Thursday, January 20, 2011

Peter Hitchens is Not Happy

Peter Hitchens, the less reasonable writer in the Hitchens family, is not happy with my discussion of his badly done article in the Mail. I have posted his comments in the comment section, but will do so here as well, along with a reply. His material will be color coded and indented so you know it is Mr. Hitchens speaking, not I. None of his comments will be deleted or edited by me.
This account misrepresents my position in a number of ways. Those open-minded persons wishing to see how it does so should follow the link to the original article (which was published in the Mail on Sunday, a separate newspaper from the Daily Mail, though we share a website, a library and a switchboard).

This blog, of course, provided a direct link for the very purpose of encouraging people to check out the source. I don't think they will be any more impressed than I was, and judging from comments posted on the Mail website, it appears many readers of the article share my lack of enthusiasm.

As for the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday being separate papers, that is only true in that different people work on the editions. No staff at a paper can do the work 7 days per week. So many newspapers have a Sunday edition which is put out using other staffers. Mr. Hitchens says they are separate but "share a website, a library and a switchboard." True, they do share those things. They also share the same mailing address, implying the same office building and are also owned by the exact same company. I haven't investigated it, but I would suspect the two are printed in the same place, distributed through the same network, using the same trucks. Certainly the Mail website says that if you wish to place an ad in the paper you have to contact the same address for both as well. In addition subscriptions can be placed for both editions together. The only real difference is that different people work on the different editions and the one is called The Daily Mail and the other the The Mail on Sunday. That the Sunday paper is called "The Mail on Sunday" is meant, by the owners, to convey that it is a different edition of the same newspaper.
I concede and regret the error over Pima the city versus Pima, the county.
My point was that Mr. Hitchens should have fact-checked his article BEFORE publishing it. He clearly did not, otherwise such an obvious error should have been noticed. Given that everyone was speaking of the "Tuscon shooting" it is hard to comprehend how he could think that the shooting took place in the town of Pima. And his point was that "Pima" passed this ordinance on medical marijuana. But Pima County did not. So that entire point is factually wrong. Mr. Hitchens did not reply regarding why he accused the town of Pima of being "liberal" when they passed an ordinance which they were obliged to pass because of the voters of the state. You can't ascribe motive (being liberal) when one is required to perform in a certain way. That's like saying that all taxpayers approve of Obama because they pay taxes—the state doesn't give them a choice. And given the number of prominent conservatives who have favored legalization of marijuana it is a gross stereotype to suppose such a move is automatically liberal.
My point, that the USA's law enforcement authorities (like those in Britain) no longer take cannabis possession seriously is not invalidated.
I have to wonder if Mr. Hitchens actually read my article. At the end I reported on numerous people who had their homes violently attacked by gangs of cops using military gear, as if they were invading some hostile nation. For what reason? Marijuana possession. I'm sorry, but when SWAT teams attack homes, shoot family pets, "accidentally" kill innocent people, all in the name of stamping out marijuana use, that is about as SERIOUS as one can get. Yes, my article means that Hitchens' point is "invalidated." But here are some other numbers that invalidate his claims.

The Department of Justice says, that in 2007, 1,841,182 people were arrested for drugs. Of those marijuana arrests were 47.4% of the total. That is approximately 829,600 people. To put that in perspective, this is 1.6 people every minute of every hour or every day of every day of the year including holidays. Some 2,200 people per day are arrested for marijuana, or one person every 38 seconds, and Hitchens claims that law enforcement "no longer take cannabis possession seriously." Between 12 and 13 percent of all federal prisoners are incarcerated for marijuana, at a cost of over $1 billion per year. That doesn't include the cost of trials, prosecutions and law enforcement. American spends more per year to wipe out marijuana use than some countries have in their entire budget. Of those arrested some 88% were charged only with possession, not distribution.

So, we have people killed in marijuana raids, we have hundreds of thousands of people arrested each year for marijuana and hundreds of thousands imprisoned for it, and Mr. Hitchens wants to pretend that is not a serious attempt to stamp out marijuana. If armed SWAT teams, Drug Warriors killing non violent people, and the arrest and imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of people, is not an "serious" attempt, what would be? I cringe to think of the answer
Arizona's medical marijuana vote was not a sudden leap from iron-jawed prohibition to total liberalism, but part of a long incremental change, and it was during that period of change that Loughner was raised. The Arizona authorities effectively let him off with a 'diversion programme' after catching him in circumstances which would once have led to prosecution. This is not disputed.
Public opinion has shifted regarding marijuana use, that is clear. But the number of arrests for marijuana possession have followed a fairly steady line, increasing on average from year to year. In 1992 there were 342,000 such arrests, by 1997 it was 695,000, by 2001 it was 724,000, by 2007 it was almost 830,000. Notice a trend? Mr. Hitchens doesn't. In fact, he thinks the trend is going in the opposite direction than the actual arrest records would indicate.

