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war times

9/05/12 4:13pm

Pakistan Violence Fuels Pot Boom

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Marijuana prices are at an all-time high.
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Marijuana prices are skyrocketing to an all-time high in Pakistan due to an army offensive and militia infighting, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping users from paying double or triple what they previously spent. In fact, anxiety caused by the Taliban-linked violence is actually increasing the demand for pot in the country. “Everyone is tense, everyone is depressed and hash is the easiest available remedy. People use it to forget their worries,” says Kamal Khan (name changed on request), a 51-year-old English teacher. “Everybody is a hashish addict—police, doctors, officers—a lot of people come here.” Fighting is nothing new in parts of the country where the saying goes: “Even if the stove at home is cold, the barrel of a gun must be kept warm.” But since January, more than half a million Pakistanis have fled while the army and militants battle it out over some of the most fertile land for marijuana and opium. Before, a kilo of hashish cost the equivalent of about $200, but now it sells for anywhere between $530 and $690. “Bomb blasts, fighting, inflation, our society is full of worries and it is increasing demand,” says shopkeeper Arshad Afridi. Much of the money goes to local warlord Mangal Bagh, factions of the Taliban and rival group Ansar al Islam. Farmers say hash is worth much more than any normal crops, and merchants who stockpiled the drug in goat skins during previous years are cashing in on the high prices. Says Zaman Afridi, another shopkeeper: “We’ve been doing this business for decades because we have no other source of income.”

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By Chrisanne Grise

no tolerance

9/05/12 3:31pm

Restaurant Industry Fights On-the-Job Boozing

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A culture of post-shift drinking. Photo via

Bar and restaurant employees have a significantly higher risk of alcoholism than the general population, according to a new study from Sweden. The research study, which appeared in the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, surveyed 1,000 Swedish people between ages 18 to 59 and found that a startling 63% of the 600 bar and restaurant workers participating had hazardous drinking habits. The numbers were even higher for young women between 18 and 29, with 82% of them drinking dangerously, compared to 72% for men in the same age range. The researchers say they were not surprised by the findings, offering two explanations: either the service industry attracts people who already have problem drinking habits, or the stressful environment along with the easy access to booze is conducive to heavy consumption of alcohol. This is not the first study to examine the prevalence of substance abuse in the service industry, with SAMSHA ranking food preparation and service as the number one most addiction-prone career. "It started with the post-shift drink, but it didn't take long before I was drinking throughout my shift as well. The bartenders kept us supplied, and there was tons of coke as well. We all enabled each other," Marguerite, a recovering alcoholic who used to work at a well-known restaurant in the West Village, tells The Fix. "I'd say half the staff, at least, were full-blown alcoholics or addicts."

Some bar and restaurant owners are working hard to change this. Recently, the owners of Husk restaurant in Charleston, SC, installed surveillance cameras after an employee drank on the premises after work and was then killed in a car accident. "It's not just Husk. [Substance abuse] is rampant in the restaurant industry, from what I understand. It is a culture of post-shift drinking, and in some restaurants, drinking during the shift," said Charleston attorney Carl Pierce, who filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the restaurant. For many establishments, it's a question of adhering to policies that are already in place. "The places that don't have no-tolerance policies, sometimes there's a free-for-all," says Karalee Nielsen, a partner in Revolutionary Eating Ventures which owns seven restaurants in Charleston, all of which enforce strict policies to prevent employees from drinking at work. “People told me we were crazy to do it... But why would you let somebody [drink on the job] at your business? You wouldn't be OK with somebody doing it at a bank. Or in retail. Why would we think our industry would be an exception?"

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By Chrisanne Grise

literary lives

9/05/12 2:08pm

David Foster Wallace's Real-Life Rehab Experience

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Granada House, the model for Infinite Jest's
Ennet House. Photo via

It’s long been an open secret that David Foster Wallace, the literary prodigy who hanged himself at his home in California four years ago, had been in rehab—the descriptions of life in treatment, as seen in his thousand-page novel, Infinite Jest, were that vivid. There was also the anonymous (yet highly Wallace-ian) testimonial posted on the website of a Boston halfway house called Granada House.

Now, with the release of D.T. Max’s new biography of Wallace, Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story, the rumors have been confirmed: Wallace did indeed live at Granada, after a month at Harvard’s psychiatric hospital, McLean (where the poets Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell also spent time). It was here that Wallace got the inspiration for the denizens of Infinite Jest’s fictionalized Ennet House, where one of the book’s two main characters, the small-time yet physically massive ex-con Don Gately, lives and works. Gately was modeled on “Big Craig,” a young halfway house supervisor who had a run-in with Wallace on his first day at Granada.

