The Arizona Desert Lamp

Presidents Nagata and Talenfeld: Get REAL

Posted in Campus, Culture, Politics by Evan Lisull on 22 October 2009
Perhaps Sen. Weingartner's bottle initiative could pay for a few of these?

Perhaps Sen. Weingartner's bottle initiative could pay for a few of these?

Apparently, it’s National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week. Yet even if the need for “awareness” is somewhat dubious, the Choose Responsibility folks have used the opportunity to launch a new initiative, Get REAL, aimed at student governments around the country:

In conjunction with National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week 2009, Choose Responsibility has launched Get REAL, an initiative for student body presidents at college and university campuses nationwide that encourages responsibility, education, and leadership on alcohol issues.

Student body leaders possess the skills and real-world experience necessary to ensure that the debate about binge drinking, the legal drinking age, and campus alcohol policies is allowed to continue unimpeded on their campuses. Over the course of the coming months, Get REAL signatories will work together to foster productive discussions about alcohol that emphasize peer-to-peer accountability and explore all possible alternatives that will make their campuses safer.

In effect, this is an Amethyst Initiative for the student set. The program was just formally launched yesterday, but already has 23 signatories, including the student body presidents from major schools like Florida State, West Virginia, and Oregon State. Although this is often interpreted as some full-throated ‘Repeal!’ battle cry, the aims of the initiative are far more modest (again, like Amethyst):

By signing the statement, what am I committing to do?

When you sign on to Get REAL, you are pledging to engage your fellow students, campus administrators, and public officials in a frank conversation about all of the intended and unintended consequences of Legal Age 21. Additionally, as student body leaders, Get REAL signatories commit themselves to helping students at their schools have a meaningful impact on the direction of campus alcohol policies, and, most importantly, to making responsible decisions about alcohol use.

President Shelton choose craven defense of bad policy and worse remedies; it will probably take a few more alcohol-fueled deaths before he is forced to consider the matter seriously. Hopefully, our own President Nagata is a little wiser, and a little less busy, and will be able to focus on this issue which (to use the parlance of the establishment) affects so many of his constituents.

We hate email campaigns as much as anyone, but if you have a minute or two we’d really appreciate it if you sent an email to President Nagata, urging him to add his name to the list. Heck, we even wrote the email for you! (Just be sure to replace the email and signature with your own name.)

From: yourname@email.arizona.edu

To: asuapres@email.arizona.edu

Subject: Please Sign the Get REAL Initiative

President Nagata,

As a student at the University of Arizona, I am very concerned about binge drinking and the impact that the current drinking age has had on campus and across the country. According to a Choose Responsibility press release, “Recent statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reveal that the problem of toxic drinking is getting worse on campuses across the nation: rates of binge drinking and unintentional alcohol-related deaths among the 18-24 college population increased between 1998 and 2005. Another recent study from researchers at the University of Minnesota identified 18 heavy-drinking schools and tracked survey results of alcohol-related problems on those campuses in 1993 and 2005, with little or no improvement over that 12-year period.” According to a 2007 report by Peggy Glider, heavy drinking was more predominant among those under the age of 21 than among those of legal drinking age. Such statistics do not account for the costs of imposing such an age, which requires police to devote resources to underage drinking that might otherwise be used to combat the perception – and reality- that much of the UA campus is unsafe.

Choose Responsibility has launched a new initiative directed at student body presidents, which aims to put them at the forefront of this national conversation. Signing the statement means that you pledge to do the following:

You call on your fellow students….

  • To make responsible decisions about alcohol.
  • To make sure friends who have consumed too much receive medical attention.
  • To never mix alcohol use and driving.

You call on your campus administrators…

  • To create an on-campus environment that ensures the safety of all students.
  • To provide alcohol education and prevention programs that acknowledge the reality of alcohol use and give students the tools they need to make responsible decisions about alcohol and prevent alcohol-related emergencies.
  • To engage in dialogue about the legal drinking age and its impact on campus life.

You call on your elected officials…

  • To recognize the intended and unintended consequences of Legal Age 21.
  • To acknowledge that 18-20 year-olds are adults in all respects but one—they may vote, serve in the armed forces, marry, adopt children, and sign contracts, but are not able to choose whether or not they would like to drink.
  • To consider alternatives to Legal Age 21 that will create a safer environment on college campuses, and better prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol use.

This initiative has already been signed by student body presidents at major public universities like your own, including West Virginia and Florida State. As the preeminent student leader on campus, I sincerely hope that you will use this position to take a stand on this very important issue. Please sign the Get REAL initiative, and show the students at the University of Arizona that you are genuinely concerned about their well-being as it relates to this important issue.

Sincerely,

YOUR NAME HERE

UPDATE: Title changed to reflect the fact that there’s no reason that the GPSC president shouldn’t be involved as well. Although the overwhelming majority of President Talenfeld’s constituency is over twenty-one years of age, the effects of the current regime ripple through the entire community. His email address is davidt1@email.arizona.edu.

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Highly Recommended Reading: Alcohol Policy at Dartmouth

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 6 October 2009

DartmouthBeerPongShirtIn light of the UAPD data showing a strong proclivity towards excessive enforcement of alcohol laws, it’s great to see DartBlog – the first AFF Blogger competition winner – punch out a six-part series on liquor law enforcement at Dartmouth.

