Vice Squad
Thursday, February 28, 2008
 
EU Snus Ban Safe


Last week an EU committee, the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks, released a report (available here) on snus, a smokeless tobacco product popular in Sweden but not legally available for sale in the rest of the EU. The committee noted that snus carries some health risks, and that its apparent success in Sweden at lowering the harms from smoking is not necessarily reproducible in other countries. So the EU's snus ban -- from which Sweden negotiated an exception at the time it joined the EU -- appears to be safe for now. Swedish Match, a major snus producer, tries to put a brave face on the committee report, but it seems to be a setback to their interest in ending the ban.

One of the attractions of a principled approach to vice policy is that it sidesteps the sort of special pleading that seems to dog vice control. Vices that someone disapproves of see their harms emphasized and their benefits minimized, while an approved vice receives the opposite treatment. And for many folks, the special pleading takes an obvious form: their own vices should be legal, but those unfamiliar vices of troublesome others, well, those vices should be suppressed.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008
 
Canada Customs Polices Obscenity


The long-running legal battle between Vancouver's Little Sister's bookstore and Canadian Customs has centered around the tendency for Customs to seize gay and lesbian literature that is en route to Little Sister's. (The case essentially ground to an end more than a year ago, when government funding was denied for Little Sister's legal expenses; Little Sister's maintains a webpage devoted to the history of the case.) But lots of sexually explicit material is perfectly legal in Canada -- how does Customs know what to seize and what to pass? In part, it seems, they are instructed by a list of titles, with an indication of which titles are acceptable and which are verboten. How do I know this? Because Slate.com was good enough to publish excerpts from the list and the accompanying instructions for the fourth quarter of 2007. The distinctions drawn by the censors suggest a refined development of the casuistrical arts.

If you want to, you can buy Little Sister's for $675,000 (Canadian, presumably).

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Monday, February 25, 2008
 
Britain Still in Northern Europe


When the UK allowed pubs, at local discretion, to stay open after 11PM, one of the goals was to end the practice of the simultaneous exodus of hordes of young, well, yobs from city centre bars, fighting and generally wronging the ancientry. (The yobs showed enough foresight to realise that they needed to down a few pints quickly if they hoped to get the full effect before the 11PM close.) Sometimes there was a somewhat broader goal mentioned, that of converting the British beer and spirits, binge-drinking culture (one that is not atypical of Northern climes) into the wine sipping, gentler drinking ways of Southern Europe. That broader goal, well, still needs some work. Nevertheless, the fears that the loss of mandatory closing hours would lead to a significant increase in alcohol-related problems have not come to fruition, either:
What is striking about the change is what a small effect it has had. In a way, this is not surprising, because the number of applications for extended hours has been smaller than expected. The main effect has been to move some of the alcohol-related trouble from the "unhappy hour" after 11pm to the early hours of the morning. This is precisely what some police chiefs wanted when they supported the legislation, as the concentration of chaos in a synchronised moment of fighting and puking presented them with a logistical challenge. But it is hardly a great step forward in the social health of the nation that some of our misery is a little more thinly spread.
Just last week the British Medical Association issued a report blaming longer opening hours for increased alcohol-related problems; the timing was somewhat unfortunate, as the Association is currently pursuing an application to extend the hours during which it can serve alcohol at its headquarters.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008
 
WHO's Tobacco Message


A couple weeks ago the World Health Organization issued a new report on the "Global Tobacco Epidemic" and what steps to implement to counter it. The toll that tobacco takes (and will continue to take in the future) on health is staggering, with more than 5 million tobacco-related deaths annually, supplemented by the threat that the tab will rise to more than 8 million by 2030. The cumulative impact over the course of the 21st century, according to the WHO, will be hundreds of millions of deaths, and (if that is not sufficient), the toll could be an attention-grabbing 1 billion tobacco-related deaths. (There are more than one billion smokers currently on planet earth.) Today, the New York Times picked up on the WHO report in a special Week in Review graphic, following an editorial earlier in the week calling for the US to submit the 2005 Tobacco Control Convention to the Senate for ratification.

