Archive for the 'politics' Category

Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered.

25/06/2012

The Micronauts:

Networks: Giant mega corporations. Cool! have some money!

Hardware: Giant mega corporations. Cool! have some money!

Artists: 99.9 % lower middle class. Screw you, you greedy bastards!

Originally posted on The Trichordist:

Recently Emily White, an intern at NPR All Songs Considered and GM of what appears to be her college radio station, wrote a post on the NPR blog in which she acknowledged that while she had 11,000 songs in her music library, she’s only paid for 15 CDs in her life. Our intention is not to embarrass or shame her. We believe young people like Emily White who are fully engaged in the music scene are the artist’s biggest allies. We also believe–for reasons we’ll get into–that she has been been badly misinformed by the Free Culture movement. We only ask the opportunity to present a countervailing viewpoint.

Emily:

My intention here is not to shame you or embarrass you. I believe you are already on the side of musicians and artists and you are just grappling with how to do the right thing. I applaud your courage in admitting…

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How Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories May Pose A Genuine Threat To Humanity

11/02/2012

Joshua Holland for AlterNet, 25 December 2011:

The paranoia infecting a broad swath of the American right-wing can be comical at times—think about Orly Taitz and her fellow Birthers. But we laugh at our own peril, because what Richard Hofstadter famously characterized as “the paranoid style in American politics” poses a serious threat to our future: the right’s snowballing conspiracy theories could ultimately lead to disaster.

Consider what’s happening in Virginia’s Middle Peninsula on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay, among the areas in the U.S. most vulnerable to climate change. Earlier this month, Darryl Fears, reporting for the Washington Post, offered a glimpse into the madness that city planners have faced in recent months as a local Tea Party group, convinced that a nefarious plot by scientists and city officials is afoot, have disrupted their work trying to mitigate the potential impacts of rising sea levels.

“The uprising,” wrote Fears, “began at a February meeting about starting a business park for farming oysters in Mathews County.” He continued:

The program to help restore the Chesapeake Bay oyster population was slated for land owned by the county, but it was shouted down as a useless federal program that would expand the national debt. The proposal was tabled.

As the opposition grew over the summer, confrontations became so heated that some planners posted uniformed police officers at meetings and others hired consultants to help calm audiences and manage the indoor environment, several planners said.

In James City County, speakers were shouted away from a podium. In Page County, angry farmers forced commissioners to stop a meeting. In Gloucester County, planners sat stone-faced as activists took turns reading portions of the 500-page Agenda 21 text, delaying a meeting for more than an hour.

“Agenda 21” is one of a number of silly but dangerous conspiracy theories sweeping through the fever swamps of the right. Although admittedly sinister-sounding, Agenda 21 is just a blueprint for sustainable development, especially in emerging economies. It outlines how wealthier countries can contribute to smarter growth through technology transfers and public education. It stresses the importance of fighting deforestation and conserving bio-diversity—all things that normal people would consider wise.

The important thing to understand about Agenda 21 is that there is absolutely nothing binding or compelling member countries to implement any part of it. It’s not a treaty—it is entirely voluntary and certainly doesn’t have any connection to local governments. Yet for the right, with its long John Birch Society undercurrent of paranoia about international institutions, Agenda 21 represents some kind of dark UN conspiracy to impose socialism on the “free world.”

That craziness lies at the heart of Michele Bachmann’s quixotic war on energy-efficient lightbulbs. Tim Murphy reported, “The Minnesota congresswoman is part of a movement that considers ‘sustainability’ an existential threat to the United States, one with far-reaching consequences for education, transportation, and family values.”

Last year, during the Denver mayoral race, Tea Party candidate Dan Maes argued that a local bike-sharing program, a popular initiative among city residents, was a “very well-disguised” part of a plan by then-Denver mayor (and now Colorado governor) John Hickenlooper for “converting Denver into a United Nations community.” Alex Jones constantly hawks the conspiracy. Glenn Beck warned it would lead to “centralized control over all of human life on planet Earth.” And in September, Newt Gingrich, hoping to burnish his wingnutty creds, told a group of Orlando Tea Partiers that, if elected, his first order of business would be “to cease all federal funding of any kind of activity that relates to United Nations Agenda 21” (Currently, no federal funding of any kind is used for implementing Agenda 21).

It’s causing uprisings like that seen in Virginia at ordinarily dull city planning board meetings across the country. As Stephanie Mencimer reported for Mother Jones, “Agenda 21 paranoia has swept the Tea Party scene, driving activists around the country to delve into the minutiae of local governance… they’re descending on planning meetings and transit debates, wielding PowerPoints about Agenda 21, and generally freaking out low-level bureaucrats with accusations about their roles in a supposed international conspiracy.”

Agenda 21 is inextricably linked to the most dangerous conspiracy theory going: that 97 percent of the world’s climate scientists are lying when they say human activities are contributing to global climate change. This, too, is supposedly in service of the goal of destroying capitalism, which means one has to believe that climatologists around the world are not only all very political—enough to conspire to deceive the entire world—but they also all share the same largely discredited ideology.

Back in Virginia, the Coastal Zone Management program is struggling to “help prepare for the predicted effects of climate change, especially sea-level rise on Virginia’s coastal resources.” The area is uniquely imperiled; in June, Darryl Fears, a science correspondent, reported that Hampton Roads is especially vulnerable because several rivers run through it on their way to the Chesapeake Bay. He continued:

Unfortunately, this crowded, low-lying area also has long-term geological issues to deal with. Thirty-five million years ago, a meteor landed relatively close by and created the Chesapeake Bay Impact Crater. Hampton Roads is also home to a downward-pressing glacial formation created during the Ice Age. Scientists theorize that these ancient occurrences are causing the land to sink—and together account for about one-third of the sea-level change.

Fears notes that “the water has risen so much that Naval Station Norfolk is replacing 14 piers at $60 million each to keep ship-repair facilities high and dry,” but “this geology is lost in local meetings, where distrust of the local and federal governments is at center stage.”

And their harassment is having the desired effect of “freaking out low-level bureaucrats” trying to prepare the area for the changes to come, preparations that have absolutely nothing to do with the United Nations, Agenda 21 or “socialism.” According to Fears, Shereen Hughes, a former planning commissioner, is “worried that some officials are giving ground to fearmongers. The uprising against smart growth ‘is ridiculous’ and ‘a conspiracy theory,’ she said. But it’s effective.”

Planners aren’t saying this is wrong, Hughes said, because “most are afraid they won’t have a job if they’re too vocal about this issue.” Tea Party members have political allies who “might stand up” against planners who complain, Hughes said.

In his excellent book, Collapse, scientist Jared Diamond looked at a number of societies that had seen their physical climates change. He tried to determine what made some cultures die out while others persevered. According to Diamond, it wasn’t the severity of the change, or its speed that was the determining factor. One important variable was the foresight of those societies’ leaders—their ability to properly diagnose the problem and adapt, to come up with proactive solutions to the problems they faced.

