Vice Squad
Monday, January 31, 2005
Smoking in the Illinois Senate

It's always the other guy's vice that requires prohibition. Many a supporter of laws that penalize users of marijuana or cocaine is himself or herself a frequent consumer of alcohol, nicotine, or wagering. It is especially tempting to prohibit the other guy's vice if that other guy is a member of a group that you find to be a little bit shady or criminogenic anyway -- maybe a foreigner or a member of a suspect religion.

But the Illinois Senate goes even one better. They are happy to prohibit their own vice, too -- as long as the ban doesn't apply to them. Smoking is prohibited by law in state-owned buildings in Illinois, except in the occasional, unpleasant "designated smoking rooms." Oh, and in the chambers of the Illinois State Senate. Many senators take advantage of their rare indoor smoking privilege, as do others toiling in this workshop of democracy. The public? Well, as the Athenians explained to the Melians, the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must: "But visitors in the gallery above [the Senate floor], where several 'no smoking' signs are on display, are restricted to partaking of the habit only second-hand."

I am back from Senegal, where my main accomplishment, alas, was that I managed to be sick. Many thanks to co-blogger Nikkie for keeping things running here at Vice Squad -- especially for relating the dismissal in the Extreme Associates case, which otherwise might have passed me by (my other accomplishment in the last 12 days consisting of being cut off from virtually all news.) Perhaps more on that soon, especially if my health is restored.

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Friday, January 28, 2005
More First Amendment News

In a surprising, and rare, moment of clarity, the United States Justice Department has recognized that the First Amendment applies to groups advocating an end to the war on drugs.

An advertisement criticizing marijuana laws was rejected by the Washington D.C. Metro last year, due to a law entitled the "Ishtook Amendment". The law threatened to cut off more than $3 billion in federal funding to local transit authorities who accept advertisements critical of current marijuana laws.

In June, a federal judge struck down the law on First Amendment grounds, and the Justice Department had until this past Wednesday to appeal that ruling. They will not appeal. In a letter to Congress, Acting Solicitor General, Paul Clement wrote, "The government does not have a viable argument to advance in the statute's defense."

One group, Change the Climate, had its last ad on the metro system in October of 2003. They are planning a new campaign.

According to Forbes, "following [the District Court Judge's] ruling, the Washington system displayed a paid ad in September that showed a group of ordinary people standing behind prison bars under the headline, "Marijuana Laws Waste Billions of Taxpayer Dollars to Lock Up Non-Violent Americans." Amen.

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Thursday, January 27, 2005
Double Buzz

Is the only thing keeping you from drinking more beer the fact that it makes you kind of sleepy? Well, Anheuser-Busch has got a product for you!

The world's largest brewer is launching B(E), which contains ginseng and caffeine, and is served over ice. According to an article in Newsday, the new product is in response to the Red Bull and Vodka craze, and targets 21-27 year olds. The beer has a fruity flavor.

Quote of the day goes to Dawn Roepke, brand manager at Anheuser-Busch, who stated, "Caffeine and beer is a good fit for someone who is a multi-tasker". Now we have to multi-task when we are hanging out a bar?

Health advocates are concerned about the combination of the depressive effects of alcohol and the stimulating effects of caffeine combined in one drink. Organizations fighting against drunk driving are worried that the caffeine may make drinkers think they are more alert than they really are, and contribute to increased drunk driving.

The only reason I won't be ordering this new elixir any time soon: It is pronounced "B to the E". I'm afraid I'm just not hip enough to pull that off.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2005
Afghan Opium Update

Vice Squad recently reported on the Afghanistan poppy crop, and planned U.S. efforts to implement a spraying campaign to eradicate it. Today's Seattle Times tells us that the Americans have scrapped these plans due to pressure from Afghanistan's President, Hamid Karzai.

Although Karzai has declared a "holy war" against the drug (I wonder how that differs from a more traditional war on drugs - more candles maybe), he is worried that the spraying campaign will injure innocent people.

Further, Karzai maintains that current efforts are working to reduce poppy production. The U.N. believes that poor weather has contributed more to a reduced poppy crop this year, however, than eradication efforts.

