Wednesday, June 30, 2004
1) The story of Dan Parisi, owner of the website whitehouse.com, continues, as a court has ordered the sale of the website legit as long as it removed all political references and did not confuse viewers into thinking it was President Bush's website, whitehouse.gov. The ruling may give comfort to potential buyers of the domain worried that the government will take over the site once they purchase it.
2) A ban against a nudist camp for children is being fought by the ACLU.
3) Doping allegations are the name of the game as both the Tour de France bikers and former Olympic athletes are facing charges of performance enhancing drug use. Though the former involves potential cyclist use of syringes, the latter story has a sports court saying that the U.S. sprinter Jerome Young should be stripped of the gold medal he won in the 2000 Olympics, based on the results of a 1999 steroids test. This accompanies the major league baseball steroid allegations that just won't go away.
Just a Few More Words About COPA
You can find some good commentary about yesterday's ruling at Balkinization and here and here at the Volokh Conspiracy. I'll mention that I, too, thought that Justice Breyer's claim that COPA targeted material that was either legally obscene or nearly obscene seriously downplayed the potential scope of COPA. And he and I have different imaginations, it seems, given that he thinks "one cannot easily imagine material that has serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for a significant group of adults, but lacks such value for any significant group of minors." (Minors here are people less than 17.) And I imagine that some courts will be happy to find lots of non-legally obscene material nevertheless lacking in serious value for minors. But I do share a concern that is noted in the Breyer dissent, namely, that the failure to uphold COPA will lead to more restriction on speech, not less, if current obscenity laws are enforced more strictly when a COPA-like mechanism for shielding kids from smut is not available.
Justice Breyer also notes in his dissent that the existence of a "compelling interest" by the government in protecting minors from commercial smut is not a subject of dispute: "No one denies that such an interest is 'compelling.'" Well, I might be willing to deny it, or at least to suggest that the claim could benefit from some discussion. (In the February, 2003 William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal, Ashutosh Bhagwat has an interesting article that distinguishes between a governmental interest in helping parents shield their kids from porn, and an independent direct governmental interest in keeping kids from porn.)
Finally, I haven't seen any commentary on Justice Stevens's concurring opinion (joined by Justice Ginsburg), so I will mention some of the points that it makes. Stevens backs up the Appeals Court reasoning from the first time that the Supremes took on this case, namely, that the "community standards" approach alone leads to unconstitutionality:
I continue to believe that the Government may not penalize speakers for making available to the general World Wide Web audience that which the least tolerant communities in America deem unfit for their children's consumption, cf. Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, 521 U. S. 844, 878 (1997), and consider that principle a sufficient basis for deciding this case.Professor Stevens also implicitly takes aim at the claim in Justice Breyer's dissent that COPA really isn't all that restrictive:
I wish to underscore just how restrictive COPA is. COPA is a content-based restraint on the dissemination of constitutionally protected speech. It enforces its prohibitions by way of the criminal law, threatening noncompliant Web speakers with a fine of as much as $50,000, and a term of imprisonment as long as six months, for each offense. 47 U. S. C. §231(a). Speakers who "intentionally" violate COPA are punishable by a fine of up to $50,000 for each day of the violation. Ibid. And because implementation of the various adult-verification mechanisms described in the statute provides only an affirmative defense, §231(c)(1), even full compliance with COPA cannot guarantee freedom from prosecution. Speakers who dutifully place their content behind age screens may nevertheless find themselves in court, forced to prove the lawfulness of their speech on pain of criminal conviction.
COPA and CIPA
Having wasted your time with a long post about last year's library internet porn case, I feel obligated to at least mention how it is relevant for yesterday's decision regarding the Child Online Protection Act (COPA).
The majority upheld the Third District's affirmation of the District Court's preliminary injunction because content-based speech restrictions are presumptively invalid. Once contested, the government has the burden of overcoming that presumption, in part by showing that there do not exist plausible alternatives that serve the same end while simultaneously being less restrictive upon speech. The government failed to make such a showing, and therefore, the Court ruled, the District Court did not abuse its discretion when it issued the preliminary injunction.
The main alternative considered by the District Court in making its decision was software that blocks or filters objectionable material, and here is the chief connection to last year's library case. Specifically, the previous case helps to establish the viability of a filtering alternative. The Court proceeds as follows. Perhaps it might be argued that filters are not really a plausible alternative, because the government cannot order people to use filters on their home computers, but (perhaps) the government can order commercial porn websites to set up an age check or credit card screen. According to the majority opinion...
That argument carries little weight, because Congress undoubtedly may act to encourage the use of filters. We have held that Congress can give strong incentives to schools and libraries to use them. United States v. American Library Assn., Inc, 539 U. S 194 (2003). It could also take steps to promote their development by industry, and their use by parents. It is incorrect, for that reason, to say that filters are part of the current regulatory status quo. The need for parental cooperation does not automatically disqualify a proposed less restrictive alternative. Playboy Entertainment Group, 529 U. S., at 824. ("A court should not assume a plausible, less restrictive alternative would be ineffective; and a court should not presume parents, given full information, will fail to act"). In enacting COPA, Congress said its goal was to prevent the "widespread availability of the Internet" from providing "opportunities for minors to access materials through the World Wide Web in a manner that can frustrate parental supervision or control." Congressional Findings, note following 47 U. S. C. §231 (quoting Pub. L. 105-277, Tit. XIV, §1402(1), 112 Stat. 2681-736). COPA presumes that parents lack the ability, not the will, to monitor what their children see. By enacting programs to promote use of filtering software, Congress could give parents that ability without subjecting protected speech to severe penalties.A second rationale for preferring the less-restrictive filter alternative comes from a government commission that issued a report on controlling Internet porn two years ago -- and the commission, which itself was established via COPA, found that filters were more effective than age-verification requirements.
Justice Breyer's dissent also invokes the library case. He points out that filters are currently part of the scene, and he views the (or at least one) relevant question to be whether or not "filters plus COPA" does a better job at protecting kids from harmful-to-minors material than does the status quo of filters alone. Breyer quotes from Justice Stevens's dissent in the library filters case, to help establish the point that current filters exclude much material that is not objectionable while allowing through some obscene images.
Last Year's Internet Pornography Case: Smut and Public Libraries
Yesterday's Supreme Court decision in Ashcroft v. ACLU et al. has motivated me to provide some background into the whole issue of regulating Internet pornography. That background continues now with a look at a case that was decided last June, U.S., et al. v. American Library Association, et al. My discussion is based primarily on the Supreme Court decision itself, but also draws on (and, I think, coheres with) a column by Steve Chapman, "The Internet Law that No One Missed," from the Chicago Tribune, June 26, 2003, p. 27 (though the link is to the version that appeared in the Washington Times.) Last year's case was brought up in both the opinion for the Court and a dissent in yesterday's COPA ruling.
A lack of Internet access puts enormous amounts of material out of reach. Public libraries, therefore, have been assiduous in trying to secure and augment Internet access for their patrons. Of course, the material that the Internet makes available ranges over the full spectrum, from the most detailed, prosaic data to the most lurid photographs and films, including many which are prohibited as "obscenity." Sometimes kids (and adults, too) in public libraries access the lurid material, often purposely. Sometimes they even leave it on the screen so that the next user is involuntarily exposed to indecent images.
The specter of such questionable use of public Internet connections brought a federal response. The US Congress passed the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) in December 2000. Most public libraries in the US receive federal funds earmarked to help them establish and maintain Internet access. CIPA requires public libraries that receive such federal funding to install filters on all of their computers that are connected to the Internet.
The constitutionality of CIPA was challenged by the American Library Association, as well as by a long list of plaintiffs, including two candidates for Congress whose websites were blocked by filtering software. An injunction prevented the implementation of CIPA until the case was finally decided by the Supreme Court. On June 23, 2003, the Supreme Court (in a 6-3 decision) upheld the constitutionality of CIPA, overturning the earlier ruling of a US District Court. Three other justices (O'Connor, Scalia, and Thomas) signed on to the opinion written by Chief Justice Rehnquist, while two additional justices (Kennedy and Breyer) agreed with the outcome, though each provided a separate opinion. Essentially, the Rehnquist decision argued that the free speech issues at stake in CIPA were minimal: "A library's decision to use filtering software is a collection decision, not a restraint on private speech." Further, the law allows librarians to disable the filtering software if an adult makes a request consistent with "bona fide research or other lawful purposes." CIPA, according to the Rehnquist decision, does not violate free speech protections, while it enables Congress's legitimate purpose of limiting the manner in which its authorized spending is undertaken.
