Why Some Drunks Fight

cockfight
You’ve undoubtedly seen a belligerent drunk at some point in your life. Perhaps you’ve even been one. There are some people who seemingly turn angry when they drink. Some of them get into fights, maybe start one in a bar, the classic mythical bar fight where chairs start flying and everybody joins in because everyone who drinks is looking for a fight, right? Watch almost any western movie to see this in action. It’s so taken for granted, it’s a cliche. I’m sure bar fights occur, but honestly I’ve never seen a full on fight like you see in the movies. And I’ve been to more bars in my lifetime than the average person, I’d warrant. There are apparently people who become angry after a few too many drinks. And some of them probably do start a fight. There are certainly people like this, and I’ve always thought of them simply as “bad drunks.”

Thomas-after-the-poker-game

My stepfather was one. He turned mean on a bender, and he was violent and very, very scary, especially to a young sheltered suburban punk like me, ages 5 to 15 or so. But I quickly figured out all on my own that it wasn’t the alcohol that made him so belligerent. He was already that way, thanks to his own trials and tribulations growing up. Not to mention he was raised in a place/culture/family/time when/where not only weren’t men supposed to show their feelings, they weren’t supposed to actually have any. That’s not an excuse, just a fact. He walked around seething, all bottled up, and used alcohol to release his demons. It seemed to help him, of course, but it was devastating to anyone around him, especially me and my mother, who was too co-dependent to do anything about it. But the next morning, the relief he’d felt was all too brief, and the pressure would start building again to its next inevitable violent conclusion; a day, a week or even a month later.

You’d think after such unpleasant experiences that I might have sworn off alcohol entirely. But as I said, I knew it wasn’t the alcohol that made him that way. It was people and society who were convinced and believed that alcohol made him angry that allowed him to continue to be a nasty drunk, and not have to take any responsibility for his actions. It was just the alcohol, they’d say. Prohibitionists today continue this lie, and it’s one of things I so hate about them, by claiming it’s the alcohol that causes harm. But it’s not. And every time they spout that meme I wonder how many more kids are made to suffer by spouses and family and a community who listen to them, and do honestly believe that were it not for the drinking, Dad would be fine, a model citizen.

But look around you. Not everybody who drinks turns angry. In fact, most don’t. That’s how I know it’s not the alcohol. Because I can get rip-roaring drunk, and never become angry. Believe me I’ve tried, but it never happens. I get more talkative, if that’s possible, and more philosophical and sleepy. And most people I know react similarly, at least insofar as they don’t start a bar fight every time they take a drink. That’s also my biggest problem with AA and similar programs that preach that people are powerless, in effect not responsible. They often claim otherwise, but turning the superhero credo on its head; with great powerless comes a great ability to shirk responsibility for one’s actions. And so it’s the alcohol that ends up with the blame, not the person who abused it. Why society allows that is apparently complicated and is something I frankly don’t completely understand.

A German study published late last year in Deutsches Ärzteblatt International, entitled Alcohol-Related Aggression — Social and Neurobiological Factors sought to examine “Alcohol-related aggression and violence” and begins by noting that “nearly one in three violent acts in Germany was committed under the influence of alcohol (31.8%).” But that also means that over two-thirds of violent acts are committed by people who were not drinking or drunk. Maybe there are other factors we should be looking at as to why people are violent? And it also doesn’t answer the question of how many violent acts were prevented because someone had a drink after a tough day and that relaxed and calmed them.

Curiously, when reported on here in the U.S., the reference to this being a German statistic was removed, making it a much broader, universal statement. For example, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico, Science Daily and Medical News Today (MNT) all begin their coverage with the same sentence. “One-third of all acts of violence are perpetrated under the influence of alcohol.” So first of all, it was actually less than one-third and secondly, that statistic was confined to Germany. Not exactly an auspicious beginning for there to be two errors in the very first sentence. The MNT headline itself is misleading, stating that “Social and neurobiological factors linked to alcohol-related aggression,” while the study didn’t confirm a link so much as examine the “causes of alcohol-related aggression.” But by using that headline, it changes the tone of how you read the entire article.

Emily-Smith-vertigo-bar-fight

But that just seems like prohibitionist interests bending it to their purposes, because the study itself is interesting, and worth a read. The whole article is online, and there’s also a pdf you can download. It’s not so much a scientific study but a survey, or review, of all of the previous studies and literature about alcohol-induced aggression. In the abstract, they describe their process as follows.

In this review, based on a selective search for pertinent literature in PubMed, we analyze and summarize information from original articles, reviews, and book chapters about alcohol and aggression and discuss the neurobiological basis of aggressive behavior.

What they found was that “[o]nly a minority of persons who drink alcohol become aggressive,” which is what we all know. There appears to be evidence that “neurobiological factors” can account for the aggression, but that possibly more importantly, so can “personal expectations of the effects of alcohol, on prior experience of violent conflicts, and on the environmental conditions of early childhood, especially social exclusion and discrimination.”

They cite the World Health Organization and several other studies, and meta-studies, that indicate how many crimes, many of them violent, are committed by drunk people. But for many, if not most, of these, they specifically cite “acute alcohol intoxication” which is not the same thing as having a few beers, drinking responsibly in moderation. In addition, it’s also worse for people with “chronic alcohol consumption and alcohol dependence” issues. So again, this is a subset of all drinkers. But most American prohibitionist groups lump everybody who drinks together into one group, insisting all drinking is bad and leads to all sorts of trouble and mischief, taking a simplistic approach that treats all drinkers the same. But the Germans found things aren’t so simple.

Both clinical observations and scientific data have shown that the manifestation of alcohol-related aggression is by no means uniform. Rather, it is becoming clear that individual differences play a key role. In addition, more recent models are moving away from single-factor causes and towards multifactorial sets of conditions.

So what are the various factors that contribute to someone drinking and turning violent? They identify four.

  • Executive functions such as the control and inhibition of ongoing behavior
  • Information processing
  • Attentional control
  • Individual differences in expectation of the effect of alcohol consumption (e.g. “Alcohol makes me aggressive.”)

They also add to that list, Social learning, described as “experiences with friends or relatives who exhibit aggressive behavior under the influence of alcohol, [and] play a key role in the onset of alcohol-related aggression.”

But looking through the entire survey, what seems clear is that it’s the “expectations of effect” that has the most influence. And that brings us back to everyday experience. People believe that they can act differently under the influence of alcohol, and so they do. Society also expects that people will act differently under the influence of alcohol and so they don’t impose social penalties or ostracize that behavior. In many cases, it’s not just tolerated and excused but forgiven, and therefore enabled. By letting drunks essentially get away with bad behavior, it leads to a society that creates incentives for acting badly. That’s why I hate bad drunks so much. They ruin it for the rest of us. Bad drunks are what prohibitionists believe we all become when we have a beer, any amount of beer, despite the massive evidence to the contrary.

