Saturday, February 25, 2006

Zero Tolerance for All

In the wake of the big heist (now reported as £40m), there's speculation about their getting caught and the very long sentences they can expect. Obviously they would get some years in prison for using guns and the threat of death (they didn't shoot anyone).

The sentence, though, would undoubtedly be set extra high as payback for the embarrassment caused by their taking such a large sum; and for doing it so efficiently. ("What affrontery, how dare they show us up like that!")

There's criticism of any public sympathy for the robbers (the 'Robin Hood' effect): an enlightened government would look at why this could be. I believe it comes about because the public sees that justice is not even-handed. Miscreants at the lower end of society are regularly subjected to the same Zero Tolerance treatment that the robbers would receive.

But, when people at the top rob pension funds without punishment; when top executives cock up whole companies, then leave with a golden handshake; when hypocritical MPs grin on about Christian values and 'family' values, but still lie and cheat as it suits; when absolute incompetence costing millions in the civil service is quite acceptable as long as the Head apologises; then what else could one expect but sympathy (empathy, even) for those who might successfully get one back for the suckered public. After all, the thieves are only going out and getting what the rest of us are persistently, numbingly, encouraged to hope for from the Lottery.

So, if we're gonna whack big-time thieves, let's apply Zero Tolerance to all of them - including the oily, creepy, sly, polished ones.

(Zero Tolerance too, of course, for the current incompetents: those AT THE TOP of the Bank of England responsible for security of OUR money and their employees. And getting paid bloody well for it!)

Added next day:
Here's the latest on the case from the Independent, with lots of good tips for robbers.
A piece from the Times.
One from the Observer, with more tips for launderers.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Top Level, Meticulous Planning, Military Precision

Don't stand one man between £50m and a gang of robbers

The raid on a Bank of England security depot has been called 'organised crime at its top level, carried out with military precision'; a 'meticulously-planned operation'.

What level was the security of the depot, and what sort of precision and meticulousness went into its planning, when one employee (and his family) is all that stood between robbers and £50,000,000?

The failure to cover this security weakness has cost the manager and his wife and son six hours of terrorisation at gunpoint, and the consequent psychological effects.

In addition, we have lost £50,000,000; which, we were speedily informed, will not cost the taxpayer anything because it's insured. Who's kidding who? Do we really think that the insurance companies won't recuperate their £50m?

Monday, February 20, 2006

'A Quiet Epidemic'

The BBC has had a go, John Snow had a go with his podcast, now here's an investigation from UK Sunday paper, The Observer. The public must be educated about the dangers of cannabis, insists Home Secretary Charles Clarke. And the eager media are off; applying their talents to satisfy his wish.

The propagandists' preferred method has been to interview scarred families whose young have smoked cannabis and now have mental health problems. The first case in The Observer is that of a young sufferer from Asperger's syndrome.

Aspergers, from the Asperger Syndrome Info site:

"Individuals with AS can exhibit a variety of characteristics and the disorder can range from mild to severe. Persons with AS show marked deficiencies in social skills, have difficulties with transitions or changes and prefer sameness. They often have obsessive routines and may be preoccupied with a particular subject of interest. They have a great deal of difficulty reading nonverbal cues (body language) and very often the individual with AS has difficulty determining proper body space. Often overly sensitive to sounds, tastes, smells, and sights, the person with AS may prefer soft clothing, certain foods, and be bothered by sounds or lights no one else seems to hear or see. It's important to remember that the person with AS perceives the world very differently."
Now, I seriously would advise someone who has those symptoms that taking anything in any way mind-altering might not be a good idea.

The Autism Society of America says:

"Individuals with Asperger's Disorder may need assistance in encouraging friendships..."
Well, it could be said that cannabis encourages friendships. It certainly does make a good common interest, with all its varieties, experiences to relate, and connoisseurship: and it leads to some extremely good times when it's common amongst a group of friends; usually into the same music, too. It also currently seems like a good spiritual counter to dissatisfaction with government behaviour and society's values: a badge of discontent. How not to be so 'good' as a Tony Blair and his values or a George Bush and his.