The WHO offers six policies (read about them in this 19-page pdf) to try to stem the tobacco health cataclysm. My concern, of course, is that at least two of the WHO's suggested policies -- public smoking bans and high tobacco taxes -- do not meet standard Vice Squad precepts. (The higher taxes might be OK if the starting point is low.) Eventually, as I note in Chapter 3 of Regulating Vice, harm minimization (or health maximization) and vice policy robustness must always part company. Robustness accepts that there might be benefits available from vice consumption, but a strict harm minimization strategy ignores these putative benefits. There should be limits on how much an adult who chooses to smoke (or drink, or gamble, or sell/buy sex, or...) should be punished or inconvenienced, in the absence of harm to others.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008
 
One Student's Adderall Story


Via Reihan writing at Andrew Sullivan's blog we learn of this article by a college senior describing her experiences of studying under the influence of Adderall. She thinks the drug was performance enhancing for her, at least if "performance" refers to grades. Here's a brief excerpt:
If the proof is in the transcript, then Adderall is hardly a self-punishing habit. Sometimes I think about how Marion Jones has to return all the prize money she earned while taking steroids, and I wonder whether I should be stripped of all the A’s I received for papers written on Adderall. This is a haunting or a comical thought, depending on my mood.
Despite the grade enhancement, she stopped using Adderall in her senior year -- grades aren't everything. As for her ability to study and churn out papers while using Adderall, in her case, "It turns out that the feverish moral imperative to work was an effect of the drug, not a cause."

The use of pharmaceuticals for "recreational" purposes is much more prevalent in the US than is the use of cocaine and heroin and hallucinogens, combined. Yet another good reason to legalize and regulate the currently illicit drugs: it isn't that hard to find close substitutes among the legal drugs.

Here's a table reproduced from SAMHSA showing prevalence rates:

70410
Table 1.1B – Types of Illicit Drug Use in Lifetime, Past Year, and Past Month among Persons Aged 12 or Older: Percentages, 2005 and 2006
Drug
TIME PERIOD
Lifetime
Past Year
Past Month
2005
2006
2005
2006
2005
2006
*Low precision; no estimate reported.
a Difference between estimate and 2006 estimate is statistically significant at the 0.05 level.
b Difference between estimate and 2006 estimate is statistically significant at the 0.01 level.
1 Illicit Drugs include marijuana/hashish, cocaine (including crack), heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, or prescription-type psychotherapeutics used nonmedically. Illicit Drugs Other Than Marijuana include cocaine (including crack), heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, or prescription-type psychotherapeutics used nonmedically.
2 Nonmedical use of prescription-type psychotherapeutics includes the nonmedical use of pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, or sedatives and does not include over-the-counter drugs.
Source: SAMHSA, Office of Applied Studies, National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2005 and 2006.
ILLICIT DRUGS1
46.1 45.4 14.4 14.5 8.1 8.3
Marijuana and Hashish 40.1 39.8 10.4 10.3 6.0 6.0
Cocaine 13.8 14.3 2.3 2.5 1.0 1.0
Crack 3.3 3.5 0.6 0.6 0.3 0.3
Heroin 1.5 1.5 0.2 0.2 0.1a 0.1
Hallucinogens 13.9 14.3 1.6 1.6 0.4 0.4
LSD 9.2 9.5 0.2 0.3 0.0 0.1
PCP 2.7 2.7 0.1 0.1 0.0 0.0
Ecstasy 4.7 5.0 0.8 0.9 0.2 0.2
Inhalants 9.4 9.3 0.9 0.9 0.3 0.3
Nonmedical Use of Psychotherapeutics2 20.0 20.3 6.2a 6.6 2.6 2.8
Pain Relievers 13.4 13.6 4.9 5.1 1.9 2.1
OxyContin® 1.4b 1.7 0.5 0.5 0.1 0.1
Tranquilizers 8.7 8.7 2.2 2.1 0.7 0.7
Stimulants 7.8 8.2 1.1b 1.4 0.4 0.5
Sedatives 3.7 3.6 0.3 0.4 0.1 0.2
ILLICIT DRUGS OTHER THAN MARIJUANA1
29.5 29.6 8.3 8.6 3.7 3.9

