January 6, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 1:08 PM


This Reporter Took a Deep Look Into the Science of Smoking Pot. What He Found Is Scary.: Alex Berenson's new book delves into research linking heavy use with violent crime and mental illness. (STEPHANIE MENCIMERJANUARY 5, 2019, mOTHER jONES)

The book was seeded one night a few years ago when Berenson's wife, a psychologist who evaluates mentally ill criminal defendants in New York, started talking about a horrific case she was handling. It was "the usual horror story, somebody who'd cut up his grandmother or set fire to his apartment--typical bedtime chat in the Berenson house," he writes. But then, his wife added, "Of course he was high, been smoking pot his whole life."

Berenson, who smoked a bit in college, didn't have strong feelings about marijuana one way or another, but he was skeptical that it could bring about violent crime. Like most Americans, he thought stoners ate pizza and played video games--they didn't hack up family members. Yet his Harvard-trained wife insisted that all the horrible cases she was seeing involved people who were heavy into weed. She directed him to the science on the subject.

We look back and laugh at Reefer Madness, which was pretty over-the-top, after all, but Berenson found himself immersed in some pretty sobering evidence: Cannabis has been associated with legitimate reports of psychotic behavior and violence dating at least to the 19th century, when British colonial officials in India noted that 20 to 30 percent of patients in mental hospitals were committed for cannabis-related insanity. The British reports, like Berenson's wife, described horrific crimes--at least one beheading. The Brits attributed far more cases of mental illness to cannabis than to alcohol or opium. The Mexican government reached similar conclusions, banning cannabis sales in 1920--nearly 20 years before the United States did--after years of credible reports of cannabis-induced madness and violent crime.

Over the past couple of decades, studies around the globe have found that THC--the active compound in cannabis--is strongly linked to psychosis, schizophrenia, and violence. Berenson interviewed far-flung researchers who've quietly but methodically documented the effects of THC on serious mental illness and he makes a convincing case that a recreational drug marketed as an all-around health product may, in fact, be really dangerous--especially for people with a family history of mental illness, and for adolescents with developing brains.

Now that drugs are finally legal they're facing the same public policy onslaught as alcohol and cigarettes as health concerns converge with moral qualms. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:00 AM


A newly discovered account of jazz legend Buddy Bolden's mental decline (James Karst, 1/03/19, NOLA)

Buddy Bolden is a towering yet enigmatic figure in American popular music. The cornet player was said to be the most popular jazz musician in New Orleans for a brief period in the early 20th century, before the homegrown genre was even known by that name. Bolden is sometimes credited as having single-handedly invented jazz, although the truth of its genesis is complicated. The bawdy "Buddy Bolden's Blues," AKA "Funky Butt," remains a traditional jazz staple to this day.

Tragically, the first king of jazz was debilitated by mental illness at what should have been the height of his career. After a series of arrests, he was committed to the Louisiana mental asylum in 1907. He lived out the rest of his life at the institution and died in obscurity. Bolden is believed to have made a wax cylinder recording around the turn of the century, but it has never been found, and the conventional wisdom is that it probably no longer exists.

Limited details are known about Bolden's life, and separating fiction from fact has often proven difficult. Much of what we do know has come from police and medical records and from interviews conducted years after his death with people who had known Bolden.

During Bolden's career, in the early decades of Jim Crow, newspapers in New Orleans rarely wrote about black people except to hold them up for ridicule or to document alleged criminal offenses. As a result, any contemporary slivers of information about Bolden have great significance to jazz historians. Don Marquis writes in his definitive Bolden biography, "In Search of Buddy Bolden," that reports in the Daily Picayune and Item in late March of 1906 constituted the only newspaper coverage of the famed musician during his lifetime.

But a third New Orleans newspaper, the Daily States, also wrote about the incident that is believed to have marked the beginning of Bolden's downfall. For reasons that are unclear, it was lost to history until this December, when it was discovered by this writer on microfilm in the New Orleans City Archives. This newly unearthed report provides another perspective on beginning of the mental health crisis of the jazz pioneer, sharing details not addressed in the other newspapers or the police report, and offers a rare contemporary glimpse at the life of a tragic figure whose enduring fame exists at the intersection of madness and genius.

