the quickies archive.August 2008
The Netherlands, with its permissive marijuana laws, may be known as the cannabis capital of the world. But a survey published this month in PLoS Medicine, a journal of the Public Library of Science, suggests that the Dutch don't actually experiment with pot as much as one would expect. Despite tougher drug policies in this country, Americans were twice as likely to have tried marijuana than the Dutch, according to the survey. In fact, Americans were more likely to have tried marijuana or cocaine than people in any of the 16 other countries, including France, Spain, South Africa, Mexico and Colombia, that the survey covered.
Researchers found that 42% of people surveyed in the United States had tried marijuana at least once, and 16% had tried cocaine. About 20% of residents surveyed in the Netherlands, by contrast, reported having tried pot; in Asian countries, such as Japan and China, marijuana use was virtually "non-existent," the study found. New Zealand was the only other country to claim roughly the same percentage of pot smokers as the U.S., but no other nation came close to the proportion of Americans who reported trying cocaine.
Why the high numbers? Jim Anthony, the chair of the department of epidemiology at Michigan State University and an author of the study, says U.S. drug habits have to do, in part, with the country's affluence — many Americans can afford to spend income on recreational drugs. Another factor may be an increasing awareness that marijuana may be less toxic than other drugs, such as tobacco or alcohol...
According to the Cremation Assn. of North America, about one-third of all Americans opt for the flame. We are, after all, a restless lot. Cremation allows the deceased loved one to be easily moved: ash and carry.
But there's a problem. Placing a body in an oven at 1,800 degrees for two hours spews vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, as well as heavy metals and mercury (vaporized from the amalgam in people's teeth). . . .
A whole market is springing up to satisfy the last wishes of the carbon-conscious. Take alkaline hydrolysis, which uses lye, heat and pressure to reduce the remains to an ashy pulp. Commonly used in veterinary schools, the process stirred controversy this year when a New Hampshire funeral director--hoping to pitch it to the eco-minded--applied for a variance to use it under the state's cremation laws. The problem is the oily, coffee-colored slurry of fluids that goes down the drain. It tends to freak people out. . .
But the mortuary option most in keeping with our times is thermal depolymerization. Theoretically, at least, it is possible, using steam and pressure, to "crack" organic solids such as human remains and, by manipulating pressure and temperature, assemble useful hydrocarbon chains. Translation: You can cook people into a pile of chemicals and a few quarts of oil. One day it may be possible to drive to grandma's funeral with the dear old gal in the tank.
Experimental fiction is the art of telling a story in which certain aspects of reality have been exaggerated or distorted in such a way as to put the reader off the story and make him go watch a television show. Another aspect of the experimental story is the innovative use of language. Here is an example of non-innovative use of language: "As Bill arrived at the store to buy milk, it started to rain." What a snore! Anyone can write that! That is not innovative. That does not open our eyes to the hypocrisy of our society. Try this: "Went buy to arrived as he rain started it Bill Bill Bill the milk, Bill the milk!" Or, in the tradition of Kafka, the writer might turn Bill into a giant bug, who can't buy milk because he can't reach the counter, and when Bill gets home his wife has also turned into a bug who, with her tentacles, signals, "Hey Bill, where's the milk?" That's when Bill realises all meaning is subjective and sprays his wife with a can of insecticide that he happened to buy at the store, because that store keeps the insecticide on the floor.
Incidentally, the way they execute bugs? Murdering bugs like Bill, who used to be human? A big foot comes crashing down.
-"Experimental Story", by George Saunders
Usually, some form of trying to excavate any kind of negative thing cycling in the mind and turn it toward the positive. For example, when I am annoyed with Dick Cheney, I meditate on how Dick Cheney was my mother in a previous life and nursed me at his breast.
If you do enjoy their magic act, then avoid Bullshit! at all cost. It will turns you off from them forever as it did to me.
China's recent plastic bag ban has been immediately accepted by consumers. In a country where billions of plastic bags are used each day, the government's top-down policy move will likely benefit the country's environment and energy security well before market forces or consumer-led efforts are able to achieve similar impact.
The ban prohibits shops, supermarkets, and sales outlets from handing out free plastic bags and bans the production, sale, and use of ultra-thin plastic bags under 0.025 millimeters thick. It took effect nationwide on June 1....
