Vice Squad
Saturday, July 30, 2005
More Iraqi Intolerance of Alcohol

There are few airports in which one might be said to 'need a drink' more than in Baghdad International -- a little liquid courage before taking that dangerous road from the airport into the city might be almost a requirement. (A celebratory draught for those headed out who survived the road might also be called for.) But post-Saddam Iraq is not a hospitable place for alcohol sellers. The lack of hospitality is slated to expand to Baghdad International: "Iraq's transportation minister, a Shiite Muslim, has ordered a ban on alcohol sales at Baghdad International Airport, declaring that the facility is "a holy and revered" piece of Iraq, a spokesman said Friday." Apparently the minister noticed the hawking of alcohol when a recent trip took him to the airport -- and as Iraq's transportation system is otherwise, more-or-less problem-free, he found the time to send a letter ordering that the airport alcohol sales stop. The letter was just received on Thursday, and so far the duty-free shop is not complying.

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Monday, July 25, 2005
Fifteen Years for Two Joints

DRCNet tells the sad story of a fellow arrested in the Philippines for possessing two marijuana cigarettes -- probably after an illegal search -- and subsequently sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Even in Louisiana, it would take a third conviction for two joints to get you that much time. And the judge is willing to live with this injustice? "... but man, proud man,/Drest in a little brief authority,/Most ignorant of what he's most assured..."

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Sunday, July 24, 2005
The Public Anti-Prostitution Oath

Back in May, when Vice Squad was more or less a going concern, we mentioned the policy of the US Agency for International Development (imposed by Congress) requiring grantees on anti-HIV projects to affirm their opposition to prostitution -- and Brazil's forfeit of $40 million from refusing to take the oath. Today's New York Times has more on the Brazilian situation. The basic story, familiar to readers of Vice Squad, is that Brazil has opted for a harm reduction approach that works closely with prostitutes to reduce AIDS incidence, while the US seems to want to insist on some lip service being paid to a zero-tolerance-for-prostitution policy. Why do we do this? Brazil has had tremendous success with its harm reduction. Many countries, including Britain, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, and so on, have legal prostitution -- oh yeah, we do too, in certain rural counties of Nevada. From the Times story:
"It's not as if you're choosing between two neutral policy programs," said Chris Beyrer of the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Brazil has good data to show that their approach works, and to ask them to change that, even if they get the additional money, to one for which there is no evidence, just because of moral squeamishness in the United States, is an extraordinary position to take."
A second story in today's Times, this one in the Magazine, tells a similar tale from Cambodia, where a group working to help improve the lives of sex workers lost US AID funding through unwillingness to take the pledge. This article also touches upon one of the perennially difficult issues with prostitution, namely, the extent to which decisions to become (or remain) a prostitute can reasonably be viewed as voluntary. A sample:
Rescue groups focus on prostitutes who are ''trafficked'': those who are under-age, have been tricked into sex work or are held captive by force or in debt bondage. But such cases are a minority. A 2002 U.S.A.I.D.-backed study found that 20 percent of the sex workers the researchers encountered directly were trafficked. But because of sample bias, the study's author, Thomas Steinfatt, says that he thinks the countrywide percentage is much lower. Another study of Vietnamese migrant sex workers, who make up about half of the prostitutes in Phnom Penh, found that 94 in 100 had sought out the work aware of the conditions they would be working in.

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Saturday, July 16, 2005
Vice Squad Valedictory

Our swansong post has now been pushed down a bit -- even our swansong is half-baked -- so I thought I'd keep this post at the top of the page for awhile to let visitors know that Vice Squad has moved into semi-dormant least if semi-dormant is not too oxymoronic.


Friday, July 01, 2005
Vienna Vice

I am in Vienna, and I wanted to share one vice vignette. You know that Ferris Wheel that played a role in the movie The Third Man? Well, as you approach the Wheel from the tramstop or subway station, you walk along a path in a sort of park-like setting. There are a series of warning signs that dot the side of the path. The signs are in some foreign tongue, but fortunately they come complete with an English version for language-limited folks like me. What is the danger being warned of? Just what you would expect, of course: illegal gambling. Really. The signs say "Beware of Illegal Gambling." I have been quite wary of wayward dice ever since I read the warnings. (I suspect that, when the weather is nice -- not like today, that is -- some three-card monte cons are conducted along the path.) In an unrelated note, near the Ferris Wheel is a spherical home that belongs to its own Republic -- it is not part of Austria, apparently. I will endeavour to learn more. Not sure that it takes the same lax view of soft drugs for which Copenhagen's 'free city' of Christiania is famous. [Update: It's the Republic of Kugelmugel, with one citizen, who is, like many revolutionaries, a tax protestor, it seems.]

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Britain and US at Odds...

...and not just on climate change policy and aid to Africa. On needle exchange for heroin users, too. Britain tends to be pretty supportive of needle exchange as a harm reduction (specifically AIDS and hepatitis prevention) measure -- the US, shall we say, is less supportive. Well, having different approaches in different places is fine, maybe even desirable. But the US is not content with having its own weak drug policies, it wants to be the cause of weak drug policies in others. And so it is pressuring the UN to come about against needle exchange. According to this article in Tuesday's Guardian...
The issue has already become fraught. At a meeting in Vienna earlier this year the UN agency responsible for the policing of narcotics, the United Nations office on drugs and crime, was forced to accept the US line and oppose needle exchanges.
While we are looking at ways to reform the UN, why don't we move drug policy to the WHO and end its coupling with crime policy?

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