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How to Smoke a Joint

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2016

This is a scene from Miloš Forman’s 1971 film, Taking Off, in which a support group of “square” parents meet to try and understand their children who have run away from home. What a great scene. Unfortunately, the entire movie seems quite difficult to find these days. It’s not streaming anywhere and this Blu-ray is $45. (via @dunstan)

We Work Remotely

The trippy past and scientific future of psychedelics

posted by Jason Kottke   May 17, 2016

After The Man freaked out back in the 60s, LSD and other psychedelics were banned and criminalized. But slowly, scientists are experimenting with psychedelics to treat depression, anxiety, and other ailments.

In the 1960s, a psychologist and former Harvard teacher named Timothy Leary coined the phrase ‘Turn on. Tune in. Drop out.’ The slogan was inspired by advertising jingles, but Leary wasn’t pushing a product, he was promoting a drug: LSD.

But today, scientists are studying psychedelics once again, in the latest twist in the long, strange story of LSD.

Even outside of a therapeutic setting, many people extolled the beneficial effects of psychedelics. Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs recalled in his biography by Walter Isaacson:

Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life. LSD shows you that there’s another side to the coin, and you can’t remember it when it wears off, but you know it. It reinforced my sense of what was important — creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could.

Check out the NY Times companion piece and the archival footage of LSD experiments on cats, spiders, and goats.

Why the War on Drugs Is a Huge Failure

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 01, 2016

In their latest video, Kurzgesagt tackles the War on Drugs. The Stop the Harm website, which they mention at the end of the video, says this about the failed efforts to curb drug use:

The global drug policy system is well and truly broken. Despite aiming to ‘protect’ people from drugs, its punitive approach has instead increased the harms of these substances, punishing and demonizing the people and communities most impacted by them. This punishment has disproportionately impacted people and communities of color, indigenous peoples, and the economically marginalized, while stoking public health crises by restricting access to essential medicines and exacerbating the spread of HIV, hepatitis C, and other blood borne viruses.

A chemical cure for chemical dependence?

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2016

For an episode called The Fix, Radiolab explores what anti-addiction drugs are available and why they aren’t more widely known and used to treat alcoholism and drug addiction.

Reporter Amy O’Leary was fed up with her ex-boyfriend’s hard-drinking, when she discovered a French doctor’s memoir titled The End of My Addiction. The fix that he proposed seemed too good to be true. But her phone call with the doctor left her, and us, even more intrigued. Could this malady — so often seen as moral and spiritual — really be beaten back with a pill?

We talk to addiction researcher Dr. Anna Rose Childress, addiction psychologist Dr. Mark Willenbring, journalist Gabrielle Glaser, The National Institute of Health’s Dr. Nora Volkow, and scores of people dealing with substance abuse as we try to figure out whether we’re in the midst of a sea change in how we think about addiction.

Have an ecstatic holiday!

posted by Susannah Breslin   Dec 24, 2015

Erowid notes that Merck patented MDMA on December 24, 1912.


Marijuana Thanksgiving

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 19, 2015

If you’ve ever wanted to see a video about how to cook a pot-infused Thanksgiving turkey shot in the style of a Requiem for a Dream heroin-shooting sequence, you have come to the right place. (via devour)

Are we thinking about addiction all wrong?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 29, 2015

A group called Kurzgesagt, in collaboration with author Johann Hari, made this video about taking a new approach to understanding addiction. You’ve probably heard of the experiments where rats in cages were given access to drugs. The rats quickly became addicted to them and used them heavily until overdosing. But perhaps the problem is not the drugs but the cage. Later experiments showed that if rats were given plenty of alternate activities, freedom, and room to roam, they were not likely to become heavy drugs users or overdose.

Human studies are more difficult to come by, but it still appears that when available, living life, family, and friends are more addictive than heroin. And so, according to Hari, who wrote a book about all this, what we should be doing is not isolating those who become addicted to drugs, alcohol, and other things. Instead, we should build a society that reconnects people to each other so that the drugs become unnecessary.

In addition to the video and the book, there’s an interactive version of the video as well as an article by Hari on Huffington Post. (via @gavinpurcell)

Is the world real? Or are we all just hallucinating?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 16, 2015

Hopes&Fears asked a group of scientists and researchers if reality is actually real or if it’s all an illusion or hallucination.

