Department of Paradox – or doing the right thing for the “wrong” (?) reasons – with good consequences.

Sierra Club magazine (July/August 2011) reports that the US military is “embracing alternative energy – but not because of climate change. Up to half of the yearly American casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan have been incurred guarding fuel convoys, and the Pentagon will no longer tolerate oil’s burden in blood.”

“The Department of Defense uses more petroleum (and energy) than any other organization on the planet – $13-18 billion worth a year…The US military, despite being stretched thin by eight years and trillion-plus dollars spent in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya, is taking on another controversial, long-term mission: to defend America without depending on oil.”

By using portable solar panels and water purification systems, the Army reduces the dangerous trucking of oil and water supplies to field locations.

“Military officials are quick to make clear that this effort has nothing to do with political correctness, saving endangered species, or even slowing global warming…It’s about cost. It’s about national security. And it’s about the burden in blood. … Half the casualties in these conflicts (Iraq and Afghanistan) have been fuel-convoy related.”

“Talking about how a terrorist strike far smaller than 9/11 could cripple America’s power grid and detailing the budget-busting specter of $400-a-gallon fuel for military humvees that get as little as four miles per gallon, provided framing even the most die-hard congressional climate skeptic could not easily ignore. .. No less an authority than Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says, “Energy security needs to be one of the first things we think about, before we deploy another soldier, before we build another ship or plane, and before we buy or fill another rucksack.”

“The embrace of sustainability presents a severe challenge… but no more daunting than the Navy’s evolution from sail to coal to oil to nuclear. Along the way, she says, the military helped lead worldwide energy changes by seeding and building markets for new technology – something the Pentagon appears to be trying to do once more, this time for solar, biofuel, and other alternative energy sources.”

Climate chaos to come

The investigative journalist Christian Parenti’s new book Tropic of Chaos exposes how global warming could lead to chaos and global warfare. Something prescient scientists have been pointing out for years. In an interview on Democracy Now, Parenti pointed out –

 Extreme weather from Texas to Somalia may indicate that a new era of climate war is upon us. Just this month, massive floods have shut down two nuclear power facilities in Nebraska. In New Mexico, the nation’s top nuclear weapons lab in Los Alamos is being threatened by an uncontrolled wildfire. Meanwhile, the United Nations warns the Horn of Africa is facing its worst drought in 60 years, affecting more than 10 million in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda. We speak with award-winning journalist Christian Parenti who argues in his new book that global warming is leading to social and environmental catastrophe. “The weather associated with climate change, extreme weather such as the drought, punctuated by flooding in East Africa, punctuated by flooding in East Africa, is adding to this. Climate change very often doesn’t just look bad weather, it looks like ethnic violence or religious violence or banditry or civil war,” says Parenti.

For the Democracy Now interview with Parenti, see:

Reading the descriptions of catastrophic climate change in Christian Parenti’s book, reminded me of the end-of -the-world visions that I cited from the Völuspa in my new book, Eye of the Seeress, Voice of the Poet.

The Free Gaza Flotilla

The ships involved in this international volunteer and donations effort to the people of Gaza has now been effectively blocked from leaving the Athens harbor – most probably as a result of pressure from Israel and the US on the near-bankrupt state of Greece. Below are extracts from a comment by Starhawk, which she published a week or so ago, when the flotilla was still going to leave:

Another Gaza flotilla is forming up in the Mediterranean, and the Israeli authorities are trying every possible avenue to stop it—from pressuring the companies that insure boats to lawsuits to threats of violence against its passengers.

Why is the flotilla needed?  Hasn’t Egypt opened the Rafah border?

One of the frustrations around the issue of Palestine is how often what governments say diverges from what they do.  Israel says it has relaxed controls on goods and foodstuffs and necessities of life entering Gaza—what actually happens is that a few more brands of cookies get in but materials necessary to rebuild the four hundred homes and eighty public buildings destroyed in Israel’s military assault of 2008-9 are still kept out. Egypt says the border is open—but trying to get in or out is still an ordeal and decisions are quite arbitrary and unpredictable as to whether a student succeeds in leaving to pursue her education or whether a sick child is able to leave to get medical care.  Read Ramzy Baroud’s account on Counterpunch:

What is the flotilla bringing that so scares the Israeli authorities?  Medical supplies, cement for rebuilding, an ambulance and a mobile hospital—the cargo is checked and rechecked and certified and the passengers are committed to nonviolence.  No, it’s not really the cargo that’s a threat, it’s something else the flotilla brings—light.  By openly challenging the blockade, the flotilla makes visible the prison walls that surround Gaza and shine the light of truth on the complicity of the United States and international community in allowing the Israeli authorities to continually violate international law by imposing a collective punishment on an entire people.

