Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Woman gets a $100 ticket for having that on a bumper-sticker. Pretty amusing article. All the way at the end we learn that it's apparently a family activity. Her son got busted for having one that said, "Bush sucks Dick. Cheney too." Nice.


Thursday, March 23, 2006

No Drinking Allowed in the Bar

According to Reuters News Service, Texas is now sending undercover cops into bars to arrest people for being drunk. Remember, the terrorists hate us for our freedom!

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Texas has begun sending undercover agents into bars to arrest drinkers for being drunk, a spokeswoman for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission said on Wednesday.

The first sting operation was conducted recently in a Dallas suburb where agents infiltrated 36 bars and arrested 30 people for public intoxication, said the commission’s Carolyn Beck.

Being in a bar does not exempt one from the state laws against public drunkenness, Beck said.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Drugs Cause Bad Science

Here's an article I just saw today claiming that MDMA (Ecstasy) can cause permanent memory loss. This is a study that was published in a prestigious journal and covered widely by the press -- with provocative comments by the lead author warning that the study's message is "loud and clear" that users will not recover memory and learning capacity.

But look at the study.

Fifteen subjects. Half of them (8) were not using one year later. The article says that, "In all of the former users who had been abstinent for at least 32 weeks, test scores improved compared with their scores one year previously. However, some individuals' scores stayed the same." Presumably the "some individuals" refered to are those who had not been abstinent for at least 32 weeks -- as ALL those who had been improved.

So what can we conclude from this study?
1). Nothing. 15 subjects is far short of anything approaching statistical validity.
2). All those who hadn't used MDMA for 8 months scored better than they had a year previously, so we might conclude that there is evidence that memory recovers when MDMA use stops -- but that it takes several months for the recovery to get under way.

But that's not the headline, nor is it what the lead author says the conclusions are. He says that if you stop, "your memory may or may not recover." But ALL of those who stopped experienced improved memory over a year previously, so his conclusion is directly opposed to what the study shows.

It doesn't matter though, because my point is that shitty, sloppy bullshit science gets widely published and editorialized when the message is what society wants to hear. Next time someone tells you that science is about the search for truth, keep that in mind.

Ecstasy-related memory impairment can be permanent
Wed Mar 22, 2006 12:33 PM ET

By Anne Harding

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Taking the drug Ecstasy can impair memory and learning, but giving up the drug can stop the slide in mental capacity, a new study shows. However, researchers also found evidence that in heavy Ecstasy users, the effects on memory may persist even after they quit.

"The message should be loud and clear that if you're using a lot, you're not going to recover learning and memory," Dr. Konstantine K. Zakzanis of the University of Toronto at Scarborough, the study's lead author, told Reuters Health.

Zakzanis and his colleagues had previously shown that people who used Ecstasy, also known by the chemical name MDMA, experienced a decline in their memory over a one-year period. The 15 study participants' reported using the drug from 3 to 225 times over the course of the year.

The researchers looked at the same 15 people after another year had passed. Seven were still using the drug, while eight had become abstinent. The researchers evaluated their memory and learning using three tests, including the Rivermead Behavioral Memory Test, which is designed to evaluate everyday memory function.

In all of the former users who had been abstinent for at least 32 weeks, test scores improved compared with their scores one year previously. However, some individuals' scores stayed the same. Current users showed continued decline, with more frequent and longer-term use of the drug tied to greater loss of memory and learning function.

The worst impairments were seen in episodic memory, meaning the sort of memory a person uses while watching a news story on television and then trying to describe it to another person later.

"The general conclusions that one can make are that if you stop using, your memory won't get worse," Zakzanis said. "Depending on how much you've used, your memory may or may not recover."

Zakzanis pointed out that damage to memory and learning is just one harmful aspect of Ecstasy use, which also has been tied to depression.

SOURCE: Neurology 2006;66:740-741.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Brats become Republicans

Here's one of those cases where science seems to confirm the obvious:

How to spot a baby conservative
KID POLITICS | Whiny children, claims a new study, tend to grow up rigid and traditional. Future liberals, on the other hand ...
Mar. 19, 2006. 10:45 AM

