A response to the Colorado Daily article entitled: "Booze Killed Bailey."


Greeks Killed Bailey, Not Booze

And by greeks, I don't mean the sort who gave us the Socratic Seminar and Lysistrata; I mean frat boys.
Lynn Gordon Bailey's tragic death was a direct result of the exceptionally bizarre, systematic, and obscene drinking rituals that have long been associated with fraternity culture - not all fraternities are guilty, but enough are to make it noteworthy.

It's also worth noting that four of the six nationwide binge-drinking deaths this fall were greek related.
So it's a really good thing that Boulder's local chapter of the Chi Psi fraternity got its charter revoked. And while I feel awful for the boys that were with Lynn Gordon Bailey on the night of his death, it should serve as a warning to any other fraternities who practice likewise naive, often deadly initiations and drinking games.

But should CU administrators, public officials, and The University Hill Neighborhood Association be so quick in using this tragedy to institute yet another cry for tougher drinking laws or to block upscale restaurant liquor licenses?

I think not. First, Bailey didn't die in an upscale restaurant. And "tougher drinking laws" won't save any students. In fact, they'll probably hurt more than they help.

The problem isn't that adults under the age of 21 drink. Remember, these are adults we're talking about: when you turn eighteen in this country, you become a full adult citizens with the right to vote, the right go to jail, and the right to die in war. The problem is that people under the age of 21 drink with other people under the age of 21, in secret locations, encouraged by alcohol novices and without the benefit of experience and wisdom. The people pouring the drinks at these parties don't know the difference between a dry martini and jungle juice.

So where should these new adults (age 18 - 20 years) drink? Why not at bars? Think about it. It's not uncommon for regular members of the bar community to refer to their favorite tavern keep as "nurse" or "mom." After all, a bartender tends to her flock. Look at Mamma G from Gramazio's on the Hill. She's not going to let any of her paying customers drink themselves to death.

If you pass out at a bar, they wake you up and send you home in a cab. If you don't wake up, they send you to detox in an ambulance. But a good bartender's never going to let you get to that point in the first place. A bartender's not going to prop you up on a stool and hand you a bucket to barf in. Or hand you another shot, after you barf. And no one at the bar is going to hoot and laugh when you drink so much you get belligerent or wet your pants. They're going to shake their head and let you know that you were a looser. And they're going to send you out - possibly with a police escort. And you're going to learn a lesson.

I know, I know. This very sensible idea of letting 18 - 20 year olds drink in bars got squashed years ago, thanks to Reagan's National Highway Funding extortion program. But what about Boulder's recent nonsense of threatening to block Pete Turner's application for a liquor license to compliment his upscale Cuban restaurant? After all, his restaurant is planned for the site of the Tulagi - a Boulder landmark that has long poured spirits. This should hardly be considered a "new" license.

But the University Hill Neighbors want this license denied. They are quick to cite the number of bars that exist within walking distance of CU as though it were the direct culprit. And they've made it their misguided mission to change that number. You could double that number or cut it in half; it still wouldn't have made any difference in Bailey's case. If you want to see the correlation, let's look at the number of bars that existed in Chicago in the 1920s. Zilch. Zero. Nada. Are the University Hill Neighbors going to suggest that prohibition put an end to drinking and alcohol related death in Al Capone's neighborhood?

We already know that prohibition of regular activities only pushes those activities underground, where they become irregular, seedy and weird. Plus, those activities become tougher to find and tougher to control. So pardon me if I groan when I hear figures cry, "it's time to get tough on underage drinking!" We've heard it before. Getting "tough" on something is the "macho" approach. The macho approach is almost always employed by ineffective folk who lack insight into the deeper, subtle complexities of a situation.

We don't need to get tough. We need to get wise. Until we have a society that understands the importance of giving under 21-year-old adults a safe place where they can learn to be sensible with alcohol, we should at least quit harassing legitimate business owners who never pour the stuff to them in the first place.

Finally, if the macho set insists on pointing fingers, they'd do well to follow the numbers and point them at the greek organizations.

"Ukulele Loki," aka Aaron Johnson, is a local musician and radio host on AM 1190's "Route 78 West." The views expressed here are his own.


(back to Author)