I think I once read somewhere that Alan Ginsberg said: "Pot is instead of people." I know what he means. When you're stoned alone you can easily get into what's around: the music, the trees, drawing, reading, whatever - so you don't think about being alone or lonely. Of course, when you're stoned in company you get into conversation and laughs and whatever, equally. Wherever.

So, it's a likely case, I'd say, that someone with social difficulty would find consolation in cannabis use, either alone or in company. Also, stoners would be less likely to give you a hard time than would society at large - less pressure; more 'laid back'.

Effects of pot

The other side of the coin is the sense in applying a mind-alterer to an ill mind.

Speaking as someone with a healthy mind (I don't care what the 'others' say), I think that cannabis is, in some way, something of a truth drug. It's like, if you behave badly or act the prat then that incident will come hard to mind when you're stoned, and possibly give you a difficult time - you have to sort it out with yourself. In that way, like, I believe, most mind-alterers, it can be a learning tool.

This excellent piece on the effects of using pot incudes these words from a 28-year old female songwriter about being stoned:

"I'm more honest, open, more willing to let go, and admit to others my feelings that they might interpret negatively. Time, the phenomenon, the feeling of time passing, of growing old, disappears, and I feel less depressed. Worrying about time and me getting older, disappears. Time becomes more relative; I'm not as worried about time. I feel as if I control my universe. I feel as if every beautiful thing I want is right here in my room, and I don't have to go outside to get it. I see beauty in myself, how sensitive I am. I can become a fantastic creature, like a fairy. I can see into truths and look for and find the answer to them. Marijuana takes away fear and shyness. You can say what you think and not worry about how the other person will respond. I can see causes of my problems and can decide how to change things. There's nothing to fear. This is what you learn on pot."
'New' Studies

The Observer cites 'a series of new studies'. But all I've been able to find over the past twelve months are those emanating from New Zealand. Those are not new studies, they're new statistical manipulations of existing data. They make statistical allowance for swathes of factors so that, ultimately, the result is a mathematical masterpiece rather than a report on first-hand evidence.

Nevertheless, and despite all that's been printed to the contrary, these are the conclusions from some of the New Zealand 'studies':
"Cannabis use appears to be neither a sufficient nor a necessary cause for psychosis."
(from Causal association between cannabis and psychosis: examination of the evidence by Arseneault L, Cannon M, Witton J, Murray RM. Source: BRITISH JOURNAL OF PSYCHIATRY 184: 110-117 FEB 2004)
"If 'cannabis psychoses' exist, they seem to be rare, because they require very high doses of tetrahydrocannabinol, the prolonged use of highly potent forms of cannabis, or a preexisting (but as yet unspecified) vulnerability, or both."
(from Cannabis use and psychosis: a review of clinical and epidemiological evidence by Hall W, Degenhardt L. Source: AUSTRALIAN AND NEW ZEALAND JOURNAL OF PSYCHIATRY 34 (1): 26-34 FEB 2000)
Are YOU psychotic?

"Confirmatory factor analysis of the item set has shown previously that the items formed a unidimensional scale reflecting the extent of psychotic symptomatology*. Scale scores were estimated by summing the number of symptoms reported by each participant at each age. Reliability was assessed using coefficient alpha, a = 0.74 (18 years), a = 0.73 (21 years) and a = 0.75 (25 years)."
That was the statistical method applied to the results from the following questionnaire from a research report on Tests of causal linkages between cannabis use and psychotic symptoms (by David M. Fergusson1, L. John Horwood1 & Elizabeth M. Ridder1, of Christchurch, New Zealand.
(please note that this report is based solely on data from people in Christchurch):

A key point in the report is the assessment of the participants' mental health. Sample members were questioned at age 18, 21 and 25 using the following psychotic symptoms 10-point checklist. Scale scores were estimated by summing the number of symptoms reported by each participant at each age.

