Friday, October 23, 2015

frustrating insertion of the blood funnel, valodya guided by an outdated theory of international politics

NYTimes |  THE Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, continues to surprise. Russia’s military intervention in Syria, followed by a face-to-face meeting in Moscow this week with that country’s president, Bashar al-Assad, has startled the world.

As there was after Mr. Putin’s action in Ukraine last year, there has been a chorus of commentary on his supposed strategic genius. He is acting decisively, seizing the initiative and creating facts on the ground — so the narrative goes, in contrast with the West’s feckless pursuits in Syria.

The opposite is true.

Five years ago, Russia was in a much stronger position, both at home and in the world. Today, Mr. Putin is playing defense, doubling down on bad decisions guided by an outdated theory of international politics.

Recognition of Russia’s mistakes, however, does not guarantee future failure. The United States and our allies cannot stand idly by and wait for Russia to fail. Instead, we must adopt a comprehensive strategy to minimize the negative consequences of Russia’s actions and maximize the positive ones of ours.....

.....For different reasons, societies in the Arab world, Ukraine and Russia began to mobilize against their leaders. Initially, President Medvedev sided with the people in the Middle East, notably abstaining from, rather than vetoing, the Security Council resolution that authorized the use of force in Libya. Mr. Medvedev also engaged with opposition leaders in Russia and introduced some modest political reforms before exiting the Kremlin in May 2012.

Mr. Putin, however, had an opposite approach. He believed that behind these protesters was an American hand, and that the response to them — whether in Syria, Egypt, Russia or Ukraine — should be coercion and force.

After his inauguration as president, Mr. Putin pivoted hard against Russia’s demonstrators, labeling them traitors. His tactics derailed the opposition’s momentum.

But his short-term successes have produced long-term costs. Mr. Putin’s paranoia about independent political actors nurtured a growing fear of business interests outside his oligarchical clique. Economic reform stalled, investment declined and state ownership grew.

Political stagnation also settled in. For the first two years of his third term as president, Mr. Putin’s approval rating hovered around 60 percent, his lowest ever. Only his invasion of Ukraine eventually propelled his approval rating back up.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

volatility and the allegory of the prisoner's dilemma

artemiscm |  Artemis is pleased to release our latest research paper:  “Volatility and the Allegory of the Prisoner’s Dilemma: False Peace, Moral Hazard, and Shadow Convexity”  explores conceptual ideas of convexity and self-reflexivity in modern markets with a specific focus on equity volatility andtail risk hedging. The paper utilizes data going back hundreds of years in addition to drawing from disciplines in the worlds of quantitative finance, art, cinema, and literature to communicate an investment ideology and provide actionable ideas in today’s markets. 

We’ve appreciated the strong response to previous research papers and hope that the recent report is thought provoking and useful. 
“Dorothy Thompson once said “peace is not the absence of conflict”. Never forget there is a form of peace and stability reinforced by a foundation of underlying volatility. Game theorists call this the paradox of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, and it describes a dangerously fragile equilibrium achieved only through brutal competition. The Prisoner’s Dilemma is the most important paradigm for understanding shadow risk in modern financial markets at the pinnacle of a multi-generational debt cycle unparalleled in the history of finance.
Global Capitalism is trapped in its own Prisoner’s Dilemma; fourty four years after the end of the Bretton Woods System global central banks have manipulated the cost of risk in a competition of devaluation leading to a dangerous build up in debt and leverage, lower risk premiums, income disparity, and greater probability of tail events on both sides of the return distribution. Truth is being suppressed by the tools of money. Market behavior has now fully adapted to the expectation of pre-emptive central bank action to crisis creating a dangerous self-reflexivity and moral hazard. Volatility markets are warped in this new reality routinely exhibiting schizophrenic behavior. The tremendous growth of the short volatility complex across all assets, combined with self-reflexive investment strategies, are creating a dangerous ‘shadow convexity’ that will fuel the next hyper-crash.  We are nearing the end of a thirty year “monetary super-cycle” that created a “debt super-cycle”, a giant tower of babel in the capitalist system. The next great crash will occur when we collectively realize that the institutions that we trusted to remove risk are actually the source of it. In the Prisoner’s Dilemma, global central banks have set up the greatest volatility trade in history.”

look north, look south, legalize and industrialize those greens....,

theantimedia |  Later this month, the supreme court of Mexico will review the country’s current prohibition of marijuana, as well as the possibility of legalizing the plant for medical and recreational use. Medical marijuana is currently legal in Mexico, but the black market drug trade in the country continues to cause widespread violence, drug cartel, and gang activity, just as it does in America. 

