Drugs Unlimited: The Web Revolution That’s Changing How the World Gets High — Mike Power

Drugs Unlimited is an excellent companion to Daniel Okrent’s Last Call, since both are about the madness of the laws that forbid or restrict mind-altering substances. But Drugs Unlimited shares a flaw and strength with Last Call, too: both books are repetitive, with tons of minute historical detail that feels easy to skip. Unless you wish to become an expert in the subject both are better checked out of libraries than bought.

Drugs Unlimited follows a pattern and cites many, many examples of that pattern: Chemist or enthusiast comes up with a novel drug or drug variation; people try and like it; governments eventually ban it (there are chapters devoted to “LSD in the 1960s, heroin in the 1980s and Ecstasy in the 1980s and 1990s”). The process then repeats, though we’re now in a stage in which it’s difficult for governments to ban or regulate every conceivable substance, leading to an online free-for-all.

Drugs_unlimitedShould you wish to enter the free-for-all Drugs Unlimited provides an introduction and useful guidance. Drugs have become more widely available than ever in the last ten years, and perhaps the most interesting thing about their availability has been their lack of impact on society, which continues to function. Nonetheless we get a chronicle of the new drug world: “Widely available and hugely popular, mephedrone was the first mass-market ‘downloadable’ drug, in the sense that it was, uniquely for the mass market, originally only available online.” That I’ve never heard of mephedrone makes me feel uncool.

It’s appropriate that I’m discussing this book on a blog, since Power writes:

Conventional academic research and government-sponsored investigations into attitudes and use patterns are being supplanted in their authority by the unmediated voices of users themselves, as social networks become central to the daily experience of a new generation of drug users.

He doesn’t cite Scott Rosenberg’s Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It’s Becoming, and Why It Matters but he might as well: one could take out the word “drug” and replace it with “readers” or “listeners” or any number of other verbs. Still, there is a persistent feeling that “the unmediated voices of users” are better informed than the highly mediated voices of the media, or of academics.

Drugs Unlimited is also a media critique: “Saunders also detailed [Ecstasy's] darker, more negative sides in an honest appraisal that was sorely lacking in mainstream coverage.” Or: “My responses to [Ecstasy] and its surrounding culture, and those of everyone I knew, were markedly different from the media’s representation of them.” Or: “hysterical media coverage of the perceive threats of new drugs and corresponding knee-jerk government action seem to be [. . .] guaranteed.”

Power likes drugs: he’s taken them, and he writes sensuously of the way “drugs can send users into bizarre internal spaces, imaginary realms where mind and body are dissociated from each other, and where the only limits to the experience are those of the imagination.” He should perhaps more strongly emphasize the dangers of mixing different drugs, since that along with poorly manufactured drugs is how people die. The extent to which schools, the “responsible” media, and other authority figures systematically lie about drugs is shocking. Although “Most People With Addiction Simply Grow Out of It. Why Is This Widely Denied?” came out after Drugs Unlimited, it would fit into Power’s narrative.

Drugs Unlimited is lightly technical, and you’ll find sentences like these: “PIHKAL reveals in practical detail the chemical synthesis and human dosage of hundreds of psychoactive substances, each of which are in the phenethylamine class.” The book is neither well nor poorly written. It would not surprise me, however, were copies to travel to many unexpected places and inspired many unexpected people. Perhaps you’re one.

Tyler Cowen on Paul Krugman on Amazon on the buzz

In “What is the welfare cost of Amazon supply restrictions on books?” Tyler Cowen writes on whether Amazon’s much-publicized recent maneuvers against publishers are welfare-enhancing or welfare-destroying; most of the former answers tend to come from readers indie publishers and most of the latter answers tend to come from publishers and established authors. I however was compelled to comment on a separate and to my mind under-discussed issue: the lack of any sense of history in most of these discussions.

I’m most amazed at the way the same class of writers who five years ago were aghast at the lack of support for literary fiction among publishers are now the ones decrying Amazon and supporting the same publishers who were until recently the cravenly commercial forces destroying quality literary fiction.