Both sides of the Court recognized the fallibility of filtering software. Current incarnations of such software vastly overexclude material, precluding access to unobjectionable, non-obscene sites. (Filters also allow some pornography to pass unmolested, especially as filters rely on text and have no reliable way to judge the content of photographs.) In his dissent, Justice Stevens argued that "a statutory blunderbuss that mandates this vast amount of 'overblocking' abridges the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment." The fact that the filters could be removed upon request does not vacate the First Amendment concerns of Justice Stevens, in part because a user doesn't know precisely what is blocked in advance. CIPA also requires that every Internet-enabled computer in a library be filtered, even if only one of the computers was purchased with (some) federal funds, and even if the computer is solely for the use of library staff. "This Court should not permit federal funds to be used to enforce this kind of broad restriction of First Amendment rights, particularly when such a restriction is unnecessary to accomplish Congress' stated goal." Justice Stevens noted that in the absence of the CIPA requirement, only 7 percent of surveyed libraries indicated that they dealt with the problem of adolescent access to Internet pornography by installing filters on all computers.
Justice Souter's dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Ginsburg, observed that the disabling of the filters upon request was not automatic -- the statute only stated that librarians "may" unblock when a request is received. Justice Souter further took issue with the plurality's claim that CIPA involved not censorship, but a "collection decision" akin to that of which books to purchase:
...In the instance of the Internet, what the library acquires is electronic access, and the choice to block is a choice to limit access that has already been acquired. Thus, deciding against buying a book means there is no book (unless a loan can be obtained), but blocking the Internet is merely blocking access purchased in its entirety and subject to unblocking if the librarian agrees. The proper analogy therefore is not to passing up a book that might have been bought; it is either to buying a book and then keeping it from adults lacking an acceptable "purpose," or to buying an encyclopedia and then cutting out pages with anything thought to be unsuitable for all adults.CIPA's litigation history may well not end with the Supreme Court decision of 2003. In that case, CIPA was challenged on its face as unconstitutional, and the Court ruled against such a challenge. The implementation of CIPA, however, could result in further challenges, especially if adults are denied relatively swift and painless unblocking. (OK, this one hits close to home for this vice researcher, who frequently has accessed the Internet in public libraries, on topics such as pornography, obscenity, and other areas likely to raise flags for filters.)
The passage of CIPA, it seems to me, is a perfect example of legislation that should never have been adopted, under the old adage "don't make a federal case out of it." The 93 percent of libraries that previously chose otherwise now have no choice, absent the loss of what for many are significant funds, to install filters on all of their computers attached to the web. And for what gain? As Internet access expands, fewer and fewer adolescents will need to rely on public libraries if they choose to procure pornography. And for those whose search for Internet porn is limited to public settings, librarians had already implemented policies to control such behavior. But now we are saddled with a federal rule that ultimately will have essentially no impact on adolescent exposure to pornography, but will inconvenience thousands of library internet users, who among other things, might be prevented from accessing the Supreme Court's decision in US v. American Library Association, et al. (2003).
Ryan has already indicated that the big vice regulation story of yesterday was the Supreme Court decision in Ashcroft v. ACLU, which concerns the Child Online Protection Act (COPA). I have read the opinions and will soon have a bit to say, but I thought that I would start by providing a brief (OK, maybe not all that brief) roadmap of US Internet pornography jurisprudence.
First, let's start with general speech, not just the Internet version. The First Amendment to the US Constitution, of course, limits what measures can be taken regulating speech or expression. The Supreme Court distinguishes between obscene material and indecent material. Obscene material has no First Amendment protection, while indecent sexual material does. What is considered to be obscene? A 1973 case, Miller v. California, provides the current standard. Paraphrasing somewhat, a work is obscene if (1) the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to a prurient interest in sex; (2) the work depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive manner; and, (3) the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value. Possession of obscene material in your own home is protected, though transportation, distribution, and receipt can be controlled. (Here might be a good place to point out that I am not a lawyer and I could be wrong: do not rely upon any of the information or misinformation contained in this post or on the rest of Vice Squad, for that matter.) Possession of child pornography, even in one's home, is forbidden. (Incidentally, according to the relevant definition from OED online , "prurient" means "Given to the indulgence of lewd ideas; impure-minded; characterized by lasciviousness of thought or mind." There are some judicial attempts at spelling out what is meant by prurient, too.)
Constitutional protection of indecent material depends on the medium by which it is conveyed. Unseemly (though not necessarily legally obscene) matter can be regulated if it is transmitted via traditional broadcasting, as Howard Stern knows all too well. The Communications Decency Act (CDA: Title V of the Telecommunications Act of 1996) was aimed at extending this regulatory power over the transmission of indecent material to the Internet, for the purpose of preventing minors from procuring lewd material online. In ACLU v. Reno, the Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, found the content-based restrictions of the CDA on speech vague and overbroad, and part of the Act, therefore, unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds. The Court thought that the CDA would chill protected speech on the Internet. For example, a community organization's web-based discussion of safer sex using street slang to reach teens would violate the CDA.
Congress responded to the invalidation of the CDA by passing the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), which appropriated much of the language from the Miller case. For instance, under COPA, the targeted material, taken as a whole, must lack serious artistic, literary, scientific, or political value "for minors," and "contemporary community standards" are to be employed by juries in determining whether material is harmful to minors. By following closely the Miller formulation, Congress was trying to prevent the COPA ban from being overly (unconstitutionally) broad. Nevertheless, each of the three prongs of the Miller test was modified in COPA's language through a reference to minors, so COPA applies to at least some material that is not legally obscene. In addition, COPA (unlike the CDA) pertains only to communications intended for commercial purposes, which currently receive a lower level of First Amendment protection than some other types of communications, such as political speech. Further, again unlike the CDA, which arguably applied to all Internet communications, including e-mail and chat room messages, COPA restricts itself to webpage communications. COPA does not seek to ban "harmful to minors" material; rather, it requires that commercial porn purveyors place their material behind some sort of age check or credit card screen.
A preliminary injunction by a District Court prevented enforcement of COPA, based on the notion that the plaintiffs opposed to COPA would be likely to prevail on their argument that less restrictive alternatives to the COPA control were available. Subsequent appellate and Supreme Court litigation has been concerned with the appropriateness of this District Court grant of a preliminary injunction. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals initially upheld the injunction but on different grounds, ruling that the community standards provision was overbroad for regulating Internet communications. (One fear was that given the borderless nature of the web, every community would be held to the standards of the most puritanical.) In May, 2002, the US Supreme Court disagreed with the Third Circuit, claiming that COPA's reliance on community standards by itself did not meet the "overbroad" test that would render COPA unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds. The Supreme Court kept the injunction in place, however, while sending the case back to the Third Circuit for a thorough hearing on COPA's constitutionality that would go beyond the "community standards" issue. In March, 2003, the Third Circuit again found COPA to be unconstitutional, for an array of reasons. For instance, according to the Third Circuit, the restrictions on speech contained in COPA are not narrowly tailored to achieve the government's purpose of preventing harm to minors from exposure to indecent materials, nor does COPA employ the least restrictive means of achieving this purpose. It was an appeal of this (second) Third Circuit decision that was decided yesterday by the Supreme Court.
I'll save further COPA comment for future posts, but there are two other Internet vice verdicts worthy of note. The Child Pornography Prevention Act (CPPA), an amendment to earlier legislation, outlawed the possession of computer-generated or virtual child pornography, i.e., images that were created without the use of real children. On April 16, 2002, the US Supreme Court struck down CPPA, on the grounds that the Constitutionally-valid rationale permitting a ban on "real" child porn – harm to actual children – does not directly apply to virtual child porn.
Finally, Congress passed the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) in December 2000, which seeks to force libraries that receive federal funds to install Internet filters. A trial began in late March, 2002, challenging the constitutionality of this law; among the plaintiffs were two candidates for Congress whose websites were blocked by filtering software. The US District Court in Philadelphia found CIPA to be unconstitutional, but last summer, the Supreme Court disagreed. I'll post more on CIPA later today, as it has some relevance for the COPA case -- apologies for the extensive, confusing abbreviations!
