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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Two Movies

I'm way too angry about the Fas expenses and all sorts of nose-in-the-trough nonsense going on among the ruling elite in Ireland this week to even write about it.

There are things that need to be said, but they'll have to wait until I calm down sufficiently first.

In the meantime, let me pose a question that kept me thinking much of this past week.

Recently, a good friend of mine celebrated his birthday by hiring a cinema for his friends for the evening. He got to choose which films to show, and picked two of his favourites. Now, this is actually more fraught than it may seem.

For example, that Seventies blaxploitation movie that you find hilarious might not go down so well among all your mates. Equally, your penchant for obscure early sci-fi horrors, or ponderous foreign black-and-whites.

I've been trying to decide what two movies I'd have shown in similar circumstances (fyi - my pal showed a sci-fi film that received a mixed response and a Woody Allen film that was universally adored).

In the end, I reckon I'd go with Wings of Desire (yes, I know, foreign black-and-whites ought to be a no-no, but this is just too beautiful for most people not to enjoy it) and Doctor Zhivago (the proper 1965 version which has EVERYTHING - Julie Christie, Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness, opulence, romance, star-crossed lovers, trains, snow, gulags, Soviet soldiers, you name it.)

What two movies would YOU force your best friends to sit through?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mbeki is a genocidal criminal

Thabo Mbeki is a genocidal criminal who ought to be facing the International Court of Justice for the unnecessary death of 300,000 South Africans.

He also shares responsibility for the death of innumerable Zimbabweans who perished solely because Mbeki has provided the only support that syphilitic scum Robert Mugabe has.

Those in the West who continue to cheer the 'rainbow nation' because they did well at rugby and Uncle Nelson has a nice friendly smile need to start paying attention.

Mbeki has caused the death of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Africans. His single-party state continues to defy genuine democratic principles. And worst of all, he has sustained the evil of the Mugabe regime a full generation after it should have ended.

Not that I expect the apologists for Mugabe's despotism - generally one-eyed Marxists who consider any opposition to the syphilitic loon to be neo-colonialism - to start caring about ordinary Zimbabweans now, all of a sudden.

But perhaps the PC credentials of opposing the spread of AIDS might prick a few Western consciences.

Mbeki and Mugabe are no better than the previous post-colonial generation of utter cunts who have murdered their people for their own profit since the Europeans left.

But while we rightly consider the names of Idi Amin, Charles Taylor, Mobuto Sese Seko and Mengistu Haile Mariam to be dripping in blood and ignominy, so far the same reproach does not adhere to Thabo Mbeki.

But it should. It really should.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Time to free the weed?

Are economic times so tough that it's finally time to free the weed and tax it?

That's the question posed by this article from the United States, which makes a series of excellent points in relation to both President-elect Obama's former dope proclivity and the economic stimulus that legalising cannabis could potentially provide.

It's a fascinating idea for a number of reasons. Clearly prohibition has not prevented people from taking drugs identified under legislation as illegal. People who want to get wasted will get wasted whether it's against the law or not.

But it's not my intention to re-hash old arguments about whether cannabis is a 'gateway drug' (it isn't - that would be tobacco) or whether the current prohibition policy criminalises otherwise law-abiding people (obviously it does) or even whether cannabis is more or less dangerous to health and society than currently legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco (depends on how you measure the danger.)

Instead, I'd like to explore what might happen if we capitulated to Ming the Merciless and this campaign by legalising cannabis.

In estimating the transposition of illegal commodity into legal taxable product, a certain element of guesswork is inevitable. But Mr Reinertson guesstimates that the USA would reap $2.4 billion to $6.2 billion annually in regulated marijuana tax revenue.

On a scaled population level, that would translate into $32 to $82 million, or €25 million to €65 million. So, not so much really. Hardly worth the reefer madness that legalisation would lead to, really, is it?

Well, then again, that's quite a lot of cervical cancer vaccines or teaching salaries. Every penny counts in a recession, y'know. And we're talking tens of millions in revenue here.

And then there are the hidden revenues, like savings on imprisoning people simply for growing and selling a particular plant, such as these people who were arrested recently. After all, it costs us around €100,000 a year to keep each prisoner incarcerated.

