Thursday, February 22, 2007

Government sued for marijuana lies

Americans for Safe Access has just filed a lawsuit against the Dept of Health and Human Services over medical marijuana.

The Oakland-based organization seeks to stop the government from using taxpayer money to spread information about marijuana that contradicts current science.

“The FDA position on medical cannabis is incorrect, dishonest and a flagrant violation of laws requiring the government to base policy on sound science,” said Joe Elford, chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access.

The latest piece of a growing mountain of evidence about marijuana came just last week in a study conducted at UC San Francisco and published in the journal Neurology. The study found a dramatic reduction in pain for HIV patients who medicated with marijuana.

Prohibitionists attempt to punch holes in these studies by claiming everything from researcher bias to a flawed methodology. It is their cynicism that blinds them to the realities of cannabis as medicine. Before people started popping aspirin for pain around 1900, cannabis was America’s #1 painkiller. It was the active ingredient in over 60% of painkillers sold in the United States.

The idea that medical marijuana is just a Trojan horse for people wanting to get high obviously cannot be correct. Long before Americans were getting stoned, they were using cannabis as medicine every day.

The government is flatly lying about marijuana having no medical use. Many have been pointing this out privately for years. Today, Americans for Safe Access did something to try to fix the situation. They filed suit.

Having public policy that is grounded in fact and not merely for sale is in the best interest of everyone – marijuana user or not. Americans for Safe Access is working hard to force change on a failed and corrupt government policy and they deserve our help.

Scientifically challenged: "200 million Americans cannot read a simple story in the New York Times science section… or understand even the basics of D

Let’s start by focusing on the positive. In just 17 years, over 50 million people have been added to the rolls of Americans who can understand a newspaper story about science or technology, according to findings presented last weekend at the American Academy for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in San Francisco.

Michigan State University political scientist Jon D. Miller, who conducted the study, attributed some of the increase in science literacy to colleges, many of which in recent years have required that students take at least one science course. Miller says people have also added to their understanding through informal learning: reading articles and watching science reports on television.

Okay, now let’s talk (dare I say rant?) about the 200 million Americans out there who cannot read a simple story in, say, Technology Review or the New York Times science section and understand even the basics of DNA or microchips or global warming.

This level of science illiteracy may explain why over 40 percent of Americans do not believe in evolution and about 20 percent, when asked if the earth orbits the sun or vice versa, say it’s the sun that does the orbiting--placing these people in the same camp as the Inquisition that punished Galileo almost 400 years ago. It also explains the extraordinary disconnect between scientists and much of the public over issues the scientists think were settled long ago--never mind newer discoveries and research on topics such as the use of chimeras to study cancer, or pills that may extend life span by 30 or 40 percent.

As Carl Sagan eloquently wrote in The Demon-Haunted World, ignorance reigns in our society at a moment when science is on the cusp of doing amazing and wonderful things, but also dangerous things. Ignorance, said Sagan, is not an option.

Indeed, given that we live in a culture based on science and technology, this situation is dangerous. It conjures the specter of a society in which a cadre of elites knows and understands the essentials of the science that underpins our civilization, while everyone else uses and depends on that science without having a clue. This scenario is troubling in a democracy that assumes a baseline of citizen knowledge. The outcome could be that the illiterates become so fearful of science and technology, so resentful of the exalted position of the elites, that they try to slow down the progress of science, or stop it altogether. Or the opposite could happen: the scientifically elite may grow frustrated with the illiterates and try to co-opt or even control them.

The forces of ignorance have squelched science across history, from the mob in ancient Alexandria, which chased the astronomer Aristarchus out of town for suggesting that the earth moved around the sun, to the present restrictions on federal funding for embryonic-stem-cell research.

Elites’ exploiting their scientific knowledge for power is also not new. Mayan elites, for instance, used their extraordinary knowledge of mathematics, engineering, and astronomy to build great cities and temples--and sumptuous palaces for themselves--and to awe and control the masses through a religion that included ripping the hearts out of sacrificial victims. Europeans during the colonial era leveraged their advanced guns and ships into global empires at the expense of so-called “ignorant savages.”

One of Miller’s findings that may surprise many Americans is that Europeans and Japanese actually rate slightly lower in science literacy. To be sure, these same populations also have a much higher percentage of people who accept evolution and other basic scientific theories. America’s large population of conservative religious believers may be one reason for this discrepancy, although clearly there are hundreds of millions of people in the developed world who need education.

Perhaps we should launch a scientific literacy campaign like the mid-20th-century drive that nearly tripled the rate of basic literacy worldwide. The question is, does the public really want to know how gadgets run and how organisms work? And are scientists and those who control scientific knowledge willing to share--that is, to take the time, and perhaps give up some of their influence and access to knowledge?

