Showing posts with label crack dealers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label crack dealers. Show all posts

12 April 2018

Metaphors and Morality Plays

by Eve Fisher


Image may contain: text and outdoorThe sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.
    - Robert Frost, "Two Tramps in Mud Time"


We're back in the middle of February here, folks.  With some regularity.  Now I don't mind a snow day every once in a while.  I think of all the things I can get done, like read a good book, finish cleaning out that closet, or (gasp!) writing.  But of course, too often, what happens is that I end up, hours later, looking up from an internet reading binge that is only occasionally informative, as in,
Do you want to see the oldest tree in the world?
Answer:  hell yes!

Image may contain: outdoor
6,000 year old Senegal baobab tree.
6,000 years old.  Think about that.  That means that huge tree was a little sprout/twig back in 4,000 BCE.  That's a long way back.  It's right on the border between the Neolithic (New Stone Age) and the Bronze Age; humans have learned to cast lead, smelt tin, copper, and are just starting to smelt bronze.  There's agriculture in China, Egypt and Mesopotamia, as well as animal husbandry, tamed dogs and cats, pottery, combs, beads, and lots of clothing.  But there's no writing, not yet, so we don't know how all of this happened.  We can only imagine.

(Fun note:  6,000 years ago, there are still mammoths on Saint Paul Island, Alaska, and Wrangel Island, Russia!)

Opium fields
The other thing that's already been developed is alcohol, both beer and wine, and perhaps strong liquor, in China, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Georgia, Sicily, etc.  Traces left of fermentation have been dated back beyond 8,000 years ago, which proves what I used to tell my history classes:  no society has ever been found that was able to live drug free.  They always had something.  

Alcohol, marijuana, mushrooms, and opium derivatives are universal and thousands of years older than any writing.  Which makes sense, because living in a physical body is going to get painful sooner or later.  Think of the pre-industrial world:  tens of thousands of years of hard work done without benefit of machines, accidents, wars, beatings, old age, botched surgeries, unsuccessful surgeries, cancer, medieval dentistry, ancient trepanning, arthritis, osteoporosis, rotten teeth, and all the other wear and tear of daily life.
As Dr. Samuel Johnson said in the 18th century, about alcohol:  "He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man."
I bring all this up because Buzzfeed posted a great article April 3, which I read while watching the snow whirling past my window, called "The Opioid Crisis Isn't a Metaphor".  Quite simply, it points out that - contrary to innumerable modern op-eds - people aren't drowning in opioid addiction because post-modern life in America is hell on earth.  People have been drowning in addiction and alcoholism since the Epic of Gilgamesh.  Life, any time, anywhere, will sooner or later get you taking serious medication. 

Oxycontin 
And - as the article says - that's why people generally start taking opioids:  they're in pain.  And when it comes to severe, teeth clenching pain, aspirin, Advil, or Tylenol just don't cut it.  For that, the best thing is still opioids, the derivatives of that ancient poppy plant, cultivated for multiple thousands of years, but now processed to a fare-thee-well:  codeine, heroin, morphine, all those oxys, and the latest scourge, fentanyl, which would drop an elephant in its tracks.

But even then, people in pain really do not "addict" that easily.  Unless they're widely available, as in West Virginia, where out-of-state drug companies shipped nearly 21 million opioid painkillers to two pharmacies in Williamson, WV, population 2,900, in 3 years (see Vox), not to mention millions more to other pharmacies in other small towns throughout the country.  Let's put it this way, if that much crack or meth had arrived in Williamson, WV, in 3 years, every law enforcement authority in the country would have been all over it.  But it was legal.  And all the physicians urged to give them out like candy, and renew the prescriptions at the drop of a hat, for as often and long as... well, as they're asked for.  And why?  Because:  profits.
NOTE:  Meet the Sacklers, the family behind the whole opioid crisis, (Daily Mail - and Esquire), $14 billionnaires and counting, most of which came from OxyContin.  (Oh, and they don't like to talk about it - they're very private people.  Spread the word.)
So, we have two chronic human needs - for pain relief, and to get wealthy - meeting in communities around the nation, and it's all legal.  (At least at first.)  Addiction and overdoses begin to skyrocket, especially as teenagers - who will do anything and everything to get high because that's what teenagers do - get their hands on them.  As people sell them on the black market to make some extra cash.  As people trade them around in search of better pain relief or a better high.  As it all rolls up into one giant white pill shaped ball and pundits ask "Why do people do these things?"  And cluck their tongues like America was such a Puritan paradise before this happened.

HA!  The original Puritans banned dancing, drama, cards, gambling, and most toys, but they did drink.  The Mayflower was loaded with more beer than water, and the very first Thanksgiving meal was served with beer, brandy, wine and gin.  And I'll bet they used whatever they could for pain relief.

And then there's the little issue of withdrawals.  As the Buzzfeed article says, "And once you’re addicted, you don’t take a hit because you’re surrounded by postindustrial despair. You do it because not taking a hit makes you feel worse than you could have ever imagined. If you go long enough without it, you’ll vomit, crap your pants, and want to die, just for starters. So of course you'll do anything to get another hit."  And it's not just opioids.  Untreated, alcohol D.T.s (delerium tremens) has a 15-40% death rate.