Marijuana legalization has traditionally been a very popular concept in Mexico, where people understand the real-life consequences of the drug war and prohibition. However, the United Nations has forced many countries around the world, including Mexico, to comply with the drug prohibition policy the United States government has championed.

Now, with many U.S. states choosing to legalize the plant, Mexico is seeing a window of opportunity to change the laws at home, keep non-violent offenders out of jail, and minimize the violence created by the black market.

On October 28th, supreme court judges in Mexico will vote to decide whether the current prohibition on marijuana is unconstitutional. If they do choose to legalize the plant — which many believe they will — the country will follow a number of countries that are beginning to change their drug laws.
In 2001, Portugal became the first country in the world to end the drug war within its borders, and in the short time since, the country has seen a radical improvement in  society. Drugs now have fewer negative effects in Portugal than they did prior to decriminalization. There are now fewer drug-related deaths, fewer children getting ahold of drugs, and fewer people doing drugs in general.

okinawan snake oil, or, the real soylent green?

japantimes |  The future of Japan’s biofuel industry may be pond scum. Or more specifically, green algae that’s swirling around in tanks on a tropical Okinawan island.

That’s what Mitsuru Izumo and his company Euglena Co. are counting on anyway. After 10 years developing the algae as a nutritional supplement that feeds the company’s ¥4.6 billion in annual revenue, Euglena has been teaming up with corporate giants including All Nippon Airways and a unit of Chevron Corp. for its next phase.

Excited investors have driven up the shares more than 2,400 percent since its 2012 initial public offering, the best performance of any IPO that year or since.

“I’m very confident we’ll commercialize bio-jet fuel by 2020,” said Izumo, 35, in an interview at his Tokyo office, while sporting one of his four luminous-green ties meant to evoke the color of the aquatic microorganisms. “We expect the biofuel business to overtake health food, but we don’t know yet if this will be in 2025 or 2030. We’re still in the R&D stage.”

At the Euglena factory on the island of Ishigaki, one of the southernmost in the Okinawan chain, the bright sunshine bathing the half dozen freshwater tanks is creating photosynthesis. It’s the energy that provides euglena’s nutrition as well as its oil that may someday propel jets.

Seiya Takeda, a researcher there, checks the tanks daily, making sure that moving metal arms constantly churn through the water. That keeps air flowing to the organisms, speeding growth.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

rulers know that the most fragile and susceptible personae inevitably succumb to the darkside...,

darpawaitwhat |  Wait, What? is a forum on future technologies … on their potential to radically change how we live and work, and on the opportunities and challenges these technologies will raise within the broadly defined domain of national security. Hosted by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and rooted in what's already happening in today's fastest evolving research fields, Wait, What? is designed to be a crucible for generating ideas that can stretch current conceptual horizons and accelerate the development of novel capabilities in the years and decades ahead.
WHO IS IT FOR? Wait, What? is for forward-thinking scientists, engineers and other innovators interested in thinking interactively about the nature and scope of future technologies, their potential application to tomorrow's technical and societal challenges and the quandaries those applications may themselves engender.
WHY PARTICIPATE? The boundaries between scientific and technological disciplines such as biology, engineering and data science are fast disappearing, and remarkable insights and capabilities are emerging at those turbulent, transitioning intersections. Many innovators today are taking advantage of this rich intellectual and technical environment to pursue extraordinary new opportunities. Wait, What? will consider current and future advances in the physical and information sciences, engineering and mathematics through the lens of current and future national and global security dynamics, to reveal potentially attractive avenues of technological pursuit and to catalyze non-obvious synergies among participants.
WHY DARPA? As the federal R&D agency tasked with preventing and fomenting strategic technological surprise, DARPA is committed to envisioning and ultimately shaping new technological trajectories. It does so in part by fostering discussions among leaders on the forward edge of change—to learn from them about emerging technologies worthy of attention or support, and to inspire them to consider applying their expertise to the important and rewarding worlds of public service and national security.
HOW WILL IT WORK? Wait, What? will be a fast-paced gathering at which world-renowned thinkers and innovators from inside and outside DARPA will offer perspectives on where today's advances are heading. Through a variety of channels, everyone will be encouraged to help extend those ideas further into the future. In addition to plenary sessions focused on topics of broad import and interest, Wait, What? will offer multiple themed breakout sessions, allowing participants to dive more deeply into particular topics. An exhibit area will feature displays describing a selection of DARPA programs that reflect the breadth of the agency's work and range of its performers.
Videos of the general session and breakout session presentations will be made available on this website. Please reference the Schedule and Breakout Session sections below.

much cheaper to grow iron man than to equip iron man...,

theatlantic |  “Soldiers get tired and soldiers get fearful,” Gorman told me last year. “Frequently, soldiers just don’t want to fight. Attention must always be paid to the soldier himself.”