Part one shows how disproportionately Dartmouth students are dinged by local police, compared to their Ivy League brethren. Part two highlights the unseemly relations between Dartmouth security forces and Hanover police, while part three discusses the college’s perversion of the phrase “good samaritan.” Part four offers a simple remedy to mitigate some of these problems, part five offers the example of Middlebury college, and part six reminds administrators that “the better part of valor is discretion.” What’s more, the author hails from the class of 1979 – no self-justifying 20-year-old-drunk here.

Really, read the whole thing.

Image courtesy of the Dartmouth Co-Op.

Alcohol-related arrests make up 52 percent of UAPD workload

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 5 October 2009

UAPD Arrests Per Year (3-year-average)

The University of Arizona Police Department has released the 2009 Campus Safety & Security Report [PDF], and like last year’s report it’s chock-full of stats relating to your University police. Last year’s data set has been updated to include 2008 data, and can be obtained here.

For every 100 arrests that the UAPD made in 2008, 52 of them related to consumption of alcohol products. To be fair, the UAPD deserves a modicum of credit for the reduction in drug arrests, but these sorts of victimless crimes combined make up 72.52 percent of all UAPD arrests. Compare this to the 2000 stats, where such crimes only accounted for 60.67 percent of arrests, and one can see a clear trend away from actual police work, and towards nanny-state-style enforcement. By way of comparison, alcohol- and drug-related crimes made up only 31.88 percent of reported crimes in 2008; and while theft (not including attempted theft) made up 39.49 percent of reported crimes, only 13.36 percent of arrests were theft-related. The 37 automobile arrests reported to UAPD resulted in only 3 arrests – assuming that the charges stuck, an 8.1 percent success rate.

Such numbers should be kept in mind as UAPD discusses its mission of “community policing,” or as law enforcement types claim that they need something like Proposition 200 to stay reasonably funded. It’s useless to discuss police budgets – or, really, to discuss policing period – without considering the awesome costs of drug-policy enforcement.

The magnitude of these costs is even greater for the UAPD, which professes to practice “community policing” within the greater campus area. Much of “community policing” involves actual recognition of the community in which one exercises police powers. In the UAPD’s case, this means understanding a bit about the UA. As a community, the UA consists almost entirely of those aged 18-25, existing in a state where they reap many of the benefits of independence, with few of the responsibilities. Such a situation leads to later hours, more partying, and increased drug and alcohol use. What community policing does not entail is enforcing the area as though it were a quiet, gated community. It means simple acceptance that, in accordance with 800 years of tradition, college students drink; and as a result, police should be encouraging safe drinking habits, rather than making doors open at the slightest whiff of swill-water.

Even beyond the costs of expending over half of policing efforts to enforce policy driven by highway funding stipulations, officers cracking down on underage drinking face opportunity costs. Every time an officer calls in backup to conduct breathalyzer tests, that’s one officer that can’t be patrolling the streets, investigating a crime, discussing issues with a student, or providing safety detail in an unsafe part of campus. Students are not stupid, and will combine these insights with the two main duties that they actually see police performing: issuing speeding tickets, and busting parties. Do such activities engender respect for policing as a profession? Will students leave campus with profound respect for the work that police do in keeping a community (as they should), or will they leave feeling as though police mostly just exist to cause trouble to people like themselves (which, according to statistics, they do)?

It goes without saying that there are many cases in which such arrests are more than justified, and parties are a problem insofar as they pose a noise nuisance to their neighbors. But if arrests may be viewed as the productive activity of a police department, then over 70 percent of the UAPD’s production comes in the form of drug and drinking citations. It remains this author’s opinion that correcting this misallocation of resources is a far better approach to improving police work in Tucson, and the country as a whole. It is necessary to change the laws that relate to drug and alcohol use in this state and the country; but for now, a simple return to the policing priorities at the beginning of the decade will suffice.

Fan cans gone wild

Posted in Campus, Culture by Evan Lisull on 28 August 2009
I suddenly feel a strange urge to drink from a plastic handle. (Accessed from http://goodbadandugly2.wordpress.com/)

I suddenly feel a strange urge to take a double-shot. (Accessed from http://goodbadandugly2.wordpress.com/)

A once quirky tale of beer cans is now a somewhat big story, and even the luminaries at the Cato Institute have taken the time to fire a broadside at the FTC.

The coverage continues here in Tucson as well. We appreciate the dap from Becky Pallack, who is taking over for Aaron Mackey at the Star‘s “Campus Correspondent” blog. Somehow we missed it in our compilation of UA blogs, but it’s definitely worth adding to the old ‘roll. As a real journalist, she actually went ahead and contacted the local Anheuser-Busch distributor, who said that there would be no fan cans in Tucson for “business reasons.”

The good – well, obvious – news here is that these cans are not at all going to change drinking habits that much. Since almost no one takes to time to study the cans of the cheap beer that they’re drinking, this is definitely a niche market. Armchair market analysis sez that this would sell best in the South, with its strong tailgate tradition and school pride. The somewhat sad news is that this is an implicit statement on the state of UA fandom – UA nation doesn’t demonstrate enough school pride to justify its own themed cans.

