Oh My God! We’re Getting More Anxious

Ross Douthat of the New York Times— the token conservative commentator on the opinion page– accepts the results of a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that show that teenagers today– especially–omygawd! girls– are more anxious, more depressed, and more unhappy than ever before.

By “social liberalism” I don’t mean the progressivism that took off in the Trump era — antiracism and diversity-equity-inclusion and #MeToo. I mean the more individualistic liberalism that emerged in the 1960s and experienced a second takeoff across the first decade of the 2000s. Its defining features were rapid secularization (the decline of Christian identification accelerated from the 1990s onward) and increasing social and sexual permissiveness — extending beyond support for same-sex marriage to beliefs about premarital sex, divorce, out-of-wedlock childbearing, marijuana use and more.

And it’s all because of the liberals!  Douthat doesn’t think gun violence should depress anyone, or the cut-throat competitive nature of the U.S. economy, or the fear of being bankrupted by medical expenses, or the fact that a sexual predator and psychopath was elected president in 2016.  Oh no.  It’s the widespread availability of sex, gay or hetero, as a woman or a man or neither, and, of course, drug use.  Have we heard this before?

I have two points.  First of all, we hear about these studies all the time– and I mean ALL the time.  Sociologists and social scientists just love asking teenagers if they are happy.  Now, imagine for a moment you are a teenager.  And life is not great, but it’s not all bad either.  You’re kind of getting through it.  You have some hopes and dreams and know you might have to work hard to achieve them.  You have friends.  Then someone comes along and asks you if you are happy or depressed or anxious.  They ask you again an hour later.  They ask you again the next day, and the next, and the next.  You read articles in the New York Times or see pieces on CNN that tell you that a big problem today is that teenagers are not very happy.  You start to wonder.  Maybe I am unhappy.  Maybe I’m depressed.

I don’t deny that it might be true.  What I question is the assumption that these numbers represent a net change from previous eras, like the 1940’s, the 1950’s, and 1960’s.   How would we know?  It’s a great question to thoughtfully ask yourself: how would we know?

Nobody studied issues like this in the same comprehensive, systematic way in the 1950’s as we do now.  We didn’t have the internet, obviously, or social media, and even television and radio was completely different than they are today.  We didn’t have as many books or magazines or records or films.  We didn’t have as many family photographs or recordings, let alone video.  We had numerous wars around the world, and the U.S. itself was embroiled in Korea, and about to get embroiled in Viet Nam.

We had a lot of obvious racism, whites only schools, whites only restaurants and drinking fountains.  We had a lot of drunk driving and date-rape, both of which now are severely punished, but were not back then.  In fact, the consensus on rape seemed to be to not report it at all.  We had a lot of teen pregnancy, “shotgun” weddings, and groping and petting.  We had a society that blindly worshipped the military and the police.  (It is no coincidence that Douthat, a conservative, would harken back to an era of such “stellar” values even if he doesn’t make explicit those particular values).

I suspect that a big part of our perception of the 1950’s has been shaped by unrealistic media portrayals, most emblematically, in “Happy Days” and the movie “American Graffiti”.   Have a look at “The Last Picture Show”, “Diner”, “Rebel Without a Cause”, or “Badlands” for a corrective.

Secondly, Douthat clearly implies that enthusiastic membership in a church is a viable corrective.  If only we had a study that showed that teenagers who are active members of churches are happier, less depressed and less anxious,  and happier, than those who are not.   We have no such study.

What studies we do have that compare church-going folk with non-church-going folk seems to show that we are all largely the same, holy or profane, saved or damned.  We all indulge in porn.  We all cheat and lie.  (But only one side votes for Trump and loves guns and only one side believes you may have been born to the wrong gender and the world is warming.)

Even for Douthat, this column is unusually contrived in his desperation to find some way to blame liberals and progressives for the sad state of America.   Like all conservatives, he knows that his side, the side of regressive, low tax, deregulated economies, benefits by promoting a sense that we are on the brink of catastrophe.  Nothing new.  We’ve been on this brink according to the Douthats of the world since Elvis first gyrated his hips.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

I have heard this figure quoted numerous times in the past six months, usually in connection with another suspected campus rape: according to psychologist David Lisak’s 2010 study, only 2% to 10% of sexual-assault reports are false.

