Tag Archives: addiction

Age of Excessions Interlude: Biology, or the Drugs Win the Drug War.

Understanding what the Venter Institute really did today

The short answer is that they created a wholly synthetic genome and put it in a yeast cell. This goes towards creating a minimal cell; figuring out how little DNA you need to make a barebones organism. This leaves lots of extra possible genetic space to making that minimal cell do stuff we want, whether it be pee out biofuels or Prozac, eat Gulf of Mexico oil, or glow in the presence of melamine, cancer, or anger. With a minimal and reusable platform, doing any of these things just becomes a coding problem. And not even a novel coding problem, because we already have Nature to reverse engineer from. Nature uses the same platform, and at some point or another has already solved all these problems.

It’s techno-exciting, but fundamentally, it’s the next level of fine-grained resolution on the control of our environment, which has been our species’ trick from the beginning. Venter and his cohort are trying to replace petroleum, (and control the replacement, and pretty much rule the world as a result) and others are trying to create complex cancer fighting biologics. Some sweet, wonderful people from the nicer parts of biomed are even trying to figure out how to make a cheap suite of biologic drugs to treat the horrible helminthic NTDs (Neglected Tropical Diseases) that are destroying the lives of about 1.5 billion of the world’s poor. This task will be made vastly simpler with a platform like the minimal cell, at least in theory.

But there’s a paradox built into our tendency to seek more environmental control. The more control we have, the more unpredictable our world becomes. This is because all the other humans with their unpredictable and hidden desires can now also control our environment.

While biopunditry is talking about biofuel, cancer treatment, and growing extinct mammoths, I wanted to bring the implications of this work out of the towers of ivory and industry and down to earth.

Today, we lost the drug war. Oh, it will run around for a while, unaware that it is dead, but we have decisively lost.

You know what’s a lot easier than all the high minded business about environment, or life extension, or even the scary doomsday 12 Monkeys scenarios? Growing simpler molecule drugs. I don’t mean like aspirin, I mean like heroin and cocaine, THC and hallucinogens. They already grow in plants thoroughly studied, and people are motivated and not at all risk averse about getting those sequences somewhere they can use them. Cooking meth is hard and dangerous science compared to the ability to get a starter of a minimal cell that poops heroin and feeding it growth medium in your closet. We may have lost the drug war, but not as badly as the drug lords have.

It’s still hard to grow drugs in medium. But the whole point of this project is to make it easier. Who will be motivated to put in the work to make it happen? Especially if it’s so bad for organized crime? Drug addicts, frankly. You think they look like street junkies with DTs, but a fair number look like scientists, because they are. Drugs will finally be p2p, and governments and drug lords alike will find out what it’s like to be media companies and counterfeiters in a world of lossless copying and 100Mb pipes. Junkies will be victims of their success, and if we don’t get serious about treating addiction instead of trying to fight chemicals, it’s going to look a lot more bloody and horrid than the RIAA’s lawsuit factory. This is just one vision of what this kind of disruption looks like when people get a hold of it.

What synthbio is inventing right now is the true Bittorrent for things. It’s a platform for generating and sharing materials just this side of geology, since nearly everything but rocks is made by life. Right now you can think of it has having an interface so bad only a few people in the world can actually use it, and our hope for being in control is that the interface stays bad as long as possible. In the history of technology, that has rarely worked in the long term.

Craig Venter is not, despite his press, the smartest guy on the planet. He is not savant like, leaps and bounds in front of everyone and everything else. He isn’t the only one working on this. He’s maybe slightly in front, but probably not. If he is, it’s by inches. This is perhaps his Trinity, or the proof of concept right before it. It’s momentous, but it won’t stay contained.

This is on the scale of nukes, but not for long. Nukes are hard to build, requiring mind-boggling equipment and leave a kind of scent where ever they go. They can only really be used for magawatt power generation, and blowing shit up. Bio can be used for nearly anything you, me, or Charlie Stross can dream up. Imagine trying to stop proliferation if the atomic material centrifuges literally grew on trees and the fissile material floated freely through the air, and tended to show up in great amounts on bread you left out too long.

When you think of this, you can think of seeing a dodo someday, or Jurassic Park, or even taking a drug that a doctor grew just for you. But keep in mind the strangeness of the human imagination and the strength of human desires. A thousand weird Somas are coming, too.