Tangentially, I’m also amazed that, in rereading the preceding sentence, it seems to make sense and flow nicely without any commas. Perhaps it is the influence of Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style, which I bought naturally from Amazon and which has me thinking about nesting and recursion more than any time since CS 102.

The link in the preceding paragraph also goes to Amazon.

Links: Are cops dumb?, humiliation, teachers, traffic, fear, how to be attractive to women, and more!

* Speculative, though it would explain a lot: “Can Someone Be Too Smart To Be A Cop?

* This Is How Judges Humiliate Pregnant Teens Who Want Abortions.

* “This Is Not A Startup Story: In 2011, I started a book business with my best friend called Emily Books.”

* “A veteran teacher turned coach shadows 2 students for 2 days – a sobering lesson learned.”

* “Why 12-Foot Traffic Lanes Are Disastrous for Safety and Must Be Replaced Now.”

* Why People Fear Vaccines, and Always Have; per another Slate article, parents who don’t vaccinate their kids should be sued and/or charged.

* How To Be Attractive To Women, Pt.2: Signaling Attractive Traits. Much of this is also applicable to women.

* “What It’s Like to Carry Your Nobel Prize through Airport Security,” a completely hilarious piece one could imagine Feynman writing.

Owning vs sharing: Don’t get caught in the ugly middle

In a tweet Paul Graham writes: “As buying and selling become easier, owning approaches sharing.” That describes my behavior regarding many objects, especially electronics: for as long as I’ve been buying Macs and Mac products, I’ve been selling the old versions on Craigslist for a third to half of their initial value. In some sense I’m actually leasing them, but using myself as the leasing agent. Although I’ve owned a car I actually prefer not to and Uber is accelerating the ability to rent cars when needed and avoid the hassles of ownership. Housing has of course long been both rented and owned, and like many economists I find the U.S. obsession with owning housing to be misguided.

But there are other ways too that owning approaches sharing in my life:

  • Old cameras and lenses get sold to fund new ones. Like Macs, they tend to retain a fair amount of value—usually about half for lenses and a third for camera bodies.
  • It’s not uncommon for me to sell books that look promising but don’t live up to expectations, almost always through Amazon (despite Amazon’s encourage for buyers to scam sellers; for objects worth less than $20 I don’t think the issue is overwhelmingly important).
  • Although I haven’t begun doing this yet, I think that selling bikes may be more economical than moving them. The last bike I moved from Tucson to New York was probably a net loss and should’ve been sold instead of shipped.

There are some items that still aren’t easily sold, like beds and furniture, in part because they’re heavy, in part because they can harbor bed bugs, and in part because they just aren’t that valuable. I don’t have the citation handy, but I’ve read that Ikea might be facilitating mobility by making it cheap and easy to setup new apartments: it’s possible to buy a couch, a chair, some dishes, a bed, and some shelves for under $1,000, in the course of an afternoon (although I’d prefer a Tuft & Needle bed, but that’s an aside). Among my friends, city-to-city moves often entail dumping most of their stuff and buying it again at the destination, since the moving cost is too high to justify the hassle. That’s less true of me because I have a sit-stand desk and some other pretty expensive gear, but in this respect I’m in the minority. Keeping a minority of one’s stuff may also lead to a more satisfying, experience-rich life, at least for some people.

The habit of either having very expensive and durable stuff or throwaway stuff may also be indicative of the polarization of many domains, in which it makes sense to either buy or be the best, or buy throwaway stuff or don’t bother competing. Don’t get caught in the ugly middle. Like “Death before inconvenience,” “Don’t get caught in the ugly middle,”

Links: The affair, becoming fluent in math, “How to be attractive to women,” essays, and more

* “My affair with my teacher ended a decade ago” is terrible, but it does mention one teacher who “was charged with providing alcohol to a minor” (notice that key word: “charged”).  One difference between teaching high school and teaching college may be that students offer me booze, or to smoke me out. Also, and incidentally, the first episode of Showtime’s The Affair is available online, legally, and freely, and it’s promising.

