It Just Shows You

“GENERAL RESOLVES

No wasting time at Shafters or [a name, indecipherable]
No more smokeing or chewing
Bath every other day
Read one improving book or magazine per week
Save $5.00 [crossed out] $3.00 per week
Be better to parents”

These are the resolutions of a young man with some ambition. Specifically, they are the resolutions of the titular character of F. Scott Key Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby long before he was “great” (or “Gatsby” for that matter.) It is almost beyond doubt that everybody could improve himself by adopting resolutions along the same lines. Or rather, by actually following through on those resolutions.

The problem with resolutions is that they are composed principally of words and and words are cheap. Very often, resolutions are made almost entirely devoid of resolve. Or perhaps the resolve runs out before the positive results of the resolution can be felt. How many gym memberships are opened in January and abandoned by March? How many Lenten disciplines are cheated on, or quit entirely before a mere 40 days can elapse?

A man who is constantly making resolutions has taken but a single step toward self-improvement:  he has recognized that self-improvement is needed. As important as that first step is, it is remarkably easy to simply repeat without making any further progress.

Beer of the Week: d Dry Finish – Korean beer makers seem forever resolving to improve the quality of their beers. This resolution almost always takes the form of “make beer that is like foreign beer.” Hite’s d Dry Finish is modeled after the Asahi from Japan. Asahi is the original “dry beer.” Basically, beer is “dry” when there is little or no sugar left after fermentation. This lack of sugar makes the finish crisp, clean and slightly hoppy. The resolution to make a better beer actually makes some progress in this case; as far as Korean beers go, d is among the best. Even though it is not exceedingly flavorful, the dryness lets what hops there are shine through without being drowned out by adjunct sweetness. I think that d is remarkable among Korean beers for being “beer flavored” instead of “water flavored.”

Reading for the Week: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Key Fitzgerald, Chapter 9, Excerpt – The daily schedule of the young Gatsby may give some insight into how a nondescript young man became the mysterious “Great Gatsby.” It doesn’t shed light how he got his money or how he came to be the toast of Long Island, but perhaps it illuminates how he became the man.

Question of the week: Gatsby’s father repeatedly says that the daily schedule and list of resolutions “just shows you.” What does it show you, really? Does it show the same thing that he thinks it shows?

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It’s Good Friday, Friday, Gotta get down, Good Friday

But seriously, Good Friday is a day for fasting and quiet reflection about the meaning of sacrifice.

So I recommend skipping the beer today. Instead, spend some time thinking about how small a thing it is to forgo beer on a Friday evening or to replace your daily meat with fish.

And then, have a glorious Easter, rejoice and be glad.


Philosophical Hangover

Fame, fortune, beer. These are the three goods “pursued by the multitude” according to Spinoza. Well, he didn’t say “beer” exactly; he said “sensual pleasure.” But it is pretty easy to read between the lines.

Seriously though, beer as a source of sensual pleasure fits his descriptions fairly well. For one thing, it has destroyed countless people who, unable to control their desire therefor, were controlled by it. Its abuse also, not infrequently, “is followed by extreme melancholy, whereby the mind, though not enthralled, is disturbed and dulled.” This “hangover” may be observed after all sorts of sensual indulgence, but with alcohol it is both familiar and acute.

I, however, am not ready to give up beer (and indeed all sensual pleasures) in the pursuit of some eternal philosophical good. Not just yet. Besides, I am not even convinced that beer is NOT the one true good.

Beer of the Week: Streitberg – Those who seek only the pleasure of the senses would do well to avoid Streitberg. This slightly bitter, slightly sour German lager is just not very good. It seems that not all German beers are winners. Its fairly poor overall quality may help me to achieve a real and lasting good; since the flavor will not enthrall my mind, I will not be much distracted from the pursuit of a higher good. Lamentably, chicken wings, such as are available here, are of much the same quality.

Reading of the week: On the Improvement of the Understanding by Benedictus de Spinoza, 3:2-5;3, 7:1-3 – This excerpt from near the beginning of Spinoza’s treatise describes (and denounces) the three primary goals of the average person: sensual pleasure, riches and fame. Once these are disposed of as improper goals, Spinoza and those who will follow his method can begin the search for the ultimate philosophical good.

Question of the week: Spinoza claims that sensual pleasure, riches and fame are “certain evils,” “causing the death not seldom of those who possess them, and always to those who are possessed by them.” But is it fair to make these out as “certain evils” if they only destroy those who possess them occasionally? Cannot moderation or temperance make these “evils” into useful tools?


Attic Space

“A man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic,” writes Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. “It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent.” For this reason, information is to be collected systematically and arranged neatly in one’s head so that it is readily accessible without having to dig through piles of unrelated facts.

How, exactly, one can systematize all the information one receives is not clear. But even more problematic is the suggestion that one should actively avoid acquiring knowledge that does not have a practical application. (Doyle’s hero, Sherlock Holmes, goes so far as to attempt to forget that the Earth revolves around the Sun because that information does “not make a pennyworth of difference” for his life or work.) However, all information received and considered offers an opportunity for actual learning. Learning is growth. Personal growth is practical. Even the most minute or trivial information can act as the starting point for serious learning, and learning for learning’s sake does have its place. Right?

Beer of the Week: Max – Information that is certainly useful: Max is an all-malt beer made with cascade hops. “All-malt” in this case means “no rice.” I am a big fan of getting away from the use of rice in beer. And the all-malt recipe certainly has it’s up-sides; Max has a richer golden color and a thicker, foamier head than other Korean macros. Unfortunately, the taste is only slightly better than other Korean beers. Sure, it tastes more like beer than the others, but it doesn’t taste much more like good beer.

Reading for the Week: A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Part One, Chapter 2, Excerpt – As our faithful narrator Dr. Watson first introduces us to the incomparable Sherlock Holmes, we learn that the detective is a man of extremes in knowledge; he knows a great deal about chemistry and has an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of crime, but knows nothing of philosophy, astronomy or literature.

Question of the Week: Even if there is some fixed limit on the total amount of knowledge that the human mind can hold, does it seem likely that anybody even approaches that limit? Can you ever really reach the “time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before”?