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Friday, February 22, 2008
 
State Legislatures Respond to Grave New Threat


Maybe in some benighted states legislators are slow to react to a significant new threat, but not in Missouri and South Dakota. The farseeing Solons of these midwestern edens are primed to prohibit the possession of alcohol vaporizers, which have been wreaking havoc throughout the land. The vaporizers allow someone to consume about half a shot of alcohol in twenty minutes through inhalation. This is such a wildly fun and addictive way to consume alcohol that injuries and deaths resulting from alcohol vaporizers are -- oh, wait, I can't actually find any evidence that anyone has ever been injured by these devices. You would think that when they introduce these bills they would mention some of the awful consequences that have sprung from the use of inhalers -- but nary a peep. Well, we better ban them anyway, just in case. (Incidentally, you could get a year in jail for alcohol vaporizer possession if the South Dakota bill becomes a law; try explaining that crime to your cellmate.) The prohibition will force people to get their alcohol from bottles -- and bottles are absolutely safe, right?

To be honest, legislators in Missouri and South Dakota are not that farsighted after all: more than 20 states have already banned alcohol vaporizers.

[It goes without saying that I am not suggesting in this post that alcohol vaporizers are perfectly safe.]

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Thursday, February 21, 2008
 
Indoor v. Outdoor Prostitution


Today we covered prostitution policy in our Regulation of Vice class. The assigned readings were articles by Weitzer and by Murphy and Venkatesh. Both make a compelling case that indoor prostitution is much safer than outdoor sex work, and also less connected with public nuisance.

It is my impression that the extent of violence directed at prostitutes, and its severity, is significantly greater for streetwalkers than for indoor sex workers. Today also brings news of a conviction in the trial of the man who was charged with the December, 2006 murders of five outdoor prostitutes in the Ipswich area in Britain. I recognize that legalization and regulation of indoor commercial sex work, and possibly even of some streetwalking, is no panacea, but the shortcomings have to be immense to counteract fully the almost assured fall in fatal violence directed at prostitutes that would accompany legalization. Incidentally, the convicted murderer had frequented massage parlours for 25 years, and as far as is known, without incident; he had been familiar to outdoor sex workers in Ipswich for about three years prior to the murders.

A not-too-long paper (29 pages, double-spaced) presenting an overview of my thoughts concerning regulating pornography and prostitution is available here.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008
 
Due Processless in Seattle


It is so much easier to deter crime by punishing those you suspect of having committed a crime, rather than going to all the rigmarole of actually, you know, convicting them of a crime. This fact has finally come to the attention of Seattle, which hopes to seize the cars of folks who are suspected of soliciting prostitutes. The city attorney doesn't even hide the fact that it is a punishment intended to deter (though, um, wouldn't punishing unconvicted individuals be, you know, unconstitutional)?: "'The positive thing about forfeiture is it would deter the guys who pick up street prostitutes,' said City Attorney Tom Carr, whose office is studying the legislation."

Incidentally, although I do believe that this measure violates the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, I would be against it even if current Constitutional interpretation were to disagree: even if Constitutional, it is a bad idea. Asset forfeiture skews the priorities of law enforcement, away from those crimes that are most socially costly, towards those that are most lucrative to the law enforcement agency. The linked article offers the view of an assistant city attorney that the city would not be making money, that the forfeited and then sold assets would only cover the city's costs, with the remainder going to social services. But what costs they must have!: "Local law enforcement would retain as much as 90 percent of the money received by the seizure and sale, with the rest to be deposited into a statewide account set up to prevent prostitution."

Vice Squad has long been aghast at civil asset forfeiture provisions which present the skimpiest of quasi-legal fig leaves for covering up the punishment of people who have not been convicted of any crime.

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The End of an Era


OK, maybe not an era. More like a streak. Every day in 2008, Vice Squad had produced one (and precisely one) post for you, faithful reader. Until Monday, February 18, 2008. On that day, well, indolence reigned supreme. But...but..."this inconstancy is such/As you too shall adore". Maybe. Vice Squad was delayed, having met a visitor to Chicago who is here precisely to clarify the issues surrounding the taxation of alcohol and tobacco (here's a 26-page pdf). I wonder what he thinks about taxing cocaine? Not sure yet, but after our visitor presents his paper on Wednesday, perhaps I will have learned enough to say something.

Those who are concerned that taxing illicit drugs might somehow make them more legitimate might have a point, incidentally.