Tuesday, June 29, 2004
1) A big vice story of today is the Supreme Court's decision to block enforcement of an internet pornography law. The controversy is over the 1998 Child Online Protection Act which has not yet been enforced, and has been pushed back down to a lower court. The Supreme Court decision is here.
2) From England, we see a father alerted a gang to his son's cocaine stash, from which an attempted robbery ensued. He was given a 20 year jail sentence and his son was given 20 years for "conspiracy to supply drugs".
3) In other big Supreme Court news, the high court agreed to hear a case next year concerning the prosecution of people who take marijuana on a doctor's orders. The Bush Administration argued that federal drug laws take precedence over state laws for medicinal marijuana, which 35 states have.
4) And in addressing the continual Vice Squad topic of vice advertising, French vintners are attempted to free up alcohol ad restrictions, to the horror of many medical groups. The President of the National Association for the Prevention of Alcoholism and Addiction: "Advertising would just legitimize problem drinkers in their problem drinking." Say that sounds like a familiar argument justifying the criminalization and prohibition of drugs...
This Day in Vice History: 6/29/1938- A radical Christian newspaper claims that half of the crime in "Latino American, Filipino, Spaniard, and Negro" districts is attributable to marijuana. And yesterday, the first draft of the Declaration of Independence was written- on hemp paper! Thanks to Stop the Drug War.
Purdue Pharma LP sold almost $2 billion worth of the popular painkiller OxyContin last year. OxyContin (with active ingredient oxycodone) was designed to be a time-released opioid that provides 12 hours of pain relief from a single tablet. Crushing the tablet prior to injesting, however, undoes the time release chemistry, and the crushed powder can be chewed, snorted, drunk in an alcohol or water cocktail, or further prepared and injected for an intense high. This discovery has led to lots of problems and even death for some OxyContin addicts and experimenters.
The Wall Street Journal reports today (page D3) that a reformulated version of OxyContin (which is no longer under patent protection) developed by Pain Therapeutics, Inc., may make it harder to undermine the time-release mechanism. From the WSJ article:
The company mixes oxycodone with three other substances it declines to identify, yielding a viscous fluid that Pain Therapeutics says won't release the oxycodone when crushed or dissolved in water or alcohol. Taken normally, the company says, the drug is still slowly released in a 12-hour period through the stomach and intestinal lining.Pain Therapeutics issued this press release today.
Pressure has been growing on Purdue Pharma to do more to prevent OxyContin abuse. Last week, one of the manufacturing subsidiaries of Purdue paid $2 million to settle a case brought by the DEA alleging insufficient record-keeping. In December, the Government Accounting Office released a report (63-page pdf available here) concerning the abuse and diversion of OxyContin. Among the factors that the GAO identified as contributing to abuse was the original warning label, which advised against crushing the pill as that would lead to rapid release of the oxycodone. Purdue also has taken to training doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and law enforcement officers on how to detect potential abuses:
Two years after beginning their law enforcement training efforts, the three trained directors are in big demand, booking nearly six months in advance. Ritch Wagner was a former Nebraska Drug Enforcement Officer, and is now director of the Purdue Pharma program. Wagner says his team is training law enforcement and health care professionals about what to look for and what steps they can take to minimize prescription drug abuse.Vice control has a way of enlisting "civilians" as informants. Meanwhile, the feds continue their dreadful, over-the-top campaign against pain-treatment doctors and their patients -- a campaign mentioned previously by Vice Squad in December and in February.
Monday, June 28, 2004
1) A new report out of the UK claims that 75% of criminalized drug users attempted to get help an average of three times before being arrested, and a third felt that committing a crime was the best way to make sure that they received treatment.
2) From Afghanistan, the BBC reports that some drug smugglers posing as aid workers have been caught recently. Afghanistan is a major producer of opiates and indeed the rise in poppy production in Afghanistan is a major factor in the increase in world production of opiates noted by the United Nations.
3) A remake of a Mozart opera featuring some of Vice Squad's favorites (prostitutes, drugs, et al.) is causing quite a stir in Berlin. The director is apparently famous for working nudity and sex into otherwise wholesome dramas.
4) And an apparent prodigal DUI/DWI offender was convicted for the 23rd time last Thursday. He has been driving without a license since 1984 and he triumphantly exclaimed after his previous arrest that he would continue to drink and even made predictions about his actions on his next chase, soon after fulfilling his previous prediction for his current chase. A policeman on the scene recognized him.
Qat Promotes Fertility?
The qat (or khat) plant is chewed by millions of people in East Africa and elsewhere for its stimulating effect. But the stimulation is more general, it seems:
The leaves of the khat plant give a feeling of euphoria when chewed. But scientists at King's College London have discovered that they also contain chemicals that help sperm to mature and fertilise an egg.Vice Squad's most recent previous posts concerning qat are here and here.
For the UN, Use = Abuse
The UN's Office on Drugs and Crime -- gee, I wonder why these two are paired; do they have an Office on Ketchup and Athletics? -- released its World Drug Report 2004 last week. The Press Release begins thusly:
VIENNA, 25 June (UN Information Service) -- Approximately three per cent of the world population (185 million people) have abused drugs during the previous 12 months, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). A small percentage of the world population abuses cocaine (13 million people) or opiates (15 million abusers of heroin, morphine and opium). By far the most widely abused substance is cannabis (used at least once a year by over 150 million people), followed by the amphetamine-type stimulants -– ATS (38 million users, among them eight million users of ecstasy).Fortunately, this problem of drug abuse can be tackled via a "holistic approach". To ridicule the bureaucratese that pervades the Executive Summary is shooting fish in a thimble. Here's an excerpt from page 13 of the Executive Summary, sans further commentary from moi:
The drug problem has a negative impact on the functioning of societies as a whole. It can hinder development programmes and compromise peacemaking and reconstruction efforts in countries torn by civil war. In turn, poverty, strife, and feeble governance are fertile ground for drug production, trafficking, and abuse. Those various dimensions can become so interlocked that getting out of the vicious circle they create can only be accomplished through a comprehensive approach. Confined for too long to special programmes handled by specialized agencies, drug control priorities are now finding their way into the mainstream of the socio-economic agenda.
Starting at community level, this broader understanding of the socio-economic dimensions of the drug problem must notably be reflected in a society-wide approach. Public institutions cannot do everything. Interventions are far more effective when they are joined by various actors in civil society (such as families, non-governmental organizations, and the media) in a common purpose and programme.
Sunday, June 27, 2004
Kicking off Vicewire, 6/27/2004
Hi. If the regular bloggers are like a true police "vice squad", then I'm like someone who answers the phones when I can. Or if the analogy works better, like Janine from Ghostbusters. Anyway, here's some recent vice happenings:
1) In a gruesome story, China marked International Anti-Drug Day by proscribing 16 drug traffickers with death sentences and killing another man.
2) A giant 50-year study on the effects of smoking finished last week, and noted the number of years of life saved by stopping smoking at certain ages. The average is about 10 years lost by smoking.
3) Who'd a thunk it? Self-extinguishing cigarettes. Useful if you "fall asleep" while smoking.
4) And to go with it, the Czechs are kindly providing marijuana-flavored alcoholic drinks, with 16% alcohol no less.
5) Finally, a casino owner attempted to recreate the famous C.M. Coolidge painting of dogs playing poker to spark interest in a new gaming pit. So it's not really newsworthy, but it's an interesting publicity stunt to try and get people in the casino.
Ryan Monarch's Vicewire
I am happy to report that primo research assistant Ryan Monarch is about to join Vice Squad as a regular contributor. Ryan's "column," titled "Vicewire," will provide links and short descriptions to vice stories that even the loyal Vice Squad reader might otherwise have missed. Welcome on board, Ryan.
Dunking the Duck Derby
In Rochester, Minnesota, Junior Achievement has been holding a Duck Derby to raise money for the last 15 years. (In a Duck Derby, plastic numbered ducks are released in a body of water. People buy tickets "betting" on a duck, and if their duck is the first to make it to the finish line, they win a prize.) The state gambling authorities smelled a fish, and shut down the Derby this year -- but JA hopes to re-organize their Derby -- er, put their ducks in a row -- in a way that will satisfy state regulations next year.
