Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for October 6th, 2018

Amazon Prime: Watch “Long Strange Trip”

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I had always wondered about the popularity of the Grateful Dead. I didn’t get it. The Amazon 6-episode miniseries “Long Strange Trip” explains. Very interesting indeed.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 October 2018 at 1:55 pm

Posted in Movies & TV, Music

Look Who’s Got the Antidote to Trump’s Prescription for Global Drug War

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Philip Smith writes in Drug War Chronicles:

President Trump is in New York City for the United Nations General Assembly, but he’s going to kick off his appearance with an unofficial event aimed at promoting a tougher global line on drugs. He will host a meeting on “The World Drug Problem,” and countries that have agreed to sign on to a document circulated by the administration, “The Global Call to Action on the World Drug Problem,” will be rewarded by being invited to the event and given the opportunity to “participate in a group photo” with the president.

“The purpose of this event is to demonstrate international political will to enhance efforts to effectively address and counter the serious threats posed by the world drug problem,” says an August 31 diplomatic note first reported by The Intercept.

In that note, the administration says it is already “collaborating” with a couple of dozen countries, but many of them are already proponents of harsh drug policy approaches. At least three of them — China, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore — are quick to resort to the death penalty for drug offenders, while others, such as Russia and the United Arab Emirates, are not exactly beacons of progressive drug policy. Yet other countries, including Costa Rica, India, and the United Kingdom, have signed on despite not hewing to draconian drug policy positions — perhaps just to stay on the right side of the mercurial and vindictive Trump.

Unlike the UN drug policy process, which involves lengthy, finely detailed study, negotiation, and consensus-building among member states and civil society actors, Trump’s Global Call is an attempt to impose the administration’s hardline drug war positions on other countries. The cover letter accompanying the Global Call makes clear that the text of the document “is not open for discussion.”

In Trump’s Global Call to Action, states agree to develop “action plans” based on a “four-pronged strategy” of demand reduction, drug treatment, international cooperation, and cutting the supply of illicit drugs that reflects the global drug policy consensus of a decade or two ago — not today.

Twenty years ago, the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs ended with a call for “a drug-free world.” That chimera, of course, never happened, and the UN’s political declaration in 2009 ratcheted down the rhetoric, calling merely for demand reduction, supply reduction, and international cooperation — language strikingly reminiscent of Trump’s current Global Call. But by the 2016 UNGASS on Drugs, the global community had moved beyond pure drug war theater, explicitly tying drug policy to human rights, access to health care, and sustainable development and implicitly endorsing harm reduction. The words “harm reduction” didn’t make it into the final UNGASS documents, but their spirit was present. . .

Continue reading. There’s more in the article.

Then follows that with this:

Even as US President Donald Trump was using the meeting Monday of the United Nations General Assembly to try to create a hardline global drug policy coalition, a group that includes a dozen former heads of state from countries around the planet issued a report urging governments to embrace alternatives to a “failed” repressive drug war. Instead, the group argued, countries should begin to try to implement regulated markets for illicit substances.

While Trump spoke in New York City, the Global Commission on Drug POLICY unveiled its report, Regulation: The Responsible Control of Drugs, with a press conference in Mexico City, capital of a nation frequently scapegoated by Trump for America’s drug crises, but which in reality has suffered mightily from the demons unleashed by drug prohibition. The county’s death toll in a decade of heightened prohibition-related cartel and government violence now exceeds 200,000 — the kind of figure associated more with festering civil wars than with law enforcement problems.

One of Mexico’s former presidents, Ernesto Zedillo, is a member of the commission, established in 2011 by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, along with former presidents and prime ministers of Brazil, Chile, Colombia, East Timor, Greece, Malawi, New Zealand, Nigeria, Poland, Portugal, and Switzerland. The group also includes notable global figures, such as Richard Branson and Mario Vargas Llosa, as well as American political names such as former Secretary of State George Schultz and former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

“A demand for drugs exists, and if it is not satisfied through legal ways, then it will be satisfied by the illegal market,” said commission chair former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss, “Prohibition has allowed criminal organizations to control the whole chain of drugs. Every region in the world suffers from violence induced by turf wars over production areas and transit routes, from corruption and connivance of state institutions, and from the laundering of drug money, which damages the legal economy and the functioning of democratic institutions.”

