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Saturday, December 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 30.0° F  Fog/Mist
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Cold, dry season

Put a cork in it is exactly what Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk would like to do with alcohol abuse. Programs countering alcohol abuse are prominent in her 2009 county budget and signal a tightened focus on the ills that excessive drinking can inflict on the community. What these programs are and what they do is the focus of Maggie Rossiter Peterman's cover story this week.

Falk is not just motivated by the dollars and lives that can be saved by controlling alcohol. She has stated that personal experience has informed her decision to enter combat against what she considers Wisconsin's enabling culture by forming the Citizen's Coalition Against Alcohol Abuse. Truth be told, practically all of us have some direct personal experience with the sad effects of the drinking lifestyle, not just on the imbibing individual but on loved ones and even unknown innocent bystanders. It can break up families and it can ruin, if not end, lives.

The Wisconsin drinking culture that Falk identifies is part of the state's lore, derived in part from the Old World German brewing tradition that makes Wisconsin synonymous with beer. And I don't have to tell old Wisconsin hands that brandy consumption is legendary. Maybe the cold has something to do with it.

Back in my callow undergraduate days at Northwestern, Wisconsin was considered a drinking mecca. Students would ritually make the 125-mile drive up the Interstate to avail themselves of the 18-year-old drinking age for beer that was in existence at the time. The most popular course in the spring trimester was physical geography, which featured a weeklong field trip to the Wisconsin Dells. If you think students made the trip primarily to look at the rocks, well, you're wrong.

And if you think that it was a long way to go for a beer, you're right. But not only was the drinking age in Illinois 21, the city of Evanston was entirely dry, which is not surprising for the national headquarters of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. It's a proven proposition that if you want to engender binge drinking, enforced abstinence will bring it about whenever the opportunity is finally presented.

In the ensuing years the feds have managed, by a combination of bribery and extortion, to craft an almost universal drinking age in the land. Even Evanston now has liquor stores, though not many taverns. It is a wise move to heed the dictum attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas: All things in moderation.

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