How do we know this is real life? The short answer is: we don’t. We can never prove that we’re not all hallucinating, or simply living in a computer simulation. But that doesn’t mean that we believe that we are.

There are two aspects to the question. The first is, “How do we know that the stuff we see around us is the real stuff of which the universe is made?” That’s the worry about the holographic principle, for example — maybe the three-dimensional space we seem to live in is actually a projection of some underlying two-dimensional reality.

The placebo effect grows stronger

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 08, 2015

It’s getting more difficult for new painkilling drugs to be approved because the rate of effectiveness vs. placebos in drug tests is falling. But oddly, the drop is only being seen in the US.

Based on patients’ ratings of their pain, the effect of trialled drugs in relieving symptoms stayed the same over the 23-year period — but placebo responses rose. In 1996, patients in clinical trials reported that drugs relieved their pain by 27% more than did a placebo. But by 2013, that gap had slipped to just 9%. The phenomenon is driven by 35 US trials; among trials in Europe, Asia and elsewhere, there was no significant change in placebo responses. The analysis is in press in the journal Pain.

(via @tomstandage)

70s cocaine paraphernalia advertising

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2015

Before the Reagans cranked up the War on Drugs in the early 80s due to the massive influx of cocaine from Latin America, advertisements offering all kinds of coke paraphernalia could be found in magazines. The World’s Best Ever collected a bunch of ads offering spoons, mirrors, straws, knives, and the like for America’s coke sniffers.

Cocaine ads

Cocaine ads

I am an episode and a half into Narcos on Netflix. Pretty good (but not great) so far.1 (via adfreak)

  1. They should have found a way to do it without the voiceover. Too much telling and not enough showing. (I have a thing about voiceovers. My first exposure to Blade Runner was Ridley Scott’s Director’s Cut, which omitted Deckard’s voiceover, and when I started watching the original version on TV a few months ago, I nearly threw the remote through the screen…so grating and entirely unnecessary.)

Middle aged molly

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2015

Mary H.K. Choi writes about reconnecting with an experience she’d had when she was younger: rolling on molly.

When you’re a kid, you think you’ll be a certain place in your mid-30s. I presumed I’d be rich because when you’re middle-class with hardworking immigrant parents that’s the whole point. I also thought I’d be married and potentially own a beautiful apartment in New York. Ha ha. What you spend zero time wondering about is whether you’ll still be doing drugs. You naturally assume you’ll grow out of whatever stupidity you dabbled in as a teen. Even up to my 20s I didn’t realize that job-having, non-fuckup grown-ups in their 30s and 40s still smoked weed. Or did ecstasy.

But then I got older and got bored. Saying you’re bored as an adult is truly despicable since it implies that your Maslow’s pyramid is so satisfied, so abundant with shelter, food, health, and love, that you’re driven to idly wishing you liked video games more.

What I want is a vacation from myself. I’ve tried exercise, meditation, sex, and food. I wait for the desire to plan a wedding or have a kid or buy a house and when those things don’t take hold or are plainly untenable, I get my aura read. I open a trillion tabs of internet and drink it in. I gorge on studies about magnets that make you think differently and begin researching the properties of crystals. I don’t think about any of it as self-help because that’s way too pathetic, certainly more than the itchy meh I feel. I want to hurl my brain into outer space; it’s real, real quiet there, the ultimate holiday of feeling small. But because I’m not pregnant and don’t have cancer, I just want to do drugs again.

Dope Rider rides again

posted by Susannah Breslin   Mar 20, 2015

Since I wasn’t a High Times reader in 1975, I missed the debut of Dope Rider, a totally trippy, startlingly surrealistic comic strip starring a Wild West skeleton and created by Paul Kirchner. Thankfully, Kirchner has uploaded the entire Dope Rider oeuvre and shared the back story on what may be one of the comic world’s stranger strips. The psychedelic comic features dope trading, Hells Angels references, and lines like, “The best things about being high is the view.”


