Friday, July 18, 2014

The American paradox

(First published in the Nelson Mail and Manawatu Standard, July 16.)

I have to smile when I think of my one visit to New York City.

My wife and I arrived late on a Saturday night in October 2002. I remember it well because on the drive in from Kennedy Airport our cab driver told us of the terrorist bombings that had just killed 202 people in Bali.
But that’s incidental. What amuses me is the recollection of how apprehensive I was – quite unnecessarily, as it turned out – when we ventured out into the city the following morning.

It being early on a Sunday, the streets around our Greenwich Village hotel were virtually deserted. I’m not a timid person but I admit feeling uneasy as we descended the steps of the nearest subway station to catch a train to Battery Park, from where we intended to take a ferry to the Statue of Liberty.
I’m not sure what I expected, but for the previous few decades I had been conditioned by Hollywood movies to believe that New York – and the subway especially – was infested with armed muggers and crazed drug addicts.

Of course we didn’t encounter any; not even a beggar, though they’re usually everywhere in urban America. As the day progressed and we roamed the city, we gradually relaxed. There were no drive-by shootings, no car chases, no police with loudhailers telling holed-up serial killers to come out with their hands up. I was almost disappointed.
By the time we left New York several days later, we felt entirely at ease moving around. And contrary to legend, we found New Yorkers friendly and approachable.

Since then we’ve been back to America several times. We’ve driven through 20 states, including some that most Americans admit they wouldn’t dream of visiting. We’ve stayed in big, glamorous cities and forgotten towns in the middle in nowhere. And we’ve grown to like the country so much that we almost suffer withdrawal symptoms if we stay away too long.
Almost everywhere we’ve been, people have been gracious, welcoming and interested in where we come from and what we’re doing. And although we’ve seen countless movies about terrible things happening to people on lonely American highways or in sinister small towns, at no time have we felt remotely at risk.

All this makes it doubly hard to comprehend the hideous events that regularly cause America to convulse.
Hardly a week seems to pass without a report of someone running amok with a gun. Some of these incidents happen in incongruously pleasant settings, such as the affluent, laid-back Californian town of Isla Vista, where young Elliott Rodger recently recorded a chilling video before coolly killing six people because he was resentful at not being able to get a girlfriend.

More recently there was an even more quintessentially American killing spree in Las Vegas by a strange young couple who shot dead two policemen before turning their guns on themselves. It seemed they had a grudge against the government – a recurring theme in such crimes.
How does one account for such bizarre acts? It’s not enough to say that a country of more than 300 million people is bound to produce extremes of good and bad. While that’s certainly true, there’s more to it than that.

Some of America’s weirdness is built in; hard-wired, as it were. There seems to be a rogue gene in the country’s DNA that periodically manifests itself in outbursts of homicidal craziness on a scale that New Zealanders can’t comprehend.
Among a tiny, cranky minority of Americans there’s a seething, irrational, inarticulate rage that, when combined with the availability of guns, can have lethal consequences. Religious fundamentalism, right-wing extremism, anti-government paranoia and the constitutional right to bear firearms (which some Americans regard as if it were ordained by God) make a toxic brew.

All countries have their own weirdness, some more than others. Japan and India impress me as being wonderfully weird, albeit in different ways. But on the international weirdness scale, it’s hard to imagine any country topping the USA.
It’s hard to explain, for example, how a country that’s so overtly Christian – a country where the biggest and most opulent buildings in many poor rural towns are churches – can also be the Western world’s most enthusiastic executioner. It doesn’t seem to occur to many Americans that putting people to death, often in the most cold-blooded way, might be contrary to God’s will.

But there remains that perplexing paradox. On the one hand there’s the friendly, charming America that my wife and I experience in our travels; on the other, a society where grotesquely strange and evil things happen.
Winston Churchill famously described Russia as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. I wonder what he made of America, which seems a far more bewildering mess of contradictions.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The ruthless logic that drives Hamas


There is a ruthless, cynical logic in what Hamas is doing in the Gaza Strip.
The constant rocket attacks on Israel are largely futile in the sense that they do minimal damage. But Hamas knows that as long as the attacks continue, Israel is bound to retaliate. It can hardly allow its territory and people to remain under constant threat.

