Tuesday Reads: The 27 Club, Brain Development, Pot, and Grapefruit

Jim Morrison reading2

Good Morning!!

It will probably be another slow news day today–in fact we’ll most likely have nothing but slow news days until we get past New Years. So I’ve got some non-political and not-all-that-important news to start this post.

If he had lived, Saturday, December 8 would have been Jim Morrison’s 69th birthday. Hard to believe. Of course the way he was going, he probably would have killed himself with alcohol anyway. But I wonder what he would have thought about the world today, if he had lived?

Another rock ‘n’ roll legend who died at age 27–Jimi Hendrix–would have been 70 on November 27. Would he still be “blowing minds” if he were alive today? Maybe.

Instead these two, along with other musical members of the “27 club” are frozen in time, still young and vibrant while the rest of us have aged. Is there something significant about being 27? Is it a year in which a person gets over the hump, so to speak, and begins to move toward adulthood?

According to a study reported by the BBC in 2009, human “mental powers” are greatest at age 22, and the brain begins to decline at age 27.

Professor Timothy Salthouse of the University of Virginia found reasoning, spatial visualisation and speed of thought all decline in our late 20s….His seven-year study of 2,000 healthy people aged 18-60 is published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.

To test mental agility, the study participants had to solve puzzles, recall words and story details and spot patterns in letters and symbols….In nine out of 12 tests the average age at which the top performance was achieved was 22.

The first age at which there was any marked decline was at 27 in tests of brain speed, reasoning and visual puzzle-solving ability.
Things like memory stayed intact until the age of 37, on average, while abilities based on accumulated knowledge, such as performance on tests of vocabulary or general information, increased until the age of 60.

It may be true that certain mental abilities peak at age 22, but we now know that the frontal lobes continue to develop well into the 30s, and the brain can form new neurons even in old age. I guess it depends on which mental powers are most important to you. Personally I’m glad I didn’t check out at 27.

Would Morrison and Hendrix be surprised that it has taken so long for states to begin decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana? Or would the be surprised that has happened at all?

Yesterday, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed an executive order declaring that recreational pot use is legal in the state.

“Voters were loud and clear on Election Day,” Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said in a statement, as he signed an executive order to officially legalize the personal use and limited growing of marijuana for those 21 or older. Amendment 64, as it’s called, is now a part of the state’s constitution.

It is still illegal, however, to buy or sell marijuana “in any quantity” in Colorado or to consume it in public.

Hickenlooper, who opposed the amendment in the run-up to Election Day, announced the start of a 24-member task force that would “begin working immediately” to help the state navigate federal laws and establish how citizens can legally purchase and sell cannabis.

Possession and sale of pot are still federal crimes, however. In Washington, where pot became legal last week, at least one bar is now allowing patrons to smoke pot on the premises.

Frankie’s Sports Bar & Grill, owned by one Frank Schnarr, is thought to be the first of its kind anywhere in the U.S.: a bar that lets patrons toke up freely.

“I’m about to lose my business,” the Olympia, Washington-based business owner told Reuters. “So I’ve got to figure out some way to get people in here.”

Just to make sure he’s not chasing off all his customers, Schnarr has set up the second floor of his bar as a private club called “Friends of Frankies.” Interested patrons are charged a $10-a-year fee to access the lounge, where they can smoke marijuana freely. The lounge also serves alcohol, manned by a staff of volunteers paid by tips.

I’m not sure I’d like it if public places in Massachusetts started allowing pot smoking. I guess that would make me into more of a homebody than I already am. I wouldn’t want to smell pot everywhere anymore than I want to smell cigarette smoke. Mary Crescenzo at HuffPo has similar concerns.

