Archive for the ‘Silk Road’ Tag

The end of the Road

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

Some interesting updates on previous articles have appeared in the news this week.

Silk Road has finally been taken offline, and the alleged administrator, the pseudonymed Dread Pirate Roberts, has been arrested. The website appears to have been a one-man operation based in San Fransisco. The suspect, Ross William Ulbricht, kept his operations so secretive that his housemates knew him only as Josh, the guy who spent all his time in his room on his computer, and the FBI had to scour years of data to find very rare glitches in his online personas in order to identify him. It was only when a package containing fake IDs were seized at the Canadian border with Ulbricht’s picture on them, that investigators linked this to online activity – Dread Pirate Roberts had asked for advice on gaining fake identities to set up more servers. Given that Silk Road had a estimated $1.2 million worth of trading each month, and the FBI have seized $3.6 million worth of Bitcoin during the operation, it is astounding that Ulbricht has evaded identification and capture for so long. I wonder whether the US authorities will now power on with their War On Drugs and hunt down his suppliers and customers..

It will also be interesting to see whether previous Silk Road customers see a decline in the quality of their purchases now they have lost access to the Ebay-style seller rating system.. If there are any ex-customers out there, I would love for you to get in touch and let me know how you are buying your drugs now and what impact this has had on you.

Following on from last week’s blog about the normalisation of alcohol, a couple of interesting articles have been suggested to me by staff at Sheffield University. The first informed me of the alcohol industry-driven marketing concept that is Arthur’s Day. The producers of Guinness launched this national event in Ireland four years ago to ‘celebrate Arthur Guinness’, and then refused to accept any responsibility when alcohol-related ambulance call-outs increased by thirty percent. This somewhat sinister celebration, cleverly timed six months after St Patrick’s Day and on the busiest drinking night of the month (Thursday – student night, 26th – payday), has been described by some as exploitation of Irish culture for capitalist gain – and the way it has been embraced by the public suggests that alcohol marketing is even more powerful and socially influential than anyone could have predicted. (Apart from the Dr Evil-style masterminds at Guiness, obviously.)

This seems somewhat in conflict with the Irish health minister’s claim today that he wants to ‘denormalise’ tobacco use, and achieve a ‘tobacco-free state’ by 2025. Yet another example of policy-makers’ bizarre lack of parity between substances. Given that the Irish Government are encouraring Arthur’s Day as a tourist opportunity, I’m guessing from this that they would take a different approach to smoking were Marlborough produced in Galway…

The second article recommended looked at the normalisation of women’s alcohol use in the UK. It presents some scary facts about women’s health, and considers how the pressures of being a working mum are influencing alcohol intake. Again, it is pointed out that wine is sociably acceptable whilst cooking, and suggests we really need to question what has become ‘normal’ behaviour. It does make me wonder whether our kids think we drink that like all the time, been as that’s all they see of us. And with our young women drinking more than any others in the western world, maybe we need to look at ourselves and the patterns our children emulate.

And finally – I know you will all have seen this, so I will be brief – in a brave move which may mean he does himself out of a job, Chief of Police Mike Barton has stated that decriminalisation is the way forward. Drawing a clear division between drug dealers and drug users, Mike is making a bigger statement than many of us realise, given that many Police targets focus on homogenising and prosecuting anyone associated with drugs because ‘drugs are bad’. Mike draws the same comparisons that have been previously drawn here between the War On Drugs and alcohol prohibition in 1920s America – instead of stopping the trade, it routes the profits directly to criminals. It’s a relief to know that the frontline last bastion of the moral crusade, the Police, are willing to make their voices heard – instead of, as with the Police in 20s America, seeing the battle as a way of either lining their own pockets or buying their way into heaven. I think it is an honest and altruistic move by Mike, one which may well both damage his career and sit him outside his peer group, but I for one am heartened by his stance.

Heroin for the poor, cannabis for the sick, and the death of an anti-capitalist dream

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

There have been some interesting additions to our previous ponderings in the news this week.

Drugs in medicine

A US collaboration between a medical research team and a centre for substance misuse research have found that cannabanoids can reduce the replication of the HIV virus in white blood cells. This may also relieve inflammation of the central nervous system, reducing symptoms of HIV-related neurocognitive disorders. The broader applications of these findings to other disorders are now being considered.

If we think back to Cancer Patients With Acid Smiles, here is another example of the US striding ahead because they are changing their angle on substances. Cannabis is no longer illegal in some American states, making it free game for medical research, and, as Professor Nutt pointed out, we are slowing down progress in tackling some of our worst illnesses by limiting the substances we consider for treatment.

By way of comparison, a prescribable Naloxone injection becomes available in the UK this week. I have been reading recent discussions on American websites about the huge problem that opiate (illicit and prescribed) overdose is causing over there, as I waved the British flag with news of the work being done in Wales where heroin users and their families have been trained to administer Naloxone. It seems, given the market launch of the product, that this life-saving product is now available to anyone over here. Hooray for harm reduction.

