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How long can you hold a burlap sack?

Maybe it’s empty, maybe it’s bricks, but you can’t put it down.

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Let’s do a thought exercise. You’re in a room with nine other people and an instructor. The instructor tells you to hold your arms out to the side, so you look like the letter T. There are twenty burlap sacks and he tells you that each pair of sacks has a different material inside. Two have cotton balls. Two have potatoes. Two have tennis balls. Two have bricks. Two are completely empty. The actual materials don’t matter — just picture a wide range of weights and you have no idea which sacks contain which materials.

He walks around to each of you and gives you two sacks, one for each arm sticking out to the side, parallel to the floor. He gets ready to leave and tells you all to hold out your sacks until he gets back, but you don’t know when he’s coming back. There’s an implication of a vague consequence to the other people in the room if you drop your sacks, but you don’t know what the consequence is or even if it will apply to every other person, but you all know that you’re all supposed to hold your sacks until he returns.

Your sack has tennis balls. It’s heavier than you want it to be, and the person across from you seems to have cotton balls because they’re not struggling at all. The person next to them obviously has bricks because they’re about to buckle almost immediately…and they do.

“Sorry. I couldn’t hold them. It was too heavy.”

The other nine of you are disappointed, but maybe the consequence won’t be too severe if only one person cracked. You hear a whisper from the person next to you.

“How long do we have to do this?”

“I’m not sure,” you reply.

“Forever?”

“Until the instructor comes back and tells us we can stop. Why? Is yours heavy?”

“No,” the person says. “I’m pretty sure it’s like feathers or something, but this seems stupid. That guy already broke the rule so we’re gonna get punished anyway. Why do the rest of us have to keep doing this?”

“The instructor could come back at any minute and tell us the exercise is over. Just keep at it.” But your tennis balls are getting heavier, and you’re wondering how long this will go and how much pain you’ll end up enduring.

Someone else breaks.

“Sorry!” and they open the bag. “I had potatoes.”

Time passes. A few more people break, and the ones who are still holding their bags are starting to feel the strain as well. They’re upset that they’re still suffering while the ones who gave up are sitting on the floor chatting, waiting for the instructor to tell everyone else their time is up.

You people are weak. You’re a disgrace. You had one job.

We were hurting! And we had no idea how long we’d be hurting!

Still, we’re holding up our end of the bargain and you all gave up! We’re hurting too!

But we reached our limit! You don’t know how heavy our bags were!

That’s no excuse! We had our orders! Now we’ll be punished!

I was already being punished and the instructor didn’t even give us an idea for how long we’d be suffering!

I’m sure y’all see what I’m getting at by now.

I was having lunch with a friend (@Pardee) the other day and we were talking about online shaming of folks who haven’t been the most responsible during the pandemic. He suggested I think of social distancing and the marching orders we’ve been given to stop the spread as a weight of indeterminate heft that we have to hold for an indeterminate length of time, so I did. I’ve been on both sides of the issue. On the one hand, people make larger sacrifices for the greater good all the time. Why can’t some people go a year without hooking up while people at war have gone longer without seeing their spouse? It’s so simple to just stay in the house and stop the spread of COVID.

On the other hand, I don’t need people or social interaction or parties or sex really. I’m fine sitting on the internet for my human experience. I can fill up the rest of my day with crafts and art. My best friend lives down the hall. My other best friend lives a pleasant walk down the avenue. When the pandemic started, the government gave me an empty burlap sack to hold indefinitely. Is it annoying not to know when I can put it down? Yes. Is it uncomfortable? A bit. Am I in excruciating pain? Absolutely not.

The government gave some people a bag of bricks and said “hold this until I tell you to stop.” Those are the people who need social interaction to flourish. They need parties, they need energy. They need sex even. I don’t know what that feels like, to need to see people, the same way I wouldn’t know what it feels like to hold a bag of bricks if I had a bag of cotton balls.  So how helpful is it to yell at those people and tell them they disappointed all of us, that they should be ashamed of themselves, that we are holding our bags so why aren’t they? If you had just put down a bag of bricks because it was too painful to keep elevated, would having people yell at you convince you to pick them back up?

