Some old excerpts of mine about Julian Simon, and Durban Poison in The Amalgamated Aggromulator

  • June 7, 2018, 9:57 a.m.
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Well, here I am again. I’d intended to be, but thank Type 2 Diabetic Bladder for actually getting me up, and fifteen minutes before the alarm I’d set.

(Man, I’m fat. Something about this single bedside lamp catches just the one vast belly dome. I see the moon, the moon sees me. . .)

So I am writing again - in Wordpad. I’d have lost everything last time if I hadn’t. Fifty percent of the time when I hit Save, Prosebox has been coming up with a failure screen, “no data returned”, and then whatever I’d done lost, and when I first tried to save the last entry it was one of those times.

I remember my rage when I first read Julian Simon; I remember The Ultimate Resource arcing across the room, with the full force of my arm. Because I left out something about him: He did think we could do something wrong - one kind of thing - specifically, having any environmental regulations or anything that might slow down the free market at all. Because that would restrain the magic of the marketplace and the thousand-points-of-light opportunities for problem-solving genius within it, from which all blessings flowed. And, of course, as much population growth as possible was a good thing. So, crucially: It was not merely that Simon thought he knew, and claimed it was demonstrably rationally certain, that we needed neither brakes nor steering. It was that he opposed both - and believed, and said it was demonstrably rationally certain, that the accelerator pedal should be permanently floored. No matter how the view happened to look at any point. Which, given my take that there was uncertainty - with a future full of certain-to-show-up people in a real world at stake - I found monstrously, sunnily, heedlessly irresponsible.

I am (or was?) tempted to post an Open Diary entry on Julian Simon that I wrote in late July of 2001. It was more specific on some of his peculiarities; I wrote it with a copy of his work actually at hand - and it was a more ambitious time, which sort of glows in the writing; I was still fresh in Open Diary, I had readers (!), and I was in general going to nail the nature of some things to the church door.

I don’t think I quite will, though - or because? - it is somewhat better written than what I did in the last entry. It does add material, because it is on Julian Simon himself and Herman Daly is nowhere in sight . . . but one thing that really jumps out at me is that the surrounding discussion of my theoretical views, and my view of the strategic nub, is precisely the one that I explained in Prosebox four days ago. Not a hair different. (Although, again, written better.)

And, at that, what I was doing back in 2001 was explaining the perspective that I hammered out when I did my ur-labor of first reading all these guys and trying to crack the nut . . . which would have been between the years 1987 and 1993.

I laugh, albeit feeling an odd expression on my face, as I realize that I could have introduced my fresh-feeling Prosebox entry more or less in the fashion of the dusty, snarky joke about fusion power:
”This is your great-uncle’s strategy for the future.”
With me the great-uncle. Here I am.

With this strategic focus having the road not taken for all that time, to my increasing puzzlement and dismay.
(What kills me, what has always killed me, is that to a great extent my approach recommendations have not been “radical” but in fact conservative or actually reactionary . . . because all that would had to have been done to substantially follow it would be if U.S. spending on pure science, R&D, and space had been restored to the same levels that they were up to through the late 1960s until about 1971, when I was four years old. We were there. I spent many years of the intervening time thinking of the funding lull as just a temporary detail, because the logic of the situation and of the payoff from such investment was so clear, and of course these people understood all this as well as I did.)

Ah. Anyway.

Grr. Dang. That was well-written. Maybe I will relent and repost it, despite the element of pure repetition of what I just said and this annoying feeling of defensiveness against myself. But for right now I had the idea of a completely different and much more trivial topic.

Well . . . before I do that, though, I see a couple of bits about Julian Simon’s peculiarities that it wouldn’t hurt to paste in alone:

My first problem has to do with the provenance of his certainty. When he is not busy shooting down his opponents, his primary focus is on the continuation of trends; he spends great effort on demonstrating that, despite the claims of some, things in this or that area are actually getting better. My problem with this is where it crosses the dotted line into the future. Trends in themselves have no necessary staying power; trends happen for particular reasons, and are only diagnosable afterward. Julian Simon is a competent statistical analyst, but he is certain of the primary meaningfulness of statistical analysis; in Hoodwinking the Nation, in the section titled "When are Scientific Techniques Necessary?", by "scientific techniques" he is referring to statistical analysis as opposed to reliance on anecdotal evidence.
His ideas about the *reasons* for the staying power of the trends he points to, meanwhile, are very strange. He places great faith in resource substitution through technological advancement; in fact, it would be hard to overstate this. His contention about copper, for example, which was a centerpiece in The Ultimate Resource, was that, because we cannot put a limit on the low content of copper in rock that our technology may one day be able to extract for use, the supply of copper "cannot be said to be meaningfully limited" at any point - and therefore the supply of copper *is unlimited.* There is a fascinating logical shift in that argument; the sentence is worth staring at.