I didn’t dig into it at the time I first heard it– I just assumed that it belonged in the category of “30% of women in the military report being sexually assaulted”, which is based on a definition of sexual assault that includes inappropriate comments and “leering” behavior or standing too close.

In any case, the Wall Street Journal dug into it a little more deeply and reports that Lizak’s statistic is based on the assumption that all reports of sexual assault that are not categorically proven to be false are therefore true.

Think about it. There is a percentage of cases which are clearly proven to be true, as when there are witnesses and physical evidence or a confession. There is a percentage which are definitively proven to be false, as in the now notorious case at the University of Virginia reported in Rolling Stone Magazine by Sabrina Erdely in an article which has since been retracted and discredited. And then there are all the cases for which there is no proof either way. Mr. Lizak seems to assume that proof is only required to demonstrate that an allegation is false. Otherwise, it is assumed to be true.

One of the lame arguments presented in defense of Sabrina Erdely’s work for Rolling Stone was the usual “re-victimization” trope: that the idea of actually needing to confirm a victim’s story is itself a form of “re-victimization”.

Incidentally, you may have been left with the impression– as I was, for a time– that the victim in the University of Virginia case, “Jackie”, might have really been a victim, but of somebody else, somewhere else, on a different day. She was traumatized and confused so she conflated different fragments of experience into the one damning narrative and accused the wrong person.

Okay– that sounds a bit absurd now, but I was trying to be fair. The trouble is that Jackie actually went though some effort to deceive her friends about the issue: she actually made up a fake former boyfriend (whom she claimed set up and encouraged the gang rape) using the picture of a former classmate and created an anonymous SMS account from which “he” sent texts to her friends. She wrote fake love letters to the fake former boyfriend that she showed to her friends, which appear to have been copied from “Dawson’s Creek” episodes.

Lizak assumes that all of the other cases, which have not been proven either way, are actual sexual assaults. This is a scurrilous assumption.

According to the Wall Street Journal, some earlier studies have placed the percentage of false reports at 40-50%. You might say that those are just some studies. So is Lizak’s.

You might also say– as I have heard frequently– that women just “don’t make those things up”. I don’t know why anyone would believe that, given the overwhelming evidence that, in fact, women do sometimes make it up, as in the two thirteen-year-olds who destroyed their Grade 8 teacher’s life successfully even though it was later shown that they were lying. (Among other things, they claimed it happened in a room that had not been built at the time they said it happened. They later confessed they had made it up.)

By that time, the teacher’s career and marriage had been destroyed.  And it must be noted that even when the accusations are proven to be false, people still tend to believe them.

If you like think that we live in a world in which school boards and ex-spouses then say, “oh, I’m sorry. I’ll make it up to you”, you are delusional.

The two girls? They were not punished. We don’t punish people for the real harm that they do (or half of the Wall Street brokers would be in prison) but on the basis of what is required politically. That is why the Wall Street Journal is more sympathetic to the victims of false accusations than the New York Times. The Wall Street Journal is more conservative. It’s an issue I think they might be right about.

Why did those two thirteen-year-old girls make it up? It’s not congenial to anybody, it seems, to inquire into that.

Some people cite the number of women claiming to have been drugged and raped by Bill Cosby as proof that he’s guilty. On the other hand, the similarity of the stories might also suggest that the alleged victims are cribbing from each other.

I am skeptical of the “drugged” angle: there is a widespread belief out there that there are drugs– Rhoponal and GHB– that turn women into compliant zombies who will forget that they were raped. The reality is that these drugs are no more or less effective than alcohol at achieving the results claimed. Read their stories: the use of these drugs is almost always within the context of the victim drinking a lot. Some studies suggest that the symptoms the women describe, of having been drugged, are more indicative of a simple hangover.

I have no problem believing that vulnerable and impressionable young women, believing that Bill Cosby could give them a big break, an acting role in his tv series or movies, or whatever, might end up willingly going to his apartment or hotel room and drinking with him and drinking too much and perhaps even (willingly) ingesting some of drugs he offered them. Perhaps he forced himself on them.

Perhaps they were willing and then disappointed that he didn’t promote their careers as they hoped he would.

You want real political correctness?  Try discussing that angle with anybody.


Let’s stay balanced:

In More Detail, a Review of Jon Krakauer’s book “Missoula”.