In the report, the commission calls on policymakers to open local and national participatory processes to shape the reforms and collect evidence on the legal regulation of drugs. That’s something incoming Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has already begun with his town hall meetings on violence and his proposal of amnesty for non-violent traffickers and drug crop farmers.

“This report provides a coherent account of what the legal regulation of drugs can look like in a real-life context, based on scientific evidence and current regulatory frameworks for legal substances,” said Dreifuss. “It draws particular attention to the risks associated with over-commercialization and the need to learn from mistakes in regulating alcohol, tobacco and prescription opioids.”

The global leaders also call for the renegotiation of the international treaties that form the legal backbone of global drug prohibition. Not only do they encourage a repressive approach to the drug question where drug users and low-level dealers face stiff prison sentences, they are also increasingly out of touch with social and political realities. Uruguay, Canada, and nine American states have legalized marijuana in contravention of the treaties, and Bolivia does not acknowledge coca’s inclusion in their drug schedules.

“The international drug control system has failed to achieve its own objectives in terms of the supply in and demand for drugs,” said former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark. “It needs to adapt quickly to the reality that an increasing number of states are calling for or have implemented reforms which are incompatible with the framework it established. The gap which has developed between the expectations created by that framework and the reality on the ground needs to be faced up to. A new system is urgently needed which will support countries to implement effective drug policies.”

American drug reformers applauded the commission’s call for a new approach. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 October 2018 at 12:46 pm

Ohio Initiative Would End Prison for Drug Possession.

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The state criminal justice and Republican political establishment is opposed. Imagine that.

So writes Phillip Smith in Drug War Chronicle:

Progressive voters in battleground Ohio will have one more reason to head to the polls next month. Not only do they have a chance to put a Democrat in the governor’s mansion and reelect US Senator Sherrod Brown, but they also will have the opportunity to enact a dramatic sentencing reform that will keep thousands of non-violent drug offenders out of prison and help inmates currently serving time for drug possession get back into their communities sooner.

Issue 1, the smartly named Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment, and Rehabilitation Amendment, would:

  • Reclassify drug possession offenses as misdemeanor crimes, except for drug possession or trafficking offenses currently categorized as first-, second- or third-degree felonies;
  • Prohibit jail sentences for drug possession until an individual’s third offense within 24 months;
  • Allow inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes to reduce their sentences up to 25 percent for completing rehabilitative, work or educational programming;
  • Apply cost savings from reduced prison expenses to drug treatment programs and crime victim services.

That’s right, passage of Issue 1 would effectively defelonize drug possession in the Buckeye State. At least 16 states have already taken similar steps to ratchet down the drug war, including California, New York, and neighboring Pennsylvania. And now, thanks to local grassroots organizing backed by some big outside money, Ohio could be next.

It could use the help. The state’s prison population has hovered around 50,000 for nearly two decades after rising dramatically during the height of drug war repression in the 1980s and 1990s, and nearly a quarter of inmates are doing time for drug offenses. Unsurprisingly, Ohio suffers the same sort of racial disparities as the rest of the country, with blacks more than five times as likely to be imprisoned as whites, and Latinos nearly twice as likely. The state’s resort to mass incarceration costs it around $2 billion a year in corrections costs.

The initiative is the brainchild of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, a coalition of 20 community organizations, faith institutions, labor unions, and policy groups across the state, and its Ohio Safe and Healthy Communities campaign. Its aim is to reduce mass incarceration and racial disparities in the criminal justice system and increase access to drug treatment. Issue 1 would “invest in proven treatment for addiction instead of more spending on bloated prisons,” explained campaign manager Amanda Hoyt.

While the initiative is homegrown, the funding for it is coming mainly from out-of-staters. Facebook founder . . .