I have lots of questions about new state laws regarding weed. With U.S. nonsmoking laws among the most restrictive in the world, I can’t help but wonder if recreational marijuana smokers in Washington and Colorado will regard smoking marijuana as an exception to our nonsmoking rules. In these two states, will smoking marijuana be tolerated in public while smoking cigarettes in public is, for the most part, clearly restricted? A few days ago in Seattle, as people gathered in the streets to celebrate the legalization of the use of marijuana, police asked those smoking pot not to smoke in public. For now, Washington police officers are limited to issuing verbal warnings to smokers but nothing more. Those police requests didn’t seem to dampen the party, though. I can’t be the only one with questions on these new twists and turns in the law.

I have some other worries. I think it’s important for people to understand that pot isn’t completely harmless. A certain percentage of people will become addicted to it. I have seen people in withdrawal from marijuana–it can be problem for people who have addictive tendencies. Smoking a lot of pot may also push vulnerable young people into psychological disorders such as schizophrenia. And a recent study in New Zealand found that smoking pot before age 18 can hinder brain development.

Among a long-range study cohort of more than 1,000 New Zealanders, individuals who started using cannabis in adolescence and used it for years afterward showed an average decline in IQ of 8 points when their age 13 and age 38 IQ tests were compared. Quitting pot did not appear to reverse the loss either, said lead researcher Madeline Meier, a post-doctoral researcher at Duke University. The results appear online Aug. 27 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The key variable in this is the age of onset for marijuana use and the brain’s development, Meier said. Study subjects who didn’t take up pot until they were adults with fully-formed brains did not show similar mental declines. Before age 18, however, the brain is still being organized and remodeled to become more efficient, she said, and may be more vulnerable to damage from drugs.

“Marijuana is not harmless, particularly for adolescents,” said Meier, who produced this finding from the long term Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study. The study has followed a group of 1,037 children born in 1972-73 in Dunedin, New Zealand from birth to age 38 and is led by Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi, psychologists who hold dual appointments at Duke and the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London.

About 5 percent of the study group were considered marijuana-dependent, or were using more than once a week before age 18. A dependent user is one who keeps using despite significant health, social or family problems.

I do support legalization, because I think it’s ridiculous that we are putting people in jail for possession of pot. But society needs to be aware of the consequences if more people begin using the drug regularly.

Could Stephen Colbert replace Jim DeMint in the Senate? A new poll shows he would be the popular favorite.

Why not? We already have one comedian in the Senate.

I really liked this piece by Chris Weigant at HuffPo: If We’re Going to Tax the Rich, Then Let’s Tax the Rich.

Due to the political courageousness of President Obama (there is simply no other way to put it), the folks inside the Beltway are finally having a serious discussion about taxing the rich. Obama is not only strongly fighting for higher tax rates on the higher-income earners, but he was the one who put the subject front and center in the election season — when he could easily have punted it to a non-election year.

But the “tax the rich” policies so far being discussed (at least the ones that leak out to the public) are laughably timid and tame, when you really examine the big picture. So far, what is making Republicans howl is President Obama’s plan to end the Bush tax cuts on the top two marginal income tax rates, which would raise them from 33 percent to 36 percent, and from 35 to 39.6 percent. Seen one way, that’s impressive, since tax rates haven’t gone up in such a fashion since President Clinton’s first year in office. But seen another, it’s not all that radical at all.

Consider the fact that nothing Obama is doing is going to “fix” the problem of Warren Buffett paying a lower tax rate than his secretary — a problem Obama has repeatedly said he’d like to tackle. On “entitlements reform,” only a few lonely voices crying in the wilderness are suggesting ending the most regressive federal tax around, by scrapping the cap on income for Social Security payroll taxes. Also seemingly forgotten in this debate is the proposal for a “millionaires’ tax” or a “transactions tax.” The real measure of whether Democrats and Republicans are both selling smoke and mirrors is whether they permanently fix the Alternative Minimum Tax — again, a subject which has barely been mentioned.

Click on the link to read Weigant’s recommendations.

It’s not just the Catholic Church that has a problem with sexual abuse. The New York Times has an article about a Hasidic religious counselor who has been convicted of abusing a young girl.

