Saturday, May 31, 2008

Ban on Kava balloons into more violence, higher prices

Yes, zero tolerance fundamentalists have done it again. A ban on Kava, a mild narcotic intrinsic to Pacific Island societies, has broken up Australian 'kava clubs' which Tongans say reduced violence, underpinned their cultural roots and connected younger with older generations.

Tongans here say there has already been an increase in violence as a result of the ban.

The price of the stuff, in line with other prohibited substances, has rocketed from $30 per kg to $200, creating a great profit opportunity for smugglers and drug dealers.

Meanwhile the kava-clubbers will presumably turn back to alcohol with all its well-known consequences. Pure kava has no serious health risks. Only low-grade kava with impurities from the wrong parts of the plant contains toxins. Under the ban, though, the pure stuff will be harder to get and unscrupulous suppliers will be more tempted to flog the diluted product, exactly as now happens with other prohibited drugs.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Henson witch-hunt pursues websites commenting on the Henson witch-hunt

The 'Purse-lipped paragons of public morality' are dobbing in websites that report on the Henson witch-hunt and carry Henson images, reports the SMH today.

The fury of this farce is unparalleled, sucking up huge public resources.

They are going to look really stupid when they lose all the ensuing legal cases, which is the likely outcome according to all the legal opinion I have seen.

Surely it would be better to test the initial case in court before flying into a moral panic that penetrates every art gallery and website.

The futility of this pogrom is obvious. Henson's images are available internationally through a basic Google search, so persecuting Australian sites is pointless. These luddites don't seem to realise what 'www' stands for.


Or here.

Or here

Or here (read the comments on this one -- the blogger is accused of being a 'homo' for showing them. Just goes to show sexual moralists are the true weirdos)

Or here (see picture 238!) Dunno about 'homos'.

etc etc. I wonder when the thought police might discover my posting of the Blind Faith cover in the post below. Or will the 'Hetty Johnston protection strip' provide immunity from these tiny-minded busybodies? Or can they block every website that has an overseas link?

It's a bit like pushing goatshit up a steep hill with a pointy stick, as my dear old dad once said.

PS: an artist friend of mine (with a painting in the current Archibald exhibition) was sitting on Bondi Beach the other day painting the headland on a commission. He got out his camera for a reference shot and in no time was literally tapped on the shoulder by a life-saver and accused of photographing children. He was highly offended. Seriously, what is this mad country coming to?

Wentworth Courier loses its grip

"THE Wentworth Courier has lost its 15-year hold on real estate advertising in the eastern suburbs after the competition watchdog upheld complaints lodged by Fairfax Media that the rival publication's deals were anti-competitive," writes the SMH today.

The Courier signed real estate agents into deals which locked up 75% of their total advertising, clearly an anti-competitive contract.

The fat, plastic-covered Murdoch publication has dominated the eastern suburbs for decades and it is well known by would-be competitors that their price-cutting and targeting of competitors' own advertisers is the biggest barrier to setting up a rival title.

That's partly why The Kings Cross Times stopped producing a newspaper in 2003 and exists now only as a blog. We simply did not have the financial backing to withstand a long price war.

Lawrence Gibbons, publisher of the City News, The Hub and The Bondi View, recently wrote about predatory pricing, referring to a small magazine The Village Voice that is occasionally bundled with the Courier.

Its advertising rates were a mere fraction of the Courier's and Gibbons saw this as a means to lock his and other publications out of the market by undercutting their low ad rates.

While I have issues with Lawrence's approach to local newspapers, I support his efforts and applaud his survival against his Goliath competition.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Alcopop debacle balloons

The recent tax on alcopops, like most attempts to regulate against human nature, seems to be doing little but creating a "balloon effect".

Sales of alcoholic candy have reportedly dropped 38% since the tax while sales of hard spirits have risen 21%. Squeeze the balloon in one place and it expands in another. But wait, there's more.

I regularly find empty Passion Pop bottles literally on my doorstep, left there by Kings Cross revellers tanking up in the back streets to avoid horrendous cocktail prices in the club scene.

So I checked with my local bottle shop. Their sales of Passion Pop have increased about TENFOLD, driven partly by backpackers. 

The joke is that Passion Pop has an alcohol content of 9.5% and costs $5 per 750ml bottle while many of the pre-mixed drinks have only a 5% content. Doh! 

The Temperance Union never thought of that, as they seem even further removed from reality than the drunkards they are trying to control.

Now Police Commissioner Scipione is calling for drinks to be taxed by alcohol content, on the face of it a bit more logical than the results of the previous moral panic. 

