Popular Is As Popular Does

underage-drinking
A variation of “stupid is as stupid does,” either works, as far as I’m concerned. Because this is a stupid type of study that keeps going around and pretending to be scientific and valuable, of which it appears to be neither. The latest one of these, entitled Beverage- and brand-specific binge alcohol consumption among underage youth in the US, appeared in the May edition of the Journal of Substance Use (although the Post’s infographic mis-identifies the source as the “Journal of Substance Abuse,” which ceased publication in 2002). What it “found,” is that when underage youth drink, and binge drink (a ridiculously defined term), they drink popular brands of alcohol, from which they draw sinister conclusions. Here’s how the Washington Post reported the the absurd conclusions drawn in What underage drinkers drink when they binge drink:

“The most important finding is that the phenomenon of binge drinking among our youth is extremely brand specific,” Dr. Michael Siegel, professor at Boston University School of Public Health and one of the study’s authors, said in an interview. “For the first time we’ve found the brands that are most responsible for binge drinking among our nation’s youth.”

For the first time? Seriously? This sort of “study” has been done before, as I detailed last year in New Study Concludes Kids Drink Same Beers As Adults, in which I found it’s been done previous to that one, as well. It’s not exactly groundbreaking, or new.

youth-brand-preference-2014

Perhaps most obnoxious is Alcohol Justice, who naturally has been tweeting with their usual glee anything that they believe shows alcohol in a negative light. Here’s how they characterized it:

What underage drinkers drink when they binge drink http://wapo.st/1u1V76Y Spoiler alert: BEER.”

So what’s especially annoying about that, is that while beer is indeed number one on the list, of the 25 brands listed, only 8 are beers, or only 32%. And even by the total percentage, the eight beer brands are 44%, less than half. Then there’s the fact that the spirits and wine are, on average, much higher in alcohol than beer, so comparing straight percentages skews the actual amount of alcohol consumed. If we adjusted this for the amount of alcohol in each, and thus how much alcohol was consumed, the amount of beer would likely plummet to an even smaller percentage of the whole. So by virtually every measure, beer is not the biggest culprit, yet Alcohol Justice singles it out with typical ignobility by saying “Spoiler alert: BEER.” Yet it’s not really beer, if you bother to actually look at the data. In the abstract of the actual study, even the conclusion of the researchers is that “binge drinking among youth is most commonly involves spirits [sic].” But Alcohol Justice ignores that — reading is hard, after all — and targets beer once more.

Of course, the data itself is questionable, too. According to the abstract, it was compiled via “[a]n Internet panel [that] was used to obtain a sample of 1032 underage youth aged 13–20, who drank alcohol in the last 30 d. For each brand consumed, youth reported drinking quantity and frequency, and whether they engaged in binge drinking with that brand (≥5 drinks for males and ≥4 for females). Each youth reporting binge drinking with a brand constituted a binge drinking report.” So they put up an internet poll and asked kids to report on their own illegal activity. How scientific. How could anything go wrong?

But it’s especially the conclusions they draw from them that seem absurd. For example, as was found in the previous study I reported on, Bud Light was the brand most often chosen. But Bud Light is, of course, the best-selling brand of beer in the U.S., a fact you’d think the researchers would be aware of. You don’t need a slide rule to figure why the beer that most of their parents are buying, might also be the one their kids are drinking, too. The same is true for just about every brand on the list, all very popular ones, the best-sellers in their individual categories. So you’d expect that they’d be the same brands consumed by our youth, especially if they’re taking them from their parents or other adults’ stashes. It’s the most obvious reason. Even if minors are asking adults to buy them some booze, the more popular brands would be the ones most readily available and sold by the most retailers. But the obvious answers seem to always elude the scientists, who seem more interested in making tenuous, off-the-wall but apparently agenda-supporting conclusions.

But even if we assumed that beer was number one, so what? In terms of both volume and sales, beer outsells every other adult beverage by a wide margin. So why wouldn’t that be across the board, including underage drinking, too. Why would they appear to be surprised that the best-selling type of alcohol, as well as the best-selling brand of beer, are also the most popular among minors?

And they seem to do the same thing with the others, too. So instead of recognizing that Jack Daniels in the best-selling whiskey (the chart incorrectly calls it bourbon, which I’m not sure means the researchers or the Post don’t know what they’re talking about), they instead go down the road less traveled of bizarre reasoning.

The list of the most popular alcohol brands among America’s heavy-drinking youth might appear somewhat disjointed at first glance. Some of them, after all, are difficult to comprehend — Jack Daniel’s bourbons [sic], for one, is significantly more expensive than other lower shelf whiskeys, and yet ranks as the second most popular brand across all spirits and beers. But there’s actually a reasonably clear thread that could be tying them all together: millions upon millions of dollars in marketing.