Other “individual factors” they identified “with an increased probability of alcohol-induced aggression” include:

  • Sex (men have a higher risk of reacting aggressively following acute alcohol consumption)
  • Personality traits such as sensation-seeking
  • High underlying irritability
  • Lack of empathy

They add. “Maladaptive reasons for drinking, such as drinking as a coping mechanism, and the assumption that aggression is an acceptable form of social interaction, also play a major role.”

So essentially, they’re saying it’s personality-driven, which has been my experience, as well. If you have a propensity to act aggressively toward women, alcohol will give you the excuse to act that out. If you’re seeking sensational experiences, alcohol will give you the excuse to act that out. If you’re already irritable or angry, alcohol will give you the excuse to act more violently and aggressive. If you already lack empathy, alcohol will give you the excuse to care about other people even less than you normally do. And as long as that’s “an acceptable form of social interaction,” then people will continue to do so because they can use getting drunk as an excuse to be a douchebag.

bar_fight_by_thanostsilis

In the conclusion they sum this up. “Individuals who find it difficult to inhibit their behavior and delay gratification and who have problems enduring unpleasant feelings seem to become aggressive more frequently after consuming alcohol.” And this happens even more often to people who are “alcohol-dependent” but curiously is “not associated with alcohol dependence, including chronic alcohol dependence, per se.” I can’t help but think that’s because in such cases being drunk is used as the excuse to act badly, knowing that society — friends, family, etc. — will let them get away with it because they too have the expectation that the alcohol is causing them to behave badly, and that they shouldn’t, or can’t, be held responsible for their actions.

As this article makes clear, while there are genetic and neurobiological factors that in some people can lead to abusing alcohol, the majority of the problem stems from social conventions. Because the neurobiological causes can be identified, dealt with and treated. The social structures that allow people to use getting drunk as an excuse for bad behavior is a lot harder to change, because it’s so well-rooted in how our society functions. And it doesn’t help that addiction organizations and medical groups that treat this problem also enable this behavior by accepting it as dogma. And it doesn’t help that prohibitionist groups believe it, too, insisting that it’s the alcohol that’s causing the harm, not the individuals using, or abusing, it. By targeting the product that some people are abusing, instead of those people, they’re essentially allowing and even making the conditions more attractive to anyone using alcohol to continue using that as their excuse. After all, they must think, “I can’t be responsible for acting like an asshole, I was drunk. The booze made me do it, I couldn’t help myself.” And that, I think, is why some drunks fight. Because we as a society let them.

We don’t need tougher laws, or more police, or roadside checkpoints, or more prohibitionist propaganda. If everybody with a friend or family member who’s a bad drunk stopped letting them get away with it, this problem would be substantially reduced, whittled down to the people physically unable to control themselves. And we could then get those people the help they need. I say don’t tolerate bad drunks, let them know you don’t accept alcohol as an excuse for their bad behavior. They’ll either stop, or they’ll figure out they really do have a health problem that needs addressing. Social pressure and the threat of ostracization are usually a much more effective method of changing behaviors.

Drinking should be about the enjoyment of life, and responsible, moderate consumption should enhance what’s good in our lives already. Whether it’s improving a meal, conversation with friends at a pub, or celebrating a holiday or personal achievement, beer can heighten and complement those experiences, from the ordinary to the very special. That’s the goal of beer with flavor, that people drink less, but better. Who could fight with that?

What Big Alcohol Will Never Admit

dna
Okay, here’s yet another piece of legerdemain by the Alcohol Justice watchdogs supposedly keeping us in the alcohol business honest. I’ve been seeing this missive over the past week or so (since they tweet it every single day) that on its face seems damning.

AJ-never-admit

Here’s what they accuse us of. “Big Alcohol will never admit #1 http://bit.ly/1ddQYTy Young adults damage DNA with weekend alcohol consumption.” Oh, no! What won’t big alcohol admit? Good question, and since that’s the charge leveled at us, you’d think it would be clear what it is we supposedly keep denying. But clicking on the link takes you to a story on MNT — Medical News today — entitled Young adults ‘damage DNA’ with weekend alcohol consumption. The article is about a study done at the Autonomous University of Nayarit in Mexico that resulted in a article in the journal Alcohol, although curiously no link is provided to the original study. The study was entitled “Oxidative damage in young alcohol drinkers: A preliminary study,” and you can read the abstract online.

But I think what’s more important is that claim by Alcohol Justice (AJ) that we’ll “never admit #1.” So take a look at the link, Young adults ‘damage DNA’ with weekend alcohol consumption. What the hell is “#1?” It would appear to be the first claim made in the article, since there are two sub-headings, which is “Oxidative damage caused by alcohol consumption.” But the second part of AJ’s tweet is “Young adults damage DNA with weekend alcohol consumption,” and the title of the article’s second subheading is “Signs of DNA damage through alcohol consumption,” which seems closer to what AJ is claiming. But I don’t think I’m being too difficult in thinking that if you’re going to claim we’re burying our heads in the sand and not admitting some horror that you make that accusation reasonably clear.

But okay, they’re not able to communicate clearly. So let’s assume it’s the DNA section they’re referring to. Here’s what it says.

An additional experiment, called the comet test, was conducted to see whether the participants’ DNA was also affected by alcohol consumption. This involved taking out the nucleus of lymphocytic cells in the blood and putting it through electrophoresis.

The researchers explain that if the cells are faulty and DNA is damaged, it causes a “halo” in the electrophoresis, called “the comet tail.”

The experiment revealed that the group who consumed alcohol showed significantly bigger comet tails in the electrophoresis, compared with the group that did not drink alcohol.

In detail, 8% of cells were damaged in the control group, but 44% were damaged in the drinking group. This means the drinking group had 5.3 times more damage to their cells.

But here’s the kicker, in the final sentence of that section. “However, the investigators say that they were unable to confirm there was extensive damage to the DNA, as the comet tail was less than 20 nanometers. But the investigators say their findings still raise concern.” So us evil alcohol folks won’t admit this, but the researchers themselves say they can’t conclusively state what’s going on or even if there’s really “extensive damage to the DNA.”

Another report about this study from Basque Research, makes the point even more clearly.

To be able to confirm the existence of considerable damage to the DNA, the comet tail must exceed 20 nm, and that was not the case. “Fortunately,” the researcher pointed out, “but the fact is, there should not have been any damage at all because they had not been consuming alcohol for very long, they had not been exposed in a chronic way.” The means by which alcohol manages to alter DNA is not yet known.

Regardless of which part of this study AJ is attacking us with, the fact is, as is clear in the title of the study, Oxidative damage in young alcohol drinkers: A preliminary study, this is a preliminary study. And throughout it the study’s authors say this is the first study of its kind to look at this and that more research is necessary.