Afghani, U.S., and U.N. officials all talk about the horrors of poppies, and how growing this plant aids and abets terrorists. No where, of course, in their rhetoric is a hint of wisdom or understanding that it is the policy of criminalization endorsed by these governments and organizations, not the agricultural product in question, that aids the terrorists.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Victory for Porn, and Oh Yeah, the First Amendment

On January 20th, a United States District Court judge dismissed obscenity charges against the owners of "Extreme Associates", a pornography production company based in Los Angeles. ABC news provides a nice summary of the case and its outcome. The case was purposefully pursued in Western Pennsylvania, as opposed to Southern California, because prosecutors believed that the community standards in Pennsylvania would not permit distribution of the materials produced by Extreme Associates. An undercover postal inspector ordered pornographic materials from Extreme Associates and had them shipped to him in Pennsylvania to obtain jurisdiction. During oral arguments, the defendants' attorney noted that the world has changed quite a bit since the "community standard" test was first established, in large part because of the Internet.

The judge in the case relied heavily on the 2003 Supreme Court decision, Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down anti-sodomy laws as unconstitutional. The judge stated that in light of Lawrence, "the government can no longer rely on the advancement of a moral code, i.e., preventing consenting adults from entertaining lewd and lascivious thoughts as a legitimate, let alone a compelling, state interest."

The judge deferred from previous obscenity cases which have held that it is permissible for one to view pornography in the home, but it is impermissible to produce the otherwise legal materials. The judge believed that there is an inherent contradiction between the idea that Americans can possess certain materials, but cannot legally distribute them. You can view the dismissal document here, but be forewarned that, although it is just a PDF-file of the court document, it was uploaded by an adult video website.

Apparently, the stuff produced by Extreme Associates is offensive to a lot of people. The movies include simulated rapes and killings, with a great deal of violence directed at women. Even Paul Fishbein, president of Adult Video News, the trade journal of the pornographic film industry, said Extreme Associates produced "horrible, unwatchable, disgusting, aberrant movies." However, Fishbein went on to note that the First Amendment must remain pure.

Bush's nominee for Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, told the Senate that if confirmed as attorney general, he intends "to make the investigation and prosecution of obscenity one of my highest criminal enforcement priorities." Perhaps the decision in the Extreme Associates case will lead him to refocus his efforts on, I don't know, say...catching murderers?

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Afghan Opium

Greetings from Senegal. Apologies for the blogging break, but I am afraid it will continue until Monday. In the meantime, let me note an article by Christian Parenti in The Nation (January 24, 2005) on poppy production in Afghanistan. The article suggests (among other things) that the impending US crackdown on the Afghan opium crop is likely to harm the security situation. Here's an excerpt, taken from a web-based version of the article available at (sorry, can't provide links from this terminal):
"It costs 1,000 rupees to plant one jerib of poppy, and that one jerib will yield at least 15 kilograms of poppy, which is worth 300,000 Pakistani rupees [$5,000], at least," says a farmer named Lal Mohammed. (Later in the central highlands, some farmers tell me they can get 28 kilos of opium per jerib.) "Wheat takes twice as long as poppy to grow, and we can buy almost ten times as much wheat as we could produce if we grow poppy instead," says Mohammed. "We have no choice but to grow poppy."

To top it all off, Afghanistan is in the midst of a hellacious six-year drought. Unlike wheat and vegetables or cotton, poppy is very drought-resistant. "All it really needs is a little water early on," says Mohammed.

The farmers confirm what I've heard elsewhere: The opium boom of the past three years has delivered many farmers from onerous debts and allowed them to keep land that they would otherwise have been forced to sell off to the local mujahedeen commanders.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2005
Vice is Elsewhere

Workshops prior to and following this conference mean that I will be largely or wholly absent from the blogosphere for the next twelve days. Check out the great goings-on with Pete, Libby, Baylen, Scott, Ken, and Radley, among others. (I hope that it is not too impolite to employ first names for all these super bloggers whom I have never met.) Oh, almost forgot, DUI Blog has had a lot of interesting posts lately, including this one on how the state of Washington welcomes evidence on blood-alcohol concentration gathered from broken breathalyzers.

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Religious Suppression of Obscenity in Malaysia, Kentucky

(1) "Authorities in a conservative Malaysian state want Muslim women to completely cover their hair while at work and non-Muslim women to refrain from wearing tight jeans or short skirts, in a crackdown on what they deem as 'obscenity.'" (They also require stores to have gender-segregated payment counters.)