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Sunday, February 17, 2008
 
Pro-Active Self-Exclusion


A couple weeks ago I mentioned my article in the current Milken Institute Review concerning self-exclusion, those systems available in many casinos whereby you can bar yourself from the premises for some period of time. More than 11,000 people have signed up for lifetime bans from riverboat casinos in the state of Missouri. (The voluntary exclusion applies to all of the state's casino boats.) I think that buyer licenses or self-exclusion programs should be part of the regulatory structure when the currently illicit drugs are re-legalized.

I mention in the Milken article that self-exclusion programs do not have to be passive. Casino employees or representatives of the gambling commission can keep their eye on potential problem gamblers, and hold an impromptu chat with them. (Attendance records and betting information from frequent-player programs also can be put to use for this purpose.) This sort of pro-active mechanism is used at Dutch casinos, and many of those gamblers who are approached for a chat choose to self-exclude. I think that active self-exclusion (and involuntary exclusion for bad actors) might be a good idea when drugs become legal, too, as I note in the Milken piece:
Individuals who misbehave under the influence of the drug would have their licenses revoked, or be involuntarily placed on the excluded list. One could even imagine a requirement of annual evaluations for drug-license holders to determine how they are coping with the drug, and to counsel lower limits, complete self-exclusion or treatment admission for those whose drug use appears to be getting the better of them. That is, self-exclusion could be active, like at Dutch casinos, and drug sellers could be drafted into the activity of barring their best customers – a far cry from their current behavior.
When I first mentioned the Milken article, I noted an unfortunate typo in the second word. I just downloaded a pdf from the website, however, and I find that the typo has been repaired! (Somehow it hadn't occurred to me that this alteration was possible -- in a lifetime of typos, what is one more? -- so I did not contact the relevant authorities.) Bravo, Milken Institute Review!

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Saturday, February 16, 2008
 
A Smoking License


There are a couple features of current tobacco regulation that do not satisfy Vice Squad's approach to vice regulation, the notion that rules should work well if everyone is completely rational with respect to their vice-related decisions -- and the rules should work well, too, if lots of folks are addicted or irrational or exhibit self-control shortcomings when dealing with vice. In particular, cigarette taxes in "western" countries (along with, in the US, the Master Tobacco Settlement effective surcharge) are too high (too punitive for rational smokers), and those public smoking bans are too broad (besides creating problems for Vice Squad fetish Bingo). But the idea that a bar or restaurant, or an individual smoker, might have to pay a small amount to acquire a license for smoking privileges -- well, that warms our self-exclusion heart. And no doubt as a Valentine's Day present to Vice Squad, Britain is considering instituting a licensing system in which would-be cigarette smokers would first have to purchase a tobacco-buyer's license, at a fee of 10 pounds for one year. They also want to make the license application form unwieldy to fill out, it seems, but that can go too far; perhaps better would be an easy form, but a three-day waiting period between when you submit the form and when you pick up your license -- with the possibility of cancelling for a full refund at any time during those three days.

Incidentally, between taxes and the exchange rate, cigarettes are too expensive for Americans in the UK.

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Friday, February 15, 2008
 
Ignition Interlocks


A new study analyzing New Mexico's experience with requiring first-time DUI offenders to have an ignition interlock device installed in their cars has been in the news the past couple of days. (Interlocks prevent the car from starting unless an alcohol breath test is passed.) The study shows, basically, that this interlock requirement, when it actually results in the devices being installed, is pretty effective at reducing the probability that a driver will be caught driving drunk again. The previous research base suggested that interlock mandates were effective for drivers who had multiple DUI convictions, but results were ambiguous concerning first-time DUI offenders.

Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman notes how well-targeted the interlock mandate is:
It [the interlock mandate] also has benefits for the culprits. In most states, the standard method for stopping drunken drivers is to revoke their licenses so they aren't allowed to drive at all. Under this policy [interlocks], they may drive all they want as long as they're stone cold sober. It incapacitates the incorrigible while sparing the repentant. A canceled license, which lets the offender police his own conduct, does the opposite.
Will this new evidence be enough to convince one Arizona state representative to change his mind about interlock mandates for first-time DUI offenders...yet again?