But we’re still the bad guys because we apparently won’t admit this, even though we’ve never been asked, as far as I know. Did AJ send letter to big alcohol, and they didn’t answer? So instead they turned to twitter to shame them?

This is what pisses me off about Alcohol Justice. They make this accusation that implies that the alcohol industry is doing something wrong, that we’re immoral and damaging children wantonly and maliciously. It’s insulting. And it’s untrue. It’s dishonest, the way the accusation is made. I don’t think they care that it’s so vague and unclear, or that upon closer examination it’s not even true. People just see the headline, assume it’s correct, and the damage is done. It may be effective propaganda, but how can an organization who claims their mission is to keep the alcohol industry honest use such incredibly misleading and dishonest tactics? By automatically painting us as the bad guys for refusing to admit some unknown and vague harm that no sane person would, it’s just an out and out attack.

This is despite the fact that this is about people under 21 drinking, something that should not be happening, and for which the people who make alcohol are not responsible. I personally believe it would be less of a problem if the minimum age was lowered to 18, because then the drinking would be out in the open, not driven underground, where abuse and problems aren’t addressed. That’s also the point of view of the Amethyst Initiative, an organization of over 130 heads of American colleges and universities advocating for lowering the drinking age.

But in the end, how can an honest dialogue be even possible when the approach so often taken by prohibitionist organizations is to accuse and attack. That doesn’t do anybody any good. But I doubt that Alcohol Justice will ever admit that.

Prohibitionists Poisoning Minds With Poison Beer

alcohol-justice-new
The good folks at Alcohol Justice (AJ) really know where my goat is tied (as an old friend used to say) because they sure know how to piss me off. They tweeted out this morning about a CDC Report on Alcohol and Public Health: Alcohol-Related Disease Impact with the following. “In the US, what kills 88,000 people and causes $223 billion in harm annually?” It’s their usual bullshit meme about how alcohol, not people, kills and harms. But perhaps most offensive is the accompanying photo, showing beer as poison.

AJ-poison-tweet

I know it was just for effect, but how utterly obnoxious. The most popular alcoholic beverage worldwide, and third most popular of all beverages, is poisonous? Shouldn’t we all be dead right now, then? That’s a tad extreme, and typically untruthful, especially considering that throughout history had it not been for the safer-than-water drink many of our ancestors would have perished and who knows how many of the folks working at Alcohol Justice might not even be here today were it not for beer. I guess that was then, and this is now, and they’re certainly an ungrateful bunch, unable to say a kind word about anything to do with alcohol. It’s also a slap in the face to the literally millions of people across the globe who make, sell and serve beer, and other alcoholic beverages. But insulting us is part and parcel of their mission, and is never given a second thought, as far as I can tell.

But lest I give them too much credit for creativity, it wasn’t even their photo, but was, presumably, bought from Colourbox, a company selling stock photographs. But even they knew the photo was about the “dangers of alcoholism” and not about beer being poison, which is the sense in which AJ is clearly using it.
Alcoholism Is Deadly

But let’s get back to the content, first that 88,000 people are killed by alcohol. The CDC report and the accompanying chart is entitled “Alcohol-Attributable Deaths Due to Excessive Alcohol Use” (my emphasis), a qualifier conveniently left off by AJ.

The chart itself is divided into two parts, chronic and acute “causes.” Chronic is essentially a laundry list of diseases or illnesses that people presumably died of who also drank. But saying that alcohol is the single and direct cause of almost all of those is utterly absurd. There are so many factors that would account for any one of those that it’s mind-boggling that they could print that with a straight face. Some, maybe most, were no doubt exacerbated by the overuse of alcohol, but certainly there would have been additional factors, like genetics, age, other health issues, etcetera, that would have contributed to an individual contracting a specific ailment. Alcohol is not necessarily the smoking gun, but one of perhaps many factors that would have contributed.

But the acute “causes” are even more preposterous, if that’s possible, as they include such causes as “Air-space transport, Drowning, Fall injuries, Firearm injuries, Hypothermia, Suicide and Water transport,” to name a few. And those are the majority of the deaths they attribute to excessive alcohol use. Take hypothermia; if you get so drunk that you’re too foolish to come in out of the cold, it wasn’t the alcohol that did you in, it was stupidity. And suicide? The alcohol may have given you the courage to go through with it, but I can all but guarantee there were many more root causes that led someone to contemplate taking their own life, and those are far more complicated than excessive drinking.

Curiously, the CDC also has compiled a list of facts about Deaths and Mortality. Alcohol is not even listed among the top ten causes of death in the U.S. Heart disease is number one, although I must have missed the calls to ban red meat and other causes of heart problems.

The number of Americans who pass away each year is around 2,468,435, making even the almost 88,000 skewed figure a mere 3.5% of the total. But if they had used the nearly 88,000 figure, it would have been fifth. The reason it’s not there is because that number is made up of a number of different causes. Even though they refer to it as “attributable,” those are things that may contribute, along with many other factors, but they’re not necessarily the direct cause itself. The CDC report makes that clear if you take the time to look at it. Alcohol Justice does not, and uses it as alarmist propaganda.

If you switch the view of the CDC report from “Excessive Alcohol Use” to “All Alcohol Use” the number actually goes up to 106,434. So why didn’t AJ use that number since it makes the problem seem even more dire? Well, the chart toward the bottom also factors in “Beneficial Effects,” and claims positive benefits to 26,284. That gives all alcohol use a net total of 80,150, which is actually lower than the number attributable to excessive drinking. So even with the questionable numbers and reasoning, they did go with the worst numbers, of course.

As for the second number, the “$223 billion in harm,” that’s not addressed or even mentioned in the CDC report, so I think it’s safe to assume that they, as usual, just made it up. It’s probably taken from some other bullshit propaganda piece, but there’s no link to it in the tweet, so we’re left guessing, at least until the next missive from the watchdog sheriff.

Before the angry comments inevitably pile up, I’m not making light of death, any death. I fear death as much as the next person, increasingly so as I inch closer toward that light at the end of this tunnel we call life. But how, and why, people die and perhaps more importantly, how they lived, cannot be reduced to a balance sheet. It’s not a matter of tallying the good and bad we’ve done to ourselves and others, and assigning a number. Life is far more complex and complicated. So is death. Nobody’s picking up a bottle of beer and seeing a skull and crossbones on it. To put one there ignores the myriad positives that alcohol brings to most people’s lives, how it enhances and enriches them. Those intangible benefits are almost unquantifiable, although we all know they exist. It’s why beer and alcohol have been an integral part of civilization since the very beginning of recorded history. That there is a small minority of individuals who are unable or unwilling to control themselves with alcohol is not a reason to dismiss the overwhelming majority of us who can, logic apparently utterly lost on the prohibitionists.

