Today during an otherwise terrible lecture on ADHD I realized something important we get sort of backwards.
There’s this stereotype that the Left believes that human characteristics are socially determined, and therefore mutable. And social problems are easy to fix, through things like education and social services and public awareness campaigns and “calling people out”, and so we have a responsiblity to fix them, thus radically improving society and making life better for everyone.
But the Right (by now I guess the far right) believes human characteristics are biologically determined, and biology is fixed. Therefore we shouldn’t bother trying to improve things, and any attempt is just utopianism or “immanentizing the eschaton” or a shady justification for tyranny and busybodyness.
And I think I reject this whole premise.
See, my terrible lecture on ADHD suggested several reasons for the increasing prevalence of the disease. Of these I remember two: the spiritual desert of modern adolescence, and insufficient iron in the diet. And I remember thinking “Man, I hope it’s the iron one, because that seems a lot easier to fix.”
Society is really hard to change. We figured drug use was “just” a social problem, and it’s obvious how to solve social problems, so we gave kids nice little lessons in school about how you should Just Say No. There were advertisements in sports and video games about how Winners Don’t Do Drugs. And just in case that didn’t work, the cherry on the social engineering sundae was putting all the drug users in jail, where they would have a lot of time to think about what they’d done and be so moved by the prospect of further punishment that they would come clean.
And that is why, even to this day, nobody uses drugs.
Scott Alexander, “Society Is Fixed, Biology Is Mutable”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-09-10.
February 7, 2016
November 10, 2015
Hunter S. Thompson’s iconic book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas has been re-imagined in Troy Little’s graphic novel:
October 30, 2015
At Reason, Jacob Sullum debunks the latest variant of the old “OMG! There might be marijuana in the kids’ trick-or-treat bags! OMG!”:
With Halloween just around the corner, it’s time for scary news reports that begin, “With Halloween just around the corner…” This genre of yellow journalism often features warnings about tainted trick-or-treat candy, a mythical menace that in recent years has gained credibility thanks to the popularity of marijuana edibles in states where such products are legal.
Last year police in Denver, where state-licensed marijuana merchants had recently begun serving recreational consumers, told parents to be on the lookout for THC-tainted treats in their children’s candy bags. As usual, no actual cases of such surreptitious dosing were identified.
But fear of strangers with candy springs eternal. The fact that this threat so far has proven imaginary is not deterring reporters and law enforcement officials around the country from warning parents that harmless-looking treats might contain a mind-altering substance other than sugar—if not marijuana, then MDMA.
Almost all of these stories make a leap from the observation that cannabis candy exists to the completely unsubstantiated fear that someone might slip it into your kid’s trick-or-treat bag. That scenario is highly implausible, since it is hard to see what the payoff would be for replacing cheap Halloween treats with expensive marijuana edibles. Given the delay between eating cannabis candy and feeling its effects, the hypothetical prankster could not even hope to witness the consequences of his trick. Furthermore, it seems that nothing like this has ever happened — or if it did, it somehow escaped the attention of the yellow journalists who keep warning us about the possibility. The story is kept alive by the gullibility of the same parents who anxiously examine their kid’s Halloween candy for needles and shards of glass.This year saw the birth of a new variation on this theme: Instead of cannabis in your kids’ candy, maybe there’s MDMA. Snopes.com, the online catalog of urban legends, traces the scare to a September 25 post by a Facebook user named Thomas Chizzo Bagwell featuring a photo of colorful Molly tablets. “If your kids get these for halloween,” Bagwell wrote, “it’s not candy.” Last week the Jackson, Mississippi, police department posted the same photo, accompanied by this warning:
If your kids get these for Halloween candy, they ARE NOT CANDY!!! They are the new shapes of “Ecstasy” and can kill kids through overdoses!!! So, check your kid’s candy and “When in doubt, Throw it out!!!” Be safe and always keep the shiny side up!!!
That burst of fact-free fear, which was later removed from the police department’s Facebook page, transformed idle speculation into “an alert” issued by “police nationwide,” as WILX, the NBC station in Lansing, Michigan, put it. WOIO, the CBS station in Cleveland, claimed “Ecstasy masked to look like candy” is “popping up all over the country, and police want to warn you.” If a child were to eat one of those tablets, according to Westlake, Ohio, Police Capt. Guy Turner, “they would be in the emergency room without a doubt.”
