“Just say yes and go do it”: On the ground as Houston’s recovery begins

HOUSTON --  "I don't know how I could ever repay you," said Howard Holmes to the local recovery volunteers who came to help him. "Don't have to. We are the hands and feet of Christ to serve you, today. That's it, man," they answered.  Howard Holmes accepted the generosity of strangers. Ninety percent of his Houston street was flooded.  Share your Hurricane Harvey story "You switch from everyday life to survival mode," Holmes explained.   He moved here in 2005 with his wife, Charissa, after their former house burned down. "We are going to have another house, we are going to rebuild our life. This is Houston. We are Houston proud. Houston strong," Charissa said.  The men helping to clean out their home are local recovery volunteers, but on Monday, they were rescuers.  Truett Allen led his navy of civilian Samaritans as they rescued roughly 200 people like Laura Blanton, who was rescued on her birthday.  And along the way, they documented. There was the baby found floating in a fishing bucket. And a message from a woman who wrote Allen: "You saved my brother's life." Rescuers like Jeff Venghaus only took a break from saving lives and rebuilding lives to say a prayer.  "I feel like my life has just stopped to some degree and has shifted to just helping people," Venghaus said. "We just say yes and go do it." Some neighborhoods in Houston got nearly 10 feet of floodwater. At Holmes' house, they got just 19 inches -- but it ruined nearly everything. Holmes' neighbors, just around the corner from him, are sleeping in their front yard in a tent, trying to protect what's left from looters.  Continue Reading

How your brain is wired to just say ‘yes’ to opioids

(The Conversation is an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.) Paul R. Sanberg, University of South Florida and Samantha Portis, University of South Florida (THE CONVERSATION) The mid-1980s was the era of cocaine and marijuana, when “Just Say No” was the centerpiece of the war on drugs and the government’s efforts to stem drug use and addiction. Since then, prescription opioids have become the nation’s drug scourge. The idea that mere willpower can fight this public health emergency is not only outdated, it’s scientifically misguided. Medical history tells us that almost as long as there have been opioids – their use dates back to the third century – there have been opioid addicts. Thirty years ago, I was a research scientist focused on addiction when I was asked to co-author a volume on prescription narcotics for the “Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Drugs.” I wrote the same assessment of opioid abuse then that I would write today: For many people, opioids are substances their brains are wired to crave in ways that make personal resolve nearly impossible. Your brain on opioids Our understanding of the human brain’s mechanisms make a compelling argument for a national research effort to develop non-opioid painkillers and new medical devices to treat chronic pain, which remains the nation’s number one cause of disability. The good, if somewhat little noticed, news is that there is meaningful action on this front led by the National Institutes of Health, which is working in conjunction with pharmaceutical companies to develop nonaddictive, non-opioid pain killers that might finally end our somewhat tortured dependence on this formidable drug. Brain scientists have known for decades that opioids are complex and difficult substances to manage when it comes to addiction. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that more than 20 percent of Continue Reading

Just Say Yes to Common Sense on Pot Policy

Editor’s Note: Each week we repost an excerpt of Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column on WashingtonPost.com. With all the hand-wringing over a Democratic "enthusiasm gap," one effort to turn out young people at the polls this November is showing real energy and promise. What’s the secret? In a word, as 78-year-old John Burton, chairman of the California Democratic Party, put it, "Pot." Proposition 19 would make it legal for Californians over 21 to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal use, and it would authorize city governments to regulate and tax commercial production and sales. Its passage would signal a major victory for common sense over a war on drugs that has been an abysmal failure in the Golden State and throughout the country. As states devastated by the fiscal crisis look for more efficient and effective alternatives to spending $50 billion a year on incarceration, a shift in California might presage changes across the nation. It would be great if young people would take to the streets and the voting booths on issues like Afghanistan, historical levels of inequality and poverty or to protect Social Security from a Republicans takeover. But they’re not. And if it’s reforming an ineffective, wasteful and racially unjust drug policy that mobilizes young people—who are at the core of the rising American electorate along with African-Americans, Hispanics and unmarried women—so be it. According to Public Policy Polling, for those who cite Prop 19 as their top reason for voting, 34 percent are under age 30. "There’s nothing that motivates young people more than this issue," Aaron Houston, executive director of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, told me. "So much of this comes down to young people saying they don’t want this war on drugs to be waged in their name anymore." The case for Prop 19 is clear and strong. Between 1999 and 2009, nearly 570,000 residents were arrested for Continue Reading