One of the more popular toasts when drinking is L’Chiam, which in hebrew means “to life.” And that, I think, is what we drink to each and every time we raise a glass of beer to our lips. To life!

The David Vs. Goliath Prohibitionist Myth

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This one always bugs me. Many prohibitionist groups invoke the Bible story of David and Goliath to suggest that they represent the little man against the giant, faceless, impersonal alcohol companies. Alcohol Justice earlier today tweeted this gem begging for donations to “Help Alcohol Justice stand-up to Big Alcohol’s harmful practices.” Along with the tweet was this image:

david-vs-goliath

Beyond the obnoxious religious posturing, as if alcohol companies or people who drink it are irreligious, or that those who belong to either group are Philistines, the unequal position is untrue. The reality is that most of the prohibitionist groups currently operating are very well-funded. The mother of them all, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation “spent over a quarter of a billion (that’s billion, not million) dollars ($265,000,000.00) in just four years alone further developing and funding a nation-wide network of anti-alcohol organizations, centers, activist leaders, and opinion writers to promote its long-term goal.”

Similarly, MADD’s Focus is squarely on money and fund-raising. Here’s what Alcohol Facts has to say about MADD:

Non-profit organizations typically permit their chapters to keep most of the money they raise. For example, Remove Intoxicated Drivers (RID) chapters get to keep 90% of all funds they raise. But MADD claims ownership of every penny raised by all its many chapters. Thus, after raising $129,000 locally and turning it all over as MADD demands, the Las Vegas chapter received a check from the national office for $1.29 (one dollar and twenty nine cents) as its share. MADD’s “focus is on greed,” said the chapter President, who reported “I’ve never seen such bloodsuckers!”

All items in some issues of Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s MADD E-Newsletter are devoted entirely to MADD’s primary mission of fund-raising. There are no pleas for sober driving, no calls for more sobriety checkpoints, no news reports, no petitions for legislation to reduce impaired driving and improve traffic safety — just fund-raising appeals. Most issues of the MADD E-Newsletter usually have at least one or two items not devoted to soliciting money.

MADD’s national web site lists all local chapters. Each listing is followed by a plea to “Donate Locally.” This is clearly deceptive because it implies that funds given to local chapters will be handled differently than funds given to the national office. In reality, all funds, wherever donated, must go directly and completely to the national office for use as it sees fit.

They go on:

Mothers Against Drunk Driving is always hungry for more money. Although the organization’s financial investments exceed 25 million dollars, it has paid telemarketers huge fees to raise tens of millions of dollars per year from hard-working Americans. MADD has spent almost two out of every three dollars raised on fund-raising, forcing the American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP) to downgrade its evaluation of the organization to a “D.” MADD has spent twice as much on fundraising as the AIP finds acceptable. It would appear that raising money has become an end in itself at the MADD bureaucracy, with numerous employees, high salaries, expensive fringe benefits, and huge retirement funds.

In addition, the New Prohibition adds:

MADD operates more like a big business than a charity, with the majority of its funding going toward salaries and fringe benefits instead of public safety programs.

MADD’s 2007-2008 operating budget was over $45 million.

Alcohol Justice, who tweeted the David and Goliath reference, is funded by the Buck Trust. According to the New Prohibition, “the Leonard and Beryl Buck Foundation (Buck Trust) was created in 1975 after Beryl Buck left $9.1 million to Marin County, California with the provision that it be used to serve the needs of the County residents.” Alcohol Justice claims they receive just 3% of the Buck Trust’s funding, although despite the Trust’s provision that it be used locally, AJ’s reach and focus is well beyond Marin County’s borders.

According to AJ’s own publicly available financials, in 2012 they were worth a little over $1.6 million and had assets of almost $1.6 million at the end of the year. Of their annual budget, by far the largest chunk was spent on salaries, which were in excess of $600,000 and they spent over $800,000 in total compensation.

The point is, the prohibitionists are spending a lot of money, but is big alcohol spending that much more, such that they’re Goliath to the prohibitionist’s self-proclaimed David?

A Huffington Post report from 2010, entitled Food & Alcohol Industries’ Lobbying Dollars totals industry spending and, removing the food portions, alcohol spends about $4.2 million. A tidy sum to be sure, but it’s obviously dwarfed by just the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s $66.5 million per year over the past four years (totaling $265 million). According to Open Secrets, the alcohol industry isn’t even among the Top 20 since 1998. For 2013, Open Secrets reckons that the alcohol industry has spent $15.7 million, or only about 23.6% of what the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation alone spends. Add in what all the rest are spending, and the percentage goes down even more.

What’s obvious is that this David vs. Goliath propaganda is just that: propaganda. It’s a myth that the prohibitionists are tiny grassroots groups fighting against the giant alcohol Goliaths. It may be useful in raising money — clearly prohibitionist group’s most important concern — but it’s just not true. Please, put down the slingshot.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Propaganda

ouroboros-dragon
Here’s another great example of the circle jerk nature of prohibitionist groups. This is, I’m finding, the standard operating procedure for most, if not all, of them. They decide what they’re opposed to, in this case alcohol, and then they commission — that is pay for — research that they claim proves their point. Tobacco companies are the classic example, insofar as they funded lots of studies showing how safe smoking was despite independent research revealing just the opposite. How the “study” is framed is one of the many troubling aspects of how they do this. Assumptions are made that all alcohol is bad and that people who consume it will abuse it and be a burden on society, causing innumerable harms to themselves and others. That’s a persistent theme that permeates much of the so-called scientific literature, there’s hardly a whiff of impartiality if you look deeply enough into it.

A pointed example I recall, outside the alcohol world, is the Meese Commission Report which was directed by then-President Ronald Reagan to find a link between pornography and criminal or anti-social behavior. The important difference between this, and the earlier commission by Johnson/Nixon which resulted in the 1970 Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, is that from an impartial starting point that report found no such link. In fact, the 1970 commission “recommended against any restrictions for adults” and overall “the report found that obscenity and pornography were not important social problems, that there was no evidence that exposure to such material was harmful to individuals, and that current legal and policy initiatives were more likely to create problems than solve them.” Regardless of your feelings about pornography, what’s significant is that Reagan’s mandate to Meese was not to see if there was causation between pornography and violence, but was instead he was tasked with finding one. That was the goal of the report, to find a link to please Reagan’s base on the religious right who weren’t happy with the results of the 1970 report. And that’s how I feel about GAPA and the countless quasi-scientific prohibitionist organizations and their “studies.” They are, by design, looking for trouble, and so naturally they find it everywhere they look.

So once they’ve manufactured and/or exaggerated the problem, the next step is to get the research published in quasi-scientific journals, in some cases one owned or funded by the same organizations. Then they send out press releases claiming their position has been scientifically proven. They usually neglect to mention that they themselves created the “science” they’re touting because it’s more effective if it appears to be objective. Unfortunately, it rarely is, but such is the state of journalism today that press releases are more often reprinted verbatim without any fact-checking or even questioning the content. It’s apparently enough if it simply has a credible-sounding “scientific” journal name attached to it. Once you’ve got enough of these “studies” you can then hold a conference of like-minded individuals where you can present your findings.

