The Electric Commentary

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Mother's Against Drunk Driving are doing there part to increase drunk driving among teens.

In the Washington area, several civic groups, public health organizations and government agencies have teamed up for a campaign called Party Safe 2005. You may have heard the ads on local radio stations in prom season, warning parents that law enforcement would be taking a zero-tolerance approach to underage drinking. The commercials explicitly said that even supervised parties -- such as those where parents collect the keys of partygoers -- wouldn't be spared. Parents would risk jail time and a fine of $1,000 per underage drinker.

Not only do such uncompromising approaches do little to make our roads safer, they often make them worse. The data don't lie. High school kids drink, particularly during prom season. We might not be comfortable with that, but it's going to happen. It always has. The question, then, is do we want them drinking in their cars, in parking lots, in vacant lots and in rented motel rooms? Or do we want them drinking at parties with adult supervision, where they're denied access to the roads once they enter?

A couple in Virginia was recently sentenced to 27 months in jail for throwing a supervised party for their son's 16th birthday, at which beer was made available. That was reduced on appeal from the eight-year sentenced imposed by the trial judge. The local MADD president said she was "pleasantly surprised" at the original eight-year verdict, and "applauded" the judge's efforts.

The Virginia case mentioned above is troubling for another reason: The cops raided that home without a search warrant. This is becoming more and more common in jurisdictions with particularly militant approaches to underage drinking. A prosecutor in Wisconsin popularized the practice in the late 1990s when he authorized deputies to enter private residences without warrants, "by force, if necessary," when there was the slightest suspicion of underage drinking. For such "innovative" approaches, Paul Bucher won plaudits from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which awarded him a place in the "Prosecutors as Partners" honor roll on the MADD Web site.

When are people going to learn that when you make something illegal and it is something that everyone does, it forces that something underground. It doesn't stop it. Didn't Al Capone teach us anything? Parents that supervise teen parties with the permission of the parents of all guests and who let no one leave until morning should be commended, not arrested. It doesn't seem like these MADD people or the legislators pushing these zero-tolerance policies even went to high school -- for two reasons.


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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:35 AM  

  • But drinking under 21 is illegal. Aren't you supposed to obey the law and petition to change ones you don't like?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:42 AM  

  • Drinking under 21 with your parents isn't universally illegal. It is in some places though. Martin Luther King Jr. said it is our duty to disobey an unjust law. But I don't think he was talking about underage drinking laws. I suppose you are right and the law should just be changed. I'm not a parent so it's hard to say what I would do. I sure don't think it is fair to tell parents to put a bad law before their child's safety though.

    By Blogger DannyNoonan, at 10:01 AM  

  • Plus the criticism here is directed at MADD more than the law, and MADD is an interest group, not a legal body. They are free to disagree with laws and advocate changes to laws if they think the laws will help reduce drunk driving. MADD consistently lobbies for harsher penalties for drunk driving, as an example.

    The law in this case is counterproductive to MADD's stated goals. That makes their support of that law stupid.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 10:09 AM  

  • I'm sure you were partly joking with your Martin Luther King comparison, but I do think it's important to point out that civil disobediance of the kind used during the struggle for civil rights in America was about expressly acknowledging that the laws are unjust, violating them in as public a way as possible, and accepting the fact that punishment would come as a result. If Parents want to give teenagers alcohol on the steps of the police station to protest the law, they'll be following in that tradition. The Virginia parents who have gotten so much publicity lied to the parents of other teenagers about whether alcohol would be at the party and gave the teenagers vinegar to gargle to get the smell of alcohol off their breath when the cops arrived. I don't think they deserve two years in prison (people who commit violent crimes often get less), but I don't think they deserve any Parent of the Year awards, either.

    By Blogger MDS, at 11:09 AM  

  • I was completely joking with the King reference and I said in the post that I only thought parent hosted drinking parties were a good idea if the guests parents were aware.

    By Blogger DannyNoonan, at 11:42 AM  

  • "Didn't Al Capone teach us anything?"

    Yes. If someone is managing to skirt around an unenforceable law, you can just nail them with the tax code instead.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 12:40 PM  

  • This response ignores whether the law is just, and focuses on one of my favorite things, namely, following rules.

    The Law is the law, and must be followed in all but the most extreme of circumstances, if for nothing else than for the sake of following rules. Without them there is chaos. Chaos! There are plenty such places where nobody will care if you let your 13 year old drink and have intimate relations.

    Why don't you run a red light when there is no traffic? Because its illegal.

