Overweening Generalist

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Drug Report: July, 2012: Coffee and Velocity

"Betty: Dear father, don't be so strict! If I can't have my little demitasse of coffee three times a day, I'm just like a dried-up piece of roast goat!" - from J.S. Bach's Coffee Cantata


Of surpassing fascination to me is the overwhelming ubiquity of drugs in our culture - both legal and illegal - and (here's where my wonderment comes in) how relatively ignorant we make ourselves about these drugs. Name the drug, and you will have zero problems finding a widespread un-knowing about some aspects of the drug, even though the information is easy to find. Is knowing the truth about psychoactive drugs culturally taboo?

Now, now, coffee lovers (Pssst: I'm one too), don't fear: we have our ignorances about our drug, but they seem less serious than that for other drugs. I've tried to find some good studies that show how coffee is dangerous, but there doesn't seem to be much there. Au contraire, as a matter of fact. More below. 

But first, another drug as a diversion:
"Imagine if the Japanese had won World War II and had introduced into American life a drug so insidious that thirty years later the average American would spend five hours a day 'loaded' on this drug. People would just view it as an outrageous atrocity. And yet, we in America do this to ourselves. And the horrifying thing that the 'trip' that television gives you is that it's not your trip. It is a trip that comes down through the values systems of a society whose greatest god is the almighty dollar. So television is the opiate of the people. I think that the tremendous governmental resistance to the psychedelic issue is not because psychedelics are multi-million dollar criminal enterprises - they are trivial on that level. However, they inspire examination of values, and that is the most corrosive thing that can happen." - Terence McKenna, in an interview with Neville Drury from 1990, found pp.245-246, The Archaic Revival.

I like the TV as quasi-psychedelic opiate trip drug that's very addictive line here. I like the questioning of "whose trip do you want to be in: theirs or yours?" line from Terence here. I'm afraid not much thinking about TV has taken place. I've seen a few studies that show that university kids don't understand how those commercials got there. They don't know that the TV people tell the beer or toilet paper people, "We have a show that will deliver your desired demographic to you, and all it'll cost you is X." I also like the implication that, though it's almost totally not spoken about, drugs are programming devices that are seen as very powerful by different factions of powerful people. Terence thought the real reason psychedelics were illegal was that they threatened the paideuma.

[Sorry but I need to make a further foray away from our topic of the day, coffee. I'll get back in a moment.]

I wonder if this is the main reason Obama went back on his word and began harassing the medical pot places in a way that would have Bush43 proud? HERE is an article that posits the other main reasons why did this. The irony of paideuma! According to this article, it's either 1.)He didn't want to appear soft on crime; 2.) He thinks stoners don't vote; or 3.) The states appeared to be going too far, allowing things to become too lax. I think all of these could be "true" in some sense, but we ought to consider the unspoken "corrosive" "examination of values" that McKenna talked about.

Sooo: coffee.
                    I had no idea that coffee art was a...thingy. Check out
                     THIS blog for more coffee-art

"Coffee falls into the stomach and there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move like the battalions of the Grand Army of the Republic on the battlefield...The light cavalry of comparisons delivers charges, the artillery of logic hurries up with trains and ammunition, the shafts of wit start up like sharpshooters. Similes arise, the paper is covered with ink; for the struggle begins and is concluded with torrents of black water, just like a battle with powder." - Honore de Balzac, who supposedly drank 80-100 cups of coffee a day, and wrote over 100 novels. He'd get paid for a novel and go out and spend it on whores and other interesting people in all-night carousing with alcohol and who knows what else. When his money was gone, he'd get back in his room with coffee and crank out another novel. Balzac was what we once called a "Romantic."

Speaking of similes, I was reading a cracking good book by a journalist very much interested in the botany of great cannabis. The book's called The Heart of Dankness: Underground Botanists, Outlaw Farmers, and the Race For the Cannabis Cup, by Mark Haskell Smith. Maybe I'll review it here when I'm done reading it, but anyway, similes:

Smith is wearing out shoe leather in LA, trying to understand the medical pot and politics current, and finds himself in a...consortium where there's some really good strains of cannabis being sampled, and a large-screen HD TV on, showing the Oscars. He's asking questions, getting stoned, writing notes, every now and then diverted by the TV:

"Demi Moore strutted her cougar stroll on the red carpet dressed in ruffled salmon-colored freak-out. The dress looked like a cake you'd order from an insane asylum." (p.22)

Oh yea: I was supposed to be writing something about coffee. Sorry!

Get a load of this, a coffee ad from the 1650s.

If you had been worrying about adverse health effects from drinking coffee, a recent article from The Atlantic attempts to put us at ease. Leg muscles and the diaphragm were strengthened in older mice! A decreased risk of basal cell carcinoma in humans! A decreased risk of death, especially if you quit smoking while you drink coffee! Coffee seems to have heart-protecting aspects. It reduces the risk of breast and prostate cancer and curbs risk of fibrosis among those with fatty liver disease. Even the moderate noise of a coffee shop was shown to enhance creativity!

