Ideology prevails in the International Narcotics Control Boards’ annual report

Raymond-Yans The INCB, a panel of experts based at the UN, released their annual report earlier this month serving to reaffirm that when it comes to international drug policy, logic and common sense continue to be thrown out of the proverbial window. The report emphasises “the importance of universal implementation of international drug control treaties by all states” and lets it be known that the board “deeply regret the developments at the state level in Colorado and Washington, in the United States, regarding the legalization of the recreational use of cannabis,” Legal marijuana in Colorado, Washington, as well as Uruguay, breaches the international drug treaties in an unprecedented way, and the INCB are clearly disappointed with this direct challenge to the international prohibitionist consensus.

This latest attempt to grant legal and institutional weight to international drug policy has provoked much criticism. Danny Kushlick, head of external affairs at Transform Drug Policy Foundation, a charitable think tank that campaigns for legal regulation of drugs in the UK and abroad, gave a scathing critique of the INCB, claiming it “defends treaties that are fraught with scientific and legal inconsistencies” and that with the release of this latest report ‘appears to have signed its own death warrant”.

The ICNB’s disappointment with the legal regulation of cannabis appears to be based on little besides the fact that it doesn’t conform to the International Treaties that brought the board into being. They cite ‘increased public health costs’, noting that government revenue from the legal sale of alcohol and tobacco is less than the economic and health costs of their abuse. This seems like a misguided comparison to make given that both tobacco and alcohol are considerably more toxic and addictive than cannabis.

When you also take into consideration that the people of Colorado and Washington have democratically expressed a desire to have safe, regulated access to the drug, the INCB’s stance looks like yet another attempt to grasp to a policy that’s rapidly losing credibility. Such stubborn defence of the war on drugs, the most consistent characteristic of which has been human suffering, has come to define the INCB.

One doesn’t have to look far to see examples of this. Their report last year was heavily criticised for overlooking human rights violations in punishing drug offenders, particularly in Saudia Arabia. In this regard the body has long taken a position that is inconsistent with international norms. Last year they welcomed Vietnam’s drug treatment measures, despite a UN report raising serious human right’s concerns with the country’s drug treatment and detention centres.

On the contrary the ICNB were swift to blast Denmark this time around for introducing ‘drug consumption rooms’, and in doing so continued their history of condemning methods proven to reduce overdoses and transmission of diseases.  Indeed it is very revealing that ‘Harm reduction’ was mentioned just once in the report. Reduction international estimates there are around 1000 people executed for drug offenses each year, and there are countless more preventable HIV and HIC infections. The INCB’s suspect attitude with respect to these topics is perhaps what does most to damage its waning credibility.

The ICNB, and indeed the illogical drug policy it staunchly defends, continues to fail to account for the fact that people take drugs not because they are criminals but because they want to experience an altered state of mind. Sometimes this becomes destructive and harmful, and such individuals are often a danger to others as well as themselves. In this instance their drug usage amounts to a health problem. Any criminal elements however, have been manufactured and serve not to deter or protect but rather to stimigitize and punish.

As Ann Fordham, the executive director of the International Drug Policy Consortium concludes, “The entire UN drug control system needs to be rebalanced further in the direction of health rather than criminalization, and it is changing; the shift in various parts of the system is apparent already.” A much-welcomed move in this direction looks set to continue, in spite of the unwavering stance of the INCB.

The Neknomination craze and our cultural attitude towards alcohol

neknomination picThe ‘neknomination’ craze recently swept across our social media feeds with individuals’ filming themselves downing an alcoholic drink, before nominating others to match them. Initially a mildly humorous viral challenge, it has come under strong criticism due to a number of deaths, with five people thought to have paid the ultimate price for trying to outdo their friends. What began as a relatively harmless form of camaraderie has quickly developed dangerous and extreme elements, with the most daring nominations swiftly going viral, granting the challenger their moment in the social media spotlight.  Increasingly dangerous and revolting concoctions have included pints of spirits, raw eggs and live animals.

The backlash has been somewhat predictable. There has been talk of banning videos from Facebook, and even charging those making lethal nominations with manslaughter charges. Such measures would probably do little to prevent extreme cases arising. Prohibition, on whatever scale, is rarely successful and indeed is often counterintuitive. The responsibility in deciding what one has to drink is surely to be left to the individual. Moreover the threat of legal penalty shouldn’t be necessary to prevent people from making potentially deadly nominations or from taking part in them, and punishing the sensible on account of the stupid isn’t something that usually works out very well.