Hamas’s trump card here is the Western news media. The terrorists know that the casualties of Israeli retaliation – children especially – attract international media sympathy. They make sure TV crews get footage of the funerals and have access to the hospital wards where maimed children are being treated.
They know that their most potent weapon against Israel is not rockets but international opinion. And they know that as long as the media present the conflict as one that is massively one-sided – one that is reported every day in terms of the gross imbalance in the casualty figures, almost as if it were some grotesque sporting encounter – then international opinion will regard Hamas as the wronged party.

They also know that the moment they stop firing rockets at Israel, the retaliatory attacks will also cease. Children will stop dying and life will return to some semblance of normality (or whatever passes for normality in Gaza). But they choose to continue.
On the face of it, the only conclusion is that they are either stupid or mad – or both – to continue with a policy that causes little damage to the enemy. But that’s where the cynical logic comes in.

Continuing the attacks guarantees that Israel will keep on defending itself, and that the media will keep reporting the terrible harm that results. International opinion will be aroused and that will translate into diplomatic pressure on Israel to moderate its position, to the benefit of Hamas.
A few hundred innocent Palestinians may die in the meantime, but that’s obviously a price the Hamas fanatics are prepared to pay.

 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The scariest scenario of all


(First published in the Dominion Post, July 11.)
 
FOR ALMOST as long as I can remember, experts have been warning us to brace ourselves for catastrophe.

For decades it was the Cold War and the threat of nuclear obliteration that threatened us. In the 1970s we shuddered at the prospect of a nuclear winter, in which soot and smoke from nuclear warfare would condemn the planet to decades of frigid semi-darkness.

And who can forget the alarm generated by predictions that acid rain would denude vast areas of forest, kill marine life and even cause buildings to collapse?

Other recurring doomsday predictions revolved around over-population and famine. As it turns out, the world now has more obese people than malnourished – a fact that has given the experts something new to harangue us about. 

There have been other scares, too, including Aids and the Millennium Bug. It was seriously predicted that the latter would create universal chaos the moment the clocks ticked past December 31, 1999.

We’re still waiting for the grotesque mutations foreseen by opponents of genetic modification. And then there was peak oil, though the dismalists seem to have gone quiet on that too.

There are always experts loudly predicting the worst. But none of the above prophecies came to pass, either because they were scientifically unsound or greatly exaggerated to start with, or because human ingenuity and good sense intervened.

Even when terrible things have happened – such as Chernobyl and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill – the eventual outcome has almost invariably been less apocalyptic than the prophets of doom foresaw.

In the circumstances, is it any surprise that people tune out when they hear the shrill cries of the global warming alarmists? The words “boy” and “wolf” come to mind.

The most worrying thing about global warming proponents is that many want to silence the other side – always a danger sign. They argue that because scientists who believe in climate change outnumber those who don’t, newspapers shouldn’t give space to sceptics.

The science is settled, the warmists cry. But back comes a quietly insistent reply: science is never settled.

Scientists have got it wrong before. There was a time when the overwhelming weight of scholarly opinion was that the sun revolved around the earth. You challenged that consensus at your peril, as Galileo learned.

For decades, physicists believed the expansion of the universe was slowing down. Now they have concluded that it’s actually accelerating.

So we need to leave open the possibility that experts can get things wrong, and we need sceptics to challenge established wisdom. The more we are panicked into believing we are at imminent risk from some existential threat, the more willing we are to allow “experts” and zealots to save us. And that’s the scariest scenario of all.

* * *

IN MY LOCAL medical centre recently I saw a sign in the men’s toilet reminding people to wash their hands. That makes perfect sense, except for one thing – it was in Maori.

Does this imply that only Maori need to wash their hands, or perhaps that only Maori need to be reminded to wash their hands? In either case, Maori would be entitled to take offence.

If neither of those explanations applies, then what’s the purpose? According to recent figures, only nine percent of Maori speak the language fluently. The rest wouldn’t have a clue what the notice says, were it not for an accompanying picture.

Virtually everyone, on the other hand, can read English. So wouldn’t it make more sense to have a notice in the language that everyone understands?

My medical centre shouldn’t be blamed for this patronising, expensive tokenism.  My guess is that the signs were issued by some useless but well-meaning government agency. It’s reassuring to know our taxes are being put to such good use.

