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Mexican drug war

11/30/12 1:28pm

Calderon Leaves His Drug War Behind

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Will he be missed? Photo via

Outgoing Mexican President Felipe Calderon leaves office tomorrow. On his watch, Mexico has aggressively battled its brutal drug cartels for six years; the drug war is now at a stalemate and many believe his militant methods have caused more harm than good. Despite the US providing nearly $2 billion in security aid, an estimated 63,000 people have died in Mexico due to drug war-related violence and more than 100,000 total homicides have taken place (a number far exceeding homicides in the US, which has three times the population.) Over 1,300 victims have been beheaded in the country since 2007, while kidnappings, robberies and extortions have soared. North of the border, Mexican marijuana, methamphetamine and heroin remain cheaper and more plentiful than ever. And although Calderon's security forces have captured or killed more than two dozen of Mexico’s most-wanted drug cartel leaders, many of those vacancies have been re-filled and none of those captured have yet stood trial. “You can say the war has been a failure because Calderon said violence needed to stop, and now there’s three times more violence,” says Ruben Aguilar, who was a spokesman for Calderon’s predecessor, President Vicente Fox. “He said he had to diminish the cartels. But the cartels are still here, bigger and more violent than ever.”

At least the country has now gone several months without any mass killings—an improvement on the extreme violence of this past summer, when 49 corpses were found dumped along a major highway in Guadelajara. And some popular tourist areas have remained relatively violence-free, which hasn't always been the case. Former murder havens like Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez have seen businesses reopen and residents praise the relative calm. It's just possible that Calderon's leadership will look better in retrospect, if the violence continues to decline. “Right now, I think the public is ambivalent,” says independent pollster Jorge Buendia. “They support the fight against the cartels as a matter of principle. But they’re ready for a change.” Calderon, partly out of fears for his personal security, will now move to the US. He'll spend a year at Harvard as the first Angelopoulos Global Public Leaders fellow—a one-year position created to give high-profile leaders leaving office time to write, lecture and generally share their experiences. At a meeting at the White House on Tuesday, Mexican president-elect Enrique Peña Nieto said he plans to continue working with the US to fight the drug cartels; however, he wants to change the emphasis to boost employment and educational opportunities as a strategy to create jobs and tempt Mexicans away from crime.

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By McCarton Ackerman

Wine not?

11/30/12 12:31pm

Sacré Bleu! French Wine Drinking Hits All-Time Low

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French film star Gerard Depardieu still enjoys
a glass or two. Photo via

What's the world coming to? The citizens of France may no longer be the reliable wine-quaffers of stereotype. A study reveals that while the country chugged a staggering 160 liters of wine per adult in 1965 (that's three glasses each per day), that number plunged to 57 liters in 2010 (a measly one glass per day). Wine was served at half of all meals in 1980; "The teachers all sat down to lunch together in the school dining room and drank two or three glasses of wine before going back to class," one former visitor to French high schools tells The Fix. But only one in four French meals in 2010 involved booze. The number of French people who drink wine every day also fell from 21% in 2005 to 17% in 2010, while occasional drinkers, who enjoy a glass once or twice a week, rose from 41%-45%, and teetotalers remained stable at 38%. "Alcohol in general and wine in particular have become a weekend thing, to be consumed in a convivial or celebratory setting," says Philippe Janvier, one of the study's authors. Caroline Plot, the official who oversaw the research, adds that sodas and fruit juices have increasingly been replacing wine during meals. The change in wider society has been reflected at the presidential level: while French politicians have traditionally been wine "ambassadors," recently-ousted president Nicolas Sarkozy shockingly claims never to have drunk a drop in his life.

