We Totally Let You Win! Newcastle Brown Ale’s Hilarious Independence Eve Campaign

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Happy “Independence Eve” everybody. If you’ve never heard of “Independence Eve,” that’s because Newcastle Brown Ale made it up. But it’s so brilliant, I’m going to start observing it, and maybe even will start a tradition of drinking a British ale every July 3. Perhaps even a Newcastle Brown Ale just to say thanks for this hilarious series of ads.

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There’s maybe fifteen ads on YouTube or at the dedicated website Newcastle set up for the promotion: If We Won. The latest is below, though I’d encourage you to go back and watch them all. Here’s the most recent one, and they keep adding news ones every few hours.

And here’s another favorite one, with Britsh comedian and writer Stephen Merchant. There’s also ones with Elizabeth Hurley and Zachary Quinto. You can check out all fifteen (at last count) at Newcastle’s YouTube channel.

AdWeek has a story about the advertising campaign, Newcastle Ambushes July 4 by Inventing ‘Independence Eve,’ Celebrating British Rule The Redcoats Get Revenge. From the article:

British brands, understandably, don’t have much to say around the Fourth of July—until now. Newcastle Brown Ale, among the cheekiest of U.K. marketers, has turned America’s most patriotic holiday to its advantage by inventing a new, completely made-up holiday: Independence Eve on July 3. The idea of the tongue-in-cheek campaign, created by Droga5, is to “honor all things British that Americans gave up when they signed the Declaration of Independence,” Newcastle says.

“Newcastle is a very British beer, and needless to say, it doesn’t sell that well on July 4. So why not establish it as the beer you drink on July 3?” says Charles van Es, senior director of marketing for Heineken USA portfolio brands. “Unlike the Redcoats in the 18th century, we’re picking our battles a little more wisely. By celebrating Independence Eve, we’re taking liberties with America’s liberty to create a new drinking occasion and ensuring freedom on July 4 tastes sweeter than ever.”

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But not to worry, they’re returning to American beer promptly at the stroke of midnight, when it’s no longer Independence Eve, but officially the Fourth of July, and Independence Day.

The International Organisation of Good Templars

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Just when I think prohibitionists can’t possibly get any scarier, I found out something new to give me the willies. I saw a odd set of letters retweeted by the good nut jobs at Alcohol Justice yesterday; the letters in question were the IOGT. I figured if they were in bed with AJ they would be worth knowing about. I’m not sure how I missed this group. They’re not exactly a secret, despite having all the trapping of a secret society. The IOGT was originally the “International Order of Good Templars,” a temperance organization founded in the 1850s. They eventually changed their name to the International Organisation of Good Templars in the 1970s because they felt Organisation sounded less like a scary secret society than Order. They also dropped the secret rituals and, I assume, got rid of the secret handshake. It didn’t help, and that’s probably why today they just use the initials IOGT.

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An 1868 membership certificate from a chapter in Michigan. Looks harmless enough.

Apparently, it’s “structure [was] modeled on Freemasonry, using similar ritual and regalia. Unlike many, however, it admitted men and women equally, and also made no distinction by race.” Except in the American South, of course, where folks naturally demanded there be separate lodges for black and white members. So you know they were good people. Nothing furthers a stated goal of “liberation of peoples of the world leading to a richer, freer and more rewarding life” by “promot[ing] a lifestyle free of alcohol and other drugs” like continuing racism after the abolishment of slavery.

In 1875, after the American Civil War, the American senior body voted to allow separate lodges and Grand Lodges for white and black members, to accommodate the practice of segregation in southern US states. In 1876, Malins and other British members failed in achieving an amendment to stop this, and left to establish a separate international body. In 1887 this and the American body were reconciled into a single IOGT.

Throughout the late 19th century, chapters were formed all over the world and today they’re headquartered in Sweden, where it’s known as the IOGT-NTO, and other hyphenated suffixes are used in the forty nations with a chapter.

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Apparently they’re fine with perpetuating stereotypes of wine for women, beer for men.

Here in America, it’s IOGT-USA, where there are 21 local chapters in only five states. On the plus side, “women were admitted as regular members early in the history of the Good Templars. In 1979, there were 700,000 members internationally, though only 2,000 in the country of the IOGTs origin, the United States.” I didn’t see any more recent membership figures, so who knows how many Good Templars there are now in the 21st century.

They have a somewhat unintentionally comic petition up on a separate website, with the headline “United to Expose the Alcohol Industry.” They go on: “It tears families apart, trashes personal ambition and holds back developing countries. Still, no one has looked deeper into the alcohol industry and demanded that they take responsibility for their actions. It’s time we expose them.” Seriously, “no one has looked deeper into the alcohol industry and demanded that they take responsibility for their actions?” Isn’t that what the IOGT, and all of the other prohibitionist groups have been doing for well over 150 years? But now “it’s time we expose them?” Maybe it’s because their history is rooted in being a secret society, but what exactly is there to expose? What exactly is secret about the global beer industry that hasn’t been written about, endlessly dissected, debated and discussed?

Down a little farther on the petition page, they claim that the “alcohol industry still rule people and markets without being watched, examined or globally questioned by media or lawmakers.” Um, Alcohol Justice is doing just that; styling themselves as the “industry watchdog.” And they’re hardly alone. Countless organizations are keeping a careful watch on the alcohol industry. It’s one of the most tightly regulated industries in the U.S., and I suspect that’s true in most other places, too.

I get that you don’t like alcohol, and think everybody should just stop drinking it, but let’s not pretend this idea just occurred to you last week. Or that brewers are part of some secret cabal to ruin your world. Because really, it’s not “your” world, it’s “ours,” by which I mean “everybody’s.” And many of us like a nice beer, thank you very much. You don’t want to drink alcohol? Fine, don’t drink it. No one is telling you that you must, I only wish you’d extend us the same courtesy and stop telling us about every problem drinker, as if we’re all the same. There are troubled people everywhere, doing all sorts of bad things, many of them worse than drinking too much. Like virtually every aspect of human existence, there is good and bad, and everyone should have the right to choose their own path. For every anecdote about an alcoholic, there are 99, or 95, people who aren’t; good people who are drinking responsibly, holding down jobs, raising families and getting on with their lives. They don’t deserve to have you condemning them every chance you get.

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Examples of non-alcoholic fun. I have fun without alcohol all the time, but only in moderation.

Blaming Alcohol For Rape

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Despite the title of this post, this is not about rape, it’s about alcohol, and prohibitionists. Okay, that’s not exactly true. It’s a little bit about rape, but it’s more about how alcohol is being blamed for it. Rape is without question one of the worst crimes there is, in some ways worse than murder because its effect on the victim never really goes away. Our society, however, doesn’t really take it as seriously as it should, especially if the rapist is from a prominent family, or plays sports. Having a mother, a wife and a daughter, I don’t really understand why we treat it so cavalierly, and often blame the victim, too. Since every man has a mother, and almost every one of them also has at least an aunt, sister, wife, daughter, niece, female cousin, etc., I really don’t get our society’s casualness with rape.

Yes, some other countries are even worse they we are, but that shouldn’t really matter, or excuse it. Time magazine recently put the topic on the cover of their magazine, in their May 26, 2014 issue, focusing on rape on college campuses. It’s a start. And at least it’s getting more attention, which it definitely should. I’ve seen a number of news outlets discussing it. And even the White House weighed in with a report, Not Alone, subtitled “The First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault.”