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Thursday, February 14, 2008
 
Smoking Bans


Someone with more patience than I have could probably keep track of all the legislative and judicial developments worldwide with respect to public smoking bans. I'll offer a small subset instead:

(1) Wyoming and Virginia have scuttled, for now, attempts to establish statewide smoking bans. In the linked Washington Post story concerning Virginia, the following facts are provided: "About two-thirds of restaurants in Virginia ban smoking. In Northern Virginia, that figure is 80 percent, and in Fairfax County, almost 95 percent." I was surprised by this. I have long been puzzled over why more restaurants and bars do not go smoke free voluntarily in the absence of a ban, given that about 80 percent of American adults do not smoke. (I can think of lots of plausible stories, but I am not convinced by any of them.) These Virginia data make me think that maybe I just didn't give things enough time.

(2) The Illinois smoking ban has been a boon to Missouri riverboat casinos. Illinois is considering exempting its casinos from its new smoking ban.

(3) A bar somewhere in remote Minnesota has found what appears to be a legal means around the smoking ban. The state law exempts actors in theatrical productions, so Tennessee Williams' plays are still available in Minnesota. But what is a "theatrical production," anyway? The state law offers no clue. So on Saturday nights, the employees of the Minnesota bar dress up in Renaissance-style costumes, while the customers can become actors -- and hence smoking-eligible -- if they purchase for $1 and wear the appropriate button: a robust response to a non-robust law.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008
 
City-Owned Brothels


A student mentioned in a recent paper that government-owned brothels would never be countenanced. While this might be true in the current US, history provides many examples of state-owned brothels. Ancient Athens featured some government brothels, as did many European and Chinese cities during the Middle Ages. A brave (and now ex-) Vancouver city councillor called for a city-owned brothel in 2005, and I believe that the US federal government briefly administered Nevada's Mustang Ranch in the early 1990s.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008
 
Belle de Jour's First Book


British call girl/award-winning blogger Belle de Jour published her first book (she now has a second, with more on the way) back in 2005. (The book has already inspired a mini-series.) Vice Squad finally got around to reading it, uh, well, I finished today -- maybe we are not as cutting edge as I like to think. Vice Squad is a long-time admirer of Belle's blog, but at first I was not as fond of the book, which is a memoir largely drawn from her blog. The new material includes a short vignette at the beginning, purporting to tell how Belle got into the call girl business. I found the early pages to lack the ring of truth that I have come to associate with Belle, and thought that more lurid material was sort of purposely front-loaded, as if the publisher had suggested that the book would sell better if it could engage those with short attention spans (I do not exempt myself from that characterisation.) But I thought that the book improved, and I ended up enjoying it.

When you compare Belle's book with something similar from across the pond, say, Callgirl: Confessions of an Ivy League Lady of Pleasure, the one thing that jumps out at you is how much easier life is for Belle than for her American cousin. Belle was not engaged in illegal activity in Britain -- prostitution per se is legal. American call girls have to worry about the police and various stings, even if the probability that they will have trouble from that direction is pretty small. The illegality seems to place a significant weight on the mind, a weight that Belle's prose does not betray.

In her blog, Belle would occasionally comment on prostitution control, or provide some interesting (and policy-relevant) details about her profession. These posts are not reproduced in her (first) memoir.

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Monday, February 11, 2008
 
New York Does Not Believe in Dancing


Last year Vice Squad stumbled across the fact that New York City establishments serving food or drink cannot also host dancing (even of the spontaneous sort by customers) unless the establishments have acquired a special "cabaret" license. The numbers of legal NYC dance houses are on the rise, we are now happy to report (or repeat, rather). Another dance parade is scheduled for May 17 to protest the draconian anti-dance legislation. A pro-dance activist [imagine that we have gotten to the point where there can be such a thing as a pro-dance activist] claims that the real problem is noise, not dance, and that the smoking ban is responsible for a New York noise boost -- as Vice Squad recently noted for Paris. Speaking of the Paris smoking ban, there's a claim that Paris clubs are learning what London pubs learned after the smoking ban went into effect: smoke covers up the ambient smell of these establishments, and that can be a good thing.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008
 
One Sane Move in Iran


The Iranian man who was reported to be sentenced to death for drinking alcohol -- well, he was a repeat offender, and the law calls for execution upon a third drinking offense -- has been released, and this time, he didn't even receive the 80 lashes. This happy turn of events came about because of a clever, Matlock-worthy legal tactic: the scoundrel refused to come clean!

"Since the accused did not confess to drinking alcohol in front of the judge, he was acquitted and released," Judge Jalil Jalili was quoted as saying.