For decades after its inception in 1958, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency—DARPA, the central research and development organization of the Department of Defense—focused on developing vast weapons systems. Starting in 1990, and owing to individuals like Gorman, a new focus was put on soldiers, airmen, and sailors—on transforming humans for war. The progress of those efforts, to the extent it can be assessed through public information, hints at war’s future, and raises questions about whether military technology can be stopped, or should.

Gorman sketched out an early version of the thinking in a paper he wrote for DARPA after his retirement from the Army in 1985, in which he described an “integrated-powered exoskeleton” that could transform the weakling of the battlefield into a veritable super-soldier. The “SuperTroop” exoskeleton he proposed offered protection against chemical, biological, electromagnetic, and ballistic threats, including direct fire from a .50-caliber bullet. It “incorporated audio, visual, and haptic [touch] sensors,” Gorman explained, including thermal imaging for the eyes, sound suppression for the ears, and fiber optics from the head to the fingertips. Its interior would be climate-controlled, and each soldier would have his own physiological specifications embedded on a chip within his dog tags. “When a soldier donned his ST [SuperTroop] battledress,” Gorman wrote, “he would insert one dog-tag into a slot under the chest armor, thereby loading his personal program into the battle suit’s computer,” giving the 21st-century soldier an extraordinary ability to hear, see, move, shoot, and communicate.

At the time Gorman wrote, the computing technology needed for such a device did not yet exist. By 2001, however, DARPA had unveiled two exoskeleton programs, and by 2013, in partnership with U.S. Special Operations Command, DARPA had started work on a super-soldier suit called TALOS (Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit) unlike anything in the history of warfare. Engineered with full-body ballistics protection; integrated heating and cooling systems; embedded sensors, antennas, and computers; 3D audio (to indicate where a fellow warfighter is by the sound of his voice); optics for vision in various light conditions; life-saving oxygen and hemorrhage controls; and more, TALOS is strikingly close to the futuristic exoskeleton that Gorman first envisioned for DARPA 25 years ago, and aims to be “fully functional” by 2018. “I am here to announce that we are building Iron Man,” President Barack Obama said of the suit during a manufacturing innovation event in 2014. When the president said, “This has been a secret project we’ve been working on for a long time,” he wasn’t kidding.

guangzhou adds muscledogs to its micropigs...,

technologyreview |  Scientists in China say they are the first to use gene editing to produce customized dogs. They created a beagle with double the amount of muscle mass by deleting a gene called myostatin.

The dogs have “more muscles and are expected to have stronger running ability, which is good for hunting, police (military) applications,” Liangxue Lai, a researcher with the Key Laboratory of Regenerative Biology at the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health, said in an e-mail.

Lai and 28 colleagues reported their results last week in the Journal of Molecular Cell Biology, saying they intend to create dogs with other DNA mutations, including ones that mimic human diseases such as Parkinson’s and muscular dystrophy. “The goal of the research is to explore an approach to the generation of new disease dog models for biomedical research,” says Lai. “Dogs are very close to humans in terms of metabolic, physiological, and anatomical characteristics.”

Lai said his group had no plans breed to breed the extra-muscular beagles as pets. Other teams, however, could move quickly to commercialize gene-altered dogs, potentially editing their DNA to change their size, enhance their intelligence, or correct genetic illnesses. A different Chinese Institute, BGI, said in September it had begun selling miniature pigs, created via gene editing, for $1,600 each as novelty pets.

The Chinese beagle project was led by Lai and Gao Xiang, a specialist in genetic engineering of mice at Nanjing University. The dogs are being kept at the Guangzhou General Pharmaceutical Research Institute, which says on its website that it breeds more than 2,000 beagles a year for research. Beagles are commonly used in biomedical research in both China and the U.S.  Fist tap Big Don.

microcosmic reality mechanics and rao's hyparchic folding machine...,

theatlantic |  Rao and fellow student Adrian Sanborn think that the key to this process is a cluster of proteins called an “extrusion complex,” which looks like a couple of Polo mints stuck together. The complex assembles on a stretch of DNA so that the long molecule threads through one hole, forms a very short loop, and then passes through the other one. Then, true to its name, the complex extrudes the DNA, pushing both strands outwards so that the loop gets longer and longer. And when the complex hits one of the CTCF landing sites, it stops, but only if the sites are pointing in the right direction.

