Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How the War on Drugs relies on lies

Author and writer for the popular blog Huffington Post, Ryan Grim, has uncovered a tissue of lies and distortion produced by the previous US 'Drugs Czar' John Walters.

In doing so, Grim exposes the mechanism used by a hierarchy of prohibitionists, lobbyists and uncritical media to reinforce an ideology that has failed on all counts.

It seems Walters was desperate to show that his War on Drugs was working. One of his performance indicators was to restrict the supply of cocaine using police and military interdiction to drive up its price and thus reduce demand. (Never mind that driving up its price simply increases the profit motive that powers the drugs black market in the first place.)

So Walters cooked up some dodgy statistics and shopped around the media until he found an outlet, USA Today, that would publish his claims of success despite the fact that his statistics were not backed by documented evidence.

Ryan Grim was researching the subject at the time and tried to get hold of the Drug Czar's backing documentation using FOI. Unsurprisingly, he was refused.

That documentation has since been released and it shows that Walters was telling porkys on many levels -- this senior, respectable, authoritative man had no integrity whatsoever. Grim's piece exposes his lies, and shows that the cocaine trade had in fact merely re-focused on Europe because the declining US dollar made it more profitable to deal in Euros. He also describes how the War on Cannabis in the 1980s merely increased its price and pushed people towards cocaine in the first place.

Here we see the lies coming from the very top. This is very handy for prohibitionists down the line. For example the lobby group Drug Free Australia, armed with $600,000 from John Howard's government, regularly amplifies such material from high-ranking US drug warriors, sending it out in press releases that rely only on the perceived authority of these high-ranking people to support their claims. Then, typically, the mainstream media lazily repeats the claims without balancing comment.

Thus is the prohibition mindset reinforced and maintained with an evidence-free chain of misinformation.

The following UK blogs, from a doctor and from a libertarian, approach the problem from different angles and incidentally back up Grim's tale of the cocaine trade targeting Europe.

The Jobbing Doctor in the UK laments the increasing damage from drugs he sees in his daily practice in a working class industrial area, and calls for decriminalisation and legalisation. He links to... the UK blog Devil's Kitchen which has some concise supporting arguments on the subject.

And here's proven liar John Walters on Youtube pushing the 'new potency' myth, opposed by Bruce Mirken from the Marihuana Policy Project.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

God's not listening, so who is talking back?

A Cochrane Review on the effectiveness of intercessory prayer on ill people has found statistically insignificant results. So if God isn’t listening, you have to wonder who is talking back to those who claim to receive His word. Could they just be hearing voices from their own imagination? Is this a mild form of psychosis?

I've often wondered about the stupidity of the Christian school praying for fine weather for their sports day while next door an equally pious farmer is praying for rain. How is even an omnipotent god going to decide that one?

The plain-language summary concludes:

Intercessory Prayer for the alleviation of ill health
Intercessory prayer is a very common intervention, used with the intention of alleviating illness and promoting good health. It is practised by many faiths and involves a person or group setting time aside to petition God (or a god) on behalf of another who is in some kind of need, often with the use of traditional devotional practices. Intercessory prayer is organised, regular, and committed. This review looks at the evidence from randomised controlled trials to assess the effects of intercessory prayer. We found 10 studies, in which more than 7000 participants were randomly allocated to either be prayed for, or not. Most of the studies show no significant differences in the health related outcomes of patients who were allocated to be prayed for and those who allocated to the other group.
Image: Anglo-Saxon Jesus in the clouds by me.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Is Sydney male, female or just stuffed?

Elizabeth Farrelly in the SMH yesterday reflected on gender and urban dynamics with a neat essay on 'male' modernism and 'female' post-modernism: the first works with 'space', the second 'place'. One is fast, the other warm and fuzzy.

However I think she mistakes spin for substance in the following:

A city, that is, not unlike Clover's City of Villages - proffered, as happens, by our first elected female Lord Mayor. Already, you may have noticed, Sydney city is already more centred, street-active, domestic, conservation-minded, art-oriented and jam-packed with talk-spaces. More feminine.