Very much worth staring at!

Meanwhile, in his use of the word "may" there is a great deal of "will certainly". To enlarge upon the theme of resource substitution, in Hoodwinking the Nation he brings in the idea of actual transmutation of elements: "If you say that copper might be made of other elements, hearers say 'alchemy'. When you point out that nuclear bombardment transmutes metals, the hearers say, 'not practical', implying that it never could be practical. They may be correct. But there is no *logical* impossibility here." True - but the practical difficulty here is not small or momentary. Elements can be transmuted in very small amounts using a lot of radioactive material as source material for the bombardment; barring an actual change in our understanding of nuclear physics, that possibility is going to remain extremely expensive and research-results-sized only.

I’ll end with a somewhat ironical selection:

(Talking about his debate with Garrett Hardin, he disdainfully quotes Hardin: "'One cannot expect much in the way of secure truth from statistics,' [Hardin] said. Instead, we should 'use such theory as we have that looks secure, that makes sense, and see if we can't make sense of the world using this theory.'" Simon uses this as an example of Hardin's anti-scientific viewpoint. What is odd here is that Hardin is using a better definition of science than Simon's. For Simon, statistical analysis of historical experience is science and is sufficient science.)

. . . ironic because - although I’m entirely right about Simon here - Hardin’s definition of/attitude toward science as shown here was fine, but Hardin was relying on Paul Ehrlich’s very rigorously scientifically researched picture, which of course turned out to be totally wrong in its specific predictions; the world passed over those predicted horrible crunches without a ripple. Market adaptation did carry the day. Hardin’s merciless “lifeboat economics” recommendations would prove to be completely unnecessary. And the whole area of human economics and the question of total civilizational carrying capacity has almost been eclipsed as a result.

Ah, Paul Ehrlich. I can’t fault him for seriousness or diligence, but in this respect I must irritably put him in the same special file folder as the remarkable Timothy Leary, who substantially introduced LSD and the other psychedelic drugs into public awareness - his way. “LSD means that you will never understand anything your children say ever again!!!” Leary can indeed be said to have succeeded in firmly establishing the place of LSD in modern society. Very firmly. To the continuing detriment of psychotherapy, research, and whatever general social good it might have provided society, with no end in sight.


I had something much less heavy in tone to note this time, much more in tune with the mellow mood the summer night air encourages:

I am about to be growing a plant that may shoot up eight feet tall - or, by some sources, perhaps twelve feet tall!

It’s the two-to-four marijuana plants I grow in the back yard each year. (I’ve written about this before, a silly business where I smoke about 1/200th or less of the amount where this would make sense - and, as it’s legal here, I could go and get some of just about any kind in the world to try out for ten bucks a gram - but I do it a) to fly the flag to celebrate the disappearance of a ridiculous intrusion on freedom I argued against for years or b) . . . more likely just for the morale effect of having a silly micro-hobby.)

The last couple of years (which is as long as I’ve been doing this), I’ve been growing varieties that have been wholly or substantially indica types - i.e., relatively short, stocky, dense bushes, heavy on relaxing/sedating effects rather than mind-stimulating ones. And early-producing “autoflowering” breeds at that, an innovation (the result of crossbreeding with an unusual Siberian type) where the plant starts flowering when it reaches a certain age, just chronologically, no matter what the time of year.

These two factors have meant that the tallest pot plant I’ve had to deal with has been just short of my height. Nose level. And two feet of that was the pot full of soil it was growing in.

Which has made it convenient to, you know, examine the glassy trichomes on the ripening buds with a jeweler’s loupe (which I guess I don’t really need to do but which makes me feel absurdly child-in-daddy’s-suit professional - “I am a man with a [cheap] jeweler’s loupe!”).

And last year - when that ripening happened to be culminating in early October and the first rains came a week or so before harvest - I was easily able to put an umbrella over them to avoid the specter of rot.

But Mom the gardener requested that this year I grow a tall variety, so she could see it. Which I didn’t mind at all, because I was curious too.