Just Say Yes to Prop 19

California progressives have plenty of reasons to go to the polls on November 2. In the governor’s race, Democrat Jerry Brown is locked in a dead heat with corporatist zealot Meg Whitman. Longtime reformer Barbara Boxer is battling Palin favorite Carly Fiorina for her Senate seat. And climate change deniers, in league with out-of-state oil companies, are gunning for a proposition to suspend a landmark greenhouse gas emissions law. But Golden State voters who aren’t satisfied with merely beating back GOP challenges can take heart in the chance to support Proposition 19. The ballot initiative would make it legal for Californians over 21 to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal use, and would authorize local governments to regulate and tax commercial production and sales. Its passage would signal a major victory in the war against the "war on drugs." The case for Prop 19 can be made with just a few stats. Between 1999 and 2009, nearly 570,000 residents were arrested for misdemeanor pot possession (plus another 155,000 who faced more serious felony charges). Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron, a prominent libertarian, estimates the annual cost of enforcing prohibition in California at $1.87 billion. But for all the time and resources the state has pumped into targeting these nonviolent, low-level offenders, there has been no corresponding drop in reported use. There has, though, been a spike in racial disparities. Black adults across the state are arrested for pot possession at higher rates than whites—sometimes by a factor of three or four. The same ugly imbalances apply to black youth, even though their white peers are more likely to inhale. Pot arrests in California don’t often lead to prison, but the long-term consequences of a criminal record are severe and disproportionately burdensome to minorities. Legalization would not just help balance the scales. It would also help balance the budget. The state, which is facing a $19 billion Continue Reading

JUST SAY YES Costly programs preaching abstinence don’t work

Raging hormones and their potential consequences continue to be more appealing to teens than the wishes of the federal government. While some things might never change, two reports released last week say that millions of dollars spent on the federal abstinence-only program has resulted in few positive - and some potentially negative - changes in the sexual behavior of young adults."For many young people, abstinence-only programs do not adequately address the complexities of adolescent sexual development," says Debra Hauser, who oversaw the studies for Advocacy for Youth, a national nonprofit group.Congress' 1996 Personal Responsibility & Work Opportunities Reconciliation Act included a provision known as Title V, calling for $250 million to be spent over five years directing states to promote unequivocal premarital sexual abstinence. Advocates for Youth estimates that since 1998, nearly $500 million has been spent on education using this principle.Advocacy for Youth charted changes over time in teen sexual behavior in 10 states: Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington.Alarmingly, the results show that risky behavior was actually less prevalent before the federal program was enacted. The rate of high-school students having sex dropped 11% between 1991 and 1997, while condom use rose 23% during the same six years.However, during the years from 1999 to 2003, the rate of high-school students having sex barely dropped at all in these 10 states, and condom use went up only 9%. Additionally, the rate of high-school students reporting four or more sexual partners leveled off in these four years - ­after dropping 14% among surveyed teens in the mid-1990s.The head of Advocacy for Youth thinks the results show that the current federal program is unrealistic at best. "These reports provide further indication that the abstinence-only approach is misguided and should be abandoned," says James Wagoner, the Continue Reading

Sheldon Silver’s gettin’ good at just saying, ‘NO!’

