Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Mexico's horrific war on drugs failing

Mexico's horrific war on drugs is failing hopelessly even as all the drug business indicators get healthier. The war was declared for political reasons by a politically desperate President Calderon (Yes, that old story).
...40 people died in firefights between police and army forces and the drug cartels. More than 6,500 fatalities will have occurred this year alone, topping last year's total, which was double that in 2007...

Of the 220,000 people arrested on drug charges since Mr Calderón took office, three-quarters have been released. Only 5 per cent of the remaining 60,000 or so have been tried and sentenced.
So reports Jorge G Castañeda, former foreign minister of Mexico (2000-3), a Global Distinguished Professor of Politics and Latin American Studies at New York University, in The New Scotsman.

Señor Castañeda says the war is...
...unwinnable because it fails to comply with the tenets of the Powell Doctrine, elaborated 18 years ago by Colin Powell, then chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, in relation to the first Gulf War.

Mr Powell enumerated four conditions that must be satisfied to succeed in a military operation. One was deployment of overwhelming force, which the Mexican military lacks. Another was definable victory, which one never has in a war on drugs. The third condition was an exit strategy at the outset, which Mr Calderón lacks, because he can neither withdraw in defeat in his own country, nor withdraw and declare victory.

Monbiot shreds Plimer

The battle over climate change has descended to the level of religious bickering since the sceptics have massaged enough anti-science to counter the mainstream of science on climate change.

Both sides can muster arguments sophisticated enough to baffle the average Joe, so such people have to accept one side or the other as a matter of faith.

So it's good to see one of the current stars of the sceptic movement, Professor Ian Plimer, being shredded on Lateline by non-scientist George Monbiot.

As blogged here previously, Plimer's book spouts numerous denial-side factoids that have been soundly and publicly discredited -- but there are always a few ignoramuses left who will believe them, so he keeps getting paid to spout them. Monbiot and host Tony Jones asked Plimer the hard questions about these points and Plimer evaded, evaded and evaded, unable to defend his stance.

This helps me avoid any crises of faith as I find it hard to believe someone who repeats an argument after it has been soundly discredited. Plimer is the inspiration for such leading 'experts in the field' as Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce, our alternative government. The sad thing is, the ludicrous flat-earthery of these people helps make Kevin Rudd look good by doing next to nothing.

It's almost funny.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sounds from the vault -- early Fairlight demo

Classic 1970s uber-cool dudes demonstrate the new-fangled Fairlight synthesiser in 1980 -- it's played by Michael Carlos who was a bit of a keyboard hero for me in the early '70s, playing with Jeannie Lewis on her album Free fall through featherless flight and earlier with Tully.

While the clip shows the Australian origin of all today's techno sound, best of all is the endless grinding sound of the huge floppy disc loading some sounds (probably about 128k). Comparing that with today's flashcards, I wonder what we will be using 29 years from now?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Violence down as moral panic rises

It's official -- alcohol-related violence IS down 4.5% over the past two years, even as Council clamps down on Sydney's night economy, repeatedly justifyling the policy with claims that violence is rising and 'out-of-control'.

The new figures, as reported in today's Sydney Morning Herald, come from the NSW Bureau of Crimes Statistics and Research.

They make nonsense of the statistics produced by Council's recent late-night trading research, with Clover Moore and her cohort repeatedly quoting that 60% of respondents "consider that those areas are experiencing increasing rates of alcohol-related harm, and that appropriate ways to reduce... such harm include... enforcing a ceiling in the number of alcohol outlets..."

Violence has reduced even more than the average in Kings Cross since a marked increase in high-visibility policing. The Cross interestingly escaped last weekend's well publicised orgy of violence as colourfully described by the police media blitz. The police have, significantly, departed from their usual plodspeak in favour of emotive language highlighting words like 'disgusting'. This marks a shift from straight policing to social engineering, all part of the moral panic.

