Out There

alcohol postscript

Posted in grim stuff, politics by Pete on February 6, 2009

An added note, the following is an email exchange between myself and the head of the state alcohol beverage control board on the subject, back when I wrote that piece on alcohol. I’m only putting a snippet of it in here.   I tried to leave it as a comment on the last post, but wordpress was being moody.

From: Peter Schneidler [mailto:schneidler@yahoo.com]

Sent: Monday, October 01, 2007 2:00 PM


Subject: questions for the ABC

I heard you on KYUK radio from when you had a representative speak before the Bethel City Council about the new law that creates a database to track what people order into damp communities. They were blasting you and generally behaving like selfish 7 year olds, as usual. I wanted to express my support of you all and your ongoing effort to support those villages that have decided on their own to try and regulate or stamp out alcohol from their community. Thank you for what you do, please keep it up, and bust those bootleggers who bring so much pain and trouble to the villages!!!! Peter Schneidler Kasigluk, AK


I appreciate your support regarding my performance before the Bethel City Council. I understand where the City Council is coming from; their constituents are Bethel residents, many of whom feel put upon by all of the hassles and intrusions government imposes on them. The focus of the Commission on Rural Justice and Law Enforcement and the new state legislation is on trying to protect the villages that are trying to help themselves by adopting local options to control access to alcohol. This involves coming up with a regional approach which involves addressing a major “hole in the dike”, the written order process of getting alcohol through Bethel . The whole effort to deal with alcohol abuse in rural Alaska is frustrating. I believe in personal responsibility, but the problem is so great we are placed in the position of protecting people from themselves. We also must, of course, protect the children who are the innocent victims of alcohol abuse and the next in line to suffer the cycle of misery brought on by this social epidemic of addiction. Along the way the people who obtain and use alcohol responsibly are forced to jump through hoops that they feel are unfair. What is the alternative? I hope this information helps and thank you for your interest in your village and dedication as an educator. – Doug Griffin, Director, ABC Board

alcohol in bush Alaska

Posted in grim stuff, politics by Pete on February 6, 2009

Or “An open letter to Bethel drinkers.”  Booze are obviously a big problem in this part of the world, as they are in many other first nations communities.  Below is something I wrote back in the fall of ’07 and somehow never posted until now.  It came up for me again because of the news that the governor is trying to push through a bill that would reduce the monthly amounts each resident can legally import into a damp community.  I know Gov Palin is a lightning rod these days, but I’m behind her all the way on this issue.  If you disagree with me (and I know many do), leave a meaningful comment.  Dialogue, not “you ——.”

Thoughts on alcohol, rights, and responsibility


The state of Alaska has “local option laws” that allow communities to decide if they want to allow alcohol to be sold locally (wet), only imported with monthly limits (damp), or not imported/possessed at all (dry).  Most (or maybe all?) villages in the YK Delta area where I live voted to go dry.  Bethel, the only major city in the area and hub community for all 56 delta villages, is damp.

Alaska law allows people in “damp” communities to import up to:

10.5* liters of Distilled Spirits (vodka, gin, whisky, etc, max would be 14 fifths (750 ml bottle) per month); and

24 liters of wine (usually 750 ml or 1.5 L, max would be 32 fifths per month); and

12 gallons of malt beverages (beer, wine coolers, zima, etc, sold in 12, 16, 20, 40 oz, and gallons & kegs.  Max would be about 127 12-oz cans.)

So that is a max of 14 fifths of hard alcohol, 32 fifths of wine, and 127 cans of beer, every month.  What the heck are we thinking?  So I could have a fifth of wine, a half of a fifth of hard booze, and 4 cans of beer every day, and still have some left over at the end of every month!  And this is per person, not household, so my wife and other adults in my home could all do the same.  RIDICULOUS!!!