    Obviously, not enough people share your feelings on letting America's youth poison themselves at an earlier age, otherwise the rules would be different. I think people should be able to have sword-fighting and ninja-star duels, but until it becomes legal I will refrain from doing so, and encourage others to refrain from doing so (except in movies), as those parents should have refrained from getting their kids and his/her friends drunk.

    By Anonymous Phil, at 1:10 PM  

  • Ah, but this is a double-edged sword. Bad laws (that is, laws that lack popular consensus) result in less respect for the law. A strong rule of law is important for any society. Laws like the drinking age result in people taking a more casual approach to other laws.

    You should not follow stupid laws just because they are laws. You should follow laws for a reason.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 1:22 PM  

  • My point here was not to say that people should break the law. It was to say that the zero-tolerance bit of the law sucks and that MADD's support for it runs counter to the stated goal of their organization.

    By Blogger DannyNoonan, at 1:54 PM  

  • A double edged sword has some advantages, it is capable of being wielded in either direction, either up or down, without changing one's grip. Along with its versatility comes a high cost. Because it must allow for use on both sides, its stongest part is the center, and it weakens dramatically for every increment as one follows the metal to its two cutting edges. However, because it is double edged, it is required to be relatively straight-bladed, this lack of a "belly" takes away from its ability to make devastating cuts, which increases the need for extra sharpness, which of course requires tempering quickly and cooling quickly, to make it harder and sharper. But the harder the blade, the more brittle it becomes, and one day, in the midst of battle, it snaps.

    In contrast, the single-edged sword, like the Katana, with but one edge, and therefore one purpose, is forged and cooled at different rates, so that the cuting edge is the hardest, but the back of the blade is softer and thicker, making it much more able to absorb the blows it deals and those which are dealt to it. This allows it to be much more sharp, and yet much less brittle, and so also very good at thrusting. Because it only has one edge, it has a bigger belly and is also much better at slashing.

    True enough, there may be some respect lost for the law when people disagree with it, but then if nobody ever disagreed, we wouldn't need laws. Agreeing to follow laws however, is to come together with a single purpose, to forge a superior single-edged Katana. While those who advocate for laws abd following them based in part on whether or not some people will not follow it, or if it is the best in every situation are forging a servicable, but inferior blade.

    But the katana-makers have already taken this into account, and have reinforced the sharp blade with a cushoning back: drinking is allowed when you are of age.
    There is objective reasonableness, on which all can agree.

    To charge all to forge weapons (follow the rules) according to every man's own standard of reaonablenss will beget only inconsistent and stupid results. The cavalry's lances will be of different length and heft, swords will be undependable and unpredictable, and while the individual wielders might prefer his own, a unit's capabilities will be unknown and undependable, there will be chaos when order matters most.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:35 PM  

  • I can distinguish between children drinking at home on their 16th birthday with their own parents, vs. throwing even a responsibly supervised party so the child's friends can drink with them.

    "You should not follow stupid laws just because they are laws. You should follow laws for a reason." This sounds suspiciously liberal, advocating everybody just follow laws that seem particularly reasonable to them. Better to work to change the law that applies to everyone, instead of just changing the law for yourself. Smells like, "I'm special, can't you see?"

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:54 PM  

  • Oh most wizened master of the smithy, we here at the EC leave as little to speculation as possible, which is why the fact that I disagree with a law should have no effect on its validity (whether I choose to follow it, and am willing to pay the consequences, is another matter.)

    The drinking age, however, is not opposed by me. It is opposed by a majority. Moreover, it is especially opposed by almost all people under 21. Moreover further, it is opposed nearly universally by all ADULTS under 21.

    Now voting and polls will probably not tell you this, because there are no consequences to those over 21 for a vote or a poll. But we econ types deal in revealed preferences.

    Revealed preferences show what you prefer by looking at your actions rather than your statements. So where can we find a good example? I know! Let's look at MADD's own website:,1056,1807,00.html

    77 percent of high school seniors have used alcohol; (Johnston, et al, 2005)

    Look at that. 77% of underage people support underage drinking! And let us not forget that some high school seniors are adults.

    I'm willing to wager that this number is fairly constant on a year to year basis, meaning that when anyone is between 18 and 21, they are very likely to support the notion that they should be able to drink.

    Therefore, this law flies in the face of what most people believe. They simply stop caring so much once they turn 21.