October 21, 2015
1) If you’re in a bad neighborhood, the kind where you get to hear gunfire and sirens on a nightly basis, move. If you can’t move, have yourself inside at a decent hour, before the time when “suspects” start outnumbering “witnesses” on street corners.
2) As a matter of fact, having yourself in at a decent hour is good advice for just about anybody. Ask your local po-po, but I’d bet that in most places, not much good happens after ten p.m.; certainly after midnight, the majority of the folks not already at home are already legally intoxicated, or are engaged in business transactions buying or selling intoxicants. Saying that these people are overrepresented in criminal and traffic code violations is like saying that rednecks are overrepresented in the stands at a NASCAR race.
3) Regardless of your opinion of the War on (Some) Drugs, the fact remains that, for now, drugs are illegal. This means that to get any for your own use, you have to come in contact with some one who is, by definition… class? Anyone? That’s right, a criminal. Now, other than engaging in a little unlicensed pharmaceutical distribution, your particular connection may be a saint and a member of the Kiwanis. On the other hand, how well do you really know them? They’ve demonstrated the willingness to break one law; what others do they break? What other criminals do they associate with? What are the chances of this all ending in tears? If you want to play the safe side of the odds, wear your seatbelt, don’t ride motorcycles, and stay away from the dope and the people who use it.
4) Likewise, hitting people is against the law. You should stay the hell away from people who think fisticuffs is an appropriate method of conflict resolution for adults. Particularly if they also have a fondness for judgement-impairing substances like Budweiser. I don’t care if you lovelovelove them; if they have proven their willingness to talk with their fists, they will do it again, and maybe worse. If you are living with them or hanging around them, get out. You can then settle your differences from the other end of a phone line a whole lot safer than you could have from inside the tiger cage.
Tam Slick, “How to not get killed”, View From The Porch, 2009-07-20.
October 15, 2015
Jacob Sullum points out a few misconceptions about sentencing reform:
Anderson, with Sessions’ help, manages to pack at least half a dozen serious misconceptions into a 375-word post. Let’s consider them one at a time.
Is “crime rising in America”? As Jesse Walker noted here last month, the latest FBI numbers show that violent and property crime both fell last year, continuing a “long decline” that began in the mid-1990s. Although some American cities have seen spikes in violent crime this year, it is not clear whether they represent a nationwide increase or, if so, whether that increase represents a reversal of recent trends or a blip.
Are police “increasingly under siege”? Last month my former Reason colleague Radley Balko, who writes about criminal justice for The Washington Post, reported that “2015 is on pace to see 35 felonious killings of police officers” and that “if that pace holds, this year would end with the second lowest number of murdered cops in decades.” As Jesse Walker pointed out here, such numbers have never deterred law-and-order types who propagate “the eternally recurring legend of a ‘war on cops.'”
Are drug traffickers “violent criminals”? Some are, but there is a clear distinction between stabbing or shooting someone and engaging in consensual transactions that Congress has arbitrarily decided to prohibit. Under current law, doing the latter is enough to trigger mandatory minimum sentences ranging from five years to life. By pretending there is no difference between violent predators and nonviolent drug offenders, opponents of reform make a hash out of any effort to focus criminal justice resources on the lawbreakers who pose the biggest threat to public safety.
June 2, 2015
Compound Interest posted an infographic on cannabis and synthetic cannabinoids:
In recent years, there’s been an increase in the number of media reports on users of synthetic cannabinoids. Commonly referred to by names such as ‘Spice’ or ‘K2′, the most recent reported case involved five UK students being hospitalised after use. But what are the chemicals present in ‘spice’ and similar drugs, and what are the chemical compounds in cannabis that they aim to mimic? That’s what this graphic and post attempt to answer.
May 5, 2015
At Techdirt, Tim Cushing carefully explains that the US Drug Enforcement Agency takes on no responsibility when they hijack your company’s equipment and set you up as a drug gang “competitor”, even when one of your employees dies in the resulting gunfight:
Craig Patty runs a tiny trucking company in Texas. He has only two trucks in his “fleet.” One of them was being taken to Houston for repairs by his employee, Lawrence Chapa. Or so he thought.
