Friday, March 29, 2013

Dartboard Aggressional

This article by Luke 'Twin Falls' HOW DASHBOARD CONFESSIONAL STOLE MY IDENTITY: A Cautionary Tale For Bands is a thoroughly dispiriting episode conveyed with considerable wit and humility. Put briefly, an established Emo artist chose the name Twin Falls for his new project, didn't check that the name has been used by someone else for five years (or judging the artist to be obscure compared to his towering status as Emo-auteur nonpareil, didn't care), and when the five-year-old Twin Falls tried to contact him he found himself talking to lawyers rather than discussing it like adults. Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional had been using the name for three months when Luke Stidson got in touch, and rather than consider another name, Carrabba's management sicced their legal rottweillers onto him who kicked off proceedings by disputing whether Stidson had really been using the name for five years, as his gigs and releases would attest.

While Carrabba never communicated with Stidson directly but via his management and lawyers, given that his team stated that “Chris Carrabba and band intend to keep using the name” it seems safe to assume that Carrabba was notified of this saga and made this decision. Carrabba may have the money to bully Stidson into surrendering, but given Stidson has already released three Eps and a debut album, no amount of litigation will prevent confusion. In this scenario it would be in the interest of all parties for the three-month-old Twin Falls to just come up with a different name.

But instead Carrabba's team displayed an arrogant and brattish mentality; one that would rather see all parties lose out, themselves included, than to see a perceived rival benefit. Such pride and tin ears reminded me of the Saudi prince who complained that the Forbes Rich List erroneously placed him 26th richest person in the world; a man so wealthy that he can't find anything better to do with his time than attempt to rig his way higher up the list.

"Of the 1,426 billionaires on our list, not one - not even the vainglorious Donald Trump - goes to greater measure to try to affect his or her ranking," the magazine claimed. "This is how he wants the world to judge his success or his stature," an anonymous source was quoted as saying.

Carrabba would rather create confusion for promoters and fans than compromise his dazzling artistic vision, which in this instance consists of naming his band after a town. Now this is an area where I don't think it would be arrogant to say that I have considerable experience. You might even say I'm an expert. And I can confidently state that it didn't require much artistic vision and I'd be hard pushed to convince anyone that it did. I found a town and named myself after it. What genius of process! What elegance of poise! Quiver in the palpable waves of Blakean prowess.
So Mister Carrabba, please consider this: changing your name now will not affect the artistic impact of your music. People don't care that much about band names but they do care about turning up to the wrong gigs and buying the wrong albums. And the big rich guy bullying the little guy – I'm no style guru but I'm pretty sure that's not a good look for a sensitive singer-songwriter. Swallow your pride and change the name.
Update: Carrabba has announced that he is changing the name of his new band to Twin Forks. He's done the decent thing, but still something doesn't sit right. Was it finally a matter of conscience or merely one of public relations? If influential names like DJ Tom Robinson hadn't tweeted 'shame on you Chris Carrabba' would he have started caring? But the biggest mystery of all is why he changed the name to Twin Forks. Why not come up with something completely original, rather than something that could be misheard, and will always be associated with this sorry saga? It makes it look like a reluctant move, still trying to lay claim to the name will being forced to abandon it; grouchy, passive agressive. Or maybe that was simply the best he could come up with. Actually, if you listen to his music and lyrics that seems entirely plausible.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Electronic cigarettes offer us a once-in-a-life-time opportunity for harm reduction and must be embraced

I blog exhausted and angry, with none of the comfort of the removed cynic. This is a piece I hoped I would never have to write. But to my horror, in an act of classic collective knee-jerk reaction, all around us countries move to ban electronic cigarettes. They have already been banned in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Mexico, and New Zealand, restricted in Finland, Malaysia, and Singapore, are pending restriction in the UK as a drug, and the subject of law suits by attorneys general in several US states.

It may sound like the stuff of conspiracy theories, but we should consider that a seemingly unlikely but wholly pragmatic alliance of tobacco companies and anti-smoking zealots have most to gain from ensuring that this marvel of technology is stamped into the ground before it has a chance to really do good. I can't bear to see it being dragged out from under our feet.

