Friday, October 01, 2004


"Staff at the coffee shop in the Mitchell Library in Glasgow last week allegedly refused to serve a customer who had ordered a 'black coffee', claiming that it was a racist phrase - he would only get his cuppa if he used the terminology 'coffee without milk'. I wonder how he managed to ask for white sugar?"

Scottish Daily Record 23-Sep-04. (Via Jerry Lerman).


This time the Left wants to reform you

"You could be forgiven, should you read the newspapers, for thinking that Britain is in the grip of a Hogarthian booze-fuelled nightmare.... Gangs of bevvied thugs stumble the streets, eyeing pedestrians as the lion does the gazelle, slurring mothers dash mewling babes headfirst on to stolly-soaked cobbles, while A&E Departments across the country groan under the collective weight of a million limp-limbed inebriates. We're all going to hell in a brewer's dray and it's time for the government to step in.

There's no denying that Britain has some form of collective drinking problem. According to research by the Institute of Alcohol Studies, Britons 'binge drink' more than any other European country - indeed, 40 per cent of all drinking occasions (for men) are a 'binge', compared to 33 per cent in Sweden, our leading competitor. But this research is not quite as revealing as it appears. Given that there is no international gold-standard as to what constitutes a 'binge', and that the UK minimum definition is 'more than six units of alcohol on a single occasion' (to put that in perspective, that's two pints of Stella), it could be that we lag significantly behind other countries.

There is a small problem with these figures, though. Firstly, in terms of alcohol consumed per head in Europe, the same report puts Britain in twelfth place, with the party animals of Luxembourg hogging the top spot. So it's not as if Britons are hopeless dipsomaniacs - either we drink in bursts or perhaps we have a skewed view of what constitutes 'harmful'.....

Any examination of the government anti-binge campaigns shows a disturbingly blitzkrieg approach to justification. Originally, the recommended levels were 21 units weekly for men and 14 for women. When it became apparent that these figures applied only in the Mormon State of Utah and Noddyland, they were raised to 28 and 21 respectively. Then research by a team at University College London concluded that drinking half a bottle of wine a day (31 units a week) was not only not bad for you, but actively good for the brain. And so the emphasis shifted.

The latest bit of pseudo-science aims to hit women where it hurts most: Binge Drinking Will Make You Ugly. The Portman Group-backed campaign warns that drinking 'dehydrates the skin', 'results in broken veins', causes 'loss of beauty sleep' and - best of all - warns women that drinking can leave them with 'blood-shot eyes and smelling of alcohol'. They may as well have said it gives you warts. Bombarded by spurious statistics and quack science as we are, it will be surprising if this campaign makes one iota of difference.

Whither next? Home secretary David Blunkett has announced that it is time for his favourite solution: a Crackdown. The crosshairs are sighted on underage drinkers, misbehaving pubs, errant off-licenses, the publicly intoxicated, anti-social drinkers and Uncle Thomas Cobleigh et al. Over the summer, 1900 people were served with on-the-spot fines for alcohol-related disorder, and 4000 people had their alcohol confiscated. The Association of Chief Police Officers branded the results 'disturbing'. I agree. Though probably not for the same reasons....

The 'ladette' culture so often blamed for female binge drinking is the accidental pregnancy of emancipation. Why shouldn't the girls go out, get lathered, and score? The lads do. And trying to convince young men that a good piss-up is harmful is a lost cause...

No wonder that responsibility is being tossed hither and yon like so many scalding spuds. The brewing industry is, after all, a business and it is naive to blame it for doing a good job. Asking brewers to take responsibility for people misusing their product is like demanding that BP apologise for every petrol bomb thrown in a riot. The government simultaneously rakes in duty profits and moans at the cost of so much drink leaving the shelves. And telling the voters that it's their fault they drink so much might be a little counter-productive. It must be alcohol's fault....

It is hard to see the latest crusade as anything more than an attempt to further regulate social behaviour, according to what is defined as 'acceptable' at Labour HQ. Britain's drinking problem is the latest in a list of excuses for prescriptive limitations on society...

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