While the prospect of taking part in the challenge doesn’t really appeal to me, it’s difficult to criticise someone for sharing drinks with friends, and in many cases neknomination amounts to a social media spin on this with a bit of banter thrown in for good measure. The problem is to be found not in the idea so much as in the willingness to carelessly cross the boundaries of personal safety and dignity in an attempt to prove something to others.

To look at neknominations more closely then is to see elements of something more deep-rooted than a dangerous internet craze appearing mystically out of the blue. There’s an aspect of the craze that reflects our cultural attitude towards alcohol.  I’m talking about something that goes far beyond a fondness for afternoons spent at the pubs or a few drink before the match. It’s an outlook amongst an increasing number of young people especially, that equates one’s inclination to have a good time and enjoy themselves with how much they’re willing to drink.

It’s a way of thinking that permeates our finest academic institutions as well as our toughest council estates. In fact one could argue that this notion has become a hallmark of higher education culture in the UK (and elsewhere). Drinking games are an integral aspect of university life, and with it the consumption of large quantities of alcohol have become normalized. In institutions across the country, people partake in evenings of intense drinking which can include knocking back double-figures worth of pints in very short spaces of time. A culture has emerged that places great value on one’s ability and willingness to drink.  The combination of social media trends, peer pressure, and this cultural attitude towards alcohol makes the extreme evolution of Neknomination somewhat unsurprising. It is a reflection of a wider societal issue.

Perhaps the craze says something about our collective perception of the dangers of alcohol too. While many are aware of the risks on a purely intellectual level, an appreciation of the very real dangers the substance poses is often lacking. We tend to limit our idea of who is susceptible and at risk to the unstable alcoholic rather than the average drinker up for a good time. And yet, taking it a step too far is a more likely mistake with alcohol than many other substances, legal or illegal. The lethal dose is around 10 times the effective dose (the amount it takes to become intoxicated), compared to 16 times for MDMA, and a remarkable 1000 plus for cannabis. Of course there really is no excuse for downing a pint of spirit, but a wider appreciation that alcohol can pose a lethal threat when used irresponsibly wouldn’t go amiss.

I think we can learn quite a bit from neknominate about the way in which we perceive alcohol use. The tragedies that have arisen from the extreme developments of the craze are a warning sign of the dangers that peer pressure can pose, especially in the context of today’s social media culture. Perhaps more importantly, it highlights the dangers of subscribing to an idea that how much you can drink is somehow related, in one way or another, to the quality of your character.

Killer Joe – Film Review

Killer Joe is the latest film from William Friedkin, the man who brought us the 70s classics The Exorcist and The French Connection. This violent, darkly comic picture is based on Tracy Letts’ play of the same name and centres on a poor family from West Dallas, Texas. Bitterly fed up with their trailer-trash existence, Chris (Emile Hirsch) concocts a plan to have his Mum taken care of by gun for hire Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey). As his sister Dottie (Juno Temple) is the beneficiary, the inheritance in case of death will go to her, and so with his dim-witted father Ansel (Thomas Hayden Church) they set their plan in motion. As they can’t afford to pay Joe until after the deed is done, they agree to give Dottie up as a ‘retainer’. The Fargo-esque plot is doomed from the start, and what ensues is a hilarious, violent and at times deeply disturbing family drama.

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The southern gothic elements form a powerful component of the film, intensifying the satire and creating an ominous mood and atmosphere. Bleak stormy weather, a rabid pit-bull on a chain, and a full frontal shot of Gina Gershon set the tone early. The hillbilly caricatures that comprise the Smith family humour and infuriate in equal measure. Our introduction to this dysfunctional family, deranged and screaming at each other in their disgusting trailer park home, creates a foreboding sense of wreckless irresponsibility that you can’t help feel will land them in trouble. And sure enough it does.