Trouble is, the table wines consumed most evenings in moderation by civilised middle class upright responsible citizens (like myself!) have an alcohol content of 11–13.5% and would become a lot more expensive. The chardonnay set will scream blue murder at yet another tax on top of crushing fuel prices and interest rates. Our wine industry would also suffer.

The policy would clearly target the wrong people.

More sensible might be a tax on sugar content in all drinks including the slabs of Coke I regularly see walking out of the supermarket. That might reduce rampant dental problems as well.

But then, what about artificial sweeteners? It's a maze.

Even if they did manage to tax us all into sobriety, the balloon effect would continue. I have fond memories from back in my hippie days of a bunch of friends back in the mountains distilling bottles of "rocket fuel" which they sold for a tax-free $10 to friends.

Then there is the "balloon effect" into drugs (which are entirely unregulated and untaxed), or as one TV commentator said, as a last resort people will just go out to their front lawn and spin around until dizzy, risking a skewering on the garden tap.

This is why prohibition – or even over-regulation – simply creates a balloon that just won't pop. You can take metaphors only so far.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bill Henson witch-hunt continues

ABC Radio just reported that the Newcastle Art Gallery has been ordered to take its Bill Henson works off the walls and remove the images from its website. They have obeyed already. Meanwhile the Albury Art Gallery has reportedly also removed their Henson works from exhibition.

His work also appears in many books and the NSWAG exhibition catalogue. The inquisitors had better start a national house-to-house search and burn them all, too. Hint: books burn at Fahrenheit 451.

Then they can start on the 1969 Blind Faith album cover (pictured here with additions that make it Inquistion-proof). I bought it from a shop in Sydney just a couple of years ago. They'd better start a search of all the cd shops in Australia, not to mention everyone's cd collection. Then, to be consistent, they should prosecute the artist Bob Seidemann, Robert Stigwood and Polydor Records, and Eric Clapton who fought for the image and in fact named the band after its title.

Then they'd better go on a world-wide witch-hunt and demolish every site that carries the image, eg the site mentioned above which describes how the model, who was the same age as Shakespeare's Juliet, begged for the opportunity to pose and her Mayfair parents agreed. If the Inquisitors are thorough they should also censor every website that carries that link.

On the other hand they could just get on with protecting vulnerable kids from pedophiles instead of wasting their time persecuting artists.

And still, movies showing horrific torture, mutilation and violence are freely available at every video shop. I wonder if Hetty objects to the invasion of Iraq which has resulted in unimaginable suffering for hundreds of thousands of children. She is certainly not campaigning about that. What a sick society of dim, sex-obsessed hypocrites we live in.

PS 28/05/08 – Elizabeth Farrelly asks:  'Who is drawing the dirty pictures?' in today's SMH.

PPS 29/05/08 – an ex police superintendent who also owns an art gallery castigates "the purse-lipped paragons of public morality." Lovely phrase!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Be afraid, be VERY afraid

What with the Ruddster siding with the witch-hunt against Bill Henson, folding to Brendan Nelson over fuel prices, backing the coal-burning ambitions of Morris Iemma and reducing funding for research even in sustainable technologies, his innate conservatism is becoming more and more obvious as reality replaces the feelgood spin that has marked his reign to date.

This collage (courtesy of a friend) raises the horrible possibility that John Howard and Kevin Rudd ARE THE SAME GUY. That would explain why we haven't seen much of Howard since the erection. Come to think of it, we never saw them in the same place at the same time during the campaign, did we? And those exchanges in Parliament would have been easy to fake with a little vision mixing...

Friday, May 16, 2008

What rhymes with 'Pope'?

Pictured is a bookmark for World Youth Day, being distributed throughout Catholic schools. Did they really think this through? No wonder they're having trouble getting the numbers.

It gets weirder though. Not only are they bringing a corpse out for the kiddies to worship, but The Pope appears to be collecting virgins. Seriously. Apparently sacrificing one's sexuality for a lifetime is a good thing.

For this sectarian promotional event, on top of more serious imposts on the public purse, they are also taking away the cycle lanes in Park St in favour of buses which will bring the sheep to their shepherd in Hyde park, downgrading the William St cycle route from laughable to ludicrous.

Maybe His Holiness will sort it by praying for cyclists -- but only after the Holy Spirit has come upon him.

Postscript: We locals are now informed that this arcane religious recruitment drive will cause the closure of College St in the city for 7 days, George St between King and Argyle 10am–midnight for 3 days, Macquarie St southbound between Hunter and St James for 5 days, ANZAC Pde between Moore Park and Alison for 3 days, Cleveland St between South Dowling and ANZAC for 3 days, South Dowling between Cleveland and Flinders for 3 days and Alison Rd for 4 days.