Meanwhile, Ben Kalafut describes this site as (I quote out of context), “[an] application of a bit of tequila to the flickering wick.” With his permission, we’ll be adapting this line as a de facto statement of purpose. At any rate, Ben not only likes the idea, but would take it one step further:

They should embrace it and even go one farther: license the “A” logo or the silly Wildcat thing, and charge a per-can royalty.

I’m guessing that the Bud Light drinkers, especially the ones who’d be more inclined to drink it because of the logo, overlap considerably with those who moan–and hop buses to the Capitol en masse to moan–about tuition fee increases (how dare they charge me more for this private good?) even as the State faces extreme shortfalls. I’m fairly certain they’re also the ones who shout “ow!” at random on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, who blast stereos from their cars, who pile five at a time into trucks and harass pedestrians, and who generally lower both the University’s prestige and, more importantly, the quiet enjoyment of the neighborhood by others.

Bud Light licensing, like a surcharge for the most obnoxious students. Fair enough, right?

Ben’s tongue seems to be at least partly in his cheek, but it sounds rather reasonable if the university stipulates that all funds derived from such licensing will go to alcohol prevention programs, alcoholism recovery programs, etc. The basic problem that underlies this entire discussion is the base assumption on the part of university officials that striving for an alcohol-free student body is possible and worth striving for. For a group of academics supposedly committed to “community outreach,” this a surprisingly disappointingly blinkered and uninformed view of history, culture, and human nature.

If instead, university officials accepted the young people enjoy, and will continue to enjoy, the consumption of alcohol, they could advocate policies that might actually have an impact on the well-being of their students. They would advocate for something like the Stony Brook’s medical amnesty program, which provides incentives for providing care to sick underage drinkers, rather than worrying about the legal trouble that they might get in. They would advocate for lowering the drinking age, removing the incentive for underclassmen to binge drink and bringing the current shadow economy of sub-21 drinking to the light (and removing entirely the need for such an amnesty program).

In the spirit of going one further, I’ll ask: why shouldn’t the UA get into the alcohol business, to provide a nice “Eller IPA” to pour into that Arizona stein you got for graduation? For liquor, “Wilbur Water” has a definite ring to it – and perhaps “Wilma Water” would serve as the Malibu equivalent. The Sage & Silver would be the scotch you drink with your uncles. In certain scenarios, students would opt for the UA’s alcohol over other options, providing the university with revenue that would otherwise go to InBev or A-B. Would university officials really argue that it’s better for that money to go outside of the school?

That being said, this will happen at around the same time that “Zona Smokes” (Inhale the Saguaro!) are marketed behind the counter of the U-Mart. But this proposal is no more insane than the current stance of the University, which denies the reality of collegiate drinking in favor of “Just Say No” pabulum that rings falsely in the ears of just about any informed student. Out of sight, out of mind, as they say.

FTC won’t let me drink pee

Posted in Campus, Culture by Evan Lisull on 25 August 2009

The only thing worse than being on the ASUA beat is being on the Bud Light beat, but the fact that the federal government is involved in the Fan Can Affair bears a follow-up post. The story [$], from the Journal:

A Federal Trade Commission attorney criticized a controversial Anheuser-Busch InBev NV marketing campaign that features Bud Light cans decorated with college-team colors, urging the brewer to drop any plans for similar promotions.

Janet Evans, a senior FTC attorney who oversees alcohol advertising, says the federal agency has “grave concern” that the campaign could encourage underage and binge drinking on college campuses. Dozens of schools have protested the promotion, with some threatening legal action over trademark issues.

“This does not appear to be responsible activity,” Ms. Evans said in an interview Monday. “We’re looking at this closely. We’ve talked to the company and expressed our concerns.”

In reverse:

1. Is the state of trade so comfortable at this juncture that the FTC has time to concern itself with the advertising campaigns of beer cans?

2. How much “responsibility” does Anheuser-Busch owe to the federal government? Should all advertising campaigns in the future be cleared in advance by Ms. Evans?

3. Do you mean to suggest that underage and binge drinking at universities could be “encouraged” to any greater degree than they are currently, due in no small part to current standing highway funding regulations?

4. If such ties encourage drinking, does the FTC plan to crack down on the shot glasses, martini glasses, shakers, and other “drug paraphernalia” that is presently marketed by the universities protesting these cans?

5. How can you possibly possess the authority to tell companies what colors they can and cannot use for their products? Do you mean to suggest that other institutions with “colors” can restrict the unauthorized sale of products with similar colors in a certain area? If so, how far does this range extend? Can blue-red cans be sold in Phoenix? Mesa? Oro Valley?

6. Seeing how you represent a division of the central government of the United States of America, what do you plan to do about the alcoholic products that knowingly use patriotic imagery to encourage underage, impressionable Americans to break the law?

Actually looking at the cans helps to illustrate the absurdity of the argument:

Fan Cans

Now, look, I guess a UConn or LSU fan could get inspired by this. Maybe. It really does tie the whole tailgate decor together. Yet it’s rather dubious to draw the conclusion that such a can gives the impression that universities are encouraging drinking. Many Arizona fans wear colored t-shirts that read, “ASU Sucks,” but no one actually draws the conclusion that, “‘ASU sucks’ must be the official position of the university. If it weren’t, why would the message be emblazoned with the school’s colors.”