(2) An adult bookstore owner, Jeree Mills, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor obscenity charge, as part of a plea agreement in Barbourville, Kentucky. "Mills said her business, which sells adult magazines, movies and novelties, will stay open. But as part of the plea, she agreed to close the store between 2 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Sundays, so it won't be open during morning church services."

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Wausau Once Again

Vice Squad won't let go of the story of the antiwar protester in Wausau, Wisconsin who was first ticketed, and then unticketed, for obscenity. Turns out it was all a result of miscommunication between the police and the city attorney's office. The city attorney meant to get the protester for disturbing the peace, not obscenity. Yes, that's right, a non-violent anti-war demonstrator with a "This war is Bushit" sign was supposed to be ticketed for disturbing the peace. Seems like the city attorney's office should communicate some more with the US Constitution.


More Bad News for British Alcohol Liberalisation

Yesterday Vice Squad noted that opposition was mounting to the impending liberalisation of hours restrictions on alcohol sales in Britain. Today's story from the BBC about the number of people who end up in hospital accident and emergency rooms from alcohol-related problems adds a log to the anti-liberalisation fire:
Researchers from St George's Hospital Medical School in London found four in 10 [weekend] admissions were alcohol-related, rising to seven in 10 after midnight.

And lead researcher Professor Colin Drummond has warned the introduction of 24-hour drinking would make the situation worse.
So far, though, the British government is sticking with its liberalisation plan.

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Becker, Murphy, and Grossman on Drugs

The founders of rational addiction theory, University of Chicago economists Gary Becker and Kevin Murphy, along with economist/vice policy researcher Michael Grossman of City University of New York, have released "The Economic Theory of Illegal Goods: The Case of Drugs" as an NBER working paper. (We used an earlier version in my Vice class last year.) I'll oversimplify tremendously: They note that drug prohibition acts somewhat like a tax, raising the effective price to consumers of procuring illegal drugs. But it is a clumsy tax, one that doesn't garner revenue for the government -- indeed, it costs the government a good bit of money to maintain the very-leaky prohibition. They then show under what conditions we would be better served by replacing the clumsy prohibition tax with a standard tax on legalized drugs, a tax that actually does raise revenue. The conditions under which the "legal but taxed" alternative is better seem to be fairly broad, so they eventually ask, why do we have drug prohibition? They suggest that it has to do with distributional consequences. Under prohibition, the effective price of drugs (including such factors as ease of making a reliable connection and consequences of an arrest) is lower for low-income, inner-city residents than it is for the middle class, whereas with legalization, the effective price would be the same for everyone. So even though the average effective price under legalization can be higher than it is under prohibition, the middle class might suspect, and rightly, too, that the effective price of drugs for their kids might fall with legalization. (Vice Squad has touched upon this theme in the past.) But I haven't done justice to the paper, which looks at many other issues than those I have mentioned.

Professor Becker's homepage provides another source for the paper.

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Monday, January 17, 2005
British Opening Hours Liberalisation Under Threat

In early February, Britain is scheduled to allow alcohol sellers to stay open 24-hours. Part of the rationale for the change is to prevent the simultaneous spilling of drunks onto the streets at the common closing time of multiple pubs. The slated loosening of the hours controls, however, is attracting more opposition as the implementation date (February 7) draws near, including opposition from MPs and from police. Today's Guardian calls for a go-slow approach, via some pilot programs in a few towns. Sounds like a reasonable suggestion to me.

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The Elephant in the Room

Yesterday's New York Times included this front page story about the extent to which inner city gangs intimidate or harm potential witnesses who might testify against them in court. A sample:
Wesley Adams, who prosecutes homicides for the state's attorney of Baltimore City, said virtually all of his cases that were not domestic homicides were hampered by witness intimidation. In 2003, Mr. Adams said, when he tried nine homicides, 23 of the 35 witnesses he managed to get to the stand either recanted or lied, and that was not counting many others who were too scared and simply disappeared.

Under a program started in August, two Baltimore City detectives have been assigned full time to try to find missing witnesses. They are currently looking for 77 people.
The article is a good one, but what I find surprising is that there is no attempt to examine the main source of the witness intimidation problem: drug prohibition. It is drug prohibition that calls many of these gangs into existence and ensures that they are funded and armed. The baleful effects of drug prohibition on the justice system are immense and, as in this article, typically underestimated. The US is not exempt from the types of law enforcement breakdowns that have engulfed other countries thanks to the drug laws -- as hinted at in the article:
"Witness intimidation has become so pervasive that it is ruining the public's faith in the criminal justice system to protect them," said Judge John M. Glynn of Baltimore City Circuit Court. "We are not much better off than the legal system in Mexico or Colombia or some other sad places."

