Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Americans are world’s top drug users: study

Monday, July 7th, 2008

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Americans are the world’s top consumers of cannabis and cocaine despite punitive US drug laws, according to an international study published in the online scientific magazine PLoS Medicine.

The study, released Monday, revealed that 16.2 percent of Americans had tried cocaine at least once, and 42.4 percent had used marijuana.

In second-place New Zealand, just 4.3 percent of study participants had used cocaine, and 41.9 percent marijuana.

The research was conducted at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, based on World Health Organization data from 54,068 people in 17 countries.

Rates of participation differed from country to country, and researchers noted uncertainty over how honestly people report their own drug use.

“Nevertheless, the findings present comprehensive data on the patterns of drug use from national samples representing all regions of the world,” a PLoS statement said.

A vast majority of survey participants from the United States, Europe, Japan and New Zealand had consumed alcohol, compared to smaller percentages from the Middle East, Africa and China.

The data also revealed socioeconomic patterns in drug use. Single young adult men with high income had the greatest tendency to regularly use drugs.

Drug use “does not appear to be simply related to drug policy,” the researchers wrote, “since countries with more stringent policies toward illegal drug use did not have lower levels of such drug use than countries with more liberal policies.”

In the Netherlands, where drug policy is more liberal than the United States, 1.9 percent of survey participants said they had used cocaine and 19.8 percent marijuana.

More…

– Research thanks to Bruce S.

Long Trip: Magic Mushrooms’ Transcendent Effect Lingers

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

People who took magic mushrooms were still feeling the love more than a year later, and one might say they were on cloud nine about it, scientists report in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

“Most of the volunteers looked back on their experience up to 14 months later and rated it as the most, or one of the five most, personally meaningful and spiritually significant of their lives,” comparing it with the birth of a child or the death of a parent, says neuroscientist Roland Griffiths of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who led the research. “It’s one thing to have a dramatic experience you say is impressive. It’s another thing to say you consider it as meaningful 14 months later. There’s something about the saliency of these experiences that’s stunning.”

More…

The U.S., Oil and Iraq

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

– One of the news sources I read daily is the Daily Brief from the Council on Foreign Relations. They put together an excellent summary of the significant foreign events of the day and, for the most part, I recommend them.

– However, today, the Daily Brief had a collection of stories about Iraq and Oil that I found to be a bit surreal. Most of us who understand the implications of Peak Oil, understand that one of the major reasons why the U.S. is in Iraq is to secure oil for its future. Modern industrialized nations absolutely depend on adequate supplies of oil – if they want to continue to be modern industrialized nations.

– There were several things that struck me as disingenuous. One was the following statement about the decision making of the Iraqi government as it considers letting foreign oil companies into the country again:

“Offers by the Western companies-Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total, BP, Chevron, and a handful of smaller firms-reportedly prevailed over bids from companies in Russia, China, and India, and a new deal is expected to be announced on June 30.”

– Did anyone seriously expect that the U.S. would allow Russia, China or India to gain effective control over the vast supplies of Iraqi oil in today’s world? Does anyone really imagine that the U.S. is really leaving such decisions to the current Iraqi government?

– As a further irony, here in the U.S., the Bush administration and McCain are both flooding the media with calls to resume oil exploration/drilling (read ANWR). This, in spite of the fact that it is widely agreed that it will take years for any oil produced from such drilling to hit the market and that when it does, it will only make a very small contribution to solving a very large deficit.

– So, what do I think is going on?

– Well, the stories about the decision making regarding which companies are going to get to process the Iraqi oil are simple PR. In a world where many of the players (read nations) are essentially democratic, such PR is effective because democracy’s weakest point is that its decisions are largely made by those in the middle of the norm curve. And those folks rarely analyze things in more than a cursory manner. So PR spun to them is effective in blunting the responses of those nations by confusing their voters who are the ones who ultimately motivate their political decision makers.

– As for the current push to resume oil exploration in the U.S., I think it is driven by the fact that oil companies here in the U.S., which have an inordinate affect on the decision making processes in the U.S. government and the mostly business driven Republican Party, see significant profits in the exploration itself. The fact that after the work is done and we’ve trashed ANWR and built a huge amount of oil infrastructure, we won’t have much to show for it in terms of oil delivered to the market is irrelevant. Between now and then, the companies involved will show many profitable quarters as the work is done and that’s the bottom line in such decisions.