Remember the whiny, insecure kid in nursery school, the one who always thought everyone was out to get him, and was always running to the teacher with complaints? Chances are he grew up to be a conservative.
At least, he did if he was one of 95 kids from the Berkeley area that social scientists have been tracking for the last 20 years. The confident, resilient, self-reliant kids mostly grew up to be liberals.
The study from the Journal of Research Into Personality isn't going to make the UC Berkeley professor who published it any friends on the right. Similar conclusions a few years ago from another academic saw him excoriated on right-wing blogs, and even led to a Congressional investigation into his research funding.
But the new results are worth a look. In the 1960s Jack Block and his wife and fellow professor Jeanne Block (now deceased) began tracking more than 100 nursery school kids as part of a general study of personality. The kids' personalities were rated at the time by teachers and assistants who had known them for months. There's no reason to think political bias skewed the ratings — the investigators were not looking at political orientation back then. Even if they had been, it's unlikely that 3- and 4-year-olds would have had much idea about their political leanings.
A few decades later, Block followed up with more surveys, looking again at personality, and this time at politics, too. The whiny kids tended to grow up conservative, and turned into rigid young adults who hewed closely to traditional gender roles and were uncomfortable with ambiguity.
The confident kids turned out liberal and were still hanging loose, turning into bright, non-conforming adults with wide interests. The girls were still outgoing, but the young men tended to turn a little introspective.
Block admits in his paper that liberal Berkeley is not representative of the whole country. But within his sample, he says, the results hold. He reasons that insecure kids look for the reassurance provided by tradition and authority, and find it in conservative politics. The more confident kids are eager to explore alternatives to the way things are, and find liberal politics more congenial.
In a society that values self-confidence and out-goingness, it's a mostly flattering picture for liberals. It also runs contrary to the American stereotype of wimpy liberals and strong conservatives.
Of course, if you're studying the psychology of politics, you shouldn't be surprised to get a political reaction. Similar work by John T. Jost of Stanford and colleagues in 2003 drew a political backlash. The researchers reviewed 44 years worth of studies into the psychology of conservatism, and concluded that people who are dogmatic, fearful, intolerant of ambiguity and uncertainty, and who crave order and structure are more likely to gravitate to conservatism. Critics branded it the "conservatives are crazy" study and accused the authors of a political bias.
Jost welcomed the new study, saying it lends support to his conclusions. But Jeff Greenberg, a social psychologist at the University of Arizona who was critical of Jost's study, was less impressed.

"I found it to be biased, shoddy work, poor science at best," he said of the Block study. He thinks insecure, defensive, rigid people can as easily gravitate to left-wing ideologies as right-wing ones. He suspects that in Communist China, those kinds of people would likely become fervid party members.
The results do raise some obvious questions. Are nursery school teachers in the conservative heartland cursed with classes filled with little proto-conservative whiners?
Or does an insecure little boy raised in Idaho or Alberta surrounded by conservatives turn instead to liberalism?
Or do the whiny kids grow up conservative along with the majority of their more confident peers, while only the kids with poor impulse control turn liberal?
Part of the answer is that personality is not the only factor that determines political leanings. For instance, there was a .27 correlation between being self-reliant in nursery school and being a liberal as an adult. Another way of saying it is that self-reliance predicts statistically about 7 per cent of the variance between kids who became liberal and those who became conservative. (If every self-reliant kid became a liberal and none became conservatives, it would predict 100 per cent of the variance). Seven per cent is fairly strong for social science, but it still leaves an awful lot of room for other influences, such as friends, family, education, personal experience and plain old intellect.
For conservatives whose feelings are still hurt, there is a more flattering way for them to look at the results. Even if they really did tend to be insecure complainers as kids, they might simply have recognized that the world is a scary, unfair place.
Their grown-up conclusion that the safest thing is to stick to tradition could well be the right one. As for their "rigidity," maybe that's just moral certainty.
The grown-up liberal men, on the other hand, with their introspection and recognition of complexity in the world, could be seen as self-indulgent and ineffectual.
Whether anyone's feelings are hurt or not, the work suggests that personality and emotions play a bigger role in our political leanings than we think. All of us, liberal or conservative, feel as though we've reached our political opinions by carefully weighing the evidence and exercising our best judgment. But it could be that all of that careful reasoning is just after-the-fact self-justification. What if personality forms our political outlook, with reason coming along behind, rationalizing after the fact?
It could be that whom we vote for has less to do with our judgments about tax policy or free trade or health care, and more with the personalities we've been stuck with since we were kids."

Friday, March 17, 2006

Birds of a feather...

