Revving Up the Central Nervous System
Widespread caffeine use explains a lot about the 20th century.
- Greg Egan
A Nation of Speedfreaks
by Howard Belkamp
Do you shudder at the sight of low-life trailer-trash crankheads driving around in their beat-up Camaros? Do you nod solemnly when Peter Jennings or one of the other big tv news actors presents a piece on how methamphetamine is now the Number One Drug Scourge of the United States? Are you shocked at video footage of police and firefighting personnel in radiation suits removing chemistry lab equipment from innocuous rural dwellings? It's everywhere, isn't it?
Central nervous system stimulation - it feels good. Did you enjoy your coffee this morning? Was it a cup of plain old Joe, or a double latte, or triple mocha? At home? At Starbucks? Did it make you feel motivated, as if you had urgent and important things to do? That your agenda for the day carried great meaning? Well, that's what crank does. No matter how common or sophisticated or snobbish your coffee preference, it's still caffeine, a central nervous system stimulant. A low-grade, chickenshit stimulant compared to methamphetamine - a distant relative, but definitely in the larger family of speed, crank, meth, crystal, ice ...whatever you choose to call it. It might be a good idea to look a bit less condescendingly at those crankers out there, because they're doing the same thing you are, only more so.
More than 30 years ago, in 1967, the Haight-Ashbury hippie scene had already moved from peace, love, brown rice and marijuana to LSD and on to speed. Around the same time, I sat up all night in a New England motel talking with a friend of mine, a drummer in a traveling band from New York. He and all the other band members used diet pills, obtained both legally and illegally, to get through the traveling and the long nights of playing for indifferent drunks in crummy places like Lowell, Massachusetts. They were on speed.
(And of course, so were perhaps millions of housewives who had no clue they were using addictive drugs; it was MEDICINE prescribed by a DOCTOR. This was the exact argument used by another friend's Latvian immigrant mother, when she expressed some concern over her son's marijuana use and he pointed out her little jar of dexedrine tablets.)
Joey, the drummer from New York, had no pretensions about what he was doing. He was using drugs and he liked them. He was Irish, another son of immigrants, and had the Blarney, or gift of gab. The amphetamines merely amplified it. After going on and on about one subject after another, he made a statement that I have remembered clearly all this time: "Before long, this will be a nation of speed freaks." Well. Damn if he wasn't right.
Of all the seemingly unlikely places, Hawaii has one of the worst crank problems in the United States. Unlikely, because one might think extreme stimulation in inappropriate in the constant hot weather, but no. The drug, and people on it, adapt. When freebase (what crack cocaine used to be called) was the stimulant of choice for upper-class Marin County lawyers and such, someone somewhere got the bright idea of converting methamphetamine into a smokable form. This "new" drug, called "ice," took off in Hawaii. It's very easy and convenient for anyone who's either afraid of the needle or considers themselves socially "above" intravenous injection, to smoke the stuff. Back in the 60s the Hell's Angels supplied a lot of speed in Northern California. In Hawaii, it's Asian gangs but it was west coast hippie-type speed-freaks who brought it here in the first place. I have the misfortune of former association with one of them, who is now either in prison or on the lam after having made a batch of bad crank that killed someone.
In those early days of the speed explosion, the other center (besides the Bay Area) of speed activity was central and south Texas: Dallas-Austin-Houston. Fifty-pound bags of the stuff could be bought cheap from chicken farmers who used it to force more and crappier eggs from the hens. This is how much of it came to San Francisco at first.
Heavy crankheads become paranoid sooner or later and if they don't go to the office and gun down their fellow employees, or get drunk and start fights, they're likely to be keeping a low profile, hiding out at home, dismantling small electronic devices or digging through buckets of nuts and bolts, or fumbling around in the middle of the night with a flashlight, because there's something they "gotta" find.
