Drugs: From Bootleg to Cybercrime

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Recently, twin brothers who helped put Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin Guzman in prison were sentenced to a reduced sentence because of their help in bagging Guzman. Unknown to the twins or the court, Guzman’s henchmen in Mexico were at that time building an elaborate tunnel from a newly constructed house in a distant field to Guzman’s shower stall in his prison cell. Roomy, elaborate and equipped with a motorcycle on rails, Mr. Guzman simply slipped out of his shower, onto the motorcycle, into the house, and out of sight. There will be retaliations, of course, and then the drug industry will spill over into the U.S. with renewed vigor. As the tunnel’s elaborate construction testifies, Mr. Guzman’s organization is strategically and technically sophisticated.

It’s all about the money. Drugs bring in so much that all risks are worthwhile. As the bromide says, if there were no market, there would be no illegal drug industry but the fact is, that people want drugs: lots of different drugs and in large quantities. As a result, the United States with its close ties to every country in the world through its diverse population, has a multitude of drug empires: some ethnic, such as Mr. Guzman’s, which deals drugs from various Latin and South American countries through Mexico and into the U.S., and others indigenous, such as the various South Side Chicago gangs, which deal drugs acquired from a variety of sources. By virtue of the value of the product being sold, and by virtue of its being illegal, all these enterprises are violent, using weapons suitable to battlefields. Why are these weapons so available in the United States? That’s a question for another day, but in essence, nobody needs an assault rifle for any legal activity.

“The Economist” (May 2, 2015) pointed out that Asia, Russia and the Middle East are escalating their anti-drug war. China’s president called for “forceful measures,” while Indonesia declared drugs a “national emergency”, executing six traffickers in January and another eight in April. Iran is executing “five times as many drug-smugglers as it did a few years ago”. As “The Economist” points out, drug smugglers simply move operations to a neighboring country if things get too tough in one of them, and then move back. They also have been successful in corrupting governments, security forces and the judiciary in various countries. As long as the demand exists and the money is good, ingenuity will baffle every effort to stamp out this industry.

“The Wall Street Journal” (May 30-31, 2015) headlined “Silk Road Founder Sentenced to Life.” This was Ross Ulbricht, who had ingeniously set up an underground online drug bazaar. Mr. Ulbricht cried at his sentencing, saying he didn’t create Silk Road out of greed and vanity, but because he wanted to “empower people to make choices” in their own lives with privacy and anonymity. Mr. Ulbricht was convicted of seven criminal charges, including conspiracies to sell drugs, launder money and hack computers. He ran his international criminal empire using the pseudonym Dread Pirate Roberts. Now that Mr. Ulbricht has shown the way and has been effectively removed from the scene, other operators will move into the international cybernet drug industry, using pseudonyms and bitcoins to facilitate their transactions. At least, this type of enterprise doesn’t require automatic weapons and daily turf wars, but it will be far more difficult to stop. Mr. Ulbricht was an Eagle Scout and college graduate who got a life sentence because he endangered countless anonymous lives around the world while making the $183 million forfeited as part of his sentence.

 

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DRUGS IN CHICAGO

 

When I wrote my novel, “Skyscrapers,” one of the characters was a major drug importer/dealer named Diego Diaz. I had been studying gun control and was well aware Chicago had become a major hub for drug dealers supplying Midwestern America. The chief honcho in Mexico was named Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who shipped drugs from Colombia to Mexico “using submarines, speedboats and amphibious vessels to avoid law enforcement,” according to “The Chicago Tribune,” January 8, 2015. Twin brothers in Chicago were the primary receivers and distributors of the drugs. They have been held in custody for six years and yesterday received fourteen-year sentences for their part in “smuggling at least 71 tons of cocaine and heroin and nearly $2 billion in cash from 2005 – 2008” according to the newspaper.

The twins were a single person in my novel, one very attractive to the young Eleanora Torquemada when they were both growing up poor in one of Powhaten’s Mexican neighborhoods. (I had Chicago’s Pilsen in mind.) During the novel Leonora, who now calls herself Ellie Smith, shortening her Mexican first name and using her married last name to Anglicize herself as part of her transformation into one of Powhaten’s most dynamic CEO’s. She re-meets Diego Diaz in the novel, still finds him attractive but stays away from him, well aware of who he is and what he does. She ends up helping to put him in jail.

But her dilemma is one a lot of people who grow up in poor neighborhoods face. In adulthood, some favorite people may have become people with whom one can no longer associate because of their illegal activities or unsavory associates. The twins who were sentenced to prison yesterday had done what Eleanora Torquemada Smith did: they turned against the cartel. They worked for the Federal government to such an extent that they entered into Guzman’s personal mountaintop compound in Mexico and secretly recorded him, a level of success Assistant U.S. Attorney General Michael Ferrara said “may never be duplicated.”

It’s interesting to me to see moves I put into a novel based on certain fact, actually play themselves out in real life the way I played them out in the novel.