'Street active'? Everything is banned on our streets, from pole posters to portrait painters. Clover and her Council refuse to provide public noticeboards for it 'villages'. There is nothing to do on our streets except hurry from Point A to Point B or get drunk. These may seem small things but they are the gears and levers of local community-building.

'Art oriented'? Only if you are locally apolitical, already a respectable member of the art mafia and willing to subsume your work to the control of an endless, prescriptive, bureaucratic sausage-machine. No art that is risky or new comes from this process. Clover regularly obliterates quality public artwork applied with full permission on privately owned walls. Ask me about how Council crushed the successful Kings Cross Arts Festival.

'City of villages'? This slogan is a bit of a joke when Clover is hellbent on 'normalising' Kings Cross, thus destroying the very thing that makes it different from other 'villages' -- all of which wear the same imposed grey-granite-and-smartpole costume in the name of 'uniformity', the exact opposite of diversity.

Ms Farrelly gets closer to the mark with the following:
You may also have noticed, however, that the council spends $1m of its environmental rates levy on graffiti removal. That consultation has become a talkfest without results. And that the long fought-for laneway bars are drowning under residents' complaints. This is the downside of fem-urbanism; a tendency to tidy-mindedness, circularity and wowserism, the buttons and epaulets of stasis.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

War on Drugs killing more people than the drugs

The assassination and mutilation of 12 Federal Police in Mexico by a Jesus-worshipping drug cartel continues the spiralling violence which is this generation's version of the gangster wars that broke out in the US under prohibition of alcohol. Read about the violence in Time Magazine.

While profits from prohibited drugs enable La Familia Michoacana to pay their members ten times the average Mexican wage, there seems little hope of moralistic messages and government military action curbing the problem. Ironically the drugs are mostly consumed in the US, origin of the War on Drugs.

Meanwhile cannabis (the main stock-in-trade of the cartels along with cocaine ) has never killed anyone.

The Australian media have been reporting this Mexican horror but never mention the mammoth in the room, prohibition. I'll single out the ABC and The Sydney Morning Herald as they constitute most of my traditional media diet. It's a great example of how 'objective' reporting can be deeply misleading by limiting itself to a narrow frame of reference or mindset.

It's the same with the 'bikie wars' in Sydney. The media never admit that prohibition creates the fertile ground in which such criminal problems always flourish. But they do report politicians getting hairy-chested as they promise to get tough on the bikies, reinforcing the mindset that the answer to the failure of prohibition is always more prohibition.

Pictured are bodies beheaded by another Mexican drug cartel, Zeta. I wonder if prohibitionists would be happy to fund research into the impact of such murders on the victim's families -- to balance the money they are spending on researching the impact of drugs on families as they try to demonise personal drug use. They won't, because prohibitionist politics is essentially dishonest. Nor will prohibitionists take any responsibility for the carnage in Mexico. After all, it's not white people dying for this western cause, is it?

PS Actually, white people are dying too. Here's video of US Police killing a guy who was trying to swallow a small bag of white powder. They didn't break his neck, only fractured his hyoid bone.

Said the Chief Deputy in defense of his officer: "He wasn't trying to choke him, he was trying to stop him from swallowing evidence which could potentially kill him." Hmmn.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pubs bite the dust as nanny Clover cracks the whip

There was no need for Clover Moore to concoct rubbery research to support the notion that pubs had reached saturation point in Kings Cross. As a DINK (double income no kids) who still can't afford the high-flying cocktail circuit, I have been pointing out for some years that there must be a limit to how many venues can spend millions on renovations and then rely on the top end of the nightclub set to pay a fortune for drinks in return for the questionable benefit of being seen in the 'right' places.

Yesterday's Daily Telegraph documents the fall of several pub empires, telling how the beer barons bought, borrowed and renovated at the top of the market only to be hit by the recession and a new raft of expensive regulations starting with the smoking ban and continued by anti-alcohol campaigners.