The Grass Grows Under My Feet

They said the psychiatrist told them he didn’t believe their son had a substance abuse problem. But by then, the boy had other problems. After the disciplinary hearing, “he just broke down and said his life was over. He would never be able to get into college; he would never be able to get a job,” Linda Bays said.   Roanoke Times, 2015-03-15

On March 14th, the Roanoke Times posted a story–a true story– about a school district which suspended an 11-year-old boy for possession of marijuana.

The “marijuana” was not marijuana, but here’s what happened– and it’s a profound story that authorities far and wide should study carefully, because it’s the story of the most wicked and stupid actions of authorities everywhere.

A snitch told the principal at Bedford Middle School that a boy– known as R. M. B.– had some marijuana in his possession that he was showing around, on the bus, or maybe it was in the bathroom, or, wait a minute, I think it was in the classroom.

The boy was apprehended and searched and a leaf of something was found. The expert pedagogue consulted google and concluded that it was a marijuana leaf and summoned the police and suspended the boy from the school for 364 days.

First detail of note: it was a leaf, not a bud. It does not appear to have occurred to the authorities that this detail mattered in the least.

Second detail of note: the boy was 11 and both of his parents were, or had been, teachers in the public schools in this area. No matter: zero tolerance. Authority must be respected.

The leaf was sent away to be tested.  Take note: the authorities did not wait to see if it really was marijuana– they acted before any real evidence existed.   They acted based on disinformation.  Do I need to say something like “lord help us if authorities can punish us for something someone said that might or might not be true before doing the due diligence to determine if it is or is not true”?

Months went by. The suspension had a profound effect on the boy’s self-esteem, feeling of community, trust in authority figures, and happiness. The leaf was tested: it was not marijuana. But authorities must be respected and respected authorities do not make mistakes that have unpleasant, destructive consequences on innocent people. Test again! Still not marijuana. Test again!!

I’ll bet that the authorities were “disappointed”.

Think about that.

Do you think they were elated to discover that the young lad was not a hardened criminal drug addict?  I have no doubt that they were disappointed. At this stage, the story is about authority that refuses to admit that it makes consequential mistakes. No: that refuses to admit that it is stupid.

That is what they know, and we know, they must admit to, if they are to honor the truth: we were stupid. We were not worthy of your trust and respect. We are more concerned with our personal status and comfort and authority than we are with the welfare of a young, innocent if slightly mischievous 11-year-old boy. Screw the boy: authority must be respected.

The parents rightly– well, too late, for my taste, but eventually– launched a lawsuit. Here we see how far the authorities will go: they announced that it wouldn’t have mattered if it was real marijuana or not because the school system’s policy states that possession of anything that is an “imitation” of a prohibited substance can have the same consequences as possession of the real thing.

Are there any criminal laws that state that a person can be convicted for doing something that looks illegal to an idiot regardless of whether or not they actually did something illegal? Maybe there is– but it still seems stupid. It is stupid.  I refuse to sound moderate and temperate and diplomatic about this:  the school board, and their lawyer Jim Guynn, are stupid: they didn’t care if he really had marijuana; they wanted to punish him for having something that  morons in the administration of a school might mistake for marijuana.

What they are obviously, manifestly angry about is having been made fools of.  And only a genuine fool would be this spiteful about that.

The truly moronic thing about it, though, is that anyone ever thought it was a good idea to have a one-year suspension for possession of real marijuana. This is a policy that only a psychotic person could believe in. But we are, unfortunately, a psychotic society. We approve. We elected the fools that appointed the fools who implemented this idiotic policy.

What happened is that the authorities become vested in their own actions and judgments. They have to continue the charade because the moment they drop it, it they confess that they are inadequate human beings without common sense or decency.

The drug war is the most obvious misguided policy of the United States government, but listen and learn: there are a host of other candidates. Homeland Security, the War in Iraq, the War in Viet Nam, oil subsidies, sports stadium subsidies, non-negotiable pharmaceutical rates, and countless others that are clung to because the authorities have become invested in them and can’t bear to admit they were stupid to implement them.

What could President Johnson do in 1968? Admit that he made a mistake that cost thousands of American lives or continue the war until something could be tarted up to look like victory “with honor” and then walk away and hope it all doesn’t collapse until the helicopters have been dumped into the ocean?

