News and Opinion Based on Facts

Thursday, April 30, 2015

They're Not Thugs, They're Freedom Fighters

April 28, 201
Baltimore riots mark city's tourism suicide note
"I wanted to give space to those who wished to destroy." That is how Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake described her policy which effectively told police to stand down as hoodlums smashed store windows, looted 7-11s, and forced attendees at a Baltimore Oriole-Boston Red Sox baseball game to remain in the stadium because it wasn't safe outside

Monday, April 20, 2015

Just Say Yes: A Marijuana Memoir

Posted: Updated: 

CATHERINE HILLERFinally a memoir that begs the question, "What could your neighbors be smoking, and more importantly, will they share?"

Author Catherine Hiller grew up in New York's Greenwich Village, and smoked her first joint in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. When she took that first hit, she'd been in training, smoking cigarettes to get the motions right. But she says nothing could prepare her for the euphoria, and she's been unapologetically hooked ever since.
"It was just wonderful," Hiller reminisces on this week's HuffPost Weird News podcast. "It allowed me access to certain thoughts and ideas that I hadn't had before."
In her new book, "Just Say Yes: A Marijuana Memoir," Hiller chronicles her adventures in counterculture, and challenges preconceived notions about what a pot smoker is like.
Opinions about marijuana in the U.S. are changing -- it's now legal for recreational use in four states, and D.C. -- but a lot of Americans still might think that smoking weed almost every day for 50 years like Hiller would leave you an irresponsible burnout. Maybe for some people, that's sadly true. But not for her.
Hiller's gotten a lot done in 68 years, probably more than some people who've never touched pot. She's an activist, a film maker, an author, and holds a doctorate from Brown University. She helped document Woodstock with a film crew, and now she goes to Burning Man. Through all that, she's also raised three boys. And yes, she's smoked with them.
While she's hesitant to label herself a marijuana activist, she admits that writing openly about her love affair with weed has already led to some interesting conversations with her neighbors.
"When the first piece -- 'How I Buy Weed' -- came out, I had [my neighbors] come running over like, 'Why have you ever offered me any?' or 'Oh, we get stoned all the time!'" Hiller said.
Marijuana is legal for recreational use in four states and Washington D.C., but Hiller hopes that will grow to include more states.
So what happens when you smoke weed almost every day for 50 years?
 You just may turn out to be a respectably, successful mom and a very entertaining writer.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Was the South Carolina Shooting a Reflection of Racism, Police Subculture or Both?

Screenshot of phone video taken by bystander Feidin Santana, showing Officer Michael Slager shooting Walter Scott.
As more evidence emerges—in addition to the cell phone video of a South Carolina policeman, who is white, shooting a black man in the back—it certainly shows that serious abuse of power and a likely homicide occurred. But does it also show a racially motivated interaction?
The officers words were not recorded so motive must be circumstantially inferred from the actions that were captured on the short but dramatic cell phone video, and from what we know occurred before and after what we have all seen on television.
We know from the police reports that Walter Scott was stopped for a busted tail light on a Mercedes, and we also know that in many parts of our country a black man driving a Mercedes with a minor infraction is more likely to be stopped than a white driver.
We know that there was a scuffle between Officer Michael Slager and Scott, and that the officer tased Scott.  We know from the video that Scott ran away from the officer and that the officer then fired eight shots, several of which hit Scott. We know from the video that the officer picked up an item, which appears to be the taser, and dropped it near Scott’s body.
It is reasonable to infer from these circumstances that Scott’s race may have played a role in his being stopped for a minor traffic violation—in other words that the broken taillight may have provided an excuse for what really was the racial profiling of a black man driving a fancy car.
It is also possible, though less certain, that the decision to arrest and then tase Scott may have been influenced by his race. But it may also have been influenced by his actions—resisting arrest, seeking to flee. It is certainly possible that Officer Slager would have done the same thing to a white man who acted the way Scott did. We can never know for certain.
So now we come to the shooting, which we have all seen and can judge for ourselves. We don’t know whether words were exchanged before the shooting began, but no unrecorded words could possibly justify what we see on the video: a man with nothing in his hands running away from an arrest with his back to the officer being shot multiple times. The officer may have been angry with Scott, for trying to grab his taser—if that is indeed what Scott did. He may even have been frightened, though the video does not suggest fear on the part of the officer, as he methodically shot Scott in the back as he was running away. It suggests that the officer was trying to prevent Scott from fleeing. If Scott had, in fact, assaulted Officer Slager and had tried to grab his taser, then the officer may have had reasonable grounds for arresting Scott for more serious crimes of violence, such as assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest. But that would still not justify shooting Scott in the back to stop him from fleeing such an arrest, since the constitutional criterion for the use of deadly force requires a reasonable fear of imminent serious harm to the officer or the public. The video clearly shows that this standard was not met. But it doesn’t necessarily show that Officer Slager’s unauthorized use of deadly force was motivated by racism. A considerable number of white people have been unlawfully shot by police who were angered by the disrespect and contempt shown them by arrest resisters. This does not, of course, justify any unlawful resort to deadly force, but it does provide a plausible non-racist explanation for Officer Slager’s apparently unlawful response.
Finally, we come to what appears to be the deliberate planting of the taser near Scott’s body to create the false impression that Scott was holding the weapon when he was shot. Tragically, this type of police criminality—it is a felony to tamper with evidence, including moving its location—is far too typical of a small subculture of rogue police officers who commonly plant evidence to cover up their misconduct. Some carry with them “Saturday night specials”—small cheap pistols—that they can plant on victims of improper police shootings. Others carry packets of drugs to plant on those arrested without probable cause.
These bad cops—and they constitute a tiny fraction of all decent police officers—are equal opportunity abusers. They are as likely to plant evidence on or near a white as a black person. They are doing it to protect themselves—to cover up their misconduct. So if Officer Slager did, in fact, plant the taser near Scott’s body, he did it because he realized that he had messed up. He probably would have done the same, had Scott been white. What we don’t know is whether he would have found himself in the situation that necessitated a cover up—whether he would have shot or even stopped Scott in the first place—if Scott had been white.
Within the small subculture of bad cops—those who shoot out of anger, plant evidence and lie to protect each other—there may be some who are also motivated by racial bias. There may be others who have mixed motives. But if the subculture is changed, as it must be, the primary beneficiaries will be black Americans, because black Americans are disproportionately impacted by every aspect of our criminal justice system.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

