Sunday, November 13, 2011

Treating "Suicide Headaches"

I spent an amazing three days at the Drug Policy Alliance conference in Los Angeles this month, absorbing a wealth of information about the damage our draconian "War on Drugs" is causing society. The video below was aired during one of the panel discussions, and I thought it was especially effective at personalizing the social costs of these misguided policies.

It's a video of someone experiencing a cluster headache attack, also known as a "suicide headaches". It's a sharp, penetrating, unilateral pain that starts behind the eye and can radiate to the temple, jaw, neck, and shoulders. Attacks can happen more than 10 times a day, and can last anywhere from 15 minutes to 3 hours at a time.

Imagine watching a loved one suffer through this. Imagine having to care for them, regularly, as they suffer through this:

The suicide rate amongst people afflicted with this condition is 200% higher than normal. The cause of this condition is unknown, and the medicines & treatments that are normally prescribed to treat the disorder tend to only reduce the length of the attacks. A lifetime of use of these medicines come with debilitating side-effects.

There are, however, substances that have been found to greatly reduce the frequency of these attacks: LSD and Psilocybin

Despite this, and mounting evidence that they're also effective in treating of PTSD and other psychological disorders, (see this article to learn about ongoing research at Harvard and elsewhere), they're both listed as Schedule I in the United States. That means they're illegal to manufacture, buy, possess, process, or distribute without a DEA license. Because of this classification, funding for medical research about these drugs has been stifled, and there's now a misguided and distorted view of psychedelics among the medical community and the general public.

Why? Because people have chosen to use the drug recreationally, (people like the late Steve Jobs) the government has decided we need to be "protected" from these substances. Our government has decided we can't be trusted to make informed, personal decisions about these substances, and need to be threatened with imprisonment and severe social consequences for deciding to try these substances. Under this policy of drug-prohibition, cluster-headache suffers, contemplating suicide, are considered criminals for trying a substance that may very well save their lives.

Does this sound like a reasonable way to deal with drug use?

(More information about the use of psychedelics to treat cluster headaches can be found here: Clusterbusters.)

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Why can't Dr. Laura say the "n-word"?

Last August, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, responding to a black caller whose white husband's friends were passive-aggressively mocking her race, said the word "nigger" 11 times. Here's the full audio:

Unsurprisingly, it caused an uproar, prompting her to apologize before announcing the end of her decades-running radio program. She insists that she was only trying to make a "philosophical point" about black people's use of the word "nigger". When the caller asked if it's OK to say that word, Schlessinger responded:

SCHLESSINGER: Black guys use it all the time. Turn on HBO, listen to a black comic, and all you hear is nigger, nigger, nigger... I don't get it. If anybody without enough melanin says it, it's a horrible thing; but when black people say it, it's affectionate. It's very confusing.

After the commercial break, the conversation continued:

CALLER: So it's OK to say "nigger"?... It's OK to say that word?
SCHLESSINGER: It depends how it's said.
CALLER: Is it OK to say that word? Is it ever OK to say that word?
SCHLESSINGER: It's -- it depends how it's said. Black guys talking to each other seem to think it's OK.
CALLER: But you're not black. They're not black. My husband is white.
SCHLESSINGER: Oh, I see. So, a word is restricted to race. Got it.

She seems to be arguing that it's hypocritical of society to criticize white people for saying it, while allowing black people to say it. Is that the case? Is there really no difference between a black person saying it, vs a white person?

There's a pretty insightful interview with 50 cent, on the Howard Stern show, that addresses the issue. A caller asks, "is it alright for white people to use nigga?"

Caller: Is it alright for white people to use nigga?

50 cent: It depends who they with or what's going on.... Put it like this, Eminem has never used the word nigger or nigga around me. He's conscious of it. But you gotta think, he's hip hop all day listening to references where we say this so much, that if he said it, it would roll off like he didn't say [anything offensive]...

Stern: Should Eminem be allowed to use the word 'nigga' in his music?

50 cent: Around me, he can say whatever he wants. But I'm just saying to you he doesn't do it, he's conscious of it, he doesn't say it.

Stern: I don't think it comes off well when a white guy goes up to a black guy, even in the best of terms, and goes "hey my nigga"

50 cent: Listen... there's white guys that were born in my neighborhood. And they say "what's up nigga? Whatchya doin?"

Stern: They do? Do you shoot 'em?...

50 cent: No.. Because he's from the same space... you grew up with him.... When they from it, they [aren't subjected] to the same thing because they're actually from the same [environment].


Robin: There's context, is what he's saying. If you are a part of a group, then you might be able to use it.

