Vice Squad
Monday, March 31, 2008
Man Acquitted of Possessing Crack Cocaine -- Gets 15 Years

Fortunately, this sort of thing could not happen in a country where juries provide the ultimate check on the power of the state to punish. The case just described, for instance, derives from some remote, tyrannous locale called "Wisconsin". The defendant was found guilty of possessing powdered cocaine -- a conviction that might have netted him three years in prison. He simultaneously was acquitted of a charge of possessing crack cocaine. The farsighted magistrate, the Solon of the Seventh Circuit, Judge John Shabazz, nevertheless sentenced the possessor of the unapproved substance(s) to 18 years in prison, relying on precedent that allows judges to alter sentences based on charges for which defendants are acquitted. The Supremes let the injustice stand. (Of course, the injustice would be little eased had the defendant been convicted of the crack charge. Our whole vilification/prohibition of cocaine is so unnecessary, and so accidental. (Naturally I am not claiming that cocaine is a safe drug -- it obviously is not.) Remember when popes used to say good things about coke?)

Thanks to a Friend of Vice Squad for the pointer.

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Sunday, March 30, 2008
Don't Mess With Taxes

Remember Texas's "pole tax," the $5 per customer fee applied to strip clubs in January? Turns out that a state judge has ruled the tax to be a violation of the First Amendment. The Attorney General intends to devote more public funds to appealing the ruling, while other supporters of the tax are investigating reforms to the legislation that would help it pass constitutional muster. (Incidentally, I haven't read the court opinion, but I am surprised that a case decided on free speech grounds also seems to hinge (if the published reports are correct) on the earmarking of the revenues from the tax.)

In unrelated news, via Pete at Drug WarRant we learn of a wonderful series of videos concerning heroin. The presenter is Michael Jourdan, a leading Danish drug researcher. Heroin (like methamphetamine) is a word that for many people is so evocative of danger as to preclude marshaling facts or reasoning about policy. Jourdan provides the facts, and some fine reasoning along the way, too.

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Saturday, March 29, 2008
Aaland to Opt Out of EU Reform?

Ever since Vice Squad raised the alarm in February 2006, European Unionphiles have not been sleeping soundly for fear that the smokeless tobacco snus could lead to the unravelling of the EU. Sure, the signing of the Treaty of Lisbon (the watered-down replacement for the twice-popularly rejected European Constitution) in December of 2007 heartened the Unionists. But what will Aaland say? The semi-autonomous archipelago, officially part of Finland, though Swedish (and hence snusish) in culture, might choose not to ratify the Lisbon Reform Treaty! A treaty rejection in Aaland would not consign the Lisbon Treaty to a place next to its Constitutional predecessor on the ignominious trash heap of failed international agreements. As long as Finland and all the other state members of the EU ratify Lisbon, it will go into effect. But if Aaland opts against ratification, the treaty would not apply to Aaland, even as it would apply to the rest of Finland. Aaland would essentially be out of the EU, despite being part of a state that is (otherwise) an EU member. What discord follows?

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Friday, March 28, 2008
British Pubs Suffering

It's not just bingo that is being hurt by the British smoking ban. The pub industry has been weathering some hard times, no doubt worsened (to an unknown degree) by the smoking ban: "According to the British Beer and Pubs Association, the smoking ban in England and Wales combined with the credit crunch and a decline in drinking are responsible for closing pubs at their fastest rate in history – 27 a week."

Meanwhile, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, wants to raise the tax on alcoholic beverages. This has made him persona non grata at many a British pub -- the campaign to keep Mr. Darling out of pubs is being championed by some of those bloggers on the internets.

