Prohibitionists Calling Most Of The World “Idiotic”

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Here’s yet another example of prohibitionists’ zeal run amuck. It’s one thing to disagree with opinions you don’t like, but quite another to call them “idiotic,” especially when the idea being called “idiotic” is the standard in a majority of countries worldwide. Here’s a Tweet from the chuckleheads at Alcohol Justice this morning, where they essentially insult most of the world.

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Setting aside the fact that today, September 5, is a Saturday and not a Tuesday, and they couldn’t be bothered to change the text to match reality (tell me again who’s the idiot here?), let’s see what this is all about.

What got AJ into an insulting mood was a California man’s proposal to return the minimum legal drinking age in our state to its pre-1984 level, which was reported in Proposed measure would drop drinking age to 18. And of course, Alcohol Justice disagrees with that, in part because they’re against absolutely anything that shows alcohol in a positive light or opens its availability. And disagreeing is fine, of course. Calling something they disagree with “idiotic” is childish, at best, and at worst is insulting to every other nation of the world in which the minimum drinking age is 18 or below. And that accounts for 83% of the world’s countries. Or 86% for under 21. Only 6%, or 12 countries, have 21 as their drinking age, putting us in such company as Iraq, Mongolia, Oman, and Sri Lanka. In a further 16 nations (with some exceptions for non-muslims), around 8%, it’s illegal to drink alcohol no matter what age you are. So if AJ thinks it’s idiotic for California (and America) to let its otherwise legal adults drink at age 18, by extension they think most of the rest of the world is idiotic, too. Way to keep it professional.

Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) in 190 Countries

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But the Legal Drinking Age for most persons is well below 21, and has been, as it had been for the United States before 1984, for a very long time, for most of human history in fact. According to Alcohol Problems and Solutions, “the average (mean) minimum legal drinking age around the globe is 15.9. The majority of countries have set the drinking age at 18. In fifty countries the minimum age is lower than 18 and in 12 countries it is higher than 18″ (which has changed slightly since that was written, but the analysis is still relevant). ProCon has more current figures on the Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) in 190 Countries.

But even calling something that most of the world does “the worst idea,” especially when it’s been the norm for most of history, seems typical for prohibitionists who are already convinced they know better and have never been shy about telling you how you should be living your life and what you’re doing wrong (psst – it’s drinking and enjoying yourself). But it also feels fairly condescending and downright rude, and using the stock photo of a dour man wearing a dunce cap tells us how they really feel about the people who don’t think the same way as they do. I guess we’re all idiots.

Cartoon Madness

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Okay, here’s a subject near and dear to my heart, and one that royally pisses me off when it’s spun this way. Eater had an article earlier this month entitled The Boozy Underbelly of Saturday Morning Cartoons, whose unfortunate title Alcohol Justice gleefully tweeted, since it plays into their propaganda machine so nicely. But the article is largely bullshit, wrapped up in questionable science and ignoring the history and reality of the subject matter.

I’ve been a cartoon lover all of my life, and still am, despite the fact that many propagandists seem to believe that cartoons are only for children, a fact easily demolished by reality. That’s the position they take time and time again whenever a cartoon — gasp — shows up on a beer label. But this nonsense is taken a step father by Sarah Baird, whose title alone is badly misleading. Many of the cartoons she refers to in her article pre-date television and many more were originally aired before a film, and later repackaged for Saturday morning television. The earliest cartoon series, from Disney, Fleischer, Warner Brothers, MGM, Lantz, Van Beuren, Terrytown and others, were created to run before a feature-length film, along with a newsreel. They were made for every movie, not just children’s movies and as such could include subject-matter that today we might consider inappropriate for kids. But instead she says:

America’s classic cartoon canon—from Walt Disney to Merry Melodies—is rife with instances of drinking and drunkenness. Whether or not we were aware of it as children, cartoons have long been just as much for adults as for kids, with tongue-in-cheek humor, satirical pop culture references, and illicit behaviors like drinking and smoking that (likely) sailed over our heads as impressionable youths.

But that’s wrong. We didn’t miss those references as kids, they were edited out of most cartoons when they were repackaged for television. Entire cartoons never made it to TV because their content wasn’t for kids, and too much might have to be cut. You can find many of these “Uncensored Cartoons,” which now exist on DVD collections, and are still rarely aired on TV. But you can more easily find these on the internet these days, not to mention because some of the ridiculous things cut are no longer considered something we need to shield our kids from.

Later she claims the reason for this is because “[t]he surprisingly adult themes broached by cartoons reflected a need to appeal to both a slapstick-loving child and a (slightly jaded) adult, as escape-hungry moviegoers young and old flocked to the theater.” No, they didn’t. They reflected what adults would find funny. People at that time rarely thought the way we do today, that we have to coddle children and protect their innocence the way we helicopter them today. If parents took their kids to a movie, they did so knowing there was a cartoon beforehand. They didn’t think, “gee, I wonder if the cartoon will be okay for my child.” And maybe it wasn’t, by today’s standards, but you can’t examine the past without addressing how they thought about this issue, and not how we think about them today. To do so is to miss a lot.

For example, she singles out Mickey Mouse.

One of the first cartoons to feature drinking hit the silver screen in 1929, just a year after seminal animation classic Steamboat Willie. The Gallopin’ Gaucho (the second-ever film to feature Mickey Mouse) shows Mickey drinking a comically large, frothy mug of beer at a cantina, guzzling it down before attempting to woo the high-heel clad Minnie.

Later in the cartoon, Mickey finds his trusty steed—an ostrich—has overindulged in beer, the spaghetti-like bird wriggling, collapsing and hiccupping much to Mickey’s chagrin. This trend of Mickey’s animal companions hitting the sauce continues during Mickey in Arabia (1937), when our hero’s pet camel slurps down the entirety of a beer barrel.

But here’s the thing. While I can’t find information about the later two, Steamboat Willie played before the film Gang War. Gang War! It’s not exactly G-rated fare. G-rated didn’t even exist until around 1968, when they no longer showed cartoons before the movie. And it is also fairly typical in the way that Arabs are portrayed, which is not particularly flattering, to say the least. The point is, these were not intended for kids.

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A screen capture from Gallopin’ Gaucho, and you can watch the cartoon on my earlier post Mickey Mouse Drinking A Beer.

She apparently finds support for this G-Rated nonsense from a study published in the journal Pediatrics entitled Depiction of alcohol, tobacco, and other substances in G-rated animated feature films. But in the abstract it is claimed that the “content of all G-rated animated feature films released in theaters between 1937 and 2000, recorded in English, and available on videocassette in the United States by October 31, 2000, was reviewed for portrayals of alcohol, tobacco, and other substances and their use.” But no G-Rated film existed before 1968, which is when the Motion Picture Association of America film rating system was instituted to replace the Hays Code, which had been in place since 1930. So how many of the 81 films they watched actually had a “G-Rating” and how many did they just assume did because Disney made it, or whatever other criteria they made up? It’s hard to believe people take these so-called “studies” seriously. And this was done by the Harvard School of Public Health. Here was their conclusion: “The depiction of alcohol and tobacco use in G-rated animated films seems to be decreasing over time. Nonetheless, parents should be aware that nearly half of the G-rated animated feature films available on videocassette show alcohol and tobacco use as normative behavior and do not convey the long-term consequences of this use.” Gee, I wonder if the change in regulations could account for the decrease? I wonder if the pope is catholic, too.

Yet another study — who gives these people money to do such ridiculous things? — looked at “1,221 animated cartoons … to determine the prevalence of alcohol-related content; how, if at all, the prevalence changed between 1930 and 1996.” That study, Alcohol-Related Content of Animated Cartoons: A Historical Perspective, in which their “investigation revealed that 9.3 percent of cartoons from the era have some form of alcohol-related content, but that liquor’s presence has been on a steady decline over the year.” Again, without context, they report these facts without any historical understanding of cartoons, it seems. Of course, this one was done by a grant from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which was created in 1970 by a senator who was a recovering alcohol so it’s not exactly unbiased. The NIAAA is looking for alcoholic links everywhere.

According to Anderson, this “data also shed light on how alcohol was most frequently depicted in cartoons, with almost half of animated characters drinking alone and showing no physical side effects to their drinking.” Um, not to be a noodge, but cartoons are, if nothing else, entertainment. Why the fu@k should they be expected to show consequences in every single case? For a majority of people who drink responsibly and in moderation, there are no consequences. Why can’t the cartoon simply be reflecting that? Because they’re not PSAs, they’re fu@king cartoons. Seriously, what is wrong with these people?

