Researchers discover [gasp!] marijuana use rampant in Australia

A study published Friday in a British medical journal may have finally uncovered the secret behind Australia’s laid-back lifestyle, and it turns out to be more than just sun and surf: The denizens Down Under, it turns out, consume more marijuana than any other people on the planet.

The study, an analysis of global trends in illegal drugs and their effect on public health published in The Lancet, a prestigious journal, found that Australia and neighboring New Zealand topped the lists globally for consumption of both marijuana and amphetamines, a category of drugs whose use the study found to be growing rapidly around the world.

The study’s co-authors…reported that as much as 15 percent of the populations of Australia and New Zealand between the ages of 15 and 64 had used some form of marijuana in 2009…

The Americas, by comparison, clocked in at 7 percent, although North America batted above the neighborhood average with nearly 11 percent of its population partaking. Asia demonstrated the lowest global marijuana use patterns at no more than 2.5 percent, the study said, although difficulties in obtaining accurate data in less developed countries were cited as one possible reason for the low figures.

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White House says no alien visits — to this administration

Dick Cheney’s baby picture

The White House has responded to two petitions asking the US government to formally acknowledge that aliens have visited Earth and to disclose to any intentional withholding of government interactions with extraterrestrial beings.

“The U.S. government has no evidence that any life exists outside our planet, or that an extraterrestrial presence has contacted or engaged any member of the human race,” said Phil Larson from the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, on the website. “In addition, there is no credible information to suggest that any evidence is being hidden from the public’s eye.”

5,387 people had signed the petition for immediately disclosing the government’s knowledge of and communications with extraterrestrial beings, and 12,078 signed the request for a formal acknowledgement from the White House that extraterrestrials have been engaging the human race…

These petitions come from an Obama Administration initiative called ‘We the People’ which has White House staffers respond and consider taking action on any issue that receives at least 25,000 online signatures. Regarding these two petitions, the White House promised to respond if the petitions got 17,000 more signatures by Oct. 22.

Larson stressed that the facts show that there is no credible evidence of extraterrestrial presence here on Earth. He pointed out that even though many scientists have come to the conclusion that the odds of life somewhere else in the Universe are fairly high, the chance that any of them are making contact with humans are extremely small, given the distances involved…

Regarding any evidence for alien life, all anyone has now is “statistics and speculation,” said Larson. “The fact is we have no credible evidence of extraterrestrial presence here on Earth.”

Whether or not this will appease or satisfy any conspiracy theorists or UFO believers is yet to be seen, but it is gratifying to see the White House respond in such a no-nonsense manner.

Well, sort of gratifying. They picked a couple of the easier petitions to answer.

Take a look at some of the tougher petitions – those actually demanding political change.

Fearless FBI raids home of 91-year-old making suicide kits

A great-grandmother selling do-it-yourself asphyxiation kits by mail said on Thursday she was ordered from her house at gunpoint by federal agents who raided her home and seized cartons of documents, computers and sewing machines.

Sharlotte Hydorn, 91, told Reuters about a dozen agents in flak jackets from the FBI and U.S. Postal Inspection Service arrived at her San Diego-area home at about 7 a.m. local time on Wednesday, and ordered her outside, shouting, “Come out, or I’ll shoot.”

“I had guns in my face. I thought, ‘I’m dying on my feet.’ … I didn’t know what to say,” she recounted, sitting inside a sprawling three-bedroom ranch house still strewn a day later with papers and boxes.

They presented her with a 37-page search warrant signed on Tuesday by a U.S. magistrate and proceeded to comb through her house for nearly 11 hours, leaving the dwelling in disarray when they left, she said…

A copy of the search warrant shown to Reuters indicated Hydorn was under investigation for alleged conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, tax evasion and the “sale of adulterated or misbranded medical device.”

Hydorn made headlines after one of her mail-order customers from Oregon, Nicholas Klonoski, 29, described by his family as suffering from depression but otherwise healthy, used one of her kits to take his own life in December.

Her product consists of a plastic hood that closes around the neck, and tubing that connects the hood to a tank of helium or other inert gas users must supply for themselves.

Hydorn says her so-called “exit kits” are intended to help terminally ill people end their lives with dignity in their own homes, though she has acknowledged she performs no background checks or screening of individuals who order the apparatus.

She sells them for $60 each, including shipping and instructions, under the brand name GLADD, which stands for Glorious Life and Dignified Death.

Perish the thought the law, the government, politicians, priests and police should allow someone to choose to end their own life – without harming another human being, simply making a choice and receiving a bit of assistance from another thoughtful human being.

My contempt for agencies like the FBI – who might better serve us all by spending this time tracking down heroin distributors – only increases.

Add to that the political creeps who jump on this opportunity to write more useless, debasing laws that might suck up a few more votes from religious fundamentalists who have personal messages from that invisible lawyer in the sky demanding obedience.

They disgust me with their fears and rules requiring government approval to die.

