Monday, December 15, 2008

Taking the mickey out of Council

Apropos the stencil-buffing issue blogged below, artist Numskull made the theme the centrepiece of his show at MTV Gallery in Yurong Street recently. See the pic! 

Friends tell me the opening was PACKED. This pic was first to sell @ $650. That's a lot of money to pay for "graffiti" or "vandalism"!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Prohibition is bursting our jails

"Jails bursting at the seams," the front page of the Sun-Herald shouted at me as I lined up at the supermarket this morning to buy my breakfast and lunch ingredients.

Back home, the SMH graphic you see was coincidentally up on my monitor. It illustrates the fall in burglaries paralleling the heroin drought of the past few years, clearly showing how much of the crime we bear and the justice system we pay for is caused by addicts who need wads of cash to buy prohibitively expensive illicit drugs.

Yes, we know they shouldn't, but the fact is they do.

While the government's response seems to be to privatise jails, neither they nor the media have the guts or the intelligence to question prohibition, a major contributor to the overcrowding problem, even as it is falling apart at the seams.

One classic response of conservatives is to claim that legal, controlled availability would increase drug use and they have small selective data sets to support this.

But globally, the trend shows the opposite: Tough-on-drugs countries almost all have higher rates of drug usage than relatively liberal countries – for example rates of cannabis use, heroin use and incarceration in The Netherlands are about half those of the US, home of the War on Drugs. In the UK, cannabis use declined significantly during the time it was downgraded to a Category C substance, in line with worldwide trends. Despite this, an electorally challenged Gordon Brown has ignored the advice of his senior advisory panel and upgraded cannabis to Category B.

In Australia, states which have decriminalised to some extent show usage trends similar to other states who have not.

If our jails are bursting at the seams, let's look at the role of prohibition in that and whether it is in fact achieving any of its aims. 

PS 8/12/08: An article in The Wall Street Journal celebrates the anniversary of the end of prohibition in 1933. It points out that people at the time not only understood prohibition had failed but also could remember a time before prohibition so they were not so alarmed at the prospect of legalisation. It's an eloquent piece. Read it here.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Rare commonsense about recreational drugs

At the same time 68% of Swiss voters supported their prescribed heroin  program, Lisa Pryor published a thoughtful view in the SMH about why alcohol is legal and ecstasy isn't.

She reports on a drug conference which looked at personalities in terms of strong engines and weak brakes (or vice versa). Confidence, outgoing personality, goal-setting and reward-seeking make for a "strong engine" and are qualities we try to instill into young people. Research shows that "strong engine" types are also those who use ecstasy to enhance the good things in life, as opposed to "weak engine/strong brake" types who are more likely to choose drugs which provide an escape from bad times -- like alcohol, valium [and heroin]. 

Prior says ecstasy should be legal and ways should also be found to minimise drug use in teenagers who are still developing their prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that controls inhibition or its opposite -- in other words, the brakes.

Ideally, people should have strong engines and strong brakes.

Pryor challenges the 'normative' view that people who drink are OK and those who take ecstasy (MDMA) are 'screwy', a widespread misconception that underpins prohibition.

PS: A Swiss mother who opposed heroin prescription said she would rather her four children were dead than on prescription heroin. Now that's screwy!

PPS (22/12/08) A "bad batch" of GHB (also known as fantasy or liquid ecstasy) hospitalised 12 and overdosed another 30 at a Melbourne rave party, reports The Age.
GHB is the drug that killed Dianne Brimble on THAT cruise. No prizes for guessing that this blog sees this latest incident as another failure of prohibition -- first because the drug was so freely available despite the law, and secondly because this sort of waste of people and resources would be  far less likely if people could get reliable, good quality ecstasy MDMA at their local Chemist. Why would you take illegal and dangerous GHB when safe, legal ecstasy is available? The effects are similar, I am told. Meanwhile the prohibitionists rant about MDMA as if it was just as dangerous as GHB, so kids are put at risk through misinformation. GHB is dangerous and MDMA isn't but the truth is apparently "the wrong message", so lies prevail.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Council heavies give stick over public art story

The SMH yesterday featured a pic of mine and some words in a page 5 story about Council's enthusiastic 'beigeing' of public art, even when it is commissioned by the building owner and executed by renowned artists.

Clover Moore's spinners spun into furious action, denying to The Herald that their people did the erasing and apparently getting the place into a tizz, right up to the Editor.

Unfortunately for them I also had a photo of the truck they were using, with a City of Sydney logo on the door, which I supplied to The Herald.

Then the spinners rang me with a third-degree interrogation, trying to make capital out of a sub-editor's mistake which captioned the picture as being of the Bar Me venue when it is in fact the Crest Hotel, just around the corner in Victoria Street. Both places had stencils applied in 2004 as part of my 'Live Walls' project, with the permission and encouragement of the owners, and both were erased by Council at different times.

I queried why they were so worried, as the story only showed them carrying out the tidy towns policy they boast about. The reply, (in an adrenalin-elevated voice): 

"Do I sound worried? We just want to get the facts straight." 

It was interesting to see Clover's media machine in action. It's not about the issues, it's about who has the biggest media budget – standard operating procedure these days for politicians and big organisations. If a critical story appears, they punish the publisher to make them more reluctant to criticise in future.  

Meanwhile after a tipoff from me, The Herald corrected the caption on the website (and belatedly credited me for the pic, after electing not to pay me for it either because they "didn't have much money at the moment". So much for me making a living – the cutbacks at Fairfax have a lot to answer for).

The top picture shows (among others) work by Numskull who has an exhibition opening at the MTV Gallery in Yurong Street on 5 December, and by Jason Wing who recently appeared on the ABC's Arts Sunday and was recently named Artist of the Year in the Blacktown Council area where he now lives and works. Artist Shannon Johnson also contributed to the group mural, pictured here with Jason in the background at work on the doomed stencils in Victoria Street.

Of course my media jousting partner, Andrew Woodhouse, was against the whole thing.  "I think there should be art but not visual vandalism," he said.

I guess all the galleries exhibiting these people, and those buying their work, mustn't know much about art. And I guess the working party of Victoria Street businesses and residents who had called for murals in that very spot, marking the entrance to a famous backpacker strip, and enlivening a bland wall otherwise displaying only ugly aircon outlets, have no say in the matter either.

Total control of public spaces by authoritarian bureaucrats imposing bland uniformity is apparently the only right and proper thing, pip pip.

The issue sparked a letter to the editor today, titled A city of grey walls from Jesse Fink in Paddington. It puts the case nicely.

PS (21/11/08) Another letter in the Herald today supports public colour.  This one from Sally Gaunt who works in Glebe is titled No place for street culture.

PPS (22/11/08) This story in August has Council again erasing world-class art -- that they had also sponsored -- despite pleas to a Ranger from a Powerhouse Museum staffer telling them it was legitimate. Apparently all the paperwork was not in order. Paperwork is far more important than art, you see... if you are an officious twat with too much power. I know who the true vandals are.

PPPS (25/11/08) Today The Herald published Council's reply to all this as the lead letter. It is seriously and deliberately inaccurate. I've posted comment under this story. They demand a full DA process if someone wants their wall stencilled but if, like most renovators these days, you are a fashion slave to dark grey (that dead non-colour that steals light from the street and deeply offends me) that's just fine and dandy. Fundamentally there is nothing behind this affair except a middleclass loathing of extroversion, colour and expression enshrined in draconian council policy. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Melbourne venue lockout dumped

The 2am lockout enforced on 46 nightclubs in Melbourne has produced an increase in reported violence and the plan has been dumped, reports The Age.