Maybe British pubs could try that theatre dodge to avoid the smoking ban? Or maybe things will soon smooth out, despite the smoking ban. There even looks to be some good news for British bingo. Photos of a spiffy (sort of) bingo parlour, including its outside smoking and gambling areas, are available here.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008
A Federalism Quandary

Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, alcohol was taxed at the federal level, but illegal in some states. This created a bit of friction, as alcohol dealers (operating illegally within a state, if their alcohol was for beverage purposes, not industrial or sacramental or medical use) would sometimes pay their federal taxes. The federal tax rolls, therefore, could be used (and were used) to identify state lawbreakers. Some federal license holders tried to argue that state prosecutions based on federal tax payments violated the self-incrimination clause of the 5th amendment, but that argument generally was not availing. Some states (twenty-eight states, by 1917) even passed laws that made the payment of federal alcohol taxes for beverage alcohol a prima facie state crime. (See Chapter 5 in Richard Hamm's Shaping the Eighteenth Amendment.)

Today we are witnessing a curiously symmetric problem. Medical marijuana is legal in many states, but is illegal as a matter of federal regulation (except for those handful of patients who are provided with federal marijuana). States want to tax the sales, but what marijuana provider wants to provide tax records that could be used for a federal prosecution? I hope that the self-incrimination argument -- which on the merits seems to be airtight from the point of view of this non-lawyer -- proves to be more persuasive this time around.

Thanks to Radley for the pointer.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008
"Poker is a Skill"

That's the title of an article by Michael A. Dedonno and Douglas K. Detterman in the current issue of Gaming Law Review (which appears, unusually, I believe, to be freely available on the web). The title is also the conclusion of the article -- a conclusion derived from two experiments involving computer-based Texas Hold-em. Two groups of (college student) subjects played hundreds (200 in the first and 720 in the second experiment) of poker hands. One of the groups, after many hands, was provided some instruction about good poker strategy. (In the second experiment, there were two rounds of instruction.) The subjects who received the instruction outperformed those who continued to play untutored. (It seems that the key to improving your play, at least if you are among the uninitiated, is to fold immediately most of the time, generally playing only when your starting cards are strong: "Most poker professionals recommend playing 15% of hands dealt [p. 36]." Sounds a bit dull to me.)

This result is not surprising (although I am not sure that students who receive my economic instruction outperform controls). The potential import of the study comes from the fact that the legality of poker in many jurisdictions rests upon a determination of whether poker is primarily a game of chance or a game of skill. The authors note that in a casino, about 25 hands of poker are dealt in an hour. Their second experiment, with 720 hands, is "equivalent to about 30 hours of casino play [p. 36]." The point is that it takes a rather large number of hands to firmly establish the superior performance of more skilled play. [Here's a paper (10 page pdf) by academic economists providing evidence that skill matters even among highly skilled poker players.]

Vice Squad took an unanticipated and hence unannounced one week blogging break, which coincided with some of finals' week and spring break. Apologies to the loyal Vice Squad reader.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008
Antigua Roars Again

In the WTO internet gambling case that seems to go on and on and on, Antigua and Barbuda is threatening to start ignoring US copyrights and patents by the end of the month if the US does not make some movement towards settling Antigua's WTO-validated complaint. US movies, music, and computer software would likely be copied and sold, at least until Antigua earns the $21 million it has coming in damages. The WTO would have to approve Antigua's self-help maneuver, but might have little grounds for withholding approval. The movie folks are concerned.

Vice Squad has let pass unmentioned the last couple iterations in the US-Antigua dispute. Our most recent relevant (to this topic, that is) post was last August; ironically, the US largely won the case with Antigua at the WTO, but has been stonewalling for years to avoid a reckoning on the small portion in which Antigua prevailed. The WTO is unimpressed, and likely will remain so.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Vietnamese Cruelty

US drug laws are draconian by any rational standard, but in various Asian dragons, draco stalks the land even more ruthlessly. An Australian woman was convicted in Vietnam for trying to smuggle 1.5 kilos of heroin OUT of the country. She received life in prison.