Catholic hospital’s ties to church end over saving mother’s life

The head of the Catholic church in Phoenix has stripped Arizona’s largest hospital of its Catholic affiliation after he ruled that a decision to save the life of a mother by terminating her 11-week pregnancy was morally wrong.

Bishop Thomas Olmsted announced yesterday that St Joseph’s hospital can no longer be considered to be Catholic. The ruling breaks a relationship that stretches back to the hospital’s founding by Catholic nuns 115 years ago.

He has also excommunicated the member of the hospital’s ethics committee that permitted the abortion to go ahead.

The schism brings to a head a dispute that has been building for several months over the termination, performed in November 2009, at St Joseph’s hospital and medical centre.

The case concerned an unidentified woman in her 20s, who had a history of abnormally high blood pressure that was under control before she became pregnant. But doctors were concerned on learning of the pregnancy about the extra burden that would be placed on her heart, and they monitored her closely.

Tests showed that in the early stages of pregnancy her condition deteriorated rapidly and that before long her pulmonary hypertension – which can impair the working of the heart and lungs – had begun to seriously threaten her life. Doctors informed her that the risk of death was close to 100% if she continued with the pregnancy.

Consultations were then held with the patient, her family, her doctors and the hospital’s ethics team, and the decision to go ahead with an abortion was taken in order to save the mother’s life. And no need to invite the Bishop and his church in on the decision!

The hospital’s president, Linda Hunt, said following the bishop’s severing of relations that the operation had been “consistent with our values of dignity and justice. If we are presented with a situation in which a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life, our first priority is to save both patients. If that is not possible we will always save the life we can save, and that is what we did in this case.”

But Olmsted did not see it that way. you can RTFA if you really care about crap doctrine, religious ideology, philosophical systems that place superstition as taking precedence over human life.

I’m not wasting any more time on it than I’ve felt necessary for the last 59 years of my life.

NASA press conference on extra terrestrial life – today!

NASA will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. EST on Thursday, Dec. 2, to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life. Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe.

It will be broadcast live on NASA Television and streamed on the agency’s website at

For NASA TV streaming video and downlink information, visit:

I’m presuming there have been significant advances in exoplanet research, knowledge, conclusions. I ain’t going to miss the press conference.

Is marriage becoming obsolete?

According to a TIME/Pew research poll released last week, 40 percent of Americans believe that marriage is becoming obsolete, up from just 28 percent in 1978.

In that same poll, only one in four unmarried Americans say they do not want to get married. And among currently married men and women, 80 percent say their marriage is as close as or closer than their parents’ marriage.

These seemingly contradictory responses reflect the public’s recognition of a new and complex reality. On the one hand, marriage as a voluntary relationship based on love and commitment is held in higher regard than ever, with more people saying that love is essential to marriage (Consider that in 1967, two-thirds of college women said they’d consider marrying a man they didn’t love if he met other criteria, such as offering respectability and financial security.)

But as an institution that regulates people’s lives, marriage is no longer the social and economic necessity it once was. People can construct successful lives outside marriage in ways that would have been very difficult to manage 50 years ago, and they have a far greater range of choices about whether to marry, when to marry, and how to organize their marriages.

This often makes them more cautious in committing to marriage and more picky about their partners than people were in the past…

Today, however, there are plenty of other ways to grow up, seek financial independence, and meet one’s needs for companionship and sex. So what might have seemed a “good enough” reason to enter marriage in the past no longer seems sufficient to many people…

These higher expectations are good news for many marriages. People who can meet the high bar that most Americans now feel is appropriate for the transition to marriage — people who delay marriage to get an education, who have accumulated a nest egg or established themselves in a secure line of work — typically have higher quality marriages than other Americans, research shows, and their divorce rates have been falling for the past 25 years.

RTFA. Lots of interesting questions asked. There are some readymade answers. I think you’d enjoy working out your own answers. At least I hope so.

Poisonally, I think a great deal of strengthening of relationships, marriages, has to do with the diminished effect of organized religion. Unreality and superstition – no matter how ingrained in a community – lessens the ability of individuals and couples to deal with life in a changing society.

10 ways to find more pleasure every day

Most of these are reasonable suggestions. Mostly, they make sense and you will read them and say to yourself, “yes, that’s something that makes me happy”. And you should follow on by doing whichever will help your day – or forget about it and do whatever you really feel like doing.

Here are a couple I can agree with:

Aren’t you ready, yet?

1. Play that song you love so much. Repeat. As any preschooler can tell you, repetition nurtures pleasure. When you experience something more than once, you notice more details about it each time, thereby increasing your enjoyment. That’s why you love revisiting that jazz standard, favorite roast chicken recipe, and beloved old Woody Allen movie.

6. Look outside. Our species has spent almost all of its existence on the African savanna, surrounded by trees, water, and sky. The world in which most of us spend our time nowadays is unnatural and can corrode the spirit. Even a small dose of nature elevates our mood. But accept no substitutes..!