Yet even if Anheuser-Busch went so far as to slap on a block “A” and a picture of Wilbur shotgunning a beer, would this really encourage students who weren’t previously drinking to try? Are these students, whom university presidents cannot stop prizing as “the future,” rendered automatons by university colors?

According to most schools, yes:

Officials at the University of Wisconsin, University of Michigan, University of Colorado, Oklahoma State University, Texas A&M University, Boston College and New York’s Stony Brook University each said they are protesting the campaign. “It’s sending a message to students that maybe even the college is endorsing drinking,” said Jenny Hwang, an associate dean at Stony Brook.

Gosh, where would Stony Brook students get the idea that the college is actively encouraging drinking? Maybe, even, they are:

Stony Brook University’s Homecoming and Reunion Weekend, also known as “Wolfstock,” is scheduled for Friday and Saturday, October 17–18, and will offer alumni, students, faculty, staff, and the local community an opportunity to reconnect with each other and celebrate an institution on the rise–nationally and internationally. The event is presented in part by the Stony Brook Alumni Association, in cooperation with University Advancement, Student Affairs, Athletics, and the Office of the President.

. . .

Reunion Reception
7:00–9:00 pm
Charles B. Wang Center
Registration Fee: $35.00 per person (adults only). ) Includes dinner buffet, soft drinks, wine and beer, live music, and the University Expo

. . .

Beer Garden (Proper identification required)
For an additional $5 per person (with purchase of a buffet ticket), guests 21 and older are invited to the Beer Garden, generously sponsored by Clare Rose. Taste the newly-released Bud American Ale or try traditional favorites including Boddington’s English Crème Ale, Shock Top Belgian Style Wheat, or Murphy’s Irish Red Ale. (Note: Beer Garden tickets are not sold without the purchase of a Tailgate buffet ticket.)

. . .

University Café
Open 5:00 pm–11:00 pm
(Must be 21 yrs. and older)
Join your friends, fellow alums, and fans for a post-game (sure to be) celebration drink.
Free admission. Cash bar.

Even worse than that, Stony Brook gives amnesty to those dirty, rotten illegal drinkers:

Members of the Associated Student Government said NU has recently undergone efforts to evaluate its alcohol policy, specifically in regards to a medical amnesty program. ASG Student Life Director Matthew Bellassai said alcohol amnesty is an important measure to the NU student body.

“How everybody treated this topic – both ASG presidential candidates had it on their platform – so it’s obviously a big issue students care about,” the Weinberg freshman said.

Though Stony Brook does not have an official alcohol amnesty policy, people who call emergency services don’t get into trouble with the university. Students who receive medical treatment will talk to an adviser, but there will be no impact on their academic career, Hwang said.

Dean Hwang would no doubt protest, but providing this safety net of services implicitly encourages drinking. Is it so hard for a university figure to say, “Drinking is a really enjoyable activity, insofar as you don’t do it to excess”?

Like many “stands,” this amounts to little more than posturing from administrators who want to look “tough on crime,” even as underage drinking continues unabated. This in of itself is not a bad thing – the vast majority of underage drinkers are able to drink responsibility, in spite of the incentives from a federal level that encourage to do otherwise. Props go out to Louisiana State and Texas-Austin, the schools that refused to engage in such grandstanding.

Real Cans of Genius?

Posted in Campus, Culture by Evan Lisull on 21 August 2009
We only shop because of the name.

We only shop because of the name.

Agitated by the color clash between your beer can and your favorite team? Distressed that you can’t make everything in your life cardinal red and navy blue? Fear not, Friends of Button – the quasi-free market works in astounding ways:

Dozens of colleges are up in arms over a new Anheuser-Busch marketing campaign that features Bud Light beer cans emblazoned with local schools’ team colors.

The Bud Light promotion, which involves 27 different color combinations, started rolling out this month. Purple-and-gold cans are being sold near the campus of Louisiana State University, and red-and-gold containers near Iowa State University.

“Show your true colors with Bud Light,” the company says, according to copies of internal marketing materials obtained by colleges. “This year, only Bud Light is delivering superior drinkability in 12-ounce cans that were made for gameday.”

There was no mention of either the UA or ASU in the press, but the article’s emphasis on “color combinations” seems to indicate that that they could easily be interchanged across the country –  the UA could share a scheme with Kansas or Ole Miss, and it would be surprising from a marketing standpoint if one of the schemes wasn’t the maroon/yellow shared by both ASU and USC.

Yet the story here isn’t the new lipstick on the old pig, but the typical squeamishness with which university apparatchiks seem obligated to express:

Bruce Siegal, general counsel of the Collegiate Licensing Co., which represents about 200 colleges, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and other school-sports organizations, says his company complained to Anheuser-Busch about potential trademark violations after being notified about the campaign.

At least 25 schools have formally asked Anheuser-Busch to drop the campaign near their campuses, Mr. Siegal says. In recent letters, the University of Michigan’s lawyers threatened legal action for alleged trademark infringement, demanding that Anheuser-Busch not sell the “maize and blue” cans in the “entire state.” The University of Colorado, Oklahoma State University, Texas A&M University and Boston College have also told the company to stop distribution near their campuses, citing trademark issues and concern about student alcohol use.