Maybe you've heard about Bush's top domestic policy advisor getting busted for stealing crap from Target. "Top domestic policy advisor" -- think Josh on early West Wing -- before he went to work for Santos. Dude makes $161.000 per year and he's wandering down to Target on weekends to boost $5000 worth of crap in a year? This obviously isn't a case of economic need -- it's the same sickness that drives so many wealthy, powerful people to keep squeezing the lemon long after all the juice is gone. I call it RAS (Rich Asshole Syndrome). Ask any homeless guy; he'll tell you that the people who give him some change aren't the ones who can afford it most easily, but the ones who cannot. Being obscenely wealthy is stressful. On some level, we know we don't deserve it, but we strive to make sense of it -- to create a narrative in which it makes sense that we have it and they don't. How else to live with the fact that the cost of our shoes could provide a month's health care for an entire village. I say "we" because, having spent a lot of time in places like India and Cambodia, I know what it's like to be obscenely wealthy. And I know some of the bizarre psycho-emotional contortions one can get into trying to feel justified and somehow "worthy." That's why the wealthy are so fond of telling us that they worked hard for every penny -- as if the poor don't work hard. It's a particularly poignant form of survivor's guilt -- but the victims aren't necessarily dead, just living in pain we'll never have to bear.

Given the nature of the bus we're riding, some will have a seat and some will have to stand. If you don't want to give your seat up to the pregnant woman, the least you can do is let her lean on your shoulder occasionally. But to do that requires that you acknowledge the injustice of the whole situation, and your complicity in being one of the "winners." That's far too much for the simple-minded buffoons we choose as our leaders these days. So no sharing of seats, and no leaning!

Anyway, here's a nice piece of work showing how Bush's advisor's crime is nothing more than a very small enactment of Bush's economic policies. From Slate.com

"Claude Allen's Mentor
Shoplifting and Bushonomics.
By Jacob Weisberg

Last week, Slate broke the news that Claude Allen, until recently the White House chief domestic-policy adviser, was arrested for theft in suburban Maryland. The president has expressed his shock and disappointment. How could one of his top appointees, a devout Christian who passed a series of FBI background checks, have been a common thief? But the more we hear about what Allen is accused of, the less it sounds like kleptomania and the more it sounds like an application of Bush economic policy.

Allen's alleged scam was something called "refund fraud." According to the police in Montgomery County, he would purchase a home-theater system or a computer printer from a department store and put it in the trunk of his car. Then he would come back to the same store with his receipt, pull an identical item off the shelf, and take it to the return desk for a refund. Using this technique, a brazen perpetrator pays for the item once but derives value from it two times—he gets his money back and keeps the merch. Allen is alleged to have stolen more than $5,000 worth of merchandise over the past year in this way.

Just as a point of comparison, consider Bush's Social Security proposal, which died on the vine in Congress last year. Bush wanted to create a system of private retirement accounts for future retirees. To create these accounts would have required him to divert $1 trillion or so from the Social Security Trust Fund, which pays for benefits for current and future retirees. Since Bush did not propose to reduce benefits, how was he going to make up the difference? By sauntering to the customer service desk and asking for his money back. In this case, the receipt was a bogus projection that the retirement funds invested in the stock market would grow so quickly that everyone would come out ahead. The main difference between Allen's alleged scam and Bush's attempted one is scale. The goods Bush tried to slip under his coat at the Social Security Administration were worth around 200 million times as much as the ones Allen is said to have lifted at Target and Hecht's.

Allen's appliance-rustling days are surely over, but his former colleagues in the West Wing are still running all their favorite cons. At the moment, they're trying to slip more tax cuts out the door without stopping at the cash register. Their trick is to claim that with the manager's special, tax cuts are on sale—for nothing. "You cut taxes and the tax revenues increase," Bush said last month, in a typical statement on the subject. In other words, tax cuts will mean more money for the Treasury, not less.

There is, of course, no economic support for the concept that tax cuts are cost-free, just as there are no shops where customers are encouraged to walk past the checkout line without paying. Bush's tax-avoidance scam is based on the truism that government revenues almost always rise in nominal terms because of inflation, population growth, and GDP growth. Even if Congress cuts taxes, government is likely to take in more in 2007 than in 2006—it just won't take in as much more as it would have otherwise. According to a recent paper by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, after Bush's 2003 tax cuts, federal revenues were $316 billion below the administration's own previous forecast.

Another con the president pulls not at Wal-Mart but at the Office of Management and Budget is price-tag swapping. In this scam, the presidential perp picks out a high-priced item like a package of lamb chops or the Iraq war. When the security camera is pointed elsewhere, he peels off the $200 billion price tag and attaches a lower one. Should a subordinate threaten to squeal to security, the ringleader deals with the problem Tony Soprano-style. For instance, when the government's chief Medicare actuary came up with a too-high price tag of $551 billion for Bush's Medicare prescription drug bill, members of the president's gang paid a visit and made him an offer he couldn't refuse: Keep quiet and keep your job. The official price tag was dropped to $400 billion—even though subsequent estimates have ranged as high as $700 billion.