– I was, and am, a bit disappointed that the Council of Foreign Relations chooses to report these things without a deeper analysis of why the decisions are being made but then I suppose they see their mandate as simply describing the important decisions as the public largely perceives them rather than rendering a deeper analysis of why they are being made. In this, I think they either underestimate their audience or they’ve become a mouthpiece for those who create the spin to obscure the substance.

New Zealand – redux

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

– I’ve written a fair amount about New Zealand on this blog over the last few years. My wife and I intend to retire there, so I have a special interest in the place. Below is an article from the New Zealand Herald about why folks are drawn to New Zealand.

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Lifestyle biggest drawcard to NZ

New Zealand’s relaxed lifestyle is the leading reason people come here to live, according to new statistics.

Statistics New Zealand’s longitudinal immigration survey put lifestyle (44 per cent) at the top of the list of reasons people want to live here.

The climate or clean and green environment came in second at 40 per cent, with a desire to provide a better future for children following at 39 per cent.

The survey showed 93 per cent of permanent migrants indicated they were satisfied or very satisfied with life in New Zealand, while almost the same amount said they planned to stay for three years or more.

More…

080523 – Reading

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

“Some physicists still find quantum mechanics unpalatable, if not unbelievable, because of what it implies about the world beyond our senses.   The theory’s mathematics is simple enough to be taught to undergraduates, but the physical implications of that mathematics give rise to deep philosophical questions that remain unresolved.   Quantum mechanics fundamentally concerns the way in which we observers connect to the universe we observe.   The theory implies that when we measure particles and atoms, at least one of two long-held physical principles is untenable.   Distant events do not affect each other, and properties we wish to observe exist before our measurements.   One of these, locality or realism, must be fundamentally incorrect.”

– From Seed Magazine, “The Reality Tests” by Joshua Roebke, June 2008

Ghost in your Genes – PBS – NOVA

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

– I watched a PBS NOVA special tonight entitled, “Ghost in your Genes“. The NOVA series is always a favorite with us and this was no exception.

– It was about the ‘Epigenome’. The word means, ‘above the genome’. As they explained, the way to think about this is that the genome is like the computer’s hardware and the Epigenome is like the software, above, that tells the hardware/genome what to do. This wasn’t particularly new to me as I’ve been following the developments these last few years as biologists have been discovering the RNA control systems that coexists and perhaps even preceded the DNA systems within our genetics.

– What was new and scary was the idea that what happens in one generation can effect the health outcomes in another generation. They had one study where they connected whether the human grandparents had experienced famine during critical times in their development and how those events in the lives of the grandparents had affected the health of their grandchildren.

– They showed how exposure to pesticides on one generation of rats could produce effects in the next four generations of their offspring.

– I couldn’t help but think about the many thousands of untested chemicals that we humans have unleashed on ourselves and the biosphere.

– They said that if someone chooses to smoke of drink, they used to be able to say, “It’s my body, I can take the risk if I want.” But now, it may be revealed that one’s actions can reverberate down through generations of your progeny.

– I also remembered a science fiction story I’d read within the last few years wherein human fertility in the future has dropped so far that only one couple in a thousand can create a viable child. In that world, humanity is literally wasting away off the planet as old age captures the vast majority of the population.

– It’s happening to the frogs and other amphibians. Something is happening to the bees. Why do we think we’re going to be immune to the chemical havoc we’re unleashing into the biosphere.

– All of this makes me think New Zealand may not be far enough to run. Maybe the Falkland Islands would be a better choice for those who want to avoid death by chemistry.

Imbalances of Power

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

by Thomas Friedman – New York Times

It is hard to remember a time when more shifts in the global balance of power are happening at once — with so few in America’s favor.

There has been much debate in this campaign about which of our enemies the next US president should deign to talk to. The real story, the next president may discover, though, is how few countries are waiting around for us to call. It is hard to remember a time when more shifts in the global balance of power are happening at once — with so few in America’s favor.

Let’s start with the most profound one: More and more, I am convinced that the big foreign policy failure that will be pinned on this administration is not the failure to make Iraq work, as devastating as that has been. It will be one with much broader balance-of-power implications — the failure after 9/11 to put in place an effective energy policy.

It baffles me that President Bush would rather go to Saudi Arabia twice in four months and beg the Saudi king for an oil price break (more…) than ask the American people to drive 55 miles an hour, buy more fuel-efficient cars or accept a carbon tax or gasoline tax that might actually help free us from, what he called, our “addiction to oil.”

The failure of Mr. Bush to fully mobilize the most powerful innovation engine in the world — the US economy — to produce a scalable alternative to oil has helped to fuel the rise of a collection of petro-authoritarian states — from Russia to Venezuela to Iran — that are reshaping global politics in their own image.