* * *

A NOSTALGIC article in this paper recently reminded readers of how Rongotai Airport was built in the 1950s.

It involved flattening a substantial hill, moving 160 houses and bulldozing three million cubic metres of fill into the sea. Look at a photo of Evans Bay in the pre-airport era and it’s almost unrecognisable. It was a massive undertaking that completely reshaped the landscape.

I wonder how far the promoters of a project like that would get today. Not far, judging by the interminable delays faced by projects such as Transmission Gully, the Kapiti Expressway and the Basin Reserve overpass.

Few people would argue for a return to the development practices of the 1950s, when the Ministry of Works was all-powerful. But you have to wonder whether the pendulum has swung too far the other way, to the point where public interest considerations routinely get swamped by the cries of objectors.

 

 

 

 

Friday, July 4, 2014

An era of glorious innocence


(First published in the Nelson Mail and Manawatu Standard, July 2.)
For people of a certain age, last week was a week of nostalgia.
June 21 marked 50 years since a Lockheed Electra carrying the Beatles touched down at Wellington Airport. It was a significant moment, and not just musically. Sociologically, it signalled the emergence of a youth culture that was determined to assert itself in the face of stodgy, adult-imposed conformity and conservatism.

Small wonder that ageing baby boomers spent last week wallowing in fond reminiscence as radio stations dusted off their Beatles records and newspapers reprinted photos of press conferences at which awestruck reporters asked banal questions of the famous visitors, such as whether they liked New Zealand mutton and butter – all of which were answered with patience and good humour.
To anyone who grew up post-1970, it must be hard to imagine the impact the group made here. New Zealand was na├»ve and insular. The rest of the world seemed impossibly distant and exotic. Jet travel hadn’t yet made it this far; Britain was still six weeks away by ship. The Beatles might have been visitors from another planet.

Beatlemania, with its hordes of fans prepared to do almost anything to get close to their heroes, mystified and unsettled local authorities accustomed to young people behaving with compliant decorum. The official response to the phenomenon ranged from overkill – such as at the Wellington Town Hall, where the Beatles were unnerved by the sight of unsmiling police constables occupying the front rows at their concerts – to woeful ill-preparedness.
In Dunedin, only four policemen were on hand to ensure the Beatles got into their hotel safely through the hundreds of eager fans. When it was suggested that security was inadequate, the response was that the police had coped with a visit by Vera Lynn a few weeks earlier, so what could possibly go wrong?

Technologically too, New Zealand was found wanting. After the first of their Wellington concerts, John Lennon threatened not to go on again because the sound system was so hopeless. The sound technician was terrified the speakers would blow up.
It’s no exaggeration to say that in cultural as well as musical terms, the Beatles were a seismic event. Rock and roll wasn’t new, of course; in the previous decade we’d had Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Ricky Nelson, Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis. But in those days New Zealand took its cultural cues from Britain rather than America.

The American-led rock and roll revolution of the 1950s, as significant as it was, was limited in its impact in New Zealand compared with the British beat boom led by the Beatles. I would argue that it was only post-Beatles that a true mass youth culture began to emerge in buttoned-down, monochrome New Zealand.
Though not a consciously subversive band, the Beatles unleashed a heady sense of liberation and a willingness to defy adult conventions. They did this through the sheer joy and exuberance of their music, which gave expression to youthful passions that had been previously been kept tightly controlled.

Musically speaking, they tilted the world’s axis.  The American music industry was completely blindsided by the so-called British invasion, of which the Beatles formed the advance guard.
By that time the first raw, exhilarating wave of American rock and roll – as embodied by Presley – had subsided, to be replaced by the sanitised pop of Bobby Vinton, Neil Sedaka and Bobby Vee, much of it emanating from New York City’s famous pop factory, the Brill Building. America was ready for something new and the Beatles provided it: in April 1964 they had 14 singles simultaneously in the Billboard Hot 100.

It took years for America to recover from the shock and reclaim its mantle as the wellhead of pop music. And of course the great irony is that the music that inspired the Beatles and the other British bands that followed in their wake – the Rolling Stones, the Animals, Manfred Mann, the Yardbirds, the Kinks, the Who – was all American. What the British bands did was repackage and re-energise American rock and roll and send it back to its home country, where it was in danger of being forgotten.
After the Beatles, nothing was the same again. At its heavier end, pop music soon morphed into something the pompous music critics called “rock”, which was supposedly to be taken more seriously. “Rock” music was freighted with sociological and political meaning.