How many people are behind bars currently solely for growing, smoking, possessing or selling weed? If all of those people were free, how much would we save? Now how many teaching salaries or hospital beds are we talking about?

And there are the social benefits too. More weed smokers may well mean an eventual upturn in lung cancer and possibly (the causative effect is disputed by many medics) a small upturn in schizophrenia.

But it would definitely mean fewer pissed-up loons causing fights and criminal damage on our city streets every night. It would likely mean less suicide too, as the euphoriant effects of cannabis are unlikely to lead to suicidal ideation as much as the depressive qualities of alcohol, which is found in the bloodstreams of over 70% of suicide victims.Link
Can we put a price on that?

Wikipedia (I cite with the usual caveats) has a useful table of the legality of cannabis by country here.

As can be seen, since there are almost no countries where cannabis is legal and very few where it is even decriminalised, anti-cannabis campaigners would no doubt latch onto this as a reason for maintaining the status quo.

They would scaremonger that any country that took the move to legalise first would be swamped by 'drug tourists.' I would cast that in a different light. Any country brave enough to take this step first would benefit from a significant upswing in tourism revenue. Again, what price on that?

In any case, as the Wikipedia table indicates, in large tracts of Western Europe cannabis is de facto decriminalised already, and we haven't yet seen the end of European civilisation as we know it.

We in Ireland already have laws dealing with driving or operating machinery while intoxicated. We already have an indoor smoking ban in place. We have the infrastructure and legislative framework in existence to legalise, tax, monitor and administrate a cannabis market.

Which mainstream party will be the first to back the legalisation of cannabis?

And will they wait until Obama undoes the American-led global prohibition (which only ever benefited big tobacco and vintners anyway) or will they be brave and take the lead in Europe (which is moving that way anyway) and reap innumerable social benefits, a tourism boost and substantial revenue increases as a result?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Remind me, who are the fascists?

Someone's got their hands on a year old members' list for the British National Party and published it on the internet.

Not just a list of their professions or their locations, but actual names and addresses. Their leader rightly fingered the Labour establishment as seeking to intimidate his members.

This is not the first time that members of this legitimate political party have been targetted by the establishment. I blogged before about how morons interrupted a ballet because the ballerina was a BNP supporter to call her a racist, even though she was dating a Cuban-Chinese dancer at the time.

At the opposite end of the political spectrum, members of Sinn Fein will find these tactics of intimidation to be familiar. Until they were brought into the mainstream (when the British and Irish authorities realised they could no longer be criminalised or ignored) they experienced similar tactics.

Again it is incumbent on me to point out a few things that ought to be obvious:

  • If the establishment considers the BNP to be an illegal organisation, they should seek to ban them. They've banned quasi-political organisations in Northern Ireland in the past.
  • The BNP is not the bootboy skinhead Nazi movement the Guardian would have you believe. It is a small nationalist party that opposes mass immigration. Parties with similar policies and indeed that espouse much more extreme right policies are permitted elsewhere without persecution and garner significant votes in places like France and Austria.
  • I'm not British and I don't support BNP politics in any way. But I fervently believe in freedom of speech, the right to congregate without intimidation, democracy and diversity of opinion.

This ongoing targetting of the BNP reminds me of the moronic position of some alleged anti-fascist far-left movements. They oppose any platform for those they consider fascists, without appreciating the irony that opposing freedom of speech and diversity of opinion is itself a fascist act.

You don't have to agree with the BNP to be appalled at this sort of intimidation, in the media and online. It's a fundamental attack on modern democracy in a country that claims to have invented it.

The BNP oppose further mass immigration into the UK, and the mainstream parties fear this position, as it is one with growing support in Britain, especially in this economic downturn.

The UK is a diverse population, but many consider it to be rash to continue an open-doors policy of immigration and an asylum system that is systematically abused. They're allowed to think this, whether their analysis is right or wrong. Publishing the names of those who feel this way on the internet is an appalling attempt to silence a legitimate opinion.

As an Irish nationalist, I have my own concerns in relation to a situation which has seen the non-Irish population here grow from almost zero to over 10% in less than a decade. I don't think such a policy is sustainable long-term, especially in the current economic climate.

