Blogging for iLiberty

Because four blogs isn’t enough, I’m now writing for a fifth. What else would I be doing with my underemployment? iLiberty is the sister website to A Better Earth and explores issues of individual liberty, personal responsibility, and paternalistic government. My first post is about the strange persistence of blue laws and this is the site’s RSS feed.

Meanwhile at A Better Earth, we’re looking at subsidies, subsidies, subsidies… for watermen in the Chesapeake, for hydrogen power, for biofuel, and for palm oil. Also, why not to ban the bulb, a car that runs on used fryer oil, and an X-Prize for automobiles.

Finally, at EatFoo, toasting the spring with a caffe shakerato.

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Banning is the new black

Leonardo at To The People notes that council member Mary Cheh has submitted a bill banning trans fats to the DC city council and that it already has four other supporters. The news isn’t online yet, but a .pdf of the bill is here.

This is the kind of thing that makes me want to leave to DC. It’s not just the city’s ever increasing paternalism, it’s that our paternalism is always done in a blatant attempt to keep up with what the trendier nanny cities are doing. If we’re going down that path anyway, can’t we at least lead the way for once? Why does NYC, SF, or Chicago always get to be first?

Let’s try a ban on soy milk. That I could get behind.

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Alabamans denied real beer

I have to send my condolences to my friend Tom Pearson. Tom, a libertarian, beer lover, former neighbor, and winner of the Bronze Tortilla of Valor, lives in Alabama. And while I’m sure he would defend Alabama from many disparaging remarks, the state’s archaic beer laws are an undeniable curse for a man of such mighty thirst.

As Tom pointed out in a recent blog entry, laws in Alabama forbid the sale of any beer with an ABV greater than 6% or in a bottle larger than one pint. That excludes a hell of a lot of good beer. Free the Hops, a consumer advocacy group, has been pushing to abolish these outdated laws and give Alabamans access to all the microbrews and imports they’re missing out on. Unfortunately, the bill that would have done this failed to get a floor vote this week for very dubious reasons:

“I can’t see us doing something that’s going to encourage people to drink more and get drunk faster,” said Rep. DuWayne Bridges, D-Valley.

Bridges said the measure would increase the problem of teenagers drinking by making more potent brew available to them.

“Our children don’t need to increase their alcohol consumption,” Bridges said.

As if teenagers looking to get drunk would really be buying pricey Belgian ales when cheap beer, wine, and liquor are already available. I can understand why state legislators vote against alcohol liberalization that benefits well-connected wholesalers, but voting against this bill requires a degree of stupidity even I find hard swallow.

On the upside, the law is bad for Tom but perhaps the less he’s drinking the more he’ll be blogging, which is good for those of us in relatively saner states. Check out his aptly named Punditry by the Pint.

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Miracle fruit paternalism

From one of my friends at the miracle fruit party:

So, my girlfriend was spreading the miracle fruit story around her faculty office (she’s a physics teacher). When she told her department head about it, her immediate reaction was “that sounds like something the government should regulate.”

When asked why the government should regulate it, the department head (I’m not making this up) came up with the following hypothetical: “What if you ate this fruit, and then you drank sour milk, but didn’t know it was sour? You might drink the whole carton without knowing you’re drinking sour milk.”

There are people like this, and they are why the nanny state keeps growing.

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Wine czars, not wine cars

I’ve written before about Utah’s backward approach to wine laws, namely the fact that a single “wine czar” gets to decide what wines the citizens are allowed to purchase in the state-run liquor stores. But it gets worse:

It took 10 years, but one miffed citizen finally figured out the word “merlot,” emblazoned on the license plate of Glenn Eurick’s car, means wine.

Merlot is also the name of a widely planted red grape in France’s Bordeaux region, famous for its wines. But the Utah Tax Commission has sided with an anonymous complainant that merlot is an alcoholic beverage – and intoxicant words are banned from vanity plates.

“People usually ask us what the word means,” said Eurick, who was surprised last week when he received a letter from the Tax Commission ordering him to remove the offending plate from his dark-red 1996 Mercedes.