Posted by orrinj at 9:42 AM


Frank Kimbrough: Monk's Dreams: The Complete Compositions of Thelonious Sphere Monk (Sunnyside): Review of six-disc comprehensive Monk set on which the pianist is joined by Scott Robinson, Rufus Reid, and Billy Drummond (Dan Bilawsky, 1/05/19, Jazz Times)

The fact that these men had the stamina and discipline to accomplish such a feat in such a concentrated amount of time is a marvel in and of itself. And that's to say nothing of the quality of what they created, which is incredibly high, and the level of respect within it, which runs deep. Walking a careful line, Kimbrough and his companions never obscure the master's truths, muddy his language, or attempt to erect a revisionist playground. Fidelity is a foremost concern, as melodies, harmonies, and shape are largely honored. Kimbrough even adopts a more percussive touch than usual, hewing closer to Monk's mannerisms. But that doesn't mean creative thought is suppressed. This is anything but mundane Monk.

Wonders abound across these five-and-a-half hours of music spanning six CDs, but it's the hidden gems in Monk's portfolio that stand tallest. "Humph" is angular chic all the way, showcasing the chemistry between Robinson's tenor and Kimbrough's keys; "Bluehawk" uses simplicity as elevating grace, giving Robinson's echo cornet and Reid's centered bass a chance to connect; "San Francisco Holiday" is a captivating affair built on descending lines and some artful connections from Drummond; and "Hornin' In" is the stuff of casual brilliance, highlighting the group's near-telepathic interplay.

Posted by orrinj at 9:24 AM


Dirty Harry: The Rage of the Anti-Hero (K. V. Turley, 1/04/18, Imaginative Conservative)

Also in 1968, Steve McQueen had scored box office success with the à la mode police drama: Bullitt. Set in San Francisco, the McQueen police character, Frank Bullitt, has only the semblance of a police officer. Equally as much a loner as the later Callaghan, both characters are alienated from their superior officers if for different reasons. Bullitt despises the Establishment as represented by those superior officers and their political masters. In this aspect McQueen's character is more counter-cultural than law and order. In contrast, Callaghan would despise his police superiors solely for being weak on the perpetrators of crime; so weak, in fact, that there is, under Callaghan's glib one-liners, a visceral rage against their hypocritical inaction. By 1971, Mr. Eastwood's character was tapping into a wider rage that was then seething through a large segment of American society, the same constituency who had voted for Nixon just a few years earlier. On screen, it is this rage that propels Callaghan to become less a law enforcement officer than an enforcer of his laws.

In Dirty Harry this is nowhere more exemplified than when Callaghan is confronted about his arrest tactics. To free a girl being held hostage, he tortures the reptilian psychopath Scorpio (played by Andy Robinson). When, later, Callaghan is told the confession and weapons retrieved from Scorpio's lair, to say nothing of the dead girl's body, are all inadmissible as evidence, the police inspector is rightly outraged. We watch as a shabbily dressed bureaucrat berates Callaghan over the so-called "Miranda warning." This was the 1966 United States Supreme Court decision confirming that criminal suspects must have their rights read to them prior to any interrogation. Thinking only of the victim, Callaghan had dispensed with this while torturing Scorpio, and, what's more, later, makes no apology for doing so.

Predictably, liberal film critics loathed Dirty Harry. In particular, they seized upon the torture scene as well as other aspects of the plot to come up with a catalogue of perceived "crimes" committed by Mr. Eastwood. The Scorpio figure is obviously counter-cultural, speaking in that argot, and dressed accordingly. He even wears a very San Francisco "love and peace" sign. He might be a rampaging killer but to some film critics he was representative of an emerging America with which they identified, one seemingly under attack from the Frontier Justice of Mr. Eastwood's perceived alter ego.

Reminiscent of Spillane, despite these negative critical pronouncements, Dirty Harry was a box office smash: one of the highest-grossing movies of 1971. As well as a huge success worldwide, it was this film that moved Mr. Eastwood from Hollywood star to a Hollywood Super Star.

It seems odd to miss the fact that Scorpio is modeled after the Zodiac Killer, and which brings one to another film that should be viewed in conjunction with Dirty Harry and Bullitt: Zodiac.  The last is based on journalist Robert Graysmith's memoir of the actual case and features Mark Ruffalo as Inspector David Toschi, who both Eastwood and McQueen used as inspiration for their portrayals of Harry and Frank.  Each film is excellent in its own way.

Posted by orrinj at 9:13 AM


Don't run (Times Argus, Jan 5, 2019)

Bernie Sanders should not run for president. In fact, we beg him not to.

That is an unfavorable opinion, especially among most Vermonters and progressives who support the platform that has come to define him. But at this point, there are more things about another Sanders run at the White House that concern us than excite us.