Mr. Hitchens also seems to have problems telling the difference between correlation and causation. He never offers one shred of evidence that Loughner went insane because he had smoked pot. That Loughner was "raised" during a period when public attitudes toward pot changed means nothing unless conclusive proof is offered that Loughner killed because he smoked pot. So far, other than wishing it to be the case, Mr. Hitchens, and those using the same argument, have not offered any evidence for that claim. The only "evidence" for this case is the assertion that Loughner is grinning, so clearly his mind is not working ,and obviously pot must be the reason. I would lay a bet it is the schizophrenia that is the problem, not the pot.

Given the paranoid delusions of schizophrenics—and I should note I was once friends with someone who was seriously schizo and was called by his wife when he went off his meds, to try to help him—there is no indication that imprisoning Loughner for a year or two on pot charges would have prevented his attack. Loughner believed the government was out to get him (which is not necessarily a sign of insanity given what governments do). Having government agents arrest him, take him to a government court, and imprison him in a government jail, would not exactly dissuade Loughner of his belief. If anything it would have fed his paranoia. Certainly arresting a schizophrenic for pot use does absolutely nothing to treat his schizophrenia, which is the real underlying cause of the attack, in my opinion.

Yes, Loughner was raised during a period when attitudes toward pot changed. He was also raised during a period when attitudes towards gay marriage has shifted even more dramatically. That doesn't mean gay marriage caused him to kill.
The accusation of plagiarism is mistaken ( I had never heard of the person whose idea I am alleged to have stolen until today. It is not hard to see how anyone, on viewing the photograph of Loughner smiling after he had allegedly perpetrated a mass murder and as he faced the prospect of execution, might have concluded that he had lost his reason).
Actually I was careful to NOT make a accusation of plagiarism. I noted that Hitchens' article "seems to be a rewrite of someone else's article on the same topic." The grin phrase was not the only similarity. Whether that is coincidence is not something I can judge. But the arguments and logic are the same and I addressed both of them for that reason. Given Kincaid printed his article on a major Right-wing website, it is fair to think the arguments might have been borrowed but I never used the term plagiarism, which implied more than borrowing arguments. If not borrowed it just goes to prove that bad minds think alike.
The expression' cannabis victim' refers to my belief that many young people are given a false idea of the dangers of this substance, thanks to the powerful propaganda of the pro-dope lobby (which ranges from rock music lyricis, and the behaviour of rock stars, to making light of the breaking of the anti-cannabis , in movies such as 'It's Complicated', 'medical marijuana' (described by Keith Stroup of NORML as a 'red herring to get Pot a good name') , to sites such as this ).

That is a minor point actually, given the major points I did raise, but I'll address it. The cult of victimology uses the term "victim" loosely and imprecisely. It is a tool of political manipulation meant to exonerate individuals of responsibility and typically blame an inanimate object or something like "society" for the actions. A rapist can be called a "victim of pornography" by people who want to ban porn. A criminal tries to claim he was a victim of racism and thus had to act violently. A killer can be called a "victim of the gun culture." As for the "false idea of the dangers" of marijuana that is pretty much nonsense. The physical dangers are low, especially when compared to alcohol. Second, even if the physical danger were high individuals ought to be sovereign over their own bodies and be allowed to take whatever risks they wish. Given that I think individuals have the right to take their own life (though I would not necessarily agree with their choice) then anything else they do with their body is pretty much none of my business or Mr. Hitchens' business either.

I don't believe Mr. Hitchens was hired to be Nanny. The problem with statists like Nanny Hitchens is that, unlike real nannies, they use violence to get their way. The policies Mr. Hitchens wants in place, against people who are mostly peaceful, non-violent and who haven't violated the rights of others, requires that very violent action be taken. Armed SWAT teams assaulting private homes are the result of the nanny statism that Mr. Hitchens espouses.