Diamond, in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, said, “one always has to ask about people’s cultural response. Why is it that people failed to perceive the problems developing around them, or if they perceived them, why did they fail to solve the problems that would eventually do them in? Why did some peoples perceive and recognize their problems and others not?” Diamond explained:

A theme that emerges… is insulation of the decision-making elite from the consequences of their actions. That is to say, in societies where the elites do not suffer from the consequences of their decisions, but can insulate themselves, the elite are more likely to pursue their short-term interests, even though that may be bad for the long-term interests of the society, including the children of the elite themselves.

Today, oil and gas corporations are still funding a bunch of crank climate change deniers in order to avoid regulations that might slow their “short-term interests” in extracting as much wealth as they can from traditional hydrocarbons. And here we have Tea Partiers—a “movement” nurtured by business-friendly Republican operatives and backed by the Koch brothers’ dirty energy money—being whipped into a frenzy by the likes of Glenn Beck and shouting down local planners trying to do something about rising water levels. They’re freaking out about energy-efficient lightbulbs and bike-sharing programs, the very sorts of things we need in order to stave off disaster.

So the next time you hear a wingnut spewing feverish nonsense about “climategate” or the “globalist agenda,” remember that this is not just fodder for late-night TV monologues, but the kind of stuff that has in the past brought societies faced with changing environments to their ultimate end.

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A Christmas Message From America’s Rich

24/12/2011

Matt Taibbi (Taibblog) for Rolling Stone, 22 December 2011 (via Daring Fireball):

It seems America’s bankers are tired of all the abuse. They’ve decided to speak out.

True, they’re doing it from behind the ropeline, in front of friendly crowds at industry conferences and country clubs, meaning they don’t have to look the rest of America in the eye when they call us all imbeciles and complain that they shouldn’t have to apologize for being so successful.

But while they haven’t yet deigned to talk to protesting America face to face, they are willing to scribble out some complaints on notes and send them downstairs on silver trays. Courtesy of a remarkable story by Max Abelson at Bloomberg, we now get to hear some of those choice comments.

Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus, for instance, is not worried about OWS:

“Who gives a crap about some imbecile?” Marcus said. “Are you kidding me?”

Former New York gurbernatorial candidate Tom Golisano, the billionaire owner of the billing firm Paychex, offered his wisdom while his half-his-age tennis champion girlfriend hung on his arm:

“If I hear a politician use the term ‘paying your fair share’ one more time, I’m going to vomit,” said Golisano, who turned 70 last month, celebrating the birthday with girlfriend Monica Seles, the former tennis star who won nine Grand Slam singles titles.

Then there’s Leon Cooperman, the former chief of Goldman Sachs’s money-management unit, who said he was urged to speak out by his fellow golfers. His message was a version of Wall Street’s increasingly popular If-you-people-want-a-job, then-you’ll-shut-the-fuck-up rhetorical line:

Cooperman, 68, said in an interview that he can’t walk through the dining room of St. Andrews Country Club in Boca Raton, Florida, without being thanked for speaking up. At least four people expressed their gratitude on Dec. 5 while he was eating an egg-white omelet, he said.

“You’ll get more out of me,” the billionaire said, “if you treat me with respect.”

Finally, there is this from Blackstone CEO Steven Schwartzman:

Asked if he were willing to pay more taxes in a Nov. 30 interview with Bloomberg Television, Blackstone Group LP CEO Stephen Schwarzman spoke about lower-income U.S. families who pay no income tax.

“You have to have skin in the game,” said Schwarzman, 64. “I’m not saying how much people should do. But we should all be part of the system.”

There are obviously a great many things that one could say about this remarkable collection of quotes. One could even, if one wanted, simply savor them alone, without commentary, like lumps of fresh caviar, or raw oysters.

But out of Abelson’s collection of doleful woe-is-us complaints from the offended rich, the one that deserves the most attention is Schwarzman’s line about lower-income folks lacking “skin in the game.” This incredible statement gets right to the heart of why these people suck.

Why? It’s not because Schwarzman is factually wrong about lower-income people having no “skin in the game,” ignoring the fact that everyone pays sales taxes, and most everyone pays payroll taxes, and of course there are property taxes for even the lowliest subprime mortgage holders, and so on.

It’s not even because Schwarzman probably himself pays close to zero in income tax—as a private equity chief, he doesn’t pay income tax but tax on carried interest, which carries a maximum 15% tax rate, half the rate of a New York City firefighter.

The real issue has to do with the context of Schwarzman’s quote. The Blackstone billionaire, remember, is one of the more uniquely abhorrent, self-congratulating jerks in the entire world—a man who famously symbolized the excesses of the crisis era when, just as the rest of America was heading into a recession, he threw himself a $5 million birthday party, featuring private performances by Rod Stewart and Patti Labelle, to celebrate an IPO that made him $677 million in a matter of days (within a year, incidentally, the investors who bought that stock would lose three-fourths of their investments).

So that IPO birthday boy is now standing up and insisting, with a straight face, that America’s problem is that compared to taxpaying billionaires like himself, poor people are not invested enough in our society’s future. Apparently, we’d all be in much better shape if the poor were as motivated as Steven Schwarzman is to make America a better place.

But it seems to me that if you’re broke enough that you’re not paying any income tax, you’ve got nothing but skin in the game. You’ve got it all riding on how well America works.

You can’t afford private security: you need to depend on the police. You can’t afford private health care: Medicare is all you have. You get arrested, you’re not hiring Davis, Polk to get you out of jail: you rely on a public defender to negotiate a court system you’d better pray deals with everyone from the same deck. And you can’t hire landscapers to manicure your lawn and trim your trees: you need the garbage man to come on time and you need the city to patch the potholes in your street.

And in the bigger picture, of course, you need the state and the private sector both to be functioning well enough to provide you with regular work, and a safe place to raise your children, and clean water and clean air.

The entire ethos of modern Wall Street, on the other hand, is complete indifference to all of these matters. The very rich on today’s Wall Street are now so rich that they buy their own social infrastructure. They hire private security, they live on gated mansions on islands and other tax havens, and most notably, they buy their own justice and their own government.

An ordinary person who has a problem that needs fixing puts a letter in the mail to his congressman and sends it to stand in a line in some DC mailroom with thousands of others, waiting for a response.

But citizens of the stateless archipelago where people like Schwarzman live spend millions a year lobbying and donating to political campaigns so that they can jump the line. They don’t need to make sure the government is fulfilling its customer-service obligations, because they buy special access to the government, and get the special service and the metaphorical comped bottle of VIP-room Cristal afforded to select customers.

Want to lower the capital reserve requirements for investment banks? Then-Goldman CEO Hank Paulson takes a meeting with SEC chief Bill Donaldson, and gets it done. Want to kill an attempt to erase the carried interest tax break? Guys like Schwarzman, and Apollo’s Leon Black, and Carlyle’s David Rubenstein, they just show up in Washington at Max Baucus’s doorstep, and they get it killed.

Some of these people take that VIP-room idea a step further. J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon—the man the New York Times once called “Obama’s favorite banker”—had an excellent method of guaranteeing that the Federal Reserve system’s doors would always be open to him. What he did was, he served as the Chairman of the Board of the New York Fed.

And in 2008, in that moonlighting capacity, he orchestrated a deal in which the Fed provided $29 billion in assistance to help his own bank, Chase, buy up the teetering investment firm Bear Stearns. You read that right: Jamie Dimon helped give himself a bailout. Who needs to worry about good government, when you are the government?

