Local Alcohol Prohibitions in Alaska, Australia
Many Alaskan native communities in rural Alaska are officially dry. Indeed, they are drier than the US was during Prohibition (and drier than typical dry counties or municipalities elsewhere in the current US), as they have outlawed possession of alcohol. And these prohibitions might even "work". Researcher Paul Gruenewald (as quoted in this article), notes that “Although national prohibitions on alcohol are generally ineffective, and in terms of crime, counter-productive, local prohibitions can be very effective in reducing harms related to alcohol.” But even these prohibitions are being enforced with an extraordinary reliance upon informants, as a recent item in JuneauEmpire.com's Alaska Digest indicates:
FAIRBANKS - A tip line set up to try and bust bootleggers is heightening the police presence at Fairbanks International Airport, where alcohol and drugs are sneaked into rural Alaska aboard small planes.
The toll-free line was established in April. So far, airport police have received 40 tips.
The toll-free line, (877) TIP4FIA, is credited with nearly doubling the number of contacts officers make with passengers suspected of carrying illegal cargo. Three ounces of cocaine; up to eight gallons of beer and whiskey; and a pound and a half of marijuana have been confiscated, Officer Robert Dickerson said.
Australia has instituted some alcohol bans in Aboriginal areas, but recently the Prime Minister announced plans to take things much further in the federally-controlled Northern Territory. Specifically, alcohol and hard-core porn are both slated to be banned.
Arizona Legislator Changes His Mind
Last month, Arizona passed a law requiring ignition interlock devices to be installed in automobiles driven by people who have been convicted of driving under the influence, even after a first (and relatively minor) DUI offense. State Representative John Kavanagh voted for the measure. But now he has publicly repudiated his vote. Why? He read the research base about the effects of such laws, and found that the evidence suggests that they do not make it more likely that first-time offenders will not re-offend. So Representative Kavanagh has introduced an amendment that would only require the ignition interlock for first-time nonextreme DUI offenders if they were involved in a traffic accident and committed (another) traffic violation at the time of their DUI arrest.
My understanding of the research accords with that of Representative Kavanagh. (I gained that understanding by reading memos written by more than twenty of my students on whether Illinois should adopt a first-time DUI offender interlock mandate.) But I also wonder if the measure of effectiveness is too narrow -- it concerns re-offending by first-time DUI violators, and there is basically no evidence to show that the interlock mandate decreases such re-offending. But that is not to say that the possibility of having an interlock device installed might not help deter non-offenders from becoming first-time offenders. There also is an issue with the length of time for which the interlock is mandated (and what those time lengths were in the previous studies), or whether the mandated interlock actually is installed. And it might make sense to offer an interlock as a choice that a convicted drunk driver could make in lieu of some other penalties; perhaps his insurance company would "subsidize" that choice by offering lower rates (a smaller increase, presumably) if the interlock is installed. (One problem is that the devices that require on-the-go retesting can be cumbersome and distract a driver, however.)
But what about this Representative Kavanagh, who has put himself in danger of being cast as a fickle flip-flopper, someone who won't stay the course, who actually allows evidence to influence his votes? The description at the bottom of the linked article explains: "State Rep. John Kavanagh is a Republican from Fountain Hills. He [is] a retired police officer who has a Ph.D. in criminal justice and heads the criminal justice program at Scottsdale Community College. He previously taught courses in statistics and research methodology at Arizona State University."
XXX.Church.com is in the news (2-page pdf of New York Times story) again. (Again, you ask? But surely you remember the Vice Squad post of November 2, 2004?) XXXChurch is the anti-porn ministry, but one that spreads its message in a relaxed way, and directly to porn stars, among others. They have lots of ongoing events, including church breakfasts around the country ("Porn and Pancakes") and a debate series featuring one of the pastors along with porn star Ron Jeremy. (I am slated to be out of town, alas, during the August 6 Chicago debate.) Then there is National PornSunday, scheduled for October 7, 2007, though I suspect that this isn't one of those national commemorations that gets a sound byte mention from the president. This is in addition to lots of other dimensions to XXXChurch.com's work, including two elements we mentioned in the 2004 post: accountability software (X3watch) that sends a list of your suspected internet porn wanderings to your designated partner, and the "God kills a kitten every time you masturbate" campaign, now featuring an Operation Save the Kittens video. XXXChurch is John Stuart Mill's kind of anti-porn lobbyist: they are not about passing laws to shut down the porn industry, or coercing people to avoid porn. They employ entreaty, not command, and thus earn Vice Squad (somewhat short of national) commendation.
