Context Provides Meaning. Without it, Words are Powerless

Hello, I am a great big huge faggot, and I am proud of it ūüėČ

You could say that I belong to the subsection of LGBTq activists who’re reclaiming the word ‘faggot’ as a positive term, a way to strengthen our identification within the community.. and even that wouldn’t be technically correct. We don’t even necessarily need to reclaim the word because guess what? In the English language, words can have more than one meaning!

Furthermore, there is this little thing called “context”. Words are inherently meaningless; on their own they are nothing more than a bunch of sounds that come out of people’s mouths. Once a speaker and an audience agree upon a definition and give them meaning, then and only then does language and communication happen and they start to wield a power greater than the sword.

Take the word “orange”. It can mean both a color or a fruit. If I simply said the word “orange” without any context, it would be impossible for the audience to know whether I was talking about the color or the fruit.

An even better example of this is the word “crane”. A crane is a bird. A crane is also a mechanical device used in construction. If I just said the word “crane” without any context, which one am I referring to?

In the same way, a ‘date’ can be a day on the calendar or something you eat or a plan to meet up with someone. ‘Engaged’ can mean planning to marry someone or that you’re busy doing¬†something. ‘Foil’ can mean something you wrap leftovers in or it can mean to ruin someone’s plans. The English language is tricky like that. There are hundreds, if not thousands of examples of this in our language. In fact, there are even a couple cases (such as ‘egregious’ or ‘nonplussed’ where a word has two different definitions that are the exact opposite of one another).

See how words can have more than one meaning in our language? They can even have meanings which are in no way related whatsoever.

See how important context is?

Deciding to ban a word and not an idea is like banning the letter “a” because someone once used it to hurt someone.

Words can’t be homophobic. Ideas can be homophobic. People can be homophobic. Contexts can be homophobic. Meanings can be homophobic. But words, just words, without meaning, context, or people, cannot be homophobic.
Now let us examine this word “faggot”.

In the English language, “faggot” currently has 5 accepted definitions:

(1) A bundle of sticks tied together.
(2) A homosexual person, particularly a man.
(3) An insult, particularly an annoying or inconsiderate person.
(4) The cast off end of a smoked cigarette.
(5) A meatball made from pork.

None of these definitions have anything to do with one another. Trying to make the argument that “faggot” is intrinsically homophobic because one of its other definitions is an insult is as absurd as suggesting there is some intrinsic link between a bundle of sticks and a pork meatball.

Definition 2 refers to homosexuality, and is completely neutral. It has nothing to do with being an insult.
Definition 3 is an insult, and has nothing to do with a person’s sexual orientation.

(definitions 1, 4 and 5 refer to different things, and have nothing to do with either homosexuality or insulting people)

To further my point, just think of how many times you’ve heard someone use the word “faggot” to insult something that wasn’t even close to being related to homosexuality in any way (I should note that this exact same trend happened to the word “gay”, where once upon a time it meant ‘happy’, and then it meant ‘homosexual’, and then it became a random insult used ubiquitously to mean anything the speaker wished to insult for whatever reason, regardless of sexual orientation).

The most extreme example I can think of to demonstrate this is a Facebook post I saw on my feed.
A friend of mine tagged his girlfriend and wrote on his wall about how much she meant to him and how in love they were.
One of his friends commented to say “lol, you faggot”.

I saw that and sarcastically responded “yes, because there is nothing more gay than the love between a man and a woman.”

To try to clarify and restate my point in another way: if there were some intrinsic link between “faggot/gay” as an insult and homosexuality, people would not be using these words to insult heterosexuals or inanimate objects that are incapable of even having a sexual orientation.

Oxyheroin

superheroin

This is Super Heroin.

You and I will probably never see it. But it exists, kind of..

Its full chemical name is (5őĪ,6őĪ)-7,8-didehydro-4,5-epoxy-14-hydroxy-17-methylmorphinan-3,6-diol diacetate. Its chemical structure looks quite similar to that of heroin, except for the inclusion of a single oxygen atom (in the form of a hydroxy group instead of just a hydrogen) at the 14-position.

