Wednesday, June 15, 2005
The Final Victory
Just when Vice Squad is (was?) about to give up, the victory in the War on Drugs is apparently at hand. We may be sorry it didn't take place in the homeland of the world's leading warrior, but I, for one, am happy it's finally over. According to gazeta.ru (in Russian) for several days now, the Japanese customs authorities have been holding a Russian freighter "Valery Kuz'min" in the port of Minamata. The police took the passports and cell phones of the 26-person crew and have confined the sailors to the ship, which is being guarded by about 50 policemen. The investigation is ongoing. All this started on June 10 when the customs officals discovered a suspicious bag in the ship's toilet. The preliminary analysis has determined that the bag contained almost 300 grams of marijuana. That's right, these must have been the last 300 grams that had to be apprehended for the complete and final Victory. (No wonder nothing was found in those school lockers in Pennsylvania.) The Russians claim they have no idea how the bag got onto the ship. But I don't care. I am happy Vice Squad and I have lived to see the day. As for all of this happening in Japan, I don't mind too much. Our homeland has had it's share of glory in the War on Drugs, for example, in the recent medicinal marijuana decision. On to glorious victories in our numerous other Wars! Cheers.
Friday, June 10, 2005
It's Your Timing
When I announced the demise of Vice Squad on Monday I did not know that the fine fellow at Windypundit recently had endured the cruel and unusual punishment of sifting through Vice Squad archives in order to craft a review of Vice Squad. Windypundit's review was an honor, though the Windy One did find us (OK, me) to be "snarky." Hrummmph. I looked up "snarky" at OED.com and found that it means "Extremely learned; dazzling in its brilliance." Or maybe it was "Irritable, short-tempered, '‘narky'’." I can't quite recall.
The Federal Case Against Big Tobacco Is Melting
First the Feds were hoping to get Big Tobacco to "disgorge" oh, $280 billion. The trial judge was cool with that, but the appeals court felt differently. Remedies could only be forward looking, they said; but this could still lead to a big payout, in helping current smokers to quit and aiding future smokers, too. The current smokers alone might have been worth more than $100 billion. But then a curious thing happened: despite the favorable trial judge ruling on the original $280 billion, the government chose to cut back its goal unilaterally: now they are talking $10 billion to help future smokers quit: current smokers must turn elsewhere. You don't think that the government changed its mind because it didn't want to risk putting a big dent in Big Tobacco, do you? Even the trial judge thought something was up.
Thanks to Overlawyered for the link to the Hit and Run post.
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
Rhode Island Vice
After the US Supreme Court decision was announced on Monday, the Rhode Island Senate went ahead and voted, 34 to 2, to give state imprimatur to medical marijuana. If the bill passes in the house as well, the governor intends to veto it.
Meanwhile, it turns out that Rhode Island is one of those states where the anti-prostitution statutes don't seem to cover some forms of commercial sex, in this case, indoor activity of the type that might take place in a brothel or a massage parlor. The mayor of Providence wants to broaden the language of the prostitution ban to eliminate this disparity. Before he goes too far, however, he might want to look at the "two-track" policy advocated by George Washington University sociologist Ronald Weitzer. Here's a sample from a newspaper article Professor Weitzer wrote in response to the attempt to more-or-less decriminalize prostitution in Berkeley:
...Many cities, but not all, devote enormous resources to combating escort services and to busting massage parlors -- even though citizens rarely complain about this indoor commerce. Some cities spend as much as half their vice budget on the indoor trade, and such operations typically involve elaborate, time-consuming stings to entrap the workers. Louisville, Ky. , for example, has recently spent a great deal of time and money on an undercover investigation of massage parlors, and the federal government has conducted its own stings in several states. Cracking down on discrete, indoor prostitution often has the unintended effect of increasing the number of streetwalkers, thus exacerbating the most dangerous side of the sex trade.
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
I Can Quit Whenever I Want...
... but nonetheless, a friend of Vice Squad reminds me that the big vice story of the week isn't that unfortunate medical marijuana case, but rather, the new evidence that the oldest profession really is the oldest profession. It appeared in the inaugural "Freakonomics" column in this week's New York Times Magazine by Stephen Dubner and justly renowned U of C colleague Steven Levitt. The evidence came to light in the research conducted by Yale economist Keith Chen with capuchin monkeys. Chen and his colleagues taught the monkeys to use money, coins that could be traded for food. But if any monkey could trade coins for food, then perhaps that monkey would trade something else to receive those valuable coins:
Something else happened during that chaotic scene, something that convinced Chen of the monkeys' true grasp of money. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of money, after all, is its fungibility, the fact that it can be used to buy not just food but anything. During the chaos in the monkey cage, Chen saw something out of the corner of his eye that he would later try to play down but in his heart of hearts he knew to be true. What he witnessed was probably the first observed exchange of money for sex in the history of monkeykind. (Further proof that the monkeys truly understood money: the monkey who was paid for sex immediately traded the token in for a grape.)As the friend of Vice Squad noted, the fact that the nascent sex market was squelched says as much about humans as it does about monkeys.
