Archive for April, 2009

The Return of Spring Friends

April 27, 2009

It has been slow going, but over the last few days Iowa has started turning green again. More importantly, yesterday and today saw the return of some of our good friends: hummingbirds, orioles, and grosbeaks are now at our feeders again. We’ve also had kinglets, phoebes, and meadowlarks for awhile, and the Goldeneyes have moved through already.  This weekend also saw the return of thunderstorms, tornado sirens, and flash flood watches. Spring is here indeed.


But Cheers to the Iowa Supreme Court!

April 7, 2009

In my last post I suggested that Iowa has a tendency toward policy and law that keeps the state in the nation’s backwaters. I’m not one to tout progress without check; I think we accept the rapid rate of change as an inherent good, despite, for instance, what such progress is doing to our environment. But I think Iowa sometimes takes pride in being behind the curve in many ways. That said, I couldn’t be happier with the Iowa State Supreme Court’s recent ruling in favor of gay marriage. This is the right decision from many angles and I’m proud to say puts Iowa at the cutting edge for once instead of that rear-view mirror position we too often maintain. But I should point out that this is the ruling of a body entrusted with one obligation: to judge constitutionality.  The “people” of the state and their representatives, though,  are already working on undermining that decision, clamoring for a constitutional amendment. Please, give me a break.

There are three prime arguments against gay marriage:
1. Gay marriage undermines traditional marriage (the so-called “defense of marriage” approach). If this is really the concern, then it seems to me the bigger problem is the preponderance of people who have 3, 4, 5… marriages. If this is really such a concern, why don’t we just deny the rights of marriage to anyone after their first marriage? Wouldn’t that actually make more sense if the goal is to preserve the sanctity of marriage?  Who is more detrimental here, someone who marries and divorces, marries and divorces… or a gay couple in a long-term relationship? The defense of marriage is a disingenuous red herring in this debate.
2. Same-sex marriage some how infringes on the religious freedom of people who have a religious-based objection to it. Talk about having the argument backwards. The whole problem with denying same-sex marriage is that it is exactly a state decision made on a religious tenet. Whether anyone is granted state benefits (visitation rights, taxes, property inheritance, etc) should not be based on a religious belief. This problem doesn’t work in reverse, though: no one who disapproves of marriage will ever be forced to condone (no priest will be forced to perform a gay marriage for instance) or accept such beliefs. I respect everyone’s right to their own belief system. Just keep your church out of my government, please.
3. Same-sex marriage will repel new businesses. This is a fairly important one for Iowa, especially as we discuss recovery from recent floods. But I find it so ironic when we do everything we can to keep new businesses and money away from the state in other ways (hmmm, see the post below).  Seems to me that just as we risk losing some businesses with this ruling, we also open the door for other businesses. The question is really what kind of businesses we want to entice to the state. For me, I’d much rather have tolerant businesses move into the state; it will be better for everyone in the long run anyway.
So, cheers to the supreme court for making the right ruling. Boo to the lawmakers who are already making the move to embroil us in a lengthy and meaningless battle over a state amendment. As much as possible, I believe in direct democracy, but I honestly wonder about putting this decision in the hands of the people: history has shown people to be far too willing to strip populations of equal rights or justice. And that’s what an amendment would amount to here. Get ready, Iowa, it could all get ugly now.

Iowa’s Ridiculous Beer Laws

April 7, 2009

One of my goals over “spring break” (I put in quotes since the week consisted of six inches of snow on saturday, then a week of cold rain and wind and then blizzard warnings the next saturday–it’s cold and windy again today as we head back to class) was to go to Madison or Chicago for some serious beer hunting. At the least, I wanted to cross over into Illinois for some different beers, but alas the week slipped away from me, so I went down to Iowa City for a visit to John’s grocery for some good beer and, as much as I like John’s (it is a fine selection of beer, although I think that many beers stay on the shelf long past their prime), I found myself a bit depressed about it. What I was really in the mood for were some good west coast IPAs or Strong Ales, but really they barely make the shelves here.

