Later On

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Archive for November 3rd, 2013

How baseball got one man’s life back on track

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Very good article at ThinkProgress by Travis Waldron:

The lights were off at Nationals Park, the streets around the stadium cold, dark, and lonely as a brisk wind whipped above and around the ballpark and a hint of rain fell from the graying sky above. It fit the mood of the nation’s capital on the first night of the World Series, which was about to begin 400 miles away in Boston. It was supposed to start here, at least that’s what the pundits had said way back in April, when the Washington Nationals were a popular pick to win the National League and at least appear in the Series.

Instead, they quit playing a month ago. The magic that led to the National League East division championship in 2012 never reemerged in 2013, and the Nats spent not a single day in first place after the season’s opening week. It sure felt like a failure, especially right outside that empty ballpark.

Even through the disappointment, though, something special happened at Nationals Park this year, not on the field where fans had trained their eyes but right next to them in the stands.

That’s where a D.C. resident named Cliff (whose last name is withheld by his request) joined them for most of the last half of the season. Nationals Park was a place he came to find peace after years of struggling with homelessness, addiction, and mental illness. There’s something soothing about a ballpark — about baseball — for anyone, the sights and the sounds and the chance to watch grown men play a boy’s game. It forms some magical charm that locks us in as children and, for some anyway, never lets go. But for Cliff there’s more, a solace that maybe he’s never known anywhere else, and it comes just as much from the people around him in the stands as it does from the players on the field. There’s nowhere he’d rather be.

“I love being around the people who come to the park,” Cliff told me the first time we talked back at the end of summer. “They’re not people I’m used to being around – strung out, always looking for that next one. They’re productive citizens. It’s just being in a totally different environment than what I’m used to being in. Living in a world of addiction is a world of isolation.”

With the season over, though, Cliff’s place of solace is empty and closed, and damn, it is cold. The night didn’t feel much different two miles north, where it was windy and spitting rain and, though it’s not quite lonely yet — not with the bustle of people sinking into Union Station to make their way home — it’s hard to imagine that little patch of grass outside the Government Printing Office felt any other way nine years ago when Cliff was sleeping there, broken and bruised and strung out on whatever the drug of choice was that night.

He was just a boy when the drugs first took their grip, 12 years old when he took his first toke. Then it was alcohol. Crack. Heroin. Anything he could get his hands on to take him away from this world. He had periods of sobriety, sure, but thanks to bipolar disorder, he was always impulsive, subject to the whims of a moment and the urges of addiction.

That’s how he ended up on that patch of grass off North Capitol in the first place. He had a good job in Tulsa, working for “one of the best iron-working companies in our local” back in 2001, when he heard about some work in D.C. and convinced a union apprentice to pack everything they owned in the back of a pick-up truck and head east. The prize was a new convention center, one that would provide plenty of work — and, given that it was D.C., more money too — for a couple union handymen like them.

They never made it. Just outside St. Louis, they totaled the truck. The apprentice stuck around, but Cliff hopped on a Greyhound and kept going. D.C. may have seemed like a new frontier, but it was hardly that. He was off his medication and back on drugs almost immediately.

“I couldn’t hold a job after that. Every job you have to take a urine screen. And the jobs I didn’t, I’d get my first paycheck or two and never come back,” he said. Enough money to get his next fix, and he’d disappear for good, sometimes taking his paycheck on a Friday morning and booking off the job before lunch.

“And then I went homeless.”

For a little while it worked. He stayed in shelters and bummed money to get high. Sometimes he was able to get his fix in the shelters, sometimes, like the night a roommate caught him cooking heroin, his addiction booted him back to the streets. Two years he did this, stoned on the streets, stoned in the shelters, stoned everywhere he was as long as he could get it. And then, that one night in 2004, he put his head down on the dusty patch outside the Printing Office and went to sleep. It was fall, not too cold, but his face was bleeding and battered from a fight that night. He closed his eyes. What he didn’t know was that his life was about to change forever.