Samuel L. Stanley, president of New York’s Stony Brook University and a medical doctor, also objected. In a letter to Anheuser-Busch, he called the campaign “categorically unacceptable.” Stony Brook recently launched a national program called Red Watch Band, which seeks to harness school pride and “positive peer pressure” to discourage heavy drinking. The school says it was motivated by the death of a professor’s son from alcohol poisoning in 2008, when he was a freshman at Northwestern University.

LSU Bud Light Fan Can

An example of the LSU 'fan can.'

The universities’ first – and only possibly tenable complaint – is that of trademark issues. Without the official filings or any sort of legal training, it’s hard to say how meritorious this argument is. It’s a rather interesting issue to think about, and raises enough questions to drive a full day’s seminar. How close can a company get to the official hues before stepping over the line? Can the University of Michigan really tell a beer company that use of a yellow/blue theme (and yes, fellow Wolverines, I can assure that Anheuser-Busch will not bother making the cans properly maize) is forbidden in the entire state? And does this mean that Cerveza Caguama should be banned?

Of course, as President Stanley’s quote makes apparent, the universities aren’t really interested in these kinds of issues – they only serve as a means by which to fight the never-ending War on Drugs on Campus. Yet there’s a curious logical leap in their argument, in the style of the Underpants Gnomes:

1. Anheuser-Busch makes university-color-themed beer cans.
2. ????
3. More drunk college kids!

It’s certainly arguable the college students might drink more Bud Light with respect to other light beers – in fact, that’s the very fact that A-B is betting on being true. Far more tenuous is the argument that college students, who previously drank infrequently  (if they’re over 21) or not at all (sub-21), will suddenly be passing out the streets Poe-style because the can matches their t-shirt.

Weirder still, the schools argue that students will buy such fan cans because they feel that the school has somehow endorsed it. This is the more selfish view: our students will do what they do – but when they do, our hands are clean. Yet to the best of my knowledge these schools have yet to crack down on unofficial t-shirts with very official colors, shirts whose messages are far more in conflict with the PR department (‘Puck Fenn State’ and ‘Ohio Sucks’ are childhood favorites). Meanwhile, the UA’s own bookstore (and, in all likelihood, every major college bookstore outside the state of Utah) freely sells beer mugs and shot glasses – and, horror upon horrors, they don’t even check IDs!

Most people have a sane approach to the matter: college students do crazy things, and the university administration has nothing to do with it. They don’t drink because President Shelton told them to (or not to), but because a fortuitous intersection of budding adulthood and minimized responsibilities allows them to.

At any rate, this hopefully won’t be an issue at the UA. After all, not only has University of Arizona Liquors stood proud and unassociated with the school since 1977, but it was the Bud Light division of Anheuser-Busch that sponsored the Wildcats’ Vegas Bowl tailgate.

College drinking: worse than the war in Iraq?

Posted in Campus, Culture by Evan Lisull on 18 June 2009

Soviet Anti-Alcohol AgitpropThe latest prohibitionist scare comes courtesy of this press release, which was duly reported without critique by both the Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed. From the Chronicle:

Despite university campaigns to discourage alcohol abuse, a new study shows that drinking-related activities among college students have increased over the last decade.

. . .

“The fact that we’re not making progress is very concerning,” said Ralph Hingson, the lead researcher and director of the institute’s division of epidemiology and prevention research. “The irony is that during this same time period, our knowledge of what works as far as intervention in this age group has increased. That knowledge isn’t yet being put into place.

The study (which can be obtained for a hefty fee here) concludes with this very professional and scholarly paragraph:

In 2005, among 18- to 24-year-olds both in college and not in college, nearly 12 million consumed five or more drinks on at least one occasion in the past month, and more than 7 million drove under the influence of alcohol in the past year. Among 18- to 24-year-olds in the United States, injuries are the leading cause of death, and alcohol is the leading contributor, being a factor in more than 5,000 deaths in that age group each year. To place that number in perspective, it exceeds the total number of U.S. soldiers who have died in the war in Iraq.

Let’s take a look at some of the graphs from the study (Citation: Hingson, R.W., Zha, W., and Weitzman, E.R. Magnitude of and Trends in Alcohol-Related Mortality and Morbidity Among U.S. College Students Ages 18-24, 1998-2005. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, Supplement No. 16: 12-20, July 2009):

Heavy Episodic Drinking Graph

“Heavy episodic drinking” is the latest trendy academese for “binge drinking,” and the biggest gains are 5 percent over the course of six years – not exactly the end of the world. For all the hooplah that is raised over underage drinking, levels of binge drinking by this subset has been more or less flatline – for non-college, underage adults (consider that oxymoron), the number is on a downward trajectory.

It should be pointed out that this is not continuous, perpetual drunkenness (the school week, as we call it down here). The percentage reflects that number of adults that had five or more drinks at one point over the course of the past month – in other words, one bad night, or one celebration at the end of finals. If this is considered “risky behavior,” then the word has lost all meaning.

