Confirming The Stoner Effect

A study of about 1,000 New Zealanders has concluded that individuals who began smoking marijuana before age 18, and then smoked it for years, experienced a drop in IQ — a drop that persisted even if the individual quit.

This is one of those studies that draws awfully broad conclusions, and is a bit disturbing, besides.  The researchers began assessing the study participants, a group from Dunedin, New Zealand, when they were children, before they started smoking, and then interviewed them regularly about their pot-smoking habits, and other activities, for more than 20 years.  The researchers took the resulting data and sought to screen for other factors, including use of alcohol and other drugs, as well as education levels.  They concluded that persistent marijuana smokers — defined as someone who smoked at least four times a week, year after year, into their 20s and 30s — experienced noticeable drops in IQ, with the amount of marijuana consumption correlating to the amount of IQ loss.  The study found that persistent marijuana use over 20 years is associated with neuropsychological decline and that the drug may have neurotoxic effects in adolescents.

There’s no real surprise in these conclusions.  Many of us know people who never moved past the heavy stoner lifestyle and ended up sapped of energy and ambition, not doing much of anything with their lives except listening to Dark Side of the Moon and complaining about their latest bad break.  If you go to any college town, you’ll likely see some of them, scraping by somehow.

What’s disturbing about the study is that the scientists seem to have treated real people like lab rats, testing and interviewing and assessing them as they continued a habit that apparently was producing irrevocable mental decline.  There’s no indication in the article linked above that researchers did anything to try to convince participants to stop their use — even in the case of adolescents.  What are the ethical obligations of researchers under such circumstances?  When should a scientist stop being a neutral observer and recorder of clinical facts, and start being a person who tries to help a kid avoid a permanent downward spiral?

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Roger Waters And The Wall

On Friday Richard and I, and a bunch of other people, are going to see Roger Waters perform The Wall.  According to the tour website, the show will feature Waters, backed by a full band, performing The Wall from start to finish.  Added to the mix will be an enormous wall, state-of-the-art video projections, a quadrophonic sound system, and puppets and inflatable objects.

I’m looking forward to the show because I like listening to live music and because some of the songs on The Wall are among my favorite songs, ever.  The album came out when I was in college, when Pink Floyd was a staple on every stereo system.  Dark Side Of The Moon and Wish You Were Here were generally recognized, then and now, as two of the very best rock albums ever recorded, and Animals wasn’t chump change, either.  Then years passed without a new Pink Floyd album.  When the word got out that The Wall was in the offing it became one of the most eagerly anticipated album releases ever.  When it finally hit the record stores I immediately bought a copy and listened to it from beginning to end and most of my friends did, too.

After repeated playings I fell into a pattern of listening to the first three sides of the album where my favorite songs — Mother, Young Lust, Don’t Leave Me Now, Hey You, and particularly the epic Comfortably Numb — were found.  Side four fell into disuse, like side four of the Beatles’ White Album.  In a way, listening to Roger Waters and his band perform side four will be like running into an old friend that I haven’t seen for years.

Something Similar To . . . Alan Parsons Project (Cont.)

Russell was right.  I did get a big kick out of his unexpected, early morning post about I Robot, and not just because I like to see postings on the family blog.

I think I Robot is a classic album, and Russell’s tale of listening to that album at the close of an college all-nighter had some real resonance with me.  I’m pretty sure that, back in 1978 or 1979, I pulled another all-nighter to finish classwork and write a column that had been the subject of unseemly procrastination and listened to I Robot when 4 or 5 or 6 a.m. rolled around and I needed some inspiration.  In those days, of course, there were no Ipods or personal computers with CD players or, for that matter, decent headphones — so when the wee small hours came you needed to dial back the volume on the stereo and replace, say, Exile on Main Street with a more quiet, contemplative album like I Robot.  Reading Russell’s post was like being time-warped back to the grim, green-carpeted kitchen at 101 W. 8th Avenue in the spring of 1979.  More on that later, perhaps.