What could Bush do once he — perhaps– realized what an egregious error the war on Iraq was?

What can Obama do now that he has doubled down in Afghanistan?

Vampires of the Health Care System

The New York Times reports on a woman named Kim Little who had a tiny thread-like spot on her cheek and asked her doctor to check it out. The doctor thought it was harmless but an assistant at her dermatologist’s office thought it might be cancerous. She had a biopsy done: it was indeed cancerous, but it was the kind of cancer that is easily, routinely treated, with complete success. Except that she fell into the hands of the AMERICAN MEDICAL SYSTEM, which seizes those with insurance or money or assets with powerful stainless-steel talons and bleeds them drier than Dick Cheney’s heart.

She went in for treatment. The spot was removed! Success! Except that it wasn’t. All that was required was the removal of the spot and a few stitches. Local anesthesia. And then her grandmother could have stitched her up. Ms. Little told her doctor that she was not concerned about a scar. Tough luck. The doctor who removed the spot refused to do the stitches and sent her over to a specialist in a different building in the same complex. The specialist ordered nurses to prepare the patient to be bled dry: she was undressed and put in a bed and given an IV bag, which undoubtedly cost $600 or so. An anesthesiologist put her under, for $1,000. The plastic surgeon robbed her of $14,000 but left a scar anyway. The hospital fanged her for $8,774.

Now, a vet could very well have performed the entire procedure almost as well– if not better– for a hundred bucks or so. Wait a minute– that’s silly. Really, it should have cost about $50, given the effort and skill required. All right– $75. We’re talking about two or three stitches here on a patient who made it clear she was not concerned about a possible scar.

You’re thinking: you would trust a vet with cancer? On a human being?

I’m thinking: you would trust the three or more medical personnel who charged her thousands of dollars for a medically simple procedure that should not have required more than ten minutes to perform?

Yes, I would trust the vet. Maybe not with liver cancer, or a brain tumor, but with this spot? Yes, I would. Just as I would trust the cancer drugs that cost about 1% of the cost to humans when used on an animal. Same drug.

But dogs don’t carry health insurance.  Maybe that is why treating a dog’s illness is so much more economical than treating a human’s illness.  (On the other hand, the vets seem to be catching on.)

It is interesting that a perfectly competent individual with appropriate training and equipment could easily have performed this procedure just as well as the doctor did. It is in the nature of the American health care system, however, that nobody is going to start a business that performs this service cheaper than hospitals. Nobody is going to be allowed to train in the specific skills needed without also having to be sucked into an entire program of training which has the desired collateral result: complete absorption into this profit-generating system. Even a nurse or doctor who trained in the existing system could never get away with opening a practice that advertises low, low prices.

Why not? What would happen? He or she would not have any customers. The customers come from Health Care Plans, Groups, Employers, Government. They start out with connections to labs and clinics, all of whom refer to each other, and none of whom will refer a patient to a cheap, alternative clinic, if there were any. Ms. Little was undoubtedly presented with numerous forms which entrust the key monetary aspects of her treatment to a blind and unfeeling bureaucracy which then proceeds to bleed her dry and expunge any trace of real accountability from the system.

If she sued, or refused to pay, the system would turn her over to a collection agency, which is empowered by legislation to annihilate her credit rating, her assets, and, ultimately, her freedom.


How is this story different from a story about a man who takes a gun and walks into a corner store and demands money?

The difference is that you don’t have any money to give the robber, he can’t turn you over to a collection agency to get it.

The difference is that institutional medicine in the United States has developed very sophisticated and culturally rich methods of kicking you in the teeth with documents and forms instead of a gun or a crowbar. The attitude is exactly the same. The greed is the same. The ruthlessness is the same.

Well– wait a minute. I don’t think it is. I think a robber with a gun might actually care if you die during the robbery because he would receive a stiffer sentence if caught.

The doctor and the hospital do not care. They will get paid regardless.


I am a bit surprised the poll did not ask students if they had ever had a drink spiked with the date-rape drug, Rohypnol (also known as flunitrazepam). If you are interested in facts, a study in the UK examined 120 claimed cases of use of “date-rape” drugs: not a single instance survived scrutiny.

I repeat: not one survived scrutiny.

