yesterday was full of incense orders, appointments, and rehearsals. i got up in time to go to my 10:00 appointment with the DVR lady and her business consultant (more about this later), and discovered that i had a $35 incense order. so i put the order together and was printing out the invoice when i realised that the person to whom i am sending it lives in the UK, which means that i have to figure out extra postage, and then write to them requesting that extra postage before i ship it. as of 1:30 today (more than 24 hours after i sent the request, i still haven’t got a reply from them. i hope it doesn’t turn out that they only notice when their order doesn’t come and they file a complaint with paypal… 8/ ). in any event, the result of all this was that i left about 15 minutes late for my appointment. fortunately i was able to call and let them know, so they woudln’t decide that i wasn’t there and decide not to help me at all.

i ended up getting to my appointment about 5 minutes late, but then i ended up sitting in the lobby for about 15 minutes before someone came out and told me that the appointment was actually scheduled for 10:30, not 10:00, and that the business consultant hadn’t arrived yet. 8/

finally the business consultant arrived, and she, the DVR lady and i talked about Hybrid Elephant for about 2½ hours. she ended up saying not very much that made me feel as though they actually are going to help me, including a blanket statement, which she did clarify later on, that the DVR won’t help people who are interested in self employment. she did qualify this by saying that those people who do get help from DVR with self employment are a lot more likely to be people who fit into the “niche markets” rather than the “fringe economy”, and that, on the surface, Hybrid Elephant sounded a lot more like the latter than the former. however she did say that it has very definite “niche market” potential, and that i should endeavour to work more towards developing those things, which included print brokering and musical instrument repair – neither of which are entirely out of the question, although both could use some help that i either can’t afford, or don’t know how to give them before they become anything like sustainable business material.

i had hoped to come home and take a shower before going to my 3:00 appointment with ned, but as it was i had just about enough time to come home, slam down something to eat, throw my trombone in the car and head out again. i made it to my appointment with about 15 minutes to spare, and when it got out, there wasn’t much point in driving more than i had to, so i drove up to ballard and took a nap until it was time for my BSSB rehearsal, from which i got home at 10:00, at which point i was so tired that i fell asleep on the couch.

that being said, here are a few things that i have found interesting from the past couple of days:

Cats Help Shield Owners From Heart Attack – this makes me wonder a lot about what toxoplasma gondii has, if anything, to do with it… and i, personally, can’t imagine how toxoplasma gondii could not have anything to do with it, considering how prevalent and insidious the microbe is…

The day the wiretaps go dead is about warrantless wiretapping, and how ordinary citizens can secure their communications against such travesties of democracy, while our supposedly democratically elected leaders are going about the business from a completely different angle: House Steers Its Own Path on Wiretaps. we can only hope that they will continue to be successful, if we want to keep democracy around.

finally, we have Crazy ‘Pot Will Make You Sell Your Children’ Warning from Otherwise Sane Senator, which just goes to show how far we have yet to go… 8/

Cats Help Shield Owners From Heart Attack
Study finds 30% risk reduction when felines are in the home
By E.J. Mundell

Whether it’s a frisky kitten or a tubby tabby, a cat at home could cut your heart attack risk by almost a third, a new study suggests.

The finding, from a 10-year study of more than 4,300 Americans, suggests that the stress relief pets provide humans is heart-healthy.

And dog lovers shouldn’t feel left out: Although the study found no such benefit from “man’s best friend,” that’s probably because there simply weren’t enough dog owners in the study to draw firm conclusions, the researchers said.

“For years we have known that psychological stress and anxiety are related to cardiovascular events, particularly heart attacks,” noted study senior author Dr. Adnan Qureshi, executive director of the Minnesota Stroke Institute at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

According to Qureshi, the new research shows that “essentially there is a benefit in relieving those inciting factors from pets.”

He was slated to present the findings Thursday at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference in New Orleans.

The stress-cardiovascular disease link is well-documented in scientific literature, and the affection and pleasure pets give humans is a known stress-buster. In fact, one study presented in 2005 at an American Heart Association meeting found that a single 12-minute visit with a dog improved the heart and lung function of people with heart failure.

In the new study, Qureshi’s team analyzed data on 4,435 Americans, aged 30 to 75, who took part in the federal government’s second National Health and Nutrition Examination Study, which ran from 1976-1980. According to the data in the survey, 2,435 of the participants either owned a cat or had owned a cat in the past, while the remaining 2,000 had never done so.

Qureshi’s team then tracked rates of death from all causes, including heart and stroke.

Cat owners “appeared to have a lower rate of dying from heart attacks” over 10 years of follow-up compared to feline-free folk, Qureshi said.

The magnitude of the effect — a 30 percent reduction in heart attack risk — “was a little bit surprising,” he added. “We certainly expected an effect, because we thought that there was a biologically plausible mechanism at work. But the magnitude of the effect was hard to predict.”