Tab dump

  • King Kaufman scathingly replies to the above: We must kill press freedom to save it. I guess the most fun part of watching a replaying of the RIAA, MPAA, and (to a lesser extent) TV wars it this time the writing is much better.
  • YADFWI. (Yet another DFW interview) This one while he was writing IJ, and expresses something I’ve never been able to express myself about why I think utilitarianism is quite possibly evil. He also gave me better ways to talk about Wittgenstein. And express that poetry is the opposite of logical positivism. God, just go read it

1000 Ledes n + 8: Citizen of Two Countries

In the contest of human despair, 15 year old “Amjad” of Beach Camp in the Gaza strip could certainly hold his own. Most of his family is lost in violent conflict, or ill and barely able to care for themselves. He is scared everyday that he will die. He has little prospects of education, and even if he did, there little chance he could get a job afterwards.

But one thing can make him forget all of it, can give him a purpose and a focus that transcends the world of terror and squalor he have lived all his life in: the need to score his next hit of heroin.

A poet on addiction: “Maybe it’s what sweet would be without sugar.”

Nabbed off the web, here is an except from Dale Pendell’s wonderful Pharmako/Dynamis, part of the indispensable Pharmako series, which you should go buy at once. This is probably one of the most vivid and beautiful descriptions of the disease to be rendered in the English language.

Stealing From Tomorrow

A peculiar clean taste, slightly chemical, but not unpleasant.  Once you taste it you’ll never forget.  Nothing else quite like it.  Treble notes.  Trace of metallic, trace of bitter.  Tongue numb.  Maybe it’s what sweet would be without sugar.

Seems like a convenient mode of ingestion of small quantities.

Keep wanting
to get back
to where things were clear.

“So good that if you use it once you’re hooked.”  Talk about good advertising!  Did the cartels pay for that line?

The free amine base is simply prepared by basifying.  The rule of thumb that alkaloid salts are water soluble and bases oil soluble hold well for cocaine.  A few drops of ammonia in an aqueous solution of the salt precipitates the base.  Extract the base with petroleum ether (not diethyl ether) or naphtha.

Add a layer of solvent, cap the container, and shake:  when the solution turns clear the precipitated base has dissolved in the solvent layer.  Draw off the solvent layer with a pipette (like, an eyedropper) and squeeze into a wide, flat-bottomed dish to evaporate off the solvent.  The crystals are quite beautiful.

This much is well documented.

The first flash is the best. Never
quite that good

The fleeting quality of the hit…how an interruption, a word or request from someone else, the telephone ringing, your spouse wondering about the shopping, any outside engagement can dispel the brief enchantment.

So you try to avoid the interactions.

You go again, but as the metabolic half-life of the coke far outlasts the duration of the rush, the stimulant continues to build up in your system.  So you need a downer.  Something to take the edge off.  Some way to get leveled.

We’re talking poisons here.  But poisons going nowhere.

But you do it some more.  We can call it an Experiment.

Finally you do it even when you don’t like what it does to you.  You get too much edge.  You get too many jaggies.  So maybe you take something to take the edge off.  Speedballing.  Except maybe you take slightly more than you needed because you wanted to feel it and now you are drowsy, so you toke some more crack, or base.  That puts you too far on the stimulated side, so you try the cycle again.  Eventually you get leveled.

Brain won’t work.  Too jumpy to read.  Too bored to do nothing.

Plenty late enough to go to bed.  Just one more hit.  Just one more lift.  Maybe a small one this time.

Small one didn’t do it.

you hide your pain in the blinding whiteness
of your crystals.  You hide the night.
Already I can feel it:  tasks undone,
papers left scattered.  A slow accumulation
of flotsam.  Or a word too sharply spoken.
A craving that calls me, through any job or meeting.
during an evening with friends,
from my bed where I went thinking to sleep.
So quickly she makes her bed in your ear,
but she is not the singer, she
bringeth not the lyre, but the lie.

To keep the vapor
from condensing in the stem
I warm it first,

moving the pipe
back and forth slowly
over the flame

trying to heat
the whole pipe

Brushing the long stem with a flame must be the lightest way to touch something.  It’s like polishing, or cleaning.

You can see the spots
that haven’t gotten hot enough
from the crud and stuff
in the pipe.  Stroke
the bowl a few times
and then come back
to the stem, twist
a little left or right
to try to get
the sides.  Wait till
it’s all hot to
put the sustained
heat to the bowl.