If this huge transfer of wealth to the petro-authoritarians continues, power will follow. According to Congressional testimony Wednesday by the energy expert Gal Luft, with oil at $200 a barrel, OPEC could “potentially buy Bank of America in one month worth of production, Apple computers in a week and General Motors in just 3 days.”

More…

In the Clearing Stands a Boxer

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

– One of the Blogs I follow on a daily basis is Only in it for the Gold by Michael Tobias. He’s put up a new piece that I particularly liked and I’ve copied here in its entirety. After you’ve read it, please follow the link to the original so you can read the follow on comments which are equally interesting. Thanks, Michael.

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From “Unequal Democracy” by Larry M. Bartels (emphasis added):

American beliefs about inequality are profoundly political in their origins and implications. Well-informed conservatives and liberals differ markedly, not only in their normative assessments of increasing inequality, as one might expect, but also in their perceptions of the causes, extent, and consequences of inequality. This is not simply a matter of people with different values drawing different conclusions from a set of agreed-upon facts. Analysts of public opinion in the realm of inequality–as in many other realms–would do well to recognize that the facts themselves are very much subject to ideological dispute. For their part, political actors in the realm of inequality–as in many other realms–would do well to recognize that careful logical arguments running from factual premises to policy conclusions are unlikely to persuade people who are ideologically motivated to distort or deny the facts. While it is certainly true, as Jennifer Hoschschild has argued, that “Where You Stand Depends on What You See,” it is equally true that what you see depends in significant part on where you stand.

Or more succinctly from “The Boxer” by Paul Simon:

I have squandered my resistance
for a pocketful of mumbles,
such are promises,
all lies and jest,
still a man hears what he wants to hear
and disregards the rest.

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– To the original and its comments…

Who Will Tell the People?

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

– Thomas Friedman is one of my favorites and here’s an excellent piece he’s penned for the New York Times. I highly recommend it.

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Traveling the country these past five months while writing a book, I’ve had my own opportunity to take the pulse, far from the campaign crowds. My own totally unscientific polling has left me feeling that if there is one overwhelming hunger in our country today it’s this: People want to do nation-building. They really do. But they want to do nation-building in America.

They are not only tired of nation-building in Iraq and in Afghanistan, with so little to show for it. They sense something deeper — that we’re just not that strong anymore. We’re borrowing money to shore up our banks from city-states called Dubai and Singapore. Our generals regularly tell us that Iran is subverting our efforts in Iraq, but they do nothing about it because we have no leverage — as long as our forces are pinned down in Baghdad and our economy is pinned to Middle East oil.

Our president’s latest energy initiative was to go to Saudi Arabia and beg King Abdullah to give us a little relief on gasoline prices. I guess there was some justice in that. When you, the president, after 9/11, tell the country to go shopping instead of buckling down to break our addiction to oil, it ends with you, the president, shopping the world for discount gasoline.

We are not as powerful as we used to be because over the past three decades, the Asian values of our parents’ generation — work hard, study, save, invest, live within your means — have given way to subprime values: “You can have the American dream — a house — with no money down and no payments for two years.”

More…

– This article is from the NY Times and they insist that folks have an ID and a PW in order to read their stuff. You can get these for free just by signing up. However, a friend of mine suggests the website bugmenot.com :arrow: as an alternative to having to do these annoying sign ups. Check it out. Thx Bruce S. for the tip.

– Research thanks to L.A. 

Immigration and Assimilation

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

Culture’s have a limit to the rate at which they can absorb new immigrants. And I’m not saying this because of some prejudice against new comers. Rather, I think it’s a matter of common sense – backed up by simple empirical observation.

And this ‘rate’ is not a constant. It varies with how similar the immigrants are to the culture they are joining.

Close cultural analogs like say, Canada and Britain, could absorb large numbers of each other’s people without much distress.

But when the receiving and donating cultures are significantly different, then concerns about what rates are supportable should come into play.

When new comers, who are significantly different than the receiving culture, immigrate into it at too high a rate, they will tend to collect into small insular communities based on their previous culture. If these insular communities grow faster than cultural assimilation can dilute them, the result will eventually be two distinct cultures living where one used to be and a type of cultural schizophrenia will result.

When a country’s culture is essentially cut from one cloth, one can say that the culture of the country ‘owns’ itself. One can say that ‘it’ can rightfully decide if ‘it’ wants to let immigrants in and in what quantities and from what sources. It is within its power to decide whether it wants to allow high rates of immigration and risk cultural schizophrenia – or if it wants to hold the rates low enough to make genuine assimilation by the new comers into the original culture probable.