The Stones, who deliberately cultivated a scowling, anti-establishment image, were a “rock” band, whereas the Beatles – despite their astonishing musicality – found themselves being dismissed as simply a very clever pop band.
Bob Dylan came along too – the first pop (sorry, rock) star whose records were bought for their lyrics rather than the tunes. Pop music split into ideological camps, and so it has remained ever since.

But all that was yet to happen when the Beatles touched down in Wellington in 1964. Looking back, what’s most striking about that era is its glorious innocence.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Pressing questions: No. 5 in an occasional series


(First published in The Dominion Post, June 27.)
 
More pressing questions for our troubled times:
Does the simple act of giving a waitress your food order really justify the word “awesome” in response?

If the entire population of Ireland renounced Catholicism en masse, could anyone blame them?
Why do all pop music stations seem to need black 4WD vehicles? Is it because they occasionally have to rescue DJs from remote mountain ranges, or are they rented out to the SIS for surveillance ops?

When will George Gershwin’s estate sue the composers of Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report theme for pinching the first notes of I Got Rhythm?
When did it stop being a requirement that stand-up comedians should be funny?

Has narcissism become the defining spirit of Western culture?
Do some drivers think it’s an act of bravado to delay turning their lights on until it’s almost pitch dark?

Why are murderous Islamic terrorists euphemistically referred to as militants, a term once used for bolshie trade unionists?
If there were a Special Olympics event for craven snivelling, would anyone bother competing against Oscar Pistorius?

What are these district howth boards that radio and television journalists keep referring to?
Why are yappy, bad-tempered little dogs suddenly so fashionable?

Why do all the women in Renaissance paintings have legs like rugby forwards?
Does Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges genuinely think he’s the Master of the Universe, or is it just the impression he gives?

Did it dent Bridges’ ego for a millisecond when he had to admit he hadn’t heard of Victoria Forest Park, where he had just approved mining exploration?
Was the answer to that last question “probably not”?

Should it be lawful to let down the tyres of non-disabled people occupying disabled car parks?
Former New Zealand First MP Brendan Horan may not be remembered for anything else, but will he earn a place in political history for being on the receiving end of the most shameful slur ever uttered in Parliament?

Had enough vampire shtick?
Is the TV reality show Border Patrol compulsory viewing for drug smugglers looking for tips on Customs detection techniques so they can figure out how to avoid them?

How is it that journalists were collectively ranked among the least trusted occupations in a recent Readers’ Digest poll, yet individual journalists – John Campbell, Mike McRoberts, Judy Bailey, Simon Dallow – got a big tick? Some confused thinking going on here, perhaps?
Are women looking for a career as classical musicians wasting their time if they don’t happen to be good-looking?

Could much of the current anguish over binge drinking have been avoided if Parliament hadn’t foolishly abolished the offence of being drunk in a public place?
Why use the pretentious and ambiguous phrase “in real time”? What’s wrong with “instantly”?

Does Judith Collins have any idea how ridiculous she looked, carefully insinuating herself into photographs of a couple of Hollywood A-listers in the hope the glamour would rub off?
Has anyone plucked up the courage to tell Collins that pink is not her colour?

How come fans of rugby, golf, tennis and cricket can watch their favourite sport without getting hysterical, but football fans can’t?
Still lying awake at night wondering what you might be missing on Twitter?

Was that a no?
Jane Clifton: a national treasure?

A question to which we suspect there is no rational answer: why do people streak?
Has the word “homage”, when pronounced with the accent on the second syllable and without sounding the “h”, become the new gold standard for pretentiousness?

Can John Key’s popularity in the polls be explained by the fact that, unlike virtually every other prime minister in living memory, he has carefully avoided getting offside with the media?
Considering it costs only a paltry $10,000 to get alongside a cabinet minister, isn’t it downright spiteful of the National Party’s enemies to suggest it’s the party of the rich?

Are health academics the new clergy, earnestly urging us to turn away from wickedness in the form of tobacco, alcohol, sugar and fatty foods?