I’m not insensitive to death. I went to a Zoom funeral in April for a family member because of COVID. But the low probability of a stranger dying is such a vague consequence to the majority of people. There’s really no other way to say it other than just being blunt about it. If you told someone holding a bag of bricks that as soon as you drop it, you will have to go to your grandmother’s funeral, they will hold the bag of bricks until they physically cannot anymore. Some people will endure physical and lasting harm to save the life of a loved one. If you told someone holding a bag of bricks that if you drop it, someone in the room may have a very small chance of going to their grandmother’s funeral, they’re not holding the bag indefinitely. At the beginning it’s okay, I’m saving someone’s grandma but after some time passes it’s okay, I’m really suffering here and there’s a greater chance I will die in a car accident but I haven’t stopped driving so why am I in such pain for something that likely won’t happen?

It would be great if everyone reacted to every situation in the most optimal fashion, that everyone’s response to any circumstance or crisis was the best response for the good of society, but that would require every person to enter that crisis with the same resources and the same needs. We went into this expecting the same result from an endlessly wide range of people, but that makes no sense. If person A is 5’1″ and weighs 98 lbs and person B is 6’3″ and weighs 205 lbs of muscle, how do you expect both of them to hold a bag of anything for the same amount of time?

So. Some people put their bags down. I stopped being upset about it a long time ago.

Some of those people who put their bags down are walking around the room taunting everyone else who is still holding a bag, and that part is indefensible to me. If you want to party, go party. If you want to party and then post it on social media to show everyone else what a great time you’re having while they are still trying to uphold their end of the contract, that’s a level of shallow narcissism I can’t chalk up to being an extrovert who needs to be around people. That’s a character flaw for which I have no justification or empathy.

And now we’re moving into the next phase of this virus, where some people are vaccinated and some are not. When you see a group of people eating in a restaurant, are they supporting a business, that is forced to be open, because they feel safe enough to do so with the antibodies they’re producing, or are they eating out and damn the consequences because they just need to be social? Are they in Tulum because they’re trying to resume normal life after a year of doing their part, or is it just the next vacation on the list while demand is still lower? There’s never been any nuance in online shaming, so now what do we do with that broad brushstroke over everyone doing something that looks unsafe or irresponsible during a pandemic?

The point I want to leave you with is that we long passed the point of a social contract signed by the majority to behave a certain way to stop the spread of COVID. When we all got our bags last March, most of us were of like mind: we’ll hold these bags for a few weeks until the government comes back in the room and tells us we can put them down. But no one told us we could put them down. A few weeks was repeatedly extended until the time looked indefinite. The bags were heavier to some than others. The potential consequences looked more vague to some than others. And now some of us are getting texts from the instructor that we can put them down — some of us are getting vaccinated — while the rest are still holding these bags until some as-yet-to-be-determined date in the future.

You have a responsibility to yourself and your community to stop the spread of COVID as best you can, but we as a collective don’t need to waste so much useless energy yelling at people who’ve already put their bags down. We don’t know what they were feeling and no amount of chastising will make them pick the bags back up. We’re all just doing our best waiting for the instructor to come back into the room.

 

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Health

Test your drugs for fentanyl.

The illegal drug supply is becoming less reliable and more contaminated.

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When I was in college hanging out in dive bars and chugging PBR while a steady stream of local bands competed to be the next Interpol, cocaine was everywhere. If you had told 7-year-old me in DARE how much recreational coke I would do before I turned 25, I would have been horrified. When I moved to NYC, it was easier to find a bump than a cigarette. In Williamsburg on somebody’s rooftop pregaming before a night out. On New Year’s Eve with some finance bro at a swanky hotel party. In the East Village listening to a band play. In Hell’s Kitchen on the dancefloor where no one has yet offered you coke, but your lips are tingly after making out with a stranger, so you ask and receive. In all of my years partying until the sun came up, I never once bought cocaine. I simply trusted the coke of whoever was offering, because they’re obviously not dead, so it must be fine.