The pivotal issue of course is that drinking is viewed as a right.  The argument is “It’s not my problem if that guy can’t handle it or if that other guy is selling it illegally, I have a right to drink and I haven’t done anything wrong.”  Ahhhh yes, your rights.  I was listening to Bethel radio station KYUK broadcasting the city council meeting where the council members were blasting a representative from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (Doug Griffin) because of the new law that sets up a database to track people’s monthly imports so they don’t go over the “limit” by ordering the max from multiple vendors each month.  One guy complained that they were cutting this and cutting that, basically saying the limits were coming down too low (although the limits to my knowledge haven’t changed one iota). Another said the law will likely be overturned by litigation because it is too intrusive.  Never mind that this poor sap was just charged with enforcing the law, and didn’t create it himself.

As I listened to their arguments, I got upset (I mean, more than the usual anger I feel when I listen to those meetings—the Bethel City Council generally behaves like children in need of spankings).  Why?  The alcohol is destroying lives out here right and left, and all you can see is your RIGHTS.  Yes, it’s your legal right.  I don’t deny that.  But why is it so hard to surrender that right to make such an enormous difference in other people’s lives?  I can only think of two reasons.  Logically, you must be either (1) so addicted or (2) so selfish that you don’t care what the consequences to your neighbors are.  Am I making you mad now?  GOOD!  Join the club!  Feel free to respond and let me know how I’m wrong!  You can make all kinds of arguments and attempts at justification and talk about how you can’t control other’s actions, they’d get it from somewhere anyway, they need to be responsible for what they do, etc etc but at the core of it, you are supporting something that allows terrible things to happen out here, over and over.  Period.  The stats (from other village case studies) say if Bethel went dry, or even just got an alcohol delivery site, the crime and heartache would go down, and you are resisting.  How do you justify that? You’re resisting even being limited to the absurd amounts listed above!  Remember in the movie Braveheart how that king “Longshanks” had the right to take daughters of Scotland away with him for sex, and then discard them?  Having a legal “right” does not make you RIGHT.

Imagine I moved to a foreign land where the majority of the populace struggled with obesity, compulsively binging and putting themselves at huge risk of heart attack (or wait, that’s the U.S.).  In passing it should be noted that these people used to only eat healthily until ancestors from my race introduced chocolate to them, which they have a hard time resisting.  Suppose I insisted on my right, and everyone else’s right who lives there, to order 200 snickers, 500 twix, and 1,200 bags of M&M’s from my homeland every month.  I’m a skinny guy, its not my problem they can’t handle it, they’re weak, etc etc.  So I fight any attempt to lower those limits, even though tons of people are eating themselves to death on candy, and slimebags next door are selling the stuff to them at every opportunity for a 1000% profit.  How can you come to any conclusion but that person is selfish, even if they are within their rights?  And/or they’re addicted themselves.  So that was a clumsy analogy – you know what I mean.

I’m all for personal responsibility.  We all make choices, and we have to live with the consequences of those actions.  I’m also not very into legislating morality.  People need to do the right thing out of the strength of their character, not because they’re being forced to. And there are lots of people in this area making lots of crappy choices with respect to alcohol (and other stuff, which is why we lead the world in horrendous statistics).  I don’t deny it.

However, since moving here and seeing nothing from alcohol but pain and suffering, it’s moved me to consider more drastic measures.  There are statistics from nearly every village that goes from wet to damp, or damp to dry, that show a reduction in drinking and all of the crime that goes with it.  There are no stats for “heartache” but you can bet that goes down with the crime.  Similarly, when a village goes from dry to damp, or damp to wet, the trouble shoots up.  This is not open to debate, it’s the Truth.

If your desire to cling to your “right” to import ludicrous amounts of booze every month is so much stronger than your compassion at the state of your fellow man (even if they have made many crappy choices), then you have a serious problem.  The villages have spoken, and they want to be alcohol free, but it keeps pouring into the damp towns, and from there to the dry villages.

Your neighbors have a drinking problem.  Your problem is worse. You’ve chosen a beverage over people – your neighbors and maybe even your own family.  I invite you to change your way of thinking.