It seems all the "alcohol-fuelled violence" simply moved to an earlier time bracket.

One problem with the Melbourne scheme was its selective nature – also one of the fatal flaws of the Sydney version.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Where to go for the 2am swill

Welcome to the global city. According to the Premier's Department, the local venues listed below will be hit by a 2am lockout from December 1. This was the problem in Melbourne -- selective lockouts just redirect the late-night punters elsewhere and cause stress and tension as people are barred from venues or compete with bigger crowds for scarce taxis. IT WILL NOT WORK.

OXFORD HOTEL - Darlinghurst
EXCHANGE HOTEL - Darlinghurst
ARQ SYDNEY - Darlinghurst
STONEWALL HOTEL - Darlinghurst
VEGAS HOTEL - Potts Point

Monday, November 10, 2008

First 'small bar' in Kings Cross hits a snag

After gaining Development Approval at Council last week over the objections of local residents and Greens Councillors, the would-be operators of a small bar in Llankelly Place face the onerous task of providing a Community Impact Statement. 

They now have to get approval from residents, police, indigenous leaders, medical authorities, places of worship and nursing homes according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

In Victoria by contrast, applicants simply post a notice on the premises and it is up to the community to object.

Local residents objected to the DA on the grounds of noise etc, even though they live on the Kings Cross strip and are flanked by backpacker hostels. Some say it's hard to believe they would ever notice the difference in noise from one extra bar, assuming it became a success. 

The premises used to be the Ecstasy sex shop and cruise room, closed down after last year's police raids. Word on the street is they found 'under-the-counter' sex videos involving dwarfs and animals but no child pornography, which was the rationale for the raid.

Llankelly Place remains a business 'dead-zone' despite being the first local precinct to get a design makeover several years ago. (Pictured is the lane some years ago before most of the business closures).

Council at the same meeting rejected an application from Hugo's Pizza for extended opening hours till 4am. Apparently having quality food available for the alcohol-fuelled throngs is not a good idea. Local residents again objected on the grounds of noise etc... and you have to admit the sound of people eating pizza is most intrusive. 

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

New Temperance Union triumphs in Kings Cross

Last night I attended my last meeting of 2011 Residents' Association (its 2008 AGM). Having been re-elected to the committee unopposed, I later resigned after an amazing series of procedural contortions as the New Temperance Union attempted to exclude me; after two of my fellows also resigned; and after a heated debate about late night liquor venues in Kings Cross. 

Who said local politics was boring? 

Comments during the debate from the anti-late-night-venue faction told more about their own ageing minds than about any terrible new drinking crisis. For example:

"I'm against regulation and over-regulation in principle but in this case I think we should make an exception."

"I used to dance in Oxford St until daybreak but nowadays it's much worse and it should be stopped"

"I used to get really angry when police arrested someone for urinating in the street but now it's gotten out-of-hand" (!)

"Why can't people stop drinking at about 1am and keep having a good time on soft drinks?" [Heckle from Malcolm Duncan: "How?"]

"People should party in their own areas." [Pretty difficult if you live in Pymble or Top Ryde.]

"It's gotten a lot worse over the past 4/15/20/50 years." [Select number according to age of speaker.] 

"It used to be more sophisticated back in the '80s. Sure people got murdered in the back rooms now and then but it was better on the street."

"Why can't young people just go out earlier and go home early?" [in other words, "why can't young people live just like old people?"]

"24-hour trading was brought in for the shift workers. Now everyone's hopped on the bandwagon." 

Indeed, what of the shift workers? 

Answer: "They can just go home to drink, can't they?" Too bad if they have day-shift housemates or neighbours trying to sleep! Wouldn't be our problem then though, would it.

These baby boomers cannot face the fact that have simply grown old and intolerant. Still, even as their hormones fade, Kings Cross parties on just like it has for decades. 

I have video of the Strip in 1964, in the fabulous doco "The Glittering Mile" and I can assure you it was heaving with life then. And the same prune-faced biddies who chose to live in it then were making exactly the same complaints. Nothing has really changed.

Today's NIMBYs just brush that observation aside when I make it. Can't let facts get in the way of a convenient illusion.

They are so self-centred that they really think anything they have "grown out of" should be banned for everyone else.

Richard Florida, author of The Creative Class, calls these people "Squelchers". His theory is that the young, vibrant "creative class" are a good measure of a city's economic power as they earn the most money and are the most productive. The more the squelchers kill night life and street culture, the more the "creative class" move elsewhere, making the city poorer. Same goes for the tourist industry. Sound familiar in Sydney?

One of the chief grumblers lives on an upper floor of a modern apartment block with double-glazed windows facing well away from Kings Cross. But she "can still hear it". Obviously the tens of thousands of partygoers should instantly dissolve their culture and lifestyle to suit her keen-eared neurosis.

Among other prohibitive measures, the New Temperance Union is calling for a 2am close for selected venues in Sydney. 

I pointed out that the last train leaves Kings Cross at 1.30am on weekends and locking out the party population at 2am would result in a transport shortage that would only exacerbate violence.

The retort was: "Well they should make the trains run later." Sure thing, but in Sydney? LOL.

When I pointed out that the Police could not handle the action in the early hours because their union enterprise agreements mean they have to work an even balance of day and night shifts, the retort was: "You can't expect the Police to change their systems just to suit the drunks."

Yet the train drivers should all be out all hours, and Council should engage more "Compliance Officers" to police the pubs in the early hours. Apparently it's OK for them to "change their systems".

This inconsistency is obvious to me but not to the fossils, who nod sagely at any statement that reinforces their view.

Never mind how many police would be required to handle the new "2am swill".

One grumbler claimed the whole transport thing was a red herring, and the real problem was "an attitude that you can do anything you like in Kings Cross", which is why people "defecate and vomit in the streets." But, gee, if you close all the pubs at 2am, there won't be any toilets available. Anyway it's not the drunks who defecate in the street, it's the homeless who are barred from the pubs in the first place.

The fossils want "density controls" applied to liquor outlets in Kings Cross.  

To the contrary, I pointed out the many advantages of concentration: a wide choice of venues in a small area around a railway station reduces the distance patrons travel, reducing car driving by drinkers; Concentration reduces Police response times (because they have less distance to travel); CCTV becomes a viable monitoring method; Concentrating people into a smaller area increases safety because there are more eyes on the street; And welfare services such as outreach street workers and Missionbeat work well because their clients mostly gravitate to the nightlife precinct.

These points were supposedly rebutted with gems like: "How can you say Police have a quick response time when they say they already can't handle the demand."

It seems obvious to me that even a limited police force can get to a reported problem 100 metres away more quickly than one 500 metres away. Short distances are even more important if we have too few police at night. 

Police also prioritise serious incidents -- if there is an assault happening down the road, they leave low priority stuff like noise complaints and routine searches of street people and rush to the scene. I know this because I have seen them do it often.

But people with their heads in the sand do not see it. They just get outraged when they see a queue outside a nightclub. 

I asked one of them why they felt this way. The answer: "Once I was walking down the street with X, [a 90-year-old, ill woman] and we were blocked by the queue outside the Empire."

What happened, I asked.

"We asked them to get out of the way and they did."

So what's the problem? I'm still wondering why nightclubs should be shut down in Kings Cross in favour of ill 90-year-olds out after midnight.

Tony Brown, the main community force behind Newcastle's recent pub shutdown, said at our local New Temperance Union meeting (pictured): "The Act says residents are entitled to quiet and good order. It doesn't say 'except in Kings Cross'." (Applause).