Unfortunately, it’s not all good. For example, it’s increasingly true that George Will is not just an out-of-touch old white man, but an asshole, too. But worse still, others are using the increased awareness of this abhorrent phenomenon for their own terrible purpose. Enter Alcohol Justice (AJ), who can’t help but see rape as alcohol’s fault, not as a crime of violence and power, like it actually is. Here’s what they’re tweeting:

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To be fair, they didn’t come up with the title “Colleges can’t discount role of drinking in sexual assault,” but they certainly jumped on it to flog their faithful with more tales of the scourge of alcohol. They took it from an internal UB Reporter website and spread it far wider, in order to further their agenda. The “new data from UB,” as if anybody would know who UB is, comes from the University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions (RIA).

What’s upsetting the RIA, and by extension AJ, is that the White House report didn’t focus enough attention on binge drinking, which they believe is the heart of the problem. Just stop people binge drinking, and that will solve the rape issue on college campuses, goes the thinking.

“Research consistently shows that heavy alcohol use is a factor in a majority of college sexual assault cases,” Livingston says. “Therefore, reduction of binge drinking on campuses must be recognized as a crucial goal in assault prevention efforts.”

Not everybody agrees, of course, and the lone comment to the UB article is from an Anne Taylor, who takes exception:

The researchers are going about this wrong. Men who commit acts of rape and sexual assault will commit these crimes regardless of whether or not alcohol is present. Clearly, these researchers are ignorant about rape culture and its effects on society at large. Men who are rapists use alcohol (and drugs) as an aid to committing acts of rape. Do these researchers honestly believe that reducing binge drinking will reduce the number of men who are rapists? No, these men will simply find another way to prey on their chosen victims.

Maybe these researchers ought to do a little research on rape culture and the patriarchy before conducting their study? As a survivor of sexual assault myself, I am absolutely livid at these researchers for perpetuating one of the many myths of rape culture (i.e., that alcohol and “drunk women” are the only reasons why men rape, never mind the fact we live in an extremely sexist society that devalues women’s bodily autonomy).

The RIA does seem to acknowledge some of what Taylor expresses, when they say. “Some advocates worry that acknowledging the role of binge drinking in assaults is tantamount to blaming the victim, but our common goal here is to prevent sexual assaults by better understanding the conditions under which they are likely to occur.” But I think blaming the alcohol is exactly what they’re doing. At a minimum, that’s the result of shifting the focus from the crime to the question of whether anyone had been drinking. Not only does it blame the victim, but it also provides an excuse for the rapist. And while I’m certain that some students do use drinking alcohol as their way to take advantage of another person, making it about the alcohol removes the responsibility of the rapist, allowing him, and society, to blame it all on binge drinking. Whether binge drinking, or any drinking, is involved muddies the waters and shifts the focus of the rape away from where it belongs: on the heinous crime itself.

The RIA has apparently “conducted groundbreaking research on the association between binge drinking and college sexual assault,” and there’s a link to a fact sheet entitled Alcohol and Sexual Assault. Unfortunately, and not to take away from their efforts, there’s nothing “groundbreaking” here, it’s just an overview of some research and factoids addressing their displeasure with the White House report not making enough of drinking. Even if some of it were true, which no doubt some of it is, it ends up being an excuse for why it was acceptable in the mind of, in some cases, both parties. But this is one of the instances where there should be no ambiguity, a strict liability. Drinks or no drinks, it’s completely unacceptable, so why make it about the drinking?

Blaming alcohol, as RIA and AJ seem to be doing, is doing exactly what they’re claiming not to be doing, making the “role of alcohol” a “stumbling block when discussing prevention efforts.” Because a crime is a crime, whether someone’s been drinking or not. If we discovered that more robberies were perpetrated by people who’d been drinking, would we focus our attention on stopping everyone from drinking, or continue trying to stop robbers from committing the crime? If it was found that criminals who’d been drinking considered robbery more acceptable morally than sober criminals, would that in any way change our view of the crime? And I think that’s why the more serious reports, including the White House’s, are concentrating on stopping the crime, not looking for a bogeyman.

Here’s another way in which one of the rape myths is addressed, from Chapter 7: Violent Crimes Committed Against Women and Children of the Office of the Attorney General for the State of California Department of Justice.

Many people have the wrong idea about sexual assault. They mistakenly believe that rapists are overcome with sexual desire or that a woman who is raped may have dressed too seductively or “asked for it” in some manner. These ideas assume that rape is only a sexual act, a crime that is motivated by desire. It is not. Rape is a violent crime, a hostile act, and an attempt to hurt and humiliate another person. Sex is used as a weapon, and rapists use that weapon against women, strangers and acquaintances of all ages, races and body types.

People may think of it as somehow “okay,” but that doesn’t change what it really is: a terrible crime. You can find information about rape being a violent crime all over the place, from Abstract Nonsense, the Minnesota State University and even the National Institute of Justice. Anybody claiming that they thought it was okay, or was okay if they were drunk, is a Neanderthal that should be removed from society, period. I know that’s not how our society currently approaches rape and sexual assault, but making this a question about how alcohol does or doesn’t contribute to the state of mind of either party to this crime is not helping. In fact I think it’s doing more harm, because not everyone who drinks, or even binge drinks, is a rapist, or thinks sexual assault is acceptable. But that’s the most common prohibitionist tactic. If anything bad ever happens, even just once or twice, and someone involved had been drinking, then the only possible response is for everyone to stop drinking. It must be the alcohol’s fault, and personal responsibility apparently doesn’t really exist. If one person can’t handle their booze, then no one should ever be allowed to drink. The fact that we don’t approach any other societal problem in this manner never seems to matter, and there’s always some excuse about “alcohol” being somehow different because it has, well, alcohol in it. Or it’s a sin, or toxic, or some other ridiculous notion. Oh, and did you hear? It’s made with antifreeze, too, because brewers want to kill all their customers.

When you read more about this, it’s clear that there are a minority of sexual predators on college campuses, and some of them use alcohol as a weapon. According to research as early as 2002, we’ve known this to be the case. In a respected study at the University of Massachusetts, they found that rapes were perpetrated by only 6.4% of the male college students, but that each of them was a serial rapist, with an average of almost six sexual assaults. As is the case with a lot of social problems, alcohol included, a small number of people are making it awful for the rest of us. And our usual response it to let those bad actors determine our response, which inevitably punishes everyone. The White House was right, I think, in focusing on the crime itself, and not on any of the weapons, or on other distractions.

What AJ, and possibly the RIA conveniently seems to forget, is that one of the major causes of binge drinking on college campuses is that prohibitionists forced the minimum age from 18 to 21 by getting Congress to tie it public highway funds. In a sense, binge drinking on college campuses was an unintended consequence of trying to curb drunk driving. The RIA does acknowledge that “underage drinkers who are victimized may fear legal or disciplinary consequences for alcohol use.” That’s what drives college drinking underground, and into secret, and creates the conditions where binge drinking can flourish, and so can sexual predators. So if their real goal was to stop binge drinking in college, they should at the very least be questioning the minimum age and talking about how it would help bring drinking into the open, and thereby possibly reducing many of the negative aspects of binge drinking that they believe are increasing sexual assaults. That’s the entire point of the Amethyst Initiative, which has 136 chancellors and presidents of universities and colleges across the United States signed up to change the law for that very reason. I understand why AJ would never entertain that idea. It’s simply not possible for them to view alcohol in anything but the most negative way imaginable, but I’m baffled why the RIA wouldn’t at least suggest it as one possible solution.

Obviously, education is suggested by everybody, but alcohol education is all but nonexistent, apart from the “just say no” variety, which does no good whatsoever. In some states, it’s actually illegal to teach children about alcohol, even by their own parents. Changing the age from 21 back to 18, along with allowing parents (or others) to give teens real information about alcohol and its effects might go a long way toward reducing binge drinking in college, though I suspect it would have only a minimal effect on sexual assault. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try it, or at least just talk about it.