So in October of this year, the “Global Alcohol Policy Conference” was held in South Korea. It was hosted by a group I wasn’t familiar with; the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA), but which appears to be more of a loose organization of national prohibitionist groups that was formed in 2000 to share information and hold annual conferences. Although I don’t know many of the international groups, the people from the U.S. make it clear who’s invited to the party. GAPA board members include George Hacker, who runs the notorious prohibitionist Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI); Thomas F. Babor, the author of Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity: Research and Public Policy (an anti-alcohol handbook) and David Jernigan, who’s the Director of the also notoriously anti-alcohol Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY), funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Behavior and Society at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Jerigan was also the author of this travesty: Bud Blamed In Absurd E.R. Visit Study.

Here’s where the circle gets tighter and more insular. There are sixteen board members for GAPA. At the recent Global Alcohol Policy Conference, there were eight speakers on the program. Of those eight, six are also board members of GAPA. Similarly, GAPA is divided into regions. The North American region includes four member organizations: CSPI (Centre for Science in the Public Interest), The Marin Institute (now known as Alcohol Justice), The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth and the Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse, created by the collaboration of the AMA and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. If you’re a regular reader here you’ll no doubt recognize those groups as being prohibitionist to their core.

Looking over the program for the conference, the topics all revolve around the negative aspects of alcohol, the harms, the addicts, the too-low taxation and regulation. Reading over the titles, it’s hard not to leave with the impression that it’s about how to bring down alcohol completely. I couldn’t find one positive word about drinking, which seems incongruous to my life experience and literally just about every person I know. Surely, they could find some balance to their efforts, but instead it feels punitive, divisive and almost mean-spirited. Some of the speeches given during the conference are available for download, while others — most, really — give you an error message when trying to download: “Applicants sponsored by alcohol manufacturers are not allowed.” How did they know? What don’t they want people in the alcohol industry to know about regarding what they’re saying or doing?

Another glimpse into prohibitionists worldwide comes from GAPA’s internal magazine, The Globe. In the latest issue, Issue 3 2013 they tackle such horrible behavior by alcohol companies as donating water to disaster relief with the overall theme of “Beware of the Alcohol Industry Bearing Gifts.”
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I recall the Marin Institute similarly whining when Anheuser-Busch canned water and sent it to Haiti after the devastating earthquake there, a story I detailed in Let No Good Deed Go Unpunished.

So how was the conference portrayed in the news online? Upstreaming Alcohol Policy reported that an “important theme running through the conference was the role of the global alcohol industry in maintaining and intensifying alcohol-related harm through its tactics and practices.” In other words, we’re all evil and wish your family harm, a persistent theme in all prohibitionist propaganda. Corporations & Health Watch agreed and went even further, reporting that “Dr. Thomas Babor of the University of Connecticut, for example, stressed reasons to doubt the sincerity of the global alcohol industry in its insistence to be part of the solution to alcohol problems.” Yes, we want everybody binge-drinking all the time, every day. There’s nothing better for the alcohol industry than drunk people killing themselves and others, especially when we all have families and want them in harm’s way, too. I’m so sick of this one, where alcohol is criticized for advertising or wanting to sell more products because that, they claim, is “clearly to increase overall consumption — a strategy which is inimical to public health and public safety.” Every alcohol corporation, at least under U.S. law, is like every corporation, beholden to shareholders and must do what they can to increase the share price, in other words increase the business. It’s the law. There’s plenty of corporate behavior I’m not wild about, but at least I understand it. If you want corporations to act differently, change their charters; change the law governing them. But stop making it sound like they’d kill their mothers for a dime. Stop painting them, and all of us in the alcohol industry, as evil. We’re just not.

Their conclusion was that “reducing the global burden of alcohol-related harm will require advocates to effectively counter that industry influence – through reliance on the best science, savvy media advocacy, and robust grassroots organization.” The black humor and irony in that is that the science they’re referring to is anything but the “best” — or evidence-based, as they often phrase it. “Savvy media advocacy” means propaganda which I find usually contains falsehoods and exaggerations, at best. And “robust grassroots organization” means, more often than not, groups funded by large, wealthy prohibitionist groups like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation or others.

The overall impression I have from watching these groups for over twenty years is that they’re so shamelessly dishonest in their actions and their rhetoric that I can’t really understand how they can claim the high moral ground that’s so inherent in their position. They set up the argument as a David vs. Goliath situation which is laughably wrong. Does “big alcohol” have a lot of money. Sure, but so does the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and most of the others. They’ve been spending their money influencing politicians, spreading their message and trying to persuade others to their way of thinking. Does that sound like the same thing that they accuse alcohol manufacturers of doing? It should, because they’re doing exactly the same thing, and have been since at least 1933, when Prohibition ended. The only real difference is they claim to be doing it for righteous reasons and believe those of us who enjoy drinking a beer or even making or selling it, are the spawn of satan. The problem with that is that we’re not. We’re ordinary people, often with many of the same set of beliefs as the prohibitionists. Contrary to the propaganda, we beerists love our friends and families, have our own faith, are civic-minded and contribute to our community and society at large. We’re regular people who also enjoy drinking beer. Period. It’s only through the lens of prohibitionists that we appear any different. And until that cycle is broken and prohibitionists stop creating self-fulfilling propaganda, we’ll never solve any of the real problems that some individuals have with alcohol.

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Since When Is Being Uninhibited A Disease?

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The prohibitionist propaganda machine that is Alcohol Justice is out in full swing today. They just sent out a tweet to the faithful, telling them. “Raising alcohol taxes reduces harm…it’s a fact.” We obviously have a different definition of what constitutes a “fact.” I tend to think of a fact as something not open to debate, not a position that everyone doesn’t agree with, or for which there is no counter-argument.

But the tweet also included the graphic below, which is a bottle showing all of the bullshit “harms” that AJ insists are caused by alcohol. I won’t get into each of them, or how almost all of them are potential things that can happen to a person who drinks immoderately, or can happen to any person for as many other reasons as there are people. They aren’t caused by the drink any more than a hamburger causes a heart attack. They may be a contributing factor for some people, but their continuing insistence that they are directly caused by any amount of alcohol goes a long way toward proving how out of touch with reality they are and just how fanatical and intrenched they’ve become in more recent years. Most people you and I know have been enjoying alcohol our entire lives without contracting any of these diseases or devolving to a life of crime. In fact, the moderate consumption of alcohol might actually make one healthier, a “fact” that Alcohol Justice now refuses to acknowledge, even as the FDA’s latest dietary recommendations make clear.

