Is my ethical radar so skewed and damaged?

I am absolutely fascinated by the campaign surrounding the ballot measure in Massachusetts that would expand wine sales into grocery stores. Currently you can only buy wine at "package stores" in the state.

Without hearing any of the rhetoric from either side in the campaign you would b confronted with this question: "Should Grocery Stores Be allowed to sell Wine"?

…..(the sound of silence)…..I know….Me too!…I’m not sure I even "get" the question or why it needs to be asked. A big, thunderous "DUH" is really all I can muster in response to the question.

However, "alcohol politics" being among the type that most motivates folks toward creative reasoning, we get responses such as this:

"It is a law
enforcement issue," Somerville Police Chief Robert Bradley told the
gathering. "We don’t want to make it easier for kids to get alcohol."

and this:

"I don’t think we’re sending a good message to minors by making it more convenient to purchase alcohol," said Freitas."

and this:

"This is not a consumer
issue," said Norfolk County Sheriff Michael Bellotti. "We understand as
folks who work here in public safety that this is a public safety

Reading these comments you’d almost forget that what’s being discussed here is buying a nice chardonnay to go with your swordfish.

I can honestly say that this kind of reasoning flies past me and my ability to comprehend in such a rapid and swift fashion I actually find myself questioning my own ability to reason on even the most elementary level. I find myself wondering, "Is my ethical radar so skewed and damaged, so compromised in some way, that this reason simply can not reach me?"

These are experienced law enforcement folk who are telling me that public safety and the future of their children will be compromised if members of the community are able to purchase peanut butter and Pinot Noir in the same building. How does that work?

Funding for the campaign against allowing wine sales in grocery stores is largely provided by owners of package stores and wine wholesalers. I understand their opposition. It’s about control of the market. It’s self serving. My compromised reasoning ability understands that argument.

The question remains, what is it about the issue of alcohol sales and consumption that that so thoroughly wipes clean the critical thinking skills of good people like those in MA who oppose this change in the law? Can it really be that the vestiges of the prohibitionist imperative, grounded in a uniquely American brand of Calvinism, is still having its effect three centuries hence? Does the lingering spirit of prohibitionism still enforce upon some people a compulsion to put signs around children’s necks, parade them in front of an audience and declare that these youngsters will be in grave danger if you allow the good people of MA to place Merlot in their cart next to the mayonnaise:

"The State House rally
included a group of children from the Cathedral Grammar School in
Boston who held signs that read, "No on 1." A woman held up a T-shirt
with the slogan, "Underage drinking is an adult problem."

What an utterly fascinating display of Americana.

12 Responses

  1. Paul Mabray - October 5, 2006

    No Tom, you are amoung the sane.

  2. Mark Finley - October 5, 2006

    When I was underaged and attempting to purchase liquor, I never went to a grocery store – they always carded people. But you stood a chance at the seedy liquor (ie package store) where you were more likely to be served by a sole propietory willing to stretch to make the sale or untrained help who didn’t care. And if that didn’t work, you could usually find someone there in the parking lot who would assist you for a couple of bucks. It wasn’t as visiable as a supermarket parking lot.

  3. Needz - October 5, 2006

    I’m guessing that no effort is being made to back up these claims with actual data from states that allow wine sales in grocery stores (e.g., IL, NJ, and NC that I know of from having lived there).

  4. Jared S. - October 5, 2006

    Mark is dead-on. I’m 37 and I have been asked for ID in New York supermarkets when buying a six-pack of beer.
    And to Needz’ point… If you live in NJ you clearly know that public safety is a serious issue. But, oh yeah, it’s got nothing to do with the sale of wine in supermarkets!

  5. Barrld - October 5, 2006

    When I attended college in Boston many years ago, the local teenager crowd (“townies”) would hang out in front of the liquor store (“packies”) and ask legal adults (like me and my college pals) to buy them beer. The packie owners could see the townies gathering out front and could watch these transfers of beer and money. They of course did nothing. I can’t imagine such exchanges occuring in front the Giant or Safeway stores in the city if prop 1 passes. Seems as though many folks in Mass. have too much time on their hands.

  6. Terry Hughes - October 5, 2006

    More mush from the wimps, in short.
    Tom, your moral / ethical compass isn’t broken. It’s pointing true north.
    I am from Massachusetts and went to college in Boston, and Barrid is 100% accurate. It was that way in the 60s and is probably the same today. B-I-G D-E-A-L. The legislators really should occupy themselves with important issues like, oh, campaign reform…oh, wait, sorry, lost my head…

  7. Ryan Scott - October 6, 2006

    My brother and his wife live in Alabama and when they came to Colorado they were shocked that no wine was sold in our grocery stores, they said even Walmart had wine in the last couple of aisles. Maybe if wine was easier to get more people could drink it for its benefits, they could even do a marketing thing with health benefits!