(via Gawker)

Amazon’s drug dealer scale

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 14, 2014

Drug Scale

If you buy this digital scale on Amazon, the site assumes you might be a drug dealer. Nestled among the calibration weights listed in the Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought section are tobacco pipe screens, rolling papers, powders for cutting drugs (I assume), zipper bags of all sizes (including some decorated with golden skulls), empty pill capsules, and even a Dr Pepper can safe.

See also the mega-packs of whipped cream chargers which are frequently purchased with balloons for the purpose of getting high. (via mr)

America’s growing heroin problem

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 05, 2014

The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman has turned more attention towards America’s growing heroin problem, where the gateway drug is often a prescription painkiller. From PBS Newshour: “Why more Americans are getting high — and overdosing — on heroin.”

As I mentioned at the time, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin devoted his entire State of the State to the “full-blown heroin crisis.”

Tour of a Colombian cocaine lab

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2014

As the government has cracked down on the large drug labs located in jungles, the Colombian drug cartels have begun to decentralize their operations, operating small labs in city apartments and cooking batches in microwaves. Here’s a look at one of those apartment labs, which includes an interview with a dealer and a look at the smuggling technique du jour.

It turns out that the latest trend in Colombia’s cocaine trade is moving processing out of the huge plants in the jungle to small, mobile and disposable urban labs. In this new, decentralized world of cocaine production, two men with some buckets, a handful of microwave ovens and only the most basic knowledge of chemistry can take naturally growing coca leaves and turn them into 100 percent pure cocaine powder. And here’s the craziest part…they show us how they do it.

(via digg)

The search for a blockbuster insomnia drug

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2013

Merck is working on a new insomnia drug that they claim has few of the sometimes nasty side effects of other drugs like Ambien. Ian Parker reports for the New Yorker.

If the Merck scientists succeeded at the F.D.A., they would be the first to bring an orexin-related drug to market. “It’s an amazing achievement,” Richard Hargreaves, the fourth colleague at the Hilton, said. “Everyone should be really proud.” But, he added, “my worry is that a new mechanism is being evaluated on the science of an old mechanism.”

“With Ambien, you’ve got a drug that’s got basically only onset,” Renger said, dismissively. That is, it sends you to sleep but might not keep you asleep. “Suvorexant has the onset, but it has the great maintenance, especially in the last third of the night, where other drugs fail.” And even though suvorexant keeps working longer than Ambien, suvorexant patients don’t feel groggier afterward, as you might expect. Impassioned, Renger imagined himself addressing the F.D.A.: “Why aren’t you giving this a chance?”

“Drugs usually have some side effects,” Schoepp said. “It’s all benefit-risk.” He added, “There is some dose where suvorexant will be ultimately safe-because nothing will happen. If you go low enough, it becomes homeopathic.”

They stood to go to their rooms. Schoepp murmured, “I’d love to take it right now.”

A junkie’s view of the Chicago drug trade

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 18, 2013

Fascinating article about what it’s like to buy heroin on the west side of Chicago. The ritual of buying is just as exciting as the shooting up.

The fact is, and I don’t care who tries to dispute this, that a majority of the people who make the daily migration to the West Side to cop blows are as addicted to the ritual of copping dope as they are to the dope itself. It is an adrenaline rush no different than those achieved by people who jump out of airplanes. And dope fiends get to experience it every day.

(via @torrez)

Silk Road fallout

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2013

With Silk Road kingpin Ross Ulbricht in custody, one imagines that a whole lot of his former customers are feeling a bit nervous right about now. And they should be. Buyers and sellers are starting to get arrested.

Charles Thompson might be a little nervous as well. As he explains:

In February of 2013, I decided to order one gram of MDMA from Silk Road because I wanted to write an essay on whether it really was that easy to click a few buttons and have a package of Schedule I substances arrive at your door a week later.

It was that easy. And that’s the bad news. From The Morning News: My Brief, Binding Road.

The myth of crack babies

posted by Jason Kottke   May 20, 2013

In the 1980s, crack babies were all over the news. They were supposed to have severe mental and physical problems, overwhelm our schools and health care institutions, and cost us billions of dollars. None of this happened because the media latched onto some limited preliminary research and blew it all out of proportion.

