Friday, December 28, 2007

Bankrupt Tobacco Firm Floats Whiskey-Flavored Cigs

Whiskey-flavored cigarettes and cigarette papers dosed with vanilla to disguise the stink of the smoke are among the "new technology" being marketed now in Quebec by JTI MacDonald, a Japan-based cigarette company that is in bankruptcy proceedings.

Public health advocates are up in arms. Read more here. Thanks, Michael W., for the item.

Friday, December 21, 2007

If liquor doesn't get you, nicotine will

Last week's New Yorker had a bio of Malcolm Lowry, a lauded writer whose alcoholism claimed him at age 47; see my blog note, "Alcoholocaust," below. This week's mag covers iconic short story writer Raymond Carver (What We Talk About When We Talk About Love), also an alcoholic, but one who got sober in 1977, and stayed that way. But he kept smoking. He once said that he was only "a cigarette with a body attached to it." Lung cancer claimed him at age 50.

The mag's Lowry story took the author down a notch or two by suggesting that his wife was actually responsible for much of the greatness in Under the Volcano. The mag continues on its debunking tear by demonstrating beyond reasonable doubt that the savage blue pencil of Carver's editor Gordon Lish was responsible for creating the terse, minimalist style that made Carver famous.

Score: New Yorker 2, theory that alcohol helps the creative juices flow, 0.

Oh, and don't miss the cartoon on p. 68. A bar patron drinking coffee to a neighbor with a cocktail: "Been there, drunk that." I'd copy it here but I worry about overstretching the boundaries of the "fair use" doctrine.

Let them drink Grand Marnier!

A proposal out of Tacoma to "treat" chronic street alcoholics by banning the sale of cheap wine caught the fancy of S.F. Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius last week. The scheme is simple: in a defined "alcohol impact zone," stores are banned from stocking Thunderbird, Boone's Farm, Royal Gate, Takaa, and similar cheap rotgut.

If the homeless alkies want to buy Cabernet Sauvignon or Grey Goose, that's ok.

Public health authorities in Tacoma laud the idea, citing reduced emergency room admissions and other medical costs. That's not surprising. The same thing happened nationwide during Prohibition.

The logic by which Nevius calls this simple class-based Prohibition scheme "treatment" escapes me. It's just one more aspect of the ubiquitous economic bias that Prof. Merrill Singer describes so vividly in his recent book, "Drugging the Poor," reviewed here.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Back from Iraq with a monkey on their back

Jon Marshall's News Gems website writes:

"ABC News' investigative team, led by Brian Ross, worked with six graduate journalism students to discover whether troops returning home after serving in Iraq are facing the same battles with drug addiction as soldiers did when they came back from Vietnam. For their series, "Coming Home: Soldiers and Drugs," the students traveled across the country from Fort Carson in Colorado to Fort Bragg in North Carolina to examine the accuracy of the Army's assurances that drug abuse among ex-combatants isn't growing. Their findings:

Many of this country's bravest men and women who volunteered to defend America in a time of war have come home wounded -- physically and mentally -- and are turning to illicit drugs as they adjust to normal life, according to soldiers, health experts and advocates." Source.

The five programs are available online here.

Afghan farmers see through "drug war"

Recent U.S. initiatives to eradicate poppy fields in selected areas of Afghanistan, on the Colombian model, have met with growing resistance by Afghan farmers, according to a briefing paper by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (link):
"The view that the government is willing to deepen the poverty of some of its rural population for the sake of a ban on opium poppy cultivation further alienates the rural population. The belief of many farmers that those enforcing the ban and eradicating their crop are themselves actively involved in the opium trade makes matters worse; so does the perception of widespread bribery and the sense that eradication targets the vulnerable and ignores the crops of those in positions of power and influence."
Afghan farmers are seeing that the eradication efforts are aimed mainly at growers or dealers who are competitors to the growers and dealers connected with the Afghan government and its sponsors. A secondary aim of eradication may be to reduce the over-all supply in order to maintain prices. The Afghan farmers are seeing firsthand what the "war on drugs" is all about and they're not buying into it. The study's authors caution that Afghan farmers will continue to grow the poppy until they're presented with a reasonable alternative -- and none is in sight.