According to RAINN (The Rape, Assault, Incest National Network), in 30% of sexual assaults the perpetrator was intoxicated with alcohol. That also means in 70% of cases, the rapist was not drunk. I accept that it’s possible that the figure is higher among assaults on college campuses. I’m not trying to downplay the crime here; just the opposite in fact. The point I’m trying to make is that the drinking should be beside the point. It should definitely not be the focus, because it simply shouldn’t matter if either victim or rapist was drinking, or drunk. And that’s what pisses me off about Alcohol Justice. In their rush to highlight anything negative about alcohol, they’re shamelessly blaming alcohol for rapes on college campuses, when it’s clear that bad people are are responsible for them. Good people don’t turn into rapists by drinking too much. Bad people are already bad, whether they drink alcohol or give it to their victims. I just wish Alcohol Justice, and the other prohibitionists, would stop blaming alcohol for every problem facing society.

The New Yellow Journalism

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While to a certain extent it’s easy to understand the reaction of the big brewers, it’s still just sad. It’s the equivalent of negotiating with terrorists, in this case the food terrorists, so to speak. If you haven’t figured out what I’m talking about yet, it’s the so-called Food Babe, and her weird crusade against beer, among many other foodstuffs. She’s the modern version of yellow journalism, all sensationalism and almost no substance. It’s described as “a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers. Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism.”

Her first salvo was last year when she sensationally claimed to expose The Shocking Ingredients in Beer. Almost every one was as un-shocking as it gets, especially if you understand the brewing process. But that’s the new yellow journalism, and unfortunately you see it all over the internet. A provocative headline to grab page views, link bait or something just overly sensational is all you need. It’s happened so many times since I’ve been writing online that I’ve lost count. And it works. The beer community rushes in to correct egregious mistakes, faulty reasoning, uninformed opinion while the hit count spikes, advertisers smile and websites raise their advertising rates. It rarely matters that what’s written is often wrong, sometimes so utterly wrong that it should be embarrassing for not only the author, but the publication, too. And yet curiously, it’s not. And for me, that’s why it’s yellow journalism. It’s not intended to be factual, or well-researched or reasoned. It’s sole purpose is to get eyeballs on the page. And facts apparently are boring. The truth is somnambulistic. Controversy, even the manufactured kind, is what brings the traffic.

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The “Food Babe” with her comically large magnifying glass.

I don’t need to rehash all that was wrong with the original missive by the Food Babe, The Shocking Ingredients in Beer. Plenty of people dissected it at the time, though none better than Ambitious Brew author Maureen Ogle, who enlisted the help of several respected brewers in her lengthy, comprehensive denunciation What’s In YOUR Beer? Or, The Dangers of Dumbassery, which she later summarized in All About Beer Magazine as Don’t Be A Knee-Jerk, Research the Facts. As Ogle notes, the Food Babe started her “research” with a “baseline list of ‘legal’ additives allowed in beer from the book ‘Chemicals Additives in Beer’ by the Center of Science and Public Interest.” Despite its name, the CSPI is a prohibitionist organization that rarely has anything to do with actual science. It’s one of the most egregiously dishonest of the bunch, in my opinion, an opinion assembled from following them for many years. They’re hardly a good place to begin an honest attempt to look at the ingredients in beer. Plus she begins by stating she’s not even a beer drinker, but prefers wine, even though many of the process chemicals she accuses beer of being composed of are also used in making wine.

A close second, there was also Thomas Cizauskas’ take in Beer Wars: The Calumny of The Food Babe. But others, before and since, have noted that Vani Hari (the Food Babe’s given name) has zero credentials in food sciences, or any other science, apparently. See, for example the RationalWiki or Joe Schwarcz: The Food Babe is anything but an expert on GMOs, writing in the Montreal Gazette. There’s no shortage of people writing about what she’s saying — pro and con — and that, of course, is the point. She’s so out there that people can’t help it; the Ann Coulter of food punditry. Despite so many people crying foul, it’s had no effect whatsoever, which is exactly what you’d expect if truth was never really the goal.

So yesterday, she doubled down and penned an open letter and petition: Anheuser-Busch and Miller Coors: Tell Us What’s In Your Beer! This, despite the fact that beer is hardly a mystery, and its ingredients and processes are not only well know, but readily available to anyone who wants to learn about them. But learning about what’s really in beer has apparently no interest to Hari whatsoever. There’s no angle she can sell in that. But ignorance is indeed blissful, and over 40,000 possibly well-meaning but similarly misguided people signed her petition, despite not really understanding the current law regarding alcohol is different for most other food products.

And she even contradicts herself with the basic premise. In her ridiculous graphic, she says that we know what’s in Coca-Cola and Windex, but not beer (even though she claimed to unearth what’s in beer last year) even though anyone paying attention already knows what’s in beer, how it’s made and the process chemicals that are not in the finished product. It’s hardly the #MysteryBeer she claims it to be. That’s a joke, a lie and a very effective way to drum up visitors. There’s no mystery to end, and she knows it. But it’s a fabulous way to get more attention for herself. And boy is it working.

But worst of all, earlier today ABI quickly caved. As a public company, I presume they concluded that the publicity was bad for their image, despite the absurdity of it. Of course, if she’d done even a modicum of actual research, she would have known that since at least 2012, ABI created a website (probably in response to the watering down claims) called tapintoyourbeer.com , which lists for every product they make, the ABV, fat, energy, carbohydrates and proteins. Now they’ve begun listing the primary ingredients for some of their products. For example, for Budweiser they list: “Water, Barley Malt, Rice, Yeast, Hops (ingredient listing is consistent with the FD&C Act).” In their official statement, they say they’ll be expanding that information with additional beer ingredients.

We provide significant information about our beer and their nutritional content through both our consumer hotline (1-800-DIAL-BUD) and our global consumer-information website www.tapintoyourbeer.com, which we have expanded over the years. This exceeds what is required of alcohol producers and is beyond what many other beer, wine and hard liquor producers provide. However, as American consumer needs evolve, we want to meet their expectations. Therefore, we are working to list our beer ingredients on our website, just as you would see for other food and non-alcohol beverage producers. We are beginning immediately, having incorporated this information earlier today on www.tapintoyourbeer.com for our flagship brands, Budweiser and Bud Light, and will be listing this for our other brands in the coming days.

To which, the Food Babe is claiming victory for her and her “Food Babe Army,” which is apparently what she calls her followers or fans, and states that they have “change[d] the policies of a multi-billion dollar company overnight.” But she’s not done, not until every brewery falls in line with her demands. She’s now posted a new graphic crowing about ABI caving in to her demands and asks what MillerCoors is hiding now that they’re “drinking in the dark,” whatever that means.

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It’s curious how she had this photo of herself in front of a wall of beer cans all ready to go.

But according to Brewbound, MillerCoors also listed their primary ingredients on their Facebook page earlier today.

At MillerCoors, we put quality and safety above all else. Our beers are regulated by the TTB and every one of our products meets all federal and state regulatory requirements.

We’re proud of the care that goes into the production of all of our beers and have been brewing great-tasting beers with the highest quality ingredients for more than 440 combined years.

From the purity of the water we use to the highest-quality hops and malted barley, our brewmasters go to great lengths to ensure the quality and consistency of our beers.

We also value transparency and are happy to comply with the request for additional information. Earlier this year, we led all alcohol companies by voluntarily placing a nutritional label on our Miller64 brand and we will be putting more ingredient information online in the days ahead.