Jeez, speaking of creativity, did you see where one of my favorite young hotshot science writers, Jonah Lehrer, was forced to quit The New Yorker when another magazine caught him making up fake Bob Dylan quotes for Lehrer's book, Imagine? HERE's a story on the temporarily-fallen Lehrer, a brilliant young guy, who, I "imagine" (HA!), got caught up in the dog-eat-dog welt of competitive "smart guy" writing in New York. I also imagine he was drinking too much coffee and maybe not thinking straight when he started piling up the prevarications to the writer from Tablet. Hey, wait: isn't Tablet a pro-Israel magazine? Has Jonah not been sufficiently supportive of Israel? Were they out to "get" Jonah? Naw, probably not. That's just my over-caffeinated mind making too many connections, and now I've noticed I've once again crazily strayed from the topic at hand.

But the infamous Jayson Blair has stepped into the Jonah Lehrer story and has hitched his junk-bond status as writer to former Golden Boy Jonah's...I'm guessing as a way to alleviate his own rep?

                               Right about now I know exactly what this guy means

"The perfect drug for capitalism. Is there an office anywhere that does not have its shrine to the coffee gods?" 

"On the other hand, it's not a bad beverage for anarchists. Or for town meetings."
-both above quotes from Pharmako/Dynamis: Stimulating Plants, Potions and Herbcraft, by Dale Pendell, to my mind the greatest writer in the world on drugs. If you're interested in any drugs of any kind, and you haven't settled down to dwell within one or more of Pendell's Pharmako trilogy, you're committing some sort of sloth, or violating the Drug Scholar's Code. Something like that...

Pendell taxonomically calls coffee part of the poison-world of excitantia. He gives very good reasons why.

Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson considered coffee a 3rd circuit drug. What that means is that, in the evolution of humans, we inherited a newborn's approach/avoidance circuit that relates to the amniotic world of mom, and its analog drug is opiates. As we become toddlers and start to command space in the local household, becoming political as Terrible Two-sters, making demands, attempting to manipulate others via emotional games, we imprinted a 2nd circuit, and its analog drug is alcohol. (Look at adults shit-faced drunk for the utmost clarity here.) Our species began to manipulate tools and language a long time ago, and this laid down the DNA-culture template for taking on a circuit about manipulating tools and symbols. Both Leary and Wilson saw coffee as the ultimate symbol of this symbol-manipulating drug. 

There are five more circuits, but I will exercise some control over my symbol-manipulating impulses, wildly charged on too much coffee for this blog post (as if you couldn't already tell!), and say that if you want to know more about the Leary/Wilson very elaborate hyper-multidisciplinary, generalist model of human consciousness, you'll have to read their books...

Olfactory Hallucinations
Weird coffee/caffeine item: some psychologists were wondering if, when people have panic attacks, how much of it is the brain doing something subconscious and how much has to do with thinking about - anxiety-provoking things? They injected sleeping subjects with fairly high doses of caffeine. A 38 year old man with no previous history of psychiatric problems awoke 14 minutes after the injection, reporting an odd taste, but more like an odor. A 34 year old woman with generalized anxiety disorder awoke after her injection and said she smelled plastic or "burnt coffee." These are called "olfactory hallucinations." The caffeine injected had no known odor. Olfactory hallucinations are related to seizures, but neither subject was having a seizure when they woke and reported the odors. 

Two hypotheses here:
1.) Caffeine is widely known as a taste enhancer, so maybe the injections of caffeine caused the subjects to pick up smells and tastes that are normally undetectable?
2.) The caffeine prompted sensory systems to "trick" themselves?
Who knows? Anyway, hat-tip to the wonderful Maggie Koeth-Baker of Boing Boing for this odd item.

The Turks: Two Items
Much has been written about the coffee houses of London and the flowering of (3rd-circuit) print culture, explosion of writing and printing. But HERE's an article from Science Daily about coffee and its environment and its stimulus to the socially-aggregated 3rd circuit, in the Turkish 1550s!

Sorry, but back to Obama and his war on pot: check out the Young Turks and their analysis. I currently (get it? they're on the Current network? <cough>) think they're more accurate than anyone else in the TV-world in their analysis of the Barackstar and his quasi-fascistic, retrograde actions against the dispensaries. Note that here is a fifth reason: Big Pharma's non-conspiracy (?):

Note to OG readers: sorry I hardly wrote anything of interest about coffee, but my excuse is: I was WASTED on too much coffee. Maybe I'll try again in August? Mea culpa!


Anonymous said...

Couldn't keep up with the labyrinthine digressions, maybe I need more coffee!

Thom Foolery said...

I suspected you were ripped on coffee, or at least simulating the stimulating.

michael said...