Bupe in B-more
In 2002, new FDA rules made it possible for doctors to meet in their offices with addicts, and to prescribe the opiate agonist buprenorphine. In the form prescribed, the buprenorphine is combined with the antagonist naloxone, thereby rendering the compound ineffective in taking by injection for a high. Unlike methadone clinics, which generally require daily visits by patients, addicts treated with the bupe/naloxone mix could receive a month's supply at a time.
Vice Squad hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, is racked by a terrible heroin problem. In October, 2006 Baltimore announced that it was going to promote buprenorphine treatment for heroin addicts; the state of Maryland has earmarked $3 million for bupe treatment in the coming fiscal year. Unfortunately, Maryland doctors do not seem all that eager to climb aboard the bupe train, and those that do board find the journey to be arduous, according to an article this week in the Baltimore Sun:
"One of the biggest barriers to prescribing buprenorphine is dealing with the insurance companies," said Dr. Christopher Welsh, a psychiatrist and assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. Welsh uses the drug to treat patients at the university's hospital. Some come from hundreds of miles away to get a prescription, only to have their treatment thwarted by red tape.
"A few hours later, you'll get a call, and the patient will tell you that the pharmacy said the prescription wasn't authorized," said Welsh, who participated in the survey.
He added that a physician who intervenes to help the patient is often "passed from voice mail to voice mail" by the health care provider, and the experience "can be very time- and labor-intensive."
Two years ago, Vice Squad noted a prescient Wired article detailing barriers to the spread of bupe treatment for heroin addicts.
Russian Alcohol, Blog Neglect
I have been out of town for a few days, and this will continue for awhile, it seems. As a result, my one-post-per-day recent blogging standard has and will be compromised, alas. Vice goes on, however, even if Vice Squad sleeps:
Drinking alcohol not meant for consumption such as cologne and antiseptics may be responsible for nearly half of all deaths among working-age men in Russia, according to a study published Friday in The Lancet.Revelation! This "news item" comes from a paper that Vice Squad mentioned on International Workers Day.
Betel Nuts in Taiwan
There's a world health promotion conference currently underway in Vancouver. According to this article in the Vancouver Sun, one of the topics that is being addressed is the consumption of betel nuts, especially in Taiwan. Betel nut chewing, which has a stimulative effect, is a popular activity throughout much of Asia; in Forces of Habit, David Courtwright suggests (page 54) that "Something like a tenth of the world's population now indulges in the practice." But Taiwan has developed its own method of distributing betel: roadside booths staffed by underdressed betel nut beauties. And the health effects of betel nut consumption can be severe, as the Vancouver Sun article notes:
The nuts [in Taiwan] are sold at roadside kiosks by scantily clad women and chewing them is a major reason why oral cancers are the third most common cancer (after lung and liver) in that country. In Canada, by comparison, oral cancer ranks ninth in men and 15th in women.This shocking method of delivering betel nuts -- employing attractive women in revealing clothes inside roadside booths -- would never be used to peddle a psychoactive substance in the good ol' USA.
Beer and Concentration...
...not always known for being travelling companions. But the concentration referred to is that of the beer industry itself. How much of the overall beer market is accounted for by the largest beer companies? It turns out that the answer to that question differs quite a bit between the US and Germany. I learned about it from an article by William James Adams, "Beer in Germany and the United States," published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives in Winter, 2006. In Germany in 2000, the top three beer manufacturers accounted for 24 percent of domestic beer shipments; in the US, alternatively, the top three producers that year accounted for 88 percent of domestic output. While craft beers have been on the rise in the States, they remain quite small (about 3.2 percent) in terms of the overall beer market; meanwhile, substantial regional breweries have been more-or-less eliminated in the US, but not in Germany. In the US, Anheuser-Busch produces a majority of the domestic beer output; in Germany, the largest producer accounts for only some 17 percent of output.