Placating the Non-Customers
In George Ade's 1931 book on saloons, he attributed their forced closing to their unwillingness "to keep up a semblance of decency and placate the non-customers." Purveyors of legal vice today often similarly overreach. Nye County, Nevada, is the home of some legal brothels as well as the Kingdom, an "all-nude" bar. Joe Richards is the owner of the Kingdom and a couple of brothels. "Richards has erected billboards that advertise his brothels in what some say is a clear violation of the county's brothel ordinance, he has filed a lawsuit against the county, and he opened the Kingdom and decorated its outside walls with nearly naked women striking provocative poses." So it should come as no surprise that there are efforts underway to revisit Nye County's legalization of brothels, not unlike the efforts in Churchill County, Nevada, which have culminated in a referendum question on the November ballot.
In other Nevada brothel news, the Chicken Ranch is up for sale. It could be yours for $7 million.
Saturday, June 26, 2004
Public Spirit Coincidentally Harmonizes With Private Interest
I knew that it was unpleasant to drive with a hangover, but until today I did not know that it was particularly dangerous. Fortunately, there is a "New Alcohol Awareness Campaign To Combat Hidden Dangers of "DWH" -- Driving While Hungover." We owe this campaign against the scourge of DWH to Spirit Sciences USA, Inc., which even intends to subsidize the police effort against the dangerous practice of driving while hungover:
To help law enforcement and safety advocates combat the problem of DWH, Spirit Sciences USA is in the final stages of developing a technology capable of detecting a hangover and measuring its severity. Upon conclusion of a large-scale test Spirit Sciences USA intends to donate over 200 such devices to police departments in the U.S. to study the extent of the hungover-driving problem in this country. The company hopes to have the final product in less than six months..Hey, Spirit Sciences USA sounds familiar -- oh, that's right, they are the company that is marketing that hangover prevention tablet, RU-21.
In a widely publicized story that I will claim is related, Colorado Senate candidate and beer executive Pete Coors has suggested that the federal government should not dictate the minimum drinking age to the states. I agree, and I am not a beer magnate. (No, not a wine or spirits magnate, either. In an inexplicable oversight, I also am not a Senate candidate.)
Publicizing Prostitution Policing
The police are a powerful segment in society, as is the media. They often team up in regulating vice; in particular, news reporters are frequently brought in, with cameras, to observe and record undercover sting operations. In Fort Smith, Arkansas, KHBS/KHOG could barely contain its enthusiasm in being handed an "exclusive," having its cameras along for a sting operation aimed at men who were looking to purchase sex. You might want to watch the video clips available from the linked story, to see a suspect manhandled to the ground and handcuffed. The reporters inform us that among the arrestees are the local high school basketball coach and a city employee, and I imagine that those arrestees' jobs are in danger, for being accused of an activity that is legal in much of the world. One of the videos informs us that in a later newscast they will be able to reveal all of the names of the arrestees! That will be helpful, as we certainly wouldn't want to live next door to such vermin.
It is one thing to record these terrible criminals in action, but perhaps it would be more of a public service if those members of the media brought along on the stings were to approach the men before the offending conversation took place, and remind them that solicitation is illegal and that the police are enforcing the statute. In that manner, these heinous crimes might even be prevented.
Friday, June 25, 2004
Cheney Banned From Senate Library?
Well, I could be getting confused here. Seems that our nation's Vice President hurled an obscenity in the direction of Sen. Pat Leahy on the Senate floor. The incident was reported widely (for example, by Aljazeera), but the Washington Post has raised some hackles by printing the precise quote. Here's the Washington Post editor explaining the decision not to sugar-coat the Veep's language.
In what may or may not be an unrelated story, Fredric Alan Maxwell, an established author, is suing the Ann Arbor public library after it banned him for one year for swearing:
Maxwell's conflict with the library began Dec. 8 when an employee at the main branch complained that he had used a profanity.
His expulsion came Dec. 30 after a second obscenity incident.
"In a subdued library voice with no children around, the plaintiff expressed his opinion of a certain inept library employee and inefficient library procedure" with an obscenity, Maxwell said in the suit.
Maxwell said he returned to his work, but three police officers later showed up and told him to leave or face arrest. He said the officers handed him a form saying he was banned from the main library for a year.
The Benefits of Math Knowledge
For one thing, if you learn enough math, you will not have to rely upon others to convert your kilos of cocaine into ounces for sale:
Confused about how to divide "kilos" of cocaine into ounces for sale, two teens from a Saanich [British Columbia, Canada] private school turned to their math teacher for help, provincial court heard Monday.Thanks to ever-vigilant Friend of Vice Squad Dima Masterov for the pointer.
How Many Lottery Big Winners Go Bankrupt?
During my recent ex-Chicago sojourn, I asked if anyone could verify the following quote from the June 15, 2004 edition of Redeye (the Chicago Tribune-affiliated tabloid): "...Unable to manage their sudden wealth, a third of winners end up bankrupt." Glen Raphael of blogjack.org kindly looked into the matter, and sent along an e-note including this link to some Google answers. Following a lead from Google answers, Glen identified a possible source for the 1/3 number in a quote from the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards:
Responding to an April 2002 article in Investment News, CFP Board made an offer to the National Association of State and Provincial Lotteries to provide the organization's members with information to distribute to winners. The Investment News article highlighted the lack of financial guidance many winners receive from state lottery agencies; estimates show that nearly one-third of lottery winners become bankrupt.Glen noted that the claim does not seem to be consistent with what else is known about lottery winners, and that the CFP Board presumably has an interest in promoting financial planning to lottery winners. So it looks as if the basis for the 1/3 claim in Redeye is quite thin indeed.
Incidentally, the one fact about lottery winners that is fairly well established is that after an initial burst of exuberance, they are not made happier by the windfall. For an evolutionary economics approach to the "hedonic treadmill," download the Rayo and Becker paper from this webpage.
Thursday, June 24, 2004
Bump and Grind the Vote
Primo research assistant Ryan Monarch sends along this story about the efforts underway at a strip club in Ohio to encourage voter registration. The club's co-owner was motivated into the political activism by recent attempts to censor adult entertainment, and so far the adult nightclub trade organization of which she is executive director is responsible for more than 5,000 voters registering. At her club, "servers supply patrons with registration cards, pens and instructions. And on breaks, dancers mail letters urging thousands of other clubs to help register voters."
Incidentally, the trade organization's newsletters are pretty interesting, and they are available on-line. Their May 5, 2004 newsletter has more on the voter registration drive.
Even more incidentally, I have returned to Chicago and I hope that blogging returns to "normal" once I determine the extent to which I have neglected all of my other responsibilities.
Good Job Arizona
The state of Arizona scored a huge victory today in its ongoing battle against horticulture, small family farms, and teens.
Two brothers, age 17 and 19, are facing felony charges after the county sheriff found 700 marijuana plants growing on their property.
The victory comes at a critical time as recent statistics show that a majority of Arizonians have identified "growing plants" as their number one concern. Thirty-three percent of those polled are worried that law enforcement is simply not doing enough to lock up the state's youth. One woman stated, "I will not feel safe until every weed and every person under the age of 25 is eradicated."
Wednesday, June 23, 2004
Sex and Politics
Seem to go together like peas and carrots, or opium and soup.
Political scandal is pretty common in Illinois, but it's usually of the "the mob pressured officials to give them a casino license" or "the mayor gave kickbacks to certain contractors" variety. Finally, Illinois voters get a nice, juicy sex scandal.
Actually, this is quite possibly the lamest sex scandal in the history of sex scandals. Yet the media here can't seem to get enough of it.
For those of you who haven't heard the details yet, Illinois GOP senatorial candidate, Jack Ryan, allegedly took his wife to a few racy clubs back when they were married. The details of the allegations were found in child custody papers that were previously sealed after the couple's divorce in order to protect their child. Why these documents needed to be disclosed to the public is a total mystery to me.
I realize that when you become a public official you give up a lot of privacy, but for this guy to have to go on every local talk show and discuss his legal, non-adulterous, arguably kinky behavior is completely ridiculous and irrelevant. After having to watch Bill Clinton re-hash his indiscretions over the weekend as well, I've pretty much had enough.
Really the only thing I find interesting about this story is that Mr. Ryan's wife, Jeri Ryan played "Seven of Nine" on the series Star Trek: Voyager. Based on her character, I thought that she would have been cool with some kink. Go figure.
Tuesday, June 22, 2004
215 Restaurants Closed for Putting Opium into Soups, Stews
It happened in southwestern China. 215? Sounds like opium was required for a restaurant to remain competitive.
