Why Can’t You Pump Your Own Gas in New Jersey?

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iStock

New Jersey is a state that distinguishes itself in so many ways. One example of New Jersey's unique charm may come as a surprise to visiting motorists, however, when they discover that it's illegal to pump your own gas in the Garden State.

Until quite recently, New Jersey wasn't the only state that didn't allow motorists to pump their own gas. For years, Oregon drivers had to sit in their cars as well, waiting for an attendant to fill ‘er up. However, effective January 1, 2016, Oregonians in rural counties are allowed to dispense their own gasoline at night. The measure was designed to keep motorists from getting stranded in remote areas after gas station staff had gone home for the night—a very real problem in the state’s sprawling terrain.

But let’s get back to New Jersey, a state that has made it illegal for people to pump their own gas. Why is this the case?

Enacted in 1949, the Retail Gasoline Dispensing Safety Act and Regulations banned drivers from pumping their own gas in New Jersey, and the rules are still in effect. Like so many laws, the statute claims the ban is for drivers’ own good:

Because of the fire hazards directly associated with dispensing fuel, it is in the public interest that gasoline station operators have the control needed over that activity to ensure compliance with appropriate safety procedures, including turning off vehicle engines and refraining from smoking while fuel is dispensed.

But the government version may not be the whole story. The passage of the Act was motivated by something a little less pure than safety: money. In the 1940s, when self-service was unheard of in most of the country, a gas station owner named Irving Reingold offered lower prices to customers willing to pump their own gas. The gimmick was wildly popular and soon became a threat to competing gas stations. According to Bergen County's The Record, "rival station owners reacted by persuading state lawmakers to outlaw self-serve," and the state legislature made Reingold's tactics illegal.

As more and more states around the country began to offer self-serve gas stations in the 1970s and '80s, New Jersey stayed put. Nowadays, some politicians will even refer to the matter as a source of state identity and pride. In a 2011 radio interview, Governor Chris Christie said, "People in New Jersey love the idea that they’ve got somebody to pump their gas," adding, "I don’t see that changing."

In 2015, New Jersey General Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon introduced a bill that would lift the ban. “I am offended by people that argue that New Jerseyans are mentally incapable of pumping their own gas without setting themselves on fire," O'Scanlon said in a press statement.

O'Scanlon made one semi-concession to the old law, recommending that stations hang signs on gas pumps reminding people to turn off their engines. The recommended text seemed to mirror the assemblyman’s exasperation: “Do not, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, set yourself on fire!!”

Despite this helpful suggestion, O’Scanlon’s bill was not to be, as State Senate President Stephen Sweeney blocked the vote. "I will oppose any attempt to rescind the law that has effectively served the best interests of the state's motorists for decades," Sweeney said in a press statement. "As long as I am Senate President, the ban on self-serve will stay in place."

"We've been doing it the right way in New Jersey,” Sweeney concluded. “We should not change."

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What’s the Difference Between a Primary and a Caucus?

Looks like these stickers were handed out at a primary, not a caucus.
Looks like these stickers were handed out at a primary, not a caucus.
jdwfoto/iStock via Getty Images

Leading up to a U.S. presidential election, each state (and territory) must vote to decide which candidates it wants to compete in that election—but how exactly that decision happens differs from state to state. Some have primaries, while others hold caucuses.

A primary is a relatively straightforward process that resembles any other election. Essentially, you go to your designated polling station, which could be anywhere from a school to a sports complex, and check your favorite candidate on a ballot. Generally, any candidate who receives at least 15 percent of the votes is eligible to earn delegates, the elected officials who vote to decide whom to choose as the party’s presidential nominee at the national convention. Those delegates are then divided among eligible candidates in proportion to how many votes they earned. Since primaries are short and simple, almost all states and territories use them to help choose presidential nominees these days.

However, there are several holdouts that still opt for caucuses, a more manual (and more complicated) voting process with roots in late 18th-century American elections. During a Democratic caucus, participants arrive at a local venue and split up into groups based on which candidate they’re supporting; there’s usually a group for undecided voters, too. Volunteers count how many people are in each group, and—similar to primaries—any candidate who has at least 15 percent of the supporters is deemed “viable,” or eligible to earn delegates. Unlike primaries, caucuses don’t end after that initial tally. Supporters of candidates who didn’t meet the 15-percent threshold can then join groups for viable candidates; volunteers do a recount, and delegates are apportioned based on those updated numbers. Republican caucuses are similar, only the voting happens on an informal private ballot.

If your state holds a primary, there’s a pretty good chance you can get in and out without talking to more than a person or two—and it could even come as a surprise if someone tries to persuade you to vote for a certain candidate. At Democratic caucuses, on the other hand, that’s an integral part of the process. Before the initial count, people try to convince undecided voters to join their group (or supporters of a candidate who looks like they might not reach the viability threshold), and after the initial count, another wave of campaigning happens in order to claim supporters of unviable candidates. This, in addition to all the manual counting and re-counting, means that caucus attendees can count on being there for hours longer than primary participants.

