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A foolproof way to prevent drunks from buying wine


In Pennsylvania, the Liquor Control Board, in an effort to be more “customer friendly,” is thinking of selling wine in supermarkets using “automated wine kiosks.” The gizmos would dispense one bottle per customer, but only if the customer (a) inserts a drivers license to prove he’s over 21 and then, if that works, (b) breathes into a breath-testing machine, to prove she’s not drunk.


The proposed kiosk-breathalyzer

The state’s Democratic Governor, Ed Rendell, had been waivering on whether to support or oppose the bill, because he wanted to be assured that the machines would work as advertised. Yesterday afternoon, his spokesman said the Gov is ready to sign off “unless he finds fault with the technology.”

I can fully understand Rendell’s reluctance to approve a device that might allow drunks to get even drunker. After all, an inebriated person could easily cheat by having an accomplice who hasn’t been drinking take the breath test for him. Or, if the drunk person didn’t have an accomplice, he or she could simply bring a filled balloon and let its air empty into the breathalyzer, thereby fooling the machine. Serious concerns.

So I called my cousin, Hank, an inventor (the Bacon Alarm Clock, the Cheesemaking Pedometer, the Wok-Phone) to ask if there’s some way to make the kiosks absolutely foolproof. Hank is the smartest guy I know. He has several degrees, and once was fired from Cisco Systems. After thinking carefully about the situation, Hank came up with the following.

1. First, you’d have to register everyone in Pennsylvania. Get their eye-scans and fingerprints. Then have the machine test them to make sure  they’re really who they say they are.
2. But since this can be manipulated, you’d also have to get a DNA database going for everyone. The machine then would take a tongue scraping to make sure the DNA matched.
3. Faking a blood sample is very difficult, so the machine also would prick people’s pinkeys to match a predetermined blood type.
4. Somewhat more controversial, but vital, is a urine sample. Of course, this would entail a slightly larger kiosk, since some privacy would have to be accorded, and plumbing installed.
5. But still, the person might be drunk, so the machine would also have an attachment, like the Magic Teacup Ride at the amusement park, that would revolve and rotate the person at a high velocity. If the person is drunk, he’ll projectile vomit, an instant signal to the store manager that he should not be allowed to purchase wine.
6. All of the transactions between the applicant and the kiosk would, of course, have to be monitored by a physician, an attorney and a bureaucrat from the Liquor Control Board.
7. Since this would increase the cost of testing, a value-added tax would be levied on the bottle purchased. The exact amount is yet to be determined. The State Attorney-General is investigating the viability of including “value-added” options at the kiosk, such as a dose of Viagra into the wine, and a function for in-vitro fertilization.
8. To ensure that the person, once approved, did not drink the wine while driving, the person would automatically be handcuffed to the kiosk. Consumption could occur, but the handcuffs would not be removed until all alcohol had passed through the person’s system, which would require further blood and urine specimens.
9. Thus, the process will require the presence of porta-potties and cots.
10. Non-Pennsylvania residents will have to undergo autopsies before approval. Please bring proof of medical insurance.

It is thought that this process will not only make the roads safer, but the wine-buying experience more customer friendly. Oh, and if Penn. officials like Hank’s idea, they can send him a check for $1 million. Or an I.O.U. if the state is broke, like California. Whatever.

  1. Ha! I love it – it’s always good to try to make an incredibly bad idea even worse! 🙂

  2. The (most) baffling thing to me about this machine is that a state like PA, which as far as I know doesn’t permit DTC shipping, thinks that this type of device is a “good” idea. WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN? Those hypothetical children who would have a credit card, order wine off the internet, be home in the middle of the day to sign for it, and would be SO HARMED by allowing wine to be shipped DTC. Seems to me those children would have a much easier time grabbing mommy’s license and shoving some cash in a machine than going through the above mentioned internet scenario. My eyes are rolling out of my head over here.

  3. Awesome, freaking awesome

  4. Morton Leslie says:

    Sonadora…An imagined future PA conversation….”Morty Jr.? Can you run down to the kiosk and get Mommy and Daddy another bottle of wine? Well honey, I know, but we just killed those bottles. Here’s Daddy’s credit card and drivers license. No Morty, you can’t take the car until your old enough to drive!”

  5. Morton, don’t you mean “Mommy and Mommy” in this day and age?

  6. More on this horrendous idea can be found here: (it’s a great blog, by the way).

    Also encourage everyone reading this to vote against the idea in the Post-Gazette’s on-line poll about the same subject:


    p.s. – I hate the PLCB.

