Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Grain Alcohol in "The Free State"


One of the things that I really enjoy is Everclear Grain Alcohol. I don't drink it often, but I like to have it around for special events. It is a conversation starter. How many beverages do you know of that warn you to keep it away from open flames? And at 95% alcohol, they aren't joking.


Last year, a bunch of busy-bodies petitioned the State of Maryland to prohibit this drink because it is allegedly abused by some. According to the Baltimore Sun:

The grain alcohol ban, backed by a group of university presidents as a safety measure, comes amid a growing focus on rape and drinking to excess on campus. Del. Charles Barkley, a Montgomery County Democrat, said increased awareness of the risks associated with grain alcohol bolstered support for the bill he sponsored.
"Getting it off the market will maybe reduce problems at the college level," Barkley said, adding that students have used it to get "bombed out of their mind," putting themselves in danger.

In the 2014 Session of the Maryland General Assembly, State Senator Richard S. Madaleno, Jr. (Democrat, Montgomery County - of course) proposed SB0075 which stated:

( A ) A PERSON MAY NOT SELL AT RETAIL AN ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE WITH AN ALCOHOL CONTENT BY VOLUME OF 95% (190 PROOF ) OR MORE .(B) A PERSON WHO VIOLATES THIS SECTION IS GUILTY OF A MISDEMEANOR AND ON CONVICTION IS SUBJECT TO A FINE NOT EXCEEDING $1,000.

A great deal of energy was expended by our legislators in this debate. In the end, the bill was passed by both houses in the General Assembly and then Governor O'Malley signed it into law. I suppose that they were proud of their work and believed that they made the State a safer place.

Of course, that is nonsense. I know from my training, knowledge, and experience, that it is easy to get piss drunk off of vodka, wine, or beer. Aside from thinking that the law was stupid and not likely to change anything, I resented it as an infringement on my freedom. I resolved to drive to Delaware, where it can still be legally purchased, to stock up on the banned substance. I was going to be a modern day boot-legger.

All of those plans changed today. I was at Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits and spotted a bottle of Everclear. I was surprised. I assumed it had to be a mistake. I picked up a bottle to purchase, thinking I was going to get away with it. Then I looked more closely. It wasn't 95% alcohol. It was 94.5%! I couldn't help but laugh. Here all those busy-bodies spent all that time during the legislative session thinking that they were doing something good. And by a mere half a percent, they were defeated. The free market won! Then I got angry. The time that they could have spent figuring out ways to fix the budget, or to improve education, or reduce crime, or extend freedom was wasted on trying to ban grain alcohol. And they ended up achieving nothing. Who cares about half a percent?

To end on a positive note, I was happy to see that my State Senator, John Astle (D) and my Delegate, Herb McMillan (R), both voted against this law. I was happy to return the favor by voting for both of them in the last election. They both won re-election.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

DC Memorials on the Tidal Basin

A memorial can often tell you more about the people who built it then it can
about the person it is dedicated to. The other day I ventured into Washington, D.C. to visit three memorials near each other on the Tidal Basin.

Construction of the Jefferson Memorial began in 1938. FDR laid the cornerstone. Well, not physically, but he is still given the credit. It may strike a reasonable person as odd that Roosevelt, a president who did more to undermine the Constitution and traditional American values than perhaps any other, would have even been associated with a memorial to a champion of individual freedom and limited government. But by linking Jefferson to himself, FDR could give legitimacy to his regime and ideas. Sure, he confiscated people's gold, threatened dramatic changes to the judicial branch when they refused to uphold his novel constitutional theories, and imprisoned citizens merely on account of their ethnic background, but hey, he was just a modern day Thomas Jefferson.

In fact, on the walls there are various quotes from Jefferson. One reads:
I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as a civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.
In other words, what was appropriate for the people in Jefferson's time (limited government and individual rights) is not what we need in the modern world. We need this new socialist scheme called the New Deal and other restrictions on our freedom because the world is much more complex and dangerous. Jefferson was an intelligent man who knew what was best for his time and would understand what we are doing now is what is best today.

