Archive for October 9th, 2011
Portugal seems to be making incredible social progress. A few years back, they decriminalized ALL drugs. Results: incredibly positive. Here’s the report (PDF) from the Cato Institute, written by Glenn Greenwald.
And now the country has legalized same-sex marriages. Frank Bruni writes in the NY Times:
WHEN she turned 38 last month, Brenda Frota Johnson got a sweet surprise: a formal “happy birthday” from her longtime partner’s mother.
It wasn’t a gift or even a card, just a succinct text message, but even so, it had no precedent over the 10 years that she and her partner, Isabel Advirta, 39, had been making a life and a home here together.
Why this birthday? The two women share a theory.
“Brenda’s now officially a part of the family,” Advirta said recently as they watched their 3-year-old daughter, Salomé, play in a leafy Lisbon park.
Johnson agreed. “It’s because we’re married,” she said. That legal blessing — that loftiest of imprimaturs — has changed little between them but a lot around them.
With minimal international attention, Portugal — tiny, overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Portugal — legalized same-sex marriage last year. Although the country is hardly seen as a Scandinavian-style bastion of social progressivism, it’s one of just 10 countries where such marriages can be performed nationwide, and in this regard it finds itself ahead of a majority of wealthier, more populous European countries, like France, Germany, Italy and Britain. In the United States, only six states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage. How did that happen? And what wisdom do the answers offer frustrated supporters of same-sex marriage here and elsewhere around the globe?
With a potent case of Portugal envy, I went there and talked with advocates and politicians at the center of its same-sex-marriage campaign and with gay and lesbian couples who married after the law took effect in June 2010. All were still pleasantly stunned by what Portugal had accomplished.
It was only a little more than a decade ago that a country first legalized same-sex marriage, and that happened in precisely the kind of forward-thinking, bohemian place you’d expect: the Netherlands. About two years later, Belgium followed suit.
Then things got really interesting. The eight countries that later joined the club were a mix of largely foreseeable and less predictable additions. In the first category I’d put Canada, Norway, Sweden and Iceland. In the second: . . .
Interesting op-ed by Susan Thomas in the NY Times:
. . . As a 42-year-old Brooklyn mother of three, what I care about is lunch, and feeding my family on a tenuous and unpredictable income. And so I have 20 fresh-egg-producing hens and a little garden that yields everything from blackberries to butternut squash to burdock root.
My turn with spade and hoe started a few years ago when I found myself divorced and flat broke. My livelihood as a freelance writer went out the window when the economy tanked. I literally could afford beans, the dried kind, which I’d thought were for school art projects or teaching elementary math. And I didn’t know how to cook.
Luckily, my late father had hammered into me that grit was more important than talent. So, when I couldn’t afford fancy food — never mind paraben-free shampoo — for my babies, I figured, if peasants in 11th-century Sicily did all this, how hard could it be?
I researched how to raise hens from chicks so we could get our omega-3-filled eggs. I learned to stretch a single piece of cheap meat into nearly a week’s worth of dinners. I made my own cleaning products. Not because I liked it. Because it was cheap.
My goal was to have healthy, unprocessed food for $10 or less a day. Cereal was the first thing to go. It dawned on me that making granola was a matter of tossing oatmeal and nuts into a bowl with a little oil, honey and spices — and then baking until brown. No more $14 boxes of fancy grains with pomegranate antioxidants.
Bread wasn’t hard either; it was just a drawn-out procedure. Yeast, water, a little honey, salt, whole wheat flour, and assorted seeds. Mix; wait for rising; knead; wait; knead; wait; bake. I made batches and froze them. So long, Eli Zabar’s 10-buck Health Loaf. Hi there, homemade loaf for less than $1. I soon realized that . . .
An intriguing column by Glenn Greenwald:
It’s fascinating to juxtapose America’s reverence for Steve Jobs’ accomplishments and its draconian drug policy with this, from the New York Times‘ obituary of Jobs:
[Jobs] told a reporter that taking LSD was one of the two or three most important things he had done in his life. He said there were things about him that people who had not tried psychedelics — even people who knew him well, including his wife — could never understand.
Unlike many people who have enjoyed success, Jobs is not saying that he was able to succeed despite his illegal drug use; he’s saying his success is in part — in substantial part — because of those illegal drugs (he added that Bill Gates would “be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once”). These quotes (first published by a New York Times reporter) have been around for some time but have been only rarely discussed in the recent hagiographies of Jobs: a notable omission given that he himself praised those experiences as an integral part of his identity and one of the most important things he ever did. A surprisingly good Time Magazine article elaborates on this Jobs-LSD connection further:
The paradoxes of love have perhaps never been clearer than in our relationships with Apple products — the warm, fleshy desire we feel for such cold, hard, glassy objects. But Jobs knew how to inspire material lust. He knew that consumers want something that not only sparkles and awes, but also feels accessible, easy to use, an object with which we want to merge and to feel one and the same. . . .