Just look at one paragraph, entitled “Reasons for drinking:”

The purported reasons for cartoon characters’ use of alcohol were rather varied. The single most common explanation of cartoon characters’ use of alcohol was that they simply enjoyed the taste of alcohol or because they liked to drink, which accounted for 12.2% of all use portrayals. The next most common reason for using alcohol was to become drunk (7.8%), followed by using alcohol to be more sociable or “to be part of the crowd” (5.6%). It is worth mentioning that in 40.0% of all alcohol use portrayals, drinking occurred for no reason whatsoever. That is, based on the cartoon’s events and the context in which the alcohol use occurred, there was no inference to be made as to why the drinking was happening.

So it basically mirrored real life. Why exactly do they seem to imply that cartoons need to explain “why the drinking was happening?” Is that necessary because it’s a cartoon? Because I’ve never heard it told that in a live action film that one must reveal every motivation behind a character’s actions.

One time the kind of Cartoon Propaganda that these folks would have approved of did air, on Tiny Toon Adventures, it was such a train wreck it was only shown one time and has since been banned, for reasons unclear to me.

Here’s their bullshit conclusion:

Ultimately, we believe that the frequent inclusion of alcohol-related content in animated cartoons, coupled with the frequently pro-drinking messages about alcohol use that the cartoons provide, combine to tell audiences that alcohol is a normal, positive aspect of life. Cartoons tell people that drinking only sometimes has an effect on the drinker and that many of the effects that are most likely to occur (e.g., hiccupping, increased happiness or sociability, increased relaxation) are positive in nature. This conclusion is quite similar to that reached by Penkoff. With these types of messages being most indicative of the kinds of things that people learn about alcohol from watching animated cartoons, it is not surprising that young people are interested in and willing to experiment with alcoholic beverages. With cartoons showing alcohol to be an acceptable, normal part of everyday living that is associated with traits that our culture values and by associating few truly negative consequences with alcohol use, why wouldn’t young people want to experiment with drinking?!

First of all, they define “frequent inclusion” by stating that “depictions of alcoholic beverages were found in 5.6%” of the cartoons, which few reasonable people would agree could be described as frequent. They seem worried about positive associations and cartoon watchers seeing some, maybe even numerous, instances of drinking where nothing bad happened. This may not fit with their world view, but it certainly reflects the reality of our society, where some people cannot handle alcohol, but where most people can and do so throughout their lives without incident. Some even grow up to be president.

One thing seems clear. When not wearing a lab coat, or not already predisposed to dislike alcohol, drinking can be, and often is, a fun and pleasant experience. And that’s the case for a majority of adults, so why wouldn’t our entertainment reflect that? Cartoons were originally designed for adults, and they continue to be made by them, too. Cartoons have always been caricatures of real life, and until some idiots foist another prohibition on us, they’ll continue to make fun of us humans, in every way imaginable. As they even admit, such drinking in cartoons has declined dramatically, again except for shows like The Simpsons and Adult Swim, which were designed for an adult or mixed adult audience.

At least the Eater author admits that cartoons have become too sterile by trying to remove anything that might rattle the little one’s delicate psyche (even if it’s more often the parent’s psyche that needs a whack upside the head). And in the end, acknowledges perhaps why cartoons continue to show character’s drinking.

At its core, there’s something that’s innately cartoon-like about being inebriated. There have been times after one-bourbon-too-many that I’ve felt as if I was Porky Pig wobbling my way home, each hiccup a tiny bubble ready to pop in front of my (blurry) nose. When inebriated, things are sillier and wonkier, as if we’re once again finding our sea legs like a cartoonish, disproportioned foal.

Exactly, cartoons do a much better job than live action at showing how we feel when we drink. And I doubt that’s going to change anytime soon. Personally, I’m going to binge-watch Archer, which is the best cartoon to depict drinking, and so much more made … well, maybe ever. It’s that good. Of course, even I won’t let my kids watch Archer … at least not yet. That’s why it airs at 11 PM and includes a disclaimer before each episode that it was made for adults. Just like the first Mickey Mouse.

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Desperation Propaganda

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The ink was barely dry on my last post about Alcohol Justice’s tenuous grasp on honesty where they claimed Craft Brewers Just Don’t Care when they did it again, with this tweet:

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The funniest part of their tweet is the claim that the Carlsberg Group, the fourth largest beer company in the world, producing 6.2% of the world’s beer, is “desperate for market share” and therefore gave up on beer and decided to diversify into beauty products. This they apparently concluded from an article on Mashable entitled Men, stop drinking beer and start rubbing it on your face. As the article itself makes abundantly clear — but is virtually ignored by AJ — using beer or beer ingredients in health and beauty products has been around forever and is nothing new. There are almost too many instances to mention. Shampoo with beer in it has been around for years, if not centuries. Dogfish Head and many others have been making soap with beer for just as long. There’s nothing in the article about why they’re diversifying (though anyone with a working knowledge of how a business operates will say “well, duh,” diversification is almost always a good move). These came out of the Carlsberg Lab, which has been doing research on beer for over 100 years, and in fact the lager yeast known as Saccharomyces pastorianus, was also once known as Saccharomyces carlsbergensis because of work done by the brewery on yeast in the late 1800s and early 20th century. Here’s the The press materials for the new products.

So there’s absolutely nothing to suggest that Carlsberg’s Beer Beauty products have anything whatsoever to do with desperation. Alcohol Justice just made that up. Why? Because they have to turn a lighthearted story into something they can use as propaganda. Because the truth is not something they seem remotely interested in. If anything, I think it shows their own desperation in trying to find something to complain about.

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Craft Brewers Just Don’t Care

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Nobody can piss me off faster than Alcohol Justice, the self-styled do gooders and self-proclaimed “watchdogs” of those of us in the evil alcohol empire. I just noticed this yesterday, but for at least the last week, they’ve been tweeting this inaccurate and misleading message that “High-calorie craft beer maker’s don’t care.” Here’s what they say:

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You don’t have to be Noam Chomsky to parse this sentence and figure out what they’re saying. Beer has lots of calories and brewers just don’t give a shit, painting craft brewers in a negative light, something Alcohol Justice has turned in to an art form. But is that the truth? Is that even what the source of this claims? Regular readers won’t be surprised to learn that AJ once again has taken a statement and twisted into something else to promote their own agenda. Shocking, I know. The original source of this comes from an article in the Columbus Dispatch on June 26 entitled Small breweries sometimes make high-octane, high-calorie beers.

It’s all about calories and how some higher alcohol beers made by craft brewers have more calories than lower alcohol beers, which is a world class “duh.” If you claim you don’t know that more alcohol has more calories then I’m amazed at the level of ignorance you’re willing to admit. If you’re drinking an imperial stout and have convinced yourself it contains no more calories than a pale ale, you’re willfully deluding yourself, and you probably know it, even if you won’t admit it. But I’m not terribly interested in the calorie question, it’s been done to death and certainly isn’t going away anytime soon. What really annoys me is Alcohol Justice’s flippant hatred of brewers and insisting they don’t care, as if that makes them bad people. The reality, of course, is quite different. Here’s the relevant portion of the article:

Unless they’re aiming for a low-cal beer to appeal to dieters, day drinkers and the like, craft brewers say they don’t give two pints about calories. They’re after flavor and aroma and other qualities that make drinking good beer worth it. The qualities of your favorite porter or citrus-forward IPA depend upon a series of ingredient choices and the complex interplay of water, grain, hops and yeast that follows.

So it’s not that the brewers “don’t care” about higher calories, it’s simply that they place more emphasis on aromas and flavors, preferring to create beers that feature those more prominently. They’re not willfully making high calorie beers just to fatten people up and make them unhealthy, as AJ suggests. And why pick on brewers? This is especially galling since wine and sprits, with far more alcohol, has … wait for it … far more calories. Beer has the fewest calories of any alcoholic drink by ounce. I’m sure people will argue that people drink more beer so that’s moot. But the point of drinking better beer is to drink less of it. To me at least, beer with flavor is not made to pound, but to enjoy at a more reasonable pace, usually determined by the circumstances. Imperial stout is not made to be swigged, but shared in a snifter or similar glass, so the idea that it’s the same as any other beer seems at best facetious. If you’re downing pint glasses of Parabola or Ten FIDY you’re doing it wrong. Here’s an infographic that accompanied the article.

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But the larger point is why do we attack beer and alcohol makers for the natural amount of calories created by the way they’re made? We don’t do that for calorie-rich desserts like cake, ice cream and pie. You know what else is high in calories? Cereal, avocados, bananas, nuts and berries, granola bars, pasta, lobster and so many more foods we love. But we’re not lambasting the people who farm, grow or make those for not caring about how high in calories they are. That’s because they’re not intentionally making them high in calories, it’s just the result of their nature. The same is true for beer. Brewers aren’t intentionally making high-calorie beers to fuck with people the way Alcohol Justice so churlishly insists. They’re making them because they taste good, and people want them, not because they just “don’t care.”

Are there no ethical standards for non-profits? Shouldn’t “watchdogs” who claim the moral high ground have to at least be honest and truthful themselves? Because even though they claim “beer makers don’t care,” they certainly don’t seem to care about their own veracity, and instead twist anything they can to fit their increasingly narrow narrative that everything having to do with alcohol, and especially beer it seems, is bad.