In reality, Chapa was working with the DEA, which had paid him to load up Patty’s truck with marijuana and haul it back to Houston so the DEA could bust the prospective buyers. That’s when everything went completely, horribly wrong.
[A]s the truck entered northwest Houston under the watch of approximately two dozen law enforcement officers, several heavily armed Los Zetas cartel-connected soldiers in sport utility vehicles converged on Patty’s truck.
In the ensuing firefight, Patty’s truck was wrecked and riddled with bullet holes, and a plainclothes Houston police officer shot and wounded a plainclothes Harris County Sheriff’s Office deputy who was mistaken for a gangster.
The truck’s driver was killed and four attackers were arrested and charged with capital murder.
Until Patty received a call notifying him that his employee had been killed, he was completely unaware of the DEA’s operations involving both his truck and his driver. Unbelievably, things got even worse for Patty after this discovery.
Patty’s truck was impounded by the DEA. After it was released to him, it was out of service for several months as it underwent more than $100,000-worth of repairs. The DEA offered him no financial assistance for the truck it helped fill with bullet holes nor did it offer to make up for the revenue Patty lost while his truck was out of commission. His insurance company likewise turned down his claim, citing his truck’s use in a law enforcement operation.
Nor did the DEA offer to do something to repair his newly-acquired reputation as a drug runner and/or DEA informant — something that makes Patty’s life a little bit more dangerous.
April 29, 2015
At Coyote Blog, Warren Meyer lays out his simple but effective plan to help African-Americans:
- Legalize drugs. This would reduce the rents that attract the poor into dealing, would keep people out of jail, and reduce a lot of violent crime associated with narcotics traffic that kills investment and business creation in black neighborhoods. It would also reduce the main excuse for petty harassment by police that falls disproportionately on young black men. No its not a good thing to have people addicted to strong narcotics but it is worse to be putting them in jail and having them shooting at each other.
- Bring real accountability to police forces. When I see stories of folks absurdly abused by police forces, I can almost always guess the race of the victim in advance. I used to be a law-and-order Conservative that blindly trusted police statements about every encounter. The advent of cell-phone video has proven this to be supremely naive.
- Eliminate the minimum wage (compromise: eliminate the minimum wage before 25). Originally passed for racist reasons, it still (if unintentionally) keeps young blacks from entering the work force. Dropping out of high school does not hurt employment because kids learn job skills in high school (they don’t); it hurts because finishing high school is a marker of responsibility and other desirable job traits. Kids who drop out can overcome this, but only if they get a job where they can demonstrate these traits. No one is going to take that chance at $10 or $15 an hour**
- Voucherize education. It’s not the middle class that is primarily the victim of awful public schools, it is poor blacks. Middle and upper class parents have the political pull to get accountability. It is no coincidence the best public schools are generally in middle and upper class neighborhoods. Programs such as the one in DC that used to allow urban poor to escape failing schools need to be promoted.
You could argue that decriminalizing drugs is somehow wrong … but if you’re looking at the harm inflicted by drug abuse and comparing it to the harm to African-American communities in particular, you would have to admit that it’s significantly worse with drug prohibition than it would be under a legal drug-use scenario. Reforming the police? Check what kinds of stuff show up in my Militarization-tagged posts — if that doesn’t convince you, you can’t be convinced.
The minimum wage is one of those issues that seems beneficial to the poor, because it means they get a higher wage on the job than they might get otherwise — what isn’t seen is that this limits the number of jobs that a poor person may have access to. Our education system is not adequately equipping people for the working world, and the more we expect the schools to teach, the less they can teach in the way of life-skills. A bad school can negatively impact someone’s entire working life. In education especially, one size does not fit all. Having more varied educational offerings makes it much more likely that children will be able to get the kind of education they need to succeed in life.
April 7, 2015
- Pornography. The complete absence of evidence that exposure to sexually-explicit material is harmful to children or anyone else doesn’t stop conservatives from advocating massive censorship.