Now, it's the espresso crowd that's becoming dangerous. Like marijuana, the coffee has gotten stronger over the years and you can get espresso anywhere, just like beer. Even redneck truck stops in Oregon have espresso now, but it's not the truckers you need to worry about. They're old hands at sleep deprivation. It's the soccer moms and day traders in the SUVs with cell phones who are posing the real threat on the roads. These people are cranked up on serious doses of caffeine, and are self-absorbed, and not paying attention. Central nervous stimulation added to an already grossly inflated sense of self-importance, driving a three-ton hunk of metal, is a bad formula. Oddly, veteran meth freaks often tend to drive slowly and carefully due to a well-justified fear of the police. It's when they drink that they get in trouble...
Crank is indeed a powerful and very dangerous drug, but the biggest danger is not what the user might do to you, it's what he's doing to himself and his family, if they're still around. Aside from the inevitable physiological damage like tooth loss, heart damage (at least two friends of mine died from heart attack due to over-stimulation) or double pneumonia from staying up three or four nights in a row with little or no food out in the cold damp Northern California weather, in all these years of writing and publishing, I still haven't been able to come up with adequate words to get across the feelings of horror and despair that always eventually comes with heavy methamphetamine use.
How about a nice cup of tea?
Source: Anderson Valley Advertiser 30 August 2000
Is coffee a "gateway" drug? Does it lead to the harder stuff? Perhaps it should be banned?
Employers tend to encourage caffeine use, often providing it for free because it keeps employees more alert and enhances performance on certain tasks. Caffeine has been shown to pass into breast milk, however, where it becomes a stimulant for the nursing infant (sometimes much to Mom's dismay).
By the way, I was amazed, after reading the above column, to read in The Dominion 13 October 2000, in an article entitled "Fad Drug Keeps Clinical Staff Busy" the following quotes:
A couple of the articles included below express more alarming opinions than this. When experts can't agree, it's no wonder young people, who receive mixed messages, don't know whom to believe. A page further on in this section (Alcohol) and the page immediately prior to this one (The Green Economy) contain other references to the tacit approval of drugs, both licit and illicit, in the media.
I recently saw an ad for the new Southern Cross Cable Network (southerncross.com) in a Wellington paper. The ad began "Think of it as the Internet on speed," which I thought tended to make speed sound like a desirable thing to all those teens and young adults in their potential audience. (However, they had a slogan I thought was fantastic: Welcome to the Twenty-Fast Century.)
Coffee: the Drink That Hooked the Smart Set
Coffee - enjoy it while it lasts. It'll probably be illegal in 50 years
by Sandy Burgham
I gave up coffee more than 10 years ago. I was feeling pressure to give up at least one vice and coffee seemed the most disposable - besides, the white of my eyes seemed to be turning a cacky yellow. It was fairly easy back then, despite the dull, thumping, withdrawal headache which occurred minutes after the cold turkey began, because "cafe society" was a phenomenon yet to occur. Coffee was white, black, powdered or granulated, occasionally percolated but never plunged. At coffee lounges we drank filtered coffee, which often resembled liquid tar, but as it was bottomless it was excellent value for money.
Drying out must be harder now, since coffee has become the drink de rigueur, with one's individual coffee selection, worn as a badge. Coffee fans make a great to-do when specifying their signature poison - flat, long, short, decaf, with skim, Trim, soy et cetera. And the care connoisseur patter ("I hate that place but the coffee is good") makes great small talk.
More ritualistic than habitual, there's more to having a coffee than just drinking the stuff. Coffee has created the new care society and driven the behaviour that goes with it. It's even changed what we eat muffins being the new scone, paninis the new sandwich and, of course, bagels the new toast.
It's today's most socially acceptable addiction. You get hooked on the hit so it feels a bit dangerous but it carries a lower health risk than every other vice, including sex. It has a culture conducive to social interaction yet can be an individual event as well. While we can't risk drinking alone at a pub without looking as if we have a problem, or dine solo in a restaurant in case others think we've been stood up, the cafe society allows us to go it alone and not appear like Nellie No Friends.