That is, at first she received a life sentence, but the sentence was changed on appeal. Not an appeal by the defense -- no, an appeal by the prosecution. And the appeals court could not abide by the trial court's leniency -- after all, mercy in this case might lead to more heroin leaving the country. So now the 34-year old woman is slated to be executed by firing squad.

This is the (il)logical end of the criminalization of victimless crimes. The usual story is that we calibrate punishment with the harm caused by criminal behavior. Without actual harm, who knows what constitutes an appropriate penalty? A small fine? Execution? There were times when those who traded heroin internationally were respected, upstanding businesspeople -- their punishment was thanks. How have we -- and the Vietnamese -- convinced ourselves that heroin trading must be harshly, cruelly punished?

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Wouldn't Want Anything to Happen to Your Pretty Little Liquor License

Showing contempt for government power is a sure way to bring down the forces of law and order. (Why is it that those forces seem to favor their version of order over law?) Remember those bars in Minnesota that found a way around the statewide smoking ban by declaring their activities to be theatrical productions (and hence exempt from the ban)? In Maplewood, the city attorney visited and put the squeeze on a bar that was using the theatrical productions dodge. Furthermore, the state Health Department is threatening the other "theatrical" bars -- about three dozen -- with megafines if they do not toe the official line. Maybe the Maplewood city attorney and the Health Department should, you know, enforce the law, rather than expanding the law to fit their preferences.

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Monday, March 17, 2008
Designing Slot Machines for Harm Reduction

The designers of slot machines are amazingly adept at prodding gamblers to have another spin. Are there any modifications that can be mandated for slot machines that would lower the harms that arise when gambling addicts interact with these machines, without appreciably diminishing the enjoyment of recreational gamblers? (Such mandates would be consistent with vice policy robustness.) Maybe. A November, 2005 article in International Gambling Studies reported on an Australian experiment which tweaked three features of slot machines, alone and in combination: (1) the maximum rate of play; (2) the maximum bet size; and (3) the maximum value of banknotes that could be read by the slot machine's banknote acceptor. (Previously it has been shown that allowing slot machines to accept banknotes directly (instead of coins or tokens or some such contrivance) is a good way to increase the amount that gamblers spend. Allowing smoking, too, seems to help.) As it turned out, most gamblers didn't even notice the different set-ups of the machines. (Each gambler played a control machine and a tweaked version.) Another finding was that problem gamblers -- after they played, the participants filled out a standard survey designed to uncover troubled gambling behaviours -- received less enjoyment from playing, relative to non-problem gamblers. Smaller bet limits combined with lower denominations for bill acceptors didn't appreciably reduce gambler satisfaction. There was a small decrease in enjoyment associated with playing slower machines. Nevertheless, there was no difference in players' reported interests in continuing to play the control or tweaked machines. In some settings, problem gamblers preferred lower maximum bets, even when recreational gamblers did not -- as if the problem gamblers are sophisticated about their control problems, and appreciate machine alterations that help them combat those problems or lower the harm from succumbing.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008
A NAFTA Suceess Story?

The Guardian has started a two-part series excerpted from a new book about organised crime. Judging from installment number one, the book seems to be on the breathless side. The excerpt starts with a trucker having his rig searched for drugs at the US-Canada border. We eventually learn that the driver was smuggling 50 pounds of marijuana into the US -- oh the humanity! -- but the border police didn't find it. (Thanks to drug prohibition, fifty pounds of "BC bud" is worth quite a sum (the article mentions $100,000) in the US -- somewhat less in Canada -- but it doesn't take up a lot of space in a truck.) The examination at the border, as described in the excerpt, is thorough though in this case, unsuccessful. Further, the author notes that the elaborate search, which includes making sure the propane tank is really usable for fueling the truck -- is called for: "These elaborate tests were necessary; the only other way he [the border agent] could have established Dan's [the driver's] innocence would be by sawing open the LPG tank." That's one of the features of the drug war: it has replaced the antiquated notion of the presumption of innocence with the presumption of guilt. Don't worry, law-abiding citizens, the presumption of guilt is a rebuttable presumption: if you are lucky, you might be able to establish your innocence.