I would never accept coke from a stranger now. And I wouldn’t even do coke I’d bought myself without testing it for fentanyl first.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid created in the 1960s that is used in hospital and medical settings primarily for anesthesia because it works fast and it only takes a little. Outside of those environments, fentanyl is prescribed for severe pain as a last resort measure. You climb the mountain of painkillers, and if none of them work, you finally hit fentanyl at the top. It’s 100 times stronger than morphine and 50 times stronger than heroin, and for many people, it’s the only drug that keeps them from committing suicide. This summer I was listening to Very Uplifting Podcasts about Enron and global warming and addiction, and Painkiller produced by Vice has a lot of interview subjects discussing their experience with Fentanyl. There’s a wide spectrum of the population, from fentanyl dealers to loved ones of overdose victims to addicts to patients who have been prescribed fentanyl for extreme pain. Listening to people who have struggled with chronic pain reach the end of their rope on the brink of suicide only to be pulled back after a fentanyl prescription is very enlightening for those of us who only hear the drug in association with illegal usage and overdoses. Those overdoses have now made it more difficult for legal users to obtain the drug, since the government is cracking down and making it harder for medical care providers to write new prescriptions. These people who wanted to die before fentanyl then realized they could live with fentanyl now want to die again.

So why are so many people suddenly overdosing on fentanyl? Well, the most basic answer is potency. Look at a lethal dosage of heroin next to fentanyl (next to carfentanil, another synthetic opioid on deck to become a widespread problem).

Buzzfeed has an in-depth article about the rise of illegal fentanyl usage in the United States, and I’ve read various works about where it comes from and who makes it and how addictive it is, but there isn’t enough focus on accidental contamination.

If I’m a heroin dealer and I want to make more money, I may mix a little heroin with quinine and milk sugar. I just stretched my heroin supply, but I also made a crap product. My users won’t get high the way they used to and they won’t buy from me anymore…unless I cut it with a little fentanyl. They’ll get the high they expect (or better!) and I increased my profit margin. They may become hooked on fentanyl and I don’t have to sell them heroin at all. That’s intentional. A heroin user who tries fentanyl is less likely to overdose than someone who has no experience with opioids.

If I’m a cocaine dealer, there is no reason for me to intentionally cut my product with fentanyl. The highs are different, so I’m not using it to recreate the feeling of a product I’ve watered down with junk for a higher profit margin. I’m likely to kill my customers, which is terrible for business. If there is fentanyl in the cocaine that I’m selling, it’s because it accidentally got there through cross-contamination. (There are cocaine users who intentionally lace with fentanyl, similar to a cocaine-heroin speedball, but that kind of overdose is what we typically think of when someone overdoses on a drug — they meant to use it, they just used too much.)

For some reason, people are very protective over their drug dealers. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard friends and acquaintances say “Oh my guy gets the best stuff…” or “Oh I buy from him all the time, I know it’s good…” We love brand loyalty in this country. I use Tide on my clothes mostly because my mama used Tide, so that’s just the laundry detergent I know. If you buy cocaine from the same guy all the time, I love that for y’all’s relationship. However, your dealer is the last person in a chain of people that stretches to South America.

Unless your dealer physically picked the coca leaves and performed the multi-cycle processes of dissolving and extracting with lime water, kerosene, and sulfuric acid in big metal drums, he is not 100% certain what’s in it. And making cocaine in the jungle is not an FDA approved process where people are wearing gloves and wiping tables and cleaning out containers. Fentanyl has exploded onto the market over the past five years and every supplier wants a piece. If your dealer gets your cocaine from a place that is now making fentanyl, he doesn’t know if the cocaine and fentanyl were packaged on the same table. He doesn’t know if bags were reused. You don’t know either until you get the first baggie of contaminated coke and your next line is your last.

If you take away nothing else about fentanyl take away this: You do not know if your regular supply will contaminated. You do not know if the bump you take in a bar from a friendly stranger is contaminated.