This is a sensitive subject. The capuchin lab at Yale has been built and maintained to make the monkeys as comfortable as possible, and especially to allow them to carry on in a natural state. The introduction of money was tricky enough; it wouldn't reflect well on anyone involved if the money turned the lab into a brothel. To this end, Chen has taken steps to ensure that future monkey sex at Yale occurs as nature intended it.
Monday, June 06, 2005
Vice is Elsewhere -- More-or-Less Permanently
Our final class meeting in the 2005 version of the Regulation of Vice course at the University of Chicago took place last week, and the exam is scheduled for Tuesday. With the summer ahead and a semi-sabbatical in store for next year, I will try to devote myself to finishing up the book I have been composing (decomposing?) on vice policy. Ryan has elected to graduate on Saturday, instead of hanging around as my research assistant -- there's no understanding the priorities of youth. And so, for me at least, it seems to be a propitious moment to step aside from blogging. Yes, to the delight of dozens, Vice Squad as we have come to know it will cease to exist. For your vice policy fixes, please visit the links on the sidebar. Pete at Drug WarRant will be particularly worth checking out as the implications of today's Supreme Court decision filter down.
If I may, let me take a second to mention how enjoyable this blogging gig has been for me. I feel close to many people whom I have never met, thanks to their e-mails or their blog posts. My co-bloggers, Nikkie, Mike, Ryan, and the taciturn Bernard have been wonderful and supportive. Many readers wrote in with suggestions and criticisms -- I am much obliged. Will Baude, despite his own stubbornness in graduating last year, deserves thanks for showing me the blogging ropes and leading by example. In this case, I will ignore Hamlet and use a man after his desert: thanks Will.
The end of Vice Squad as we know it does not mean the end of Vice Squad categorically. I hope to continue to post occasionally, and welcome the co-bloggers to continue to post whenever they are so moved. But I think that we will do a better job of backing away from blogging than Andrew Sullivan appears to have done, though not as well as Jacob Levy has managed. Will Baude and Jacob Levy, incidentally, are jointly responsible (via blog posts) for my current reading of Czeslaw Milosz's The Captive Mind -- more evidence of the beneficial influences of blogospheric activity. I hope that somewhere along the line, Vice Squad has had some positive influence, too.
Supremes Happy to Add to the Misery of Deathly-Ill People...
...by denying them access to medical marijuana. Will Baude has the initial word, and links to the opinions.
I'm disappointed but not really surprised or even angry at the Supreme Court. It isn't the Supreme Court's fault that our drug laws grossly violate the most elementary standard of justice, that one shouldn't be punished unless one has done something wrong.
Here's the opening to Justice Thomas's dissent:
Respondents' Diane Monson and Angel Raich use marijuana that has never been bought or sold, that has never crossed state lines, and that has no demonstrable effect on the national market for marijuana. If Congress can regulate this under the Commerce Clause, then it can regulate virtually anything -- and the Federal Government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers.
Sunday, June 05, 2005
Legal Developments Around Poker
Those small stakes poker tournaments popular in some restaurants will now be legal in Minnesota. Maybe Colorado ought to think about a similar law.
Meanwhile, the owners of the most-popular online poker website intend to take their company public. They thought they might achieve a valuation of $10 billion, but the possibility that the US government will hound them is scaring off fund managers. The company has more than 1000 employees, most of them in India and Gibraltar. In another example of vice complementarities, the original start-up money came from one of the owners' earnings from online pornography.
Wednesday, June 01, 2005
Football and Alcohol
European-style football, that is. Turns out that some ancient version of kickball is quite popular in other parts of the world, including Scotland, where two of the perennial powerhouses are Glasgow-based Celtic and Rangers. (Together, these teams are known as the "Old Firm.") Many European kickball teams have corporate sponsorships, and the corporations are prominently featured on the teams' uniforms. Further, many kids (and even some adults) enjoy wearing replica jerseys from their favorite teams. Celtic and Rangers are sponsored by Carling, a beer brand owned by Coors. OK, if you are still with me on this, the problem is that not all parents are keen on having their youngsters run around with Carling adverts festooned on their replica kit. Especially Muslim parents. Now the Old Firm has responded, by offering a limited supply of replica jerseys sans beer company advertising.
Obscenity in Kansas
Having wasted $45,000 already in a star-crossed grand jury attempt to pin obscenity convictions on the owners of the Lion's Den adult superstore, Dickinson County, Kansas, is back in court. This time it is the county prosecutor who is bringing the charges. (Hey, isn't all this obscenity litigation diverting resources from some anti-evolution squabble?) Yesterday, the Lion's Den proprietors pled 'not guilty,' and requested to be tried by a jury of their peers.
Evolution Update: The Lion's Den in Abilene, Kansas, used to be a Stuckey's.