Retro Report has gone back to look at the story of these children from the perspective of those in the eye of the storm — tracing the trajectory from the small 1985 study by Dr. Ira Chasnoff that first raised the alarm, through the drumbeat of media coverage that kept the story alive, to the present where a cocaine-exposed research subject tells her own surprising life story. Looking back, Crack Babies: A Tale from the Drug Wars shows the danger of prediction and the unexpected outcomes that result when closely-held convictions turn out to be wrong.

This video was produced by a new news organization called Retro Report, which revisits old news stories with a sober eye…”a smart, engaging and forward-looking review of these high-profile events”. In addition to the crack babies story, they’ve also explored the New York garbage barge and the Tailhook scandal.

How to prevent protests in China

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2013

Taking a page from Orwell, officials in Chengdu, China endeavored to prevent recent protests by moving the weekend and scheduling security exercises at the same time and place as the scheduled protest.

As text messages circulated calling for another protest, authorities decided to fiddle with the calendar: For many, Saturday became a workday, and the day of rest was moved to Monday, May 6. So as Saturday dawned, schoolchildren straggled reluctantly back to class, and employees at government-run work units discovered the day was taken up by urgent meetings.

See also how Georgia ended the country’s drug problem:

But the more radical steps involved brutalizing the addicts themselves. Saakashvili mandated as aggressive a drug policy as any country has attempted since Mao Zedong threatened to execute all Chinese opium fiends and “cured” about five million of them overnight. If you think New York’s stop-and-frisk rule is invasive, try Georgia’s: Cops can stop anyone at any time for no reason and force him to urinate into a cup. Fifty-three thousand people were stopped on the street in 2007, or about one in 20 of the young men in Georgia. About a third of those passed dirty urine; first-offenders were levied a fine of several hundred dollars. One more dirty test amounted to a criminal offense.

“There was such an unprecedented drug war,” Otiashvili says. “What was going on-and still goes on-in Georgia doesn’t happen anywhere. No country puts people in the prison for a positive urine test.”

(via @tylercowen)

Crouching government, hidden compartment

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2013

Alfred Anaya was really good at putting secret compartments into cars and he thought he was in the clear if he didn’t know what his customers were putting in these compartments. He was wrong.

Alfred Anaya took pride in his generous service guarantee. Though his stereo installation business, Valley Custom Audio Fanatics, was just a one-man operation based out of his San Fernando, California, home, he offered all of his clients a lifetime warranty: If there was ever any problem with his handiwork, he would fix it for the cost of parts alone-no questions asked.

Anaya’s customers typically took advantage of this deal when their fiendishly loud subwoofers blew out or their fiberglass speaker boxes developed hairline cracks. But in late January 2009, a man whom Anaya knew only as Esteban called for help with a more exotic product: a hidden compartment that Anaya had installed in his Ford F-150 pickup truck. Over the years, these secret stash spots-or traps, as they’re known in automotive slang-have become a popular luxury item among the wealthy and shady alike. This particular compartment was located behind the truck’s backseat, which Anaya had rigged with a set of hydraulic cylinders linked to the vehicle’s electrical system. The only way to make the seat slide forward and reveal its secret was by pressing and holding four switches simultaneously: two for the power door locks and two for the windows.

Esteban said the seat was no longer responding to the switch combination and that no amount of jiggling could make it budge. He pleaded with Anaya to take a look.

Anaya was unsettled by this request, for he had suspicions about the nature of Esteban’s work. There is nothing intrinsically illegal about building traps, which are commonly used to hide everything from pricey jewelry to legal handguns. But the activity runs afoul of California law if an installer knows for certain that his compartment will be used to transport drugs. The maximum penalty is three years in prison. Anaya thus thought it wise to deviate from his standard no-questions-asked policy before agreeing to honor his warranty. “There’s nothing in there I shouldn’t know about, is there?” he asked. Esteban assured him that he needn’t worry.

Read all the way to the end for author Brendan Koerner’s conclusions about our government’s position of the moral neutrality of technology.

The professor and the bikini model

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 08, 2013

Paul Frampton is a 69-year-old theoretical particle physicist who has co-authored papers with Nobel laureates. In late 2011, the absentminded professor met a Czech bikini model online. Over email and Yahoo chat, they became romantically involved and she sent him a plane ticket to come meet her at a photo shoot in Bolivia. Then she asked him to bring a bag of hers with him on his flight.