“Why are these brands the most popular? Is there something in their marketing? There could be messages in their marketing efforts that are encouraging the use of these not just by youths but also in excess,” Siegel said. “We need to take a closer look at the marketing practices of these larger brands.”

Yup, kids choose them because of “millions upon millions of dollars in marketing,” not because they’re already the most popular brands, or because their parents drink them and so are in their homes, or because they’re the brands available for sale at the most places. Yes, you could argue that it’s marketing that built and now maintains their popularity, but that some malicious scheme will be revealed by “tak[ing] a closer look at the marketing practices of these larger brands” is completely absurd. When you go looking for a bogeyman, that’s what you find, especially when you ignore the simple, logical answers and try to find something more complicated. Because it seems like they’re going out of their way to ignore the obvious in favor of finding something to blame alcohol companies for.

Another reason to suspect this study is about promoting an agenda is something they state in “Background and objectives.” They begin their “study” with this underlying premise. “Binge drinking is a common and risky pattern of alcohol consumption among youth.” But as even the NIH admits, “[s]ince 2007, alcohol use and heavy drinking have shown appreciable declines in national surveys of middle and high school students. One study found that 12th-grade alcohol use declined from 66.4 percent to 62 percent in 2013, with a similar downward trend seen in eighth- and 10th-graders.”

And finally, in the Post article’s conclusion, author Roberto A. Ferdman, whose beat is “food policy, consumer business, and Latin American economics,” really shows what he doesn’t know about beer and its history, with this. “Currently, national and state-level policies aimed at curbing underage drinking are more focused on the point of purchase and consumption than on the time of potential indoctrination that precedes them.” Hardly. The moment prohibition ended, prohibitionist organizations began targeting advertising regulations to limit where, when and how alcohol could be advertised, along with where it could be sold, to whom, and all manner of other restrictions intended to do anything they could to limit it, figuring it was the next best thing if they couldn’t outlaw it outright. And they’ve been crying about that very issue ever since, incessantly trying to move the needle to limit “the time of potential indoctrination that precedes” … “the point of purchase and consumption,” exactly what Ferdman seems to think has been ignored has been the number priority of prohibitionist strategies for over eighty years.

I find it amazing that these types of so-called “studies” — what are essentially internet polls — are taken seriously and that they find journals willing to publish them, in effect legitimizing them somewhat. Because if it’s in a journal, the mainstream media often just writes about it uncritically, taking them at face value. But more insidious, prohibitionist organizations, like the ever delightful Alcohol Justice, will distort then and even fabricate their already questionable findings to use in their own agenda, like saying it’s beer that’s the biggest culprit, when even the study does not say that.

Happy Labor Day: Beer Creates Jobs

occupations
Happy Labor Day everybody. I thought this was a good day to highlight a press release from the Beer Institute about “how one job inside a brewery supports another 45 jobs outside. From farmers to factory workers, and truck drivers to tavern owners, beer puts people to work.” It’s not just that breweries employ a lot of people — they do — but many more job are created beyond the brewery that might not exist were it not for the beer. As their research shows, for every job inside a brewery, there are 45 related jobs outside the brewery.

BEER 3982 JOBS

From the press release:

“Today we toast to the industry’s 2 million men and women who make it possible for Americans to enjoy their favorite beer,” said Jim McGreevy, Beer Institute President and CEO. “America’s preference for beer is a huge boon to the national economy and the American worker.”

According to an economic study jointly commissioned by the Beer Institute and the National Beer Wholesalers Association in 2012, U.S. brewers and beer importers are the foundation for an industry that employs more than 2 million Americans, directly and indirectly. Beer also contributed $246.6 billion to America’s economy and generated $49 billion in local, state and federal taxes.

A Beer Institute analysis showed that each job in a brewery supports other jobs in the agriculture, business and personal services, construction, finance insurance and real estate, manufacturing, retail, transportation and communication, travel and entertainment and wholesale sectors.

They also broke down the number of jobs flowing from beer for each state. Not surprisingly, California was number one, with 241,640 contributing over $34 billion into the economy. After California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois have the most beer-related jobs, but even in the smallest states, thousands of people are gainfully employed thanks to beer. The total number of jobs nationwide is just over 2 million with a total economic impact of almost $247 billion. To see it broken down even farther, including by state and Congressional district, check out Beer Serves America.