We observed Kings Cross on Friday night from our favourite kerbside drinking and people-watching spot, and I wrote a commentary on the peaceful night, and the police blitz, for The City News.

The Sydney Morning Herald today also runs a spirited defence of the Nanny State which states:
so too has the public mood been transformed on alcohol by the violence, distress and other harms its causes for others.
...or has the public mood in fact been changed by a tsunami of moral panic unleashed by the AOD sector which gets more funding the more panic they foment, and by politically bereft governments trying to score points by getting 'tough on' things, and by a small army of nannys and NIMBYs?

Today's declining violence figures -- occurring even as the population rises -- lend weight to the latter proposition.

PS (23 12 09) The the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia (ADCA) has joined the police in using morally loaded language:   "Australia's 'Drinking Culture' - a National Disgrace" begins a pre-Christmas media release berating drinkers. It claims "84 per cent of Australians consider intoxication to be unacceptable" before listing the usual 'alcohol-related' horrors that fail to scare the kiddies. Meanwhile packed pubs and clubs around here continue to produce a babble of chatter and laughter whenever I walk past. I guess that must be the sound of the remaining 16 per cent of Australians.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Canberra wants your input on drug strategy

The next five years of drugs strategy is being formulated by the Federal Government. While they are seeking input from experts and the community, the following introduction on the consultation website implies that there will be no fundamental change:
Australia's National Drug Strategy 2004–2009 is in its final year of implementation. The Strategy has been evaluated by independent experts under the auspices of the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy (MCDS). The evaluation found that the Strategy and its three pillars of supply, demand and harm reduction are fundamentally sound and have been vital to the success of the Strategy in reducing the prevalence of, and harms from, drug use in Australia over a long period.

Nonetheless, significant harms from drug use continue to occur in Australia and new trends are emerging. This Consultation Paper aims to identify emerging issues and seek input from expert stakeholders and the broader community on directions for the next phase of the Strategy 2010–2015.
My translation of that: 'A prohibition model will remain despite a lack of objective evidence that it works, but we are prepared to strengthen harm reduction strategies.'

If they were serious about that they would recommend more medically supervised injecting centres. The Kings Cross Centre has been evaluated to death, and it works well. Nevertheless it remains the only such facility in Australia and the NSW government maintains it on a trial-only basis.

All written submissions can be forwarded to the National Drug Strategy Consultation inbox ( or sent to:

National Drug Strategy Consultation

MDP 27

GPO Box 9848

Canberra ACT 2601

The closing date for submissions is Wednesday 24 February 2010.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Czechs decriminalise 15g of cannabis

The sizeable minority who enjoy recreational drugs other than alcohol can now do so in the Czech Rebublic without being persecuted by police, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Czechs drink the most beer and smoke the most cannabis of any country on the continent. As the WSJ points out, hops and cannabis are related botanically, being "the two sole members of the Cannabaceae family of plants."

Czechs will be able to carry up to 15g of cannabis or grow 5 plants for personal use. New rules for artificial drugs are being drafted which would allow people to carry two grams of methamphetamines, cocaine or heroin, five ecstasy pills or 5g of hashish without committing a criminal offence, reports Czech media.

Let's wait and see if the world ends or if people just do what they are doing anyway, minus the risk of arrest and jail.

PS 21.December.09 The Czech government has now decriminalised the harder drugs as well. The limits are:

Marijuana 15 grams (or five plants)

Hashish 5 grams

Magic mushrooms 40 pieces

Peyote 5 plants
LSD 5 tablets

Ecstasy 4 tablets

Amphetamine 2 grams

Methamphetamine 2 grams

Heroin 1.5 grams

Coca 5 plants
Cocaine 1 gram

Now Australian Governments need to either condemn the Czechs as irresponsible idiots, (and the Portugese, Dutch etc) or re-examine the prohibition culture here because Australia's laws are the idiotic ones... both propositions can't be true.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Copenhagen brings climate debate to a thunderhead

I am amazed at the effectiveness of the climate change sceptic movement in dominating public debate around the Copenhagen conference. Time and again, climate sceptics' pseudo-science is exposed but they just churn away regardless.