- Drugs. We found out that Prohibition was a bad idea back in the 1930s — all it did was create a huge and virulent criminal class, erode respect for the law, and corrupt our politics. Some people never learn.
- Creationism. I don’t know who I find more revolting, the drooling morons who actally believe creationism or the intelligent panderers who know better but provide them with political cover for their religious-fundamentalist agenda in return for votes.
- Abortion. The conservatives’ looney-toon religious need to believe that a fertilized gamete is morally equivalent to a human being has done the other half of making a reasoned debate on abortion nigh-impossible.
- Racism. I haven’t forgiven the Right for segregation, Jim Crow laws, and lynching blacks. And I never will.
- Sexism. Way too much conservative thought still reads like an apologia for keeping women barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen.
- Anti-science. Stem cells, therapeutic cloning — it doesn’t matter how many more diabetes, cancer and AIDS patients have to die to protect the anti-abortion movement’s ideological flanks. Knowledge — who needs it? Conservatives would try suppressing astronomy if the telescope had just been invented.
- Family values. Conservatives are so desperate to reassert the repressive `normalcy’ they think existed in Grand-dad’s time that they pretend we can undo the effects of the automobile, television, the Pill, and the Internet.
- Ronald Wilson Reagan. A B-movie actor who thought ketchup was a vegetable. His grip on reality was so dangerously weak that the Alzheimer’s made no perceptible difference. Conservatives worship him.
- Conservatives, by and large, are villains.
Eric S. Raymond, “Top Ten Reasons I’m Neither a Liberal Nor a Conservative”, Armed and Dangerous, 2004-09-19.
April 5, 2015
I saw this on Google+ and thought the two graphics included in the post were interesting enough to present on their own — because they pretty much tell the whole story in a glance:
In 1969, the prison population was 200,000 and the overall population was about 200 million people. This means that approximately 0.1% of all Americans were in prison in 1969. As of 2010, the prison population had expanded to 1.6 million while the overall population was 309 million. Therefore, the current prison population is 0.5%. The prison population has expanded 5 times when adjusted for population size while the rate of drug addiction has remained largely constant. I do not believe that any reasonable person can look at the statistics on incarceration versus drug usage and come to any conclusion other than that the Drug War has been an immense cataclysm for the American people and that this cataclysm has fallen horrifically and disproportionately upon the poor. From a drug usage standpoint the inner cities have not improved in the slightest when it comes to overdoses and other tertiary consequences of drug use and we have simultaneously turned our inner cities into armed police states where the inhabitants are frequently terrified of the police, where the police engage in the worst sorts of paramilitary tactics, and where a large portion of young men are hurled into prison cells and ruined in the prime of their lives.
But none of these bourgeoisie facts and evidence shall deter Mr. Walters from his noble, righteous quest! No, he knows the evils of marijuana which shall be visited disproportionately upon the poor, and he will not rest until such toxins are driven entirely from the field:
The focus on marijuana legalization trades on the public perception that the drug does little damage, and hence, that any criminal justice penalty for its use is an unnecessary affront. In fact, marijuana use does serious harm, and its legalization promises more use by the most vulnerable in communities like Angela Dawson’s Oliver neighborhood.
Personally, and I do realize this would shock Mr. Walters, I actually don’t care how damaging marijuana is to its users. Provided its users are of legal age and therefore are capable of consenting to its use, whether or not it is ‘damaging’ is of no relevance to me — consuming massive quantities of sugar is damaging, large amounts of fat is damaging, failure to exercise is damaging, drinking to excess is damaging — yet none of these are, or should be, illegal. Even if you prove the negative consequences of weed, it doesn’t matter — it is not the responsibility of the state to treat its citizens like children in need of mollycoddling and governmentally sponsored salvation and it certainly is neither the duty nor the purpose of the state to save us from the consequences of our own decisions.
March 28, 2015
Back in 2009, the government of Singapore used some of Bryan Caplan’s writing to defend their policies against accusations of authoritarianism. In return, Caplan pointed out some aspects of Singapore’s government he finds appalling:
1. Conscription. Though they laughed at me in Singapore, this is clearly state slavery — and there are plenty of less draconian means to defend the city-state from conquest. (Like… paying soldiers market wages). Only a democratic fundamentalist would imagine that the right to vote is more important than the right to say “No” to a job offer.