So I wanted a pure sativa sort, tall and lanky, more in the cornstalk pattern, and I went online to a seed supplier and found a feminized (so I won’t have to worry about male flowers diverting flower production into seeds) version of a variety named Durban Poison. (A “landrace” variety from South Africa - “landrace” just meaning “all the plants in the region have grown like this, without or pre-breeding”, the word sounding nice and exotic and knowledgeable. Terminology and jeweler’s loupes - hobbies are all about the paraphernalia.)

My seeds are presently resting between two layers of wet paper towel to germinate. . . .Which means that they probably will not have time to reach whatever their full height would have been; I did not have any spending money at all from December to April (which is another story), so all my plans were set back. I should have gotten the seeds awhile ago.

Durban Poison is probably a good choice for reasons beyond seeing marijuana as high as an elephant’s eye.

Which I didn’t know when I ordered the seeds; I chose it solely for that reason. But I was Googling a few days ago, and, well, this sentence in a review is how you catch my interest:

In the interest of full disclosure, my attention-deficit disorder makes Durban my favorite strain, so I’m biased.

Whurf? What now?

My brisk walking pace and racing heart took me back to college and my late-night, Adderall-fueled walks to the library during finals week. Just like with the Adderall, I could think and make decisions as if my brain was on steroids, and by the time I got to Tony P’s, I already knew I wanted green peppers, olives and mushrooms on my slice. (The obvious benefit of Durbs over Adderall: I could actually stomach a slice of pizza, and I didn’t feel the urge to chain smoke.)
I tried sitting down at the bar while I was waiting, but there was nothing that needed to be done, so I had to get up and walk around until I found something more meaningful to do. Without being focused on a specific task, my brain was hopping from topic to topic in rapid succession, but mostly I was brainstorming on what to do with the long weekend.
What seemed like 20 minutes later (actually five), my slice was ready and I walked back to the office at a faster-than-usual pace, inhaled my pizza (while somehow managing to enjoy every bite), put on a deep house playlist and attacked the mental to-do list I had created at the pizza joint.
A few hours of productivity later, I found myself wondering whether ADD medications had taken a sales hit in post-legalization Colorado because people can just go buy Durban Poison instead. (It worked for me.) After spending five minutes trying to Google historical sales numbers for Adderall in Colorado (sadly, to no avail), it struck me that the Durbs must have worn off because I was completely off-task.
So, I loaded another bowl and got on with my day.
Durban Poison is definitely an uplifting and mentally-stimulating high with a level of raciness that will have you wanting to clean your house, go on a brewery crawl or just get some shit done. I like to use the Durbs as an all-purpose daytime smoke, whether I’m stuck behind the desk for 12 hours and need ADD relief or as fuel for Sunday Funday at Wash Park.
But, no matter what I’m doing, Durban days are productive days.

Well, shucks.

So, yesterday, finding myself footloose out on mass transit, I turned on impulse into a marijuana dispensary and, sure enough, they had Durban Poison. I bought a gram and tried three puffs when I got home.
Very different! Energetic, clear-headed, good mood - there was definitely the pleasant awareness of being mazurkified, but it didn’t get in my way. I very nearly burst out the door and walked a mile to buy cucumbers for a salad; only the marginal lateness of the hour and an acute desire for supper tilted the balance in favor of my laziness.

Well, that’s unexpectedly promising!


There are foreseeable complications on the horizon, already obvious from the clues you’ve been given.

As I say, I suspect that these plants won’t get quite as tall as they would have done, with this late germination, but I’m pretty sure they will get tall. Taller than me seems likely. Maybe much taller.

Which will be photogenic as blazes, I’m sure. Which was the whole idea, and will be very cool. But.

This Durban Poison strain is not an autoflowering variety. Which means that its flowering is switched on by the shortening days of autumn. Which means that the flowering period will go into the traditional period of October. I don’t know how far into October.

And the specter of the first rains . . .

Trying to use a jeweler’s loupe - or even only look at the state of the hairs on the buds with my naked eyes - while I’m teetering on a ladder is one thing.
But I just cannot see any way at all to put an umbrella over a tall, lanky plant the top of which may be eight feet in the air. Or ten, or twelve, by the less frequent reports.

No such thing. So none of this stretching of the flowering time past a sprinkle or two. I’ll have to watch the weather reports with my machete tense in my hand.

And if the thought occurs to you that a maximum harvest, or a successful one, or any harvest at all, is strictly unimportant given what I’ve said - I will not be thinking that way in October. I’ll be in the grip. This is the power of a hobby.

Last updated June 07, 2018

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