So much for democracy. One guy says "no" to the West Side stadium and the project is dead. The same guy says "no" to congestion pricing and that's dead, too. Without a vote. Without a single public hearing. Without even a moment's open debate. Just this one guy with the demeanor of an undertaker saying one word. "No." However you stand on congestion pricing, whatever you felt about the stadium, you should be outraged. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has once again ignored the principles we are all supposed to believe in. He did not just say "no" to a plan to reduce traffic and improve the subways by charging people to drive into Manhattan. He said "no" to democracy. Here is how democracy was practiced in Albany Monday on an issue that affects millions of people and how they travel through the greatest city on Earth: Silver let it be known he didn't want it. And, what Shelly doesn't want, nobody gets. Why even have the rest of the Assembly? Why not just let only the Assembly speaker speak? The majority of the Assembly is a disgrace, anyway. They have a responsibility to represent the voters who sent them there. Instead, a craven majority turns it over to Silver in exchange for pork-barrel grants and perks. The result is Silver has the power to just say "no." Do not imagine that just because Silver represents lower Manhattan that he necessarily acts in the best interest of the city, or even his district. Silver looks out for Silver. The proof of that came in 1999, when he was instrumental in ending the commuter tax. That is costing the city some $900 million a year, or triple what we would have raked in from congestion pricing. But hey, what's a total of more than $5 billion we could have poured into schools and subways and public safety compared to what Shelly wants? It is worth noting why he wanted to end the tax. He was looking to curry goodwill with the suburban representatives. He knows Continue Reading

Why can’t an addict ‘Just Say No’?

Bill: Frank writes that five years ago his marriage turned morbid. "Laurie would eat something 'bad' and throw up - which I suspect got her high. Next, she began exercising five or six hours a day. She lost 60 pounds, but binged on pretzels and cheese sausages one night, and now she's re-gained 25 pounds. Bill, my wife is a disciplined and dedicated school teacher. If she has to stay up until 2 a.m. to prepare a lesson, she does it. What happened to her will power - why can't she discipline herself about food?" Dr. Dave:  Ah, good old, "Why can't an addict 'Just Say No?'" What did you tell him? Bill: I said will power is a kind of short term, sprint emotion. It will carry you into a burning building to save your kid or dog, but addiction has a grim stamina all its own. It never gets old, it never gets tired or discouraged. It waits, and one day, the addict's will power flags ... and Bingo! Hooked again. Dr. Dave: What I don't like about "will power" is, it wastes your life. Are you thinking about getting a better job, that terrific girl you just met, paying for your kid's college or moving to Paris? No, you're white knuckling it through the night, so obsessed with resisting the lure of addiction you can't think of anything else. How much fun is that? Bill: The U.S. Dept. of Health tells us more than 90% of those with eating disorders are female. Dave, an old flame once said to me, "Whatever else, we women are in the Pretty Business first." Is that why anorexia and bulimia are so overwhelmingly a female disorder? Dr. Dave: Both the bulimic and anorexic feel shame about their weight. The anorexic starves herself because almost any weight is "too fat." The bulimic takes in food, yes, but then, steps up on purging, vomiting and/or laxatives. Bill: So, just like a drunk uses gin to forget a quarrel with his wife, people with eating disorders see their addiction as easing shame and guilt about the way they look. Then, throw in the fashion magazine Continue Reading

Just say yes to new Yeahs

Maturing doesn't always make a band better. For some, it can represent a step back.Take the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. They began as energy incarnate, with singer Karen O's self-immolating vocals embodying primal need, while her two-man band's riffs made a fetish of aggression.But their second CD, 2006's "Show Your Bones," toned down the screech to hone a new-wave brand of pop. It did wonders for the band's sense of craft but, at the same time, robbed too much of their flair.Now the Yeahs have it back on "Is Is." The five-song EP, out Tuesday, brings us back to the big bang of their debut, 2003's "Fever to Tell." There's a trick to that. All the songs were written (or rather scrawled) in 2004, while the band was still touring behind "Fever." The kickoff cut, "Rockers to Swallow," boasts Ms. O's able barking over a snarling guitar riff. "Down Boy" carries a Led Zeppelin-like weight, while the jittery "Kiss Kiss" (whose lyrics detail a threesome) both rages and catches the ear. These songs may date from the Yeahs' buried past, but with luck they'll point the band toward an equally furious future. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