How To Spot Bad Science

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Longtime readers of the Bulletin know that I’m constantly examining and finding fault with questionable studies used by the modern prohibitionist groups using them to promote their agenda. I’m often amazed at some of the studies that make it into peer-reviewed journals. Apparently I’m not the only one. A British chemistry teacher, Andy Brunning, in his spare time, writes a great blog entitled “Compound Interest,” in which he “aims to take a closer look at the chemical compounds we come across on a day-to-day basis.” He created A Rough Guide to Spotting Bad Science, inspired by scientific research he looked at “which drew questionable conclusions from their results.” It “looks at the different factors that can contribute towards ‘bad’ science.”

The vast majority of people will get their science news from online news site articles, and rarely delve into the research that the article is based on. Personally, I think it’s therefore important that people are capable of spotting bad scientific methods, or realising when articles are being economical with the conclusions drawn from research, and that’s what this graphic aims to do. Note that this is not a comprehensive overview, nor is it implied that the presence of one of the points noted automatically means that the research should be disregarded. This is merely intended to provide a rough guide to things to be alert to when either reading science articles or evaluating research.

It’s nice to see an overview of a dozen of the more common ways in which studies are misused and the results are misrepresented. Sad to say, I see these all the time, so much so that I’ve started to question the way journals operate and how they select and accept articles. There are so many journals nowadays that they either are desperate for content and thus have lower standards than they used to, or the journals themselves have an agenda they’re promoting instead of simply providing a forum for progress in science. But this should give you a good start at figuring out why the next story you see about a study doesn’t seem to make any sense.

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Click here to see the infographic full size.

Where Do The Moderate Drinking Guidelines Come From?

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For as long as I can remember, the recommended daily allowance to remain within moderate drinking guidelines has been one drink for a woman and two for a man. With the USDA’s new 2015 Dietary Guidelines open for comment, Modern Drunkard magazine, through their Brutal Hammer news blog, attempted to discover where those longstanding “2 for a man/1 for a woman” (2m/1w) guidelines came from, and wrote up their efforts in The CDC Is Stonewalling Us. In some ways it’s a silly piece, hinging on the CDC’s website comment apparatus not working, but the overriding question is sound. While the rest of the document about the Dietary Guidelines is heavily footnoted, with numerous references to the basis for their recommendations, the 2m/1w guidelines is suspiciously and conspicuously absent of any underlying scientific support.

Nowhere is it apparent how they came to that determination. No footnotes, no citations of scientific studies, not a damn bit of evidence to support it. Granted, my bourbon binoculars (the classier version of beer goggles, but they see deep into the truth of things) can only take in so much information at a time, but I couldn’t find a shred of reasoning for these arbitrary numbers.

I’d never thought about that before, but it’s a valid question. Where did they come up with that? And it’s not an unimportant one. The guidelines for defining moderate consumption are not the same worldwide, and in fact vary widely.

For example, Professor David J. Hanson at the State University of New York notes. “The fact that alcohol consumption guidelines are arbitrary is demonstrated by the wide variance in maximum limits recommended around the world. For example Poland’s recommended limit is 12.5 units per week whereas Australia’s is 35. Indeed, much research finds better health and greater longevity associated with drinking above the recommended guidelines published by most countries.” To contrast the U.S. guidelines, “Canada recommends that men on average consume no more than three drinks per day, five days per week, for a total of 15 drinks per week. For women it recommends, on average, no more than two drinks per day, five days per week, for a total of 10 drinks per week.”

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A British examination of 27 European nation’s guidelines found “a remarkable lack of agreement about what constitutes harmful or excessive alcohol consumption on a daily basis, a weekly basis and when driving, with no consensus about the ratios of consumption guidelines for men and women.” Hanson concluded. “Thus, it appears that the differences in recommended guidelines are not based solely on the scientific medical evidence, but on cultural and political considerations. That is, the guidelines are highly arbitrary.”

And in some cases, capricious, as well. It was revealed in 2007, twenty years after the guidelines for the UK had been set in stone in 1987, that they were simply made up. One committee member who’d worked on the guidelines remembered that they were simply “plucked out of the air” and had “no basis in science” whatsoever, which I detailed at the time in Target: Alcohol. Without a clear basis on which our own guidelines were arrived upon, how can we be certain ours are any less fabricated inventions?

The other issue that’s never adequately addressed is the split for men and women. Supposedly, it’s because “Women tend to be smaller, but also have different body compositions and different metabolic enzymes.” But we know that weight matters. It’s how we figure out how much an individual can drink before they’ll be drunk or at least reach a specific blood alcohol level, because the rates are fairly precise when accounting for weight plus intake. So why do we ignore that simple knowledge with the guidelines? There are, of course, plenty of small, light men as well as many heavier women. It’s just a reality that people are diverse.

The International Center for Alcohol Policies or ICAP, somewhat disingenuously claims that the “Recommendations are based on scientific data regarding drinking levels at which risk increases,” yet never reveals where this “scientific data” comes from. And the fact that the guidelines vary widely from country to country would seem to suggest otherwise. Because if there was hard scientific data it would be the same everywhere, and the guidelines would not vary by as much as they do.

The closest thing I can find in the U.S. is at the Recommended Alcohol Questions on the NIH and NIAAA website states that the guidelines are “based on recent epidemiological studies on alcohol intake and risks which have demonstrated that for estimating risk of mortality, morbidity (including injuries) and other problems including drunk driving and social harms.” But then where are the citations for these epidemiological studies, and how could they possibly quantify such subjective issues as “social harms.” Quick answer: they can’t, not and remain purely scientific as the guidelines really should be.

I had never stopped to question the 2m/1w guidelines before, and it appears neither did almost anyone else. While there are plenty of citations for many aspects of the dietary guidelines, when it comes to alcohol, the government suddenly goes silent. But it doesn’t seem like too much to ask that the scientific basis for them be revealed and transparent. I’m not even arguing against them, and have always thought they were somewhat reasonable, especially in their current incarnation with the addition of the weekly limits. But we really should be able to see how they were arrived at, and what science, if any, they were based on.

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Parenting Lessons From The Prohibitionists

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I’m always amazed about how people feel there’s nothing with wrong with telling me how to live, what to believe or how to raise my children. Advice is fine, even if it’s often unbidden, but so much of our culture revolves around believing we know what’s best for everybody else. And even that would be just fine if people smugly thought they were better than other people (not that there aren’t of plenty of people who do fit that description) if they didn’t take the next step of trying to force their point of view on the rest of us.

Parenting is certainly not the only place this phenomenon manifests itself, but it is one of the most pervasive. I recently saw a story that illustrates this perfectly. A suburban couple let their two kids (I think ages 7 and 9) walk their neighborhood alone as long as they stayed together. The parents also taught them to hold hands when crossing the street and other sensible safety tips. But authorities saw them walking down a street, picked them up (frightening them in the process), and charged the parents with child endangerment, citing some forgotten law about kids having to be supervised at all times. I can’t tell you how often I was out of my parents watchful gaze as a kid, but it was a lot. And not just me, but literally every kid I knew. I know “times have changed” and all that but have we really become a police state? There was a similar story about a kid in New York City whose mother was teaching her to take the subway by herself, and the police tried to arrest her, too. This is getting seriously out of hand. We may as well just lock up this generation and not let them out of their prisons (homes, I mean homes) until they turn 18 (or 21 lest they discover the illicit pleasure of alcohol while off fighting our next war to protect our way of life).

But what will such a sheltered generation do, having faced no dangers, no frightening situations where there was no parent to swoop in and save the day? They’ll probably fall apart, that’s what. Raising a child is teaching them how to be on their own, to become self-reliant adults. How can we possibly do that by never allowing them to ever be unsupervised? How can we teach them to trust anyone if we never trust them to be on their own? It’s baffling that we’re doing this to our children. I’m not saying ship them off to the inner city to fend for themselves, but slowly, little by little, teach them to be responsible for themselves. Give them small tasks to complete, unsupervised jobs where we let them figure out how to accomplish a goal or even let them fail once in awhile. It’s how we learn. A speaker at my class Wednesday night was reminding my students that not only should you not worry about failing once in a while in your business, but if you don’t, you’ll never learn anything. He remarked that you only learn from your mistakes, taking very little from your victories. So as parents, if we never let our kids learn how to compete, let them fail or put them in situations that test them, they’ll never become full-fledged individuals capable of surviving in the wild. Is that why so many kids are still living at home with their parents after they’re adults? I’m sure it’s not the only reason, but it seems like it has to be a factor. Helicopter parenting has to be part of the answer.