We will be including the ingredient list starting with our most popular brands, representing the overwhelming majority of our brand volume:

Coors Light, Miller Lite, Blue Moon Belgian White, Coors Banquet, Miller Genuine Draft, Miller High Life, Keystone Light and Miller Fortune.
Coors Light: Water, barley malt, corn, yeast and hops
Miller Lite: Water, barley malt, corn, yeast and hops
Miller High Life: Water, barley malt, corn, yeast and hops
Keystone Light: Water, barley malt, corn, yeast and hops
Blue Moon Belgian White: Water, barley malt, wheat, oats, yeast, hops, orange peel and coriander
Coors Banquet: Water, barley malt, corn, yeast and hops
Miller Genuine Draft: Water, barley malt, corn, yeast and hops
Miller Fortune: Water, barley malt, corn, yeast and hops

Maybe she didn’t have time to update her graphics again. Certainly she knows Miller Coors posted these, because she’s posted on their Facebook page, with this:

I have an email from you that says you use “corn syrup” and it’s a main ingredient in your beer – also – you said via email that bluemoon and banquet both have corn syrup. Where’s the full list of ingredients?

They replied, trying to explain that “the corn we use is a liquid corn brewing adjunct, but it is not high fructose corn syrup.” The ignorance about brewing displayed in the comments, presumably by her Food Babe Army, is as alarming as it is remarkable.

The problem is with the first expose, where the Food Babe brought up many different chemicals and items which are used in the brewing process but are not ingredients. Some are used to cool the beer through the process, some for cleaning, and some for other purposes that don’t end up in the beer you drink, some of which never touch the beer at all. For just one example, she claimed glycol was in beer. But that’s merely a coolant used to chill beer in the brewing process. It never touches the beer … ever. If it did, it would ruin the beer. But it’s still there in her list, displaying either a comic ignorance or a malicious intent to mislead. But that’s the irony. She’s claiming to be holding brewers’ feet to the fire to be truthful and transparent, while she herself is being completely dishonest. If her intent was honest, by now she would have modified her earlier attack to reflect the reality she would have, or should have, learned in the year since she first made her absurd claims about what’s in beer. If she was being honest, she’d admit some, if not all, of what she’d claimed was in beer, really wasn’t, for the simple fact that it’s not. That she appears to have learned nothing in the year since she first made her sensationalist claims, and stands by every one of her absurd statements, tells us everything we need to know about her veracity and her real intentions.

Most brewers I know don’t have a problem rattling off their beers’ ingredients nor would they probably mind listing them on the bottle or can, if they were required to do so. It’s not a conspiracy that they don’t have to currently. They do have to list them when they submit each beer for approval to the TTB, who regulate beer and other alcohol at the federal level. There’s already been discussions about listing nutritional information and/or alcohol and servings information. So nobody’s getting away with anything, or trying to poison you with chemicals, as the Food Babe suggests. That’s just bullshit. Whether or not you like the beers made by the big brewers, they’re very well made and modern breweries are industrial and technological marvels. For the most part, they’ve perfected the science of brewing. It’s too bad the fizzy yellow color of their beer is now the same color of the journalism attacking the beer industry.


UPDATE (6.13): To further prove my point, throughout the day, several people have commented that the Food Babe does not allow any dissenting opinions on her Facebook page, removing and banning anything challenging her point of view. And I’m not talking about anything insulting or harassing, I’m talking about science that refutes her. For example, the gentleman who writes the Facebook page Science Corner told me he was “blocked when I pointed out her inconsistencies and lack of fact checking. As a scientist I referenced my comments with actual facts taken from peer reviewed scientific journals.” Nothing says “honesty” like not allowing any debate. To makes matters worse, apparently her minions are now attacking me personally. Not my arguments, mind you, just my character. For example, one Food Babe Army soldier asked me if I was “bought & sold by Monsanto” or speculated that perhaps “Most of [my] investments [are] in big AG.” Hilarious, they really know me so well. I’m not exactly sure why dissent is so assiduously forbidden, if — as her followers insist — she’s just trying to get at the truth. As one commenter claims, “she’s trying to help WE THE PEOPLE make better decisions so we don’t become sick.” Apparently her plan to help these people with their decision-making will be accomplished by not allowing honest debate. Yet I’m the one who is “the YELLOW JOURNALIST,” as one of her wingnuts spat at me. It’s simply amazing.

Big Chin Superhero

UPDATE 2 (6.17): Several other rants about how dishonest Hari is being with her anti-beer campaign are worth taking a look at. First, Maureen Ogle wrote some new observations in Beware the Dangers of [Profit-Driven] Dumbassery. A couple more include Trevor Butterworth writing in Forbes, Quackmail: Why You Shouldn’t Fall For The Internet’s Newest Fool, The Food Babe, and Vani Hari (a.k.a. The Food Babe): The Jenny McCarthy of Food by David Gorski, writing in Science-Based Medicine. We’re all continuing to get trolled by the Food Babe Army, which is almost funny. One interesting troll tried to find fault with my take on glycol as a coolant, but mistook propylene glycol for another similar-sounding food safe compound used in salad dressing, among other things. For him it was a “gotcha” moment and (despite being wrong) he then declared (again) that I was “the yellow journalist.” This brings up two points in my mind. First, what the hell is wrong with these people? Why are they even using the term “the yellow journalist,” as if that’s a thing? They clearly don’t understand what yellow journalism is. I helpfully included a link to an overview of yellow journalism so that anyone unfamiliar with the more than 100-year-old term (almost everybody, one presumes) could see what I was talking about. The second point, and the more troubling of the two, is the idea that if Vani’s Army found one mistake in what I’ve written then that invalidates my entire argument and means that I’m the one engaging in yellow journalism. It’s a curious argument. They’re holding Vani’s critics to a standard of perfection that they’re not willing to impose on her. As far as I can tell, this has become about emotions and belief, and the facts no longer seem to matter, if indeed they ever did. That’s a scary prospect, but how else to explain why so many people seem to believe what she’s saying so uncritically and continue to do so when faced with numerous refutations disproving what she’s saying, and which are actually backed up with real science or expertise or experience. And speaking of being uncritical, it’s quite remarkable how many mainstream media outlets have given Hari a forum, and are passing on her misinformation without ever doing any fact-checking or maybe getting a second or contrary opinion. So much for being fair and balanced. But again it comes down to sensationalism, and the fact that controversy is what people what to see, the truth be damned.

UPDATE (7.14): Maureen Ogle today mentioned a new piece about the Food Babe in the Charlotte Observer, ostensibly the Food Babe’s home paper, Charlotte’s Food Babe has lots of fans – and some critics. Unsurprisingly, it’s mostly a fluff piece although at least it does address some of the criticisms leveled at Vani Hari. But it lets her get away with more than a few howlers, such as “Hari says she is simply trying to help people understand what’s in their food and hold companies accountable. She says she has researched her critics and that they attack anyone who opposes alternative nutrition.” Really, she’s “researched her critics?” I’d feel a lot better if she’d research their arguments and the science behind her original absurd claims.

Interestingly, the article mentions that she, and her husband, left lucrative “six-figure incomes” to run the website full-time, one that’s “packed with advertising and product endorsements. You can even buy an eating-plan subscription for $17.99 a month.” As someone who makes zero from writing this blog (and that’s on purpose I should add), I’d say you have to sell an awful lot of snake oil to make that work. Of course, the “babe” in food babe all but guarantees that she’ll get television time since we love people who are telegenic over substance so you’ll not be surprised in the least that she also has a “William Morris Endeavor agent to handle her TV appearances.” Frighteningly, a publisher is even putting out a book, “The Food Babe Way,” so that doesn’t sound like a cult or anything scary.

As to where she makes her money, something her “Army” loves to level at her critics (for example, commenters asked if I was being paid by Monsanto, oddly enough), it’s been revealed that she was a paid consultant to Chick-fil-A, but also claimed victory over the fast food chain when they announced they’d “use chicken that was free of antibiotics within five years,” posting “We Did It Again!” According to the Charlotte Observer, “Hari has confirmed that she was paid by Chick-fil-A for her work as a consultant on their ingredients, a fact she appears to have not mentioned on her website.” Yet none of her followers apparently have a problem with or see any contradiction in that.