(comments in italics are mine)

hearing voices that other people do not hear
(worrying; but could be a healthy fantasy, as in childhood - or even paranormal!?)

the idea that someone else can control your thoughts
(they certainly try - by bending or withholding truth)

other people being aware of your private thoughts
(we all fear, at some time, that we are revealing our thoughts)

having thoughts that are not your own
(sometimes I react just like my dad would)

having ideas and beliefs that others do not share
(a good thing to have some ideas that others do not share; else how are we going to remain a healthy race)

the idea that something is seriously wrong with your body
(illness possibilities - a large percent of population must experience this several times throughout their lives; in addition, the massive business in surgical body change suggests that there's a lot of dissatisfaction about bodies)

never feeling close to another person
(well, 'never' is a long time; but many must feel that this is so at times: is it not truly said: 'We are all alone')

the idea that something is wrong with your mind
(I can't answer this one because I don't know the feeling of 'wrong', only of 'different' - and that seems just like it ought to)

feeling other people cannot be trusted
(that could reasonably extend from the kid next door, to the PM, and on to the world leader; not to mention bad personal experience - with thieves, or in romance)

feeling that you are watched or talked about by others
(well, if you use cannabis then, as long as it's illegal, you're gonna feel watched at times; plus, of course, it's known to increase the feeling of paranoia)

My point is this. There is a whole lot of bullshit out there about cannabis use, fed by neurotic governments, massaged research and bigoted media. It hasn't stopped since, according to The Observer article, "Cannabis was banned in 1928 after a Chinese musician was accused of giving hashish to three women found near-naked in his flat in Cardiff." (he was probably a masseur!)

That was the sex and drugs angle.

The Daily Mirror were hammering it in 1939:

"For women, the menace of the cigarette is greater than for men. A girl of twenty-one was persuaded by a coloured man to elope with him."
"Unlike opium, hashish and other drugs which make their victims seek solitude, marijuana drives its victims into society, forcing them to violence, even murder."
The mind state of a cannabis user

The following 1967 quote from California School of Criminology gives a very good picture of the mind state of cannabis users compared with prohibitors:

The original aim of the project was to act as a brake on drug use of the young adults they encountered; this goal was abandoned because of their informants' attitude toward their efforts. They saw them as absurd.

"... we found rather early that we were not having any success in developing a form of collective abstinence. It became clear that the youths were well anchored in their drug use and well fortified in their beliefs against all the "dangers" of drug use. From their own experiences and observations they could refute the declaration that the use of harmful drugs usually led to personal or health deterioration; they viewed with contempt the use of opiates and rejected with evidence the claim that the use of harmful drugs led naturally to opiate use. They pointed out that the break-up of home life, with which many of them were very familiar, was due to other factors than the use of drugs; they were able to show that the limitation of their career opportunities came from other conditions than the use of drugs, as such. They met the fear of arrest by developing greater skill and precautions against detection in the use of drugs. Added to these stances was a set of collective beliefs that justified their use of drugs, so that such use resulted in harmless pleasure, increased conviviality, did not lead to violence, could be regulated, did not lead to addiction, and was much less harmful than the use of alcohol, which is socially and openly sanctioned in our society. Parenthetically, we would invite any group of educators, scientists, welfare workers or police officials to try to meet effectively the well-buttressed arguments, based on personal experience and observation that our youthful drug users present in frank, open, and uncowed discussion. In sum, we learned that youthful drug users are just not interested in abstaining from drug use."
Beware the 'reefer madness' of a neurotic society.

"Of all arenas of human behavior, illicit nonmedical drug use provides one of the best examples of the tyranny of models of man. In few spheres are facts perceived more selectively — by experts and the public alike — and with less correspondence to the real world."
So says Erich Goode in the online book The Marijuana Smokers. This is a very good book, taking evidence from all sides, and helping to cut through the mystique and paranoia about the subject. If you don't know, but want to understand why people like cannabis (if 'liking' were permitted!), then this is an excellent read.

"Smoking pot is a political act, and every smoker is an outlaw."
(Rubin, The New York Review)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

* Did you notice the statistician's sentence above:
"Confirmatory factor analysis of the item set has shown previously that the items formed a unidimensional scale reflecting the extent of psychotic symptomatology."
What they mean, of course, is that before starting their present analysis they'd already proven that all the psychotic symptoms listed above are equal in weight, and together make up the full range of symptoms. (Dead handy, that!)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Mein Seven Pillars of 1984

America's Long War

Last week US defence chiefs unveiled their plan for battling global Islamist extremism. The report sets out a plan for prosecuting what the Pentagon describes as "The Long War", which replaces the "war on terror".