If the piece was irritating due to my labyrinthine digressions....then you "got" it. I actually did drink too much coffee in order to write a "drug" piece on coffee, had huge stack of books on coffee with bookmarks for ideas about coffee and World Systems Theory, industrialization and coffee and "speed" and Jumping Jesus-like ideas, the different ways coffee is taken all over the world, etc: but the caffeine in me led to a digressive, impetuous, too-much-going-on-all-at-once-ness. It was a dumb experiment, but thanks for at least trying to stay with me, Crawshaw!

michael said...

@Thom Foolery: Yep!

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

@Michael, Jonah Lehrer's fall may not be temporary. We'll have to see if anything else comes out, but writers who are caught "faking it" in journalism tend not to be forgiven.

Your conspiracy theory is probably not correct....Michael Moynihan wrote a long article about how he caught Lehrer, and the essence is that Moynihan is a total, complete Bob Dylan fanboy and thought it was odd he didn't recognize the quotations....it would be rather like if someone wrote about Robert Anton Wilson and quoted him, and neither you nor Eric Wagner could recall him saying that. You'd certainly be eager to know what interview it came from, which is what Moynihan wondered.

michael said...

@Tom: I did say my lame stab at a "conspiracy" against Jonah was a lame stab by an over-caffeinated mind.

I never "believed" that idea anyway and was obliquely alluding to conspiracy thought and adrenaline junkies, something RAW pointed out more than once.

The Dylan fan idea sounds right; Lehrer ruining his career is probably right too.

I don't understand why Jonah had to fuck his rep so badly on such a relatively trivial thing. I'm really disappointed.

But on another level, these kinds of things are really interesting.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

@Michael, really interesting, but also really depressing. Invariably these folks who destroy themselves obviously have the talent to do really well. I really hope Jonah can recover. I also have to figure out whether to go ahead and read his book on making decisions, which I bought from Amazon a few months ago and haven't gotten around to trying.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

Yikes! Now Lehrer's publisher is offering refunds to people who bought his latest book.

michael said...

I saw that his publisher had not only yanked all (tried to?) copies of Imagine, but gave refunds.

I too see his downfall as depressing.

What's really interesting about this, right now, is how non-fiction writers have probably been doing what Jonah did for a loooong time, but now we have social media and ultra-fast ways to search, and...they all add up to: not only can you not get away with what Jonah did now, you will probably be caught VERY quickly.

I had planned to do an entire blogpost on Lehrer a few months ago, after reading a ton of his stuff, but didn't get around to it. Probably would've spiked in hits this week.

I wonder if/how/when Lehrer recovers from this? He's really likeable and brilliant, from what I've seen. He seems "hothoused" and sometimes young "geniuses" sort of self-destruct: too much pressure to be great at a young age.

He wrote about crowdsourcing somewhere; how could he NOT know/anticipate a Bob Dylan geek would suss his fabricated quotes?

There's a VERY ironic article Jonah wrote that I now HAVE to blog about...Stay tuned!

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

"I like the TV as quasi-psychedelic opiate trip drug that's very addictive line here."

I do, too. Some time ago, I watched a woman in a restaurant come in with her husband, and seat him so that he could not see the TV. (Every restaurant in Cleveland is turned into a sports bar by putting up several TVs in the room.) She commented publicly that he could not help looking at the TV screen when it was on (instead of, I guess, looking at her.) I knew exactly what she was talking about, because I'm like that, too.

SatoriGuy said...

I enjoyed this blogspew Michael. Perfect timing as I'm fairly wired on coffee this morning as well.

Nice Food of the God's quote. Definitely my favourite book on drugs, but I will definitely have to check out Pendell's work though.

And as I know you're a fellow McKenna fan, here's a new article about his timewave zero theory covered by Scientific American, if you haven't read it. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2012/06/06/was-psychedelic-guru-terence-mckenna-goofing-about-2012-prophecy/

A pretty balanced assessment by a member of the scientific establishment, if you ask me.

michael said...

@ Tom: me too. That's why I'd rather frequent a restaurant or bar that doesn't have a damned TV in it; I find my eyes gravitate to the screen like iron filings to a magnet, and it always bothers me that I can't not watch!

The best college professor I ever had said the exact same thing you said, once when we were talking.

If we go back to the 1940s/early 1950s, there was a lot of (now utopian?) talk about TV being a way of beaming great culture into everyone's houses: college lectures, classical music concerts, basic science education. But then it was found someone had to pay for it.

There was a bifurcation point!

In teaching music to mostly young people, I've known a couple of kids whose parents didn't allow TV in the house, and they weren't allowed to watch it at anyone else's house, either. And these were both really sweet kids, but they seemed almost criminally unworldly. But then both kids had parents who had fringe religious ideas, so that probably had a lot to do with it. Still, I wonder what my life would have been like with zero TV. My parents were not religious at all.

michael said...

@ Satori Guy: Thanks!

And I try to make a point to look at SciAm often, but had not seen that article. As I write this, I haven't read it, but I'm mildly shocked they not only covered Timewave Zero but gave a balanced assessment.

I have something to look forward to.