Then there’s this headline: “Debate is her sport.” That’s almost funny, if it wasn’t so crucial to what’s wrong with someone like like Hari. She may claim to love debate, but she assiduously avoids it by banning anyone who questions her “findings,” even politely. The comments section of any piece written about her is rife with people telling tales of being banned, even this post.

Under “Science or silliness?,” the Observer brings up the nonsense about glycol, thusly:

Her claim about “an ingredient found in antifreeze” being added to beer also draws criticism. Actually, the ingredient used is propylene glycol alginate, a kelp derivative used to stabilize head foam, not propylene glycol, a coolant. She later clarified this on her website.

While she sort of updated information about her original claim, under Big Update: The Truth That Beer Companies Have Not Made Public Yet, under the subheading “‘Propylene Glycol Alginate’ is added to beer as a foam stabilizer,” she continues to mistake Propylene Glycol Alginate, or PGA, for “Propylene Glycol” that’s used in antifreeze, even though they’re two completely different animals. And in the original post, The Shocking Ingredients of Beer, still lists “Propylene Glycol (an ingredient found in anti-freeze)” exactly the same way as when it was first posted last fall. So the that misinformation is still being disseminated, despite her claim to have “clarified” it. Considering she keeps talking about “transparency,” why not update the original post? Well, the real reason is she’s still not even close to understanding what she’s talking about, and as far as I can tell she no intention of even trying to.

What Does Family Friendly Mean? Alcohol At Farmer’s Markets

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At farmer’s markets throughout California, you can buy locally grown food, fruit and vegetables, nuts and berries, prepared food, jewelry and other crafts and all manner of other products. The main difference between farmer’s market goods and others is that for the most part they’re grown or made in a relatively modest radius. The one product you can’t purchase, or sample, is alcohol. California Assembly Bill AB-2488 seeks to correct that. Not surprisingly, the shrill sheriff against all things fun, Alcohol Justice, is opposing this bill, and is strongly urging its supporters to help defeat the bill. I realize they can’t help themselves, having positioned themselves against absolutely everything and anything having to do with alcohol. Not to mention, every action they take is more about bringing attention, and potential donations to line their coffers, and not about common sense. Indeed, they’ve been veering farther and farther into ridiculous fringes of fanaticism recently.

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Naturally, you can distill their complaints down to the most pernicious criticism of all: it’s about the kids. Of course it’s really not, but let’s look at their arguments:

[It] will negatively impact public health, an impact that is antithetic to what farmers’ markets largely stand for: improving community health through more healthy food choices.

Alcohol anywhere, in their sober brains, always impacts public health negatively, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. It really doesn’t matter where, or when, they’re firmly against it. But “more healthy food choices” includes the moderate consumption of alcohol, although they now are taking the position that even moderate drinking is harmful, going against the FDA and a majority of American’s personal experience. But from the simple perspective of being healthy, beer, wine and cider from small producers contains no additives or chemicals and are made from only natural, mostly agricultural ingredients. Many use local raw materials whenever possible. Beer, wine and cider are very healthy and local producers are very much in keeping with the spirt of farmer’s markets.

Farmers’ markets are family-friendly events commonly held in unrestrained public spaces, like streets, sidewalks and parking lots. Allowing for alcoholic beverage service in such venues is a recipe for increased alcohol-related harm.

I’m increasingly hearing this term “family-friendly.” What exactly does that mean? For Alcohol Justice, it appears to mean no alcohol, no anything that is strictly for adults. I believe they’d like the entire world to be family-friendly, which means making alcohol illegal again. But that’s complete bullshit. Family-friendly should not mean a world only Rated “G” with nothing adult in it. But that’s how they take it, for them Family-friendly means kids-only and the two are not the same, nor should they be. We’re training or raising our kids to be adults, and our job as parents is to prepare them to be adults. But for Alcohol Justice, and many other prohibitionists, they believe the best way to do that is for our kids to never, ever be exposed to anything adult in nature. That until they’re 18 — or 21 — they should never be exposed to or learn anything about the adult world. Then on that magic day when they’re declared an adult, we push them out into the world, utterly ignorant of anything they’re about to face. That’s the reason binge drinking at college is such a problem now, because of this idea of keeping kids sheltered from the adult world, another name for which is “the world.” There’s only one world, but prohibitionists think we should keep a wall between children and that world. It’s completely absurd, and counter-productive. It’s actually doing more harm than good, in my opinion. Family-friendly should mean anyplace where kids are not in any particular danger and are safe, but who doesn’t what that to be literally every place? I want to feel safe wherever I’m at, too, kids are not really part of the equation. With some limited exceptions (and not including farmer’s markets), kids should be able to be anywhere their parents choose to take them, period.

Children do not need to see their parents drinking wine or hard cider when they shop for fruit or vegetables; that practice is most damaging to impressionable young minds as youth expectations and attitudes will become more accepting of underage alcohol use. That “normalization” will be the message that youth will take away if this bill passes.

This one is the most obnoxious, and wrong. Children very much do “need to see their parents drinking wine or hard cider when they shop for fruit or vegetables.” It’s called modeling behavior, and how else would kids know what is proper drinking behavior unless they see their parents practicing it? It is absolutely not “damaging to impressionable young minds” to see their parents engaging in perfectly acceptable and legal behavior in a responsible manner. If that makes them “more accepting of underage alcohol use” then you’re not doing your job. There are many things that kids can’t do that their parents can. Do kids somehow start to be “more accepting” of driving a car before they get a license just because they continually see their parents driving? Are kids “normalized” into believing they should be stealing their parents’ car to go for a joyride just because they saw their Dad drive them to school? Of course not. They understand that it’s something they’re not allowed to do until they turn sixteen and obtain a license. It’s not that hard. To say otherwise is complete propaganda to further an absurd agenda.

This is especially true in Sonoma County — where we live — where there are currently 23 breweries, 5 cideries, 3 craft distilleries and 450 wineries. As a result, there are plenty of opportunities to be at local farmer’s markets. The cideries use local apples and many of the wineries grow their own grapes, too. Why shouldn’t they be every bit as welcome at a local farmer’s market as the nearby strawberry farmer or cattle rancher? They’re already a part of their community, usually donate time and money, not to mention all the positive economic impact they have in their area. It’s quite frankly insulting to say they’re not welcome because a child might see their Mom or Dad having a sip of wine.

As one of my favorite brewery slogans makes clear, “Beer is Agriculture.” It’s only natural it should be allowed at a farmer’s market.

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More Beer At Starbucks: Let The Whining Begin

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Several times I’ve seen the anti-alcohol wingnuts claim that alcohol is the most addictive substance on the planet, typing that as they sip their morning coffee and dip their doughnut into it. I’m pretty sure worldwide, and certainly in this country, many more people are addicted to caffeine and sugar than alcohol.

A few years ago, Starbucks tested selling beer in the evenings at one of their locations in Seattle. It must have went well, because they quietly expanded the test to 26 Starbucks locations, and then 40. Recently, however, they announced via Bloomberg and the USA Today that Starbucks would expand what they call “Evenings Stores” to many more locations. No exact figure has been released, but there are over 20,000 Starbucks worldwide, with around 11,500 (or 13,000, depending on the source) in the U.S., and so far they’ll only be adding “Evening Stores” in America, selling only beer and wine, not spirits.

You have to figure most sales of caffeine are in the morning or earlier in the day, at least, when people need that pick-me-up. As the sun moves farther west toward its daily sunset, less and less people want caffeine, for the obvious reason that it will keep them up at night. There are, of course, people who work different shifts and who therefore will be exceptions, but by and large caffeine — coffee and tea — is a daytime drink. So it makes sense that when sales inevitably and predictably fall at night that Starbucks, any company really, would be looking for something to keep sales flowing when their core product ebbs. They already have a comfortable infrastructure where people come and sit for hours, so why not extend that at night, with beer or wine instead of coffee or tea?

