Archive for the ‘And Now for Something Completely Different’ Category

No Rich Child Left Behind

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

– An excellent article.  I get discouraged at times by this world but there are still good people doing good work to try to improve our self-understanding and thus, the possibility that we can avoid shooting ourselves in the foot.

– dennis

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By SEAN F. REARDON in the New York Times Opinion Pages

Here’s a fact that may not surprise you: the children of the rich perform better in school, on average, than children from middle-class or poor families. Students growing up in richer families have better grades and higher standardized test scores, on average, than poorer students; they also have higher rates of participation in extracurricular activities and school leadership positions, higher graduation rates and higher rates of college enrollment and completion.

Whether you think it deeply unjust, lamentable but inevitable, or obvious and unproblematic, this is hardly news. It is true in most societies and has been true in the United States for at least as long as we have thought to ask the question and had sufficient data to verify the answer.

What is news is that in the United States over the last few decades these differences in educational success between high- and lower-income students have grown substantially.

– More…

– Research thanks to John P.

 

‘This Is Working’: Portugal, 12 Years after Decriminalizing Drugs

Friday, April 12th, 2013

Twelve years ago, Portugal eliminated criminal penalties for drug users. Since then, those caught with small amounts of marijuana, cocaine or heroin go unindicted and possession is a misdemeanor on par with illegal parking. Experts are pleased with the results.

Before he got involved in the global war on drugs, João Goulão was a family physician with his own practice in Faro, on Portugal’s Algarve coast. Arriving in his small office in Lisbon, the 58-year-old tosses his jacket aside, leaving his shirt collar crooked. He looks a little tired from the many trips he’s taken lately — the world wants to know exactly how the experiment in Portugal is going. Goulão is no longer able to accept all the invitations he receives. He adds his latest piece of mail to the mountain of papers on his desk.

From this office, where the air conditioning stopped working this morning, Goulão keeps watch over one of the world’s largest experiments in drug policy.

One gram of heroin, two grams of cocaine, 25 grams of marijuana leaves or five grams of hashish: These are the drug quantities one can legally purchase and possess in Portugal, carrying them through the streets of Lisbon in a pants pocket, say, without fear of repercussion. MDMA — the active ingredient in ecstasy — and amphetamines — including speed and meth — can also be possessed in amounts up to one gram. That’s roughly enough of each of these drugs to last 10 days.

These are the amounts listed in a table appended to Portugal’s Law 30/2000. Goulão participated in creating this law, which has put his country at the forefront of experimental approaches to drug control. Portugal paved a new path when it decided to decriminalize drugs of all kinds.

“We figured perhaps this way we would be better able get things under control,” Goulão explains. “Criminalization certainly wasn’t working all that well.”

Much the Same as a Parking Violation

As part of its war on drugs, Portugal has stopped prosecuting users. The substances listed in the Law 30/2000 table are still illegal in Portugal — “Otherwise we would have gotten into trouble with the UN,” Goulão explains — but using these drugs is nothing more than a misdemeanor, much the same as a parking violation.

Why set the limits on these drugs at 10 days’ worth of use, though?

“Well, it’s a limit, which by its nature is arbitrary,” Goulão says. Now the head of Portugal’s national anti-drug program and an important figure in Portuguese health policy, he still talks like an easygoing family doctor. Arrayed on Goulão’s windowsill are photographs, including one of him with Richard Branson, the British billionaire and hot air balloon operator. Another shows Goulão with the king of Spain. Both these men have received personal briefings on Portugal’s new drug program from Goulão.

“At the point when we designed the law, we had hardly any data to draw on,” Goulão relates. “We weren’t the least bit certain this would work.”

The question at stake: How can a government keep its citizens from taking dangerous drugs? One way is to crack down on those who provide the drugs — the cartels, the middle men and the street dealers. Another approach is to focus on the customers — arresting them, trying them and imprisoning them. Legal prosecution — as both a control mechanism and a deterrent — is the chosen approach for most governments.

