May 30, 2007

Machiavelli

Thoughts from The Prince:
New principalities are the ones that present problems...you always have to give offense to those over whom you acquire power when you become a new ruler, bother by imposing troops upon them, and by countless other injuries that follow as necessary consequences of the acquisition of power. Thus, you make enemies of all those to whom you have given offense in acquiring power, and in addition you cannot keep the goodwill of those who have put you in power, for you cannot satisfy their aspirations as they thought you would. At the same time you cannot use heavy-handed methods against them, for you are obliged to them. Even if you have an overwhelmingly powerful army, you will have needed the support of the locals to take control of the province.

...

But when you acquire territories in a region that has a different language, different customs, and different institutions, then you really have problems, and you need to have great good fortune and great resourcefulness if you are going to hold on to them. One of the best policies...is for the new ruler to go and live in his new territories...for if you are on the spot, you can identify difficulties as they arise, and can quickly take appropriate action. If you are at a distance, you only learn of them when they have become serious, and when it is too late to put matters right. Moreover, if you are there in person, the territory will not be plundered by your officials.
That's enough for now.

Of course, this is one of many books of wisdom of all types that contains advice that should be commonly known to all. It's depressing to think how little we've learned over the past few thousand years and how we're repeating mistakes in Iraq that learned people have known how to easily avoid since before Christ.

May 28, 2007

Mexican military and the WoD

Here is a comprehensive look at the role the Mexican military has been playing in Felipe Calderón's new WoD offensive. It's long, but worth checking out if you're interested.

May 26, 2007

Canadian conservatives

Apparently, the new conservative Canadian government is set to begin a US-style war on drugs. It seems that conservatives everywhere have the same sort of delusions, though one might say it's the fault of the liberals for being corrupt enough to deserve being tossed out.

It's hard for me to fathom this kind of idiocy, though a few people are saying the right things.
"Stephen Harper's government is expected to announce next week new measures that will retreat from harm reduction measures that help Canadians, such as the safe injection site in Vancouver," said Ms. Brown.

"They are trying to do this under the guise of cracking down on illicit drug trafficking and prevention - even though all the research suggests that an ideologically-motivated war on drugs is ineffective, while programs such as the safe injection site are producing positive results."

A series of reports - including the Canadian Medical Association Journal and the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS - have concluded that the site has had a positive effect on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, and has not increased crime or addiction rates, or threatened public health and safety.
I suspect that they way to win this argument is going to be more anthropological than logical. Trouble is, people are stupid and keep doing the same stupid shit over and over again, despite reams of readily available evidence to the contrary.

Sorry...

...for the light posting over the past week. I've been visiting home and just got my wisdom teeth removed, so I've been out for a couple days. I have learned a few things, though, in my chipmunk-state. First, Lortab makes you puke on an empty stomach. Second, swallowing too much blood also makes you puke.

Oh, and I busted out of the restraints at the doctors office and tried to get away when I was under anesthesia. They had to call in reinforcements to hold me down. Mysterious, doing something that out of character when you can't remember a damn thing about it.

May 18, 2007

A work in progress

The drug policy reform movement has been gaining steam for the last few years. And yet, we have failed to penetrate the mainstream discourse enough to make articles like this one, (on the front page of the NYT) about the opium trade in Afghanistan, unacceptable. Drug policy reform is not even mentioned in this article--the "model" for Afghanistan, where the drug trade is booming, is purported to be Columbia. I won't go into what's wrong with the article, as others have already done it better. I would like to talk about how we might change this mainstream attitude and make journalists and others more responsive to our arguments.

Advocating drug policy reform is a fringe position. Though I don't trust polling much, something like 85% of Americans think we should continue the war on drugs.

Why is this? First, we have some very powerful opponents. Politicians from both sides of the aisle have always found a convenient road to votes and power through the demonization of drugs and the advocating of harsher penalties for various drug offenses. Something like 70 years of nonstop propaganda has imbedded the assumptions of the drug war, and the corresponding caricatures of the drugs themselves, so deep in the American psyche it will probably take decades to remove.

Also, the drug war appeals to the American way of doing things. Like it or not, Americans (like most people) are more than willing to give up most of their liberties for some imagined security. "Just do what it takes to stamp out this illegal drug menace," we say. "These constitutional guarantees against unreasonable search and seizure are luxuries we cannot afford."

"The Constitution is not a suicide pact." What a bunch of bullshit. What fucking cowards.

And yet, we have failed to make it clear to people that these sorts of arguments are patently ridiculous and 35 years of an increasingly militaristic approach to the drug problem has produced one of the most drug-soaked societies on earth.