Girl, 8, asks cops for help with drunken mom

"Help me. My mother is drunk, and she crashed her car," said an 8-year old Tampa FL girl to troopers last week who were checking on a car wreck.

With the girl inside, the mother had sideswiped two other vehicles before hitting a parked car head-on and coming to a stop. The girl got out of the wreck, unhurt, and approached the first officer on the scene.

"Ever time she drinks she gets like this," said the girl. The mother was booked for drunk driving, child abuse, and related charges. Source.

Sponsors rat on pigeon

Two Alcoholics Anonymous sponsors took the witness stand in federal court in Des Moines IA recently to denounce their former sponsee, Thomas Vasquez, as "a pathological liar" lacking "the capacity to be honest." Source.

Vasquez probably deserved the slams. He was a paid government informer trying to build a case of extortion against incumbent Democratic state senator Matt McCoy. A Bushie federal prosecutor brought the transparently political case. The jury threw it out after less than two hours of deliberation, including lunch.

But ... should AA sponsors be testifying as character witnesses against their former sponsee? Isn't that against some rule?

War of the drugged

From the Guardian (U.K.):

The army today admitted that cocaine was becoming the "drug of choice" for British service personnel.

Colonel John Donnelly, who has responsibility for army discipline, said a significant increase in drug taking by soldiers could be linked to stress induced by the demands of combat operations.

More on this topic.

Whine tasting

It had to come to this.

The California Republican Party issued two press releases attacking the California Democratic Party for spending campaign money on a wine tasting fundraiser.

The Democrats shot back, pointing out that the Republicans spent four times as much on wine for their events, plus sending untallied bottles of a rare vintage to major donors. Source.

Dual diagnoses have same root?

Substance abuse and mental illness very commonly go together. One hypothesis to explain the correlation is to see the patient using alcohol/drugs to medicate the mental disorder. Another view sees the mental disorders as the symptoms of excessive drug/alcohol ingestion. Now comes Dr. Andrew Chambers and his researchers at the U of Indiana Medical school with a study that suggests both theories are wrong. Based on experiments with adult rats, Chambers found that both substance abuse and mental disorders probably stem from a malfunction in the amygdala, a small region within the brain that plays a role in numerous processes, including the memory of emotionally charged events. Read details. Read blogger Jason Schwartz's piece on the same issue, here.

Don't wait till kids are in middle school

A study of underage drinking finds a big jump in alcohol use in children between the fifth and sixth grades, and suggests that waiting to deal with an alcohol issue in the home until the child is in middle school is too late. Source.

The researchers urge parents to "talk to their kids about alcohol" when the kids are ten or eleven, or earlier. But talking alone isn't going to cut it, if the parents themselves are setting bad models of alcohol use in the home. The research really suggests that if one or both of the parents have an alcohol problem, the time to deal with it (at the latest) is when the kid is still in primary school.

Marijuana smoke nastier than cigs

Dec. 14, 2007 -- New research from Canada shows that some toxins may be more abundant in marijuana cigarettes than tobacco cigarettes.

The researchers burned 30 marijuana cigarettes and 30 tobacco cigarettes on a machine in their lab, measuring levels of chemicals in the smoke.

Ammonia levels were up to 20 times higher in marijuana smoke than in tobacco smoke. Levels of hydrogen cyanide and nitrogen-related chemicals were three to five times higher in marijuana smoke than in tobacco smoke. Read more.

99 per cent wouldn't use drugs if legal

A recent poll of 1000 U.S. adults asked if they would use "hard" drugs such as cocaine or heroin if they were sold legally. More than 99 per cent said they would not. Source.

The numbers undercut the argument of "war on drugs" supporters that drug prohibition is a necessary dam against widespread drug use.

Quite the contrary, says David Borden, CEO of For example, rates of marijuana use in the Netherlands, where it's sold legally in "coffee shops," are only about half those in nearby France, where marijuana use is an arrestable offense.

Evolution at work

A drunk man in Thailand stopped to urinate and poked his member through a crack in a fence.

On the other side of the fence, a vigilant puppy spotted this invading one-eyed albino rat, and promptly sank its teeth into it.

Doctors at the hospital said the member "should still be useful" to the man in the future. Source.

A good question

A new policy in New Jersey allows cops to ask drinking drivers who served them their last drink. Source.