Giving Up on the Idea of a Drug-Free World

“It’s important that we prevent people from buying drugs, and taking drugs, using every method at our disposal,” says Manuel Pinto Coelho, 64, the last great opponent of Goulão’s experiment. Pinto Coelho wants his country to return to normalcy, in the form of the tough war on drugsthat much of the rest of the world conducts.

Pinto Coelho is a doctor too. He has run rehab centers and written books about addiction. Now he’s at odds with former colleagues and with “the system,” as he says.

His greatest concern is that his country has given up on the idea of a drug-free world. How, Pinto Coelho asks, is it possible to keep young people away from drugs, when everyone knows exactly how many pills can legally be carried around? He still believes deterrents are the best form of prevention and that cold turkey withdrawal is the best treatment method. He is also fighting the extensive methadone program Portugal began as part of its drug policy reform, which now provides tens of thousands of heroin addicts with this substitute drug.

These days, Pinto Coelho earns his living running diet clinics, but he spends his evenings writing letters and drafting presentations on his country’s “absurd drug experiment.” He travels to symposiums to warn the rest of the world of its dangers. At home in Portugal, his critical perspective has made him an outsider, but he says he’s been well received abroad. As if offering proof, he shows a fact sheet issued by the United States Office of National Drug Control Policy, a brief and skeptically worded report on the Portuguese experiment.

The Freedom that Overwhelmed the Country

When João Goulão wants to explain why it is Portugal in particular that came up with the idea to stop prosecuting drug users, he starts with the country’s Carnation Revolution.

In 1974, Portugal broke free from nearly 50 years of military dictatorship, a political shift symbolized by the carnations soldiers stuck in the muzzles of their rifles.”Suddenly, the drugs were there,” Goulão says, as Portuguese returning from the country’s overseas colonies brought marijuana with them. Goulão, too, says he smoked pot back then. He was in his early twenties and “drugs promised us freedom.”

But it was a freedom that soon overwhelmed the country. When Goulão established his doctor’s practice in Faro, he soon found himself approached by parents whose children were no longer just smoking joints, but had moved on to heroin. Sometimes the children came to him as well, and Goulão had no idea how to treat them. When the first state-run rehab clinic opened in Lisbon, Goulão attended a training course there.

At that point, he says, the heroin epidemic was just beginning.

In the 1980s, cheap heroin from Afghanistan and Pakistan began flooding Europe. Portugal was not the only country affected, but Goulão says his nation was hit particularly hard, because people here had little idea how to handle drugs. “We were naïve,” he says.

The number of people taking illegal drugs in Portugal was low compared with other countries, but of those who did consume drugs, an unusually high number of them fell into the category that specialists in this field refer to as “problem drug users.”

From the pile of papers on his desk, Goulão unearths a copy of a speech he recently gave in Paris. Flipping through it, he finds the figure he’s looking for: 100,000. This is the number of severely drug-addicted people in Portugal at the height of the epidemic, in the mid-1990s. Portugal’s total population at the time was just under 10 million. The number of drug addicts who became infected with HIV was also considerably higher than in most other countries.

A drug slum formed in Lisbon, at the edge of a neighborhood known as Casal Ventoso. Here junkies slept in shacks or in the garbage, in extremely poor conditions. “They shot up on the street, and they died on the street,” Goulão says. Anyone in Portugal could observe this phenomenon — on TV, in newspaper pictures or even from the nearby highway.

– More…

– See also this story:  

 

Life expectancy at birth (from the U.S. CIA)

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

* Monaco (1st) 89.68 years
* Japan (3rd) 83.91
* Australia (9th) 81.90
* Canada (12th) 81.48
* New Zealand (25th) 80.71
* United Kingdom (30th) 80.17
* United States (51st) 78.49
* Chad (225th) 48.69

Source: CIA Factbook

 

Collective Consciousness

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

– I became aware in the early 90’s of research coming out of Duke University about focused human intentions being able to alter random number generators in a statistically significant manner.

