Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Internet's Drug of Choice

Image Source: Spin.

Just as the Internet can exponentially create new markets and networks overnight, it can create shadow economies with equal speed. This week, Spin pubished a report on bath salts, the synthetic drugs which recently caught the attention of the MSM, when Rudy Eugene fell on a homeless man, Ronald Poppo, in a cannibalistic attack in Miami on 26 May 2012. The Miami Herald bizarrely released security cam footage of the crime, taking place in the distance under an overpass, here. The crime happened next to a busy thoroughfare, as Eugene tore off his own and the other man's clothes and began eating Poppo's face in full view of several passersby and cars.

This public display is reminiscent of the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese in New York City, except that there does not seem to be too much soul-searching in the Miami aftermath. Eugene was shot and killed by police who arrived 18 minutes into the attack. The victim, Ronald Poppo, is alive, and will likely be permanently blinded by the attack, since Eugene had eaten away half of Poppo's face, including his left eye. There is a report on Poppo's care and recovery here. The Miami hospital treating him has launched a fund-raising drive to cover the homeless man's medical bills, here.

Image Source: MSN.

Suddenly, bath salts have become the MSM bogeyman of the moment. And not without cause: another bath salts-related biting attack took place in Missouri this past week. Also last week, a woman in New York attacked her three year old son and strangled her dog while on bath salts, ran naked down the street, growled at police and tried to bite one officer, whereupon she was tasered and died. In Illinois last week, a naked man jumped onto the hood of a moving car and clung to it for four miles while on bath salts. He thought he was running away from people who were trying to eat him.

Bath salts are Millennial drugs, manufactured through ever-changing chemical recipes spread on the Web and sold over the Internet. Like the horrific Russian synth drug, krokodil, or another synthetic drug, spice aka K2, bath salts are the kind of drugs which make dystopian futures come true. And it isn't just because of what they do to the people who take them. They are one of several interrelated Millennial mass media phenomena.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Tenth Anniversary Edition (1986; 1996) © DC Comics (F. Miller; K. Janson; L. Varley).

Reading about bath salts immediately reminded me of Frank Miller's 1986 series, Dark Knight Returns, in which a future Batman comes out of retirement to battle ultra-violent drugged-up mutant gangs in Gotham. And just like DKR, which took shot after shot at moral relativists and talking heads in the MSM, bath salts have now provoked media controversy. These drugs have their apologists, partly because it is not confirmed that Rudy Eugene had consumed bath salts. Synthetic drugs are tangled up with old and new civil liberties debates about drug legalization and prohibition. This is all the more the case because synthetic drugs are so closely connected to the workings of the Internet and the right to discuss certain things on the Web, say for example, synthetic drug formulations.

In other words, in the minds of some, the choice to take synthetic drugs is two steps away from the right to freedom of expression or three steps away from the right to freedom of the private individual. In Canada, the Health Minister announced on 5 June 2012 that the government will ban certain bath salts chemicals, which prompted an Ottawa Citizen editor to complain about an interfering government and the social ills of drug prohibition. Frank Miller, no stranger to controversy in 1986 or now, could have sarcastically written her op-ed piece for her. Similarly, a commenter on a Forbes piece wrote in on spice and K2 as though designer drugs were just another ideological accessory for the soft left libertine:
"It is baffling to me that my government continues to outlaw the safest drug I have come in contact with ( I’ve tried everything I could get my hands on) while creating an untold amount of crime and death. Synthetics are simply another notch in their belt of which they should be ashamed."
There is a libertarian subtext in the debate around synthetic drugs on the other side of the political fence, too. The conservative Canadian paper, the National Post, explores the grey areas around the import and export of bath salts ingredients; it reports that one Canadian Web designer fell into legally importing and exporting the chemical ingredients as part of the regular business of his online company. That's laissez faire at work: once a liberal formula from the 18th and 19th centuries, now a right-wing free business agenda. Almost as quickly as bath salts have started trending in the media, they have become messily politicized.

Everyday reality is now the stuff of graphic novel nightmares from twenty-six years ago. Because the manufacture and sale of these drugs are enabled by the Internet, they have come out of nowhere and spread faster than you can say 'social network.' In fact, synthetic drugs and social networks are two sides of the same coin. Spin:
About two years ago, bath salts — a lab-brewed drug that unpredictably mimics a freakish combination of coke, meth, and Ecstasy — suddenly popped into public consciousness with a rat-tat-tat of reports from emergency rooms and law-enforcement officials that sounded like the stuff of a D.A.R.E. officer's most florid nightmare. By most accounts, the drug — then legal — first surfaced in Louisiana in mid-2010, quickly moved through the South, and then spread out in all directions. ...

