Hard News by Russell Brown

Smells like teen spirit

That thing up about body odour being an issue in smokefree pubs: it's for real. In the crowd about three metres back from the stage at the Checks show on Friday night the air was alive with the various aromas of eau de teenage hormone; the sort of smells that have hitherto been masked by ambient tobacco smoke.

And when the guy in front of me farted it was just horrible. I took a step back and tried to ignore it, but I had to give up and go further back. But apart from that episode, the newly non-smoking upstairs room at the Masonic tavern in Devonport was pretty sweet.

The pub has a modest veranda downstairs - but no ashtrays yet - and smokers seemed happy to pop down there for a puff. Inside, there was no wearying smoke (and no stinking clothes at the end of the evening). There were, however, a lot of punters, the Associate Minister for Arts and Culture and quite a number of policemen, although there was no connection between the latter two.

The police had visited the night before and picked up a few under-18-year-olds. This night, after an exhaustive search, in which they inspected the IDs of every apparent whippersnapper in the room, they didn't seem to find any. But even after they'd retired outside, they sat outside waiting for … something.

The pub manager, a top bloke and a musician himself, couldn't work out what they were doing, but there was a suspicion that they were waiting to bust the Checks' bass player, who is only 16. Perhaps that wasn't the case at all, but he felt he couldn't risk the bass player coming in - not without one of his parents. Unfortunately, both of those parents were at home with a stomach bug.

Dad was summoned and duly crossed the threshold with his boy so the band could play. Johnny Scoop from the Devonport Flagstaff could hardly believe his luck as events unfolded. We kept him appraised of the situation and he scribbled furiously and took photos.

Elsewhere in town, the first weekend of smokefree pubs seems to have been a mixed bag. The Herald reported only a handful of complaints and quoted a happy Viaduct punter, but Morning Report had the manager of the Owl Bar on K' Road, who claimed that her weekend takings had fallen from $3000 to $1700.

Now, the Owl Bar is not like the swish establishments of the Viaduct - it's the place where David McNee met the man who killed him and it's not somewhere I'd set foot. It's also home to 18 pokie machines (the maximum allowable) operated by the Trillian Trust, which under the new regulations would earn it about $4000 weekly. It'll be these places - more in the dopamine trade than the business of serving liquor - which will suffer under the new law. I can't say that I regard fewer victims tethered to pokie machines as a particularly bad result, but it seems likely that the beneficiaries of the gambling machine trade will suffer.

Some war news …

Of all the stories emerging from Iraq, I find this one one of the creepiest. A veteran sergeant in Samarra reports five incidents of torture and abuse of Iraqi detainees to his commanding officer. He is offered the chance to retract his report, declines, and is sent to an army psychiatrist who finds him to be "completely normal". Under pressure from the commanding officer, the psychiatrist alters her report, and 36 hours later the sergeant is strapped to a gurney and shipped out of Iraq. It appears this is not an isolated incident. Democracy Now has an interview with the reporter, former US Army counterintelligence agent David DeBatto.

Meanwhile, a CBS 60 Minutes report revealed that the US Army has suffered more than 5000 desertions since the Iraq war began. Some refusenik soldiers are seeking refuge in Canada. For the first time in a decade, the US Army National Guard missed its recruitment target this year.

The New England Journal of Medicine has an interesting analysis of military care for the wounded in Iraq, and says this:

When U.S. combat deaths in Iraq reached the 1000 mark in September, the event captured worldwide attention. Combat deaths are seen as a measure of the magnitude and dangerousness of war, just as murder rates are seen as a measure of the magnitude and dangerousness of violence in our communities. Both, however, are weak proxies. Little recognized is how fundamentally important the medical system is — and not just the enemy's weaponry — in determining whether or not someone dies. U.S. homicide rates, for example, have dropped in recent years to levels unseen since the mid-1960s. Yet aggravated assaults, particularly with firearms, have more than tripled during that period. The difference appears to be our trauma care system: mortality from gun assaults has fallen from 16 percent in 1964 to 5 percent today.

We have seen a similar evolution in war. Though firepower has increased, lethality has decreased. In World War II, 30 percent of the Americans injured in combat died. In Vietnam, the proportion dropped to 24 percent. In the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, about 10 percent of those injured have died. At least as many U.S. soldiers have been injured in combat in this war as in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, or the first five years of the Vietnam conflict, from 1961 through 1965. This can no longer be described as a small or contained conflict. But a far larger proportion of soldiers are surviving their injuries.

A Toronto Star columnist looks at bad news suppression across the border.

Donald Rumsfeld appears to have lied to the soldiers who bailed him up about having to operate in Iraq without effective armour when he claimed that the Army was "breaking its neck" to provide fully-armoured Humvees. The company that makes the armoured vehicles says it could make more, but the Pentagon hasn't asked. A Boston Globe editorial says Rumsfeld should go.

But somebody's doing okay: US Rep. Henry Waxman has put together a fact sheet on occasion of Halliburton's crossing $US10 billion in Iraq contracts.