Category Archives: History

The Likely Cause of Drug Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think (Long Read)

Drugs composite by Johann Hari  Posted: 01/20/2015 3:20 pm EST Updated: 01/23/2015 3:59 pm EST

It is now one hundred years since drugs were first banned — and all through this long century of waging war on drugs, we have been told a story about addiction by our teachers and by our governments. This story is so deeply ingrained in our minds that we take it for granted. It seems obvious. It seems manifestly true. Until I set off three and a half years ago on a 30,000-mile journey for my new book, Chasing The Scream: The First And Last Days of the War on Drugs, to figure out what is really driving the drug war, I believed it too. But what I learned on the road is that almost everything we have been told about addiction is wrong — and there is a very different story waiting for us, if only we are ready to hear it.

If we truly absorb this new story, we will have to change a lot more than the drug war. We will have to change ourselves.

I learned it from an extraordinary mixture of people I met on my travels. From the surviving friends of Billie Holiday, who helped me to learn how the founder of the war on drugs stalked and helped to kill her. From a Jewish doctor who was smuggled out of the Budapest ghetto as a baby, only to unlock the secrets of addiction as a grown man. From a transsexual crack dealer in Brooklyn who was conceived when his mother, a crack-addict, was raped by his father, an NYPD officer. From a man who was kept at the bottom of a well for two years by a torturing dictatorship, only to emerge to be elected President of Uruguay and to begin the last days of the war on drugs.

I had a quite personal reason to set out for these answers. One of my earliest memories as a kid is trying to wake up one of my relatives, and not being able to. Ever since then, I have been turning over the essential mystery of addiction in my mind — what causes some people to become fixated on a drug or a behavior until they can’t stop? How do we help those people to come back to us? As I got older, another of my close relatives developed a cocaine addiction, and I fell into a relationship with a heroin addict. I guess addiction felt like home to me.

If you had asked me what causes drug addiction at the start, I would have looked at you as if you were an idiot, and said: “Drugs. Duh.” It’s not difficult to grasp. I thought I had seen it in my own life. We can all explain it. Imagine if you and I and the next twenty people to pass us on the street take a really potent drug for twenty days. There are strong chemical hooks in these drugs, so if we stopped on day twenty-one, our bodies would need the chemical. We would have a ferocious craving. We would be addicted. That’s what addiction means.

One of the ways this theory was first established is through rat experiments — ones that were injected into the American psyche in the 1980s, in a famous advert by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. You may remember it. The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.

The advert explains: “Only one drug is so addictive, nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it. And use it. And use it. Until dead. It’s called cocaine. And it can do the same thing to you.”

But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexander noticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?

In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.

The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.

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At first, I thought this was merely a quirk of rats, until I discovered that there was — at the same time as the Rat Park experiment — a helpful human equivalent taking place. It was called the Vietnam War. Time magazine reported using heroin was “as common as chewing gum” among U.S. soldiers, and there is solid evidence to back this up: some 20 percent of U.S. soldiers had become addicted to heroin there, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Many people were understandably terrified; they believed a huge number of addicts were about to head home when the war ended.

Continue reading The Likely Cause of Drug Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think (Long Read)

If the 20th Century was America’s Century the 21st looks like being China’s….

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The 21st century belongs to China: Why the new Silk Road threatens to end America’s economic dominance – Beijing is building a trans-Siberian railway system that rivals the Marshall Plan in its ambition and global reach

PEPE ESCOBAR, TOMDISPATCH.COM TUESDAY, FEB 24, 2015 10:15 AM +0000

BEIJING — Seen from the Chinese capital as the Year of the Sheep starts, the malaise affecting the West seems like a mirage in a galaxy far, far away. On the other hand, the China that surrounds you looks all too solid and nothing like the embattled nation you hear about in the Western media, with its falling industrial figures, its real estate bubble, and its looming environmental disasters. Prophecies of doom notwithstanding, as the dogs of austerity and war bark madly in the distance, the Chinese caravan passes by in what President Xi Jinping calls “new normal” mode.

“Slower” economic activity still means a staggeringly impressive annual growth rate of 7% in what is now the globe’s leading economy. Internally, an immensely complex economic restructuring is underway as consumption overtakes investment as the main driver of economic development. At 46.7% of the gross domestic product (GDP), the service economy has pulled ahead of manufacturing, which stands at 44%.

