Saturday, October 27, 2007


October 29, 2007, 7:00 a.m., 12:15 p.m.

"It's a Possible Maybe"

[Prelude disclaimer: To remove any possible ambiguity, this blog entry is not "about" any given individual. Every adult who has lived in the Iowa City area over the past 30 years -- including myself -- bears some responsibility for the circumstance in which we now find ourselves, whether because of apathy, sense of powerlessness, fear of bar owners' political and economic power, failure to act when they had the power and responsibility to do so, other priorities, support of City Council members who have refused to act (or affirmatively supported bar owners), and so forth.]

I think the supporters of the "10:00 p.m. drinking break" ordinance are using the wrong strategy.

You can't win the votes of underage binge drinkers with an argument as to why underage drinkers should comply with the law. After all, their ability to outsmart the Iowa Legislature and Iowa City Police is as much of the appeal of binge drinking as the joy of passing out in your own vomit.

So I've published in this morning's (October 29) Daily Iowan a Letter to the Editor setting forth the argument as to why a dedicated binge drinker should vote for the ordinance.

It recognizes, as I must, that an ability to violate the law only 20/7 instead of 24/7 is indeed a restriction on one's consumption of alcohol.

But I point out that underage binge drinkers' alcohol consumption is only possible because of the "cowardice, irresponsibility and stupidity" of the adults who support, or refuse to do anything meaningful about, underage students binge drinking: "powerful bar owners, a UI administration on both sides of the issue, a self-censored faculty, and a City Council that refuses to vote."

The point is that underage binge drinkers can't count on those supportive adults always being there -- especially now that the University of Iowa is beginning to get the kind of "disdain and ridicule associated with the indoor rain forest" -- adverse publicity being the primary driving force in administrative decision making.

Have you noted the hypocrisy?

(1) When it comes to the issue of bringing weapons onto the campus in the form of arming campus police with handguns it is suggested that this is desirable because (a) the police advise it would be a good thing to do, and (b) "everybody's doing it" on other Big Ten campuses.

(2) But when it comes to taking a position on binge drinking, while there is rhetoric (as there has been for decades) there is absolutely no meaningful action proposed or taken, notwithstanding that (a) the police advise it would be good to support this proposed ordinance, and (b) what "everybody's doing" -- virtually all Big Ten campuses, as well as our own sister Regents' university in Ames, Iowa State -- is to go well beyond our "10:00 p.m. drinking break" ordinance, and use the common sense, no-brainer approach of banning the entry into bars of those who cannot legally engage in the activity that profits the owners of those establishments.
This kind of all-too-typical administrative behavior always reminds me of a wonderful scene from the feature film, "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," loosely based on an establishment outside of Austin, Texas, many years ago called "The Chicken Ranch." The Texas Governor is under great political pressure from both sides, as you might imagine. Is he going to do anything about it? As one reporter sizes up the Governor's statement: "It's a possible 'maybe.'" Following which the Governor . . . oh, but wait. I don't want to spoil it.

Read the Letter to the Editor, below, and then, below that, you'll find a one-minute, fair use clip from the movie you can watch for yourself. Finally, later there will be references to some of the additional stories about Iowa City's forthcoming (November 6) election and referendum on the ordinance.

Binge Drinkers for the Ordinance
Nicholas Johnson
October 29, 2007

Binge drinker? Your smartest strategy may be to vote for the 10:00 p.m. ordinance.

This isn’t the “21-only” advertised. Actually, it’s one sweet deal for underage drinkers.

Want to see 21-only? Visit Ames. That’s the way to prevent underage drinking in bars. Keep underage patrons out of bars. Binge drinking’s down. House parties? Sure, but Ames’ common sense controls work for all – including underage drinkers -- as they would here.

That’s “21-only.”

If you were negotiating with some real 21-only folks and they offered you a compromise – “drink ‘til ten, wait, start again” -- you’d be a fool not to take it.

Binge drinking students are blessed with powerful bar owners, a UI administration on both sides of the issue, a self-censored faculty, and a City Council that refuses to vote. But you can’t count on the continuation of such cowardice, irresponsibility and stupidity.

The Iowa City and campus police chiefs, given the impossible task of enforcing the law, support the ordinance. But as everyone knows, given clever students and irresponsible bar owners, anyone smart enough to be admitted to the University can figure out how to drink in bars.

Ultimately, even administrators willing to ignore problems will respond to publicity. The consequences of Iowa City’s serious binge drinking are increasingly bringing the University the kind of national disdain and ridicule associated with the indoor rain forest.

Reject this ordinance and even Iowa City could respond like sensible communities with a real “21-only.” Illegal drinking only 20/7 instead of 24/7 is a restriction. But unless you’re not macho enough to get blotto by 10, isn’t it a whole lot better than not drinking at all?

Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City
Nicholas Johnson, "Binge Drinkers for 21-Ordinance," The Daily Iowan, October 29, 2007.

