Archive for the ‘drugs’ Category

(Or, imagine you had to make a Homo economicus. Other than money, what chemicals would you immediately look up in Angewandte Chemie?)

So Dave from PR’s constituency chairman was found dead in a portaloo at Glastonbury. Who now remembers William Hague in Notting Hill?

This made me think of something. There used to be a microgenre of writing in the late 90s that ascribed historical events to drugs. (Reader Richard J. occasionally threatens to write a history of the world titled Shitfaced: How Drunks, Junkies, Drink, and Drugs Created the Modern World or words to that effect, so it’s not entirely dead.) I remember a piece in The Face (yeah, it would be) ascribing peace in Northern Ireland to the right pills.

But what if the polarity was reversed? If Michael Howard was right, but in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons?

Throw your hands in the air! You’ll need the clearance from surrounding obstacles…

Because we’re about to do some serious handwaving.

What if there was a long-term pathology of MDMA abusers in which serotonin production, or perhaps more likely sensitivity, was permanently compromised? This was a big official-line fear back in the 90s and not totally implausible.

Steroid abusers run the risk of losing their balls as the levels of androgens in their system are artificially kept high and therefore the negative-feedback control never kicks in to demand more production. This is why they shoot HCG – it’s an alternate positive control – and hence why some of them can show up positive on pregnancy tests.

Similarly, keep a stimulus turned up long enough and the system will trim it out to deal with the new normal.

An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of Paul Staines

What might be the symptoms? Well…you’ll need even more space to wave your hands for this bit, but here goes. Permanently lacking in empathy, with lowered affect, and a tendency to blow up irascibly if challenged. Are you thinking what we’re thinking?

Actually, I’m indebted to Owen “Owain the marxist architecture critic, see” Hatherley for this insight: like so.

I like CIF’s preponderance of ravey right-wing libertarians. ‘MoveAnyMountain’, ‘TakeMeHigher’ etc

Yes. Yes. Perhaps we could do a poll on which Mancunian music hero is likely to make it to the Tory A-List first and therefore derive some assumptions towards a dose-response curve. Hooky? Squire? Barney? Shaun Ryder? Bez? Tony Wilson? I know he’s dead, but seriously, it’s the Tories and I’m kinda surprised he never had a serious crack at electoral politics. (John Squire, for his part, repeatedly threatened to but didn’t get enough tuit. But you’re a long time retired as they say.) Surely they’d find him a constituency down near Jake Rees-Mogg’s where the mere termination of his biological existence wouldn’t matter too much.

Aetiology, Diagnosis…and Treatment

I don’t know about treatment, but it should be fairly easy to devise a screening protocol based on demographic and biographical information and a few clinical markers. Not quite the Voight-Kampff test, but similar. Anyway it’s too well known, especially in the target generation.

The good news is that the demographic bulge ought to be near its peak and things should get better from here on in. A bit like public pensions.

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Well, this is grim. Intelligent comment is to be found here, in Jamie Kenny’s interview with David Wilson.

Would you say that serial killers are a kind of negative indicator of the health of society in the sense that the fewer victims there are, the better society functions?

Serial killers function best within fractured communities, where people don’t look out for each other, and when the gap between those who have and those who have not is wide. In cultures such as these no one really bothers to notice the elderly neighbour living by themselves, or the kids who are homeless because they don’t view these people as having value, or being connected to their lives. Serial killers also exploit homophobia and our laws related to those young people who sell sexual services. When I was in Ipswich in 2006 I used to point out that less than an hour’s flight away was Amsterdam and that no Dutch serial killer had ever targeted prostitutes.

There’s also a nasty surprise; according to Chris Williams, who actually met him, he was working on precisely that question, whether the 19th century’s apparently low murder rate was explained by the fact that the victims of Victorian murderers were more likely to just vanish rather than be reported to the police.

Well, Yorkshire scores another historic first. I used to work off Thornton Road, and also in Dockfield Mill in Shipley; they’re both places where the death of the textile industry left behind a lot of rotting mill buildings that then got re-purposed by all kinds of odd little businesses. Dockfield Road is less so, more traditionally industrial, and there are terraces of classic working-class homes part of the way along it, just about where the pie van parked up when I was working in an envelope factory.

