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Bob Whitcomb’s Digital Diary: Legalizing Marijuana, Green Power, and Howard Johnson

Saturday, September 24, 2016


Bob Whitcomb

Bob Whitcomb's weekly examination of everything that is important. Only Whitcomb offers such a collection of insights of the global and local issues that matter the most.

Grassy gateway; lies don’t matter; wave theory; an idea of quaintness

We ought to be very careful about  legalizing marijuana, but that’s what’s happening in various states as legal (and illegal) sales of the stuff, mostly promoted for  real and alleged medicinal reasons, surge around America.

I have always been very skeptical about some of the assertions made for pot, in Rhode Island and elsewhere, as something that could be tightly regulated (yeah, right!) and that would be mostly used by people in pain from cancer or other serious illness and injuries.

It’s still early in the mainstream marijuana epoch, but a minimal knowledge of human nature would suggest that, whatever the claims of the  marijuana-dispensary industry, that most people who buy their stuff will simply want to get stoned.  Yes, adults can easily buy alcohol and get drunk, but do we want to add yet another easy way to be intoxicated?

Further data suggest that marijuana use is likely to lead some people to other drugs, such as cocaine, opioids and good old-fashioned booze. It’s a gateway.

Marijuana Legalization

The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes:

“A study using longitudinal data from the National Epidemiological Study of Alcohol Use and Related Disorders found that adults who reported marijuana use during the first wave of the survey were more likely than non-users to develop an alcohol use disorder within three  years; marijuana users who already had an alcohol use disorder at the outset were at greater risk of their alcohol use disorder worsening. Marijuana use is also linked to other substance use disorders, including nicotine addiction.

The agency continued:

“Early exposure to cannabinoids in adolescent rodents decreases the reactivity of brain dopamine reward centers later in adulthood. To the extent that these findings generalize to humans, this could help explain the increased vulnerability for addiction to other substances of abuse later in life that most epidemiological studies have reported for people who begin marijuana use early in life. It is also consistent with animal experiments showing THC's  {an active ingredient in marijuana} ability to "prime" the brain for enhanced responses to other drugs. For example, rats previously administered THC show heightened behavioral response not only when further exposed to THC but also when exposed to other drugs such as morphine—a phenomenon called cross-sensitization.’’

Then there’s how marijuana use expands America’s slob culture.

Susan Pinker, a psychologist, author and social-science columnist for The Wall Street Journal, looked into this and wrote an article headlined “Marijuana Makes for Slackers? Now There’s Evidence’’.

She cited a new study  in the journal Psychopharmacology by a University College London team that showed that inhaling cannabis can “induce people to choose an easy task more often, eschewing the harder one that offered four times the payoff. ‘’

“Thinking that it’s harmless, that you can smoke cannabis and you’ll be fine, is a false assumption,” said Michael Bloomfield,  M.D., a University College London professor in psychiatry and one of the  authors of a study done there on marijuana effects. “THC {one of the active ingredients in marijuana} alters how willing you are to try things that are more difficult.”

It makes users lazier.


Hillary Clinton

In other slob-culture news is the  admission by  pathological liar and con man Donald Trump that the idea that he has promoted for years that President Obama was born in Kenya is a lie. Then Mr. Trump lied again and blamed Hillary Clinton’s 2008 primary campaign for it.

But his fans, many of whom are living in the TV/ talk radio fantasy world (“Reality TV indeed!) that made the crooked real-estate developer and showman famous, and who rarely bestir themselves to  seriously research anything, don’t care.  So much has American life come to be dominated by popular-culture escapism, and so degraded has our civic life become, that millions of people support a person of astonishing corruption in his public and personal life. One wonders whether they’d erupt in rage when a President Trump’s promises are revealed to be as fraudulent as much of the rest of his sleazy career.

I have not been a Hillary Clinton supporter (for the Democrats I preferred Jim Webb or even former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley; for the Republicans: the  very innovative, articulate and thoughtful former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, now president of Purdue.) But to make a moral equivalence between  the battered, secretive  and greedy Mrs. Clinton, who has told some self-protective lies rather typical of a public figure,  and Mr. Trump, probably the most corrupt major-party presidential nominee in history, is absurd.