But it's not even a recent phenomenon. First to fall in Kings Cross was the $9 million conversion of the raunchy Bourbon and Beefsteak to the beige-and-pebblecrete Bourbon. The Bourbon began as a top-end venue, proudly refusing even to advertise. All these places flourish for some months or until the next flashy joint finishes ITS renovation, and all the social butterflies flit off to whatever place is in the social pages with pictures of off-duty footie stars and other minor celebs.

Soon enough, The Bourbon started dropping its prices, with $10 steaks on the slow days. Then it hit the financial wall and was, I am variously told, bought out by ING or Woolworths. Now it offers $10 steaks every day along with $3 beer, wines and basic spirits from 6pm-9pm. At that price even I now patronise the place -- the position of its outdoor seating in front of the Fountain is world-class and the acoustics inside are better damped, less shrill than other venues such as The Sugarmill and the Kings Cross Hotel. And the steak is consistently better than most.

Some say it's a price war aimed at wiping out the opposition. If so, it's working. The Bourbon remains pretty full, with a lot of local support, while opposition such as the stunning Madame DeBiers (formerly the Commonwealth Bank) has now closed, never having clicked with the fashionistas. I hear The Kings Cross Hotel is also on the ropes. Springfields, now The Elk, owned by the owners of the Empire, never filled up and the more publike Elk seems also to be struggling. The Vegas, after its own renovation, then bought The Mansions just when its poker machine income dived from first in NSW to somewhere deep down the league table. That pub group has now hit the wall.

My local bottleshop, which has two outlets in Kings Cross and several in other Sydney suburbs, reports that sales are plummeting -- not only from the public but from several local clubs they supply. They have been laying off shifts for some time now.

The Chifley is closed for three months while developer Australand remedies a pandemic of building defects.

But anti-pub fundamentalists bang on as if world war three was being played out in the streets of the Cross each night, creating the spectre of 'out-of-control violence' and other hyperbole, while Clover Moore and credulous Councillors accept their ravings as fact and respond with ever-tougher regulation.

I have little sympathy with pub owners, who have shown themselves on the whole to be shallow and stupid.

But my heart breaks to see Kings Cross bashed into a mere shadow of what it could be, making Sydney all the poorer and duller.

Pictured is the ever-decreasingly patronised Sugarmill outdoor area, subject to an organised resident campaign bringing tough new restrictions that threaten to make it, too unviable. Then watch residents' chortles of triumph turn to screams as the junkies return...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Does anything happen in Pymble?

I think I've created a meme.

Adam Spencer on ABC 702 Radio just now read a letter in the SMH from Adrian Bartels about Council's crackdown on the outdoor seating at the Sugarmill Hotel -- pulling it back from midnight to 9pm and, I have been told, making them take all the furniture in (somewhere) every night.

Mr Bartels (pictured) refers in his letter to one of our community meetings in which a resident, shocked and dismayed that Kings Cross is a noisy late-night destination, said "This wouldn't happen in Pymble". The letter points out that this is because nothing ever happens in Pymble.

Adam Spencer asked Pymble listeners to phone in and challenge this claim. One guy had been to a guinea-pig breeders' expo at Pymble Town Hall. Another remembered a disaffected client of a local brothel chasing one of the sex workers down the street firing his gun at her – 45 years ago. Another described it as "The corridor of boredom".

I'm going to take some credit for this thought -- I've been banging on in print for years with the idea that if some KX residents don't like it here, they are perfectly free to move to Pymble. I chose Pymble because it IS deathly boring but also because the name perfectly conjures an image of maiden aunts discussing croquet over high tea -- the opposite of Kings Cross.

The argument has caught on and I've heard others using the analogy, sometimes substituting 'North Shore'. Today's amplification will strengthen the meme greatly.

One caller, Chris from Potts Point, pointed out correctly that the Sugarmill outdoor area was a bonus because it displaced the antisocial behaviour that Springfield Avenue residents have been complaining about for years.

I think Council's decision is a disaster and the residents will live to regret their stupidity. Several are even unhappy at Council's ruling because they want the seating removed altogether. That would indeed return the area to the "rich porridge of piss, vomit and rubbish" that used to occupy the area (Adrian Bartels' words again).

