disconnected thoughts to external agencies. Gods, demons, orbital mind-control lasers — the content of such delusions varies wildly, but the function is always the same — to restore a sense of causal order to the schizophrenic’s universe, to impose a narrative on the eruptions that he or she can no longer recognize as “self”.

It’s a startling shift in perspective to realize that the construction of schizophrenic delusions arises from the same drive that yields scientific theory-building. Both are Heideggerian rearrangements of the cognitive toolkit, strategies driven by the necessity of coping with the experienced world. The schizophrenic’s tragedy is that the most important fact about his or her experiential world (how much of it is self looking at self) is inaccessible.

Eric S. Raymond, “Sometimes I hear voices”, Armed and Dangerous, 2013-10-06

February 20, 2014

Anti-tobacco campaigners – “a great bunch of puritanical Cnuts”

Filed under: Britain, Business, Health, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:37

In sp!ked, Rob Lyons looks at the way e-cigarettes are being marketed in the UK and how it’s driving anti-tobacco campaigners absolutely insane:

For the tobacco-control lobby, an advert like Dorff’s is an absolute nightmare. It makes no health claims. It is clearly targeted at adults. It plays to the fact that even smokers dislike aspects of old-fashioned cigarettes, and are happy to compromise in order to get most of the pleasure of smoking without the hassle or the irritation to others. And then – God forbid – it even plays to the annoyance of smokers at the health fanatics. The last thing smoke dodgers want is for anyone to be able to take their freedom back. Even the existence of the sanitised offer from Vype’s say-nothing advert is anathema.

This was made abundantly clear in a report published by Cancer Research UK last year, The marketing of electronic cigarettes in the UK [PDF]. The authors are forced to admit that e-cigs ‘are accepted as being much safer than their conventional equivalents, so if smokers can be encouraged to switch there is the potential for significant public health gain’.

However, this message is quickly lost in a cloud of public-health cant. The threats, say the authors, include concerns that ‘hard-won tobacco-control policies (smokefree public places, the ad ban, age restricted sales, tobacco industry denormalisation, POS [point-of-sale] restrictions) are being undermined’ and that ‘there is evidence that young people, who have always been the key to the long-term viability of the tobacco industry, may be being pulled into the market’. The danger, say the authors, is that tobacco companies don’t want you to give up your addiction, just switch to a different delivery system. The problem with this argument is that the new delivery system is much, much safer. Why shouldn’t corporations try to sell us safe products?

[...]

In reality, what the anti-tobacco lobbyists (and their fans in Westminster and Whitehall) are really afraid of is the loss of their power and influence over our lives. They fear they will be helpless against the tide of e-cigs, like a great bunch of puritanical Cnuts. (Note to sub-editor: that’s definitely ‘Cnuts’, as in the Danish king who famously – probably apocryphally – tried to turn back the sea. Honest.)

E-cigs are a safe, practical alternative to smoking. For all the huffing and putting-a-stop-to-puffing, tobacco control has been an illiberal failure. E-cigs are encouraging smokers to switch, cut down or stop altogether far more successfully than all the bans, taxes, restrictions and useless nicotine-replacement therapies that have gone before. ‘Vaping’ is an unexpected but nonetheless happy success story.

February 7, 2014

QotD: Writer’s block

Filed under: Health, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:07

The formula of the argument is simple and familiar: to dispose of a problem all that is necessary is to deny that it exists. But there are plenty of men, I believe, who find themselves unable to resolve the difficulty in any such cavalier manner men whose chief burden and distinction, in fact, is that they do not employ formulae in their thinking, but are thrown constantly upon industry, ingenuity and the favor of God. Among such men there remains a good deal more belief in what is vaguely called inspiration. They know by hard experience that there are days when their ideas flow freely and clearly, and days when they are dammed up damnably. Say a man of that sort has a good day. For some reason quite incomprehensible to him all his mental processes take on an amazing ease and slickness. Almost without conscious effort he solves technical problems that have badgered him for weeks. He is full of novel expedients, extraordinary efficiencies, strange cunnings. He has a feeling that he has suddenly and unaccountably broken through a wall, dispersed a fog, got himself out of the dark. So he does a double or triple stint of the best work that he is capable of maybe of far better work than he has ever been capable of before and goes to bed impatient for the morrow. And on the morrow he discovers to his consternation that he has become almost idiotic, and quite incapable of any work at all.