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Saturday, March 15, 2008
Saturday Night Bingo

Uh, I mean, blog post, this is a Saturday Night Bingo blog post.

Bingo has been having such a tough go of it, of late. The smoking ban and competition from other types of gambling are taking a toll on the industry. But bingo is resilient. In Lexington, Kentucky, a judge has ruled that smoking can take place at bingo fund-raisers, on the grounds that the organizations that sponsor the bingo (such as high school booster societies) are private clubs, and hence exempt from the county public smoking ban. The prosecutor is resilient, too. While claiming that the judge's ruling is correct, the prosecutor says that citations will continue to be issued and the resulting cases prosecuted, even as he also seeks to have the county legislation altered to take make sure that bingo smoking can be quenched. Apparently not all of the previous citations were directly overturned by the judge's ruling, so the prosecutor intends to pursue those, according to the linked article: 'We're not going to give a bunch of people a free walk here...' No, mustn't allow a free walk.

In Triana, Alabama, city officials seem OK with charity bingo, even the electronic version that can be a far cry from the traditional game. But the county sheriff (another 'no free walk' type?) has taken to sending deputies to raid Triana bingo parlours, seizing money and machines in the process. So city officials have gone to court to try to put a stop to the sheriff's activities.

Speaking of non-traditional bingo....

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Thursday, March 13, 2008
How to End a Coffee Drought

On Tuesday I had no coffee, but survived. On Wednesday, I broke my 24-hour coffee drought -- and thanks to living in Chicago, I could easily do so with Intelligentsia coffee. It is really terrific stuff.

I mention it today because of a pointer from the Alcohol and Drugs History Society to a local news story/video concerning Intelligentsia. Did you know that one bad coffee bean can spoil the brew? Here's how Intelligentsia samples its coffees:
After the coffee is roasted and ground, cups are laid out for each bean on a rotating table, 12 grams of ground coffee are placed directly into the cups, which are topped with water just below boiling. Since a single bad bean can change the flavor profile of a cup, 3 separate samples of each coffee are cupped simultaneously; this also allows tasters to get a feel for the consistency of the beans. Some coffee grounds float to the top of the steaming cups, and after 3 minutes, the taster takes a spoon and gives the brew a gentle stir while getting his nose as close as possible and inhaling deeply. This is called “breaking the crust”. After each cup, spoons are rinsed, notes are jotted down and the table is turned. Any remaining grounds are then skimmed off, and the tasting begins.

Cuppers slurp coffee quickly from the edge of a spoon, allowing some air to combine with the brew, coating the entire mouth and giving an intense impression of the coffee’s flavor. The tasters may also “chew” the coffee, evaluating the body or perceived weight of the liquid in the mouth. Indonesian beans typically have low acidity and very heavy body, where a wet-processed Central American will be lighter bodied and bright with higher acidity. Sometimes a cupper will linger for a while comparing the different samples of the same bean, or return to an interesting coffee, experiencing it at different stages as it cools down.
Coffee prices are near a ten-year high.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Financial Services for Sex Workers

Academics like me have access to a "Save More Tomorrow" plan, in which we can overcome our usual present-bias in an attractive, painless manner and move our savings rate closer to what our long-run selves think is desirable. Most people are not so fortuitously situated. Commercial sex workers, who can earn substantial sums, often have a hard time saving money, for various reasons. First, they might be caught up in a high expense lifestyle, perhaps including substantial expenditures on alcohol and other drugs. Second, they might face demands (even extortionate ones) from those who recognize that sex workers might have some cash hanging about. For these and other reasons, I think that a robust policy towards prostitution generally should include access to financial counseling, along with help for alcohol and other drug abuse.

Via Tyler at Marginal Revolution, we learn of a bank that promotes savings accounts for sex workers in India. The bank even facilitates savings by sending employees around to pick up deposits. Here's the BBC story.