The San Diego Medical Examiner’s office also looked into the issue– again, using real science– and found some evidence of possible flunitrazepam in about 1% of the alleged incidents. (Keep in mind that Rohypnol is sometimes– often– used intentionally, recreationally by people.)

Obviously, the investigators never watched Oprah or 20/20, or any of the other numerous programs on their mission of frightening the uninformed.

The University of Illinois, incidentally, casually asserts that date rape drugs are being used “at an increasing rate”. Really? And how do they know this? What previous studies are they comparing current studies to? What was the rate ten years ago, or fifteen years ago? They further assert that it is “often” brought back from Europe (where it can be prescribed as a sleep aid) by students.

I think I know where they got these conclusions from. They asked people their impressions. Do you think the use of date-rape drugs is going up or down? What do you think? Give us your honest opinion.

Do a search on the question of “does Rohypnol leave any traces” and you will find that a lot of websites use exactly the same text to say it does not. Look for the phrase:  “is colorless, odorless, and tasteless and dissolves without leaving any traces”.  They are all republishing information from same misinformed source.

It is not truthful. First of all, since about 10 years ago, the manufacturer, Roche, has made the tablets “less dispersible”. It doesn’t dissolve cleanly quickly, and colors the liquid in which it is mixed.

More importantly, Rohypnol can be detected in the urine of a person who ingested it for up to 60 hours afterwards. In the situation in which a woman suspects she has been secretly drugged and raped, she has at least two days to report it and have her urine tested for the unlikely possibility she really has been drugged.

But then, Rohypnol is supposed to cause amnesia: the victim is supposed to lose her memory of the assault, and even time before the assault. Then how would she know? That’s problematic, especially since alcohol has a similar effect. And that’s why when you do see cases of suspicion of the date-rape drug, victims report that they were bruised or sore in the groin area, and that’s what made them suspicious. They understand the problem: how did they know?

Even more problematic: many of the alleged symptoms of the drug are very, very similar to symptoms of excessive alcohol consumption. Would there be a temptation for a woman in this situation to under-state the amount of alcohol she has consumed?

Have you ever understated the amount of alcohol you have consumed?

The disturbing part of this– something which should be very disturbing to women who are genuinely concerned about sexual assault– is the number of women who have claimed to have been drugged and then raped. A charge of rape can often boil down to he said/she said arguments, and feminists urge us to always believe the woman, but if a woman is tested within 60 hours, it is possible to prove, scientifically, whether or not she was drugged. But if it can be proven that most of the claims of having been drugged and raped are false– at least, insofar as the drug part goes– a rational person might consider whether there’s something going on here that needs to be acknowledged by the legal system, by society, and by feminists.

The Appropriate Sentence for a Crime

Almost everybody loves to whine about criminals getting off easy. That’s all he got? Four years? Five years? Twenty years? It’s not enough. They should lock him up for life. No wonder there’s so much crime!

I don’t know of any divine tablet or sacred spreadsheet that tells us what a “light” sentence is or what is a sufficient punishment for, say, a burglary, or an assault, or a rape. People routinely act as if they know but they usually only say it should be more than what it was. Always more. If you asked someone out of the blue how many years in prison a man should serve for, say, rape, I doubt that most people have a clue as to how to arrive at a particular number.

How long should a man serve for conning people out of money? 144 years?

The most useful measure, in my opinion, is the relative seriousness of a crime. And the “seriousness” of a crime should be measured in harm.  And what is a harm?  If you have deprived someone of a material good, or health, life, or limb. There, we are on firmer ground, though not in the clear.

What types of crime are there?

There should never be any punishment for thought crimes. You would think that would be obvious– I would have thought it would be obvious– but in the so-called war on terror, the U.S. is now locking up young men for talking about jihad even if they cannot be shown to have taken a single actual step towards committing an act of terrorism. Talking about a crime is not really a crime unless you proceed to commit the crime. Talking about using drugs without using drugs is not illegal. Talking about having sex without having sex is not illegal. But talking about jihad without doing any jihad will get you 20 years, especially if an enthusiastic FBI informant offers to supply you with guns and bombs.

