miércoles, 30 de noviembre de 2011


Globalización / Néstor Martínez

Allá lejos de tu patria
decidieron la muerte de tu raza
no vieron tus lágrimas
de impotencia centenaria
ni tu bolsillo vacío
de aspiraciones perdidas
ni la desesperanza frente a la muerte
de los niños hambrientos
ni oyeron tus ruegos
de paz y justicia
ni el protestar de tu estómago
frente a la opulencia prohibida
ni el campo arrasado
de cosechas inútiles
ni la sed abrasadora
frente a las fuentes secas
Allá lejos, con aire acondicionado,
seres extraños, de camisa blanca y corbata,
en oficinas cerradas, iluminadas,
planearon el despojo
de tu patria, tu cultura,
de tu tierra, de tus hijos,
Allá lejos
se oye el trepidar de huesos
bajar de las montañas,
salir de las ciudades,
de las selvas, de los campos,
con el rayo en la mano...

sábado, 26 de noviembre de 2011

My experiment with smart drugs / Johann Hari

It was in March, in the drizzle, that I realized my brain was burned out. Like a rusty engine, I could hear it chug-chug and splutter – but it would never quite start running at top speed. I had just come back from a rough month-long work-trip to Bangladesh, and I had an Everest of work in front of me. It was all fascinating, and all urgent – but I was plodding though it at half my normal speed. I needed to be performing at my best; instead I was at my worst. I stared at the London rain from my window, and slogged on.

That’s when I stumbled across a small story in an American scientific magazine. It said there was a spiky debate across America’s universities about the increasing use by students of a drug called Provigil. It was, they said, Viagra for the brain. It was originally designed for narcoleptics in the seventies, but clinical trials had stumbled across something odd: if you give it to non-narcoleptics, they just become smarter. Their memory and concentration improves considerably, and so does their IQ.

It’s not an amphetamine or stimulant, the article explained: it doesn’t make you high, or wired. It seems to work by restricting the parts of your brain that make you sluggish or sleepy. No significant negative effects have been discovered. Now students are using it in the run-up to exams as a “smart drug” – a steroid for the mind.

It sounded perfect. A few clicks on-line and I found I could order it from a foreign pharmacy, just £30 for a month’s supply. I called a friend who is a GP, and told her what I was thinking of. She’d heard of people using the drug, and went away and looked up the details. “I think it’s a stupid thing to do, because you shouldn’t ever take drugs you don’t need,” she said when she called back. “Do I think it’ll seriously harm you? No, I don’t. But you’d be much better off taking a long holiday than narcolepsy pills.” Then she warned me: “There is one known side-effect.” Oh, damn I thought. A downside. “It often causes people to lose weight.” Are you mad? You become cleverer and thinner? I whipped out my Visa card immediately.

A week later, the little white pills arrived in the post. I sat down and took one 200mg tablet with a glass of water. It didn’t seem odd: for years, I took an anti-depressant. Then I pottered about the flat for an hour, listening to music and tidying up, before sitting down on the settee. I picked up a book about quantum physics and super-string theory I have been meaning to read for ages, for a column I’m thinking of writing. It had been hanging over me, daring me to read it. Five hours later, I realised I had hit the last page. I looked up. It was getting dark outside. I was hungry. I hadn’t noticed anything, except the words I was reading, and they came in cool, clear passages; I didn’t stop or stumble once.

Perplexed, I got up, made a sandwich – and I was overcome with the urge to write an article that had been kicking around my subconscious for months. It rushed out of me in a few hours, and it was better than usual. My mood wasn’t any different; I wasn’t high. My heart wasn’t beating any faster. I was just able to glide into a state of concentration – deep, cool, effortless concentration. It was like I had opened a window in my brain and all the stuffy air had seeped out, to be replaced by a calm breeze.

Once that article was finished, I wanted to do more. I wrote another article, all of it springing out of my mind effortlessly. Then I go to dinner with a few friends, and I decide not to tell them, to see if they notice anything. At the end of the dinner, my mate Jess turns to me and says, “You seem very thoughtful tonight.”