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Sunday, January 16, 2005
What's In a Name?

The Mustang Ranch brothel by any other name would....oh, whatever. Turns out that two brothel owners in Nevada think that there is quite a bit in the name Mustang. The original Mustang Ranch, Nevada's first legal brothel, was shut down by the feds a few years ago. Then one of its buildings was purchased (on e-bay) and moved next to another brothel owned by the purchaser. He intends to re-open the relocated (and soon to be renovated) building under the name "Mustang Ranch," of course. But in the meantime, another brothel owner re-named his brothel the Mustang Ranch. He sued, and now the fellow with the re-located Mustang has been told by a judge that he can't use the name Mustang. Whatever the merits of the decision, it is nice to ponder that thanks to the legality of the brothels, this dispute will be settled by courts, and not by guns. Can't say the same for street-corner drug market disputes.

On the subject of names and Shakespeare and prostitution, I saw Shakespeare's Measure For Measure at Chicago's Navy Pier on Thursday night. The Chicago Shakespeare Theater occasionally replaces some archaic Shakespeare language with what I suppose they think is a more understandable version. Right near the end of the play, when Lucio is forced by the duke to marry the prostitute with whom he had a child, he complains "Marrying a punk, my lord, is pressing to death,/Whipping, and hanging." Punk means prostitute, but Chicago Shakespeare changed it to "slut". And what they did to another Vice Squad-favorite Lucio line, the one about how lechery "is well allied; but it is impossible to extirp it quite, friar, till eating and drinking be put down" -- well, they seemed to think that "extirp" doesn't measure up these days.

Incidentally, for vice policy buffs, Measure For Measure is pretty much the perfect play. Risking reductionism, let me just say that it presents the introduction of a zero tolerance policy, with all the usual trade-offs illuminated. That Shakespeare fellow, he's getting to be a pretty good playwright. (OK, I am reminded of another complaint I had about the Chicago Shakespeare Theater's version. In some "stage business" at the beginning, there's a mugging, accomplished with a knife and with the connivance of corrupt cops. The problem with such business is that (a) there's no mention of it in the play and (b) by presenting a crime with an actual victim (as opposed to the victimless vice crime of fornication), it pushes the viewer into supporting the ensuing crackdown. (Whether such a crackdown would likely lead to more or less violence is another matter.) There was also a gratuitous gunshot later in the Chicago version.)

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Saturday, January 15, 2005
Saturday morning reading

What would a Saturday morning be without some exciting drug-related tidbits? None of the information below is really “new news,” but by some coincidence I learned it all within the last 2 hours.

1. First I found out that the war on drugs must have been finally won, at least in Europe. A Russian-language news site reported that the Austrian police has recently confiscated the largest shipment of cocaine in the country’s history. The cocaine weighed in at 143 kilos and, according to the Austrian police, it was high quality stuff. The street price is estimated to be more than 100 mln. euros. The interesting thing to me was that the shipment apparently originated in Colombia and traveled via the Bahamas, the US, and France. I have always wondered why these things sometimes travel in such a roundabout way, including through the countries where they are supposed to be consumed, before ending up in some location from which they have to travel back to those final consumption countries. I am sure there are rational explanations and I can even guess what they are. But it would be interesting to know the details. Incidentally, Austria is apparently far behind the US in its war on drugs. The same story reported that the previous shipment handled by the same drug ring was much bigger (277 kilos) and was confiscated in South Carolina, apparently without setting any records.

2. The News of the Weird column for January 9, 2005 reports about a Dutch retirement home in Rotterdam that specializes on serving the “incorrigible heroin addicts.” Apparently it has a long waiting list. I do not know whether the retirement home seeks to provide rehabilitation services, but it appears it does not. Also, it looks like the police are not interested in raiding it. Wouldn’t it be nice indeed if at least the retired people who can afford it could enjoy whatever drugs they want to consume in the privacy of their homes? But perhaps they already do in some more enlightened countries. BTW, this is not really a selfish wish. My drugs of choice are alcohol and caffeine. I am already able to consume them in the privacy of my home.
3. And here is my favorite item from the same News of the Weird column. In Salt Lake City late last year, federal judge Paul G. Cassell was forced by the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines to sentence a 25-year-old small-quantity marijuana dealer to 55 years in prison. The sentence was so harsh because the dealer had a gun on him during two of the transactions. Two hours before that, Judge Cassell sentenced a man to 22 years in prison for killing an elderly woman by beating her to death with a log. The latter crime was not subject to the mandatory minimum guidelines. This is weird indeed.