Crack cocaine
Now many have noticed that the idea of drug addiction as a way of coping with a life lacking any hope, purpose, or possibilities, was never applied to black urban neighborhoods anywhere.  When the crack epidemic erupted in urban America back in the 1980s and 1990s, no one tried to understand why urban blacks were using crack cocaine in such high numbers, or how a life of unemployment, racism, urban decay, hopelessness, etc., could affect their addiction.  Instead, America got tough on crime, to the point where, "the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 increased penalties for crack cocaine possession and usage. It mandated a mandatory minimum sentence of five years without parole for possession of 5 grams of crack; to receive the same sentence with powder cocaine one had to have 500 grams."  BTW, poor urban blacks used crack; powder cocaine was more often used by rich urban whites.  5 grams vs. 500; nothing to see here, folks, just keep moving...

So yeah, this whole idea of drug addiction caused by post-industrial despair only cropped up when white people began to become addicts, criminals, and die in epidemic numbers.

Addiction:  From Morality Play to Metaphor of Modernity in only 30 years.  Depending on where it happens, and to whom...










06 February 2015

Freakonomics

by R.T. Lawton


The cover is a green apple
with the wedge of an orange
During my early years of university attendance, I quickly learned the subject of economics was not my favorite, not even close. Its only theory which seemed comprehensible at the time, and the only one to stick with me through the years, is The Law of Diminishing Utility. You know, the one where the first candy bar tastes great, the second is good, the third is okay and by the time you get to the sixth one, your stomach doesn't feel so good. That one I understand, perhaps because of a personal sweet tooth. The rest of economics was dry, boring and I had no taste for the subject.

Then, along comes Steven D. Levitt and writer Stephen J. Dubner with their book, Freakonomics.  Levitt is a rogue economist, has won several awards in his field and has a way of asking questions that makes economics interesting. Two of my favorite discourses come under the headings of What do School Teachers and Sumo Wrestlers Have in Common, and Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live With Their Moms.

School Teachers and Sumo Wrestlers

Having compiled data on Chicago school teachers who gave the required standardized tests for the program of Leave No Child Behind, and also on sumo wrestlers competing in the required six tournaments held each year to establish ranking and therefore their annual salary based on that ranking, Levitt determined that a significant portion of the subjects in each category cheated. Well, this is a blog on crime and criminals, cheating for position and financial benefit is surely a crime, and I have long been interested in how to prove a crime.

Briefly, for the Chicago teachers, Levitt figured out the simplest way to cheat in the short time teachers had the "multiple guess" test sheets in their possession after the test was to fill in the same block of answers correctly on most of students' answer sheets before the sheets were electronically graded. Let's say the same block of about ten answers somewhere in the later section where the answers were more difficult for the students to get right and the teacher could easily remember the sequence of correct answers. Comparing all the test sheet answers for each class room, Levitt discovered an answer pattern in some classes. To further check his results, Levitt compared this same grade's scores with their scores from the previous year. Some student's scores in the pattern answer classes had somehow skyrocketed. Thus, a few weeks later, the same test was given again to the same students. Normally, you would expect the scores to stay about the same or even improve slightly, but this time, the teachers were not allowed to even touch the answer sheets. The scores of pattern answer students plunged. A dozen teachers lost their jobs for cheating. Why cheat to begin with? The incentives of recognition, promotion and financial gain versus potential censure, and loss of funds.

In his book, Levitt keeps coming back to numbers and incentives for the study of economics. Maybe I would have had more incentive in my university classes if I'd had Levitt for a teacher.

As for the sumo wrestlers, those on the bubble with a 7-7 win/loss record needed to win one more to stay within the elite 66 high rankings. Levitt's data showed that those on the bubble frequently won that one more needed win from those wrestlers who already had high enough win records not to need that last win, even though in previous matches, the wrestler who had acquired the better record usually beat the wrestler who ended up on the bubble. Kind of an "I'll scratch your back, if...," whether the payoff was monetary or a promise to "throw you a match in the future if you need it." Incentives. At the time, the top 40 wrestlers earned at least $170,000 a year, while the 70th ranked wrestler made only $15,000, plus the lower ranks had to do the laundry of the top ranked wrestlers. Incentives.

Drug Dealers and Their Moms

This one was right up my alley. Levitt wondered why crack cocaine drug dealers in Chicago were still living with their moms. Wasn't there a lot of money in the crack business? Didn't this big money mean they could move out from mom's and into luxury apartments?

Through a set of fortunate circumstances (for him), Levitt ended up with a four-year set of business transaction books for a ranking member of the Black Gangster Disciples in Chicago. The leader of a branch of this gang, later promoted to the Board of Directors, had kept a ledger of every crack sales, dues charged, protection fees and costs of doing business before his promotion to the board.

Levitt compiled the data. Yes, there was a lot of money coming in from crack sales, however the organization was comprised of a large pyramid chart and the big money floated to the top. The top twenty bosses in the Board of Directors each stood to make half a million dollars a year, while the leaders of a branch earned about $100,000 a year, but the rank and file standing on the corner were better off flipping burgers at McDonald's. Some of the lower ranks even maintained secondary jobs at low-wage legitimate jobs in order to make enough money to get by. They couldn't afford to move out from mom's place.

Not only could they not afford to move, but the rank and file were the ones taking daily chances on  being arrested or killed. During that same four year period on the streets, the members supervised by that branch leader each had an average of 5.9 times of arrest, 2.4 times of receiving injuries or non-fatal wounds (does not include gang administered beatings for rules infractions), and a 1 in 4 chance of being killed. So why do the job? The incentive was to climb up the pyramid to a leader's job or to sit on the Board of Directors where the really big money was.

Freakonomics and Levitt make economics interesting. Now I have to read Super Freakonomics to find out about Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance. Whaaat?