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But look at the biggest one on the bottle, just below “liver disease.” Disinhibition? WTF? Since when is loosening up and not being such a tight-ass a disease that not only rivals brain damage, but given its prominent position on the bottle and the size of the type, appears to be one of the worst problems they associate with drinking. How many mental issues and how much stress is relieved by the occasional drink after work or with dinner, bringing about a “loss or reduction of an inhibition,” which is the Merriam-Webster definition of disinhibition. How is letting one’s hair down, so to speak, something to be feared and avoided? Given the company it’s keeping on their bottle of harms, it certainly seems clear that they regard it as a disease. I continue to marvel at the new and inventive ways that prohibitionists can try to pass judgement and make those of us actually “living” our lives feel guilty for enjoying ourselves.

James Bond Skyfalling For Heineken

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Okay, we’ve been inundated with ads lately, so you probably know that the new James Bond film Skyfall opens today, at least in the U.S. I’ve been a huge James Bond fan since I saw my first one in the theater, which was Thunderball, when I was six. I read all the books, and needless to say, saw every film multiple times. I’ve really been enjoying the reboot with Daniel Craig and will be taking my son Porter to see Skyfall this afternoon. This will be his first Bond film in the theater, though he’s seen a couple of them on DVD. I’m looking forward not just to seeing the movie, but in some ways I’m even more excited that he’s really jazzed to see it and has been talking of little else for the last week. There’s just one tiny problem.

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Heineken has been associated with the Bond franchise for some time now, but the $45 million deal for Skyfall also requires Bond to actually drink some. Now drinking beer is fine, even for Bond, of course. He styles himself as a hedonist, a man who enjoys the finest pleasures across the board. He soliloquizes on that very subject in the pages of the novel Casino Royale. Especially re-set or rebooted here in the present, where beer is every bit the equal of wine and spirits, you’d not only be unsurprised that Bond drinks beer, you’d be downright shocked if he didn’t. If you read the books, you’d know he’s never restricted himself to martinis but usually drinks the preferred alcohol wherever he happens to be, and has enjoyed beer in several of the novels.

I took a detailed look at this six years ago, when it was rumored that Bond would drink Heineken in Casino Royale — which turned out not to be the case — but which caused all manner of odd denunciations that the character would never stoop so low as to drink that swill reserved for the Hoi polloi. I don’t mean Heineken, I mean beer in general. Journalists, who could have done a little research, just went apeshit. Check out James Bond’s Beer. I’ll wait here.

So as you can see, beer and Bond have been together for quite some time now, just not in the way the media has portrayed it, as usual taking the propaganda and marketing given them at face value and regurgitating it without doing any fact-checking or wondering at how convenient it all seemed. Watching the first Bond film, Dr. No, with my son last weekend, I again noted that in Jamaica he’s talking with Quarrel at a bar and Red Stripe can be seen behind the bar. A few minutes later, fighting in the back room of the bar, Bond is pushed over onto a pile of empty Red Stripe cartons that go flying everywhere. Why they’re empty is a bit of a mystery, but the fact is although he never drinks any, there’s been beer front and center since the very first official film. In the novel, The Man with the Golden Gun, he finally manages to drink some Red Stripe. In fact, he drinks three of them waiting for someone in a cafe.

But in Skyfall apparently he’s seen drinking a Heineken from the bottle, while in bed with co-star Tonia Sotiropoulou. MGM has circulated the still below showing just that.

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Here was a portion of my take on Heineken and James Bond from six years ago:

Propaganda aside, I’m certainly in favor of James Bond drinking beer. If they’re trying to re-invent (or reboot) James Bond — which is my understanding of what the new film represents — it makes sense that a modern Bond would have embraced good beer along with the other pleasures of life today. That would be in keeping with the character’s philosophy. Undoubtedly one of the reasons that Bond was not a beer drinker in 1953 and beyond, when Fleming began writing the Bond novels, was that there were not many good beers widely available worldwide and what was available was not often written about. Remember Michael Jackson’s first beer book wasn’t published until 1977. And American wines were held in no better regard during that time period, either. So keeping Bond’s tastes and preferences rooted in a time fifty years ago, when the diversity and quality of alcohol beverages was vastly different than it is today, doesn’t make sense anymore, if indeed it ever did.

But Heineken? Not Heineken. Bond’s character would never drink such swill. He wouldn’t be a snob about wine, food, clothes, cars and practically everything else and then drink such a pedestrian beer. In fact, in the novel Casino Royale, in Chapter 8, just after ordering champagne, Bond makes the following pronouncement:

“You must forgive me,” he said. “I take a ridiculous pleasure in what I eat and drink. It comes partly from being a bachelor, but mostly from a habit of taking a lot of trouble over details. It’s very pernickety and old-maidish really, but then when I’m working I generally have to eat my meals alone and it makes them more interesting when one takes trouble.”

So there is absolutely no way someone who would say that would turn around and order a skunked green-bottle of Heineken. Maybe a Thomas Hardy 1968, a Samuel Adams Utopias, a Deus, or a Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus. He’d more likely order something showy, expensive and impressive; something that showed he had good taste. And that would never be a Heineken. Often Bond orders local specialties in the novels and films, and Casino Royale takes place in northern France. The fictional resort town where most of the novel takes place is supposedly near the mouth of the Somme River in the Picardie region, which is only about two hours from Belgium. So while France is not known for its beers, a good selection of Belgian beers would likely be available at the casino and area restaurants. That’s what a beer savvy Bond would order.

To which today I would only add that he’d never, ever drink it out of the bottle! Well, maybe not never, but if he had the choice, he’d do it the proper way, out of a glass because his character is all about knowing what’s the right way to do things and then taking a particular pleasure in doing them correctly. And what self-respecting English gentleman — or for that matter any Brit — would drink Dutch lager over his native ale, especially when his job was protecting the British way of life? It’s unseemly.

To take unseemly a few notches further, Refined Guy reported that Heineken USA will release two special metal bottles of Heineken using James Bond imagery. Known as “Star Bottles, on the plus side, at least the beer won’t get skunked as easily as in the green glass bottles.

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According to the website Bond Lifestyle, Heineken pulled out all the stops for the Amsterdam premiere of the film, with an obscene amount of product placement for the event. And I’m not alone in believing this tie-in is not the best idea, at least the way it’s being done, with many, many pundits weighing in across the globe. But I think an Australian commentator, Lucy Clark, summed it up best in B&T, when she said. “In the golden era, products were chosen because they fitted with the character. The sad thing is that, in the modern era, the character and plot is decided by sponsors.”

So while I’m really looking forward to seeing the film today — and hoping this will be one of those father/son moments that Porter remembers long after I’m gone (as it is for me) — what I hope above all else is that seeing that out-of-character Heineken won’t break the fourth wall for me and make it harder to immerse myself in the experience and just enjoy it. Fingers crossed.