Caucuses are a great way to see how citizens really feel about presidential hopefuls on a deeper, more personal level than polls and stats are often able to tell us, but the overall hassle—not to mention the fear of inaccurate vote-counting—has caused more and more states to switch to primaries in recent years. As Business Insider reports, there are only eight places that are still holding caucuses in 2020: Iowa, Nevada, North Dakota, Wyoming, Kentucky (Republican only), American Samoa, the Virgin Islands, and Guam.

Because Iowa’s caucuses are always first on the schedule, they’re often considered a little more important than some others—find out why here.

[h/t Business Insider]

Why Isn't Fish Considered Meat During Lent?

AlexRaths/iStock via Getty Images
AlexRaths/iStock via Getty Images

For six Fridays each spring, Catholics observing Lent skip sirloin in favor of fish sticks and swap Big Macs for Filet-O-Fish. Why?

Legend has it that centuries ago a medieval pope with connections to Europe's fishing business banned red meat on Fridays to give his buddies' industry a boost. But that story isn't true. Sunday school teachers have a more theological answer: Jesus fasted for 40 days and died on a Friday. Catholics honor both occasions by making a small sacrifice: avoiding animal flesh one day out of the week. That explanation is dandy for a homily, but it doesn't explain why only red meat and poultry are targeted and seafood is fine.

For centuries, the reason evolved with the fast. In the beginning, some worshippers only ate bread. But by the Middle Ages, they were avoiding meat, eggs, and dairy. By the 13th century, the meat-fish divide was firmly established—and Saint Thomas Aquinas gave a lovely answer explaining why: sex, simplicity, and farts.

In Part II of his Summa Theologica, Aquinas wrote:

"Fasting was instituted by the Church in order to bridle the concupiscences of the flesh, which regard pleasures of touch in connection with food and sex. Wherefore the Church forbade those who fast to partake of those foods which both afford most pleasure to the palate, and besides are a very great incentive to lust. Such are the flesh of animals that take their rest on the earth, and of those that breathe the air and their products."

Put differently, Aquinas thought fellow Catholics should abstain from eating land-locked animals because they were too darn tasty. Lent was a time for simplicity, and he suggested that everyone tone it down. It makes sense. In the 1200s, meat was a luxury. Eating something as decadent as beef was no way to celebrate a holiday centered on modesty. But Aquinas had another reason, too: He believed meat made you horny.

"For, since such like animals are more like man in body, they afford greater pleasure as food, and greater nourishment to the human body, so that from their consumption there results a greater surplus available for seminal matter, which when abundant becomes a great incentive to lust. Hence the Church has bidden those who fast to abstain especially from these foods."

There you have it. You can now blame those impure thoughts on a beef patty. (Aquinas might have had it backwards though. According to the American Dietetic Association, red meat doesn't boost "seminal matter." Men trying to increase their sperm count are generally advised to cut back on meat. However, red meat does improve testosterone levels, so it's give-and-take.)

Aquinas gave a third reason to avoid meat: it won't give you gas. "Those who fast," Aquinas wrote, "are forbidden the use of flesh meat rather than of wine or vegetables, which are flatulent foods." Aquinas argued that "flatulent foods" gave your "vital spirit" a quick pick-me-up. Meat, on the other hand, boosts the body's long-lasting, lustful humors—a religious no-no.

But why isn't fish considered meat?

The reason is foggy. Saint Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, for one, has been used to justify fasting rules. Paul wrote, " … There is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fish, and another of birds" (15:39). That distinction was possibly taken from Judaism's own dietary restrictions, which separates fleishig (which includes land-locked mammals and fowl) from pareve (which includes fish). Neither the Torah, Talmud, or New Testament clearly explains the rationale behind the divide.

It's arbitrary, anyway. In the 17th century, the Bishop of Quebec ruled that beavers were fish. In Latin America, it's OK to eat capybara, as the largest living rodent is apparently also a fish on Lenten Fridays. Churchgoers around Detroit can guiltlessly munch on muskrat every Friday. And in 2010, the Archbishop of New Orleans gave alligator the thumbs up when he declared, “Alligator is considered in the fish family."

Thanks to King Henry VIII and Martin Luther, Protestants don't have to worry about their diet. When Henry ruled, fish was one of England's most popular dishes. But when the Church refused to grant the King a divorce, he broke from the Church. Consuming fish became a pro-Catholic political statement. Anglicans and the King's sympathizers made it a point to eat meat on Fridays. Around that same time, Martin Luther declared that fasting was up to the individual, not the Church. Those attitudes hurt England's fishing industry so much that, in 1547, Henry's son King Edward VI—who was just 10 at the time—tried to reinstate the fast to improve the country's fishing economy. Some Anglicans picked the practice back up, but Protestants—who were strongest in Continental Europe—didn't need to take the bait.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

This story was updated in 2020.

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