This explanation is almost perfect. It accounts for everything that the team have seen in their work: why the loops don’t get tangled, and why the CTCF landing sites align the way they do. “This is an important milestone in understanding the three dimensional structure of chromosomes, but like most great papers, it raises more questions than it provides answers,” says Kim Nasmyth, a biochemist at the University of Oxford who first proposed the concept of an extrusion complex in 2001.

The big mystery, he says, is how the loops actually grow. Is there some kind of ratcheting system that stops the DNA from sliding back? Is such a system even necessary? And “even when we understand how loops are created, we still need to understand what they are doing for the genome,” Nasmyth adds. “It’s very early days.”

And then there’s the really big problem: No one knows if the extrusion complex exists.

Since Nasmyth conceived of it, no one has yet proved that it’s real, let alone worked out which proteins it contains. CTCF is probably part of it, as is a related protein called cohesin. Beyond that, it’s a mystery. It’s like a ghostly lawnmower, whose presence is inferred by looking at a field of freshly shorn grass, or the knife that we only know about by studying the stab wounds. It might not actually be a thing.

Except: The genome totally behaves as if the extrusion complex was a thing. Rao and Sanborn created a simulation that predicts the structure of the genome on the basis that the complex is real and works they way they think it does.

These predictions were so accurate that the team could even re-sculpt the genome at will. They started playing around with the CTCF landing pads, deleting, flipping, and editing these sequences using a powerful gene-editing technique called CRISPR. In every case, their simulation predicted how the changes would alter the 3-D shape of the genome, and how it would create, move, or remove the existing loops. And in every case, it was right.

“Our model requires very little knowledge beyond where CTCF is binding, but it tells us where the loops will be,” says Rao. “It now allows us to do genome surgery, where we can reengineer the genome on a large scale.”

This predictive power has several applications. Remember that loops allow seemingly innocuous stretches of DNA to control the activity of distant genes. If biologists can understand the principles behind these interactions, and predict their outcomes, they can more efficiently engineer new genetic circuits.

There’s a growing appreciation that some diseases are related to how the genome is oriented rather than just a mutation,” adds Rao. “This is a little speculative, but there might be diseases where you could go in, put a loop back, and fix the problem.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

U.N. suppresses dr. monica beg's call to end the institutional foolishness of pro bono drug proctology

bbc |   The original briefing paper from UNODC in full.  Sir Richard Branson who sits on the Global Commission On Drugs Policy has written a blog calling for all governments to implement the guidance contained in the unpublished paper.

"It's exciting that the UNODC has now unequivocally stated that criminalisation is harmful, unnecessary and disproportionate, echoing concerns about the immense human and economic costs of current drug policies voiced earlier by UNAIDS, the World Health Organisation, UNDP, The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Women, Kofi Annan and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon," Sir Richard writes.

"I hope this groundbreaking news will empower and embolden governments everywhere, including the UK, to do the right thing and consider a different course in drug policy."

In addition to calling on member states to consider decriminalising personal possession and use, the UNODC paper also suggests low-level dealing should not be criminal offence. 

"Small drug related offenses, such as drug dealing to maintain personal drug use or to survive in a very marginalized environment, could be interpreted as drug related offenses of a 'minor nature', as mentioned in the international drug control conventions," the report says. "These cases should receive rehabilitation opportunities, social support and care, and not punishment."

The future of the document is unclear. Sources within the UNODC suggest that there would need to be wide consultation and agreement before the paper's recommendations became formal policy.

civilized and rational free man calls for an end to 45 years of unjust and irrational barbarity

virgin | “Greatness comes in simple trappings,” Richard Nixon once said. It seems appropriate to quote the man who started the failed war on drugs to applaud good efforts to end it.

In an as-yet unreleased statement circulated to the BBC, myself and others, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which has shaped much of global drug policy for decades, call on governments around the world to decriminalise drug use and possession for personal consumption for all drugs. This is a refreshing shift that could go a long way to finally end the needless criminalisation of millions of drug users around the world. The UNODC document was due to be launched at the International Harm reduction conference in Malaysia yesterday.

My colleagues on the Global Commission on Drug Policy and I could not be more delighted, as I have stated in embargoed interviews for the likes of the BBC. Together with countless other tireless advocates, I’ve for years argued that we should treat drug use as a health issue, not as a crime. While the vast majority of recreational drug users never experience any problems, people who struggle with drug addiction deserve access to treatment, not a prison cell.

