Physiognomy Part Deux

‘When I wish to find out how wise, or how stupid, or how good, or how wicked is anyone, or what are his thoughts at the moment, I fashion the expression of my face as accurately as possible in accordance with the expression of his, and then wait to see what thoughts or sentiments arise in my mind or heart, as if to match or correspond with the expression.’

These are the words of a clever schoolboy in Poe’s The Purloined Letter. The story of the boy is tangential, but it explains the actions of Poe’s detective hero C. Auguste Dupin. It also contains in it two important principles. The primary principle in the story is “know your enemy.” In most direct competition, the surest path to victory is correctly anticipating one’s opponent. Although certainly not novel, one must admit that this axiom is solid.

The second principle is highlighted in the above quotation. It is strikingly similar to the opinions of William James (which we’ve seen here before.) Namely, one’s state of mind does not only cause changes in body language, but body language causes changes in one’s state of mind. James wrote about emotion, but Poe goes beyond emotion. For his schoolboy, ones physical appearance is related even to his intelligence, goodness or wickedness. This approach to physiognomy is actually fairly ancient, but Poe’s revival of this concept (while mentioning Machiavelli and La Rochefoucauld in connection with it) came while James was still in diapers.

Beer of the Week: Sol – The clear glass bottle must be to show off the beautiful light-golden color of this beer. The clear glass also lets in a lot of light, which speeds up the spoiling of beer, but it sure looks pretty. And as long as the beer is fresh, Sol is pretty good for its genre. It is a little more flavorful and certainly less watery than many other Mexican lagers, but still goes down smooth after spicy food or on a hot summer evening.

Reading of the week: The Purloined Letter by Edgar A. Poe, Lines 94-96 – The story of how a schoolboy took all of his classmates’ marbles by gambling is meant to illustrate the methods Dupin uses to understand the criminal mind. And how he eventually uncovers the purloined letter.

Question of the week: Some people are more likely to like or dislike somebody just because of how they look. Could it be that what appears to be shallow is actually just very perceptive?

Make a Recommendation

You may have noticed the new Make a Recommendation link at the top of the page. By clicking that link, you will be taken to a form where you can suggest a beer or a reading for review by B & T. It is such a pleasure to share one’s favorite beer or book with others, I wanted to give you the chance to share with me. Just head over to the Make a Recommendation page and let me know what turns you on (beer and reading-wise.)

King of his Castle

A friend of mine has a refrigerator full of imported beer, a loving wife and a good job. Naturally, one feels inclined to call him happy. For that matter, many would call him happy even if he didn’t have the wife and job. Some would go ever further and suggest that having a wife and job actually detract from the happiness. But does such a man deserve the title: happy?

Herodotus reports that Croesus, a king so rich that he has become a byword for wealth, asked the Athenian statesman Solon whom he considered to be the happiest of all men. And when Solon named virtuous (and deceased) private citizens above Croesus, Croesus did not was none too pleased. But Solon explained himself.

If a man lives 70 years, how absurd would it be to call a man happy based on his condition on any one of those 26,000 days? Sure, a man can be fortunate on any given day, or any given week, or any decade. But nobody can really judge a man’s life until he has lived it all. As Solon said, you may think that a man is happy, but “for to many God shows but a glimpse of happiness and then plucks them up by the roots and overturns them.”

Beer of the Week: Gambrinus Premium – If Croesus is the king of wealth, Gambrinus is the king of beer. It is not totally clear that he was a real person, but he is credited with inventing modern beer. He has lent his name to beers around the world, including one of the Czech Republic’s most popular beers. It pours a beautiful dark gold with a white, fluffy head. The smell is malty with a delicious sour hint. The flavor matches the smell, malty with very little hops present in the finish. Overall, a very enjoyable beer of which it would be way too easy to drink way too much.

Reading of the Week: Histories by Herodotus, Book I, Paragraphs 30 & 32 – Chapter 31, which I have omitted for the sake of keeping the reading under one beer in length is the tale of two brothers whose filial piety earned them “the highest honor to which morals can attain.” Namely, death.

Question of the Week: Since all we can see are the externals, how realistic is it for someone to ever judge the happiness of another?

“Simple” Economics

“It’s simple economics, son; I don’t understand it at all.” A big part of what is so funny about this line by South Park‘s Randy Marsh is that it is so true. In a general sort of way, people simply do not understand economics. And, what is worse, many people are simply too intimidated by the subject to really attempt to understand it.

I number among those who do not understand economics, but as in so many fields, I am trying to learn. One of the greatest difficulties is the way that people talk about money and prices. “Eggs cost $2” or “this ring is worth $2,000,” as if the dollar is a fixed unit like a yard or a gallon. (Hopefully, the irony of the variable British pound [£] is not lost on us.) But for the most part it is the dollars themselves that change far more than the production of eggs or the value of a ring.

Another language problem in understanding economics is “inflation.” Every careful shopper (and most people who are spending their own money are careful) observes the prices of everyday items climbing and falling. Well, mostly just climbing. They call this increase in price “inflation.” But inflation means two things. “Price inflation” is the changing price tags; “monetary inflation” is the increase in the money supply. As it turns out, the latter is the primary cause of the former. As banks create money by making loans or the Federal Reserve spends money that it creates “out of thin air”, each existing dollar becomes less valuable and the rise in supply of dollars drives down the demand for dollars and prices of everything else goes up. See, simple economics… I still don’t understand most of it, but getting down some of the language is a good first step.

