Opinion L.A.
Observations and provocations from the Times' Opinion Staff
One ex-pothead does not evidence for marijuana's dangers make

Susan Shapiro's anecdotal experience with cannabis — describing her past use as "an extreme addiction" — is anomalous. Most people who experiment with pot do not become dependent upon it. In truth, most users who try marijuana voluntarily cease their use as they grow older, enter the workplace or start a family.

That is because pot lacks the dependence liability associated with many other substances. According to the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine, cannabis' risk of causing dependence is far lower than that of alcohol, opiates or tobacco. At worst, cannabis' potential dependence liability is on par with anxiolytics such as Valium or Xanax. Indeed, a minority of pot users experience difficulty kicking the habit, but that doesn't mean that we as a society should continue enforcing the failed policy of cannabis criminalization.

Many of Shapiro's claims regarding pot's risk potential are unsupported by the scientific literature. For instance, she expresses concerns that...

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Blowback: Jonah Goldberg's questioning of university rape story falls flat

In his recent column questioning allegations of brutal rape at a University of Virginia fraternity, Jonah Goldberg made clear -- though he didn't say explicitly -- that he has never been in a fraternity. In fact, some quick research shows that his alma mater has not had any Greek presence on its campus for decades. 

So it's interesting to me, a recent college grad and alumna of a co-ed fraternity, that Goldberg feels he has such authority to discuss the veracity of Rolling Stone's widely read account of a female student who tells of her systematic and brutal gang rape by seven men at the university's Phi Kappa Psi chapter. 

Goldberg raises questions about the rape survivor's account that range from offhand (how did she know there were seven if the room was pitch black?) to naive: "The nicknames she hears -- 'Armpit' and 'Blanket' -- sound bizarre, even by fraternity standards.”

Goldberg's dumbfoundedness is understandable. I thought it was pretty strange when I was given the pledge...

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Blowback: Academic boycott of Israel gives voice to peaceful protest

This past weekend, American Studies Assn. members held our annual conference in Los Angeles, with the theme "The Fun and the Fury." Those familiar with the ASA mainly because of news about our year-old academic boycott of Israel might be surprised by our sessions ranging from "Vanguardist Jazz in the Seventies" to "Selfie Nation" -- all engaging topics that are intrinsic to the field of American studies.

The conference, drawing 2,300 scholars, was the first to follow our resolution last December supporting the call from Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The boycott is a form of nonviolent resistance that proved its value during the successful fight against South African apartheid.

Writing in The Times last week, Brandeis University American studies chairman Thomas Doherty charged that the ASA "ventured outside its natural borders" and wondered why Israel should be considered "singularly toxic."

But if Israel's horrific F-16 fighter jet attacks on...

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Blowback: Local government experience deserves to be praised, not mocked

In its endorsement of Sheila Kuehl for Los Angeles County supervisor in the 3rd District, The Times pointed to her many years in the state Legislature as one compelling reason why she deserves to be elected. I think The Times got that wrong.

I have known Kuehl for about 20 years. We have often been on the same side of political battles and we have had our occasional disagreements. And while I had met Bobby Shriver when he was mayor of Santa Monica and I was mayor of West Hollywood, we didn't know each other well when I announced my candidacy for supervisor. But during the first half of this year, we all participated in more than 20 debates and each got to know the others better -- not only in terms of substantive issues, but also on leadership styles. Kuehl and Shriver made it through the June primary; I came in third. 

Some expected that I would endorse Kuehl because we both come from the gay community. But in fact I endorsed Shriver.

Why? As elected officials, we are all shaped by...

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Asian Americans would lose out under affirmative action

A recent Field Poll claimed that most registered voters and Asian Americans in California support affirmative action. Based on the poll data, Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor of public policy and political science at UC Riverside, indicated that the intense opposition to State Constitutional Amendment 5 (or SCA-5) earlier this year, an attempt to restore affirmative action in California's public universities, "was primarily concentrated among a small group of Asian American activists, with the more numerous silent majority still supportive of affirmative action."

As an official with the Silicon Valley Chinese Assn., which was a major force behind SCA-5's defeat, I find the poll question misleading and Ramakrishnan's reasoning deeply flawed.

The original text of the poll question, written by a group Ramakrishnan directs, was, "Do you favor or oppose affirmative action programs designed to help blacks, women, and other minorities get better jobs and education?" Who would not answer...

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Why it's objectionable to describe Ferguson's Michael Brown as 'no angel'

Was the New York Times wrong to write that Michael Brown was “no angel”?

“I read the profile and didn’t find the ‘no angel’ line objectionable,” wrote Times editorial board member Michael McGough.

It’s unfortunate that McGough is unable to see the phrase “no angel” as unobjectionable. It had nothing to do with the sum total of Brown’s life, and subtly suggested that he was a “bad boy” and was directly responsible for being shot and killed.

Picking one incident out of someone’s short life and using it to say, “See, he was headed for trouble,” is always reductive thinking, and, in the life of a black man, is something we have been combating since the 1600s. Until you abolish it from your vocabulary — and your spiritual nature — you will always be able to justify thinking that about anyone, whether black, white, female, transgender.

People like to be able to reduce others into a box so they can feel they’ve afforded the person all the “moral” goodness they have within themselves....

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