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But, not surprisingly, delight over the prospect of Starbucks selling beer and wine is not universal. The Sheriff of Notinmyworld, Alcohol Justice, as usual thinks anything they don’t like is a “bad idea.” They tweeted as much, saying “Bad idea Starbucks,” along with a link to an opinion piece in the Washington Post by Greg Williams, “who has been in recovery from alcohol and drug use for more than 12 years.” Williams is also a filmmaker, and is promoting his documentary film The Anonymous People which appears to be at least in part about traditional recovery stories, i.e. ones using the 12-step or AA model. As I’ve written numerous times, that’s the sacrosanct abstinence method that most Americans, and most of the medical community who makes money off of addicts, believe is the only way to treat addiction, despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

So what is Williams’ problem with Starbucks selling beer and wine? It’s all in the headline. By serving alcohol, Starbucks risks losing key customers: people in recovery. Yup, you read that right. If a coffee shop sells alcohol, then alcoholics and other addicts won’t be able to go there. Because nothing signals recovery better than the inability to be in the same building as alcohol. Never mind that alcohol is sold, in most of the civilized world, in grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations, virtually every restaurant, sports venue, and countless other places. Whew, that’s a long list of places that people in recovery can’t go. I guess they might as well move to an Islamic country or some other place where alcohol is illegal to be really sure.

Every day, people in recovery meet up in Starbucks cafes to support one another, to talk to their 12-step sponsors and, most of all, to be welcomed in one of the few lively, popular, alcohol-free gathering places in their community.

I understand that they might be afraid of backsliding and ordering a beer if it’s offered on the menu, but alcohol is available to adults in countless other places, and yet most AA members have somehow managed to safely navigate the world. I certainly haven’t heard of there not being enough safe places for them to go before now. But even in an alcohol-friendly venue, in a meeting setting, with their support network in place to help them, that really shouldn’t be an issue, should it? Not to mention, in my view, you’re not really anywhere close to a cure if you can’t sit in a coffee shop and not order something you shouldn’t, especially when you’ll face the same issue in every restaurant, grocery store, etc. you set foot in. But with the next sentence it turns weirder.

Starbucks should pay special attention to them.

Huh?!? Why? That reminds me of those annoying “Baby On Board” signs suggesting that I have to drive extra careful when I’m near a car with a baby in it. We all live in the same world. Either figure out how to survive in it, or get the hell out. We all have the same responsibility to one another as a member of society. People who can’t handle themselves should not be entitled to special treatment. The world doesn’t owe you “special attention” because you’re incapable of acting responsibly, usually of your own making.

I know that sounds cold or callous, but it’s not meant to. I’ve known plenty of alcoholics and addicts in my life. But you can’t let them determine how you act, or how society as a whole acts, without making society a different and altogether worse place. I’m sorry you’re struggling with your own demons, but making me act differently whenever you’re around is dragging me, and everybody else, down with you. You have to stand up, on your own terms, and without our having to bend down to meet you. Otherwise, it’s not really a cure, is it?

Williams notes that the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research “found that 88.5 percent of those studied who were in recovery from alcoholism drank coffee. Thirty-three percent of those coffee drinkers drank more than four cups a day.” (I can’t help but see that as a sign that AA members are trading in one addiction for a more socially acceptable one, but that’s another story.) Based on that factoid, he’s extrapolated that to mean that many of Starbucks’ patrons must be alcoholics, too. Maybe some are, but then again, perhaps not. There’s no causation shown by the statistic in the study and the fact that Starbucks sells coffee. Williams, in concluding, suggests that if “executives studied this market demographic, perhaps they would think twice about this move.”

Hmm, let’s see. “Starbucks is the largest coffeehouse company in the world, with 20,891 stores in 64 countries, including 13,279 in the United States, 1,324 in Canada, 989 in Japan, 851 in China and 806 in the United Kingdom.” Their revenue was nearly $15 billion, with a “b,” last year, and they had a net income of $8.8 million and assets totally more than $11.5 billion. But he thinks Starbucks didn’t analyze their demographics before making this decision? They tested the concept for four years, in different metropolitan markets, before announcing they were planning on rolling it out to more locations, and would do so slowly over the next several years. But he thinks they acted rashly, without thinking it through?

Industry analysts, such as Mintel and Beverage Daily, seem to think the move will be a good one for Starbucks, especially if they focus on local craft brands, as current rumors suggest they will. Alcohol Justice and Williams’ “people in recovery” may now have to buy their coffee elsewhere, but I’ll be very surprised if enough to make a dent in the coffee giant’s marketshare actually do stop buying at Starbucks.

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Camille Paglia’s Take On The Minimum Drinking Age

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While I don’t often opine about America’s idiotic minimum drinking age, one of the oldest in the civilized world, I do believe it should be 18 for a variety of reasons. Author Camille Paglia, in the current issue of Time magazine, had a rather forceful, nicely angry piece on why she believes It’s Time to Let Teenagers Drink Again, which is the title in print. Online it’s called The Drinking Age Is Past Its Prime.

She’s pulling no punches, and believes it should be “repealed,” if indeed that’s even the right way to change it. She writes: “It is absurd and unjust that young Americans can vote, marry, enter contracts and serve in the military at 18 but cannot buy an alcoholic drink in a bar or restaurant. The age-21 rule sets the U.S. apart from all advanced Western nations and lumps it with small or repressive countries like Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Indonesia, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.” I don’t necessarily agree with everything she has to say, but enough. Plus it’s great to see such an unabashed argument in favor of relaxing that particular law in so mainstream a media outlet.

But my favorite line is the way she characterizes alcohol’s positive attributes. “Alcohol relaxes, facilitates interaction, inspires ideas and promotes humor and hilarity.” She concludes.

Alcohol’s enhancement of direct face-to-face dialogue is precisely what is needed by today’s technologically agile generation, magically interconnected yet strangely isolated by social media. Clumsy hardcore sexting has sadly supplanted simple hanging out over a beer at a buzzing dive. By undermining the art of conversation, the age-21 law has also had a disastrous effect on our arts and letters, with their increasing dullness and mediocrity. This tyrannical infantilizing of young Americans must stop!

Here, here. Few things in society are better than the simple pleasure of sharing a beer with friends. I didn’t realize it was improving our nation’s “arts and letters,” but hey, I’ll go with it.

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Pennsylvania Anti-Privatization Propaganda

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I’ve considered myself a Californian since 1985, when I moved to the Golden State. But I was born and raised in Pennsylvania. On my Mom’s side, my family first came from Berne, Switzerland, to the Reading area in 1745. I have a relative who participated in the Revolutionary War and another who fought at Gettysburg, and whose name is enshrined on the Pennsylvania Monument there. As a result, I tend to feel a connection to the Commonwealth and try to keep a closer eye on what goes on there.

The Keystone State is a peculiar one, especially when it comes to alcohol. State Stores there enjoy a monopoly on liquor and wine sales, and beer is sold only by the case (with some expensive exceptions) in heavily regulated and licensed beer and soda stores known as “distributors.” When I turned 21, in 1980, the state still didn’t have photo driver’s licenses and I remember having to fill out a form and attach a photo so the state could create my PLCB photo card, whose only purpose was to buy a drink, in effect a drinking card. The drive to change the state’s weird, and antiquated, alcohol laws has been a topic of conversation literally since I was a child, and I can recall my parents debating its merits. They were in favor of privatization, as apparently a majority of Pennsylvanians still are.

But efforts to privatize Pennsylvania’s alcohol trade and get rid of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, or PLCB, always seem to stall, and nothing ever seems to change. Watching from afar that seems as true today as it did when I still lived there. Everybody I know hates the system the way it is, but no one’s been able to change that due to what I can only assume are powerful forces who want to keep the status quo the way it is. But over the last few years, momentum appears to be building again to bend the state’s laws toward the will of the people and privatize the sale of beer, wine and spirits.