Vice Squad noted back in September that Hungary was providing financial planning services to sex workers.

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In Which My Forgetfulness Plays a Role

The loyal Vice Squad reader will recall that a mere two days ago, we posted about a memoir by a British prostitute. I had picked up a copy of the memoir at Heathrow, I think, in December. (I cannot resist those 2 for 1 or 3 for 2 or other book 'sales' at the airport -- even though with the current exchange rate, an American ends up paying $25 per paperback.) But it seems that I had picked up another copy of the same book on an earlier trip, and had managed to forget all about it. (I have a tendency to have a few bags of books lying about, unopened since purchase.) So I have in my possession an extra, unread copy of Confessions of a Working Girl, and would be happy to send it to a good home. If you are 18 or over and live in the US, and are the first person to e-mail me at, I will send you the book. [Update -- the book has been claimed, and is en route to Charlottesville.]

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008
More Reason to Legalise Khat?

I just realised that I somehow went through the day without a single cup of coffee. (Oh, there was some tea, and even half a can of Vanilla Coke, so I can't claim caffeine withdrawal.) This was unplanned. Perhaps I am subconsciously responding to higher coffee prices?:
Large coffee roasters including Folgers owner Procter & Gamble Co., and Kraft Foods Inc., which sells Maxwell House, said they are raising the price they charge supermarkets and mass retailers for their coffee by about 7%, or 20 cents for containers in the 11- to 13-ounce range. The price of instant coffee also is going up.

This was the second round of price increases this year. Just last month Procter & Gamble and Kraft added 15 cents to what they charged supermarkets for a typical can of ground coffee. Combined, the two increases raised Kraft's suggested retail price for Maxwell House by almost 10% to $3.94, and Southern California supermarkets often charge more than that.
At least the absence of coffee (and decline, though not to zero, of caffeine consumption) kept me from being as dehydrated as usual. What? That's a myth, too? "Most studies have found that in moderate amounts, caffeine has only mild diuretic effects -- much like water."

Incidentally, did you know that Snickers now is offering a version of its delicious treat that is specially caffeinated? It is called Snickers Charged; I might experiment by consuming only Snickers Charged bars for a week. (On a serious note, are we going to start seeing legal controls on sales of highly caffeinated products to children?)

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Monday, March 10, 2008
Obligatory Prostitution Post

Well, prostitution was headline news today -- so there's no need to comment upon that (lest Vice Squad posts be viewed as pertinent). But to not stray too far afield, perhaps it is time to talk about prostitution in Britain. After all, it has been a few weeks since Vice Squad reported on a book by a British prostitute -- once more into the breach.

This time the book in question is Confessions of a Working Girl, by “Miss S”. Again, we have to take it on faith that the author really had the experiences that she describes – but that faith is easy to muster for this book (at least for me). The author was starting at university and looking to make some money, so she took a job at a massage parlour – actually a brothel – near where she lived. (These events took place about ten years ago, though that is not mentioned in the book; rather, we learn the timing from Miss S’s comments on her webpage.) The book is more or less her diary of approximately eleven months’ employment in the brothel. You know how Bridget Jones records her weight and her alcohol and cigarette consumption in her diary entries? Miss S tells you how many clients she services, and how much money she makes. There are 723 clients in toto, and she earns about 20 pounds each; she figures that it amounts to about twice what she made in an earlier “normal job.”

