Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Repeal Day: One Week Away

As you're likely aware, Repeal Day is coming. With that in mind I thought it would be interesting to see how our dry friends are doing and what they're up to.

First, let's look at Marin Institute. Recently they were featured on a Fox News story about remedying California's financial issues with an increase on the (this is the word Fox used) "Sin" tax, and not just a little one. No, they're thinking of taking taxes for drinks from around two cents to more than twenty-five cents! Oh, and they sound so good when they say it too, pointing out that the Governor wouldn't have to cut any programs for, who else, the kids and that healthcare would be easier to pay for if only us sinners would pony up the dough. Their concern for the state's fiscal issues is admirable, as admirable as can be expected from the alcohol industry's watch dog.

I know beer enthusiasts tend to be pretty easy-going people, but don't we ever get pissy about anything? I regularly write my congressman about issues I care about, and almost always get a reply from him addressing specific questions I have. We don't see eye-to-eye on alcohol issues in the country, but with my certain knowledge that he's getting emails from the religious folks bemoaning alcohol and its evil, I can't help but think he needs another opinion. After all, if their's is the only voice he hears, it would seem like his duty to legislate the will of the people... the people who has his ear. Seriously, as the date for Repeal Day approaches, do something more than lift a pint in honor of the event, sit down and compose a quick email or make a quick call (I hate phones, so email works well for me). If not to your reps, then maybe to shop owners, county officials or law enforcement. I don't know what you'd necessarily say to the law, but they're good people and I've had great talks with them over the years with regard to alcohol consumption.

Marin Institute isn't just out to raise taxes on alcohol either. Another big push they have is to eliminate alcopops. I'm not a fan of the crap, but this isn't about your personal tastes. Reading Jay Brooks' blog should be all the education you need to see where the open door is leading - and with some new laws in Utah coming up, it's clear there are gray areas in the conversation. If we're not vigilant, we may lose more than the crap drinks. I encourage you to check out their site in the days leading to the celebration of prohibition's end. While reading think of the voices of Lew and Jay who border on fanatical when they mention "new dries" or "neo-prohibitionists" - they're not making that stuff up. What's more, it's all happening right here in the open, with players like the Marin Institute spelling it all out pretty clearly.

Another fun agenda the MI has going on is the "Free Your Festival" campaign. You can guess what that means, right? Recently Jay did a piece on St. Patrick's day and how absurd it's become. He is right, I think we know that. What's freaky is we feel that way, and that's the exact sentiment MI is going for when they claim an interest in taking back festivals from the clutches of the alcohol industry. If you let yourself you can almost see how it makes sense, but we know too that this isn't as it appears.

Again, it's all out there in the open for us all to read.

My last MI point is something closer to my heart, influencing the media. I guess I don't want to talk about them so much, but more want to push you all to do the same damn thing. What do you do when you read a story in your local paper about craft beer, or beer in general, when it's done in a positive light? Many of us pick it apart - I used to - and email editors correcting them on their errors. Don't do that. We can pick it apart amongst friends, over a beer, but for now, at this stage in the industry's progress, we should be emailing the editors thanking them for the good story, a story that makes you and me seem more human. Face it, beer is typically mentioned in a shadowy context: brawls, sex, violence and DUIs. If that's the only face they give beer drinkers, how can we expect public opinion to: a) embrace craft beer for what it is; b) care if the above mentioned agendas get pushed down our throats? Seriously, find the food editor's email address and thank him/her whenever a good beer story comes out.

Conversely, and I've had to do this too, email said editor if your local paper never has stories in that discuss beer in any good terms, especially if they've got a wine column (grrr...). Like I've said before, you won't get anywhere if you're a dick, so construct a well thought email that encourages and educates - and demands more good beer coverage. Who will write it? Well, you probably frequent more than one beer blog and probably know that a few bloggers also have backgrounds and experience writing for newspapers. Send the editor their way if you're not up to volunteering for the job.

Yes, influence the media. If we don't, we know at least one organization who's rallying their troops to make sure it happens for them.


I don't want to write as much about MADD as I did with MI, but you should note that April is "Alcohol Awareness Month" for the organization. Why isn't it "Drunken Driving Awareness Month"? Well, maybe it's just too many words, but it seems safe to point out that they've long departed from their truly admirable goal of curtailing the problem of drunk driving in the country. Nope, these days their agenda seems so much more broad.

I'm too uninformed about their programs and initiatives to really provide any insight, but with recent stories on my local news about DUIs, there are certain members who make very quick assumptions about those who drive while legally drunk. I don't really want to get into the .08 issue, or the sheer black-and-white-ness of it all (.07 is ok, .08 is a felony? how's that work?), but having talked personally some members, there's clearly a lack of education at play with some of the more squeaky of their wheels.

These guys do have a well publicized pilot program in Texas where citizens are encouraged to assist local law enforcement with DUIs by following folks and determining themselves if the drivers are drunk. It's ok, they're well trained to spot the otherwise elusive habits of drunk drivers, just look.
Here are signs that a driver may be drunk:
  • Turning with a wide radius
  • Driving below the speed limit
  • Straddling the center of the road or lane marker
  • Drifting or moving in a straight line at a slight angle to the roadway
  • Driving with headlights off at night
  • Erratic braking or stopping without cause
  • Slow response to traffic signals (sudden stop, delayed start)
  • Nearly striking an object, curb, etc.
  • Weaving or zigzagging across the road
  • Driving on the wrong side of the road or completely off the road way
  • Tailgating
  • Appearing to be drunk (eye fixation, face close to windshield)
  • Swerving or abruptly turning away from a generally straight course
  • Turning abruptly or illegally
  • Signaling that is inconsistent with driving actions

My goodness, where do you even start with a list like that? It's safe to assume participants in the program have some level of zeal for what they're doing, so how quick do you think it is before the volunteer spots someone driving below the speed limit, or having a slow response to a traffic signal, before they're on the phone to the authorities? What's more, shouldn't we be encouraging people to have slower responses when lights change, lest they be blasted by the drunk who's barreling down the road well over the posted speed limit? Right, drunk = slow.

To the Point

There are several other organizations out there, like the Southern Baptists and other faith-based folks, believing the world will be a better place once they rid it of alcohol. For now though, that's enough from me.

While we engage in a national celebration for our 75th anniversary of the government-blessed right to enjoy alcohol, don't forget that there are organizations out there actively working to make it more difficult for you to enjoy it. If we ignore them, believe they're harmless and that it won't ever happen, then I fear we'll be in for some tough blows in the future, with taxes on alcohol through the roof and odd laws in place telling you when and where you can buy and enjoy your beer.

Enjoy the beer. Don't be afraid to stick up for it either.