Never mind that the legislators might not have imagined that people would be silly enough to move into Kings Cross if they couldn't handle the noise. Never mind that the Newcastle shutdown might simply be transferring the problems back to its hinterland which already has the highest rate of domestic violence in NSW, and even fewer police on duty late at night. And I'll bet data on this possible effect will not be collected, either. The NIMBYs just want it out of their back yard.

They are also asking Police to release "linking data" ie when Police deal with an alcohol-related problem they are supposed to ask the perps what pub they were last at so the nabobs can work out which ones are "problem pubs" and shut them down.

Never mind the accuracy of data collected from drunks, or that many of these incidents are caused in the first place when a pub does the right thing and ejects a troublemaker who then attacks the bouncers, or that the incidents might be related to a lot of other things besides alcohol, or that most such incidents are minor push-and-shove stories anyway. 

So much for common sense. Too bad, the New Temperance Union is carrying the day, supporting our teetotaller Police Commissioner who asserts that things are getting worse because "young people these days have a culture of drinking to get drunk". Huh? Why else did people ever drink (not counting us baby-boomer chardonnay-sippers of course).

Mr Scipione, mate, when I was at uni the catchphrase among my now-professional confreres was "Rage till you puke", something that I quickly learned was not a great way to go. My flatmates in my first shared house in Chippendale were country boys who regularly set up a keg in the kitchen on Friday nights. They would START with eight schooners in a pub session.

Anyone who doubts my word just needs to dredge up Barry Humphries' Adventures of Bazza McKenzie cartoon books from the late 1960s which concerned little other than drinking, chundering, syphoning the python, splashing the boots and choking a darkie.

Or read, in Fairyland, Sumner Locke-Elliot's account of his arrival in Sydney after WW2 to face the routine swilling, vomiting and fighting around the pubs. Locke-Elliot himself was the son of an alcoholic father who do doubt never "drank to get drunk".

I think it's actually better these days (allowing for a bigger population), especially with the prevalence of happy luvvey drugs like ecstasy which a local doctor and some brave police have recently thanked for reducing their alcohol-related workload -- even as their dog squads sniff out the pills and bust the nice people. Doh!

But the New Temperance Union blithely accepts Mr Scipione's fiction because it reinforces their own view. After all, the baby boomers invented post-modernism so why not use it? All texts are suspect, you know, so why not just believe in the one that suits you regardless of the facts?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

This week, drinking's OK again

Just as the new temperance unions have all but brought in their dream of 2am lockout/closing for Sydney's pubs, a new study shows that pregnant women who drink lightly have better outcomes for their children.

The large study of 12,500 mothers assessed their children at three years of age. Boys born to light drinkers were 40% less likely to have conduct problems and 30% less likely to be hyperactive than those whose mothers had abstained.

They also scored more highly on vocabulary tests and on identifying colours, shapes, letters and numbers.

Similar advantages were found among girls.

You could call it "alcohol-fuelled child rearing".

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Snowstorm in Kings Cross

Yes, it snowed last night in Kings Cross when residents attended the second public consultation on the coming upgrade of Fitzroy Gardens, site of the El Alamein Fountain.

After Clover's standard speech about all the wonderful things Council is doing for us, we were shown three design options for the park, supposedly driven by the 800 comments received at the previous consultation.

Despite being repeatedly told this was all about what WE wanted, each of the three council-designed rebuilds all involved a complete repaving, glossing over the fact that the biggest bloc of resident comments had said things like "leave it as it is" and "No more grey granite".

The snow got thicker in a Powerpoint display when we were told one of the things "we didn't like" about the park were the broken and cracked pavers, complete with a picture of a few slightly sunken tiles covered in Ibis-shit.

This of course justifies only better maintenance, not a rebuild. I can show you plenty of broken or cracked grey granite pavers throughout the city, but they don't seem to be used as a rationale for repaving the whole city.

I regularly walk the park and cannot now find any pavers in disrepair. In fact the paving seems in really good nick. One local I spoke to thought the park needed repaving -- "these pavers are disgusting" -- until I pointed out that any new paving would be just as stained in about three months.

At no stage have any structural or functional problems with the park been identified by council.

No, the real agenda here is simply Sydney's renovation disease, a cultural cringe which cannot leave anything to grow old gracefully, obtain a patina of age or exist long enough to come back into fashion. Sydney remains stuck in its teenage-girl phase, changing its clothes three times a day in an effort to impress.

Now Kings Cross will have to endure another year or so as a construction zone with its fallout of damaged businesses, intolerable noise and rampant production of greenhouse gases. So much for Clover's green credentials.

It's not "about us" at all, it's about feeding Council's voracious upgrade department, and it's about sham democracy and sham consultation from our bureautocracy.

Of course another thing "we didn't like" was the markets, particularly the Sunday Rotary markets which, along with the Gardens, has been on Council's hit list for many years. One wonders why, if we don't like it, it continues to make money. Note, the markets were also one of the things we said we "liked".

There was no information on how the markets might continue during the construction work, but the management of both markets "had been consulted". How democratic.

Two of the design options move the children's playground under the trees for shade, right in the firing line of the Ibis-shit. Smart.

The Ibises "were a management issue" we were told, without any specific solutions being offered.

Option Three involved moving the huge mature Fig tree, centrepiece of the park, to one edge. What could possibly go wrong?  

We are getting an upgrade whether we want it or not. It's inevitable as they had decided the budget and appointed the designers well before the initial community consultation (read: 'snowjob'). In that light I recommend Design Option 1, the least radical.

You can send comments to Kathleen Ng --

See the spin on Council's website here.

Report on initial "consultation" here.

Pictured: Beautiful Fitzroy Gardens as they are now. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.


The war on drugs, American style

While failing to significantly change drug use patterns, the US War on Drugs is claiming thousands of lives including ritual torture-decapitations and the murder of politicians and journalists in Mexico. This is the ugly future desired by "tough on drugs" zealots even though the only winners seem to be arms dealers. Funny that.

The pictures come from an interesting website run by US police who, having experienced the dark side of the drug war, oppose prohibition.  

For the amazing dope on the carnage in Mexico, check this article.

And we think the fallout is bad in Kings Cross!

PS (20/10/08) The drug-war bloodletting in Mexico is reported in the Herald today, the story as usual studiously ignoring any comment questioning the effectiveness of prohibition, leaving the uninformed reader to react with horror and intuitively wish for even more prohibition. They even blame the increase in violence on cocaine use. Very twisty.

PPS (14/12/08) Another take on the Mexican drug war carnage via the Christian Science Monitor claims 5,400 lives have been lost this year (more than Americans killed in Iraq) and that the crackdown has doubled the price of cocaine in America. This is seen as a measure of success even though it means ever-higher profits for suppliers and dealers, making the business that much more attractive. 

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Kings Cross gangster murdered: prohibition takes another life

Apparently he was a Kings Cross gangster named Todd O'Connor. Apparently he might have been involved in a drug supply gang called "Notorious". But maybe not. In any case he was murdered in Tempe on Sunday night, shot through the head. 

And apparently all the bikie gangs of Sydney are competing for the lucrative drugs turf in Kings Cross.

While this fallout from drug prohibition makes for colourful news stories, we don't need it any more than Chicago needed Al Capone. The sooner we discard this dysfunctional way of managing drugs and redirect the wasted $$ millions into productive directions, the sooner we can enjoy a much happier society. Are you listening, Premier Rees?