Geopolitically, Russia, India, and China have just sent a powerful message westward: they are busy fine-tuning a complex trilateral strategy for setting up a network of economic corridors the Chinese call “new silk roads” across Eurasia. Beijing is also organizing a maritime version of the same, modeled on the feats of Admiral Zheng He who, in the Ming dynasty, sailed the “western seas” seven times, commanding fleets of more than 200 vessels.

Meanwhile, Moscow and Beijing are at work planning a new high-speed rail remix of the fabled Trans-Siberian Railroad. And Beijing is committed to translating its growing strategic partnership with Russia into crucial financial and economic help, if a sanctions-besieged Moscow, facing a disastrous oil price war, asks for it.

To China’s south, Afghanistan, despite the 13-year American war still being fought there, is fast moving into its economic orbit, while a planned China-Myanmar oil pipeline is seen as a game-changing reconfiguration of the flow of Eurasian energy across what I’ve long called Pipelineistan.

And this is just part of the frenetic action shaping what the Beijing leadership defines as the New Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road of the twenty-first century. We’re talking about a vision of creating a potentially mind-boggling infrastructure, much of it from scratch, that will connect China to Central Asia, the Middle East, and Western Europe. Such a development will include projects that range from upgrading the ancient silk road via Central Asia to developing a Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor; a China-Pakistan corridor through Kashmir; and a new maritime silk road that will extend from southern China all the way, in reverse Marco Polo fashion, to Venice.

Don’t think of this as the twenty-first-century Chinese equivalent of America’s post-World War II Marshall Plan for Europe, but as something far more ambitious and potentially with a far vaster reach.

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Continue reading If the 20th Century was America’s Century the 21st looks like being China’s….

Cameron’s five-year legacy: has he finished what Thatcher started? by Polly Toynbee (Long Read)

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Margaret Thatcher wanted to privatise Britain; David Cameron’s ambition went further. Assessing his legacy for their new book, Polly Toynbee and David Walker document the Tory leader’s assault on the state Guardian Wednesday 28 January 2015 06.00 GMT

On 12 May 2010, in the sunlit rose garden of No 10, David Cameron and Nick Clegg announced the creation of Britain’s new coalition government. In a flawlessly stage-managed performance, Cameron proclaimed the birth of a “new politics”. His coalition government would, he said, be underpinned by the principles of “freedom, fairness and responsibility”.

This cosy launch, it turned out, was a bluff. Under Cameron’s leadership the country has become harder and meaner, more divided by class and region. Readers of thinktank reports and those acute enough to hear the behind-the-hand remarks, knew what to expect. But Cameron is dextrous, emotionally intelligent, like Tony Blair. In the runup to the 2010 election, he sprinkled speeches and photo-opportunities with new flavourings – green trees, social enterprise, the “big society”, free schools, hug-a-hoodie, vote-blue-go-green, the-NHS-is-safe-with-me. Such posturing irritated Conservative backbenchers, some of whom disliked his metrosexual manner and support for gay marriage. But Cameron’s style was no handicap: that easy, upper-class air dispelled any suggestion he was driven by zealotry.

The coalition agreement that was hashed out in the days before the rose garden show was a strange magna carta. It promised a national tree-planting campaign, “honesty in food labelling” and a pledge to “encourage live music”. These turned out to be distractions – only the thundering final clause mattered: “Deficit reduction takes precedence over any of the other measures in this agreement.” From then on, the Liberal Democrats were a sideshow, passively approving the most brutish cuts and offering negligible contributions of their own.

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Cameron seized the 2010 “crisis” to realise his ideological ends. By exaggerating the parlous state of national finances, he was able to pursue his longstanding ambition to diminish the public realm. Margaret Thatcher privatised state-run industries; Cameron’s ambition was no less than to abolish the postwar welfare state itself. The Office of Budget Responsibility recently announced Cameron’s victory – by 2018, it forecast, we would have a state the size it was in the 1930s.