And they must be making some progress, because a few days ago I saw this:

It’s easily one of the most obnoxious, dishonest and insulting pieces of propaganda I’ve ever seen. Right out of the gate they insult every other state where alcohol is sold in grocery stores and other places where people already do their shopping, a.k.a. the civilized world, when they state that it “would be so dangerous for kids.” Hey lady (scriptwriter, really), I’ve got news for you. We can buy beer in all manner of stores throughout California, and my kids are just fine, thank you very much. There’s so much dishonesty in the ad that it’s almost not worth going through it point by point. But the capper is how they end it, by saying “it’s about greed, pure and simple.”

What’s so dishonest about that is that the ad is indeed about greed, but the greed of the people who made the ad who want to keep the status quo, and the money flowing to them. The ad was created by the UFCW PA Wine & Spirits Council (a front organization) and the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1776 (UFCW 1776) (and was produced by Strategic Communications). As I’ve written many times before, one of the most pernicious tactics of these campaigns is invoking “it’s for the children,” when it’s really not about that at all. But this one takes it to a new low with their new catch phrase: “It only takes a little bit of greed to kill a child.”

You might ask what kind of a person would come up with something like that? It’s most likely UCFW 1776′s “president for life” Wendell W. Young IV, who apparently has made a career out of this sort of thing, as detailed nicely by my friend and colleague Lew Bryson in Wendell Young lies and I can prove it on his blog all about Why The PLCB Should Be Abolished.

As he points out, the ad is so ham-fisted and absurd that it’s made the state a laughingstock, with news reports lambasting the ad from Forbes to the National Memo, which declared it the “craziest political ad of 2014.” Also, the Commonwealth Foundation points out how the statistic about North Carolina’s children dying at a rate of one per week is false. The Foundation also has a good overview of the Principles of Liquor Privatization.

But it’s another example in the ongoing sad saga of just how far people will go to push their self-serving agendas, something anti-alcohol groups are amazingly good at doing. At some point, the creators of this, the sponsors and people paying the bill all looked at this ad before airing it to the public and never once concluded it went too far, might be over the top or played fast and loose with the truth. And that, I think, tells you everything you need to know about the hearts and minds of the UCFW 1776. It really does only take a little bit of greed, doesn’t it?

CCBA SoCal General Meeting Announced

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The California Craft Brewers Association will be holding a general members meeting in Southern California on May 19-20. The two-day event is open to all California Breweries, Breweries in Planning, Allied Trade Members and Distributor Members.

On Monday, May 19, Workshops and a Beer Garden BBQ will be held at Stone Brewing Company in Escondido, with the workshops taking place from 3-5 PM, followed by a BBQ from 5-7 PM.

On Tuesday, May 20, the CCBA General Meeting will be held from 9:00 AM to 6:30 PM at the Center for the Arts in Escondido, and will include a beer social.

Registration is required to attend, and can be done online through Eventbrite. CCBA Members will receive a discounted price for the general meeting of $30.00 (use promotional code: CCBAmember and enter promotional code under registration ticket type “CCBA Members – Gen’l Meeting) when you register.

More details about the meeting are available at the CCBA website.

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The Prohibitionist Pot Calling The Brew Kettle Black

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This is almost funny, an amazing press release from Alcohol Justice that is so lacking in self-awareness and irony that it’s hard not to laugh at just how truly absurd it is. Why any media outlet, anyone really, takes them seriously is a head-scratcher, especially with such a remarkable lack of perception displayed in this particular press release. This is perhaps the most remarkable case of the pot calling the kettle black that I have ever seen. According to the latest missive from the Sheriff of Anti-Alcohol, Alcohol Justice, the Century Council is in the “AJ Doghouse” — where I permanently live — and they accuse the group of a host of sins. Since the beginning of April, Alcohol Awareness Month, they’ve been tweeting their displeasure:

In the AJ Doghouse: Century Council Rebrand Rehashes Old Tricks http://bit.ly/1jayaKO Big Al’s smoke & mirrors.

I love that they’re now calling “Big Alcohol” by the shorter nickname “Big Al.” Do you think AJ knows that “Big Al” is the name of the mascot for the University of Alabama? Or that Big Al’s was one of the first strip clubs in San Francisco? There’s even a Big Al brewery in Washington.

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But what’s really amazing about this particular press release is that practically everything that AJ is accusing the Century Council of doing is something that Alcohol Justice has themselves done at some point, and not throughout history, but recently. The “Old Tricks” that AJ claims they’re rehashing are all “tricks” they’ve also done, though when they did them it was perfectly acceptable behavior. Let’s break it down:

Just in time for Alcohol Awareness Month, the Century Council (educational front group arm of spirits producer trade group DISCUS) has announced a major rebrand effort, changing its name to sound more like an official NGO or policy institute: Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (FAAR).

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This one is particularly funny. Do they think nobody will remember the Marin Institute? It’s only been three years since Alcohol Justice announced a major rebrand effort, changing its name to sound more official or more like a Wild West vigilante: Alcohol Justice (AJ). But when the Century Council does it, it’s for nefarious purposes, but when AJ did it, the new name supposedly “better reflects its national and global reach, and clarifies its mission.” Uh-huh. Sure. As Professor David J. Hanson wrote around the time of the name change, AJ “finally acknowledged that ‘we aren’t a research organization as institute implies.’ The fact that the Marin Institute wasn’t a research organization has long been noted by observers, although the activist group has often presented itself to the public and media as engaging in research.”

Whatever this industry-funded membership group calls itself, its real mission remains—to absolve its founders and funders from accountability for the staggering harm their products cause, and to raise as much profit and goodwill for their shareholders as possible.

No matter what “Big Al” does, it carries malicious intent. There is literally nothing that the alcohol industry can do that would satisfy AJ. They even found something to complain about when Anheuser-Busch gave water to hurricane victims in Haiti. You’d think that if alcohol was trying to combat the minority of people who abuse it, they’d welcome it, but when we do it, we’re apparently not serious about it. This one serious pisses me off, as if people in the alcohol industry don’t value human life as much as they do. It’s as if they think we’re fine with people dying. I honestly think sometimes, the way they describe us, that they don’t think that we’re human. It’s more than insulting. They claim that it’s just to “raise as much profit and goodwill for their shareholders as possible,” but much of what AJ does is solicit donations with their press releases and repetitive tweeting. In December, they kept asking for donations over and over again. Beyond that, a recent conference of prohibitionist groups revealed that their motives are to punish or profit from alcohol companies. One even said “they simply didn’t care about the public health impacts of taxes. They were in the game solely to get some of the tax revenue steered toward their organization.” Also at that event, AJ’s head sheriff Bruce Lee Livingston, “commented during the question and answer portion that activists are unable to get taxes high enough to actually produce positive public health benefits. Rather, he called for a ‘charge-for-harm’ approach, which is based on the assumption that anyone who drinks deserves to be punished.”