The Adams article tries to explain the difference in industry concentration. The overall story is fairly complex, but one of the big factors pushing towards concentration in the US market is an unusual economy of scale: it is not that average costs of production per se fall as brewery size increases, but rather, marketing becomes more effective. National television advertising was what propelled Anheuser-Busch and a few other large companies ahead of the regional breweries, which eventually succumbed.
But wait, don't they have TV in Germany, too? Well, yes, but the German TV market was arranged in such a way prior to 1990 that advertising on commercial television was not all that attractive and did not offer much of an advantage to national producers. The TV market has changed a lot since then, providing more of an advantage to national marketers, and concentration in the German beer market has been rising of late.
Adams doesn't mention it, but the high concentration within US brewing probably eases the implementation of self-regulation. Here (8-page pdf) is the Beer Institute's Advertising and Marketing Code. I am troubled by one element of the code, that "Beer advertising and marketing materials should not disparage competing beers." Could there be an antitrust problem there?
The Big-3 US brewers, plus many others, are members of the Beer Institute; I don't believe that Pabst, the fourth largest brewer, is a member, however.
Bingo's British Travails
Vice Squad noted some time ago that the smoking ban (already in place in Scotland, coming soon to the rest of Britain) was unwelcome from the point of view of bingo parlors. The Guardian's northern correspondent surveys the situation and finds that bingo halls might surprise you:
More than anything, bingo is good fun. My maternal grandmother used to be a regular player and would go to a bingo hall at least once a week. I never shared this passion, nor did my mother, as I wrongly assumed bingo halls would be full of pensioners. I was wrong, as it is one of those leisure pursuits that brings families together. When I went to a bingo hall recently, to write about the smoking ban, I was taken aback at how many young people were there. Young women with their friends, sisters, three generations of the same family; people who had become firm friends through their regular attendance at bingo. There were young men playing bingo with their girlfriends and they didn't look at all embarrassed.Besides the smoking ban, bingo in Britain has to cope with the full implementation of the Gambling Act, which will increase license fees while also adding to competition from alternative forms of gambling, some of which are not taxed as heavily as bingo. A petition asking the government to protect bingo has attracted 230,000 signatures -- the Bingo Association, which was behind the petition drive, is spearheading an online campaign, too.
Cocaine in New York City
Today's New York Times runs an article in its Sunday Styles section about the prominence of cocaine in the city's nightlife (and in the lifestyle of the creative set more generally). There's a claim that the resurgence of coke use among young New Yorkers -- a resurgence that does not seem to have much statistical evidence in its support -- is in part due to 'generational amnesia.' The idea here is that the generation scarred by John Belushi's death was driven away from cocaine, but that the younger generation has not seen the same tragedies associated with the drug. This is a version of the usual 'new drug' problem. The use of addictive drugs tends to bring current pleasure and future pain. When a drug is new, few users are paying the cost, so it looks a bit better than it will turn out to be. New or rediscovered drugs develop better reputations, for a time, than they deserve. And the lack of a convincing statistical portrait of use is one of the raft of negative consequences stemming from drug prohibition.
'Coke is the new weed,' in terms of the acceptability of its open use in certain circles, according to one quote in the article. Another observer notes that the use of cocaine is much more socially acceptable than...smoking a cigarette. There's even a claim that the campaign against methamphetamine has made users think of cocaine as a safer alternative.
The Swedish smokeless tobacco snus to some extent has been able to capitalize on public smoking bans -- some smokers turn to snus for nicotine in locations where smoking is verboten. But the extent of this capitalization is pretty restricted, so far being felt mostly in Sweden and Norway. Snus itself is illegal in the European Union outside of Sweden, and Norway is not in the EU. So a British smoker, for instance, does not have ready access to snus.
Not to worry, hapless British smoker: you can rub some nicotine-containing gel (available at Harrods, among other fine establishments) onto your palms when you feel a craving coming on. There is some outrage, of course, that someone would offer a product designed to take advantage of those benevolent public smoking bans.
