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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 10 September 2016
COMMENT 24 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 10 SEPTEMBER 2016 FOTIS KAPETOPOULOS Recently, over alcohol and cigars with a group of Greek Australian male peers, the Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte's populist policy of killing drug users which has resulted in a death toll "surging to nearly 3,000" came into the conversation. Some of my cohorts, scotch in hand, applauded the president's fight against the "scum". Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, in his address to graduates of the Ateneo School of Government, stresses the danger of the "folk view of the fundamentals of the political philosophy of liberal democracy". My now drunk group sang from the 'tough on crime' songbook. I highlighted how Portugal's decriminalisation of all drugs and harm minimisation policies reduced the rate of HIV infection, youth drug use and criminality. I also pointed to facts like the Ambo Project report in 2014, which shows alcohol as the reason for the majority of drug-related ambulance attendances, with "12,482 attendances in 2013/14 compared to … 1,237 for crystal methamphetamine (ice)". Sadly, as with all fear-based rhetoric, evidence was irrelevant. Some people fear transgression and difference, such as peasants, the working classes and the petit bourgeoisie, yet liberal democracy needs transgression. As liberal satirist P. J. O'Rourke pointed out in his talk, ‘Have we all gone nuts?’, DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM We need to decriminalise drugs at the Centre of Independent Studies: "Why do conservatives keep fighting social issues, they've lost the war, gay people are getting married and marijuana is legal in many states." Many of those who used drugs created great art, dynamic businesses and excellent ideas. Not all the time; drug abuse can be boringly self-indulgent, or dangerous, but more people die on the roads and from drowning, yet neither cars nor swimming have been banned and we try to teach people to drive and swim. Ancient cultures, Greeks, Indians, Assyrians, Ameri- can Indians and Australian Aborigines consumed drugs for religious rituals, creativity and deep reflection. Homer writes of Odysseus' fall under the spell of the lotuseaters, Lotophagi, possibly Egyptians who used the lotus, Nymphaea Caerulea, as a euphoric relaxant. American inventor Thomas Edison regularly consumed a cocainelaced elixir, he hardly slept, spending much time inventing stuff; Shakespeare's pipe had deposits of cocaine and marijuana; Alexander the Great introduced opium to Persia from the Middle East; LSD was a watershed for Ste- ve Jobs the man behind Apple Corp, who said that taking LSD was "a profound experience … It reinforced my sense of what was important − creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could". Some of the greatest jazz musicians of all time were drug users like the innovator, John Coltrane; our own Rebetika are songs about heroin and hashish; the Beatles wrote their best work after 1967 on LSD and marijuana; Charles Dickens had an opium habit and Freud, the father of mod- ern psychiatry, was a big cocaine user. Jet fighter pilots have, since WWII, battled their biggest killer, fatigue, through high-quality army issue "amphetamines … that has kept military aviators fierceeyed and alert from the Battle of Britain to night strikes over Afghanistan". The war on drugs rhetoric is about intolerance. Antiopium laws in the early 20th century were about attacking the Chinese, not moral or health issues of opium smoking. Jews, Roma, homosexuals and others not fitting the racist Aryan vision of Nazi Germany were commonly asso- Beware the squat squad! NIKOS FOTAKIS I remember being slightly amused hearing Greek Australians describe their first encounters with a squat toilet. Usually, it was in an old train station, or a port, or even some tavern-beforetime in a remote village. The poor second-or-third generation Aussies, making a pilgrimage to their grandparents' village (with stops to the islands on the way), would always be shocked by this gaping hole on the (suspiciously) wet floor, waiting for them to do who-knows-what. Most ended up too confused to even attempt squatting, opting instead to wait till they get back to civilisation (their hotel, that is). Although I made fun of them at the time, deep down what I felt was empathy. I can relate to the horror of facing this void, the first time I had to use the toilets at my school. I was not prepared. And I'm scarred for life. Because I grew up in a middle-class suburb of Athens, in the '80s; we had electricity, running water, CocaCola and Kellogg's cereal and watched the same TV shows as anybody in the Western world. Our then President, Kostantinos Karamanlis, had specifically ensured us that “we belong to the West”, ending centuries of confusion and