The war on drugs has failed, empirically.

The multi-billion-dollar industry that is the War On Drugs, which has imprisoned countless people for simple possession and spurred development of for-profit prisons across America, “has failed”, according to a report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

The major players in the war are, of course, circling their wagons:

The office of White House drug tsar Gil Kerlikowske rejected the panel’s recommendations.

“Drug addiction is a disease that can be successfully prevented and treated,” said a spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

“Making drugs more available – as this report suggests – will make it harder to keep our communities healthy and safe.”

The government of Mexico, where more than 34,000 people have died in drug-related violence since a crackdown on the cartels began in December 2006, was also critical.

Legalisation would be an “insufficient and inefficient” step given the international nature of the illegal drugs trade, said National Security spokesman Alejandro Poire.

“Legalisation won’t stop organised crime, nor its rivalries and violence,” he said.

“To think organised crime in Mexico means drug-trafficking overlooks the other crimes committed such as kidnapping, extortion and robbery.”

Because Al Capone was able to build an empire of kidnapping, extortion and robbery without black-market hooch, I’m certain. How many of these arguments were used verbatim to justify prohibition? How many of the arrests were of kingpins, rather than for simple possession — and how many of the “drug trafficking” arrests were of people possessing small stockpiles that may have been intended for personal use? Seriously, I hear about people being arrested for growing one or two pot plants and the media plays it up like they’re drug kingpins. It’s ridiculous nonsense, and it has to stop.

Unfortunately, the powers-that-be appear to have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, ratcheting up the laws and building bigger for-profit prisons, or even state prisons that are commissioned by cronies of the people in power. Even the argument that one can make a lot of money legalizing, standardizing and taxing recreational drugs (and thereby fund an underfunded medical system) evidently falls on deaf ears when the money isn’t going directly into certain people’s cronies’ pockets.

This is a humanitarian cause. The mere fact that these demonized recreational pharmaceuticals do a mere fraction as much damage as alcohol, yet alcohol is a cash cow for the government (especially in Canada, with its provincially-run liquor commissions), is proof enough that the current abolitionist situation is not one based on evidence. If there were the merest scintilla of evidence that drug prohibition was worth the body count both in deaths and in lives ruined for which it’s directly responsible, then I’d be all for it.

But there is of course no such evidence to be had.

Dr. Craig Venter writes Hello World program

I’m a few days late with this, but still, this one’s a big win for science. And… the implications are staggering.

Dr. Craig Venter’s team has created life from non-living chemicals.

Life from non-life, and as close to “ex nihilo” as you can get without having to first create matter.

The team put four bottles of chemicals — specifically, cytosine, thymine, guanine and adenine — on a synthesizer and ran their script to build a life form. That’s C, T, G, and A. DNA from scratch. Only this time with an intervening designer. Meaning, no longer do we have to wait millions of years for creatures to evolve naturally — we can write them ourselves, once we’ve figured out all the intricacies of the code. We’re reverse-engineering the life source code engine of this universe. This is a Pandora’s Box that, like many other major achievements, could either save us or kill us all.

Craig Venter, the pioneering US geneticist behind the experiment, said the achievement heralds the dawn of a new era in which new life is made to benefit humanity, starting with bacteria that churn out biofuels, soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and even manufacture vaccines.
The new organism is based on an existing bacterium that causes mastitis in goats, but at its core is an entirely synthetic genome that was constructed from chemicals in the laboratory.
“We were ecstatic when the cells booted up with all the watermarks in place,” Dr Venter told the Guardian. “It’s a living species now, part of our planet’s inventory of life.”

And if it worked perfectly, like computer code, we might be able to fully flesh out and document the entirety of the language before attempting to write something more complex than the simple self-replicator Dr. Venter’s team has made. However, because this is based on chemical processes which do not always work exactly right every single time due to the minute variances that can occur at the microscopic level, mutations can happen. And like every microscopic organism, it’s well possible that these artificially created life forms could become the next Bubonic Plague. That’s not to say it’s LIKELY though, because any microorganism capable of killing its host in short order is not long for this world anyway before natural selection kicks in and kills it for being too successful by eating up all its viable hosts. This is a good thing. A bad thing, though, is that once we know more about rewriting microorganisms, we could be entering the sci-fi realm of designer viruses and accidental multi-species plagues.

With pretty much every new technology, though, there’s an end-of-the-world scenario that could be played out if we’re not careful. The trick is in learning how to protect this information from falling into “evil” hands, meaning no government in any country ever should ever be allowed to pursue research into it. Any weaponized application of synthetic life could spell an apocalypse that would be difficult, if not impossible, to combat.

However critics, including some religious groups, condemned the work, with one organisation warning that artificial organisms could escape into the wild and cause environmental havoc or be turned into biological weapons. Others said Venter was playing God.

“Playing God” simply means “proving that God’s role, if there ever was one in this universe, is within the reach of mankind.” It means that God did things mechanistically, and so can we.

Refute this, William Lane Craig.

I’m amazed, time and again, that William Lane Craig is as eminently respected in the world as he is. Certainly, he’s a polished debater, and would likely mop the floor with me in any sort of live debate (given especially that live debates do not lend well to matters of fact over opinion). But his ideas and arguments are easily refuted by anyone given any appreciable time to chew on.

