The Electric Commentary

Friday, September 17, 2004

Let's get wasted!

But first, let's read about those who want to stop us (and those who wanted to stop us when we were stil under 21, in the long-long-ago).

Glenn Reynolds and Dave Kopel wrote this for the National Review:

One of the justifications currently offered for "cracking down" on young adults like Jenna Bush is that, supposedly, young adults frequently engage in "binge drinking." Frightening statistics are trotted out in support of this claim. But in fact, the commonly used definition of "binge drinking" is preposterous. "Binge drinking" is said to occur anytime a woman has at least four drinks, or a man has at least five drinks, over any continuous period of time.

Thus, if a Jewish woman attends a Passover seder, and drinks the ritual four cups of wine, that's "binge drinking." Or if some men get together for a football double-header, and each man drinks a six-pack of Budweiser over the next six hours, that's "binge drinking" — even though neither the Passover women nor the football men are even remotely close to blood-alcohol contents that would make them unfit to drive.

Now let's suppose that somebody actually drinks enough so that their BAC is too high to drive — a woman goes out to dinner with friends and has five glasses of wine over an hour and half. She is (horrors!) drunk. What's wrong with that — as long as she doesn't drive? It's true that some people who get drunk do irresponsible things, like start fights in bars, or drive, or have unprotected sex. But the vast majority of times that people get drunk, none of these things happen.

Read the whole thing. And then read this from Radley Balko:

Underage Drinking. And MADD-Bashing.

Middlebury College President John M. McCardell, Jr., in yesterday's New York Times
To lawmakers: the 21-year-old drinking age is bad social policy and terrible law. It is astonishing that college students have thus far acquiesced in so egregious an abridgment of the age of majority. Unfortunately, this acquiescence has taken the form of binge drinking. Campuses have become, depending on the enthusiasm of local law enforcement, either arms of the law or havens from the law.

Neither state is desirable. State legislators, many of whom will admit the law is bad, are held hostage by the denial of federal highway funds if they reduce the drinking age. Our latter-day prohibitionists have driven drinking behind closed doors and underground. This is the hard lesson of prohibition that each generation must relearn. No college president will say that drinking has become less of a problem in the years since the age was raised. Would we expect a student who has been denied access to oil paint to graduate with an ability to paint a portrait in oil? Colleges should be given the chance to educate students, who in all other respects are adults, in the appropriate use of alcohol, within campus boundaries and out in the open.

And please - hold your fire about drunken driving. I am a charter member of Presidents Against Drunk Driving. This has nothing to do with drunken driving. If it did, we'd raise the driving age to 21. That would surely solve the problem.If only the damned anti-alcohol fanatics would listen. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal ran a front-page story that casts a better light on the absurdity of the neoprohibitionist position than any of my rants ever could:
When Gregg Anderson told his parents that he planned to celebrate his senior prom at an all-night beer blast, they were alarmed. Gregg and his pals intended to party at Scarborough Beach, a 40-minute drive from this Providence suburb. Worried that the teens would drink and drive, William and Patricia Anderson came up with a compromise -- they invited Gregg and his friends to party in their backyard.

On the night of the party, Mr. Anderson stationed himself near the raspberry-colored front door of the four-bedroom house where he'd raised three sons. He read a Michael Connelly novel and collected car keys from his young guests. Then he slipped them into a bureau drawer.

Roughly 35 kids showed up. Some performed "keg stands," variations on handstands that involve holding beer guzzlers upside-down by their feet, so they can suck beer directly from keg taps. Others downed beer from a 16-inch "yard glass," which holds about 24 ounces...
...A few days after the party Mr. Anderson was arrested for providing liquor to minors. The charges were later dropped, but the story was picked up by newspapers and radio-talk-show hosts, one of whom dubbed Mr. Anderson the "prom dad."

...Soon the state began sponsoring radio spots urging parents not to host drinking parties for their children. In February 2004, state legislation was introduced to clamp down on parents and others who "knowingly allow" underage drinking. The bill, which went further than laws in many other states, was supported by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the advocacy group, and pushed hard by Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch. It fell victim to a legislative debate over whether it was too broad. The legislation's sponsors vow to introduce a revamped version of the bill next year...

...Most antidrinking advocates strongly disagree with the Andersons' strategy for dealing with the problem. "We want parents to understand that underage drinking is not just kids being kids, or a rite of passage. It is a serious -- even deadly -- problem," says Wendy Hamilton, president of MADD...

...The Andersons weighed those risks carefully before agreeing to host what became known around their community as a "key party" for Gregg, their youngest son. They knew that teen drinking in West Warwick was common. In a survey taken during the 2001/2002 school year, about 44% of West Warwick High School students said they'd drunk alcohol in the previous 30 days. Local teens regularly drank beer and wine coolers hidden away in a wooded area near a shopping mall, on nearby beaches or in their homes, according to interviews with students...

...Gregg, now 20 years old and an education major at Rhode Island College, was a pretty typical kid. In high school he played baseball, basketball and football and made spending money umpiring Little League games. He also started drinking on the sly in the ninth grade. "When my parents asked me if I was going to a party, I wasn't going to say I was going to a party," he says. But by the time he turned 16, he felt he should be more honest with them. "When I was a junior, I said to my mom, 'Hey, we really don't have any place to go. Do you mind if we have a few drinks here?' " Concluding that the teens were safer in their living room than someplace else, the Andersons occasionally let Gregg invite a few friends over Friday nights for card games and beer...

...Mr. and Mrs. Anderson set strict guidelines for the party the night of the prom. The kids would have to pitch tents in the backyard and spend the night. Mr. Anderson would lock the back gate and guard the front door. Nobody would be allowed to leave. Gregg says he and his friends arranged for an older acquaintance to supply them with two kegs of beer.

On the morning of the party, Mr. Anderson stopped by the local police station and told the officers on duty of the gathering at his home. "I wanted to be sure there weren't going to be issues," he says...

...Using Mr. Anderson as an example, MADD and other antidrinking groups ramped up their lobbying efforts to strengthen state alcohol laws. "Certainly, the Anderson case just confirmed for us that we need to continue to educate the public and change adult attitudes that support underage drinking," says Brenda Amodei, a public-health official for a division of the Rhode Island Department of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals.

The groups successfully pushed for a new law requiring that buyers of beer kegs register their names at liquor stores.Seems to me that MADD's actions here are far more nefarious than its usual statistical tomfoolery, junk science, and lobbying against common criminal protections for DWI defendants. Here, MADD's zero tolerance bullshit will mean dead teens.

Changing the legal drinking age to 21 hasn't stopped college or high school aged kids from drinking. Realizing that, the Anderson parents looked at reality: Either the kids drink in the woods or on the beach or in a motel -- then drive home -- or they drink at their home, with adult supervision, with their keys out of reach. MADD wants the Andersons punished for looking at the situation as it is, not as MADD would like it to be, and doing the one thing they could do to ensure the safety of their kid and his friends.

This is about as cut and dry as it gets. MADD's position here isn't anti-drunk driving. It's entrenched prohibitionist. Given the facts, they're pushing for a law that will unquestionably mean more drunk kids behind the wheel, and in all likelihood mean more deaths.
It's unconscionable. And they ought to be called on it.

How can anyone seriously defend practices like this? For a long time I've held the belief that MADD cares more about looking good than they do about keeping people safe. Now I know it.

They should throw back a few cold ones and lighten up.


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