'Pal' lives on in the news

John O'Connor, known locally as Pal, keeps making news after his death on 27 September (see previous post & comments). Today's lead letter in The Sydney Morning Herald is from an ex-prison officer who tells how our jails are used as welfare accommodation by many. He says Pal might still be alive if he had been imprisoned and he calls for part of the prison budget to be reallocated for basic shelter for homeless and mentally ill people. Are you listening, Premier Rees?

PS: (9 October) Pal's funeral at St Canices is reported in The Sydney Morning Herald here.

PPS: (10 October) Another Herald story today (looks like a major re-edit of yesterday's -- thanks to a commenter for the link)

Note the 13-year-old runaway line. My info is that Pal was diagnosed as schizophenic at age 13 and kicked out by his parents. It's from a good source but it's still only hearsay.

PPPS: (11 October) Adele Horin opines in the SMH about a 'homes-first' approach to helping people like Pal. An anonymous commenter on the Todd O'Connor story above finds it all "nauseating and hypocritical." I have asked for clarification.

PPPPS: (14 October) Yet another letter to the editor about Pal, this one from people who were with him when he died.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Location, location, location

While the rest of the city claws and scrambles for that famous Sydney view, paying a fortune and even poisoning trees in the process, Council has decided we need to see flowers instead. This is the flower installation they have temporarily placed on the land bridge over the Kings Cross Tunnel, which was built as an observation deck for the impressive view down our very own "Champs Elysees" back to the city, pictured below but now obscured by the plants. While it's all very funky and nice and all, surely they could have designed better for the position -- and not created a hidden, dangerous dead space behind it. But what would we know, we're only residents.

International experts talk sense on cannabis

A panel of international experts has concluded that the prohibition of cannabis causes more harm than the drug itself. The UK's Beckley Foundation commissioned the panel in the lead-up to next year's UN review of global drug policy.

The panel's conclusions have received wide news coverage (even in the SMH!), a rare but welcome balance to the hysterical and inaccurate stories we are usually bombarded with.

Typically, the anti-drug zealots will ignore this new report and continue spinning their increasingly transparent propaganda.

I challenge Jan Copeland, director of the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre, to discredit the findings of the Beckley Cannabis Commission, as her supposedly "evidence-based" message is diametrically opposed. As she is privileged to possess the resources to do this, and either she is wrong or the Commission is wrong, avoiding the issue will destroy any credibility NCPIC may have.

If she cannot or will not discredit the Commission, it must be concluded that NCPIC is immorally wasting millions of taxpayer's dollars in its partisan mission of disinformation.

I challenge Jan Copeland to explain the contradiction between her portrayal of cannabis as a seriously dangerous drug rivalling Ice and the Beckley Commission's conclusion that:

The probability and scale of harm among heavy cannabis users is modest compared with that caused by many other psychoactive substances, both legal and illegal, in common use, namely, alcohol, tobacco, amphetamines, cocaine and heroin.

PS: 7/10/08 The actual Beckley Commission report is now online. The conclusions and recommendations are on Page 169. Please note the 49 pages of references. An appendix outlines desirable directions for research into cannabis, offering a wider agenda than the present politically directed search for harms. Of note among these are two areas that have been crying out for attention: Proper epidemiological research into the effect of cannabis on car accident rates; and research into the precursors, genetic or otherwise, indicating why cannabis is enjoyed by some but causes anxiety in others. Knowing the warning signs of psychosis could be a useful tool in preventing harm.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Confessions of a cannabis 'addict'

Prohibitionists are spending a whack of taxpayers dollars trying to establish 'cannabis addiction' as a significant problem. Jo Baxter of Drug Free Australia recently stated at an international forum (1) that "there are still at least 200,000 people in Australia... who admit to being addicted to cannabis". As she was referring to the Australian Household Drug Survey (2) which does not give figures for cannabis addiction, it appears to be a prime example of the porkies these people spout.

An acquaintance of mine told me the other day she had conducted a 'medical experiment' on herself. After 40 years of smoking pot almost daily, she decided to give it up to see what would happen.

Result: nothing. A week after she stopped (on the weekend), she had a strong urge to smoke and trawled the house for dregs, but didn't smoke. Next weekend, the same. Then nothing -- no problems, no side-effects, no withdrawal symptoms. She is now five weeks into her fast. That's not even indicative of a significant psychological dependence.

It is salient, I think, that she has never smoked tobacco and did not consume it mixed with her pot.

She is a pleasant, healthy, employed, functional person with adult kids who are themselves studying or employed.

OK it's a sample of one but 40 years is a long time and any sane person would have to admit that if she had been using heroin, cocaine, tobacco or amphetamines she would have been deeply addicted.

This gels with my knowledge of the long-term smokers I know. The only time I have seen anything like dependence in a pot smoker was when they mixed it with tobacco.

I guess Jo Baxter must either be talking about a different substance or she is deeply deluded.



(Thanks to Gary Gahan for pointing out the Jo Baxter material on an email list.)

Monday, September 29, 2008

NCPIC spouts more junk science

The Sydney Morning Herald continues its poor journalism on the topic of drugs by printing without balance or comment yet another AAP story regurgitating propaganda from NCPIC (the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre, where I hear the staff are already getting mightily annoyed with its highly paid Director Jan Copeland's focus on demonising cannabis at the expense of balance or truth).

The whole story, showing "links" between cannabis and depression is a transparent beat-up of the kind exposed elsewhere on this blog so I won't analyse the whole thing.

But simply take the lie in the last paragraph which claims that cannabis smoking "leads to brain shrinkage", referring no doubt to the study discussed in the hyperlink above which in reality showed only a tenuous link to brain shrinkage and could equally have shown that unemployment is the cause (and it ignores a larger study which showed no shrinkage, both views backed up in a New Scientist report).

Again in the present case, the sample who mention cannabis to doctors came from atypical minorities, just like the 'brain shrinkage' and the 'cannabis causes violence' furphies spouted by NCIPC and published in The SMH. "Users were more likely to be male, young, unemployed or on a low income and indigenous", says the SMH story. So the study could equally have concluded that being a young unemployed Aboriginal is likely to lead to depression and dope smoking. That's not on NCPIC's agenda though.

They even go so far as to infer that this study shows cannabis is more harmful than amphetamines. This is not only bizarre, it's dangerous if it leads to a reallocation of resources away from the hard drug to the soft drug. Frontline social workers in Kings Cross I speak to are flabbergasted by this tripe.

There is another giveaway in the story, which: "...also revealed that mentioning cannabis use to a doctor was very rare". Jan Copeland is "disturbed" by this, another unscientific assertion about data that could equally show that very few of the 750,000 weekly users in Australia see it as a problem.

It's just like the junk studies that showed that 90% or so of cocaine users had smoked cannabis and concluded that pot led to coke use. But a simple re-examination of the stats demonstrated that only a small minority of regular pot smokers used coke, refuting the first conclusion. Be careful what you believe, dear reader, it's all smoke and mirrors (to use an apt analogy!)

For "balance" the story includes an ideological comment from the AMA's Dr Rod Pearce who essentially argues that cannabis causes harms under prohibition therefore we need more prohibition. THINK about it! 

And if I am right about NCPIC, what a colossal waste of taxpayers' money!

PS: Even NCPIC's own mission statement is nonsensical:

"The NCPIC mission is to reduce the use of cannabis in Australia by preventing uptake and harms associated with its use in the Australian community."

In other words, "The NCPIC mission is to reduce the use of cannabis in Australia by reducing the use of cannabis and reducing the harms associated with its use in Australia". Huh?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

R.I.P. Pal

One of the better known street characters of Kings Cross died this morning, suddenly collapsing after attending St Vincents Hospital Casualty.