I challenge any man who trades in ideas to deny that he has this experience. The truth is that he has it constantly. It overtakes poets and contrapuntists, critics and dramatists, philosophers and journalists; it may even be shared, so far as I know, by advertisement writers, chautauqua orators and the rev. clergy. The characters that all anatomists of melancholy mark in it are the irregular ebb and flow of the tides, and the impossibility of getting them under any sort of rational control. The brain, as it were, stands to one side and watches itself pitching and tossing, full of agony but essentially helpless. Here the man of creative imagination pays a ghastly price for all his superiorities and immunities; nature takes revenge upon him for dreaming of improvements in the scheme of things. Sitting there in his lonely room, gnawing the handle of his pen, racked by his infernal quest, horribly bedevilled by incessant flashes of itching, toothache, eye-strain and evil conscience thus tortured, he makes atonement for his crime of being intelligent. The normal man, the healthy and honest man, the good citizen and householder this man, I daresay, knows nothing of all that travail. It is reserved especially for artists and metaphysicians. It is the particular penalty of those who pursue strange butterflies into dark forests, and go fishing in enchanted and forbidden streams.

H.L. Mencken, “The Divine Afflatus”, Prejudices, Second Series, 1920

February 6, 2014

E-cigarettes – growth industry or doomed by regulatory overstretch

Filed under: Business, Health, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:03

Megan McArdle discusses the past, present, and potential future for the e-cigarette industry:

In its simplest form, an e-cigarette is a cartridge filled with a nicotine solution and a battery powering a coil that heats the solution into vapor, which one sucks in and exhales like smoke. Typically, it looks like a regular cigarette, except the tip, embedded with an LED, often glows blue instead of red. The active ingredient in e-cigarettes is the same nicotine found in cigarettes and nicotine patches.

The effects of inhaling nicotine vapor are not totally understood, but there is no evidence to date that it causes cancer. Experts and logic seem to agree that it’s a lot better than setting chopped-up tobacco leaves on fire and inhaling the nicotine along with thousands of combustion byproducts, some of which are definitely carcinogenic. Because cancer is the main drawback of smoking for a lot of people, the delivery of nicotine without lighting a cigarette is very attractive. And because it produces a wispy vapor instead of acrid smoke, an e-cigarette lets you bring your smoking back indoors, where lighting up in an enclosed space is no longer socially, or legally, acceptable.

[...]

A primitive, battery-operated “smokeless non-tobacco cigarette” was patented as early as 1963 and described in Popular Mechanics in 1965. Thomas Schelling, a Nobel prize-winning economist who helped start the Institute for the Study of Smoking Behavior and Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School in the 1980s, recalls that people in the 1960s were talking about a charcoal-based vaporizer that would heat some sort of nicotine solution. While those early versions might have been safer than a regular cigarette, they were too expensive and cumbersome to become a substitute for a pack of Camels in a country where, as Schelling notes, “you’re never more than 5 or 10 minutes away from a smoke.”

In a way, electronic cigarettes were made possible by cell phones. The drive to make phones smaller and lengthen their battery life led to the development of batteries and equipment small enough to fit in a container the size and shape of a cigarette. There’s some dispute over who invented the modern e-cigarette, but the first commercially marketed device was created by a Chinese pharmacist, Hon Lik, and introduced to the Chinese market as a smoking cessation device in 2004.