Simultaneously, in another example of amazing statistical accuracy in the war on drugs, the Chinese version of the DEA announced that the area under cultivation of opium poppies in the "Golden Triangle" of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos is down 43%, to 73,300 hectares. No word yet as to whether the opium shortage has been a boon for purveyors of marijuana (or broccoli cheese) soups.
The Saab Alcokey
Saab is developing a system that would prevent someone from starting his or her car following a failed breathalyzer test. One advantage of this system relative to existing alternatives is that it should be about 90% cheaper, around 250 euros:
The Alcokey concept is an adaptation of existing anti-theft technology. When the driver presses the 'doors open' button on the car’s remote control fob, the alcohol sensor is also switched on.
The driver then blows into a small mouthpiece at the end of the fob to provide a breath sample which passes down a small internal tube containing a semi-conductor sensor the size of a pin-head. The sample is analysed and a small green or red light on the fob is illuminated.
If the green light is shown, the key will transmit an 'all clear' signal to the car's electronic control unit. This is in addition to the usual signal the key always transmits to switch off the engine immobiliser.
But if a red light is shown, the 'all clear' signal will not be sent and the engine will remain immobilised. The software instructing the engine immobiliser can be adjusted according to the alcohol limits in operation where the car is registered.
Tommy's Almost Free
Tommy Chong is set to be released from prison in July. Here is an LA City Beat interview with Mr. Chong from 2003.
You can view some of the glass pipes Mr. Chong sold here. The official web site was shut down shortly after the feds arrested Mr. Chong, but thememoryhole.com made sure to download the images in order to preserve them.
Not to harp on this point, but as I pointed out earlier on Vice Squad, the DEA is providing citizens with step by step instruction on how to set up a home heroin lab on its web site. Maybe the difference is that the DEA is not officially selling the equipment it describes on its site - that must be it. The DEA would never do anything hypocritical.
Monday, June 21, 2004
First They Subsidize Obscene Songs...
...and then Australian politicos defend Big Macs!
"There is nothing wrong with eating McDonald's, it is how much McDonald's you eat that is the problem," [Australian Prime Minister] Mr Howard pronounced in the House of Representatives after shadow health minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Mark Latham renewed their calls to have junk food advertisements banned....Mr. Howard, you might be careful about even mentioning bans on wine and coffee, as it is not like they are unknown to history. I understand that even today there are still isolated parts of the world -- like much of the American South and the Middle East -- where wine is banned. Not sure if there are any current coffee bans, however.
"Where does it end? Do you put a ban on wine? Do you put a ban on alcohol? Coffee, too, because that has caffeine in it."
In case you missed the reference to the subsidized song, here's the link to an earlier Vice Squad post.
Keeping Troublesome Drunks Away From Alcohol
An "ideal" regulation raises barriers to socially costly manifestations of the activity in question, while not troubling the socially beneficial or benign manifestations. Alcohol controls that prevent problematic drinking while being non-issues for non-problematic drinking are one type of such ideal controls. Vice Squad previously has noted alcohol detection bracelets that can deter people from using alcohol. Now Britain is intending to make more use of existing laws that bar those convicted of alcohol-related offenses from buying booze:
The British government is updating a 1902 "three-strikes" law that says anyone convicted of three offenses related to drunkenness within 12 months can be prohibited from buying alcohol for three years, the Daily Telegraph reported June 21.Apologies for the reduced blogging lately, but I am not in Chicago, and that makes it hard to maintain the hometown blogging pace. Fortunately, my co-bloggers heard my call for help and picked up...oh, no, that's right, they have been silent. Sigh. My co-bloggers -- all of whom are smashing folks, incidentally -- don't even read Vice Squad?
The language of the century-old law has been updated in the Licensing Act 2003 currently before Parliament. The Home Office's Police Standards Unit is encouraging police to "make more use" of the 1902 law.
The measure also urges police to use the authority given to them under 1980 legislation to prohibit individuals convicted of violence in pubs, clubs, or bars from patronizing such establishments again.
Saturday, June 19, 2004
Aussie Opposition MPs Object to State-Subsidized Obscenity
It seems that the Australian state of Queensland is in the habit of providing grants to recording companies. Apparently, some of the songs are not exactly "God Save the Queen."
Opposition MP Howard Hobbs says a publicly funded recording company has used a Government grant to produce a vulgar song.Many Queensland taxpayers queried seemed to think that "Mum" would have been more appropriate than "Dad," especially with Father's Day just around the corner.
Mr Hobbs has asked Development Minister Tony McGrady to explain.
"Minister, I refer to a $140,510 grant from your department to a Gold Coast recording company. Their first production is a song entitled 'My Dad is a F...... Porn Star'.
"Minister, is this an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars?"
As an obscenity regulation bonus, Pakistan is cracking down on stage productions that purvey obscenity: some of them even use "words with dual meaning during shows." Now if they can only find this William Shakespeare fellow and put him in the pokey...
And finally, speaking of putting people in the pokey, don't go selling sex toys in Knox County, Kentucky. (At least the charges are only misdemeanors, so potential jail time probably caps out at one year.) In the linked story, those who want to see the business closed cite lowered property values and the possibility of bringing 'bad elements' into the community. (Possible amicus brief from Walmarts and McDonalds?) The defendants' lawyer seems to think that Lawrence v. Texas will aid his cause, but that seems like a stretch to me -- though I am not a lawyer, and he is.
Lotharios Back in Business in New Jersey?
Ladies' Night promotions by bars -- offering cheaper entrance fees and/or alcohol prices for women than for men -- were ruled in early June to violate anti-discrimination law in New Jersey. The State Assembly sensed an injustice, and voted unanimously in favor of a bill that would legalize such promotions. The bill now finds itself at the State Senate; in the meantime, Tuesday night young adult co-ed scripture reading groups are seeing a boom in attendance. (OK, I made that last bit up.)
Massachusetts Goes the Workplace-Smoking-Ban Route...
...and yes, bars and restaurants are included. "Massachusetts becomes the sixth state to have a workplace smoking ban, joining New York, California, Connecticut, Maine and Delaware."
I favor some smoking regulations -- and probably even mandated non-smoking areas in restaurants -- but not these complete bans. As for the rhetoric used by some people in support of these bans -- well, if patriotism hadn't already occupied the spot, these tropes (kids, rights) might qualify as the last refuge for scoundrels:
"Today, we can all breathe a little easier," Gov. Romney said. "Everyone has the right to breathe clean air and be free of secondhand smoke, especially our kids."Actually, not quite today. The ban goes into effect on July 5. Until then, Massachusetts's smokers enjoy the "right" to poison our children.
Labels: smoking ban
Friday, June 18, 2004
Do Big Lottery Winners Frequently Go Bankrupt?
I don't know, and as I am not in Chicago, I can't really look it up easily. But I ask because the June 15, 2004 edition of Redeye (the Chicago Tribune-affiliated tabloid) includes (in an article on what happens after you win the lottery) the following claim: "...Unable to manage their sudden wealth, a third of winners end up bankrupt." Sounds like urban legend or mythical numbers to me, but I am willing to be persuaded otherwise.
American Youth and Poker
Hmmm, I see my recent plea to my co-bloggers didn't really pan out. So...
Just read an article in the May 2004 edition of Washington Monthly about "Why the Internet generation loves to play poker," as the sub-title has it. The answer, in short: "Strategy-oriented, individualistic, and embedded in a nice masculine mythology, poker is the perfect game for the revenge-of-the-nerds generation looking to square their intelligence with their inner maleness."
I have been trying to think about various ways that the Internet influences vice control. One way is by providing a low-cost means to avoid some social forms of regulation that are built-in to bricks-and-mortar vice. On the Internet, you do not have to deal with a sales clerk when you purchase pornography, nor do you have to worry about running into your boss. But the Washington Monthly article mentioned another twist on this theme: "For many would-be players, the fear of looking like confused novices in front of a room full of old hands used to keep them from the tables. Now, the online poker rooms provide a convenient place to learn and refine the game at home with no one watching." And one other Internet-based gambling innovation: poker blogs (like here and here)!
Wednesday, June 16, 2004
Some Updates and an Out-of-Town Notice
(1) The Charlotte pastor arrested on prostitution-related charges earlier this month is, as Vice Squad speculated, out of a job. Vice Squad also questioned the newsworthiness of the arrest; the Charlotte Observer later explained its own decision regarding the coverage.
(2) The death toll in the Iranian tainted alcohol disaster has reached 22; at least five others have been blinded.
