Good article from the New Yorker from last year that I missed. Worth reading. The description of the Palo Santo wood is great. [Updated to fix link 3/19/09]


The Economist comes out for the legalization of all drugs:

Nowadays the UN Office on Drugs and Crime no longer talks about a drug-free world. Its boast is that the drug market has “stabilised”, meaning that more than 200m people, or almost 5% of the world’s adult population, still take illegal drugs—roughly the same proportion as a decade ago. (Like most purported drug facts, this one is just an educated guess: evidential rigour is another casualty of illegality.) The production of cocaine and opium is probably about the same as it was a decade ago; that of cannabis is higher. Consumption of cocaine has declined gradually in the United States from its peak in the early 1980s, but the path is uneven (it remains higher than in the mid-1990s), and it is rising in many places, including Europe.

This is not for want of effort. The United States alone spends some $40 billion each year on trying to eliminate the supply of drugs. It arrests 1.5m of its citizens each year for drug offences, locking up half a million of them; tougher drug laws are the main reason why one in five black American men spend some time behind bars. In the developing world blood is being shed at an astonishing rate. In Mexico more than 800 policemen and soldiers have been killed since December 2006 (and the annual overall death toll is running at over 6,000). This week yet another leader of a troubled drug-ridden country—Guinea Bissau—was assassinated.

Yet prohibition itself vitiates the efforts of the drug warriors. The price of an illegal substance is determined more by the cost of distribution than of production. Take cocaine: the mark-up between coca field and consumer is more than a hundredfold. Even if dumping weedkiller on the crops of peasant farmers quadruples the local price of coca leaves, this tends to have little impact on the street price, which is set mainly by the risk of getting cocaine into Europe or the United States.

Nowadays the drug warriors claim to seize close to half of all the cocaine that is produced. The street price in the United States does seem to have risen, and the purity seems to have fallen, over the past year. But it is not clear that drug demand drops when prices rise. On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence that the drug business quickly adapts to market disruption. At best, effective repression merely forces it to shift production sites. Thus opium has moved from Turkey and Thailand to Myanmar and southern Afghanistan, where it undermines the West’s efforts to defeat the Taliban.

So wrong, and yet so funny:

As anyone who has spent any substantial amount of time on the Virginia side of the DC metro area can attest, getting around the city can be a royal pain in the ass.  If you live in DC proper, you can get to most places using the metro system alone.  In fact, considering the ways people drive in DC, taking a car often seems like a death wish.  If you live on the other side of the river, you can generally get by without a car as long as you spend most of your time in the Ballston-Rosslyn corridor.  If you need to go to Shirlington, Tyson’s Corner, or anything on 66, things become difficult.  If you have a car, driving to and from work will almost guaranteed lead you to spend a considerable amount of time sitting in traffic.  And as everyone in the area knows, getting to Dulles Airport can be quite frustrating.

The primary source for the considerable congestion is Virginia politics.  Funding for transportation for the state is controlled by the Virginia Legislature, which is still dominated by representatives hailing from areas south of Northern Virginia (the Virginia side of the DC metro area).  These politicians from “real Virginia” continue to withhold money for transportation projects in Northern Virginia for decades, even though Northern Virginians provide substantially more tax revenue per capita than the rest of the state.  The result is stagnant road and rail maintenance and construction in Northern Virginia, which has seen an absolute population explosion in the last decade or so.  The result is unbearable congestion.

The other problem with expanding the DC metro system is that it exists in a peculiar legal space. The Washington Metro Authority was created with a “compact,” between the states of Virginia and Maryland and the Federal Government.  It is not a state law, but at the same time not a treaty, because it is between the federal government and U.S. states, not foreign sovereign nations.  This construction means that it is difficult to raise adequate funding, because Virginia, Maryland, and Congress have agreed to provide funds for the system.  This has led to chronic arguing and bickering between the three entities, because running a subway system is expensive, and they all believe that the other two entities are not pulling their weight.

The good news is that the fabled “silver line,” which has been in incubation for years, if not decades, has just begun construction.  The line extends from the orange line, which ends in Vienna, and will make it possible to take the metro rail from Dulles all the way to the capitol (estimated ride time: 55 minutes).  The project had been in dire straights as recently as last year, but federal regulators recently approved funding to begin the project, which is expected to clock in at a staggering $5.2 billion for the entire project.  The project won’t be finished until 2013 (let’s hope), but the fact that construction has started is encouraging news.  A map of the project:


Tyson’s corner is expected to receive 4 stations on the line as well, which is critically important for the region.  Tyson’s has 120,000 jobs but only 17,000 residents (according to the Washington Post).  Commuter traffic to and from Tyson’s has reached horrific proportions, so if the silver line can do anything to alleviate the burden, we will see a marked improvement in the lives of hundreds of thousands of Virginians.  Residents and Visitors to the DC area will also benefit from the option of taking a metro rail from Dulles all the way to the center of the city.  A map of the Tyson’s Corner is below:


As a car-less citizen of Northen Virginia (who has to take the metro and transfer to a bus to get to work in Tyson’s every day), the news of the silver line becoming a reality makes me very happy.  Anything that reduces the dependency of cars in American should be considered a welcome development.

More information available at dullesmetro.com.

Great stuff:

For years mainstream conservatives have denounced people who hold different policy views on the war, anti-terrorism and treatment of detainees as “anti-American” and worse, and not because they actually wished for Bush’s failure but because they opposed government policy, questioned the honesty of its leaders and condemned its illegal and immoral acts. In other words, these critics dissented and tried to hold the government accountable, and for the most part the people now trying to wrap themselves in the mantle of patriotic dissent ridiculed and denounced them for claiming that their dissent was patriotic. In much the same way, loyalists who defended one executive usurpation after another have started to transform almost overnight into vigilant watchdogs worried about an overreaching President. The principles involved are valid ones–checking abuses of power, holding government accountable, and refusing to endorse policies that you know will probably only make things worse. The problem is that many of the people now “rediscovering” them have a lot of nerve to lecture anyone else about them after all the things they have justified and enabled.


From now on, we should talk about the rich giving the poor a golden shower.  Of money and gold, of course!