Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I'll buy you a beer, Raybon

It’s interesting the way the neo-wowser lobby sets out to discredit its opponents by insinuation. Wellington alcohol counsellor Roger Brooking, in a recent letter to The Listener, suggested that as someone who occasionally writes about wine, I have a vested interest in promoting alcohol. In a subsequent letter, someone else who objected to my recent Listener article questioning the current wave of anti-alcohol hysteria described me as an alcohol industry apologist. And I see in the latest issue that Professor Doug Sellman, taking a second shot at me after already having had a substantial letter published, comments that it’s big of me to “admit” my vested interest in trying to downplay the extent of New Zealand’s alcohol problem. This was in reference to a brief letter I had written in response to Brooking, in which I acknowledged that I occasionally write about wine (there’s hardly any point in denying it) and added that the amount of money I made from it was extremely modest by anyone’s standards – a statement The Listener was kind enough to reiterate in a footnote to Sellman’s letter.

In fact I’d go further than that and say the money I make from writing about wine, or commenting on it, is risible. The only thing that prevents me from disclosing the amount is embarrassment at how little I am prepared to accept in return for my efforts. It’s sufficient to say that it makes up an inconsequential portion of my income, which itself isn’t exactly stratospheric. And I can say with absolute certainty that I earn a lot less defending the right of New Zealanders to drink responsibly than Professor Sellman makes trying to panic politicians into interfering with our freedom of choice. (And what’s more, unlike Professor Sellman, the money I earn doesn’t come from my fellow taxpayers.)

But that’s not the point. What’s significant is that the neo-wowsers are so desperate that they will seize whatever red herring or innuendo they can find to smear their opponents, while simultaneously avoiding substantive discussion of issues on which their arguments are weak.

They don’t seem interested, for instance, in discussing the inconvenient fact that per capita consumption of alcohol in New Zealand is below the OECD average, and well below the figures for many Western European countries. They pretend not to hear when it’s pointed out that in recent drink-driving blitzes, the number of drivers over the legal limit was about 0.6 percent, which rather undermines their claims that drunks are causing mayhem on the highways. And they are conspicuously short of hard evidence to support their shrill insistence that reducing the legal blood alcohol level from 0.08 to 0.05 will make a dramatic difference to road deaths, most of which are caused – if alcohol is involved at all – by drivers who are way above the 0.08 level.

No, they would rather smear their opponents as having “vested interests” – because they make a bit of pocket money on the side writing about wine – or being alcohol industry “apologists”, because they insist that most New Zealanders are moderate drinkers who are perfectly capable of making sensible decisions about their liquor consumption. Perhaps, in their simplistic, moralistic way of looking at the world, the only way the neo-wowsers can make sense of anyone who opposes them is to assume ulterior motives.

It gets tedious having to repeat this, but not only am I not an alcohol industry apologist; I actually share some of the neo-wowsers’ concerns about the way alcohol is promoted and sold. It is probably the only point on which we are on common ground, at least to some extent. I have several times criticised the way some liquor industry interests deliberately promote and exploit the moronic cult of the pisshead, which I probably find as distasteful as the Sellmanites do. But at its core, this debate is not about the behaviour of the people who make and sell alcohol; it’s about the freedom of responsible individuals to make their own decisions. Strident propaganda about wicked booze barons is a sideshow; a way of manipulating the emotions of the impressionable.

Having got that out of the way, let’s turn to the Herald on Sunday's absurd “Two Drinks Max” campaign, launched last Sunday. On one level, it’s hard to argue with. If people want to restrict themselves to two drinks, who could possibly object? It’s a worthy goal.

But what makes the Herald on Sunday campaign ridiculous, to the point of almost negating all its credibility, is the barrage of simplistic, alarmist and emotive propaganda that accompanies it. Like other media outlets, the APN tabloid appears to have unquestioningly swallowed the lurid, shock-horror claims of the neo-wowsers. Either that, or it’s a cynical marketing exercise by a paper eager to win readers with a shallow, populist crusade.