Thornton Road, though, is nothing but old mills and warehouses, now become small engineering workshops, garages, curry wholesalers and the like, a sort of Yorkshire favela development. The district, in the valley between the university and Great Horton Road on one side and Manningham on the other, is not identified with any community – hardly anyone lives there, they only work there or cut through the backstreets to avoid the inner ring road. (Oddly enough, the anarchist 1 in 12 Club is round there too, up the hill towards Westgate. And so are the Quakers.)

The vice trade moved down there after the girls were driven out of Lumb Lane, further uphill (uphill and downhill are always important directions in Bradford) and northwards in the centre of Manningham; this event has been variously considered to have been an example of community vigilantism, Islamism, and also to be associated with control of the drugs market and black/Asian tension, which later led to serious violence. In the 1990s, you could drive past any time of the night or day and see drug dealing going on – I also remember that one of the corner shops still had a sign outside advertising paraffin.

When I worked in an industrial bakery further up the road towards Lidget Green (and its Pathan community), and would walk back down towards the city centre, stinking of roasted high fructose syrup and cream-style product, I remember passing a huge billboard for Coca-Cola with some pouting model reclining across it. Some Four Lions character had decided to deface this example of imperialist decadence and fitna, but rather than aiming for the cleavage or the thighs, or for that matter the Coke, they’d chosen to tear down the face.

Just to finish off this gruelling series, I wanted to flag Kilcullen’s take on Afghanistan and opium. In short, his argument is that counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics in Afghanistan are identical; the poppy mostly grows where the Taliban are, it provides something up to 50% of the movement’s income, and it is anyway impossible to do anything about it without fighting the Taliban. This is true.

However, he is almost immediately caught in a dilemma; if fighting the Taliban and the poppy are part of the same struggle, isn’t destroying the poppy crop pretty much the antithesis of counterinsurgency? As a survival-oriented civilian, the survival of your crop – i.e. your entire annual income and your capital – only takes second place to the survival of your neck.

The solution to this is to hold to the principle whilst stalling the implementation, a tactic everyone knows and loves. He is sensibly enough opposed to mass eradication, on the grounds that as well as being wildly unpopular, the only effective form is to physically tear the plants out, and that this anyway requires control of the poppy-growing territory, so that counterinsurgency is the precondition of counternarcotics.

He is opposed to the Senlis Council option of buying the poppy crop and using it for medical morphine, after “extensive analysis”; unfortunately he doesn’t share the extensive analysis, confining himself to a couple of paragraphs. These state, roughly, that much of the drug money that goes to the Taliban is collected via transport, interest on loans, and taxes, so they would continue to make money from it, and that buying the crop wouldn’t reduce the acreage under poppy.

Well, the obvious objection to the first is that this is true for any and all crops and economic activities so long as the insurgents are in possession. In fact, it only tends to confirm the first part of his argument; that the Taliban are the problem, not the poppy. But they would still be the problem if Afghanistan grew carrots. And the second is irrelevant; if the crop is being used for medical purposes, it doesn’t matter if more of it is planted.

In fact, it would be nothing but good news. The people would be in a position where growing as much of their most productive crop as possible would no longer be a dangerous and illegal activity. As James Wimberley points out, there is potential medical demand equivalent to several times Afghan production. Can they fill the whole demand? Well, let’s find out. I agree the Common Agricultural Policy is crap, but it’s a small price to pay for London’s 64th year with zero V2 rocket strikes.

And Kilcullen concedes that the link between the Taliban and the poppy originates in the drugs war.

He argues that there is an implicit social contract at work – you grow poppy (which is in any case the most productive crop you can grow, especially as the limiting factor is the water supply) and pay the taxes, we’ll keep the government from taking your crops. Well, yes.

Further, there is the question of whether it is even possible to reduce the heroin supply at source. We’ve been trying since 1971 with an unbroken record of costly failure.

Imagine that, by a heroic effort, the government managed to destroy, or prevent planting of, 30 per cent of the poppy crop. Well, assuming for simplicity that 100 per cent of it goes through Taliban hands and that 50 per cent of their revenue comes from it, that would add up to an absolute maximum 15 per cent cut in their funding. I would suspect that the annual variance of the Taliban’s income isn’t much less than that. And I would suspect that such an effort would consume essentially all the forces and budget available for discretionary operations in Afghanistan. It’s not worth it.

I had the feeling that the extensive analysis may have contained the phrase “shit, this is far too politically sensitive”.