I am not outraged, but vaguely concerned. What sounds like a single "dose" of the gel is said to contain one-tenth the nicotine of a cigarette. That isn't much nicotine, but the recent tragic death of the young woman in New York from an overdose of a compound found in pain-reducing ointments does make me wonder. Nicotine is poisonous in significant doses -- it leads to flu-like symptoms -- and when dissolved in water (or this gel, presumably), it can be absorbed through the skin. According to Tara Parker-Pope's book Cigarettes (page 55), "Hundreds of tobacco workers each year become ill from an overdose of nicotine as a result of handling tobacco leaves." Then again, people presumably will limit their use of the gel to levels that satisfy their nicotine urges, which would mitigate or eliminate any overdose risk.
Swedish Alcohol Imports
Sweden's restrictive alcohol policies and the European Union's import policies repeatedly have come into conflict. One source of tension has been Sweden's state-owned retail alcohol monopolist, Systembolaget. If a Swedish resident travels to another EU country and brings back alcohol intended for personal use (which includes serving it to friends and family at a party, for instance), then EU law requires that such an import be legal. But Sweden does not allow individuals to have alcohol for personal use sent to their home from foreign suppliers (perhaps contacted via the internet); rather, any such acquisitions must come through Systembolaget. You can carry the alcohol yourself when returning from abroad, but you can't have it delivered.
Or at least that was the rule. A group of Swedish wine enthusiasts had been ordering wine from abroad over the internet. After having some of their wine confiscated, one of the group's members brought a court case. The Swedish Supreme Court put the case on hold until the EU's Court of Justice could rule on the legality of the import rules. (Somehow I find it hard to imagine the US Supreme Court doing this sort of thing, but maybe I am unimaginative.) In November, a preliminary recommendation sided with Systembolaget; last week, however, the EU court ruled against the import monopoly, according to this article:
So it is likely that Sweden will soon make provision for individuals to import booze directly. Such a liberalization does not mean that the high Swedish alcohol taxes can be (legally) avoided: mail order personal alcohol imports will be subject to Swedish excises, though those imports that are carried personally are exempt. Whether the new provision will allow easy means of (illegal) evasion of Swedish alcohol taxes remains to be seen.
...Tuesday's ruling said Sweden's prohibition of imports "is less a method of limiting alcohol consumption generally than a means of favoring Systembolaget as a channel for the distribution of alcoholic beverages."
It said such bans "cannot be justified on grounds of protection of the life and health of humans."
Troilus and Cressida
By way of excuse for not posting, let me mention that I saw Troilus and Cressida at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre on Thursday night. (Here's a review.) Fortunately, my blog-indolence was rewarded, not only because the play was good but because an important plot element turned on the topic of the most recent Vice Squad post: a rigged lottery. (Yes, I should have remembered, but by golly, my command of Troilus and Cressida is not what it should be.) Hector (you no doubt will recall) issues a general challenge to the Greeks, though it is clear that the intent of the challenge is to draw Achilles into battle. Crafty Ulysses decides that it would best serve the Greeks' turn if they instead announced that a lottery would be undertaken to choose their combatant, and then fixed things up to make sure that Ajax, not Ulysses, won the lottery:So the Greeks rig the lottery, and Troy falls: I summarize. Lotteries, it seems, have a long history of being less than trustworthy.
Imagine that you and lots of other folks regularly take part in a contest of luck. As it turns out, the organizer of the contest seems to win an awful lot. That would raise your suspicions, no? Well, that scenario has played out in the western Canadian province of British Columbia, with respect to the lotteries operated by the province's agent, British Columbia Lottery Corporation, and some of the retailers who sell lottery tickets.
An Ombudsman's report (142-page pdf here) issued in May details some of the problems; the report makes for sobering reading. Whether a lottery ticket was a winner, and of how large of prize, was frequently determined by a machine under the control of retailers and not easily verifiable by the customer. So if a patron handed a lottery ticket to a retail employee to check to see if the ticket were a winner, an opportunity might have arisen. The retailer might have been able to misrepresent a winning ticket as a loser to the rightful owner, and then claim the winning prize him or herself. If the customer expressed suspicions, the retailer might have been able to backtrack, claim that an error had been made, apologize, and pass over the winnings or the winning ticket. Surely, though, such theoretical opportunities for malfeasance would not be taken advantage of in practice.