Sexual abuse in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community has long been hidden. Victims who came forward were intimidated into silence; their families were shunned; cases were dropped for a lack of cooperation.

But on Monday, a State Supreme Court jury in Brooklyn delivered a stunning victory to prosecutors and victims’ advocates, convicting a 54-year-old unlicensed therapist who is a prominent member of the Satmar Hasidic community of Williamsburg of repeatedly sexually abusing a young girl who had been sent to him for help.

“The veil of secrecy has been lifted,” said Charles J. Hynes, the Brooklyn district attorney. “The wall that has existed in parts of these communities has now been broken through. And as far as I’m concerned, it is very clear to me that it is only going to get better for people who are victimized in these various communities.”

The case against the therapist, Nechemya Weberman, was a significant milestone for Mr. Hynes, whose office has been criticized for not acting aggressively enough against sexual abusers in the borough’s large and politically connected ultra-Orthodox community.

These creeps are everywhere.

grapefruit

I’ll end with this. I love grapefruit, so I didn’t appreciate this piece at Slate: Grapefruit is disgusting. I think it was intended to be tongue in cheek, but I didn’t laugh once. Katy Waldman objects to her least favorite fruit being given as a Christmas gift.

It needs to stop. This killjoy has already invaded our breakfast routines. Its baleful pink, white, or red flesh shines from thousands of tables. Its pulp gets stuck in our teeth. Its juice stains our clothes. And now, we are asked to inflict the scourge on our relatives, shipping it off in packages of 12 or more in order to demonstrate our love?

No. Grapefruit is unwieldy, disgusting, and in some cases dangerous to eat. It is indisputably the worst fruit anyone has ever put on a plate.
A pause, now, for its partisans to bellow, “But it’s a superfood!” Grapefruit enjoys an exalted reputation, thanks in part to countless magazine stories and nutrition listicles singing its praises. It figures in fad diets, including its eponymous diet, dreamed up by Hollywood sadists. Even its scientific name, Citrus x paradisi—so called because, in 1750, naturalist Griffith Hughes dubbed grapefruit the “forbidden fruit” of the Barbados—implies that it belongs somewhere in the Garden of Eden. It does not. It belongs in the trashcan.

Read her reasons at the link. Dan Amira agrees with me, and some DC bartenders also objected to the “grapefruit bashing.”

Now what are you reading and blogging about today?


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!

Yesterday, Dakinikat wrote a very thoughtful post about the upside-down “morality” that has taken over the Republican Party since the Reagan years. The basis for the post was the op-ed in the NYT yesterday by former executive Greg Smith: Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs.

I thought it was rather courageous of Smith to go public with his moral concerns about the Goldman “culture.” But quite a few writers are mocking him for it. For example, Sara Ball put up a post at Vanity Fair called Why I Am Leaving Pinkberry. She bills it as “parody,” but what’s her point. I don’t even think her piece qualifies as satire. Here’s a bit of it:

TODAY is my last day at the Turtle Bay-area branch of Pinkberry—you know, the one on 54th Street between 2nd and 3rd? After almost 13 months with this company—at first as a summer job while at U.S.C., then in apprenticeships at New York’s Columbus Circle and Bleecker St. branches—I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its personnel, and its flavor inventory. And I can honestly say today that I am really sick of frozen yogurt.

To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interest of our customers continue to be sidelined in the way we, the firm, think about making money. Day in and day out, we are so worried about the line building up, we don’t even ask people how they’re doing anymore. You can forget about spelling their name correctly on the order label. And these customer-service problems will only get worse if this unseasonably warm weather keeps up. Sometimes, in the back room, I’ve heard my colleagues call our patrons “polar bears”—since they get hungrier and sadder as the sky gets sunnier, their yogurt melting out from underneath them.

It isn’t even slightly funny. Goldman Sachs played a huge role in global financial crisis and is almost single=handedly responsible for the ongoing nightmare in Greece. Here’s another parody that makes a bit more sense in light of the evil that Goldman has perpetrated: Why I Am Leaving the Empire, by Darth Vader.