This was a coup, though Cameron, unlike Thatcher, would never triumphantly produce from his pocket a crumpled copy of a pamphlet by the rightwing economist Friedrich Hayek; the swivel-eyed stuff was left to backroom guru Oliver Letwin, former special adviser to Keith Joseph, the man who said Conservatives should no longer conserve but instead demolish all that stopped the flowering of individualism. Cameron was guided by the groupthink of his generation of young Tories, inspired by the Thatcher posters on their college walls. From Tory central office, where he worked for two years before his heroine’s fall in 1990, he breathed in the accepted wisdom that the state is an impediment, the market solves all ills and individualism trumps collective endeavour. “Frankly, I don’t like any taxes,” Cameron told the Federation of Small Business a year ago.

Despite failing to win the election, the Tories proceeded to savage welfare, destabilise the NHS, decouple schools from collective control and replace public service provision with markets and contracts. These developments were foreseeable, but even Cameron’s fiercest critics might not have expected that during its five years in office, the government would go on to jeopardise the unity of the UK itself and threaten Britain’s standing in the world.

Continue reading Cameron’s five-year legacy: has he finished what Thatcher started? by Polly Toynbee (Long Read)

It’s Not All About Democracy – The Dark Side of Military History (Long Read)

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Its not just about the US Army as in this article. Think about all the ‘colonial’ wars fought by the UK and other European counties, particularly in Africa (Heart of Darkness?) and India or issues with British forces in Iraq. The use of military power is a blunt instrument and is often accompanied by horrifying abuses. Why haven’t you heard of this before?  Don’t forget that the winner gets to write the history books…

For the US its a tradition that goes back to the treatment of Native Americans in the 19th century by Robert Parry, Peter Dale Scott Consortium News January 6, 2015

Editor’s Note: Many Americans view their country and its soldiers as the “good guys” spreading “democracy” and “liberty” around the world. When the United States inflicts unnecessary death and destruction, it’s viewed as a mistake or an aberration. In the following article, Peter Dale Scott and Robert Parry examine the long history of these acts of brutality, a record that suggests they are neither a “mistake” nor an “aberration” but rather conscious counterinsurgency doctrine on the “dark side.”

There is a dark — seldom acknowledged — thread that runs through U.S. military doctrine, dating back to the early days of the Republic.

This military tradition has explicitly defended the selective use of terror, whether in suppressing Native American resistance on the frontiers in the 19th Century or in protecting U.S. interests abroad in the 20th Century or fighting the “war on terror” over the last decade.

The American people are largely oblivious to this hidden tradition because most of the literature advocating state-sponsored terror is carefully confined to national security circles and rarely spills out into the public debate, which is instead dominated by feel-good messages about well-intentioned U.S. interventions abroad.

Over the decades, congressional and journalistic investigations have exposed some of these abuses. The recent release of the Senate torture report is one example. But when that does happen, the cases are usually deemed anomalies or excesses by out-of-control soldiers.

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Yet the historical record shows that terror tactics have long been a dark side of U.S. military doctrine. The theories survive today in textbooks on counterinsurgency warfare, “low-intensity” conflict and “counter-terrorism.”

Continue reading It’s Not All About Democracy – The Dark Side of Military History (Long Read)

Europe’s age of inferno – How a volcano swallowed the Western world (and may have triggered the French Revolution)

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Science writer Alexandra Witze talks about one of modern history’s deadliest natural disasters by LINDSAY ABRAMS FRIDAY, JAN 2, 2015 11:58 AM +0000

In June 1783, a volcano erupted in Iceland that sent all of Europe reeling.

Laki, the country’s largest volcano, spewed ash into the atmosphere for eight long months, poisoning everything it touched. The famine that resulted killed off one-fifth of the population of Iceland, along with half of its livestock. But its impact wasn’t contained to the isolated nation: A mysterious fog began to descend upon the U.K. and France, and then onward to Switzerland, Germany and northern and central Italy (some accounts claim it spread as far a North America). The haze was impossible to ignore. It dimmed the stars, made it difficult to breathe, killed grass and trees and crops and people, and brought with it an “intolerable” heat and catastrophic storms. With winter came a reversal, just as extreme: The continent froze and, come spring, flooded in a manner of hours.

It was, by all definitions, an unprecedented disaster. Some even argue that the unrest it created contributed to the start of the French Revolution. And yet, strangely enough, it’s been largely forgotten.

