Sunday, December 04, 2005

This 4-Barrel Brewhouse Kills Swill Merchants.

Regular readers will recall my November 1st “encore presentation” of a 2003 Potable Curmudgeon piece entitled, A-B's Stephen J. Burrows Will Rot in Hell.

It was followed a month later with this. Two years have passed, and yet it remains curiously, perhaps even sadly, relevant.


A country is never as poor as when it seems filled with riches.
-- Laozi.

In last month’s Potable Curmudgeon, I had harsh words for Stephen J. Burrows, who is Anheuser-Busch’s top executive in the monolithic company’s international division.

In the process of expressing my eternal contempt for Burrows and everything he stands for, a litany that included a comparison of the top-ranking carbonated urine executive to propagandists like Iraq’s “Comical” Ali, I let slip a brief criticism of the Bush administration.

Spin in the eye of the beholder.

Several readers objected to this, and I can’t say that I was surprised they noticed. According to one complainant, my reference to the current “Haliburton War” in Iraq fell outside the context of an article otherwise purporting to be about beer, and as such, was deemed irrelevant.

I must disagree. My objection to Stephen J. Burrows and all those of his ilk owes to their active participation in a form of economic imperialism that I find repugnant in whatever context.

By this I mean that it isn’t enough for Burrows and Anheuser-Busch to sell products in a truly open market. Rather, the man and the company are dedicated to using all means at their disposal to alter and influence that market, through tactics both fair and foul.

Because no examples of the “fair” spring immediately to mind, I’ll cite a prime example of the “foul.”

The unceasing trademark litigation deployed by Anheuser-Busch to harass and cripple the Czech Budvar brewery is a modern variant of siege warfare, designed to erode the smaller brewery’s will to carry on with the struggle of protecting its appellation of origin.

Big business does it in one way, and big government does it in another, and the difference lies primarily in degree. Take their name, take their petroleum … it’s the same game.

I really, really hate suits.

For many years, people close to me have commented on my visceral aversion to the “suits” that inhabit the corporate world. The corporate “business culture” engendered by these aesthetically empty noggins seems to enduringly captivate the nation, but in fact it is tragic to see the word culture used in this way.

America’s business may well be business, yet business for the sake of business surely is the ultimate moral vacancy, as well as the most tangible symbol of the rampant Philistinism that has come to define the modern American nation.

These corporate suits need not be in the beer business to arouse the righteous anger of the Curmudgeon. As a prominent local example, I cite David Novak, chieftain of the major Kentuckiana employer formerly known as Tri-Con, now Yum! Brands.

For those not already repelled by the thought, Yum! Brands is composed of fast food outlets KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and several forgettable others. Our subservient Louisville media outlets regularly shower Novak with fawning adulation of the sort that hasn’t been in vogue since Joe Stalin occupied the Kremlin. The Louisville Courier-Journal all but advocates that Novak’s portrait be prominently displayed in every bank lobby, classroom and public urinal.

Unfortunately, no one has been able to make clear why the public should worship Novak, a man whose major achievement has been to change the name of his company from the vaguely idiotic Tri-Con to the decidedly repulsive Yum!, a word that describes the corporation’s cookie-cutter food about as well as the purloined term “Pilsner” describes the abominable Miller Lite.

Which is to say, not at all.

The renaming and re-launching of Novak’s corporation a few years back was accompanied by a public rally of employees. They dutifully cheered the furry-capped, taco-slinger of a commissar, embarrassingly lofted banners far cheesier than any pie peddled by Pizza Hut, and mugged inanely for the cameras before retreating to their desks to ponder the similarities between themselves and the participants in Pyongyang’s May Day parade.

Like I said: Big business does it in one way, and big government does it in another, and the difference lies primarily in degree.

A beaming Novak basked in the adulation, then retreated to his million-dollar estate to dine on food that will never see the microwaves and deep fryers of his fast-food empire.

Offenses against taste and decency like these would entitle Novak to imprisonment, or worse, in any civilized country that has yet to barter its soul to the glories of chicken parts dished up with mind-numbing apathy by pockmarked teenagers.

It’s a Faustian transaction that Novak, along with Stephen J. Burrows, advocates each and every day. Burrows, Novak and their legions of suits are economic imperialists, and the American public, dozing peacefully somewhere in the middle of its surround-sound, Jerry Springer-fed, Natural Light-induced terminal coma, can do little more than buy another lottery ticket and ponder the merits of NASCAR.

The legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie adorned his guitar with the words: “This machine kills fascists.”

In those days, the fascists were the enemy. Maybe they should be again.

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