I like to see
the crystals melt
before emptying out
my lungs, exhaling, then
three or four
final stem passes,
back to the bowl
and inhale slowly, you want
that vapor to hit
the bottom of your lungs, pal,
then hold it in,
and hold, or even when
you can’t anymore just
breathe shallow.

The flame is like a brush.  It bends when I move the lamp.  I can bring the lamp around and along the stem and the flame tip follows precisely, always a little bit behind.

Like a tongue tip, lightly licking all along it.

You love it.  You want to do it again and
morning come and again and ever
so closer and ever and
I still haven’t slept.

If I could just find some activity that didn’t require concentration.

Morning is morning, but now is now.  Should quit this stuff soon.

Freebase is the hardest substance to leave in the cupboard that I know of. That doesn’t mean you can’t quit, you can.  But you’re going to have to leave town.

Buying in small quantities is safest.

No.  There IS no “safest.”

Coke can overpower the Critic, but in whose service?  It can put aggression on auto-pilot, a much-valued state of mind in our culture, but in whose service?

It turns out that stealing from tomorrow is just the first stage.

Stealing from tomorrow is like going into debt, spending tomorrow today, or tonight, actually.  So you’ve wrecked tomorrow.  Stolen all of its energy, stolen its waking hours, stolen its good will.  Tomorrow you will be behind all day.

If you get up at all!

After stealing from tomorrow for long enough,

weeks, maybe for months,

you start stealing from today.

Stealing from today means that the ally is not giving you power or aid or assistance in accomplishing some task.  Rather, the ally takes today for her own service.  Ingestion, filling the bowl, the preparation, the scoring.  And just the time taking the hits.  A little bit of time to space, to flash or level, and that’s about it for today.

Just the worship service.

Weren’t you supposed to get something from all this?

You’re doing your part for her.  That’s for DAMN sure!

But you’re not at the end.

Next is stealing from yesterday.

The third stage of the ally’s conquest.

Your savings, your bank accounts – nothing very esoteric there.

Sometimes your friends.  Sometimes your marriage.

Sometimes your children.

Your reputation.

And your memories.

Nothing very esoteric there.

Perhaps the best writing on the effects of cocaine is by David Lenson in his book On Drugs.  Lenson writes about the “runaway engines of desire.”  He suggests that the American power structures reacted with such intensity and virulence against cocaine because cocaine presents such a clear image and parody of consumerism.  You buy it, it’s gone, more makes you want to buy more.  But buying cocaine is buying the desire itself, the desire itself is the product.  A devilish perfection.

The desire, the consumerism, is too blatant, too obvious:  a parody of the holy rite, and hence condemned with all the fury of the Inquisition.

A citizen set fire to a house because it was a “crack house.”  Though he admitted setting the fire, the jury found him not guilty, using jury annulment:  an auto-da-fé for the Holy Cause is not a crime.

The hard part.

You do it instead of eating.
You do it instead of sleeping.
You do it instead of doing.

The hard part.
is stopping, sitting down.
The hard part,
the hard part concerns time.
The hard part is just sitting,
without inspiration,
with no ideas and not knowing…

No, that’s not it.  Lots of ideas.
The hard part is doing it.
And there is so much to do:
much more than you have time to do.
It’s easier to keep the accelerator pressed
and to keep rushing, touching this, touching that,
and to keep doing that.

The hard part is quitting.

Clear enough?

Signs of a living religion and an addicted culture

I was very impressed with Bill Moyers’ recent interview with three progressive theologians, Cornel West, Serene Jones, and Gary Dorrien, about the state of the world, capitalism, even metaphysics, and the state of Christianity. I had somewhat despaired of seeing much from the corners of my former faith to indicate that it was still evolving and adapting while remaining true to itself as a religion. Where I had seen this the churches seemed in terrible decline, but these people had a vibrancy and a relevancy that expresses the best qualities of the faith without abandoning its precepts:

BILL MOYERS: What do you think is the story of America right now? If you had to write that story, very briefly, what is the story that’s unfolding, as we talk?