Page 25 of the Ombudsman's report summarizes some scenarios of British Columbian lottery retailers who were very, very lucky:
• A retailer that won 13 times in 2000/2001. This retailer also won three timesWow. And people are worried that those unscrupulous offshore internet casinos might cheat their customers.
in 1999/2000, two times in 1998-1999, one time in 1997/1998. The winnings for
this retailer totalled in the range of $175,000.
• A retailer winning 11 times between 2001 and 2007. All but one of those wins,
were in excess of $10,000 and included 4 wins in 2003/2004 and four wins
2005/2006. The winnings for this retailer totalled in the range of $300,000.
• A retailer with multiple Keno wins. In 2005/2006 there were 120 major Keno
wins. Of the 120 major Keno wins, 15 were won by retailers (1.3 per cent of the
population won approximately 12.5 per cent of all major Keno wins in
2005/2006). Of the 15 major retailer Keno wins, three were won by the same
retailer. That means that one retailer won 20 per cent of the 15 retailer Keno wins
in 2005/2006. This retailer was a joint winner and had 10 wins between 2003
and 2007 for a total win amount of about $100,000.
Swedish Internet Poker
While the US does what it can to keep its citizens from gambling on the internet, other nations have taken a different approach. In March, 2006, Sweden's state-owned lottery, sports betting, and casino company, Svenska Spel, opened an internet poker facility, available only to Swedish adults. The story of its founding and first year or so of operation is recounted in an article in the April 2007 Gaming Law Review.
To help realize its goal of promoting responsible gaming, the Swedish internet poker game makes generous use of partial and full self-exclusion options. From Svenska Spel's English-language webpage comes this description:
To minimize the risks for gaming addiction each poker player at svenskaspel.se has to set individual limits per session, per day, per week, per month as well as maximum duration of the day, week or month. Furthermore the player may exclude himself.That is, the imposition of limits is not voluntary: if you want to gamble at the Swedish poker site, you must specify a series of time and value betting limits. You can set them as high as you like, but you must set them, and you cannot raise the ceilings before the end of a waiting period. (Alteration rules are asymmetric: you can lower your gambling limits at any time.) The site itself enforces an overall limit on the size of a bet in a single poker hand, but it is huge by most people's standards, over $10,000.
The article in the Gaming Law Review also discusses another Vice Squad obsession, the possibility that Swedish laws providing legal gambling monopolies (besides Svenska Spel, there is another one for horse racing) might conflict with European Union requirements. For a while it looked as if the Swedish government was going to end the gambling monopolies, but the situation is currently in flux.
Gambling and Skill
Day trading on the stock market looks a lot like internet gambling, yet day trading is legal in the US, while internet gambling is in a sort of legal limbo in many states (though the Justice Department thinks that most manifestations of internet gambling are illegal everywhere in the US). Insurance markets also share features with gambling, as do some fantasy sports leagues. Whether or not an activity is deemed to constitute gambling has a profound effect on the regulations that apply to it, or on whether it is legal at all.
Many legal rules that pertain to gambling refer to the role of "chance." For this reason, those who like to think that their gaming is legal frequently go to great pains to point out that theirs is primarily a game of skill, not chance, more like chess than roulette. (Poker players are particularly drawn to this type of argument -- but not universally.) The horse racing simulation that Vice Squad talked about several days ago hosts an FAQ page with four entries; here are the first two, which almost have a protest-too-much air, no?:
Definition of a skill-based game.Anyway, the reason I am droning on about this issue today is that I received an e-note from a Friend of Vice Squad referring me to this short "news" item about a federal lawsuit claiming that a contest sponsored by the television show "Deal or No Deal" constitutes illegal gambling. The contest is free to play over the web, apparently, but a text message entry costs 99 cents. It does sound as if the text message version meets the three criteria for gambling listed above -- but I am not sure I would have made a federal case out of it. (Nor does it suggest that the plaintiffs will prevail.)