On the other hand, still hardly anyone gives stiff questioning to Bush or other right-wingers when they do truly ridiculous stuff. What we need is a better frame. The word frame has gotten a lot of blog-play in the last few months, particularly on the science blogs (or so I've noticed). I regard the word "frame" as simply stating your argument in such a way so that your target audience will be most likely to accept it. This might be dumbing down your argument, changing your vocabulary, etc. It is emphatically not saying anything untrue or misleading.

So when we get into this argument with lay people about the war on drugs, I think we need to remember who we're talking to. First, keep it simple. Most people are stupid and have a short attention span. Anything convoluted or arcane can be thrown out--everything but the simplest economic arguments. Any sort of civil liberties arguments can be thrown out as well (depending on your audience). If you say that people should have the right to do any drug they want everyone is just going to think you're a junkie.

I would argue like this:

The war on drugs causes more problems than it solves. Actually, it solves no problems, and creates a whole host of other problems that could be easily avoided with some sort of a decriminalized model. Before I start, let me propose my policy solution, which is the most conservative I can imagine that still encompasses the necessary reforms. This reform would involve the cessation of imprisonment for all drug users--the current policy being replaced by some sort of treatment program. Second, and more controversially, drugs must be made available for users--prescription to addicts is one way--so the black market would be eliminated.

First, a half-dozen countries worldwide like Afghanistan, Columbia, and Mexico have been destabilized to the point of collapse by the drug trade, and a dozen others have been adversely affected. This is in addition to the boost to criminals and gangs in the United States receive from drug sales. The cartels and terrorists that cause this instability would be unemployed instantly by eliminating the black market for drugs. Second, thousands of people die every year from overdoses and communicable diseases like AIDS and hepatitis (from needle-sharing), which would be eliminated by making pharmaceutically pure drugs along with medically-standard injection needles available (of course, it's probable that people would no longer inject their heroin/morphine if it were available for a reasonable retail price). Third, around $70 billion is spent every year by state and local law enforcement and courts prosecuting the drug war which would be saved. Fourth, hundreds of people every year are imprisoned needlessly, not to mention the dozens of wrong-door raids that are committed every year.

Questions? Comments? email or comment below.

The drug war in Mexico

Despite several months of increasingly harsh crackdowns on drug gangs in northern Mexico and unflagging calls of "stay the course," the Mexican government has been unable to defeat the drug gangs, indeed, they seem to be retaliating with greater and greater ferocity. It remains to be seen whether the Federales have enough power to defeat the cartels in military combat, let alone control the drug trade.

To my eye, Mexico is looking more and more like another Columbia. The problem is exactly the same--for the cartels (or in Columbia, various guerilla organizations), drugs are a source of income that is on the same order of magnitude as the national GDP, so if pressed, they can actually mount a reasonable challenge to the federal military. With over 2000 people killed last year, and over 900 killed this year so far, this is open war.

Just like Columbia, the American public can barely be bothered to stop watching Paris and Lindsay and notice this problem. How many people have died because we can't enforce our own laws? It's nearly 3000 in the past 17 months in Mexico alone. The horror is numbing.

UPDATE:
I hadn't noticed this. Apparently, there is a vigilante organization called the "Gente Nueva" that has killed several people associated with the Zeta cartel near Veracruz. One step closer to total anarchy.

May 11, 2007

Russell: 4, Finals: 0

Whoo! I finished my last final on Wednesday, and I don't know what to do with myself...last night I had a dream about Stat Therm, and it's wasn't too pleasant. I guess it's rather common to have bad dreams about exams, even after they're over.

Can I have fun yet?

May 9, 2007

Almost done...

Three finals down, one to go. This last one is Statistical Thermodynamics, and it's going to be brutal. I just hope there's enough liquor to go round afterwards.

I've been studying every waking moment, so I don't really have much to say at the moment. But what Digby said is worth reading.

May 5, 2007

Cocaine

It seems that despite a recent crackdown by the new president of Mexico, cocaine continues its long-term trend of lower prices and higher potency.
Despite billions of dollars in U.S. antidrug spending and record seizures, statistics recently released by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy suggest that cocaine is as available as ever.
It seems that the lessons of basic economics have still failed to sink in to the Drug Czar's office. What really interests me is how to change the debate. It is still taboo to mention drug policy reform in an article like this--true to form, we have a list of complaints about how the drug war is continuing to fail in its stated objectives, but no mention of the alternative solution that we've been trumpeting for years. My friends, I think we face a problem of marketing.

Damn.