And I don't think it is beneficial for a country still grappling with post-colonial concerns including ongoing occupation by a foreign power in part of its territory to have its indigenous culture further challenged by the scale of immigration we have seen in recent times.

Among the establishment, that's not a popular opinion, because we exist in a globalised economy and freedom of movement is a cornerstone of that system. And in Ireland as in Britain, a plethora of state-funded organisations have sprung up to proselytise to the public that any opposition to mass immigration is akin to overt racist tendencies.

Which is arrant nonsense.

The establishment in Britain and in Ireland need to realise that people see through these lies. They know through their own attitudes and behaviour that they can be concerned about the effects of an open-door immigration policy without espousing disgusting racist opinions.

And they can see by looking at diverse, multicultural societies like Australia or Canada or the US that plenty of countries have points-based, merit-assessed immigration policies and yet are clearly not racist nations, as Israel is or apartheid-era South Africa once was.

I've said it before and it needs saying again now. The more the establishment seeks to demonise these concerns, the more it throws petrol on the bonfire. People are entitled to their opinions, and are entitled to gather in political movements without the establishment seeking to intimidate them out of existence.

Because even if the BNP disbanded tonight, the opinions their members espouse won't go away overnight. They'll still be there tomorrow, only they'll go underground and get more radicalised.

No one believes that democracy in France or Austria is under threat, just because much more extreme nationalist parties get elected to positions of power. But obviously, a growing BNP takes votes from Labour and the Tories, just as Sinn Fein took votes from Fianna Fail.

It is fascist to deny such people their legitimate right to congregate, to deny them their opinion, and to seek to intimidate them out of organising as a political movement.

And such actions really are the threat to modern democracy in Britain and in Ireland.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Banking bailout - The Wile E Coyote version

Remember, what happened in the US happened here too.
This is a cautionary tale from leading economist, Dr Wile E. Coyote.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pot launches savage attack on kettle

We all know how some organisations attached to the lost Empire love to parade their poppies to the heavens at this time of year, while waxing lyrical about their Britishness.

One might well argue that they spare a thought for the many thousands, if not millions, who have died at the hands of Britain's military while they aggrandise their fallen soldiers this Sunday.

But they wouldn't listen and would only consider the remembrance of innocent victims as a churlish attempt to do down their heroic boys. So I won't bother.

Instead, I intend to turn my attention to that bastion of bigotry and drug-dealing terrorism, the UDA.

Apparently, they're still sabre-rattling, despite having decimated themselves with in-fighting in recent years. In a statement issued to mark Remembrance day, they warn that they intend to fight to defend their Britishness against what they admit is a 'non-violent' threat from Nationalists.

This comes on the heels of the latest Independent Monitoring Commission statement yesterday which noted its 'disappointment' at the complete and utter lack of movement on Loyalist decommissioning.

I have some questions for the powers that be. Why are the UDA permitted to continue in action, with their armouries intact, threatening the Nationalist community in this manner?

And when is President Mary McAleese going to knock her tokenistic outreach to these Loyalists on the head?

Remember, her husband golfs with the head of the UDA, the UDA get to party regularly in Aras an Uachtarain at her invitation, and she got the UDA brigadier an IRISH passport so that he could sneak past US Homeland security to go to America.

And all the while, the self-same people have their guns in the attic and are making threatening statements to Nationalists!

In their statement, the UDA also accused Republicans of racism, ignorance and bigotry. What a savage attack on the kettle by the pot!

The vast majority of racist attacks on ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland occur in Loyalist areas. This is a simple statement of fact. Furthermore, there could be few organisations on the planet more doused in ignorance and bigotry than the post-McMichaels UDA.

It's time that the authorities North and South lost their patience with this shower of thugs and drug dealers. It's time to lock them up and sieze their weapons. Let's start with UDA South Belfast brigadier Jackie McDonald.

He should be easy to find. If he's not at Stormont demanding money from MLAs for dubious 'community groups', then you'll likely find him on some posh golf course in the Republic on the green with Martin McAleese.

One can only imagine some great golfing conversations between those pair, though:

Martin: Nice shot, Jackie. You're on the green.
Jackie: Don't you oppress me with your Nationalist rhetoric, you fucking ignorant bigot, or I'll brain you with this nine iron!
Martin: Very sorry, Jackie. Would you like an Irish passport?
Jackie: Don't mind if I do. But don't you dare threaten my Britishness or I'll wrap this five wood round your neck! Here, do you fancy a wee wrap of cocaine?