It brings to my mind the scenario in Orwell's 1984, where Big Brother maintains power through a purported state of permanent world war.

Concerning their proposed method, the defence chiefs write:
"One historical example that illustrates both concepts comes from the Arab revolt in 1917 in a distant theatre of the first world war, when British Colonel T E Lawrence and a group of lightly armed Bedouin tribesmen seized the Ottoman port city of Aqaba by attacking from an undefended desert side, rather than confronting the garrison's coastal artillery by attacking from the sea."
It's OK to quote Lawrence's successful military tactic as worth emulating, but what about his overall tactics? He was a friend and sympathiser to the Arabs; he learned their language and promoted their cause.

I've read in a lot of places of the bewilderment of many that Adolf Hitler had laid out all his worst intentions well before WWII in his book 'Mein Kampf', but few had bothered to read it.

Maybe there's a lesson there. T E Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, can teach us much, much more of importance than mere military strategy - how to make peace, even!

However, if you're gonna quote Lawrence's methods, then get it right when you try to emulate them. This is Simon Jenkins in the Guardian of February 10th.
"Lawrence, though dog-tired, immediately understood that he must appoint a Syrian military governor and a chief of police likely to command local support. Every official, whatever their loyalty, was told to report for work at once. Engineers were sent to mend the water supply and electricians to get the streets lit by nightfall as a sign that he was in control. He secured food supplies and even went personally to inspect the hospital, full of dead and dying soldiers. An account of the visit formed the dramatic climax to the Seven Pillars.

The British aide Colonel Stirling wrote of that weekend that "a thousand and one things had to be thought of, but never once was Lawrence at a loss". He met any breaches of order with a bullet. He also knew that this might be no passing glory. He wanted Emir Feisal to rule a new Arabia, but when an Arab asked him if Allenby's troops were coming, he answered: "Certainly, but the sorrow is that afterwards they may not go."

"the world capital of insufferable paternalism"

Responding to yesterday's UK government decision to ban smoking, Simon Jenkins, a committed non-smoker, makes some fair points in today's Guardian concerning the manner and the reason of their policy.

"The nation was last night coated in parliament's disinfectant self-righteousness.

I dislike smoking as much as I dislike swearing, drunkenness, blaspheming and race-hate cartooning. I have boycotted smoking places for years without serious discomfort, and watched nonsmoking areas expand in response to public demand. Yet to hear some MPs (or broadcasters) talk you would think smoking was a ricin attack on the nation state. I hold John Stuart Mill as sacred in this matter: 'The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community against his will is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.'"

Passive smoke: no dangers.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Compulsory Good Health

A national smoking ban is being considered right now in the UK Parliament.

I propose that compulsory daily exercise be brought in next: followed by compulsory healthy eating.

Anything more? Yes. Stress is a big killer. How about legislation to punish those who cause us stress?

War is a big killer, too.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Coca and the 'Axis of Good'

Evo Morales, the first ever indigenous Bolivian president; an honest, incorruptible politician with an urgent desire to improve the lot of his people, refuses to cut down on the production of coca (the raw material for making cocaine).

"The fight for coca symbolises our fight for freedom," he says. "Coca growers will continue to grow coca. There will never be zero coca."

"You have to realise that, for us, the coca leaf is not cocaine and as such growing coca is not narco-trafficking," he says. "Neither is chewing coca nor making products from it that are separate from narcotics. The coca leaf has had an important role to play in our culture for thousands of years. It is used in many rituals. If, for example, you want to ask someone to marry you, you carry a coca leaf to them. It plays an important role in many aspects of life."

"To the Amerindians, Mama Coca is the daughter of Pachamama, the earth mother. "Before you go to work, especially in agriculture, you will chew some coca leaf," Morales continues. "After lunch, after a nap, you might have some. If you drive long distances for your work, you will chew it to help you stay awake. During the night, you will see police officers on patrol with their cheeks full of coca leaves."