With news that Obama has been placed under secret service protection, and the news that CBS has disabled comments for its stories about Obama due to unmanageable racist comments, I'm reminded of a recent Debbie Schlussel post:
HOprah Watch: Cheapskate Oprah ENDORSES B. Hussein Obama for Prez, But Won't Give Him $$$
It's like MLK said:
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the Muslim-soundingness of their middle names.
I think that was it, anyway.

May 4, 2007

Guantánamo Lawyers

I'm not terribly surprised by this, but it seems that the lawyers working for the detainees in Guantánamo are having trouble getting the detainees to trust them:
Mr. Denbeaux [a lawyer] said one clients [sic] had pleaded with him to bring toothpaste. When he did on a later visit, military guards confiscated it and his client took that as proof that the lawyer was powerless. “I said, ‘They took it from me,’ ” Mr. Denbeaux recalled, “and he said: ‘What good are you? You can’t even get me toothpaste.’ ”
I imagine the whole point of this exercise (along with others like trying to limit the number of visits lawyers can have to the detainees) is to create precisely the distrustful atmosphere that will limit what the lawyers can accomplish.

It seems like the only hope now it to put our faith in Bush's endless overreaching. It seems like he bases his decisions on what a reasonable person would conclude is the best way to piss off the largest number of people.

A little light reading

If you've got a few hours to kill here and there, I always recommend this site; it's a excellent introduction to the history of ancient Christianity brought together in a way the layman can grasp. Plus he's got an excellent bibliography if you get interested in the subject.

It's no surprise

I guess guilty until proven innocent applies to horses, too.

Crazy!

It seems that the Jose Padilla case has been stalled by...too many jurors that don't believe the offical line about 9/11. Apparently, something like a third of the country believes that it's at least somewhat likely that government officials had something to do with 9/11.

To that I can only say...wow. That's distrust.

Debate: Romney

Something I wanted to mention last night, but the physical chemistry lab report got in the way...Mitt Romney doesn't know shit about Islamic terrorism.
I don't want to buy into the Democratic pitch, that this is all about one person, Osama bin Laden. Because after we get him, there's going to be another and another. This is about Shi'a and Sunni. This is about Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. This is the worldwide jihadist effort to try and cause the collapse of all moderate Islamic governments and replace them with a caliphate.
It's bothersome that someone running for president knows so little about the Islamic world. I'm no scholar of Middle Eastern studies, but even I know that Hamas, Hezbollah, and al Qaeda have wildly different ideologies and goals, not to mention the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood is not jihadist at all. And no GOP candidate called him on his obvious factual error.

UPDATE:
Damn, you've got to be quick on these things. Spencer, Kevin Drum, Ygelsias and most likely countless others have done this already, and better.

Interesting

It seems that Ron Paul has done well in this completely unscientific and self-selecting poll about the debate last night. It's nice to see someone with some sort of relatively coherent belief system out there mixin' it up with the other GOP'ers. He'll be crushed, of course.

UPDATE:
Andrew Sullivan is impressed as well.

Why the title?

I imagine if people were to read this blog they might wonder why it is called what it is...it's a rather complicated answer that requires a bit of background.

One might say that getting an undergraduate degree in chemistry is the process of unlearning everything you learned in intro chemistry. Sure, what they teach you there is useful in some circumstances, but it turns out it's all bullshit. I'm still not sure why they go about it this way, but I'm not a professor, and it's not my place to speculate about such things.

Still, when you're in intro chem and organic chemistry (O-chem), you learn about these things called orbitals. These little devils describe what the electrons in the atom are doing, and there are various rules for how they fill up, how many electrons you can stuff in each one (two), etc. The most important ones are probably the p orbitals, because those are the bonding ones for carbon, which is the most important element to humans for obvious reasons. In intro and O-chem they tell you that the standard p-orbitals are shaped like dumbbells, with two lobes sticking in opposite directions. This is a good visualization and it makes sense for a lot of simple bonding theory...

Except it isn't true. The p-orbitals are actually shaped like doughnuts, which to this day confounds the shit out of me. Someday I hope to understand enough math that I won't need the visual crutch to understand the underlying physics, but until now, I'm stumped.

So doughnut orbitals symbolize all the things I don't understand but want to, in addition to all the inconvenient detail that people tend to sweep underneath the rug. The world is stranger and more complicated that we imagine, in fact, it may be stranger than we can imagine. I think Feynman said that.

Plus, I like doughnuts. What does that have to do with this blog? I'm not sure.

I'm going to bed.

Here goes...

Well, I'd be hard pressed to say why I'm doing this...try everything once, I always say. We'll see if it catches on.