speculation. But, apparently, some of our public buildings had not got the message. It is not by accident that we call them 'Turkish toilets', by the way, for these porcelain holes in the ground are more than an option of hygienic infrastracture. They are symbols of the darkest period in Greek history, stern reminders of the reason the country is seen as backward and still struggles to keep up with the other de- veloped nations. As Greece evolved and modernised, gone were the 'Turkish toilets', which were reduced to a running joke for tourists. Yes, I’d never thought that I’d have to discuss the issue of squat toilets again, in a setting other than 'narrate your most horrifying foodpoisoning-while-on-holiday-scenario' - and I most definitely had not anticipated coming across this issue in the context of government policy and taxation. Enter Pauline Hanson. In a week when Australia was grappling with the revelations of rape and abuse in the asylum seeker detention centres, the One Nation leader made a video editorial, questioning the ATO's decision to introduce 'squat toilets' in its new buildings in various places. For the ATO's acting chief finance officer Justin Untersteiner, this was proof of the organisation staying "committed to maintaining an inclusive workplace that engages, informs and supports all our employees, whatever their background", as he told the Herald Sun, explaining that more than 20 per cent of ATO employees come from a non-English speaking background. For Hanson and her supporters this is anathema, as they see this as proof that "they want their toilet style in all our public toilets - at our expense", with the ultimate goal, of course, of turning 'us' (i.e. 'White Australians') into a minority, one that will soon be forced to use these 'barbaric', 'feral' toilets. We should expect more of that noise, as One Nation is now the fourth party in the Senate, polluting the public discourse with ignorance, lies and irrational fears. Hanson's argument was that, since 'they' are not able to understand how to use 'our' toilets, they are most definitely not able to do anything with our taxes and should not be allowed anywhere near our tax records. A leap in logic? Maybe, but Islamophobia does that to you. It is not surprising, though. For a party obsessed with food, wrongfully accusing Halal certification for being a stepping stone to Islamic terrorism, it is natural that it would also be concerned with what goes on after said food is digested. So, much in the way it happened in eagerto-prove-it-is-western-Greece, squat toilets are now seen as a menace to our western values (especially in our freedom to read while in the loo). Adding insult to their inju- ry, their arch-enemy, the Australian Multicultural Foundation, not only welcomed the move, but in the Herald Sun piece, its executive director Hass Dellal, who is also an OAM recipient and SBS chairman, is quoted saying "the squat style of toileting was becoming more popular because of its health benefits". Wait, what? Yes, apparently, he may be right. Last year, Germany − the most European of all places − was taken by storm when microbiologist Giulia Enders wrote a book, aptly named Charming Bowels, in which she debates the issue, among other matters. According to her, squatting is more natural and puts less pressure on the bowels and rectum: "1.2 billion people around the world who squat have almost no incidence of diverticulosis and fewer problems with piles. We in the west, on the other hand, squeeze our gut tissue until it comes out of our bottoms." Some even go so far as to drop them in the ballot box. ciated with moral depravity and drugs. In Washington DC in the mid ‘90s, I found it easier to access quality marijuana (which of course I never inhaled) from wealthy Georgetown University students than on the streets. Getting busted for smoking baking soda-cut crack cocaine, which some poor African American men could only access, resulted in hundreds of times harsher sentences than those meted out to a white professional busted for cocaine. We know what Trump thinks of Mexicans: "They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists." Views by Trump, Duterte, Putin and Pauline Hanson are becoming mainstream at the expense of liberal-democracy. My group was by now plastered, like many white Australians, yet an Aboriginal man or woman as drunk as we were would immediately induce racial scorn. It takes courage to pursue drug law reform in Australia, and most politicians are locked into non-evidence based populisms. We need decriminalisation, regulation, harm minimisation and legal access to good and clean drugs. Just as my drinking cohorts no longer expect to die from moonshine poisoning as many did during alcohol prohibition in the US, be arrested for having a whiskey, shot for buying and or selling alcohol, so should those who want a toke, or a line, not fear mental anguish, imprisonment or death.
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