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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cousins Returns To Form

In a brilliant return to form, Australia's greatest human being Ben Cousins has astounded his fans and devastated his critics by going from strength to strength without even breaking his stride. This glittering prize of a man is unstoppable and should, by all rights, be revered as a god. Thankfully, that process is already in train.

We pick up the story after he mysteriously absented himself on his life-saving trip to LA for celebrity-style resort rehab. One of the two blonde ladies in the sports car who picked him up at the airport (Susie Ela, member of Ben's "LA newtork") made a 5am emergency call to 911 on behalf of Cousins. She confirmed he had been on a cocaine bender for the past five days and was "not acting right". He had fried his brain with coke and was, reportedly, in bad shape mentally when he was whisked away to hospital via ambulance.

Whereas a mere mortal might have doubts at putting their own Dad in the invidious position of telling porkies to the media, Cousins just bounced right back. Right back into a $1500 suit that he picked up at Bridge Rd, Richmond. How do we know? Because Ben's suit purchase was front page news in Melbourne. He was mobbed by adoring fans in the street, mobiles held aloft like talismans, eager for a bit of that celebrity power to wash over them and validate their own dubious shopping choices. (How long until we get the inevitable poorly-pixelated image of Cousins getting out of his car while "going commando"?)

Ben Cousins Turns Bridge Road into Rodeo Drive
Source: The Age

Oh, there was the minor matter of the AFL Commission meeting, where he was suspended from the game for 12 months. Sort of. Something about bringing the game into disrepute? But, honestly, no biggie. He can continue to play for state-based second tier AFL-affiliated clubs, like East Fremantle, under a peculiar technicality. The Western Australian police were forced to drop their drug charges against him, on a technicality. (Apparently, the same officer who arrested him had to ask him to do the test, not another officer. Or something.) Hell, the cops even apologised! Brilliant.

Now, it looks like the US police are not going to pursue unwelcome criminal matters against Cousins either, despite his heroic cocaine binge. It was always going to be shaky if they would chase down a wealthy white man for taking cocaine in Los Angeles, even one who had "fallen afoul of the law". Luckily, Cousins is neither poor nor black. No word yet on an apology from the American detectives, but I doubt Benny's holding his breath.

So it's all going pretty well for Ben Cousins. Sure, his career's stalled a bit, there was that brief ambulance ride and some minor traffic matters have been cleared up. Apart from that, he's on top of the world. His plan is to sit out 2008 in a state league (probably in Victoria). There's also serious talk of a modelling career (a mere $150K per annum, but still, that'd almost cover his reported $3K/week drug habit). And why not? He's spawned a whole industry of "Such Is Life" T-shirts, featuring his distinctive bogan gut-tattoo. (And, perplexingly, a commemorative tawny port.)

Cousins inspiring the stencil art scene.
Source: NineMSN

Ben Cousin's popularity is going ahead in leaps and bounds. This is no more apparent than in cyberspace, where the yoof are rising up as one voice and saying "Bennnnnny .... you ROCK maaaaaate!!!!!!"

Facebook, for example, has many Ben Cousins groups, with names like "Ben Cousins for Prime Minister", "I Wanna Party With Ben Cousins" (17,000 members), "I Buy All My Drugs Off Ben Cousins" (3,000 members), "Who Gives a Toss if Ben Cousins is a Junkie - He's a Bloody Hottie!". And so on, for about 190 groups. To be fair, a very small number are taking the piss. And even fewer are openly hostile to him. But the vast bulk seems to be "Ben is fun and I want to be as near/like/inside him as I can."

And good ol' Ben has been putting his popularity with the youngsters to work. He's been sighted hanging out at the Gold Coast for the Schoolies Week. Sadly, he seems to be enjoying the company of the younger people there. An older man - 30 soon - hanging out with girls who have just finished high school is known as a "Toolie". According to this Victorian government website, schoolies need to be wary of toolies. In this case, sexual assault and violence are lower-order concerns. Check this video of Ben Cousins snorting, well, something off the table with his new friends:

What a swell guy. Rehab? Contrition? Remorse? Responsibility? Consequences? Bah. His talent has seen him rise to the top of the AFL footy. That same culture saw him sheltered, protected and never having to face up to reality. His club turned a blind eye to his antics. Medical rehab's been a useless washout. The legal system had a go but has bowed out with a bloody nose. The politicians that spoke up have been voted out. For how long can his family keep up their support? Egged on by celebrity attendees and his online cheer squad, Cousins is completely unshackled and unhinged.

Eventually, Ben's going to need real friends, not colleagues or minders or coke-buddies or people who shout "we love you Benny - whoooohooo!" out of passing cars. Let's hope he's got some left.