I came across this substance when I was studying the structure-activity relationship of opioid analgesics of the morphinan class (e.g. pain killers with a chemical structure similar to morphine, otherwise known as most of the prescription pain killers worth doing, and heroin of course). I quickly noted that oxycodone (the active ingredient in OxyContin and Percocet) was nothing more than hydrocodone (the active ingredient in Vicodin) but with a 14-hydroxy group added. Things really got interesting when I realized that oxymorphone (Opana) is just hydromorphone (Dilaudid) with this same 14-hydroxy group.
This trend has been backed up hundreds of times in the scientific literature, where if you take an opioid in the morphinan class and add a hydroxy group to the 14-position, the resulting drug will generally be up to twice as potent, twice as euphoric, and twice as long-lasting, but also twice as addictive and twice as deadly.

I immediately rushed to see whether or not heroin has a 14-hydroxy group in the structure and was surprised and delighted to find out that it does not.

To put this all into perspective, imagine how much better Oxys are than Vicodins… and then try to imagine something that’s that much better than heroin!

I scoured the internet trying to find even a mention of its existence, googled every key word I could think of, posted in forums, emailed drug-geek buddies of mine and spent countless hours poring through old issues of the Journal of Medical Sciences at the university library. Normally when I’m obsessed with something I can’t find, I give up after a few hours of googling, but this time I was determined. I spent every waking hour for a week and a half straight chasing one empty lead after the next before finally I found what I was looking for…

It was an obscure off-hand reference, no more than a few sentences long, but it was enough to satisfy my curiosity and tell me what I wanted to know: a team of scientists (I believe they were German and this happened in the early 1960s, and now I’m really wishing I’d bookmarked the link because hell if I can find it again) also noticed the trend of what happens if you put a 14-hydroxy group on an opioid, and they too wanted to know what would happen if you did this to the heroin molecule.

The result was everything they expected and more. They pretty much immediately concluded that something so powerful, euphoric, and addictive would be too dangerous for humanity to handle responsibly and moved on to focus their efforts on other opioids. As far as I know, no one has bothered to synthesize it since.

What strikes me most about this is that they were commenting on its euphoria. Unlike potency and duration, the qualitative high you get from a drug is not something you can measure in lab rats or test with a machine. The fact that they mentioned how euphoric it was leads me to believe that these were people who not only tried it themselves, but also had a taste for opiates and knew what to look for.
Not terribly surprising, given that in the days before lab rats became standard procedure, a scientist would often test out their new inventions on themselves or their close friends before going public with their findings. If you’re familiar with scientific and medical literature from decades or even centuries ago, it’s also not terribly surprising that a group of chemists working on developing new opioid analgesics would have dope habits. It just kind of comes with the territory. The points I just mentioned were what inspired such classics as “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and a big part of what led to the archetype of the “mad scientist” in the first place.
What does surprise me is the sheer power and terror this chemical caused. This was a society that was still in the throes of the Chemical Engineering Revolution. They thought that they could conquer the universe and all of life’s problems if they simply found the right technology. There was an intense push to find the most superlative form of whatever they were exploring: the fastest, the hardest, the strongest, the most efficient ways of accomplishing their goals. Addiction and long-term consequences were poorly understood or ignored completely and it was not yet recognized what a devastating effect some of their creations were having on society.
These were people who were in love with opioids and searching every nook and cranny to find the ultimate form. They were completely okay with heroin, morphine, oxycodone, fentanyl, methadone, even etorphine (a chemical that is roughly 3,000 times the potency of morphine, just not as fun), but for some reason when they found this little gem they decided that it was too much.

The next logical question to ask is, “if it’s really so awesome, why isn’t it available on the black market?”

I can think of two possible reasons for this: it’s incredibly difficult to manufacture and it’s also incredibly easy to overdose on.

Think about all the different opioid pain killers out there. Other than heroin, almost all of them are pills, e.g. pharmaceuticals that were originally made legally in a laboratory and sold with a doctor’s prescription.
Heroin is incredibly easy to make. Just refine the morphine out of the poppy plant, add acetic anhydride, and you’ve got heroin. It’s literally two easy steps away from something you can grow yourself.
Most synthetic opioids require an incredibly difficult process that involves many complicated steps, a full laboratory and dozens of reagents.
It’s quite possible that most of the people manufacturing heroin simply don’t have access to the equipment or startup capital needed for such an operation. And really, if you’re already doing just fine for yourself making heroin (a process that requires almost no effort) why would you go out of your way to do something that is many times more complicated and expensive to manufacture when it’s only twice as good???