Theoretical Bullshit asked that we do what we can to spread the word that William Lane Craig isn’t taking him as seriously as he deserves. The Kalam Cosmological Argument is nonsense, depending as it does on the premise that all things that begin to exist must be caused to exist, given that we’ve never seen the creation or elimination of matter from this universe (potential white holes notwithstanding, given that they could just be rearranging matter from one part of the universe to another). Who says the universe was “created” at all? Who says that, prior to the big bang if “prior” makes any sense whatsoever, that stuff wasn’t just always there? Or that it didn’t come from some other universe? Or that it didn’t come from some natural process possible only during the hairy physics that exists at the extreme ends of time itself?

While it’s true that things that are arranged into forms must be caused by mechanistic methods — sperm must meet egg to create a human fetus, unless we evolve parthenogenesis — this is the rearranging of existing matter. None of the matter that makes up you was “created” (in the same sense as the KCA uses) by your parents. Not even a newborn — it’s highly unlikely that, once born, the atoms that comprised the sperm and egg are incorporated into your being any more. You’re a collection of matter that’s self-arranged, built out of the constituent components from your environment. WLC’s “have I existed eternally” is a dodge, a strawman. The sub-atomic particles that make up WLC existed eternally, as far as we know, but they haven’t always been WLC, nor will they continue to be WLC indefinitely. By that token, the bits of carbon that constitute your being could very well been in any number of your predecessors, or other life forms — especially if you, as I do, have a habit of consuming biomass at breakfast, dinner and supper.

If you can prove that the universe did not or could not exist in some other state prior to the initial “creation event”, then I’ll accept the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Since you can’t presently falsify the postulate that the matter was always here, despite the fact that the postulate is perfectly falsifiable, then the KCA rests on a conflation of “creation” where matter is poofed into being ex nihilo, and “creation” where existing matter is rearranged into new and transient forms. The former is unproven and untenable in the face of the laws of thermodynamics, and the second is self-evident in every analogy used by every creationist ever to try to imply a “designer” for reality. A watch implies a watchmaker because watches don’t self-arrange in nature by any process in the laws of physics that don’t involve a sentient life form. Everything else implied by these incurious theists — the stars, the planet, mountains, rivers, and life itself — can.

White holes! (There’s a joke in there somewhere)

I’m too pumped about this possible find to bother hashing out the obvious body-part-related jokes available to me at the moment. White holes, AKA “little bangs”, AKA “time-reversed black holes”, AKA “a bunch of shit just suddenly barfed out into our spacetime at a random place and time with absolutely no warning”, may have been witnessed for the first time ever in a gamma ray burst (sans accompanying supernova) that we recorded back in 2006.

According to the linked io9 article:

A gamma ray burst back in 2006 didn’t fit with our understanding of where they come from – its long duration (102 seconds) meant that it had to be created in a supernova explosion, and yet there were no supernovas there for it to have come from. Its discoverers actually said that “this is brand new territory; we have no theories to guide us.”

Now, five years later, it’s being suggested that we might actually have caught sight of a white hole. The fierceness and duration of the explosion could well fit with a white hole briefly popping into existence, spewing out some matter, and then quickly collapsing into itself, resulting in this massive explosion. Although it’s not the most likely explanation – after all, it invokes something that many astronomers have concluded is exceedingly unlikely, verging on impossible – it can’t be immediately discounted.

The trouble is that we’ve found out all we’re going to from this particular burst, so all we can do now is wait for another of these strange hybrid bursts and see how it behaves. If these hybrid bursts really are white holes, then the universe is about to get a lot stranger.

The white hole phenomenon was postulated as part of the general theory of relativity, though physicists believed it was only possible at the Big Bang where initial conditions were much, much different than we see today because as far as we can tell, there’s no plausible mechanism by which they could emerge in our universe’s present state. A white hole acts exactly opposite to how a black hole would — matter is constantly streaming out of it (or at least until that matter is used up from its source), and nothing can ever enter, not even light. An Einstein-Rosen Bridge connects a black hole to a white hole, allowing faster than light travel (though losing any structural integrity) between two points in the universe. This is the concept that sci-fi generally piggybacks on when it postulates wormholes, Stargates, and other means of exploring this vast universe of ours.

Because the bridge connecting the two disparate places must travel outside the boundaries of the universe, and time only means something inside the context of the universe, you get instant travel. Of course, everything passing through a black hole has got to miss the theoretical singularity to get shunted through any Einstein-Rosen Bridge intact, which (as far as any math seems to be concerned) is a theoretical and practical impossibility. The really cool part about this is the fact that if this is true, where a white hole appears would suddenly collapse under its own weight and become another black hole, perpetuating the cycle possibly infinitely. The really hairy bit about this is, how does a white hole and a black hole match up? It’s plausible that, since this universe is probably 11-dimensional, those two spots are near one another on one particular dimension that doesn’t correspond with the three-plus-one we’re used to interpreting. It could mean the universe is very knotted or braney, and it could provide good evidence for the possibility that one black hole’s connected to a white hole in another universe entirely, if our universe happens to be near another one on that dimension. Who knows? Perhaps every black hole is connected to a white hole in another universe, and vice versa.

Or even hairier, some physicists postulate that this entire universe is the ejecta (via the Big Bang) from a black hole in some other one. Perhaps there’s a constant interchange of matter between any number of universes. It would certainly explain why this universe “began”, given that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. We might just be the result of some other universe’s Big Crunch. This theory, if correct, would certainly lend credence to M-Theory and would explain away a lot of issues that physicists presently have with the Big Bang.

The paper at arXiv has more details about this 2006 phenomenon and the (admittedly unlikely but awesome) postulate. Super cool.