(3) Squabbling over the circumvention of the cartel created by the 1998 Big Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) continues. One of the tobacco companies that eventually joined the settlement is suing states that it feels are not sufficiently going after non-signatories. Vice Squad has tried to keep up with the MSA maneuvering, at least half-heartedly; here's one relatively recent entry. Maybe the MSA will be determined to be unconstitutional and Vice Squad will find better uses for its pixels.
Oh, the out-of-town notice. I will be out of town for the next week, if all goes according to plan, and blogging will be limited. (Although it is my understanding that blogging capabilities have now come to some non-Chicago communities.) Vice Squad members are encouraged to pick up the slack -- or rather, to repair the damage.
A Glorious Celebration of Vice, A Time Gone By
And Further Proof That I Was Born Two Decades Too Late...
Just saw the documentary film, The Cockettes. I had never heard of these guys before! Anyway, the movie gives us a pretty cool look at some fringe individuals for a brief period in time during the late 60's/early 70's. Social attitudes, definitions of art, drug experiences, the political correctness of stealing, childrearing, and sexual boundaries (or lack thereof) are chronicled in this film.
It brought to mind Hunter Thompson talking about same time, same place, "We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave....So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look west, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark -- that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back."
I know I've referred to this quote before, and I don't mean to sound like a silly hippie, but the sweet, innocent, and drug crazed individuals shown in this movie have me feeling a bit sentimental. I know it's easy to romanticize about a time I don't really know first-hand, and I know many who would disdain the values these people embodied - in fact, the glee these guys took in receiving welfare payments would leave some of my most "liberal" friends cringing. It was just a different time.
Regardless of your politics though, The Cockettes is an interesting documentary and a rare, intimate glimpse of a marginalized group of people at a remarkable time in our nation's history.
Pilotless Plane Nabs Pot Smokers
A generous reader brought Vice Squad's attention to this story of two Swiss pot smokers being identified by an infrared camera on a spy drone aircraft. I thought at first that it must be a hoax, but that appears not to be the case, alas:
Zealous Swiss soldiers called the police when the infra-red camera of a pilotless spy aircraft they were testing showed an image of two civilians smoking cannabis, a newspaper said on Sunday, adding that the incident had prompted a protest in the country's parliament.Not surprisingly, the Swiss Defense Minister defended the actions of the soldiers who alerted the cops. More surprising and even scary, to the reader who e-mailed about the story as well as to me, is the extent to which the Defense Minister justified all behavior by informants: "'When one is serving one's country, one is also a citizen, and a citizen has a duty to denounce whatever seems abnormal,' he told parliament..." Hmmm, I see something abnormal more-or-less continuously. ("Hello officer, Jim here, just wanted to let you know that the University's e-mail system seemed to work fine during finals' week; also, I did my laundry today, and none of my clothes were ruined.")
The newspaper Le Matin Dimanche said police turned out with screaming sirens and arrested the smokers after they were tipped off to the incident near the central city of Lucerne late last month.
In a further blow to Swiss cannabis consumers, Parliament voted against decriminalizing marijuana and hashish on Monday. Sounds like they'll be needing a lot more drones: "With an estimated half a million regular or occasional cannabis users -- many of whom smoke publicly in parks, clubs or on ski lifts -- in a nation of 7.3 million people, campaigners say it is time for the law to catch up with reality."
Arizona Prostitution Update
Last November Vice Squad reported on a prostitution sting in Maricopa County, Arizona -- a sting that seemed to me to be more about generating publicity than about promoting public safety. (The November operation was part of a larger sting effort that was initiated in September.) Members of the media were embedded in the operation so that good footage would be forthcoming, and the arrested were taken to the parking lot of a shopping mall to be processed. Lots of media happened to be at that parking lot, too, coincidentally. Some 400 officers were involved in the stings, and their presence was supplemented by volunteers. A Vice Squad post in January relayed the Maricopa County sheriff's defense of the tactics in the sting -- he allowed some of Maricopa's finest to disrobe and to engage in some touching of alleged prostitutes.
Today we learn from the Arizona Republic that county prosecutors don't have the stomach to go forward with criminal charges:
About 60 people arrested last year in a prostitution sting will not be criminally charged because Maricopa County sheriff's deputies used tactics including nudity and sexual contact in their undercover operations, county prosecutors announced Tuesday.Of course, the sheriff of Maricopa County now hopes that the feds will take up the prosecution, though in the absence of a federal law against prostitution, he might have his work cut out for him. At least he won't have any trouble getting volunteers for his future posses, given the activities that posse members can engage in.
County prosecutors believe the two-month sting, which targeted prostitution suspects and men accused of soliciting sex for money, was botched by sheriff's officials who allowed undercover deputies and Sheriff's Posse members to remove their clothing and engage in sex acts on videotape.
Tuesday, June 15, 2004
Singapore Requires Shock Pictures on Cigarette Packs
Reuters reports that Singapore will soon join Brazil and Canada as countries that require large, nasty pictures on cigarette packs in an effort to raise the salience of the warning that cigarette smoking is dangerous to your health. Some 15% of adults in Singapore smoke, as opposed to about 24% in the US, though adult males in Singapore are slightly more likely to smoke than are their US counterparts: only 3.1% of adult females in Singapore smoke. (Figures from an Appendix to the World Health Association's Tobacco Atlas.)
This strengthening of regulation seems to fly in the face of recent liberalizations in Singapore, which include the newly legal (but strictly controlled) sale of chewing gum, the lifting of the ban on Cosmopolitan magazine, and the permission to air an edited version of the TV series "Sex and the City." The Reuters article offers this tidbit, too. Say you are waiting in line for a bus in Singapore with one other person (a custom that must be a colonial holdover!) and smoking a cigarette. A third person then joins the line. Better put out the cigarette, as Singapore's public smoking ban applies to "queues of more than two people."
Belle de Jour on British Prostitution Reform Proposals
Toleration zones for streetwalking are under consideration in some British cities and in the UK more generally. (Prostitution per se is legal in Britain, but streetwalking and soliciting are illegal.) British call girl and award-winning blogger Belle de Jour has commented on the new proposals. Belle does not support the toleration zones, partly on the grounds that they will only be allowed in such desolate parts of the city that sex workers will be less safe than at present. Belle favors legal brothels, however.
For ruining another nice family.
This article makes me sick. A 54-year-old man is facing charges for possessing approximately 20 pounds of marijuana. Originally, his wife and 25-year old daughter were arrested as well, but charges were dropped after the man took responsibility for the stash.
The article published the address of the man's home in the Chicago suburbs, as well as the names of the wife and daughter. I feel a lot safer knowing that my tax dollars helped get this menace to society off the streets, and created an embarrassing moment for his family at the neighborhood 4th of July picnic this year.
That Sinful Weed
Here is an editorial from one of our northern neighbors, written for the Toronto Star yesterday, on what a horrible idea it would be for the government to legalize marijuana production.
The editorial is responding to a report by the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank advocating competitive market solutions to public policy problems. You can read the report here. Its author focuses on the fact that marijuana production benefits organized crime, and that the government would be better off legalizing production and taxing it.
What I found interesting in the editorial was the author's view that "this study affirms the notion that government ought to use its power to punish sinful behaviour. If that's the case, we prefer...maintaining the social stigma that attends [marijuana]." Is that what government is for? Many people think that it is distasteful for government to attempt to regulate the morality of a society, yet that is what it often does intentionally or not. I don't believe that government should regulate morality, but I do believe that the government sends important social signals through its criminal laws. For example, our government once told us that it was illegal and therefore immoral for people of different races to marry. Drug dealers face harsher criminal penalties than murderers under federal sentencing guidelines, thus signaling that selling certain substances is more immoral than killing someone. Heavy drinkers and chain smokers may be frowned upon by society, but they are not thrown in jail, separated from their families, and burdened by a criminal record for the rest of their lives. Their behavior, in the government's eyes, is more moral than someone who smokes an occasional joint, or puts some cocaine up their nose once a year.
As long as our government refuses to accept an enlightened view of substance use, individuals who choose to ingest something that the Powers That Be have deemed "sinful" will continue to be marginalized, and people like the author of the Toronto Star editorial will have legitimacy in their view that these individuals are immoral and evil. One may not agree with a person's decision to use one substance or another, but labeling that person as sinful for making a personal choice is not a very wise basis for government policies.