They even claim that climate change science is a global conspiracy by (a) the British Monarchy or (b) the communists whereas I think they are the ones in the pay of the fossil fuel industries. Here's a site with a neat list of climate sceptic organisations and where they get their money from. Surprise surprise, it's the oil and coal industries! Who would have thought!

And this article in today's SMH rounds up some science showing alarming global warming and extreme weather patterns -- as I wrote to the Herald in August when we had bushfires simultaneously in both hemispheres. It rings true to this lay person.

Photo: A storm out to sea pictured from the roof of the Blanco Restaurant building in Roslyn St, Kings Cross on 19 November. No, I'm not saying this is a result of global warming, it just seemed a graphic illustration. A few minutes later the storm produced a classic anvil thunderhead, below, as the sunset peeked through to highlight buildings in the eastern suburbs:

PS: 702 Radio is reporting the last six months were Australia's hottest on record with an average temperature of 20.1 degrees since June, according to the National Climate Centre. I know weather is not climate but... what's the downside of building renewable power stations and a decent rail network, just in case?

Are pushy web ads self-defeating?

Reading my news on The Sydney Morning Herald website, I get mildly annoyed by those ads that jump out and obscure the content. They are already highly animated to draw your attention, but at least they usually have an X button to close them. But today's ad for GIO's car insurance breaks new ground. Not only does it jump out but its 'close' button jumps around and is invisible most of the time, so you are drawn into a computer-game style shooting match instead of reading the news.

I don't even own a car. GET OUT OF MY FACE!

Result: I hate GIO. And the SMH.

I know it's problematic making money from web ads but I think this tactic damages everyone. If it keeps up I will simply turn elsewhere for my news.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Seized drugs boomerang back to the street

Another police-linked corruption scandal has erupted in Victoria, this time over shenanigans in the Forensic unit, reported The Age yesterday. It seems its civilian staff have been 'recycling' confiscated drugs and selling weapons that should have been destroyed.

This is one of the nasty side-effects of prohibition, which artificially inflates the price of drugs to the point where the temptation becomes too much for some scions of the law when a lucrative offer is made by crooks flush with cash from drug profits.

The black market industry, being unregulated, also attracts guns and shooters as criminals defend turf and punish wrongdoers.

The Age reports that "seized drugs were recycled by the former drug squad and either sold or given to informers as a reward for information."

It can be inferred that not only were drugs being 'recycled' but evidence was also being destroyed: "The 15-month Ombudsman's investigation began after an internal police audit found drugs worth millions of dollars were missing from the centre. The review found drugs listed as destroyed had been kept and exhibits that should have been stored were destroyed."

Two men have so-far been charged. In this case honest cops have blown the whistle on the crooks, which is heartening. But without prohibition, these honest cops would be better employed fighting actual crimes that hurt victims instead of spending their time digging out the endless dirt on their own side of the fence.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The retail mix of Kings Cross, then and now

In cleaning out some comment spam this morning, I found an interesting list of main street businesses posted in 2004 when the strip was half-dead from the overtime and uncompleted street upgrade (Pictured here in September 04, pre-Smartpoles). If someone (me?) gets the time, a comparison today might be informative.

One consequence of the upgrade was killing the fruit barrow by moving it away from the station (where all those exiting the station passed it) into the mouth of Springfield Plaza (where only half the people exiting the station pass it). But Council didn't halve the rent and several operators have gone under. Now it sits there doing nothing but carry advertising and block the footpath. Does anyone have any ideas for an alternative use? It would make a great community access noticeboard... but Council bends over backwards to prevent THAT.