I’m sitting with Cliff in a walkway inside Nationals Park, just above section 129, where he’s been watching the game, where he’s watched most of the games for the last month and a half. It’s the last week of September and the Nationals are in the midst of a furious run toward the playoffs, one final chance to salvage their season. Tonight, though, they have the unfortunate luck of playing the Atlanta Braves, a team that’s comfortably winning the East and is trying to clinch their own playoff spot. It’s the last homestand of the season, so Cliff is trying to take in as much baseball between now and then as he can.

“Wrong hat,” he tells me, noticing the Braves logo perched on my head.

Back in the spring, Cliff was in rehab again, at least his third trip in the last decade. He had promised his dying sister a year before that he was done with the drugs and the alcohol that had gripped his life. He wasn’t.

But now here he sat, watching baseball, and he’s never been better. Cliff just picked up his six-month sobriety chip. He’s been going to meetings, 90 in 90 days when he first got out of rehab, now three or four or sometimes even five a week. He’s staying busy — a few nights before we met at the ballpark, he called a friend from the middle of the Potomac River. He was fishing. Caught a catfish.

He’s been here before, clean and ready to stay that way, but never with this much commitment.

“I mean, they say you can’t say you’re never gonna use again, but I just feel different this time,” he says. “I’ve always done something wrong when I got out of rehab. The last time, they say you shouldn’t be around people that use, I had a drug dealer who still came around and I’d let him cut up his crack. That was insane when I think about it, because all it took was one night for me to have the urge to do it.”

Being at the park, he says, is a big part of doing it right.

After a few minutes, I leave him. He has to get back to the game. The hope is seeping out of Nats Park, but it never leaves Cliff. “You’re gonna lose,” he yells as I walk away.

The only reason Cliff was sitting in Nationals Park that night, and the only reason the park eventually became his getaway, was because somebody woke him up in that patch of grass nine years ago. The guy who nudged Cliff awake could have been anyone. A cop looking to take him in. Or maybe somebody trying to finish the job the fight had started. Could have been someone else looking for a fix, maybe someone trying to give Cliff his next one.It was the director of a program new to D.C. called Pathways To Housing. Cliff was about to become one of the fledgling program’s first clients.

Cliff had tried to find housing before, but the programs he went to told him they couldn’t help until he got the disability checks he was eligible for. The government, though, won’t send a check to a patch of dirt outside a federal building. It’s an odd, unintentional conundrum America’s web of poverty and assistance programs sometimes creates. You need an address to get the assistance. People like Cliff need the assistance just to get an address. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 November 2013 at 12:20 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

Drug warriors bring up old bogeymen

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“The dangers of smoking marijuana” is a tired canard, and increasingly irrelevant as medical patients use marijuana ingestibles and a growing number use vaporizers rather than combustion. (It’s never a good idea to inhale products of combustion, though studies referenced in the article below show that marijuana smoke is pretty much harmless—it certainly does not cause cancer, unlike cigarettes.)

Paul Armentano, the deputy director of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and co-author of Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink, writes at AlterNet:

As public support for amending America’s antiquated and failed cannabis criminalization policies continues to grow to record levels, [3]stalwart prohibitionists – predictably – are doubling down on tried-and-true propaganda tactics to attempt to turn the tide. One of their most common strategies is to emphasize alleged health risks associated with marijuana consumption, in particular the claim that cannabis smoking causes cancer and other tobacco-related respiratory risks.

A recent example of this argument appeared in an October 29, 2013 Seattle Post-Intelligencer commentary [4], entitled “Marijuana smoking and the risk of lung cancer” by Eric Vallieres of the Swedish Cancer Institute. (Sweden, as a nation, imposes strict anti-drug prohibitions relative to most of Europe.) Predictably, his alarmist commentary is heavy on rhetoric but woefully short on facts.