The new name does sound a little more grown up—like a bona fide, credible, research-based organization whose newly revamped mission is to help people drink a little less dangerously. The focus group and stakeholder feedback must have given them the green light — and hey, that’s one of the theme colors, too! (Unfortunately, our invitation to participate in the stakeholder group must have gotten shunted to the Spam folder…)

Snide comments aside, though I can’t help but point out it doesn’t make them sound particularly “more grown up,” here’s what’s insulting about them saying their “invitation to participate in the stakeholder group must have gotten shunted to the Spam folder.” A couple of years ago, at the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators, Alcohol Justice complained about the event in an obnoxious, insulting press release. But it was later revealed, when the NCSLA responded with a press release of their own, that “the now re-branded entity formerly known Marin Institute has repeatedly chosen not to become a member of the NCSLA despite the numerous invitations that have been extended to them and the years of courtesies from the NCSLA they have enjoyed in the form of expense-paid attendance at NCSLA conferences and participation on NCSLA panels. It is equally telling that this statement comes when further special treatment has been denied this re-branded entity while at the same time it was directly invited and encouraged to join the NCSLA, take a seat at the proverbial table, but on the same terms as those long met by other public health and public advocacy groups. It is disheartening when any entity with substantial financial resources, yet without the economic hardships endured for years by state beverage alcohol regulators, appears content to do nothing.” And given that AJ does nothing but insult alcohol companies, why would they even think it reasonable that they be given an “invitation to participate in the stakeholder group.” It’s absurd when you consider the way they treat the alcohol industry. Can they really believe that much in their own self-importance? Do they not realize how the world sees them? But let’s continue. What’s next?

But here is the reality. The corporations that fund these groups:

  • Pay academic researchers to discredit the evidence of alcohol-related harm from their products and marketing tactics, and promote spurious research to support the industry/producer agenda.

This one’s rich considering how much self-serving “research” AJ is involved in. AJ staff has appeared as the authors or co-authors of numerous so-called “studies” and then they promote them as if they’re independent research. They’re constantly exaggerating, mis-leading and making things up, but when they do it it’s to further their holy agenda, if the alcohol industry funds research it has to be spurious. It’s a double-standard at best, at worst, it’s the ultimate hypocrisy. As I’ve frequently wondered, who watches the watchdog? AJ claim their mission is to be an industry watchdog, to keep us honest, but their own track record for veracity is seriously lacking.

  • Hire public relations professionals to connect concern about just 2 of the many types of alcohol-related harm with activities that have no evidence of being effective at decreasing either harm or consumption (and support their marketing efforts and profits).

I confess I have no idea what they’re talking about here. The new Responsibility.org website alone has more than two issues they’re addressing. And certainly AJ has “public relations professionals” on their payroll. But beyond that, AJ has been grossly exaggerating the “many types of alcohol-related harm,” and even has made up many of them. A great example of this is when in 2010, they tried to force a new tax on the City of San Francisco. The city commissioned a Nexus Study (at great cost to taxpayers) to examine the supposed alcohol harms that AJ continues to insist are the fault of alcohol, not the people who drink alcohol, but the expensive study relied heavily on self-serving reports by AJ and throughout relies on all sorts of misleading and questionable data and reasoning.

  • Actively lobby against evidence-based policies that reduce harm, such as increased excise taxes, restrictions on alcohol advertising, state control over alcohol sales, and decreases in outlet density.

No doubt that lobbying does go on, by the alcohol industry, but not by this group, the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (FAAR). I know this is hard for AJ to understand, but corporations are allowed to lobby, just like every other business in America. I’m not a fan of lobbying in general, but until it’s prohibited for all businesses, Big Al isn’t doing anything wrong. AJ, and other prohibitionist groups, are also actively engaged in lobbying. But as you’ve probably figured out by now, whatever is done in the first person — “our lobbying” — is perfectly respectable but when it’s in the third person — “their lobbying” — then it’s evil and menacing. There’s another name for that way of thinking: hypocritical.

  • Use “Drink Responsibly” as a marketing tactic to build loyalty and sell alcohol while blaming youth, parents, schools, police, and anyone else but the product and their own practices for alcohol-related harm.

This is partly another example of letting no good deed go unpunished, where nothing that Big Al does is free of selfish agenda, unlike AJ and the other prohibitionists. What’s particularly annoying about this tactic is the implication that people who make or sell alcohol are against responsibility, and are for underage drinking, drunk driving and overconsumption. Why? Because all we care about is profit, apparently. But, despite AJ’s assumption, we’re people, too. We have families, and want to keep them just as safe as AJ’s do-gooder teetotalers. Do they really think we want our kids to become alcoholics or die driving drunk? Because that’s the impression one gets when you read prohibitionist literature, that we’re all monsters.

And their notion that it’s “the product” and our “own practices” that cause people harm is so offensive that I don’t even understand how they can really think that. They talk about us blaming everyone, but they don’t seem to accept the concept of responsibility or personal responsibility. That all people, whether they drink are not, should be responsible for their own actions. How can they honestly think that when I take a drink, I can no longer control my actions and that the alcohol takes over me and forces me to commit all manner of horrors? I, and most people I know within the beer industry, hate a bad drunk as much as they do. But we don’t think it was the alcohol that’s to blame so much as the person who acted stupidly. They’re responsible for their own bad behavior, as even a child should be able to figure out. But personal responsibility doesn’t get people donating money, having a bogeyman is far better for soliciting funds.

The Century Council’s announcement was released to coincide with Alcohol Awareness Month so that the industry voice can take over the public health discussions and events during the entire month. Industry leaders such as Diageo chief executive Ivan Menezes whine about his “right” to influence public health regulation while Diageo’s (and the other spirits producers’) influence protects profits and continues paving the path to harm.

It would strike any reasonable person that announcing renewed efforts at combating alcohol issues during Alcohol Awareness Month is precisely the right time to do so, when the entire month is set aside for the very purpose of raising awareness of people with alcohol problems. Their statement that the “industry voice can take over the public health discussions and events during the entire month” is completely false, and can be proven by the very simple fact of their own press release, and they have to know how disingenuous they’re being. But more telling is that this is the most typical tactic of the prohibitionists, sending out press releases that are regurgitated by media outlets as news with no dissenting or contrary opinions, thereby allowing AJ, and the others, to frame the discussion about alcohol policy. This is what happens perhaps 95% of the time, or more. I guess AJ doesn’t like it when we do it. Maybe they think they own the idea of trying to control the message.

Margaret Chan, the director-general of the World Health Organisation, put it bluntly: “As we learned from experience with the tobacco industry, a powerful corporation can sell the public just about anything…This is not a failure of individual will-power. This is a failure of political will to take on big business…When industry is involved in policy-making, rest assured that the most effective control measures will be downplayed or left out entirely.”

Puh-leeze. Prohibitionist groups are very well funded. They have no trouble taking on corporations, and have been worming their way into all levels of government since prohibition ended in 1933, when they switched tactics and have been incessantly been working to limit alcohol ever since. The way prohibition ended, and the laws subsequent to it, are in themselves a victory of a sort for the prohibitionist movement. And the David vs. Goliath myth is just that, a well-managed fiction. And as I mentioned in a recent post, I’ve been reading a lot of WHO literature lately, and the inescapable conclusion “is that their mission is more about stopping people from drinking because as an organization they’re convinced that alcohol is always bad and has no positive aspects or benefits. When you only look for negative consequences, that’s all you find.” You can really only compare alcohol and tobacco by willfully ignoring the many positive aspects of alcohol.

The Big Alcohol conglomerates and the billionaires that run them can focus group a new name and logo for their group, slap a hashtag in front of the word responsible, go live with a web address they bought in 2001, and splash their rebrand all over the web. As long as these spirits producers’ products dominate the top 10 brands consumed by underage youth (Captain Morgan, Smirnoff (Diageo); Absolut (Pernod Ricard) and Jack Daniels (Brown-Foreman), and continue to be disproportionately consumed by youth (Bacardi; Malibu rum (Pernod Ricard), we’ve got their hashtags right here: #hypocrite #alcoholharm #notresponsible #alcoholindustryisnotpublichealth

Hilarious. Replace Big Al with AJ in that first sentence, and it reads just the same. And the same can be said for those hashtags. What’s funny is they apparently can’t even see that they’re engaged in exactly everything that they’re accusing the alcohol industry of doing. It really is a case of the Prohibitionist Pot Calling The Brew Kettle Black.

meet-kettle