Session #65: Drinking Alone

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Our 65th Session is hosted by British blogger Nate Southwood who multi-blogs at his Booze, Beats & Bites. The topic he’s chosen is “So Lonely,” meaning going to the pub to have a beer alone. Here’s how he describes his Session topic:

Speaking of fun, going to the pub with a bunch of mates is great… you have a few beers and a laugh, generally a fun time and all.

I love going to the pub with mates but sometimes I go to a pub alone and I enjoy it.

Other people say I’m weird for this as there seems to be a stigma attached to being in the pub alone — alcoholism.

There are many reasons why I go to the pub alone.

  • Sometimes I just want to spend some quality time alone that isn’t at home.
  • Sometimes I’m walking home and fancy a pit-stop.
  • Sometimes my mates are all busy with their girlfriends/wives/children and I want a pint.
  • Sometimes I just fancy going to the pub and observing the bizarre people around me.
  • Sometimes I want to sit down and write blogs on my tableaux while having a pint.
  • Sometimes I just want to play angry birds while having a pint.
  • Sometimes I just want to prop myself at the bar and discuss beer with the bartender.
  • Sometimes I want to explore pubs that I’ve never been to before but my mates don’t want to.
  • Sometimes I’m just a miserable bastard and don’t want to socialise but want a nice pint.

The way I see it is that I love beer and pubs and I don’t see why I should only go to the pub when I’m with other people.

Am I weird for going to the pub alone?

How do you feel about going to the pub alone? Do you feel it’s necessary to be around friends to spend time in a pub?

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So to get in the right spirit, I’m putting on the Police’s song So Lonely and pouring myself a beer as I sit in the house all my myself, alone, as it were. It seems to me the only way to write about drinking alone is by actually doing just that. The profession of writing is itself a rather lonely one, hours upon hours spent in relative solitude tapping on keys and watching letters, words, sentences, paragraphs and, hopefully, fully formed thoughts and ideas spool out onto a computer screen in the vain hope that someone else will read them, like them (or at least be moved to think about them), and ultimately pay you for them.

Being a writer about beer is essentially a double whammy of loneliness, drinking and writing alone. As I wrote two sessions ago, “[m]y job often requires me to drink beer alone, which is far from my favorite thing to do. It’s perhaps the worst way to have a beer, even though it’s sometimes necessary. Alone, beer is stripped of all its intangibles, its raison d’etre. You can evaluate the constituent parts, its construction, even how they come together as a finished beer. In other words, on a technical basis. And that’s how you should begin, but there must be a discussion waiting at the end of that process.” So now I’m going to contradict myself and say that while that remains true some, or even most, of the time, there are indeed times when drinking alone isn’t as terrible as I made it out to be and that we can, and should, be allowed to enjoy a drink in silence and solitude.

For myself, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ducked into a pub for a quick lunch and a beer, usually with a book in hand. It’s a satisfying way to eat a meal, drink a beer and feed your head, too. It usually reminds me of the great Bill Hicks’ bit about reading alone, “looks like we got ourselves a reader:”

But for reasons passing understanding, drinking alone is often equated with having a drinking problem or being an alcoholic. Even the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition” does not mention solitary imbibing as a symptom of alcohol dependence. These are outlined at About.com’s Alcoholism page and you won’t find drinking alone among the symptoms. But when you click on their online quiz of 20 Questions known as the Alcohol Abuse Screening Quiz to discover if You Have an Alcohol Problem, question sixteen is “Do you drink alone?” But even most honest counseling centers, AA, what have you will admit that it’s not the act of drinking alone that signals, in and of itself, problem drinking, but the reasons for drinking alone, the underlying cause. Yet the notion of drinking alone automatically meaning an alcoholic persists. It’s downright pervasive in our society. Do a Google Image search for “drinking alone” or “at the bar alone” and look at what comes up. The great majority of images are depressing looking people, heads down, slumped over, with very few, if any, smiling people or positive associations shown.

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Alone in the Bar by Argentine artist Gabriel Hernan Ramirez

As is typical, the neo-prohibitionist, anti-alcohol version of reality gets more play and has wormed its way into the public consciousness through a concerted effort of their propaganda over many decades. It doesn’t really matter that there are numerous legitimate, healthy reasons one might have a drink alone that isn’t a sign of anything untoward or problematic, but that would make the narrative more difficult to carry. It’s far easier to keep it simple and not have to explain nuance or an understanding of how, and why, people drink.

For example, the Abuse & Addiction Help Information website — who, it must be remembered makes their living by having people pay them to seek treatment for addiction — lists their Ten Warning Signs Of Alcoholism. There is is at number 2:

2. Do you drink alone? Social drinking is one thing, but we believe that drinking alone is one of the sure fire ten warning signs of alcoholism or growing alcohol dependency. Drinking alone indicates a need for alcohol.

Hmm, “drinking alone indicates a need for alcohol.” Really? It does in all cases? Of course, not. It could just as easily be explained by being thirsty, for chrissakes. And notice that they don’t say it absolutely is a sign of alcohol dependencey, but instead say “we believe that drinking alone is one of the sure fire ten warning signs of alcoholism or growing alcohol dependency.” Well, sure, if it’s in your best interests to have as many people pay for your services, then it’s no surprise that you’d believe whatever creates the impression of more alcoholics because that means more customers, too.

Even the Medline Plus online medical encyclopedia, a “service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health,” on their Alcoholism and alcohol abuse page, includes drinking alone under their list of symptoms, as does the celebrated Mayo Clinic.

But in every case, the context is not explored. It’s presented as black and white: if you drink alone, you’re a problem drinker or alcoholic. Even if tempered by “might be,” the impression that these authoritative sources give is that drinking alone is to be feared as the beginnings of a downward slide into degradation and life-crippling alcoholism. To know that’s true, just ask any ten random people. Most of them will tell you that they believe that to be the case. And that’s because certain people and groups have been saying so for so long, with virtually no dissenting opinions or contrary evidence or even common sense or reason being allowed into the debate. We say so, end of story, case closed. Like most of the propaganda coming from, or having been twisted and influenced by, anti-alcohol concerns, it’s both infuriating and grossly untrue. This is especially so because it makes people feel guilty and shameful for doing something as natural as drinking a beverage they like and want to have just because they’re alone. It’s why this could even be a topic, because it’s so taken for granted by so many people. If you’re alone and want a beer, goddammit, order a beer.

Happily, not everyone is so myopic and certain you’re life will fall into ruin with a solitary drink. Modern Drunkard published The Zen of Drinking Alone, which includes this bon mot:

Drinking alone, on the other hand, is a much more pure and forthright form of imbibing, and I say that because it focuses entirely on the simple act of putting alcohol into your bloodstream. It tosses aside all the half-hearted pretensions about merely using alcohol as a social tool. It gets down to what drinking is all about: getting loaded, and by doing that, getting down to the inner you. The inner joy, the inner madness, the subconscious you, the real you.