The cafe society also encourages important family bonding time and we have a new generation of cafe-literate kids who are confident in ordering their own fluffy-hold-the-marshmallows at 4 years.
"Meeting for a coffee" is now shorthand for a low-obligation get-together that can be arranged or cancelled at a moment's notice. It's what e-mail is to snail mail and has allowed us to catch up with more people in short sharp bursts. lMeeting clients and colleagues for coffee is not only enjoyable but also responsible - it's quick, cheap and no one makes a fool of themselves if they overindulge.
In the 80s, we did more full-scale lunching and drinking alcohol at lunchtime was still acceptable.
I still "meet for coffee" despite being a tea drinker. "Riding on the coat tails of coffee, tea has also undergone a revival but tea culture isn't half as exciting as that of coffee. While coffee has rich, dark and exotic connotations, tea still reeks of fluffy slippers, doilies and Coro St.
Tea's just not sexy. And it's difficult to make a statement by demanding Earl Gray or English Breakfast. Of course, there is plenty of choice in herbals but most people have cupboards stashed full of those colourful, overdesigned herbal teabag boxes which seem to last for years due to a lack of drinker interest. "Pineapple and Papaya" sounds good at the supermarket but in the cold light of day it's just silly. And anyway as a social badge herbal teas can't yet shake the image of mung-bean-eating Jesus-sandal-wearers.
A wealthy Remuera housewife friend of mine fesses up to sipping away at $30 of housekeeping money every week. I hear of another woman who gave up breastfeeding because it was so much easier than kicking the coffee habit, and too many people confess to not being able to function without the morning caffeine hit. And we laugh off their addiction to the most widespread social drug of our times.
It's all a bit reminiscent of the 50s and 60s, when smoking had a similar social cachet. Mums, dads, politicians, film stars and various other role models merrily puffed away on television, on advertisements and in front of the kids, unaware of the health and social issues that loomed.
Coffee - enjoy it while it lasts. It'll probably be illegal in 50 years.
Source: NZ Herald Monday 30 October 2000
The Drug Buzz We All Love
The World Of Caffeine: The Science And Culture of the World's Most Popular Drug by Bennett Alan Weinberg and Bonnie K Bealer (Routledge, £17.99)
Reviewed by Marek Kohn
Caffeine is the drug that doesn't overplay its hand. It produces a mood, rather than a sensation. It doesn't induce its consumers to lose their grip on reality or propriety, and it spares them the illusion that they have never quite had enough.
Unlike the other major stimulant extracted from a plant (cocaine), caffeine has no great appeal in pure form. Uniquely discreet, it passes almost unnoticed in many of its preparations. The result is global domination. Nine people in 10 around the world use it regularly. It is now the one psychoactive drug that can be taken first thing in the morning, or at work, without defying current norms of health, self-discipline and efficiency. And it is the only psychoactive drug that is marketed to children, who swallow it in fizzy drinks and chocolate.
Caffeine's knack of hiding in plain sight seems to extend to its scientific profile. Ideas about what it does as it percolates through those billions of nervous systems remain tentative. Studies of its effects on behaviour are also equivocal. Some investigations have found that it only improves mood or performance when the experimental subjects know they have taken it, implying a placebo effect. And as one researcher has pointed out, the almost universal use of caffeine raises a question about what is being measured when studies find that those given the drug perform better than those tested without it. The latter may do worse because they are suffering the ill-effects of caffeine withdrawal. Even a couple of cups of coffee a day can leave a person vulnerable to withdrawal symptoms, especially headaches.
Weinberg and Bealer suggest that 75 million Americans may qualify for "moderate caffeine clinical dependence syndrome". They review a panoply of other health issues, from heart disease to fertility, but despite a few notes of concern - that women continue to use caffeine when pregnant, for instance - the picture they paint is rosy. They give the game away by putting particularly favourable findings in italics.