But regardless of how any of us decide we want to raise our children, why do we feel that however we do it is the right way, often the only way, and proceed to do whatever we can to shame anyone with a different idea. I confess, I’m guilty of this, too, from time to time. Every time I’m in a movie theatre with kids who’ve never been taught to shut up, I’m guilty of wanting to shout at their parents, who blissfully keep answering their inane questions — still using their outside voice — with nary a care for the rest of the audience. That’s maddening, to me, especially since it wasn’t that difficult to teach our own kids to be quiet watching a film. But on the larger questions, why do so many people think they should be able to push their ideals on everyone else?

Nowhere is this more in the open as when it comes to alcohol. The very idea that we lowered the drinking age from the nearly worldwide standard of 18 to 21, while still allowing our 18-20 years olds to fight and die for us, is indicative of the “we know better than you” school of parenting. The latest example of this to get me fired up is a link sent to me by Brian Yaeger, who’s recently moved back to Portland from Amsterdam. (Thanks, Brian. I’ll get you for this!) The link he sent me was from a CNN article, Kids allowed sips of alcohol are more likely to drink in high school, study says. WebMD also tackled the same underlying study with Letting Kids Sip Alcohol May ‘Send Wrong Message’.

Alcohol Justice’s reaction was swift and predictable.

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New Data: Letting Kids Sip Booze Makes It More Appealing http://bit.ly/1G5gFcr Duh!! @AlcoholJustice

Their tweet linked to the WebMD’s take, which is how I subsequently saw that one. I love that they still haven’t quite figured out this Twitter thing, even though they tweet something like two dozen times a a day, often sending the same tweets over and over again for weeks on end. But copying your own Twitter handle in your own message, in effect letting yourself know about the tweet you just sent? What’s that all about? What did they think they were doing? But I’m also happy to see the kid holding a glass of wine, it’s more often beer that they’re overtly targeting.

But I especially find the single word “Duh!!!” to be telling. It’s basically an insulting “fuck you” to most of the rest of the world, whose culture and long-standing traditions see nothing wrong with a world in which children are exposed to alcohol in the home as an ordinary part of life. It’s only in recent years that Belgian schools stopped serving table beer to students. Watered-down wine on the table in Italy or France is just part of a normal Friday. But we know better, and we’re happy to tell not just you, but the rest of the world how to live, too.

All the fuss is over a “new” study entitled The Prospective Association Between Sipping Alcohol by the Sixth Grade and Later Substance Use in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. Uncharacteristically, the full text is available online.

As you can see from the headlines, parents beware. You better not be giving your kids a sip of alcohol, or you’ll be setting them down the path to ruin. The study apparently shows “that children who had sipped alcohol by the sixth grade were about five times more likely to have a full drink by the time they were in high school and four times more likely to binge drink or get drunk.” Uh oh. CNN reports:

The study involved surveys of 561 middle school students in Rhode Island over a three-year period. A little under a third of the students said they had sipped alcohol by the start of middle school, with most of those saying they got the alcohol from their parents at a party or on a special occasion.

Even when factoring out issues that could encourage problem drinking down the road, such as how much their parents drink, a history of alcoholism in their family or having a risk-taking personality, the children who sipped were more likely to be drinking in high school, said [Kristina] Jackson[, one of the co-authors of the study].

Twenty-six percent of the kids who had sipped alcohol said they had a full drink by the ninth grade versus under 6% for the kids who never sipped alcohol, the survey found. Nine percent said they had binged on alcohol (had five or more drinks at one time) or gotten drunk versus under 2% for the non-sippers.

Nothing more scientific than giving kids a survey and then factoring out a host of things that may or may not have any influence on whether or not they’ll drink later in life. They make drinking in high school sound like it’s a Satanic orgy, but it’s a pretty normal rite of passage for most people. If you didn’t have a few drinks at some point during your high school years, there’s probably something wrong with you that this study definitely didn’t factor in.

The WebMD version of the story notes that 3 out of ten students told them “they’d had at least one sip of alcohol” and that “[i]n most cases, those sips were provided by parents, often at parties or special occasions.” And because of that “[b]y ninth grade, 26 percent of those who’d had sips of alcohol at a younger age said they’d had at least one full alcoholic drink, compared with less than 6 percent of those who didn’t get sips of alcohol when younger.” Even with their vague controls, I still don’t see any clear causation. 6% vs. 26% and 9% vs. 2% don’t seem like an earth-shattering differences, with less than 600 people in one geographic area. I can think of dozens of reasons that might account for why this occurs, and the lead researcher even says as much, but of course that doesn’t make it into the headline. Jackson said. “The findings don’t prove that sips of alcohol at an early age are to blame for teen drinking” and “[w]e’re not trying to say whether it’s ‘OK’ or ‘not OK’ for parents to allow this.” So what are you saying, if not just that? Why isn’t the headline that the “findings don’t prove that sips of alcohol at an early age are to blame for teen drinking?”

WebMD continues. “She noted that some parents believe that introducing children to alcohol at home teaches them about responsible drinking and reduces the appeal of alcohol. ‘Our study provides evidence to the contrary,’ Jackson said,” contradicting her previous statement. But this is the problem I talked about a few days ago in Studies Show Studies Don’t Show Much, which made a compelling argument that studies in isolation, out of context and on their own are almost meaningless. This is especially true, because of course there are studies that show just the opposite. For example, a study in the Journal of Adolescent Heath “found that children who drank with their parents were about half as likely to say they had alcohol in the past month and about one third as likely to admit to binge drinking (having five or more drinks in a row) in the previous two weeks.”

But here’s where I think the judgmental parenting advice kicks in, despite her insisting that is not the intention. Jackson states near the end of the article that “giving sips of alcohol to young children may send them a ‘mixed message.'” Sure, but you don’t have any idea of the context of the circumstances sufficient to make that claim, do you? If you assume that a parent just handed their son or daughter a drink, let them sip it, and then walked away, maybe she could make such a claim. But that scenario is pretty hard to imagine. There would undoubtedly be a discussion. There would be context, a talk about what was taking place, questions and answers, learning might even be part of it, which is why drawing conclusions about 561 such events without any context makes it so difficult to say those incidents caused future behavior in such a demonstrative way or were the proximate cause of it.

She finished with this sage bit of wisdom. “At that age, some kids may have difficulty understanding the difference between a sip of wine and having a full beer.” Only if parents let that be the case. Only if no discussion takes place. Only if the parents are complete idiots. Only if she thinks kids are really, really stupid. The most common age for the first sip was 10, with 26% of those surveyed. That’s my daughter’s age. She definitely knows the difference between a sip and a full pint glass. And frankly, I think she could make out the difference between 16 ounces of liquid and a teaspoon’s worth when she was much, much younger than that.

In the discussion section of the “study” the message turns from reporting to advice, and to telling me how I should approach my parenting:

Our findings underscore the importance of advising parents to provide clear, consistent messages about the unacceptability of alcohol consumption for youth. Offering even a sip of alcohol may undermine such messages, particularly among younger children who tend to have more concrete thinking and may be unable to understand the difference between drinking a sip and drinking several drinks. In addition, parents should be encouraged to secure and monitor alcohol in the home, and given our reports of accidental consumption, parents should monitor their own beverages—children may intentionally or, as our data show, inadvertently take a sip. Of note, children who report having been asked by adults in the home to fetch or pour alcohol are shown to have greater odds of sipping alcohol. Messages to parents about keeping their children from sipping alcohol may need to be provided via preventive intervention or community education, particularly because some parents report feeling pressured by other adults to allow their children to have sips of alcohol at social events.

She’s basically telling parents to make sure to keep a wall up separating children from interacting with anything found in the adult world. It’s a frequent position taken by prohibitionists, that children should never see their parents drinking alcohol, should never see alcohol of any kind, whether ads for it or even walking by it in grocery stores, so convinced are they that one peek will alter their behavior and forever corrupt their futures and turn them into alcoholics. You may recall Alcohol Justice’s recent temper tantrum that children could be exposed to as many as four minutes of beer advertising during the four-hour Super Bowl spectacle, and what a disaster that would cause.

It’s hard to not bring up the fact that the study was part of the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University. Their “mission is to promote the identification, prevention, and effective treatment of alcohol and other drug use problems in our society through research, education, training, and policy advocacy.” So it’s not to find out if there are problems, identify what positives and negatives exist, but they set out with the premise that only problems exist and what can they do about it. That’s what prohibitionists do. That is not science. It’s advocacy. Also, the study was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, who similarly starts with the premise of alcohol abuse and alcoholism. It’s right there in their title. They owe their existence to Richard Nixon, who “signed the Comprehensive Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Prevention, Treatment, and Rehabilitation Act of 1970 on December 31, 1970.” It had been spearheaded by “Senator Harold Hughes, a recovering alcoholic who championed the cause of alcoholism research.” There’s nothing wrong with any of that, but it does show that what they’re interested in studying is not health or any balanced study of alcohol, but are focused on “abuse and alcoholism.” It’s what they’re interested in and are looking for. When you set out to find problems, you’ll find them. It’s in your charter and self-preservation will help you along the way. It’s the same as when prohibitionists claim that any study undertaken by someone with ties to the alcohol industry is tainted or biases their findings. This is exactly the same, but curiously that fact is conveniently ignored when it suits their agenda.