– Interest in such phenomenon continues.   Here’s an article out of Berlin from 2007 on the subject: .

– And here’s an entire list of papers on psychokinesis which include such phenomenon as a subset:  

– All very interesting.   It caught my attention back then because it looks like a computer literate person could perform such experiments at home to confirm or deny the hypothesis.

I used a U238 source

– It occurred to me, after reading the initial stuff from Duke, that they were using entire computers to generate sequences of random numbers which meant that the collective human intention force was trying to manipulate the behavior of sizable collections of mass (in the form of the computer).  

– I reasoned that since radioactive decay is a random process and since it is the fission of individual atoms that causes it and since individual atoms are, by virtue of their size, quantum scale objects, then it might be reasonable to think that human intention directed towards manipulating radioactive decay might be a more sensitive way to ‘see’ the effects of the intention.  

– I actually collected the materials to do the experiments (a radioactive source and a Geiger Counter with a computer interface) but it never happened as we purchased a business about then and all spare time evaporated.

– dennis

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Have you ever experienced a time when the collective enthusiasm of a large event seemed to rise to such a peak that you could almost feel a crackle in the air? Or felt a haunting sense in the air while visiting a place that caused sadness or suffering for thousands of people? Provocative evidence suggests that there are significant departures from chance expectation in the outputs of random number generators (electronic devices that produce truly random bits, or sequences of zeros and ones) during times of collective upheaval, global crises and major celebrations.

This year, the Institute of Noetic Sciences, along with several collaborators, conducted an exploratory experiment at Black Rock City, the temporary city created each year in the Nevada desert for the festival known as Burning Man. Burning Man is a week-long event that attracts upwards of 50,000 people. It is unique in its concentrated intensity, isolation, and collective intention, culminating with the burning of a large man-shaped effigy at the center of Black Rock City on Saturday night. See this article in the Atlantic magazine to get a feeling for the event, or these pictures in Rolling Stone magazine.

– More…

– Research thanks to Chris G.

 

Two excellent movies in two days

Monday, September 10th, 2012

Last night, I watched “The Hunter“.  A film that takes place in Tasmania about 2001.

Tonight it was “The Tracker“, which takes place in New Zealand just after the Boer War.

Both excellent and recommended.

Earth to America!

Monday, June 25th, 2012
blue_man_group

blue_man_group

– This is a great little video.  Pass it on….  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QM-mfEMssy8

– research thanks to John P.

 

A Monstrous Proposal

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

– This idea from, George Monbiot, makes deep sense to me.  He calls it monstrous but he’s tongue-in-cheek. The only entities likely to complain are the corporations.   This would go some ways towards pulling their fangs.

-Dennis

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Why the private sector should be subject to freedom of information laws.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 8th May 2012

Modern government could be interpreted as a device for projecting corporate power. Since the 1980s, in Britain, the US and other nations, the primary mission of governments has been to grant their sponsors in the private sector ever greater access to public money and public life.

There are several means by which they do so: the privatisation and outsourcing of public services, the stuffing of public committees with corporate executives(1), the reshaping of laws and regulations to favour big business. In the UK, the Health and Social Care Act extends the corporate domain in ways unimaginable even five years ago.

With these increasing powers come diminishing obligations. Through repeated cycles of deregulation, governments release big business from its duty of care towards both people and the planet. While citizens are subject to ever more control – as the state extends surveillance and restricts our freedom to protest and assemble(2,3) – companies are subject to ever less.

In this column I will make a proposal which sounds, at first, monstrous, but which I hope to persuade you is both reasonable and necessary: that freedom of information laws should be extended to the private sector.

The very idea of a corporation is made possible only by a blurring of the distinction between private and public. Limited liability socialises the risks which would otherwise be carried by a company’s owners and directors, exempting them from the costs of the debts they incur or the disasters they cause. The bail-outs introduced us to an extreme form of this exemption: men like Fred Goodwin and Matt Ridley are left in peace to count their money while everyone else must pay for their mistakes(4).