    When you tell 77% of a population that they can't do something that they clearly want to do, you discourage respect for the law.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 2:55 PM  

  • "You should not follow stupid laws just because they are laws. You should follow laws for a reason." This sounds suspiciously liberal, advocating everybody just follow laws that seem particularly reasonable to them. Better to work to change the law that applies to everyone, instead of just changing the law for yourself. Smells like, "I'm special, can't you see?"

    It's actually Libertarian. But I do see conservatives speeding all the time, so maybe it's conservative.

    You should follows laws that have the consent of the people, but you should not follow laws that do not (unless you want to). How's that?

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 3:06 PM  

  • Phil,
    If an army's general comands that the army go into battle with swords that are dull and weak and every soldier knows they will not stand a chance with these inferior weapons, shouldn't a soldier speak up? SHouldn't he show the general how useful a strong, sharp sword would be in battle?

    If the general doesn't listen, some soldiers would still carry better weapons into battle in spite of the general's order. The next time the general gives an order to them in battle the soldiers are more likely to disregard his order because of how wrong he was the last time. Strategy and cooperation are just as important as steel in a battle.

    We live in a society where most people begin drinking alcohol by 17 or 18. By 19 or 20, almost everyone drinks. The drinking age becomes something to avoid, not something to obey. This creates unsafe situations. And this goes accross the board. We don't obey speed limits. We follow them within 5 or 10 mph or when we see a cop and think we might get cought. Otherwise they are something we try to skirt around rather than follow. This does not make for an efficient legal system.

    By Blogger DannyNoonan, at 3:11 PM  

  • Paul, are there polls that show the drinking age is opposed by a majority? Obviously, it's opposed by nearly everyone between ages 18 and 20, but what about 21 and over?

    By Blogger MDS, at 3:26 PM  

  • It's easy to be against something that has no effect on you. That's why I went to the info on how people actually behave.

    I guess, first of all, I'm against subjugating a minority (especailly an adult minority), regardless of what the majority says.

    Secondly, most people that are now over 21 and in favor of the drinking age were probably not opposed to it at the time that it effected them.

    I think that, with regard to children, there is a better excuse for a prohibition (even then I would leave it in the hands of parents to teach responsibility).

    But where do we get off telling 18 year olds that they can't do something for their own good, but that a 21 year old can? Shouldn't the 18-20 year old adults have some say in this? They're adults.

    Incidentally, as I like to point out, actually legistlating a national drinking age is clearly unconstitutional, which is why the Fed instead insists that states comply to receive Federal highway funds. This arrangement is itself likely unconstitutional (as a violation of principles of Federalism. The Fed isn't supposed to order the states to ennact laws), but has survived.

    Wisconsin, for one, would change back to an 18 year old drinking age in a heartbeat if not for this provision. They occasionally flirt with doing so anyway.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 3:44 PM  

  • Whenever you give the government the power to do something for you, you also give it the power to do something to you.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:18 PM  

  • I think the drinking age is a prime example of subjugating a minority at the hands of a majority. Mds wants polls on the popularity of the drinking age generally as opposed to among 18-20 year olds. But what you have is a group (18-20 year olds that are nearly unanimously strongly against the law) and another group (21 and up) that is appathetically split at best. Maybe lowering the drinking age wouldn't be supported by a majority. But what if the drinking age was arbitrarily set at 30 instead of 21? Suddenly the number of adults being discriminated against quadruples. Maybe you still don't have a majority. Okay, what if the drinking age was 50? I think annonymous put that quote in the right place. Whenever you give the government the power to do something for you, you also give it the power to do something to you.

    By Blogger DannyNoonan, at 4:40 PM  

  • "We live in a society where most people begin drinking alcohol by 17 or 18."

    "You should follows laws that have the consent of the people, but you should not follow laws that do not (unless you want to). How's that?"

    That sounds like opening itself to a slippery slope argument. There are many pet causes, yours apparently being 18-21 year olds drinking alcohol, where one might argue the laws don't have the consent of the majority of the local people. Again, you sound like you want to be treated special -- ie, I can bring glass in a glass-free zone and wasn't personally notified of the law, so this law shouldn't apply to me. Sounded silly to me then, and it still does. That's not libertarianism at work, that's special treatment for some. This would lead to arbitrary enforcement and inequalities in our legal system, which we already have enough of.

    That is why the people should argue to change the law for everyone, if indeed here the majority of those over 18 (including those voters over 21) are opposed to the higher drinking age. Fight the fight before you claim the victory.