In the same way that alcohol comes in various guises (many carefully crafted to appeal to beginners: sweet as soda pop, for example), e-cigarettes are available in many different flavours:

E-cigarette cartridges come in classic tobacco and menthol flavors — Verleur’s company even offers V2 Red, Sahara, and Congress, clearly aimed at loyal smokers of Marlboros, Camels, and Parliaments. But most companies also have less conventional flavors. Blu offers Peach Schnapps, Java Jolt, Vivid Vanilla, Cherry Crush, and Piña Colada, presumably for people who don’t just like a drink with a cigarette, but in one.

January 24, 2014

President Obama in hot water for not lying about marijuana

Filed under: Health, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:34

Politicians get into trouble for shading the truth, being “economical” with the truth, or just flat-out making shit up. It’s what politicians do. In this case, however, President Obama is taking flak because he didn’t lie:

Prohibitionists were outraged by President Obama’s recent observation that marijuana is safer than alcohol — not because it is not true but because it contradicts the central myth underlying public support for the war on drugs. According to that myth, certain psychoactive substances are so dangerous that they cannot be tolerated, and the government has scientifically identified them. In reality, the distinctions drawn by our drug laws are arbitrary, and marijuana is the clearest illustration of that fact.

“As has been well documented,” Obama told The New Yorker’s David Remnick in an interview published on Sunday, “I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.” When Remnick pressed him to say whether marijuana is in fact less dangerous than alcohol, the president said yes, “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.”

Judging from survey data, that is not a very controversial position. According to a recent CNN poll, 87 percent of Americans think marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol, and 73 percent say it is less dangerous. Yet Obama’s statement does seem inconsistent with his administration’s stubborn defense of marijuana’s placement on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, a category supposedly reserved for drugs with a high abuse potential that have no recognized medical value and cannot be used safely, even under a doctor’s supervision.

[...]

You can see why pot prohibitionists reacted with dismay to Obama’s comment — not because it was false but because it was true. As measured by acute toxicity, accident risk, and the long-term health effects of heavy consumption, marijuana is clearly safer than alcohol. That does not mean smoking pot poses no risks, or that drinking is so dangerous no one should ever do it. It simply means that the risks posed by alcohol are, on the whole, bigger than the risks posed by marijuana. So if our drug laws are supposed to be based on a clear-eyed evaluation of relative risks, some adjustment would seem to be in order.

January 21, 2014

Euthanasia on TV and in real life

Filed under: Health, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:10

It’s been many years since I watched an episode of Coronation Street, so I was a bit surprised to find that the show’s writers are “political”, at least on some issues:

Many a soap-opera storyline has created a news story in itself. So it was in the case of Hayley Cropper, a character on a British soap, Coronation Street. News of what happens to Hayley, in an episode to be shown tonight, created a furore when the press release for the story went out last Tuesday. The dilemma for the writers was how to kill off a character who had been a mainstay of the programme since 1998, when she was introduced as the first transsexual character. The answer, provided by producer Stuart Blackburn, was to have the character dying of pancreatic cancer, but finishing herself off with a cocktail of drugs in an on-screen suicide.

Julie Hesmondhalgh, the actor who plays Hayley, called for a discussion on legalising assisted suicide. She was backed by Sara Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, who praised the show’s ‘sensible and sensitive handling of assisted dying’. Lord Falconer, whose Assisted Dying Bill will be introduced in the House of Lords in the coming months, penned an article in the Sun. The Sun’s editorial called for a change in the law and the newspaper published the results of a poll indicating that 69 per cent of Britons support the legalisation of assisted suicide for the terminally ill.

[...]

It is difficult not to suspect – despite the even-handedness of the treatment of the issue (the character’s on-screen husband, Roy Cropper, opposes Hayley’s decision) – that the programme is part of the well-funded campaign to legalise assisted suicide. Stuart Blackburn had previously explored the same issue while at a rival soap, Emmerdale. (He perhaps risks becoming the Jack Kevorkian of the soap world.) Hesmondhalgh was forthright about her support for a change in the law in several interviews, and many journalists seem poised to call again for the legalisation of assisted suicide.