While in Bolivia, Frampton corresponded with an old friend, John Dixon, a physicist and lawyer who lives in Ontario. When Frampton explained what he was up to, Dixon became alarmed. His warnings to Frampton were unequivocal, Dixon told me not long ago, still clearly upset: “I said: ‘Well, inside that suitcase sewn into the lining will be cocaine. You’re in big trouble.’ Paul said, ‘I’ll be careful, I’ll make sure there isn’t cocaine in there and if there is, I’ll ask them to remove it.’ I thought they were probably going to kidnap him and torture him to get his money. I didn’t know he didn’t have money. I said, ‘Well, you’re going to be killed, Paul, so whom should I contact when you disappear?’ And he said, ‘You can contact my brother and my former wife.’ ” Frampton later told me that he shrugged off Dixon’s warnings about drugs as melodramatic, adding that he rarely pays attention to the opinions of others.

On the evening of Jan. 20, nine days after he arrived in Bolivia, a man Frampton describes as Hispanic but whom he didn’t get a good look at handed him a bag out on the dark street in front of his hotel. Frampton was expecting to be given an Hermès or a Louis Vuitton, but the bag was an utterly commonplace black cloth suitcase with wheels. Once he was back in his room, he opened it. It was empty. He wrote to Milani, asking why this particular suitcase was so important. She told him it had “sentimental value.” The next morning, he filled it with his dirty laundry and headed to the airport.

Crazy story. (via @stevenstrogatz)

The Making of The Blues Brothers

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2013

Ned Zeman tells the story of how The Blues Brothers came to be made for Vanity Fair.

Aykroyd spends his free time speeding through outskirts and befriending coroners. Belushi, being Chicago’s favorite son, does anything he wants. Everything about him — his lunch-bucket charm, his utter lack of pretense — makes Belushi a figure of such resounding local popularity that Aykroyd calls him “the unofficial mayor of Chicago.”

A trip to Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, boggles Landis. “Like being with Mussolini in Rome,” he remembers. Belushi, having entered one of the stadium’s crowded bathrooms, smiles and shouts, “O.K., stand back!” Everyone retreats from the urinals. Belushi does his business. Then, zipping his fly and beaming, he says, “O.K., back you go!”

“John would literally hail police cars like taxis,” Mitch Glazer says. “The cops would say, ‘Hey, Belushi!’ Then we’d fall into the backseat and the cops would drive us home.”

But the drug habit that would claim his life two years later also made Belushi a weight on the production.

One night at three, while filming on a deserted lot in Harvey, Illinois, Belushi disappears. He does this sometimes. On a hunch, Aykroyd follows a grassy path until he spies a house with a light on.

“Uh, we’re shooting a film over here,” Aykroyd tells the homeowner. “We’re looking for one of our actors.”

“Oh, you mean Belushi?” the man replies. “He came in here an hour ago and raided my fridge. He’s asleep on my couch.”

Only Belushi could pull this off. “America’s Guest,” Aykroyd calls him.

“John,” Aykroyd says, awakening Belushi, “we have to go back to work.”

Belushi nods and rises. They walk back to the set as if nothing happened.

Crooks are stealing Tide to trade it for drugs

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2013

I had no idea that laundry detergent could be so interesting. Procter & Gamble has done such a good job positioning Tide as a luxury laundry detergent that they can charge a premium for it and people will still buy.

Shoppers have surprisingly strong feelings about laundry detergent. In a 2009 survey, Tide ranked in the top three brand names that consumers at all income levels were least likely to give up regardless of the recession, alongside Kraft and Coca-Cola. That loyalty has enabled its manufacturer, Procter & Gamble, to position the product in a way that defies economic trends. At upwards of $20 per 150-ounce bottle, Tide costs about 50 percent more than the average liquid detergent yet outsells Gain, the closest competitor by market share (and another P&G product), by more than two to one. According to research firm SymphonyIRI Group, Tide is now a $1.7 billion business representing more than 30 percent of the liquid-detergent market.

Because of this premium status and because laundry detergent is not usually well-guarded in grocery stores, Tide has become a large target for theft and subsequent resale, either for cash or crack on street corners across the nation.

