Category: There Oughtta Be a Law

Natasha Schull’s Refreshing Skepticism on Gambling Addiction Intervention

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Eapen Thampy

You should read this MIT News article about addiction researcher Natasha Schull’s groundbreaking research on gambling addiction. Excerpt:

Now, in her new book, Addiction by Design, published this month by Princeton University Press, Schull delves into the lives of such gamblers. In particular, she looks at compulsive machine gamblers — not the folks playing social games around a table, such as poker, but those who play alone at electronic slot-machine terminals. For a small percentage of the population, these games become an all-consuming pursuit, a way of shutting out the world and its problems for long, long stretches of time.

But eventually, most compulsive machine gamblers recognize the hold that high-tech gaming has come to have over them. As one gambling addict told Schull: “I could say that for me the machine is a lover, a friend, a date, but really it’s none of those things; it’s a vacuum cleaner that sucks the life out of me, and sucks me out of life.”

Schull thinks this point — that for machine gamblers, it’s not about the money, but the escape into the “zone,” as Mollie and other gamblers call it — has eluded politicians who wrangle over casino openings and expansions throughout the United States, where more than 30 states currently have some form of legalized machine gambling.

“It’s a real stumbling block for policymakers to understand that,” Schull says. She adds: “Everyone believes the harm is how much money is spent, and that what’s driving the compulsive gamblers is a desire to make money. But … the ‘zone’ is really what’s driving this experience. The idea of winning money falls away when you get to the point of addiction.”


Scholars who have read the book praise its exploration of the psyche of gamblers. Tanya Luhrmann, an anthropologist at Stanford University, lauds the way it “captures the intense relationship between humans and machines that is so much part of what people call the addiction experience.” Luhrmann adds that until reading Addiction by Design, she “hadn’t realized gambling was so much about the experience” of playing, rather than winning.

Schull’s research had attracted considerable attention well in advance of the book’s publication: She has appeared on “60 Minutes” and testified about the subject in front of the Massachusetts state legislature.

Yet Schull holds off on offering specific regulatory remedies concerning the way games should be structured. In some countries, legislators have suggested slowing down the pace of electronic slot machines to stretch out payoffs and water down the intensity of the experience — a technological fix Schull calls “wrongheaded” because it may simply encourage gamblers to play for longer periods using an equal amount of money.

Machine gambling, Schull emphasizes, “is not like buying a movie ticket or making a purchase at a store and then going home. This is rapid, fast, continuous spending where people lose track of time and space, and their ability to make decisions shifts over the course of the encounter.”

Instead, Schull asks, “Given the nature of this product and this interface, shouldn’t policymakers, state legislatures, be learning a little bit more about how this product affects people?” She adds: “I think my work is part of an emerging conversation.”

What’s the Difference?

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

I challenge you to distinguish a naked prostitute from any other naked woman. – Henri Leclerc

No matter what Western religions claim, sex is no different from any other human activity once the possibility of creating human life is removed by birth control.  I strongly suspect that realization is the real driving force behind most of the current American anti-abortion, anti-birth control rhetoric:  moralists (perhaps unconsciously) realize that without the threat of lifelong consequences, people will stop seeing sex as a magical sacrament which is “dangerous” without official sanctification.  Without belief in the mystical significance of sex, prostitution is just another personal service like massage, hairdressing or wet-nursing.  And once one recognizes that, one has to question the necessity for special laws which only apply to sex work.

Take “pimps”, for instance.  If all the stereotypes and drama are stripped away, “pimp” is just a pejorative term for a prostitute’s agent; there is no innate moral difference between such a person and an agent representing a writer, actress, football player, etc.  It’s true that some such relationships are exploitative, but the same can be said of any other agent/performer or employer/employee relationship:  it’s the exploitation which is bad, not the relationship itself.  In my column “Thought Experiment” I wrote,

as I’ve pointed out on numerous occasions…the abusive, controlling pimp of legend is so rare we can consider him an anomaly.  In fact, the fraction of prostitutes who have such an abusive pimp – roughly 1.5% – is so similar to the percentage of women who report that their husbands/boyfriends are either “extremely violent” (1.2%) or “extremely controlling” (2.3%) that it’s pointless to consider them a different phenomenon, especially when one considers that any non-client male found in the company of a whore will inevitably be labeled a “pimp” by cops or prohibitionists.  The notion that hookers only have relationships with a certain kind of man, who is labeled a “pimp” by outsiders, derives from the Victorian fallacy (alas, still alive today) that we are somehow innately “different” from other women, and therefore our men are different as well.

The rest of that column presents an analogy between whores and barbers which may help you to see through to the truth of the matter.  It’s very important that people do understand, because claims of “exploitation” are used to demonize anyone who has anything to do with a prostitute, including clients, drivers, boyfriends,  secretaries, landlords, dependent adult family members and even other prostitutes working together for safety; a new law in New York even targets taxi drivers who “knowingly” carry hookers in their cabs.  The penalties for these “offenses” are usually greater than those for simple prostitution; the latter is generally a misdemeanor while “pandering” and “avails” charges are often felonies, and if the prosecutor decides to label such relationships “human trafficking” they can result in asset seizure, decades-long sentences and consignment to “sex offender” registries.  But since feminists think it’s just grand for a woman to have employees, agents or even a dependent husband if she’s a politician or corporate executive, why does it suddenly become intrinsically “exploitative” if she’s a sex worker?

