CCBA Celebrates 25 Years

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This year the California Craft Brewers Association (CCBA) celebrates its 25th anniversary, and they just concluded a two-day conference in Santa Rosa. I missed the first day (traveling home from Belgium) but gave a talk yesterday morning on the history of craft beer in California. But the highlight of day two was a panel discussion with three craft beer pioneers, John Martin (Triple Rock), Ken Grossman (Sierra Nevada) and Fritz Maytag (Anchor), moderated by Vinnie Cilurzo (Russian River).

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The trio spoke for around an hour, then the audience asked a few questions. I captured the main part of the talk (not the Q&A) in two parts (due to limitations of my camera) which you can watch below. There’s a short gap in between the two videos, only a few seconds. It’s a fun and fascinating talk. Enjoy.

And here’s Pt. 2.

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After the talk, John Martin, CCBA executive director Tom McCormick, Vinnie Cilurzo, Fritz Maytag and Ken Grossman.

The Unintended Consequences Of Prohibitionist Propaganda

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So I know this is one of those thorny issues that tends to fire people up and argue from an emotional point of view. That being said, the issue of a woman drinking when pregnant is a tough one, especially because the science is not exactly as settled as people believe. My understanding is that it’s not clear how drinking effects an unborn fetus, though a significant amount of drinking has been shown to have potentially disastrous consequences. Generally speaking, a modest amount of drinking probably won’t do any lasting damage, especially in the very early stages of pregnancy. But since when and how much are fairly unknown with any precision, doctors, and the medical community as a whole, have tended to recommend that a woman abstain from drinking during pregnancy. And that seems almost reasonable, except for the fact that prohibitionist and anti-alcohol groups have taken that advice as sacrosanct without really examining the science behind it and have done their best to shame women who might have an occasional drink and make them feel as guilty as humanly possible.

For example, WebMd says. “For decades, researchers have known that heavy drinking during pregnancy can cause birth defects. But the potential effects of small amounts of alcohol on a developing baby are not well understood. Because there are so many unknowns, the CDC, the U.S. Surgeon General, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Academy of Pediatrics advise pregnant women not to drink alcohol at all.” But again, that’s just because they don’t really know, not because it’s proven that any amount of alcohol is harmful. If you do a quick search, you’ll find that a lot of websites claim that pregnant women should never drink because, as most of them put it, “[t]here is no known safe amount of alcohol that you can consume if you are pregnant.” But that’s misleading. It’s not so much that no amount is safe so much as the amount that is safe is not known with precision, and for every person. I know that sounds like I’m splitting hairs, but I think it’s an important distinction. There are safe levels of drinking alcohol that would have no effect on a woman’s pregnancy, and for any given woman that amount would differ, but so far we don’t know how to calculate that amount, so instead doctors recommend abstaining. But that’s very different from hounding women who might have the occasional drink or acting as if they’re actively or willfully harming their unborn fetus.

It’s quite easy to find this scaremongering in all sorts of places. Not surprisingly, Alcohol Justice, who is a leading propagandist, regularly tweets “Save Babies From Birth Defects: Don’t Drink While Pregnant,” with a link to International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Awareness Day Aims To Help Save Babies From Birth Defects: Don’t Drink While You’re Pregnant. Which would be reasonable, except for the fact that the Medical Daily piece is littered with exactly the sort of absolutist misinformation I’m talking about.

There’s a common misconception that it’s safe to drink during certain points in the pregnancy, or that one glass of wine or beer is harmless. It has been almost 30 years since the medical community recognized mothers who drank alcohol while pregnant could result in a wide range of physical and mental disabilities, but still, one in 13 pregnant women reports drinking in the past 30 days and one in six reports binge drinking. Fetal alcohol syndrome can be devastating, which is why a day [September 9] has been dedicated to spreading the awareness and clearing up the truth for mothers to understand that anything they eat and drink affects the baby.

The NIH’s Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism branch has supported years of research to reveal the dangers and understand when developmental problems within the womb begin. Babies who are born with fetal alcohol syndrome have been born small and premature, develop problems eating, sleeping, seeing, hearing, learning, paying attention in school, controlling their behavior, and may even need medical care through their life. The severity of drinking alcohol while pregnant cannot be underplayed because of the profound confirmed health effects that could follow a child throughout their life.

Every pregnancy is different and unique to the mother’s health, genetic composition, and the baby. According to the NIH, drinking alcohol the first or second month of pregnancy can hurt the baby with irreversible health consequences. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention backs up the NIH by saying there is no safe level of alcohol to use during pregnancy. If drinking continues throughout the pregnancy, babies are likely to develop fetal alcohol syndrome with characteristic facial features such as a wide set of eyes, smooth ride on the upper lip, and a thin upper lip border. But that’s only the surface, because within the brain lies the possibility of intellectual disabilities, speech and language delays, and poor social skills.

Unfortunately, the “truth” as they put it is not exactly the whole truth, nor is it the same advice given universally by the medical community, despite the fact that both the NIH and the CDC take the absolutist point of view just to be safe. That these government agencies here, and in other places, take this position without actually explaining why, or even how they arrived at it and the uncertainty about it, seems to me a condescending way to treat people. I know, or hope, they mean well, and the goal is to bring healthy babies into the world. Everyone agrees that frequent drinking or drinking large quantities of alcohol while pregnant is a terrible idea, but not giving women all of the facts is yet another example of the medical community talking down to people and treating them with condescension. And it’s taking its toll on some women in unexpected ways, as I’ll explain later.

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More recent studies are beginning to show that in fact the occasional drink is not only harmless, but in some cases beneficial. For example, a 2013 study at Harvard found “no connection between drinking alcohol early in pregnancy and birth problems” and at the University College London, they found “Light drinking in pregnancy not bad for children.” Others found A Drink A Day While Pregnant Is OK and Moms Who Drink Wine While Pregnant Have Better Behaved Kids. Yet another recent New study shows no harm from moderate drinking in pregnancy. Likewise, Moderate drinking during pregnancy may not harm baby’s neurodevelopment and the Parenting Squad says that Yes, You Can Drink While Pregnant.