Some bar owners are upset because existing law already makes barkeepers liable for serving patients who are drunk.

Cops answer that the question helps them spot bars that ignore the law.

Surprising finding about youth drinking (NOT)

A study of 11,000 persons in London found that teens who drank to excess (4 drinks or more per session, once a week or more often) were twice as likely to snag a criminal conviction by age 30. They were also much more likely to become alcoholics, to use hard drugs, and to become homeless. Source.

The study is being used as fodder for an Australian provincial government campaign to crack down on youth drinking. A worthy cause, no doubt, but did the study control for factors such as family income, education, and environment?

College profs modeling alcoholism for students?

College students' drinking excesses continue to make news. A prof at R.Y.S. (wherever that may be) points out in his or her blog that the students may just be copying their profs.
"Can we acknowledge that there is a huge amount of alcoholism in academia? Not the cute Dudley Moore kind, but the kind that makes us less sharp and ends our lives early? I'd imagine every one of us knows a colleague who needs a mid-morning 'refresher' or who always smells slightly of drink. I remember seeing my supervisor trying to be inconspicuous checking all the (empty) wine bottles at a reception, hoping there was a glass left in one of them, and finally making a glass by combining all the remnants red and white wine that were left. I remember drinking with him at a local bar until well past midnight (having started at four). And is there any function in academia that doesn't involve alcohol?"
Read the whole thing. Good point. A college administration trying to cope with its students' alcohol excesses needs also to look in the mirror. It'll be hard to get a handle on student conduct if the faculty's drinking is out of control.

CIA up to its old tricks?

A tantalizing hint that the CIA is up to its old tricks (flying drugs from conflict zones) surfaced in the crash landing of a Gulfstream II business jet in Mexico Sept. 24.

The Florida-based craft carried somewhere between three and six tons of powder cocaine, and either no heroin or up to one ton of heroin, depending on which estimates one believes.

The flight originated in Colombia and was destined for Florida with a stopover in Cancun.

Blogger reports that the serial number of the craft matches those of a plane used by the CIA on at least three occasions in the rendition of terrorism suspects from Guantanamo to other countries to be tortured.

A Mexican journal accused Mexican and U.S. political authorities of hypocrisy for waging a so-called "war on drugs" on the one hand, and being heavily invested in the lucrative drug trade, on the other. observes that the amount of drugs said to be on the plane diminished with every official Mexican press release on the incident, and speculates that the subtracted amounts disappeared back into the market.

The photos of the crash scene, above, originated with Mexican press sources. For a video with commentary on EVTV, click.

P.S. Aug. 26 '08: Someone has removed the photos of the crash scene from this blog, and from the original source website as well. However, a video containing the same or similar still photos is still available online here: -- See them before they're gone.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


If you have illusions about the role of alcohol in creativity, read "Day of the Dead" by D.T. Max on p. 76 of the Dec. 17th issue of the New Yorker. It's a thumbnail bio of Malcom Lowry, author of "Under the Volcano" (1947), hailed as one of the top twelve English novels of all time; he was considered the heir of James Joyce. He died ten years afterward, after passing out from massive quantities of alcohol and barbiturates. He was 47.

The chronicle of his marriage and collaboration with Margerie Bonner is a tortuous, gruesome story of love, hate, help, hurt, rescue and revenge. Bonner, who edited and rewrote Lowry's texts daily, almost certainly contributed the discipline and warmth that raised "Under the Volcano" above the rambling, two-dimensional symbolism that was Lowry's best unassisted effort. He was consumed with rage at everything and everyone; his violent tirades drove all their friends away.

She tried for years to get him to cut down or stop his drinking, but ended up matching him bottle for bottle, and when he finally found a doctor who got him to take a break (using aversion therapy), she refused to stop, and dragged him down again.

Much of the article deals with the theory that she murdered him, for which many women acquaintances and critics applauded her. It's a thin case. British local authorities, who conducted the inquest, pinpointed asphyxiation by aspiration of vomit as the cause of death. That's not murder. But it hardly matters. Lowry was bent on death by alcohol sooner or later. During one of his few lucid moments, he described his own life as an "alcoholocaust."

If a movie is ever made of this marriage, it should be on a double bill with "Pollock," and made required viewing for young artists considering careers in alcoholism and addiction: don't go there.