  7. Riaan Smit says:

    This may be funny in a way, but it is also profoundly sad that government officials (I don’t know whether whether LB members are elected, but ultimately there must be elected officials responsible for the LB) can stoop to this pre-school level of the Nanny State.
    If you drink illegally, there must surely be consequences (laws), and if you injure somebody while drunk, you should be punished by law.
    Putting a nappy on every citizen, is not the answer. It simply teaches people not to take responsibility for their own actions. Riaan Smit, Cape Town, South Africa

  8. Steve
    Either I’m drinking more all the time, or you are getting funner all the time. Man, that is just hysterically funny. Way more amusing than sulfite-free biodynamic Beaujolais. If you blow HIV-free, will the machine give you a BJ? C’mon, people. I don’t care if it’s real. It’s a joke! Thanks for the laughing fit, Steve. I got to go change my pants. mark

  9. Riaan – all true. For PA, it’s important to understand that the state controls all distro. of alcohol. It’s an enormous business for the state, bringing in billions of dollars in revenue and taxes. They have a state-run monopoly on all alcohol sales.

    Their primary answer to the challenge of privatizing that system has been that state oversight is needed to protect children from underage drinking. This continues, despite the fact that PA ranks exactly in the average in statistics on underage drinking and drunken driving, right next to states that allow direct shipping to consumers and don’t regulate alcohol sales. In other words, their claims are bullsh*t.

    But because of their defense, they’re stuck with moving towards a nanny-state approach.

    As for elected officials – the officials of the PLCB are appointed by the governor. PA made major headlines when Governor Ed Rendell appointed a high-level PLCB official who lacked any requisite experience and did so without consulting the head of the PLCB, who then resigned under protest and insinuated that the system was corrupt.

    In other words – it’s a mess!

  10. It would be so much cooler if they took some of your blood and analyzed it, then did a retinal scan and maybe scraped off some skin for DNA.

  11. This just in: They have included a rectal exam. Pass the rubber gloves, please.

  12. Remarkable! Amazing! This is another fine example of why Government should keep to the business of politics and stay out of private enterprise.

    1 wine is more than just a mess. The plcb has an operating overhead that is ready to implode. Wegmans is already in position to sell beer, wine and spirits, and there are more companies in the wings. The fact is that Pa has a union issue and a state employee benefit issue and the plcb is not as profitable, (key word here) as they want people to believe. The union contract runs out in 2010 and the inside scuttle-butt is that the PLCB will move to shipping and wholesaling and open the retail sites for private companies to handle, releasing a large portion of their union issue and state employee benefit issues. This kiosk is a way to maintain retail income at the expense of any number of employees.
    and to Sonadora’s point, there is DTC in PA. The PLCB doesn’t want anyone to know; but the high court made it possible by citing the fact that the PLCB allows their instate wineries to ship dtc and did not allow out of state wineries to do the same. PA has not been able to enforce their non-shipping rule and I personally have been recieving champagne, still wine & high end spirits via UPS for 3 years. Most suppliers are in fear of a backlash and aren’t willing to take the gamble; you have to ask in order to find the supplier that is willing to ship and they are out there.

  13. Gjp – I SO hope that you’re right.

    PA has, in fact, been able to “rectify” the conundrum of DTC fairness by basically forcing everyone to ship wine to their own retail stores, not DTC, for pick up. This is after they add taxes and fees for essentially doing nothing but storing the wine.

    Oh, yeah – the shipper also needs to be licensed to send the wine to them,l so they can collect those (expensive!) fees as well.

  14. Grotesque.

    But it’s a step up from Minnesota, which struggles to have “Wine with dinner.” Apparently, you can’t buy groceries and wine in the same place. Opponents (liquor monopolies) claim that the secret purpose of the nefarious pro-wine lobby is actually to also sell…beer. Ooooh.

    Percentage of driving fatalities related to alcohol, 2006,
    California: 36% Pennsylvania: 37%

  15. “Percentage of driving fatalities related to alcohol, 2006,
    California: 36% Pennsylvania: 37%”

    That about sums it all up right there.


  16. Riaan Smit says:

    Thanx for your answer 1WineDude. I am still a bit confused. Why should the State assume the responsibility of protecting children from underage drinking? Where are the parents? Or am I being naive here? If an underage child cause injury because of drinking alcohol, surely by law the parent(s) should be liable and accountable? I know we are not living in a perfect world, but it seems to me that allowing a State/government to intervene in this way, is tantamount to ordinary citizen surrendering responsibility to keep the fabric of society intact. That should not be the job of government, or is it?

  17. There’s nothing like satire to point out faults with a laugh.

  18. 1WineDude get out. Get out NOW!

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