Presidents set a moral example, and given the message Bush has been sending, it's no surprise that the problem of inventory shrinkage has spread to Congress as well. For example, Republicans in the Senate recently proposed a novel way to "pay" for extending Bush's tax cut on investment income, which will otherwise expire in 2009. They want to allow millionaires—and not just those making less than $100,000 a year—to convert their conventional IRAs to Roth IRAs, which allow people to deduct money tax-free upon retirement. This change would produce a temporary revenue boost, because taxes are due on the initial conversion to a Roth IRA. But the change would be a big money-loser in the long run. With this swindle—paying for one tax cut for the rich with another tax cut for the rich—Bushonomics has finally reached its larcenous apogee.

So, where might Claude Allen have learned you can get the things you want without having to pay for them? Let's just say it wasn't at church."

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Billion Dollar Baby

From the "Too weird to be possible" file:

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The counterfeit money looked good, but there was one flaw. There's no such thing as a one billion dollar bill.
U.S. Customs agents in California said on Tuesday they had found 250 bogus billion dollar bills while investigating a man charged with currency smuggling.

Tekle Zigetta, 45, pleaded guilty to three federal counts of trying to bring cash, phony bills and a fake $100,000 gold certificate into the United States in January.

Further investigation led agents to a West Hollywood apartment where they found the stash of yellowing and wrinkled one billion dollar bills with an issue date of 1934 and bearing a picture of President Grover Cleveland.

"You would think the $1 billion denomination would be a giveaway that these notes are fake, but some people are still taken in," said James Todak, a secret services agent involved in the probe.

Really? Some people are still taken in? Like who, Officer Todak? Who was taken in by the billion dollar notes? Did the guy take one down to Fort Knox to ask for change? Who the hell has EVER been taken in by a billion dollar note?

Sunday, March 05, 2006

r/K compassion for Oprah

We've just learned that one of our kittens has a congenital defect in her spine that is already causing her great pain and will only get worse. Not good news.

Biologists distinguish those organisms that have many young, most of which aren't expected to survive (fish, rats, most insects, etc.) from those that have few young, but invest heavily in their survival (whales, humans, elephants, etc.). These two approaches to survival are known as r-type or K-type selection. As humans, we respond to the death of a child with profound grief. If we were r-type organisms, we would presumably be far more philosophical about such a death, as it would be an ever-present part of family life. So how does a K-type animal (Casi and me) respond to the demise of our r-type pet? It's a strange conundrum.

Cats are not known for their sensitivity to the death of others. They characteristically seem to enjoy the suffering of the mouse they play with for hours before killing. Death seems neither shocking nor unfamiliar to our feline friends. While Casi and I are heart-broken over watching this little kitten suffer and the need to end her suffering ourselves, she would probably not understand what all the fuss was about, if she were in our position. She'd probably consider us to be pathetically sentimental. We hide from ourselves the fact that we participate in death every day -- we call the dead cow, "beef" and the dead pig, "pork" to better obscure the reality from ourselves. And only this self-deception allows us to think that the death of a sick kitten is tragic.

Or so I keep telling myself...

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Cronkite on The War on Drugs

This was recently written by Walter Cronkite, perhaps the most respected journalist of the past 50 years.

As anchorman of the CBS Evening News, I signed off my nightly broadcasts for nearly two decades with a simple statement: "And that's the way it is."

To me, that encapsulates the newsman's highest ideal: to report the facts as he sees them, without regard for the consequences or controversy that may ensue.

Sadly, that is not an ethic to which all politicians aspire - least of all in a time of war.
I remember. I covered the Vietnam War. I remember the lies that were told, the lives that were lost - and the shock when, twenty years after the war ended, former Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara admitted he knew it was a mistake all along.

Today, our nation is fighting two wars: one abroad and one at home. While the war in Iraq is in the headlines, the other war is still being fought on our own streets. Its casualties are the wasted lives of our own citizens.

I am speaking of the war on drugs.

And I cannot help but wonder how many more lives, and how much more money, will be wasted before another Robert McNamara admits what is plain for all to see: the war on drugs is a failure.

While the politicians stutter and stall - while they chase their losses by claiming we could win this war if only we committed more resources, jailed more people and knocked down more doors - the Drug Policy Alliance continues to tell the American people the truth - "the way it is."