In Is It OK to Drink While Pregnant? Why Scientists Really Don’t Know, the author details why it is that the science is so difficult to pin down, and as such many doctors advise abstaining altogether. One of the problems with this contrary advice is that some people who are convinced that any alcohol represents a danger to an unborn fetus and they make life difficult for anyone who’s received different advice, or who has looked at the issue and come to a different conclusion. Despite it being unsettled, some states have, or are considering, passing laws to punish women who have the temerity to have a drink while pregnant. Both of my wife’s baby doctors advised her the occasional drink was not a problem, and even told her that if it helped her relax was a positive. She tended to have a drink only every so often, rarely even, and I certainly enjoyed the months of having a designated driver. But many other women report having been publicly shamed, ridiculed and punished for drinking while pregnant in public. At least one person reports being accosted for simply buying alcohol (it was for a party and she had no intention of drinking it) and I suspect that’s not an isolated incident. The clerk at the liquor store acted like it was against the law for her to simply purchase it.

Many have written about their experiences with alcohol during pregnancy and are worth reading. See, for example, Take Back Your Pregnancy, by an economist writing for the Wall Street Journal. And for Slate, Emily Oster explains herself in “I Wrote That It’s OK to Drink While Pregnant. Everyone Freaked Out. Here’s Why I’m Right.” In addition, Dr. Peggy Drexler, a research psychologist and gender scholar, examined the history and psychology of shaming such women in A Loaded Question: On Drinking While Pregnant. Not surprisingly, it’s only been since 1981 that the U.S. Surgeon General’s took the official position pregnant women should completely abstain from drinking alcohol. And for a while, drinking among pregnant women declined, but since 2002 has been on the rise again, though it’s the “‘every now and then’ glass of wine or two” rather than binge drinking and the biggest demographic to see this increase is “college-educated women between 35 and 44.” Her answer to why “as a whole we continue to judge women who opt to have that occasional glass of wine,” is that “[w]e’re so fully entrenched in the age of over-parenting — having opinions, and voicing them, about how other people raise their kids — that, it seems, we can’t help but start in before the baby is actually born.”

Similarly, in a lengthy piece for Boston Magazine, Pregnant Pause?, author Alyssa Giacobbe details this explanation.

“As soon as you’re pregnant, or have a baby, it’s like all bets are off,” says Kara Baskin, a 33-year-old mother of a two-year-old boy. “People can say whatever they want, touch whatever they want, make whatever comments they want.” A few years back, she was at a Starbucks when the barista asked her, “Are you supposed to be having any caffeine when you’re pregnant?” She wasn’t pregnant — it was just the shirt — but of course that didn’t matter. She ran out crying.

Of course, it wasn’t always that way. My mother drank, and most likely smoked, while she was pregnant with me. If you’re close to my age, or older, your Mom probably did, too. Entire generations did, and while it would be hard to argue that children today aren’t better off thanks to their mothers watching what they consumed or what they did while pregnant, our species made it pretty far before 1981 just by being sensible.

But back to Dr. Drexler, who concluded with these words of wisdom.

This is not a call to drink while pregnant, or to be careless in any way. We know much more now than our own mothers did, and that’s an advantage. But years of experience studying gender and working with families have shown me, time and again, that mothers get a bad rap. This can create needless fear, anxiety, and self-doubt. Perhaps it’s time to rethink the tendency to assign blame, constantly monitor, and voice our every opinion about the choices other mothers make. After all, isn’t the prospect of having a baby daunting enough?

Indeed, I think we can all agree that over-indulging during pregnancy is not a good idea. But making hard and fast rules, giving people a hard time about it, or even punishing them socially, or legally, is going too far. Which brings me back to my statement earlier that this is “taking its toll on some women in unexpected ways.” An article last week in London’s Telegraph, Pre-pregnancy test binge-drinking: 5 myths busted, detailed the darker side of humiliating pregnant women with the abstinence only propaganda so commonly employed by prohibitionist groups.

Most women try and follow the existing guidelines, or avoid alcohol altogether.

But what about those who don’t know they’re pregnant? What about the women who have spent the first few weeks of their pregnancy binge drinking, because they had no idea they were unexpectedly expecting?

Today, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) said that many women are so shocked to discover they’ve been binge drinking through the early stages of pregnancy, that they consider having an abortion.

The organisation reports an increase in women who are so worried about having unknowingly harmed their baby that they’re enquiring about ending what would otherwise have been a wanted pregnancy. BPAS is now trying to reassure pregnant women that this is not necessary.

That’s right, some women have been so traumatized by the scaremongering propaganda out there about binge drinking that they’re considering terminating their pregnancy, that is having an abortion rather than risk giving birth. The BPAS is now scrambling to reassure women that they don’t need to go to such extreme measures, and author Radhika Sanghani takes on five common myths which lead women to consider an abortion, and in the process contradicts much of the absolutist rhetoric and rationale for advising women to completely abstain from alcohol during pregnancy.

What struck me about this story is that it’s a real example of harm being perpetrated on women — not to mention their unborn children — through prohibitionist propaganda. I want to believe that the healthcare community has been giving the abstaining advice in an abundance of caution and with a greatest good sort of mentality to protect women and children. But I have no such illusions about the motives of prohibitionists, who have shown they’ll use any tactic to promote their agenda, and will exaggerate any claim that shows alcohol in a negative light. This is what can happen when propaganda goes unchecked. This suggests that there may be children who were terminated and not given a chance to live full lives thanks to exaggerated propaganda by prohibitionist groups and other anti-alcohol organizations. As my British colleague Pete Brown tweeted when this article first appeared; “Proud of yourselves, Alcohol Concern? These are the, hopefully, unintended consequences of prohibitionist propaganda.

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A Link-Bait Manifesto

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This morning I got a press release from the P.R. Firm for a well-known men’s magazine that was so obviously link-bait, that I almost didn’t even want to read it. I won’t say who or what, mostly because I’m tired of playing into their hands, but most of you will no doubt be able to figure it out, as I’ve already started seeing responses and retweets.

It’s something I’ve been guilty of time and time again. I hate myself for it, but I still can’t seem to help it. When I see something that annoys me, or strikes me as being wrong on some level, I often feel compelled to intercede. I’m seeking help.