Drunk Driving Graph

Yet here is the more surprising trend – for all the hand-wringing over drunk driving by young adults, every single category is on a downward trajectory. What’s more, drunk driving occurs at far higher levels among those of legal drinking age. Given these two results, one might be tempted to call this an era of responsible binge drinking. Of course, saying that a problem is actually getting less bad never results in any more funding for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA, the sponsor of the study) – thus, such studies have a tendency to emphasize the negative in their press releases.

The article instead finds a new target for rage: “unintentional, nontraffic injury deaths related to alcohol.” As the report states, “From 1998 to 2001 to 2005, the rate of unintentional alcohol-related nontraffic injury deaths among 18- to 24-year-old college students increased from 3.9 to 4.0 to 4.9 per 100,000 college students, a significant 25.6% increase (relative risk ratio [RR] = 1.23, 95% CI: 1.07-1.42).”

Unintentional Injury Death Graph

Naturally, there’s a caveat:

It should be noted that, relative to other unintentional injury deaths, poisoning deaths increased much more sharply among 18- to 24-year-olds between 1998 and 2005, from 779 to 2,290, nearly tripling during that period. Unintentional injury deaths other than poisonings actually declined slightly about 2%.

This is in reference to all unintentional injury deaths, not alcohol-related – and as the above table states, only 26.6 percent of this increase can be accounted for by alcohol. The proportion of alcohol-related poisoning deaths to total poisoning deaths reminds almost exactly the same. It’s worth reprinting the blustery assertions from the conclusion:

Among 18- to 24-year-olds in the United States, injuries are the leading cause of death, and alcohol is the leading contributor, being a factor in more than 5,000 deaths in that age group each year.

For starters, this last clause is a patent lie, considering their own data:

Injury Deaths Graph

As you can see, the total number of alcohol-related injury deaths for 18-24 year-olds is 4,808 in 1998. Yet more important is what the authors neglect to mention – the fact that the increase in alcohol-related deaths is outweighed by the increase in non-alcohol related deaths. While unintentional injury deaths rose by 25 percent, alcohol related deaths only rose by 15 percent. Non-alcohol related injury deaths (row 4 values –  row 5 values), by way of comparison, rose by 34 percent. (It’s the sober kids in need of intervention!) This is also a fact that can’t be explained away by drunk driving – after all, those deaths went down in relation to the total population, by 3 percent when the rate of population increase was taken into account.

Then there’s the fact that even if alcohol might be “related,” that’s quite a ways away from being directly responsible. After all, these stats don’t account for BAC – for all we know, those who died of hypothermia could’ve been drinking in an attempt to stay warm (which might help to explain the 90 percent figure for “relation”). Yet this reflects the zero-tolerance MADD approach – the moment a drop of demon liquor hits the tongue, it is responsible for all tomfoolery that comes hereafter. The rest of the sane world understands the difference between a glass of wine and a power hour.

Yet for all their skepticism of the current administration, the National Review completely suspends all doubt for the NIAAA, responding to the study with this:

While there is (justifiably) much hand-wringing about these stats, very few people seem to understand the ultimate cause. Colleges say they need more money and resources to educate students as to the consequences of excessive drinking. Commenters blame parents who “demonize” alcohol consumption. (Yes, that’s our problem — excessive parental disapproval of alcohol — when almost any high-school principal can tell you legions of tales of parent-hosted drinking parties.)

The real culprit, of course, is culture. Colleges have developed a culture of nearly unrestrained hedonism. Binge drinking isn’t an accident, it’s the entire point of the Thursday (or is it now Wednesday?) to Sunday party circuit. For the college hedonist, binge drinking facilitates the so-called “hookup culture.” And when it comes to sex, the university message is, shall we say, mixed. Do it! (but safely) is the college theme. One university, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, apparently believes that providing student-fee funding to the Roman Catholic Foundation somehow threatens the Republic, yet will throw hundreds of thousands of dollars at a student group called “Sex Out Loud.”

Do it! (but safely) is a losing message, especially when combined with a concerted effort to demonize those private religious voices that may offer alternatives to a culture that dominates campus. From the more “staid” schools like Harvard to the national champions of the party lifestyle at Florida, “do it” dominates “safely,” and the one ultimate answer — a different moral code — is simply not an option. After all, some of the same people arguing for a better path may — in their heart of hearts — not support same-sex marriage. And we can’t have that kind of voice on campus, can we?

Not only is gaymarriage going to take away your peanut-butter sandwich, but it’s also killing your kids on the road. For all this madness about colleges “creating” culture, the drunk and hedonist campus has existed, on record, since the eleventh century. The article is awesome enough to quote again:

Drinking Notes: Students in the Middle Ages had never heard of tea, coffee, or cigarettes, let alone iced frappuccinos, but alcohol was an integral feature of Oxford life, guzzled continually by students and teachers alike. Statutes even provided that students supply their professors with a decent amount of wine during examinations. At a banquet, adventurous guests might be treated to Hypocras, a supposedly aphrodisiac (and insanely expensive) cocktail of Burgundy, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, pepper, and cardamom.

This drunken “do it” attitude is 500 years older than the entire Protestant movement and Montaigne’s witnessing of a gay marriage in Rome, 600 years older than the founding of the American colonies, 700 years older than Edmund Burke and the American War of Independence, 800 years older than Abraham Lincoln, 950 years older than the first Women’s Studies Program etc. etc. College drinking is, in fact, what one might call a tradition, or perhaps a “permanent thing.”

