Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Prohibition's House of Cards

A virtual deck of playing cards showing hypocritical politicians who have used drugs but still support prohibition is the latest chapter in the 'Nice people take drugs' campaign from UK charity Release. While George Bush is the joker, our local MP Malcolm Turnbull, and Tony Abbott, get a mention. The best quote comes from US hardline conservative Newt Gingrich who reportedly said:
When I smoked pot it was illegal but not immoral. Now it is illegal and immoral. The law didn't change, only the morality. That's why you get to go to jail and I don't.
Just goes to show people can rationalise anything.

The other side of politics is included as well, with Bill Clinton and Al Gore in the deck.

Viewers can nominate their own hypocrites to add to the deck.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Big guns fire blanks at Kings Cross

Clover Moore has teamed up with the politically desperate Premier Nathan Rees to solve the problem of Kings Cross, reports the SMH today. Chk Chk Boom.

They want to freeze the number of liquor licenses in Kings Cross, Oxford St and parts of George St.

Makes you wonder -- if they just freeze the licences, won't things stay about the same? And if these areas are already oversaturated as Clover claims, where would any new ones have gone anyway and who would drink in them? Already several of the existing over-renovated and indebted venues are going broke (see post below). The horse has bolted, Clover!

And if they freeze licences, what of Clover's small bars push? Easy, says Clover -- just put them anywhere but Kings Cross and Oxford St and parts of George St. But hang on, doesn't this even further freeze our entertainment precincts into their present profile while spreading drinking fallout into other precincts?

Existing venues must be happy at the move as it will protect their turf.

And another thing: Clover's specially commissioned research explicitly says that the only way to reduce the amount of alcohol consumption is to reduce licenses of all kinds. It doesn't say "except for Melbourne-style small bars". Seems Clover just wants to cherrypick the bits that suit the Queen's agenda.

But moral panics are never logical.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Big pubs going broke

The Sydney renovation disease seems to be catching up with some big pubs including the Vegas and The Mansions in Kings Cross. They spend millions on renos and then go broke, it seems, while we still pay premium prices for a drink and long for a real pub.

They are blaming the 2am lockout as reported in the SMH today: "The Oxford Hotel was turning away about 150 patrons after 2am on a Saturday night, the Vegas was turning away about 140."

No doubt this would hurt but so would the cost of renovating the Vegas, whose owners then bought the Mansions and don't seem to have done much with that boring under-patronised watering hole. Nor is the Mansions affected by the 2am lockout.

Rumours abound of other pubs in trouble -- the recently rebuilt Kings Cross Hotel for one, and the Chifley has closed down for several months while serious building faults stemming from its recent renovation are rectified by owner Australand.

The Bourbon seems to be working well thanks to having the best happy hour in town and a very good $10 steak -- a long way from their AA-list premium position they attempted to take after its $9 million beige-and-pebblecrete reno. It's been obvious for some time that all the pubs couldn't successfully cater exclusively to the top price bracket.

And the Taylor Sq hotel has been sold with all existing planning approvals for $5.5m but free of the restrictions on the previous owner.

My point about 'over-saturation' seems to be coming true -- when the market is over-saturated, venues will go broke. Ham-fisted bureaucrats or teetotalling NIMBYs trying to manage it is the last thing we need.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Media Watch roasts Herald's pot rot

I had been looking for the time and energy to roast the Sydney Morning Herald's so-called medical reporter Kate Benson for uncritically publishing nonsense about drugs, but Media Watch has done it for me.

Benson on June 17 wrote about Cannabis addiction, a problematic concept that at worst refers to psychological addiction rather than the far more severe physical addiction suffered by frequent cigarette smokers or heroin users. The two conditions bear little similarity so using the same word for them is misleading.

I have seen many regular pot smokers simply give it up, with no side effects.

But the fiction of 'cannabis addiction' has unfortunately taken hold of the AOD sector since prohibitionist governments started throwing money at cannabis addiction programs, providing many in the sector a whole new career path. These people are not going to question the concept as their careers depend on it. Jan Copeland and NCPIC are prime examples, although they have retreated from their early alarmist nonsense since professional communicator Paul Dillon joined them.

But back to Kate Benson, not only does she mindlessly propagate a misconception of cannabis addiction but she totally screws up the statistics, claiming that one in six Australians were addicted when the Household Survey she quoted actually says that one in thirty smoke it daily.

Cool, Kate. Several of the comments on the Media Watch site ask what Kate was smoking when she wrote the story?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I meet a Dr Who companion

Having watched Dr Who religiously since about 1963 I was thrilled to find I had met a real live Dr Who companion, one of those attractive and plucky girls always a focus of my frustrated adolescent sexuality.

"Jo" was Jon Pertwee's Dr Who companion in the very early 1970s and later in real life married Barry Crocker, Sydney entertainer, singer & movie star.

I have met Barry a couple of times at local jazz gigs and we have been exchanging photos -- he gets a great shot, too. He travels with a look-twice blonde who I had not spoken to until the other night at Jazz@Joes. She was slightly interested in my attempts to get some art shots of raindrops on a car roof (one of those drunken inspirations that don't work out!).