That night, I lay in bed, and I couldn’t sleep. I wasn’t restless or tetchy; I just kept thinking very clearly, and I wanted to write it all down. I remembered there’s a long history of people in high-pressure jobs using stimulants when their brains lost their sponginess: Anthony Eden was taking Benzedrine all through the Suez Crisis, and Jean-Paul Sartre wrote several of his novels while pumped on mescaline. Admittedly, these precedents aren’t encouraging: Eden had a break-down, and Sartre’s brain was so cooked that for the rest of his life, he had the recurring fear that he was being followed by a giant lobster. Am I making a stupid mistake? Am I mad?

The next morning I woke up and felt immediately alert. Normally it takes a coffee and an hour to kick-start my brain; today I’m ready to go from the second I rise. And so it continues like this, for five days: I inhale books and exhale articles effortlessly. My friends all say I seem more contemplative, less rushed – which is odd, because I’m doing more than normal. One sixty-something journalist friend says she remembers taking Benzadrine in the sixties to get through marathon articles, but she’d collapse after four or five says and need a long, long sleep. I don’t feel like that. I keep waiting for an exhausted crash, and it doesn’t seem to come.
When the American journalist David Plotz took Provigil, he said it should be given a slogan. Just as valium was marketed as “the housewife’s little helper,” he said this should be sold as “the boss’ little helper.” It makes you work better and harder than before.

It’s hard to explain Provigil’s effects beyond that. Normally, one day out of seven I have a day when I’m working at my best – I’ve slept really well, and everything comes easily and fast. Provigil makes every day into that kind of day. It’s like I have been upgraded to a new operating system: Johann 3.0. On discussion boards, I talk to American student doctors taking the drug, who say they feel exactly the same way. “I keep thinking – where’s the catch?” one says. It turns out it is being given to US soldiers too.

It was then that I noticed: I just wasn’t very hungry. I am normally porcine; my ex once seriously considered having a trough made for me. But on Provigil, I was filled up by a bowl of soup and a piece of bread. I would feel stuffed half-way through my normal meals, and push the food away unfinished. One of my friends howled: “Who are you, and what have you done with the real Johann?”

Is all this just the placebo effect: I expect it to do this to me, so it does? Perhaps. But in the clinical trials, it worked much better than the placebo. But then I began to worry again. We don’t know the long-term effects of this drug: nobody has been taking it for long. What if it causes your brain to deplete its resources and wear out? My wonderful grandmother has dementia, her life and personality dissolving in lost memories; no short-term concentration is worth that. A friend says to me one afternoon, “Why do you always feel like you’re not good enough, and you need some kind of chemical enhancement?” It makes me wonder. There are also concerns that if you take it for too long, it can become addictive. So after five days on, I decided to take three days off, to see what would happen.

It was easy. I painlessly sagged back to my former somewhat-depleted state, as though the Provigil had never happened. I worked in my usual stop-start bursts. I ate my usual portions-and-a-half. I stared sadly at the pack of Provigil, and every time I hit a mental stumbling block, I had to discipline myself not to crack out a Provigil.

As soon as my three days were up and I started again, my brain revved back into super-speed and my stomach began to shrivel. But this time I began to worry about the ethics of it all. If this drug had been available during my A-Levels or finals, I would have been the first to guzzle it down. But isn’t that cheating? What’s the difference between Provigil for students and steroids for athletes? And if this drug becomes as popular as, say, anti-depressants or Ritalin, won’t there be a social pressure for workers to take it? Many parents feel intensely pressured by schools today to drug away their child’s disobedience; will they feel pressured by their bosses to drug away their natural fatigue?