Science writers Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe explore the story of Laki and other world-changing eruptions in their book, “An Island on Fire.” And they make a compelling case for why, spectacle aside, they deserve our close attention. Salon’s conversation with Witze, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.

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It was fascinating reading your account of the Laki eruption, especially because I had never heard about it before. Do you have any thoughts about why this hasn’t become the stuff of legends, the way, say, Vesuvius has?

Well, we’re certainly hoping to change that a bit, but a think a lot of it has to do with where and when the eruption happened. This was back in the 18th century, in a fairly remote part of the world. When things like Vesuvius go off, I mean, it’s right smack in the middle of Europe, so there are a lot of people around, a lot of people writing about it, and observing it and kind of checking it out. But Iceland at the time was just really rural: It was a whole bunch of farmers and a bunch of fishermen, and they weren’t really connected to the rest of Europe. They were under the Danish crown at the time, so Copenhagen would occasionally pay attention to what they were doing, but it was really just out of sight and out of mind for a lot of people in Europe and elsewhere.

Continue reading Europe’s age of inferno – How a volcano swallowed the Western world (and may have triggered the French Revolution)

The secret madness of Adolf Hitler

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What a mysterious ailment during World War I reveals about the motivations of history’s greatest monster by PETER CADDICK-ADAMS SATURDAY, JAN 3, 2015 01:01 PM +0000

All the records agree that on Tuesday, 15 October 1918, a little over a week before the Armistice, Adolf Hitler was blinded by poison gas. A hardened veteran, his four years of service with the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment had brought him full circle, almost back to where he first saw action in 1914, advancing on the Flemish city of ypres. This time, his company was manning the lines at Wervicq-Sud, twelve miles south of ypres, when a bombardment from the British 30th Division caught them in the early morning. Six were incapacitated, including Gefreiter (Lance Corporal) Hitler, one of the Meldegänger (despatch runners), considered by his mates to be lucky until that moment. Reeling from the effects of a mixture of phosgene and chlorine gas, the twenty-nine-year-old recalled later how his ‘eyes had turned into glowing coals; it had grown dark around me’. He was evacuated quickly through a series of aid stations and hospitals from the little village on French side of the Lys river which separated France from Belgium. This occurrence allegedly explained his aversion to the military use of poison gas during the Second World War.

According to his medical notes, despite washing out his red, swollen eyes, he stated that he remained totally blind. Travelling by hospital train for several days, his piercing blue eyes, which would one day captivate millions, covered by grubby bandages, Hitler was not to know that the end of the war was days away. His destination was a specialist eye clinic at Pasewalk, in north-eastern Germany near the Polish border, for the diagnosis in his case was most unusual. His continuing blindness was attributed not to injuries suffered in the gas attack, but to hysteria. Doctors from all the belligerent nations were overwhelmed by servicemen suffering from such hysteria, in the same category as shell shock – acute stress, mental rather than physical in origin – that manifested itself in a range of symptoms, which varied from memory loss, insomnia, stutters or mutism, to extreme physical tics, paralysis, deafness or in extremis, blindness. In Hitler’s case there was no lasting or serious damage to his eyes – they were sore from rubbing, not gas – which suggested that the cause was mental not physical. He could not see because he believed he had gone blind. In other words, Hitler, far from being injured in the British attack, had suffered a mental breakdown.

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The Ridiculous Rise and fall of Ayn Rand

I think the outbreak of humour at her expense (see links below) recently might indicate that the US Right have started to see through their totally fallible heroine….hope so…………………

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by Alan Wolfe August 19, 2012

With Paul Ryan’s selection as vice-presidential candidate on the 2012 Republican ticket, Ayn Rand was back in the news. We now know that Ryan tempered his enthusiasm for Rand when he realized that her atheism might prove problematic for members of his party. It has become clear that Rand was pro-choice and, like any hater of government properly ought to be, a civil libertarian. She would be disgusted by the Republican Party’s spending on defense (let alone Ryan’s support, during the George W. Bush years, for the Medicare Part D prescription benefit and TARP).

Yet as much as I like it when intellectuals receive attention, I still find myself uninterested in Ayn Rand. I do not care what she would have thought of the current scene. That those who invoke her name treat her selectively is of almost no significance to me. I have the sense, moreover, that I am not alone, at least among those in the academic world. Despite a flutter of interest, she has been mostly ignored.

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