More and more Jews inside and outside of Israel are disavowing Israel’s policies.  Gideon Levy, a columnist for the major Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, writes of “the terrible international damage Israel inflicts upon itself as a result of its violent behavior. How simple (and just ) it would be to allow these well-intentioned people to reach their goal; in contrast, how idiotic, violent and unnecessary it would be to release the commandos once again, to go after them.”

Rabbis from Tikkun’s Michael Lerner to Rabbis for Human Rights, organizations that include Jewish Voice for Peace, J-Street, Jews for Justice for Palestine and many more, have all spoken out for the human rights of Palestinians as well as Israelis.  Many of the passengers and organizers of the flotilla are Jews.

Meanwhile…regressive drug policies still hold sway in the UK (as well as USA)

The following article on drug policy in the UK appeared in The Guardian:

British government science advisor sacked for speaking truth about drugs and dangers.

Professor David Nutt, the government’s chief drug adviser, has been sacked a day after claiming that ecstasy and LSD were less dangerous than alcohol…

Nutt incurred the wrath of the government when he claimed in a paper that alcohol and tobacco were more harmful than many illegal drugs, including LSD, ecstasy and cannabis…

..Nutt had criticised politicians for “distorting” and “devaluing” the research evidence in the debate over illicit drugs. Arguing that some “top” scientific journals had published “horrific examples” of poor quality research on the alleged harm caused by some illicit drugs, the Imperial College professor called for a new way of classifying the harm caused by both legal and illegal drugs.

“Alcohol ranks as the fifth most harmful drug after heroin, cocaine, barbiturates and methadone. Tobacco is ranked ninth,” he wrote in the paper from the centre for crime and justice studies at King’s College, London, published yesterday.

“Cannabis, LSD and ecstasy, while harmful, are ranked lower at 11, 14 and 18 respectively.”

Nutt said tonight he was disappointed by the decision but linked it to “political” considerations. “It’s unusual political times, I suppose, elections and all that. It’s disappointing,” he told Sky News. “But politics is politics and science is science and there’s a bit of a tension between them sometimes.”

Nutt clashed with Jacqui Smith when she was home secretary after he compared the 100 deaths a year from horseriding with the 30 deaths a year linked to ecstasy.

He criticised Smith’s use of the “precautionary principle” to justify her decision to reclassify cannabis and said that by erring on the side of caution politicians “distort” and “devalue” the research evidence.

“This leads us to a position where people really don’t know what the evidence is,” he said adding that the initial decision to downgrade the classification of cannabis led to a fall in the use of the drug.

…Nutt also renewed his support for reclassifying ecstasy from a class A drug to class B, saying the advisory committee “won the intellectual argument” over the issue but obviously didn’t win the decision after the home secretary vetoed the move.

Richard Garside, director of the centre for crime and justice, said Nutt’s briefing paper gave an insight into what drugs policy might look like if it was based on the research evidence rather than political or moral positioning.

Garside added: “I’m shocked and dismayed that the home secretary appears to believe that political calculation trumps honest and informed scientific opinion. The message is that when it comes to the Home Office’s relationship with the research community honest researchers should be seen but not heard.

“The home secretary’s action is a bad day for science and a bad day for the cause of evidence-informed policy making.”

It’s important to recognize that the rankings of harmfulness are based on the ill-health effects on the individual of the various drugs. If one calculates the cost to society, where you are considering the number of people who are taking these drugs you end up with a different ranking. In the United State (and perhaps other countries) in terms of public health harm to society, tobacco and alcohol far out-rank every other drug, legal or illegal, as has been well-known for decades.

Jimmy Carter adds his voice to calls for ending the drug war

In an op-ed in the New York Times, former President Jimmy Carter called on the US to implement the recommendations of the Global Commission on Drug Policy to abandon the “war on drugs.” The Commission’s primary recommendations are to substitute treatment for imprisonment for people who use drugs but do no harm to others, and to concentrate more coordinated international effort on combating violent criminal organizations rather than nonviolent, low-level offenders, Carter writes. 

Carter notes that the shift in US policy under Reagan away from treatment towards efforts to reduce foreign cultivation through armed force has resulted in a terrible escalation in drug-related violence, corruption and gross violations of human rights in a growing number of Latin American countries.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy presented the following summary of their recommendations:

  • End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others.
  • Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs (especially cannabis) to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens.
  • Ensure that a variety of treatment modalities are available – including not just methadone and buprenorphine treatment but also the heroin-assisted treatment programs that have proven successful in many European countries and Canada.
  • Apply human rights and harm reduction principles and policies both to people who use drugs as well as those involved in the lower ends of illegal drug markets such as farmers, couriers and petty sellers.