2. The death penalty for drug trafficking. Jailing people for capitalist acts between consenting adults is bad enough. Murdering people for selling intoxicants to willing buyers is sheer barbarism.
3. State ownership. While Singapore’s state-owned companies act surprisingly like capitalist firms, why settle for second-best? And if you needed further empirical evidence that state ownership undermines personal freedom even if it is “run like a business,” take a look at the Straits Times or Singaporean television.
4. Defamation law. Letting people sue people who badmouth them is bad enough. But Singapore takes defamation law to its logical, absurd conclusion: You can’t even badmouth government officials unless you can prove that your charges are true. The problem with these laws isn’t that they’re undemocratic — after all, Singapore still allows criticism of policies. The problem is that they violate human freedom. People should be allowed to say what they like about whoever they like, whether or not they can prove it, and whether or not they’re right.
5. Censorship. The Internet has made Singaporean censorship largely obsolete, but it’s still an outrage that you need the government’s approval to stage a public performance.
Bottom line: Singapore’s critics have plenty of genuine grievances to denounce. (And under Singaporean law, it’s legal to do so — just don’t get personal!) So why do the critics keep complaining about “lack of democracy” when the real story is that most Singaporeans persistently prefer the PAP to the opposition?
March 27, 2015
Megan McArdle is being a downer about the idea that if we just stop throwing people into jail for non-violent drug possession, it’ll make a big dent in the prison population:
De-incarceration is clearly an idea whose time has come. But doing it means thinking clearly about de-incarceration. And as I discovered when I went to a recent event on the topic, most of us in the media don’t.
We’re hampered by the rampant perception that all we need is to wise up and stop incarcerating people for simply possessing drugs, something many of us feel shouldn’t be a crime at all and certainly shouldn’t merit prison time. At the event I attended, someone who has actually studied the matter closely pointed out what experts know and most journalists apparently don’t: Relatively few people are in prison for simple possession or for other minor crimes. The shock in the room was palpable.
I wasn’t shocked, but not because I am somehow immune to this delusion. Rather, I had it stripped from me a few years back, when I went to Hawaii to report on its innovative probation program, Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement. HOPE has sharply reduced the number of people who “flunk” probation and end up with long prison terms. To study it, I sat in a courtroom for a week and actually watched how the process worked. I’ve written about it in my book, but here’s something I didn’t write about: how shocked I was by the composition of the docket. I’d been expecting a lot more simple possession — and a lot less robbery, assault, domestic violence and burglary.
Even the most dedicated anti-incarceration activist would call these “real” crimes, and they were numerous. Even the most dedicated advocate of drug legalization — such as, say, me — would have to admit that a large percentage, perhaps the majority, of the people who committed “real” crimes had some sort of a drug problem — not as in “smokes more weed than they really should” but as in “admitted to the judge that they had smoked crystal meth recently enough to flunk the drug test they were about to be required to take.”
February 26, 2015
Bad players buy expensive guitars over and over because they figure it will make them better players. The entire music instrument industry is based on it. There’s Stevie Ray Vaughan, poised to be something more, but still a spare part on his more notable brother’s stage, with a borrowed Telecaster, a guitar as useful as a boat oar, putting the lie to that whole idea. People take drugs because they think it will make them as interesting as interesting people that take drugs. The entire drug industry is based on it.
Sippican Cottage, “Mind If My Little Brother Sits In?”, Sippican Cottage, 2014-06-15.
December 6, 2014
In an interview with Jenny Vrentas, former Viking great Fran Tarkenton discusses this year’s crop of rookie quarterbacks (including the Vikings’ Teddy Bridgewater), the NFL’s ongoing disciplinary issues with Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, the long-term issues with NFL doctors dispensing painkillers, and the advent of performance-enhancing drugs. On the issue of league discipline, he believes the league should not allow Rice or Peterson to play again:
VRENTAS: Are you saying the Vikings should move on from Peterson because of his age, or because of the child abuse case that led to his suspension?