I’m increasingly annoyed by official-media consensus that young people will suffer more than anyone else from the recession. Not that I especially doubt this; I doubt the reasoning, which appears to be that they’ve all gone soft and they’re not like we were in my day. As a general principle, I believe this is usually wrong, being unfalsifiable and all, and also being a projection of one’s own fear of death.

But on the specific case, I dispute the facts. It wasn’t a great time to be young; by definition, when you’re young your only source of income is wages, and the labour share of national income has been flat for years. Indeed, real wages have been flat for donkey’s years. A personal example; I was offered a job at Euromoney Institutional Investor on a salary of £16,000 per year, but on a six-month contract. Even at Mobile Comms International, it was a while before I was earning more an hour than I had been Pritt-Sticking the flaps of substandard envelopes whilst waiting for Bradford City’s second season in the Premier League. However, it improved, and I’m well aware I learnt a hell of a lot there. I spent around 20% of my post-tax income on my railway season ticket.

At the same time, both rents and house prices shot through the roof. This was crucial; the whole idea that home-owners got rich from the rise in the value of their property was dependent on someone buying it from them. People retiring and trading-down was a factor that had to match people trading-up; at bottom, there had to be first-time buyers, who are generally young. The net effect of right-to-buy and the great property bull run was to transfer wealth from first-time buyers to sellers; in the aggregate, the Bank of Mum and Dad was borrowing from the kids.

And, of course, there were tuition fees, top-up fees, and for a cohort including me, both the fees and no student grants. Meanwhile, we were told we ought to consume and keep the economy going, take part in the creative industries and volunteer, but do this while joining the job market, to borrow heavily to pay for further and higher education, to accumulate savings on deposit, to save for retirement (or in other words, to pay others’ pensions), that we were a bunch of unserious greenies, that we were politically apathetic, that we would face the consequences of climate change (after it became respectable to worry), that we were all drug fiends and music characterised by repetitive beats was against the law, that we weren’t getting on the housing ladder, that we were borrowing too much money (this from the people who brought you Citigroup) and that people who were slightly younger ought to be punished for playing hooky in order to demonstrate against the Iraq war. To cap the lot, we were told we were drinking too much. If we were, who could guess why?

Actually, if I was younger, I think I’d be delighted by the crisis. I’ve got plenty of schadenfreude and indeed klammheimliche Freude as it is. Things I need (somewhere to live, somewhere to do interesting things) are likely to get cheap, and me minus five years doesn’t care about the cost of huge cars or Vertu mobile phones because he doesn’t have any money but does have more sense. The strength of ideological drivel is reduced; there has been a catastrophe in the intellectual environment, a meteorite has plunged into the credibility of the market monkeys, and as usual, this is followed by an adaptive radiation, a blossoming of new species into new or newly unoccupied niches.

Even when me minus five years starts working for the clampdown, at least he or she gets to save for their retirement in a low asset price world, and to bore me minus ten years with tales about how they staged bio-hacking parties in abandoned bank C-level offices, and how this gets them off inevitably joining the Conservative Party, or functional equivalent. Which is, after all, the claim to intellectual legitimacy of most of the people who spent all that time ordering me to simultaneously save, work, borrow, volunteer, spend, rebel, invest, and obey.

I suppose they must have meant one of those.

Der Spiegel has an interesting story regarding the Colombian drug smugglers’ homemade submarines. These have so far been considered a curiosity, but apparently they are becoming more and more common, and the technology is developing fast. The biggest vessel captured so far displaced 46 tonnes, presumably surfaced, with a payload of 10 tonnes. Apparently the current ones, described as the third generation, have a radius of action of 2,500 kilometres; an American admiral is quoted as expecting them to eventually start crossing the Atlantic from northeastern Brazil to West Africa, linking up with the emerging drugs route from there to Europe.

Back in 2004, this blog went to the European Social Forum – we weren’t that impressed, but we did call it “the Caesar’s Palace of Ranting”. I’m not sure what the equivalent for the UKUUG’s OpenTech 2008 would be; there was plenty of ranting, but a sight less committee wank, more practicality, even if no-one can answer the question of what any of this stuff stands for. I ran into, among others, Liz Henry, most of MySociety, the author of Spyblog (who has some damn good war stories), various readers including Duane Griffin, and a small galaxy of assorted hackers, militants, gawpers, freaks and mutants. Good People, as the Doctor would say.