The pharmaceutical labs producing our Vicodin and Percocet could easily produce this drug, but no one working in the legal opioid industry is going to touch this one. We as a species simply got too good at Chemical Engineering and eventually reached the limits of how far we could take our quest for the best. The most potent, longest lasting grotesquely powerful drugs aren’t always the best ones out there for society at large. Today’s drug designers are feverishly searching for the ones they overlooked in the middle ground, the ones that offer the least euphoria and recreational value while still accomplishing their “intended medical purpose”.

The other reason I can think of as to why no one on the black market has bothered with this one yet is that it is so addictive and easy to overdose on.
Heroin already causes enough overdoses. Many people who sell it are constantly afraid that their customers are going to overdose and die and attract attention. A wave of deaths not only attracts attention from the police and FBI but can even cause national media coverage.
On top of this is the simple fact that dead people don’t make good repeat-customers.
Plus, it can ruin your reputation. Drug dealers have wisened up to the fact that if your product has a tendency to kill the people who use it, it’s going to be more and more difficult to sell that product as time goes on.

Still though, you might rhetorically ask, “since when have people manufacturing goods for the black market ever cared whether or not their products kill people?” And that’s totally valid, the far more likely answer is that this obscure, super-awesome form of heroin requires complex chemistry and expensive lab equipment whereas just plain regular heroin can be manufactured by uneducated slaves for next to nothing.

So that’s what I meant when I said it exists, kind of, but you and I will probably never see it. But isn’t it good to know it’s there?

Pandora’s Box has been opened, and can never be closed again.

In the words of the immortal Sasha, “Go West, young man!”

[EDIT 09/23/2014] ¬†After much deliberation I decided that, if following the conventions of opioid nomenclature, the proper shorthand or common name for this substance would be “Oxyheroin”

Meditation and the Ashram

In Classical India, society was structured so that the first-born son inherited his parents land, profession, and dharma in life.

Daughters were sold off via arranged marriages where they could and the remaining children went to the Ashram.

This is because thousands of years ago, India was already suffering from overpopulation and scarcity of resources. For every 2 people who got together and bred, only 1 of their children (plus the wife he took off another couple’s hands to be his cook, servant, maid, sex-slave and baby-making machine) could inherit that land and keep doing the same thing his parents did.
Birth control was spotty at best at the time, and you can’t very realistically try to rationally convince a married couple to not fuck for the good of society, so what do you do with the remaining children?

That’s where meditation comes into play (yes, there are myriad health and psychological benefits of meditation and I’m not trying to dispel any of that), but when you really get down to the roots of the matter, what is meditation and the life of someone spent in monastic “spiritual hermitage”?

You curl your body up into the most sustainable way of taking up the least amount of space possible. Furthermore, meditation is a silent process. Maybe you incorporate some soft muttering of mantras or chanting OMs, but in a lot of cases it is silent.

On top of this, many monks are vegetarian, take vows of silence, and also vows of celibacy.

What this all boils down to again is “sit down and shut up”. More specifically, the life of a child sent to the Ashram is one where, because there is no room for them and no resources and no one wants to hear them bitch, they adopt the most effective way of taking up as little space as possible, moving around as little as possible, talking as little as possible, eating as little as possible, using as little resources as possible, and most importantly: never reproducing.

Karma and Dharma (further attempts to dispel myths about fl00fy white-light romanticized New-Age Western appropriation of Eastern Religions)

In today’s lesson we shall leave Buddhism alone for a while and focus on Hinduism (specifically, the concepts of ‘dharma’ and ‘karma’).

Dharma: Your life’s work, or duty. Prescribed to you by authoritative figures.
This concept was created by a society that had no upward mobility in its class system and serves as little more than a means of social control. ‘Dharma’ does not mean “oh it’s my destiny to become an artist because when I look at Van Gogh’s work it speaks to mah feels” and most certainly does not mean “I feel deep down inside that I’m supposed to be a world-famous DJ because mommy bought me a MacBook for Christmas this year and I learned how to push ‘play’ and ‘stop’ in Ableton and had a visionary dream where I was sucking Skrillex’s dick”.
What dharma does mean is that if you were born to a janitor and a whore you better get real used to either being a janitor or a whore (or possibly asking people if they’d like fries with that) and sit down, shut up, and don’t even fucking think about educating yourself or trying to get something more out of life.