Pal, as he preferred to be called, was a gentle, intelligent person who was dealt a lousy hand in the game of life. He suffered from a variety of physical and mental problems which combined to exclude him from society and employment. However he never complained, and was always honest in his activities and courteous to the many locals who befriended him. 

He was dependent on charity and welfare for survival. His deterioration and death in his forties is a testament to the poor standard of care available to marginalised people.

The photograph was taken in October 2004 at his request after he had found a used syringe in the street and posed with it in his mouth.

His funeral is likely to be this week at the Wayside Chapel, where he was a regular.

PS: (3/10/08) Pal's real name was John O'Connor and this week's Wentworth Courier carried a story about St Vincent's Hospital staff who knew and liked him and held a dinner in his memory. He had admitted to the hospital over 800 times.

PPS: (7/10/08) The Sydney Morning Herald ran a major story on Pal on October 4. Thanks to the anonymous commenter below for the link.

Up to $12 billion says prohibition has failed

Faced with the reality that recent massive hauls of ecstasy have not made any visible difference to the availability of the drug, the Australian Crime Commission has dramatically increased its estimate of the size of the illicit drugs market.

They say between $4 billion and probably nearer $12 billion dollars annually are flowing out of Australia into the hands of international drug dealers, reports The Age today.

While not concluding that the War on Drugs has failed, the ACC is going to brief the government on 'revised strategies'.

This recognition of the real situation makes a mockery of prohibition groups who call for a 'tougher on drugs' approach, because the financial cost of eliminating a drug economy of that size would be astronomical, not to mention the social cost of the ugly militarised society we would have to create and the economic cost of convicting and punishing a very large percentage of the population. 

Taxpayers would very quickly tire of paying through the nose while being stopped at gunpoint and forcibly drug-tested wherever they went, because that is what it would take.  They would quickly realise locking up pot smokers is not as important as providing good health services or transport infrastructure because the former does not affect them but the latter does.  The solution would be far worse than the 'problem'.

The soaring debt levels of the US government alone makes effective prohibition unaffordable, and indeed there are reports they are already cutting back their Drug War spending.  

On the other hand, legal controlled availability would earn money for governments and greatly reduce crimes committed to fund the purchase of illegal drugs, particularly burglaries and muggings. The small minority who do experience problems with drugs could be better off if treated and educated. It would be a much nicer world for all of us.

PS: (29 September 08) A follow-up story in today's Age provides support for this analysis:

"Criminologist John Walker... believes the ACC's figures should spark alarm about the failure of traditional policing to fight the drugs trade. 'Law enforcement cannot solve an economic problem. It never solved prostitution or prohibition. In fact, what police do makes it worse because it drives up the price.'"

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Juanita Nielsen investigator ignored by Sydney media

Barry Ward, one of the two journalists who originally investigated the murder of Juanita Nielsen, has posted a comment beneath another story on this blog. It is worth bringing to the fore:

I have just discovered the Kings Cross Times blog and refer to your articles on Juanita Nielsen.
Some of your readers may know my name or even recall meeting me when Tony Reeves and I conducted our investigation into the killing back in the 1970s. The following is one of many articles I have written on the subject over the years. It will enlighten those who may not have been around at the time. The battle continues……

This year brings the 33rd anniversary of the murder of Kings Cross newspaper publisher Juanita Nielsen. It will also mark another year in the silent conspiracy of corruption that surrounds what may have been the crime of the century in NSW.

When Tony Reeves and I began our journalistic investigation back in 1975 we described it as the story of a lifetime, then The Story That Won't Go Away. For three decades we've been rebuffed in our attempts to force a commission of inquiry, to expose the truth behind this sordid tale of police and political corruption, of betrayal and heinous brutality.

But the story hasn't gone away, and neither have I -- although I was forced to leave Australia because of my activities.

The story surfaced again recently with the publication of a book whose author claimed to have found a witness with new evidence. I wrote a critique showing that his book was merely an extension of the official version of events, the cover-up, and e-mailed it to all of the Sydney media. Even though I am well know to most of them and the fact that my critique contained some astonishing facts only one editor bothered to reply and that to tell me that he preferred the police story!

This shouldn't really have surprised me. Our erstwhile colleagues in the Sydney media have long been not merely ambivalent but antagonistic in their approach to this story and to Tony and I. Orchestrated by the PR Dept of the NSW Police, they have accepted the official version of events without the slightest attempt at corroboration. Even though they all reviewed the book they wouldn't consider my critique of it, just as they ignored a major story that touched upon the case back in 1975.

Let me explain. In the course of our investigation Tony and I traced Eddie Trigg, the last person said to have seen Juanita alive. Within minutes we had been beaten up, abducted and handed over the Darlinghurst Police who threw us into jail for the night. "A good yarn," we agreed, when the goose bumps had abated. There was more good copy to come.

We pleaded not guilty to the spurious charge of being found drunk in Darlinghurst and, thanks to two pro bono barristers, fought the case as it lasted eight days over as many months. The charge was eventually dismissed but not before the case, which also involved two QC's on "watching briefs" for unidentified clients, had set two legal precedents. Another good yarn, we agreed. The transcript ran to 175,000 words.

But not one of those words was reported by the Sydney media. Like our allegations surrounding the killing of Juanita, the story was ignored. It might never have happened.

No one wants to know the truth about the Nielsen conspiracy. My rationale is that the political implications are too far-reaching, too dangerous. That, though, doesn't explain the shameful attitude of Sydney's journalists. They are a disgrace to the calling that Tony and I love.

If you'd care to read my critique of the Rees book and get an insight into what Tony and I achieved you can do so courtesy of the only branch of the Sydney media not afraid to run it. It was published without question by Fiona Prior on the Henry Thornton current affairs website. Read it by clicking on to the hyperlink below: No, there was no response to it, legally or officially…….

I have written a novel which bears more than a passing resemblance to the Nielsen conspiracy but, like their media colleagues, Sydney’s publishers have proved ambivalent. So I have self-published it Those who wish may download it at

My warmest regards to those Victoria Street residents and other caring folk who may remember me.

Barry Ward

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Drugs chief dumps on prohibition

A former British senior civil servant, who once ran the anti-drugs unit in the Cabinet Office, has described the present government policy of being tough on drugs as pointless. Julian Critchley says he now believes the best way to reduce the harm caused by drugs is to legalise them.

He clearly spells out that the main obstacle to this is politicians' fear of the tabloid press.

Here's a link to Critchley's BBC audio interview, and here's a link to a fuller BBC report.

What has this to do with Kings Cross? Well, on 21 August, two local residents groups are hosting a community summit to tackle the 'late-night booze fests' and 'alcohol-fuelled violence' that some of them constantly rail about. 

I guarantee that the the 'action plan' will do nothing to tackle one of the root causes of excessive alcohol consumption in this area: the harsh persecution of pot smokers via sniffer dogs (there were TWO dogs trawling the railway station barriers the other day). 

If you publicly search and humiliate up to 100 people per week in a precinct, most of whom are pot smokers, most won't come back and those who do will mainly be drinking, drinking, drinking. Years of this strategy must have greatly moved the demographics of our visitors towards alcohol abuse.

Still, some impressive speakers are listed at the 'summit' including Dr Alex Wodak and former KX Superintendent Mark Murdoch. And the meeting seeks "positive, practical, actionable and reasonable controls" as the outcome, which is encouraging.