What did thieves want with so much laundry soap? To find out, he and his unit pored over security recordings to identify prolific perpetrators, whom officers then tracked down and detained for questioning. “We never promised to go easy on them, but they were willing to talk about it,” Thompson says. “I guess they were bragging.” It turned out the detergent wasn’t being used as an ingredient in some new recipe for getting high, but instead to buy drugs themselves. Tide bottles have become ad hoc street currency, with a 150-ounce bottle going for either $5 cash or $10 worth of weed or crack cocaine. On certain corners, the detergent has earned a new nickname: “Liquid gold.” The Tide people would never sanction that tag line, of course. But this unlikely black market would not have formed if they weren’t so good at pushing their product.

Please don’t let this be a hoax, it’s almost too good to be true. (via @mulegirl)

Opium paraphernalia collecting is a slippery slope

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 27, 2012

From Collectors Weekly, an interview with Steven Martin about his new book, Opium Fiend. Martin collects opium paraphernalia and got addicted to the stuff (the collectables and the opium) while living and collecting in SE Asia.

In 2001, I was working as a fixer and translator for a good friend of mine, Karl Taro Greenfeld, a journalist for the Asian edition of Time. He wanted to do a story about the remnants of opium smoking in Laos, which, at the time, was the only country in the world where you could see opium smoking in the traditional Chinese manner-that is, with a pipe that’s designed to vaporize the drug and a lamp as a source of heat and all the crazy, little tools and accoutrements. Through some weird quirk of history, this sort of opium smoking was eradicated every place else, but Laos still had the traditional public opium den that anybody could walk into, recline, and have an attendant prepare opium for them to smoke.

Actually, Karl’s story was more about the backpackers who were coming to Southeast Asia and causing a resurgence of opium smoking, especially in Vang Vieng, just north of the capital, Vientiane. This one little town was a must-stop on the backpackers’ circuit. Karl, who had at one time been addicted to heroin when he was living in New York City, wanted to do the story, but he didn’t want to get anywhere near the opium, obviously. While I was hired to translate and set up interviews, he asked me to smoke the drug so he could observe and write the details into his story.

It wasn’t the first time I had smoked opium. When I was traveling in the Southeast Asia mountains, the villagers would often invite me to smoke opium with them. But I had never really given it much thought until I did this story. Unlike the tribal kind of paraphernalia I had seen in the mountains, these Laotian dens were using the traditional Chinese accoutrements. After we visited the den, we went back down to the capital. I told Karl, “Hey, why don’t I take you to an antiques shop I know about that has opium pipes? It might be an interesting souvenir.” He ended up buying one, and I thought, “Why don’t I get one, too?”

This is your self-portrait on drugs

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2012

Artist Bryan Lewis Saunders has been making self-portraits of himself every day since 1995. For one particularly interesting sub-series, Saunders drew himself under the influence of all kinds of different drugs (adderall, coke, meth, huffing lighter fluid, etc.). Here he is on absinthe and mushrooms respectively:

Bryan Lewis Saunders

Melky Cabrera’s fake website

posted by Aaron Cohen   Aug 19, 2012

San Francisco Giant Melky Cabrera recently tested positive for a banned substance and received a 50 game penalty per MLB’s rules. Prior to receiving the suspension, Cabrera made an attempt, new at least in the world of sports, to get off without punishment.

The New York Daily News has discovered that in an effort to beat the rap on his 50-game suspension, Melky and his “associates” devised a scheme that included purchasing a website for $10,000, making this website appear to sell a fake product and pretending Melky purchased and used the product, unaware that it contained a banned substance. Ohh, this close.

Cabrera offered the website as evidence during his appeal and the scheme devolved into comedy in short order.

The most boring culture on Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2012

The Baining, an indiginous group of Papua New Guinea, shun play and basically don’t do anything but work.

According to Fajans, the Baining eschew everything that they see as “natural” and value activities and products that come from “work,” which they view as the opposite of play. Work, to them, is effort expended to overcome or resist the natural. To behave naturally is to them tantamount to behaving as an animal. The Baining say, “We are human because we work.” The tasks that make them human, in their view, are those of turning natural products (plants, animals, and babies) into human products (crops, livestock, and civilized human beings) through effortful work (cultivation, domestication, and disciplined childrearing).