Dimon, incidentally, is another one of those bankers who’s complaining now about the unfair criticism. “Acting like everyone who’s been successful is bad and because you’re rich you’re bad, I don’t understand it,” he recently said, at an investor’s conference.

Hmm. Is Dimon right? Do people hate him just because he’s rich and successful? That really would be unfair. Maybe we should ask the people of Jefferson County, Alabama, what they think.

That particular locality is now in bankruptcy proceedings primarily because Dimon’s bank, Chase, used middlemen to bribe local officials—literally bribe, with cash and watches and new suits—to sign on to a series of onerous interest-rate swap deals that vastly expanded the county’s debt burden.

Essentially, Jamie Dimon handed Birmingham, Alabama a Chase credit card and then bribed its local officials to run up a gigantic balance, leaving future residents and those residents’ children with the bill. As a result, the citizens of Jefferson County will now be making payments to Chase until the end of time.

Do you think Jamie Dimon would have done that deal if he lived in Jefferson County? Put it this way: if he was trying to support two kids on $30,000 a year, and lived in a Birmingham neighborhood full of people in the same boat, would he sign off on a deal that jacked up everyone’s sewer bills 400% for the next thirty years?

Doubtful. But then again, people like Jamie Dimon aren’t really citizens of any country. They live in their own gated archipelago, and the rest of the world is a dumping ground.

Just look at how Chase behaved in Greece, for example.

Having seen how well interest-rate swaps worked for Jefferson County, Alabama, Chase “helped” Greece mask its debt problem for years by selling a similar series of swaps to the Greek government. The bank then turned around and worked with banks like Goldman, Sachs to create a thing called the iTraxx SovX Western Europe index, which allowed investors to bet against Greek debt.

In other words, Chase knowingly larded up the nation of Greece with a crippling future debt burden, then turned around and helped the world bet against Greek debt.

Does a citizen of Greece do that deal? Forget that: does a human being do that deal?

Operations like the Greek swap/short index maneuver were easy money for banks like Goldman and Chase—hell, it’s a no-lose play, like cutting a car’s brake lines and then betting on the driver to crash—but they helped create the monstrous European debt problem that this very minute is threatening to send the entire world economy into collapse, which would result in who knows what horrors. At minimum, millions might lose their jobs and benefits and homes. Millions more will be ruined financially.

But why should Chase and Goldman care what happens to those people? Do they have any skin in that game?

Of course not. We’re talking about banks that not only didn’t warn the citizens of Greece about their future debt disaster, they actively traded on that information, to make money for themselves.

People like Dimon, and Schwarzman, and John Paulson, and all of the rest of them who think the “imbeciles” on the streets are simply full of reasonless class anger, they don’t get it. Nobody hates them for being successful. And not that this needs repeating, but nobody even minds that they are rich.

What makes people furious is that they have stopped being citizens.

Most of us 99-percenters couldn’t even let our dogs leave a dump on the sidewalk without feeling ashamed before our neighbors. It’s called having a conscience: even though there are plenty of things most of us could get away with doing, we just don’t do them, because, well, we live here. Most of us wouldn’t take a million dollars to swindle the local school system, or put our next door neighbors out on the street with a robosigned foreclosure, or steal the life’s savings of some old pensioner down the block by selling him a bunch of worthless securities.

But our Too-Big-To-Fail banks unhesitatingly take billions in bailout money and then turn right around and finance the export of jobs to new locations in China and India. They defraud the pension funds of state workers into buying billions of their crap mortgage assets. They take zero-interest loans from the state and then lend that same money back to us at interest. Or, like Chase, they bribe the politicians serving countries and states and cities and even school boards to take on crippling debt deals.

Nobody with real skin in the game, who had any kind of stake in our collective future, would do any of those things. Or, if a person did do those things, you’d at least expect him to have enough shame not to whine to a Bloomberg reporter when the rest of us complained about it.

But these people don’t have shame. What they have, in the place where most of us have shame, are extra sets of balls. Just listen to Cooperman, the former Goldman exec from that country club in Boca. According to Cooperman, the rich do contribute to society:

Capitalists “are not the scourge that they are too often made out to be” and the wealthy aren’t “a monolithic, selfish and unfeeling lot,” Cooperman wrote. They make products that “fill store shelves at Christmas…”

Unbelievable. Merry Christmas, bankers. And good luck getting that message out.

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“Dear Jamie Dimon,” by Joshua M. Brown, financial advisor, for The Reformed Broker, 20 December 2011:

Dear Jamie Dimon,

I hope this note finds you well.

I am writing to profess my utter disbelief at how little you seem to understand the current mood of the nation. In a story at Bloomberg today, you and a handful of fellow banker and billionaire “job creators” were quoted as believing that the horrific sentiment directed toward you from virtually all corners of America had something to do with how much money you had. I’d like to take a moment to disabuse you of this foolishness.

America is different than almost every other place on earth in that its citizenry reveres the wealthy and we are raised to believe that we can all one day join the ranks of the rich. The lack of a caste system or visible rungs of society’s ladder is what separates our empire from so many fallen empires throughout history. In a nation bereft of royalty by virtue of its republican birth, the American people have done what any other resourceful people would do—we’ve created our own royalty and our royalty is the 1%. Not only do we not “hate the rich” as you and other em-bubbled plutocrats have postulated, in point of fact, we love them. We worship our rich to the point of obsession. The highest-rated television shows uniformly feature the unimaginably fabulous families of celebrities not to mention the housewives (real or otherwise) of the rich. We don’t care what color they are or what religion they practice or where in the country they live or what channel their show is on—if they’re rich, we are watching.

When Derek Jeter was toyed with by the New York Yankees when it came time for him to renew his next hundred million dollar contract, the people empathized with Derek Jeter. Sure, this disagreement essentially took place between one of the wealthiest organizations in the country and one of the wealthiest private citizens—but we rooted for Jeter to get his money. Nobody begrudged him a penny of it or wanted a piece of it or decried the fact that he was luckier than the rest of us. In the American psyche, Jeter was one of the good guys who was deservedly successful. He was one of us and an example of hard work paying off.

Likewise, when Steve Jobs died, he did so with more money than you or any of your “job alliance” buddies—ten times more than most of you, in fact. And upon his death the entire nation went into mourning. We set up makeshift shrines to his brilliance in front of Apple stores from coast to coast. His biography flew off the shelves and people bought Apple products and stock shares in his honor and in his memory. Does that strike you as the action of a populace that hates success?

No, Jamie, it is not that Americans hate successful people or the wealthy. In fact, it is just the opposite. We love the success stories in our midst and it is a distinctly American trait to believe that we can all follow in the footsteps of the elite, even though so few of us ever actually do.

So, no, we don’t hate the rich. What we hate are the predators.

What we hate are the people who we view as having found their success as a consequence of the damage their activities have done to our country. What we hate are those who take and give nothing back in the form of innovation, convenience, entertainment or scientific progress. We hate those who’ve exploited political relationships and stupidity to rake in even more of the nation’s wealth while simultaneously driving the potential for success further away from the grasp of everyone else.