I'm sure that's why you support DPA's mission to end the drug war. And why I strongly urge you to support their work by giving a generous donation today.

You see, I've learned first hand that the stakes just couldn't be higher.

When I wanted to understand the truth about the war on drugs, I took the same approach I did to the war in Vietnam: I hit the streets and reported the story myself. I sought out the people whose lives this war has affected.

Allow me to introduce you to some of them.

Nicole Richardson was 18-years-old when her boyfriend, Jeff, sold nine grams of LSD to undercover federal agents. She had nothing to do with the sale. There was no reason to believe she was involved in drug dealing in any way.

But then an agent posing as another dealer called and asked to speak with Jeff. Nicole replied that he wasn't home, but gave the man a number where she thought Jeff could be reached.

An innocent gesture? It sounds that way to me. But to federal prosecutors, simply giving out a phone number made Nicole Richardson part of a drug dealing conspiracy. Under draconian mandatory minimum sentences, she was sent to federal prison for ten years without possibility of parole.

To pile irony on top of injustice, her boyfriend - who actually knew something about dealing drugs - was able to trade information for a reduced sentence of five years. Precisely because she knew nothing, Nicole had nothing with which to barter.

Then there was Jan Warren, a single mother who lived in New Jersey with her teenage daughter. Pregnant, poor and desperate, Jan agreed to transport eight ounces of cocaine to a cousin in upstate New York. Police officers were waiting at the drop-off point, and Jan - five months pregnant and feeling ill - was cuffed and taken in.

Did she commit a crime? Sure. But what awaited Jan Warren defies common sense and compassion alike. Under New York's infamous Rockefeller Drug Laws, Jan - who miscarried soon after the arrest - was sentenced to 15 years to life. Her teenage daughter was sent away, and Jan was sent to an eight-by-eight cell.

In Tulia, Texas, an investigator fabricated evidence that sent more than one out of every ten of the town's African American residents to jail on trumped-up drug charges in one of the most despicable travesties of justice this reporter has ever seen.

The federal government has fought terminally ill patients whose doctors say medical marijuana could provide a modicum of relief from their suffering - as though a cancer patient who uses marijuana to relieve the wrenching nausea caused by chemotherapy is somehow a criminal who threatens the public.

People who do genuinely have a problem with drugs, meanwhile, are being imprisoned when what they really need is treatment.

And what is the impact of this policy?

It surely hasn't made our streets safer. Instead, we have locked up literally millions of people...disproportionately people of color...who have caused little or no harm to others - wasting resources that could be used for counter-terrorism, reducing violent crime, or catching white-collar criminals.

With police wielding unprecedented powers to invade privacy, tap phones and conduct searches seemingly at random, our civil liberties are in a very precarious condition.

Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on this effort - with no one held accountable for its failure.

Amid the clich├ęs of the drug war, our country has lost sight of the scientific facts. Amid the frantic rhetoric of our leaders, we've become blind to reality: The war on drugs, as it is currently fought, is too expensive, and too inhumane.

But nothing will change until someone has the courage to stand up and say what so many politicians privately know: The war on drugs has failed.

That's where the Drug Policy Alliance comes in.

From Capitol Hill to statehouses to the media, DPA counters the hysteria of the drug war with thoughtful, accurate analysis about the true dangers of drugs, and by fighting for desperately needed on-the-ground reforms.

They are the ones who've played the lead role in making marijuana legally available for medical purposes in states across the country.

California's Proposition 36, the single biggest piece of sentencing reform in theUnited States since the repeal of Prohibition, is the result of their good work. The initiative is now in its fifth year, having diverted more than 125,000 people from prison and into treatment since its inception.

They oppose mandatory-minimum laws that force judges to send people like Nicole Richardson and Jan Warren to prison for years, with no regard for their character or the circumstances of their lives. And their work gets results: thanks in large part to DPA, New York has taken the first steps towards reforming the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws under which Jan was sentenced.

In these and so many other ways, DPA is working to end the war on drugs and replace it with a new drug policy based on science, compassion, health and human rights.

DPA is a leading, mainstream, respected and effective organization that gets real results.

But they can't do it alone.

That's why I urge you to send as generous a contribution as you possibly can to the Drug Policy Alliance.

Americans are paying too high a price in lives and liberty for a failing war on drugs about which our leaders have lost all sense of proportion. The Drug Policy Alliance is the one organization telling the truth. They need you with them every step of the way.

And that's the way it is.

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