This is not just a survey of caffeine, but a celebration of it. Much of the book is concerned with the history of the drug, as it unfolded in the cultivation and trade of coffee, tea and cacao. Making the world safe for Coca-Cola and Starbucks was sometimes a controversial business. Sections of both Islamic and Christian theological opinion lobbied against coffee, albeit unsuccessfully. Secular authorities prohibited it on occasion: coffee-houses, teeming with garrulous opinion, were potential nests of subversion. In 1633, patrons and proprietors in Constantinople were sewn in bags and dropped in the Bosphorus. Charles II, by contrast, backed down just 11 days after declaring a ban on England's coffee-houses.
Weinberg and Bealer understand the English coffee-house, with its ferment of ideas and deals, because it has a modern American flavour. But they don't get it about the English and tea. Their analysis sometimes does less than justice to the wealth of detail they present, as when they claim that tea "is associated with the feminine and with the drawing room". When they think of England, they think of afternoon tea, genteel manners, and Fortnum and Mason. Never mind the British Tommy with his brew in the trenches; there's not even a glimpse of the working man with his tea break. They argue that caffeine enjoys its current prominence because it helps people conform to exacting modern schedules but for generations of Britons at work, caffeine was a way to resist schedules, and claim 10 minutes to themselves. The British tea ceremony was about the balance between life and work.
The History of a Cup of Coffee
by Ed Ayres
Everything has its story
The Conventional Story
On April 22, the local Sierra Club president, Paul Pizarro, began his day with a cup of coffee on the balcony of his home overlooking San Francisco Bay. He relaxed for a few minutes, enjoying the warmth of the coffee against the chill of the morning mist while reviewing his notes for the Earth Day speech he was to give. Two hours later he joined a festive gathering at Altamont, where he outlined the main priorities for California's role in halting global environmental decline: protecting the Pacific rainforest and savannah ecosystems from continuing destruction by timber and development projects; halting degradation of the state's water resources by agricultural and industrial chemicals and the denuding of watersheds; and alleviation of the social inequities that create incentives to build new suburbs in pristine hillsides far from the crime and blight of cities.
That evening, Pizarro joined a few friends for dinner in Big Sur. They sat on a terrace high above the Pacific, drinking coffee and watching the sun set over the ocean. The air cooled quickly, and he had a chilling fantasy - of humanity falling off the edge of the world after all, as the detractors of Columbus had warned. Yet, he thought, if precipitous change has become a danger to our species, perhaps it could also be our salvation. In just three years, we've seen signs of hope almost unimaginable a decade ago: the end of the Cold War, the end of South African apartheid, the global Climate Treaty, the Biodiversity Treaty, the Law of the Sea, the return of large tracts of land to the Yanomami and Inuit peoples - even the election of a more environmentally conscious US administration. He let go the tension in his face, watching the ocean grow dark and feeling the warmth of the coffee in his chest.
The Story Not Told
Pizarro's day neither began nor ended with a cup of coffee, because coffee did not simply materialize at his lips. In fact, by the time he began brewing it in the morning, it had already been through a rather exhausting series of events - and was not yet finished, as Pizarro would discover when he pulled off the road at a gas station on the way to Altamont. In the men's room there, thousands of cups of coffee before his had begun the final stages of their journeys.
It could be said that the coffee's journey began with the picking of the beans, on a small mountain farm in a region of Columbia called Antioquia - an area not unlike some of the Sierra foothills Pizarro was familiar with in California.
But in fact, the journey really began three generations ago, when the Antioquia region was cleared of its natural forests in the fIrst coffee boom. As a result, the region's "cloud forests" are now among the world's most endangered ecosystems - under assault by some of the same pressures confronting California's cherished redwood groves.
In Antioquia, it took 200 beans or about 5% of a coffee tree's annual production, to make the two cups Pizarro drank. Over the past year, his two-cup average had amounted to the harvest of 18 coffee trees.