Print

Happy Labor Day, the only this missing from this picture? Where are the brewers?

brewer-badge-2

How’d You Really Get That Drink?

scales
Navigating the maze of state liquor laws is a challenge for anybody, but especially any bar, restaurant or brewery trying to do business in many, if not every, one of the states. A Chicago law firm, the Hays Firm LLC, with a practice area in Restaurant and Bar Services, created an interesting infographic detailing many of the quirky differences of U.S. Liquor License Laws & Facts, particularly their laws on licensing, BYOB and corkage, introduced with the following:

When you wind down at the end of the day or meet up for a social night with friends for a drink, have you thought about how and why you have access to alcohol? Maybe you ordered a beverage at a bar or restaurant, or maybe you picked up a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer before watching a Sunday football game at home.

But, how’d you really get the drink in your hand? There are U.S. regulations that provide or limit public or business access to alcohol. Furthermore, alcohol sales and serving in restaurants, bars, liquor stores, grocery stores, and even patios and events are subject to local or state laws, or consumers or sellers risk losing permission to interact with it, which could result in legal penalties, and even decreased revenues that keep businesses thriving. Many restaurants aim to have alcohol sales account for 30% of their revenue, so not adhering to liquor license and Bring-Your-Own-Beverage (BYOB) laws, could drive customers away and negatively impact profitability.

liquor-laws-infographic

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: Brookston & Porter

ice-bucket
So you’ve probably noticed that one of the latest internet memes is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness and money for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The idea involves “dumping a bucket of ice water on someone’s head to promote awareness of the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and encourage donations to research.” Also, the “challenge dares nominated participants to be filmed having a bucket of ice water poured on their heads and challenging others to do the same.” I was challenged by my friend and colleague, Tom Dalldorf, publisher of the Celebrator Beer News, who also tapped Stephen Beaumont and Tom McCormick, executive director of the California Craft Brewers Association. So here’s my video, with my son Porter, who decided he wanted to join me.

You can find out more about how to donate at the ALS Association or the MDA.

THE ALS ASSOCIATION

I also challenged three friends:

  1. Fal Allen, brewmaster, Anderson Valley Brewing
  2. Justin Crossley, founder, The Brewing Network
  3. John Holl, Editor, All About Beer magazine

Now it’s their turn. No thanks necessary.

The Battle Over Beer Label Approval

TTB
The Daily Beast had an interesting profile of Kent “Battle” Martin, the person responsible for approving every single beer label at the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB, in Meet the Beer Bottle Dictator. I’d heard of Martin — um, Battle, I mean — before, but didn’t realize he was the only person approving or denying label applications. I think I assumed he was simply part of a larger staff. I can’t say having a single person in charge of interpreting a fairly vague set of laws in a particularly good idea. There have been some very strange, seemingly nonsensical and contradictory decisions over the years, and I’d always thought that was because those were made by various people interpreting the regulations differently, the way the California ABC does, or the arbitrary way that movie ratings are given. I have to say, I don’t think that should be left to just one individual, no matter how dedicated or hard-working, as Battle apparently is, according to the article.

lagunitas-censored

Presidential Drinking

us-president
It’s not exactly a beer birthday, but today is the 53rd birthday of President Barack Obama, who’s been known for a few good beery photo ops. Recently, he even played some pool with our only gubernatorial brewery owner — and the only governor I’ve ever shared a beer with — John Hickenlooper, from Colorado. Hickenlooper, of course, co-founded Wynkoop Brewing in Denver, revitalizing the entire LoDo area of town. After two apparently successful terms as the mayor of Denver, he was elected governor of the state in 2011.

Early last month, President Obama visted Denver, and Hickenlooper, and the trip was covered by ABC News in Obama “The Bear” Lets Loose in Denver. They met at Wynkoop, where they shared a pint of Rail Yard Ale.

obama-hickenlooper-1

They also played a game of pool, which apparently Obama won. When this was first reported, I saw it mentioned that some people were upset that the president was photographed drinking beer, but I never saw those. Sound ridiculous enough to be true, though. If people see the president enjoying himself with a beer, it might give others the idea that it’s okay for an adult to drink a legally permissible alcoholic beverage, and prohibitionists don’t like that one bit.

obama-hickenlooper-2

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

newcastle
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.

Newcastle-banner-ind-eve

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.”

independence-eve-1

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

iogt-new
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.

International_Organisation_of_Good_Templars_membership_certificate_1868
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.

Fyll-livet-banner-liggande
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.

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

Blaming Alcohol For Rape

rape
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:

aj-tweet-rape

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

yellow-journalism
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.

food-babe
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.

FB_AnheiserBuschHappyBeer
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.