Eurick said most Utah bystanders wonder aloud if merlot is a family name or a foreign word. But when he and his wife stopped for gasoline in Green River on their way home to Salt Lake City, one man understood the significance of the word.

“He asked us if we chose merlot because there were too many letters in cabernet sauvignon,” said Eurick.

Eurick is appealing the ruling with the argument that the word refers to the color of his car, not the wine. Another Utah driver has been told to remove his “chianti” plate and replace it with the name of a lesser known French wine region, because not only are regulators there prudish but they also have very poor knowledge of geography.

[Via Fermentation.]

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Government vs. good drinks

As a barista and bartender, I love drinks. And as a libertarian, I hate the government. So it’s no surprise that I get annoyed by the many ways government stands between you and a better beverage. Read on for three current examples of how the state violates your rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of a damn good drink.

First off, via my friend Justin Logan, a cover story in the Washington City Paper on why it’s so hard to get a good bottle of wine in Montgomery County. The three-tier system of producer, distributor, and retailer/restaurant has gotten a lot of press lately as entrepreneurs struggle nationwide to cut out the politically protected middle man. But in MoCo, it’s even worse: there business owners must deal with a fourth tier, run by the county government, with all the added costs and inefficiencies one would expect from a local bureaucracy. The result is that specialty wine is both more expensive and harder to get in the county, making life a lot harder for wine sellers and consumers:

To get special-order wine from the DLC, [Black’s Restaurant Group wine buyer Brian] Considine must first find out who distributes the product in Maryland; the distributor’s sales rep can be invaluable in helping move the product through the system. Considine then tracks down each wine’s six-digit code from the county’s wholesale price book, writes the codes on his order form, and faxes it to the DLC. With order in hand, the county turns around and purchases the wine from the distributors, whom Considine just spoke to earlier. The distributors ship the product to the DLC, which will log the wine into the system, write up an invoice for the restaurant, and finally deliver the product to Black’s COD. The process, if it’s working well, will take between one and two weeks.

To make matters even worse, the DLC is not just the wine supplier, but also the liquor law enforcer. This makes local restauranteurs not only frustrated with the system, but also afraid to speak out against it lest the county lash out against them. Read the whole thing.

Speaking of the three tier system, Tom Wark at Fermentation discusses a great position paper about the situation in Texas, which carries over well to many other states. It argues that the system, developed after Prohibition ostensibly to keep the alcohol supply safe, has been captured by wholesalers to blatantly protect their own economic interests. An excerpt:

A statute that was designed to promote public health, safety and welfare has, over time, been subverted by the economic interests of the entities it was intended to regulate. Now, the legalized system operates primarily to prevent competition, protect anti-competitive conduct and otherwise thwart the functioning of a free market in the manufacture, distribution and sale of alcohol beverages.

Finally, my friend Chad Wilcox has a post up about one of his pet issues, the use of high fructose corn syrup in American soft drinks. In the old days, drink makers used real cane sugar. Alas, US sugar subsidies have artificially raised the price of sugar relative to corn, leading most major manufacturers to switch to the inferior tasting syrup. Today one must search for real sugar cane from a few niche brands, the original Dr Pepper bottler in Dublin, TX, and bottles of Coke made especially for Passover.

As noted approvingly by Chad, Jones Soda has just announced a bold move to switch to pure cane sugar across its product line. It’s a cool story that makes me want to give the brand another try. Read the whole post here.

[This post was originally published at EatFoo(d) on 2/27/07.]

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Jello shot maker discovers Temperance

As someone who has spent numerous vacations in Ohio, I can tell you that easy access to alcohol would be a great boon to anyone living in the Buckeye State. So you’ve got to feel bad for entrepreneur Brian Pearson, a guy whose successful product launch brought down the holy wrath of Ohio First Lady Hope Taft and state liquor officials. Oddly, he found salvation in Temperance. Temperance, MI, that is…

Pearson’s story began in December 1998 when he was home on leave during a four-year stint in the Marines. He was helping his mom prepare for his sister’s 21st birthday party. “She told me to run to the store and go pick up some Jell-O shots for the party,” Pearson recalls. He laughed and told his mom you don’t buy Jell-O shots at the store. Then a light bulb went off in his brain.

