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St. Paul quasi-prohibitionists consider unorthodox approach to quell underage drinking

The thing about laws and ordinances, especially those pertaining to bodily pleasure, is that they tend, over time, to become more stringent, and not less. It's safer, generally speaking, for a politician/official to introduce to the books a new law, however silly its intent, than it is to call for the retraction of another. People love them some crusaders-- there's a tendency to regard their opponents as heathens not to be taken seriously.

This helps explain why a group of otherwise intelligent humans could seriously consider anything as preposterous as an ordinance the St. Paul City Council is presently mulling over. In an effort to combat the perceived threat of underage drinking, the council is taking aim not at the illegal imbibers themselves or those that supplied them the means to that end, but at the hosts of parties/shindigs at which minors are present-- regardless of whether said hosts were aware of the shenanigans. Acceptable evidence would include Twitter tweets and Facebook messages. It would carry with it a max $1,000 fine or 90 days in jail.

It's impossible, at least for us, to imagine any reasonable person who, after having honestly pondered the facts and circumstances, would perceive this ordinance to be necessary, or even sane. Disregarding, as too obvious, both privacy issues and the disproportionately heavy penalty (it's equal to Fifth Degree Assault, for chrissakes), we thought we'd instead address the underlying fallacy behind this and similar nonsense.

 Even those who see clearly the folly inherent in proposals like this too often concede that the stated aim (curbing underage drinking) is a worthy and admirable goal. This assumption, universal though it may be, is not beyhond reproach. In fact--and though it's unpopular to say so aloud, especially within earshot of minors--the dangers of underage drinking have been vastly exaggerated and sentimentalized to a degree that effectively divorces the resulting debate from reality. Alcohol poisonings and injuries, even among the booziest collegiate Greek systems, are so rare that, when they do occur, warrant enough how-the-fuck-did-that-happen intrique to compel evening news producers to place the tragedy front-and-center on that evening's news cast. (For what it's worth, about 9-out-of-10 accidental poisonings in Minnesota are the result of prescription drugs. Not Booze).

After every unfortunate yet statistically inevitable tragedy, self-styled health and moral crusaders--who often profit, in one way or another, from their tear-mongering--emerge from whatever reality-eschewing bubble they inhabit and ratchet up their quixotic war against human nature, invariably to the detriment of common sense. Bit by bit, needless laws and regulations pile on, each one more far-reaching and less effective than the last. It's by this unconsious process that everything, from sodomy laws to smoking bans to the War on Drugs, was forged.

Perhaps we're digressing, but get a physician drunk enough and he'll tell you that the human body does not share our culture's prejudices and superstitions. He'll confide that a person's organs do not immunize themselves to the effects of booze upon entering their 21st year, and that, all else being equal, an 18-year-old's body is better equipped to recover from a hard night's revelry than that of the 48-year-old arresting officer who "saved" him from a hangover.

Even if underage drinking were indeed the health scourge the quasi-prohibitionists claim it to be, there's still no evidence that all this meddling has had any effect on the rate of consumption. That is to say, the laws don't work, and never have. In European countries--where the drinking age is often 14 and even then scarcely enforced--there is not more binge drinking, underage or otherwise, but less. A Frenchman, upon being told that he'd been doomed to spend three months inside a cage because his 20-year-old second cousin downed a glass of wine at his house-warmng party, would not, could not, believe it. And if he were informed that, furthermore, the evidence against him was amassed via a 140-character message the minor had tweeted on Twitter ... well, you could forgive the poor bastard for concluding that his country had devolved into a joyless plantation of fun-hating totalitarians.

Now if you'll excuse us... all this ranting has made us thirsty.


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