Karma: Punishment for not following your dharma (or reward for following it).
In Western Christian societies, we’ve invented Satan/”original sin” to explain why your life sucks, and heaven/hell to motivate people into following the Church’s orders.
Hinduism accomplishes both these tasks with the concept of karma. Instead of an “afterlife” the way we traditionally view it, they have a “next life”, and if you want to know why your current life is shitty, it’s because of something you did in the previous life.
Karma is NOT “my boyfriend cheated on me and the next week his car broke down”, nor is it “I gave a dollar to a homeless person and the next day I found $3 on the sidewalk”, and it is most certainly not “I spend 20 minutes in the morning meditating upon pure white light and bliss so that means that I did my part toward making the world a better place and excuses me to wander throughout life hopelessly spaced-out and unaware, acting like a mindlessly indulgent selfish entitled prick and gives me the right to bitch when my life still sucks.”
What karma does mean is that if you were born to a janitor and a whore you better get used to asking people if they’d like fries with that or in your next life you’re going to be born a blind cripple and never even know who your father was.

To reiterate: Karma and Dharma are not mystical forces that “most people just don’t understand because they’re not as enlightened as I am.” They don’t entitle you to anything, they don’t make you a special snowflake and they don’t give you a free pass to “turn on, tune in and cop-out”.

Karma and Dharma were invented as a means of religious social control to enforce and preserve the caste system and prevent upward social mobility.

Stop romanticizing them.

Apathy Wins in Landslide Victory

Obama won the 2012 election with 50.1% of the vote, right?

There are roughly 318,770,000 people living in this country (2014 estimate), but Obama only received 58,720,700 votes. Do the math, this comes out to 18.4%

The common misconception I see going around is that people assume because he won the election with slightly over half the vote, that half the people they meet in their daily lives must support him.
Totally not true at all (especially considering that so many of the people who did vote for him don’t even support him – they were just picking between the “lesser of two evils”). Choosing one option of a false dichotomy because you’re more afraid of the other option does not necessarily mean that you like or support it.
As a side note to all of this, the fact that he’s still running a ~40% approval rating despite the fact that only 18.4% of the people in this country voted for him is pretty impressive in my opinion.

The reasons for this discrepancy between the numbers involve many factors. First and foremost, people under the age of 18 cannot legally vote (though they are counted by the census). Close to 25% of our population is under the age of 18. Realistically you can’t exactly expect a 2 year old to vote for the President. So that makes sense.
Another large demographic of people who can’t vote are illegal immigrants and convicted felons (note: once a person has “completely their sentence” they regain their voting rights, but while they are in prison, on parole or on probation they can’t).
Both of these groups are counted in the census though. Illegal immigrants may not be citizens, but they are living in this country and count as people you might run into as you go about your daily life.
(I’m assuming people who are institutionalized for severe mental illnesses where they don’t even understand who they are probably can’t vote either, but I’m not even going to touch that one right now).

But the factor I’m going to focus on here is apathy: we have generally around a 60% voter turnout rate, and dropped from 62.3% in 2008 to 57.5% in 2012 so that’s right in line with the average (for the purposes of this post, the last 4 or 5 elections we’ve had saw around a 60% voter turnout rate, a statistically insignificant portion of the populace voting “3rd party” and essentially the Republican and Democratic candidates received ~50%, with the victor winning by an incredibly narrow margin).
Now, as fucked up as it is that there are so many “illegal people” living in this country who can’t vote, there’s an even bigger chunk of people living in this country who are totally eligible to vote, but choose not to.

Sure, 40% of people choosing not to vote may not seem like a lot. It’s not the majority after all. It’s not like over half the eligible voters aren’t voting…
But again, put this into perspective. Sure, 50.1% of people who voted chose Obama, that means he got the majority of the vote, that means over half the country wants him to be President… Nope!
If 40% of eligible voters are choosing not to vote, that means that ~50/50 split between Obama and Romney is being split between the 60% who did choose to vote, which means each of those candidates only got ~30% of the people who were eligible to vote for them.