The reason? Iowa’s stupid beer regulations. Now, I know plenty of states with silly laws on the books. For instance, when I was tending bar in Vermont, the law was that you could not have more than 16 oz at one person’s disposal. So no pitchers. No shots and a beer.  In fact, the latter meant that the bartender would hold the beer chaser while the patron took the shot and then the bartender could hand them the beer.  It was incredibly stupid since what I really saw was people drinking the end of beers pretty quickly when someone else wanted to buy another round–yes, very effective.  Here in Iowa, the stupid rule is that “beer” is defined as below 5% abv.  Wine is anywhere between 6% and 17% but anything over 5% for beer means that it is a liquor.  This means 25% markup/excise tax and that all higher alcohol beer is distributed by the state (and stored in very improper conditions in most cases) rather than by the private distributors.  In effect what it means is that beer lovers don’t have access to many, many beers that other states do.  Brewpubs can not brew stronger beers; it’s an exception to have a stronger beer brewed rather than a rule as it is in most truly great brewpubs–it’s too expensive.

What’s the effect of all this on the state? We lose income. People like me will gladly drive when we’re able to another state for a beer run. The Des Moines register recently had a fine article citing people who will drive to Michigan for their beer runs. And why is all this?  Supposedly it puts the brakes on binge drinking and underage drinking. Give me a break. Underage drinkers are not interested in higher alcohol specialty beers. These beers are by the nature (without the “help” of the state) expensive; college students and the party drinker is much more concerned with a cheaper beer that they can buy readily enough anyway. According to data from MADD, states with no alcohol by weight restrictions actually have a 6% LOWER RATE of alcohol-related fatalities than the national average. This doesn’t necessarily show  a causal link, but the data refutes the argument that allowing strong beers will increase the number of drinking-related incidents.

As notes, there are important reasons to Lift the Limit:

  • Improved business climate for breweries, brewpubs, wholesale beer distributors and retailers within our state.
  • Allows Iowa breweries and brewpubs to produce a wider variety of beer styles.
  • Increased availability and selection of “gourmet” beers.
  • Reduced prices by eliminating the State Excise Tax (25% price markup).
  • Increased sales — Volume increases in sales of the more expensive gourmet beers. Those who already consume beverages in this category (obviously), but also those who were simply deterred by the excessively high prices. If the price drops by just over 20% (elimination of the liquor excise tax) these beers will be more in line with mainstream beer prices.
  • New customer base, as borderline/occasional buyers of gourmet beers try and buy these beers. Sales of gourmet beers would be expected to increase dramatically.
  • “Fresh” Beer to Go.
  • Better image of Iowa from domestic and foreign visitors.

In my humble opinion, this law is just one more shortsighted policy that helps keep Iowa in the backwaters. If 17% is a reasonable limit for wine, then it’s just as fine for beer (and really, 20% is the virtual limit for beer anyway).  Come on Iowa, there are plenty of people who will gladly put good money into the system if you give them the option; otherwise, they’ll just go elsewhere.

For National Poetry Month

April 2, 2009

To welcome in National Poetry Month, here’s a poem from the book After All by William Matthews:

A Poetry Reading At West Point

I read to the entire plebe class,
in two batches. Twice the hall filled
with bodies dressed alike, each toting
a copy of my book. What would my
shrink say, if I had one, about
such a dream, if it were a dream?

Question and answer time.
“Sir,” a cadet yelled from the balcony,
and gave his name and rank, and then,
closing his parentheses, yelled
“Sir” again. “Why do your poems give
me a headache when I try

to understand them?” he asked. “Do
you want that?” I have a gift for
gentle jokes to defuse tension,
but this was not the time to use it.
“I try to write as well as I can
what it feels like to be human,”

I started, picking my way care-
fully, for he and I were, after
all, pained by the same dumb longings.
“I try to say what I don’t know
how to say, but of course I can’t
get much of it down at all.”

By now I was sweating bullets.
“I don’t want my poems to be hard,
unless the truth is, if there is
a truth.” Silence hung in the hall
like a heavy fabric. My own
head ached. “Sir,” he yelled. “Thank you. Sir.”