The same judge was quoted on Wednesday in Etemad newspaper as saying the young man, named only as Mohsen, had been sentenced to death.

"Police in a park suspected that Mohsen had drunk alcohol. They arrested him and took him to be breathalysed. The results proved he had consumed alcohol but afterwards the accused denied having done so," said the judge.

In civilized countries, a failure to confess to a victimless crime has been known to increase the sentence.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008
 
Internet Porn Stats


Top Ten Reviews hosts a webpage that is chock full of statistics relating to pornography generally and internet pornography specifically. For instance, it seems that China is the largest market (in value terms) for pornography, though in per capita value terms, South Korea is dominant: porn "revenues" in South Korea exceed $500 per-capita per year, versus less than $50 in the US of A. (Revenues for porn may well be falling in the US.) Search engine requests for "sex" are most prevalent (in per capita terms?) in Pakistan, whereas South Africa is top of the table for "porn" searches. Among US cities, one stands out for naughty internet searching, leading the country in the "sex", "porn", and "xxx" categories. I am sure that by now you have guessed that this hotbed of perversion is, er, Elmhurst, Illinois.

Do you think that Elmhurst (located in the Northern District of Illinois) leads in those searches because some Elmhurst residents are trolling for potentially obscene material to pass along to the Feds? Or maybe there is one very active fellow who lives in Elmhurst?

Incidentally, I am uncertain about the provenance of many of the numbers reported on the Top Ten webpage, so I would take them with a grain of salt. (I am pretty confident about the "Elmhurst factor," however.)

Update: Please drop what you are doing right now and go watch Michael Pollan (of, among other things, The Omnivore's Dilemma) give a TED talk. Just in case you are new to this, TED talks are the best things on the web; while there, check out Freakonomics guru and general good fellow Steve Levitt. [I almost forgot: Pollan has been mentioned on Vice Squad before (surely his greatest honor) in part for the following quote: "As a result of the war against cannabis, Americans are demonstrably less free today." Levitt, too, has had his days in the Vice Squad sun.]

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Friday, February 08, 2008
 
Getting Serious About Drugs


Via Andrew Sullivan, we learn that at least in Dubai, they are getting serious about the nefarious use of mild-altering substances. (Maybe not quite at the Irani level of seriousness, however -- which extends to other vices.) Crack customs officials at Dubai International Airport spotted a potential druggie; the subsequent investigation yielded all the evidence they needed to garner a rewarding four-year prison term for the drug kingpin. The obviously thorough search:
uncovered a speck of cannabis weighing just 0.003g - so small it would be invisible to the naked eye and weighing less than a grain of sugar - on the tread of one of his shoes.
This latest piece of proficient Dubai airport policing follows close upon the heels of nailing a rogue carrying some melatonin into the desert paradise.

In the US, we do what we can, but I am afraid the Dubai level of drug war vigilance still eludes us.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008
 
Obscenity Updates


A few days ago Vice Squad brought word of three obscenity stories in the news, two from Virginia and one from Pennsylvania. Adult Video News.com provides updates for all three stories. (Links to Adult Video News.com generally are Not Safe For Work.)

(1) The forthcoming trial of a woman facing the possibility of years in prison for writing obscene stories and posting them on the web, where a couple dozen subscribers paid $10 per month for access, is the subject of one longish AVN.com story. Along the probable timeline of the case, we learn that there are substantial legal problems with the search warrant that was relied upon to seize evidence, and that the defendant has a very difficult history (hence the claimed cathartic value in the stories) and suffers from agoraphobia.

(2) The Sex Workers' Art Show at the College of William and Mary went ahead with two sold out performances on Monday night -- nothing like the threat of cancellation or arrests for obscenity to give a boost to ticket sales. All the hullabaloo and the presence of police officers did cause the performers to tone the show down a bit, however, so the censorious citizenry was somewhat appeased.

(3) The City of Virginia Beach has decided not to pursue obscenity charges against an Abercrombie & Fitch store that displayed some largish racy photos. (Customers complained, don't you know, and then a manager didn't cave when the police visited, so he had to be summonsed.) Alas, the AVN.com story has a reference to the photos as displaying less nudity than a plumber -- "alas" because I do not think that this particular plumber stereotype should be further promulgated. (Maybe I can censor it?) The police apparently intend to return the briefly-almost-obscene photos.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008
 
Has the Smoking Ban Deeply Altered Paris?