Beer of the Week: Sapporo – In Korea, one can get Sapporo in bottles or in cans. The cans are imported from Japan and the bottles are imported from Canada. Despite the 5,800 extra miles the beer has to travel to get to the Korean grocery store (to say nothing of the fact that bottles are more difficult to transport because of their weight, fragility and shape,) the Canadian version is cheaper.  The economics behind this disparity is no doubt simple. Yet, the mind fairly boggles when the prices are first encountered. The Japanese version is a reasonably good beer. It is crisp and clean tasting with a hint of hops and yeast in the finish. Just be sure that it is good and cold.

Reading of the week: The Mystery of Banking by Murray N. Rothbard, Chapter IV, Excerpt – Rothbard is a very good writer, which makes his treatise on the economics of fractional reserve banking very accessible despite the daunting subject matter. In this excerpt, Rothbard presents a simple and interesting parable borrowed from Hume and Mises about monetary inflation that shows how simply increasing the money supply only helps the profligate and hurts “the cautious and thrifty.”

Question of the week: Given the profound impact of economics on daily life, why is it that so few people really put in the trouble to attempt to understand it?

A Curious Brew

It will surprise nobody if I admit that the reason I do this blog is for an excuse to drink new beers and read new things. I am simply curious. And I mean “curiosity” in the way that Edmund Burke defined it: “whatever desire we have for, or whatever pleasure we take in, novelty.” New beers and new books are interesting to me simply because they are new. At least at first.

Novelty, of course, eventually wears out. Curiosity draws us to new things, but other, more lasting passions keep our attention on the once new object. And yet, nothing that keeps our attention is ever totally devoid of novelty; we always find something new and exciting about the things that we are passionate about. As Burke says, “Some degree of novelty must be one of the materials in every instrument which works upon the mind; and curiosity blends itself more or less with all our passions.”

Beer of the Week: Cannabia – When it comes to novelty, this beer has it in spades. Hops is closely related to hemp. So it is not surprising that somebody decided to use hemp in brewing beer. Hemp does not replace the hops in Cannabia, it only augments it. The label is scratch and sniff, and the smell released by scratching at it is floral and dense, almost like a perfume sample. The smell of the beer itself is far more subdued, with some aromatic hops carrying most of the weight. The beer is light, with a strong hoppy finish. There is a hint of sweetness in the hops and the hemp seems to impart an herbal flavor at the end, almost like an herbal tea. As the beer warmed, the sweet herbal flavor became more prominent. In the end, Cannabia is a pretty darn good beer, not because of the novelty of using hemp in the recipe, but because it is a well balanced, flavorful, organic beer.

Reading of the week: On the Sublime and Beautiful by Sir Edmond Burke, Part I, Chapter 1 – Burke is best known for his politics, but like so many statesmen of his day, he was also a philosopher and a student of aesthetics. In his treatise On the Sublime and Beautiful he presents some interesting and thoughtful views on psychology.

Question of the week: It is easy to see how friends maintain a certain novelty since they are always changing by virtue of being people. And good books remain novel because we change in relation to them; each reading shows us a new side or sheds light on an obscure quality. But can one’s favorite beer maintain any sort of novelty after cases and cases have been consumed?

What did you expect?

On Sunday mornings, college cafeterias across the country are filled with groans and complaints such as, “It feels like I am being kicked in the brain by somebody wearing golf spikes!” and “I woke up in a puddle. A puddle of what exactly, I am not sure.” And for each of these complaints there is a retort: “You drank (so many shots/cans/glasses) of (tequila/beer/absinthe) last night, what did you expect?”

However, drinking is but one of the many circumstances in which people fail to properly consider the natural consequences of their actions. Everything that people do is attended by a whole slew of possible (and therefore, expect-able) consequences. One ought to anticipate these ahead of time so that he is not upset or surprised when they happen. For example, Epictetus recommends that “if you are going to bathe, picture to yourself the things which usually happen in the bath[house]: some people splash the water, some push, some use abusive language, and others steal.”  As unpleasant as being splashed, pushed or robbed are, one can avoid being bothered by simply accepting that these things happen and are beyond control.

Beer of the Week: Black Beer Stout – This is another Korean attempt to branch out from pretty bad adjunct lagers. Black Beer Stout is a “Lager Type” dark beer “From German Dark Roasted Malt.” The head is attractive, but fades quickly. It is not quite black, but it is pretty dark, with some amber showing when the beer is held to light. The flavor, body and smell are all pretty weak. There is some coffee bitterness in the aftertaste that is reminiscent of  Guinness. One should not be perturbed if he finds that Black Beer Stout is not to his liking, after all, what could one really expect?

Reading of the week: The Handbook of Epictetus, Chapter 4 – Some things are out of one’s own control. Epictetus asserts that these things can in no way harm a man. Only one’s perception of things can hurt him. If one is splashed or robbed, he need only understand that such things happen and are beyond his control, and he will be at peace. This advice is certainly difficult to follow, but if it is possible, it seems to be the key to true peace.

Question of the week: If one thinks that being splashed is more than he can bare calmly and without being perturbed, should he avoid the bathhouse, thereby exercising some measure of control over whether or not he is splashed?