* “How I Rewired My Brain to Become Fluent in Math: Sorry, education reformers, it’s still memorization and repetition we need.”

* “How To Be Attractive To Women, Pt. 1: Our Embarrassing Stories,” which I wish I’d heard and absorbed when I was 12 or 13. I made pretty much all the mistakes discussed at the link.

* “Science proves that you love your dog like a baby,” which is unsurprising given how many people use pets as emotional substitutes for children.

* What is an essay? by John Jeremiah Sullivan, which should be read in tandem with Paul Graham’s “The Age of the Essay.”

* Yet another police brutality video: “Kid tapes cop smashing car window, dragging man away after tasering him.”

Sexual Personae — Camille Paglia

It is shocking to me that I have gone for my entire adult life without anyone recommending Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. The book is marvelously full of ideas, making it easy to find ludicrous assertions next to brilliant ones. Rarely have I read a book so full of life yet with so much that is wrong. For example she writes that “Female tragic protagonists are rare. Tragedy is a male paradigm of rise and fall, a graph in which dramatic and sexual climax are shadowy analogy.” The analogy might be “shadowy,” but it is also strained and dubious: there is no reason why sexuality has to be connected to tragedy. But Pagilia also writes from a different underlying philosophical perspective than most of her academic peers:

This book takes the point of view of Sade, the most unread major writer in Western literature. Sade’s work is a comprehensive satiric critique of Rousseau, written in the decade after the first failed Rousseauist experiment, the French Revolution, which ended not in political paradise but the Reign of Terror. [. . .] For Sade, getting back to nature [. . .] would be to give free rein to violence and lust. I agree. Society is not the criminal but the force which keeps crime in check.

sexual_personaeYet few modern sophisticates realize as much. Some contemporary fiction reflects the Paglian-Sadean view—Donna Tartt’s The Secret History is a sterling example—but for the most part it is absent. This passage is also admirable for being comprehensible; compare it to, for example, the passage quotes in “What happened with Deconstruction? And why is there so much bad writing in academia?
Paglia has an important virtue not common to contemporary English professors: she writes clearly and therefore what she says can be evaluated.

The excerpt above is included to give a flavor for Paglia’s writing, but Sexual Personae is impossible to effectively excerpt from, since the book moves from analyses of ancient times up to the late 19th Century, and although common threads bind various sections together it is easy to lose sight of how exactly someone like, say, Emily Dickinson is related to Goethe. I can’t imagine many people will read or want to read the whole book from beginning to end; it covers a fabulous number of artists and periods, and for me the 19th Century and Romantic artists were the least interesting, though you may of course differ. The long introduction and the strongest chapters more than make up for the weakest ones. Even if I had or wanted to develop the knowledge necessary to write such a book I doubt I’d be able to sustain sufficient interest.

Contemporary humanities scholarship has become too focused on pedantry and minutia at the expense of being interesting. Perhaps humanities scholarship has always been like this but the problems are especially evident in an era when relatively few scholars appear to even believe that such a thing as “good writing” can exist. Still, I would like to see a stronger emphasis on “being interesting” and personal experience in most humanities journals. In talking with English professors at conferences about Harold Bloom, I’m struck by their high, level of hostility.

Not all sections are equally strong; the sections on Shakespeare, Sade, and Spencer are amazing, but the closer Paglia draws to the present the less plausible her interpretations become. But her attention to myth, to pattern, and to the ways art and life draw on each other excuse other flaws, which may be the flipside of strengths. As noted above, however, the number of fascinating moments is high:

Theatrical self-transformation, a seductive principle of our time, can never be reconciled with our time. From antiquity on, professional theater has been under a moral cloud. Autocrat, artist, actor: freedom of persona is magical but destabilizing. [. . .] Art remains an avenue of escape from morality. Actors live in illusions; they are skittish shamans, drenched in being.

and one senses that Sexual Personae is a virtuosic display that needs more attention. Hence this post.


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