So I am asking only for the exercise of that long-standing Conservative maxim: no rights without responsibilities. If you benefit from limited liability, the public should be permitted to scrutinise your business.

– More …  

 

 

Scrap heap may be last stop for secret slice of Navy history

Monday, April 30th, 2012

– An interesting bit of U.S. Naval history.  It’s hard to imagine all the secret projects that are carried out that we’ll never hear anything about.   Here’s one which the curtains, finally, have been taken down on so we can see what was done.  

– I’m not much for military stuff but I admit I found this fascinating and spent a long time poring through the interior shots of this one-of-a-kind ship.

– Dennis

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A secret chapter in American naval research could soon reach an ignoble close when a rusty barge and its once-classified contents leaveSuisun Bay for the scrap heap.

Slipping through the sea like a black mirage on catamaran legs, the 164-foot Sea Shadow looks like something Darth Vader might fly. It is the world’s only ship built to be invisible, assembled secretly in Redwood City in 1985 by the U.S. Navy and contractor Lockheed Martin at an estimated cost of $50 million.

Sea Shadow’s purpose was to test radar-cloaking technology and other naval engineering innovations. Many of its breakthroughs can be seen in present-day Navy warships.

Even at nearly 30 years old, Sea Shadowremains the most radical ship afloat.

– More…

– Direct to the photos…

 

The man who sold his life on eBay

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

– I really love (some of the) people who push the envelope is various ways.   This guy is one of them.   You have to admire his courage and audacity.

– Dennis

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It’s a dream many of us have – to throw in the job, sell the house and set off into the great unknown with just a passport and a thirst for adventure.

Usually, reality gets in the way. But not for Ian Usher, the Perth man who made international headlines when, during a midlife crisis, he decided to auction his entire life – including his house, job, car and even friends – on eBay.

A heartbroken Usher made the drastic move after his wife left him, six years after they emigrated from England to Western Australia.

In August 2008 he farewelled his friends and left his Wellard home (which eventually sold for A$399,000 the traditional way after the winning eBay bidder withdrew at the last minute) bound for Dubai.

Guiding him was a list of 100 goals he wanted to complete in 100 weeks.

Four years and 93 goals later, 48-year-old Mr Usher is now living on his very own Caribbean island and has found love again.

Along the way he visited dozens of countries while ticking off the list of goals, which included running with the bulls in Spain, cage diving with sharks in South Africa, meeting Richard Branson, having a workplace romance, learning to fly a plane and skydiving nude.

Learning French, joining the “mile high” club, developing a six pack and scoring a bit-part in a Hollywood movie were also achieved during what he described as an “incredible” two years.

“I think a couple of stand-out ones were swimming with a mother humpback whale and her calf in Japan, and riding a motorbike on the Wall of Death. My week in Pamplona in Spain was fantastic, and terrifying too, running with the bulls there,” he said.

“[Other standouts were] flying a plane solo, seeing the red crabs at Christmas Island. I could go on, it was an incredible two years.”

Usher’s mission was also altruistic, and saw him raise A$10,000 for charity and establish an online support network for those who, like him, found themselves “blindsided” by life.

He wrote lengthy blogs during his travels and has since also self-published a book, A Life Sold ,which was also on his list of goals.

– More…

 

The Plan

Monday, April 16th, 2012

I’ve created a new category and a new permanent page; both are called The Plan.

Anything I write or republish that bears on the ideas behind The Plan will be linked to with the new catagory.

And I will maintain the new permanent page, The Plan, as one of the central ideas of this Blog.   Much as the concepts of The Perfect Storm Hypothesis, Eden Lost and our Biological Imperatives are central themes.

To read The Plan, click here: or click on the words The Plan in the right side column under Permanent Pages.