Archive for July, 2009

Bing

 | July 20, 2009 4:10 am

Youngsters to the web might not remember a time before Google, where search engines basically sucked. They were based on simple and stupid algorithms which were easily gamed, and only occasionally got you to a site you wanted to visit. Google was so successful because their search engine worked vastly better than the competitions. Back then, if you were looking on information on a particular subject, you would go through a list of search engines, until you got a useful hit. There were even meta search engines which agglomerated the results of several search engines. These all died out quickly after google went up.

Since Google, pretty much everyone I know just uses Google. If a particular search is unsuccessful, we try experimenting with different terms. I don’t think I ever go to another search engine.

But I try to be open minded. So when I heard that Bing didn’t suck, I gave it a shot. I picked 5 searches I might be interested in and search in Bing and Google. I consider it effectively a tie. Sometimes Bing’s results were better, sometimes Google’s, but in neither of them did I get a bullshit result that was clearly inferior to another’s.

So chapeau Microsoft. You appear to have gotten your head out of your ass and produced a respectable product. If you’re as successful with Natal as you were with Bing, you might even get me to buy one of your products!

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What the Sotomeyer confirmation hearings have to tell us about the drug war.

 | July 14, 2009 6:09 am

So, people who are well informed about drugs, and have bothered to look over the medical evidence, are perfectly aware that X (MDMH) shouldn’t be a schedule 1 drug.  This is of course no surprise, since our drug scheduling system looks as if it was chosen by throwing darts.

Why is it illegal though?  The brief history is that MDMA was created by a guy called Anton Koellisch, working for the pharmaceutical Merck in 1912.  Apparently they were trying to develop a substance to stop abnormal  bleeding.  MDMA was just an intermediary compound on the route to methylhydrastinine, and Merck wasn’t interested in its properties.

Now, the next part is fascinating.  Apparently recreational drug users first determined the drug was worth taking, around 1970.  This led to a guy called Alexander Shulgin (who would have been around 50 at the time, working (I believe) as a p0st doc at UCSF to play around with it.  Apparently he called it his “low-cal martini”.   He in turn metioned it to a psychotherapist named Leo Zeff.   MDMA is very useful for  enhancing communications, reducing psychological defenses, and increasing the capacity for therapeutic introspection.

In the early 80’s MDMA started to catch on.  All the kids who grew up playing pac-man started hanging around in dark-rooms, listening to repetitive electronic music, and popping pills.  One of those pills was MDMA, and the Reagan-Bush “Say no to drugs”, “Say no to condom  education in schools”, “say no to Foreign aid unless you teach that abstinence is the only way to prevent aids, and forbid teaching about safe-sex” administration decided to say no to young adults having a good time and feeling more empathic to each other.

MDMA is an empathogen.  I don’t know if this is the accepted medical phrasing for what MDMA does, but take it from me, MDMA is an empathogen.  It makes you care more about other people.  This can be negative.  For example, if I have a single sixteen year daughter, I would discourage her from takine X at  a party full of strangers.  I would however encourage her as an adult to take with her partner.  It makes relationships richer and stronger, I promise you.

I have an informal ranking, which I call a drugs “Scary Monster” level.  It’s how much fear a drug evokes in a particular audience or demographic.  X is one of the more maligned drugs out there.  I think the average, over 40 American, and possibly european, sees X as worse than Cocaine, for example, which certainly doesn’t fit its ranking in rational harm rating.  My point here is, beyond being illegal (which it course should not be), it is villified disproportionately to the harm it causes.

For example, when Professor David Nutt, head of Britain’s drug advisory board recommended that ecstasy be downgraded to a class B drug, he tried to explain the relative risk inherent in taking the drug as being equivalent to the risk you take in riding a horse.  The point was to get people to understand that drug harm can be equal to harms in other parts of life.  This is an importnat thing to discuss, since the debate on drugs is typically so emotional and irrational, particularly on the side of the prohibitionists.   He wrote an article titled “Equasy: an overlooked addiction with implications for the current debate on drug harms”.  Equasy being “Equine Addiciton Syndrome”, which has caused ten deaths, and causes more than 100 road traffic accidents a year.  He goes to explain that many other activities in life (like motorcycling) are much more dangerous than man illicit drugs.

The prohibitionists were up in arms, calling for his resignation.  They can’t attack his science or his reasoning, both of which are flawless.  They instead must make emotional attacks, claiming he is insensitive to the families of victims of drug abuse.  Sigh.  So victims of drug abuse suffer more than victims of horse riding?  Why?  The fundies react very badly to rational discourse on the relative risks of drugs.  Why is that?

I’ve long had the opinion that the problem is simply fundamentalism.  They see drug use as a threat against their culture.   There’s no question that this is the case for the drug policies of the Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and Bush administrations.   I also think this is part of the particularly irrational attitude towards X.  It makes you feel more empathy, and fundamentalists are anti-empathy.

Now I feel affirmed.  Warren Richey writes about the Sotomeyer Hearings that

Republicans Question Need for “Empathy”

Republicans repeatedly criticized President Obama’s stated goal of seeking judges with “empathy” for “people’s hopes and struggles.” They questioned how the concept of empathetic judges could coexist with the well-known portrayal of a blindfolded Lady Justice.

Finally I have proof that  the sector of our culture which represents religious fundamentalism and intolerance is genuinely anti-empathy.  I knew they were of course, as did a great many people.  But now they are going so far as to say it openly, which means I can make this without a burdensome process of proof.  It’s easy, they don’t deny it. We don’t need empathy in the justice system? That’s some fucked up shit right there.

I think the fundies are anti-X in part because they are anti-empathy, and X encourages empathy. Used under the proper conditions it does so in a lasting and meaningful way. Criminalizing it only encourages its use in harmful locations, and decreases its positive use.

If we consider our culture’s evolution, I think there’s a real possiblity that empathogens and psychadelics can play a meaningful role in hunting down and de-clawing harmful social memes. Thinking about it like that, religious intolerance and flexibility, which is so symbolized by the modern Republican party, is like a mind virus.  Lack of empathy in our culture can be treated effectively with MDMA (as part of a directed therapeutic process), and prohibition of MDMA is a defence mechanism of the anti-empathy meme.

When one goes further to consider that addicts and people who do abuse drugs are people with medical conditions, deserving of our empathy and support, it’s clear that entire concept of drug criminalization is a defense mechanism against empathy.

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