As proof of its serious intent, the Herald on Sunday presented us with the carefully considered opinions of several recognised authorities on the liquor question. They included actresses, models, fashion designers, TV presenters, radio hosts and a celebrity real estate agent. As an example of their compelling arguments, here are some excerpts:

[Herald on Sunday to model Nicky Watson] Why do you support lowering the limit?

Because it is clear that we need to there are still so many accidents on the road and from my own personal experience if I had two glasses of wine I wouldn’t drive. [This is exactly as Watson’s statement appears on the paper’s website.]

[Herald on Sunday to real estate agent Michael Boulgaris] Have you had personal experience of drink driving accidents?

No but I do have a drink drive conviction, that is why I am so passionate about what you are trying to do.

What was that like?

It was a nightmare. It was very embarrassing. When you go overseas and they ask do you have a criminal record you don't know what to say. When you go to renew your insurance, your premium goes up. People have to realise the consequences. It's just frowned upon.

[Herald on Sunday to Colin Mathura-Jeffree] Do you support lowering the drink/drive limit to 50 mg – already in place in many countries and recommended by NZ police, MoT and Alcohol Healthwatch?

Yes, it’s about safety. We need to look after each other. People who use the roads are at risk from drink drivers every time they get into their car or onto their bike or even when they use the footpaths.

Come on New Zealand, safety first. Don't drink and drive, just don’t do it.


Have you or your friends or family been involved in a drink driving crash or been a victim of one?

Yes a friend of mine was the drink-driver in a crash. No-one was hurt but it’s too easy to end up hurting someone else. Regret and hindsight are the saddest things.
We need to sort it out. It doesn’t have to happen in the first place.


[Herald on Sunday to New Zealand’s Next Top Model host Sara Tetro] Will you pledge your name to the Herald on Sunday's Two Drinks Max campaign?

Sure!

Why do you think it's important to get behind the campaign?

Anything that's going to keep every member of society safe on the road has got to be a good thing. This is one of many things that needs to happen. Anything that might work is worth a try.

Well, I ask you: how much more proof do you need? I’m convinced. Where do I sign up?

Seriously, there’s much more in this vein, and even worse. You can read it here:

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10682690

I was delighted to see that my old colleague Raybon Kan, approached by the HoS to register his dismay and horror at the mayhem wreaked by alcohol, slipped in a subversive contribution that no one at the paper seemed to recognise as a bit of a pisstake. It included the following:

Do you support lowering the drink/drive limit to 50 mg – already in place in many countries and recommended by MoT, ALAC and Alcohol Healthwatch? Why?

For what it’s worth, I agree with lowering the limit. I think “Two drinks max” is good too – a rule of thumb should be catchy. It ought to be easy for drunk people to recite. In fact, make it a jingle. Drunk people enjoy little songs. But I can't help thinking someone drunk might just say, “Stop calling me Max”.

Will you pledge your name to the Herald on Sunday's Two Drinks Max campaign?

Yes. Are the drinks free with the newspaper?

Go Raybon. I’ll buy you a beer next time I see you.

10 comments:

James said...

Karl, your use of statistics is bizarre. Do you really think that just because only .6% of drivers at a given checkpoint are over the limit, that this means drink driving is not a problem. How about this statistic? - 30,000 people are convicted for drink driving every year. Or this one? - on average those who drink and drive do so 100s of times before getting caught. Or this one? - one third of the deaths on NZ roads are caused by drink drivers.

Your focus on the .6% is like looking at an elephant and seeing only the tail.
Roger Brooking
Drink Driving Intervention Trust

James said...

Karl, Your comment that per capita consumption of alcohol in New Zealand is below the OECD average is irrelevant. That's like saying our elephant is not as big as someone else's.

So what! It's still an elephant.

Roger Brooking

ZenTiger said...

Nice one Raybon, I'll drink to that.

BTW, How many people are convicted for being well above 80, let alone 50?

How many accidents occur where the quantity of alcohol was well above 80?

Is the main point about lowering the amount simply to send a message to excess drinkers, one they seem to ignore at any level, or does the lower rate translate to less accidents?