Not coincidentally, that’s how people describe the experience of taking psychedelic drugs. It feels profoundly artificial yet deeply real, both high-tech and earthy-crunchy, human and mystically divine — in a word, transcendent. Jobs had this experience. . . . As attested by the nearly spiritual devotion so many consumers have to Jobs’ creations, the former Apple chief (and indeed many other top technology pioneers) appeared to have found enduring inspiration in LSD. Research shows that the psychedelic experience is, in fact, long lasting: a new study published last week found that people who took magic mushrooms (psilocybin) had long-term personality changes, becoming more open, more curious, more intellectually engaged and more creative. These personality shifts persisted more than a year after taking the drugs.
America’s harsh prohibitionist drug policies are grounded in the premise that the prohibited substances have little or no redeeming value and cannot be used without life-destroying consequences. Yet the evidence of its falsity is undeniable. Here is one of the most admired men in America, its greatest contemporary industrialist, hailing one of the most scorned of these substances as integral to his success and intellectual and personal growth. The current President commendably acknowledged cocaine and marijuana use while there is evidence suggesting the prior President also used those substances. One of America’s most accomplished athletes was caught using marijuana at the peak of his athletic achievements. And millions upon millions of American adults have consumed some or many of those criminally prohibited substances, and themselves will say (like Jobs) that they had important and constructive experiences with those drugs or know someone who did.
In short, the deceit at the heart of America’s barbaric drug policy — that these substances are such unadulterated evils that adults should be put in cages for voluntarily using them — is more glaring than ever. In light of his comments about LSD, it’s rather difficult to reconcile America’s adoration for Steve Jobs with its ongoing obsession with prosecuting and imprisoning millions of citizens (mostly poor and minorities) for doing what Jobs, Obama, George W. Bush, Michael Phelps and millions of others have done. Obviously, most of these banned substances — like alcohol, gambling, sex, junk food consumption, prescription drug use and a litany of other legal activities — can create harm to the individual and to others when abused (though America’s solution for drug users — prison — also creates rather substantial harm to the drug user and to others, including their spouses, parents and children: at least as much harm as, and usually substantially more than, the banned drugs themselves). But no rational person can doubt that these substances can also be used responsibly and constructively; just study Steve Jobs’ life if you doubt that.
Jobs’ praise for his LSD use is what I kept returning to as I read about the Obama DOJ’s heinous new policy to use the full force of criminal prosecutions against medical marijuana dispensaries in California. In October, 2009, I enthusiastically praised Eric Holder and the DOJ for appearing to fulfill Obama’s campaign promise by refraining from prosecuting medical marijuana dispensaries in compliance with state law (a “rare instance of unadulterated good news from Washington,” I gushed). As I wrote:
Criminalizing cancer and AIDS patients for using a substance that is (a) prescribed by their doctors and (b) legal under the laws of their state has always been abominable. The Obama administration deserves major credit not only for ceasing this practice, but for memorializing it formally in writing.
Yet now, U.S. Attorneys in California will expend substantial law enforcement resources to persecute medical marijuana dispensaries that sell to consenting adults even though those transactions have been legalized by the voters of California and 16 other states (to see what a complete reversal this is of everything Obama and Holder previously said on this subject, see here).
Progressives love to point out the hypocrisy of social conservatives who righteously rail against (and demand legal sanction for) the very same sexually sinful behavior in which they enthusiastically engage — and rightly so. But what about a society that continues to imprison millions of human beings for using substances that vast numbers of people in the nation have secretly used and enjoyed, or which empowers people with the Oval Office, or reveres people like Steve Jobs, who have done the same? The DOJ claims dispensaries are now masking non-medical marijuana sales, leading to this question: even leaving aside the rather significant (and shameful) fact that drug laws are enforced with overwhelming dispropritionality against racial minorities, what possible justification is there for putting someone in a cage for using a substance they choose to use without any evidence that they’ve harmed anyone else or even risked harm to anyone else?
All of this becomes even more incomprehensible when one considers . . .
I’ve played four-person chess and Go as two teams of two each, no conferring. This works reasonably well, with the weaker player on each team sort of softening the effectiveness of the better player, so both teams struggle along.
Three-person is rather different, since all three are playing and any temporary partnerships dissolve in the face of opportunity. (I’ve read that three-person teams are frequent in enforcement situations: a two-person team can quickly reach agreement to collude but a three-person team is less stable: each must fear becoming the odd man out, with the other two colluding against him, so stable cooperation is difficult.)
Here’s a three-person variant of chess. Has anyone tried it?
It would be useful to have some index of the level of daily distractions.