China's central government dealt this heavy blow to plastic bags out of concern for the environment and a desire for greater energy savings. People in China use up to 3 billion plastic bags daily and dispose of more than 3 million tons of them annually. Most of the carriers end up in unofficial dumping sites, landfills, or the environment. Urban dumping centers and open fields alongside railways and expressways are littered with the discarded bags, mostly whitish ultra-thin varieties. Such scenes have generated a special term in China: "the white pollution."
Plastic bags consume a huge quantity of oil, an energy source that in recent months has hovered at more than $100 per barrel on international markets. Experts estimate that China refines nearly 5 million tons (37 million barrels) of crude oil each year, or one-third of its imported oil, to make plastics used for packaging.
I'm Martin Hellman, a professor at Stanford University. When I started this project, I tried to find studies which estimated the risk of our current approach to nuclear weapons. I also asked prominent authorities on nuclear weapons, national security, and risk analysis if they knew of any such studies. I found nothing.-Nuclear Risk>
So I did a preliminary analysis of the risk we face and found that it was equivalent to having your home surrounded by thousands of nuclear power plants. I published that analysis in a paper (PDF download) which urgently calls for more detailed studies to either confirm or correct that startling conclusion.
Informed, subjective estimates support the need for in-depth studies. Former Secretary of Defense William Perry puts the odds of a nuclear terrorist attack in the next ten years at 50-50. Indiana Republican Senator Richard Lugar's survey of 85 national security experts reached a similarly alarming conclusion.
“I think it is poor law enforcement to keep on the books legislation that establishes as a crime something which in fact society does not seriously wish to prosecute. In my view, having federal law enforcement agents engaged in the prosecution of people who are personally using marijuana is a waste of scarce resources better used for serious crimes. In fact, this type of prosecution often meets with public disapproval. The most frequent recent examples have been federal prosecutions of individuals using marijuana for medical purposes in states that have voted – usually by public referenda – to allow such use. Because current federal law has been interpreted as superseding state law in this area, most states that have made medical use of marijuana legal have been unable to actually implement their laws.
"When doctors recommend the use of marijuana for their patients and states are willing to permit it, I think it’s wrong for the federal government to subject either the doctors or the patients to criminal prosecution. More broadly speaking, the norm in America is for the states to decide whether particular behaviors should be made criminal. To make the smoking of marijuana, whether for medical purposes or not, one of those extremely rare instances of federal crime – literally, to make a ‘federal case’ out of it – is wholly disproportionate to the activity involved. We do not have federal criminal prohibitions against drinking alcoholic beverages, and there are generally no criminal penalties for the use of tobacco at the state and federal levels for adults. There is no rational argument for treating marijuana so differently from these other substances.”
“To those who say that the government should not be encouraging the smoking of marijuana, my response is that I completely agree. But it is a great mistake to divide all human activity into two categories: those that are criminally prohibited, and those that are encouraged. In a free society, there must be a very considerable zone of activity between those two poles in which people are allowed to make their own choices as long as they are not impinging on the rights, freedom, or property of others. I believe it is important with regard to tobacco, marijuana and alcohol, among other things, that we strictly regulate the age at which people may use these substances. And, enforcement of age restrictions should be firm. But, criminalizing choices that adults make because we think they are unwise ones, when the choices involved have no negative effect on the rights of others, is not appropriate in a free society...”
-Barney Frank introducing bill HR 5843 to reduce federal penalties for marijuana
Margaret Spellings, the secretary of education, has been travelng the country to try and shore up the largely negative feelings towards NCLB. She is facing a nigh impossible battle because many feel that the law is nothing more than a way to undermine public schools in order to push through privatization in much the same manner that low numbers of troops were sent to Iraq in order to use mercenaries. This is why the administration pursued a hard line towards a "no-waiver policy" for schools facing more difficult challenges to catch up.
Educators trying to reach the goal of No Child Left Behind educational program – “by 2014, every child will be at or above grade level” – are doomed to failure...well-rounded education. It is also causing more gift students a reduced chance to reach their potential. This may be intentional.
The problem, [Dr. James A. Tucker, holder of the McKee Chair of Excellence in Learn at UTC] said, is that in order to achieve two of those goals, the third must be adjusted.
Quality of education cannot be sacrified, he said. For example, children need to learn all 26 letters of the alphabet, not just a portion of them.
Likewise, all children must be educated, not just some of them, so quantity is fixed.
The factor that can be adjusted, he said, is time.
“If one kid in the class is way behind, what does he need more than anything?” he asked rhetorically. “Time.”
It is perfectly normal for children who are the same age to achieve at different levels on standardized tests, he said. The normal range of achievement for 68 percent of nine-year-old fourth graders, for example, ranges from grade one level to grade seven level.