There are “victimless” crimes like possession of drugs for personal use, prostitution, possession of pornography (which, under the Canadian criminal code, used to include depictions of homosexual acts). When people try to justify prosecution for these crimes they frequently give, as reasons, consequences that are already illegal under other laws: driving while drunk, assault, exploitation of minors. But if a man (or a woman) uses threats of physical violence to force another person into acts of prostitution, I believe he or she should be prosecuted for a) exploitation (taking the money earned by someone else’s forced labour) or b) assault. But if two independent adults agree to have sex with each other in exchange for money, the government should stay out of it.

Drugs are more complicated: prescription drugs should be regulated to ensure quality and accuracy of dosages.   Alcohol should be regulated to prevent minors from having access but what if someone brews their own?  I think it is possible to prohibit giving alcohol to minors but if a person wants to consume home-brewed liquors in his own home, the government should stay out of it.  And the government has no business telling anyone they can’t grow a particular plant and then stick its leaves in their mouths and set them on fire. As long as they don’t get behind the wheel of a car after doing so.

But then, why should the tobacco industry be regulated?  You see– it does get complicated.  There is a difference: the shareholders and managers of tobacco companies profit by deceiving customers into believing their product is harmless (and, at one time, glamorous).  That invites legitimate government regulation.  Could we have a world where commercial sales of tobacco is banned entirely but if someone wants to grow some in his backyard and smoke it that is entirely up to the individual?

Should motorcycle owners be required to wear helmets?  And if they don’t, would society be okay with denying medical care to a motorcyclist who chose not to wear a helmet and got into an accident that caused a head injury?  Ayn Rand might say, sure.  Our society would find that hard to stomach.  In the end, the most rational choice may be to require helmets.

There are property crimes. I think there should be a big difference between the punishment for property crimes and the punishment for crimes of violence. And I think the punishment for property crimes should be focused on restitution, not on revenge.

Crimes of violence should be taken very seriously, and repeat offenders should receive escalating sentences. This is one area where I have some sympathy for victims’ rights organizations– with limitations. Quite often, we hear mythical tales of someone who committed numerous violent acts and kept getting released after light sentences. In many instances, the story is more complicated than that: our judges are not stupid.

Capital Punishment is absurd: if we really believe that life is sacred and the taking of a life is a horrible offense, the last message we want to send to society is that we will do it too. Besides, as DNA testing has shown, we are all too frequently wrong in determining who committed the crime and a capital sentence cannot be reversed.

Unfortunately, what has happened in the U.S. is a ratcheting up of criminal sentencing. And the word “ratcheting” is exactly what I mean. A ratchet, if you don’t know, is a box wrench on a handle that can be switched to allow the user to quickly turn the handle back and forth while applying force in one direction only. In the U.S., over the last forty years, there has been constant political pressure to lengthen sentences without the slightest movement backwards. It has become politically impossible–thanks to the “tough on crime” wing of the Republican party– to advocate for lighter sentences for anything (though there are signs the U.S. is coming to their senses on the issue). As a result, sentences for some crimes in the U.S. have moved beyond severe to ridiculous and then to the sadistic and finally absurd. Yes, there are people in federal prisons in the U.S. serving 20-25 years for possession of marijuana. If you’re a rational person, you probably don’t believe me.

The benchmark sentence for violent crime should be 25 years for murder and there should be a chance of parole after 15 years. Hey, I can be specific. And you can quibble all you like about the exact number, but I believe that 25 is a rational, reasonable guess as to how much is appropriate and constructive. I believe that even a murderer should have some hope of being released some day if only to provide him with an incentive to change his life while in prison. Prison guards will tell you that it is not helpful for a prisoner to know that he will never be released no matter what his behavior is like, in prison.  He or she has nothing to lose.

Scale that down to three months for a basic assault that does not include sufficient violence to inflict permanent injury to the victim for a person who is not a repeat offender. It seems rational to me to give suspended sentences to first-time offenders in this category, particularly if they take steps to turn their lives around, especially making personal, public apologies and restitution.

The rest I will leave alone– it would take years of work and analysis and practice to develop a useful, sensible scale of appropriate punishments for violent crimes that fall in between murder and assault. Hey, we have that: it’s called the criminal justice system. It needs to be fixed, within parameters like the ones I suggest above, but it’s possible, because we do still have the miracle of rule by law.

And we must stop adjusting criminal sentences by blandly pleading for “more”.