The following one-minute fair use clip is from the delightful 1982 R-rated full-length musical comedy, "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," staring Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton, among a great many other accomplished and well-known actors, and still available for rental and sale. It's based on a true story of a brothel outside LaGrange, Texas, that was ultimately closed down in 1973, following the work of investigative reporter Marvin Zindler of KTRK-TV, Houston. The writing was done by Larry King (whom I remember from Austin in the 1950s), the Governor was played by Charles Durning, and the studio was RKO Pictures. The film is copyright by, presumably, RKO. The use of this very brief clip is for non-commercial, educational and commentary fair use purposes only. Any other use may require the permission of the copyright owner.

Additional stories and commentary from others regarding Iowa City's proposed "10:00 p.m. drinking break" ordinance:

[As a concession to the shortness of life, I have not provided individual links for each story. They can be found at the publications' Web sites, by way of a Google search, or in hard copy from libraries or the newspapers in question.]

Starting with the Press-Citizen (not everything, but a reasonable sample from the past week).

October 29: Hieu Pham, "Police Arrest 4 for Assaulting Officers"; Opinion: Duncan Stewart, "Time to Fight for Our Right to Vomit"; Letters: Lane Plugge, "21 Ordinance is the Right Thing to Do"; Louise From, "21 Ordinance Would Not be Effective."

Special Supplement. "Is 21-Only the Answer? On Nov. 6, the Longstanding Controversy Comes to a Vote," October 27, 2007.

p. C2: "Ins and Outs of Iowa City's 21-only Issue"; "Do You Support or Oppose Iowa City's Proposed 21-Only Measure, and Why?"; Key Players in the 21-only Debate [continued on p. C10]"; "Iowa City 21-Only Issue Timeline [continuing on pp. C3, C6, C7 and C10]."

p. C3: Hieu Pham, "Future of 21 Issue 'In the Hands of the Public."

pp. C4-5: "Downtown Iowa City Then . . . & Now" (maps and statistics regarding number of bars and alcohol-related arrests)

p. C6: Lee Hermiston, "Sides Divided on Impact of 21-Only Ordinance; One Thing's Certain: Few Will Go Unaffected"; Lee Hermiston, "Other Iowa City Bars Mostly Indifferent to 21-Only Issue."

p. C7: Rachel Gallegos, "Ames 21-Only Ordinance 'Piece of a Larger Strategy.'"

p. C8: Editorial, "It's Time for City to Vote 'Yes' on 21 After 10 p.m."; Rick Dobyns, "Bar Scene Has Quadrupled"; Jim Clayton, "A Tipping Point on the Iowa City Horizon"; Jay Christensen-Szalanski, "Considering Economic Impact of 21-Only."

p. C9: Tam Bryk, "Not Enough Options Downtown"; Bob Thompson, "21-Only Won't Decrease Drinking"; Andrew Thomas, "Students Must Get Out and Vote"; Letters: Noah Keck, "Ordinance Would Just Move Problem"; Adam Altman, "University Should be Doing More"; Matthew Theobald, "Ordinance Would Improve Downtown"; plus 5 editorial cartoons from "Patton's Pad," all supporting a "No" vote on the ordinance.
October 25: Rachel Gallegos, "Absentee Ballots Up Over 2005," p. A1.

Letters: Brenda M. Cruikshank, "High-Risk Drinking Not Just for Fun"; Saul Lubaroff, "Support Music and Vote No"; Carrie Z. Norton, "Make Iowa City Better, Vote Yes"; Paul Werger, "Article Show Need for 21-Only."

October 24: Kathryn Fiegen, "Professor: What You Put on Your Sign Matters; Campaigns Show Electability with Number of Yard Signs," p. A1.

October 23: Brian Morelli, "With the 21-Only Proposal on the Ballot, Musicians and Music Lovers Ask, 'Is Nov. 6 the Day Live Music Here Dies? Plan's Critics: Music Caught in Crossfire," p. A1; Hieu Pham, "Anti-21-Only Campaign Spending Big," p. A1.

October 22; Letters, p. A9: Kathie Belgum, "Vote Yes to Save, Improve Lives,"; Amy Fletcher, "Critic Worried About Revenues."

October 20. Lee Hermiston, "21-Only to Affect Police; Pass or Fail, Proposal Will Change Law Enforcement; Most Reported Offense in Downtown is Underage Possession of Alcohol," p. A1.

Letters: Sarah Hansen, "21-Only Will Make Iowa City Better"; Christine Allen, "Iowa City Has a Drinking Problem."

[More sources to come later.]


Anonymous said...

Written by John D. Rockefeller in 1932 at the end of the Prohibition Era:

"When Prohibition was introduced, I hoped that it would be widely supported by public opinion and the day would soon come when the evil effects of alcohol would be recognised. I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe that this has not been the result. Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before."

Anonymous said...

Why choose the last 30 years only???

Is it your belief that student drinking in Iowa City began in 1977? It goes back farther than that....a lot farther...quiet possibly into the 19th century.

Let's get a little perspective here.