A few years ago, I definitely would have penned an angry response, pointing out the flawed reasoning, or what have you. But I think I’m done, at least I hope so. I was bcc’d (thankfully) so I have no way of knowing just how many people the P.R. firm was trying to bait with their e-mail, but I suspect it was a lot of people. The e-mail itself used the most incendiary quotes from the piece, obviously designed to raise the hackles of the beer community and rally support against the piece, all in an effort to get thousands of people to visit the website and get their hit count going through the roof.

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Essentially, this has become a strategy on the internet. Say something incendiary, and reap the rewards. Maybe some of the people actually believe what they’re writing, but I get the sense that even if that’s the case, they do it in such a way as to maximize the outrage, and thus insure a greater number of responses. Often, I think, the extreme position taken is done precisely to get a rise out of people. I think it’s become a variation of the old saw about there being no such thing as bad publicity, in this case more along the lines of as long as people are clicking on the link, it doesn’t matter what they say or whether it’s even true or not. All that matters is the hit count. Oscar Wilde was saying something similar in the 19th century. “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

Sadly, there are all sorts of helpful websites explaining just how to accomplish this. See, for example, the SEO Guide to Creating Viral Linkbait, The Marketer’s Ultimate Guide to Link Bait, or SEO Advice: linkbait and linkbaiting. There’s even a helpful infographic and a link bait title generator. While most of them insist that not all link bait is bad, in our little part of the interwebs, that hasn’t been my experience.

I think I’ve just grown weary of hearing why the bubble is about to burst, or why you hate hops or beer with flavor, or that you drink your beer out of a plastic cup as god intended. Please, stop. Okay, I’m certain that won’t work. No plea for sanity every has. So instead I’d like to propose that we all agree to ignore them. That’s really the only way to make them stop. If we all ignore the link bait, and they don’t get the expected backlash they’re hoping for, then they’ll have no choice but to stop trying.

Having a different opinion or wanting to spark a meaningful discussion about it will remain an excellent reason to pen a thoughtful blog post or article. But taking an opinion that’s designed to provoke outrage with inflammatory language, fringe positions, or by insulting entire swaths of people has no place in the marketplace of ideas that the beer blogosphere should aspire to. Just say know.

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Don’t take the bait

The Drunkard’s Cloak

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Once upon a time, society kept everybody in line through social pressure, and if that didn’t work, public humiliation. The pillory was a common punishment, and you’re undoubtedly familiar with the main type, a wooden stake with two perpendicular pieces of wood that fit together, with holes for a person’s head and both hands, so that once all three were secured, you were stuck in the public square for a period of time depending on the severity of your crime. But that was only the most common type, and there were several others, such as the scold’s bridle or the jougs. But there was also a specific pillory used in the case of public drunkenness. In England, it was known as a Drunkard’s Cloak.

According to one source, “Drunkenness was first made a civil offence in England by the Ale Houses Act 1551 and the drunkard’s cloak became a common method of punishing recidivists, especially during the Commonwealth of England. From 1655 Oliver Cromwell suppressed many of England’s alehouses, particularly in Royalist areas, and the authorities made regular use of the cloak.”

The 1655 publication England’s Grievance Discovered, by Ralph Gardiner, describes the Drunkard’s Cloak like this.

Men drove up and down the streets, with a great tub, or barrel, opened in the sides, with a hole in one end, to put through their heads, and to cover their shoulders and bodies, down to the small of their legs, and then close the same, called the new fashioned cloak, and so make them march to the view of all beholders; and this is their punishment for drunkards, or the like.

“Drunkards are to pay a fine of five shillings to the poor, to be paid within one week, or be set in.”

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In 1655, John Willis claimed that in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, “he hath seen men drove up and down the streets with a great tub or barrel opened in the sides, with a hole in one end to put through their heads, and so cover their shoulders and bodies, down to the small of their legs, and then close the same, called the newfangled cloak, and so make them march to the view of all beholders; and this is their punishments for drunkards and the like.”

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It was also used in other parts of Europe, though often called by different names, such as the Spanish Mantle or the Barrel Pillory. In Germany, it was called a Schandmantel, which means “coat of shame” or “barrel of shame.”

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And there’s actual one in the torture museum in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany.

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By some accounts, the Spanish Mantle may have been a more serious torture device, intended to inflict more than just humiliation.

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A 1641 diary entry by John Evelyn described one in Delft, Holland as “a weighty vessel of wood, not unlike a butter churn, which the adventurous woman that hath two husbands at one time is to wear on her shoulders, her head peeping out at the top only, and so led about the town, as a penance for her incontinence.”

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Apparently this type of punishment was not confined to Europe, and also made its way to the American colonies.

Massachusetts Bay Governor John Winthrop, in 1634, noted that Robert Cole (1598-1655), who had come to Massachusetts with the Winthrop Fleet in 1630, “having been oft punished for drunkenness, was now ordered to wear a red D about his neck for a year.” Some literature professors suggest that this was the origin of the story written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter.

“Robert Cole was living in Roxbury, Massachusetts, when he petitioned to be made a “freeman” on 19 Oct 1630, and was granted that status by the General Court on 18 May 1631, along with 113 other men. He was disfranchised 4 Mar 1634, for a short time on account of his problem with drinking too much wine, when he was also ordered to wear a red letter “D” on his clothing for a year; however, his freeman status was reinstated about two months later on 14 May 1634, and the requirement to wear the letter ‘D’ was also revoked at that time.”

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And according to Curious Punishments of Bygone Days, published in 1896 by Alice Morse Earle, it was used during the American Civil War, as well.

Another Union soldier, a member of Company B, Thirteenth Massachusetts Volunteers, writes that while with General Banks at Darnstown, Virginia, he saw a man thus punished who had been found guilty of stealing: With his head in one hole, and his arms in smaller holes on either side of the barrel, placarded “I am a thief,” he was under a corporal’s guard marched with a drum beating the rogue’s march through all the streets of the brigade to which his regiment was attached. Another officer tells me of thus punishing a man who stole liquor. His barrel was ornamented with bottles on either side simulating epaulets, and was labelled “I stole whiskey.” Many other instances might be given. There was usually no military authority for these punishments, but they were simply ordered in cases which seemed too petty for the formality of a court-martial.

This “barrel-shirt,” which was evidently so frequently used in our Civil War, was known as the Drunkard’s Cloak, and it was largely employed in past centuries on the Continent.

