Archive for the 'Skepticality' Category

Aug 29 2007

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Did Obama Just Say that?

Filed under Politics, Skepticality, Society

Marijuana Leaf

Below is an expanded discussion that I started earlier today related to drug law enforcement and a WTF moment I had when I read Obama’s promises to New Orleans.

According to High Times, on Aug. 22, 2007 Obama made a statement that he “would not have the Justice Department prosecuting and raiding medical marijuana users, it’s not the best use of our resources.” The video proof can be found on YouTube. However, that statement is misleading. It appears that Obama is for the continuation of the war on drugs and establishment of Drug Enforcement Agencies. During his visit to New Orleans on Aug. 25, 2007 Obama said if elected “he would establish a Drug Enforcement Agency office in New Orleans that would be dedicated to stopping drug gangs across the region” (New York Times, Obama’s Plan to Restore New Orleans). WTF? Prosecuting people who make medical use of marijuana is a poor use of resources, but establishing yet another Drug Enforcement Agency isn’t? As Scott Morgan from Stop the Drug War said, “Well, Barack Obama, you know what else is a poor use of resources? Creating a second DEA office in New Orleans when people still have holes in their roofs and mud in their basements.”

jb1125 responded to my post with the following:

I agree that the long term goal should be legalization, but you can’t just let gang members roam the streets.

Hundreds of people are being killed in New Orleans due to gang violence. These gangs that sell drugs are empowered by the lack of enforcement.

The increase in criminal activity due to the lack of enforcement is a disincentive for people to return and makes it harder to rebuild infrastructure. So, you can’t fix roofs, if gangs steal your equipment. The best way to get rid of the gangs would be to eliminate their source of income by legalizing drugs, but that won’t happen anytime soon, so the best legal way is to increase enforcement.

I would argue that allowing gangs to freely sell drugs is against the interests of people opposed to war on drugs. In order to create real change, there needs to be a political consensus, and if drug dealers, who are killing people, roam the streets , then they can be used as an example of what will happen if you legalize.

My response is too long to put in the comments section, so here it is:

Drug enforcement agencies deal with all drug enforcement not just gang violence, and that, unfortunately includes a majority of petty users who don’t harm anyone but themselves.

Empirically speaking there are no conclusive studies to show drug law enforcement reduces violence. There are two camps to the debate on drugs and violence, those who argue prohibition causes violence and those who argue drugs themselves cause violence. So there are theories on what causes violence but no real proof on what reduces violence.

I personally like to quote Chris Rock, in that people don’t sell crack, but crack sells itself. In order words, I am of the camp that believes drug prohibition causes violence.

I base my theory on a number of peer-reviewed studies that show drug law enforcement is very expensive, cost-ineffective and may lead to an increase in violent crime.

A 2005 study published in Social Science Quaterly concludes that “increases in total per capita drug arrests and arrests for “hard drug” possession are accompanied by higher rates for all crimes except assault. Increased arrests for the manufacture or sale of marijuana are associated with increases in larcenies.”

The Independent Institute also cites a Florida study, “violent crime also increased markedly in response to greater drug law enforcement, as drug dealers displaced by law enforcement invaded the turf of established dealers, and residents of previously untapped markets fell prey to violent criminals. Since 1989, Florida has reduced its drug enforcement efforts, and its property crime rate has fallen.”

A Harvard study published in 2003 in the Journal of Public Economics concludes that, “increased drug incarceration has likely been a small (1–3%) reduction in violent and property crime … it is unlikely that the dramatic increase in drug imprisonment was cost-effective.” Continue Reading »

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Aug 29 2007

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Tamiflu Distribution In Case Shit Happens

Green AppleChris Rock mentions in one of his famous stand-up shows that insurance should be called “in case shit… .” I just recently discovered another application of this concept–the company I work for distributed Tamiflu, (an antiviral drug) “in case shit…” happens. And when I did some research on Tamiflu I came up with connections between the marker of Tamiflu, Rumsfeld and Bush.

The irony is that “in case shit…” happens a lot when it comes to viruses. But while I have my (free of charge) stash of Tamiflu in case a flu pandemic takes over the world, there are viruses doing damage today that aren’t kept in check and for which there is no “insurance” while the shit is actually hitting the fan.