Here in New York, we hated watching real estate and financial services elitists drive up the prices of everything from affordable apartments to martinis in midtown with the reckless speculation that would eventually lead to mass layoffs, rampant joblessness and the wreckage of so many retirement dreams. No one ever asked the rest of us if we minded, it just happened. I’m sure people across the country can tell similar stories.

So please, do us all a favor and come to the realization that the loathing you feel from your fellow Americans has nothing to do with your “success” or your “wealth” and it has everything to do with the fact that your wealth and success have come at a cost to the rest of us. No one wants your money or opportunities, what they want is the same chance that their parents had to attain these things for themselves. You are viewed, and rightfully so, as part of the machine that has removed this chance for many—and that is what they hate.

America hates unjustified privilege, it hates an unfair playing field and crony capitalism without the threat of bankruptcy, it hates privatized gains and socialized losses, it hates rule changes that benefit the few at the expense of the many and it hates people who have been bailed out and don’t display even the slightest bit of remorse or humbleness in the presence of so much suffering in the aftermath.

Nobody hates your right to make money, Jamie. They hate how you and certain others have made it.

Don’t be confused on this score for a moment longer.

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Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule

14/11/2011

Like programmers or writers, musicians are on the maker’s schedule. Paul Graham, July 2009 (emphasis added):

One reason programmers dislike meetings so much is that they’re on a different type of schedule from other people. Meetings cost them more.

There are two types of schedule, which I’ll call the manager’s schedule and the maker’s schedule. The manager’s schedule is for bosses. It’s embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour.

When you use time that way, it’s merely a practical problem to meet with someone. Find an open slot in your schedule, book them, and you’re done.

Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.

When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That’s no problem for someone on the manager’s schedule. There’s always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker’s schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.

For someone on the maker’s schedule, having a meeting is like throwing an exception. It doesn’t merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work.

I find one meeting can sometimes affect a whole day. A meeting commonly blows at least half a day, by breaking up a morning or afternoon. But in addition there’s sometimes a cascading effect. If I know the afternoon is going to be broken up, I’m slightly less likely to start something ambitious in the morning. I know this may sound oversensitive, but if you’re a maker, think of your own case. Don’t your spirits rise at the thought of having an entire day free to work, with no appointments at all? Well, that means your spirits are correspondingly depressed when you don’t. And ambitious projects are by definition close to the limits of your capacity. A small decrease in morale is enough to kill them off.

Each type of schedule works fine by itself. Problems arise when they meet. Since most powerful people operate on the manager’s schedule, they’re in a position to make everyone resonate at their frequency if they want to. But the smarter ones restrain themselves, if they know that some of the people working for them need long chunks of time to work in.

Our case is an unusual one. Nearly all investors, including all VCs I know, operate on the manager’s schedule. But Y Combinator runs on the maker’s schedule. Rtm and Trevor and I do because we always have, and Jessica does too, mostly, because she’s gotten into sync with us.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there start to be more companies like us. I suspect founders may increasingly be able to resist, or at least postpone, turning into managers, just as a few decades ago they started to be able to resist switching from jeans to suits.

How do we manage to advise so many startups on the maker’s schedule? By using the classic device for simulating the manager’s schedule within the maker’s: office hours. Several times a week I set aside a chunk of time to meet founders we’ve funded. These chunks of time are at the end of my working day, and I wrote a signup program that ensures all the appointments within a given set of office hours are clustered at the end. Because they come at the end of my day these meetings are never an interruption (unless their working day ends at the same time as mine, the meeting presumably interrupts theirs, but since they made the appointment it must be worth it to them). During busy periods, office hours sometimes get long enough that they compress the day, but they never interrupt it.

When we were working on our own startup, back in the ’90s, I evolved another trick for partitioning the day. I used to program from dinner till about 3 a.m. every day, because at night no one could interrupt me. Then I’d sleep till about 11 a.m., and come in and work until dinner on what I called “business stuff.” I never thought of it in these terms, but in effect I had two workdays each day, one on the manager’s schedule and one on the maker’s.

When you’re operating on the manager’s schedule you can do something you’d never want to do on the maker’s: you can have speculative meetings. You can meet someone just to get to know one another. If you have an empty slot in your schedule, why not? Maybe it will turn out you can help one another in some way.

Business people in Silicon Valley (and the whole world, for that matter) have speculative meetings all the time. They’re effectively free if you’re on the manager’s schedule. They’re so common that there’s distinctive language for proposing them: saying that you want to “grab coffee,” for example.

Speculative meetings are terribly costly if you’re on the maker’s schedule, though. Which puts us in something of a bind. Everyone assumes that, like other investors, we run on the manager’s schedule. So they introduce us to someone they think we ought to meet, or send us an email proposing we grab coffee. At this point we have two options, neither of them good: we can meet with them, and lose half a day’s work; or we can try to avoid meeting them, and probably offend them.

Till recently we weren’t clear in our own minds about the source of the problem. We just took it for granted that we had to either blow our schedules or offend people. But now that I’ve realized what’s going on, perhaps there’s a third option: to write something explaining the two types of schedule. Maybe eventually, if the conflict between the manager’s schedule and the maker’s schedule starts to be more widely understood, it will become less of a problem.

Those of us on the maker’s schedule are willing to compromise. We know we have to have some number of meetings. All we ask from those on the manager’s schedule is that they understand the cost.

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Selection of articles on the same subject

A Radical New Definition Of Addiction Creates A Big Storm

17/10/2011

Jennifer Matesa and Jed Bickman for The Fix, 16 August 2011 (via AlterNet):

If you think addiction is all about booze, drugs, sex, gambling, food and other irresistible vices, think again. And if you believe that a person has a choice whether or not to indulge in an addictive behavior, get over it. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) blew the whistle on these deeply held notions with its official release of a new document defining addiction as a chronic neurological disorder involving many brain functions, most notably a devastating imbalance in the so-called reward circuitry. This fundamental impairment in the experience of pleasure literally compels the addict to chase the chemical highs produced by substances like drugs and alcohol and obsessive behaviors like sex, food and gambling.

The definition, a result of a four-year process involving more than 80 leading experts in addiction and neurology, emphasizes that addiction is a primary illness—in other words, it’s not caused by mental health issues such as mood or personality disorders, putting to rest the popular notion that addictive behaviors are a form of “self-medication” to, say, ease the pain of depression or anxiety.

Indeed, the new neurologically focused definition debunks, in whole or in part, a host of common conceptions about addiction. Addiction, the statement declares, is a “bio-psycho-socio-spiritual” illness characterized by (a) damaged decision-making (affecting learning, perception, and judgment) and by (b) persistent risk and/or recurrence of relapse; the unambiguous implications are that (a) addicts have no control over their addictive behaviors and (b) total abstinence is, for some addicts, an unrealistic goal of effective treatment.

The bad behaviors themselves are all symptoms of addiction, not the disease itself. “The state of addiction is not the same as the state of intoxication,” the ASAM takes pains to point out. Far from being evidence of a failure of will or morality, the behaviors are the addict’s attempt to resolve the general “dysfunctional emotional state” that develops in tandem with the disease. In other words, conscious choice plays little or no role in the actual state of addiction; as a result, a person cannot choose not to be addicted. The most an addict can do is choose not to use the substance or engage in the behavior that reinforces the entire self-destructive reward-circuitry loop.