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Another eyewitness account from 1862 described the scene as follows. “One wretched delinquent was gratuitously framed in oak, his head being thrust through a hole cut in one end of a barrel, the other end of which had been removed; and the poor fellow loafed about in the most disconsolate manner, looking for all the world like a half-hatched chicken.”

Surprisingly, the most recent example I found for the Drunkard’s Cloak was in 1932, when it was still in use in American prisons, such as the Sunbeam Prison Camp, in Florida, which is where the photo below was taken.

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I’m certainly glad that public shaming has, for the most part, been removed from our justice system. Although I’ve never been arrested for public drunkenness, I’ve certainly made a fool of myself in private or with friends, and this certainly seems a bit excessive. Clearly, it was ineffective at controlling peoples’ behavior, but I wonder what it was in the end that finally stopped it being used as a punishment?

Misusing Data

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As I’ve written time and time again, lying with statistics may not be the oldest profession, but it’s got to be pretty close. Alright, I may be exaggerating slightly. Modern propaganda and the P.R. machine got going around the time of the First World War, with many of the profession’s leading lights coming out of that time period — Edward Bernays, Walter Lippmann, Ivy Lee. But it’s a powerful tool of the propagandist today, especially the numerous prohibitionist groups and anti-alcohol organizations. So when I saw Think you drink a lot? This chart will tell you last month on the Washington Post’s Wonkblog, I noted it with suspicion and made a note to look at it closer when I had the time. What got my spidey senses tingling was the idea that “the top 10 percent of drinkers account for well over half of the alcohol consumed in any given year.” Here’s the chart the article ran, showing the data for that conclusion.

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Although it shows the common Pareto Principle, it just didn’t ring true. That many people can’t, and don’t, drink that heavily. I knew there had to be another explanation for this data. And there is. Trevor Butterworth, writing for Forbes, did the heavy lifting on this one with his wonderful expose, When Data Journalism Goes Wrong. It turns out that when you drill down the data, looking at its source and analysis, things begin to unravel. Apparently the results of the original poll had the data manipulated by nearly doubling them to account for a perceived problem with under-reporting. To put that another way, the data was “fixed.” One of the problems with that (there are many, many, I’d say) is that people looking for data to support an agenda tend to seize on such manipulated data and pass it on, using it in their propaganda, and the mainstream media tends to fall for it uncritically, rarely looking at where the original information came from or how it was gathered. Happily, Butterworth does a good job of demonstrating where it all went wrong, and I urger you to read his entire When Data Journalism Goes Wrong. And a h/t to Maureen Ogle for sending me this. She knows me all too well.

Beer And Good Health, Circa 1907

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Here’s another interesting historical artifact on beer and good health. This is from the Tennessee State Fair Official Souvenir Program and Guide, from 1907, advertising a talk by a German professor, Dr. P. Bauer, “demonstrating the effect of beer on the health.” It looks like his appearance was sponsored by the William Gerst Brewing Co. of Nashville, Tennessee. One insight he could be expected to give: “Solid foods often remain in the stomach a long time and retard digestion. Liquid foods, like GERST Beer, are an aid to digestion.” Oh, and there’s this subtitle. “People Who Drink Plenty of Beer Are Always Strong and Healthy.” The ad then ends with this branded tagline: “There is Good Health in every bottle of Gerst Beer.”

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Where Can You Buy Beer In Grocery Stores?

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Late last month, the Huffington Post, of all place, actually had an interesting series of charts detailing the availability of different kinds of alcohol in each state. In Here Are The Rules To Buying Alcohol In Each State’s Grocery Stores they have charts for beer, wine, spirits and where you can but alcohol on Sundays. Check out the post for all of the charts, although the beer chart is below, which used data provided by Legal Beer.

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Did The FBI Poison Innocent People During Prohibition?

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Why yes, yes they did. Shocking, isn’t it. I wrote about this a few years ago, in Poisoning People During Prohibition: A Disturbing Parable, when Deborah Blum’s book The Poisoner’s Handbook was published. She detailed the story there, as did a few other news outlets at the time. But I bring it up again because one of the YouTube channels my son Porter subscribes to, Alltime Conspiracies, posted a video about this dark tale in our history. It’s entitled Did The FBI Poison Innocent People?, and details how over the final seven years of Prohibition, our government in effect murdered over 10,000 Americans in the name of stopping people from drinking illegal alcohol.

Alcohol Doesn’t “Cause” Violence

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This one is sticking in my craw, and would be turning me to violence except for the fact that I’m not a terribly violent person, even when I drink. But to hear Alcohol Justice, and many others recently, you’d think that one sip of beer turns every person into a homicidal maniac. I don’t know how much more obvious this could be, but alcohol doesn’t cause violence. It’s not the primary catalyst of domestic violence. It may exacerbate it, it may intensify it, it may even be used as an excuse for it, but if you remove alcohol from a dysfunctional relationship, the violence doesn’t magically disappear. The underlying causes of domestic violence, and all violent behavior, is more complicated. I grew up with an alcoholic, psychotic, and frequently violent stepfather, but the issues that led to his outbursts were not caused by the alcohol he consumed. He often used that as his excuse, and as a way for society to overlook the root causes, because during periods of time when he wasn’t drinking, his violent tendencies were undiminished.

So watching the news regarding the NFL recently, I’m amazed that people are trying to blame alcohol. Not surprisingly, the prohibitionists at Alcohol Justice are leading the charge, since they’ll use any excuse to promote their agenda. You just have to see their recent and frequent use of Robin Williams’ image in numerous tweets, as if he was tacitly endorsing them or prohibition, to know how far they’ll go. Tellingly, this began shortly after his death, when he no longer could agree to be their spokesperson or have a say in how his image or story was used. So naturally if the NFL is having problems, it must be the fault of alcohol.

In their latest press release, Alcohol Justice Says Roger Goodell and Anheuser-Busch InBev Blame Personal Conduct, Ignore Alcohol Policies and Sponsorship, they’re at it again.

The latest brouhaha with the NFL has left me with mixed feelings. I think John Oliver hit the nail on the head when he recently said that the NFL was America’s FIFA, in terms of corruption and dysfunction. In a lengthy segment during the World Cup earlier this year, he detailed all that is wrong with FIFA, but ended with the admission that he was still really excited to watch the soccer during the tournament.

