Rational Debate Across the Pond: House of Lords Wants Harm Reduction

What if Congress debated the prohibition of drugs for over 2 hours, finding surprisingly that most members already favored harm reduction policies and, in some cases, regulation over criminalization?

This just happened in the U.K.’s House of Lords. On January 22nd, a debate was held (full transcript) to encourage the government to send a senior (rather than a junior) Minister to the U.N.’s upcoming conference on drug policy, and for that representative to push for harm reduction rather than blanket prohibition. (background).

The transcript shows a frank and open discussion of the negative effects of prohibition on many levels of society. At some point I’ll pull quotes, but basically members desired increased funds for treatment, expressed dismay that the U.N. treaties prevented countries from experimenting with alternative policies, recommended the U.N. officially recognize the difference between use and abuse of drugs, and agreed that the 40 year old policy has been a failure at reducing the use, and especially reducing the harms of drugs in the world. One mentioned that, even if the goal was to “sustain” the current level of drug abuse (as our Drug Czar frequently states), that that level of abuse and the societal price of prohibition is too high to continue to tolerate.

If the U.K. is not the only country that wants to get smarter rather than tougher on drugs, we may see some revolutionary reform discussion come out of the March meeting in Vienna.

Lying in your job description? You may be our Drug Czar.

The deeper you dig into the history of the Drug War the more craziness you uncover. You’d think an office in charge of drug policy on a national level would monitor science and policy outcomes and work to refine those policies over time, or in the very least not break laws spreading misinformation about drugs.

You’d be wrong! In 2003 Congressman Ron Paul found this out when he pointed out that it’s illegal for the ONDCP to propagandize untruths about marijuana, especially in attempt to lobby against legislation (typically for its medicinal use). The General Accounting Office’s response a year later? Sure it’s illegal, but technically not against state legislation! And since the drug czar’s job description includes doing “such actions as necessary” to oppose legalization attempts of any kind, why look into the misinformation claim at all.

If you’re curious to know what kind of lies come out of this office, I covered those of drug czar John Walters in detail on StopTheDrugWar.org. His writing is practically a guide for constructing logical fallacies.

Skate 2 First Impressions

The Bad

They tampered with the most important element of the game: the controls. The Flick It moves of Skate 1 all work identically, but the feel is definitely different. I spent countless hours perfecting a realistic style in S1, and even after 3 hours or so of S2 I still feel like I’m starting over.

The replay editor seems tremendously more complex and requires more buttons to get anything done. When you’re trying to film a line in S1 it’s nice to be able to jump in and review different angles immediately; the S2 editor requires you to enter a clip editor and go through another menu to select, adjust, and confirm every angle. Getting back to skating requires at least one or two more button presses than in S1.

The new default camera angle blocks your view less, but looks jerky and much less handheld. And why the “extreme” visual and sound effects whenever you make a big drop, get a ton of speed, or fall? This all makes the game look more cartoonish like the later THPS games, and gets tiring quick when you’re trying a line over and over.

This is a minor gripe, but the movable objects are squeeky clean and almost glowing, ruining an otherwise beautifully grimy environment. I don’t know why they have to stand out because there seems to be only a half-dozen different objects. Having to guess what isn’t bolted down would be a lot more fun.

The Good

It may be just the novelty, but new San Van seems enormous and like a real city that grew over many decades without city planning. Knowing the city in S1 pretty well, skating around is almost an eerie experience, like 50 years have passed and entire city blocks have been replaced. Sometimes you can see the seams where new and old coexist. Major streets dead end in new buildings, other areas have been left in blight with graffiti and handrails bent from skating. The sound of the city is nearly inescapable. If new San Van were the only new thing in S2 it would be worth it.

Returning to a session marker is usually instantaneous, and when there is a wait it’s never as long as in S1. Quick access to the trick guide is handy, as is being able to walk up steps (even if it is pretty glitchy). The graphics seem a little more detailed, but I’m playing on a 10″ SD set; I don’t really care. I like the songs so far.

Verdict @ 3 Hours

As I suspected, I should’ve waited for the price drop. S1 is so good that I’m still not anywhere close to tired of it, and its more minimal replay editor lets me quickly stockpile footage on the PC with minimal tinkering. I feared even a slight tampering of the controls would ruin S2 for me, and it kinda did, but I have a feeling the new replay editor will be even more of a drag over time.

New Think of the Children argument

Daniel Rodriguez said there’s no such thing as a healthy discussion about legalizing drugs because young people take their cues from adult conversation.

“There are things I believe should not be open for discussion, and this is one of them,” he said. [El Paso Newspaper Tree]

Thank goodness we now have more excuses to stifle discussion on a subject. It’s not even laws that might send messages to children (kids read statutes), but even discussion of them (kids watch C-Span).

El Paso (right across the border from this catastrophe) has been the center of the drug prohibition debate when their city council unanimously voted to add a few words to a resolution asking for, among other things, an “honest open national debate on ending the prohibition on narcotics.” But a request for debate in a city publication was evidently too radical, as state representatives swooped down to threaten the city’s future for federal funding.

Our real Message to Children about drugs?

Being an adult means drinking alcohol.

Youth exposure to alcohol advertising on television has risen by 38% since the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth began monitoring this exposure in 2001. From 2001 to 2007, the number of alcohol advertisements seen in a year by the average television-watching 12-to-20-year-old increased from 216 to 301. In 2007, approximately one out of every five alcohol advertisements was placed on programming that youth ages 12 to 20 were more likely per capita to see than adults of the legal drinking age. Almost all of these placements were on cable television, where distilled spirits companies in particular have dramatically increased their alcohol advertising in the past seven years.

