Author (#1)March 2008 Archives

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A College student loses his financial aid because of a youthful indiscretion. A woman coping with the ravages of ovarian cancer lives in fear of being arrested for using what best eases her suffering. Across town, a front door bursts open and police rush in to handcuff a man relaxing in his living room. 

These events have one thing in common: marijuana. Whether it is being kicked out of college for a youthful mistake, being denied relief from pain as a cancer patient, or getting arrested for personal use in one's home, marijuana laws have far-reaching consequences. 

And these consequences are often totally disproportionate to whatever societal risk or danger marijuana use may pose. 

So, can we talk? 

I think we should. As a nation, we spend at least $7.5 billion annually enforcing our marijuana laws. In 2006, the latest year for which we have numbers, a record 830,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana — 89 percent of them simply for possessing it.
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TODAY’S Facebook and MySpace users could be haunted by their postings for generations to come, the creator of the World Wide Web warned yesterday. 

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the web in 1989, urged users to remember that information on the internet can be found by people who were never intended to access it. He told the current generation of social networking users to imagine their grandchildren reading the entries. 

Sir Tim said, “Imagine that everything you are typing is being read by the person you are applying to for your first job. Imagine that it’s all going to be seen by your parents and your grandparents and your grandchildren as well. 

“The danger is when you put something into a public space in order to share it with a few friends and in fact you’ve forgotten that it’s actually a public space or that the list of friends is huge or that some of them can’t be trusted not to put it somewhere else.”

Information Liberation

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If your child has a life-threatening disease and you're desperate to read the latest research, you'll be dismayed to learn that you can't -- at least not without hugely expensive subscriptions to a bevy of specialized journals or access to a major research library. 

Your dismay might turn to anger when you realize that you paid for this research. Through the National Institutes of Health alone, American taxpayers funnel more than $28 billion annually into medical research. That's leaving aside the billions more in public spending on state universities or the tax exemptions granted for gifts to private campuses. 

American institutions of higher education are knowledge machines of unprecedented fecundity, but much of the knowledge they produce is locked up in high-priced scholarly journals that most people can't easily get. Citizens thus find themselves in the position of paying for research and then paying again to buy it back from academic journals whose prices have been spiraling upward. Library Journal says that U.S. journal prices rose 9% last year alone. The average chemistry-journal subscription, to cite a single egregious example, was $3,429 for one year.
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COLUMBIA, Miss. — The Columbia Training School — pleasant on the outside, austere on the inside — has been home to 37 of the most troubled young women in Mississippi. 

If some of those girls and their advocates are to be believed, it is also a cruel and frightening place. 

The school has been sued twice in the past four years. One suit brought by the U.S. Justice Department, which the state settled in 2005, claimed detainees were thrown naked in to cells and forced to eat their own vomit. The second one, brought by eight girls last year, said they were subjected to "horrendous physical and sexual abuse." Several of the detainees said they were shackled for 12 hours a day. 

These are harsh and disturbing charges — and, in the end, they were among the reasons why state officials announced in February that they will close Columbia. But they aren't uncommon. 

Across the country, in state after state, child advocates have deplored the conditions under which young offenders are housed — conditions that include sexual and physical abuse and even deaths in restraints. The U.S. Justice Department has filed lawsuits against facilities in 11 states for supervision that is either abusive or harmfully lax and shoddy.