To answer Russell’s specific question — of course I Robot didn’t spring into life, Athena-like, from the fertile creative brain of Alan Parsons.  The ’70s were filled with “concept albums,” a genre that probably started in 1967 with Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  “Synthesizer rock” became big in the ’70s, but it also traced its roots back to the ’60s, and to bands like Procol Harum and Whiter Shade of Pale.  And albums that combined some vocals with long, instrumental sections were a staple of the “alternative” stations of the ’60s, where long songs like Inna Gadda da Vida by Iron Butterfly were the norm.

So what is like I Robot — a ’70s album with a theme, some synthesizers, and some longer songs?  I can’t come up with an exhaustive list, but with the help of my friend JV, I’ve come up some suggestions, in no particular order:

1.  The Beatles, Abbey Road — Side one of the album is pretty damn good, side two — with its blended together songs and snippets, ranging from the simple acoustical purity of the intro to Here Comes the Sun to the fine harmonies of Sun King to the humor of You Never Give Me Your Money, and all of the other fabulous tunes — is just otherworldly.  It is, I think, the best album side ever recorded as well as the best “end of the all-nighter” music ever conceived.

2.  Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon — The classic album of my college days, with songs that ran seamlessly together, music that sounded like the soundtrack to a dream, and lyrics that caused any thoughtful college student to sink into a reverie — until the alarm clock abruptly rang.

3.  Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here — An even dreamier (and in my humble opinion, musically superior) Pink Floyd album about the mental breakdown of Syd Barrett, a former member of Pink Floyd, that includes one of the greatest, longest split-up songs ever recorded, Shine On You Crazy Diamond.

4.  Electric Light Orchestra, Eldorado — Another dreamy concept album that supposedly had an internal theme, but one that was pretty elusive to mere mortals.  It featured a bunch of great songs, like Mister Kingdom and Nobody’s Child. Side two of the album was a killer.

5.  Yes, Yessongs — Yes was perhaps the quintessential synthesizer/keyboards band of the ’70s (sorry, Emerson Lake and Palmer), and I think Yessongs was their masterpiece.  A two-album set, the second disk consisted solely of terrific, extended, drawn-out songs, like I’ve Seen All Good People, Long Distance Runaround, and Starship Trooper.

6.  The Moody Blues, This Is The Moody Blues — I admit that this double album was a kind of greatest hits album, but it really captured the blurry, ethereal music and thoughtful lyrics of The Moody Blues (as well as their somewhat over-the-top pretensions).  This was another college early morning hours favorite that was packed with excellent sun-coming-up tunes.

I think any one of these would serve you in good stead at 5 a.m., Russell!

Technology, Timekeeping, And The King’s English

Big Ben

Big Ben

The standard clock — with its hour hand and minute hand, its twelve Arabic or Roman numerals, and its soothing metronomic ticking — is quickly becoming an endangered species. Think for a moment about how often you see a standard clock face any more. To the extent that commercial establishments have any kind of timekeeping device (and many of them don’t any longer) it is as likely to be a digital device as a clock. Many younger people don’t wear wristwatches; they use their cell phone, or I Phone, or Blackberry to tell the time. No doubt digital clocks are more precise than old-fashioned clocks.  They don’t need to be wound and there is no doubt what the exact time is. With a digital clock the time is not “about 7:30,” it is 7:28, or 7:32.

This is one of those small cultural intersections where technological changes are altering society in subtle and unexpected ways. We are quickly becoming a country in which different generations talk about time in different ways. Every person above, say, 25 years of age learned to tell time by the hands of clock and describes the time through that frame of reference; many younger people didn’t learn those same lessons and don’t give the time in that way. Tell a teenager that you will meet them at a quarter till 8 and you may well get a puzzled expression and a follow up question asking you to explain what the heck you are talking about. If you meant 7:45, why didn’t you just say so?

We may be seeing he passage of the standard clock into the mists of time, but we can salute it for having left our language a bit richer. “Clockwise” and “counterclockwise” are very useful concepts if you want to tighten or loosen a bolt. Who hasn’t said some hyperactive person was “wound up,” or that they wished they could “turn back the clock”? We wonder what “makes something tick,” and we marvel at a well-built car that “runs like clockwork.” Would Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon be as memorable without the ticking clock or the rich, resonant gong of Big Ben?