Professor Anjan Chatterjee says, “This age of cosmetic neurology is coming, and we need to know it’s coming.” The use of Provigil and its progeny will be mainstream and mainlined in just a few years, he argues, and this made me feel excited by the prospect – and anxious. But all this raced through my brain as I worked faster (and ate less) than I ever have: it was hard to dwell on the drawbacks in those circumstances. As the end of my final five days approached, I had to decide what to do. Do I order another pack? Do I try to think all my thoughts at a faster pace from here on in with the power of Provigil?

I paced and agonised and finally concluded that taking narcolepsy drugs when you don’t have narcolepsy is just stupid. Our lack of knowledge about what it does to your brain was, in the end, a deal-breaker for me. Perhaps in sixty years we’ll know for sure it’s safe, and I will have spent my life at only sixty percent brain-capacity – but I’d rather risk that than brain damage. So I have cut a deal with myself. I am keeping a pack in the bathroom cabinet for the days when I am really knackered and have to be able to work fast and fluently – but I won’t ever take more than two or three a month.

As I put the tablets aside, I look out over my flat. My desk is piled high with the vast quantities of work I have pumped out. My cupboards are full of uneaten food. The whole place is freakishly clean, something I did in my spare time, without even thinking about it. Ah, Provigil, you are a gorgeous temptress. With a sad sigh, I close the bathroom cabinet on her sweet temptation, and stumble back to my slow, patchy life, with my slow, patchy brain.

Procol Harum / Shine On Brightly [1968]

George Orwell / Animal Farm [1946]

George Orwell - Granja Animal

miércoles, 23 de noviembre de 2011

Juan Son & Sussie 4 / Navajas

¿Facebook es Matrix o Matrix es Facebook? / José Steinsleger

Reyna, hermoso nombre (¿seudónimo?) de un@ lectora, me dijo: vive usted en los 60. Lo tomé como cumplido y recordé las palabras de Paul Nizan al empezar Adén Arabia, estimulante librito de viajes: Yo tenía veinte años. No permitiré que nadie diga que es la edad más hermosa de la vida (1932).

Creo que la generación del 60 tuvo el coraje de escapar de la caverna de Platón. Julio Cortázar cavilaba entonces sobre las miserias del hic et nunc, y “…el sentimiento del absurdo por el que nos definimos y definimos el mundo”.

En La vuelta al día en 80 mundos, Cortázar nos presentó a Jules Laforgue (poeta y amigo del comunero Arthur Rimbaud), quien para ordenar la agenda mostró un recurso sencillo: “…¿para qué la vaporosa metafísica cuando tenemos a mano la física palpable?”.

Algunos intuimos que el otro Julio (Verne) había sido algo más que un autor de ciencia-ficción. Ubiquémonos. Es correcto asociar los 60 (y parte de los 70) con lo antiguo y pasado, mas no sería conveniente igualar las tres vertientes revolucionarias de la época: la real (Cuba), la ideal (París 1968), y la virtual que, sigilosamente, empezó a programar el mundo de nuestros días.

La vuelta al día… apareció en sincronía con el grupo de investigadores estadunidenses que se enfrascaron (sin proponérselo) en la tarea que progresivamente confundió ciencia y tecnología, hardware y software, desarrollo y crecimiento, sexualidad y sexo, redes y telarañas, etcétera (Network Working Group, NWG, 1968).

Seguramente, aquellos muchachos tan pragmáticos se habían formado en las 13 virtudes de Benjamín Franklin. Y a ellos, más el generoso apoyo del Pentágono, la belicista corporación Rand, y la teoría de redes del polaco Paul Baran (fallecido en marzo pasado), debemos los primeros protocolos que permitieron interactuar a las computadoras: el interface message processor, o interfaz.

La primera red fue un sistema de intercomunicación militar (Arpanet, 1967), y se conectó en 1969. Luego, en 1971, Ray Tomlinson inventó el correo y el arroba (@), y un año después se realizó la primera presentación pública en Washington. En 1983, con la creación de los protocolos TCP/IP, nació Internet: la red de redes.