I do not think marijuana is totally harmless. I personally believe that anything that impairs one's ability to think clearly and rationally, is a bad idea. I value reason. I have never used marijuana and never will. I have also never used any substance to get high including alcohol. When it comes to booze I can leave it, and almost always do. I've had one sip of beer in my life and disliked it. I had wine at dinners—usually when no other drink was offered. I had maybe three gin and tonics in my entire life, but never finished a whole one in one sitting, and that's it. I am not a prohibitionist and abstain for two reasons: one is that I dislike anything that might interfere with thinking and the other is that I don't think alcohol tastes good.

Mr. Hitchens prefers booze. I don't. He argues that drug should be legal because it "can be consumed safely with no harm to the person or others (except in the case of driving)." Pot can be consumed with no harm to the person or others. And driving is not the only way alcohol use can harm others. I hesitate to say it, because it is so deeply personal and disturbing, but as a child I witnessed the drunken fists of my father knocking my mother around the house. I experienced those fist myself as just a small boy. Sober he seemed apologetic, though he never apologized. I have the mental wounds to this day. And I saw the exact same thing with my grandfather. The idea that, other than driving, alcohol has no impact is absurd. People over-consume alcohol all the time and they act badly when they do. Domestic violence and alcohol consumption are strongly linked. I still wouldn't prohibit alcohol use per se.

Harm done to the self is no one else's business, harm done to others is. I believe that anyone who uses a substance that disrupts their thinking should be held fully liable for any actions they commit in that state. Being drunk or high should not be a mitigating circumstance.

And there is something seriously wrong with Mr. Hitchens' policy considering that the "solution" to pot use is worse than the problem itself. Yes, there are dangers to pot use, albeit minor ones in my opinion. But there are greater dangers in the war on drugs. I'd rather have six potheads on my front lawn than six Drug Warriors any day. I'd be a lot safer.

They do themselves grave and irreversible damage as a result. They are therefore victims to some extent, and readers of this site may wish to ponder on who, in that case, are the perpetrators.

Asserting "grave and irreversible damage" does not prove "grave and irreversible damage." Given the prevalence of pot use in society we all have known large numbers of people who smoked pot. That is the problem the Drug Warriors have. Because we have known so many people who have used the drug, we also have seen the impact. And for most, the impact is minimal and unapparent. Marijuana use jumped into the news when I was in grade school and I've watched the effects for several decades. The "damage" has bfar less than the damage caused by the war on drugs. A solution is only a solution if it improves the situation, not if it makes things worse.

While these victims can of course be blamed for breaking the law, it is a conspicuously unenforced law, and much of modern culture (see above) suggests that cannabis is harmless and acceptable. Indeed, places such as this site irresponsibly mock the warnings of people such as myself.

Repeating that the law is "conspicuously unenforced" doesn't make it so. See my above remarks to this false claim. He is merely repeating what he said earlier and it was false the first time, so repeating it doesn't make it any less false.

I responsibly mock people such as Mr. Hitchens, in spite of what respect I have for his brother (despite differences of opinion on many issues. I can say that I certainly enjoy conversations with Christopher more than correspondence with Peter). But mocking the hysterical, exaggerated fear-mongering that dominates so many causes is actually responsible and necessary. Liberty is under assault and the weapon of choice by statists of the Left and the Right is to exaggerate risk and induce fear. Whether it is the "planet is dying," "stranger danger," vaccines, or any other panic d'jour, these tactucs need to be exposed. Mr. Hitchens realizes the threat of fear-mongering when it comes to security, yet he indulges in the same tactic on issues that concern him.

Unscrupulous politicians and lobby groups use fear to try to stampede the public into making rash decisions. The results are almost always bad. When people exaggerate dangers to comedic levels, such as Mr. Hitchens does with marijuana, then laughter or ridicule is appropriate. Just because one is inadvertently funny doesn't mean the audience shouldn't laugh.
Yet cases of young people descending into lifelong mental illness after youthful cannabis use are increasingly common (a particularly sad case of this is known to me personally) , and it is as irresponsible to ignore these correlations as it was of Big Tobacco, and of smokers, to likewise ignore the early research of Richard Doll into the connection between cigarettes and lung cancer.
I addressed the issue of whether there is evidence that young people are "descending into lifelong mental illness," something coincidentally claimed by both Kincaid and Hitchens. The evidence is scant and trends seem to indicate the contrary. Let's run with the tobacco/cancer analogy. As tobacco use increased the incidence of lung cancer increased as well, rather substantially in fact. Increased use of tobacco did lead to increased incidents of lung cancer. But, with the pot/schizophrenia claim no such trend has been seen. Pot use has increased dramatically in the last fifty years, but the number of schizophrenics, as a percentage of the population, has NOT increased, it has either remained steady or slightly declined.