Monday, June 14, 2004
Smoking in the Movies
Some government officials don't like it when they see an actor in a movie light a Camel cigarette. They can point to the 1998 Master Tobacco Settlement with state attorneys general to ensure that the major tobacco companies are not paying the movie producers for the plug. But what if the movie producers act on their own accord? Well, now those producers can expect to hear from cigarette manufacturers asking that the product reference be removed, and backing up the request with a vague litigation threat. This pressure also is a result of the 1998 settlement:
The push comes as state authorities in California have begun to inform tobacco companies that they are obliged to police the use of their brands in films. State attorneys-general claim their 1998 lawsuit settlement with tobacco companies requires cigarette manufacturers to take any "commercially reasonable" steps to prevent the unauthorized use of their brand names in films. The intent was to prevent the manufacturers from skirting restrictions on cigarette ads.So far, it looks as if the movie producers haven't succumbed to the pressure, but who knows how movies have been altered pre-release to ensure conformity with smoking diktats?
"It isn't enough for a tobacco company to say, 'We had nothing to do with our brand of cigarettes being in that movie,' " says Michelle Fogliani, deputy attorney general for California, which has support from state authorities in Maryland and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the possibility of tagging R-ratings on US movies because of smoking continues to be discussed. (One commentator in the linked article notes the irony in that smoking was sometimes used in steamy ways in old movies precisely because more overt sexual behavior was verboten.) Britain, too, is considering rating movies according to their drinking and smoking content.
The How Tos of Opium Production
Brought to you by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency....
This was last updated in March 2001, but it still appears on the DEA's web site. It basically describes in great detail (with illustrations!) not only how to harvest and prepare smokable opium, but how to extract morphine and make heroin (both smokable and injectable). The article also provides some interesting history of the drug and relevant terminology in Laotian, Thai, Myanmarese(?), and Chinese.
So plan your next hiking trip to the hills of Southeast Asia, and talk with the natives using your handy DEA guide to growing, cultivating, and harvesting opium. Impress your new cellmate with your expertise in heroin production and history - (s)he'll never guess you really got your information from the feds.
Sunday, June 13, 2004
Far be it for me, someone who routinely undertakes computer searches on "obscenity" and "heroin", to ask how a person could stumble across this product webpage in their websurfing. So I am more glad than concerned that friend of Vice Squad Dima Masterov located the "Alcohol Powder" page and brought it to our attention. Why use powdered alcohol when regular, beverage alcohol is available, you might ask? Fortunately, the website lists the advantages of their 30% (plus or minus 2%) alcohol powder, as measured by dry weight. Among the advantages: (1) you don't need a liquor permit; and (2) the FDA says the powder can be labeled as a "natural flavor" -- though, uh, natural fermentation even of grapes is limited to about a 14% alcohol concentration. (Vice Squad recently underestimated the appeal of alcohol as a flavor, I guess.) The final two advantages of alcohol powder sound almost contradictory to this economist: the powder is "Unique--one of a kind" but we are assured that it is also "competitively priced."
Let's hope that snorting doesn't accompany inhalation as a new form of alcohol ingestion.
How Are Vegas Slot Machines Regulated?
Today's New York Times has the latest contribution to its series of editorials ("Making Votes Count") on the process of collecting and counting votes. "Gambling on Voting" draws a comparison between how slot machines are regulated in Nevada, and how those newfangled electronic voting machines are regulated across the good ol' USA. The Times makes the important point that the voting machines are "cheap and untrustworthy" in comparison with the slots. But in doing so, to the delight of vice policy hounds, we learn quite a bit about the regulation of slot machines. I particularly enjoyed point 3:
There are meticulous, constantly updated standards for gambling machines. When we arrived at the Gaming Control Board lab, a man was firing a stun gun at a slot machine. The machine must work when subjected to a 20,000-volt shock, one of an array of rules intended to cover anything that can possibly go wrong. Nevada adopted new standards in May 2003, but to keep pace with fast-changing technology, it is adding new ones this month.It's comforting to know that if lightning strikes the casino and all the people are temporarily put out of commission, the slots will still work correctly, no?
Saturday, June 12, 2004
Alcohol Prohibition Deaths in Iran
The production and consumption of alcohol in Iran have been banned since 1978 [correction: it should be 1979]. But of course, that stops neither production nor consumption, though it may reduce it, and certainly drives it to the black market. And black market alcohol will tend to be more dangerous than the legally-produced version:
Twelve Iranians have died [update: at least 19 have died] and 60 others have been poisoned after drinking alcohol laced with methanol apparently bought on the black market in the southern city of Shiraz.Now what was that that Clarence Darrow said? Oh yeah: "Men were as sure that it was just to condemn heresy and witchcraft by death as their lineal descendants are sure of the righteousness of spreading poison broadcast to-day in the interest of the 'Noble Experiment' of prohibition." Come to think of it, heresy could get you in a lot of trouble in Iran, too. And one of the good things about our drug prohibition is that it doesn't lead to such problems, right?
An official from the southern city's university hospital, Mohammad Baqer Lankarani, says that 23 of those admitted for care are in a critical condition.
"Doctors are not very optimistic," he said.
Up to six of the victims have also reportedly been blinded.
He says the locally-produced alcohol consumed appears to contain methanol, a highly poisonous industrial alcohol used in the manufacture of dyes and anti-freeze.
Small quantities of the chemical can kill, blind and cause serious damage to the liver and kidneys.
Fake Prostitution Sting
When I started to teach vice policy six years ago, I wasn't sure where I stood on the criminalization of prostitution. But week after week of reading about the fruits of prostitution policing in the US have convinced me that some form of legalization would offer a significant improvement. This recent story out of Chicago has shored up my conviction by presenting a new way that the current prostitution laws victimize people.
It seems as if a criminal team works as follows. The woman solicits men for prostitution. They head to a secluded place, where her partner shows up, flashes a badge, and (falsely) announces that the man has been caught in a police anti-prostitution sting. Then he handcuffs and robs the victim. Part of the reason to go to this trouble, it seems, is that the victims will be unlikely to report the robbery (even if they suspect that the man is not really a police officer) given that the circumstances involve them engaging in the illegal activity of hiring a prostitute.
Friday, June 11, 2004
Just wanted to alert folks to a couple of posts that were generated for my guest stint at Crescat Sententia. This one is on the toleration of public marijuana consumption at the Euro 2004 soccer tournament. And this one, not exactly a vice-related post, concerns the police policy of demanding identification from public transit riders.
The Charms of Collective or Vicarious Punishment
In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith notes:
That the innocent, though they may have some connexion or dependency upon the guilty (which, perhaps, they themselves cannot help), should not, upon that account, suffer or be punished for the guilty, is one of the plainest and most obvious rules of justicePlain as that rule of justice might be, it is frequently violated in vice policy. Today's Chicago Tribune (registration required) brings word of one such violation from the Chicago suburb of Naperville. Town rules make it illegal for someone under the age of 21 to be in the company of others under 21 who are drinking. That is, you can be fined not only for underage drinking, but for NOT drinking, too, if you are with other kids who drink. Good Samaritans who drive home their drinking friends are thus put at risk.
Victimless crimes tend to breed such unjust laws precisely because there is no obvious standard for the appropriate amount of punishment that should accompany a victimless crime. (For a good discussion of this theme, see Roger Pilon's "Can American Asset Forfeiture Law Be Justified?," 39 N.Y.L. Sch. L. Rev. 311, 1994.) The extent of moral fervor, then, becomes a major determinant of punishment -- and hence the extent of criminalization as well as the punishment for victimless crimes varies significantly over time, as the moral fervor shifts. Why does the moral fervor shift? Because the activities are themselves morally ambiguous, combining elements of pleasure and wickedness. (On this theme, see Jerome Skolnick's "The Social Transformation of Vice," Law and Contemporary Problems 51 (1): 9-29, 1988.)
Please, Fumigate Our National Parks
This is the request, apparently, of Colombia's Vice President. Why does he want parkland to be sprayed with chemicals? Oh, it's just the logical next step in the war against cocaine. First you criminalize users and sellers; then you criminalize materials that can be employed in the production or consumption of cocaine: of course this criminalization applies to coca plant cultivation. Then you use aerial spraying on the farms of those poor peasants who ignore your prohibition on cultivation. They respond by planting cocoa not on their own land, but on national park land, which so far is exempt from your fumigation program. So by this obvious route, you come to the conclusion that the parks must be sprayed.