Sex worker rights advocates, human rights organizations and health experts all support the decriminalization model; this means that there should be no special laws which apply only to hookers but not anyone else.  Brothels, for example, are subject to the same workplace safety and other applicable laws as govern any other business, and if an employee of such a place feels she’s been treated unfairly she can make a complaint just as any other employee of any other business could.  There is no need for any special “anti-pimp” law, because the existing laws work just fine when the trade isn’t forced into the shadows; in Colombia (which doesn’t have full decriminalization but is much closer than the U.S.), for example, a whore who is cheated out of her fee can summon a cop just as a restaurant owner could…as Secret Service Agent Arthur Huntington discovered to his chagrin.

New Zealand decriminalized in 2003, and though most everyone other than diehard prohibitionists are happy with the results in general, there are still a few bugs:

More than 40 [street sign] poles have been bent, buckled or broken in the past 18 months in one area of south Auckland, New Zealand…“Prostitutes use these street sign poles as dancing poles,” said [a member of the city council.  The claim appears in a pamphlet]…detailing frustrations of residents and businesses struggling to cope with [streetwalkers and calling]…on parliament…to give Auckland Council powers to ban sex workers from certain areas…other…incidents [include]…a transvestite [ramming] a supermarket trolley into a woman’s car before lying across the bonnet, and a school-bus full of children observing a transvestite changing her dress…

While I can certainly sympathize with the residents who have to put up with these antics, I feel compelled to ask:  aren’t vandalism and indecent exposure already illegal for everyone?  Why does there need to be a special law banning all prostitutes from the area?  If the police can’t enforce the existing laws against this kind of aggressive and disruptive behavior, how will even more laws help?  The answer, of course, is that they won’t; belligerent transvestites and abusive pimps are just the excuses used by prudes to restrict the majority of sex workers who are guilty of nothing other than being sexual.

Maggie’s Teatime Links

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

(Thanks to Radley for the first four items, to Amy Alkon for the fifth and to Mike Siegel for the sixth.)

Morning Links

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Morning Links

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

Morning Links

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

You’re Going to Jail

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Stossel takes on overcriminalization. The “wetlands” case at around the nine minute mark is just devastating.

Lunch Links

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Morning Links

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012
  • Three very good posts from Jacob Sullum illustrating the absurdity of hate crimes laws: one, two, and three.
  • Coming to California: A new law inspired by a dead person.
  • The U.S. Secretary of Transportation enjoys driving around to find drivers talking on their cell phones, then honking his horn at them.
  • Federal court bars Mississippi from putting children in solitary confinement.
  • U.K. police raid the wrong house after stolen iPhone pings to the wrong address: “Nottingham Police refused to reimburse Kerr for the repairs to his door — because officers ‘reasonably believed’ an offender was in the house.”
  • The state of Utah has stopped the family of Matthew Stewart from raising funds for his defense. They say the family must first get a permit.
  • Two years after he was stopped and illegally searched, Raleigh man just wants an apology. He hasn’t received one.

Morning Links

Friday, February 24th, 2012

Late Morning Links

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

Late Morning Links

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Saturday Links

Saturday, February 11th, 2012

Lunch Links

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

Reductio Creep

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Back when the smoking bans were spreading across the country, those of us opposed to them made the point that you could make many of the same arguments about perfume and cologne that ban proponents were making about second hand smoke. (And there’s about as much evidence that fragrances are a health risk, which is to say very little.)

But you can’t really make a reductio argument for too long before someone embraces it.

Many women love wearing perfume, but have you ever gotten a headache from someone who has sprayed on way too much of a scent you don’t like? Back in 2008, Susan McBride, sued Detroit under the Americans with Disabilities Act, claiming a co-worker’s fragrance made it hard for her to breathe and do her job. She was eventually awarded $100,000, and the city warned workers to avoid using scented products like perfume, cologne, deodorant, lotion, and aftershave. Now New Hampshire is looking to do the same.

State representative Michele Peckham is sponsoring House Bill 1444 which hopes to ban state employees who work with the public from wearing perfume. Apparently a constituent with extreme allergies approached Peckham with the proposal. “It may seem silly, but it’s a health issue,” Peckham told the Union Leader. “Many people have violent reactions to strong scents.”

The author then poses an honest question that puts this nonsense into the proper perspective:

Allergies and annoyances aside, should the government be able to regulate what we smell like?

The bans at the moment are just for state employees. But that’s merely where these ideas start. Just to hammer the point home, this, from  a tweet from Stacy Malkan, head of an organization called the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

Fragrance is the new secondhand smoke.

Of course, body odor is fairly offensive to the senses as well. Don’t we deserve protection from that? Clearly the proper balance here is for the federal government to require regular showers and the application of deodorant, but ban all but the unscented varieties. All of this would be proper under the authority  of the Commerce Clause, of course.