Archive for March 28th, 2009

Maher, Rushdie, Hitchens and Mos Def have an honest conversation about marijuana

| March 28, 2009 | Reply
Maher, Rushdie, Hitchens and Mos Def have an honest conversation about marijuana

Maher and guests (Salman Rushdie, Christopher Hitchens and Mos Def) had an honest conversation about marijuana, politics and prohibition. Compare this honesty to Obama’s recent concocted statement, which was carefully designed to keep him safe from Republican character attacks. This topic of the legalization of marijuana needs more honest discussion, or else we will continue tossing 800,000 victimless “criminals” into the justice system every year. I’m not promoting the use of marijuana or any other mind-altering drug; I would prefer that everyone stay sober and naturally high on life. The current system is insanity, however, and I don’t see any hope for the honest public conversations we need to have.

On a related note, Huffpo reports that the violent big-time sellers of illegal drugs are thrilled to hear that we are going to continue our violence-inducing and generally counter-productive “drug war”:

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, reported head of the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico, ranked 701st on Forbes’ yearly report of the wealthiest men alive, and worth an estimated $1 billion, today officially thanked United States politicians for making sure that drugs remain illegal. According to one of his closest confidants, he said, “I couldn’t have gotten so stinking rich without George Bush, George Bush Jr., Ronald Reagan, even El Presidente Obama, none of them have the cajones to stand up to all the big money that wants to keep this stuff illegal. From the bottom of my heart, I want to say, Gracias amigos, I owe my whole empire to you.”

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Jim Webb’s heroic speech on the need for prison reform

| March 28, 2009 | 2 Replies
Jim Webb’s heroic speech on the need for prison reform

In reading Glenn Greenwald’s column at Salon, I learned the extent to which Senator Jim Webb has heroically spoken out on the need for prison reform. Webb certainly hits the nail on the head. Our current prison system is dehumanizing and it drains the public treasury. We can do much much better. Here are Webb’s words:

Let’s start with a premise that I don’t think a lot of Americans are aware of. We have 5% of the world’s population; we have 25% of the world’s known prison population. We have an incarceration rate in the United States, the world’s greatest democracy, that is five times as high as the average incarceration rate of the rest of the world. There are only two possibilities here: either we have the most evil people on earth living in the United States; or we are doing something dramatically wrong in terms of how we approach the issue of criminal justice. . . .

The elephant in the bedroom in many discussions on the criminal justice system is the sharp increase in drug incarceration over the past three decades. In 1980, we had 41,000 drug offenders in prison; today we have more than 500,000, an increase of 1,200%. The blue disks represent the numbers in 1980; the red disks represent the numbers in 2007 and a significant percentage of those incarcerated are for possession or nonviolent offenses stemming from drug addiction and those sorts of related behavioral issues. . . .

In many cases these issues involve people’s ability to have proper counsel and other issues, but there are stunning statistics with respect to drugs that we all must come to terms with. African-Americans are about 12% of our population; contrary to a lot of thought and rhetoric, their drug use rate in terms of frequent drug use rate is about the same as all other elements of our society, about 14%. But they end up being 37% of those arrested on drug charges, 59% of those convicted, and 74% of those sentenced to prison by the numbers that have been provided by us. . . .

Another piece of this issue that I hope we will address with this National Criminal Justice Commission is what happens inside our prisons. . . . We also have a situation in this country with respect to prison violence and sexual victimization that is off the charts and we must get our arms around this problem. We also have many people in our prisons who are among what are called the criminally ill, many suffering from hepatitis and HIV who are not getting the sorts of treatment they deserve.

Importantly, what are we going to do about drug policy – the whole area of drug policy in this country?

And how does that affect sentencing procedures and other alternatives that we might look at?

Greenwald picks up where Webb’s quote (above) stops. This is a critical issue that needs immediate attention, for all of our good. We can do a lot better than arguing to lock up all the “bad” guys but then defining the “bad” guys simplistically and then making it all worse with the way we treat those “bad” guys.

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Space shuttle landing successful

| March 28, 2009 | 2 Replies
Space shuttle landing successful

Everyone is breathing a sigh of relief that the space shuttle has successfully landed. The landing was a beautiful spectacle.

Poking around on Youtube, I found something equally spectacular. This is a short clip of the method for getting the shuttle from place to place down here on the planet: it rides piggyback on a 747.

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Charles Darwin’s exceedingly dangerous idea

| March 28, 2009 | Reply
Charles Darwin’s exceedingly dangerous idea

In Darwin’s dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life, Daniel Dennett describes Darwin’s idea as the “best idea anyone has ever had.”

In a single stroke, the idea of evolution by natural selection unifies the realm of life, meaning, and purpose with the realm of space and time, cause and effect, mechanism and a physical law. But it is not just a wonderful scientific idea. It is a dangerous idea.

What exactly was Darwin’s dangerous idea? According to Dennett, it was “not the idea of evolution, but the idea of evolution by natural selection, an idea he himself could never formulate with sufficient rigor and detail to prove, though he presented a brilliant case for it.” (42) Dennett considers Darwin’s idea to be “dangerous” because it has so many fruitful applications in so many fields above and beyond biology. When Dennett was a schoolboy, he and some of his friends imagined that there was such a thing as “universal acid,”

a liquid “so corrosive that it will eat through anything! The problem is: what do you keep it in? It dissolves glass bottles and stainless steel canisters as readily as paper bags. What would happen if you somehow came upon or created a dollop of universal acid? With the whole planet eventually be destroyed? What would it leave in its wake? After everything had been transformed by its encounter with universal acid, what would the world look like? Little did I realize that in a few years I would encounter an idea-Darwin’s idea-bearing an unmistakable likeness to universal acid: eats through just about every traditional concept, and leaves in its wake a revolutionized world-view, with most of the old landmarks are still recognizable, but transformed in fundamental ways.

(63) Darwin’s idea is powerful, indeed. Many people see it as having the power to ruin the meaning of life.

People fear that once this universal acid has passed through the monuments we cherish, they will cease to exist, dissolved in an unrecognizable and unlovable puddle of scientific destruction.

Dennett characterizes this fear is unwarranted:

We might learn some surprising or even shocking things about these treasures, but unless our valuing these things was based all long on confusion or mistaken identity, how could increase understanding of them diminish their value in our eyes? (82)

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