Yet ASAM pulls no punches when it comes to the negative consequences of addiction, declaring it an illness that “can cause disability or premature death, especially when left untreated or treated inadequately.”

The new definition leaves no doubt that all addictions—whether to alcohol, heroin or sex, say—are fundamentally the same. Dr. Raju Haleja, former president of the Canadian Society for Addiction Medicine and the chair of the ASAM committee that crafted the new definition, told The Fix, “We are looking at addiction as one disease, as opposed to those who see them as separate diseases. Addiction is addiction. It doesn’t matter what cranks your brain in that direction, once it has changed direction, you’re vulnerable to all addiction.” That the society has stamped a diagnosis of sex or gambling or food addiction as every bit as medically valid as addiction to alcohol or heroin or crystal meth may spark more controversy than its subtler but equally far-reaching assertions.

The new definition comes as the American Psychiatric Association (APA) is undertaking a highly publicized, decade-in-the-making revision of its own definition of addiction in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—the bible of the mental health profession. The APA’s DSM will have a larger effect on public health policies that guide addiction treatment, largely because insurance companies are mandated by law to use the DSM diagnostic categories and criteria to decide which treatments they will pay for.

Dr. Haleja told The Fix that the ASAM definition arose partly out of a disagreement with the DSM committee; although the DSM will define addiction as a disease, its symptoms (and therefore diagnostic criteria) will still be viewed mostly as discrete behaviors. Also, the DSM will define each type of addiction as a separate disease, instead of the singular and unified notion of disease that the ASAM proposes. “In terms of treatment, it becomes very important that people don’t focus on one aspect of the disease, but the disease as a whole,” says Haleja. Far from being a failure of will or morality, addictive behaviors are the addict’s attempt to resolve the general “dysfunctional emotional state” that develops in tandem with the disease. In other words, conscious choice plays little or no role in the actual state of addiction; as a result, a person cannot choose not to be addicted.

Though addicts can’t choose not to be addicts, they can choose to get treatment. Recovery, ASAM says, is best realized not just by self-management and mutual support groups such as 12-step fellowships, but also with trained professional help.

Some addiction-medicine specialists see the sweeping new definition as a validation of what has, since the publication of “Alcoholics Anonymous” in 1939, come to be known as “the disease concept” of addiction. “Many people in the population at large see addiction as a moral problem—‘Why don’t they just stop?’” says Dr. Neil Capretto, medical director of Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh and an active ASAM member. “For experienced people working in addiction medicine for years, we know it’s a brain disease.”

Does this statement push the 12 steps, the mainstay of many treatment centers, programs and clinicians, toward obsolescence? After all, when a problem is declared to be a “medical” issue, doesn’t that imply that the solution should also be “medical”—as in doctors and drugs? “Both approaches have applicability,” says Dr. Marc Galanter, professor of psychiatry at New York University, founding director of its Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse as well as director of its Fellowship Training Program in Addiction Psychiatry. “The fact that addiction is a disease doesn’t mean it’s only susceptible to drugs.” Says Capretto: “This new definition does not say that psychological or spiritual approaches are not important. My concern is that some people who really don’t understand the broader scope of addiction will see it only as a disease of brain cells. We’re not treating computers—it’s in the total human being who is, as the definition says, a ‘bio-psycho-socio-spiritual’ creature, and who will still need help in those areas.”

With its no-stone-unturned statement (it runs to eight pages, single-spaced, including footnotes), ASAM has come down—mostly—on one side of the chicken-and-egg question that has long befuddled people interested in addiction, physicians and recovering addicts alike: which came first, the neurological disorder or the compulsive behaviors and substance use? The definition states that abnormalities in the neurological system’s reward wiring—communication between areas of the brain, particularly those that process memory, emotional response and pleasure—come first, and drive the addict into a doomed pursuit to compensate for the reward-system imbalance through the addictive behavior. But later, the document notes that these behaviors themselves can damage the reward circuitry and lead to impaired impulse control and addiction.

The statement conforms, in its general outlines, with the prevailing premise in cutting-edge addiction science that the natural reward system designed to support human survival becomes overtaken or highjacked by the chemical payoff provided by substance use or addictive behaviors. “The reward circuitry bookmarks things that are important: eating food, nurturing children, having sex, sustaining intimate friendships,” says Dr. Mark Publicker, medical director of Mercy Recovery Center in Portland—Maine’s largest rehab—and former Regional Chief of Addiction Medicine for Kaiser Permanente Mid-Atlantic Region.

When we use alcohol or drugs, Publicker says, the chemical reward—the “high”—is many times more powerful than the natural circuitry’s reward, and the neurological system adapts to the flood of neurotransmitters. “But because we didn’t evolve as a species with OxyContin or crack cocaine, that adaptive mechanism overshoots. So it becomes impossible to experience a normal sense of pleasure,” he continues. “Use of the substance then happens at the expense of what otherwise would promote survival. If you think about it from that standpoint, it begins to account for illness and premature death.” An active addict has a very high risk of early death via sickness or suicide.

The statement raises repeated alarms about the danger posed by the development by teens and young adults of habits of consumption of substances because their brains are still in the process of maturation, and the chemical “hijacking” of the reward system may result in earlier and more serious addiction behaviors. While firmly grounded in the neurological disease model of addiction, the definition by no means discounts genes (it attributes about half of the cause to your DNA inheritance). It’s careful to say that environmental factors affect whether and how much the genetics will tip the scales. The statement notes that “resiliencies” acquired through parenting and life experience can inhibit genetic expression of addiction. “Genetics is tendency, not destiny,” Capretto says.

Psychological and environmental factors, such as exposure to trauma or overwhelming stress, distorted ideas about life’s meaning, a damaged sense of self, and breakdown in connections with others and with “the transcendent (referred to as God by many, the Higher Power by 12-steps groups, or higher consciousness by others)” are also acknowledged as having an influence.

In addition, ASAM further says that understanding reward systems is just a part of understanding addiction’s neurobiology. Scientists are still trying to comprehend how some addicts become preoccupied with certain drugs or behaviors and other addicts with others; how some addicts become triggered to use by some events that don’t affect others; and how cravings can persist for decades after a complete recovery.

The statement attempts to put forth diagnostic hallmarks, all of which are behavioral: inability to abstain; impaired impulse control; cravings; diminished grasp of one’s problems; and problematic emotional responses.

Is it a problem that the definition is incapable of pointing to a quantifiable diagnostic marker of this illness? “I may be stating the obvious, here,” Publicker says, sighing, “but you don’t need to do brain imaging to identify an active alcoholic.”

In fact it emphasizes that “the quantity and frequency” of addictive symptoms—like how many drinks you down in a day or how many hours you spend masturbating—is no more or less of a marker than the “qualitative [and] pathological way” the addict responds to stressors and cues by continued pursuit in the face of growing adverse consequences.

Publicker, an active ASAM member for 30 years and a proponent of medication-assisted therapy for addiction, notes that addiction recovery depends on treatment of psychological, social and spiritual aspects of the illness—not just its biological aspects. “It’s called medication-assisted therapy, not therapy-assisted medication,” he says. “Medication alone fails. I’ve seen this over a very long career. But it can really make a difference in people struggling to relapse.”