He began making plans to prepackage the shots, find the perfect plastic containers, and develop a laminated aluminum foil lid that wouldn’t be affected by the alcohol content.

“Zippers, the Original Gelatin Shot” was born….

“We went from delivering cases, to delivering pallets, and then delivering by the truckload,” he said. “We went from one state to 24 states in a matter of a year.”

With success came attention. Not just from bar owners, but from the Ohio first lady, who was concerned the product’s colorful packaging might encourage the young to slurp:

He was sitting in his Toledo office one day when about 30 ATF agents and sheriff’s deputies — some with weapons drawn — burst into his business waving a search warrant based on allegations he was illegally manufacturing alcoholic products. They seized computers, monitors, printers, fax machines and even cubicle walls, but no manufacturing equipment was to be found. They also raided his Genoa, Ohio home. News outlets reported that he was being accused of manufacturing illegal products and that he could face felony charges.

As a result, Zippers took another blow.

“I lost almost all of my business in a matter of 45 to 60 days,” he said.

Fortunately, Pearson fought back and won. Though charges were filed, the grand jury refused to indict him and he has since successfully moved his business toTemperance, Michigan, where officials were glad to have him. Zippers are already selling again in 15 states. Good for him! Bad for Ohio!

Full story here.

Related: I like to imagine this old Cosby Jell-O commercial is really for Pearson’s Zippers.

[Via the Quick and the Dead, a blog I just discovered today but will keep reading. Also, I apologize for the cheap, obvious Ohio joke. I shouldn’t say such things about the state that’s home to Skyline chili, Montgomery Inn ribs, Graeter’s ice cream, and Tony Packo’s pickles. I’m sorry, Ohio. Don’t cut me off, ok?]

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Almost everybody likes free beer

I love this story for five reasons:

1) Free beer!

2) The nanny state lost.

3) The good guys are a major corporation.

4) The bad guys are small, artisinal businessmen.

5) Did I mention free beer?

I’m talking about a new law going into effect in California that allows breweries to offer free samples of their beers to customers in bars and restaurants, a right previously enjoyed only by wineries. Anheuser-Busch backed the law. As the company is getting into more esoteric styles of beer, it recognized that the best way to introduce drinkers to them is to give them a free taste:

“It’s an opportunity for us to get consumers to sample some of our new products,” said Andrew Baldonado, western region vice president of government affairs for Anheuser-Busch. “The winter’s bourbon cask ale is a seasonal beer that we’re doing. The best way to introduce those new products to consumers is to be able to have them sample them.”

Craft brewers actually opposed the law on the grounds that they can’t afford to give out samples the way big companies can. This seems a little short-sighted. If Anheuser-Busch succeeds in getting people to appreciate other beer styles, those customers aren’t all going to stay with Anheuser-Busch. Just as Starbucks eventually leads many consumers to try coffee from boutique roasters, I expect Anheuser-Busch will lead some of its Bud drinkers to true craft brewers. In any case, the small breweries succeeded in getting all kinds of restrictions put on the tastings:

The new law allows beer tastings at bars and restaurants. It limits the amount to no more than 8 ounces per person a day and requires the beer to be served in a glass. Tastings cannot last more than an hour and there are also annual limits on the number of tastings a single manufacturer, importer or wholesaler can offer at a particular establishment.

And then there’s this idiot, who clearly needs to attend one of these new events:

Fred Jones, legal counsel to the Sacramento-based California Council on Alcohol Problems, a coalition of religious groups, thinks the law was a mistake.

“It was jokingly referred to as the ‘Free Happy Hour’ bill (in the Capitol), so I think that gives you an image of what could happen,” Jones said. “What is the reason behind giving someone 8 ounces of beer free? One could argue that with wineries, each winery is different and every bottle is different depending on age or season. But we’re talking about beer here.”

[Via The Martini Lounge. Cross-posted on EatFoo.]

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