Growing these trees required several doses of insecticides, which were manufactured in the Rhine River Valley of Europe. Effluents from the pesticide plants had helped turn the Rhine into one of the most polluted rivers in the world, destroying much of the wildlife that had once abounded in the marshlands downstream.
In Columbia, when the coffee trees were sprayed, some of the pesticides got into the lungs of the farmers. Residues from the trees washed down the mountainsides and collected in streams. There, as in Germany, the pollutants were spread to downstream ecosystems.
The beans were shipped to New Orleans in a freighter constructed in Japan, of steel made in Korea. The steel was made of iron mined on tribal lands in Papua New Guinea. The people there received little or no compensation for their lost resources and contaminated water. The mining was encouraged by the Papua New Guinea government, which promotes exports to boost short-term revenue - even when the exported commodities diminish the long-term prospects of some of its own endangered peoples.
In New Orleans, the beans were unloaded and roasted at 400 degrees for 13 minutes. They were packaged in four-layer bags constructed of polyethylene, nylon, aluminium foil, and polyester. The three lavers of plastic were made of oil shipped by tanker from Saudi Arabia. The tanker was fueled by still more oil. The plastics were fabricated in factories in Louisiana's "Cancer Corridor," where toxic industries have been disproportionately concentrated in areas where the residents are black.
The aluminium layer of the coffee bag was made in the Pacific Northwest [Kaiser Aluminum?], from bauxite strip-mined in Australia and shipped across the Pacific on a large barge fueled by oil from Indonesia. The mining of the bauxite had violated the ancestral land of aborigines. The refining of the aluminium was powered by a hydro-electric dam on the Columbia River, construction of which had destroyed the salmon-fishing subsistence economy of native Americans.
The bags of roasted beans were then trucked to San Francisco. The gasoline for the trucks was processed from oil extracted from the Gulf of Mexico. The refining was done at a plant near Philadelphia, where heavy air and water pollution has been linked to cancer clusters, contaminated fish, and a decline of marine wildlife through the Delaware River basin.
As an environmentalist, Pizarro had conscientiously avoided the use of a bleached paper filter for his morning coffee. Instead, he had used a gold-plated filter, which could be used indefinitely. He was not aware that the gold for the filter had been mined in Russia. where the production of 1/10 of an ounce of gold had generated one ton of mining waste. As rain and river water percolated through the waste. the water was acidified, causing damage to aquatic life and farmland for hundreds of kilometres downstream.
Altogether, the production of Paul Pizarro's coffee required at least four major direct uses of fossil fuels: the diesel-powered crusher that removed the beans from the fruit in Columbia; the freighter carrying the beans north; the roaster in New Orleans, which burned natural gas pumped from the ground in Oklahoma; and the gasoline for the trucks carrying the coffee and filter - and later for the car Pizzaro used to go shopping.
In addition, there were several hundred indirect uses of fossil fuel energy: for the freighters carrying the iron from Papua New Guinea and the bauxite from Australia; for the trucks hauling the plastics to the bag manufacturers and the bags to the packager; for the planes carrying salesmen and advertising executives representing the packaging materials and coffee brands. The high-rise offices of the advertising and food company executives, as well as of the media executives whose magazines and TV shows carried the coffee advertisements, were inefficiently lit, cooled. and heated by electricity generated by large amounts of coal and oil.
These two cups of coffee also contributed to the degradation of forest ecosystems in several regions: the Columbia mountains where natural forest was replaced with monoculture plantations that lack much of the biological diversity of the native forest they replaced; the tropical forests of Papua New Guinea; and the Russian woodlands that were stripped for the mining of gold.
Finally, the two cups entailed, altogether, at least four direct exploitations of indigenous peoples or cultural minorities for the benefit of the consumer culture: the iron mining in Papua New Guinea, the bauxite mining in Australia. the plastics manufacturing in Louisiana, and the aluminium refining in Washington state. These represented the same kinds of deep inequities that had led, in recent years, to a fanning of anti-Mexican sentiment throughout California. As a Californian whose grandparents had immigrated from Mexico, Pizarro had been uncomfortably conscious of this sentiment.