In this space, we have repeatedly hit the senator on where his loyalties lay: Vermont or a bigger calling? We have asked him to make a choice, which he would argue was his recent re-election to Congress. But in his previous run for the presidency, Sanders, an independent who ran for the White House as a Democrat, missed dozens of votes that likely would have helped Vermonters. And, while he handily defeated his challenger, can Vermonters point to Sanders' record and say definitively, "This is what he's done for us?"

Walker Ending Term With $588.5 Million Budget Surplus (Bethany Blankley, January 6, 2019, Free Beacon)

Gov. Scott Walker leaves office next week, finishing his second term by posting a budget surplus for the eighth year in a row. Wisconsin ended last fiscal year with a $588.5 million surplus and will start 2018-2019 with the second-highest opening balance since 2000.

"We are leaving Wisconsin in the best financial condition in a generation," Walker announced. "This is part of our legacy and it will continue to drive Wisconsin forward."

Walker, who had not previously discussed publicly what he planned to do after leaving office, said Tuesday he would join a speaking tour across the country and "focus on new methods to articulate a conservative message."

Walker's legacy includes cutting Wisconsin residents' taxes by $8 billion and reducing the collective bargaining rights of government workers.

Posted by orrinj at 8:52 AM


Did the Rich Really Pay Much Higher Taxes in the 1950s? The Answer Is a Little Complicated. (JORDAN WEISSMANN, AUG 07, 2017, Slate)

American progressives like to remember the mid-20th century as a time when the only thing higher than a Cadillac's tail fin was the top marginal tax rate (which, during the Eisenhower years peaked above 90 percent for the very rich). Uncle Sam took 90 cents on the dollar off the highest incomes, and--as any good Bernie Sanders devotee will remind you--the economy thrived.

Conservatives, however, often try to push back on this version of history, pointing out that those staggeringly high tax rates existed mostly on paper; relatively few Americans actually paid them. Recently, the Tax Foundation's Scott Greenberg went so far as to argue that "taxes on the rich were not that much higher" in the 1950s than today. Between 1950 and 1959, he notes, the highest earning 1 percent of Americans paid an effective tax rate of 42 percent. By 2014, it was only down to 36.4 percent--a substantial but by no means astronomical decline.

Greenberg is not pulling his numbers out of thin air. Rather, he's drawing them directly from a recent paper by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman in which the three economists--all well-loved by progressives--estimate the average tax rates Americans at different income levels have actually paid over time. Their historical measure includes federal, state, and local levies--including corporate, property, income, estate, sales, and payroll taxes.

45% of Americans pay no federal income tax (CATEY HILL, 4/18/16, MarketWatch)

On average, those in the bottom 40% of the income spectrum end up getting money from the government. Meanwhile, the richest 20% of Americans, by far, pay the most in income taxes, forking over nearly 87% of all the income tax collected by Uncle Sam.

Rich people pay nearly 87% of all federal individual income tax in America

Income levelShare of total federal 
individual income tax paid
Average income tax bill 
per person
Lowest 20%-2.2%-$643
Second lowest 20%-1.7%-$621
Middle income4.2%$1,743
Second richest 20%12.9%$6,285
Richest 20%86.8%$50,176

Source: Tax Policy Center

The top 1% of Americans, who have an average income of more than $2.1 million, pay 43.6% of all the federal individual income tax in the U.S.; the top 0.1% -- just 115,000 households, whose average income is more than $9.4 million -- pay more than 20% of it.

Having fought a Revolution based on the idea that representation is a function of taxation, it seems problematic to have a tax system that is so fundamentally unbalanced.  Meanwhile, economically it is odd to use taxes to punish earning, profits, saving and investing. Thus, the Neoconomic notion of transitioning to a regime of consumption taxes.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


Labor shortage drives more bankruptcies in Japan (TSUKASA MORIKUNI, JANUARY 06, 2019, Nikkei)

More Japanese companies went under for lack of personnel last year, reflecting the growing toll of the country's ongoing labor crunch on businesses that fail to secure or keep workers.

Tokyo Shoko Research counted 362 such bankruptcies during the year through November 2018, up more than 20% on the year. The total has already surpassed the full-year 2015 figure of 340, the highest since the research firm began tracking this data in 2013.

The number of companies that had to shut their doors because they lacked enough employees to handle the necessary work jumped 66% to 53, while another 24 -- a 71% rise -- increased compensation to hold on to existing staff but could not bear the higher costs. A total of 261 companies went out of business because the head fell ill or retired without a successor, up 13%.

The problem is particularly severe in the service sector, including such areas as the restaurant industry, nursing homes and care providers for the elderly, and trucking companies.