Are electronic cigarettes harmless? The jury is out, but they are surely safer than smoking cigarettes. The main danger from cigarettes is in the act of inhaling smoke and all the toxins it contains. Electronic cigarettes do not produce smoke, they produce vapour – steam. The vapour contains nicotine, but nicotine isn't the big danger – its the tar, smoke and numerous other chemicals that are responsible for the lung and throat cancers.

The hysterical and alarmist rhetoric from the opponents of E-cigs emphasises the fact that nicotine is a poisonous chemical, but posionous chemicals are found all over the house – children are taught not to drink bleach or petrol. E-cigs are new and people aren't yet sure where to place them. Given the right information they will learn.

We would do well to consider this in terms of a balance of probabilities rather than a unanimous verdict. We can say unanimously that smoking is bad for you and the healthiest option is not to smoke or take nicotine at all. But nicotine replacement therapy in the form of gum and inhalators is prescribed as a quit smoking aid because it is safer than smoking. It will take time for us to know for sure how safe electronic cigarettes are, but the fact that they do not involve inhaling smoke tells us that on balance of probabilities they are surely safer than smoking. I also know how I feel. I am a singer and smoking was ruining my voice. Since I took up vaping I haven't smoked in many months and feel so much better for it. I initially found vaping gave me a dry throat but I found that drinking more water sorted this problem out; after a few months of vaping my smokers cough is gone, my lung capacity has increased and my room and clothes no longer smells bad. The point isn't that e-cigarettes are primarily a quit smoking aid, but rather offer a safer alternative to smoking. Many people have been arguing this, to little effect.

Elaine Keller, vice president of the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association, said: 'I would still be smoking if not for this product.' Ms Keller said she has been tobacco-free since March 2009 after 45 years of smoking. She added: 'I can't point to anything to say it's 100 percent safe,' she said. 'The thing is, it only needs to be safer. The only standard is that it's safer than smoking.' Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, who studied the device said the device had great potential in reducing the harm of smoking. Writing in the Journal of Public Health Policy, they said: 'We conclude that electronic cigarettes show tremendous promise in the fight against tobacco-related morbidity and mortality.' Meanwhile a top US doctor, Keith Ablow, has come out in favour of them. By isolating nicotine, e-cigarettes should carry far fewer chemical risks than regular cigarettes, said Michael Siegel, a tobacco researcher at Boston University. Tobacco contains about 5,000 known chemicals, he said, with as many as 100,000 more that haven't yet been identified. E-cigarettes eliminate many of those ingredients. Siegel and a colleague reviewed 16 studies that analyzed the contents of electronic cigarettes. In a paper just published in the Journal of Public Health Policy, they reported that levels of certain harmful chemicals were on par with levels found in nicotine patches and hundreds of times lower than what's found in cigarettes.
"The relevant question is not, 'Are these things safe?'" he said. "But are these things much safer than real cigarettes, and do they help people quit smoking? The answer to both of those questions we know is yes."
"What New York is doing is equivalent to outlawing lifeboats on a sinking ship because they haven't been FDA approved," he added. "It's a really crazy approach to public health."
The anti-smoking zealots argue that electronic cigarettes will 'normalise' the act of smoking and get people into smoking. The answer to this is 'only if you now ban electronic cigarettes'. Electronic cigarettes taste and smell so much better, the notion that they would lead anyone onto smoking is absurd.
But the harm reduction argument is lost on these absolutists. They fail to see that if deprived of electronic cigarettes, those of us who are now happily vaping will likely return to smoking tobacco, and all the greater dangers that represents. It is a crashingly depressing prospect. We must stand up and be counted. Many of us feel embarrassed that we vape, perhaps a little ashamed that we haven't instead completely quit our addiction to nicotine. Instead we enjoy the vaping experience and feel better than we did when we were smoking. We must be given the individual liberty to make this harm reduction decision for ourselves. It may sound ridiculous, but now is the time to say “I vape and I'm proud”. Otherwise we will no longer have the option. The nanny state and Big Tobacco will make sure of it.
I am thankful that the wheels of the law turn slower in the UK than elsewhere, and I beg that the powers that be consider electronic cigarettes to offer a harm reduction alternative to smoking which must be regulated, licensed and embraced.. Meanwhile, I have stocked up on enough liquid nicotine to last another month. I dearly hope that our government does the sensible thing. But there are certain corporations who have so much to gain from making sure they don't.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Peter's World