I gathered they were married and her name was Katy but now I'm told she is THE Katy Manning from Dr Who! I did some Googling and sure enough -- they are one and the same person.

I know, I know -- it's beneath this blog to descend to celeb goss but hey... it's Jo from Dr Who!

Hi there Katy -- hope you don't mind my enthusiasm!

Pictured above are Barry and Katy with Edwin Duff. (There's something Dr Who-like about the shot, come to think of it.) Below are some BBC stills of Jo and Jon in the days. Check the uniforms of the soldiers in the first pic -- and Jo's trendy stripy top, groovy belt and tights in a lower shot. And last of all -- the unattainable delights of of my teenage angst!

Cameras roll for re-run of Jazz@Joes

Jazz@Joes earlier this month was such a success that an ABC documentary crew are paying the band to do a rerun for the cameras as part of a doco they are shooting about the Abe Saffron days of Kings Cross.

Seats are limited to make room for the cameras in the small venue so if you want to be a part of Kings Cross History, book now!

Edwin Duff will again lead the David Smith Trio plus there will be a special recording of Edwin's song Heartbeat of Sydney. Despite winning competitions and being written by a local, the song has always played second fiddle to My City of Sydney (which, desperate for a rhyme, talks about non-existent church steeples in Woolloomooloo).

It's $30 which gets you a three-course dinner. BYO @ $2.00 corkage per bottle -- there's a good bottleshop a few doors away. Bookings via John Redmond on 0420 711 273 or at the Café on 9368 1188. Starts at 7.30pm, Monday 22 June. It's at 190 Victoria Street Kings Cross.

Picture: Edwin at the last show with Bob Gillespie on drum in the background

Steve Fielding's intelligence in doubt

True, you only weaken your case if you mock the opposition but Senator Steve Fielding's trip to the US to find out about climate change puts his intelligence in acute doubt. It seems he went for his information to The Heartland Institute which is paid by the tobacco industry to deny that cigarettes cause cancer and by fossil fuel industries to deny climate change.

His 'news' that solar flares were the cause of global warming has been discredited for years, as he could have learned from five minutes of Google search.

Matthew England, joint Director of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of NSW, clarifies Senator Fielding's misconceptions in The SMH today:

The cosmic ray effect was shown to be negligible several years ago, while solar forcing declined over the last quarter of the 20th century at a time when temperatures shot up rapidly.

We are also seeing winters warm more rapidly than summers, and nights warm more rapidly than days, the opposite of what would be the case if the sun were driving the change.
A bunch of letters hit the papers defending our Steve, but they all talked about the Heartland Institute's other sources of funding and similarly tangential distractions. None addressed the faulty science he was peddling.
Dumb and dumber
Not to be fazed by all this logic being thrown at him, Fielding retreated to the fallback position of the factually bereft and came out with the next line of the denial script, saying that anyway, even if the science is right, it would be suicidal for Australia to "Go it alone". Er, Steve, do a bit of basic reading about what other countries are doing and the targets they are setting. We are already a decade behind.

Climate change sceptics get busted over and again peddling trash, indicating that they have no valid arguments. Meanwhile the new coal loader at Newcastle is being built several metres above sea level. How ironic -- and hypocritical.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Prohibitionists demolished in Dutch tribunal

Prohibitionists currently cite the recent bans on cannabis coffeshops in Amsterdam as evidence that liberal pot policies have failed. The truth is that the Christian Democratic Party (CDA), elected on an  anti-immigration platform, are simply cracking down on them in accordance with their ideology.

A coalition of reformers organised an independent tribunal to debate the policies. The Cannabis and Hemp Museum stumped up 200,000 Euros reward to any political party which could convince the tribunal that the ban had more positive effects than negative.

The CDA accepted the challenge and a key debate took place between a CDA MP and Hans van Duijn, former president of the Dutch Police Association and a member of LEAP (Law enforcement against Prohibition).  The court could not find any argument against the plea for legalisation of the cannabis market proposed by van Duijn.

The organisers had difficulties in finding people in favour of the ban: 

“There is no doctor in the Netherlands who is willing to maintain that cannabis is a major public health danger and a ban has any positive effect at all.”

Friday, June 12, 2009

Crime Commission says drugs more popular than ever

“In 2007–08 the number of cocaine detections at the Australian border increased by 71 per cent, and the number of cocaine seizures was the highest on record,” says the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) on the release of its Illicit Drug Data Report 2007–2008.

Cannabis and ecstasy use remain high and heroin is on the increase following a rise in production in Burma. There were a whopping 52,465 cannabis arrests in 2007–08. Some 86% of these arrests snared users, not dealers. 

Most illegal importation into Australia is via the post.

So much for the facts. It's the spin accompanying them that's interesting. 

One might conclude from the above that prohibition isn't working. But no, the Sydney Morning Herald gushes about Australia's "cocaine binge" and the ACC talks about "the scourge of illicit drugs" even as it admits that other indicators such as hospital admissions have not risen.

If the drugs were such a scourge, you'd wonder why so many people were taking them. No, Virginia, it's not because of addiction -- ecstasy and pot are not physically addictive and by far the majority of coke users are strictly recreational. 