Yet, in their zeal for chasing the illusion of a drug-free world, governments have poured billions into tough law enforcement that did nothing to reduce drug supply or demand, or take control from the criminal organisations in charge of the global drug trade. In the US alone, over 1.5 million people were arrested in 2014 on non-violent drug charges, 83 per cent of those solely for possession.

Globally, more than one in five people sentenced to prison are sentenced for drug offences.
It’s exciting that the UNODC has now unequivocally stated that criminalisation is harmful, unnecessary and disproportionate, echoing concerns about the immense human and economic costs of current drug policies voiced earlier by UNAIDS, the World Health Organisation, UNDP, The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Women, Kofi Annan and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Monday, October 19, 2015

a new whistleblower patriot, er, traitor

On Thursday, the Intercept published a major package of stories that reveals the inner workings of the US military's drone program, including how and why people are targeted for assassination on the amorphous battlefields of Yemen, Somalia, and other countries. "The Drone Papers," according to the Intercept, is based on a trove of a classified documents leaked by a whistleblower who grew concerned by the government's methods of targeting individuals for lethal action.
"This outrageous explosion of watchlisting—of monitoring people and racking and stacking them on lists, assigning them numbers, assigning them 'baseball cards,' assigning them death sentences without notice, on a worldwide battlefield—it was, from the very first instance, wrong," the source said.
The package is a deep look into how the US military has conducted its counterterrorism operations around the world, and it comes on the same day that President Barack Obama cited the counterterrorism mission against Al Qaeda as one of the two reasons to keep nearly 10,000 soldiers in Afghanistan for at least another year.
Amnesty International called for an immediate congressional inquiry into the drone program, saying the leaked documents "raise serious concerns about whether the USA has systematically violated international law, including by classifying unidentified people as 'combatants' to justify their killings."

why most people are idiots...,

Uhmurkah due for a revolution?

NYPost |  Here’s the good news: The chaos and upheaval we see all around us have historical precedents and yet America survived. The bad news: Everything likely will get worse before it gets better again.

That’s my chief takeaway from “Shattered Consensus,” a meticulously argued analysis of the growing disorder. Author James Piereson persuasively makes the case there is an inevitable “revolution” coming because our politics, culture, education, economics and even philanthropy are so polarized that the country can no longer resolve its differences.

To my knowledge, no current book makes more sense about the great unraveling we see in each day’s headlines. Piereson captures and explains the alienation arising from the sense that something important in American life is ending, but that nothing better has emerged to replace it.

The impact is not restricted by our borders. Growing global conflict is related to America’s failure to agree on how we should govern ourselves and relate to the world.

Piereson describes the endgame this way: “The problems will mount to a point of crisis where either they will be addressed through a ‘fourth revolution’ or the polity will begin to disintegrate for lack of fundamental agreement.”

america ready to explode?

RT |  The United States is in decline. While not all major shocks to the system will be devastating, when the right one comes along, the outcome may be dramatic.

Not all explosives are the same. We all know you have to be careful with dynamite. Best to handle it gently and not smoke while you’re around it.

Semtex is different. You can drop it. You can throw it. You can put it in the fire. Nothing will happen. Nothing until you put the right detonator in it, that is.

To me, the US – and most of the supposedly free West – increasingly looks like a truck being systematically filled with Semtex.

But it’s easy to counter cries of alarm with the fact that the truck is stable – because it’s true: you can hurl more boxes into the back without any real danger. Absent the right detonator, it is no more dangerous than a truckload of mayonnaise.

But add the right detonator and you’re just one click away from complete devastation.

We can see how fragile the U.S. is now by considering just four tendencies.

1. Destruction of farms and reliable food source

The average American is a long way from food when the shops are closed.

The Washington Post reports that the number of farms in the country has fallen by some 4 million from more than 6 million in 1935 to roughly 2 million in 2012.

And according to the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, only about 2 percent of the US population live on farms.

That means that around 4.6 million people currently have the means to feed themselves.

Food supply logistics are extended, sometimes stretching thousands of miles. The shops have nothing more than a few days’ stock. A simple break in that supply line would clear the shops out in days.

2. Weak economic system
The American economic system is little more than froth.

The US currency came off the gold standard in 1933 and severed any link with gold in 1971. Since then, the currency has been essentially linked to oil, the value of which has been protected and held together by wars.

The whole world has had enough of the US and its hubris – not least the people of the US themselves, which the massive support currently for Putin’s decision to deal with ISIS demonstrates.

Since pro-active war is what keeps the US going, if it loses the monopoly on that front, its decline is inevitable.

Fiat economies always collapse. They last on average for 37 years. By that metric the US should have already run out of gas.