Etc, etc.

99 well-read balloons

... floating in the North Korean sky.

This is a really beautiful news story.

It answers a question I had posed to myself in 2001, walking around the heavily policed Tiananmen Square, when it was announced that Beijing would host the Olympic games just past.

I remember thinking, as I scrutinised the secret police scrutinising me back, that the story of the Olympics in Beijing was going to be less about China opening up to the world and more about China closing down the usual global coverage of the games.

I couldn't see otherwise, unless there was a regime change in the interim. On the net, behind the great Firewall of China, you couldn't access any decent Western news source. I'd been on a train crossing Siberia and found out more about what was going on at home than I did in the capital of the most populous state on Earth. Even in Mongolia, there was greater access to information.

In the end, the Chinese did just enough to facilitate the foreign press, while attempting pretty successfully to keep a lid on free information flowing to their citizenry. But times had changed in those intervening seven years.

The press in Hong Kong, the movement of Chinese citizens across the planet and back, the growth of a new, post-Tiananmen dissidence abroad all contributed to the slow thaw of the Chinese Communist Party's 'mushroom' policy towards their people - ie keep them in the dark, and feed them shit.

But North Korea is like China used to be. It has all the crazy Stalinist-Maoist hallmarks, like isolationism, state-sponsored famines, loopy leaders seeking to deify themselves.

They're too poor for the internet and computers, by all accounts. Only the apparatchiks can access information from abroad, never mind travel there. Even Burma gets some tourists (not that I condone propping up the junta there, but tourists bring information to the locals.) The poor North Koreans really are mushrooms, stuck with only one bullshit source of information.

So fair play to the private citizens from the South who've taken it upon themselves to float news into the rogue state inside helium balloons. It's an inspired, inexpensive, low-tech, effective method for getting news and information into North Korea.

I can appreciate why the South Korean government is annoyed. Of course this will raise tensions at governmental level. Possibly for the North Koreans, it will raise problems domestically. But that can only be a good thing.

Right now, I'm simply delighted at the idea of mad Kim and his cadre frothing at the mouth as balloons explode in the sky, showering their nation with news that the information-starved people of the country are so hungry for.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Return of the cult of personality

The election of Barack Obama marks not only the triumph of celebrity politics, but also a potentially dangerous return to leadership cults of personality.

Anyone who travelled in Russia in the 20th century would be familiar with cult of personality politics - the stern statues of an exorting Lenin everywhere, his name and those of his peers scrawled across the streetnames in every town like graffiti.

But today, as Putin and Medvedev offer up their own tributes to that old genocidal maniac Stalin, some personality cults are in a resurgence.

In China, even today, the Mao cult remains vibrant beyond words. The days of the cultural revolution when kids would beat their elders to death with Mao's little red book while chanting his name are still in living memory.

But the fact that his odious, insane visage still smirks from the yuan banknote, the postage stamps, the huge tapestry that hangs over the front of the Forbidden City gates at Tiananmen Square indicates that the Mao cult must still be respected and worshipped today in China, even by those overt capitalists currently running the Chinese Communist Party.

But hard times create new leader cults, and we have seen a number in recent years.

Long before Nelson Mandela left Robben Island, a cult of personality had already grown around him. It was inspired by the traditional yearning for and apotheosising of a lost leader, and Mandela's long absence from the public arena created a tabula rasa - a clean slate onto which his supporters could project their own Messianic desires for him.

Mandela, an elderly man with marital problems and released into an unrecognisable world after decades of incarceration, had no option but to lead the rainbow nation as president. For him to choose otherwise would have been unthinkable.

His audience, one might say congregation of worshippers, demanded it of him. The expectations were sky-high. Looking back on that transition period now, over a decade on, it seems that Mandela did extraordinarily well to fulfil so many of those unreasonable expectations. And perhaps he could not have achieved so much without the unwavering support of his true believers.

So, it is possible that leader cults can be beneficial.