The meeting is at St John's Church, Darlinghurst, 7.30pm, Thursday 21 August. 

[Pictured is an unusual view of St John's and the Top of the Town apartments shot from the newly restored turret of the Kings Cross Hotel.] 

Monday, August 11, 2008

Police, doctor back up realistic view of ecstasy

The lead letter in today's Sydney Morning Herald is from a Kings Cross doctor who observes first-hand the relatively benign effects of ecstasy (even in the impure form currently available in our illegal, unregulated market).

Today's Courier Mail also tells of frontline Police in Fortitude Valley (Brisbane's Kings Cross) who are grateful for the high numbers using ecstasy because they cause so much less trouble than the drunks.

These pieces underline the yawning chasm between real frontline experience and the official 'right message' spun by governments and prohibitionists.

This is not to say that prohibitionist activists are necessarily being dishonest -- along with the rest of us, they have for generations ingested torrents of propaganda and biased junk science designed to demonise certain drugs. Lacking for the most part any direct experience of drugs or alternative cultures, they do not have any reliable way to tell fiction from fact. (The NCPIC material described in the previous two posts is a perfect example of 'biased junk science').

Today's media grabs are solidly grounded in real experience, a rare occurrence in a society where most drug users keep their mouths shut for fear of arrest. Accordingly, open-minded observers need to give extra weight to the similar message both of these stories carry -- and then question the frame of reference that supports prohibition, a difficult thing to do if you believe in it.

Monday, August 04, 2008

All bloggers wrong, implies Copeland

Professor Jan Copeland has dismissed criticism of her public position on cannabis saying "We did get some negative press but it was only from bloggers". Copeland, pictured, is director of NCPIC (National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre)

She was speaking at NDARC's 2008 Symposium and was presumably referring to the many critical responses she received to an opinion piece she published on an ABC site (linked in the post below).

Several commenters exposed her criticisms of cannabis as flawed, quoting scientific studies at length. Despite the NCPIC website claiming to present evidence-based information, Copeland has ignored the content of these criticisms and rubbished them on the grounds that they were on a blog – a blog that she had started off herself!

Does this mean all blogs are wrong? Or does it mean that Professor Jan Copeland is just using that as an excuse to ignore extensive evidence that challenges her political bias?

After all, her organisation has a website and we all know you can't trust information from the web (especially if buying tickets for the Olympics). So all the information on her NCPIC site should also be ignored, at least by Copeland's questionable logic.

Even funnier, when they answer the phone at NCPIC they omit the 'prevention' bit from their name. I suppose that's because they know 'prevention' is the buzzword of conservative christian fundamentalists who want mandatory detention for all young people caught with cannabis, and it's becoming an embarrassment for a supposedly 'evidence-based' organisation.

Also strange is that Paul Dillon, previously known for his balanced reporting on drug matters, is the organisation's Communications Officer. The optimistic view is that Dillon will hit his stride soon and balance out the one-sided spin from Copeland. 

Here's a link in which Dillon lists the addictiveness of different drugs. After explaining how drug information needs to be accurate or kids just don't believe it, he offers these ratings:

"[Nicotine is no. 1, alcohol is no. 10] Heroin is about number 13, and ecstasy and cannabis are a lot further down the list."

That makes Copeland's description last week of young cannabis smokers as "a hard core of addicts" seem a bit purple, doesn't it?

But what would I know? I'm only a blogger.

PS This lead letter in The Sydney Morning Herald (Aug 1) nicely exposes how the NCPIC spin contradicts its own evidence.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

New Reefer Madness industry in full swing

It seems the new National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC) is wasting no time demonstrating its political aim of demonising cannabis.

An article in today's Sydney Morning Herald betrays the usual symptoms of selective data being used to support a predetermined view.

On the one hand we are supposed to be horrified at the spectacle of violent dope smokers presenting at hospitals. But as usual there is no causal link between the two. These people apparently presented "after smoking marihuana" but not necessarily BECAUSE of marihuana. What other factors may have contributed to the situation of those included in the data is not revealed. Only one in four showed violence, and the data no doubt does not include the legions who present at hospitals for some other reason without admitting cannabis use because it is illegal.

The article even quotes St Vincents' media darling Dr Gordian Fulde bringing up the discredited furphy that today's marihuana is ten times more potent than yesterday's weed but then curiously contradicts the thrust of the story by saying that smokers rarely need sedation. Ten times more potent? Where's your data, Dr Fulde? (And how much was edited out of what you actually said?)

On the other hand, we see doctors from the emergency department in the same hospital writing to newspapers pointing out they have never had to deal with a cannabis-related emergency. Strange contradictions here.

Well-paid NCPIC Director Jan Copeland has apparently learned nothing from the factually supported flaming she received on an ABC blog (note particularly the posts by "Rumpus"). It is clear NCPIC is nothing but a political propaganda tool and deserves no credibility whatsoever.

And, of course, the fact that all this supposed trauma is happening under prohibition is not mentioned.

And why the Herald uncritically publishes this rubbish is beyond me. It is no more credible that the original Reefer Madness and is produced for exactly the same reasons.

PS (31 July): NCPIC is at it again in The SMH, typifying young dope smokers as 'a hard core of addicts'. 

The press release gushes: "Teenage girls are now just as likely to smoke dope as boys, according to statistics showing rates are at an all-time low but a "hard core" of addicts still remains." 

Never mind that cannabis is about as addictive as golf or stamp collecting. To use the same term for cannabis addiction as used for heroin, ice or cocaine addiction is one of the most wildly dishonest and inaccurate statements it is possible to make. It's like equating a poke in the guts to a beating murder. NCPIC and The SMH are covered in shame.

The press release goes on to twist language in one of the most brazen pieces of propaganda I have ever seen.  Those who still smoke are "committed cannabis users who have other problems in their lives." Then Ms Copeland gets sinister with what I can only see as a call for tougher prohibition: "It's going to take more than an ad campaign on television to deter them."

Older smokers had "failed to give up" and needed "more help".

It's clever spin – assuming something is necessarily a problem when that idea itself is seriously questioned. And not a word about how all these committed teenage smokers can so easily get their hands on the stuff under prohibition, plain evidence that prohibition itself is the failure.

The Herald story finishes with a repeat of yesterday's claims about cannabis-related violence in Sydney hospitals. And Gordian Fulde has been all over the radio repeating that other furphy about the terribly potent new strains of Hydro. But as one email correspondent put it today:

"What's the violence level around Dutch coffee shops, where every strain of hydro is available?"


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Climate sceptics exposed as swindlers

"THE controversial documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle misrepresented several leading climate scientists to try to convince people that human-induced climate change is a fraud, Britain's broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, has found."

The program, shown last July on ABC amid some furore, seems to have been shameless in its dishonesty. Unfortunately all too many climate change sceptics will have had their views reinforced along the way.

The general approach is very similar to much of the prohibitionist spin around illicit drug use, but unfortunately the media seem to have almost entirely lost their critical faculties in this instance. I regularly see prohibitionist messages discredited by professionals because they use suspect research and ignore sound research that challenges their views. But these rebuttals never seem to find their way into the public sphere, possibly because the truth is seen to be 'the wrong message'. Sigh. 

Thursday, July 17, 2008

No strings attached

People were laughing yesterday at this pole poster in my street. It's obviously a hoax, so I have obscured the phone number. The two posters I saw had been removed by late afternoon. Quite a few World Youth Day pilgrims use this street... welcome to Sydney kids, it's not all prayerful arm-waving!