And they are, too; even if the live demonstration of the ViktorFeed didn’t happen due to the lack of a routable IP address (or even working connectivity for that matter), there was the loan of another laptop when OpenSUSE didn’t want to speak to the projector. When I’d finished the show and dealt with all the questions, I was faced with at least two offers of colocated server capacity, and the services of at least three professional software developers, as well as an interview for the BBC World Service, a spare USB key, and a pint of lager. All of which would have come in handy the night before, when I foolishly attempted to change something in the code after midnight and borked the whole thing, forcing me to get up at six the next morning to fix it.

As it turns out, having met Francis Irving, I’m probably going to be assimilated by MySociety, or at least my project is. I was also very interested in some of the green/geek crossover projects – I missed the session on solar power and IT, but I did get to the AMEE presentation on their automated carbon dioxide profiler and Hotmapping’s show of their IR surveying work, intended to classify buildings by the rate at which they lose heat. Apparently they’d already found one urban cannabis farm.

And BT Osmosoft’s TiddlyWiki – a wiki in a single file – may not sound all that much; but I really liked the idea of a zoomable, pseudo 3D interface for wikis. I’m quite keen on the idea of using this to organise contacts – who puts their friends in alphabetical order after all?

Much more is filtering out about the Bangkok Bout Bust; it seems fairly certain that his arrest was the result of a sting operation in which the DEA posed as buyers from the FARC. Bout booked a meeting room in the Bangkok Sofitel; he, and several others, were waiting for their guests to arrive when the Thai police arrived instead. Initial reports said that he had only arrived in Thailand four hours earlier, on an Aeroflot flight (presumably from Russia); this has now given place to the suggestion that he had been staying in the hotel since January. It’s most likely that both are in fact true, and that Bout has been in Thailand for some time but had recently travelled to Russia.

The fake buyers ordered surface-to-air missiles and anti-armour weapons, precisely what you’d expect a modern guerrilla army to import. A figure of 100 missiles was given. According to the complaint against him, he went as far as offering them helicopters for sale, and suggested that the missiles could be delivered by airdrop into Colombia. Given the length of the route from the ex-USSR or Middle East pickup point to the destination, this argues that an Ilyushin 76 would have been the means of delivery.

According to the FT, the DEA narcs had been on the case for some time, and there had been past meetings in the Netherlands Antilles and Denmark. Further, the FT claims they got access to e-mail from Viktor’s Gmail account.

Viktor Bout has a Gmail account?!!!

In a further report, the FT mentions some of the people who were arrested with Bout. Chief among them is one “Andrew” Smulian, who has apparently already been ghosted from Thailand to the US. This name is interesting; someone of that surname has been associated with Bout since at least 1998, and he appears in the accounts of Air Pass for that year as a major recipient of cash from the company. This would appear to be corroboration of those documents.

It was inevitable that something weird would happen, though:

Mr Surapol said Mr Bout was arrested with five other people – four Russians and one British citizen – all of whom had been released due to lack of evidence of against them, and lack of local arrest warrants for them.

OK, so Bout is in Thai custody awaiting an extradition hearing. Bout and Smulian are the men named in the DEA’s writ. Smulian’s already been handed over – what’s that about? – but some five others have been released including one Briton.

I’m aware of at least two British associates, but one of them is in jail and the other hasn’t been reported as being involved in anything evil for years, and was anyway a marginal figure. The FT reckons the released men were the sting merchants.

Further, Doug Farah reports that the Russians have been making noises about issuing an extradition request; I remember overhearing a group of teenagers on a bus in Feltham, passing an ANPR mobile camera installation on the A30. One of them mentioned that it was a police camera that read number plates; the rest exclaimed “Sneaky Russians!” Indeed.

Meanwhile, the affair set the TYR infrastructure sweating, roaring and creaking like an old Antonov 12; just listen to those Kuznetsov turboprops. It was the biggest day in the history of the old blog with 1,576 uniques, plus a hundred or so more on the new blog; anything with a plane photo has been in heavy demand. My favourite google search ever: is max boot related to viktor bout? (the top result is this.)

But more interestingly, look at this: someone queried Russian Google for “Tenir Bout”, from theUAE. We also had someone in Moscow googling british gulf, as in British Gulf International Airlines/British Gulf International Company.