I had a feeling of disappointment and despair as I explored this memorial as it was painfully obvious what the intent of the designers was. A simple farmer who fought for human freedom had been deified and his words and image had been taken to support an ideology and a leader he would have been appalled with. I was happy to find later that I was not the only one who felt this way. For example, the now late Professor Ronald Hamowy wrote:
Perhaps the most egregious examples of invoking Jefferson for purely transient political purposes are the inscriptions on the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. Planned and built during the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the walls of the memorial are adorned with quotations from Jefferson’s writings, many of which suggest that Jefferson advocated positions consistent with the aims of the New Deal—with which he would, in fact, have had little sympathy. Thus, Jefferson’s admonition that an educated electorate was essential if liberty were to be preserved is transmuted into a call for universal public education. And his caution that man, as he advances in his understanding of the world, must accompany his greater enlightenment with changes in his social institutions becomes a justification for a new theory of government in keeping with the social-democratic principles that animated the New Deal.
Of course, do not attempt to voice any objections in the memorial itself. Political discourse is forbidden. So is any artistic expression, no matter how quiet or undisturbing. Armed thugs who work for Federal government will assault and arrest you. It is impossible to imagine that Jefferson would have approved of anything about this memorial. I suppose it is worth a visit just to say that you have been there. Tears over the fate of the nation are the price of admission. It is otherwise free.


A short walk from the Jefferson Memorial is the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. It is a sprawling, confusing, and ugly display fitting to the memory of the leader who brought so much confusion to our constitutional order. Various quotes from FDR are inscribed on the walls. One ironic one reads, "We must scrupulously guard the civil rights and civil liberties of all our citizens, whatever their background." Japanese Americans might wonder about that one.


This memorial takes up way too much space. It is spread out over 7.5 acres. It is appropriate that it was constructed during the Bill Clinton regime as he was known for giving speeches that were way too long. Wasting people's time seems to have been part of the Zeitgeist.

The final memorial I visited was to George Mason, one of the founding fathers.
Mason was an anti-Federalist who never signed the Constitution because he feared that it did not provide enough protections against the Federal government. In retrospect, he had a point, but the fault may not be with the Constitution itself, but with those charged with upholding it. Paper constitutions are of limited value.

This memorial was completed in 2002. It is rather simple and small. The quotations on the walls have mostly faded, just as the memory of Mason and his ideas have all but faded from the consciousness of most Americans. Nevertheless, it stands as a tiny reminder of his life and work.

All of these memorials are free and are located in the West Potomac Park, which also has free parking. There were plenty of spots on the lot when I visited on a weekend. So even if you aren't excited to see these particular memorials, it is a good place to leave your car if you otherwise want to explore the city and don't mind a little bit of walking.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Gathland State Park

Out in western Maryland, just next to Burkittsville, Maryland, sits this little state park on the Appalachian Trail. Gathland State Park opened to the public in 1949, but previously was the home of George Alfred Townsend, a noted war correspondent and novelist. Townsend was better known by his nickname "Gath", thus the name of the park.

Gath was born in 1841 in Georgetown, Delaware. By 1861, he had already been working as a journalist when the Civil War broke out. After the war ended, he continued to work as a reporter and also authored several successful novels.

In 1884, Gath bought property on the South Mountain in western Maryland, to build an estate. Among the various structures built, he constructed a memorial arch to all journalists who died in combat. Over fifty feet high, this impressive stone monument called the National War Correspondents Memorial, was the only such memorial until recent history. During the Civil War, the site was part of the Battle of Crampton's Gap, thus making the location very appropriate.

Another interesting fact about his estate is that it contains his empty tomb. No, Gath wasn't a vampire or a deity. In his later years, Gath moved from his estate to New York City, where he died in 1914. He was buried in Philadelphia. The tomb was never used. Despite this, Susan Fair, author of Mysteries and Lore of Western Maryland, suggested that Gath's ghost haunts his old home.

Gathland State Park is free and open to the public. Details on visiting can be found at the official park website. In addition to seeing the memorial arch and surviving buildings, the spot is a good location to start a day hike on the Appalachian Trail.

For additional information about Gath or the area, be sure to pick up George Alfred Townsend and Gathland: A Journalist and His Western Maryland Estate by Dianne Wiebe. Wiebe also happens to work at the museum on the property and can answer any of your questions about Gath or his property. The previously mentioned Mysteries and Lore of Western Maryland, by Susan Fair also provides alternative information about the property and other locations in western Maryland. Finally, you may view my photographs of the Gathland here.

Related:
Mysteries and Lore of Western Maryland - book review 
Maryland Folklore - book review