In other words, is this seemingly global dilemma of science illiteracy fixable or not?

The Top Ten Most Misunderstood Movies Ever Made

We’re not talking about abstract, BS French art films or something. We’re talking Pulp Fiction, The Godfather, Scarface. The kind of movies that you assume you understand on a thematic level, but you really don’t. You need someone to clear things up for you: that’s why we’re here.

10. Pulp Fiction

What everyone thinks the message is: Tarantino values extreme violence and immoral, criminal characters

What it actually is: A selfish, violent life is one not worth living, and redemption is possible for anyone who wants it badly enough.

Most people who truly appreciate Pulp Fiction easily understand its message, but most of the twitchy, conservative, older generation who decried its violence and profanity completely missed the point. It’s easy to look at Pulp Fiction’s best scenes of violence and assume that Tarantino is glorifying the gangster lifestyle, until you consider that the only characters who end up living are the ones who (in some way or another) renounce their selfish ways and redeem themselves.
Plus, how can anyone watch Marcellus Wallace get anally raped and think that it glorifies the life of a criminal?

9. Jarhead

What everyone thinks the message is: War is really good! OR: War is really bad!

What it actually is: Respect your Marines.

Jarhead is a movie where you more or less get from it what you bring to it. If you are vehemently pro or anti-war, Jarhead will do nothing to change your mind in that respect. While the trailer made it seem like a modern Apocalypse Now – the gas mask football sequence seems a lot cooler when taken out of context – Jarhead strives only to tell the true story of what it it’s like to be a Marine. In this case, it involved a lot of waiting, masturbating, and getting cheated on by your girlfriend.

Kind of like high school.

8. Little Miss Sunshine

What everyone thinks the message is: Life sucks ass!

What it actually is: Life rules!

I didn’t say you had to agree with the true moral of every movie, especially considering how sappy and mainstream the otherwise-adequate Little Miss Sunshine is, but them’s the breaks.

Despite cramming as much forced familial dysfunction and philosophical cynicism as humanly possible into the first 90% of the movie, the writers make a complete 180 at the film’s climax and decide that, despite the fact that one of the characters is dead and the rest have had their lives ruined in literally every way conceivable, that life is actually pretty neat!

Even if your gay lover left you for someone who now has your job, and even if you can’t realize your dream of becoming a jet pilot due to biological defects beyond your control, and even if your self-help program didn’t sell (thus leaving you nearly bankrupt with two kids to support), everything can be okay if you dance!

If the movie had gone on for another week, most of the main characters would have committed suicide out of depression.

7. Raging Bull

What everyone thinks the message is: Determination and unwillingness to compromise can lead you to the top.

What it actually is: Don’t be an asshole.

In talking about Raging Bull, Scorsese frequently mentions La Strada, an old film of director Frederico Fellini. In it, an asshole strongman befriends a kind young girl, and then abandons her on the road where she later dies. Too late, the strongman realizes he’s made a horrendous mistake. THAT, in essence, is what Raging Bull is about.

If you have a friend who claims to be knowledgeable about movies, ask him what Raging Bull is about. If he says “it’s about the rise and fall of a boxer,” or if he talks about how the best part of the movie is the well-choreographed boxing scenes, then he’s an idiot and you should kick him in the penis.

If he says “it’s about a violent boxer whose intensity in the ring propels him to stardom, but whose same intensity in his private life drives away everyone he loves,” then you’re probably talking to me. In which case, you should probably give me money for my time.

6. Donnie Darko

What everyone thinks the message is: Donnie goes back in time and intentionally kills himself at the end, thus preventing all of the problems he causes later in life.

What it actually is: Donnie rips the engine off his mother’s plane and throws it through the time vortex making his death not an intentional desire to prevent his existence but rather a necessity in order for him to be sent to heaven and what the goddamn shit am I talking about?

Perhaps the greatest misunderstanding about Donnie Darko’s theme is the assumption that there is any theme at all. While emos have clutched onto this movie like their own cinematic Bible, and while it is an entertaining flick in its own right, a hard truth must be faced: if you watch the movie, and just the movie, and you think you’ve understood the plot, you are wrong. Very large, very important information pertaining to the movie is, for some reason, only available on the Donnie Darko website (which is structured more like an interactive game than a movie webpage).

Now, does that make the flick any less entertaining or weird or fun? No. But it does make whatever standalone message you thought you gleaned from the flick completely null and void.

5. The Searchers

What everyone thinks the message is: Nothing can break the bond between family, or the determination of one man’s love for his niece.

What it actually is: John Wayne hates himself some Injuns.

If you haven’t seen The Searchers in a really long time, you’ll probably remember it as a really great adventure story about some evil Indians and a heroic ex-soldier. And while it is a great adventure story, and a good movie in its own right, that’s not really what it’s about.