He draws the analogy with depression: “If you ask most people what depression is, they’ll answer it’s a serotonin deficiency disorder and that the solution is to put somebody on an SSRI [antidepressant medication]. But that’s a simplistic and inefficient way of managing depression. Medication can be helpful, but it needs to be combined with talk. We live in an era now where talk is not reimbursed.” It remains to be seen whether ASAM’s new branding of addiction as a full-bore biological illness will help addicts obtain reimbursement for treatment. In terms of insurers, clarifying that the illness has “biological roots”—stipulating that it’s not the patient’s fault he or she has the illness—may break down reimbursement roadblocks.

Capretto agrees: “Things like this definition help bring addiction more into the scope of other diseases, so for the future it will mean fewer barriers for people wanting to get help.”

One of ASAM’s unstated goals was obviously to fight against the stubborn social stigma against addiction experienced by many addicts. “There’s no question they set out to de-stigmatize addiction,” Publicker says. “Nobody chooses to be an addict. The concern that I have is placing blame on the patient. It takes a very long time for the brain to normalize. While it’s waiting to happen, you’re feeling bad, your thinking is impaired, and it’s a setup for relapse. Patients are likely to be blamed for relapse, and families see them as unmotivated and weak. But that’s the disease of addiction.”

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The Definition Of Addiction

16/10/2011

American Society Of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) Public Policy Statement (adopted: April 12, 2011):

PUBLIC POLICY STATEMENT: DEFINITION OF ADDICTION

SHORT DEFINITION OF ADDICTION:

Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.

Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.

LONG VERSION:

Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Addiction affects neurotransmission and interactions within reward structures of the brain, including the nucleus accumbens, anterior cingulate cortex, basal forebrain and amygdala, such that motivational hierarchies are altered and addictive behaviors, which may or may not include alcohol and other drug use, supplant healthy, self-care related behaviors. Addiction also affects neurotransmission and interactions between cortical and hippocampal circuits and brain reward structures, such that the memory of previous exposures to rewards (such as food, sex, alcohol and other drugs) leads to a biological and behavioral response to external cues, in turn triggering craving and/or engagement in addictive behaviors.

The neurobiology of addiction encompasses more than the neurochemistry of reward (1). The frontal cortex of the brain and underlying white matter connections between the frontal cortex and circuits of reward, motivation and memory are fundamental in the manifestations of altered impulse control, altered judgment, and the dysfunctional pursuit of rewards (which is often experienced by the affected person as a desire to “be normal”) seen in addiction—despite cumulative adverse consequences experienced from engagement in substance use and other addictive behaviors. The frontal lobes are important in inhibiting impulsivity and in assisting individuals to appropriately delay gratification. When persons with addiction manifest problems in deferring gratification, there is a neurological locus of these problems in the frontal cortex. Frontal lobe morphology, connectivity and functioning are still in the process of maturation during adolescence and young adulthood, and early exposure to substance use is another significant factor in the development of addiction. Many neuroscientists believe that developmental morphology is the basis that makes early-life exposure to substances such an important factor.

Genetic factors account for about half of the likelihood that an individual will develop addiction. Environmental factors interact with the person’s biology and affect the extent to which genetic factors exert their influence. Resiliencies the individual acquires (through parenting or later life experiences) can affect the extent to which genetic predispositions lead to the behavioral and other manifestations of addiction. Culture also plays a role in how addiction becomes actualized in persons with biological vulnerabilities to the development of addiction.

Other factors that can contribute to the appearance of addiction, leading to its characteristic bio-psycho-socio-spiritual manifestations, include:

a. The presence of an underlying biological deficit in the function of reward circuits, such that drugs and behaviors which enhance reward function are preferred and sought as reinforcers;

b. The repeated engagement in drug use or other addictive behaviors, causing neuroadaptation in motivational circuitry leading to impaired control over further drug use or engagement in addictive behaviors;

c. Cognitive and affective distortions, which impair perceptions and compromise the ability to deal with feelings, resulting in significant self-deception;

d. Disruption of healthy social supports and problems in interpersonal relationships which impact the development or impact of resiliencies;

e. Exposure to trauma or stressors that overwhelm an individual’s coping abilities;

f. Distortion in meaning, purpose and values that guide attitudes, thinking and behavior;

g. Distortions in a person’s connection with self, with others and with the transcendent (referred to as God by many, the Higher Power by 12-steps groups, or higher consciousness by others); and

h. The presence of co-occurring psychiatric disorders in persons who engage in substance use or other addictive behaviors.

Addiction is characterized by (2):

a. Inability to consistently Abstain;

b. Impairment in Behavioral control;

c. Craving; or increased “hunger” for drugs or rewarding experiences;

d. Diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships; and

e. A dysfunctional Emotional response.

The power of external cues to trigger craving and drug use, as well as to increase the frequency of engagement in other potentially addictive behaviors, is also a characteristic of addiction, with the hippocampus being important in memory of previous euphoric or dysphoric experiences, and with the amygdala being important in having motivation concentrate on selecting behaviors associated with these past experiences.

Although some believe that the difference between those who have addiction, and those who do not, is the quantity or frequency of alcohol/drug use, engagement in addictive behaviors (such as gambling or spending) (3), or exposure to other external rewards (such as food or sex), a characteristic aspect of addiction is the qualitative way in which the individual responds to such exposures, stressors and environmental cues. A particularly pathological aspect of the way that persons with addiction pursue substance use or external rewards is that preoccupation with, obsession with and/or pursuit of rewards (e.g., alcohol and other drug use) persist despite the accumulation of adverse consequences. These manifestations can occur compulsively or impulsively, as a reflection of impaired control.

Persistent risk and/or recurrence of relapse, after periods of abstinence, is another fundamental feature of addiction. This can be triggered by exposure to rewarding substances and behaviors, by exposure to environmental cues to use, and by exposure to emotional stressors that trigger heightened activity in brain stress circuits (4).

In addiction there is a significant impairment in executive functioning, which manifests in problems with perception, learning, impulse control, compulsivity, and judgment. People with addiction often manifest a lower readiness to change their dysfunctional behaviors despite mounting concerns expressed by significant others in their lives; and display an apparent lack of appreciation of the magnitude of cumulative problems and complications. The still developing frontal lobes of adolescents may both compound these deficits in executive functioning and predispose youngsters to engage in “high risk” behaviors, including engaging in alcohol or other drug use. The profound drive or craving to use substances or engage in apparently rewarding behaviors, which is seen in many patients with addiction, underscores the compulsive or avolitional aspect of this disease. This is the connection with “powerlessness” over addiction and “unmanageability” of life, as is described in Step 1 of 12 Steps programs.

Addiction is more than a behavioral disorder. Features of addiction include aspects of a person’s behaviors, cognitions, emotions, and interactions with others, including a person’s ability to relate to members of their family, to members of their community, to their own psychological state, and to things that transcend their daily experience.