TARKENTON: I followed the Clippers thing. That owner [Donald Sterling] didn’t get indicted for any crime, but the racial comments he made were totally inappropriate, and we took a stand. The whole world and the NBA, we have zero tolerance to racism. And I think that’s right. I agree with that. But I also think we ought to have zero tolerance to child abuse and domestic violence. I don’t think [Peterson] should play again in the NFL. I don’t think Ray Rice should play again. Either we have zero tolerance, or we don’t. And what is more egregious than domestic violence and child abuse? I don’t know of anything, unless you kill somebody.
VRENTAS: Peterson has not played since the child-abuse charges first surfaced in September, and now he’s been suspended for the rest of the season, pending appeal. Do you think the response shows that teams and the league are starting to take these issues more seriously?
TARKENTON: Kind of. They have been a little bit wishy-washy. [The Vikings] were going to play Adrian Peterson [before reversing course in September]. Other teams were going to play other players [involved in cases of domestic violence]. And the NFL was going to give just a two-game suspension to Ray Rice. I don’t think we’ve gotten beyond “win at any cost” yet. And I think we need to get there. We should have zero tolerance to racism. We don’t believe that, right? Is that more important than zero tolerance to domestic abuse and child abuse? Unless we as a society think that way, then we won’t make progress. And the whole domestic violence thing, that has been tolerated universally, but certainly in the NFL. We can’t tolerate that. All these behaviors that are so egregious continue. We need to set an example.
And on the topic of team doctors and the use of drugs to get players back into games (but which had potentially serious long-term health implicatons:
VRENTAS: You wrote a letter to the New York Times regarding painkiller abuse, in response to the DEA’s recent spot checks of NFL team medical staffs. This has been a subject you have been vocal about. What was your experience with painkiller use during your playing career?
TARKENTON: This has been going on forever. I was playing for the New York Giants, and I hurt my shoulder in a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. I came in at halftime, and the doctor had a great big long needle, punched a few different places, and told me, “Show me where it hurts the worst.” I said, “Ow,” and he jammed a combination of xylocaine and cortisone into my shoulder. That’s not good for my shoulder, but he’s my team doctor. I don’t think he’s going to do something that hurts my career, right? He’s like my family doctor. If my family doctor tells me to take a pill, I’ll take a pill. So every Friday, I went on the subway from old Yankee Stadium, where we practiced, all the way down to lower Manhattan to St. Vincent’s Hospital, and they did the same thing they did at halftime. They shot my shoulder. It didn’t really help me, but it allowed me to play. Now, when I come back to Minnesota, my shoulder is worse. The year we played the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl in New Orleans, my shoulder was already deteriorating, and I hurt it early in the season in Dallas. The rest of the year I could not throw a ball in practice; I could not throw a ball in warm-ups over 10 yards. When I got in the game, I could throw it maybe 40 yards, because my adrenaline was up, but there was nothing on it. But every Friday, guess what they shot me with? Butazolidin. That’s what they shot horses with. Shot me up every Friday, all the way to the Super Bowl. I retired at age 39, and I see my doctors down here [in Atlanta] because my shoulder is killing me. They say, “You’ve got the shoulder of a 75-year old man. You need your shoulder replaced.” I talked to a lot of the old guys — Roger Staubach, Otto Graham, Sammy Baugh, Johnny Unitas, Y.A. Tittle — and none of them had shoulders replaced. I had my shoulder replaced, because they shot me up. Where was the conscience back then? People say, “You knew what they were doing.” I knew what they were doing, but I didn’t think they would hurt me. I didn’t think my shoulder was going to fall apart.
November 25, 2014
I’ll do everything to end the war on drugs. … The war on drugs has become the most racially disparate outcome that you have in the entire country. Our prisons are full of black and brown kids. Three-fourths of the people in prison are black or brown, and white kids are using drugs, Bill, as you know … at the same rate as these other kids. But kids who have less means, less money, kids who are in areas where police are patrolling … Police are given monetary incentives to make arrests, monetary incentives for their own departments. So I want to end the war on drugs because it’s wrong for everybody, but particularly because poor people are caught up in this, and their lives are ruined by it.
Rand Paul, speaking to Bill Maher, 2014-11-15.