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Friday, January 14, 2005
Political Protest Obscenity Update

A few days ago Vice Squad noted the case of a man who was arrested in Wausau, Wisconsin, for protesting against the Iraq war by publicly displaying a sign reading "This war is Bushit." The city attorney has now decided to drop the prosecution. No word on whether, following the abandoned charge, Wausau has become overrun with politically-edged puns of questionable taste.



Vice Squad was in attendance at a talk Tuesday night given by Rachel Shteir, the author of Striptease. The book focuses on the 1920s to 1960s in the US. She showed slides, so it was dark in the room. As a result, my notes are limited and partly illegible, but I will mention a few things that I learned at the talk -- though I can't guarantee that my notes and memory are completely accurate (i.e., I can't guarantee that they meet even my usual low standards for accuracy.)

The striptease format didn't always exist, and policy was partly to blame. Laws forbade removing clothes and dancing. So there were strip acts and tease acts (presumably the latter involving scantily clad women dancing), but there were not striptease acts. The word 'striptease' dates only to the Jazz Age. (A quick check of finds a 1930 usage of 'strip and tease' in 1930, with 'strip tease' appearing six years later.) Other laws (at various places, various times) made it illegal for a performer to remove her clothing, leading to a whole bestiary of avoidance responses: doves, monkeys, snakes, and panthers, became adept at disrobing striptease artists.

Mae West was arrested and convicted in 1927 on obscenity charges for her Broadway play, "Sex".

Chicago, Vice Squad's chief locale, hosted two major moments in striptease history. The first was the 1893 Columbian Exposition, where Little Egypt danced the hoochie-coochie. The second was the 1933 World's Fair, where Sally Rand packed in the patrons with her fan dance.

Today, stripping has largely lost the tease part, and is a segment of the porn industry: "big business, not show business."

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Thursday, January 13, 2005
Putin Backs Beer

A friend of Vice Squad brings our attention to this BBC story on the possible ban on public beer drinking in Russia. Mr. Putin does not support the proposed ban in its current form -- so, it can no longer be termed a possible ban.

Promoting beer consumption is probably, in net terms, a form of harm reduction in Russia, as more beer drinking will likely mean less vodka consumption. Already recent years have seen a significant shift in this direction, i.e., more beer and less vodka. (Public consumption of vodka is already verboten.) Still, when I lived in Russia, it took a while to get used to seeing people -- often kids who looked to be about 16 -- drinking a beer as they walked down the street. The practice of drinking while walking down the street has apparently not gone away, according to the linked article: "Around 30% of the beer bought in Russia is consumed immediately, as many people find it too expensive to buy alcohol in restaurants and bars."

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Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Avoiding Alcohol Restrictions in Sweden... buying your alcohol abroad and bringing it with you back into Sweden. Sweden has tried to maintain its system of high taxes and tight regulation, even as the availability of cheaper foreign booze has increased due to lower taxes in neighboring states and liberalized EU rules on alcohol imports for personal use. The Swedish state alcohol retailer is generally described as a monopoly, but the fringe competition is taking a heavy toll: "...only 33 percent of the alcohol consumed in Sweden was bought through the retail monopoly Systembolaget, down from 44 percent a year earlier, after the EU forced Sweden to eliminate restrictions on private alcohol imports a year ago." According to the linked article, Swedish per-capita drinking has risen by more than a third since 1995, but remains below the EU average.

The Swedish state monopoly retailer recently has seen a significant increase in its sales of non-alcoholic beverages, however, despite not having a monopoly in that area.

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Old Snus News: EU Ban Upheld

Wouldn't you know it, the European Court of Justice waits until I am away from Chicago to issue its ruling that the EU ban (outside of Sweden) on the smokeless tobacco "snus" can remain in place. So I get the snus news nearly a month late, though to be honest, the mid-December ruling wasn't unexpected. While I believe that snus should be legal and that the EU policy should be liberalised, I generally am wary of using free trade commitments to trump vice policy.