  8. Frank - October 6, 2006

    I don’t understand why on earth a woman or others like her would hold up a sign denouncing alcoholism in relation to the wine in a grocery store debate. I suppose I’m the moron, since I forgot that any 7 year-old can wander into an ACME and kindly ask the employee to show him a nice chateauneuf for his play date. Yes, this is absolutely unacceptable. I mean, of course this promotes alcoholism in general, we are puritanical extremist protestants after all. Yeah! for us and Saudi Arabia!
    Sorry about the sarcasm but some “debates” don’t merit more than a smile.
    Tom, your blog rules. Thanks

  9. Whit Stevens - October 6, 2006

    I went to a baseball game at Fenway Park about 5 years ago. Even though I had a valid DC driver’s license proving I was of legal age, I was not served beer. I was told they don’t serve people with out of state licenses unless you’re over the age of 30.
    It doesn’t make sense, for the good people of Mass can’t be that anti-alcohol, right? I mean, they keep electing Ted Kennedy to office.

  10. JohnLopresti - October 8, 2006

    Ted grandfathered in. Restrictiveness and so-called blue laws are a bit of local folk tradition in in New England. The grocery store suggestion is radical in the 400 years of history of Plymouth and the Bay Colony context, but around that has grown the usual distributor politics, which I am sure you encounter even in these times in the business, TW. Our neighborhood liquor store’s owner’s son was in my class in, approximately, the Newton part of Boston, one of the hills with posh neighborhoods on the edge of the urban part, more like a suburb. When I was there more than 100 colleges were located in Boston. It is a town with an austere past and deep roots but a wonderful youthful, willing to experiment demographic. As wine has entered supermarkets people have discovered that well managed supermarkets actually have the shelf space and capital structure to finance some excellent choice. I appreciate our local liquor store for purveying Chateau Margaux and Medoc to us as neighbors. But I have found traveling that locating CA wine is an exercise in paying a premium for that privilege.
    I think a lot of these old laws are from the industrial revolution and around the time labor unions were controversial a long time ago in the US. People’s troubles are less magnified by wine sold in the context of all the other groceries under one roof, in our times, compared to earlier epochs when bluecollar occupations were what a lot more people did with their time at work.
    If MA approves the law, they should add a clause about position of the shelf in the markets; it should be near the cold foods freezers or some such cool part of the aisles, not in the warm middle of the store. Our local grocer in Sonoma County was reluctant to stock much wine when it opened, and basically had the stereotypical view of it as jug beverage or else foreign language labelled stuff you better keep in a locked glass cabinet for the well-off customers familiar with it. Recently they got two good wine buyers and we have a long selection and rotation of interesting innovative labels, though still the rotation is too slow to challenge a northcoast palate. And they still put the $30. bottles on the topmost shelf and the animal label cute wines on the bottom shelf at $4.; sometimes the warm air in the store reaches the top shelf but the bottom rows remain cool. Greengrocer education is much needed. Our local store has a monopoly in our town of 10,000 people; the corporate chain home is somewhere in Portland, I believe. I am happy for the changes in the past two years, but our grocery store managers have a long way to go to present wines well and thoughtfully design retail space in a way that respects the wine’s own storage requirements. This is a complicated topic. Hopefully, if MA passes the law, all those smart people in that state will figure this out, then export the retail technology and buying strategies to the rest of the country; and they could give a seminar in Portland for our Sonoma county grocer’s corporate officers to attend.

  11. Fredric Koeppel - October 9, 2006

    My former wife and I spend 10 years in a small town in north Mississippi, teaching at a small college. The county was dry, but of course there was a liquor store just on the other side of the county line on every two-lane road. A cousin of the sheriff of our county owned the liquor store across the line on the road that headed south, so if you bought some wine or liquor from that store you were safe. If you made the mistake of buying something from a store that DIDN’T belong to his cousin, though, the sheriff (or a deputy) would arrest you soon as you drove back into the county. A unique form of prohibition.

  12. Obanto - October 9, 2006

    Sorry if you don’t appreciate it, but it goes with the turf. As much pleasure as wine and alcoholic beverages may provide you, it is sadly true that many, many people have greatly suffered as a result of their own, or their loved ones’, alcohol-related problems.
    So it is inevitable that some degree of control or pushback happens. Just as there is with econonmic development in a region, there are many winners, but some few losers who were committed to a prior way of life.
    There are still some states which fully control the distribution of alcoholic beverages. I recall that Pennsylvania’s authority is the single largest purchaser of wine in North America.
    These control measures in various states were enacted in response to the Prohibition era and its aftermath. They then took on a life of their own, often due to political patronage and corruption, or because of labor union resistance to elimination of protected state alcohol distribution and retail jobs.
    And always, they can cite specific instances of lives ruined by devastating side effects of alcohol abuse, underage drinking, driving, etc. to futher buttress their self-interested cases.

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