Continue reading.

Later in article:

“Relying on incarceration to solve addiction and the conditions that drive lower-level crimes actually doesn’t make communities safer, and it results in huge expenses to taxpayers with devastating impact to individuals, families, and entire communities,” said Ana Zamora, criminal justice manager at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, in a statement.

Issue 1 will “put taxpayer dollars to better use by reducing reliance on prisons to address certain nonviolent offenses, including drug use and possession,” Zamora added.

The opposition to Issue 1 isn’t . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

6 October 2018 at 12:41 pm

Nordic walking getting better

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Because of rain, I didn’t walk yesterday, and the three times I walked previously I was slower (68 minutes, then 66.9 and 67.6), with a slower cadence (106.7, 108.4, 107.3 steps/minute respectively).

So today I pushed myself to walk faster. Today: 63.1 minutes (my best time yet) and a cadence of 112.6 steps/minute (my fastest cadence yet). And I’m not tired. A little sweaty, but not tired.

I do two laps (1.15 miles each) with this hill profile:

And then two laps (5/8 mile each) with this hill profile:

And then a short lap around the end of the block, essentially flat. Total distance 3.8 miles. Speed: 3.6 mph.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 October 2018 at 12:04 pm

The inner voice

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Philip Jaekl, who studied neuroscience at York University in Toronto and went on to complete postdoctoral research at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain, and at the University of Rochester in New York, writes in Aeon:

I think, therefore I am,’ the 17th-century philosopher René Descartes proclaimed as a first truth. That truth was rediscovered in 1887 by Helen Keller, a deaf and blind girl, then seven years of age: ‘I did not know that I am. I lived in a world that was a no world … When I learned the meaning of “I” and “me” and found that I was something,’ she later explained, ‘I began to think. Then consciousness first existed for me.’ As both these pioneers knew, a fundamental part of conscious experience is ‘inner speech’ – the experience of verbal thought, expressed in one’s ‘inner voice’. Your inner voice is you.

That voice isn’t the sound of anything. It’s not even physical – we can’t observe it or measure it in any direct way. If it’s not physical, then we can arguably only attempt to study it by contemplation or introspection; students of the inner voice are ‘thinking about thinking’, an act that feels vague. William James, the 19th-century philosopher who is often touted as the originator of American psychology, compared the act to ‘trying to turn up the gas quickly enough to see how the darkness looks’.

Yet through new methods of experimentation in the last few decades, the nature of inner speech is finally being revealed. In one set of studies, scans are allowing researchers to study the brain regions linked with inner speech. In other studies, researchers are investigating links between internal and external speech – that which we say aloud.

The roots of the new work trace back to the 1920s and the Russian developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky, who said the human mind was shaped by social activity and culture, beginning in childhood. The self, he hypothesised, was forged in what he called the ‘zone of proximal development’, the cognitive territory just beyond reach and impossible to tackle without some help. Children build learning partnerships with adults to master a skill in the zone, said Vygotsky, then go off on their own, speaking aloud to replace the voice of the adult, now gone from the scene. As mastery increases, this ‘self-talk’ becomes internalised and then increasingly muted until it is mostly silent – still part of the ongoing dialogue with oneself, but more intimate and no longer pronounced to the world. This voice – at first uttered aloud but finally only internal – was, from Vygotsky’s perspective, the engine of development and consciousness itself.

Vygotsky’s theory of childhood development contrasted sharply with those of his Western counterparts. William James had a complete disdain for the study of inner speech, because, to him, it was a ghost: impossible to observe. The French developmental psychologist Jean Piaget insisted that private speech signified simple inability – it was the babble of a child without capacity for social communication with no relation to cognitive functioning at all. Through much of the 20th century, Piaget seized the reigns of child development, insisting that children had to reach a developmental stage before learning could occur. Which came first: the chicken or the egg? Vygotsky said that learning occurred, then the brain developed. Piaget said the brain developed, then learning occurred.