It seems to me that the degree to which people in the US (and probably worldwide) are being distracted has steadily increased over the past few decades. In my childhood, we had fewer distractions: radio programs in the evening, movies on Saturday, listen to records occasionally, phone calls from time to time. A weekly high school football game. College games—seen at colleges or in newsreels. (This was before television.) But large chunks of time were left for one to fill as s/he wished. There was a sense that you were in control of your time.
Now I see people as being more or less constantly distracted. The entertainment industry pumps out movies, TV shows, games, and the like as fast as it can. Major-league sports franchises constantly strive to extend their reach and their involvement in our daily lives with product and activity spin-offs. We now carry our phones with us constantly, and can watch movies, sports, TV, or the news, read the paper, and exchange text messages. Twitter and Facebook and other social media augment (and to some extent replace) face-to-face visits.
Many jobs have seeped into time once reserved for one’s private life: it’s one thing to bring home a briefcase of papers, another to have a computer the keeps you connected to (and interacting with) your work colleagues pretty much any hour of the day or night, not to mention the iPhone or Blackberry.
People now have much less time in which they are free to simply sit and contemplate—think about—their lives and the world around them. Rather they are constantly having to respond to external stimuli: distractions.
Being in a constant state of distraction has its upsides, of course. Corporations really like for consumers to be slightly distracted since that lowers their guard and allows easier psychological manipulation and triggering. Indeed, the environment so carefully conceived and created for shoppers—malls, supermarkets, department stores, auto shows, casinos, and the like—are designed to distract: to deliver exactly the right sort and level of distraction to put the consumer in a state where his or her credit cards emerge almost involuntarily and the accumulation of stuff begins.
And politicians also want us distracted. In general, they do not want an informed and active citizenry, because active, informed citizens start making demands on their elected officials. From a politician’s point of view, it’s better to have citizens that are aroused but whose informational diet is carefully restricted and monitored—nothing is more distasteful to the average politician than citizens getting useful and accurate information about what the government is doing. Better to keep citizens stirred up and angry at each other.
I got to thinking about how distracted people are because now that I am retired with a fair amount of free time, I look at things happening in plain sight in the US that somehow people are not noticing. I started thinking about this on seeing the Jon Stewart program that lays out quite clearly and simply how the Palin family decided as early as June that Ms. Palin would not run for president, but deliberately kept that decision secret so that they could continue to harvest donations from their supporters, including one last big round of donations they requested just before she would finally announce her decision—a decision she had made months before.
The Palin campaign was a scam, pure and simple, and it’s obvious from publicly available information. But no one seems to notice. No one has time to notice because of the constant din of distractions. We are drowning in distractions while important issues either go unaddressed or are addressed in ways that, were we paying attention, should horrify us.
UPDATE: Part of the efficacy of the distractions visited upon us is due to our increasing knowledge of how the human brain and mind work: neurology and psychology have now delved pretty deeply into how we function, though much remains to be learned. Still: of all the research and knowledge we now posses, I would love to know a breakdown of its use in two categories: helping people become more autonomous and free, and controlling people.
UPDATE 2: I was thinking that we need more rituals like these.
Governments do have enemies, but sometimes governments begin to see their own dissenting citizens as enemies and begin to abuse government power to pursue these enemies—imprisoning them without charges or trials, torturing them to try to get information with which to charge them, even putting them to death without trial or allowing them to confront and question their accusers.
In Argentina this paranoia, supported by the Catholic church, led to the murder of citizens in order to take away their infant children. Alexei Barrionuevo reports in the NY Times:
Victoria Montenegro recalls a childhood filled with chilling dinnertime discussions. Lt. Col. Hernán Tetzlaff, the head of the family, would recount military operations he had taken part in where “subversives” had been tortured or killed. The discussions often ended with his “slamming his gun on the table,” she said.
It took an incessant search by a human rights group, a DNA match and almost a decade of overcoming denial for Ms. Montenegro, 35, to realize that Colonel Tetzlaff was, in fact, not her father — nor the hero he portrayed himself to be.
Instead, he was the man responsible for murdering her real parents and illegally taking her as his own child, she said.
He confessed to her what he had done in 2000, Ms. Montenegro said. But it was not until she testified at a trial here last spring that she finally came to grips with her past, shedding once and for all the name that Colonel Tetzlaff and his wife had given her — María Sol — after falsifying her birth records.
The trial, in the final phase of hearing testimony, could prove for the first time that the nation’s top military leaders engaged in a systematic plan to steal babies from perceived enemies of the government.
Jorge Rafael Videla, who led the military during Argentina’s dictatorship, stands accused of leading the effort to take babies from mothers in clandestine detention centers and give them to military or security officials, or even to third parties, on the condition that the new parents hide the true identities. Mr. Videla is one of 11 officials on trial for 35 acts of illegal appropriation of minors.
The trial is also revealing the complicity of civilians, including judges and officials of the Roman Catholic Church. . .