Word Count: 952

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Guide To AFL Drug-Taking

With the draft upon us, we can expect to see a lot of fresh-faced youngsters hoping for their big break into the world of professional AFL footy. This world offers a lot of dangers as well as rewards. Right now, new recruits and their family worry about the impact of drugs on their careers. This article explains how to enjoy your drugs while minimising career risks with a handy online drug-use planner, for easy calculation.

The AFL - especially through the Players' Association - has gone to a lot of effort to keep those positive test results low and players' names stay out of the papers. Whether it's allowing a generous "three strikes", getting court injunctions (repeatedly), hounding blabber-mouths, whitewashing "mysterious" tip-offs or just ensuring that players are seldom tested, they'll leave no stone unturned protecting their precious players.

So it doesn't matter if you hang out with drug dealers or others with underworld connections. Many of the biggest names in the sport do. Just ask Michael Gardiner, Daniel Kerr, Alan Didak or Ben Cousins. It gives you street cred and cheap supplies and your employer will keep the heat off your back.

If you play AFL, then eventually - perhaps after several years - you will be asked to pee into the cup. You can always ask to be excused, on the grounds that you can't provide a sample. Sounds crazy, but hey - it's worked before! But failing that, there's a chance that you might provide a dirty sample. Uh oh. Not to worry - you've got two free kicks before there's serious ramifications. With a career expectancy of four years, you'll likely only be tested half a dozen times anyway.

As slight as it is, there's still a prospect of returning that dreaded positive result. The best way to manage this is to determine at the outset what level of risk you're comfortable with. What odds can you live with?

That's where the online drug planner comes in. Let's face it, if you've been recruited by the AFL you're not going to be a mathematical wizard. Hell, you likely stopped paying attention in Year Ten and relied on the PE staff to get you through senior school. So, if statistics and the like are all a bit hard, let The Speccy crunch the numbers and put it in terms a footballer will understand: gambling odds. (Yes, a lot of you young blokes like a flutter - and if you don't you will soon.)

It's simple. Think of it as career Russian roulette. Just select your preferred drug and how often you'd like to take it. Take a stab at your career length (be realistic: ten year stayers are very rare these days). Down at the bottom is the (decimal) odds of your drug use curtailing that career. It couldn't be easier!

AFL Drug Use Planner

Player Preferences

Type of Drug
Usage Frequency (days)
Career Length (years)

League Policies

Number of Tests (per annum)
Number of Players
Allowed Strikes (per player)


Detection Time (days)
"Dirty" Time (proportion)
Annual Test Rate (per player)
Expected Uses (per career)
Expected Tests (per career)
Expected Strikes (per career)


Probability of Detection (AFL)
Probability of Naming (public)
Odds of Naming (public)

For example, if you can only handle a 1% chance of being named and shamed, stick to taking your cocaine once a month. Take it weekly if you're comfortable with a one in four chance. Get it? Choose from cocaine, ice, speed, ecstasy, ketamine, Valium (for the come down), LSD (if you like "candy-flipping") and the other party favourites. Just dial up the frequency and away you go.

And thank your stars you're not playing in the NRL, where their two-strikes policy and higher test rates might put a real dampener on the party. Enjoy - and stay safe.

The Gory Details

The default figures are for the AFL's current policy of naming on the third strike and providing 1000 tests per year across 650 players. Until August, 2007 there were only 500 tests per year. By contrast the NRL has 1100 tests across 450 players, with just one strike allowed before public naming.

The model is based on the Poisson Process - the standard statistical approach to modelling random events across a period of time. First, it calculates the player's "dirty time". This is the percentage of his time that he spends "dirty" (ie returning a positive results if sampled). This is driven by the type of drug and how frequently it's taken. (Drug detectability times were taken from a public source.)

The next key statistic is the number of tests faced across the career. This is a function of the number of tests by the league per year, the number of players in the league and the number of years spent playing in the league.

Using the player's "dirty time" and invoking the PASTA principle (Poisson Arrivals See Time Averages), the arrive strike parameter is computed. Based on this the model works out the probability distribution (pmf) for a player getting a strike zero times, once, twice, three times and so on before the player's name goes public: that is, before the "allowed strikes" are all used up.

The model assumes constant testing and drug use rates. In practice, this is likely to vary throughout the year. For example, the six week test-free drug binge at the end of the year is not taken into account. Nor is "target testing", where risky players are selected. Should the AFL decide to make public the details of how this is done, the model can be updated.

For now, it is a useful rough guide based on public information. Your mileage may very, so please keep your usage conservative.

*** UPDATE ***

This footy drug-use calculator was used to calculate the statistics for my Crikey piece last week, A 1% chance: The stats on the AFL's farcical drug regime, arguing that the AFL's drugs policy is weaker than the NRL's: with fewer tests and more strikes, it offers much less deterrence.

Word Count: 1013

Tags: footy, drugs

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