But it is entirely appropriate that a fictional plotline is used to promote legalising assisted suicide. The reason that so many people wish to have the ‘right to die’ is based on the morbid imagination of the ‘worried well’, traded on so effectively by right-to-die campaigners. ‘What if it happened to YOU…?’ is the plotline of Dignity in Dying and other organisations that campaign for legalised assisted suicide.

There are arguments on both sides of this issue (personally, I’m in favour of making it legal), but there are concerns that less-than-scrupulous family members might attempt to “hurry” an elderly or infirm parent or relative to a decision that wouldn’t really be voluntary.

It’s also an issue that came up this weekend, as one of my online acquaintances (we’d never met in person, but we both belonged to a special interest mailing list and had had several email discussions) committed suicide with his wife last week. Maarten and Irma apparently faced an unpleasant future in their declining years and mutually decided that their time had come. While euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, it does not seem that Maarten and Irma followed the letter of the law in their case:

Euthanasia in the Netherlands is regulated by the “Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act” from 2002. It states that euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are not punishable if the attending physician acts in accordance with criteria of due care. These criteria concern the patient’s request, the patient’s suffering (unbearable and hopeless), the information provided to the patient, the presence of reasonable alternatives, consultation of another physician and the applied method of ending life. To demonstrate their compliance, the Act requires physicians to report euthanasia to a review committee.

The family is, understandably, not providing a lot of detail but said that they were found in bed, hand in hand and “together, peaceful and loving” but did not specify how they had died.

Becoming dependent on whomever or whatever, or seeing your partner slowly fading away, are situations we do not ever want to contemplate, therefore we have, in good health, clear of mind, together 150 years old, in our own bed, hand in hand, ended our lives.

At risk of sounding trite, I’m saddened that they chose to do this, but I respect their right to make that decision. It cannot have been an easy one. Rest in peace.

January 8, 2014

David Harsanyi on Colorado’s recent marijuana legalization

Filed under: Health, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:45

On the one hand, he’s delighted that something he advocated for years finally came to pass. On the other, well, he’s still also in favour of adults being allowed to make decisions on what they put into their bodies (and owning the consequences of their actions), so perhaps we only need the one hand after all.

As a Denver Post columnist from 2004-2011, I spent a considerable amount of time writing pieces advocating for the legalization of pot. So I was happy when the state became one of the first to decriminalize small amounts of “recreational” marijuana. I believe the War on Drugs is a tragically misplaced use of resources; an immoral venture that produces far more suffering than it alleviates. And on a philosophical level, I believe that adults should be permitted to ingest whatever they desire — including, but not limited to, trans-fats, tobacco, cough syrup, colossal-sized sodas, and so on — as long as they live with the consequences.

You know, that old chestnut.

Unrealistic? Maybe. But less so than allowing myself to believe human behavior can/should be endlessly nudged, cajoled and coerced by politicians.

So, naturally, I was curious to see how marijuana sales in Colorado would shake out. According to the Denver Post, there are nearly 40 stores in Colorado licensed to sell “recreational” pot. Medical marijuana has been legal for more than a decade. (And, having spent time covering medical pot “caregivers” — or, rather, barely coherent stoners selling cannabis to other barely coherent stoners, a majority of whom suffer from ailments that an Excedrin could probably alleviate — it will be a relief to see that ruse come to end. I’m not saying marijuana doesn’t possess medicinal uses. I’m saying that most medicinal users are frauds.)

Not surprisingly, pot stores can’t keep up with demand for a hit of recreational tetrahydrocannabinol. Outside of Denver shops, people are waiting for up to five hours to buy some well-taxed and “regulated” cannabis. The pot tourists have also arrived. All this, the Denver Post estimates, will translate into $40 million of additional tax revenue in 2014 — the real reason legalization in Colorado became a reality.

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