The national park problem is noted in this article (registration required) in today's Chicago Tribune, though the main thrust of the story concerns how opium production in Colombia has been able to withstand the anti-cocaine efforts. In another victory in the War on Drugs, however, many Colombian farmers are abandoning opium production -- because the price has fallen substantially (through increased supply and not, it seems, decreased demand.)
Thursday, June 10, 2004
Lazy Link-Based Post
(1) The health benefits of coffee (Los Angeles Times registration required; link via Newmark's Door), complementing this mid-April Vice Squad post;
(2) More on Colombia from Last One Speaks (complementing yesterday's Vice Squad post);
(3) More on the prostitution policy reform in Britain, from the BBC [this article is very valuable in presenting a variety of views, including those of a prostitute and a senior police officer] and from the Adam Smith Institute (complementing Tuesday's Vice Squad post);
(4) Steve Chapman on the end of Ladies' Nights in New Jersey (Chicago Tribune, registration-requisite link from Overlawyered, complementing Sunday's Vice Squad post).
Wednesday, June 09, 2004
Helping Homeless Alcoholics....By Giving Them Wine?
The Seaton House homeless shelter in Toronto was pretty progressive. Most shelters would not allow someone to enter if he had a bottle of alcohol on him. As a result, the homeless men would chug the bottle dry just before coming in -- a solution that was good neither for the drinker nor the shelter. So Seaton House set up a system where they would take alcohol for safekeeping, returning it to its owner when he left in the morning:
But as the staff collected bottles of Listerine, rubbing alcohol and cooking wine, they kept wondering whether they should return it in the morning.And the risk of poisonings via the consumption of rubbing alcohol is greatly reduced.
So The Annex and The Fiddle was born. That's the name on the room where about 45 litres of wine are handed out every day. It opens at 8:30 in the morning and closes at 11:45 at night and each man is allowed up to one drink an hour if he can tolerate it, and a couple of smokes if he needs them.
The "pub" is part of a unique health program for homeless men run jointly by Seaton House and staff from St. Michael's unique inner city health program, the only one of its kind in Canada.
"People thought it would be crazy to let them drink in here — the staff wouldn't be safe," Manuel says. "But just the opposite happened. They took great ownership of having a place to go. When you let them drink here, the drinking goes way down."
Thanks to friend of Vice Squad Dima Masterov for the pointer.
Colombia Adjusts to Coca Crop Eradication
You know that things are not going well for your administration when you start pointing to the war on drugs as one of your success stories -- but that is what the Bush administration is doing, according to this article in today's New York Times. The "good news" is that the attempted eradication of coca production in Colombia is being claimed to be "working," sort of: "In March, after a string of setbacks that saw Colombia's coca crop expand threefold to more than 400,000 acres from 1995 to 2001, authorities said new estimates showed a startling 21 percent decrease in the cultivation of coca in 2003. Coming on top of a more modest decline in 2002, the development validated for American authorities the $3.2 billion spent here since 2000, mostly for crop eradication." I always enjoy the precision in such estimates: 21 percent, not 20 or 22 percent! "All one knew was that every quarter astronomical numbers of boots were produced on paper, while perhaps half the population of Oceania went barefoot."
As for eradication, well, even after the recent proclaimed success...
The amount of cocaine produced here is, in fact, more than enough to satisfy demand in the United States, estimated at 250 to 300 metric tons annually, and in the rest of the world, for that matter. One result is that on American streets, the price of cocaine remains low - just $20,000 in New York for a kilogram, 2.2 pounds - and the purity level remains high, what drug experts say are indicators of a perfectly healthy business.The Times goes on to talk about how the eradication program has led to smaller, more isolated coca plots (even of the eco-friendly shade-grown variety!) and the development of coca plant varieties with higher concentrations of cocaine.
Have qualms about the morality of dumping tons of poison on the crops of poor peasants? Obviously you don't understand that this is an evil plant, and any and all measures that can eradicate it are not only acceptable but desirable. So you shouldn't worry about the impending death by firing squad of this cocaine smuggler, either. His death surely will make society better off -- at least if society can survive being mired, defiled, in such filth, such an abuse of "justice."
Tuesday, June 08, 2004
Vice is Elsewhere
Sorry for the light blogging lately; one factor, though not really a particularly relevant one so far, is that I am guest blogging at Crescat Sententia this week -- and, rather dangerously, I have even veered off of vice.
But I will try not to neglect the loyal Vice Squad reader. For instance, you might want to check out this post at FuturePundit that ties US obesity to trade restrictions. (Many other countries are getting more obese, too, though they are lagging behind the good ol' USA.)
British Prostitution Policy Reform
The British Newspaper The Independent has a series of articles today on prostitution control. Available on-line are this article concerning two different types of tolerance zones in Utrecht; this story on the possibility of a tolerance zone in Liverpool, complete with some appended "Red Light Facts"; and this overview of proposed changes to British prostitution regulation. All three articles are worth reading, but I'll just note one puzzle from the British policy story. Two proposals being considered are toleration zones, within which prostitutes would be free to ply their trade without fear of the police, and the possibility of criminalizing the behavior of johns, a' la Sweden. The puzzle for me is how these two policies would work together. Will the behavior of johns also be tolerated inside the tolerance zones? If not, it might make it hard to contain streetwalking to the designated areas, as johns will not feel secure from arrest in such areas that are designed to be conducive to regulation.
The article also offers a useful encapsulation of the status quo regime in Britain: "Under the current law, paying for sex is not illegal. Instead, prostitution is controlled by strict offences that prohibit associated acts such as kerb-crawling, soliciting, pimping and brothel-keeping."
Monday, June 07, 2004
Are All Police Departments Against Drug Legalization?
There's been a brouhaha in the blogosphere this week over remarks made about George Soros by someone (whom I have never heard of) named Tony Blankley. Primo research assistant Ryan Monarch alerts me, however, to another remark about the war on drugs made by Mr. Blankley in the same setting -- for some reason this comment seems to have been ignored, perhaps because of the inflammatory nature of his other remarks. While piling on criticisms of Mr. Soros, Mr. Blankley says: "And he's [Soros's] in favor of legalizing drugs, which every police department is against." I do not know how Mr. Blankley has determined the stand of police departments on the drug legalization issue, or why it is even all that relevant, but we do know that not all police officers favor the war on drugs.
Sunday, June 06, 2004
South Koreans Confound Empirical Economists
It's useful to know how much cigarette consumption will decline in response to a tax-induced price rise. The obvious way to generate this information is to examine previous tax changes, and in particular, to look at the extent of cigarette sales in advance of and following past tax increases. But this straightforward approach is hindered a bit by the fact that cigarettes are storable. Smokers who anticipate a tax increase might stock up before the higher prices come about, so it will look like the decline in consumption caused by the tax increase is greater than it actually is. (Another complicating factor is increased purchases from neighboring jurisdictions when the tax increases.) The South Korean government is reportedly thinking about raising cigarette prices -- sure enough, current sales are booming. Why don't people behave in ways that would make the lives of social scientists easier? [Why not just assume that they do? -- ed.]
A Different Type of Solicitation Arrest
There you are, chatting with a fetching woman in a bar when she suggests that perhaps you might want to buy her a drink. (Both of you are old enough to drink, of course.) She may have just broken the law -- if she gets a share of the profits that the bar derives from the drink purchase. In East L.A., "Four women were arrested for the illegal solicitation of alcohol." (I wonder how this works in strip clubs where everyone understands that the women are employees and that buying them drinks is a way of compensating them?)
Of course, bars can use a related sort of sales gimmick without actually hiring the women: they can subsidize the drink prices and entry fees of women customers, which also will encourage male customers to show up and to buy more drinks. But bars can no longer do so in New Jersey...
Prosecutors and Prostitution
Lately I have been lamenting the fact that school teachers, ministers, and employees in other vocations in the US can lose their jobs if they are arrested for (or just connected to) being on either side of a prostitution transaction -- transactions that are not illegal in many benighted parts of the world such as Canada, Britain, and Germany. It seems that Deputy District Attorneys have to watch their step, too.
Censoring Cable Television
Though I don't object on principle to some obscenity regulation on broadcast TV and radio (even as I deplore the now large fines and the system of imposing them), the further one gets from broadcast, the less the rationale for government controls. Cable and satellite television involve (just through the monthly bills) a degree of control by the subscriber that goes beyond simple possession of a receiver. But it looks as if the US government will not be satisfied with driving Howard Stern to satellite radio. Professor Bainbridge has details.