Once people wake up and smell the Yuan, the Exodus out of the dollar will be unstoppable.

3. Americans increasingly on mind-altering drugs
According to the Scientific American, use of antidepressants among the US population was up 400 percent in the late 2000s over the 1990s. Many of these drugs are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

These are the type of FDA-approved narcotics lone gunmen are frequently associated with, and their psychoses often attributed to a forced or sudden withdrawal from such drugs.

Pharmaceuticals are produced at centralized points by companies which themselves rely on extended logistics systems both to produce and to deliver their output. If the logistics system fails, there’s no more supply.

4. Morals in decline
During the objective hardship of the 1930s, there was surprisingly little crime. People were brought up with a conception of morals and right and wrong. Frugality and prudence were prized virtues. Communities were generally fairly cohesive.

Relative to then, society today is undisciplined, unrealistic and selfish.

Around 250 million shoppers participated in the Black Friday sales in 2013 in which around USD 61 billion was spent on consumer items – up roughly 100 percent on 2006 figures.

Stampedes and even murders are not uncommon each year with people openly fighting each other over reduced-price items.

The goods bought in such sales tend to be non-essential and many of them are bought on credit cards which then have to be paid off at interest.

Part of the problem in what I have outlined above is that there is little explicit tension. Sure, it is depressing, vulgar and immoral. But it doesn’t look catastrophic. It looks normal.

My point is that just because US – and many other countries organised after the same template – do not look explosive, doesn’t mean they won’t blow up.

Whereas 80 years ago we could absorb major shocks, today we cannot.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

american psychos

RT |  From Ferguson, Missouri to the deserts of Afghanistan the specter of US aggression is fueling the flames of civil strife and military conflict around an increasingly volatile planet. Much of the problem may be connected to the breakdown of the American psyche.

Before attempting to shed some light on America’s mental condition, let’s open with a pop quiz question: What is the top-selling prescription drug in the US? Nope, it’s not Viagra, not Prozac, forget the Percocet. If you don't know, take a peek in the medicine cabinet because there’s a high chance it’s lurking in there, right behind that purple people eater. Yes, you got it. The top-selling drug in the Land of the Free and Disturbed is an antipsychotic, happily named Abilify.

Once again: The top-selling drug in America is an antipsychotic. Now some might say that’s mental.

“To be a top seller, a drug has to be expensive and also widely used,” Steven Reidbord M.D. wrote in Psychology Today. “Abilify is both. It’s the 14th most prescribed brand-name medication, and it retails for about $30 a pill. Annual sales are over $7 billion, nearly a billion more than the next runner-up.”

Let those numbers seep into your brain for a moment: $7.2 billion dollars. $30 per pill. Although that might make for some laugh-out-loud late-night comedy, these numbers are no laughing matter.

This on top of the latest statistic that shows prescription drug spending in the US exploded in 2014 to nearly $374 billion, a whopping 13.1 percent increase in growth, according to a new report from IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics.

Aside from the fact that Americans are buying antipsychotic medication by the truckload, there’s another disturbing thing about Abilify: Nobody, not even the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has any idea what makes it effective. According to the USPI label that accompanies each bottle: “The mechanism of action of aripiprazole... is unknown. However, the efficacy of aripiprazole could be mediated through a combination of partial agonist activity at D2 and 5-HT1A receptors and… etc, etc.”

In other words, millions of Americans are ingesting an antipsychotic drug that not even the scientific community can say exactly what makes it work. Is that not in itself the very definition of insanity?

So where is the uproar, the protest, the media hype over this battle for the great American brain? Behind the wall of silence, there have been a few courageous experts who have broken rank with their colleagues - not to mention the omnipotent pharmaceutical industry - to blow the whistle on the abuse of psychiatric drugs in America.

u.s. murder rates...,

mises |  Much of the political thinking about violence in the United States comes from unfavorable comparisons between the United States and a series of cherry-picked countries with lower murder rates and with fewer guns per capita. We’ve all seen it many times. The United States, with a murder rate of approximately 5 per 100,000 is compared to a variety of Western and Central European countries (also sometimes Japan) with murder rates often below 1 per 100,000. This is, in turn, supposed to fill Americans with a sense of shame and illustrate that the United States should be regarded as some sort of pariah nation because of its murder rate. 

Note, however, that these comparisons always employ a carefully selected list of countries, most of which are very unlike the United States. They are  countries that were settled long ago by the dominant ethnic group, they are ethnically non-diverse today, they are frequently very small countries (such as Norway, with a population of 5 million) with very locally based democracies (again, unlike the US with an immense population and far fewer representatives in government per voter). Politically, historically, and demographically, the US has little in common with Europe or Japan.