(And no, it’s not worse than the war in Iraq. What a stupid comparison.)

Soviet anti-alcohol propaganda courtesy of The Museum of Anti-Alcohol Posters.

Brewer’s postulate

Posted in Politics by Connor Mendenhall on 2 April 2009

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer held a press conference on underage drinking Wednesday, and Daily Wildcat reporter Cody Calamaio brought back her thoughts on the un-safety epidemic plaguing properties around the UA:

With the recent passage of the Pima County “Social Host” Ordinance, property owners who are over the age of 21 are held accountable for underage drinking on any property that is under their control.

The ordinance, which was adopted by the Pima County Board of Supervisors on March 3, is set to take effect tomorrow.

“Underage drinking continues to be the number one substance abuse problem facing youth in Arizona,” Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said during a press conference yesterday at the Pima County Consolidated Justice Court east courtyard, 115 N. Church St. “Adults must learn that there is no such thing as safe drinking for anyone under the age of 21.”

Except, you know, just about everywhere else in the free world. But pay no attention to that little bit of unreason. Look! A beauty pageant winner!

Tanya Valladares, Ms. Pima County 2009 and UA physiology junior, endorsed the underage drinking crackdown by the county.

“As a member of the Greek Life at the University of Arizona, I’ve seen firsthand the negative effects of underage drinking. I’ve heard the stories of friends being sexually assaulted,” she said. “This ordinance will help reduce off-site underage drinking parties held by fraternities at private houses.”

A nice thought, but I’m skeptical. The city of Tucson has had a “social host” ordinance since 2007, along with the more onerous Red Tag provisions. Unless most students are getting their underage drink on in the Benson Highway corridor or north of River road, this seems like a law and order publicity stunt more than anything else.

Plus, it may well be that Ms. Valladares has never let a drop of the demon rum seep between her prizewinning underage lips, but even if she’s teetotal it’s totally ironic to see a representative of the Greek community–the very organizations that have transformed underage drinking “risk management issues” from an amateur art to a plausibly-deniable science–throw her support behind this ordinance.

And I thought it was bad when President Shelton brushed off the Amethyst Initiative. We don’t need yet another crackdown on underage drinking. We need sensible alcohol policy that treats students like the adults they are.

The Case of the Mysterious Opening Door

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 31 March 2009

Police at the DoorThis police beat manages to sum up everything I hate about current UA policing policy in under 400 words:

Six people were cited and released for being minors in possession of alcohol March 18 at 12:05 a.m.

Police responded to the La Paz Residence Hall in reference to the odor of marijuana coming from one of the rooms. When officers arrived, they reported that they did not smell marijuana. Instead, they said there was an odor of intoxicants coming from the room. There were also many voices coming from inside the room and they heard a person mention beer pong.

One officer spoke with a woman who was exiting the restroom across the hall. She said that there was no marijuana in the room, but that there was alcohol.

The door to the room was then opened [emphasis added – EML] and the officers saw a table set up with red cups for beer pong. There were 11 people in the room. Police tried to make contact with the person who lived in the room, but she was not there. No one in the room would say who lived there, only that they knew her name and that she had left.

Police checked everyone’s ID in the room. All the people were 18-years-old.

The woman who lived in the room returned a bit later. She told officers they could gather the alcohol from her room. She led them to a handle of vodka that did not have a cap and contained approximately one-fourth of its contents. Near the alcohol there was a white trash bag with more than 20 empty 12-ounce Bud Light cans.

An officer spoke with all of the people in the room. One of the men told officers that he had not been drinking, but that he did have a knife on him that he used for protection while he jogged. He told officers that he believed having a pocket knife was ok. The knife was a four-inch switchblade. Police explained to him that university policy prohibits anyone from having a weapon on campus. The knife was confiscated and placed into safe-keeping.

Six of the people admitted to drinking “two beers” while playing beer pong. They were all cited and released for being minors in possession of alcohol. The resident assistant on duty disposed of the remaining alcohol.

The use of the passive voice is very telling – a quick perusal of the Reefer Review reveals that police beats routinely explain how the officers gained access to the room. To wit:

Police responded to Coronado Residence Hall in reference to marijuana in one of the rooms. When they arrived they immediately detected the odor of marijuana coming from one of the doors. An officer knocked on the door and a man answered. He told the officer he could enter the room.

Again:

Police responded to the Coronado residence hall in reference to the smell of marijuana coming from one of the rooms.

Police made contact with a man inside the room. They informed the man they were there in regards to the smell of marijuana.

The man told officers he does not smoke marijuana and they were welcome to search his room.

And again:

As the RA escorted the officer to the room, police reported that the smell of marijuana was strong in the hallway. When the officer knocked on the door where the smell was coming from, a man inside yelled, “Come on in.” The officer knocked a second time and the resident said, “I said come on in.” Inside the room, the smell of marijuana was very strong.

Getting back to today’s reported incident, it starts with a simple report of marijuana, with a small catch – there’s no marijuana present. Instead, “they said there was an odor of intoxicants coming from the room” – a claim itself rather ludicrous, unless the guests were actively exhaling through the crack at the bottom of the door. Equally important to the officers’ (incidentally, why send multiple officers to check out potential marijuana use?) train of thought is overhearing “a person mention beer pong.” The officer then seeks out a figure of authority, like an RA, who can be trusted to provide a reliable testimony “a woman who was exiting the restroom across the hall,” who attests to the presence of alcohol in the room. How does she know? The police report doesn’t say.

