Sunday, 19 July 2009

The One That Says 'Really? Is That True?'. . .

It isn't just in this country where control freakery runs wild.

Turkey has today brought in a smoking ban in its bars, restaurants etc, etc. I'm glad to see that the problems of human rights abuses, censorship of the press etc, have been sorted out to make this such an important issue in the country.

In Italy, the northern city of Milan (a particular favourite of mine) has had a smoking ban for a few years now along with the rest of the country. The fines for breaking this ban are quite steep and it is adhered to. However, as we've seen in the UK, once one evil is removed, another great evil is selected for campaigning against. We must be saved, it is for our own good.

Nanny Beeb is reporting that

Milan has banned the consumption and sale of alcohol to young teenagers in an effort to curb binge-drinking. Parents of children under the age of 16 caught drinking wine or spirits will be liable to heavy fines of up to 500 Euros ($700;£450).

And that is where the theory falls down. Under 16 and drinking wine or spirits? That's a fine for your parents. End of story. Now if that were the case in this country, the police would be out in force on Sundays, undercover in churches, waiting for the communion.

When I was a teenager, around 15-16, the pub visiting started in earnest. A group of us started. In one particular pub. Not because the licencee had a rather laissez-faire attitude towards the laws regarding the sale of alcohol, although he did. Not because we knew we could get served alcohol in there with the minimum of hassle, although we could. But because we knew the rules surrounding drinking in this establishment. 1: He wouldn't serve you spirits. Right out. Beer and cider only, it was his pub and if you didn't like it, you could piss off outside into the cold and rain. 2: Bloody behave yourself. If you didn't, you were out, never to return. 3: When he said you'd had sufficient, you'd had sufficient and you would say good evening and go home.

This landlord took the opinion that we'd be drinking anyway, and it was better to do it in an environment where there were boundaries and people looking out for each other, rather than a load of teenagers with no experience getting well and truly Flintoffed on the street. I was certainly looked well over 18 by the time I was 16, not an eyelid would have been batted had I walked into the off licence and picked up vodka and special brew, and then my friends and I could have sat on the recreation ground and got absolutely shitfaced. We didn't, we went to this pub (now sadly no longer) instead. I even recall serving police officers amongst the Friday night crowd (and it was only Friday nights when this happened) the local old bill knew the score.

Of course these days the old sod would have lost his licence, a good deal of money and probably his liberty. Us kids would probably have found ourselves sat in front of social workers and attending alcohol counselling classes. The irony is of course, that we learned a good deal more about how to handle and respect alcohol when in that pub than we would ever have by being forced to attend some 2 day course with a hard-hitting video and *gulp* role-play.

The police knew that we were in there, they knew that we were drinking, they also knew they never got called out to a fight, to a case of vandalism, they never saw an ambulance outside, and never had to scoop some barely alive wreck off the pavement at closing time. They also knew that to close this place down, where there were no problems, would mean that next Friday night, there would be kids getting pissed up on the Rec.

If you're going to prohibit the sale of alcohol to some groups, it makes much more sense to do it on the basis of attitude rather than age. But we can't do that. So it is age. And still people don't like it, they don't like the sale of alcohol at all, getting rid of tobacco was so easy, surely we could do the same again, with drink? But how?

First we must think of the Children, have they done this in Milan? Check.

However the Children cannot be held responsible. Someone else will carry the can. Is this in place in Milan? Check.

Excellent. Now we need some astonishing, unqualified statistic to make everyone throw their hands in the air. Do we have one of those?

A third of 11-year-olds in the city have alcohol related problems.

What? A third? Right, a little guessing maths. Milan is a metropolitan area with a population of 7.4 million. According to the CIA Factbook, 0-14 year olds make up 13.5% of the national population of Italy. So we'll assume that is a happy average for each commune, that means 999,000 kids below 14 in 'Greater' Milan. So to get a rough guess, let's assume that the birth rate has been constant for the last 14 years, that means around 71,300 11 year olds.

So you're telling us that 23,000 11 year olds have alcohol related problems? That is either bullshit, or the biggest collection of juvenile alcoholics in the world, ever. I doubt that a third of 11 year olds are piss heads in Milan. Or anywhere.

But the authorities are deeply concerned about the increase in consumption of alcohol by children as young as 11 in the country's industrial and financial capital.

Ahhhh, so the mere consumption counts as a 'problem', does it? What even in their own home? With their parents? Are the Carabineri to kick down doors and cart parents off for introducing alcohol to their kids in a responsible and measured fashion?

A national law banning the sale of alcohol to under-16s is only loosely enforced, as Italian families are used to sometimes giving young children a teaspoon of wine as a family party treat.

A teaspoon? Oh, how wonderfully twee.

In past centuries, Italian children would sometimes even be given wine to drink in preference to water which was often polluted.

No shit. Not just in Italy, shit for brains. We did it with beer and cider. On account of the fact that the climate has not often been warm enough to grow decent enough grapes for wine.

And here's the social engineering kicker. The one that tells you that all has, is and will be changing.

There has been a storm of protest by bar owners who refuse to act as alcohol police for young people.

But changing social customs mean that old easy-going attitudes towards consumption of alcohol in Italy will have to change. (Trans: But increasing political willy waving means we have to do something to justify our huge salaries, so we're changing this, and you'd better play ball, or else.)

It's not just us.

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