It might just be me, but it’s ironic that I sit on a stash of Tamiflu just “in case shit…” happens, when we have shit (viruses) happening all around us, and many people not being able to afford life-saving medication. According to cnn.com, “an estimated 80 percent of people living with HIV outside the developed world have no access to health care and life-saving drugs, according to amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research.”

Thankfully, there are organization such as Aid for AIDS International that have ingenious programs “devoted to housing and redistributing HIV and AIDS medicine.” What that means is that there are people out there who cannot tolerate their drugs or discontinue a drug and are left with a supply. This supply can be donated to Aid for AIDS International who will use legal means to distribute the drugs to people who cannot afford them.

Now, let me make it clear, Tamiflu is not prescribed for HIV treatment. However, if Gilead Sciences can make enough Tamiflu for personal stock-piling “in case shit…” there has to be a way to make enough affordable HIV antiviral medication.

And let me also make it clear that I don’t think there’s anything random about Gilead Sciences making Tamiflu in ma$$ quantities and the fact that Donald Rumsfeld was chairman of the company between 1997 and 2001. Not to mention his owning stock in Gilead, worth somewhere between USD$5 million and USD$25 million. And then should we wonder why in Nov. 2005, W. Bush urged Congress to pass $7.1 billion in emergency funding to prepare for a possible bird flu pandemic, of which $1 billion (how many 0s is that?) was dedicated to the purchase, and distribution of Tamiflu?

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Aug 22 2007

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Millionaire Gets Wordpress.com Blocked in Turkey

Scientific American reported today that Turkey blocked access to wordpress.com blogs (home of over 1 mil blogs) as a response to wordpress-hosted blogs that allegedly defamed the Turkish millionaire and supporter of creationism, Harun Yahya.

Yahya is also “creator” of the the Atlas of Creation. SciAm shows an image from the Atlas, with a large red cross on top of an evolving primate, and the words FALSE typed next to the cross. Way to build an argument!

Wordpress.com also published the contents of the communication they received from the Turkish government regarding their censorship.

And I’m not sure if the Turkish government were aware of the bad press they were going to get following their “intelligent” move, but here you have it. We’re all talking about what a dumb-ass move it is.

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Aug 21 2007

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New Reasons to Love Bill Maher

Filed under Religion, Skepticality

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Aug 14 2007

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Did You Know This… About This Harry Potter Symbol?

Filed under Skepticality, Society

Did you know that the lightning bolt symbol was part of the Flash and Circle symbol, the best known symbol of the British Union of Fascists?

I got this information from the NYT review of the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by none other than Christopher Hitchens, a review that echoed  my feeling that the tying of loose ends in this book was “tedious”:

For all this apparently staunch secularism, it is ontology that ultimately slackens the tension that ought to have kept these tales vivid and alive. Theologians have never been able to answer the challenge that contrasts God’s claims to simultaneous omnipotence and benevolence: whence then cometh evil? The question is the same if inverted in a Manichean form: how can Voldemort and his wicked forces have such power and yet be unable to destroy a mild-mannered and rather disorganized schoolboy? In a short story this discrepancy might be handled and also swiftly resolved in favor of one outcome or another, but over the course of seven full-length books the mystery, at least for this reader, loses its ability to compel, and in this culminating episode the enterprise actually becomes tedious. Is there really no Death Eater or dementor who is able to grasp the simple advantage of surprise?

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Aug 14 2007

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The Value of a Tooth

Filed under Blogroll, Skepticality, Society

Green AppleWe always talk about health care being expensive in America, but we rarely put a price around health care. Mostly, those of us who write about expensive health care are insured… so we pay our $20 copay and the true cost of health care rarely hits home.

We are aware of those around us who have no insurance, and we think we know what it would be like to be uninsured. Or at least we are enraged at this injustice.

How about dental?

Let’s say you have a molar gone bad, with an old root canal. Your dentist says, “you need this root canal redone and then we need to build the tooth up with a crown.”

What’s that tooth worth to you?

My molar required $2,500 in repairs. If it was a car by the name of Molar, it would have been totaled, which explains why those without dental insurance will rather have the tooth pulled than fixed.

Insurance only covered a percentage of the bill, not before printing the following disclaimer on my bill: “THE PLAN DOES NOT COVER ANY PORCELAIN,VENEER OR TITANIUM MATERIALS ON MOLARS.” (Statements and bills people haven’t heard yet that ALL CAPS=SHOUTING )

My share? $550. For that money I could get 2 iPods, or an SLR, or a trip to Jamaica, or a car! What I got is a porcelain molar that only I can see if I open my mouth wide in front of a mirror, plus the promise of better breath, a healthier mouth, longer-lasting dentition.