Well, the City of Light apparently is awash (a' la Illinois) in those not quite enclosed shelters that, being outside, allow people to smoke. A recent British visitor, writing in the Guardian, notes that "some of the terraces [patios connected to bars/restaurants] seemed to be almost entirely enclosed: six smoking tables would be set within cellophane walls – a scene unfortunately reminiscent of an oxygen tent."

One of the unintended consequences of smoking bans is the opportunities that congregating outside have given smokers to socialize. There's a flip side to that particular consequence, however, one that Paris currently is experiencing: the newly outdoors socializing is making it harder for Parisians who reside near eating and drinking establishments to sleep.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008
 
Humanitarian Anti-Vice Wars


The punishment of drug users (as opposed to sellers) is supposed to help the users themselves: the knowledge that they might be punished provides some deterrence against use, and since the drugs (goes the claim) will themselves harm the users, total harm can go down if you threaten mild punishments for drug users. The War on Drugs, you see, is a humanitarian war. But once the punishments do more harm than the drugs -- as Jimmy Carter famously noted about US marijuana laws -- then you might want to rethink your strategy. Nevertheless, lots of places don't let humanitarian considerations get in the way of a full bore war on drugs.

Iran has announced its plans to execute a 22-year-old man for getting caught drinking alcohol on a fourth occasion.

Hegel believed that people could be coerced into taking actions that best served their own interests. Bertrand Russell, in discussing Hegel's view, quotes Hereclitus: ‘Every beast is driven to the pasture with blows.’ Russell continues in sarcastic vein: “Let us, in any case, make sure of the blows; whether they lead to a pasture is a matter of minor importance…"

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Monday, February 04, 2008
 
Self-Exclusion


Just a few days ago I called for the US military to set up a self-exclusion system for the slot machines that it operates on some of its foreign bases. (No word back yet -- apparently they have higher priorities.) But this whole self-exclusion thing is really catching on. Check out the fine article (available from this page after free registration) in the current Milken Institute Review. The author notes -- oh, wait, I am the author. I note that self-exclusion systems typically combine two features, physical unavailability and reward diminution. In the case of casinos, the physical unavailability is supposed to come about when the casino bouncers prevent you from entering their fine establishment, or even have you charged with trespassing (as happens in some jurisdictions) when you try to evade your voluntarily chosen personal ban. Reward diminution occurs when you find, once you have managed to slip past security, that you will not be allowed to collect large jackpots. I don't think that self-exclusion systems currently work all that well in US casinos -- the system is better in the Netherlands -- but I think the general notion of self-exclusion holds significant potential. In particular, I think that when the currently illegal drugs are legalized, some sort of self-exclusion system -- perhaps licenses for drug users, and a chosen purchase limit -- will (and generally should) be part of the mix.

The Milken Institute Review article starts off with a delightful anecdote (by golly, it is delightful) about famed poet and opium addict Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who tried (unsuccessfully) to set up his own self-exclusion system by hiring goons to bar his entrance into pharmacies. (At the time in the UK, opium was legally available without a prescription.) When Coleridge really wanted opium, however, he would fire his agents on the spot, leaving them befuddled as to whether to obey the previous or the current Coleridge.

It is embarrassing when you make an error on the second page of a long publication. How about the second word? Somehow in the relating of this delightful anecdote, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was rendered, in large font, as Samuel Tyler Coleridge. Sigh. [Update: the wonderful folks at the Milken Institute Review corrected the typo, without bidding!]

Vice Squad has spoken about self-exclusion occasionally in the past, and hopes to speak more in the future -- assuming physical inaccessibility and reward diminution do not kick in.

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Sunday, February 03, 2008
 
Obscenity Case Explosion


(1) The unusual case that does not involve dirty pictures -- only text -- continues apace in Pittsburgh. The author's statements to the FBI can be admitted into evidence -- do you think she said that her cathartic (she tells us) writing had no significant literary, artistic, political, or scientific value? All right-thinking Americans have the federal prosecutor to thank for giving us the possibility of keeping the dangerous wordsmith behind bars for thirty years -- and the decision to admit the FBI interview material will surely convince anyone who missed the Martha Stewart case to talk openly when interviewed (not even under (explicit) oath) by FBI agents. ABC News has more.