Has anyone noticed that the traditional term “duck shooters” is being displaced by “duck hunters”, presumably because we’re too sensitive to mention that nasty s-word?
How many hours has Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman spent perfecting that throaty, artfully modulated speaking voice?

When did Oxfam mutate from a bona fide charity into an ideologically driven activist organisation?
How come so many English immigrants end up working in jobs that involve telling other people what to do?

When Kim Dotcom gets around to launching his own clothing range, is it just possible it will be black?

 

 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Piketty: new poster boy for the Left


(First published in the Nelson Mail and Manawatu Standard, June 18.)
HANDS UP all those who have read French economist Thomas Piketty’s best-selling book Capital in the Twenty-First Century.
As I thought – not many of you. Perhaps you were put off by the fact that it runs to a dense 685 pages.

I admit I haven’t tackled it either, but I’ve read enough reviews to have a pretty clear idea what the book is all about.
The English translation was published only two months ago but already it has made Piketty the international poster boy for the Left. He contends that unequal distribution of wealth – a current political preoccupation throughout the Western world – is the inevitable result of a system which, over time, concentrates economic power in the hands of a tiny few.

Piketty argues that this is bad for democracy and should be countered by taxing the very rich until their pips squeak.
None of this strikes me as breathtakingly original, but his argument struck a chord in a world still reeling from the global financial crisis and understandably resentful of the corporate greed and dishonesty that caused it.

Such books seem to come along every few years, each one being rapturously acclaimed as exposing the iniquity of capitalism. A few years ago it was The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better – a book that was similarly concerned with inequality, and made just as much impact.
The British academics who produced that tome are still dining out on its popularity. Only last month they were in New Zealand for a series of lectures at the University of Auckland, during which they preached to the converted about the corrosive effects of income disparity.

I have no doubt there is some truth in what they say. It seems obvious that a relatively egalitarian society – the type that New Zealand once took pride in being – will feel more cohesive than one in which there’s a yawning gap between those at the top and those at the bottom.
It’s also unarguable that there are far more conspicuously rich people than there were a generation ago. You can see that from the number of expensive cars on the road, the preposterous house prices in Remuera and Oriental Bay, and the even more preposterous salaries paid to corporate executives of often dubious calibre.

As I was writing this, I happened to hear a radio interview with the proprietors of a Hawke’s Bay game farm where the rich go to shoot pheasants. The fee: $2750 per person, per day. It sounded more like the England of Downton Abbey than the New Zealand I grew up in.
The conventional view is that this inequality is the outcome of a rapacious, winner-takes-all economic system. But the crucial point, surely, is how well the majority of people are doing. And my observation is that most New Zealanders enjoy a vastly higher standard of living now than they did, say, 30 years ago. They live in better houses, drive better cars, eat out more often and think little of taking an overseas holiday.

Internationally, too, statistics show that more and more countries are being lifted out of poverty. And though it may be hard for the Left to swallow, the inconvenient truth is that it’s happening as a result of global capitalism.
What’s more, “poverty” in New Zealand is measured in relative terms. It’s defined not by people’s ability to afford the necessities of life, but by how well they are doing compared with the majority. So there will always be people who are considered hard done by, no matter how affluent society as a whole becomes.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be seriously concerned about the minority of people trapped at the bottom of the heap, but it does highlight the fact that a degree of inequality is built in to the way we measure things.
But back to Piketty. His solution to the supposed problem of inequality is as unoriginal as his explanation for the cause.

Imposing huge taxes on the rich will certainly punish them for their wealth, and thus give satisfaction to the many people who believe that anyone who is rich must also be evil.
But is that a sound basis, either morally or economically, for creating a fairer society? Are the people at the bottom of the pile, or even the great number in the middle, helped by the simplistic act of transferring wealth from those at the top, with the attendant risk of suppressing the economic activity that creates prosperity for everyone? 

From what I’ve read of it, Piketty’s book consists of familiar old resentments dressed up in new garb. It’s underpinned by the discredited belief that an omniscient and benevolent state, through taxation and other instruments of control, can produce a society where everyone is better off. 
I’m all for a more equal society, but my fear is that Piketty’s proposed medicine could be far more damaging than the illness.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Has the Radio NZ reshuffle backfired?

(First published in The Dominion Post, June 13.)

