Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33, No. 2 4 March 1970
Letters to the Editors
Letters to the Editors
The Drug Report
In writing her comments on the First Report of the Committee on Drug Dependency and Drug Abuse in New Zealand, (published on 16 February), Miss Swain must have worked in great haste to meet the deadline for the 18 February issue of Salient. This haste might well account for certain inaccuracies and misinterpretations contained in her brief review of a complex report of 157 pages.
However, in the interests of informed discussion the Committee feels that certain points in the review should be corrected or clarified.
In the first place: Miss Swain contrasts the Committee's decision not to recommend any changes in the legal penalties for marijuana or other drug offences with the (alleged) lowering of penalties in Britain and similar moves for relaxation of the law relating to marijuana in the USA. The implication is that New Zealand is as usual behind the times. Miss Swain, however, fails to point out (as the Report does, in para 3.16) that the New Zealand Narcotics Act 1965 provides penalties which are already comparable to and in some respects less stringent than the proposals at present being considered overseas. This Act (which for its own purposes defines narcotics as including besides the opiates certain other drugs which are pharmacologically hallucinogenic, such as cannabis and LSD) makes a basic distinction between the offences of possession and use of such legally defined 'narcotics' and that of 'dealing in narcotics'. The penalty for possession and use of these 'narcotics' is a fine of up to $400 or three months' imprisonment or both, while 'dealing in narcotics' carries a maximum of 14 years' imprisonment and/or a fine which as far as the Magistrate's Court is concerned is limited to $2,000.
In Britain, the opiates, cannabis and a variety of other drugs liable to abuse are controlled under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965, which provides maximum penalties for possession, use and supply as follows—on summary conviction a fine not exceeding $500 or imprisonment for not more than 12 months or both, and on conviction on indictment (that is, in the High Court) a fine not exceeding $2,000 or imprisonment for not more than ten years or both. In 1968 the Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence in its Report on Cannabis (commonly called the Wootton Report) recommended various changes in the penalties relating to cannabis, but at the time of the Board of Health report these had not been acted upon by the British legislature except for some minor points. Dealing with cannabis only, the Wootton Report recommended that the principle of a single offence, namely 'unlawful possession, sale or supply of cannabis or its derivatives', be retained, but that it should carry a low range of penalties on summary conviction and a substantially higher range on indictment. The Report 'anticipated' that police would proceed on indictment only where there was evidence of organised large-scale trafficking, while offences involving simple possession and small scale traffickings would be dealt with summarily. The penalties recommended were: on summary conviction, a fine of up to $200 or imprisonment not exceeding four months or both; and on conviction on indictment an unlimited fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or both. One member of the Committee, Mr P. E. Brodie, registered a minority opinion in favour of a much higher term of imprisonment for conviction on indictment, if trafficking were to be dealt with effectively.
Thus as far as the possession and use of cannabis are concerned, the New Zealand Narcotics Act is more liberal even than the Wootton Report in that it sets a lower maximum prison term, and by providing for a higher maximum fine actually decreases the need to impose a prison term.
It should be pointed out that the penalties laid down in the Narcotics Act are maximum penalties, not mandatory ones, allowing magistrates considerable discretion in dealing with offenders. Having heard submissions from a senior magistrate and the Secretary for Justice the Committee has reason to believe that this discretion is being exercised wisely to distinguish between offenders abusing drugs of various kinds and according to the seriousness of their involvement. The Committee can see no need for separate legislation for each and every category of drugs when the courts already have such discretion (See 8.18).
Secondly: the Committee disclaims utterly the assertion that it 'virtually equates possession of cannabis with committing a serious assault by moral standards'. This assertion is based on a complete misreading of a passage in 8.13, in which quite the opposite meaning was intended. (Perhaps the Committee's use of a double negative was the trouble). Throughout the Report the Committee stresses the need for a compassionate and unself-righteous attitude to drug abusers and makes extensive reference to the general tendency to over-reliance on drugs in New Zealand society at large.