Now, “the door to the room was opened.” This wouldn’t be so striking if it wasn’t such a divergence from previous reports, where it is made plainly obvious that the officer had a right to be in the room. Here, we have no idea how the officers gained access into the room – did they open an unlocked door? Did they identify themselves? Did they even knock, or just wait for someone to head out to the restroom? Even more interesting is the fact that the resident of the room was not present – meaning that unless she previously granted the power to one of the guests, none of them had the right to grant the officers access (if they did indeed do so), thus making the search unconstitutional. To add insult to injury, the officers – who are ostensibly responsible for ensuring the safety of the UA campus – had to confiscate a small knife used for protection while jogging, because of the asinine “Weapon-Free Zone” policy. You can see immediately how this makes the UA’s campus safer.

What can be learned here? Allow me quote my colleague:

Of the 46 arrests and incidents,there are 27 cases in which students had a chance to assert their rights by asking for a warrant. Just once did students resist a search, by refusing to acknowledge an officer’s knock at the door of their dorm room. before admitting police to their rooms or consenting to a further search, but did not do so.

Let this be said loud and clear: you do not have to let an officer into your room, unless that officer has a warrant. In fact, I will go so far as to say that you should not let an officer into your room, even if you’re doing something as innocuous as studying. If you think that the officers could use your help, step outside and let them know: “I’m willing to talk to you, but your department’s past history when it comes to warrantless searches makes me uneasy about letting you into my room.” Time and time again, UAPD (and TPD) officers have punished students with these warrantless searches – don’t let yourself become the next victim.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Rob!

Amethyst, revisted

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 24 January 2009

Drunk Kid 2The Wall Street Journal recently collected short policy prescriptions from a wide swathe of thinkers on the right. Most of them are sharp, but the piece pertinent to our site is the recommendation by Glenn Reynolds, of Instapundit fame:

I will make one policy proposal. Some of my fellow libertarians hope that the Obama administration will put an end to the drug war. I hope so too, but I’m not too optimistic. Instead, I propose a smaller step toward freedom — eliminating the federally mandated drinking age of 21. This mandate was a creature of Elizabeth Dole (who is no longer in the Senate to complain at its abolition), and it has unnecessarily limited the freedom of legal adults, old enough to fight for their country, to drink adult beverages.

What’s more, as the 130 college presidents of the Amethyst Initiative have noted, rather than promoting safety, it has largely created furtive and less-safe drinking on campus. As a former professor of constitutional law, President Obama knows that the Constitution gives the federal government no legitimate role in setting drinking ages. Returning this decision to the states would be a step for freedom, a step toward honoring the Constitution, and a step away from nannyism. It would also be a particularly fitting act for this administration. Barack Obama received enormous support from voters aged 18-21. Who better to treat people that age as full adults again?

Peter Suderman, Megan McArdle, and the good folks at Reason agree. Speaking of Reason, Radley Balko has an interview with John McCardell (how many ways can you spell that name?), the former Middlebury College president behind the Amethyst Initiative:

Q: How has Mothers Against Drunk Driving responded to the Amethyst Initiative?

A: MADD’s response has been disappointing and is unbecoming for an organization as revered as they are. They spammed the email boxes of college presidents, called them “shirkers,” and encouraged parents not to send their kids to those colleges. All this for nothing more than a call for discussion. If this question is as settled as they say it is, why such an exaggerated response?

I think their tactics backfired. MADD tried to bully these presidents into removing their names. We lost three presidents as a result, but we gained 20 more. And I think it actually strengthened the resolve of the presidents who stayed on.

Q: MADD and other opponents of your objectives say the college presidents are just trying to pass on their own responsibility to enforce the minimum drinking age. But is it really a college president’s responsibility to enforce criminal law?

A: That’s a great point. It’s about as logical as asking a couple of state troopers to come onto campus to teach calculus.

Perhaps MADD spamming was behind Shelton’s weak response, which you can read here. The key line, in my eyes, is, “Underage drinking in general and binge drinking specifically are serious concerns for our society and certainly at universities where so many young people in the 18-20 age group are present.” This, of course, assumes that a public school should be making moral judgments about their student body — a very dubious prospect in my book. If you are going to go Carrie Hatchet, though, at least be consistent — premarital sex should be decried, Campus Health sale of condoms should be banned, as should the Union’s fast-food joints, smoking on campus, cursing (at least South Carolina is trying), and anything whatsoever that involves carbon emissions.

As we talk about budget cuts and tax revenue shortfalls, it’d be really nice to see a study estimating how much business and tax revenue would be generated from changing the age; talk about a recession-proof consumer demand. As the state threatens to go bankrupt, this a stimulus plan that everyone outside of the MADD-types can get behind.

Meanwhile, a SWAT team has raided a fraternity in Washington State. Abuse of police power, constitutional violations, wasted federal and state funds, and erosion of respect for authorities of the law? No worries. But stupid Facebook pictures? Now that’s the end of Western civilization.