Belle de Jour was an upmarket call girl, and Miss S worked in a rather well-managed (no drugs allowed, for instance) brothel – neither of these writers dealt with the perils of streetwalking. Their memoirs, therefore, cannot present a full overview of Britain's commercial sex sector, of course -- but both authors are revealing about their slice of the industry. Miss S has a tendency to tell only half of a story, but nevertheless, the details that come out about how the brothel operates are pretty interesting. Clients, for instance, can exit through a back door, to lessen the chance that someone they know will see them leaving a massage parlour. The working girls don’t wear perfume, because that might be noticed by wives later; if they feel the need for scent, they use men’s deodorant instead. Miss S also is possessed (at least authorially) with an amazingly even temperament. Bad things do occur in the brothel -- a police raid, undertaken not for running an illegal brothel but on suspicion of drugs; some Russian brothel employees being taken away when they are uncovered as illegal immigrants; a client of another employee who refuses to take a 'no' to his request for sex without a condom – but these revelations all are described in a sort of all-in-a-day’s-work manner. The difficulty in maintaining a regular life outside of the brothel comes through, however. Miss S's biggest problem had nothing to do with the brothel – she and her flatmates were stalked by a drug dealer and his crew.

Miss S cannot match the stylish prose of Belle de Jour, nor does she try. But she comes across as less self-absorbed than the delightful Belle, and as honest. I think that I prefer her sort of blue-collar book to Belle's more artsy memoir -- though this reaction might reflect the fact that Belle's book lacked novelty, only because so much of it was taken from Belle's (quite novel, and award-winning) blog.

Miss S's brothel work ends with her heading to London to become a stripper, or to specialise in more high-end sex work. (Like Belle, Miss S engaged in legal sex work in Britain – it is the brothel managers who are breaking British law.) The back cover of the book contains a somewhat veiled photo of the author, dressed for work, apparently; the accompanying description indicates that Miss S. did indeed move on to an escort agency, eventually becoming a “fully independent” sex worker. We can expect to learn more in a forthcoming sequel -- which I intend to read, despite being in no hurry to get to Belle's second book.

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Sunday, March 09, 2008
Three Updates

(1) Following up on this February 22 post.... the Missouri Senate has voted to ban those alcohol vaporizers that have been shown to cause untold -- oh wait, that is right, they haven't been shown to be problematic:

'That's just death waiting to happen if we don't ban these,' said Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville, whose bill prohibiting the devices received initial Senate approval by voice vote.

Ridgeway said she hasn't heard of any problems in Missouri as a result of the machines and described her legislation as a preventive measure that would allow law officers to confiscate them.

Senator Ridgeway, I have my suspicions about Meat Lover's Pizza -- would you get to work on that, please? And at this time of year, especially, I think all of us need to know that the law stands ready to protect us from these.

(2) Today's Chicago Tribune's front page includes this story about the swell of states questioning the minimum drinking age of 21 -- no doubt the Trib is channeling Vice Squad's March 1 post. The online version includes this map showing state drinking ages before 1984. [Earlier in the week, the Trib apparently forgot that alcohol and nicotine are drugs: "... methamphetamine, the narcotic scourge that has wounded middle America as no drug ever before...."]

(3) Today's New York Times points to the attractiveness for some intellectuals of drugs like Adderall that might be performance-enhancing (recalling, of course, Vice Squad posts from February 23 and January 19). Time for a Congressional investigation!

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Saturday, March 08, 2008
Experimenting With Smoking

Mike is off to Russia for purely moral activity -- after all, it is International Women's Day -- so today's posting has fallen to moi.

The Guardian today features a collection of stories from some of their writers about their first experiences with such things as flying and high heels -- and smoking. Patrick Barkham had never smoked tobacco or marijuana, so at the age of 33 he went to Amsterdam to put his abstinent past behind him. His first smoke contained both tobacco and marijuana. Patrick's reluctance to inhale posed a barrier to achieving a high, but he eventually overcame that barrier, too. Some joints later, once the THC kicked in, Patrick became a slave to the drug, and he has not spent an unstoned moment since. Er, or maybe not:

I felt disappointed. Because I'd never done drugs, I had feared and expected everything - a spinning head, a creative mind, a hideous paranoia, a craven addiction and a desire to dance all night while dragons crossed the diamond sky with Lucy.