Thirdly; While the Report does stress the need for psychiatric care for certain types of drug abusers, it does not (as Miss Swain's summary implies) insist on it for all. Rather the Report stresses that abusers vary widely and that their varying needs and circumstances should be met by a variety of forms of treatment. For those in an advanced stage of dependency and/or with psychiatric problems, treatment in a psychiatric hospital is essential, but there are others for whom such treatment would be both unnecessary and unhelpful. Accordingly the Report stresses the importance of providing adequate facilities for the assessment not only of drug offenders but also of those who seek help voluntarily, as a basis for choosing the most appropriate form of treatment and guidance. The word 'psychiatric' does not appear in Recommendation 14: what is intended is an all round assessment that is concerned with the total personality and with such factors as environment and motivation. (See 9.1 and 9.6-9.11).
Fourthly: I would point out that the Committee had complete freedom in the whole conduct of its enquiries, deliberations and all the substance of the report, the recommendations and content of the appendices were the direct outcome of its own deliberations. The Committee has in no way at any time been subject to any direction by 'officialdom'.
As Miss Swain says, this is a First Report. In its conclusion the Committee stresses "the fact that a topic is referred to in this report or is the subject of a recommendation does not preclude further consideration, especially of broader issues". The Committee was disappointed that more individuals and organisations-especially student bodies—did not respond to its advertised invitation to make submissions, and would welcome further objective representations from such quarters.
For those who wish to judge the Report for themselves six copies were supplied to the University Library and three to the Students' Association.
(Editor's note: Miss Swain may or may not have "worked in great haste to meet the deadline for the 18 February issue of Salient." Dr Blake-Palmer would know, however, that copies of the Interim Report were supplied to the press well before the publication date of 16 February. Miss Swain was, in fact, given a copy of the Report by me on 12 February. She was not asked to 'review' the Report but was asked to read it as thoroughly as she could in the few days available and provide some brief comments on its principal recommendations.)
Masskerade 69 Defended
I was saddened to read on the back page of your first Salient yet another attack on Masskerade 69. The article added nothing new to the Masskerade witch-hunt, being something less than a bad copy of old newspaper reports and even older smears, such as those used each year by an assemblage of bigots hypocrites and hick-town mayors just prior to Masskerade's publication. It is genuine cause for alarm when the Editor of Salient chooses to emulate such self-righteous pricks.
Had you, and those of your ilk, taken a brief moment to consider your ill-informed smears and read Masskerade you would have found that it consisted predominantly of attacks on religion war and pulp culture with sex and 'vulgarity' occupying a very minor part of the magazine. I am unsure which of the Masskerade articles you would classify as satire or humour, but after reading your first Salient Editorial I would seriously question your ability to discern much less classify either. To make amends for your smear, I suggest that you get an impartial person to do an analysis of Masskerade's contents and that you publish this in Salient, with an apology, to give your readers a true idea of the contents.
I have thought about the possible reasons a fledgling Editor could have for publishing such Truth-style horseshit in his first edition. If the article was not intended seriously and was in fact a satire, you have my apologies as my vulgar Massey sense of humour is often not tuned in to the subtleties of sophisticated satire, but if the article is an indication of the standard of news articles for Salient 70 may God and Mary McDermott help your readers. However I suspect that the truth is that the whole thing is a layout fault with the names Argot and Masskerade being juxtaposed between ad and article on the back page.
You would be more honest in your appraisal of The Wild Bunch if you said simply that you didn't like the film and that those who did were nongs. Instead you try to lend a degree of unnecessary respectability to your assertions by indulging in some very tricky pseudo-criticism. You assure readers that the Leone movies and Butch Cassidy are 'infinitely superior' to The Wild Bunch in terms of script, photography, theme music and performances. I note with some interest but little surprise the omission of direction from your list. This important (nay, paramount) concept sifts the cinemaphiles from the literati, since it seems to elude those, mainly bookworms, who haven't yet matured to a full understanding of the film medium.