But, once the immigration barn door has been left wide open for awhile and a large secondary culture is present, then this power of the original culture to decide its own fate erodes and eventually disappears – because the fate being decided is no longer exclusively its own. From that point forward, there are other voices who also have the power and the right to have a say about the country’s decisions and directions.

The central take-away idea here is that the point-of-power for the original monochromatic culture is when it still ‘owns’ itself. Then it still has the right to decide how things will evolve for itself. But once the culture has allowed itself to become multicultural, then the original culture no longer has the right to decide for everyone in the tent – much as they might regret their earlier enthusiasm for multiculturalism.

I said that a lot of this is based on common sense and empirical observations. Look at the U.S., France, Britain, Germany, Belgium and Holland just to name a few cultures which are now multicultural and somewhat schizophrenic as a result of it.

Ask yourself if the original German culture in Germany can and should be able now to make sweeping decisions about further Turkish immigration?

Perhaps they physically could, since they still outnumber the Turks, but the question runs a lot deeper than having a simple majority now. The Turks are there in sufficient numbers and for a long enough time that they have, or should have, a seat at the table when decisions are made in Germany about immigration. And, if the Germans don’t like it – well , the irony’s on them since they were the ones who originally invited the Turks to come. The same could be said of the U.S. and the Mexicans or France and the North Africans.

The following attributes of immigrants are important to think about when a country considers the rate at which they can allow immigration to proceed without Balkanization occurring:

– Do the immigrants speak the local language fluently?
– Do the immigrants share many of the same cultural assumptions?
– Do the immigrants share the same religious traditions?
– Do the immigrants have respect for the receiving culture?

As more of these attributes end up being answered with a ‘No‘, then the rate at which such people can be assimilated into their new culture without Balkanization occurring drops proportionally. In other words, the more different they are, the longer it will take for them to be assimilated and the fewer of them that can be dealt with at once.

Language is a tough one. It is very hard to feel at home, feel accepted and be accepted when you don’t speak the language of the new culture.

When the culture assumptions are different, it also makes assimilation more difficult. The way one dresses, the kinds of food one eats, the way business is conducted, how men and women interact publicly. All of these and more are mine fields that have to be navigated by the new immigrants if they are to be assimilated. The things that are familiar to them must be partially set aside and the ways that are foreign to them must be adopted if they hope to really assimilate into their new culture.

Neither of these barriers (language and culture) are easy to get by. And if, when you arrive in your new country, you find ready-made enclaves there of people speaking your language and practicing your cultural assumptions, then how likely is it that you are going choose to go through the hard work of assimilating into your new culture by living outside the enclaves and struggling to learning a new language? A few will – but most won’t.

Religion may or may not be a factor. Mexicans are culturally quite different than Americans or Canadians but they share the same root Christianity in their religious beliefs. But that’s not to say that a Buddhist from Southeast Asia or a Hindu from India would have a harder time being assimilated in America than a Mexican because they are Buddhist or Hindu. Frankly, I don’t think they would have a harder time because their religions are not essentially antithetical towards Christianity and western culture. But, in the more conservative variants of Islam – that’s another matter. Some conservative Muslim’s fundamentally believe that western culture is corrupt and that their mission as Muslims is to convert the world to Islam.

So the point really isn’t about religion but about whether or not the new immigrants have respect for the culture they are joining or if they’ve just decided that they can tolerate it in exchange for the other benefits that will accrue to them by living there.

I’m sure that there are those who will read what I’ve written here and think that I am a prejudiced and bigoted individual.

If you feel that way, I am sorry, but I must respectfully disagree. I think all I’ve done is point out the obvious mechanics that come into play when cultures are mixed.

The most important point I want to make here is directed at those countries who are still essentially composed of one culture; those countries who still essentially ‘own’ themselves and rightfully have the ability to decide how they wish their own future to evolve for the good of the people who live there now.

Unless you want to be split into multiple competing cultures at odds with each other, you must limit the rate of your immigration to levels that will allow the new comers to be genuinely assimilated into your dominate culture. You must select immigrants who speak your language fluently to optimize their probable success. And, you must select immigrants whose cultures and religions are not antithetical to your own; immigrants who will willingly accept being assimilated into their new culture because they can respect its values – rather than immigrants who disdain its values and will simply tolerate it until they can amass sufficient force to subvert it.