But whether stated or not, the reason for the study seems to be embedded in how it’s being used, by both the media and the researchers who created it, to create another tool to stop people from drinking, starting with the children. Even though the author clearly states that the “findings don’t prove that sips of alcohol at an early age are to blame for teen drinking,” she’s still willing to dole out all sorts of advice on how parents should do their job, even offering this soothing balm lest what you just read started you panicking. “‘I don’t think parents need to feel that their child is doomed, ‘Kristina Jackson, one of the co-authors of the study, said of parents who already let their kids have sips of alcohol.” Whew, that’s a relief. After spending countless hours creating a study and analyzing its results, using headlines that suggest one sip and little Johnny or Susie are destined for the life of an alcoholic, which ultimately found no causation, they’re still talking to the press about how to keep your loved ones from drinking in high school and telling me and every other parent how to raise our children. It’s a little bit insulting.

“I think the most important thing is to make sure that children know when drinking alcohol is acceptable and when it is not,” said Jackson.” That’s her final takeaway at the bottom of the CNN piece. Her advice is I should make sure my kids know when it’s okay to drink and when they shouldn’t, I guess under the assumption that before this I didn’t know that. My house, and everybody else’s apparently, were a free for all, because I didn’t know my ten-year old and my newly minted teenager aren’t supposed to drink alcohol just yet. Thanks for that. I don’t know what I would have done without this study. Because if after all that, “the most important thing” my kids need to know is they’re not allowed to drink, they sure wasted an awful lot of time and money. My kids know that. I’m willing to bet yours do to.

But the very last thing she says is this howler. “One theory is that some of these children are getting a message that drinking is okay, especially when it is offered by the parent,” she said. Hilarious. I’m sorry to be the one to tell her this, because maybe she doesn’t know, but drinking is okay. My kids know drinking is okay. They watch my wife and I drink all the time. They also know that they aren’t allowed to drink themselves until they’re 21. And they can’t drive until they’re 16. And they can’t join the military until they’re 18. They know all these things, and much more. Is that because they’re budding geniuses or my wife and I are amazing parents? Well, I don’t like to brag … but no, it has nothing to do with any of that. Our kids do well in school but are fairly typical, and I see us as similarly run of the mill parents, trying our best to raise ’em up right. I have a personal theory that each of us deeply remember the wounds inflicted upon us by our own parents and everybody’s approach to parenting is a determination to not make the same mistakes that our parents did, because there’s no such thing as a perfect parent. In the process, each of us makes all new mistakes, that our kids in turn will be sure not to do my grandchildren. It’s the cycle of parenting mistakes. I think the most any parent can hope for is do their best, and try to teach their children how to be their own person; a productive, self-reliant member of society. And there’s definitely no one right way to accomplish that. But I sure wish the prohibitionists and so many other self-professed do-gooders would stop telling to me how to be a parent. It really is getting out of hand. I’d like to ask my son Porter to fetch me a beer, but I’m afraid child services might intervene because I’m putting him at risk for becoming a drinking high schooler since seeing a beer, and especially me enjoying it, might give him the idea that drinking a beer is okay.

USDA Dietary Guidelines Under Fire Again From Prohibitionists

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Every five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, in conjunction with the Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS, updates its quinquennial Dietary Guidelines. They’re described as providing “authoritative advice for Americans ages 2 and older about consuming fewer calories, making informed food choices, and being physically active to attain and maintain a healthy weight, reduce risk of chronic disease, and promote overall health.” Since the last guidelines were published in 2010, it’s time for the new ones, and they’ve been proposed and are are now open for comments before being finalized.

In the 2010 Guidelines, a change was made to the structure of the recommended amounts of alcohol people should consume, if they’re going to enjoy drinking alcohol and are, of course, of legal age. At the time, the government took the radical view, to prohibitionists, that:

The consumption of alcohol can have beneficial or harmful effects, depending on the amount consumed, age, and other characteristics of the person consuming the alcohol. Alcohol consumption may have beneficial effects when consumed in moderation. Strong evidence from observational studies has shown that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Moderate alcohol consumption also is associated with reduced risk of all-cause mortality among middle-aged and older adults and may help to keep cognitive function intact with age. However, it is not recommended that anyone begin drinking or drink more frequently on the basis of potential health benefits because moderate alcohol intake also is associated with increased risk of breast cancer, violence, drowning, and injuries from falls and motor vehicle crashes.

I may not agree with some of the characterizations in the last sentence, but it does serve to demonstrate how conservative the guidelines are, and that they’re not cavalierly telling people to start drinking. Plus, unlike some anti-alcohol groups, I’m not trying to willfully mislead people about what they say. They also have a handy chart of key definitions.

key-definitions-alcohol-2010

So what that second definition means is that if you’re a woman, you can enjoy 3 alcoholic drinks a day (or less), so long as you don’t have more than 7 during the same week, and you’ll be considered to not be a heavy drinker or engaging in high-risk drinking. A man, however, may enjoy 4 alcoholic drinks a day (or less), so long as he doesn’t have more than 14 during the same week, and he’ll likewise be considered to not be a heavy drinker or engaging in high-risk drinking. That, in effect, relaxed the “1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men” axiom that had been in place for a long while. When those changes made the rounds five years ago, the prohibitionists threw a temper tantrum and accused the government of all manner of bias and corruption, which is almost funny given how conservative they really are.

The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans, for 2015, are now going through the comment period, and once again the prohibitionists are apoplectic. Alcohol Justice, for example, whines that the government “proposes a risky and harmful shift in its definition of moderate drinking, and promotes drinking as a healthy dietary behavior. It suggests that a two-to-threefold increase in daily consumption limits is safe, and that questionable claims of health benefits outweigh known, substantiated risks of alcohol consumption. The Report represents a significant departure from previous Dietary Guidelines, and does so without sufficient scientific basis to justify such a shift.”

So how honest is that statement? Let’s take a look. First, what is the “risky and harmful shift in its definition of moderate drinking” from 2010 to 2015? The “new” language is on Page 105 of 107, constituting the proposed guidelines for 2015.

2015 Language:

Moderate alcohol consumption — Average daily consumption of up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men, with no more than three drinks in any single day for women and no more than four drinks in any single day for men.

And here’s the old language below. Notice the difference? No? That’s because there really isn’t any. There are a few of the words that are different, numbers replaced by the word written out, some different punctuation, but that’s about it. The meaning is entirely the same.

2010 Language:

Moderate alcohol consumption is defined as up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. Heavy or high-risk drinking is the consumption of more than 3 drinks on any day or more than 7 per week for women and more than 4 drinks on any day or more than 14 per week for men.

There is no shift. If anything, this version of the guidelines merely confirms changes made to the 2010 Guidelines. “Regarding alcohol, the Committee confirmed several conclusions of the 2010 DGAC, including that moderate alcohol intake can be a component of a healthy dietary pattern, and that if alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation and only by adults. However, it is not recommended that anyone begin drinking or drink more frequently on the basis of potential health benefits.”

AJ says the “Dietary Guidelines should recommend ways to reduce and prevent alcohol-related harm, not increase it,” but of course that’s not at all what they say. That’s just more whining because they don’t like what the USDA is proposing. They didn’t like it five years ago, and they don’t like it now. They go on to claim that with “current and growing evidence regarding risk of disease and harm from drinking even low levels of alcohol, the Dietary Guidelines should include recommendations for Americans to drink less alcohol – not more.” Of course, that’s another misleading statement. They can, and often do, cite single studies that say what they want, but as detailed in Studies Show Studies Don’t Show Much, most are not worth the paper they’re printed on, but they keep hammering on them because it makes for effective propaganda, especially in the school of “if you repeat a lie often enough ….”

AJ further believes that the proposed guidelines say “that a two-to-threefold increase in daily consumption limits is safe.” But this mythical increase is just that, a fantasy. The 2010 guidelines said the same thing. There’s no proposed increase, just a confirmation of the last version. And guess what happened with the 2010 change? Nothing, that’s what. The country did not fall to ruin from people suddenly drinking too much because they believe the guidelines told people they should, or could.

Then they accuse the guidelines are based on “questionable claims of health benefits [which] outweigh known, substantiated risks of alcohol consumption. The Report represents a significant departure from previous Dietary Guidelines, and does so without sufficient scientific basis to justify such a shift.” What utter bullshit. Do you know what constitutes a “questionable claims of health benefits?” Anything that AJ doesn’t agree with. And how they define “known, substantiated risks of alcohol consumption?” That’s easy, it’s one they like that agrees with their skewed world view. As shown, this is absolutely NOT “a significant departure from previous Dietary Guidelines,” but is virtually identical to the 2010 version. And their statement that there is not “sufficient scientific basis to justify such a shift” is laughable because they’ll never except any scientific evidence that disagrees with or contradicts their dogma. Here’s how the USDA explains how they arrived at the alcohol guidelines.