Karl du Fresne said...

Roger (or is it James? - I'm confused):
Another statement I get tired of repeating is that I have never pretended "drink driving is not a problem". Of course it is. My point is that the problem is greatly overstated in order to justify draconian measures that will penalise the majority of people whose drinking causes no harm. In that context, both the OECD figures and the tiny proportion of drunk drivers intercepted by the police are entirely relevant.

James said...

No one is being penalised?

“Low and moderate drinkers (50% of New Zealand drinkers) only pay on average $38 per year because they consume a small amount of alcohol, whereas those who consume nearly half of all alcohol (the top 10% of drinkers)…pay over $1300 a year…

Because excise tax is levied on the amount of pure alcohol, those who drink the most alcohol pay the most tax… Despite the tax being paid by all drinkers, the current alcohol excise tax is still relatively fair." Alcohol in our Lives, Law Commission p 304.

Bearhunter said...

I'll be fascinated to see how many HoS journos sign up for the pledge.

James said...

In regard to penalising the majority of so-called responsible drinkers, the Law Commission has found that most of the harm caused by alcohol is actually associated with the majority of responsible drinkers rather than heavy drinkers. The Commission quoted research which found that:

“The majority of acute alcohol problems examined (specifically, fights and hospital admissions for attempted suicide and violent injuries) were found among the majority of drinkers with low or moderate risk by drinking volume, not the top 10% of heavy drinkers. The result is that most of the acute harm is actually associated with the majority of the drinking population. This phenomenon is known as the ‘prevention paradox’.”

Roger Brooking
Drink Driving Intervention Trust

James said...

In regard to penalising responsible drinkers, the Commission has found that most of the harm caused by alcohol is actually associated with the majority of the so-called responsible drinkers rather than heavy drinkers. The Commission quoted research which found that:

“The majority of acute alcohol problems examined (specifically, fights and hospital admissions for attempted suicide and violent injuries) were found among the majority of drinkers with low or moderate risk by drinking volume, not the top 10% of heavy drinkers. The result is that most of the acute harm is actually associated with the majority of the drinking population. This phenomenon is known as the ‘prevention paradox’.”

Roger Brooking
Drink Driving Intervention Trust

JC said...

So most of the harm caused by alcohol occurs amonst those who average 4-5 beers per year.. fascinating.

JC

Marty Vincent said...

Saint Sellman, and his merry bunch of group hugging wowsers, verily go about all of our business, blissfully disinterested in what seems to be abominably complex evidence that is coming out from well regarded traffic safety literature. Depending as heavily as some would on piss on their intoxicating drug of "status" to get top models and other varieties of easy airheads to nod agreeably. Most unsettling it is to hear like sheepishness coming from mandom which should self assert when confronted by wowsers, and should ask a few Q's before jumping so high, Matthura Jefferies aside.

Status and fame give the owner cred in the bank. Having a fetish for temperance or even neo-prohibition (a male dominated realm) is scientifically linketh to Sunday School upbringings. Yet this is no qualification to maketh thou an expert on drunk driving. As is abundantly clear from the informative posting below. Which while one sided is thought provoking and a rant from some obsessive that the legislators and easy airhead sign ons to 2 drinks must consider.

http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=737698988#!/topic.php?uid=167447616614268&topic=266 The Herald must be trying to figure out how to delete?
Heraldites have to be in cahoots with the liquor industry to run this manufactured campaign, and no that is not a Raybonism. 0.05 ups alcohol consumption elsewhere. Doesn't affect sales in volume outlets or heavy users use say Lions Jap shareholders, and the new stay homes drink more. Meanwhile motorists still bleed as much or perhaps even a little more.

Fanatics rush in and can do us over bad - if you love someone allow that some thought. Everyone involved in the outcomes of this debate should let "first do no harm" be their guiding maxim as 0.05 seems to be rather dicey. Are you a Doc Sellman? Or are you a dick, lacking the self disciplin that is required to surgically reengineer society without killing the patient? Relent, engage like House, debate evidence as the juries not in, and stop the pulpit lectures. Atta boy.