Of course the bikie wars had to be dragged in. See if you can spot the fallacy in this Herald quote from the ACC's chief executive, John Lawler:

Mr Lawler said recent violence in the Sydney underworld was linked to illegal drugs.

"Drugs are in large part what is driving it - competition for market share, people trying to muscle in on market share and other ructions within the outlaw motorcycle and organised crime groups," he said.
No, Mr Lawler, prohibition is driving it as that's what creates the link between drugs and criminals.

But you wouldn't expect a crime executive to push a line that might put him out of a high-paying job, would you? 

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Why sniffer dogs are so inaccurate

Barry Cooper, a very senior US drug dog operator and trainer, started developing a conscience as he approached his 800th drug bust. He eventually realised he was locking up the wrong people for the wrong reasons and has produced a video available online titled never get busted.

It also seems US dog handlers often instruct their animals to make false alerts so they can search people in contravention of their Constitutional rights.

Cooper now works for the other side and has been targeted by an unsuccessful DEA dirty-tricks campaign attempting to damage his credibility. In this article he explains the ins and outs of drug dog operations including how best to transport drugs without being sniffed.

Picture: Barry Cooper and dog in his former life with some of the loot that drives the drug industry, courtesy of prohibition

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hot doc 'Night' captures the magic of Kings Cross

While the purse-mouthed complain that "people come to Kings Cross to just party on the streets" (Police community meeting last week), a hot doc on SBS last night showed fabulous footage of lovers, laughers and live-wires on the night streets of Kings Cross. In gorgeously honest interviews people revealed why they need night life to release their inner poet, to let go, to be themselves -- therapy for the constrictions of work, daily life and the suburbs.

Night presented an alternative and more realistic media view of Kings Cross than the usual footage of fights, syringes and shootings of the Ibrahim siblings. This is what the majority of people experience.

Night further crystallised for me why I live here, why I need to bathe in the river of international life that flows through this place and why I defend it against the squelchers who enjoy keeping logbooks of noise events more than getting a life.

About 25% of the doc was shot within a few hundred metres of my house. I had a small epiphany as a woman described her dreams of flying over the city at night, circling the Centrepoint tower. As she spoke, an aerial camera circled the tower while, watching TV in bed, I could see the real thing out my window . I fancied briefly that I could see her flying in the night sky outside. The camera then flew up William Street across the big Westfield neons which I could see out the other window. It was as if my walls had dissolved and I was airborne myself, shades of childhood novels like The Wishing Chair but also of the Leunig cartoon in which people watch a sunset on TV while the real thing is happening outside!

The doc is a worthy companion to The Glittering Mile shot in 1964. I need to get a copy! Congratulations to Lawrence Johnston and SBS.

From the SBS TV guide:
10.00  Night
Hot Docs - A stunning and cinematic documentary which celebrates Australia at night. From director Lawrence Johnston who made the internationally award winning documentary Eternity, this film shows society in all its forms, people and places, urban and rural, and explores the universal nature of night and how we experience night. It is brought together by people from all walks of life telling their stories of what the night means to them, the pleasure and the pain, in reality and fantasy, work and leisure, past and present. It shows people from all cultures going about their daily lives under the darkness of the wondrous nature of night and juxtaposes the amazing differences in our varied existence between dusk and the dawn of a new day(Commissioned by SBS, in English) 

Dismantling media myths

STOP PRESS! Since I posted the report below, I have learned that the Release ad campaign pictured has been pulled, according to The Guardian. Prohibitionists cannot tolerate open debate, because their arguments do not withstand the clear light of day. Please fight the censors and spread this link far and wide!

Original post: 

More people in the UK smoke pot than voted for the Labour Party at the last election. Most of them are perfectly nice, constructive, sane members of society . Yet the establishment continues to demonise this very large minority by constant association with crime, violence and mental illness. "What about cannabis-induced psychosis?", you may ask. Well, yes, there is a tiny link even though 99.99875% of UK cannabis users DON'T suffer it.

UK drug law reform charity Release has begun an advertising campaign challenging the stereotypes with the simple but clever line "Nice people take drugs". Their aim is to put the drugs debate on a realistic footing and into the public domain.

I have long made the observation that drug warriors should spend a few minutes watching people walking by on the footpath and meditate on the fact that around one in three of the perfectly nice, functional people they see use illicit drugs. It would be difficult to reconcile such level-headed observation with the moral panic these people generate (although most would not let reality change their views).

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Sweeping sunshine off the roof

A New York Times article graphically describes the rising carnage being wrought in America’s midwest by a growing supply of illegal heroin from Mexico.

It clearly illustrates how the economic divide between poor Mexico and rich US drives people to the massive profits from drug supply which are made possible by prohibition. People are simply so desperate that legal sanctions do not deter them.

For once, a truthful statement from those pushers of prohibition, the DEA:

The authorities say that local arrests rarely make a difference. New dealers pop up within weeks. “It’s like sweeping sunshine off the roof,” Mr. Marotta of the D.E.A. said.

So prohibitionists who advocate tougher prohibition are really just urging us to sweep harder at that sunshine on the roof.  What we really need is a new broom of reform.