Afghan heroin trade continues to boom

The United Nations has apparently released data suggesting an eighteen percent growth in Afghanistan’s opium trade in the last year. As I suggested in Smacktastic Britian, this correlates nicely with the Government’s poor-battering, and we are bound to see a new wave of heroin use across the country. Maybe David Cameron should read Cameron Does Cocaine and get the bloody stuff taxable sharpish. It would certainly fit in with his other policies if he could provide an actual opiate for the (poor) people. Make it half-price on election day to keep the buggers at home. Although given that the CIA have reportedly been sending over suitcases stuffed with cash for eleven years now, maybe that trade route has already been baggsied. After all, the Americans are the originals (and the best) when it comes to using substances for social control.

Silk Road taken down by hacker

And finally, the website Silk Road was briefly closed down by hackers this week. It is thought the anonymity software Tor, which became known as ‘the dark web’ because of its uses for the grimier side of the net, is to blame for the problem, and that vulnerabilities in the system may have been exposed. This has come in the same week that the Bitcoin system has also been breached, as a software specialist illegally ‘mined’ an amount of the currency for himself. Unsurprisingly, the virtual currency continues to drop in value.

All of which is proof that, if someone is clever enough to develop a system, there will always be someone clever enough to cheat it. It saddens my socialist ideals that the person who tried to take on the banking system wasn’t superiorly intelligent (in my mind he is a masked hero called Merchant Wanker – make love, not profit), but, as we have to accept, there are vultures everywhere, and nobody likes a clever clogs.

Queen’s head no longer required by crack dealers

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

A couple of weeks ago, my sister sent me an article on Silk Road. It has taken me until now to take the time to read it, because I thought I knew about Silk Road. It’s an online drug marketplace, much like ebay, where drugs change hands for money anonymously. “I’ve known about this for ages”, I thought to myself. “What can The Guardian teach moi about drugs?”

Far from reassuring me of my elevated status, my eyes have been opened. Admittedly not about drugs (see Guardian, I’m still your best bet for a drugs correspondent), but about the seemingly radical left-wing movement which Silk Road appears to be a part of.

It seems that The War On The War On Drugs is inextricably linked with The War On Bankers. A group of young, homeless people in Central London are attacking the rule-makers from their office-block squat, and have not only used their technological intelligence to facilitate the democratically safe purchase of drugs, where, like ebay or Amazon, sellers gain ratings based on the quality and delivery of their products – but also the world’s fastest-growing currency.

Bitcoin was originally developed by an unknown, pseudo-named character (or possibly group of people), Satashi Nakamoto. Claiming to be Japanese, but believed to be British due to his use of language, this person expressed contempt for the banking system, and so applied his knowledge of cryptography to create a virtual currency. As it doesn’t subscribe to central banking legislation, it doesn’t have to follow their rules. So it’s use on dark web economies such as unlicensed gambling and drug purchasing sites is commonplace. However, it’s lack of central control means it has alternative appeal – Wikileaks started using the currency to side-step imposed banking restrictions, and when Iran was recently isolated from centralised banking systems, causing its currency to collapse, Bitcoin gave Iranians access to international currency markets.

Now I know this seems to be straying from my usual theme of drugs, but for me the topics are inextricably linked. In the same way that the sharing of porn was attributed to the initial popularity of the Internet, it seems that the sale of illicit substances was the driving market force behind the popularity of this new currency concept. Untracable, unrestrictable, and decentralised, Bitcoin has been likened to a banking guerrilla movement. And, much like the Internet, while this degree of freedom is bound to be attractive to the grubbier side of life, it seems to me that the possible applications are revolutionary.

In the first place, from the perspectives of drug markets, it cuts out the middle men – stereotypically (for good reason) the self-serving gangsters who manage to evade the law through means of financial dominance and fear. It puts the power into the hands of the educated chemist or the tech-savvy bedroom geek, and removes the ability to force control and market dominance through the use of threat and violence. And for the purchaser, the only real risk is possible loss of funds – as opposed to loss of consciousness.

Secondly, this process is wholly democratic. Your face doesn’t have to fit, you don’t need a gun or a baseball bat, your popularity is all about the quality of your product and the service you provide. Much like ebay, the international word-of-mouth is a value reminiscent of the now eroded physical local community.

Thirdly – and possibly, from a wider-reaching and potentially immensely valuable perspective – it means that we do not need to be dependent on a financial system that has shown itself to be no better than the gun-wielding crack dealers. Corrupt, immoral, and self-serving, our faith in international banking systems has been demolished. This fully decentralised method of financial exchange operates a peer-to-peer system, and network rules are made clear and agreed by anyone using it.

And so whether Bitcoin is a flash-in-the-pan, or a currency revolution, there is no doubt that it offers hope of a new way forward. The editor of Bitcoin Magazine claims that Bitcoin is to money what email was to the postal system. Time will tell. But there is no denying that, with a value increase from 5 cents to $138 in three years (which is pretty much a 100% increase since The Guardian article was written less than 2 weeks ago, apparently in response to the situation in Cyprus), at a time when traditional currency is showing its fatal flaws, Bitcoin and its financial militants are something to watch with anarchist glee.

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