But none of this crossed his mind as he sipped his evening coffee and watched the sun sink below the horizon.
Which Story Is True?
Both are true.
Coffee is indeed one of the simple pleasures of life, for people everywhere. It has contributed to innumerable moments of good conversation and congeniality, and has helped people like Paul Pizarro to get started in the morning and to stay awake while driving at night. It is also true, however, that the production of a single cup of coffee requires the participation of an enormous array of materials, processes, and industries. The question is not whether the final product is good or bad, but whether the particular methods used to produce it are appropriate.
It is possible to continue making coffee in a way that is - when multiplied by the hundreds of millions of people who enjoy it - very destructive to the Earth's biological systems and human cultures. But it may also be possible to produce the same final product with far less impact. And that may be true for almost every product we consume.
NOTE: All of the facts in this account are true for the production of coffee in general, but it is not possible to trace the inputs to a particular cup of coffee. The beans could have come from Kenya instead of Columbia, the gold from Brazil instead of Russia, et cetera. Thus, this account is a composite, and Paul Pizarro is a fictional name. However, all of the places, peoples, and processes mentioned are involved in the making of coffee as stated, and the descriptions of human and environmental impacts are true.
(Thanks to Alan Thein Durning for research assistance for this piece.)
Source: Anderson Valley Advertiser 3 May 2000
The above story was written during the Clinton administration. The comment about "even the election of a more environmentally conscious US administration" is ironic given President Bush's recent rejection of the Kyoto Protocol which supports a plan to reduce global warming.
A Coke and a Frown
Moscow - In a country that regards beer as a soft drink, selling flavoured fizzy water at premium prices is inevitably a bit of challenge. Small wonder that Coca-Cola, which has invested tens of millions of dollars in Russia since the collapse of communism, has yet to report a significant profit there.
Grappling with Russian teenagers' preference for alcohol over caffeine and sugar is one headache.
The Russian legal system is another. The western boss of a Moscow advertising company recently asked for a Coca-Cola vending-machine. His staff soon warned him about some of the bureaucratic hurdles involved:
Coca-Cola declines to comment, or even to say how many vending-machines it has in Moscow. Casual inspection suggests there must be thousands. This illustrates how many of the petty but insuperable-seeming hurdles that Russian rules create for businesses disappear quickly enough if you, or your landlord, are paying the right "security firm." For Coca-Cola, or a big western advertising agency, this may be tolerable. ' But it is little comfort for the many small businesses blighted by bureaucracy before they get big enough to protect themselves.
Source: The Economist 7 October 2000
In a 1 November 2000 NZ Herald article entitled, "Coke about to Burn into the Club Scene," I read:
Note that last sentence!
And last but not least:
From a September 23, 1998 letter sent to the principals of School District 11 in Colorado Springs, Colorado by John Bushey, the district's executive director of "school leadership." In September 1997, the district signed an $8 million exclusive vending contract with Coca-Cola.
Here we are in year two of the great Coke contract. I hope your first weeks were successful and that pretty much everything is in place (except staffing, technology, planning time, and telephones). First, the good news: This year's installment from Coke is "in the house," and cheques will be cut for you to pick up in my office this week. Your share will be the same as last year.
Now the not-so-good news: we must sell 70,000 cases of product (including juices, sodas, waters, et cetera) at least once during the first three years of the contract. If we reach this goal, your school allotments will be guaranteed for the next 7 years. The math on how to achieve this is really quite simple. Last year we had 32,439 students, 3,000 employees, and 176 days in the school year. If 35,439 staff and students buy one Coke product every other day for a school year, we will double the required quota.
Here's how we can do it:
I know this is "just one more thing from downtown but the long-term benefits are worth it!
Thanks for all your help,
Source: Funny Times, date unnoted
High School Drug Awareness Day
Source: Funny Times October 2000
Source: Funny Times September 2002
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