Monday, August 25, 2008

The Amethyst Initiative Made MADD Mad, So They Fired Back with SPAM

Last week, I posted about the Amethyst Initiative, the effort by a group of over 100 college presidents from around the nation who desire to start a serious discussion on whether or not the legal drinking age of 21 is responsible for the epidemic of binge drinking that occurs on many college campuses today (and whether having the higher age--unique among "adult" privileges in this country--is a good idea or not). As I noted then, the activist group Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is among the most vocal foes of this initiative (that's right--they don't even want people to discuss it), and now, according to Inside Higher Ed, they appear to have gone overboard in their zeal to silence those who disagree with them:
MADD’s pushback began, like Amethyst’s, as a media blitz. Beyond the typical press releases and statements from spokesmen, though, it followed the strategy of many interest groups and political action committees by encouraging concerned citizens to write letters to college presidents listed as signatories to the initiative.

Lots of letters. Lots of electronic letters.

At MADD’s Web site, any visitor can enter his or her name and address into a form that will automatically send a ready-made e-mail message to all of the Amethyst signatories. As a result, presidents have reported receiving hundreds of the same message, urging them to “disengage from the list of signatories and to instead join MADD and our partners in the public health community in saving lives and supporting the 21 Minimum Legal Drinking Age.”

Included in the form letter are statistics on public support for the current drinking age, and a bullet point that says: “More than half say they are less likely to vote for a state representative who supports lowering the legal limit or send their children to colleges or universities with ‘party school’ reputations.”

Starting late Thursday, Dickinson College president William Durden began receiving hundreds of the same message, to the point where there was “interference, but a manageable one,” said Christine Dugan, the college’s director of media relations.
Great. So they're trying to spam the presidents into submission, possibly shutting down the college's mail server in the process? That's a mature and reasoned way to initiate honest dialogue.

Except, of course, they're not trying to have an honest dialogue at all. LIke many "activist" groups, they're trying to to shut down that dialogue by the equivalent of screaming in their faces, referring to anyone who disagrees with them as "evil" and so on. It's like they're throwing a big collective temper tantrum, except that these people are supposed to be adults.

Groups like this often stray from their original purpose. As I said in the earlier post, MADD may well have started as a group of mothers who lost kids to drunk drivers, and they wanted to prevent that act (no argument from here; in my college partying days, I wrestled car keys away from people, made them stay overnight, etc.). But they've morphed--devolved, if you wish--into a modern day temperance league whose members want to prevent anyone from drinking, anytime. (One of the commenters at the linked story notes that they really ought to call themselves Women Against Alcohol for Humans--WAAH--to better reflect their changed purpose.) And we all know how well Prohibition worked the first time...

Read the whole thing, including the comments, which come down on both sides of the issue. And there's more on the subject from David Harsanyi, Michele Catalano, and two articles from the Washington Post.

The point is, people are having calm, measured discourse in these comment sections, and this is exactly what the Amethyst signatories are trying to engage on a national level. It's a shame that some people are trying to squelch this dialogue before it ever really begins.

And the solution to the problem at hand--the spam being received by the Amethyst signatories? One of my computer-savvy friends pointed out that, if all the emails are coming from a common IP address, it would be easy enough for the school to block that address. And if they're generating unique addresses for each email to work around such blocking, my friend says that makes them even lower than the V!@gra spammers. I agree.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "We need to empower young adults to make responsible choices, not make those choices for them."--Michele Catalano, from the article linked above.

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