Of course, no one argues that the ingestion of combustive smoke, whether it is tobacco smoke or cannabis smoke, is healthy. However, it is inaccurate to allege that the risks to the consumer posed by these two substances are equal. In fact, the most recently available peer-reviewed science clearly rebukes the allegation that cannabis is as equal to or more dangerous than tobacco. For example, writing in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2012, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco reported that occasional to moderate cannabis consumption was not associated with the adversely pulmonary risks associated with tobacco smoking. Investigators “confirmed the expected reductions in FEV1 (forced expiratory volume in the first second of expiration) and FVC (forced vital capacity)” in tobacco smokers. By contrast, “Marijuana use was associated with higher FEV1 and FVC at the low levels of exposure typical for most marijuana users. With up to 7 joint-years of lifetime exposure (e.g., 1 joint/d for 7 years or 1 joint/wk for 49 years), we found no evidence that increasing exposure to marijuana adversely affects pulmonary function.” The full study may be read online here[5].

The findings in JAMA were hardly a surprise. Previously, the largest case-controlled study ever to investigate the respiratory effects of marijuana smoking reported that cannabis use was not associated with lung-related cancers, even among subjects who reported smoking more than 22,000 joints over their lifetime. Summarizing the study’s findings in The Washington Post, lead investigator and pulmonologist Dr. Donald Tashkin of UCLA concluded [6], “”We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and that the association would be more positive with heavier use. What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect.” The full study is available here [7]. (Notably, pot propagandists such as Dr. Vallieres try to in vain to undermine these findings by citing a 2008 New Zealand study, which some purport to definitively demonstrate a link between cannabis use and lung cancer. In reality, that study [8] only reported a positive correlation in 14 heavy using subjects – a sample size far too small to draw any conclusions from and a result that has, to date, never been replicated in any large-scale population case-control models. Moreover, the same study also found that light-to-moderate lifetime cannabis consumers, who consisted of the majority of the trials’ participants, possessed no increased risk of cancer.)

More recently, this past May presenters at the annual meeting of the American Academy for Cancer Research reported that subjects who regularly inhale cannabis smoke possess no greater risk of lung cancer than do those who consume it occasionally or not at all — according to an analysis of six case-control studies, conducted between 1999 and 2012, involving over 5,000 subjects (2,159 cases and 2,985 controls) from around the world. They concluded [9], “Our pooled results showed no significant association between the intensity, duration, or cumulative consumption of cannabis smoke and the risk of lung cancer overall or in never smokers.”

Most recently, an editorial in July published in the journal Annals of the American Thoracic Society concluded [10]: “Cannabis smoking is not equivalent to tobacco smoking in terms of respiratory risk. … [C]annabis smoking does not seem to increase risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or airway cancers. In fact, there is even a suggestion that at low doses cannabis may be protective for both conditions. … This conclusion will affect the way health professionals interact with patients, parents with teenagers, and policy makers with their constituents. … Efforts to develop cleaner cannabinoid delivery systems can and should continue, but at least for now, [those] who smoke small amounts of cannabis for medical or recreational purposes can breathe a little bit easier.”

Why have scientists not identified a cannabis smoke/cancer link? The answer may be because cannabis, unlike tobacco, contains anti-cancer causing agents [11] – a fact most recently reaffirmed this week in Newsweek on October 29 under the headline “Marijuana might kill cancer.” Reports the story [12], “In a paper published in October’s Anticancer Research, Wai Liu, a senior research fellow at St. George’s University of London, reports that he found six cannabinoids – active components of the cannabis plant – that can slow or outright kill cancer cells.” Previous peer-reviewed assessments of the properties of cannabis smoke and tobacco smoke further acknowledge [13] that the pharmacological activities of these substances differ in such a manner that they are by no means equally carcinogenic.

