Monday, December 15, 2014

The PC: If you tolerate this, then your children will be next.

The PC: If you tolerate this, then your children will be next.

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

There’s such a cynicism about the phrase ‘I laughed all the way to the bank.’ It’s as though money is what you’re doing, rather than playing music. If you’re playing a money game, why not get into banking? -- Artie Shaw (swing era bandleader)

If I were to concede that lately, writing about beer has become a burdensome chore, you might plausibly respond by asking why I keep trying.

It’s a good question.

I suppose writing about beer is a reflex habit borne of many years, one that still scratches an itch even when relief is so maddeningly elusive. Perhaps it’s a reflection of a subconsciously ingrained work ethic, intrinsic stubbornness or simple grim determination; in short, patiently keeping at it until morale improves and the fun returns.

Conversely, given that I still enjoy drinking better beer with interesting people in conducive pub settings, it could be that I’m merely suffering through an artistic slump – seemingly months long at this juncture, but something nonetheless temporary, which will improve with time, focus and maybe, just for once, some luck.

Other factors probably come into play. Seasonal Affective Disorder, to which I’m prone, can shroud the best intentions with the critical mass of 800-lb gorillas. SAD, coupled with the “moral and aesthetic nightmare of Christmas” (which began the day following the July 4th holiday), can produce a scenario in which twenty minutes of dull staring at incoming e-mail is required before finally opening it and clicking onto a spreadsheet for another intimate session with my least favorite objects in the whole wide world: Numbers, and by extension, what they imply.

These numbers are impervious and vicious. They mock and insult me, and I wish I’d never invited them into my life. Their presence reminds me that capitalism is good for quite little apart from the castration of youthful ideals, to the point that even superstitious religious twaddle rings vaguely true: Be careful not to give Satan in a three-piece his opening, lest he step through the cracked rear door and whisper soothingly into your ear:

“Don’t worry about the debt service; you’ll be a star. After all, everyone else is striking it rich in beer – don’t you ever read the Tweets about their fabulous success? You’re next, my boy. By the way … there’s a payment due.”

But my disillusionment goes deeper than my own position of admittedly self-inflicted enslavement to bankers. It extends further than my ongoing annoyance with “beer geeks spend(ing) all their time hunting white whales instead of drinking beer in their back yards,” their historical ignorance, or Trojan Goose’s sad masquerade.

It’s even worse than knowing how few present-day “craft beer” enthusiasts and “craft” brewing entities have so much as heard the phrase Think Globally, Drink Locally, and that’s because they’re not even thinking locally nowadays.

You see, for weeks now, my social media feeds have been filled with news of protests and rallies across the United States.

Is It Bad Enough Yet?, by Mark Bittman (New York Times)

THE police killing unarmed civilians. Horrifying income inequality. Rotting infrastructure and an unsafe “safety net.” An inability to respond to climate, public health and environmental threats. A food system that causes disease. An occasionally dysfunctional and even cruel government. A sizable segment of the population excluded from work and subject to near-random incarceration.

You get it: This is the United States, which, with the incoming Congress, might actually get worse.

This in part explains why we’re seeing spontaneous protests nationwide, protests that, in their scale, racial diversity, anger and largely nonviolent nature, are unusual if not unique. I was in four cities recently — New York, Washington, Berkeley and Oakland — and there were actions every night in each of them. Meanwhile, workers walked off the job in 190 cities on Dec. 4.

The root of the anger is inequality, about which statistics are mind-boggling: From 2009 to 2012 (that’s the most recent data), some 95 percent of new income has gone to the top 1 percent; the Walton family (owners of Walmart) have as much wealth as the bottom 42 percent of the country’s people combined; and “income mobility” now describes how the rich get richer while the poor ... actually get poorer.

In fact, even notoriously apolitical professional athletes have seized the bully pulpit to lend their weight to these protests by wearing shirts reading ''Hands up, don't shoot!” and "I can't breathe!”

What I haven’t seen are “craft” breweries doing anything remotely the same.

What I haven’t seen are “craft” breweries taking an interest in inequality or human rights.

What I haven’t seen are “craft” breweries doing much of anything at all, apart from the usual white whale spotting, chest thumping and lesson ignoring.

And no, producing t-shirts with the slogan "We've Got IPA" doesn't cut it.

Note that this blanket condemnation, of which I’m sure there have been notable exceptions, includes my own “craft” brewery, so don’t assume I’m making an exception for my own inexcusable personal cowardice. I always thought I'd be the pro athlete, bass player or actor wearing the t-shirt nd standing up for the downtrodden, but right now, as a craft brewery owner, I'm being exposed as fraudulent. I've done done nothing, and at this precise moment, I hate myself for it.

Perhaps “craft” beer is sitting on its collective hands because we associate these protests exclusively with African-American concerns (as Bittman clearly shows, while this largely is the case, there is a clear linkage with other significant non-racial economic rationales), and as such, the pathway of institutional, ham-fisted obliviousness leads to another uncomfortable fact, namely “craft” beer’s ongoing rejection of egalitarianism as it translates into a noteworthy absence of people of color, in terms both of brewing companies and their consumers.

Why Aren't There More People Of Color In Craft Brewing?, by Alastair Bland (NPR)

Frederick Douglas Opie, a food historian at Babson College, says that cultures in western and central Africa have "a long history of artisan brewing." People of the region, he says, made beer from sorghum and millet, as well as palm wine — which, he says, was considered by some a luxury product.

"So, why that discontinues in America after the Atlantic slave trade, I don't know," Opie says. Blacks, he notes, often made moonshine liquor and bootleg beer in the 1920s and '30s. But these days, they're all but absent from the craft beer scene. "It could be that beer is like a lot of things in the food industry which, as they grow popular, become very hip, yuppie and white."

It’s hard not to be disgruntled when one considers that his own unfortunate position of perpetual bondage within capitalism in this period of amok, greed-driven excess is precluding action on matters of social justice.

And yet here I am, both self-loathing and self-muzzling.

What if a note-grasping banker got peeved?

After all, as it stands, when he says “jump,” my only question is response is, “Thank you, sir, may I have another?”

Worse yet, entirely apart from the money, or in our case the absence of it, and completely separate from considerations of economic inequality in America, which is an appalling travesty and insult to every ideal we blithely claim to profess, what if my deepest fear of all as a “craft” brewery owner is the risk of alienating a primarily white consumer base by speaking truth to power?

That's a hard one to swallow.

It’s “last call,” at least for now. There’ll be another business day, more months in the unforgiving muck of the capitalist trenches, and numerous additional opportunities to think it through – like I’ve been doing for something like five years, or forty-five.

And yet, if experience has taught me any one valuable truth, it’s that answers come from a process, not an epiphany.

What's the process? How to make “craft” beer part of the solution? I don’t know. Maybe it cannot be, but if not, it may be time for me to consider another career at the tender of age of AARP-eligibility. As Abraham Lincoln was reported to say, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” What he meant was: A soul.

Does "craft" beer have one?

Do I have one?

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