Over years of meticulous experiment behind the Iron Curtain, Vygotsky continued to make his case. One thing he did was study children in the zone of proximal development as they worked with adults to accomplish tasks. In the experiments, the child would be presented with a challenge and a tool for overcoming it. In the zone, Vygotsky observed what he called ‘private speech’ – self-talk that children between the ages of two and eight often engage in. This intermediate stage, he held, was connected on one end to a prior period when we had no thread of memory (and no inner voice) and on the other end to true inner speech so crucial to self-reflection, narrative memory, and development of cognitive skills.

Within the newly forming Soviet Union, Vygotsky’s research was stigmatised, in large part because it used intelligence testing to validate some concepts; IQ testing itself had been banned as a challenge to Marxist principles of equality. Despite the roadblocks, in 1934 (the year of his death) Vygotsky finally published his opus on inner speech and childhood development, Thought and Language. It was a potent challenge to Piaget but, shrouded by the Stalinist censor, his ideas remained under wraps.

Meanwhile, in the West, newer work in developmental psychology began to chip away at the acceptance of Piaget. When Thought and Language was finally rediscovered and published in English by MIT Press in 1962, it was the perfect moment. The book provided a rational, alternative way to conceive the development of the mind. And further translations of Vygotsky’s writings led to a plethora of hypotheses ripe for testing.

By 1970, the push to validate Vygotsky’s ideas had picked up steam. A leader of that era was the American psychologist Laura Berk, professor emeritus at Illinois State University, an expert on childhood play. Berk observed children engage in imaginative, ‘make-believe’ play, and demonstrated that the substitution of objects – say a cup for a hat – requires internal thought (and self-talk) rather than impulse. Her studies show that during imaginative play, children’s self-talk helps them guide their own thoughts and behaviour and exert true self-control. She and many other child psychologists demonstrated the importance of the inner voice, beyond a doubt, elevating Vygotsky and burying Piaget for good.

With inner speech clearly established as a chisel for the young mind, many more questions remained. Do people in adulthood experience inner speech in the same way as children – or even as each other? Do most of us even have an inner voice – an internal commentator narrating our lives and experiences from one moment to the next?

These were deeply controversial and introspective questions in the 1970s, and they captured the imagination of Russell Hurlburt, an aeronautical engineer-turned-clinical-psychology graduate student at the University of South Dakota. Hurlburt had envisioned a way to accurately sample others’ random inner experiences. Today a professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, he’s been honing the technique ever since.

Hurlburt calls his methodology Descriptive Experience Sampling (DES), and it works by sampling the inner thoughts of a given interviewee during those moments when a beeper randomly goes off. After extracting the contents of inner experience from countless interviews, Hurlburt has defined an array of phenomena typically shared by humans – auditory and visual imagery, emotion, awareness of real stimuli and a category of thoughts that occur without words, images or symbols of any kind. The main contribution here, though, is actually DES itself. Before its inception, introspective methods had been shunned for decades, if not centuries, as being too highly influenced by bias to be taken seriously. Now, with DES, Hurlburt believes in the possibility of obtaining unbiased, accurate snapshots of inner experience that includes inner speech.

Freed from the mundane confines of a laboratory, the data come from ‘the wild’, as Hurlburt puts it. A participant wears the beeper, which can go off at any moment throughout the day. They go about their daily activities and are likely to forget its presence. When the beeper does go off, the participant makes a careful note of exactly what their inner experience was immediately beforehand. Subsequently, they are questioned by Hurlburt about that experience in a thorough but open-ended interview.

The interview process itself requires an exacting, friendly yet trial-like probe of what occurred. In one unedited transcript in Hurlburt’s book Exploring Inner Experience (2006), a participant named Sandy is quoted following a beep: ‘I was reading. I was starting with the word “life”… and I had an image in my head – it was a black and white image, by the way – of… OK, I was staring at the word “life” and I had said to myself “life” in my own tone of voice.’