Not all drugs are created equal. Unlike, say, meth, bath salts transcend class. They most often establish a beachhead in college towns where head shops tend to cluster. To generalize, there are two types of users: college-age kids who want to get high without engaging in criminal activity and just plain drug addicts looking for a hassle-free fix.

In some sense, bath salts are an exercise in decriminalization. Buying drugs, especially hard narcotics, is often a seedy experience: You have to go to dangerous areas to obtain them, make the transaction with active, often violent, criminals, and then sweat at stoplights, hoping to make it back home without a felony possession charge. But the way the synthetic drug market currently exists, you can walk into a climate-controlled shop, slide your ATM card under the glass, and walk out. Or you can skip all that and just order online. ...

Starting in late 2010, an influx of violent, irrational, self-destructive users began to congest hospital ERs throughout the States. A 19-year-old West Virginia man claimed he was high on bath salts when he stabbed his neighbor's pygmy goat while wearing women's underwear; a Mississippi man skinned himself alive while under the influence. Users staggered in, or were carried in, consumed by extreme panic, tachycardia, deep paranoia, and heart-attack symptoms. ...

Because the chemicals most often found in bath salts — mephedrone, methylenedioxypyrovalerone, and methylone — were not outlawed initially, a nearly year-and-a-half period ensued where, to the horror of law enforcement, salts were sold legally and widely, not only in head shops, but in gas stations and convenience stores all over the U.S. In 2010, 304 calls were made to poison control centers nationwide regarding bath salts. A year later, the calls skyrocketed to 6,138. ...

 "I think, forensically, it's a game of Whac-A-Mole," says Jeffrey Scott, a former narcotics agent in the field who now works at DEA headquarters. "We can control these substances with a temporary ban, but we don't control Purple Wave or Ivory Bliss. We control the components within them."

When Scott was doing undercover streets busts, it was a little more straightforward. "Coke is coke and heroin is heroin. And it's pretty easy to know what you've got. But now, when you go out and seize a warehouse full of something packaged as Dragonfly, you really have no idea what it is."

If chemistry is one aspect of the problem, the Internet is another. Take, for instance, mephedrone: It was first synthesized under the name "toluyl-alpha-monomethylaminoethylcetone" in 1929 by a French pharmacologist named Saem de Burnaga Sanchez. It remained an obscure object of academic interest for 80 years until a clandestine chemist working under the pseudonym "Kinetic" uploaded a how-to guide on the Hive website. Then the drug exploded across Europe. The ban on mephedrone put an end to that specific synthesis, but chemistry, like any recipe, is malleable. "The Internet is great at proliferating this sort of information almost faster than law enforcement can really keep track of it," says Robert J. Bell, a coordinator inside the DEA's synthetic drug department.

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  1. Thanks for this very interesting post mate. Keep up the good work.

  2. Great, informative piece. My God. My eyes are wide open now. Sheesh. Makes me sick to my stomach, but thanks for all the information. As a parent, I really appreciate it.

    Regarding that last bit about yoru content getting scraped, your posts are so well-researched, and longer pieces, like this one, are starting to do well in SEO. As soon as you publish a post, you should ping Google immediately. http://blogsearch.google.com/ping Also, I had submitted my blog to some blog catalog - and they were publishing all my content before me!! I deleted my account. It was suppose to help me create backlinks - it just toasted by site in terms of searches for 30 days.

  3. Thanks Jen, I think the fact that the Internet and social networks could enable black markets and drug markets, so that an entire illicit economy exists where it did not 18 months ago, is not something people think about too often. We're so busy working on the Web or surfing it, that we don't fully register how much it is changing things around us and how quickly. As great as the Internet is, it has a flip side that is equal or greater in proportion to its positive side; darker things pop up overnight like mushrooms.

    Regarding the blog and scrapers, that's another dimension of the same trend. Registries are more trouble than they're worth. Thanks very much for the ping link!

  4. I heard about the "bath salts" but not the cannibalistic attack. Or at least didn't recognize it as such. Yeeesh. -J