"It doesn't widen the doors of perception, it just slows you down enough to let you look in," I wrote [contemporaneously, in the notebook he had with him]. "This is what being stoned is about. I must get my bags from the hotel. Focus now. The end."

What an awful experience for Patrick. It is a good thing that the US arrests more than 700,000 folks per year for pot possession.

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Friday, March 07, 2008
Immoral transactions in Russia

I have recently come across a mention of an article in the Russian Civil Code that might not have been meant to address any vice problem, but it sure sounds like it should have been. This is Article 169 (in Russian) that says in its first sentence (in my translation) "A transaction, the goal of which is knowingly against the foundations of law or morality [emphasis added], is null and void." The Article then goes on to state that the punishment for such a transaction is forfeiture of the transacted amounts, although there are some nuances, depending on whether both parties were aware of the nature of the transaction or only one of the parties. As we all know, Jim has not been a fan of property seizure before a person is convicted of any crime. Russia, however, is a dictatorship of the law (I think Pres. Putin said that at one point) and the forfeiture takes place only after the court has determined that the transaction was indeed immoral.

So far, this Article has been used against "immoral" transactions by some oil refineries trying to avoid (or evade) taxes and to question the legality of PriceWaterhouse's audits of Yukos. But it might be only a matter of time before Russia's law enforcers wake up to its much wider applicability.


Be careful of those bread rolls if you are flying to Dubai

Looks like Dubai might also have the need to fill up some prison cells (see this post for March 6). "News of the Weird" for this week reports:
In February, a court in Dubai ... sentenced Briton Keith Brown, 43, to the standard four-year minimum term in prison for violating the country's extreme "zero tolerance" drug laws, even though the only drug found was a "speck" (0.003 grams) of cannabis caught in the tread of his shoe and discovered only because the Dubai airport uses sophisticated drug-detection equipment.
My guess is that they discovered it because they make people take off their shoes as they go through airport security. Maybe that was the idea of that procedure to begin with. The same little article also said that "[p]reviously, a Canadian man was imprisoned for possession of three poppy seeds (from a bread roll he had eaten at Heathrow Airport in London) that had fallen into his clothing as he prepared for a flight to Dubai." What a country!

[Vice Squad first covered the Dubai airport incidents in early February. -- JL]

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Thursday, March 06, 2008
Vacant Cells -- What Is To Be Done?

Crack offenders who received ridiculously long sentences -- ridiculous in comparison with similar offenders of the cocaine (but non-crack) variety, and more ridiculous (for the non-violent offenders) relative to any reasonable standard of justice -- are qualifying for "early" release from prison. But nature abhors a vacuum -- who can be recruited to fill the vacated prison cells?

Hmmm, how about khat offenders! Sure, khat is legal in benighted parts of the world, such as the UK, but in the good ol' USA, we jealously guard our right to arrest khat possessors. Now how to get these local khatheads into federal prison? Well, that's what those multi-jurisdictional drug task forces were created for, no?

[Update: Pennsylvania gets in on the jailing khatheads craze.]

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008
Thailand to Legalise Gambling?

The Prime Minister of Thailand seems to have a soft spot for legal vice. He has recently indicated that he would like to legalise daily lotteries, and has followed that up by declaring that he will legalise casino gambling, too. Somehow, he does not show the same liberalising tendencies when it comes to the war on drugs.

[Update: Pete at Drug WarRant has more on Thailand's murderous drug war.]

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Monday, March 03, 2008

From Alcohol and Drugs History Society comes word of a Chicago Tribune article about a nicotine-infused alcoholic beverage -- the "nicotini" -- that one Chicago bartender has unveiled in response to the smoking ban. Vice Squad had noted a nicotini in Florida as early as November, 2004.