It is self-evident that one can take practically any film which impresses initially, break it up into its various components, and then decide that in each of these several respects there is at least one other film that is superior. This procedure is farcical, since a film that we think highly of is, after due consideration, analysed into the rubbish bin, condemned by some weird and totally spurious method of comparison. But our appreciation of films is generally based on the totality, not the bits and pieces, despite the fact that when called on to defend out position we tend to parade our opinion of the bits and pieces in order to lend weight to our like or dislike of the whole. He would be brave indeed who would say that the Leone films and Butch Cassidy, as total entities, are infinitely superior to The Wild Bunch.
Your incomplete list deserves some investigation. Photography, for example, unless grossly out of focus, is not in most cases a legitimate subject for 'objective' criticism, since each has his personal opinion as to what kind of photography best suits the mood and setting of a film. The inclusion of 'theme music' leads me to believe that you would dismiss the music in a film if it was not (a) memorable, or (b) heard occasionally on the radio. But I need hardly point out that it is not the purpose of film music to be either memorable or heard on the radio. The worth of the music in a film is not related to its attractions as music independent of the film.
Certain phrases or lines in The Wild Bunch may seem peculiar to those sophisticates steeped in the art-house offerings, but again it is hardly worth observing that the Western as a genre has conventions of action and dialogue that are peculiar. And one could hardly say that the Leone films are notable for subtlety of utterance. As for the 'performances of the leading actors', it must be noted that in the films under discussion it is the case of comparing different styles. The grotesquerie of the Leone films, the studied naturalism in The Wild Bunch, and the distinctive charm of Newman and Redford—all these have points in their favour. You seem to be saying, however, that the performances in The Wild Bunch are noticeably second-rate. I can assure you that in this case the Emperor's clothes are not seen, not because they are not there, but because the beholder chooses not to see.
Perhaps I have misunderstood the intent of your postscript. Perhaps you were intending to say that in each and every one of the aspects you name The Wild Bunch is inferior (the 'infinitely' is excused as hyperbole). If this is so then the last shred of objectivity I cling to deserts me, and I must deem you, Sir, a fool. I agree that the Emperor's clothes syndrome must be avoided at all costs, and I have elsewhere pointed out what I consider to be the faults of The Wild Bunch. What is to be avoided even more, however, is a reaction to the syndrome that goes off the deep end, depriving the viewer of all his critical faculties. Your dislike of The Wild Bunch is unobjectionable; your reasoning is entirely fallacious.
Professor Taylor generalises about student radicalism, starting off from particular observations about LSE, which may be partly true, to observations about student radicals everywhere, which are almost certainly false. As a professor of psychology should know, generalisations about all members of any one group, even when substantiated by some evidence, are most unlikely to be verifiable. His method of argument and his standards of proof throughout the article are startlingly lax for a senior academic.
Professor Taylor discounts bad staff-student relations as a reason for student unrest. Yet it would seem from the meagre evidence Dr Taylor offers that the most dramatic British example of student radicalism (which he observed) was at LSE—a university with bad staff-student relations.
"The militant students of LSE were unlike the radicals of earlier years who gave the place an international reputation because they were as vigorous in their revolutionary activity as in their debate". The best radical, as we all know, is a dead radical, but if Professor Taylor had said openly in support of this rotten thesis that he doesn't think modern student radicals think, one might give him credit for greater honesty. In fact, of course, none of the books which influenced the LSE radicals or express their thinking appear in Professor Taylor's bibliography; not even the Penguin Student Power volume edited by Blackburn and Cockburn which is reasonably well-known. The writers popular among the International Socialism group which was most influential at LSE include Tony Cliff, Michael Kidron, Alastair MacIntyre and Paul Foot: not surprisingly none of these writers is quoted by Taylor. It is very easy to say radicals don't think if you never bother to read what they write. Professor Taylor's attempts to summarise the views of these writers he has not read are only, need one say, travesties.
Then we move on to American universities where Professor Taylor is, if possible, even vaguer. His first approach to an original insight is alarmingly totalitarian: less attention should be paid to the quality of academic degrees and more to the "stability, enthusiasm, loyalty and responsibility of the staff", (Emphases mine). Professor Taylor's answer to student unrest, in other words, is to dilute the academic status of his staff and insist more on their commitment to the Administration. If to this prescription for academic security Professor Taylor added a demand for 'loyalty oaths' he would be in exactly the same political position as Vice-President Agnew. Teaching ability, of course, is needed among academics: but this is exactly what the student radicals, whom Professor Taylor claims are unconcerned about education, ask for.