The Baining believe, quite correctly, that play is the natural activity of children, and precisely for that reason they do what they can to discourage or prevent it. They refer to children’s play as “splashing in the mud,” an activity of pigs, not appropriate for humans. They do not allow infants to crawl and explore on their own. When one tries to do so an adult picks it up and restrains it. Beyond infancy, children are encouraged or coerced to spend their days working and are often punished — sometimes by such harsh means as shoving the child’s hand into the fire — for playing. On those occasions when Fajans did get an adult to talk about his or her childhood, the narrative was typically about the challenge of embracing work and overcoming the shameful desire to play. Part of the reason the Baining are reluctant to talk about themselves, apparently, derives from their strong sense of shame about their natural drives and desires.

But maybe Americans are becoming more boring as our children’s freedom to explore is curtailed:

In some ways, I fear, we today are trying to emulate the Baining as we increasingly deprive children of opportunities to play and explore freely and, instead, force them to spend ever more time working in school and participating in adult-directed activities outside of school.

Immediately after reading about the Baining, I read this article by Trent Wolbe about his use of Adderall and was struck by a similar theme of a lack of playful creativity.

A subtler but probably much more profound effect permeates my cycle of Adderall use. I’d stopped eating. I’d stopped sleeping. I’d stopped getting horny. I’d stopped getting distracted by habits that I normally reveled in, which all seemed good. One day, about five months in, I noticed that I had stopped paying attention to music. My pleasure receptors, which in their normal state constantly cry out for sex, french fries, naps, and Katy Perry, had all become blunted. As a DJ that last thirst was something that sustained me not only spiritually but financially, and its void scared me almost as much as my flaccid penis. If I wasn’t the California Gurl-obsessed snack addict I knew, then what the fuck was I?

(via @juliandibbell/)

Business lessons from a Mexican drug cartel

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2012

The Sinaloa drug cartel is headed by a man who goes by El Chapo. That Chapo is 55 years old and still around tells you something about well he runs his business.

The drug war in Mexico has claimed more than 50,000 lives since 2006. But what tends to get lost amid coverage of this epic bloodletting is just how effective the drug business has become. A close study of the Sinaloa cartel, based on thousands of pages of trial records and dozens of interviews with convicted drug traffickers and current and former officials in Mexico and the United States, reveals an operation that is global (it is active in more than a dozen countries) yet also very nimble and, above all, staggeringly complex. Sinaloa didn’t merely survive the recession — it has thrived in recent years. And after prevailing in some recent mass-casualty clashes, it now controls more territory along the border than ever.

“Chapo always talks about the drug business, wherever he is,” one erstwhile confidant told a jury several years ago, describing a driven, even obsessive entrepreneur with a proclivity for micromanagement. From the remote mountain redoubt where he is believed to be hiding, surrounded at all times by a battery of gunmen, Chapo oversees a logistical network that is as sophisticated, in some ways, as that of Amazon or U.P.S. — doubly sophisticated, when you think about it, because traffickers must move both their product and their profits in secret, and constantly maneuver to avoid death or arrest. As a mirror image of a legal commodities business, the Sinaloa cartel brings to mind that old line about Ginger Rogers doing all the same moves as Fred Astaire, only backward and in heels. In its longevity, profitability and scope, it might be the most successful criminal enterprise in history.

The Xbox version of Dock Ellis’ LSD-fueled no-hitter

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 11, 2011

In 1970, professional baseballer Dock Ellis, who was good at pitching baseballs, threw a no-hitter while under the influence of LSD. In 2011, professional blogger A.J. Daulerio, who isn’t so good at video game baseball, attempted to throw a no-hitter while on LSD…playing a customized Dock Ellis in MLB 2K11 on Xbox.

But by the fourth game I started to pick up tendencies in all the batters. Jason Bartlett swung at first-pitch changeups. Will Venable couldn’t hit the palm ball. In fact, most of these free-swinging Padres couldn’t hit Dock’s funky palm ball. I threw it often. But by then, also, the first acid distractions entered: the TV flickered; the cracks in the wall started to move; the hand soap started to breathe — those sorts of things. Plus I was drawn to the outdoor garden between innings. Rain was near, I sensed.