As alcohol is a unique aspect of the diet, the DGAC considered evidence from several sources to inform recommendations. As noted above, moderate alcohol intake among adults was identified as a component of a healthy dietary pattern associated with some health outcomes, which reaffirms conclusions related to moderate alcohol consumption by the 2010 DGAC.

No matter how you slice it, there is nothing new regarding the alcohol guidelines in the proposed dietary guidelines for 2015. But to hear Alcohol Justice tell it, this is “a radical change,” despite being almost exactly the same as five years ago. This is their action plan for the faithful sheep that follow them, [with my rebuttal in brackets]:

THE PROPOSED CHANGE:

Without providing any explanation or evidence for a radical change [they do explain the reasons, citing that there’s evidence supporting their decision], the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee proposes to increase limits used to define “moderate” drinking. [No, they don’t. All they do is confirm the changes made five years ago.]

The current (2010) U.S. Dietary Guidelines define moderate drinking as up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men (daily limits) [that’s not all they say, they also cite the weekly allowances]. In contrast, the proposed change would base these 1/2 limits on average rather than daily consumption and suggests it is safe for women to drink up to 3 drinks in a day and men up to 4 drinks in a day so long as the averages are not exceeded [exactly as they did in 2010]. This effectively triples (the daily limit for women and doubles (the daily limit for men). [Not this time, it doesn’t.]

Furthermore, the report implies that drinking is recommended as part of a healthy lifestyle: “the U.S. population should be encouraged to consume dietary patterns that are rich in vegetables …; moderate in low and non fat dairy and alcohol (adults).” [Oh, no! The horror. Frankly, what’s more surprising is that, given their findings that total mortality is improved with the moderate consumption of alcohol, they’re so conservative in their suggestions. But it makes sense in the context of anti-alcohol groups that throw tantrums any time their world view is challenged. But their statement that “the report implies that drinking is recommended as part of a healthy lifestyle” is complete and utter nonsense, and could even be called grandstanding because the language of the proposed 2015 guidelines also includes this: “However, it is not recommended that anyone begin drinking or drink more frequently on the basis of potential health benefits.” So it’s pretty crystal clear that the USDA is not recommending people start drinking “as part of a healthy lifestyle.” AJ just made that up.]

THE PROBLEM:

Since most adult drinkers in the U.S. don’t drink every day, the proposed change effectively encourages consumption right up to binge drinking levels, thus increasing health risk. [That identifies the problem with the definition of binge drinking, as I’ve written about numerous times. That’s the problem here, not encouraging people to drink moderately. After all, if they did, they might live longer. We wouldn’t want people to know that, would we?]

Binge drinking (4 or more drinks per occasion for women; 5 or more drinks per occasion for men) causes more than half of all alcohol related deaths each year in the U.S., and impairment and increased risk begin below those levels. The proposed changes are, therefore, dangerous for public health. [Again, that’s a problem with the definition of bingeing, which used to be more vague, making it hard to quantify. So it’s been narrowed over the years, and made easier to quantify, bringing more and more people into the specter of binge drinkers, artificially inflating statistics about its dangers.]

There are no randomized studies showing any health benefits from any level of alcohol consumption as well as no evidence that moderate drinking promotes a healthy lifestyle. [Poppycock. They’re hanging their hat here, one presumes, on “randomized” studies, but it’s unlikely even that’s true. The USDA itself in 2010, looked at meta-analysis of a wide range of studies, concluding just the opposite of AJ’s position. But AJ keeps ignoring that “evidence” because they don’t like it. It’s easier to just keep saying what they want to be true.]

It’s hard to know what to make of so dishonest a piece of propaganda as this is, raising unfounded fears, not to mention being littered with just out and out misinformation. It’s one thing to be in favor of promoting “evidence-based public health policies and organiz[ing] campaigns with diverse communities and youth against the alcohol industry’s harmful practices” but quite another to watch how that plays out in reality. “Evidence-based” seems to really mean anything they agree with and “the alcohol industry’s harmful practices” includes literally every single thing we do. I wish that was hyperbole, but I’ve never seen any action taken by an alcohol company that AJ didn’t find fault with, from donating cans of water to Haiti after the devastating earthquake there to their “‘charge-for-harm’ approach, which is based on the assumption that anyone who drinks deserves to be punished.” And another similar group stated at a 2013 conference that “they simply didn’t care about the public health impacts of taxes. They were in the game solely to get some of the tax revenue steered toward their organization.”

This is getting seriously out of hand. as anti-alcohol groups get bolder and more obviously prohibitionist, their divisiveness makes any meaningful discussion increasingly impossible. And unlike these prohibitionists, most people I know in the beer world, and the real world for that matter, recognize that while moderate drinking of alcohol is a good thing for a majority of adults, it’s not for everybody. Some people can’t handle it, and they often ruin it for the rest of us. Because those are the people that anti-alcohol folks always use to represent everyone who drinks, ignoring that they’re minority and that most of us can have a few drinks and not plunge the world into turmoil. But as long as they keep painting us as all the same, they’ll never be able to admit anything but an absolutist view of drinking, no matter how ridiculous that is, and no matter how ridiculous it makes them seem. When you start accusing the conservative USDA of ignoring science and encouraging people to start drinking, you’ve definitely jumped the shark.

Studies Show Studies Don’t Show Much

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If there’s one thing prohibitionists love to shout about, it’s a new study showing how terrible alcohol is, and how it supports what they’ve been proselytizing about all along. A growing trend has been anti-alcohol groups funding studies, having the “team” look for problems through phrasing the study’s goals and methodology with a particular outcome in mind, and then releasing the results as if it was impartial news. Sadly, with our media overworked and underpaid, many fall for it and report such a sham study’s results without ever critically examining it or even looking for a dissenting opinion to bring some fair and balanced perspective. Prohibitionists, knowing this, package their press releases into print-friendly versions so media outlets can simply cut and paste, passing it off as actual news. To be fair, it’s not just them. Almost everybody does it. It’s become a game, of sorts, one where most reasonable people’s wishes are ignored in favor of a more extreme agenda. Issues get polarized, and meaningful dialogue is becoming increasingly impossible with mud being slung in both directions, though I tend to think on the prohibitionist front that more mud comes our way, than vice versa.

But I’ve spent the last decade or so taking a fairly critical look at study after study, taking issue with almost all of them in one way or another. For every study that says one thing, you can find another that says the complete opposite, which you’d think wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, be possible. But a lot of it has to do with the way studies are conducted, how rigorous the science is, and whether or not they started with a specific agenda or not. I’ve certainly crowed about studies that show alcohol in a positive light, though I’ve never financed any. But despite all the tamper tantrums from the prohibitionists, they’re the ones spending all the money creating a false record of harm, not to mention taking advantage of any others they can, part of their post-prohibition strategy to bring down alcohol by less obvious means in a slower, more patient approach, chipping away at public policy and the law brick by brick, so to speak.

As a result of seeing so many of these so-called “studies,” I’ve noticed a lot of tricks that they use to make them seem like the findings actually mean something, but they rarely do, and usually even the study’s authors, who presumably want to keep their status as impartial scientists despite taking money for funding, almost always issue cautions and calls for further testing and for no one to make too much of what they found, words invariably ignored by the people using their findings to promote an agenda. It’s made me question the entire medical, and to some extent the scientific, community because it’s so obviously been corrupted by money — like every other aspect of our society, sad to say — with so many willing to take money to help a fanatical group promote its agenda. And it seems like the shear number of such studies has ballooned in recent years, too. Just how many scientific journals can there be, and how many are truly scientific, if any?

But an article on Vox a few days ago addressed this very issue, with This is why you shouldn’t believe that exciting new medical study. As the author wonders “whether there is any value in reporting very early research,” I’ve seen how it’s more often misused than anything else. As she writes. “Journals now publish their findings, and the public seizes on them, but this wasn’t always the case: journals were meant for peer-to-peer discussion, not mass consumption.” Because of this, the amount of studies being conducted has skyrocketed since their use is often now well beyond the original purpose of real study and furthering the science surrounding an issue. The actual number of so-called journal studies have seen an astounding 300% increase over the last quarter-century.

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But as she points out, early reporting on these studies rarely leads to any meaningful breakthroughs, even though those initial findings become fixed in the public mind as fact. A recent example that springs to mind is about glutens. A study in Australia initially seemed to suggest that eating gluten-free could be healthier for even people who didn’t suffer from Celiac disease, but further work by the same scientist found that his initial results were incorrect, and that there were no appreciable health benefits to a gluten-free diet for most people. Despite this clear repudiation of the initial findings, gluten-free as a healthier lifestyle remains an idea many people not only still believe, but even follow, despite having been refuted years ago. This is not an isolated occurrence.