Peter gets tough
The tide is turning on the War On Drugs. Slowly but surely, more politicians and law enforcers are willing to admit that the war isn't working, that it is counterproductive, that the unregulated black market is making criminals hugely wealthy, pointlessly criminalising millions when drug use should be treated as a social and health problem, not a crime. For authoritarian conservatives such as Peter Hitchens, such arguments don't wash. If the war isn't working, it needs to be fought harder. For Hitchens drug use is immoral, and the law must enforce morality. This argument deserves to be taken seriously; the law does indeed have a moral backbone. We penalise murderers because murder is morally wrong, not because it is unhealthy.

Hitchens believes drug use is immoral because it allows one to experience an ecstacy and euphoria that has not been merited by effort or virtue. But this simplistic notion of morality quickly leads to absurdity. If the only legitimate pleasures were those merited by effort or virtue, what would such a world look like? Welcome to Peter's World – a world that Peter would clearly not want to live in. In this world of pure meritocracy, the first thing to go would be inherited wealth, and a state machine would redistribute wealth evenly to ensure all pleasures are earned by honest toil. Masturbation would be immoral, as there is nothing virtuous in the pleasures of the palm (though some effort is required -but no more than the effort to roll a joint). How would Hitchens qualify his argument to exclude such absurdities? Perhaps he would argue that it's ok to enjoy inherited wealth because wealthy people are job creators. But as many are not, the law would have to distinguish between those who create jobs and those who simply sit on their wealth, moving their money around to maximise its value. Perhaps masturbation would be allowed because it is natural. Alarm bells should ring whenever anyone plays the 'nature' card. Looking back over human history, war appears to be a natural state for humans to engage in, and every civilisation has found a way to alter their consciousness with substances and celebrate in a non-virtuous and ethically neutral way – (it's called fun, Peter, look it up). Human beings are part of nature, and regardless, whether something is natural or not tells us nothing about whether it is ethical. Hitchens often resorts to special pleading. In an interview a journalist pointed out that the coffee he was drinking was a drug. “But it's coffee!!” Hitchens shrieked; that appeal to common sense so often the haven of those who want to escape the hole their arguments have dug for them.

Hitchens set up a moral system based on meritocratic precepts of effort and virtue, and when this narrow ethical system has unintended consequences, he is forced to bolt on ad hoc justifications. Hitchens would not want state interference in inherited wealth (though as a strict moralist its possible he would be happy to police the bedroom, not the boardroom).

The second part of his argument is that the law must enforce morality. This is manifestly false. There are numerous things we regard as immoral that we would be loathed to criminalise, infidelity being the obvious example. One is free to be a bounder and a cad without legal ramifications, but using drugs, without harming anyone else will land you in trouble. Why is this? The fact is that our ethically based legal systems must allow room for individual liberty; people differ on where and how they play the liberty card, but they all play it. For conservatives this liberty keeps the state's hands off their inherited wealth; for liberals it keeps the state's hands off their drugs, for libertarians, it keeps the state's hands off their guns. Hitchens values individual liberty when it comes to his personal wealth, but discounts it when it comes to the drugs debate.

Hitchen's argument for the criminalisation of drug use is based on an absurdly one-dimensional view of both morality and legality. In reality, for something to be made illegal there needs to be not just widespread agreement that it is morally wrong, but also widespread agreement that such criminalisation is socially useful and practically enforceable. That is why adultery is wrong but legal. People broadly agree on the ethics but recognise that criminalising it would be ridiculous; people need freedom to lead personal lives outside of government interference. So Hitchens cannot hide in his thin moral world; he must engage in the arguments over whether the criminalisation of drug use is socially useful and practical, because the law is based not only on morality but on issues of social harmony and the practicalities of enforcement, and in the context of the war on drugs, those are the areas most in dispute. If he wants to engage in such arguments, he would do well to start here. But I doubt he will.