And a few years ago, Esquire magazine published suggestions on How to Drink Alone, which included some I agree with — ignore the television, look up often and read, don’t pretend to read — but also some I do not — don’t eat or that it’s never about being happy. Still, I love that they not only have no problem with drinking alone, but positively celebrate it. I think that’s how it should be. No one should tell another person or society as a whole that something that may be a problem for a minority of people should be avoided by everybody on the off chance that they can’t handle it. It would be like making red meat illegal because some people insist on eating too much of it and develop a heart condition. It sounds absurd when applied to almost everything else, but no ones questions it when it’s alcohol because neo-prohibitionists have dones such a good job of painting alcohol with the broad brush of danger. At the same time, they both ignore and insist that there is nothing positive about drinking alcohol, despite common sense and the obvious error of that position.

That people enjoy alcohol for a myriad of reasons and that most can continue to enjoy it as responsible adults should, it seems to me, be so obvious that it shouldn’t even have to be mentioned. But as long as there are people who fear it and believe it is the ruin of everything good in the world, I guess we have to keep reminding them that their position is not true for everyone; it’s not even true for most people. Most of us can have a drink alone for the best of reasons and not fall into a ruinous life. That we should wonder if that’s okay is perhaps the unkindest cut of all; proof positive that the anti-alcohol wingnuts are winning the war. They’ve obviously been allowed to frame the argument in their terms, because the question really should be why should we even have to ask if we can drink alone. If we can, we can. Now go away, I have a beer to finish and I want to be alone.

Anatomy Of A Propaganda Piece

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With Alcohol Justice promoting it, I just knew there had to be more to the CNN story Movies May Increase Binge Drinking in Teens. The article is based on a study published in the journal Pediatrics with the more benign title Alcohol Consumption in Movies and Adolescent Binge Drinking in 6 European Countries. But either way, Hollywood is, of course, the bogeyman. The study “surveyed 16,500 students ages 10 to 19 from Germany, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Scotland.”

The students were asked how often they drank five alcoholic beverages during one sitting [interesting a European study has adopted the ridiculous U.S. definition of “binge drinking”], and about the types of movies they watched. Participants were given a list of 50 movies to choose from, which included many top box-office hits from the U.S. The number of drinking scenes was tallied for each movie.

I don’t have the resources to pay to see the whole study, so I don’t know what films are on the list, but the first thing I have to wonder is how many of those films are age-appropriate for 10-year olds? Many Hollywood blockbusters would be at least “PG-13″ (so no 10-12 year olds allowed) or “R” (no 10-17 year olds allowed). Are there many movies with “drinking scenes” that are “G” or that every parent would find appropriate for their 10 through 19 year old child? There’s also no breakdown of how many kids were 10, 15, 19, etc., but I have to believe there’s a vast difference between the effect of watching a film on a ten-year old and a young adult, age 18 or 19. The researchers apparently also considered other so-called “risk factors,” and somehow accounted for each “teen’s levels of rebelliousness or sensation-seeking, peer drinking levels, family drinking patterns, affluence and gender.” That’s a lot of data on 16,500 kids, and almost none of it could be considered the “hard facts” type.

The overall results were that “27% of the sample had consumed >5 drinks on at least 1 occasion in their life.” So roughly 1 out of 4 of the “kids” had consumed 5 drinks at least once, and possibly ONLY once, in their life. And of those 16,500, some of the “kids” were legally allowed to drink 5 beers if they wanted to. In Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, the minimum age for drinking is 16. In Poland and Scotland it’s 18 (though once source I have says it’s 16 in Poland). In Iceland it’s 20. So for at least half the countries where the kids were surveyed, they were permitted to drink at least beer 4 out of the 10 ages of “kids” in the study.

For five-sixths of the countries, at least some of the ages of children surveyed were likewise legally allowed to drink alcohol. Like the age breakdowns, there’s no information available (at least to me) about how many of those surveyed were from which country. Given all the supposed control factors they accounted for, the legal age at which people in the surveyed countries are permitted to drink alcohol seems nakedly absent and, at least to my way of thinking, a rather important omission.

And one last comment about their methodology, such as it was. To determine each film’s — I don’t know, “quotient,” “unworthiness” or whatever — “the number of drinking scenes was tallied for each movie” by the researchers. But is the sheer number of times there’s a scene of people drinking in any way relevant? Is there no context to each scene? Are there not positive and negative ways to portray drinking alcohol? I already know the answer to that one, as obviously the researchers are convinced that ANY depiction of people drinking alcohol they consider wrong, but of course a second’s thought will reveal that to be patently nonsense. Just counting how often people are seen drinking alcohol in a film really tells you nothing about how influential it will be, or indeed, if it registers anything at all. Shown being consumed responsibly, it could just as easily be a positive influence.

Personally, I’m much more concerned about my kids seeing casual violence in films than drinking. But there, as well as in America, research continues to claim that there’s a direct “link between drinking in movies and adolescent alcohol consumption habits.” This latest study’s conclusion likewise claims that the “link between alcohol use in movies and adolescent binge drinking was robust and seems relatively unaffected by cultural contexts.”

But in the last paragraphs — well after most people probably stopped reading — was what I’d been thinking as I read this, that “even though the European study shows a strong association between what is seen on the movie screen and binge drinking, it cannot show cause and effect.” Like Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder, not everything is as it seems.

And despite the tone of the story up until that point having been confidently certain, as expressed in the headline’s more movies, more binging (or better mo movies, mo binging), it may not be as certain as they would have you believe. Here’s the smoking gun.

It may be that binge drinking teens seek out movies that have alcohol scenes, or it could be that seeing scenes of alcohol use in movies makes them more likely to binge drink. More research is needed to confirm these findings.

I continue to be troubled by the wide range of ages surveyed, because in my experience those are the ages when people change more in a shorter period of time than at any other time in their entire life. The conclusion suggests that to combat this scourge, parents should “go to the movies with [their kids] and discuss what you’re seeing. What you say matters more than what one TV show or one movie says.” In other words, be a parent. So is this a problem of parenting or the movies? Should movies be stripped of adult content because kids might watch them? That does seem to be a common strategy by neo-prohibitionist groups, especially with regard to advertising.

In the end, this seems like yet another study riddled with more questions than answers. But, as is typical, those questions — if the media raises them at all — are buried at the end of the article, well after the average person has given up reading and has moved on to something else. What we’re left with is a “survey” (and we all now how teenagers always tell the truth about what they’re doing) of kids in six varied nations (with different minimum drinking ages) who are of widely different ages (from a childlike ten to a young adult 19) who appear to binge drink more (or at least once) if they see Hollywood blockbuster movies (or it may be teens who drink prefer those movies). Tell me again how exactly that’s news?