And that’s how I feel about the NFL. There’s so much I hate about them — from their non-profit status, the denial of the long term effects of concussions, the way they treat the referees and cheerleaders, how the wealthy owners manipulate communities to get new stadiums and economic concessions, thumbing their nose at those same communities when they don’t get what they want, like petulant children, even as they get tax breaks while the cities crumble into economic ruin. And yet…. And yet I still look forward to football season, watching the games on Sunday with my son and cheering on my favorite team (the Green Bay Packers, who, I like to point out, is the only major sports team owned by the community, a loophole the NFL closed the moment after the Packers incorporated in 1950).

But now there’s this latest spate of incidents of violent behavior off the field giving the league a black eye and tarnishing their image. This is both for the behavior of the players and for the way the league is, or more correctly isn’t, dealing with these issues. Most commenters and pundits and people paying attention believe during his tenure beginning in 2006, commissioner Roger Goddell is at least partially, if not mostly, responsible. And yet he apparently continues to have the support of all the team owners, as he said during the travesty of a press conference he held recently, during which by all accounts he did more harm than good. That alone, tells us quite a bit about how out-of-touch with their fans the league really is, but then we’ve seen that over and over again during the many scandals in recent years.

What I’m truly amazed at, is how many people seem surprised that professional football players are having trouble controlling their anger and violence. They’re trained to be violent as one of the main requirements of their job. They’re no different than professional fighters, who are taught to be aggressive from Pop Warner football, high school and college football programs, so that by the time a player reaches the professional ranks of the NFL, they’re a finally tuned machine of hitting, tackling, and other skills necessary to succeed in a game that celebrates violent behavior. It’s modern gladiatorial sport, although happily no one dies at the end or gets eaten by lions.

The real question is why anyone would think they wouldn’t become violent people in the process, or find difficulty switching between their work life and their home life? Everybody brings their work home with them, at least a little. It’s the same shock and surprise that people express every time a soldier comes home from the war and commits some violent act. How could he? The pundits wonder aloud. How could he not? He was trained to meet violence with violence, taught to engage the enemy, to kill or be killed. And yet we think a soldier should be able to turn off that like a switch when he’s no longer on the front lines. I’ve never been in a combat situation — luckily, my time in the military was relatively peaceful — but we know that war changes people. We’ve known it for centuries, and since World War I have studied it more closely and found all sorts of psychological problems created by the sacrifice many veterans make by going into battle on our behalf. But knowing that, we do precious little help them adjust back into civilian life or deal with the changes that being in war brings to their personality.

So whether the battle is in some war torn region of the world or on a 100-yard field of grass, we’ve bred people to be aggressive and then asked them to walk off those fields and turn off that aggression and be gentle, caring societal role models for the children. What could go wrong? I’m sure it’s partly because I”m getting older, but the world seems more violent today than it did when I was younger. It just seems that today it’s more taken for granted in our society, and accepted. And issues with acts of violence by NFL players off the field is nothing new, but doesn’t it seem like it’s intensified in recent years? More arrests, and for more and more serious crimes is how it seems to me, at least. Were there any football players accused of murder in the 1960s? I don’t remember any. It seems like that would have been a big deal back then.

So we’ve created a class of individuals, incredibly well-paid — our modern gladiators — and as the amount of money at stake is growing larger and larger, we’re finding that they can’t be controlled and can’t be expected to meet the responsibilities of the morals clause of their contracts, that compels them to act in a certain way to protect the image of themselves, their team and the league in way that they can still be considered role models to children and which allows the league to sell a product that’s very, very profitable. And all the while demanding them to be aggressive, violent players during their game each week.

But now Alcohol Justice has to take this situation and blame it all on alcohol. In the subtitle to their press release, the “Watchdog demands end to alcohol industry’s toxic relationship with NFL, teams and big game advertising.” It’s the same dead horse they been beating for years, and the same one that most prohibitionist organizations have been similarly beating since 1933, when Prohibition was repealed. Limiting alcohol advertising as dangerous was the very first tactic undertaken by the temperance movement when they realized prohibition had failed. But here we go again.

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They jump right in with their own agenda. “The NFL’s Roger Goodell has yet to show any understanding that alcohol use by players is a major cause of domestic violence, child abuse, arrests and even suicide and homicide. Though he has shown progress in recognizing that domestic violence is a serious problem, he and the sport’s biggest sponsor — Anheuser-Busch InBev — continue to blame individual behavior as the cause. What they continue to ignore is the influence of the complete saturation of the NFL with alcohol sponsorships of teams, stadium advertising, tailgating, beverage sales and TV broadcast of games, especially the big one in February.”

What I can’t for the life of me understand is why Alcohol Justice is so utterly against “individual behavior.” Why are prohibitionists so convinced that people should not be responsible for their own actions. Except instead they’d prefer to blame alcohol, as if without it no violence would ever take place, as if people don’t have any control over their actions, as if alcohol makes people do things against their nature. It’s baffling. Consider the KISS principle — keep it simple, stupid. Is it more likely that people are complicated, that violent behavior has many, many causes and like all human experience cannot be generalized so easily — or — does one drop of alcohol turn every person into a violent monster? Yet that’s the position taken by Alcohol Justice and other similar groups, especially as they increasingly take the position that no amount of alcohol is “acceptable,” or “safe.” It’s heroin to them; no difference. As dangerous, as addictive, as sinful, as bad for society, like the temperance of old where all roads led to ruin, every indulgence led to another one, and only abstinent perfection was the proper way to live.

Maybe the question should be why do they not blame individual behavior? Why is it acceptable to blame alcohol for all of society’s problems, but not the people who abuse it? How does that make any sense? Why can’t they bring themselves to ask, or insist, that people take responsibility for their actions? It should again be obvious that millions of people drink, most moderately, but even a few immoderately, without turning violent. That fact alone should persuade a reasonable person that alcohol won’t make everyone who drinks it turn violent.

Curiously, AJ also points to a statement by a well-known sociologist, Harry Edwards, who’s been a staff consultant to the San Francisco 49ers, among other sports teams. Apparently shorty after Goddell became commissioner in 2006, Edwards “warned him that players’ personal conduct would become the defining issue of his tenure.” That’s “players’ personal conduct,” not alcohol. And yet now in a San Francisco Chronicle article he’s “pointed to alcohol as the leading factor.” That’s all he says, though. The quote in AJ’s press release where he says this is based on his “experience,” not any actual evidence or statistics, is nowhere to be found in the article, but even so is contradictory and fairly absurd.