Another indication that the link is non-existent is provided by They note that the percentage of people inflicted "is about .5% to 1 percent of the population." And they also note that these rates "are generally similar from country to country." That should not be the case if there is a link between marijuana consumption of schizophrenia. The rates should be higher in countries with higher levels of pot consumption and lower in countries with lower levels of pot consumption. That there is no difference implies, yet again, that the link between pot and schizophrenia does not exist.

What evidence there is shows a dramatically increased risk of schizophrenia related to genetics. The most the prohibitionists claim is that pot use doubles the risk. Yet, being the nephew of a schizophrenic quadruples your risk, being the brother of one increases you chances nine fold, being the twin brother increases it 17 fold, and being an identical twin increased it 48 fold. The evidence is strong that genetics, not marijuana, is behind schizophrenia.
Those who insisted that correlation did not mean causation in that case (as they did) look pretty foolish now. Those who currently preach complacency on this subject might ask if they are being responsible, and if they have taken enough trouble to inform themselves.
That is actually immaterial. That people said correlation was not causation in one incident, and were wrong, doesn't invalidate the principle. Correlation is NOT causation. The principle that correlation is not causation doesn't mean that there is never causation which matches correlation, but that you can't automatically assume it is, as Mr. Hitchens appears to be doing. Many things correlate with other things, yet are not the cause of them, even if sometimes they are. Each case has be proven on a case by case basis.

As for tobacco use, when I was a boy cigarettes were often called "coffin nails" and the common wisdom was that "smoking is bad for you." I heard that from smokers and non-smokers alike. People knew the risks when I was a boy and that was before the war on tobacco took off. The question is not whether there are risks in something, as there are risks in everything. The question is who should make the decision regarding the risk taking: is it the risk taker or the Nanny State. Mr. Hitchens wants the Nanny State and I prefer individual risk takers to make their own decisions. That, at the core, is the prime difference between a free society and an unfree one.

In Britain, the noted pyschiatrist Robin Murray says that many of his patients do not even believe marijuana is a drug, so successful has its portrayal as a 'soft' substance been.

It is not relevant to this case whether Loughner's use of marijuana was specially recent. Murray's work suggests that the dangers arise from use at an early age. Damage, where it takes place, seems to be permanent and irreversible

This is a repeat of his central theme already addressed above. The question in the Loughner case is whether pot smoking caused him to become schizophrenic. There has been no evidence offered to show that to be the case, only wishful thinking on the part of the Drug Warriors enablers, such as Mr. Hitchens and Mr. Kincaid. That the levels of schizophrenia found among people has remained steady, while a substantial number of people have used marijuana, indicates that pot use does not increase schizophrenia. If it did both trend lines should go in the same direction, as happens with tobacco and lung cancer.

Those are the matters which Mr. Hitchens addressed. Let us focus for a second on what he ignored, which is also important.

• We still have no evidence that Loughner went insane from using pot. Loughner exhibited the classic signs of schizophrenia and did so pretty much on schedule for males. The average age for it showing up in males is 19.

• Mr. Hitchens did not address the accusation that the town of Pima was run by liberals. He made the claim and has nothing to support it, so he avoids addressing it in his reply.

• Mr. Hitchens admits he got the town of Pima confused with Tucson, being in Pima Country. He doesn't explain why he didn't check his facts before publishing his article.

• If there is a causation between schizophrenia and marijuana use Mr. Hitchens needs to explain why increased use of pot did not increase the rates of schizophrenia. That is central to the debate and he doesn't address it. Similarly he will have to explain the constant rates of schizophrenia from country to country, regardless of their policies toward pot.

ª Even by his own theory, which I think is wrong, he says that pot use doubles the risk of schizophrenia, that is from 1 to 2. He then equates that risk with the risk of lung cancer from smoking, which is actually 20 to 30 times higher. That is a tad bit dishonest. He doesn't give the actual numbers, he just implies they are equivalents. Why did he give that false impression?

• Mr. Hitchens completely ignores the point I made about the violence associated with the war on drugs. He focuses on the one violent act of Loughner, claims it is associated with pot, and then condemns pot use for that reason. Yet the war on drugs leads to about 100 armed assaults on people's homes per day. People have been killed by Drug Warriors. That harm is evaded by Mr. Hitchens. Even if one grants that drugs are not good that doesn't mean the war on drugs is the way to go. Whatever risks may be associated with smoking pot, turning smokers into criminals doesn't help them, and doesn't reduce their risks. It does, in fact, make them substantially worse off.

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