A Swedish researcher commented on the decision in a more timely fashion. Here's an excerpt:
The ban on snus is in stark contrast with the rest of the EU's tobacco policy. Forms of smokeless tobacco that are more harmful than snus are allowed to be sold in the EU. But, as mentioned above, the ban against snus was made before Sweden joined the union in 1995. Thus it seemed as the perfect progressive anti-tobacco policy, banning a product that was not used in the union, but still not antagonizing anyone.

About 300,000 tonnes of tobacco is produced in France, Italy, Spain and Greece taken together. Around 80,000 farmers, mostly in poor regions of Greece and Italy, get about €7,000 per hectare from European taxpayers to grow tobacco. That is 20 times the subsidy paid to grain farmers!

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Tuesday, January 11, 2005
Whew -- At Least Turbo-Yeast Was Not Involved

There was a bit of a prison riot in New Zealand after some 20 inmates apparently partied with some home brew. Two guards were injured, though the toll doesn't seem all that high when compared with a weekend at many bars in the outside world.
The officer said a 20-litre bucket was found. "We don't know how much had been in it, it was empty when we found it."

The brew must have been very strong but the officer did not believe it had been made with turbo-yeast – which can produce strong alcohol practically overnight from fruit juice, corn, molasses, barley, wheat, and potato waste – as speculated.
Well it is a good thing they didn't get a hold of some of that turbo-yeast. Now what exactly is turbo-yeast? Well, it is pretty robust stuff that allows quick fermentation, even in less-than-optimal circumstances, and to alcohol concentration levels of 17%. (The old normal yeast begins to give up the ghost around 14%.) Still unsure of how turbo-yeast works? I think the diagrams provided by this turbo-yeast supplier give all the necessary detail.

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Italy Joins the Public Smoking Ban Parade

And why not? All the cool countries -- Ireland, Norway -- are doing it.

The Italian ban went into effect on Monday. The politico who prepared the law defended it by appealing to majority sentiment. One suspects that the opponents will not find his arguments, as quoted in this Reuters story, all that compelling:
"Those who want to smoke can do it in the street or at home but not right next to people who can't stand it and who cannot tolerate being poisoned," said the author of the new law, Health Minister Girolamo Sirchia.

"The majority of the population is tired of being poisoned by the smoke in the air where they work or where they play ... the majority, three quarters of Italians, is with us."
Soon to join the parade are the countries(?) of Scotland and Quebec.

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Monday, January 10, 2005
No Prostitution Reform Repeal Referendum in New Zealand

In June, 2003, by a one-vote margin, the New Zealand Parliament passed a prostitution policy reform measure that "legalised street soliciting and decriminalised brothel keeping, pimping and living off the earnings of prostitution..." A campaign to collect signatures to force a referendum on the reform began immediately. Some 273,000 (10 percent of the electorate) signatures were needed, but organisers were "only" able to collect 200,000 or so signatures; so, no repeal measure will appear on the upcoming ballot for parliamentary elections.

The MP who sponsored the reform legislation maintains a website devoted to the issue. A one-year post-legislation assessment is included on the site, as is a series of questions and answers. Here's a sample:

Why not criminalise the clients instead?

It wouldn't work. In practice it would force sex workers to work in more dangerous ways and places, in order to protect their clients, who are their source of income.

Kerb-crawling laws in Britain (which penalise street clients) have made things more difficult for street workers. They dare not take so long to assess the prospective client before joining him in his car. This increases the risk of assault.

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Obscene Update

(1) A man in Wausau, Wisconsin, has been arrested under an anti-obscenity ordinance for displaying a sign (as he frequently does) reading "This war is Bushit." Hat Tip: Spatula at

(2) The record held by the film "Reservoir Dogs" -- the record, that is, for most obscenities contained in a program aired by the BBC -- is threatened by the scheduled broadcast of a musical currently playing in London: "Jerry Springer: The Opera." The musical is blasphemous as well as obscene, it seems, and is generating a significant campaign to prevent its airing over the state-owned BBC Channel 2. From this article in The Scotsman:
The controversial West End musical is due to be screened on BBC2 on Saturday night -- complete with more than 8,000 obscenities.