Qureshi — proud owner of his own feline, Ninja — stressed that dogs probably would bring people the same kind of benefit, but the numbers of dog owners in the study wasn’t big enough to count statistically.

Kathie Cole, a clinical nurse at the UCLA Medical Center and School of Nursing and the lead author of the 2005 dog-and-heart-failure study, said she wasn’t surprised by the Minnesota findings.

“I would be inclined to think that any animal that is perceived as meaningful to a person in a positive way would have health benefits,” Cole said. She pointed to multiple studies that have found that animal companions “have a calming effect in regard to mental stressors.”

Both researchers believe pet ownership should be perceived as a low-cost, low-risk medical intervention that can potentially save or extend lives, especially for the elderly. “The problem right now is that so many apartment buildings or nursing homes aren’t allowing animals in,” Cole said. “That’s the problem I see from a community standpoint.”

Qureshi agreed that cats, dogs or other pets may bring tangible medical benefits to owners.

“This opens a whole new avenue or intervention that we hadn’t looked at before, one that can be made at the public level,” he said. And unlike drugs or surgery, pet ownership “doesn’t appear to have any risks to it,” he added.

House Steers Its Own Path on Wiretaps
March 11, 2008

WASHINGTON — In continued defiance of the White House, House Democratic leaders are readying a proposal that would reject giving legal protection to the phone companies that helped in the National Security Agency’s program of wiretapping without warrants after the Sept. 11 attacks, Congressional officials said Monday.

Instead of blanket immunity, the tentative proposal would give the federal courts special authorization to hear classified evidence and decide whether the phone companies should be held liable. House Democrats have been working out the details of their proposal in the last few days, officials said, and expect to take it to the House floor for a vote on Thursday.

The Democrats’ proposal would fall far short of what the White House has been seeking.

President Bush has been insisting for months that Congress give retroactive immunity to the phone companies, calling it a vital matter of national security. The Senate gave him what he wanted in a vote last month that also broadened the government’s eavesdropping powers.

But House Democratic leaders have balked at the idea.

When the White House would not agree allow more time for negotiations, House leaders last month let expire a temporary six-month surveillance measure. The White House says the Democrats’ inaction has imperiled national security. Democrats have accused Mr. Bush of fear-mongering.

The flash point in the debate has been the question of whether to protect AT&T and other major phone companies from some 40 lawsuits pending in federal courts, which charge that the companies’ participation in the eavesdropping program violated federal privacy laws and their responsibilities to their customers.

Mr. Bush says the companies acted out of patriotism in responding to what they believed was a lawful presidential order. He has said that the lawsuits are being pursued by money-driven class-action lawyers and that they should not be allowed to threaten the financial solvency of the phone companies.

The Bush administration has shown no sign of backing down, with Kenneth L. Wainstein, the assistant attorney general for national security at the Justice Department, laying out its position most recently in an interview broadcast on Sunday on C-Span’s “Newsmakers” program. Mr. Wainstein said the phone companies had “received assurances from the government, the highest levels, that this was a lawful program and that it was authorized by the president and was necessary for our national security.”

But House Democratic leaders appear ready to give the White House a fight on national security, an issue over which they once largely conceded the field to Mr. Bush.

The tentative proposal worked out by House Democratic leaders, officials said, has three main elements.

It would impose tougher restrictions on National Security Agency eavesdropping than the Senate version does by requiring court approval before the agency’s wiretapping procedures, instead of approval after the fact. It would also reject retroactive immunity for the phone carriers.

The proposal would also create a bipartisan Congressional commission with subpoena power to issue a report on the surveillance programs, including the one approved by Mr. Bush to monitor some Americans’ international communications without warrants.

The commission would seek to find out how the program was actually run. Some Democrats complain that even now, more than two years after the program was first publicly disclosed, many questions about its operations remain unanswered.

The idea of giving federal courts specific jurisdiction to determine the immunity issue is somewhat similar to a proposal made in the Senate by Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California. That was soundly defeated by a vote of 57 to 41.

House Democratic officials say they like elements of the idea because it would allow the courts to decide the issue and answer the concerns of the phone carriers, who say they have been muzzled in defending themselves by the government’s efforts to invoke the “state secrets” privilege on the lawsuits.

“This approach allows the cases to go forward, but it also allows the companies to be unshackled to put on their cases,” said one House Democratic staff member who has been involved in the negotiations but received anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

Under the proposal, the courts would be given authority to hear classified evidence in the civil suits — perhaps on an “ex parte” basis, with only one side in attendance — to determine whether the companies are immune from liability. Officials said the proposal would most likely give that authority to a federal district court, but it is possible that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in Washington could be given that authority instead.

With some conservative Democrats in the House favoring immunity for the phone companies, Democratic leaders conceded that the proposal would face opposition even within their own party. And they said that even if it were approved by the House, it was certain to face strong opposition from the White House and probable defeat in the Senate.

“This is not the end of the road,” the House Democratic staff member acknowledged. “We’re trying to build support for the provision.”