Two sides of World Youth Day

Cardinal Pell, the Pope and other protectors of pedophiles might have had a secret giggle over a slip of the tongue on ABC's AM program this morning. The announcer headlined with a story foreshadowing today's Papal apology to "vixens of sexual abuse." 

A correction to "victims" was immediate.

Freud would have raved in his groll.

Meanwhile the 'spin doctors' on the Morning Show described senior Catholics as 'not only climate change sceptics but also abuse sceptics'.

On a brighter note: Pictured are global pilgrims having a good time outside the Opera House yesterday, innocent and happy. More power to them. Shame on the politics of their leaders.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bus busts a sign of the new order

While the news is full of outrage because we can now be fined $5.5k for 'annoying' a Catholic pilgrim, the same inhuman authoritarianism is pervading many other parts of Sydney life.

A fairly common sight on our buses is a weeping young Asian girl, probably from China or Hong Kong where there is a single fare for all journeys, who has been busted by an inspector for not inserting their fare card enough times for the journey. I can understand as I have no idea how many sections a journey might be. Even when other passengers offer to pay the extra fare, the inspectors continue their officious sadism.

Now Melbourne has abolished tram conductors and the same thing is happening there. But that perhaps more human city is making an issue of it via this eloquent article in The Age.

Sydney better get used to it because, ever since APEC, 'This is the way we do business now'. And they wonder why tourism is falling.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Moral panic thriving in the media

Sydney's media yesterday was in a tizz over teenagers in a 'booze and drug orgy' at the Submission under-age party in Darling Harbour. ABC reports had one girl hospitalised from an overdose of GHB. It turned out she was drunk, which at least The SMH had the decency to report. This letter they published today, however, put it further into perspective:

Restrain the rage

It seems that of 2000 revellers at a "strictly alcohol-free" under-age event on Wednesday, 0.2 per cent were found to be under the influence of alcohol and 0.1 per cent were found with illegal drugs, of which half had enough to constitute a charge of "supply", thanks to a police sniffer-dog raid ("Under-age rage",, July 10).

Six doesn't seem a particularly alarming total to me. I'd wager that if you randomly tested 2000 police officers, teachers, nurses, doctors, politicians or State Transit Authority employees while they were at work, you would find a much higher percentage.

Daniel Kell, Sutherland


Ah, so many different ways to report something.

Monday, July 07, 2008

The costs of prohibition: Police break solicitor's rib

More fallout from police bullies with sniffer dogs: A Marrickville solicitor offered legal assistance to a person in a Newtown pub who was indicated by a sniffer dog – a perfectly reasonable offer as police always ignore their own rules of engagement by searching and humiliating people in public rather than taking them to a more private place as is their right and, when searching people without a dog present, demanding their ID without proper grounds.

The solicitor, Kristian Bolwell, was floored, handcuffed and had a rib broken according to a story in The Sydney Morning Herald.

Truly, we live in a police state and it's getting worse.

I have had similar experiences with police bullies when I photographed a sniffer dog operation at Kings Cross station. I was falsely arrested for 'swearing' (but really because I refused to show my ID, demanded to see the Superintendent intead). I also had a bystander witness, a solicitor who testified I had not sworn. When I complained to the Ombudsman the police simply lied and their commander backed them up. 

However at the time when the witness spoke up, I was immediately 'un-arrested'. Funny, I can't find that word in my dictionary. One of the offending photographs is shown above, illustrating the 'shooting fish in a barrel' tactics the police use to ensure only alcohol users come into Kings Cross.

Moral panic over milk

This neat satire of the prohibition mindset revolves around the Australian practice of 'milk-running', apparently a schoolies' prank involving regurgitation. There is a link to a Youtube vid showing the distasteful but possibly artistic practice.

The 'purse-lipped paragons of public morality' just can't work out what to ban in order to 'solve' the problem -- or even to be 'seen to be doing something.' It's a great window onto the 'binge' mentality of Aussie youth, with no alcohol or drugs in the picture at all. It's not even happening in Kings Cross!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The evidence prohibitionists and journalists ignore

As Kings Cross continues to suffer the chaos of prohibition, the prohibition industry has a near stranglehold on the public image of drugs with their message of danger and eternal damnation. Yet professionals continue to publish balanced evidence telling a different story.  

Here's a link to a very sober article which draws on no less than 52 scientific studies and concludes that the current popular myths about cannabis have little substance and it should be decriminalised. It's from the Journal of Current Opinion in Psychiatry, by Dr Wim van den Brink.

Of interest is the doctor's use of the term 'drugs of pleasure', which will get right up the noses of the prohibitionists, many of whom claim there is no such thing as recreational drug use (they must never have been to a pub!).

Pictured is a bizarre incident in which two police with sniffer dogs ran the length of Darlinghurst Road with their sniffer dogs chasing a local guy before illegally putting the dogs onto him. The dogs had not previously indicated him and no drugs were found. (The victim is the guy in the Nike top with his face blocked in yellow. The second dog is arrowed.) 

What a waste of time and resources, and what a great way to make Kings Cross and Sydney an unwelcoming place. Tourists from more liberal countries cannot believe what they are seeing when such incidents occur (which is frequently).

PS (9/7/08): This succinct story from the Los Angeles Times neatly sums up the folly of prohibition and names those who benefit from it. It's not a pretty list, but the vested interests of hardline conservatives are clear.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Another upgrade whether you want it or not

The general message to Council from the Kings Cross community last night was: 'If Fitzroy Gardens ain't broke, don't fix it' and: 'no more grey paving'.

But residents attending the first public consultation on the proposed upgrade of the park around the iconic El Alamein Fountain were told a $6 million budget had already been allocated and we were introduced to consultants who had already been appointed to run the design process.

Yet we were repeatedly told that 'we were driving this'.

If that was true, the consultation would have occurred much earlier to ascertain whether Kings Cross even needed another upgrade. We might, for instance, have preferred that our defunded arts festival was resurrected and who knows what else community members might think up.

This goes to the heart of the problem with this council: THEY drive the agenda and always will until a more democratic structure is put in place – for instance precinct committees with the power to set agendas and even control some budget. It happens in other world cities and it is the only way that Clover Moore's slogan of 'city of villages' will ever mean anything, and the only way Sydney will ever become truly diverse and interesting.

Council had decided on the 'post-it note' process whereby people write on sticky notes and post them on the wall. Quickly the section for 'what we liked' about Fitzroy Gardens overflowed. The 'dislike' section was much less full but included some pretty funny notes such one complaining about the noise from the El Alamein Fountain and asking that it be turned off at night. (This would only make other noise seem louder once the 'white noise' masking from the fountain stopped but hey, such is democracy!)

This type of consultation also suppresses speakers from the public who might sway the meeting by speaking to the whole room or even, god forbid, put a motion from the floor. 

Yes, better public toilets are needed and the paving could be better maintained. Some want the carpark under nearby Lawrence Hargeaves Reserve to be upgraded (just as oil starts running out!). Still, $6 million could do so much spent otherwise.

But gee, Council's Upgrade Dept needs constant feeding or they'd all be out of a job. Next on the hit list is Forbes St Woolloomooloo, another place guilty of being paved with the heretical terracotta. God it's boring fighting this relentless top-down control.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Potts Point person tells it like it is

From today's Herald letters, concerning Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen's breakaway faction opposed to equal right for gays (or indeed women) in the church:

"Only time will tell if Peter Jensen and his followers become the VHS or Betamax of the Anglican world. But I feel I should warn him, where we early-adopting gays and lesbians lead, the rest usually follow.