Therefore, demanding that 100 percent of those students achieve on at least a grade four level is unrealistic.
"All this forces one to wonder. Could NCLB as presently written be part of the long range plan of the Administration to undermine public education? If the law's harsh provisions result in more schools being branded 'failures,' could that lead to an exodus from the public schools in to the proliferating charter schools or religious or other private academies?"
"And could the law generate such frustration with the federal government's clumsy attempt to influence education policy, that it causes a 'backlash' movement opposing any federal role?"
Of course, high standards and accountability are worthy ideals but the public appears to be growing weary of this over-reliance on testing. A Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll in June found that 52 percent of public school parents felt there's too much testing -- up from 32 percent in 2002. And, 75 percent of public school parents said the focus on testing was forcing teachers to teach to the test, not the subject matter.
- AlterNetConsidering that Bush isn't even up to fully funding NCLB it seems odd that they are now trying to blame teachers for poor student performance. The people benefiting most of all from NCLB are the five companies that create the tests and offer tutoring and prep. to the tune of 2.3 billion dollars a year.
Whatever the future is for NCLB, it doesn't seem likely that we'll know until 2010
"A Grandfather Looks Back on 40 Years of Happy Pot Smoking", by George Rohrbacher
Daniel Burd - [a] 16-year-old from Waterloo, Ontario, as part of a science fair project, figured out a way to break down the polymers in plastic bags-compounds that can last for over 1,000 years-in about three months. Essentially, Burd hypothesized that since the bags eventually do degrade, it must be possible to isolate and augment the degrading agents. . .
-Mother Jones, via Undernews
Fine-tuning controls on the nation's traffic signals would cut U.S. road congestion by as much as 10 percent, transportation experts estimate. It would also reduce air pollution from vehicles by as much as a fifth, cut accidents at intersections and save about five tanks of gas annually per household, according to the National Transportation Operations Coalition, an alliance of federal, state and local traffic departments and equipment-makers.
That's the good news. The bad news is that the average local traffic department earned an overall grade of D on the alliance's latest report card. Streamlining intersections is happening in only some cities and states, even though it's eminently doable. . .
-MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS, via Undernews
The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) presents Immune Attack™, an educational video game that introduces basic concepts of human immunology to high school and entry-level college students. Designed as a supplemental learning tool, Immune Attack aims to excite students about the subject, while
Bill [O'Reilly] is not a journalist. He's a pugilist
The largest study of its kind has unexpectedly concluded that smoking marijuana, even regularly and heavily, does not lead to lung cancer.
A 13 year old from Texas who stole his Dad's credit card and ordered two hookers from an escort agency, has today been convicted of fraud and given a three year community order.
Ralph Hardy, a 13 year old from Newark, Texas confessed to ordering an extra credit card from his father's existing credit card company, and took his friends on a $30,000 spending spree, culminating in playing "Halo" on an Xbox with a couple of hookers in a Texas motel....
Asked why he ordered two escorts, Ralph said he thought it was the thing to do when you win a "World of Warcraft" tournament. They told the suspicious working girls they were people of restricted growth working with a traveling circus, and as State law does not allow those with disabilities to be discriminated against they had no right to refuse them.
The $1,000 a night girls sensing something up played "Halo" on the Xbox with the kids, instead of selling their sexual services.
Ralph's ambition is to one day become a politician.
There are few things that irritate me more than those that attack the small bit of real knowledge that we have worked so hard to put together and have made our lives immeasurably better. The latest salvo of stupidity, which failed miserably in theaters, is from Ben Stein.
When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers [biologist P.Z. Myers], talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed … that was horrifying beyond words, and that’s where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that’s where science leads you.
Worse yet, point your finger falsely and you risk losing more than you ever thought. When the "faithful" resort to falsehood and slander they not only discredit themselves, but put a dark taint to to the religion they struggle to save. Ben's not alone, of course. He has folks like Rev. Rod Parsley and Pastor John Hagee fostering fantasy and fear for fame and fortune.
The real kicker comes when the very book that's the basis of their faith is a questionable source of morality for those that actually take the time to read it (Only parts I care for are Ecclesiastes and Job). But people read the Bible everyday and never seem to get tripped up by the parts that stand to counter all the good. It's as if the investment is too great to get distracted by some flaws and perhaps because the feeling of faith is too good to lose. That's fine. It just becomes a problem when you ignore verifiable facts, attack those with different views, and put others in harm's way to usher in some Rapture fantasy.