But it wasn’t all inspiration and revelation at the bare-bones, un-luxe sober-living facility, where chain-smoked cigarettes and endless cups of black coffee were the order of the day. Max relates that, while at Granada, Wallace wrote to his former AA sponsor, Rich C., telling him that his fellow residents were “a rough crowd, and sometimes I’m scared or feel superior or both.” Max continues:

“Yet a piece of [Wallace] was beginning to adjust to the new situation. He remembered his last failed attempt to get sober and how he was no longer writing and asked himself what he had to lose. He came to understand that the key this time was modesty. ‘My best thinking got me here’ was a recovery adage that hit home, or, as he translated it in Infinite Jest, ‘logical validity is not a guarantee of truth.’ He knew it was imperative to abandon the sense of himself as the smartest person in the room, a person too smart to be like one of the people in the room, because he was one of the people in the room.”

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By Hunter R. Slaton

alcoholic brains

9/05/12 1:13pm

Heavy Drinking Could Slow Trauma Recovery

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Heavy drinking can help you forget, but not
recover. Photo via

Some may use alcohol as a coping mechanism, but a new study shows that heavy drinking could actually make it harder for alcoholics to recover psychologically from traumatic experiences. In fact, impairing the mechanism for recovering from a trauma could actually lead to a greater risk for PTSD, says NIAAA scientist and senior study author Andrew Holmes, Ph.D. The findings were discovered on mice models, half of which were given alcohol equivalent to double the legal driving limit in humans, while the other half were given no alcohol. The team then used mild electric shocks to train all the mice to fear the sound of a brief tone. When the tone was played without the electric shocks, the mice who were not given alcohol gradually stopped fearing it, while those given alcohol continued to freeze in place long after the electric shocks were removed. The findings are similar to what has been seen in patients with PTSD, who often have trouble overcoming fear even when they are no longer in a dangerous situation. “There’s a whole spectrum to how people react to a traumatic event,” said study author Thomas Kash, Ph.D., a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. “Basically, our research shows that chronic exposure to alcohol can cause a deficit with regard to how our cognitive brain centers control our emotional brain centers.” The researchers said that the next step is to determine whether their preclinical findings translate to patients suffering from comorbid PTSD and alcohol abuse.

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By McCarton Ackerman

drug war

9/05/12 12:01pm

Former Child Actor Makes Amends For The Drug War

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John Whitaker is taking responsibility.
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A former child actor turned recovering addict has made a public amends for his contribution to Mexico's drug war. Speaking at a rally yesterday to raise awareness of cartel violence in Mexico, John Whitaker apologized to the Mexican mothers who gave speeches about losing their children to the drug war and said he was there to ask forgiveness "if any of the drugs I used had anything to do" with any of their family members or anyone else being killed or kidnapped. "I believe I am an accomplice in the murder of some people. Absolutely," said Whitaker. "Sometime during that period of my using, especially when it was cocaine, I'm sure there are a few murdered people I am responsible for... We people in recovery, and in the consumer world, are to blame for some of it, and we've got to take responsibility." A former child actor who played the role of Jody on Family Affair, which aired on CBS from 1966-1971, Whitaker was ultimately devastated by the decline of his career that led to him working as a word processor, as well as the breakup of a later marriage. He developed an addiction to crack, cocaine and meth that lasted for 12 years. "I started on a downward spiral into alcohol and drug addiction (and rejected) God, the church, everything," said Whitaker, who was raised Mormon. "Nothing turned out the way I wanted it to." His family ultimately held an intervention and threatened to excommunicate him from the family, prompting him to enter rehab in November 1997. Since then, he's been fully clean and sober. These days, Whitaker heads the L.A. chapter of Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing.

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By McCarton Ackerman

booze clues

9/05/12 11:11am

Thermal Cameras Could Be Used to Spot Drunks

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Drinking causes "hot spots" in the face.
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In the not-too-distant future, police may be able to spot a drunk just by looking at his or her face. Researchers from the University of Patras in Greece are currently developing software that uses thermal imaging to help authorities identify higher levels of intoxication. Drinking alcohol causes the blood vessels to dilate on the skin’s surface which leads to “hot spots” on the face—and research reveals these hot spots are detectable via thermal imaging scans. According to findings published in the International Journal Electronic Security and Digital Forensics, researchers are working on developing two different algorithms to spot drunkenness. The first method involves measuring pixel values of a person’s face and them comparing the images to that of sober and intoxicated individuals. Similar technology has been used to determine whether a person was infected with a virus such SARS or the flu. The second approach assesses the thermal differences from different regions of the face (such as the nose and forehead) to identify intoxication. While both methods could be effective, the team suggests that the two methods combined would provide the most accurate measurement. The scans could also be used to identify drunk people in public before they purchase more booze. Researchers hope the new software will help do away with preconceived notions about drunkenness, and instead focus purely on evidence.

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By Valerie Tejeda

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