I mention Vice Squad's ahead-of-the-curviness on the nicotini to deflect justified criticism for recent blog neglect -- other duties, alas, have taken precedence. To further maintain the goodwill of the loyal Vice Squad reader, however, let me mention that a little while ago Vice Squad completed a long term project. Around the beginning of 2007 the Blogger software offered the possibility of applying "labels" to individual posts, and Vice Squad has been duly labelling subsequent "contributions". The problem was the stock of some 1100 prior Vice Squad posts that were unlabelled. After fourteen months of painstaking toil, I am happy to report that the backlog has been eliminated, and except for a possible handful of posts that were overlooked, the entire Vice Squad oeuvre has been catalogued. Time and date of the parade will be announced.

[Update: What labels are most popular? (1) alcohol; (2) drugs; (3) prostitution; (4) gambling; (5) Britain; (6) Prohibition; (7) policing; (8) teens; (9) tobacco; and (10) obscenity. What sort of blog is this, anyway?]

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Sunday, March 02, 2008
Newish Habits in the New York Times

Today's Sunday Style section contains two front page articles on forming bad relationships. One is about forming a bad relationship with both food and alcohol; the second is about forming a bad relationship with the wired and wireless world.

The bad relationship with food and alcohol is too little of one and too much of the other: an eating disorder co-existing with large alcohol consumption. These two disorders can be complementary: "Many bulimics who drink use alcohol to vomit, experts on eating disorders say, because liquid is easier to purge. They also tend to vomit because they often drink on empty stomachs." And while abstinence can be an effective strategy for overcoming substance abuse, it is of no avail in combating an eating disorder.

A weekly day (more or less) of abstinence is the approach taken by the author of the second article, in dealing with his fixation on connectivity. It took a while, but he came to embrace his "secular Sabbath": "It’s been more than six months, and while I’m hardly a new man — no one has yet called me mellow — this achievement is unlike any other in my life. And nothing bad has happened while I’ve been offline; the e-mail and phone messages, RSS feeds, are all there waiting for me when I return to them."

For addictions as "bad relationships," see Peter McWilliams's Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do.

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Saturday, March 01, 2008
The National Age Minimum for Alcohol Threatened?

A bill is progressing in the Vermont Senate that would call for an examination of lowering the state's drinking age. Unless the feds alter their own legislation, any state that transgresses federal will by instituting a drinking age below 21 will pay -- to the tune of 10 percent of the state's share of federal highway funds. Nevertheless, there is revolt brewing in various state legislatures.

Vermont is the home of Middlebury College, whose former president has been an advocate for a lower minimum drinking age. He now directs Choose Responsibility, a nonprofit organization devoted to the cause. Here is part of the Waiver proposal from Choose Responsibility:
Choose Responsibility believes federal legislation should not penalize states who choose to participate in a pilot alcohol education program based on a minimum drinking age of 18. Thus, it is our belief that:
  • States that present a plan for educating and licensing young adults that can maintain low levels of fatalities while lowering the drinking age ought to be granted a waiver of the 10% reduction penalty for a minimum of five years.
  • States should create a mechanism to collect relevant data required to monitor the effects of the change in law.
  • State should submit these statistics to Congress (or its designate), along with an analysis of the effects of the waiver from its inception, and may or may not request either an extension of he waiver.
  • Individual state proposals must include the guidelines for eligibility and suspension of licenses proposed in the model program.
Vice Squad supports the end of the federal mandate on the minimum drinking age, though any transition period to a lower age could be tricky. Beyond Choose Responsibility's education and licensing suggestions, higher alcohol excise taxes could be used as a supplementary method to help limit teen drinking when a state abolishes its prohibition on 18 to 20-year-old drinking. (Vice Squad supports higher alcohol taxes generally, but another possibility might be to have an age-specific tax, where 18-20 year olds face higher taxes.) Also, the drinking age could be staggered, such that 19 and 20 year olds, for instance, could be licensed to purchase wine and beer, but not spirits.

New Zealand lowered its drinking age from 20 to 18 in 1999. Though there have been reports of increases in some types of alcohol-related harms, efforts to re-raise the age have not garnered sufficient political support.

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