Matthew McConaughy is great as the intriguing and charismatic Joe Cooper. He’s dark and mysterious; amodern day cowboy dressed all in black, travelling around in his unmarked car. We see his badge only very briefly before it disappears, and along with it any inkling that this man cares in the slightest about the law which he’s sworn to uphold. He’s not so much above the law as a warped manifestation of it: powerful, unaccountable and dangerous if you don’t play by the rules. His performance willhave viewers wondering in frustrated bemusement as to why he spent years starring in below par rom-coms. His screen presence is as uncomfortable as it is absorbing; a characteristic of the film as a whole. He makes it difficult to watch at times, but impossible to look away.

Dottie is the only character the viewer has anything verging on sympathy for, and in a way she’s the ultimate victim of the story – left in a quite horrific situation by the incompetence of her family. Throughout we are given brief glimpses of her intelligence as well as her innocence, both of which have been corrupted and all but destroyed by her upbringing.

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In one of the film’s best scenes she meets Joe for the first time. Despite winning her trust with his southern charm, there’s a strange sense of infatuation behind his eyes, a predatory look in his face that the viewer can’t help but notice. The most exciting thing he’s seen on the job, he tells Dottie at her request, involved a man who set his genitals on fire as a way to get back at his wife for her infidelity. There’s a look of amazement and disbelief etched across his face throughout the retelling, an arrogance of sorts as he revels in the stupidity of the whole debacle. Here Letts brilliantly gives us a glimpse of the sort of extreme incompetence he’ll come to mockingly and brutally exploit later.

The excess, brutality and ridiculousness of the whole film, which reaches a most extreme and fitting climax in the final 20 minutes, is where it’s appeal really lies. During the engrossing final act, Joe exerts his complete superiority in ruthless and seemingly inevitable fashion. The tension builds unbearably as he calmly and effortlessly outwits the Smiths, painfully exposing them over a family dinner. There’s an uneasy feeling throughout that the full capacity of Joe’s madness and cruelty hasn’t yet been revealed, until he swiftly and violently carries out his own sick, twisted version of justice

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The film was slapped with an NC-17 in the USA, all but destroying its potential for commercial success… not that it was ever likely to be a box office hit. In speaking about this, Friedkin brilliantly noted that  ‘we’d have had to kill it in order to save it’, echoing US sentiments towards Vietnam. Luckily for us Friedkin, unlike those before him, saw the flawed logic present in this illusory ideal and in sticking with his guns left for our enjoyment an enjoyable, twisted satirical picture that will disturb and amuse in equal measure. It’s a thought provoking, entertaining and fascinating film, packed with excellent performances, razor-sharp writing and a climax that will stay with you for some time.

And so it begins…

I’ve thought about writing a blog for a while now, but there had been some negativity in my mind that was holding me back. It had to do with some misguided ideas I had formed about the concept of a blog and its purpose as a tool of self-promotion. I’ve come to realise that’s pretty stupid; that way of thinking, and that sort of cynicism, generally speaking, represents the antithesis of how I want to live my life, and make choices about things along the way.

 

The change of heart was inspired in part by some thought provoking words by Hunter S. Thompson, who never does fail to fascinate.  The main reason though, has to do with being afforded a lot more time to myself than I’ve generally been used to; something that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. This is on account of recently leaving home to start an internship. What has naturally developed into a kind of period of reflection has proven to be quite insightful, perhaps even transformational… although that may be pushing the boat out a little. In light of this, I’ve decided to dedicate more time to activities that I’ve often overlooked in the past (such as writing) in favour of sitting back comfortably to enjoy TV or video games.

 

When I do bother to sit down and give writing the genuine time and attention it deserves and requires, it’s something I really do enjoy. It seems to evoke in me a unique feeling, and grants me a greater satisfaction than the aforementioned activities. Now that isn’t to say I don’t immensely enjoy the tactical intricacies of a game of manual FIFA, or watching a master at work in James Gandolfini, but I suppose it’s more about trying to redress the balance, so to speak. It’s also about spending more time thinking, learning and contemplating the things that intrigue and fascinate me.

 

And so this blog is going to serve as a platform for me to write about pretty much whatever comes to mind, for there’s really no better place to experiment. As such I can’t really predict with any certainty what kind of topics I’ll be exploring, but no doubt there will be some quasi-philosophical introspection, some thoughts on current affairs, hopefully a little bit of history, and anything else that evokes in me a desire to get writing. I hope you enjoy.