Sandy was referring to inner speech using the word ‘life’. For the next six minutes Hurlburt probed her about this experience. His questions eventually helped Sandy divulge that as she was inwardly speaking the word ‘life’ she simultaneously ‘saw an image of that word in an old-courier like font – black on a white background’ and a moving image of ‘sand pouring’ from a hand of unknown agency below her face.

DES requires careful skill to capture these kinds of experiences accurately – what Hurlburt terms, ‘high-fidelity, pristine’ inner speech as it naturally occurs. He takes care not to bias the participant in any way. ‘There are a lot of people who believe that you talk to yourself all of the time, so that’s a form of external pressure to say you were inner speaking when maybe you weren’t,’ he notes. For example, noted consciousness researcher Bernard Baars has asserted that ‘overt speech takes up perhaps a tenth of the waking day; but inner speech goes on all the time’. Hurlburt’s research shows this isn’t true; he finds that inner speech consumes about 25 per cent of an average person’s day, and thus, he is careful to not communicate any assumption about what type of inner experience a DES interviewee may have had at the time of the beep.

Thanks to the accuracy of DES, Hurlburt has found thought patterns associated with various clinical populations, including those with schizophrenia, bulimia nervosa, and autism. In a sample of bulimic participants, for instance, he’s found the propensity for multiple inner voices experienced at the same time. Take ‘Jessica’, a patient watching television when the DES beep occurred. In the front of her head, Hurlburt explains, she was inwardly saying ‘blond’, ‘skinny’, ‘guys’, and ‘stare’ in what was her own, unspoken voice. At the same time, in the back part of her head, she was saying, in another, quieter inner voice, still her own: ‘Why is it that movies and TV shows always have ‘girls for’, ‘to’, and ‘at’? Importantly, such experiences are not often perceived by the experiencers themselves, let alone revealed to anyone else.

Hurlburt has found that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

And let me again recommend Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious, by Timothy Wilson.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 October 2018 at 6:45 am

Posted in Daily life, Memes, Science

Cheaper Battery Is Unveiled as a Step to a Carbon-Free Grid

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I hunger for good news, and this article describes a good advance in battery technology. Ivan Penn reports in the NY Times:

Lithium-ion batteries have become essential for powering electric cars and storing energy generated by solar panels and wind turbines. But their drawbacks are also by now familiar: They use scarce minerals, are vulnerable to fires and explosions, and are pricey.

A plentiful, safe and more affordable alternative would be worth a lot.

On Wednesday, an energy company headed by the California billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong announced that it had developed a rechargeable battery operating on zinc and air that can store power at far less than the cost of lithium-ion batteries.

Tests of the zinc energy-storage systems have helped power villages in Africa and Asia as well as cellphone towers in the United States for the last six years, without any backup from utilities or the electric grid, Dr. Soon-Shiong said.

“It could change and create completely new economies using purely the power of the sun, wind and air,” Dr. Soon-Shiong, a surgeon and a biotechnology entrepreneur, said in an interview in Los Angeles before the announcement.

[Read more: Sizing up zinc air batteries on cost, environmental safety and potential.]

Dr. Soon-Shiong and his company, NantEnergy, made the announcement in conjunction with the One Planet Summit in New York, an event meant to further the goals of the Paris climate accords. He developed the technology with support from the World Bank.

The battery units, in conjunction with solar arrays, can be combined to create a microgrid system powering a village or a larger area, Dr. Soon-Shiong said. They have been deployed to support 110 villages in nine countries in Asia and Africa — including places that otherwise relied on generators or even lacked electricity, he said.

The International Finance Corporation, an arm of the World Bank fostering private-sector projects in developing countries, was an early investor in NantEnergy, and an agency representative sits on the company’s board.

The United States Department of Energy made development grants to NantEnergy (formerly known as Fluidic Energy) totaling $5 million, Dr. Soon-Shiong said.

NantEnergy, based in Phoenix and in El Segundo, Calif., says it expects to expand the use of its product in telecommunications towers and eventually extend it to home energy storage, beginning in California and New York. Beyond that, it anticipates use in electric cars, buses, trains and scooters. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 October 2018 at 6:37 am

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