How to get the attention of 9 justices, 1 columnist

April 24, 1995|By ROGER SIMON

Letters, calls and the roar of the crowd:

Gil Osenburg, Parkville: I'm sure your articles on the alcohol content labeling of beer were read by members of the Supreme Court and had to have had a positive effect on their unanimous ruling this week.

Congratulations!

COMMENT: And congratulations to you for finding a foolproof way of getting your name in my column!

Years ago, Gil Osenburg, who co-owns Racers' bar in Parkville, started listing the alcohol contents of beers on a blackboard behind the bar.

He had to do this because Federal law probited brewers from putting the alcohol content on containers.

So customers had no idea that a Budweiser has a 4.65 percent alcohol content by volume, while a McEwans Scotch Ale has a 9.51 percent.

Wine and hard liquor have the alcohol content on the label, so why not beer?

Well, it dates back to a 1935 post-Prohibition law when the government was afraid that brewers would compete for customers by making the strongest beer they could.

In modern times, however, customers have shown a preference for lighter, less-alcoholic beers.

If you bought a can of Coke, you could find out how much fat, sodium, carbohydrates, sugar, protein and calories you were getting.

But if you bought a can of Coors, you could not find out how much alcohol you were getting.

I have been writing columns about this since 1991, and on Wednesday the Supreme Court finally got around to reading them and ruled in my favor.

Naw. Just kidding.

Actually, the Adolph Coors Co. challenged the law on free-speech grounds in federal court. Coors won at the trial level, but the federal government appealed. Coors then won at the appellate level, but the government appealed again.

But now the Supreme Court unanimously has ruled in Coors' favor, and brewers can now put alcohol contents on the label. (A separate law banning alcohol content in advertising has not been challenged and still is in effect.)

I must admit that no member of the Supreme Court actually called to thank me for my columns, but that's probably because they are too busy designing new robes.

*

R Mary Clawsey, Baltimore: You ask what "once removed" means.

It means removed by means of different generations.

Think of it this way: You and your first cousin share a set of grandparents.

You and your second cousin share a set of great-grandparents.

You and your first cousin once removed means that your grandparents on one side are that person's great-grandparents.

I'm a Southerner, so I know these things.

COMMENT: I'm a Northerner, so I still don't get it.

*

R. E. Johnson, Glen Burnie: So, in 1984 at a national convention Texas, some goober named Gregory Lee Johnson wanted to get on TV by burning a flag in protest. Maybe the goober did not agree with U.S. policy, or what the convention stood for, or maybe he was just spaced out. But according to your rules, it was OK.

So, if I don't agree with what Abraham Lincoln stood for, or what he did, does that mean my right of free speech permits me, in protest, to climb the Lincoln Memorial and knock the nose from the statue with a hammer?

COMMENT: Sure, if you happen to own the Lincoln Memorial, R. E.

That's what private property is all about. Gregory Lee Johnson owned the flag he burned. He was arrested and convicted under HTC the Texas flag desecration law, but the Supreme Court overturned the conviction on First Amendment grounds.

The court figured if he wanted to be a goober with his own flag, it was his business.

Now if Johnson came to your house and tried to burn your flag -- I'm assuming you have a flagpole and display the flag daily, R. E. -- you could have him arrested for trespassing and destruction of your property.

Which is why we don't need an amendment to the Constitution forbidding flag desecration.

The current laws are just fine: You do what you want to your property, and goobers can do what they want to theirs.

I believe that's called America.

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