But much more often, they are malignant in some form or another, for the very reason that believers follow on faith and fail to examine or challenge the details of their cult leader's decision making until a tipping point is reached when a series of decisions perceived as wrong or flawed by the following turns into an emotional backlash voiced as betrayal.

In this context, one thinks of Tony Blair, or Clinton. Both assumed leadership with a large faith-based support, by which I mean a cohort of the electorate who believed as an article of faith that the new leader espoused exactly the sort of societal changes that they themselves personally desired.

Initially, it is impossible to disappoint such an electorate, since the very existence of such an electorate depends on and grows from visceral opposition to an unpopular regime. For the Clintonites it was Papa Bush; for the Blairites, it was Tory sleaze and Mad Maggie.

But as time goes on, the fallibility of such leaders becomes evident, and this is the dangerous point, as the faith-based electorate feels emotionally betrayed, just as a true believer might feel their world fall in when their guru turns out to have been taking their savings to buy Rolls-Royces and cocaine.

For Clinton, there are still pockets of faith fans around the world, as his $100,000,000 earnings since leaving the White House indicate. But domestically, it turned for Bill when he started bombing African hospitals and cheerleading Israel.

By the time he was caught with his cigar in the intern and was facing impeachment proceedings, the faith-based fanbase in the US had largely evaporated in anger and betrayal. The result was that decent, genuine Democrats like Kerry and Gore failed to get elected.

The Obama moment for Britain came with Blair's epochal 1997 election. A generation out of power, Labour had had to entirely reinvent itself. Then on the eve of power, their leader John Smith died. Blair emerged from the resulting power-tussle as the bright-eyed, smiley, youthful face of hope in British politics.

How strange it is today to think of that Blair in the context of the gormless fool insisting that he was right to ignore the will of his people by sending their troops to die while occupying someone else's country, because his religious faith told him it was right? But when Blair first became Prime Minister, he was the blank slate onto which dreams where projected.

We're in the same position now in relation to Obama, a tabula rasa himself whose employment record is hidden and patchy, whose main achievement is to have written two bestselling autobiographies that ironically reveal little about him.

His high oratory, his tendentious catchphrases and his lack of a political record allow his believers to project onto him whatever their personal desires for the future may be.

Obama created this situation, but in a way has become a victim of it. It is not his fault that the Aboriginals now believe that they will get greater rights in Australia because of his election, or that Hamas believe a two-state solution in Palestine can be achieved under Obama's watch.

These are merely exotic examples of how people outside of America have been infected by the Obamania. Global leaders too have been falling over themselves to position their nations as Obama's new best friend.

The result, as the ever-excellent Matthew Parris points out in today's London Times, is that there is now a dangerous unanimity about Obama which is likely to go extremely sour in a very ugly way. As Parris points out, governance is a lot more about 'No, you can't' than 'Yes, we can'.

Personally, I don't see a Mandela in Obama. The track record isn't there. The bravery isn't there. The inate intelligence isn't there. Obama does have Mandela's charisma and possibly exceeds him in oratorical skills. But that's simply not enough.

We're entering a serious global recession. America is bleeding from two unwinnable wars and the world's approbrium. China has it economically by the privates. Russia is intent on dictating within its own self-defined sphere of influence and seems prepared to roll out the guns if opposed.

It would take a politician of some great genius to extricate themselves from all of those problems, never mind reverse the stratospheric deficit, ensure universal healthcare for Americans and all the other many, many promises Obama made during the Presidential campaign. And that doesn't even account for the unseeable, unknowable problems that await.

As Parris says, no messiah has come among us and miracles are not now possible. Despite this somewhat obvious reality, otherwise intelligent people have abandoned sense and rationality in relation to Obama's election.

Sadly, they will be the ones most disappointed when realpolitik intervenes. They will be the ones who feel viscerally betrayed, and who will round on their hero for not living up to the fantasy in their heads.

And Obama's supporters really now need to start paying close attention to his actions rather than his words.

The appointment of Rahm Emmanuel as Obama's chief of staff is not good news for much of the world. Emmanuel was Bill Clinton's fundraiser, which raises concerns in itself, but is also a hardcore Zionist whose father was a Zionist terrorist against British rule. Add this to Veep Joe Biden, the self-proclaimed 'best friend' of Israel, and you can see quite quickly that the Hamas hopes for a settlement are utterly in vain.