WHO NEEDS A DEALER…WHEN YOU HAVE A DOCTOR ? New Yorkers are just saying yes to prescription drug abuse

With health insurance and a little planning, getting high is as easy as getting a prescription. And in the case of drugs that treat ­attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder - which stems from low levels of brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine - New Yorkers are working the system. Prescriptions for ADHD drugs ­increased by 19% last year among U. S. adults, according to drug-benefit manager Medco. And many New Yorkers say they're seeking dubious diagnoses to get their hands on them. "Addagurl" is the gay community's slang for the ADHD drug Adderall. Jared, 29 (who, like all subjects in this story, used a pseudonym), spends his weekends "gurling. " The fashion designer got a prescription two years ago after looking up symptoms online and telling his doctor that he had them. "ADD is such a subjective diagnosis," he says. "If you say that you have it, how's somebody going to prove that you don't? There's really no quantifiable test, so just ­actually knowing what to say is all you need. " When Jared, who lives in Manhattan, is planning to stay out late dancing, "three Addagurls and I'm ready to go. If you take, like, more than 30 [milligrams], it starts to feel like a combination between cocaine and ­Ecstasy. "You can dose up or down according to what effect you want. You know what the comedown is going to be," he says, casually. "It is a nice benefit that it is pretty cheap and your insurance pays for it. It's safe, it's easy and it's predictable. " But not always. The meds - especially Adderall and Ritalin - are ­essentially legal speed. Experts are alarmed enough about side effects that in February, a Food and Drug Administration panel recommended that drug makers add warning labels to their products stating that they can cause sudden death and heart attacks. In a hearing last week, the agency considered evidence that the drugs can cause hallucinations, particularly visions of worms and insects. "These Continue Reading

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT. Wedding insurance is here for New Yorkers who say yes to the ring, no to the wedding

When Julia Allison was a 21-year-old student at Georgetown, her boyfriend, a third-year law student, brought her to the roof of the Hotel Washington, got down on one knee, and asked for her hand in marriage. The diamond was large, shiny and just beautiful enough to make her forget that they'd been dating only three months and had never even had a conversation about marriage. But Allison didn't let the fact that she had no intention of becoming a wife stop her from saying yes. Eight months, two dogs and one move to California later, Allison panicked, "basically had a Stepford Wives heart attack," and called off the wedding. "At the time, I very much liked the idea of a diamond ring," she said. "I thought, 'I can't possibly say no, I'll break his heart. I'll just say yes, and next week I'll be honest. '" A week turned into nearly a year, and the engagement was finally broken with many hard feelings and yet another cross-country move. Allison's marriage-that-never-was is just one example of a growing trend: young women jumping into weddings without considering the marriage that will follow. Glossy tabloids are plastered with the evidence - Paris Hilton's brief engagement to Paris Latsis last year, Nicole Richie's ever-disappearing (and reappearing) engagement ring from Adam "DJ AM" Goldstein, and who can forget - or more likely has already forgotten - Kimberly Stewart wearing "Laguna Beach" star Talan Torriero's ring for less than two weeks. Celebrities know that a shiny engagement ring is sure to attract the media's attention, and it seems that young New Yorkers are following Hollywood's dating and mating cues. "You get a lot of attention when you get engaged," said Anne Chertoff, a wedding expert and author of the blog "From I Will to I Do" (www. from-i-will-to-i-do. blogspot. com). "People see other young people getting engaged, and they want to be a part of it. " While there are some quick fixes for an "oops" marriage (Britney Spears and Continue Reading