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By McCarton Ackerman

Gaming addiction

11/30/12 10:40am

Video Game Addiction Whiz: I'm a Gamer Too

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Metcalf relaxes with "Heroes of Newerth."
Photo via

As widely reported earlier this week, research by Olivia Metcalf, a 27-year-old graduate student in Melbourne, Australia, has provided groundbreaking evidence that video games are genuinely addictive. But concerned gamers can rest assured that she's not making an all-out attack on their habit: Metcalf, who conducted the research as the first part of her PhD program at Australian National University, happens to be a big video game fan herself. “I've been playing video games since I was a young child,” she tells The Fix. “They were a fantastic part of my childhood.” And not only her childhood: "I enjoy playing all sorts of games—when I get time!—action, adventure or strategy. Probably Heroes of Newerth would be my current favorite." While she was a psychology undergrad, however, she saw some of her friends affected by excessive gaming, and that's when she became interested in the subject. “I was surprised there was such little research and so much controversy,” she says. “Ultimately, I just wanted to know the answer to: What is excessive gaming, from a psychological standpoint? So I did a PhD on it!”

Metcalf’s experiment showed for the first time that excessive gamers, like heroin, alcohol and gambling addicts, have “attentional bias”—meaning an inability to stop thinking about their habit in order to focus on other tasks. While some games are more addictive than others—Metcalf says games that are endless and have complex reward systems are usually more addictive than games with defined endings, due to the repetition over time—the research suggests that personal factors make the most difference. “In my opinion, it is those individual factors that contribute to excessive gaming far more than any inherent ‘addictive’ properties of a game,” says Metcalf. “Personally, I believe that working out those individual risk factors and targeting those individuals at risk of excessive gaming or excessive gamers themselves is a far more effective way of dealing with the problem than to start with the games themselves.” Now that her work has garnered so much publicity, she hopes it will win more credibility for the field. “Excessive gaming hasn't always been treated seriously by the public, the media or science," she says, "and that's a real shame, because anyone who is a gamer or knows a gamer would be aware that excessive gaming is a real problem and deserves serious academic investigation.” She plans to conduct more research in this area as her studies continue.

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By Chrisanne Grise

headlines

11/30/12 5:00am

Morning Roundup: November 30, 2012

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The court did not rule in his favor. Photo via

By Bryan Le

Afghan Opium

11/29/12 5:13pm

Pakistan Faces Growing Opium Scourge

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In Pakistan, drugs are "available like
peanuts." Photo via

Pakistan's already-rampant drug problem is likely to worsen after withdrawal of troops from neighboring Afghanistan—the world's leading producer of opium. The supply of opium and heroin (an opium derivative) into Pakistan has significantly increased over the past five years, according to analysts, prompting a swell in drug use and addiction. Estimates of the number of Pakistani drug users currently range from 600,000 to 9 million, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, with the actual number probably somewhere in between. "[Drugs] are available like peanuts," says Dr. Saleem Azam, head of a rehab center in Karachi. "You are sitting in your office, you are sitting in your bedroom, you are sitting in your living room, you can call a person and he will drop the drug at your doorstep." The country's drug imports are expected to surge further when foreign combat troops withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, loosening any control there currently is over opium production and smuggling in the region. According to the UN, the amount of Afghan farmland devoted to growing opium poppies has jumped by 20% over the last year.

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By May Wilkerson

side effects

11/29/12 4:22pm

"Parkinson's Meds Made Me a Gay, Gambling Sex Addict"

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Jambart's claims hold water. Photo via

Didier Jambart, a 52-year-old married father in France, says that his Parkinson's treatment meds turned him into a “gay sex addict and gambling addict”—and a court has backed his claims. After he began taking Requip in 2003, he began to compulsively gamble and search for gay sex on the Internet; he claims to have lost the equivalent of $106,000 gambling on horses online—even selling his kids' toys to get more cash. He also started cross dressing, exhibiting himself online and going to discreet hookups with gay men. Jambart says that he tried to commit suicide eight times during this period. So he sued the makers of Requip—pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline—for all the changes that came over him...and won. The appeals court in Rennes, northern France, decreed that he should receive 197,000 euros ($255,200) as compensation for his pain and suffering. This may sound like an overly litigious individual hitting the jackpot, but Jambart's claims do hold water. Like other drugs used to treat Parkinson's, Requip—or ropinirole—is known for some extreme potential side effects. Suicide attempts are rare, but not unheard of. Impulse control going out the window is more common, leading to pathological gambling and hypersexuality—which would seem to explain the horse betting and anonymous encounters. But Jambart might still need to have a heart-to-heart with his wife; Requip's lengthy list of potential side effects doesn't include the sudden onset of homosexuality.

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By Bryan Le

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