Medical Marijuana

It is no great shock that the Canadian government should suddenly decide that human beings in this province must not be allowed to grow a certain plant. The only surprise is that, given the real purpose behind this kind of legislation, the government didn’t also make it illegal to grow your own food. If you grow your own food, the wealthy corporations who can call government ministers and arrange meetings with them and donate to their re-election campaigns, will have competition for their products. But even Harper could not go that far. But he could make it illegal for you to grow your own marijuana, even if a doctor prescribes it for your own medical use.

It’s a bizarre world. By what moral or ethical authority does the government take it upon itself to stop you from harmlessly enjoying a few tokes in your own basement while watching the latest episode of Homeland? Who invented his ridiculous idea?

As soon as it became clear that the courts were ready to allow medical marijuana for private use, the toadies to the pharmaceutical industry– the government– had to step in to preserve Corporate Profits. Their worst nightmare is that the public should get to use nature’s bounty without having to pay for the services of a pimp.


There is an experiment going on right now in Switzerland in which LSD is given to terminally ill patients to help them deal with the approaching end of their lives. Scientists want to know if it can ease the feelings of anxiety and depression.

The hysterics who still want to fight the war on drugs must have their skivvies in a knot about it. They are not innocent. It is because of the hysterics that the most effective drug against pain that there is, heroin, is not available to terminally ill cancer patients. And it is because of them that tens of thousands of young men spend years in prison for crimes that harm no one but themselves. And it is because of them that the terminally ill may not choose to end their lives with dignity at a time of their own choosing. It is because of them that we torture people in the last months of their lives, injecting and pricking them, bombarding them with x-rays or chemicals that destroy their resistance to colds and viruses and cause them no end of discomfort in the illusory hope that this time will be one in a million and they might get better.

There is no dearth of people eager to tell you what you may or may not do or say or ingest. But let’s be clear: nobody is in favor of drug abuse, and nobody wants drugs distributed like candy to anyone with a momentary impulse to escape life’s issues. But, by any standard, the “War on Drugs” in the U.S. has been a colossal failure and the only thing that keeps people from admitting it is the powerful urge to delude ourselves into believing that when we do something that ruins the lives of thousands and thousands of people and wastes billions of dollars was good and necessary and right.

How could we possibly have not learned the lesson of prohibition? The cure was far worse than the disease.

I suspect that we will always have a drug problem. We will always have people in our society who can’t cope or don’t want to cope or can’t postpone gratification or control their urges. Most of them go for alcohol, but those who want more powerful anesthesia will find drugs whether they are illegal or not. But the dumbest thing we, as a society, ever did, was to compound the problem by sending tens of thousands of these people to prison for possession of even a small amount of an illicit drug. It’s a medical and social problem and should be treated the same way we treat those issues: with therapies, medical treatment, and support. Perhaps our governments have learned the lesson of prohibition– but perhaps the campaigns against drugs are just a smoke screen for the need to guarantee a monopoly on anesthesia to the pharmaceutical companies.

Or maybe we should treat that problem the same way we treat obesity. With complete indifference.

Growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s our parents and teachers and government exerted themselves to hysteria in the attempt to convince us that if you tried a drug like LSD or marijuana or cocaine or heroin, you would immediately become addicted for life. Without a doubt, those drugs are addictive, but so is alcohol. That doesn’t mean that all users become addicted. It is believable to me that no one would fund a study to determine how many people can and do use drugs recreationally, on the odd weekend, at a party, and so on, but remain more or less functional at work and in social settings.

The great, raging hypocrisy among American conservatives is their determination to allow anyone who wants to to own a gun. How bizarre is that? You want to ingest a substance that may give you a consciousness-raising experience, or just make you feel good, and the nanny government steps in to stop you, even though no one is endangered by your actions. But even in the face of overwhelming evidence that guns causes thousands of deaths every year, they believe it would be “intrusive” for the government to regulate where and when you can carry a gun. These people are so irrational it hardly seems worthwhile to argue with them. Every poll shows they represent a small minority of voters. They need to be pushed aside and marginalized for society to function rationally, but the Republicans won’t let that happen because they provide the electoral margin of victory in many states.