So much for the separation of church and state. Next, they'll be prosecuting artists and photographers.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The true costs of prohibition

On Tuesday Dr Alex Wodak made headlines with his suggestion that cannabis should be sold in Post offices.

Today, Miranda Devine berates Dr Wodak with the usual grab-bag of prohibitionist spin, even as another story in the same edition of the SMH describes yet another death that would not have occurred if illicit drugs were legal and regulated ('Jealousy over drug profit led to killing').

The rhetorical  'smoking gun' of Ms Devine's headline takes on a more sinister and realistic aspect in the light of the second story, which also gives us insight into the shady world of big-time drug dealing that can flourish only under prohibition.

Meanwhile, police have objected to Dr Wodak's statements linking prohibited drugs with police corruption.

I understand why the police are offended but there is a long and undeniable history of such corruption, more lately in Victoria.

But prohibition causes deeper failures in policing. For example, a vacant house in our street was recently broken into (probably by a drug addict) and the garage doors left open. This made our house and those of all our neighbours exposed as the breach provided easy access to otherwise well secured properties via the back yards.

We called police who did precisely nothing. We called again. Nothing. Finally about 24 hours later we tracked down the owner who came and repaired the broken locks.

The next day, however, I saw a virtual platoon of police walking up our street headed by a sniffer dog. These squads search sometimes hundreds of people in a week but achieve an arrest rate in the order of only a single-figure percentile, according to the NSW Ombudsman's report. This report also documented more than 2,000 searches on public transport over a year which netted no traffickable quantity of any drug.

What a waste of resources, and what a failure to protect the public from actual crime! If we had rung police and said there was marihuana growing in the garage, I bet they would have been there in force.

The true costs of prohibition need to be properly considered in the debate about regulated supply.

PS: I don't think Post offices would be suitable cannabis outlets and agree with the majority of pollers in the Herald yesterday who preferred licensed outlets. Only 24% said it should remain illegal.

The benefits of hindsight

They say hindsight is the greatest virtue. So it was revealing to look back at an old election commentary posted on this blog in October 2004, just after John Howard won his fourth term. Journalists, especially those in the crystal ball game, often have to hurriedly revise their position and hope that readers don't spend too much time trawling the archives. For instance, you don't see Miranda Devine or Paul Sheehan extolling the invasion of Iraq so much these days.

Click the headline to see how the KX Times read politics and the economy back then, including some (very well written material) in the comments that I suspect was cut-and-pasted from a paid journalist by one of the KX Times' anonymous critics.

Pictured is a great stencil spotted in Katoomba.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Please, some substance amid the power spin

The Sydney Morning Herald saw fit to publish another of my letters today. While an unprecedented storm of spin defends the privatisation of power generation in terms of 'union vs government' and 'securing the future of electricity supply' (as if there is only one way to do that), I tried to bring it back to essential issues:

"I can't believe so many intelligent people are still spruiking the privatisation of an essential utility while the Government is throwing millions of taxpayers dollars at a privatised rail operation to persuade it to carry export wheat to market.

I thought privatisation was supposed to shield the public from financial risk. This is a clear case of private profit holding the public good to ransom and it convinces me that fundamentals such as power generation should remain in public hands."

Michael Gormly Woolloomooloo

I still can't work out how, if the government can't afford new power stations, the private sector can stump up $10-15 billion to buy the system and THEN pay for a power station on top of that AND make a profit out of it. Especially as the government can borrow money more cheaply than the private sector. You can't regulate away that contradiction. Either way, we will be the ones paying!

Meanwhile The Herald leads today with the smiling faces of Morris Iemma and the world's ugliest politician, Michael Costa, under the strapline: "This is a time for healing and calm, not belligerence." This is laughable after Costa was filmed screaming abuse at his own party conference on the weekend.

While the smiling faces spread reassurance, all is not well in the Labor camp. MLC Penny Sharp, for one, is committed to oppose the sale.

And as for Paul Keating spruiking privatisation in a major Herald opinion piece... I am apalled. He coyly writes:

"Critics will say that I am writing in these terms because of my association with Lazard Carnegie Wylie, a company chosen to co-advise the State Government on its privatisation proposals."

Alex Mitchell on Crikey comments:

"This declaration – more like the admission of a howling conflict of interest – should have been made at the start of the article. And Keating is being uncommonly modest when he writes of his “association” with Lazard Carnegie Wylie – he’s the International Chairman for heaven’s sake!"

If I had any respect for Keating it's now gone.

And none of this even gets to carbon emissions and climate change.

Photos by Peter Rae.