    Your argument to lower the drinking age may have merit, but not the way you are going about it. The law applies to all, or should. If you get caught breaking it, you should face -- even if it's a very good looking face -- the consequences same as the next guy, no matter who he is or what he looks like.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:51 PM  

  • I think we are only saying that the law is bad and should be changed and people will violate it. Not that people should violate it. Agains, I was kidding with the MLK quote. And the glass thing is a different story. It will be challenged in a court of law as unconstitutionally vague. The ordiannce was passed to make money. Plain and simple. A zero tolerance law with no notice can not possibly achieve its stated goal of deterance. If the ordinance's actual goal was detering people from having glass, the easiest thing in the world to do would have been to put up some signs. There were none. It's actual goal was stealing money from people. This is the city counsel abusing their power. Some people charged might just have too much respect for the law to just let them get away with that.

    By Blogger DannyNoonan, at 5:02 PM  

  • The goal is public safety. I heard some drunken people at other mass gatherings destroyed property. The idea is plastic does much less damage than glass. Drunk immature people leads to broken glass in the student section. This law was on tv reports prior to Halloween and the weekend block party. So many other people heard of police preparations to avoid violence and property destruction, but again you were not personally notified and therefore object. It was in the papers also prior to the partying. I bet you will get off, but not because of your constitutionally vague argument or no one else would be punished either. You are just special for other reasons, my friend. Think about it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:51 AM  

  • I am special. This was the middle of finals week. How much TV were you watching? I read the Wisconsin State Journal every day and saw nothing. Or did youmean teh student rags? Those papers suck balls and no one should ever read them. Seriously, do you honestly think it is too much to ask that there be a sign up? What if the city made it illegal to park in front of your house for one day and did not put up a sign. Would you think it was fair that you got a ticket?

    By Blogger DannyNoonan, at 8:11 AM  

  • Actually, that happened to me! My friend, visiting, got a ticket for parking on the wrong side of the street last winter, with no signs nearby and no snow on the ground. He went downtown and protested, but was told the resident sticker holder (me) was given paperwork notifying of the winter parking rules. Duly notified, I was responsible for informing my out-of-town guests. Since obviously they can't post signs on every block, I accepted the reasoning and reimbursed him the cost of the ticket. Chalked it up to a learning experience.

    Sorry, your argument just doesn't hold. If you want to party en masse, please accept that there need to be rules, to be followed by all. Cops aren't in the business to harass, or make money for the city, but to protect all of us. Do you want them using their individual judgment to arbitrarily enforce the rules? I don't. (think mandatory domestic abuse charges where a person is ticketed and the court sorts it out. Cops were being influenced by external forces previously in deciding who to charge.)

    All the Halloween "riot" hoopla (much of which is blamed on underage drinkers I might add) brought about some fairly rational rules, like no glass in party zones. (I think they should crack down on no public drinking period, but then a lot of money is made by bar owners and liquor stores here you know.)

    If you want to advocate for change, they had -- and presumably will have -- plenty of open meetings for public input on how to control mass public partying. Maybe make your stand there. It's too late the day of the party to protest the established rules. Of course if you get off, you will have no incentive to work for a rule change because it doesn't affect you.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:45 AM  

  • Danny,

    I don't know why you addressed that post about weapons to me, some guy named Anonymous posted the sword thing. He made some good points though, yes?

    By Anonymous Phil, at 10:42 AM  

  • well, I guess it could have been a she.

    By Anonymous Phil, at 10:45 AM  

  • Cops aren't in the business to harass, or make money for the city, but to protect all of us. Do you want them using their individual judgment to arbitrarily enforce the rules? I don't.



    Whew. Oh man. This anonymous guy is hilarious. Listen man, I live in Chicago, home of the 3 minute tow zone violation. To believe that cops are not in the business of making money for the city is either naive or stupid, as you should know if you've ever gotten a parking ticket. In Milwaukee people frequently get parking tickets for parking legally under the assumption that no one will fight them.

    As for the glass ticket, they were clearly trying to make money. In fact, if you read everything we posted on the subject, you would see that it's pretty clear that they wrote the tickets specifically to cover the cost of overtime for the cops. It is also pretty clear that their notice was substandard, especially considering it was a one day law. Also, if you are going to designate a specific area as glass free, you'd better have signs up. You need to clearly mark off the area.

    And cops do use their discretion all of the time, like when they give you a warning instead of a speeding ticket.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 10:54 AM  

  • "I don't know why you addressed that post about weapons to me, some guy named Anonymous posted the sword thing. He made some good points though, yes?"

    I hired a detective. It took hours and hours of top-notch detective work but he finally came to the conclusion that the guy talking about swords and following rules was most likely Phil.