Chris Aronsten Potts Point"

Pell's bells, what is it about Sydney that spawns these reactionary church leaders? Now we can be fined $5,500 if we annoy a Catholic. Queen Isabella of Spain would be pleased.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Peak drug body supports Injecting Centre

The Australian National Council on Drugs (ANCD) has revised its position on the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre in Kings Cross. 

You can read its summary here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Illegal, immoral and fattening

The media circus has run stories about 'studies' recently that 'may be linked' to the following 'truths':

Australians are the fattest people on earth. They are drinking more and contracting more sexually transmitted diseases, but they are also living longer. Sydneysiders are among the unhappiest people on earth but the city is also the world's most liveable. Two glasses of wine per day helps you live longer – yet no amount of alcohol is safe.

Meanwhile we are told smokers of the 'hard drug' cannabis are running around in a psychotic state with no teeth, shrunken brains and lung cancer. Makes you wonder why on earth they bother.  (But only if you ignore the studies that show psychosis has not in fact risen over the decades along with the rise in pot smoking, that cannabis seems in fact to reduce cancer, does not make teeth fall out and does not shrink your brain.)

I hadn't heard the saying for decades but a friend the other day joked: 'Everything I like is illegal, immoral or fattening.' It's enough to make Bronwyn Bishop roll in her casket.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Bad ice and hillbilly heroin make a joke of prohibition

A possible new kind of 'ice' and news stories about 'hillbilly heroin' underline the ineffectiveness of prohibition in controlling drug use or minimising harm from drugs.

A local retailer is most upset because both an employee and a relative appear to have been badly mentally affected after briefly smoking something sold to them as 'ice'. He claims there is a new chemical variety on the streets which has sent both people into acute psychosis, hearing voices and acting irrationally. The employee is now retrenched and the relation, a young mother, is in danger of losing her two children. 

Meanwhile ABC Radio's AM this morning reported on the abuse of pharmaceutical opioids such as MS Contin, quoting a Kings Cross drug dealer who dresses respectably and 'doctor-shops' for prescriptions. The painkillers are then onsold to addicts for injection. They may prefer heroin but tolerate this 'hillbilly heroin' because it lasts longer and costs a lot less.

Such drugs currently make up 46% of injections at the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre, with heroin down to 36%, while 'ice' accounts for only 6%.

Meanwhile the US reportedly has developed 'killer funguses' to spray all over the planet in order to wipe out the opium poppy and cannabis. The stupidity is that, all things being equal, the natural drugs being targeted are less dangerous than the artificial drugs described above, and even if the Yanks did poison the planet, people would just switch to other more harmful alternatives – the 'balloon effect'.

And the 600 kg of pseudo-ephedrine which disappeared from under the noses of several international police forces in the recent Mark Standen case demonstrates how the high profits of drug-trafficking under prohibition will always beat the police who can be either outsmarted, corrupted or both. That's a potential $21 million worth of ice out there wreaking havoc in one case alone.

Under a legal and regulated model only the safest drugs of any variety could be licensed, and possibly rationed, and priced low enough to make the black market unprofitable and irrelevant. 

Harm would be reduced and we wouldn't risk poisoning the planet with weapons of mass destruction. And another $21 million worth of ice would not even be in the pipeline.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Nanny state in untrammelled triumph

The nanny state is out of control. A BBC 'big cat' docco showing on ABC just carried the warning:

"The following program contains footage of animals hunting and eating prey in the wild"

I've seen this on TV all my life, without warnings, and I don't seem to be unduly traumatised. In fact if I see another lion chasing a zebra I'll die of boredom.

They didn't have wimpy Australian Story synthesiser washes in the background, or interview a friend of the prey in tears. But it's coming. Mark my words.

This is on the same day that NSW health minister Reba Meagher ordered an approved drug education pamphlet to be pulped because, after advising schoolchildren not to take drugs, it advised those who did to use moderation. (The cover is pictured.)

Unacceptable! No, the message cannot vary from the unrealistic 'just say no' mantra, to please the 'purse-lipped paragons of public virtue'.

"They will let people die to stay in government," says Bill Crewes.

So kids whose first-hand experience blows the moral panic propaganda out of the water, and who reject unrealistic rhetoric, end up with NO sensible advice. Great result. I see them as the prey and the self-righteous idealogues as the predators.

PS: the whispering presenters of the docco have named one of the lion cubs 'Toto'. (Excuse me while I regurgitate.) The episode finished on a cliff-hanger shot of Toto being stalked by a predatory baboon, no less. Oh no! 

At least it makes a change from lions and zebras.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Henson panic fizzles out

It seems no charges are to be laid against Bill Henson, and the Classifications Board has given his work a 'G' rating (ABC Radio this morning). 

Yet the 'purse-lipped paragons of public morality' said the case was 'clear' against Henson. Here's a little tip on interpreting spin: 80% of the time when a politician uses the word 'clearly' you can be sure the issue is not clear at all.

Thanks to 'anonymous' on a post below for the link, and the comment: "When will Rudd realize that when a PM's personal view is made public it becomes a public view ?

For a private view to remain private he should just SHUT UP. "

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

ABC joins uncritical panic over cannabis

"Psychiatrists have known for years that there is nothing soft about the drug cannabis," gushed the reporter headlining her story on the ABC's AM program this morning.

She was talking about a study of 15 men who had smoked at least five joints a day for ten years. The men showed a shrinkage of certain parts of their brains and, not surprisingly, had reduced memory performance. The results were compared to minor brain injury trauma (like boxers get, legally, all the time).

This seems typical of recent output from the prohibition industry – reductive research setting out to find harm (otherwise they don't get funded), using a tiny sample and guaranteeing headlines from uncritical media, resulting in professional kudos. It creates alarm in the uninformed public and is used by prohibitionists to justify their position, no-one apparently noticing that all this drug abuse demonstrates that prohibition is not working.

Five joints a day for ten years might be similar to drinking two bottles of vodka a day or perhaps eating ten carrots a day, both of which would probably cause harm to the abuser. This does not justify gushing headlines that carrots 'are not a soft drug'.

And where would they find 15 guys who consumed that much pot? They must be very unusual people, almost certainly among the 4.5% of the population who are unemployed. I'll bet they also smoke tobacco and drink, although the researchers say they matched the control group for other factors. I would guess they have other precursor problems, and I'll bet this minor study had not scanned their brains before the ten-year period, either. And how did they conclude, from this atypical sample, that 'any amount' of smoking put the person at risk?

As I write the researcher, Marat Yucel from Melbourne University, is on 702's Morning Show trotting out a lone 20-year-old ex-smoker, who was not even in the study but is part of a tiny minority who had a bad time on it. Standard tactics. But it will look good on Yucel's CV.

At least AM quoted Gino Vumbaca from ADCA who cautioned about the small sample used in the study.

Ah, Yucel just admitted that all the smokers in the sample were unemployed and the control group wasn't. So the study could equally have concluded that unemployment shrinks your brain. And now as I listen he's COMPLETELY lost it, comparing drug law reformers to people who say tobacco is harmless because a tiny number of smokers live for a hundred years, while 90% plus of cannabis smokers never experience significant problems, the complete reverse evidence base. Host Deborah Cameron missed that glaring fallacy, though.

Meanwhile the potentially $120 million worth of ice lost by police (see previous post) remains out there on the black market and the media are ignoring this massive failure of prohibition. Their news sense is definitely lost in the moral panic.

PS: A kind commenter posted this link from a New Scientist blog which largely reinforces the analysis above.

PPS: Here's a concise piece discrediting many of the prohibition myths peddled by the media.