So when AJ says: “Anheuser-Busch InBev distanced itself from Rodger Goodell and the NFL on Tuesday, September 17, 2014 with a hypocritical statement of concern over “…the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own culture and moral code,” I can’t help but think they’re the ones being hypocritical, which is not terribly uncommon for them. Can they really think that ABI wants their customers beating one another? That they’re somehow in favor of domestic violence? I’m willing to bet that privately they don’t believe anyone in the alcohol industry has a “moral code,” given the way they usually characterize us. It never seems to occur to prohibitionists that we have families, whom we love, too. So why should it surprise anyone that ABI, or any of the other NFL sponsors who are questioning the handling of recent incidents, such as P&G, Radisson and Nike, would do so? Most are taking a wait and see approach, primarily because there’s so much money at stake. You’d think that ABI’s statement would be applauded for putting morals ahead of money, unlike most of the NFL’s sponsors, but because they make alcohol, instead Alcohol Justice accuses them of being hypocritical.

The entire statement was very short, but to the point:

We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season. We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code. We have shared our concerns and expectations with the league.

But who could disagree with that? I feel the same way about the NFL’s handling of this, don’t you? Only I can’t share my “concerns and expectations with the league,” and even if I could, they wouldn’t listen, as they’ve shown time and time again they don’t really care what their fans think. Just ask the refs, or the cheerleaders, or the many former players with head trauma and brain problems. But ABI can get the league to listen, so maybe we should applaud their efforts instead of belittling them. If their doing this is so counterintuitive, as many have thoughtlessly commented, then shouldn’t that show just how important an issue it is? Instead of adopting this pointless air of mock surprise, in effect characterizing ABI as an unfeeling, amoral monster (and by extension all of the rest of us in the beer world) then doesn’t this disprove the very point they think they’re making? Maybe it should make prohibitionists rethink their view of alcohol companies. Of course when they donated water for earthquake relief, all they did was complain, as they do no matter what we do. But maybe being one of the few NFL sponsors doing the right thing is just the right thing to do?

But instead they continue to, in a sense, change the subject and blame domestic violence on alcohol ads during games and at stadiums. If it weren’t for the advertising, everyone would stop drinking, just as nobody smokes anymore now that they’ve banned tobacco advertising. And in any event, alcohol consumption in the U.S. is declining, a fact conveniently ignored by prohibitionists while spreading this kind of propaganda. No matter, AJ’s director of public affairs (whatever that means), Michael Scippa has this to say. “To deny any responsibility in the wake of the NFL’s problems, or the massive alcohol-related harms their products cause to the public, is just ludicrous.” To me what’s ludicrous is to take a very real problem — domestic violence, violent behavior of any kind and a history of sweeping it under the rug and not dealing with it because of the money involved — and instead using it to promote their anti-alcohol agenda. What most people have been discussing here is the violence, the culture that fosters and supports it, and how our society as a whole does not treat seriously violence against women, and instead turned it into another alcohol bashing session. Nobody brought up alcohol at all, not until they saw their opening when ABI had the audacity to be one of the few courageous sponsors to ask the NFL to do better, to use their clout for a good cause. That should be celebrated, but as usual, let no good deed unpunished. As I mentioned, Alcohol Justice also complained mightily when ABI canned water and sent it to earthquake-ravaged Haiti a few years ago, taking issue with them putting their logo and name on the cans. I’ve never seen an organization so committed to finding fault with absolutely everything another organization does. It’s remarkable, really, how blindingly absolute their hatred is.

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And I just knew they’d bring this up.

Even the Daily Show, disturbingly infused with alcohol advertising of its own, which many youth watch, exposed the irony of AB InBev’s statement. Isn’t AB InBev’s chief “culture and moral code” to sell more beer for fans to consume at stadiums, tailgating parties, sports bars and at their homes? And then they solely place blame on players if they are abusive and destructive while under the influence?

I, too, winced to hear Jon Stewart (especially because I’m usually such a big fan of the Daily Show) refer to alcohol as “maybe one of the only substances that is proven scientifically to increase the likelihood of domestic abuse.” Again, it won’t make someone become violent unless they also have that in their nature. We all know that bad drunk who has a problem, but that’s not everyone, and it’s not even most people. Most of us can have a few drinks and not beat our wives or children. But there’s no “scientifically proven” causation. In fact, the research suggests that alcohol abuse is not a direct cause of domestic violence, but that it can exacerbate situations, as I said earlier. Even the World Health Organization, which is generally anti-alcohol, admits that violence is usually the result of “the harmful use of alcohol,” which is very different from the way most of us consume our beer.

But who exactly is “solely plac[ing] blame on players if they are abusive and destructive while under the influence?” I haven’t heard that one. Have you? What I’m hearing is AJ solely placing the blame on alcohol and not blaming individual players for their actions, in fact mocking the idea that they should take personal responsibility for their violent behavior. This is the modern version of the devil made them do it. But letting people blame the alcohol, in fact insisting on it as AJ is doing, does more harm because it’s removing the responsibility for one’s actions. Saying we can’t blame individual behavior allows it to continue, allows it to be used as an excuse for the violence, in effect allowing a person to say I couldn’t help myself, I’d been drinking. Which is utter bullshit. Most of us can drink a little, or even a lot, and it never once occurs to us to hit somebody, to do anything violent whatsoever. So if you’re saying you can’t, then yeah, you’ve got problems. You definitely should not be drinking. But don’t presume that your problem is my problem, or everyone else’s problem.

Scary statistics follow, the same propaganda they’re usually peddling. Then this statement from AJ’s sheriff, and chief hypocrite, Bruce Lee Livingston. “AB InBev CEO Carlos Brito can declare all day long that the problem is the NFL’s, but both the NFL and the beer barons need to back away from advertising and team sponsorships.” This is pure substance-free propaganda, and it’s not actually doing anything useful. First of all, AJ is the only one blaming the violence on the advertising of alcohol during games and team or league sponsorships, as if that’s what led these players to become violent. That is the issue here, that NFL players are being violent off the field, and the NFL is not dealing with it. Period. It should not be an opportunity to pile on your agenda.