In 2003, researchers writing in the American Journal of Medicine discovered something that should change how you think about medical news. They looked at 101 studies published in top scientific journals between 1979 and 1983 that claimed a new therapy or medical technology was very promising. Only five, they found out, made it to market within a decade. Only one (ACE inhibitors, a pharmaceutical drug) was still extensively used at the time of their publication.

One.

So that means 100 others proved to not pan out, their promise as originally reported proving to not stand up to further research or lead to any meaningful breakthrough. But the news cycle has already moved on, and the damage has been done, with the study reported and its inaccurate findings fixed into people’s minds. And this is just one of the reasons why immediately promoting the results of a study to the public is a bad idea. As the Vox article makes clear. “This cycle recurs again and again. An initial study promises a miracle. News stories hype the miracle. Researchers eventually disprove the miracle.”

“There’s a big, big, difference between how the media think about news and how scientists think about news,” Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard professor of the history of science, recently told [Vox’s Julia Bellus] in an interview. “For you, what makes it news is that it’s new — and that creates a bias in the media to look for brand new results. My view would be that brand new results would be the most likely to be wrong.”

In some cases, results are published too soon precisely to get attention for the study or the research in order to get more funding to carry on the research, or simply because of the pressure to “publish or perish” in academia or a career. Or, of course, it’s published specifically to promote an agenda or ideology.

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More often than not, single studies contradict one another — such as the research on foods that cause or prevent cancer. The truth can be found somewhere in the totality of the research, but we report on every study in isolation underneath flip-flopping headlines. (Red wine will add years to your life one week, and kill you quicker the next.)

This is seen in beer, a lot, too. But as the graph below makes clear, it happens everywhere, all the time, with the main culprit being the media in general, and the prohibitionists more specifically, reporting on single studies that show one thing rather then treating the issue as a whole or continuum of understanding. In particular, Alcohol Justice frequently takes one study that shows something in line with their agenda and treats it as if it’s the final answer and no further study is necessary; they’re right, case closed. Which, as you can see, is never the case.

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A good example of this is a recent tweet from Alcohol Justice, questioning that “Alcohol good for your heart? Evidence is evaporating http://usat.ly/1JkkEny Don’t believe industry-sponsored science.”

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The link takes you to a USA Today story, entitled Alcohol good for your heart? Evidence is evaporating, which is where AJ got the witty language in the tweet. But the part about not believing “industry-sponsored science” is completely made up. The story never even addresses that as an issue. It’s pure propaganda. As you’ll see, the trail from the USA Today story leads not to “industry-sponsored science,” but to another anti-alcohol group.

The USA Today story itself is a hodgepodge of misinformation and innuendo, written in that most common style of the mainstream media that believes scaring people captures their attention and gets ratings, viewers or whatever metric they measure their success by. Early in the piece, the author sets out her premise.

But before you pour your next cocktail, beer or glass of wine, you should know this: the science suggesting a benefit has never been conclusive. And some experts believe the evidence is getting thinner all the time.

Almost no science is conclusive, or ever has been. That’s the point of continuously conducting research, to constantly learn more and to further our understanding of whatever’s being studied. But just as benefits may be inconclusive, the evils are similarly inconclusive. But she chose to frame the story in such a way as to emphasize the negative, despite the fact that the statement could be said almost any way and still be technically correct. And saying “some experts” reveals that not everyone agrees, even with so vague a premise. You can always find a person to disagree about anything, especially if they have some reason to do so.

To illustrate what I mean, take her reliance on an editorial written by “Mike Daube, professor of health policy at Curtin University in Australia.” He “writes that the once-touted benefits of moderate drinking ‘are now evaporating,'” providing the piece’s catch phrase and hook. But who is Mike Daube. Is he a doctor or scientist? Nope. Is he an impartial expert? Hardly, “Mike Daube, professor of health policy” is all that USA Today reports, and at the editorial she’s quoting from, the only author affiliation listed is “Curtin University, GPO Box U1987, WA 6845, Australia.”

But you don’t have to look too hard to find out that Mike is also co-chair of Australia’s National Alliance for Action on Alcohol, an organization who’s sole stated purpose is that is “has been formed with the goal of reducing alcohol-related harm.” So while he’s railing against “industry lobbying and promotion [being] rife and unchecked by governments, he’s pretending to be an impartial health professional, while also leading an organization who’s already convinced that alcohol has only a negative impact on society and is working to battle it, or get rid of it. That doesn’t seem particularly impartial to me. How utterly disingenuous and hypocritical. He’s using his background as a health policy professor to make it seem as if he has some expertise in medicine, but his area of study is public policy, with an emphasis on health, and you don’t need an advanced degree to understand those are two very different things.

And the editorial USA Today is relying on, Alcohol’s evaporating health benefits (they sure love a good turn of phrase, don’t they?), is published in The BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal). So essentially a policy expert — who in 2012 was “awarded [the] ‘Oscar’ of public health campaigning — is editorializing about science and medicine in a medical journal. It’s an editorial — an opinion. No matter how authoritative, he should carry about as much weight on scientific matters as I do. We have exactly the same number of doctoral degrees in medicine.

Even so, while lambasting alcohol over a new British study which forms the basis for his “evidence is evaporating” quip, he has to admit that the study did show a positive correlation for “women aged 65 or more” but dismisses that as “at best modest and likely to be explained by selection bias.” Which may true, but then again maybe not. Perhaps more study is necessary before making such sweeping pronouncements as the “evidence is evaporating.” Which is entirely the point. He’s looking at one study in a vacuum and choosing the outcome he favors, because of his own bias. So that’s not, or should not, be newsworthy. “Hey guess what? What I believed all along is what I still believe, and here’s this one study that partially agrees with me, so I must be right after all. Can I be in your scientific journal?” Is this really what passes for peer-reviewed science? What a load of bollocks.

The USA Today article is actually very short, but is padded out with a list of “what U.S. experts say you need to know for now.” Unfortunately, that list is entirely about the negative aspects of alcohol consumption and completely ignores any positive contributions to a person’s health, and it’s not like they’re hard to find.

But one study said something different, so I guess all those others are wrong, right? Yet this is the approach prohibitionist groups take time and time again. And as the Vox article makes clear, this approach can result in creating false hopes and leading researchers, scientists and even public policy-makers down the wrong path. As journalist Julia Belluz admits, it’s hard for the press to not jump at new study results, because their novelty is catnip to the management structure of both old and new media. But as the media blinders are understandable and even forgivable, at least to some extent, that’s not the case for the anti-alcohol groups who take that news and use it unscrupulously to advance their agenda. They’re the ones doing actual harm, because they’re creating a false narrative that is dishonest and knowingly wrong. I think they’ve forgotten that advancing a particular point of view doesn’t mean destroying the other side by any means possible, especially since they so often claim to own the moral high ground. But if their “ends justify the means” strategy reveals anything, it’s that they don’t own a mirror. They only judge our morals, attacking us frequently and accusing us of caring only about business, money and hurting children.

The Vox article concludes with some sage advice from “Harvard’s Oreskes, Stanford’s John Ioannidis, and many other respected researchers,” who insist “we need to look past the newest science to where knowledge has accumulated. There, we’ll find insights that will help us have healthier lives and societies.” Could somebody please tell the prohibitionists?

Ponies, Puppies & Pac-Man, Oh My!

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The Super Bowl propaganda machine is already out in full force, even though the teams that will play have yet to be decided. I’m not talking about the NFL, or even football in general. The propaganda machine I’m referring to is the prohibitionist group Alcohol Justice, who each year uses the Super Bowl as an opportunity to talk about the ills of beer and other adult beverages, since — horror of horrors — fans who are on both sides of the arbitrary dividing line that is the minimum drinking age will most assuredly watch the game.

And more horrific and worrying, is that advertisers are keen to reach the more than 112 million viewers watching the game. Of those 112 million Americans, roughly 90 million are potential beer customers. (That’s a rough guess based on several data points from various sources, made all the more difficult because Nielsen and others break down age groups into the 18-34 range for the very reasonable reason that they’re all young adults, except when it comes to drinking alcohol.) Yesterday, Alcohol Justice, tweeted the following regarding Anheuser-Busch InBev‘s plans for advertising during the Super Bowl.

Budweiser Super Bowl ads target youth with puppies, ponies & Pac-Man http://bit.ly/1BMFsft Self-regulation failure

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So as far as I can tell, according to AJ, if there are any children present, it’s a family event, and that means — you guessed it — anything to do with alcohol is aimed directly at the under 21 crowd. Because unsurprisingly, their statement is ridiculous on several levels. First, the idea that advertising during an event with 80% adults is “targeting youth” is absurd, especially when you realize that the demographic statistics include 2-17 year olds. How many two-year olds are corrupted if they even, undoubtedly by accident, happen to see all three minutes of ABI’s ads during the fours hours that the game is televised. The Budweiser ads comprise 1.25% of the total Super Bowl experience, and that’s down 25% from last year, when they aired four minutes’ worth of ads. ABI is, as usual, the only alcohol advertiser among the 21 major advertisers for the Super Bowl. But that’s still too many as far as the wingnuts at AJ are concerned. Zero is the only number that would satisfy their loony way of viewing the world.