(2) The College of William and Mary is hosting a Sex Workers’ Art Show; a Virginia state legislator wants to make sure police are there to enforce any violations of state obscenity laws -- that is, if her pressure on the College president to cancel the show does not succeed. But if the show really is artistic, doesn't that put it squarely within Miller v. California's safe harbor? You don't understand: our legislator, the wise Athenian of one month's tenure, has never before witnessed such a public outpouring against a public performance. (Perhaps she should contact the federal prosecutor from the Pittsburgh area.) The College thought it best to prohibit cameras at the show. That might be enough to scuttle the whole deal, however, as the performers typically record the show to protect themselves against obscenity charges -- not work safe link here. I'd mention Catch-22, but I understand that it is obscene, too.

(3) Abercrombie & Fitch, in one Virginia Beach incarnation, goes down. This must be one of the best behaved (or coldest) beaches in the good ol' USA, if some racy photos can bring the heat.

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Saturday, February 02, 2008
 
Regulating Vice: Chapter 2, "Addiction: Rational and Otherwise" (part V)


OK, I simply refuse to have any more posts -- after this one -- about Chapter 2 of surprise bestseller Regulating Vice. Following a look at comparative addictiveness -- itself a slightly misguided concept, given that the addictiveness of a drug or activity varies among, well, everything: people, time, place, manner, and so on -- Chapter 2 notes how addiction is not, and should not be, an excuse for committing a non-victimless crime. (While behaviors such as simple possession should not be illegal in any case, if they are illegal, there's a decent argument that addicts should not be held responsible for breaking a drug possession law.) Then Chapter 2 offers a summary of a sort, suggesting that: (1) there is a case -- not airtight, but a significant case -- that some addictive-type behavior lies outside the bounds of standard notions of rationality or even dynamic inconsistency; (2) self-control problems and addiction lie on a continuum, and even in a world without addiction, there might be a role for public policy to help (adults) manage their self-control problems; and (3) that despite all the discussion of addiction and self-control when, for instance, drug policy is being discussed, actual public policies (and even private responses) to vice do not seem to be closely tied to changes in our scientific understanding of addiction. Following the conclusion is the first of many "Vice Verdicts" sections; this one looks at four court cases in which addiction and responsibility for behavior were central concerns.

The idea behind the opening chapters of Regulating Vice, just to recap, is to examine what we can learn from John Stuart Mill's harm principle, and then to look closely at addiction and self-control, to see if our 21st century understanding of addiction provides any (further?) reason to accept or amend or reject the harm principle. This is the point at which Chapter 3 picks up. Whew.

Regulating Vice Posts Roundup:
(1) Announcement
(2) Introduction (part I)
(3) Introduction (part II)
(4) Introduction (part III)
(5) Erratum, Page 2!!
(6) Chapter 1, The Harm Principle (part I)
(7) Chapter 1, The Harm Principle (part II)
(8) GMU Talk (part I)
(9) GMU Talk (part II)
(10) Chapter 2, Addiction (part I)
(11) Chapter 2, Addiction (part II)
(12) Chapter 2, Addiction (part III)
(13) Chapter 2, Addiction (part IV)

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Friday, February 01, 2008
 
On the Wine Market


In the Milken Institute Review for the Fourth Quarter of 2007 there is an article by Philip Martin concerning the market for wine. The article, which I believe is available to websurfers from this page after a free registration, contains lots of interesting vinous info. Here's a sample:

"France, Italy and Spain are home to just 2.5 percent of the world’s population, yet the French, Italians and Spaniards consume 43 percent of the world’s wine output – an average of 22 gallons per adult per year."

"Europe produces about 70 percent of the world’s annual output of 6.5 billion gallons. France accounts for 20 percent of global wine production, while Italy manages 19 percent and Spain about 13 percent."

"...California still dominates the [US] domestic industry, producing about 90 percent of American wine."

"Americans drink relatively little wine, an average of 2.4 gallons a year, which is barely more than a tenth of what adults in France and Italy consume.... The 35 million American adults who drink wine regularly imbibe over 90 percent of the wine consumed in the country – an average of 19 gallons, or 95 bottles, a year."

There's lots more to delight oenophiles in the article. The Milken Institute Review is becoming a bit vice-addled, I understand.

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