On second thought, I should have gotten a titanium tooth instead, which might have brought on the promise of quickly opened beer bottles. I’ll drink to that!

2 responses so far

Aug 01 2007

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Moore and Gupta Debate ‘Sicko’ on CNN

After Johnny’s argument (in basic logical notation) on why we need universal health care, and his review of the Moore and Gupta’s 10 “bickering” points on CNN, I decided to post the videos for all to see what the bickering was all about.

I personally think CNN did a brilliant thing in allowing the Moore vs. Gupta Sicko debate to happen and continue on their (expensive) air-time, as it allows the issue of health care in America to stay in the spot-light. Despite Johnny claiming the debate was just bickering, any heated debate can be interpreted as such, but it does not detract from the importance of having debate where those involved choose their argumentative tools.

Yes, there were some points of debate that could be interpreted as personal attacks and there was a lot (especially on the part of Moore) of “not true” calling without immediate backing arguments.

Here is the Larry King live debate split in 2 parts. First part gives an overview of what triggered the discussion. Part 2, King asks Moore why Gupta’s report irritated him and Gupta gets a chance to clarify his take on Sicko.

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Jul 19 2007

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Larry King Live - UFOs Are They Out There?


Larry King Live - UFOs Are They Out There? - CNN - Watch more funny videos here

Here is a transcript of the show.The interesting part of this show is how the well known skeptic Shermer is not allowed to finish a thought. It’s amazing to see how many people wish to believe in UFOs to the point where they will attack someone who says “I don’t know.” Shermer writes his post-show thoughts as well as some funny and sad letters he got after the show on the Skeptic website.

2 responses so far

Jul 06 2007

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The Difference Between Skepticism and Cynicism

Filed under Skepticality

Those who know me know that I am a huge Penn & Teller show fan (my first stop in Vegas this spring was the Penn & Teller Theater), and of the skeptic network, blogosphere, or may-you-call-it-as-you-wish. I just happened today upon a video dialog between Penn and Teller and James Randi where Randi defines the difference between a skeptic and a cynic. Randi says:

To be skeptical is to have a healthy point of view, I would think, is to wonder whether or not “this” is true, but to be cynical is to just dismiss everything….

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Jun 08 2007

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Could it Be that Drugs are Expensive Because…

…Drug companies are getting uber creative?

I know you thought I was going to say drug companies spend too much on marketing. Oh and they do spend in the billions of dollars range. But at the same time I am a financial libertarian and am against government intervention so I will not address this topic at this time (plus I failed to get any good data for either argument so I need more time…).

But I was fascinated, just like the Wired editors by the new marketing techniques the drug companies are using–tissue boxes reminding you to “break the cycle of depression,” zip drives labeled with the Alzheimers drug Namenda, and the Provigil wireless mouse (which came with batteries as the Wired writers noted) . Check out the “loot”.

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Jun 07 2007

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Notes from Skeptical Inquirer

The May/June 2007 Skeptical Inquirer has a number of great articles. Two of them were outstanding and as they can’t be found online yet, I’d like to give a brief review.

1. Alan Scott’s (Physics professor at University of Wisconsin-Stout) “Danger! Scientific Inquiry Hazard” presents the idea that just as we have hazard symbols for radioactive, biological and chemical materials, the world needs a hazard symbol for scientific affronts–”these things that impede progress toward a true understanding and appreciation of the physical world.”

Common affronts to science include pseudoscience, relativism, romanticism, antiscience, secrecy, deceptive consumer marketing and religion. These categories are not mutually exclusive, nor are they completely devoid of being beneficial to humanity.

2. Todd C. Riniolo (teaches Psychology and a special course in Skepticism at Medaille College, Buffalo, NY) and Lee Nisbet (teaches Philosophy at Medaille College, Buffalo, NY) co-author “The Myth of Consistent Skepticism; The Cautionary Case of Albert Einstein,” in which they discuss the concepts of “selective skepticism” and “consistent skepticism.”

…we all have limitations and built-in biases that hinder our ability to apply the methods of skepticism objectively and consistently. Nonskeptics and professed skeptics alike are equally vulnerable to developing beliefs that have not been subjected to rigorous skeptical inquiry.

Continue Reading »

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