17 closed
7 sex shop
7 fast food
7 Accommodation
6 Pub / Bar
6 internet
5 strip joint
4 Money exchange
4 convenience
4 chinese massage
4 Café
3 souvenir
3 photolab
3 chemist
2 Tobacconist
2 newsagent
2 Hairdresser
2 Drug addict facility
2 Bottle Shop
1 Tattoo
1 Tab
1 Phone Shop
1 Library
1 gym
1 Flower
1 Club
1 Brothel
1 Bank
1 Fruit Barrow

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

NIMBYS call for total blockade of Kings Cross

My comments in The City News on police blockades of Macleay Street on Friday and Saturday nights have drawn a number of angry emails from supporters of the scheme. In reply to my contention that blockading one area only shunts the noise to other residential areas, several of them have said the other areas should also be blockaded.

The comment below is a fair (and polite!) summary of their position:

My reply to Ms Westmeyer is also below.

On the City News site...

  1.   Rebecca Westmeyer said,

      I couldn’t agree more that Macleay St residents should not be enjoying noise-free nights “while others cop the overflow”. The fact of the matter is NO RESIDENTS should be made or expected to tolerate the level of noise, disruption and anti-social behaviour which we have for so long campaigned for individually and via various residents’ groups, ad nauseum. So the hoons and late night revelers will have to also be moved on from wherever their detour now takes them. And so it goes until they get the message that they are not wanted in anyone’s neighbourhood. Mr Gormly’s comment about “the city’s role as a destination for work and entertainment” is incomplete. Cities, and in particular this most densely populated area of Australia, is also for living which not unreasonably includes a decent night’s sleep. And ‘entertainment’ also means things other than too much alcohol, drugs and general sleaze which is about all Kings Cross offers can currently offer the local community. So the bottom line about traffic diversion is that it is merely a symptom of very much bigger, generic and pathologic issues to do with Kings Cross.

2. Michael Gormly said,

      Rebecca neatly sums up the NIMBY position, confirmed by other campaigners who have angrily emailed me — they want to effectively blockade Kings Cross (and maybe the whole city) from suburban visitors who come here for entertainment. They postulate a global city with no entertainment precinct, a dull, economically depressing prospect that horrifies the majority of us who intelligently moved here because we actually want to live in the entertainment precinct.

      The very definition of a city is “a destination for work and entertainment”. Just because a small minority of us choose to live in the city does not alter that. Sure, find ways to mitigate problems without killing the party, but to simply gate off the city is arrogant and absurd.

      The NIMBYs don’t agree with this, but that’s because their sense of self-entitlement knows no bounds. They seriously propose that taxpayers’ dollars be permanently sunk into a weekend blockade of the whole of Kings Cross (and wherever else the party goes) to exclude the very people who pay most of those tax dollars. I think the police have better things to do that serve privileged elites.

Ms Westmeyer faithfully uses the language this well organised minority have evolved to present its position.  Note the moral panic intrinsic to the portrayal of our party precinct  as "too much alcohol, drugs and general sleaze" -- it's even "pathologic". These people always protest the noise etc they are "expected" to tolerate. But no-one "expects" them to tolerate it -- they simply chose to move into an area that doesn't suit their tolerance levels. They could always have moved to Pymble, or even just a few streets away where it's not so noisy. It's a similar issue in Lane Cove where privileged waterfront landowners are trying to get fishing banned from the public wharves because of the noise.

Photo: The Macleay St blockade in place on the weekend of 22/11/09 at 12.36 am. Supporters advocate this for all roads into Kings Cross. What do you think?

PS (5 December) I have learned that Council is taking over the Macleay St closures for another three months, paying the same commercial operators they pay to protect the rich people in Walsh Bay at The Rocks. Aren't you glad your rates and taxes are being spent on behalf of privileged NIMBYs? I am disgusted -- it shows our over-wealthy society has lost all vestiges of egalitarianism and a fair go for all.

Ms Westmeyer will be pleased, though.