No sigo con la historia de una tecnología, porque el asunto de marras es un programa: Facebook. Ahora bien: ¿programa para qué? Mark Zuckerberg sostiene que su creación trata de ayudar a la gente a compartir información con sus amigos. Sin embargo, a inicios de mayo pasado, en el programa de televisión Russia Today, el experto en redes y enredos Julian Assange, director de Wikileaks, dijo que Facebook es la máquina de espionaje más terrible del mundo, jamás inventada.

Con ánimo sesentista (quiero decir: no neutral), creo que Mark Zuckerberg (26 años) es uno más de los geniecillos empecinados en convencernos de que la sociedad puede cambiar a través de la tecnología. Y Assange (41), una suerte de hijo pródigo de aquellos que (ideológicamente correctos), buscaban el cambio social con buenos sentimientos libertarios.

No cabe sino agradecer a Julian los servicios prestados para saber de lo sabido y no difundido. En cambio, me resulta difícil desligar el programa de Facebook de películas de ciencia ficción como las de la trilogía Matrix (1999-2003). ¿La recordamos? En la dimensión Matrix, la vida de casi todos los seres humanos ha sido esclavizada por las máquinas y las inteligencias artificiales, y viven en estado de simulación social en un mundo ilusorio.

Las películas de Zuckerberg acaban de empezar. ¿Cuántas versiones habrá en cartelera? En 2008 y 2009, con millares de espectadores (¿usuarios?), vimos Un millón de voces contra las FARC, Mil personas que odian a Hugo Chávez, La misteriosa eliminación del perfil de la televisión del partido de los comunistas italianos y El nuevo banco de datos de los terroristas internacionales.

En 2010 fue estrenada Facebook borra la página sueca de Wikileaks (con 30 mil usuarios), y la película de siempre reciclada desde hace más de medio siglo: el portal de Cubadebate cerrado por la denuncia de YouTube sobre derechos de autor (un video sobre el terrorista de la CIA Luis Posada Carriles), y la campaña Por el levantamiento popular en Cuba.

Frente a las manifestaciones del pueblo egipcio, el instituto sionista Albert Einstein (con sede en Washington), remitió a los usuarios de Facebook y Twitter instrucciones del Departamento de Estado y la CIA (cómo vestirse, por dónde circular, qué gritar: ¡La policía y el pueblo contra la injusticia! ¡Viva Egipto!
El 15 de mayo último, a petición del gobierno de Israel y con motivo de otro aniversario de la Nakba (exterminio), Zuckerberg borró las cuentas de medio millón de usuarios que en Facebook defendían la causa palestina.

Como imagino que Reyna debe andar por los veinte y pico, anhelo, de todo corazón, que en 2050 no se vea en la situación de explicarle a los nietos, por qué buena parte de su generación consintió en regresar, sumisa y amigablemente, a la cueva del venerable filósofo conservador.

miércoles, 9 de noviembre de 2011

Los Locos / Roque Dalton Garcia

A los locos no nos quedan bien los nombres.

Los demás seres
llevan sus nombres como vestidos nuevos,
los balbucean al fundar amigos,
los hacen imprimir en tarjetitas blancas
que luego van de mano en mano
con la alegría de las cosas simples.

Y qué alegría muestran los Alfredos, los Antonios,
los pobres Juanes y los taciturnos Sergios,
los Alejandros con olor a mar!

Todos extienden, desde la misma garganta con que cantan
sus nombres envidiables como banderas bélicas,
tus nombres que se quedan en la tierra sonando
aunque ellos con sus huesos se vayan a la sombra.

Pero los locos, ay señor, los locos
que de tanto olvidar nos asfixiamos,
los pobres locos que hasta la risa confundimos
y a quienes la alegría se nos llena de lágrimas,
cómo vamos a andar con los nombres a rastras,
puliéndolos como mínimos animales de plata,
viendo con estos ojos que ni el sueño somete
que no se pierdan entre el polvo que nos halaga y odia?

Los locos no podemos anhelar que nos nombren
pero también lo olvidaremos…