An Epidemic of Diagnoses

You have to distinguish between an epidemic of diagnoses and an epidemic of allergies. Dr. Nicholas Christakis

A recent story out of Sacramento describes the tragedy of the death of Natalie Giorgi, a 13-year-old girl who was allergic to peanuts and inadvertently swallowed a bite of a Rice Krispies square that had “peanut products” in it. Her parents had two EPI-Pens, used them both, then used a third from the camp where their daughter had been staying. Natalie’s father, a physician, couldn’t save her, and neither could the EMS team that arrived by helicopter.

Now the Giorgi’s have gone public because they want to convince a skeptical public that food allergies are real and pose a real threat to public health and safety. They believe most people aren’t already hysterical enough about food allergies. We need to ramp it up.

Now, I don’t know where the Giorgis stand on gun control, or drunk driving, or lightening, but, if we, as a society, were to respond intelligently to genuine threats to health and safety, we might be better off channeling our energies into more productive causes.

Even worse, the remedies proposed most often– declaring schools “peanut free”, for example– may actually be having the opposite effect. In Israel, where peanuts are a popular snack, the rate of peanut allergies among children is about 0.17%. In Britain, where peanuts are less popular, the allergy rate is 2%.

About 150 people die every year in the U.S. due to an allergic reaction. About half are due to peanuts. That’s slightly more than the number of people who die from lightening strikes.

Be it noted: there is a lot of misplaced faith placed in Epi-Pens.

Skyler’s Complaint

In a baffling op-ed piece in the New York Times, August 23, 2013, the actress Anna Gunn complains about what she perceives to be a double standard: the main male character of the TV series “Breaking Bad”, Walt White, seems to be regarded as a kind of lovable rogue, who’s just trying to take care of his family while selling methamphetamine to pathetic addicts who have faded further and further into the background of the series. Her character, Skyler White, who, she says, lives a relatively faultless life, is vilified. Why? It’s because, she says, Skyler is a woman. It’s a double standard. Skyler has become “a measure of our attitude towards gender”. And that measure indicates rage and hypocrisy towards women who don’t stand by their man. At least, that’s Anna Gunn’s take on it.

Guilty. I’ll admit it: I found the character of Skyler White repugnant.

Is she arguing that Skyler should be admired? She says Skyler “has become a flash point for many people’s feelings about strong, non-submissive, ill-treated women”. Ill-treated? If, I suppose, you buy one of the fundamental conceits of “Breaking Bad”, which is, that there really is something admirable about Walt White’s desire to support his family, even if it means destroying hundreds of other lives. Then Skyler is ill-treated, I suppose, by Walt’s dishonesty. But Skyler had the opportunity to walk away and didn’t take it. Walt provides for her, desires her, and wants to sustain their marriage. How is that “ill treated”?

But what if you didn’t even buy the first part: that Walt is admirable in some way, because, after all, he is taking care of his family. Americans seem to be complete suckers for family: you can commit any atrocity, as long as it is to protect your family.

Well, in my view, Walt is a psychopathic criminal and a cold-blooded killer. In my view, anyone who would harm another man’s family to protect his own is not admirable: he’s selfish. Just as a mother who brags about her overweening love for her children can be suffering from “overflowing self-infatuation”. I don’t admire either of them. Am I off the hook?

The brains behind the program, Vince Gilligan, claims that “Breaking Bad” is about how far a man will go to take care of his family. If he is a psychopath.

Skyler wants it both ways, and it’s not unusual for audiences to find hypocrisy more repellent than mischief or even murder. Walt is repellent but he really doesn’t hide the fact that he doesn’t have any morals other than the desire to provide for his family, which isn’t really a moral. It’s a motive. And it doesn’t, in my view, make him admirable. His family really isn’t “other”. It isn’t someone other than himself who benefits from his criminal activity. And his passion for his family, as dramatized in “Breaking Bad”, is fundamentally unbelievable. In real life, that is something put on, a charade. In real life, people like Walt White are fundamentally psychotic and narcissistic.

Why does Vince Gilligan make this a central trope in “Breaking Bad”?  So the viewer can enjoy Walt’s shenanigans without feeling repulsion.  After all, he’s just taking care of his family.

Skyler doesn’t walk away. She doesn’t turn him in. She accepts the money. She cheats on Walt. She helps her employer cheat. Just what does Anna Gunn believe is admirable about her? That she is “strong”? But not strong enough, apparently, to walk away.