 Prejudice about the "Developed World" vs "the Third World"
But these are the only countries the US shall be compared to, we are told, because the US shall only be compared to “developed” countries when analyzing its murder rate and gun ownership.

And yet, no reason for this is ever given. What is the criteria for deciding that the United States shall be compared to Luxembourg but not to Mexico, which has far more in common with the US than Luxembourg in terms of size, history, ethnic diversity, and geography?

Much of this stems from outdated preconceived and evidence-free notions about the "third world." As Hans Rosling has shown, there is this idea of "we" vs. "them." "We" are the special "developed" countries were people are happy healthy, and live long lives. "Them" is the third world where people live in war-torn squalor and lives there are nasty, brutish, and short. In this mode of thinking there is a bright shiny line between the "developed" world and everyone else, who might as well be considered as a different species.

In truth, there is no dividing line between the alleged "developed" world and everyone else. There is, in fact, only gradual change that takes place as one looks at Belgium, then the US, then Chile, and Turkey, and China, and Mexico. Most countries, as Rosling illustrates here, are in the middle, and this is freely exhibited by a variety of metrics including the UN's human development index.

Once we understand these facts, and do not cling to bizarre xenophobic views about how everyone outside the "developed" world is too dysfunctional and/or subhuman (although few gun control advocates would ever admit to the thought) to bear comparison to the US, we immediately see that the mantra "worst in the developed world" offers an immensely skewed, unrealistic, and even bigoted view of the world and how countries compare to each other.

the drug war drives violence and is a perfect example of the breakdown of the rule of law

WaPo |  Americans from all racial groups pursue narcotic-related leisure activities, spending an estimated $100 billion a year on their illegal drugs, according to a report from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. In this current period of fairly active military engagement, the nation’s defense budget is roughly $600 billion. In other words, our culture of illegal drug use must be pretty important to amount to a full sixth of our budget for national defense. 

Yet despite this evidence of far-reaching social acceptance of illegal drug use, we continue to lock up nonviolent offenders. Ceasing this hypocritical practice by releasing nonviolent offenders is morally urgent. Yet this would be only a small step toward rectification of the problem of mass incarceration. As the Web site FiveThirtyEight recently reported, such a move would reduce our state and federal prison populations by only about 14 percent. We would still be the world’s leading imprisoner.

The further-reaching reason to legalize marijuana and decriminalize other drugs flows from how the war on drugs drives violent crime, which in turn pushes up incarceration and generates other negative social outcomes. You just can’t move $100 billion worth of illegal product without a lot of assault and homicide. This should not be a hard point to see or make. Criminologists and law enforcement personnel alike acknowledge that the most common examples of “criminogenic trends” that generate increases in murder and other violent crimes are gang- and drug-related homicides. 

But there is also another, more subtle connection between the drug war and violence, pinpointed by economists Brendan O’Flaherty and Rajiv Sethi . As they argue, above-average homicide rates will result from low rates of successful investigation and prosecution of homicide cases. If you live in an environment where you know that someone can shoot you with impunity, you are much more likely to be ready to shoot to kill at the first sign of danger. When murder goes unpunished, it begets more murder, partly for purposes of retaliation, partly because people are emboldened by lawlessness, but also as a matter of preemption. Unpunished murder makes everyone (including police) trigger-happy. Such places operate according to the dictum that the best defense is a strong offense.

Meth isn’t an argument for drug prohibition. It demonstrates prohibition’s failure.

WaPo |  The Economist highlights an interesting new study that claims a connection between meth labs and “dry counties.”
The authors argue that local prohibitions lower the price of drugs such as meth relative to alcohol. This is hard to prove, because dry counties share many traits with counties that have meth problems. The authors claim that after controlling for factors including income, poverty, population density and race, legalising the sale of alcohol would result in a 37% drop in meth production in dry counties in Kentucky, or by 25% in the state overall.
Since no one knows exactly how many meth labs there are in America, the paper uses those discovered by the police as a proxy for meth production (see map). They provide further evidence for their argument by noting that lifting the ban on selling alcohol would also reduce the number of emergency-room visits for burns from hot substances and chemicals (amateur meth-producers have a habit of setting themselves alight).
Of course, our maddeningly repetitive response to evidence that prohibition of an intoxicating substance is causing people to turn to more potent and dangerous intoxicating substances has always been to then crack down on those substances too. Imagine for a minute if instead of fighting meth addiction by punishing cold and allergy sufferers, these dry counties lifted their ban on alcohol sales. Better yet, imagine we made it easy to obtain legal amphetamines, which we did for a long time in this country. Now imagine that we spent, say, even a fourth of the money we spend on the drug war on facilitating treatment for addicts. The Portugal example suggests we’d have less addiction, less crime and fewer overdoses.