John Wayne, a racist ex-Confederate soldier, tracks down his kidnapped niece more out of hatred for Injuns than love for the girl. After finding out that she has become assimilated into their culture, Wayne seriously considers murdering her (against the wishes of his part-Indian nephew, who he pretty much treats like shit for the entire movie).

You may also remember a great tracking shot of Wayne riding through an Indian camp, pistols blazing in both hands. You may not remember the part right afterward where he grabs the incapacitated Indian Chief and then scalps him for his own enjoyment.

4. Casablanca

What everyone thinks the message is: Love conquers all, and saves the good guys from the harshness of war.

What it actually is: Love is a waste of time. Join the peace corps.

Rick makes Ilsa leave with Laszlo at the end of the movie. Period.

Everybody quotes the “you’ll regret it, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life” speech as if it was the most romantic thing in the world, but Bogie’s essentially telling Ingrid Bergman to get the fuck out while she still can. He figured she’d be better off as a freedom fighter in France than Humphrey’s bitch in Casablanca.

And yeah, his desire for her to have a better life is kinda sweet, but it’s hardly romantic. Romance would have been if he’d boarded the plane with her, instead of staying behind with the gay French cop and the dead German.

3. The Godfather

What everyone thinks the message is: The Mob values family above all else.

What it actually is: Violence is a vicious, inescapable cycle.

Hey, society, I’ve got an idea. Let’s ignore all the actual events of the Godfather and only quote certain things out of context! Like when Brando says that “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man”!

Ignoring, of course, the fact that Michael Corleone – who is initially the most levelheaded of the Corleone children – has no qualms whatsoever about killing his repentant brother-in-law Carlo or his misunderstanding, borderline-retarded brother Fredo. The whole point of all of the flashbacks in The Godfather Part II was to show that violence begets more violence: a crime lord kills Vito’s family, Vito joins the mob so he can go back and kill the crime lord, and his children have to inherit his legacy of violence (which is why Michael starts out as an upstanding marine and ends up claiming to renounce Satan at his nephew’s baptism while simultaneously killing the fuck out of the heads of the four other families).

Although, he DOES, technically, “spend time” with his family members. Right before he, you know. Kills them.

2. Gone With The Wind

What everyone thinks the message is: Nothing can stop love, or the will to survive.

What it actually is: Black people is dumb. The South shall rise again!

People heralded Hattie McDaniel’s Best Supporting Oscar win as a watershed moment in motion picture history: a moment that marked a more intelligent, more progressive Hollywood.

Too bad they gave her the award for playing a stupid, unrealistically kind slave woman.

Most of the troubles that Scarlett O’Hara faces in Gone With The Wind come from one of three sources: (1) The Civil War, (2) Postwar Carpetbaggers/Greedy Union Soldiers, and (3) Clark Gable’s dick. Two of these three problems go more or less unrecognized and unremembered in modern society.

While the film is pretty damn good, and does a fantastic job of developing the two leads (over the course of the movie, Scarlett goes from “prissy Southern bitch” to “prissy Southern bitch who doesn’t take shit from anyone”), nobody seems to remember the scene in which the Evil Union Soldier tries to rape Scarlett, forcing her to shoot him in self-defense. Or how grateful Mammy is to have such a kind, caring massuh in Miss Scawlett.

Appreciate the on-again-off-again-on-again relationship between Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara all you like, just don’t forget that biggest problems these sympathetic, well-drawn characters have to deal with all come from evil men in blue uniforms who believed blacks should be free.

1. Scarface

What everyone thinks the message is: Tony Montana is awesome!

What it actually is: No, he isn’t!

If there is any cultural phenomenon more widespread or more infuriating than the wholesale misunderstanding of Scarface by the gangster rap community, I don’t know what it is. Either every copy of Scarface in the ghetto has the last half of the movie edited out, or America is dumber than anyone could have ever truly considered.

Wannabe gangstas(z) look at Tony Montana’s rise, and they think, “That’s me. He’s uncompromising, he’s ambitious, he’s intelligent, and he’s got morals. He is a product of his environment, but he’s made the most out of it and is a relative hero amongst villains.”

Then they look at Tony Montana’s fall, where he abandons his mother, loses Michelle Pfieffer, fucking murders his best friend, involuntarily gets his sister shot, and then gets blown in half by a shotgun, they think, “Let’s watch the first half again.”

Honestly, how ridiculous a world do we live in where an entire generational subgroup admires the aesthetics of a drug-fueled gangster flick, but not its overall message?

Not to mention, this general attitude led to the creation of the alternate-reality Scarface video game, where Tony survives the shootout.

But let’s not think about that right now.