Matt Taibbi, at least, thinks the Smith piece is important enough to take seriously.

The resignation will have an effect on Goldman’s business. The firm’s share price opened this morning at 124.52; it’s down to 120.72 as of this writing (it dropped two percent while I was writing this blog), and it will probably dive further. Why? Because you can stack all the exposés on Goldman you want by degenerates like me and the McClatchy group, and you can even have a Senate subcommittee call for your executives to be tried for perjury, but that doesn’t necessarily move the Street.

But when one of the firm’s own partners is saying out loud that his company liked to “rip the eyeballs out” of “muppets” like you, then you start to wonder if maybe this firm is the best choice for managing your money. Hence we see headlines this morning like this item from Forbes.com: “Greg Smith Quits, Should Clients Fire Goldman Sachs?”

Of course Goldman immediately set out to smear their former partner, Greg Smith, with the help of the Wall Street Journal, as Taibbi notes. I wouldn’t be surprised if those “parodies” were part of Goldman’s smear tactics.

As I suspected, the soldier who recently committed mass murder in Afghanistan had previously suffered traumatic brain injury. He may also have PTSD, as do many veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq (and Vietnam).

The U.S. Army staff sergeant who allegedly murdered 16 Afghan civilians in a dead-of-night spasm of shooting, stabbing and fire-setting is reported to have suffered a traumatic brain injury during a deployment to Iraq in 2010….

Research on traumatic brain injury has established a clear link between brain trauma and irritable, aggressive behavior that can be explosive, often without apparent warning or provocation. Sometimes, brain injury magnifies a victim’s longstanding tendency toward irritability, depression or hostility. Some brain traumas bring personality changes in their wake, causing even laid-back types to become irascible and impatient.

For many patients, particularly those who have sustained injury to their brain’s prefrontal cortex, the mechanisms that allow most of us to put the “brakes” on aggressive or inappropriate impulses do not function as well.

The injury happened in 2010, and yet he was deployed to another combat zone! Why? Because the military doesn’t want a draft army. Because then they’d have to deal with the kinds of protests that happened during the Vietnam nightmare. They want a “professional” army, and since they can’t find as much cannon fodder as they’d like, they send the same people back again and again into combat. It’s a perfect recipe for creating psychological disorders that, if not addresed, may lead people to act out violently. Read more at Danger Room, here and here. Joseph Cannon also has published a useful comment from one of his readers on this subject.

There’s another enlightening article at Reuters: Lawmakers press Pentagon on massacre suspect’s brain injury

The Army staff sergeant accused in Sunday’s shooting served three deployments to Iraq before he was sent to Afghanistan last year. The soldier, whose name has not been disclosed publicly, was treated for a traumatic brain injury suffered in a vehicle rollover in 2010 in Iraq, according to a U.S. official.

Representative Bill Pascrell, founder of a U.S. congressional task force on brain injuries, wrote to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta requesting details of the accused soldier’s injury, diagnosis, and when and how he was returned to combat duty.

“I am trying to find out basically whether there was a premature ‘OK’ on this guy,” Pascrell, a Democrat, said in a telephone interview.

“This is not to excuse any heinous acts; we are all sickened by it. But dammit, we all have an obligation to prevent these things,” Pascrell said. “If this soldier fell through the cracks, does that mean that others have?

Good questions! And very good reasons to get our troops out of Afghanistan ASAP. This country will be paying for these wars for a generation. Many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, like Vietnam veterans before them, will act out their psychological problems back here through suicide, murder, child abuse, spouse abuse, alcoholism and drug addiction. I’d love to go down to Congress and explain that these are human beings, not cannon fodder. End these endless wars!! Drug addiction and substance abuse is becoming a big problem in the states, if you are addicted or know someone who needs help, please visit this article about group therapy rehab.