A skill-based game is defined as a game where skill predominates over chance in the produced results.
Why we are not a gambling site.
Gambling is generally defined by states as an activity containing the following elements: (1) award of a prize, (2) basis of chance, (3) consideration. If any of these three elements is missing then the activity is not considered gambling. Since this game is skill-based the basis of chance has been eliminated.
Every now and then I mention that I am not a lawyer and under no circumstances should you rely upon anything on Vice Squad as constituting legal advice or opinion; in fact, you shouldn't rely upon it more generally.
Porn Past Peak?
In Book I, Chapter 10, part 1 of The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith noted that in advanced states of society, hunting and fishing become recreations, and that people "pursue for pleasure what they once followed from necessity." As a result, it is hard for a person to make a good living as a professional hunter or fisher: "they are all very poor people who follow as a trade, what other people pursue as a pastime."
The Smithian logic seems to have been brought to bear upon the pornography industry. The New York Times on Saturday noted that in dollar terms, sales and rentals of porn movies fell some 15 percent between 2005 and 2006. The internet, which provided a great boost to the porn marketplace by easing home consumption, has progressed to the point where it has also simplified the amateur production and distribution of porn -- and many people are now pursuing porn supply as a pastime:
“People are making movies in their houses and dragging and dropping them” onto free Web sites, said Harvey Kaplan, a former maker of pornographic movies and now chief executive of GoGoBill.com, which processes payments for pornographic Web sites. “It’s killing the marketplace.”The 'traditional' porn producers are responding, according to the Times article, both by focusing on quality and by sophisticated marketing to lure consumers. Recall also the New York Times Magazine article from a month and a half ago that suggested that niche production was another method for earning money via internet porn.
Of course, the decline of barriers to entry into the porn business might be bad for the profits of traditional professional porn suppliers, but it is good for porn consumers, who have a wide variety of free and low-cost porn products available over the web.
Two weeks ago we noted the protest against the New York City dancing regulations that restrict dancing to licensed cabarets. In Sunday's New York Times, Barbara Ehrenreich, who has just published a book on the history of dancing in public, offers an op-ed that notes the tendencies over the centuries of the forces of law and order to clamp down on dancing. And these forces are trying to stifle human nature itself:
The need for public, celebratory dance seems to be hardwired into us. Rock art from around the world depicts stick figures dancing in lines and circles at least as far back as 10,000 years ago. According to some anthropologists, dance helped bond prehistoric people together in the large groups that were necessary for collective defense against marauding predators, both animals and human. While language also serves to forge community, it doesn’t come close to possessing the emotional urgency of dance. Without dance, we risk loneliness and anomie.I might add that seeking intoxication or hallucinogenic experiences also seems more-or-less "hardwired into us." But this piece of human nature is even more likely to fall afoul of the mighty.
A Virtual Horse Racing Tragedy
A superb thoroughbred racehorse is an extremely valuable asset, given the potential earnings from race purses and stud fees. If your extraordinary horse is killed via the negligence of someone else, you might be able to sue for significant damages. (The opposing attorney might try to point out the speculative nature of your damages claim, but courts have mandated awards that include lost stud fees, for instance.) This seems straightforward enough.
But what if your special racehorse is not exactly real? To be specific, what if your horse is part of a virtual world, a horse racing simulation? And what if your horse is not killed by negligence, but is purposely 'deactivated' by the operators of the simulator? Do you have a valid claim for damages -- and would your claim depend on whether the explicit rules of the racing simulation allowed the operators to make any changes (presumably including deactivations) that they pleased, or if the game encouraged the use of real-world money to purchase virtual property?
As it turns out, the deactivation of an extraordinary horse did take place, on Horseracingpark. The owner was paid an undisclosed amount of compensation. A captivating article by Jason A. Archinaco in the February, 2007 issue of Gaming Law Review tells the story, and offers a legal analysis of the damages issue. Archinaco asks (page 27), "Are such situations as the 'deactivation' of [the virtual horse], despite the statements in the license agreement, more akin to an intentional act such as murder than a simple 'permissible modification' to the game world rule set?"