 

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Drugs in Chicago

When I wrote my novel “Skyscrapers” one of the characters was a major drug importer/dealer named Diego Diaz. I had been studying gun control and was well aware Chicago had become a major hub for drug dealers. The chief honcho in Mexico was named Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who shipped drugs from Colombia to Mexico “using submarines, speedboats and amphibious vessels to avoid law enforcement,” according to “The Chicago Tribune,” January 28, 2015. Twin brothers in Chicago were major receivers and distributors of the drugs. They have been held in custody for six years and yesterday received 14-year sentences for their part in “smuggling at least 71 tons of cocaine and heroin and nearly $2 billion in cash from 2005 – 2008,” according to the newspaper’s account. The twins were a single person in my novel, and very attractive to the young Eleonora Torquemada when they were both growing up poor in one of Powhaten’s Mexican neighborhoods. (I had Chicago’s Pilsen in mind). During the novel, Leonora, who now calls herself Ellie Smith, shortening her Mexican first name and using her married last name to Anglicize herself as part of her transformation into one of Powhaten’s most dynamic CEO’s. She re-meets Diego Diaz in the novel, finds him attractive all over again but is aware of who he is and what he does. She ends up helping to put him in jail. But her dilemma is one a lot of people who grow up in poor neighborhoods face. In adulthood, some favorite people may be people with whom you cannot associate because of their illicit activities or unsavory associates. The twins who were sentenced to prison yesterday had done what Eleanora Torquemada Smith did: they turned against the cartel. They worked for the federal government to such an extent that they entered into Guzman’s personal mountaintop compound in Mexico and secretly recorded him, a level of success Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Ferrara said “may never be duplicated.” It’s interesting to me to see moves that I put into a novel based on certain facts, actually play themselves out the way I played them out in the novel.

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To blog or Not to Blog

This is in response to “bottledworder”‘s question: do writers have choices? Of course. And one of them is, to blog, which is easier and takes a lot less time than writing a novel. Taken together, it is likely that any one writer’s blogs add up to a novel. Given enough entries, if you read them consistently, you are reading the story of a specific person’s life. Or you are reading, on the other hand, the story of what interests a particular person, which informs that person’s life as well as his blogs. It depends on how much the writer says directly, and how much he puts his interests out there and lets you connect the dots.

On the other hand, the novel is not narcissistic unless it is the old-fashioned bildungsroman I studied in college, the story of a youth, male or female, growing into adulthood. These are often the first novel published after college, because a person that age doesn’t have much to talk about except himself, but the next novel either will follow the same pattern and discuss his or her career and relationships, or it will gel in a different way and incorporate a lot of characters who are not the writer per se.

The older you get and the more experience you live through – the good, the bad and the ugly – the more grist you have for your writer’s mill. It won’t fit intoa blog. Compress it as you will into “g,b,& u”, for example, it still doesn’t fit because it is too condensed to express anything. The novel, the stage play, the screenplay can take that kind of complexity and run with it. Throw all those crazy characters together and let them blog each other onstage and in person. What fun!

So in some cases, bloggers are writers who are trying their wings but soon will fly into a larger environment. Others will be so successful as bloggers, writing on a personal level to which many other people connect, that they will have no reason to change their pattern. There’s plenty of room for both of them, thank heavens! Will still more methods of communication emerge in our lifetimes? I WONDER. DO YOU?

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Reinventing Oneself

Fairy stories tell of reinventing oneself (or being reinvented). The Ugly Duckling becomes a swan. Cinderella becomes a Princess. Luke Skywalker becomes a Jedi knight. In the past, real humans were often stuck in their assigned social role forever. The poor stayed poor, royal children were forced into political marriages, and hunting and fishing provided uncertain sustenance for many throughout their lives. Nowadays, modern life requires constant reinvention. Given the life expectancy of Americans today, two career will be necessary. Given the instability of job security and financial markets, many will have to reinvent themselves against their will and before they expect to. Among pressures brought to bear are job loss, a move to an unfamiliar place, becoming a parent, a change of lover, getting married or divorced, going to jail or emerging from it, going to college or going back to college, learning new skills by necessity, adopting a child, losing a spouse or close family member, getting a serious disease… the list goes on and on.

Each reinvention of ourself starts tentatively. Let’s face it, we’re scared when we don’t know where we’re going or how to get there, and that’s true of any age. First of all, where are we trying to go? How do we get there? Would that cost money? How would we acquire it? What would be expected of us? What do I expect of myself? Are we capable of this? Who is depending on us, what forces us to move forward faster than we feel comfortable doing? And so on. We all know how this feels. It feels awful. If feels like falling down a bottomless pit.

Can we avoid this anguish? The answer is, no. Probably every person reading this blog has reinvented himself or herself at least once and in most cases, it was not by choice. You didn’t get the job. You got dumped by your boyfriend. Your parents died in a plane crash. You got cancer. Once in a while, like Cinderella, you get bumped from your familiar situation into a much grander one, and it’s a huge and thrilling positive. But usually, self-reinvention is the result of an unpleasant surprise that shoves you forward – into the unknown. It’s what you do as a result that develops and defines your character. However scared you are, you can’t hide and vegetate and eat Oreos all day. You have to recreate a meaningful lifestyle  for yourself, and only you can do it. Baby steps are the answer. Just start and keep toddling along and pretty soon you’ll be walking steadily and then heaven help the rest of us, you’ll be zooming into the stratosphere as a fascinating new you.

When will you be called upon to reinvent yourself? When will I? I WONDER. DO YOU?

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Shakespeare as a Cottonwood Tree

Why do people feel driven to create something? Either they want to answer a question they can’t resolve without a pen and paper (or computer) or they want to tell us something that can’t be expressed without an agile paintbrush or mixed media, or they want to share aural excitement, using their voice, musical instruments, electronic synthesizers or all three. Word written by pen were the lifeblood of Shakespeare. We can still hear the flow, the pulse, the intermingling of themes as if he himself were that of which he wrote. Being human, he wrote of all of us but from such an unusually deep and primal level that his plays and sonnets reverberate in human hearts and minds today. Shakespeare does not translate well. Something very essential fails to come through. I think it is the beat, the pulse, the life rhythm by which Shakespeare makes his characters’ speeches penetrate our psyche. He’s not merely being poetic and dramatic about his characters and their dilemmas, he is disseminating and inseminating his audience at the same time. It is as if he is the tallest cottonwood in the forest and every little downy seed of his writings has the potential to land within and sprout within all of us. Have others reached that level? Can others reach it? I WONDER. DO YOU?

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