Gentrification is not driven by reason but by a blind middleclass conviction that they are 'normal' and everyone else must be 'normalised'.

These were the exact words used last night at another community meeting where a council officer, eagerly fawning to his boss Clover Moore, announced the Harris Farm outlet that will be on the ground floor of the new Era building, also on Springfield Avenue.

"It's better than another nightclub," he said playing to the NIMBY crowd. "At least you will be able to buy food -- it's a step towards normalising the area."

What a pratt. The very definition of Kings Cross is that it's NOT normal. It's the last refuge of we who are not normal. "Normalising" = averaging = gentrification. But the middleclass mind does not see its drive to gentrification for what it really is -- a blind desire to cast the world in its own image. Clover repeated the oxymoron that her crackdowns on nightlife were aimed at quietening the area while maintaining its vibrancy.

Clover, if 9pm is the new Kings Cross bedtime, the vibrancy is gone.

I left the meeting deeply depressed.

Picture: Adrian Bartels, President of the Potts Point and Kings Cross Partnership, in the upstairs bar at the Sugarmill Hotel.

PS Of course the temperance union replied to Mr Bartels' letter with the usual bleating. Sacha Blumen, President of the 2011 Residents' Association, said:

I know no one opposed to licensed premises and late-night trading in Kings Cross. What people oppose is the impact on residential amenity, and the violence and other problems associated with the availability of alcohol.

What nonsense. He and his allies oppose every single alcohol-related Development Application in the Cross. And if you are against the impacts of late night entertainment and also oppose it, you ARE against late-night trading in Kings Cross. None of which addresses Mr Bartels' point: if you want somewhere quiet to live, there's always Pymble or any other suburb in around 4,900 square km of Sydney. So why choose to live in and squelch the only area of Sydney that has any life?

Nor does Sue Hanley's following letter, while clever, address the point. She asks which venues are associated with organised crime. Sue, have you missed the world headlines about the Ibrahim brothers shootings, and their supposed associations with and bikie gangs? Any dunce would know that's what Mr Bartels was talking about -- and because he says a place is not associated with organised crime does not necessarily mean he knows of others which are.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Micro-control #2: Stop treating me like an infant

I am getting more and more offended at being treated like a child because of micro-regulation. My partner lately wears stylish little cloche hats quite often. Nope. At the Gaslight Hotel, on our second drink, she was told by a huge bouncer less than half her age to take it off. Why? 'It's against the rules'.

Some friends at the Kings Cross Hotel on St Patrick's Day, after having booked the top bar and spent about $500, were told by security to stop singing songs. I mean, come on!

The Bourbon has a good happy hour every evening. I went with my partner and her son, sat them down and went to the bar only to be told I could order only two drinks -- I had to get someone from my table to buy the third. Apparently the police want this rule applied during happy hour in case any of the Bourbon patrons get violent between 6 and 9pm.

In each of these incidents someone could have or did get angry. The regulations do as much to create problems as solve them. But Big Nanny seemingly won't stop until every aspect of our lives is regulated and enforced. Even then the bitch won't be happy.

It's insulting, humiliating and intolerable. It's a symptom of an immature culture and the increasing regulation just prevents it from growing up.

Micro-control of behaviour tightens its noose around this dead town

The micro-control of Sydneysiders' behaviour has cranked up two more notches with a new set of draconian anti-pub rules and, less seriously but symptomatic, a ban on personal screensavers for the already highly regimented public servants at Town Hall.

The new 'safety rating' for pubs decrees that eight assaults on the premises in a year will result in sanctions and 19 will result in the 2am lockout package being applied. Already the new regime means the 48 pubs currently under the 2am rules will grow to 100. Apparently The Mean Fiddler in Rouse Hill has lost its 'worst pub' title to Penrith Panthers which had 48 reported assaults in the past year.

Neither venue is in a concentrated entertainment precinct so it's another dent in the saturation-point theory that Clover Moore and local NIMBYs prosecute. As I keep saying, the problem is the concentration of bogans, not venues. That's why the violence rate around here is in fact 20% below the state average according Clover Moore's own figures. But logic never gets in the way of a good moral panic.