Behavioral manifestations and complications of addiction, primarily due to impaired control, can include:

a. Excessive use and/or engagement in addictive behaviors, at higher frequencies and/or quantities than the person intended, often associated with a persistent desire for and unsuccessful attempts at behavioral control;

b. Excessive time lost in substance use or recovering from the effects of substance use and/or engagement in addictive behaviors, with significant adverse impact on social and occupational functioning (e.g. the development of interpersonal relationship problems or the neglect of responsibilities at home, school or work);

c. Continued use and/or engagement in addictive behaviors, despite the presence of persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problems which may have been caused or exacerbated by substance use and/or related addictive behaviors;

d. A narrowing of the behavioral repertoire focusing on rewards that are part of addiction; and

e. An apparent lack of ability and/or readiness to take consistent, ameliorative action despite recognition of problems.

Cognitive changes in addiction can include:

a. Preoccupation with substance use;

b. Altered evaluations of the relative benefits and detriments associated with drugs or rewarding behaviors; and

c. The inaccurate belief that problems experienced in one’s life are attributable to other causes rather than being a predictable consequence of addiction.

Emotional changes in addiction can include:

a. Increased anxiety, dysphoria and emotional pain;

b. Increased sensitivity to stressors associated with the recruitment of brain stress systems, such that “things seem more stressful” as a result; and

c. Difficulty in identifying feelings, distinguishing between feelings and the bodily sensations of emotional arousal, and describing feelings to other people (sometimes referred to as alexithymia).

The emotional aspects of addiction are quite complex. Some persons use alcohol or other drugs or pathologically pursue other rewards because they are seeking “positive reinforcement” or the creation of a positive emotional state (“euphoria”). Others pursue substance use or other rewards because they have experienced relief from negative emotional states (“dysphoria”), which constitutes “negative reinforcement.” Beyond the initial experiences of reward and relief, there is a dysfunctional emotional state present in most cases of addiction that is associated with the persistence of engagement with addictive behaviors. The state of addiction is not the same as the state of intoxication. When anyone experiences mild intoxication through the use of alcohol or other drugs, or when one engages non-pathologically in potentially addictive behaviors such as gambling or eating, one may experience a “high”, felt as a “positive” emotional state associated with increased dopamine and opioid peptide activity in reward circuits. After such an experience, there is a neurochemical rebound, in which the reward function does not simply revert to baseline, but often drops below the original levels. This is usually not consciously perceptible by the individual and is not necessarily associated with functional impairments.

Over time, repeated experiences with substance use or addictive behaviors are not associated with ever increasing reward circuit activity and are not as subjectively rewarding. Once a person experiences withdrawal from drug use or comparable behaviors, there is an anxious, agitated, dysphoric and labile emotional experience, related to suboptimal reward and the recruitment of brain and hormonal stress systems, which is associated with withdrawal from virtually all pharmacological classes of addictive drugs. While tolerance develops to the “high,” tolerance does not develop to the emotional “low” associated with the cycle of intoxication and withdrawal. Thus, in addiction, persons repeatedly attempt to create a “high”—but what they mostly experience is a deeper and deeper “low.” While anyone may “want” to get “high”, those with addiction feel a “need” to use the addictive substance or engage in the addictive behavior in order to try to resolve their dysphoric emotional state or their physiological symptoms of withdrawal. Persons with addiction compulsively use even though it may not make them feel good, in some cases long after the pursuit of “rewards” is not actually pleasurable (5). Although people from any culture may choose to “get high” from one or another activity, it is important to appreciate that addiction is not solely a function of choice. Simply put, addiction is not a desired condition.

As addiction is a chronic disease, periods of relapse, which may interrupt spans of remission, are a common feature of addiction. It is also important to recognize that return to drug use or pathological pursuit of rewards is not inevitable.

Clinical interventions can be quite effective in altering the course of addiction. Close monitoring of the behaviors of the individual and contingency management, sometimes including behavioral consequences for relapse behaviors, can contribute to positive clinical outcomes. Engagement in health promotion activities which promote personal responsibility and accountability, connection with others, and personal growth also contribute to recovery. It is important to recognize that addiction can cause disability or premature death, especially when left untreated or treated inadequately.

The qualitative ways in which the brain and behavior respond to drug exposure and engagement in addictive behaviors are different at later stages of addiction than in earlier stages, indicating progression, which may not be overtly apparent. As is the case with other chronic diseases, the condition must be monitored and managed over time to:

a. Decrease the frequency and intensity of relapses;

b. Sustain periods of remission; and

c. Optimize the person’s level of functioning during periods of remission.

In some cases of addiction, medication management can improve treatment outcomes. In most cases of addiction, the integration of psychosocial rehabilitation and ongoing care with evidence-based pharmacological therapy provides the best results. Chronic disease management is important for minimization of episodes of relapse and their impact. Treatment of addiction saves lives.*

Addiction professionals and persons in recovery know the hope that is found in recovery. Recovery is available even to persons who may not at first be able to perceive this hope, especially when the focus is on linking the health consequences to the disease of addiction. As in other health conditions, self-management, with mutual support, is very important in recovery from addiction. Peer support such as that found in various “self-help” activities is beneficial in optimizing health status and functional outcomes in recovery.**

Recovery from addiction is best achieved through a combination of self-management, mutual support, and professional care provided by trained and certified professionals.

* See ASAM Public Policy Statement on Treatment for Alcohol and Other Drug Addiction, Adopted: May 01, 1980, Revised: January 01, 2010

** see ASAM Public Policy Statement on The Relationship between Treatment and Self Help: A Joint Statement of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry, and the American Psychiatric Association, Adopted: December 01, 1997

EXPLANATORY FOOTNOTES:

1. The neurobiology of reward has been well understood for decades, whereas the neurobiology of addiction is still being explored. Most clinicians have learned of reward pathways including projections from the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of the brain, through the median forebrain bundle (MFB), and terminating in the nucleus accumbens (Nuc Acc), in which dopamine neurons are prominent. Current neuroscience recognizes that the neurocircuitry of reward also involves a rich bi-directional circuitry connecting the nucleus accumbens and the basal forebrain. It is the reward circuitry where reward is registered, and where the most fundamental rewards such as food, hydration, sex, and nurturing exert a strong and life-sustaining influence. Alcohol, nicotine, other drugs and pathological gambling behaviors exert their initial effects by acting on the same reward circuitry that appears in the brain to make food and sex, for example, profoundly reinforcing. Other effects, such as intoxication and emotional euphoria from rewards, derive from activation of the reward circuitry. While intoxication and withdrawal are well understood through the study of reward circuitry, understanding of addiction requires understanding of a broader network of neural connections involving forebrain as well as midbrain structures. Selection of certain rewards, preoccupation with certain rewards, response to triggers to pursue certain rewards, and motivational drives to use alcohol and other drugs and/or pathologically seek other rewards, involve multiple brain regions outside of reward neurocircuitry itself.

2. These five features are not intended to be used as “diagnostic criteria” for determining if addiction is present or not. Although these characteristic features are widely present in most cases of addiction, regardless of the pharmacology of the substance use seen in addiction or the reward that is pathologically pursued, each feature may not be equally prominent in every case. The diagnosis of addiction requires a comprehensive biological, psychological, social and spiritual assessment by a trained and certified professional.