50 cent: They gonna know if you're using it in a derogatory sense.

That's the crux of the issue: knowing whether or not the term is being used in a derogatory sense. When a black person says "nigga", it's probably safe to assume there's no bigotry behind its use, because he probably isn't bigoted against his own race. You can't make that same assumption about a random white person using the term. While Eminem can call 50 cent "nigga" without causing offense, he still avoids the word in his music. Even with his immersion in the world of hip-hop, the general public doesn't know him personally, so they can't assume he doesn't harbor any racism.

(Case in point: In the song "Nigga", featuring Eminem, 50 cent, and Notorious B.I.G, the word "nigga" is used over 20 times. The lyrics can be found here: Nigga lyrics. Count how many times Eminem says it.)

There's another, related, double standard here. If you dig through the comment section of that Howard Stern YouTube clip, above, you'll find this interesting point:

a white person call a black person nigger is racist but if a black person call a white person cracker that isnt racist what the fuck is that?

It's not the case that referring to a white person as "cracker" isn't racist. It's just society doesn't consider that word to be anywhere near as inflammatory as "nigger". Why not? Slavery, segregation, disfranchisement... black people, as a group, have been persecuted for the entire history of this country. And while the most obvious forms of institutionalized racism have been eliminated, it's still the case that large groups of black people, even with Ivy League educations, can be suspected of being "gangbangers" for no reason other than the color of their skin. (It happened just last year: What Do You Call a Black Man With a J.D.?)

The fact that black people are more often the targets of racism is the reason you see a double standard here. As a society, we want to avoid doing anything that might exacerbate what is already a significant problem. In general, societal taboos should being weighted in favor of victimized classes of people. That doesn't make it OK to call anyone a "cracker", and it doesn't mean people shouldn't be offended by that term. But if you're wondering why most people don't take as much offense, this is why.

So why can't Dr. Laura use the word "nigger"? Maybe it's because she accused her caller of being "hyper-sensitive" for being hurt by some, pretty obvious, passive-aggressive racial mockery. Maybe it's because she then went on a, completely off-topic, rant about how black people voted for Obama just because he was black, how his election meant white people should no longer be "demonized" for hating black people, and how it's "hilarious" that people are still "complaining about racism" (as if having a black President proves racism is no longer a problem).

Somehow, I don't think it's quite safe to assume that she doesn't harbor any bigotry against black people.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How LEAP got me out of jury duty.

Today was the first time I've been screened as a juror. There was only one case being tried at this court today; someone facing several drug related charges. I was the very first juror to be screened, and the prosecutor began the screening. He asked asked me several questions to determine whether or not I'd be able to judge the case, impartially, and eventually asked me if I knew any police officers.

I told him that I did know a few retired officers. I proceeded to tell him that I volunteer for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an organization of former police officers, prosecutors, prison wardens, judges, and others in the criminal justice community who have spent their careers waging the war on drugs, and now believe it's a public policy disaster. I told him they advocate legalizing all drugs, and believe they should be regulated in a manner similar to how dangerous pharmaceuticals are currently regulated. (I book speaking engagements for one of their speakers).

He paused. He said I probably know the state's drug laws better than most, and asked if I understood that possession of marijuana is currently illegal. (He emphasized "currently"). I said "yes". He asked me if I thought I could judge the case impartially. I said "yes". He looked a bit frustrated, his face turned a bit red, and he allowed the defense attorney his turn. The defense attorney asked me a few hypotheticals to see if I understood what circumstantial evidence was, and other questions along those lines. After he was through, I was asked to leave the room while they deliberated.

Less than 30 seconds later, I was called back in; I was excused. So ended my day at court :)

A few thoughts on the experience:

- I learned today that, in CT, employers are only obligated to pay for the first 5 days of jury duty. After that, the judicial branch pays jurors $50 a day, max. Assuming an 8 hour day, that's less than CT's current minimum wage. That doesn't seem right.

- I was being honest when I told the prosecutor that I could judge the case impartially, and really didn't want to be on the jury because of that. I don't know any details about the charges, but if the defendent was a non-violent offender, I would have felt horrible sending him to an environment where he could be brutalized, raped, and left with few career options after serving time.

- I'm guessing the prosecutor was frustrated because he probably had to use one of his few "premptory challenges" to dismiss me without giving a reason. Since I was the very first juror to be screened, using one on me left him at a disadvantage, as he had to be a lot more careful about how to use remaining challenge(s). It occured to me that, as public opinion turns increasingly against the war on drugs, it's going to be harder for prosecutors to find jurors that are sympathetic to their case. That's a nice little bonus we can appreciate as we slowly move towards legalization.