Meanwhile at Town Hall Clover Moore is backing senior management who removed, en masse, staff screensavers -- typically the spouse, the kids, the dog or a nice view -- and replaced them with the fictional 'City of Villages' logo. Apparently it's to stop 'inappropriate' screensavers, as if that could not have been dealt with on a case basis. The reactions of staff are typically not recorded. The Diary quotes Cr Shayne Mallard objecting. Again, the so-called lefties make the Liberal guy look good.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The pub with no plonk

Bizarre things do happen. I dropped in to the Vegas Hotel yesterday evening for a drink with some local friends and as usual ordered a wine, white in this case.

At 'Pie O'Clock' as Bill calls it -- when the pub lays on a nice selection of party pies and sausage rolls -- I returned to the bar for a second wine to wash down the food, thinking this a reasonable desire in a place that serves little but pies, 'piss' and pokies. After all that's why I was there.

But they had only enough white for about an inch in the glass. The barmaid asked someone to get some more and said I could have the splash of wine in the meantime, no charge.

After a while I went back, to be told there was no white. I thought about it and decided I'd simply switch to red. Different bar person, same problem -- an inch of red in my glass was all they had left and nor was any going to arrive. Bemused and needing to wash down a pie, I asked could I have the quarter-glass of wine.

No, I was told, you have to pay for it. OK, I replied, how much for that?

Full price.

Taken aback, I checked -- you mean I have to pay full price for a quarter-glass of wine?


I refused this kind offer, thinking the wine would have to be tossed down the sink. But no, the bar person got a small funnel and poured it back into the bottle!

For a moment I felt trapped in a Kafka-esque parallel reality.

Aghast at yet another demonstration of poor Sydney hospitality, I left the pub and went home.

There I cooked a delicious dinner washed down with a decent white followed by some Wolf Blas port and a nice cigar (no inhaling!) to the strains of John Eliot Gardiner’s gorgeous recordings of Beethoven 5 and 6.

It was an oasis of cocooned culture in this still struggling city.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Cannabis link to mental illness questioned by university study

Even as prohibitionists like DFA claim we are about to experience a 'tsunami' of mental illness because of cannabis use, another large scale study indicating the opposite has come to light.

The Keele University study, which looked at 600,000 people per year, found that schizophrenia and psychosis had not increased after cannabis use soared between 1976 and 1996. Read the abstract here. Commentary from UKCIA here.

It seems the government knew about this study when it ignored the advice of its own experts and reclassified cannabis as a Class B drug from its previous Class C (less serious) status. UKCIA are calling this new prohibition Reefer Madness VII, a fair enough title.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

UN drugs policy further out on a bending limb

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has aroused widespread criticism by stubbornly championing continuing prohibition in its latest annual report.

Its executive director, Antonio Maria Costa, is however finding it difficult to maintain his arguments in the face of growing opposition. His commentary shows it, falling into self-contradiction laced with evidence-free assertions.

"Illicit drugs pose a danger to health. That's why drugs are, and must remain, controlled," he says.

Well they are in fact a much worse danger to health under prohibition but Costa's assertion that drugs are controlled is ludicrous. Who is controlling, for example, the heroin that flows through Kings Cross each day? Not the police, health authorities or the tax department. Who, Mr Costa?

The fact that drug supply has soared thousands of percent since the War on Drugs started is dismissed with the frequently repeated statement that drug use has "stabilised", evidence that prohibition is working.

This could equally be seen another way -- that prohibited drugs are so freely available that pretty much everyone in the world who wants to use them is already doing so. Thus, demand has stabilised. It would also rebut Costa's assertion that legal, controlled availability would "unleash a drug epidemic". Costa presents no evidence for that -- it just would, he says.

Costa's nonsense is up against some powerful new voices though. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) now includes over 13,000 ex cops, judges and the like and adds a new gravitas to the debate.

There's a succinct commentary on this from Greg Barns in the Mercury, which I have drawn from here. He urges Australian police, politicians and courts to study LEAP's position and end the nonsense that is filling our jails to no good effect.

More on Costa later!