I NOTICE someone has started a “Keep Jim Mora in Afternoons” page on Facebook. I wonder if this is the tiny tip of a rather large iceberg.
Mora, of course, was for several years the popular host of Radio New Zealand’s Afternoons programme. In the recent reshuffle that followed the arrival of a new chief executive, Paul Thompson, former Morning Report co-host Simon Mercep took over most of Mora’s show.

Mora still hosts The Panel, the late-afternoon segment in which guests comment on the issues of the day, but it seems that many RNZ listeners are pining over his absence from the rest of the show.
When I last checked, the Facebook page had attracted 288 “likes” – hardly an earthquake, but my own unscientific soundings suggest Mora is widely missed.

While Afternoons had grown tired and needed refreshing, its failings had nothing to do with Mora, who was the consummate host for that style of programme: witty, intelligent, empathetic and well-informed. Mercep, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be making much impact.
This raises wider questions about what makes a good radio host. Mercep did an honest if unexciting job on Morning Report, but a news programme is all about gathering information. It doesn’t depend on the host’s personality.

Afternoons, on the other hand, is very much driven by the charm of the host. And since Mercep took over, the show has lost its spark. I would be surprised if its audience hadn’t shrunk. RadioLive, which has developed a strong roster of hosts, will no doubt welcome deserters.
It’s reasonable to assume that Mercep was moved into the Afternoons slot because RNZ wanted to clear the decks for some fresh blood on Morning Report, its flagship programme. But I suspect the move may have backfired in more ways than one.

RNZ appointed Guyon Espiner and Susie Ferguson to replace Mercep and the sainted Geoff Robinson, presumably with the aim of carrying Morning Report into a new era.
But that created another issue. While Espiner is an excellent print journalist (as he shows in occasional articles for The Listener) and did a good job as political editor for TV One, radio is different.

In radio, the voice is all-important. Especially at breakfast time, it must cut through the household noise of boiling kettles, humming microwaves and running taps.
Ferguson’s voice has that vital “listen to me” quality, but Espiner’s is soft and his diction woolly. As a result, he’s not making the impact his bosses would have been hoping for. I wonder whether they’ve given him any voice training.

On TV, Espiner’s voice wasn’t an issue because it’s a visual medium. But radio is all about sound – a factor possibly not fully appreciated by Thompson (who comes from a background in the print media) when he approved Espiner’s appointment.
Mercep, too, is handicapped by a soft voice. So I wonder whether not one, but two, mistakes have been made: first in appointing Espiner to Morning Report (and assuming that what had worked on TV would also work on radio), and consequentially in moving Mercep to Afternoons.  No doubt RNZ’s audience figures will tell us in due course.

* * *

THE GREENS will have made few friends in politics with their proposal to decriminalise abortion. It’s nearly 40 years since the abortion wars divided the country, but the wounds were deep and most MPs would prefer to let sleeping dogs lie.
More to the point, the Greens’ abortion policy represents a dogmatic ideological stance that is at odds with their warm, fuzzy image and supposed concern for the weak and vulnerable.

From a pragmatic perspective as well as a moral one, it makes no sense. Abortion may technically still be a criminal offence (a fact little understood by most people), but when was anyone last prosecuted?
The truth is that any woman wanting an abortion can procure one, as Christchurch abortion consultant Dr Pippa MacKay has pointed out. The law is a sham: we have an abortion-on-request regime in everything but name, which is not what Parliament intended when it changed the abortion laws in 1977.

So what are the Greens trying to prove? Were the 14,745 abortions in 2012 not enough for them?
Green MP Jan Logie got one thing at least partly right when she said abortion was a health issue. It’s a health issue all right – not for women, for whom pregnancy is a natural and healthy state, but for the unborn whose lives are terminated.   

* * *

IT’S HARD TO imagine anything more worthy of being ignored than a hand-wringing statement by bishops and university professors on the wickedness of alcohol.

Presumably the academics and senior church figures who signed a recent plea for tougher measures to reduce New Zealand’s supposed “heavy binge-drinking culture” missed the latest World Health Organisation figures which show that our level of alcohol consumption is moderate by world standards and our rate of “heavy episodic drinking” relatively low.
On the other hand, perhaps they’d rather not let the facts stand in the way of a good old moral panic.