I’ve been meaning to mention another post by Joseph Cannon. I suppose everyone has read it by now, but I haven’t seen any discussion of it at Sky Dancing. In a post about several topics, Cannon linked to an article speculating on the surprising death of Andrew Breitbart.

The Fix wonders why the corporate media has so zealously avoided asking the obvious questions about Breitbart’s death. What drugs was he using? I began to suspect something fishy as soon as I heard that the family was emphasizing that the death was from “natural causes.” Later Breitbart’s father-in-law, actor Orson Bean said it was assumed to be a heart attack. But how many 43-year-old men die from heart attacks? After the autopsy, no cause of death was announced, pending toxicology tests. If Breitbart had a heart attack, why didn’t they report damage to the heart? Or maybe they want to learn whether a drug caused a heart attack. Anyway, go read the article. It’s very interesting. When someone suffers from drug addiction the best way to help them is to take them to a rehab center, learn more about rehab programs on https://www.discoverynj.org/programs/therapy-programs/family-counseling/.

Apparently Breitbart suffered from ADHD and probably was taking Adderall, an amphetamine (speed). He had confessed to heavy drinking and cocaine use in college, and he was reportedly still a heavy drinker who often seemed to to lose control. I for one will be very interested to learn the results of those toxicology tests.

Here’s a heartbreaking report of a young victim of the international war on women: Moroccan girl commits suicide after being forced to marry her rapist.

A 16-year-old Moroccan girl has committed suicide after a judge ordered her to marry her rapist, according to Moroccan media reports.

Last year Amina’s parents filed charges against their daughter’s rapist, a man 10 years older than her but it was only recently that a judge in the northern city of Tangier decided that instead of punishing him, the two must be married.

The court’s decision to forcibly marry Amina to her rapist was supposed to “resolve” the damage of sexual violation against her, but it led to more suffering in the unwelcoming home of her rapist/husband’s family.

Traumatized by the painful experience of rape, Amina decided to end her life by consuming rat poison in the house of her husband’s family, according to the Moroccan daily al-Massae.

Horrifying, isn’t it? But it’s really not that far away from the advice of Opus-Dei-style theocrat Rick Santorum to rape victims who become pregnant:

SANTORUM: Well, you can make the argument that if she doesn’t have this baby, if she kills her child, that that, too, could ruin her life. And this is not an easy choice. I understand that. As horrible as the way that that son or daughter and son was created, it still is her child. And whether she has that child or doesn’t, it will always be her child. And she will always know that. And so to embrace her and to love her and to support her and get her through this very difficult time, I’ve always, you know, I believe and I think the right approach is to accept this horribly created — in the sense of rape — but nevertheless a gift in a very broken way, the gift of human life, and accept what God has given to you. As you know, we have to, in lots of different aspects of our life. We have horrible things happen. I can’t think of anything more horrible. But, nevertheless, we have to make the best out of a bad situation.

I know this hasn’t been a very cheerful post, so I’ll end on a positive note. Via Raw Story, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has filed a complaint with the IRS against Grover Norquist.

Washington, D.C. – Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) called for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to investigate whether Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) and its president Grover Norquist violated federal law by filing a tax return that left out more than half the political activity ATR conducted in 2010. ATR disclosed more than $4.2 million in independent expenditures to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), but asserted on its 2010 tax return that it spent only $1.85 million on political activities.

“Grover Norquist’s numbers just don’t add up,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan. “Americans for Tax Reform spent millions of dollars in 2010 trying to defeat candidates who disagreed with its agenda, then left most of that spending off its own tax return. Perhaps Mr. Norquist should sign a pledge that he won’t lie to the IRS about his group’s political activity.”

Tax-exempt organizations such as ATR are required to report on their annual tax returns the amount they spent on political activities. This information helps the IRS determine whether a tax-exempt organization is complying with its tax-exempt status and provides at least some transparency for groups involved in politics. Reporting inaccurate information can result in civil penalties and criminal prosecution.

I don’t know if anything will come of it, but it’s sure worth a try. Those are my reading suggestions for today. What do you recommend?