Did you know alcohol advertising is one of those “self-regulated” industries? It was news to me. No bother, I’m sure with alcohol companies regulating what messages are sent to kids, we’re well on our way to a drug-free culture.

Secure Browsing 101

Dad forwarded an e-mail that tried to simplify the difference between HTTP and HTTPS and I wanted to add a bit to that.

Think of HTTPS as a secure telephone line

No one can eavesdrop, but don’t assume HTTPS is “secure” unless you know who’s on the other end. Evil and good-but-poorly-managed web sites can use HTTPS just as easily as Amazon.

E.g. a phishing e-mail could tell you to “login to eBay” at: https://ebay.securelogin.ru/. That URL is HTTPS, but is still designed to fool you. Always check the domain!

Public WiFi Networks

Most wifi networks in public places (and, sadly, in homes) are not password protected and therefore highly insecure. Any information (passwords, URLs) that travel over HTTP in these locations can be trivially captured by anyone with a laptop; assume that some kid sitting at Starbucks can see anything you do over HTTP. Don’t sign in to sites over HTTP and, in fact, if you’re already logged in, log out out of HTTP sites before you browse them.

By the way, please, please, put a password on your wireless network at home. Otherwise the kid at Starbucks can easily park next door and spy on you from his car.

Webmail: Use Gmail or check it at home

As of today, Gmail is the only web-based e-mail site that allows all operations over HTTPS (as long as you use the HTTPS URL). Yahoo! and the others log you in over HTTPS, but your viewed and composed messages are sent over HTTP. Don’t view or send e-mail with sensitive info on public wifi networks (unless you’re on secure Gmail). The same goes for messages sent within social networks like MySpace and Facebook. If you’re at Starbucks, assume someone else can read everything you can.

Since many web accounts are tied to your e-mail, the security of your e-mail account should be your top priority. Also consider a strong and unique password that you don’t use on any other site.

On a wired connection, HTTP is mostly safe

Since HTTP is not encrypted, a “man-in-the-middle” could theoretically see you browsing just like at Starbucks, but these are so rare that no one I know has ever heard of one occurring in real life. It’s best practice for sites to use HTTPS for all sensitive operations like signing in, but I don’t fret it when my connection is wired and my home wifi is password-protected.

This is the tip of the web security iceberg, but these practices are essential in my opinion.

Effective Drug Warrior Posturing 101

When a policy doesn’t work no matter how many dollars and officers you throw at it, how do you keep the lights on and the citizens engaged?

Well, histrionics, demonization, war propagandizing, and hysteria have worked wonders in the past. Let’s listen to the President of the Philippines give them a shot:

… she ordered an “all-out war, an unyielding and unrelenting war against illegal drugs and their devil merchants.”

This is a great start. With “unrelenting” in there you make it clear the policy can never be altered. With so many people critical of the war, you can’t have people thinking they can just end it!

“A country awash with illegal drugs is a country compromised, its law-and-order institutions tainted and corrupted.” … “No other criminal activity does a better and faster job of tearing apart the social and security fabric of a nation than the trade of illegal drugs”

Good use of fear mongering with a dose of hysteria.

… calling on her fellow Filipinos “not to allow this menace to spread its tentacles, ruin our youth, and gnaw on the integrity of our law-enforcement institutions and our judicial systems.”

Tentacles, integrity-gnawing teeth; you’ve clearly got a demon. There’s no time for studying policy efficacy. Get a gun.

… she declared the all-out war because “governments that delay action against illegal drugs, or regard it as a routine police matter, do so at their own peril.”

Wow, blaming other governments for the failure and issuing veiled threats. She must have studied how we talk to Canada anytime they mention wanting to decriminalize marijuana.

The country’s anti-drugs agency, however, has branded the report [citing alarming use statistics] “unfair,” and said there were some errors in the data which were made as the basis of the report.

She didn’t address this, but here’s a suggestion: “In war you don’t waste time checking errors. Now get out there and do the same thing you’ve been doing for years, but this time really do it! One other thing: we can’t win a war without supporting the troops so we’ll be needing more tax dollars.”

Oustanding job overall, though she did fail to attack the credibility of policy opponents. If short on time, “they’re all stoners” is useful, but our outgoing drug czar John Walters recently offered this more nuanced technique:

Many of these [medical marijuana proponents] care little for the actual suffering and pain of others, but are instead using it to advance their own pro-drug agenda. [link]

Drug policy reformers are both pro-drugs and don’t care about people’s suffering. That’s a pro move.

Avoiding the replay bug in EA Skate 1

Depending on how you navigate through the menus to get to the video replays, the game (and entire Xbox360) will tend to lock up in the waiting screens, requiring a manual reset on the console. Usually this is before you can view even 3 or 4 replays.

Now that I’m capturing a ton of replays on my PC I had to figure away around this, and here it is:

Do NOT choose the Media menu from the front menu.

  1. Enter Freeskate with any options and any starting location.
  2. Use the white back button [left-facing triangle] to pull up the backpack.
  3. Enter the Live option (the sidekick).
  4. Use the triggers to move to the Media section and load your replay.
  5. After leaving a replay with the B button, use the triggers to return to the media section (don’t back out all the way to the game or the front menu).

BTW, latest EA skate video hotness: Attack! (password: “attack”).

Minify getting out there

Interest in Minify seems to be picking up:

Any ideas on how to make it better?

40 Saves Lives

Suppose the federal government were to cap nationwide speed limits at 40 m.p.h. with the honorable goal of greatly reducing crash fatalities. They reason that being a little late is small price to pay for saving lives, and the public reluctantly agrees. Continue reading