"It is used as tea to combat altitude sickness and made into herbal remedies, including cough mixtures, for a variety of ailments. In the past, popes have used it, kings of Spain, Fidel Castro. In your culture, you might have a cocktail or a glass of wine when we would chew some coca. During the republican era, miners used coca to work harder to send more tin to the US."

Only a couple of years ago, their crops were faced with eradication under a zero-tolerance policy intended to mollify the United States. The US has been spending an average of $150m a year on coca eradication.

Morales said he would be a "nightmare" for the US. During visits to his leftwing political heroes, Cuba's Fidel Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, he poked fun at George Bush, announcing that he and his friends were the new "Axis of Good".

Morales has outlawed corruption in a traditionally corrupt society: he halved his salary on taking office so he could employ more teachers.

Monday, February 06, 2006

UK Citizens Beware!

How are you going to be treated by the authorities when you haven't got your identity card to hand? Let me predict. You're going to be treated like a criminal.

As a portent of things to come, I received this letter, reprinted below, from the TV Licensing authority. It is NOT mandatory for every home to have a TV licence, but from reading this letter you'd think it was.

I don't have a TV. I got pissed off years ago with waking from a doze on the sofa at midnight, with a blurry head and recollection of a wasted evening from which I could remember nothing. Then, in that dozey state, having to take the dog out in the cold air for what should have been a walk, but was only going to be a shit on account of me wanting to be in bed.

So I don't have a TV (I don't have a dog now, either).

I object to the whole tone of this letter. It is threatening and conceited. Intimidating, even. It is the bullying tone of someone who feels he has power over another. But he does not: he has no power over me whatsoever. I am not in his class; not in his school; not in his province or world.

This letter takes no account of anyone without TV: it does not even acknowledge that as a possibility. Just image if this were a compulsory matter - as identity cards will be.

I have no great objection to identity cards as such. But, unfortunately, they are going to give power to someone - and I now see what sort of treatment for citizens ('subjects') that is likely to result in.

The letter reads:

TV Licensing Officers will soon be visiting NameOfMyStreet

Dear Owner/Occupier,

We have caught 764 evaders in your area in the last three months alone

Despite sending several reminders, we note that your address is still unlicensed.

Over the past three months, my Enforcement Officers have caught 764 evaders in your area. Your address will be amongst the next set of unlicensed properties to be visited by the NameOfMyTown Enforcement Team.

Using television receiving equipment without a valid licence is against the law. If my officers suspect that an offence has taken place, you may be cautioned or interviewed in compliance with the Police & Criminal Evidence Act 1984. This interview could then be used for the purposes of prosecution.

If you are using a television illegally, there is now a very real chance you could be taken to court and fined up to £1,000. In order to remove your address from our visit list. I strongly advise you to call 0000 000 0000 and speak to one of our operators about your TV Licensing requirements. Your licence can be purchased over the phone by debit card or Direct Debit. Alternatively, you can pay online at

If you have recently bought a licence, please accept my apologies and ignore this reminder.

Yours faithfully,

Ross McTaggart
TV Licensing Enforcement Manager

Please see below for how to pay and reverse for important TV Licensing information, including exclusions.

A TV Licence currently costs £126.50 for colour and £42 for black and white.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Message to the Mighty

"You will win because you have enough brute force. But you will not convince. For to convince you need to persuade. And in order to persuade you would need what you lack: Reason and Right."

Miguel de Unamuno, Spanish philosopher, in a confrontation with fascist General Milan-Astray at the University of Salamanca on October 12, 1936.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

'From Mellow to Mental'

There's an interesting podcast by John Snow of the UK's Channel 4 on cannabis and psychosis.

The greatest sense is delivered at the end; surprisingly, by the mother of a man whose psychiatric problems are considered linked to his cannabis use.

Also on that Channel 4 page is a video interview about that podcast with Charles Clarke (UK Home Secretary).
Mr Clarke says in defense of his position (prohibition):
"I have many emails I've been receiving throughout this debate, including from parents of children who've died as a result of cannabis consumption."

Why have there been no reports in the ever-hungry media about these deaths? I suggest, because they exist only on e-mails sent to Charles Clarke.