Crazy ‘Pot Will Make You Sell Your Children’ Warning from Otherwise Sane Senator
March 12, 2008
By Ron Fisher

Here at NORML we are used to seeing some hysterical, unfounded claims made about the ills of cannabis. However, even we were shocked when a supporter from Iowa sent us Senator Tom Harkin’s (D, IA) raging, reefer madness-esque reply to his note asking him to justify why medicinal cannabis is still illegal after the second largest medical association in the country, the American College of Physicians, publicly backed rescheduling of cannabis and the protection of patients who use it for medicinal purposes. Here’s the highlights of the reply he received (full text here):

Dear XXXX:

Thank you for contacting me. I am always glad to hear from you.

Marijuana is often the drug singled out for legalization. However, marijuana is not the recreational drug that many believe it to be. In a study completed by the Drug Abuse Warning Network, the number of marijuana related emergencies has nearly reached the level of cocaine related emergencies. As this statistic indicates, marijuana use often has fatal consequences.

I was deeply troubled when I learned of another recent study which found that nearly one-third of all eighth graders had tried marijuana. As the father of two daughters, it greatly disturbs me that children are exposed to drugs at such a young age. I am concerned that legalization of this drug will only increase the number of children who gain access to its harmful effects.

The victims of the drug war are many — the small child whose parents are so addicted to illegal drugs that they sell everything including perhaps their own children to obtain a fix; the police officer’s family which must now learn to cope with the loss of their loved one as a result of a violent drug bust gone awry. These are the people I think of when I say that drugs pose a significant threat to the security of this nation.

Legalizing drugs is equivalent to declaring surrender in the war on drugs. However we may differ in tactics, I am hopeful that we can work together to fight drugs in our communities and to make Iowa drug free.

Again, thanks for sharing your views with me. Please don’t hesitate to let me know how you feel on any issue that concerns you.


Tom Harkin
United States Senator

(Emphases mine)

Okay, so setting aside the fact that Senator Harkin’s response pertains to legalization of marijuana, and not medical cannabis as the constituent asked about, let’s deconstruct some of the myths propagated in this letter.

1. “The number of marijuana related emergencies has nearly reached the level of cocaine related emergencies. As this statistic indicates, marijuana use often has fatal consequences.”

This is an untruth propagated by the drug czar’s minions. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) collects its data on ‘marijuana related emergencies’ by noting every single time someone tells their doctor that they use marijuana. So if I were to accidentally break my leg and go to the ER, and my doctor asked if I use any drugs and I say I occasionally smoke marijuana (as I should, as we should all be honest with our physicians), then this would be a ‘marijuana related emergency,’ even if I hadn’t smoked in weeks.

And fatal? Please! As Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School Lester Grinspoon wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “There is no known case of a lethal overdose; on the basis of animal models, the ratio of lethal to effective dose is estimated as 40,000 to 1. By comparision, the ratio is…between 4 and 10 to 1 for ethanol (alcohol).” Additionally, a 1994 report by the Australian National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre found that “There are no recorded cases of fatalities attributable to cannabis, and the extrapolated lethal dose from animal studies cannot be achieved by recreational users.”

2. “I was deeply troubled when I learned of another recent study which found that nearly one-third of all eighth graders had tried marijuana.”

I do not doubt that marijuana is easier to obtain for minors than alcohol, which troubles NORML as well. But this problem is precisely why prohibition is a terrible policy-there is no incentive at all for suppliers to keep their product out of the hands of children. This is in stark contrast to alcohol, whose vendors must protect their valuable liquor licenses (often costing around $100,000) by ensuring they do not sell to minors. You didn’t think they did it out of the kindness of their own heart, did you? In a regulated market, government can incentivize suppliers in this way. On the black market, we leave kids out in the cold-and the prohibitionists point to us and say, “What about the children?” Which brings us to…

3. “The victims of the drug war are many – the small child whose parents are so addicted to illegal drugs that they sell everything including perhaps their own children to obtain a fix; the police officer’s family which must now learn to cope with the loss of their loved one as a result of a violent drug bust gone awry.”

Classic drug war rhetoric-let’s avoid serious policy discussion and instead flee to hyperbolic appeals to emotion, without serious examination of how these nightmare scenarios are facilitated by current policy. First, marijuana is less addictive than current legal drugs, according to the Institute of Medicine, let alone illicit drugs one might associate with the type of dependency described above.

While marijuana generally is not associated with the same level of violence that other illicit drugs are, there is no doubt that there have been fatal incidents (some involving law enforcement) involving marijuana. The tragic aspect of this fact is that given marijuana’s proven relative safety and lower addiction rates compared with legal drugs, the prohibitionist policy towards it-sustained by the same kind of rhetoric that Senator Harkin uses-has contributed more to the violence than any other factor. Indeed, when one looks at the alcohol industry today, there is no violent crime in the production and shipment of their goods; yet were one to see the same industry in the 1920s during alcohol prohibition, one might have seen other Senators making the same empty arguments about alcohol.