Student radicalism is a most complex phenomenon, with very different roots in different countries, often as capable of extreme right-wing (as in Indonesia) as left-wing expression. The theories student radicalism has espoused range from situationism to Trotskyism and Stalinism and anarchism. The theories cannot be dismissed without study: they are various. An international political phenomenon cannot be discussed by tossing off generalisations about anarchism. We await a sound academic study of why radical students, for so many different reasons, in so many different places, should become politically involved at the same time. Professor Taylor's article does not add to, but diminishes from, our understanding of these matters.
Bill Evans' articles in Salient have never been the products of rational analytical consideration. His previews and reviews have always been inspired by the particular whim or humour he feels at the moment of writing and nothing more. So it is that the same superficial style which last year said Gbosts at Downstage was very nice can unscrupulously say that Paul Holmes has wrecked the Drama Society.
The major portion of his latest effort attempts to prove this and he proffers some valid arguments. But, dear Bill, you are not the only one who can look at 1969 objectively;! can too.
The New Look Drama Committee was elected to intensify dramatic activity within the University. Simple as that. What we were too immature to realise was that those who lead violent revolutions of this nature are not necessarily the mature organisers and that is what the Drama Society lacked last year. Wasn't it you, Bill, who stood up at what was meant to be a Drama Society discussion and demanded "Mr President! If you don't call a meeting of the Drama Society Committee now, giving all present speaking rights, I shall resign!"? But where were you when it came to re-election? Dear ineffectual Bill.
Speaking broadly, I admit that I and my committee failed in our objective; basically we did not realise the often insurmountable difficulty of communicating to members, students and the general public. I admit that as a President I was very, very inexperienced for such a job. Further, some of the fire departed the spirits of many of the Committee and that left us with passengers, but I am not a politician so I shall not go further here. There is no point.
We were amazed by the apathy within the Society and amongst students generally. You, Bill, although most vocally critical were one of the most apathetic. So if one-way communication seemed impossible, the establishment of a two-way conversation seemed a pipe-dream. This two-way situation between a committee and its members is the only way of fulfilling our original objective for only with active co-operation between both bodies can a group of individuals explore what is becoming a very vital ray in the vast spectrum of Art.
Another reason for our apparent lack of stamina was the simple physical fact that the Theatre was fully booked the year before. The previous Committee had made very few bookings and we were virtually powerless.
Yet despite all this we still did more actual production work than the 1968 Committee; and I can prove it if need be. Zoo Story went to Downstage not because of the personal honour and glory but because it took the University Drama Society out to the public, brought credit to the Society as a whole and because there was a chance of giving it a season at Varsity. Dear Bill always forgets (or chooses to) The American Dream—another full scale production with a student producer. Once again, no Theatre available.
The breakdown of communications which occurred during the rehearsals of Christmas Revue was a breakdown between Dave Smith and me—Not between the producer and the Drama Society. Had this been so the show could not have been the success it was. The statements of mine quoted in Bill's article were said to Dave — not behind his back — during a row between the two of us. Knowing our incompatibility could wreck the show I allowed other Committee members to do the job. I was not being irresponsible — I merely knew that they would see that things were done. And while I have no quarrel with Dave and appreciate his viewpoint I am disappointed that he would spread petty shit for two months and let Bill Evans do his athletic stint of jumping firmly and securely onto the Bandwagon.
Last April we were angry and we tried idealistically to change the level of activity of the Drama Society. In December Dave Smith was angry. And to be angry is to care. Bill Evans' excursions into this emotion are only half-way trips of self-righteousness and indignation and alas he seems to be able to do so much damage in spite of this.
In 1970 we look forward to an Arts Festival and have promised to mount at least three major productions including a Shakespeare Festival as well as several readings. The promises are not the pipe-dreams of last April. They are promises of a Committee which has learnt the hard way how to run a Drama Society and is still very angry.
P.S. By the way, Bill, auditions are held monthly for Downstage — that's if you're interested.