Not many in the West will be sorry for Hamas. But everyone else will follow down the path of disappointment. The Greens will be similarly disheartened if, as seems likely, Obama appoints a movie star who goes to work in a private plane as his Energy Tsar. And so on, and so on.

The key to avoiding crushing disappointment in an Obama presidency is to monitor it closely. That way, in the words of Matthew Parris, 'the crest of expectation might subside smoothly into the gentle swell of history.'

For those who cried ostentatiously on Obama's election because elderly black American people they don't know, who themselves were generations away from slavery, were pleased;
For those who stood out in the cold roaring 'Yes, we can' like some strange combination of self-assertion class and Nuremburg rally;
For those who take any criticism or reticence about the new messiah as a personal slight;

Your dreams will be dashed. Nothing is more certain.

That doesn't mean you can't keep on believing, though.

After all, Stalin and Mao killed tens of millions of their own people and are still adored by many.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Voting in Wonderland

Or, the US Presidential Election through the Looking Glass.

It is now time, after two years of phoney war, for America to decide who gets to sit and weep on top of the smoking wreckage of the United States that Dubya leaves behind him.

And what a choice it is! Will you go for TweedleDem, the charismatic young black man, or TweedleRep, the heroic old white man?

Or will you, God forbid, actually decide who to vote for on the issues rather than on telegenics?

Let's have one final look at the issues:

If elected, Barack Obama will maintain the Federal Reserve.
So will John McCain.

If elected, Barack Obama will maintain the income tax levels and the commensurate level of federal spending, despite America's massive debt burden.
So will John McCain.

If elected, John McCain will continue the "War on Terror", and will likely expand its arena of conflict to include Pakistan and Iran.
So will Barack Obama.

If elected, John McCain will perpetuate the post-9/11 agencies and legislation which erode civil liberties.
So will Barack Obama.

If elected, Barack Obama will try to prevent normal market corrections, such as falling property prices, failures of unsound businesses, and liquidation of bad debt, thereby likely making the recession into a deep depression.
So will John McCain.

If elected, John McCain, will maintain the CIA, the FDA, military spending and overseas black ops interventions in the sovereignty of other countries.
So will Barack Obama.

If elected, Barack Obama will continue to offer unlimited American economic and military support to Israel, despite their occupation of Palestinian territory and daily breaches of human rights and UN declarations, leading to Muslim resentment worldwide.
So will John McCain.

If elected, John McCain will proceed with the unwinnable 'War on Drugs', which has so far wasted billions of dollars, created black markets and criminality, and made the USA the most incarcerated and addicted country on Earth.
So will Barack Obama.

If elected, John McCain will keep U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely with no withdrawal date set.
So will Barack Obama.

If elected, John McCain will keep funding the American global military presence and its bases in more than half of the world’s sovereign countries.
So will Barack Obama.

If elected, Barack Obama will promise education, healthcare and welfare provision that cannot actually be paid for without either raising taxes high or borrowing money that frankly does not currently exist on the capital markets.
So will John McCain.

If elected, John McCain will start drilling for oil in Alaska, off-shore and wherever else the USA can lay their hands on this dwindling resource.
So will Barack Obama.

Will there be change you can believe in this time tomorrow? Probably not.

After all, there isn't even a choice you can believe in. Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber are pleading for your votes, America. And they represent exactly the same policies.

As Bill Hicks once said, "It's the same guy holding up both puppets!"

Listen to Bill before you vote, y'all.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Not big or clever

I am currently attending a Whisky event in Glasgow.

Yesterday, I sampled at least nineteen whiskies in just under six hours.

This was not respectful to the wonderful whiskies I tried towards the end of the day, and it was not respectful to my body and mind, both of which are wracked with pain today.

Somehow, I managed to keep tasting notes for all (or at least, the first nineteen) whiskies I tried.

Okay, so the last few notes appear to be in Japanese, or to have been written by a man in the throes of an epileptic fit, but they exist nonetheless.

None of this is big or clever.

But since it marks the height of maturity compared to the juvenile behaviour on the boys' weekend trip to Amsterdam which just preceded this, I'm just glad to be heading in the right direction.

Which is towards painkillers, obviously.