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Sunday, January 31

Medical Marijuana

Certain states have legalized the medical use of marijuana while some others are expected to pass similar measures. As arguments for or against are flying to and fro, today, in Oakland, a new 15,000 s.f. warehouse called iGrow opens up to sell all you will need for medicinal marijuana cultivation. The managers have hired a doctor on site to provide you with the necessary cannabis card and whatever you need to grow the stuff (except for the seeds of course). On site technicians will happily demonstrate how you can set up a “farm house” in your home, how to proceed with the hydroponic cultivation, advise on the nutrients you will need and assist with weekly maintenance. The cost may rise to $1000 for an eight-plant system, and if you use half of the harvest you may sell the rest to a dispensary for a maximum of $12,000. Today’s opening will attract national media attention while three City Council members are expected to attend along with the leaders of the cannabis industry in the region.

Oakland residents voted last summer to regulate and tax “cannabis businesses” and have allowed the operation of four licensed dispensaries. That was hardly a “revolutionary act” within the realm of world history. Marijuana’s legitimate use goes back thousands of years. In 2737 BC the Chinese Emperor Shen Neng prescribed the plant for treating gout, rheumatism and poor memory. Various Hindu sects used it a stress-relief medication. Ancient physicians in Asia, Middle East and Africa distributed it for all sorts of ailments. In late 18th century America marijuana was prescribed for incontinence and sexually transmitted diseases. But in the early 20th century, with 2-5% of the American population addicted to morphine contained in medications like “The People's Healing Liniment for Man or Beast" the Food and Drug Administration was created to regulate marijuana use through the medical establishment. What we call today “medical use” in other words.

In 1914, the Harrison Act imposed a heavy tax on non-medical uses of the drug and punished anyone who obtained it without paying the tax. In 1937 the Marijuana Tax Act criminalized non-medical use while the 1950 Boggs Act and Narcotics Control Act established mandatory sentences for marijuana possessors and distributors. As times relaxed, in 1996 California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana and since then a number of states adopted similar measures. The arguments from both sides are serious. Critics point to the underground marijuana industry (in LA alone it is estimated that 1000 illegal shops are in operation), while supporters point to the plant’s qualities as a safe pain reliever, especially in severe illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, cancer and AIDS. Critics counter-attack by disputing the medical benefits when they are contrasted with possible health risks and consider the drug as “gate opener” to more potent narcotics. Supporters point to the lack of strong data that could support the latter argument and point to the prison population (the largest in the world), a quarter of which is imprisoned for drug-related crimes (In 2000 for example half of the convictions for possession led to a prison or jail term, while two-thirds of the trafficking convictions did).

Fast forward and back to Oakland. Watch the video Marijuana Superstore Opens. Would you support a similar measure for Florida? Post your opinion and then take a poll on the right so we can have an overall reflection of the students' attitude.

Sunday, January 24


More and more people are becoming skeptical of the institution of marriage. The high divorce rates on the one hand, (55% in Sweden, 45% in the US, 38% in France), increasing numbers of single parenthood on the other (in 2007, in the US 40% of babies were born to single moms), financial stress that complicates the rearing of children, infidelity becoming  more common (20% of men and 15% of women under 35 reported cheating), the no-fault divorce making the process easy and cheap, all have contributed to a fear of tying the knot, here, in the UK, and in Korea.

Well, is there an alternative besides cohabitation? The answer is coming from France in a package called PACKS (Pacte civil de solidarit√©).  As you have probably guessed, it is a civil union. The law was enacted to allow gay couples have some of the benefits of a marriage but it soon attracted the heterosexual population as well. The contents of the legislation allow the two partners to become contractants and organize their common life. They do it by registering a common declaration to the court in which they state their address in France or abroad. The contractants agree to mutual help while they are jointly responsible for debts occurred because of household expenses. They are eligible for tax benefits after three years while the tenant’s lease may transfer to the other partner if one leaves or dies. Also health benefits are transferable to the partner.

How do you dissolve it? Simply by filing  a common statement, or after a three month delay at the request of one partner. No lawyers involved, no legal fees, no lengthy processes.

How popular is it? The number has grown from 6,000 in 1999, to 140,000 in 2008. It is a half solution to marriage, it offers some of the benefits and removes the costs of a long term commitment.

 Do you see it coming to the US?

Sunday, January 17

Dropping out

Kids all over the country are entering high schools in greater numbers than ever. The free public secondary education has encouraged everyone to attend, study, and shift towards a more prosperous future. Fifteen year olds with radiating faces squeeze on the benches outside the cafeterias obsessed with sports, cars and stuff…. Average kids. Many from middle class or working class background, not excelling but not failing either, are defined by their common optimism and liveliness. Two years later, you visit these high schools again and only a couple of them are on that bench. The rest have melted away by a common fate, that seems to trap mostly boys.

Jay Green (Leaving Boys Behind: Public High School Graduation Rates )reported that in 2003, nationally 72% of girls graduated compared with 65% of boys while the gap is larger in minority students. The graduation rate for Black female students exceeded that of their male counterparts by eleven percentage points, while the difference for Hispanics was nine percentage points. When it comes to college, 57% of students are women and the ratio is expected to rise to 75% in 2020 ( here is the whole article).

The consequences are dire. According to The Consequences of Dropping Out of High School male dropouts of all races were 47 times more likely to be incarcerated than their peers of a similar age who had graduated from a four-year college or university. In 2008 the unemployment rate for the nation’s high school drop outs reached a staggering 54%. In other words only 46% were employed. The employment rate for high school graduates was 68%, 79% for young adults who had completed 1-3 years of post-secondary schooling, and 87% for college graduates. And since the drop-out phenomenon afflicts more males than females, the consequences are more severe for boys. According to the same report, their mean cumulative earnings from ages 18-64 have seriously declined, along with their marriage rates, home ownership rates, and their tax contributions (this is where it becomes your problem as well). At the same time, the imprisonment rates rose. Young high school dropouts were 63 times more likely to end up in jail than young college graduates. In 2009 according to the NYT, on any given day, one in 10 young male high school dropouts is incarcerated, compared to one in 35 young male high school graduates.

In the first chapter we discussed the power of society in shaping individual behavior, a process not that obvious to the untrained eye. Some students voiced their opposition to the concept, pointing to the power of individual will to shape fate. But again, is it possible that this power is socially encouraged or discouraged? A philosophical labyrinth many would say… depending on the situation others would add…and everyone would have a point. A good one as a matter of fact. However, we have to try and gain an insight. Surveys may reveal some common characteristics and provide the macro level of analysis but the insiders’ assessments are our zoom lens. You have probably observed kids (mostly boys) in high school drop out. How do you explain this phenomenon?

Friday, January 1


"Advice is seldom welcome, and those who need it the most, like it the least."