Meth is often the example prohibitionists pull out when someone points to an example like Portugal. “So you’d legalize meth, too?” But as the Economist piece suggests, meth is a product of prohibition (in this case alcohol, but also restrictions on amphetamines more generally), not an argument in favor it. We have a meth problem because we have drug prohibition. Without it, meth wouldn’t go away, but it almost certainly wouldn’t be as prevalent as it is today.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

dyson doesn't believe you're up against it...,

theregister |  Are climate models getting better? You wrote how they have the most awful fudges, and they only really impress people who don't know about them.

I would say the opposite. What has happened in the past 10 years is that the discrepancies between what's observed and what's predicted have become much stronger. It's clear now the models are wrong, but it wasn't so clear 10 years ago. I can't say if they'll always be wrong, but the observations are improving and so the models are becoming more verifiable.

It seems almost medieval to suppose that nature is punishing us, rather than the Enlightenment view, that we can tame nature, and still be good stewards of it.

That's all true.

It's now difficult for scientists to have frank and honest input into public debates. Prof Brian Cox, who is the public face of physics in the UK thanks to the BBC, has said he has no obligation to listen to "deniers," or to any other views other than the orthodoxy.

That's a problem, but still I find that I have things to say and people do listen to me, and people have no particular complaints.

It's very sad that in this country, political opinion parted [people's views on climate change]. I'm 100 per cent Democrat myself, and I like Obama. But he took the wrong side on this issue, and the Republicans took the right side.

Because the big growing countries need fossil fuels, the political goal of mitigation, by reducing or redirecting industrial activity and consumer behaviour, now seems quite futile in the West.

China and India rely on coal to keep growing, so they'll clearly be burning coal in huge amounts. They need that to get rich. Whatever the rest of the world agrees to, China and India will continue to burn coal, so the discussion is quite pointless.

At the same time, coal is very unpleasant stuff, and there are problems with coal quite apart from climate. I remember in England when we burned coal, everything was filthy. It was really bad, and that's the way it is now in China, but you can clean that up as we did in England. It takes a certain amount of political willpower, and that takes time. Pollution is quite separate to the climate problem: one can be solved, and the other cannot, and the public doesn't understand that.

Have you heard of the phrase "virtue signalling"? The UK bureaucracy made climate change its foreign policy priority, and we heard a lot of the phrase "leading the world in the fight ..." and by doing so, it seemed to be making a public declaration of its goodness and virtue ...

No [laughs]. Well, India and China aren't buying that. When you go beyond 50 years, everything will change. As far as the next 50 years are concerned, there are two main forces of energy, which are coal and shale gas. Emissions have been going down in the US while they've going up in Europe, and that's because of shale gas. It's only half the carbon dioxide emissions of coal. China may in fact be able to develop shale gas on a big scale and that means they burn a lot less coal.

It seems complete madness to prohibit shale gas. You wondered if climate change is an Anglophone preoccupation. Well, France is even more dogmatic than Britain about shale gas!

fascination with feverish fanboy foolishness

theatlantic |  A variety of theories from our readers about the nature of the mysterious star named KIC 8462852. Is its energy being harnessed by an alien civilization? 

A bunch of your emails have come in regarding this popular note based on Ross’s fascinating look at the mysterious star named KIC 8462852. A reader writes:
Just a sci-fi-ish suggestion: If the object(s) around that star are indeed a Dyson “swarm,” or perhaps a partially complete (and thus perhaps still-under-construction) Dyson sphere, then such an object or objects that could block out a star’s light more completely might be one possible explanation, or at least partial explanation, for the so-called “dark matter” of theoretical physics. Such an hypothesis would neatly explain why dark matter has the gravitational effects observed on our galaxy and others yet there does not appear to be any to be found in our own solar system. Needless to say it would also have implications for the incidence and location of advanced alien civilisations.
Another reader’s theory:
Perhaps it is not so much a power-collection structure but a means to signal other intelligent life. Did anyone look for patterns in the blocking of light? Variations in luminosity? Binary in light vs no light?  If it is another civilization, then they would be aware of its visibility to other life with a certain tech level.
A less exciting theory: “It also could be nothing but pollution, like humans are polluting the Earth’s orbit with debris right now.” Another reader:
I had another theory I was surprised no other sci-fi nerd seemed to touch upon.