SERENE JONES: It’s a story about sin and grace, and it’s about the brokenness of human beings and our capacity to delude ourselves, all the way into the international collapse of all that we stand for. To get caught up in fictions that we write about the ways in which we should structure our lives together. We are seeing, played out before us, that classic Protestant claim that we can be caught up in sin and not even know we are in sin.

When Christianity is at its shining best it isn’t afraid to overturn the tables of the moneylenders in front of the temple, as well as looking after the poor and sick. Christianity, like any other faith, structure of thought, or pursuit of mind and spirit, needs to embrace the truth and tell it to the world to remain legitimate. And it’s in a rare position to point out certain behaviors that are ‘of this world’ because the cultural conditions of the New Testament map to our own cultural conditions so well. We live in a very Imperial Roman age, and a religion born of that age should have a lot to say to us- the Christian community has been tragically slack about this. Much of modern Christianity yoked to a dead theology that often seemed to require profound intellectual dishonesty, and falls into the same sick traps as the rest of the society.

But Serene Jones tells the story of what has made us sick beautifully:

SERENE JONES: But I think we can never underestimate the crisis of desire. That it wasn’t just that there was – it didn’t have enough social strength, or a good enough analysis. That what turbo capitalism does, is it – the biggest, sort of, war zone is interior to us – where it takes over your desire. It makes you into a creature who wants to buy the commodities. So you could have a great political analysis. But what you’re doing, on the ground every day, is you’re fueling this turbo capitalism. And it’s in the churches that another kind of desire should have been being crafted. That’s where you can get people in their bones and really begin to force the question of, what is it that you want? What makes you happy? What makes your life mean? What, you know, it’s those deep questions of want.

SERENE JONES: I think one of the reasons that it happens is that we are living in a very overwhelming time. And it’s always going to be the case that a conservative familiar neo liberal agenda sounds safer.

Because it’s what we know. But the truth of the matter is what we know is what got us in trouble in the first place. So it’s one of those moments that everybody faces in their own life. We happen to be facing it structurally right now. Is everything collapses, what do we do? In the midst of that fear, do we grasp for what’s most familiar? That’s what’s happening. But the very thing you’re grasping for is the thing that got you there in the first place.

That last line- “But the very thing you’re grasping for is the thing that got you there in the first place.” is an unmistakable description of addiction, and what’s more, addiction heading for its bottom. The signs and trappings of a culture surrendering itself to addiction, to the co-opting of want, are the water we swim in these days. They are our whole context, and the substance of choice we return to in our hours of need.

It always impresses me when the things I am thinking about come together, because I believe Infinite Jest is about the same thing, a culture heading for a bottom.

To paraphrase from AA and Infinite Jest, our best thinking got us here. I find myself agreeing emphatically with these people whose faith I do not share- it’s going to take a revival of love to get us out.

Too beautiful, too stark

Infinite Jest, pg 347

— and then you’re in serious trouble, very serious trouble, and you know it, finally, deadly serious trouble, because this Substance you thought was your one true friend, that you gave up all for, gladly, that for so long gave you relief from the pain of the Losses your love of that relief caused, your mother and lover and god and compadre, has finally removed its smily-face mask to reveal centerless eyes and a ravening maw, and canines down to here, it’s the Face In The Floor, the grinning root-white face of your worst nightmares, and the face is your own face in the mirror, now, it’s you, the Substance has devoured or replaced and become you, and the puke-, drool-and Substance-crusted T-shirt you’ve both worn for weeks now gets torn off and you stand there looking and in the root-white chest where your heart (given away to It) should be beating, in its exposed chest’s center and center-less eyes is just a lightless hole, more teeth, and a beckoning taloned hand dangling something irresistible, and now you see you’ve been had, screwed royal, stripped and fucked and tossed to the side like some stuffed toy to lie for all time in the posture you land in. You see now that It’s your enemy and your worst personal nightmare and the trouble It’s gotten you into is undeniable and you still can’t stop. Doing the Substance now is like attending Black Mass but you still can’t stop, even though the Substance no longer gets you high. You are, as they say, Finished. You cannot get drunk and you cannot get sober; you cannot get high and you cannot get straight. You are behind bars; you are in a cage and can see only bars in every direction. You are in the kind of a hell of a mess that either ends lives or turns them around. You are at a fork in the road that Boston AA calls your Bottom, though the term is misleading, because everybody here agrees it’s more like someplace very high and unsupported: you’re on the edge of something tall and leaning way out forward….