The figure dwarfs the previous swearing record of 246 when Channel 4 aired the film Reservoir Dogs in 2003.
Speaking of allegations of blasphemy, Vice Squad somehow failed to mention the forced closing of a play in Birmingham by Sikh protestors. It is one thing to object to a play, and to publicize your dissent. What is insupportable is your abrogation of the rights of others to decide whether or not to see the play for themselves.

(3) Owners of Cabbage Patch Dolls can register their holdings. To aid this endeavor, the manufacturer generates some random alphanumeric strings for each individual doll. Alas, sometimes the letters form impolite words.

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Sunday, January 09, 2005
Frats and Booze: Wildcats Tamed

Speaking of cover stories, today's New York Times Magazine offers an article about the spread of temperate and even officially dry college fraternities, if that phrase isn't excessively oxymoronic. The impetus for the battle against alcohol is what you would expect, concern with binge drinking and the tragedies that follow in its wake. (And maybe one concern you wouldn't expect -- at least immediately: the high insurance rates and litigation costs for frats that serve alcohol.) The author spent a few weeks at Northwestern University, which I understand is somewhere in the Midwestern section of the US. A brief sample:
Of the 17 fraternities now at Northwestern, 13 are alcohol-free, and any new chapter starting at the school also must be dry. (In 1997, not a single Northwestern fraternity was dry.) Across the country, some 30 colleges -- including the University of Iowa, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Oregon -- have gone even further, banning alcohol in all their fraternity houses. (Some have also made their residence halls alcohol-free.) And many schools are increasingly placing fraternities on probation, requiring that they meet specific academic and behavioral standards. Others are moving fraternity rush from fall to winter, heeding the words of the Arizona Supreme Court, which in 1994 opined that "we are hardpressed to find a setting where the risk of an alcohol-related injury is more likely than from under-age drinking at a university fraternity party the first week of the new college year." To try to combat the tendency of fraternity members to simply move their parties to off-campus apartments and houses, university officials are also cooperating more than ever with the local police.

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Caffeine Buzz at National Geographic

Caffeine is the subject of this month's National Geographic cover story (written by T.R. Reid, with photos by Bob Sacha), and it is chock full of interesting tidbits. Caffeine from coffee was first isolated in 1820, and eighteen years later, it was determined that the stuff in tea was the same darn chemical -- though a 12-ounce cup of coffee, with 200 milligrams, contains four times as much caffeine as am 8-ounce cup of tea. At 145 grams per year, Finns lead the world in caffeine consumption. In the European Union, beverages that contain more than 150 milligrams of caffeine per liter must have a warning label about the high caffeine content: coffee generally would qualify, but most soft drinks do not. "Black tea, green tea, and oolong are all made from the same plant; the differences in taste and color come from their processing." While caffeine is an addictive, psychoactive drug, "the consensus view seems to be that the world's most popular drug is not dangerous at moderate levels of consumption -- up to 300 milligrams (one to two small -- 12-ounce -- take-out cups of coffee or six to eight cans of soda a day.)" Moderate caffeine consumption appears not to harm the fetuses of pregnant women, either. [Update: Or maybe it does.]

The National Geographic’s "Flashback" at the back of the magazine runs a 1954 photo of tea tasting. The tasting was a demonstration conducted by the U.S. Board of Tea Experts, which was tasked with, yes, creating federal standards for tea quality and taste, from 1897 to 1996. Oddly enough, there does not seem to be a groundswell to revive this now-defunct regulatory body.

Vice Squad keeps one, half-open eye on caffeine, as attested to by this post from last April.

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Thursday, January 06, 2005
Vice is Elsewhere Return...Monday.


Can We Please Stop Blaming the Pot?

Two news items caught my attention today.

The first is from Marion, Ohio where three teens were taken to the hospital after swallowing two bottles of cold syrup and 7 bottles of cough pills. A small amount of marijuana was found, and the teens were charged with possession. No mention of whether or not the teens had been smoking the marijuana by the way. I don't advocate teens using marijuana, but no one would even think about the possible criminalization of the over-the-counter cold remedies that sent these kids to the hospital. The more dangerous substances are, in the eyes of the law, simply not as large of a problem as the evil weed.

As an aside, I think we've discovered a new vice crime with this article. One of the teens was charged with one count of being an "unruly child." Soon perhaps we'll see forced counseling programs for those charged with unruliness and methadone-style clinics where Equal is used to wean kids off of sugar.