Now, wait, 30% is less than 40%….

In case I’m not making myself perfectly clear, out of all the people who were eligible to vote, roughly 30% voted for Obama, roughly 30% voted for Romney, and the remaining 40% or so chose not to even vote at all.

Apathy wins in a landslide.

Politically Correct Terminology and Racism in America.

I’ve often heard people say things like, “I wonder when people are going to stop calling me African-American and just start referring to me as an American.”

I never quite got the true significance of that sentiment until very recently.

First though, I want to just say a bit about “Politically Correct” terminology. It’s fucking stupid, lol. There are a number of reasons why I don’t necessarily like the term “African-American”, but, is there a better term?

My <sarcasm>lovely</sarcasm> father still refers to them as “the blacks”, which, I know he means well, but my black friends get incredibly offended by this. I don’t even like calling referring to these people as “black people”. It’s got a weird ring to it. So, that pretty much leaves me with zero choices for a word to use when I am trying to refer to that particular demographic.. which, when you really think about it, is there ever an appropriate reason to be making comments about a specific demographic at all?

People are individuals. ¬†There are extremely few cases where you can make a statement that applies to every single person belonging to a specific demographic that doesn’t also apply to the rest of humanity.

I was thinking once about how we¬Ļ¬†have these terms “African-American” and “Native-American” and how they are related. There’s also the term “Asian-American”, which I hear sometimes, but is hardly as common as the first two. So, following this trend, it would be perfectly natural to call white people “European-Americans”. But I don’t ever hear anyone use the term “European-American”.

Basically, one of the first ways people start subdividing “Americans” is to categorize them by their continent or origin. ¬†Sure, the “Native Americans” came over from Asia via the land bridge, but that was so long ago they’ve evolved to be significantly different enough from other Asian-Americans, and since they were the first people here that we know about, we call them the natives. ¬†Pretty much everyone else gets labeled by which continent they came from, unless they came here from Europe. ¬†This is another example of where white western ethnocentric viewpoints are hard-written right into the structure of our very language. ¬†“American” just means someone living in America. ¬†Once you start breaking it down by race/continent of origin, “American” then defaults to “European-American”, implying that they are the most important or primary group of interest. ¬†Everyone else requires a qualifier, such as “African-“, “Asian-” or “Native-“, but European-Americans are just “Americans”. ¬†Wtf? ¬†It seems to me that, if anything, the people who were here first would get the default standard setting and everyone who came later would require a qualifier to specify how they’re different from the default setting. ¬†But *sigh*, such is our culture…

Going even further into this ethnocentric view, I mentioned that I’ve pretty much never heard the term “European-American”, but what I have heard occasionally are terms such as “German-American”, “Irish-American”, “British-American”, “Russian-American”, etc. ¬†So for everybody else, we describe them by their continent of origin, but with European-Americans, we break it down by country. ¬†Ethnocentric as @#$%! It could be argued that many African-Americans have no way of knowing which country their ancestors came from, and that many white people still can’t seem to tell the difference between a Chinese and a Japanese person (or that there are other countries in Asia), but the implications of these statements really don’t reflect positively on our society at all: It may be a way of explaining why things are the way they are, but it certainly does not justify them.

Going back to our indigenous friends for a moment, a common term for Native-Americans is “Indians”, and to be quite frank I really don’t like the connotations of that term either. It hails from a time when Christopher Columbus thought he was in India, and evokes not only his stupidity but also the horror of the genocide and slavery he and his people subsequently carried out. However, there are numerous organizations such as the AAIA and NCAI that still use the term “American Indian” right in their name, and this is still considered a politically correct term for these people.

Then I started thinking about the word “American” itself. It’s really a poor way to describe what you mean. North and South America are huge continents, comprising 36 countries. Why aren’t Canadians Americans? They live in the Americas. Why aren’t people from Brazil Americans? Or Mexico or Chile or Guatemala..etc.

And yes, I know most of you “Americans” don’t see the difference or why anyone would be upset that you’re the only country in the Americas that gets to call themselves Americans, but trust me, the entire rest of the world is not only confused by this but they think it is idiotic.

