Asia has long been experiencing a boom in cheap amphetamines, with drugs like "shabu" in the Philppines and "yaba" (crazy pills) in Thailand blamed for destroying lives and driving up crime. Now the continent is battling a new, potentially more dangerous threat:a crystal meth epidemic. Seizures of meth in East and Southeast Asia jumped 23% to 8.8 metric tons in 2011, with half of that haul coming from China. Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand also reported seizing at least one ton of the drug that year. Asia now accounts for half of the world's total meth seizures, according to a UN report. "As you know, formerly we only faced drugs like heroin and opium. Now so many new synthetic drugs like methamphetamine are emerging," says Lt. Col. Zaw Lin Tun, deputy director of the Myanmar police force's Central Committee for Drug Control. Most of Asia's meth is manufactured in Myanmar; illicit labs smuggle in raw materials like ephedrine and pseudoephedrine from neighboring countries, then refine them into crystal meth and export it. Myanmar's geography makes it hard to clamp down on the labs, and authorities only raided and shut down a crystal meth lab for the first time last July. "It's a very hilly region, very mountainous and also very remote," says Lin Tun. "But we try our best. We surround the beginning of the trafficking routes, and surround every known transfer site and travel route." Studies suggest that Asia's rising meth trade could soon see more exports sent to Africa and Iran.
Ravi Shankar, the sitarist and composer known for bringing India’s traditional sitar music to the masses worldwide via The Beatles, died yesterday near his home in Southern California. The 92-year-old father of singer Norah Jones and sitar virtuoso Anoushka Shankar had suffered from upper respiratory and heart ailments, and underwent heart-valve replacement surgery last week. Shankar is credited with introducing the sitar to rock music, and worked closely with many of its stars, notably George Harrison. Groups like The Rolling Stones, The Animals and The Byrds then began to include the sitar in their own music, and Shankar went on to perform at festivals like the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967 and at Woodstock in 1969. But he eventually began to regret these appearances—because his music became associated with drugs. “People would come to my concerts stoned, and they would sit in the audience drinking Coke and making out with their girlfriends,” he said in 1985. “I found it very humiliating, and there were many times I picked up my sitar and walked away. I tried to make the young people sit properly and listen. I assured them that if they wanted to be high, I could make them feel high through the music, without drugs, if they’d only give me a chance. It was a terrible experience at the time.” Still, Shankar gained lifelong fans: “But you know, many of those young people still come to our concerts,” he added. “They have matured, they are free from drugs, and they have a better attitude. And this makes me happy that I went through all that. I have come full circle.”
Despite HSBC's admission of laundering over $800 million for Mexican drug cartels and covering up many more illegal transactions, the US Department of Justice has ruled that no criminal charges will be filed against the London-based bank. A DOJ report labels HSBC as "the preferred financial institution of drug cartels and money launderers" due to its "willful failure" to report suspicious activity and uphold banking protocols. HSBC will pay $1.9 billion to the US government, the largest such fine in history. "The investigation revealed that staggering amounts of cash, hundreds of thousands of US dollars daily, were being deposited into HSBC Mexico using boxes specially made to fit through tellers' windows to speed the transactions," says US attorney Loretta Lynch. Last July, HSBC admitted allowing drug cartels to launder billions of dollars from 2002-2009, and to cutting its total number of internal watchdogs to save money. The bank dodged criminal charges because federal officials never found individuals or branches knowingly acting together; HSBC is instead painted as a disorganized whole, collecting fees without knowing, or wanting to know, their origins. While some are accusing HSBC of buying its way out of jail, Lynch insists that's far from the case. "That's a very short-sighted view, I think, because in this case they're obviously paying a great deal of money, but they also have to literally had to turn their company inside out," she says. "And the message should be that that's what you have to do." HSBC states that it has fired executives and rescinded bonuses in response to the scandal. The bank must demonstrate its compliance with all laws to a federal monitor over the next five years.
Glorifying marijuana—with its new, legal-in-some-places status as not too edgy, but just edgy enough—seems to be a smart PR move for pop stars right now. At a recent concert in Berlin, Rihanna sported a mesh tank top with a jumbo marijuana leaf across her chest; her love for mary jane is of course no secret. Then there's Lady Gaga, who smokes pot on stage, and donned a “Princess High, the Cannabis Queen,” costume for Halloween. And Lana Del Rey passes around a joint in her video, Born to Die. What should we draw from all this? “When you look at what went down in Colorado, the dramatic rise in the public’s support of marijuana-law reform is being driven by a large part by an increase in support among women,” says Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “Are there parallels between women being open and honest about cannabis use at the polls on a grass-roots level and some of the most visible women in music today being open and honest about their use in the news? Absolutely.” There's been little-to-no outcry. “During the Reagan era, this sort of stuff would get you banned from radio,” says Will Hermes, a senior critic for Rolling Stone. “Now marijuana is about as normalized as beer or cocktails, but still enough of an issue politically that it feels like uncharted territory for these women to explore. Being a pop star, transgression is good for business," he continues. "And at this particular moment in American culture, saying you smoke weed is a pretty safe way to transgress.” Of course, image isn't everything; money also matters: “If marijuana gets legalized to the point where it can actually be marketed,” says Hermes, “then these ladies are really in a good position be on the front line of endorsement deals.”
- Board Wants Alcohol-Testing Ignition Locks For All Drunk Drivers [Washington Post]
- Drug Smugglers Pose Greater Challenge in Move From Land to Sea [CBS]
- How HSBC Became the "Preferred" Bank for Mexican Drug Cartels [MarketWatch]
- How Videogames Could Help Train the Next Generation of Robotic Surgeons [Wired]
- Drug Abuse Runs in Families [Medscape]
- New Anti-Smoking Drug Has His and Hers Effects [Metro]
- For Young Female Pop Stars, Pot Use Ties Into Endorsements [New York Times]
- Former President Jimmy Carter OK with Legalizing Marijuana [Politico]
Actor Andy Serkis has revealed that his portrayal of Gollum in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is inspired by addiction. Serkis first brought Gollum to life (with the help of some computer-generated imagery) on the big screen in the Lord of the Rings trilogy over 10 years ago. He reprises the role in the new film, the first of another trilogy based on JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit. Gollum is a creature consumed by his desire to possess "the ring," which he often refers to as "my precious" and "my birthday present." Throughout his rather wretched life, he's often torn between this desire and a parallel yearning to be free from it. "Gollum is entirely based on the notion of addiction," says Serkis. “The way that the ring pervades him, makes him craving, lustful, depletes him physically, psychologically and mentally.” Serkis says that playing the creature as an addict makes him more relatable to viewers—a good thing for a story that takes place in the fictional world of Middle Earth. "It was important to find something very real to people watching in this day and age,” he says. “You feel sorry for him but you hate him. Gollum has a weak personality and isn't able to cope with the power of the ring.” Even the character's distinctive, scratchy voice was designed to show "how he carries that pain [of addiction]". The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens in theaters this Friday.