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With beer intake, what about don't ask, don't tell?

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© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 24, 2001

Oh dear, here I am behind the statistical curve again.

The census bureau says the average adult drank 32 gallons of beer in 1999, which my more mathematical colleagues say equals almost one 12-ounce can per day.

I don't remember that question on the incredibly nosey questionnaire sent around by the people who are only supposed to be counting people and not their habits, race, marital status and beer consumption.

Maybe they just used some sort of statistical frustration ratio and decided a person of a certain age with a certain number of children and making a certain amount of money was more statistically likely to drown his troubles in brew than others.

I could try to keep track of my intake, but the advent of weird sizes like "40s," the 40-ounce bottle of malt liquor that replaced the quart for some reason that is beyond me, makes it harder. Add to that things like 20-packs instead of the time-honored 24 -- I always thought that was in the Constitution or the Magna Carta or something -- and it gets even weirder.

Florida managed to muddy the ale even further by allowing all kinds of weird sizes including (groan) metrics.

All that aside, I think I am caught up, overall, on the 32-gallon-per-year statistic. I probably covered myself until 2010 sometime during my third year in the Marine Corps.

But I don't drink anywhere near that much beer now.

I might have six beers in one evening, and then not have any more for a month. I drink it regularly when in the Netherlands, because I think being that close to Heineken's brewery and not drinking it is indicative of some basic moral flaw.

There was a time when I considered beer the breakfast of champions. Now I can't look at one before, oh, say 2 p.m. or so . . . okay, maybe occasionally with lunch, but never breakfast.

Much more importantly, I wonder why it is the government's business how much beer we drink.

Actually, if the folks in charge spent more time minding their own business and attending to it properly all of us would have to drink less beer.

The U.S. Constitution calls for an "actual Enumeration" of persons other than slaves and Indians for the purpose of congressional apportionment.

It may be that some questions about race are appropriate, to avoid districts designed to disenfranchise minorities, but the bureau asks a lot of other things about who lives with whom and other personal matters that I find way over the line.

And even race is a questionable concern for the census bureau which, as noted by my colleague Robyn Blumner, assisted in the tracking down and confinement of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

The census bureau doesn't actually ask people how much beer they drink, the feds just combine gross sales and survey data from the Statistical Abstract of the U.S. and come up with the per capita consumption figures.

My question is, why?

A government that can't provide adequate medical care for a sizeable portion of its population might find better things to do than figuring out who drinks how much beer.

To often government agencies become political and business data-gathering organizations for political parties and industries too cheap to do it for themselves.

It's not so much of an issue of privacy, although some census questions verge on violating that supposed right, as it is proper use of funds and resources.

I don't exactly expect black helicopters and jack-booted thugs to be raiding my house if I drink 33 instead of 32 gallons of beer next year, but perhaps gathering information about how many seniors had to choose between medication and food last year, or how many people died waiting for the insurance bureaucracy to allow them access to proper medical care, might be a better way for bureaucrats to spend their time.

If the government really wants to keep track of my alcohol consumption, it would be easier to just ask any of my ex-wives . . . and then divide by five.

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