D.C. May Yet Be a (Nanny) State

By Rend Smith - City Desk
|  Thursday, Mar 3, 2011  |  Updated 10:00 AM EDT
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America's encroaching nanny state is a complex issue. While it deprives us of some basic choices, it also protects us from our worst impulses. Without it, we might still be ignorantly smoking in hospitals and sucking down trans fats.

On Tuesday, synthetic marijuana became a casualty of our crusade for a safer society, when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency banned the substitute; on Wednesday, for one local bar, it was beer bottles.

At an Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration hearing, Britt Swan, owner of upscale Georgetown watering hole Modern Lounge on M Street N.W., agreed to a plan.

On Nov. 25, a patron of Modern was hit over his left eye with "a glass object." The patron said he wasn't in an argument or fight with anyone. He told authorities he had no idea who hit him or why.

After asking some questions about the event, and another assault that occurred at the establishment on Oct. 5, board member Mital Gandhi made a suggestion: "Does it make sense to swap out glasses at the end of the night?"

In other words, Gandhi wanted to know if Swan was willing to deprive his customers of a potential bludgeoning tool toward closing time. "When you get later, people get stupid," said Gandhi.

At first, Swan resisted some, pointing out that lots of people, especially his male customers, like to swig beer from cold, perspiring glass "because of taste." But eventually he agreed to ban glass bottles from 12 a.m. to 2 a.m on weekdays and from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. on weekends.

Swan's isn't the first D.C. night spot to agree to take such a precaution, and the change is unlikely to effect his business in any severe way. Though it seems a bit much, the board isn't being fascist by convincing Swan to break out the plastic -- it's just trying to protect rowdy drunks from making bad decisions.

The board is also following the patterns of other regulatory bodies. D.C. has cameras that dissuade drivers from blowing red lights and noise restrictions that protect sensitive ears. The future doesn't seem to promise the nanny state will relax its grip. Soon, students may end up using I.D. cards on Metro.

That kind of paternalism is gaining momentum in the culture and reflects a utilitarian approach to quality-of-life that could become problematic down the road. The whole "greatest-good-for-the-greatest-number-thing" might seem airtight,  but it's also the stuff our most dramatic dystopian fears are made of. Just revisit your high school reading list.

While not allowing drinkers to handle glass at the end of the night may seem reasonable, doesn't it seem just as reasonable to eliminate the worrisome containers altogether? Sports arenas have. Thinking along those lines, aren't there plenty of other objects, like chairs, the inebriated can pitch in in a moment of rage? Just how attentive does a nanny state have to be?

D.C. May Yet Get to be State—Nanny State was originally published by Washington City Paper on March 2, 2011.

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