    By Blogger DannyNoonan, at 11:10 AM  

  • Swords and following rules? Hey Phil, ever read Snow Crash?

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 11:26 AM  

  • Oh, now the police are the enemy or all of them are corrupt and just looking to pick on students? You going hippie on me? Sorry, I jsut don't find that one too funny. Sure they generate revenue for the cities. You really think that was the only reason for the no glass rule, or the immediate tow rules, or the speeding rules? There's something behind them -- a big picture if you will -- if think about it, and immediate enforcement usually helps people learn to obey. If you don't like the rules, work to change them.

    Personally, I never get a warning, just a speeding ticket. I'm not all that smooth a front-seat talker though, or all that good a looker, even being a woman and a former law student. Any tips you could share about not getting ticketed, presuming you are speeding, even along with everybody else? Thanks in advance. I am calm and cooperative, so it's got to be something more than that.

    Think I read most of your posts re. the glass ticket, and disagreed with your logic then. I'm sure in your circles though you think you've proven your point and everyone agrees with you. Seemed to me Danny had a pre-conceived attitude from what he wrote before party day, went looking for trouble that day, and found it. Now he gets to make a legal fight, and as I said before, I bet he gets off.

    Stand by my reasoning that the one day, no glass rule (the party was only one day, right? This law applies to all big public parties from here on out in Madison, I think, on the day of the party.) was well publicized to those planning to attend the party and even those who were not. Sorry you missed it, but ignorance is no defense.

    Did you buy your liquor in town? Stores had the coolers of beer bottles taped off, not selling them I heard, to cover the potential bad behavior of those going out to drink publicly. Kinda sucks for those who like a cold longneck at home (not sure if they were selling the bottled hard liquor that weekend or took that off sale too) and can drink responsibly, but that's the price you pay for the immature drinkers, I guess. It was only one day, and the purposes behind the ban seemed worth it to me.

    So the fines covered police overtime. So what? Who should pay for police to staff an outside event in tight budget times -- all taxpayers? Or should we just have no extra police presence and trust the drinking crowd to control themselves? They haven't proven trustworthy in the past, and drunks often bring troubles: assaults, property damage, etc.

    I understand you've got to fight, for your right, to party, and this is a big injustice to you in your current life. Most young students' parents would just pay the ticket, I think. But the more you talk, the more you reinforce my point re. special treatment. Your sense of entitlement astounds me. (ps. I wouldn't mess with the Chicago cops. They're a little less forgiving than the Madison ones, I hear.) All the best, MEG

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:32 AM  

  • The fact that 77% of the people affected by the law don't like it is an incredibly poor rationale for saying it is a crummy law. I'm sure a large proportion of repeat offender drunk drivers think they shouldn't lose their license, and that a large proportion of 6 year olds think they should be allowed to drive. Similarly, multitudes of people break the speed limit, but that does not mean we should give up and not have or enforce them. Note: I am not taking a stance on the drinking age, I just find some of the arguments posted to be disturbingly weak. I do think it is beyond the intended limits of the federal gov't.

    I will definitely back Paul up on the Chicago cops ticketing purpose is to make money thing. The city has specifically explained raising its parking ticket quotas for cops to make up for budget shortfalls. As a result, you are highly likely to be ticketed for ridiculous situations that have no justification such as purpose or consistency of the law. Cops even ticket cars up to an hour before a zone becomes no parking.

    As for the Madison glass container law. From my time in Madison I have little doubt that the point of the law is not to make money, but that it is intended (and justifiable) for public safety/nuisance purposes. This does not, however, excuse flaws in enforcement including notification. Laws that prohibit common activities that one would expect to be lawful should be clearly announced and repeated in areas where the activities are likely to occur. Perhaps a legitimate law is being used to generate income, but it could just as easily be oversight of notification.

    By Anonymous Scott H, at 3:20 PM  

  • "If he was going to stay in non public lawyering he would have gone to a large firm and picked a specialty that would make more bucks”

    Waaaaay off the mark here. Bucher floated his resume through all the big law firms in Milwaukee when he decided to leave office and no one wanted him. (What cash-paying clients would he attract?) The fact that he ended up practicing with a flim-flam ambulance chaser like Jim Gatzke should tell you something.

    Also consider this: For years Bucher was the law-and-order zealot, locking up criminals. Now he earns his filthy lucre defending the scum class.

    How do you spell “hypocrite”? This is what you folks hung Louis Butler for doing!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:32 PM  

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