Some amusing statistics: 71 percent of The Donald’s assertions reviewed by Politifact were deemed mostly or totally false while “only’’ 28 percent of Mrs. Clintons were. Yikes!

But stop blaming Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump and start blaming the public that hired them, either by voting for them or being too lazy to vote at all as the Demagoguery Entertainment Industrial Complex continues to expand.


The old line, at least since New Englanders stopped using waterpower to run most of its mills, has been that New England has little in the way of energy sources. That’s been changing for the past few years, with wind turbines and solar arrays popping up. For a while, of course, people held out hope that fracking for natural gas from relatively nearby places, particularly Pennsylvania, would conveniently help address environmental issues and help maintain the region’s energy stability. But it turns out that the fracking process releases so much methane into the air that it will make global warming  considerably worse, although of course it’s less obviously dirty than oil and coal.

An additional source of energy for New England is wave power.  (Tidal power is also being worked on.) I used to write about wave power years back when I worked for The Providence Journal. Nine finalists for a U.S. Energy Department award of $1.5 million for wave-energy innovation have been having their technology tested at a Navy wave tank in Carderock, Maryland.

The DOE estimates that wave power that might be developed off U.S. coasts could provide almost a third of America’s annual electricity use.  God knows that the New England’s coastal waters have heavy-duty waves, excluding the bays. Let’s hope that New England-linked companies, such as Sea Potential, with U.S. operations based in Bristol, succeed in getting a big hunk of this business, aided by our local research and development companies and universities. Of course launching these new sources of electricity will pose a challenge to maintaining the region’s electricity grid, which has been based on big gas, oil and nuclear plants.


Are Casinos Economic Development?

The con men promoting casinos as “economic development’’ are relentless, as is the wishful thinking of locals who think that long-run prosperity (and low taxes) will come from hosting a casino in their community.  A tour of  most casino towns would disabuse them of this idea, an idea that becomes ever more misleading as the gambling market is fragmented by more casinos and the coming of heavy-duty gambling on the Internet.

It should not take a genius to figure out that casinos are parasites sucking money from households and local businesses and sending it to far-away investors. The way to create local wealth is to make, grow or invent stuff, not to get locals to spend their money in a casino. Perhaps this will become clearer to the people of Tiverton, now considering having  a casino in that now mostly pretty town.


The bombings in and around New York pose an interesting question of mass psychology: Big cities such as New York have become increasingly popular since their socio-economic trough 40 years ago. Their energy, excitement and diversity are powerful draws despite the crowding and cost.

That New York came back so strongly after 9/11 is a tribute to the allure of the city, which Pope John Paul II famously called “The Capital of the World’’.  But will an era of many smaller and dispersed attacks, some  organized by terror groups and some by individuals who are  merely inspired by the groups, or just crazy, wear down urbanites’ resilience?

Back in 1986, there were 10 terror bombings (killing a total of 16 people) in Paris, where my family and I were living. One happened at the Tati department store a few blocks down the street from our apartment (seven killed; 55 hurt).

A reporter called me from the States to ask our reaction to the blasts. Were we scared? No. Terror attacks are rather like a visit from a tornado: An act of God. And the advantages of living in Paris far outweighed the dangers from living amongst so many people.

A review of history reveals that American cities have seen many bombings since the mid-19th Century. Anarchists and others favored such terror tactics. In varying degrees, we’ve been in an  “Age of Terror’’ for a long, long time.


Howard Johnson

It’s not a literary masterpiece but many New Englanders of a certain age will wistfully enjoy A History of Howard Johnson’s: How a Massachusetts Soda Fountain Became an American Icon, by Anthony Mitchell Sammarco. Reader’s Digest in 1949 called the restaurants “eating places that look like New England town meeting houses dressed up for Sunday.’’

Well, not exactly, but did they did evoke a certain 20th Century idea of “quaintness’’. And the heart-attack-inducing ice cream  and fried clams were delicious.

Mr. Howard, who was married four times himself, promoted his establishments as family restaurants. But families aren’t what they used to be.


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