3. In this document, the term “addictive behaviors” refers to behaviors that are commonly rewarding and are a feature in many cases of addiction. Exposure to these behaviors, just as occurs with exposure to rewarding drugs, is facilitative of the addiction process rather than causative of addiction. The state of brain anatomy and physiology is the underlying variable that is more directly causative of addiction. Thus, in this document, the term “addictive behaviors” does not refer to dysfunctional or socially disapproved behaviors, which can appear in many cases of addiction. Behaviors, such as dishonesty, violation of one’s values or the values of others, criminal acts etc., can be a component of addiction; these are best viewed as complications that result from rather than contribute to addiction.

4. The anatomy (the brain circuitry involved) and the physiology (the neuro-transmitters involved) in these three modes of relapse (drug- or reward-triggered relapse vs. cue-triggered relapse vs. stress-triggered relapse) have been delineated through neuroscience research.

Relapse triggered by exposure to addictive/rewarding drugs, including alcohol, involves the nucleus accumbens and the VTA-MFB-Nuc Acc neural axis (the brain’s mesolimbic dopaminergic “incentive salience circuitry”—see footnote 2 above). Reward-triggered relapse also is mediated by glutamatergic circuits projecting to the nucleus accumbens from the frontal cortex.

Relapse triggered by exposure to conditioned cues from the environment involves glutamate circuits, originating in frontal cortex, insula, hippocampus and amygdala projecting to mesolimbic incentive salience circuitry.

Relapse triggered by exposure to stressful experiences involves brain stress circuits beyond the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis that is well known as the core of the endocrine stress system. There are two of these relapse-triggering brain stress circuits – one originates in noradrenergic nucleus A2 in the lateral tegmental area of the brain stem and projects to the hypothalamus, nucleus accumbens, frontal cortex, and bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, and uses norepinephrine as its neurotransmitter; the other originates in the central nucleus of the amygdala, projects to the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis and uses corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF) as its neurotransmitter.

5. Pathologically pursuing reward (mentioned in the Short Version of this definition) thus has multiple components. It is not necessarily the amount of exposure to the reward (e.g., the dosage of a drug) or the frequency or duration of the exposure that is pathological. In addiction, pursuit of rewards persists, despite life problems that accumulate due to addictive behaviors, even when engagement in the behaviors ceases to be pleasurable. Similarly, in earlier stages of addiction, or even before the outward manifestations of addiction have become apparent, substance use or engagement in addictive behaviors can be an attempt to pursue relief from dysphoria; while in later stages of the disease, engagement in addictive behaviors can persist even though the behavior no longer provides relief.

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You’ve Got To Find What You Love

06/10/2011

This is a prepared text of the Commencement address delivered by Steve Jobs (1955-2011), then CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, on June 12, 2005:

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky—I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation—the Macintosh—a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down – that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me—I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.

Read this text on the original site or watch the video on YouTube

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Declaration Of The Occupation Of New York City

02/10/2011

This document was accepted by the NYC General Assembly on September 29, 2011, with slight adjustments in wording on October 1, 2011 (via Common Dreams):

As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.

As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.

They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.

They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.

They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.

They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.

They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.

They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.

They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.

They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.

They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.

They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.

They have sold our privacy as a commodity.

They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press.

They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.

They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.

They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them.

They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.

They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives or provide relief in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantial profit.

They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.

They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.

They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.

They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.

They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.

They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts.*

To the people of the world,

We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.

Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.

To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.

Join us and make your voices heard!

*These grievances are not all-inclusive.

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Phone Story Banned From The App Store

14/09/2011

iOS game “Phone Story” by Molleindustria, removed by Apple from the App Store (via Daring Fireball). Kudos to the App Store reviewer who accepted it in the first place. From the Phone Story web site:

Phone Story is an educational game about the dark side of your favorite smart phone. Follow your phone’s journey around the world and fight the market forces in a spiral of planned obsolescence.

Phone Story is a game for smartphone devices that attempts to provoke a critical reflection on its own technological platform. Under the shiny surface of our electronic gadgets, behind its polished interface, hides the product of a troubling supply chain that stretches across the globe. Phone Story represents this process with four educational games that make the player symbolically complicit in coltan extraction in Congo, outsourced labor in China, e-waste in Pakistan and gadget consumerism in the West.

Keep Phone Story on your device as a reminder of your impact. All of the revenues raised go directly to workers’ organizations and other non-profits that are working to stop the horrors represented in the game.

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Pleasure’s Dark Shadow

28/08/2011

Michael Mendizza for the Touch The Future newsletter, Sunday 28 August 2011:

We are attracted to experiences that feel good and turn away from those that hurt, pleasure and pain. Both are driven by millions of years of natural intelligence.

Affectionate touch, eyes that assure care and trust, warm cuddling, the life giving sensation of mother’s breast, being held when frightened, all the experiences we call nurturing involve pleasure. Like a beautiful flower, delicate and radiating, the female body percolates with pleasurable possibilities. Life’s continuity depends on pleasure. See “Sex At Dawn”.

Puberty transforms pleasure into reproductive sexuality, still deeply rooted in nurturing, but with a twist. The game changes. Clearly the enchantment of female pleasure is something few males can resist, which is, after all, nature’s intelligent design.

Being the source of pleasure the value and importance of the female body’s pleasure potential increases, at least in the often sensory deprived male imagination. Anything that valuable, like gold, becomes a commodity to be possessed and controlled. Doing so brings social power. The stakes are indeed high.

Anything that brings pleasure, whether it is substances or sex—individuals, governments and political-religious organizations step up to the gaming table and play their controlling hand. They make up rules, pass laws, boast of divine revelation, and have for centuries to possess and control pleasure.

It is well know, to control one’s currency is to control its people, and controlling pleasure, in this regard, is worth its weight on gold. Ask the Mafia, similar in the way it profits from vice like the church and governments. No? Just glance at the 300 year Catholic Spanish Inquisition with its witch hunts and how many of its torturous techniques were sadistic sexual pervasions.

One of the easiest ways to control the enchantment and political power of pleasure, and therefore entire populations, is to reduce its potency. Locate the most sensitive pleasure producing tissues and remove it, claiming of course that an old bearded man seated on his cloud throne demanded so. Do this over and over and like any Big Lie (referring to Joseph Goebbels’s the German Reich Minister of Propaganda famous remark), becomes the truth.

Like Shakespeare’s ‘rose’ a lie, be it by the church, the government, Fox or the Wall Street Journal, is still a lie. It is well documented. Female and male circumcision was invented to reduce and therefore control pleasure and this unnatural and completely unnecessary procedure is forced. Like hooded prisoners at Guantanamo or the Inquisition, young girls and boys by the millions are held down by force, their legs spread and the most sensitive tissues, that nature evolved over millions of years is cut off, in most cases inflecting unbearable pain.

James W. Prescott, Ph.D., argues that circumcision, female and male, is a form or torture, illegal, demanding equal protection under 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. Jim cites The General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948 that adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, specifically Article 5: “No one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Jim’s position is clear and lucid as the arguments raised by Joseph Chilton Pearce in “The Death Of Religion And The Rebirth Of Spirit”, and by Sam Harris in “The End Of Faith”, both startling analyses of the clash of faith and reason in the modern world.

Pleasure is not nearly as demonic as is the behavior of those who seek power by controlling and profiting from it.

See more…

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