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?


Rick Santorum’s notion of “rational, reasoned thought”

Yesterday Rick Santorum spoke to a group of high school and college students at “College Convention 2012” in Concord, New Hampshire and engaged them in what he apparently sees as some kind of Socratic dialogue about same-sex marriage. Here’s the video.

ABC News summarized and quoted from the exchange. Here’s a bit of it:

As Santorum addressed a group of college students, one asked him how same-sex marriage affects him personally and why not have legal same-sex marriage as long as it’s not religious in nature.

Santorum answered that for “230 years marriage has been between one man and woman. So if you want to change the law … you have to make the positive argument about why.” ….

He called on a woman who asked, “How about the idea that all men are created equal, rights to happiness and liberty?

Santorum responded, “Are we saying that everyone should have the right to marry?”

Several members of the crowd loudly yelled, “Yes!” ….

“So anyone can marry can marry anybody else? So if that’s the case, then everyone can marry several people … so you can be married to five people. Is that OK?” Santorum asked.

It seems to me that Santorum is oddly obsessed with fantasies of group sex. He has made this comparison of same-sex marriage to polygamy repeatedly in the past. In this instance, when students told him his questions about fantasized group marriages were “irrelevant,” he actually lectured them:

“You know it’s important if we’re going to have a discussion based on rational, reasoned thought, that we employ reason, okay? Reason says that if you think it’s okay for two then you have to differentiate with me why it’s not okay for three, right?

That’s Santorum’s notion of reason and rationality? He sets up a bizarre straw man argument and refuses to deal with the question he’s being asked about how two people of the same sex marrying could hurt him. There are already laws against polygamy for heterosexuals in this country, and laws could also be passed against group same-sex marriage if groups of people begin agitating for the right to marry. But as far as I know that isn’t happening.

A little later in the discussion, Santorum explains why he believes marriage must only be between one man and one woman.

“I believe we’re made that way. God made men and woman to keep civilization and provide the best environment to raise children,” Santorum said. “I have no problem if people want to have relationships, but marriage provides a good to society. It’s unique because it is the union that causes children to be raised.”

Santorum added that “every child in America deserves” to know their mother and father.

“We deny children that birthright, then I think we are harming kids and society and not promoting what’s best,” Santorum added, before moving on to the next question.

That’s his idea of logic? Americans should behave according to Santorum’s personal beliefs? So if every child must know his or her mother and father, does that mean that Santorum opposes adoption? Well, he opposes gay couples adopting, but I haven’t been able to find his position on heterosexual adoptions.

After Santorum moved on to other questions, he displayed more of his “reasoned, rational thinking.”

…when a crowd member asked if he would adhere to the conservative pillar of state’s rights in cases when a state legalizes gay marriage and medical marijuana.

“I think there are some things that are essential elements of society to which a society rests that we have to have a consensus on,” Santorum said. “That’s why I believe on things as essential as ‘what is life’ and what life is protected under the Constitution should be a federal charge, not a state by state.”

He then admitted he was not familiar with medical marijuana laws, which led the crowd to press him on how he came to developing his views on issues he was unfamiliar with.

“Well I form that opinion from my own life experiences and having experienced that,” he said. “I went to college too.”

So no states’ rights if the issue is one that involves Santorum’s “beliefs,” apparently. After the town hall with the students ended, Santorum told a reporter his goal in the exchange was “to engage them to get them thinking about why they’re thinking the way you’re thinking.”

Huh? WTF does that mean? All I can say is that this man’s thinking processes seem to me to be not only illogical but also deeply disordered. This, combined with his obvious hypocrisy and corrupt behavior should disqualify him–even from becoming the nominee of the Republican Party, much less President of the U.S. Thank goodness most Americans probably won’t be as receptive to Santorum’s “reasoning” as Iowa Republican caucus voters were.