Cocaine has been my example because that was my party drug of choice, but recreational users across the board are dying from fentanyl. Snapchat is currently running from litigation because teenagers keep buying pills (typically Oxy) on their platform, and they’re dying from fentanyl.

Nobody stops doing party drugs because of something they read on the internet, but you can try to be safer and encourage those around you to be safer as well. If you are a regular partier, test your drugs with fentanyl strips. If you are regularly around people who party, learn how to use naloxone and carry it with you to stop an overdose and save a life.

There are many places to get both for free and the most popular in NY (or at least the one that I see the most) is endoverdose.net. You register, fill out an anonymous survey, and order what you need.

I don’t have anything to say about the War on Drugs. Addiction is complicated and should be treated as a public health crisis instead of crime and punishment. If we lived in a society that made space to talk about drug addictions openly and rationally, we would be able to talk about recreational drug usage. DARE would have us believe that every line of coke is another cobblestone on the road to destruction and embarrassing your family, but we know better. Illegal drugs exist right alongside alcohol and the fact that we can’t talk about it means we can’t regulate it. Lack of regulation means opportunity for intentional malfeasance and unintentional contamination. The only solution to accidental fentanyl overdoses that the law and the government will suggest is to simply Stop Doing Drugs. Humans have been doing drugs for all of recorded history, so take care of each other and use your best judgement. There is no reason to accidentally die from something you could easily test for free.

 

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Health

Does being “pro-mask” mean you have to wear one 100% of the time?

We have to change how we think about interaction and exposure.

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Yesterday, I posted this handy little reminder on social media, because some of us are tired of wearing masks and it’s important to remember why we’re doing it in the first place.

A mask is to protect others, and we should still be striving to protect each other.

Someone called me a hypocrite because I’m very pro-mask even when vaccinated, and yet I go to bars and restaurants where you don’t need a mask if you show your vaccine information.

So let me clarify!

I wear a mask on the subway, in grocery stores, picking up food at the deli, at the post office, in the gym etc.

I don’t wear a mask when I’m socializing in a bar or a restaurant. And that’s because I feel like those are two different social contracts.

I wear a mask so that if I have a breakthrough asymptomatic case of COVID, I’m not spreading it to other people who did not sign up for the risk. The post office, the subway, the grocery store — these are essential services that everyone has to participate in, vaxxed or not. I don’t know who around me on the subway is immunocompromised or can’t get the vaccine or lives with someone who can’t get vaxxed, etc. They are just trying to go about their day and I’m trying to do my part.

In a bar, everybody assumes the same risk. You know someone COULD have COVID, even though everyone is vaxxed, but that’s the contract you all signed to socialize. If some of those people get grandma sick, that’s their irresponsible action, not mine. I am not at risk of transmitting COVID to anyone because I wear a mask when I’m around people outside of the social contract, and nobody that I’m maskless around is vulnerable. If *you* live with Grandma then *you* should not be in a bar.

This is how I feel about COVID: it’s here forever. There is no point when we go back to pre-COVID where it is “safe” to go to a bar or restaurant. We have to change how we think about interaction and exposure. Social settings are consensual exposure. Everyone there signed up for the same risks. Essential services are nonconsensual exposure. Everyone *has* to participate in them, so we collectively do what we can to minimize risk and protect each other.

I don’t think that’s hypocritical.

 

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Health

Ivermectin would be so profitable…if it worked.

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The US is a deeply capitalist country. Forget doctors, the FDA, the CDC and whoever else is allegedly conspiring against ivermectin. If livestock dewormer worked to defeat or prevent COVID, *all* of the companies who make it would be pushing it for that reason to make more money!

It’s so funny to me that these raggedy ass, anti-government, Facebook Researchers are so convinced the world is cahoots to keep horse paste away from them when the people who stand to make an absolute killing off the sales of horse paste aren’t trying to pimp the shit out!

Merck is an ivermectin manufacturer and they flat out said don’t use it for COVID. You really think they would lie about that and miss out on a bag? Please.

 

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