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Monday, October 22, 2007 

Nanny State: One for the Road

I'm loving the book Nanny State so far. I'm loving it so much that I'm going to keep my series of posts about the book alive. After a chapter on food, author David Harsanyi moves on to its partner in crime, drink. I'm something of a beer aficionado, so this chapter hits very close to home. Like the previous chapter, this one is full of interesting and horrible examples of bad legislators and bad laws.

The first infuriating example is that of Debra Bolton. Miss Bolton is a lawyer, single mom, and resident of the DC area. She was pulled over shortly after leaving a restaurant (the parking attendant had shut off her car's automatic headlight feature, so her lights weren't on). The kindly police officer then had her take a field sobriety test. All is well until the breathalyzer comes out. Bolton blows a .03. Big deal, right? The one glass of wine she had at dinner didn't push her over DC's .08 blood alcohol limit. Wrong. Our nation's capital adopted a zero tolerance rule for alcohol. If you are behind the wheel and have anything above .01, you can be arrested. And in this case, Bolton was.

According to Harsanyi, this wasn't an isolated incident of one cop abusing (in my view) his discretion. Hundreds of these under-.08 arrests were made in 2003 and 2004 in DC. Thank goodness that these wine-with-dinner menaces are off the streets. It's not like Washington DC has any other crime that the police could be dealing with instead.

Let's switch to speech and advertising issues before my sarcasm breaks the Internet. Harsanyi also discusses the plight of Bad Frog Beer. The label of this microbrew had a picture of a frog giving you, the consumer, the middle finger. Harmless buffoonery? Nope. Bad Frog was banned in eight states. This was, of course, duked out in court. The Frog claimed First Amendment protection; the state of New York claimed that the cartoon frog would attract kids (because kids can often be found scoping out the microbrew selection of liquor and grocery stores). Well, the Frog won. Hey, a win for the good guys for once!

Harsanyi also mentions the Seriously Bad Elf issue. This one is pretty well known to those of us in the beer snob community. The Shelton Brothers are beer importers with a rather extensive list of beers in their fleet. One of them, Seriously Bad Elf, was banned in Connecticut. From the website...
BREAKING NEWS Seriously Bad Elf has been banned in Connecticut! That little red speck you see in the background of the label? Why, that's none other than Kris Kringle, Santa Claus, who, according to the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection, cannot appear on a beer label. Sleep well, Connecticutians! Your government is working overtime to protect you. (By the way, you can buy Seriously Bad Elf in Massachusetts. And New York. And Rhode Island. But please do not carry the offending bottles across state lines.)
That's right, folks. Multiple states in the Union have laws banning the use of Santa Claus imagery to sell alcohol. Read that sentence again, just to let it sink in. Take a look at the label on the website. You can barely see Santa. There's another Shelton Bros. beer, named Santa's Butt, with a much better view of jolly ol' St. Nick. A rear view, to boot. The fight for vulgar beer labels marches on, though. Dan Shelton was a lawyer before he became a brewer. He's not taking this lying down.

This chapter really surprised me. I didn't think that the anti-alcohol sentiment was so strong in this day and age. The part of the chapter about MADD and its sharp ideological shift was especially interesting. The next chapter is on smoking, a vice that I actually don't embrace. Hopefully, that chapter gives me some great blog material.

Seriously, folks. Buy the book.

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  • I'm Steve
  • From Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States
  • "There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences." P.J. O'Rourke
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