But really, there aren’t any other single-word adjectives for “people from the United States of America”,¬†so, even though the terms we do have to describe these things are horribly flawed, we don’t really have any other choices.

These trains of thought left me to conclude that 100% of our terminology for various demographics is just FUBAR. The vast majority of it is offensive to at least someone (if not everyone) and are totally illogical if you think about where they came from. Even the term “black people” is a misnomer; their skin isn’t black, it’s just a darker brown than most other people.

But anyway, more about this idea of “European-Americans”…

A friend of mine recently was just pointing out how some of the earliest forms of racism in this country were against the Irish, and also the Polish, Finns, Russians, Italians, and on and on the list goes. I was about to say that some of the only people who probably never really got it were the Germans and the British, but it became incredibly uncool to be German around the time of the World Wars, and even those people of British ancestry get flack because of the Revolutionary War. In the area where I grew up, the people of German descent still love to rip on the people of French descent, but um, that area is a good 100 or 200 years behind the times in just about every area of import, so that doesn’t really surprise me.

My friend’s take on the matter was that only once there was a sizable number of other races in this country to hate on did all of the various “European Americans” gang up under a single identity and no longer really feel the need to differentiate themselves from one another. As long as there is an “Us vs Them” mentality, human beings will always find ways to separate and classify themselves, and hatred and stereotypes are sure to follow. Even in a racially homogenous society, people will still find ways to further differentiate themselves based on identity: gender, sexuality, belief system, age, income level, profession, height, hair or even eye color.

Essentially, I feel it’s total bullshit that “white Americans” feel the need to identify themselves as the norm and come up with different words for every other demographic out there (we have a word for you too, you White Anglo Saxon Protestants). But then again, it kind of makes sense that it’s like this. If you look at the etymologies of various names of countries in other languages, it is amazing how often the name of the country in their language comes from their word for “people” and the names of the surrounding countries are derived from things like “those other people” or “foreigners”.

But at the same time, aren’t we trying to evolve past a tribal mentality and cast off the shackles of traditions that no longer apply to our current state in such a way that reflects tolerance, compassion, empathy and understanding?

And so I’ll just leave you with this little gem:¬† Avenue Q – Everybody’s A Little Racist

¬Ļ¬†the term “we” in this article is referring to common speech patterns found among the people currently speaking English in the U.S.A., as recognized by linguists, dictionaries, and heard in the formal media. ¬†It does not necessarily mean that I or you or even anyone you know do these things or think this way, but as of the time of this writing, many people do and (for better or worse) it is considered common.

Cocaine, Heroin, and the Cold War

This is a work in progress.  I hope to write a cohesive article about the role of drugs in international politics, and examine the current heroin epidemic, as well as the reasons why Afghanistan holds so much interest to the USA and formerly to the USSR. 

A rough overview of my ideas goes as follows:

I’m just utterly fascinated by how the vast majority of world history over the past 40 years can be summed up into who gets to control the world’s heroin supply.

People don’t seem to be very aware of the fact that that’s why both the USSR and USA wanted (and continue to want) Afghanistan so badly.

I mean, look at the way 9/11 plays into all of this: a bunch of Saudi Arabians, Lebanese, and Egyptians financed by a Saudi Arabian guy sheltered by Pakistanis supposedly crashes some planes into our buildings, and the response is that we have to invade Afghanistan?

The majority of the world’s cocaine comes from Columbia and nearby countries in South and Central America. The majority of the world’s Opium comes from Afghanistan. The entire West vs. East conflict during the Cold War could be summed up as “cocaine vs. heroin”. And so to this I would add something about Oliver North’s little “Secret Wars” in places like Honduras and Nicaragua, making deals with drug cartels to import shitloads of cocaine into the country and turn it into crack to break the Black Panthers.

So yeah, there is the entire thing, summed up in 3 or 4 paragraphs. The “Cold War” never ended, it is still very much going on today. We spent the 80’s securing the world’s cocaine supply, and so far the 2000’s have been about controlling the world’s heroin supply. Iraq, Saddam Hussein, and oil certainly deserve a footnote in the story, but that’s it in a nutshell.

Image

Children taking a break from work in an opium field in Afghanistan.  These children are harvesting the raw materials for the substance which is decimating world populations and fueling the Empires that keep us down.