But even so, they’re worried about kids seeing alcohol advertising. I’m more worried about kids being beaten and abused. Watching Sean Fucking Hannity defending beating kids while talking about how his Dad hit him with a belt, all the while insisting he’s not in therapy was painful. It should have been obvious to everyone seeing that, that although maybe he didn’t go to a therapist, perhaps he really should. And now; right away. But the number of people and pundits defending the physical abuse of children as an acceptable form of discipline was almost as unsettling as the abuse itself. That so many think that it was alright to raise welts on a four-year old because he wasn’t listening and because that’s what your Dad did was appalling, especially when you realize that studies consistently show that discipling children by physical force — spanking, hitting with a belt, etc. — are not only ineffective but actually lead to greater problems later in life. It’s sad to see how unevolved we are on this subject. The United Nations, in 1989, adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which, among other things forbids abusing children, which would include spanking and other physical discipline. Every member nation in the world ratified the convention, agreeing to abide by its tenets, all except two, that is, which to this day have not ratified it. Those would be Somalia and the United States. We apparently won’t ratify it because we want to keep our precious right to put a child to death, whereas the convention forbids capital punishment for children. But I’m amazed how many people here still seem to think spanking, or worse, is actually effective or, at least, harmless. To me, this is a far greater problem to be focusing on then whether kids see an ad for alcohol.

And second of all, Brito never said that “the problem is [only] the NFL’s.” Read ABI’s short statement above, in its entirety. Does it say that? No, it fucking doesn’t. They say they’re “disappointed and concerned” (which I am, and so are most people) that they are “not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of [these] behaviors (again, I’m not, you’re probably not. Who exactly is satisfied, apart from the team owners?) and that the violent behavior “clearly go against our own company culture and moral code” (which of course, it does). Just because ABI makes beer doesn’t mean they condone violence against women, violence against children or violence of any kind for fucksakes, and yet that’s the connection AJ, and sadly Jon Stewart, are making. That since a minority of people abuse alcohol, and may commit violent acts while intoxicated, that means beer companies either don’t have a moral code or have one that thinks violence is okay. Using that logic, there should be no gun manufacturers either. Because if you make a gun, and someone kills another person with it, well that means you’re condoning violence using the same twisted logic they’re employing here. And if you have a gun, you have no choice but to kill somebody. You can’t help it, there’s no personal responsibility. How dare anyone even suggest that you take responsibility for your actions? That would be ludicrous, wouldn’t it?

Then there’s this gem. The “prevention of domestic abuse and player violence off the field has to begin with the end of the NFL’s promotion of alcohol.” Really, that’s where the NFL needs to start in addressing this? Promoting alcohol is not the same thing as promoting violence, as that statement suggests, and yet again AJ is turning the debate toward their own agenda, despite the fact that it has little to do with what’s going on here.

Sadder still, they provide a list of truly tragic events where former players committed suicide, murder or were arrested for being drunk or shooting off firearms. And those are awful, but those incidents did not occur for the sole reason that any one of them took a drink. People don’t kill themselves just because they got drunk, they do so, or worse, because of deep-seated problems that most likely had little or nothing to do with alcohol. Because most if us do not take to violence when we drink. A violent drunk is a violent person.

AJ’s sheriff leaves us with this wisdom. “In the NFL culture of game aggression and beer marketing, the players alone can’t be blamed for alcohol abuse, binge drinking and addiction that leads to domestic violence, homicide, suicides and traffic collisions.” First of all, why can’t all of us be blamed for our actions. Is a Twinkie defense so ingrained in our culture that we can’t conceive of being responsible for our own actions, so much so that there has to be an outside cause we can blame? I don’t get that. If you do the crime, you did the crime. It shouldn’t, and really doesn’t, matter if you were drinking, or on drugs, or your blood sugar was too low, or you were amped up on a sugar rush eating Twinkies. Such factors may explain certain bad decisions and poor judgement, but they never excuse it. Many, many factors may contribute to our behavior every single day of our lives. But in the end, we are responsible for what we do to ourselves, and others. Why is that so hard to understand?

Finally, Livingston demands that “the NFL and sports’ biggest beer sponsors Budweiser and Coors educate on the harms and dangers of alcohol, get advertising and overconsumption out of the game, and recognize moderation and (horror of horrors) abstinence as legitimate choices for players and fans.” All of the major beer companies have responsibility programs, but of course AJ never acknowledges that they’re anything except half-hearted, forever criticizing them. The advertising angle as I’ve gone over, is the same tired tactic prohibitionists have been using for over 80 years. But I love that he says — excuse me, demands — these companies “recognize moderation and (horror of horrors) abstinence as legitimate choices for players and fans.” Who said they don’t? Oh, that’s right. You did. Because nobody else is insisting that anyone must drink, or must drink heavily, and no one’s trying to make it a requirement. And I won’t mention that as long as moderate drinking is shown to increase the average person’s longevity, barring any specific health issues, that advocating for abstinence is actually not the best choice someone might make. But I won’t mention that. It might upset your delicate constitution.

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An example of one of the big brewers’ responsibility ads that already exists, but which AJ insists they aren’t doing but demands they should.

The reality is that this is a very complicated issue, and it does little good to reduce it to a single factor, or even just a primary factor, especially when it’s the wrong one. And unlike the absolute blinders that AJ wears, I recognize that people with violent tendencies abusing alcohol could make them worse, and more violent. Such people probably should not drink, and certainly not to excess. I’ve had my fair share of personal encounters with such people throughout my life. But like most things, the dose makes the poison. I’ve also had even more experiences with many, many people with whom I’ve shared a drink with positive outcomes. Drinking sessions during which no one resorted to violence at all. For me, and I suspect most of us, that’s the norm.

I want to believe that prohibitionists are well-intentioned, that they sincerely mean well. But it’s difficult to maintain that belief when they’re so continually dishonest and manipulative, so ends-justify-the-means about everything, all the time. I’ve been watching the self-proclaimed watchdogs for a number of years now, and they constantly amaze me with their underhanded tactics and propaganda. They remind me of a bad joke, but one that many people actually take seriously, and don’t realize is a joke. Which is why they’re so damn scary.