For the full report see:

Timothy Leary archives acquired by the NY Public Library

Some 350 boxes of hitherto unpublished papers from the estate of the late Timothy Leary have been purchased by the New York Public Library, and will be opened to researchers and the public after the library staff has organized and sorted the materials. Leary was somewhat of a compulsive gatherer of the  traces of his life and work, and some of the material is clearly more interesting than others. For many people this will provide in-depth access to the beginnings of the Harvard Psychedelic Research projects. Various media have been granted a preliminary view of this material.

Great thanks to Michael Horowitz for the providing the links to these articles.

New York Magazine published the following article, by Boris Kachka:

How Was Your Trip, Allen?

Acid commentaries from Timothy Leary’s just-revealed archive.
Timothy Leary has settled in at the New York Public Library. After many months of negotiation, the NYPL has acquired his complete papers—335 boxes of manuscripts, letters, photographs, and videos constituting the legacy of the psychedelic guru […]

As journalists are wont to do, there’s an emphasis on the weird and bizarre and a down-playing of the seriousness of the research. Michael Horowitz, Leary’s long-time archivist, provides a corrective commentary on the selection:

…The New York Magazine writer who covered the recent acquisition of the Timothy Leary archives by the New York Public Library seems to have a morbid interest in descriptions of the worst moments of people’s psychedelic trips…

This highly selective editing ignores the fact that, lo and behold, these same folks in the middle and later stages of their trips, and upon reflection afterwards, concluded it was one of the most uniquely insightful and glorious experiences of their lives…

Here is how the NY Times described the project, in an article by Patricia Cohen:

…When the Harvard psychologist and psychedelic explorer Timothy Leary first met the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg in 1960, he welcomed Ginsberg’s participation in the drug experiments he was conducting at the university…

…The meeting between Ginsberg and Leary marked an anchor point in the history of the 1960s drug-soaked counterculture. Leary, the credentialed purveyor of hallucinatory drugs, was suddenly invited into the center of the artistic, social and sexual avant-garde…

The following is a commentary published in The Berkeley Blog by David Presti, senior lecturer of neurobiology at UC Berkeley:

…While many students in college today do not know who he is, Timothy Leary is without a doubt one of UC Berkeley’s most famous graduates.  He received his PhD in psychology at Cal in 1950…

I wrote the following  comment on David Presti’s blog:

Thanks for this sensitively nuanced appraisal of my former colleague and dear friend Tim Leary. Your statement that “the role of Timothy Leary in the early days of contemporary psychedelic research and his impact on society during the second half of the 20th century are far from having been fully explored” is right on target. I think in retrospect his pioneering contributions will be recognized and appreciated, while his flamboyant and provocative style of self-presentation will be forgotten. More books about him are coming out all the time – the most recent being Peter Conners’ White Hand Society – The Psychedelic Partnership of Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg. He was the funniest man I’ve ever known. When asked about Nixon’s judgement of him as “the most dangerous man in America” he said “It’s true – I’ve got America surrounded.”

The Economist

Acid tests
Research into hallucinogenic drugs begins to shake off decades of taboo
THE psychedelic era of the 1960s is remembered for its music, its art and, of course, its drugs. Its science is somewhat further down the list. But before the rise of the counterculture, researchers had been studying LSD as a treatment for everything from alcoholism to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), with promising results…
Timothy-Leary-Being-LedThe Guardian (UK) published a fairly balanced review by Sue Blackmore, freelance writer, lecturer and broadcaster:


Will Timothy Leary’s papers turn us on to LSD?

…Perhaps these papers will give a glimpse of great genius arising from the clash of creative minds with powerful drugs – of insights gained and mystical peaks reached. Or perhaps they will show the horrors and mental decline of drug abuse and excess.

Possibly the most interesting will be the numerous “session records”, that is, descriptions of taking LSD, psilocybin, mescaline and other psychedelic drugs. These will presumably give a more realistic picture of what these poets, writers, professors and actors actually experienced at the time…

The New Yorker published the article about the archives by Scott Staton, which touches on some of the larger cultural-historical themes in a perceptive manner:

Turn On, Tune In, Drop by the Archives: Timothy Leary at the N.Y.P.L.

…In addition to his Harvard records and correspondence with such figures as Albert Hoffman (who first synthesized L.S.D. in 1938) and Aldous Huxley, Leary’s papers include the complete records of the various entities he established to continue his hallucinogenic studies: the International Federation for Internal Freedom, the Castalia Foundation, and the League for Spiritual Discovery. They constitute an immense amount of material to be assessed and reëvaluated by researchers today. The piles of case studies, session reports, and letters describing personal experiences in his archive are among the earliest ever recorded in such a fashion, and will offer scholars a unique perspective on the subject. Cultural historians will turn to the collection in an effort to shed greater light on this paradoxical figure who typified the acid-fueled, utopian indulgences of a far younger generation. Leary’s escapade was seriocomic—a midlife crisis that took on the dimension of a cultural revolution. In a private, lucid moment, he might have conceded this disproportion…