It is true that some studies of cannabis smoke and pulmonary function indicate [14] that chronic exposure may be associated with an increased risk of certain respiratory complications, including cough, bronchitis, phlegm. That said, the ingestion of cannabis via alternative methods such as edibles, liquid tinctures, or via vaporization [15] — a process whereby the plant’s cannabinoids are heated to the point of vaporization but below the point of combustion –- virtually eliminates consumers’ exposure to such unwanted risk factors and has been determined [16] to be a ‘safe and effective’ method of ingestion in clinical trial settings.

Cannabis smoking is certainly not without potential risks. But these risks should not be overstated, nor should they be asserted as a justification for a public policy that continues to criminalize and stigmatize responsible, adult cannabis consumers.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 November 2013 at 8:50 am

Idiot Compassion and Mindfulness

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Derek Beres writes:

Compassion is an important concept, and even more important practice to integrate into one’s life. Like all ideas, layers underlie the meaning. One of the most fascinating is what Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche termed ‘idiot compassion.’

His well known student, Buddhist nun and author Pema Chodron,explains:

It refers to something we all do a lot of and call it compassion. In some ways, it’s what’s called enabling. It’s the general tendency to give people what they want because you can’t bear to see them suffering.

Chodron exposes the danger in this: instead of offering a friend medicine, bitter though it may be when ingested, you feed them more poison—at the very least, you don’t take it away from them. This, she says, is not compassion at all. It’s selfishness, as you’re more concerned with your own feelings than attending to your friend’s actual needs.

Granted, saying uncomfortable things to someone close to you is no easy task. If they are violent or depressive, criticism could send them spiraling. Yet enabling is not good either. Stepping up and being a teacher in challenging situations requires great tact and care, and does not always work out how you intended it to.

As I’ve been exploring this concept this week in my yoga classes, I began thinking about . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 November 2013 at 8:44 am

Posted in Daily life

Delaware, Den of Thieves?

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Very interesting op-ed in the NY Times by John Cassara:

OUTSIDE of crimes of passion, criminal activity is typically motivated by greed.

As a special agent for the Treasury Department, I investigated financial crimes like money laundering and terrorism financing. I trained foreign police forces to “follow the money” and track the flow of capital across borders.

During these training sessions, I’d often hear this: “My agency has a financial crimes investigation. The money trail leads to the American state of Delaware. We can’t get any information and don’t know what to do. We are going to have to close our investigation. Can you help?”

The question embarrassed me. There was nothing I could do.

In the years I was assigned to Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or Fincen, I observed many formal requests for assistance having to do with companies associated with Delaware, Nevada or Wyoming. These states have a tawdry image: they have become nearly synonymous with underground financing, tax evasion and other bad deeds facilitated by anonymous shell companies — or by companies lacking information on their “beneficial owners,” the person or entity that actually controls the company, not the (often meaningless) name under which the company is registered.

Our State and Treasury Departments routinely identify countries that are havens for financial crimes. But, whether because of shortsightedness or hypocrisy, we overlook the financial crimes that are abetted in our own country by lax state laws. While the problem is concentrated in Delaware, there has been a “race to the bottom” by other states that have enacted corporate secrecy laws to try to attract incorporation fees.

The Financial Action Task Force, an international body that sets standards for the fight against money laundering, terrorist financing and other threats to the international financial system, has repeatedly criticized America for failing to comply with a guideline requiring the disclosure of beneficial ownership information. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, with which the task force is affiliated, has championed international standards for financial transparency, but cannot compel compliance.

Watchdog groups like the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, Global Financial Integrity and Global Witness say that anonymous companies registered in the United States have become the vehicle of choice for drug dealers, organized criminals and corrupt politicians to evade taxes and launder illicit funds. A study by researchers at Brigham Young University, the University of Texas and Griffith University in Australia concluded that America was the second easiest country, after Kenya, in which to incorporate a shell company.

Domestic law enforcement agencies are as stymied as foreign ones. . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 November 2013 at 8:42 am

Posted in Business, Government, Law

Oxford University Press at work in the early 20th century

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Fascinating video, via Open Culture, which comments on it here.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 November 2013 at 8:33 am

Posted in Books, Technology, Video

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