But this is really supposed to be about violence and especially violence against women and children. So it’s somewhat surprising that Alcohol Justice would try to distract the debate away from that, instead heaping the blame on their favorite target: alcohol. Actually, it’s not surprising at all, just par for the course, sad to say. But for the sake of my daughter, and women everywhere, I sure wish they’d cut it out. Unfortunately, if history is any teacher, the drive by fanatical temperance groups for another prohibition will almost certainly outlive me.

As for the NFL, I do wish they’d get their shit together. Unfortunately, I’m not hopeful, not under the current management or with the current team ownership. Money is their driving priority, which is understandable to a point, but until they leave a little room for human decency, then nothing is likely to change very much. They’re in damage control mode right now, and that will likely continue until everybody’s moved on to the next news cycle. Goddell has already tried to not do anything about it when he “promised” changes by the Super Bowl, at the end of the season, four months from now. He’s hoping everyone will just forget about it, and they probably will so long as there aren’t any new cases of player mischief that pop up. Their committees will offer some half-hearted band-aids, no real or long-lasting solutions, and that will be it, provided everything stays quiet. There’s just too much money at stake for a sweeping change, especially absent the amount of pressure from the league’s fan base that would be needed. And the larger problem with that is the way violence against women and children in our society is currently tolerated and accepted. Until that changes, it’s unlikely the NFL will change, either. But as long as people can avoid responsibility for their actions, their “personal conduct,” and can continue to blame alcohol, nothing will change, either. Which is why Alcohol Justice’s position that alcohol is to blame for violent behavior, and not anyone’s personal conduct, is so dangerous that they’re actually making this situation worse. It’s a good thing I’m not prone to violence.

Berkeley Bar Proposes Not Serving Alcohol

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Talk about your non-story. A new Kava bar set to open in Berkeley is planning on not serving alcohol and you’d think they had re-invented the light bulb. Between the bar’s own application claiming it “aims to be Berkeley’s first and only alcohol-alternative bar” and Alcohol Justice tweeting the news with their characteristic glee assuming it must be anti-alcohol, there’s not a lot to the actual story. Not to mention the way in which the Bay Area BizTalk author is spinning it so that she claims it to be “innovative,” saying that “while the common thread is serving booze, one business that plans to open in Berkeley could change that.” Puh-leeze!

Okay, first let’s dispense with the innovation or that it’s Berkeley, or anywhere for that matter’s, “first and only alcohol-alternative bar.” Berkeley and the rest of the world has thousands, maybe millions of them. They’re called cafes, coffeehouse, tea bars, ice cream parlors, and on and on. Starbucks alone operates nearly 24,000 alcohol-alternative bars, not including the few that have been test-marketing alcohol sales in the evenings. As for Alcohol Justice’s churlish remark that “If this takes off, expect Bud Light Kava,” they’re displaying their usual cluelessness. Kava is a plant “used to produce a drink with sedative and anesthetic properties. Kava is consumed throughout the Pacific Ocean cultures of Polynesia, including Hawaii, Vanuatu, Melanesia and some parts of Micronesia. Kava is sedating and is primarily consumed to relax without disrupting mental clarity. Its active ingredients are called kavalactones. A Cochrane Collaboration systematic review of its evidence concluded it was likely to be more effective than placebo at treating short-term social anxiety.”

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The scientific name for the specific plant used to make the kava drink is known as “Piper methysticum,” which means “intoxicating pepper.” So essentially it’s a different, milder high, but is used in much the same way and for the same purposes as many people use alcohol and mood-altering drugs. You just missed celebrating the Feast of Papa-Lea, the God of Kava Drinking, on September 8. Still, it’s not exactly a health drink. “People taking certain kava-based drugs and dietary products have suffered liver damage or liver failure as a result of hepatotoxicity. Consequently, kava is regulated in a number of countries. In the EU it is strictly prohibited only in Poland.” So the bar may be not serving alcohol, but that’s because they’re focusing on another, somewhat similar product. If it were more popular in the U.S., and regulated like alcohol, you can bet Alcohol Justice would be against it, and singing a different tune.

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I want to be clear that I’m not against Kava. I’ve never had it but would try it in a heartbeat if offered a chance to sample it. But I do want to point out the incessant hypocrisy of prohibitionist groups like Alcohol Justice who are so against alcohol in our society that they’ll celebrate the fact that a bar is taking a different theme to reach a specialized clientele and choosing against serving alcohol in favor of a different mood-altering drink. One they’re against, and the other … well, they don’t really understand or care about so long as it’s not alcohol.

Personally, I hope the MeloMelo Kava Bar does open. It sounds interesting, and worth trying, but please let’s dispense with the notion that it’s going to start a wave of non-alcoholic places that will squash alcohol’s prominence as the beverage of choice at bars across the nation. And especially that they’ll be characterized as “alcohol-alternative bars.” According to the Bay Area BizTalk article, “Tea, yerba mate and kombucha will also be on the menu at MeloMelo, but the bar will not serve food or ‘coffee bean-related’ products.” And let’s not forget that MeloMelo is saving themselves thousands by not buying an expensive liquor license. So these are marketing decisions to differentiate themselves from coffeehouses, and their not serving alcohol is not exactly something that’s likely to “catch on” given that there are already thousands of places where alcohol is not served already. Hell, every time someone actually tries to sell alcohol in a place where it’s traditionally not sold — like Starbucks or Burger King — the hue and cry from the wingnut prohibitionists is deafening.

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But let’s review the real issue here, and the ridiculousness of the concept of being an alcohol-alternative establishment. I think I see a way out. When you’re at a bar, or restaurant or whatever and don’t want to order something alcoholic off of the menu; don’t. Now, was that so hard? There are all sorts of people in the world, and at any given time in any number of moods. Sometimes you want or need a drink, sometimes you don’t. I’m not a big fan of seafood, in fact hate most if it and could most likely live happily my remaining days if I never saw a fish on my plate again. But I’m not boycotting restaurants with seafood choices on the menu. I just don’t order any of them. But the prohibitionists would rather limit everybody’s choice and simply not have alcohol available for legal adults to enjoy because a minority of them might not be able to handle themselves, in effect punishing those of us who can. So how about we have alcohol-alternative people and give the rest of us the ability to choose for ourselves how we we want to live our lives?