They close their tweet with “Self-regulation failure,” which is to be expected. AJ seems to think Budweiser is “targeting” kids just by showing ads during the Super Bowl. But the self-regulation they believe is failing (presumably the Beer Institute Marketing and Advertising Code) states that the criteria to be followed is that “at least 71.6% of the audience is expected to be adults of legal drinking age.” Here, the Super Bowl viewership will most likely be at least 80%, and frankly higher since children below a certain age who happen to be present aren’t likely to even be paying attention. So how exactly is following the code a fail?

But moreover, where exactly did Alcohol Justice get the idea that ABI’s ads were using “puppies, ponies & Pac-Man,” and what exactly is wrong with that? That line comes, sort of, from the link in the tweet, which takes you to an article on MediaPost, “an integrated publishing and content company whose mission is to provide a complete array of resources for media, marketing and advertising professionals.” That article is merely reporting on what ads ABI is planning and is entitled Budweiser’s Super Bowl Line-up Includes Puppies, Kings, And Pac-Man. Why AJ changed “Kings” to “ponies” is undoubtedly to make it sound worse than it really is. It’s a favorite propaganda trick of Alcohol Justice, bending reality to their agenda.

But what really pisses me off about AJ’s propaganda, a tactic they use time and time again, is the idea that if something might appeal to someone who’s under 21 then it’s only for kids and is therefore “targeting youth.” For example, the BI’s advertising code specifically forbids beer companies from depicting Santa Claus, which personally I think is utter rubbish. Beer labels and advertising by beer brands all over the world use St. Nick, and few people seem to have a problem with it. And that’s because many adults love the idea of Santa Claus, too. I know I do. I get that Santa is aimed primarily at kids. I already miss the time when my kids were still young enough to believe in him. But the idea of Santa Claus is really for all ages. Every time someone tries to put a cartoon character on a bottle of beer, prohibitionists go nuts, but adults love cartoons, too, they’re not just for kids, and there are many, many cartoons aimed specifically at an older audience. Have they never been to a comic book convention? The idea that people simply stop being interested in the things they enjoyed as children the day they cross over into their alcohol years on the day they turn 21 is completely laughable.

As I mentioned, there will be three ABI ads during the Super Bowl. According to AdWeek, they will be the following:

1. Lost Dog

This is the “puppy” referred to in the article and the tweet. It’s the sequel to last year’s Puppy Love.

A Bud spot called “Lost Dog” from Anomaly will show how “only your best buds are the ones who always have your back,” [Budweiser VP Brian] Perkins said. It’s a sequel to last year’s “Puppy Love,” the most shared ad on Facebook of all time, and once again will feature a puppy and the brewer’s iconic Clydesdales. Jake Scott is back as director.

And while yes, it does include a puppy, the only way this doesn’t appeal to all ages is only if someone watching it doesn’t have a heart. Since when do only kids like puppies? Seriously, what’s wrong with these people? If you don’t find that adorable, you should probably consider becoming a prohibitionist.

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2. King of Beers

Not much is known about this ad specifically, just the general idea has been reported, and according to the AdWeek piece from January 7, it won’t be shot until this week coming up. But it’s the “King” in the article and what AJ replaced with “ponies” because it made what Bud was doing sound more sinister.

Another Bud spot, which Anomaly will shoot in the next week, will focus on how A-B brews the King of Beers. As scripted, the ad “talks with real pride and real attitude about Budweiser quality,” Perkins said, adding, “A lot of brands try and do that and there are prosaic ways to talk about that kind of thing. This one is going to do it with pride and swagger.”

But let’s go back to the “ponies” Alcohol Justice was referring to, which in reality, of course, is the Budweiser Clydesdales. These are big damn horses. I suspect that even Clydesdale ponies are probably the same size as regular horses. They’re draft horses, one of several breeds used to pull heavy things. They’re also used in equestrian vaulting, a little-known sport my daughter has been doing since she was six. The best way to describe it is gymnastics on the back of a moving horse. So you want a big horse to give you more room to work on and also because they’re more stable, too. I’ve taken my daughter to see the Budweiser Clydesdales when they visited the Fairfield brewery a few years ago. She’s into horses, as you’d expect, and like Lisa Simpson she puts down a “pony” on her Christmas wish list every year. But again, is that unique to children? Hardly. My wife informs me that one day we will own a horse, if not a pony. And that’s because like many, many adults, she loves horses, too. Liking ponies, and horses, is not unique to childhood and no one over the age of 21 stops loving them. If so, wouldn’t we think of rodeos as events just for kids?

ClydesdalesBrewerPennNational2-6-26-13

3. Coin

This is the ad where “Pac-Man” will appear that was referred to in the article and the tweet.

A Bud Light spot called “Coin” from EnergyBBDO will tell the story of a drinker of the light beer who steps out for a night of fun with 1980s icon Pac Man as he enters a life-size, interactive Pac-Man game. The ad will be supported by a House of Whatever event that the brewer will set up for three days in Phoenix, the host of this year’s game. Steve Aoki will serve as DJ at the house.

But again, does Pac-Man appeal exclusively to children? Pac-Man debuted in 1980. My kids, especially my 13-year old, loves video games. But my son Porter, who even loves older retro games, thinks Pac-Man is really old school and wants nothing to do with it. So who does love Pac-Man? If you assume that the youngest kids were maybe ten years old when Pac-Man first came out, those same kids would be 45 today. It’s apparently hipster Millennials that ABI is hoping to target with Pac-Man. In an earlier Advertising Age article, they explained the changing focus of Budweiser advertising. “The Super Bowl ads come as Anheuser-Busch begins a new media strategy as it seeks to remain relevant with millennials in an age where smaller craft beers are the rage among young drinkers.”

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So it’s younger drinkers that ABI is hoping to reach with their advertising in 2015, but they are pointedly not targeting youth under 21, as Alcohol Justice would have you believe. But this is what they so often do. They take a relatively innocuous article and twist it just enough that it sounds like something entirely different. Not once in the MediaPost they linked to did it mention targeting underage youths. They just made that up. They also failed in their characterization of a self-regulation fail since the ads during the Super Bowl fall within the industry guidelines. And changing the headline to the catchier, alliterative “puppies, ponies & Pac-Man” may have sounded clever, but as is so typical of the prohibitionists, it’s misleading and inaccurate. And that’s the problem with agenda-driven propaganda. It’s more important to be provocative and push an agenda than it is to be truthful, accurate or reasonable. And it’s that very devotion to fanaticism that makes any honest discussion nearly impossible.

I’m going to watch the Super Bowl again this year, even if my team (the Green Bay Packers) ultimately doesn’t play in the big game (Go Packers!). My kids will watch it, too, and several adult members of my family will undoubtedly drink a few beers during the game. And I have one prediction I can almost guarantee will take place on Super Sunday. It will be a typical day, and nothing bad will happen as a result of my kids seeing a few Budweiser commercials. Because a true family event is one where both adults and kids can be together, it’s not where every adult has to hide or forgo adult pleasures because children might see them and get the idea — in the prohibitionist’s own words — that such behavior is normal. The problem is that adults drinking alcohol is one of the most normal activities people have ever engaged in, having been doing so non-stop since the beginning of recorded history.

We saw this recently when prohibitionists, specifically again — sigh — Alcohol Justice, opposed a California law that would allow local beer, cider and winemakers to sell and sample their goods at farmers’ markets alongside local farmers and craftspeople as just another locally made product. They criticized the law saying that farmer’s markets were for families and therefore no alcohol should be allowed because it made such behavior look normal. Unfortunately for them, it is normal, and happily they lost that battle and it did become a law in California. If you’ve made it this far and still haven’t had enough of me shouting in the wind, you can see AJ making the same arguments in What Does Family Friendly Mean?

But I really think it’s important to push back on this idea that family-friendly and alcohol are mutually exclusive. Alcohol is in the world, and the more we can do as adults and parents to teach our kids the proper way it should be consumed, modeling our best behavior, the better adults our children will become. Pretending it doesn’t exist and separating kids from learning about the adult world in the end does more harm than good, and doesn’t prepare them in any way to join the world at large once they’re chronologically old enough to be considered adults. Watching the Super Bowl with three minutes of beer commercials during four hours with their family and friends is, and quite rightly ought to be, a non-event and the fact that millions of Americans don’t give it a second thought should convince anyone how out of touch Alcohol Justice is with the world.

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