What is Reality?

Just how many realities are there anyway - yours, mine, his, hers?
As Einstein suggested, is every form of reality merely an illusion? Is nothing real?

"Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one."

~ Albert Einstein

What once might have been labeled a purely philosophical argument now lurks in the revelations of quantum research.The current understanding - that all probabilities all exist at once, in the same reality, until you measure or observe them - is mind-blowing. And yet the math is there to prove it.
But let's slow down a bit.
It might be more useful to start with how the human brain perceives reality, and how this gives way to subjective experience.  Because no two brains perceive the same events the same way.

Human Perception

The human brain operates in two halves: the right brain and the left brain. They have completely separate roles and agendas. Some would even say they have separate personalities.
However, in order to function, the two halves of the human brain must communicate as one via the corpus callosum.
Interestingly, scans show that male brains excel at thinking within one hemisphere at a time, while female brains excel at thinking across both hemispheres.
The Two Hemispheres of The Human Brain
The right brain is all about the present moment; right here, right now. It thinks in pictures and learns through the kinesthetic movement of your body. It absorbs energy from the world around you and translates that into information for your sensory systems. It doesn't know the difference between your individual consciousness and the world around you.
The left brain is a very different place. It thinks linearly and methodically. It picks out countless details from the events in the past and makes calculated predictions about the future. The left hemisphere thinks in language, which creates your internal voice. Crucially, it makes you aware of your existence as a separate being from the mass energy field perceived by the right brain.

Your Subjective Reality

Imagine if the human brain had evolved with only the functions of the right hemisphere. Your perception of reality would be completely different. You would be drifting around in a universe filled with energy in the here and now, with no perception of the past and future.
You wouldn't know where your body ended and the ground began, or the difference between you and me.
This is a very different perception of the world. And it highlights the nature of subjective reality; how different perceptions lead to completely different experiences of the reality we accept as truth.
Knowing this about the human brain, the question "what is reality?" changes form. It now hinges on your individual perception.

Types of Reality

This has led to multiple theories of reality by various philosophers and scientists:
Phenomenological reality is based on subjective experience. Whatever you observe is instantly real to you. This theory of reality means that unreality is non-existent. Therefore lucid dreams, hallucinations, spiritual experiences, and astral travel are all forms of one subjective reality.
Consensus reality is based on the opinions and observations made by a group of people. A few individuals may decide on an interpretation of an event, which spreads across entire societies and becomes a consensual truth. Religion is a good example of a socially constructed reality.
In Search of Schrödinger's Cat by John GribbinNon-reality simply means that there is no such thing as objective reality. Every possible observation or interpretation is tainted by subjectivity and therefore does not constitute truth. Nothing is real.
The latter is supported by quantum theory, which states that nothing is real until we measure (observe) it. Read In Search of Schrodinger's Cat by John Gribbin for an excellent introduction to this topic.
This revelation about the nature of reality was prompted by one of the most mind-boggling experiments of all time: the Double Slit Experiment.

The Double Slit Experiment

When quantum physicists stumbled upon the Double Slit Experiment, they were in for a shock. This famous quantum experiment proves how tiny particles behave differently when they're being measured.
Put another way, until we observe reality, it exists as a wave of probabilities. Only by measuring reality do we collapse the wave function and make it "choose" a determined path of action.
 The Copenhagen Interpretation, developed by Neils Bohr in 1920, says that quantum particles exist in all possible states at once - until we observe them.
Albert Einstein found this idea abhorrent: "Do you really think the moon isn't there if you aren't looking at it?"
"Einstein, don't tell God what to do," replied Bohr.

"Those who are not shocked when they first come across quantum theory cannot possibly have understood it."

~ Neils Bohr

The two geniuses were locked in a fierce debate over quantum theory until John Bell produced a groundbreaking equation in 1964. He proved that either information travels faster than light or particles exist in many states simultaneously.
It was a victory for Bohr - and to this day, many scientists accept The Copenhagen Interpretation.
The alternative explanation is known as the Many-Worlds theory. It supposes that for every possible outcome, the universe splits to accommodate each one. This takes the observer out of the equation.
Great... Now we have infinite realities.

Final Thoughts

So... what is reality? Is it an illusion? Is there a multiverse? Does reality exist in all states and not at all until it is measured?
Is our human brain perceiving just one possible interpretation of reality? Are there more dimensions of which we're not aware?
It's a tantalizing field of research. The truth about reality is out there. And it is definitely much crazier than we can imagine.