Here’s what our highly sophisticated surveillance network reported:
[u'06-Mar 23:45', u'Al-Fujairah', 'Sharjah', u'Tenir Airlines', u'TEB 4361', u'Estimated : 23:45 ']
[u'07-Mar 00:02', u'Al-Fujairah', 'Sharjah', u'Tenir Airlines', u'TEB 4361', u'Arrived at 00:02 ']
[u'07-Mar 03:00', None, 'Sharjah', u'Tenir Airlines', u'TEB 4361', u' ']
We’ve also seen them in the past doing routes like Sharjah-Baghdad-Kabul; a true war-on-terror trifecta, and in the last few weeks running into northern Somalia. Just look where the planes came from.

Wired Danger Room, meanwhile, theorises that the Bout network has been involved with the emerging Andes-West Africa-Europe cocaine route, and was trading weapons for drugs with the FARC. It’s plausible; even as early as the British intervention in Sierra Leone in 2000, some of the militias were noted to have transatlantic trading connections.

Just for laughs, meanwhile, someone on an Armenian IP is googling for Viktor Bout and Pierre Falcone.

Update: More detail from the horse’s mouth. Looks like the DEA agents got Smulian to call Bout on a mobile phone they handed him so they knew which line to listen on. Huge security fart on Smulian’s part.

David Axe reports on various American officials moaning that the Dutch Army in Afghanistan is not sufficiently keen on burning the peasants’ crops, specifically the poppy crop. Now, Dave is currently engaged in something like the Four Days’ Fight of the Anglo-Dutch War, when the Royal Navy and Martin Tromp’s fleets got locked into a week-long battle of attrition; slavering soldiers of Orange are scrambling all over his comments threads with cutlasses held between their teeth.

Clearly it’s time to stab him in the back.

TYR can exclusively reveal that the Iraqi insurgency is being funded by the trade in a toxic, explosive, and highly addictive substance that is peddled on Britain’s streets. Junkies, known as “petrol heads”, are willing to spend almost anything to get their hands on their next “tank”. It offers them a passing sense of boundless power and confidence – but the downsides include thousands of people a year being killed and injured, billions of tonnes of CO2 emissions, and our cities filled with toxic, stinking smoke. Millions of Britons are sending vast sums of money to foreign pushers – many of whom are in league with our enemies – enough money to make it a significant contribution to the trade deficit. Even as we speak, oil dealers are selling their wares only a few hundred yards from my keyboard.

So far, absolutely nothing has been done by the military authorities in Iraq to eradicate the fields from which “oil” is extracted, the transport networks used by traffickers to move it, or the vast laboratories which process crude “oil” into the highly refined, crack cocaine-like form in which it is found on the streets. Even Registan.net, part of the neo-con Pajamas Media network, thinks this is insane.

Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that Coalition commanders deliberately altered their dispositions in order to protect these systems. For example, Colonel Tim Collins described in his memoirs how the 1st Battalion, the Royal Irish Regiment, like the other units in the 16th Air Assault Brigade, were specifically tasked to guard an oilfield. Far from blowing it up, though, civilian engineers arrived to check that production would continue!

As in Afghanistan, it seems that the oil pushers are entrenching themselves in the Iraqi government – the notorious fraudster and suspected Iranian agent Ahmed Chalabi, for example, succeeded in having himself appointed Minister of Oil. There is clearly only one solution. We must use the remaining time before General Petraeus must report to Congress to create an Oil Identification and Fast Oil Eradication Force, OIF-OEF for short, which will have as its aim the destruction of all oil fields in Iraq.

The measures required are simple. Precision-guided munitions permit us to destroy highly-critical nodes in the oil trafficking network with confidence and very little risk. The locations are well-known. Specifically, the Baiji refinery and the Al-Fawr deepwater terminal are vital for all oil exports from Iraq. Our aircraft, or if necessary, combat engineers, could close these tonight, for good and all. Two F-15E strike packages, each of four aircraft carrying four 2,000lb laser-guided bombs apiece, might suffice. The risk of casualties is minimal.

It is well-known that countries with a substantial oil racket tend not to profit from it. The money extracted from foreign addicts is usually either creamed off by the sinister Mr Bigs of the trade, or else squandered by corrupt, ramshackle governments. Meanwhile, the costs are nationalised, through the so-called Dutch disease and the release of toxic by-products. It is even all too typical that the oil bosses keep control of the fields by getting the locals hooked on cut-price petrol. Without the false prosperity of oil-trafficking, Iraqis would be free to concentrate on other, more constructive forms of economic activity, such as poppy-growing, prostitution, and genocide.