7. Pet a dog (any dog). You may have heard this before, but it bears repeating: Physical contact with animals works wonders. It increases the brain chemicals associated with pleasure and decreases those associated with stress. Even people without pets can get some of the effect by hanging out for a few minutes at a dog run.

Start your Monday in tolerable fashion.

I’m going for a walk with my dog.

The rise of Israel’s military rabbis – theocracy with guns?

Israel’s army is changing. Once proudly secular, its combat units are now filling with those who believe Israel’s wars are “God’s wars”.

Military rabbis are becoming more powerful. Trained in warfare as well as religion, new army regulations mean they are now part of a military elite.
They graduate from officer’s school and operate closely with military commanders. One of their main duties is to boost soldiers’ morale and drive, even on the front line.

This has caused quite some controversy in Israel. Should military motivation come from men of God, or from a belief in the state of Israel and keeping it safe?

The military rabbis rose to prominence during Israel’s invasion of Gaza earlier this year. Gal Einav, a non-religious soldier said there was wall-to-wall religious rhetoric in the base, the barracks and on the battlefield. As soon as soldiers signed for their rifles, he said, they were given a book of psalms. And, as his company headed in to Gaza, he told me, they were flanked by a civilian rabbi on one side and a military rabbi on the other…

Rabbis handed out hundreds of religious pamphlets during the Gaza war. When they came to light, they caused huge controversy in Israel. Some leaflets called Israeli soldiers the “sons of light” and Palestinians, the “sons of darkness”. Others compared the Palestinians to the Philistines, the bitter biblical enemy of the Jewish people.

Israel’s military has distanced itself from the publications, but they carried the army’s official stamp

Gal Einav thinks many soldiers will refuse to close settlements down. The settlement issue could well tear the army apart, he told me, adding that most of his officers are settlers these days.

“If it comes to a clash between political orders from Israel’s government and a contradictory message from the rabbis, settlers and religious right-wing soldiers will follow the rabbis,” he said.

RTFA. Not unlike the tasks committed to Bush’s Holy Campaigners within our own military. With one significant difference. Israel’s government is so politically beholden to the Orthodox religious Right, that government endorses the participation and direction of rabbis within the rule of their army.

Officers can discuss and differ over levels of responsibility. I don’t think they stand a chance when it comes to who obeys whom. It’s all not unlike what Stalin did with commissars in the desperation of the Great Patriotic War. And, then, the commissar system carried over into daily life.

The Holy State of Israel will complete the task of becoming a theocracy. Civilian and military.

Korean dies with $100,000 in a bank account he couldn’t access

American-style pushcart

A homeless South Korean man died of cancer without being able to use a single penny of his life savings of $100,000 because he could not prove his identity to his bank…

“He never begged. When people offered him help, he said he had money saved and didn’t need help,” Yoo Joon-soo, a district official in Yongbong, said by telephone. “He said he was going to buy a house.” In mid-April, he looked so fragile that Mr. Yoo and others ignored his protests and called an ambulance. He was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer.

The man then told the officials that his name was Na Hae-dong and that he had been born May 23, 1953, two months before the Korean War ended…

Mr. Na had 128 million won in a bank account opened under his name decades ago. But in 1993, South Korea introduced an anti-corruption law that required an account holder to prove that the account had been opened under the holder’s real name before withdrawing money. People were given a grace period during which they could transfer their money to real-name accounts.

Apparently, Mr. Na had never heard of the law. But he had continued depositing his few earnings into the account. When he went to his bank after the cancer had been diagnosed, however, he could not take out his savings because, officially, he did not exist.

Local officials filed for court approval to give him an identity. But before the court ruled, Mr. Na died in the hospital on April 28.

His savings will be donated to the state. He had nothing else but his cart, a wristwatch and a quilt.

Man gets life for yogurt-bomb robbery

A man who robbed a check-cashing agency by claiming a pack of yogurt was a bomb has received a life sentence under Washington’s three-strikes law.

James Robert Thorne, 66, of Everett was convicted of two robberies in the 1980s. The Everett Herald reported. In 1994, he was sentenced to life for robbing a hospital gift shop with a BB gun but won an appeal on the grounds that his lawyer did not consider an insanity defense.

In his most recent crime, Thorne got away with $2,000 after claiming that he had a bomb hidden in a bag that actually held a four-pack of Dannon strawberry yogurt.

Gabriel Rothstein, the defense lawyer, argued at Tuesday’s hearing that the judge should consider Thorne’s history of mental illness…

Superior Court Judge Gerard Knight said that Thorne might not do physical harm to anyone. “I just have a strong belief Mr. Thorne is going to re-offend and continue with his criminal behavior until he dies,” the judge said.

Somehow, I think someone who threatens to blow up a store with strawberry yogurt doesn’t need to be in a proper prison. The Happy Farm, maybe. But, then, that’s what his lawyer was suggesting wasn’t it?