The second article comes to us from Canada, where, tragically, one teen died and another suffered permanent injuries as a result of taking Duragesic, a drug that's stronger than morphine and is used to treat chronic pain. The police blame the incident on the fact that the teens mixed their powerful prescription medicine with marijuana, a fact I find a little hard to swallow. There has never been a substantiated case of overdosing from marijuana. Further, there are no contraindications for using cannabis with other drugs. Again, I do not advocate teens using marijuana, and this story is indeed tragic. However, I think we need to focus on the real problem in this case - easy access to dangerous prescription drugs - instead of wasting time blaming an herb.

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Wednesday, January 05, 2005
A Boon to Finnish Bloggers

The story is now a few months old, but in case you missed it, the Finnish military sends home recruits who are shown to be the internet. "Doctors have found the young men miss their computers too much to cope with their compulsory six months in the forces." So if you are thinking about attacking Finland, hoping that their army will be distracted by web games, think again.

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Tuesday, January 04, 2005
Streetwalking in Tijuana

The red-light district in Tijuana has long featured working women standing outside, on the sidewalks. The municipal authorities spruced up the area, and hoped to force the prostitutes, via the threat of fines, to move inside or to move elsewhere. (Prostitution itself is legal in Tijuana, as in much of Mexico.) They responded with a successful march upon city hall, that produced a compromise: for now, no fines for streetwalking, with the promise of sitting areas being provided in hotels for the trade to eventually move indoors. The LA Times has the story.

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Fighting Florida's Public Smoking Ban

We mentioned a couple of days ago the tendency of restaurant and bar owners in towns that enact public smoking bans (over the owners' objections) to support state-level bans. But what do you do if you are opposed to a public smoking ban, own a restaurant, and your state enacts (indeed, puts into its constitution) a ban on smoking in any bar/restaurant that receives more than 10% of its revenue from food? If you are Michael Pace, Sr., you continue to allow smoking in your restaurant, and you fight the ban in court. And you might just win.

One tack you take is to note that the law does not make it clear what steps a proprietor must take when patrons light up. Nor is there a provision for fining a business, as opposed to an individual. You also question the premise of the ban: if it is about employee health, then why are bars that sell little or no food exempt?

So far, an administrative judge has sided (preliminarily) with Mr. Pace. But his victory may prove Pyrrhic, as the state legislature might respond to any adverse ruling by closing the "loopholes" that Pace identified.

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Monday, January 03, 2005
Vice Squad Quiz: What is Criminalised: Cockfighting or Gambling?

In Vietnam, 39 people have been arrested for cockfight-related activities. Not for organizing cockfights -- but for betting on them.

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Why Gambling is Vicious

Over at Crescat, Waddling Thunder describes his visit to an illegal poker den, and his observations of the influence on his friends' behavior of the addictive qualities of gambling. Waddling Thunder and Vice Squad agree that poker should be legal, though perhaps regulated; as in many vice areas, I find it hard to be entirely comfortable even with the 'optimal' regulatory scheme towards gambling.

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Sunday, January 02, 2005
Smoking Ban Geographical Slippery Slope

In November, voters in Columbus, Ohio, upheld a public smoking ban that their City Council earlier had enacted. The ban will now go into effect at the end of the month. In the meantime, what has happened to those bar and restaurant owners who opposed the ban? Replicating a scenario that has played out in many communities, these owners now have switched sides: they are lobbying to extend the public smoking ban to all of Ohio. Their (stated) motive is not their newfound concern with the health of employees or customers, of course. Rather, they want to make sure that potential customers do not search out smoking-legal establishments located beyond the reach of the Columbus health department, the enforcer of the new ban.


The US, Behind, to Continue Its Battle With...

...Antigua and Barbuda. The World Trade Organization found in November that the US ban on betting with offshore firms violates its trade commitments. (Enforcement of an offshore betting ban is something else entirely -- in most states, it seems, casual bettors are unlikely to face any enforcement action, though those who establish internet betting sites, even abroad, have more to worry about in terms of legal jeopardy from the US. But I am not a lawyer, so please do not rely on that information, which could be mistaken.) But the US will not take this ruling lying down; rather, the nearly 70,000 residents of Antigua and Barbuda will be subjected appeal of the WTO decision.

As Vice Squad's ad nauseum discussion of EU alcohol policy indicates, I worry that allowing free trade agreements to trump a nation's vice regulations poses a threat both to desirable vice policies and to free trade.

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