Artificial Obstacles

When it comes to shipbuilding, the Republic of Korea has a system. Since they are on the tip of a peninsula and their only land-boarder is a dangerous no-man’s land, it seems only natural that they should turn to the sea for commerce. But they don’t just build ships, they build tons of them. In terms of gross tonnage, Korea produced 137,596,000 GT, some 37.45% of the world’s shipping capacity built in 2011. That is a lot of ship. Some are cruise liners and drill ships, but most are designed for transporting cargo and resources from one port to another. Naturally, most of the ships are sold to other countries, but some are used for transporting goods to and from Korea. It is these ships that form part of the topic here.

Korea builds ships designed specifically to engage in the trade of goods and resources with other countries. These ships are made bigger and faster to make it easier for goods and resources to reach their respective markets. The end result of making transportation easier is to make it cheaper and to reduce the market prices, encouraging commerce, etc.

While the shipbuilders at Ulsan are working diligently to make international trade easier and cheaper by overcoming the natural obstacles that impose themselves on shipping, the politicians in Seoul are working diligently to overcome the artificial obstacles that hinder international commerce and raise prices in the domestic market. Those artificial obstacles are tariffs, and Korea is finally getting rid of some.

Until recently, all imported beer has been subject to an absurd 30% tariff. Not only that, but since Korea does not grow the hops or barley needed to produce beer, the quality of domestic beer has been adversely affected by high tariffs. (That and a collection of regulations that have essentially granted a duopoly on beer production to two giant corporations that have no particular incentive to improve the quality of their products.)

But free trade agreements with the United States and the European Union have been signed and will remove many of the mutual trade barriers that have served primarily to enrich large companies at the expense of the consumers while simultaneously preventing quality beer from making headway in such a large market. Good times lie ahead for Korean (and American and European) consumers. That is to say, the societies as a whole.

But what about other beers from other parts of the world? Why should they still be subject to the tariffs? Some will argue that the FTAs are only good because they are bilateral. The USA takes down its tariffs, Korea takes down its tariffs, everything remains on equal footing. If Korea would remove tariffs on Australian goods without Australia removing its own tariffs on Korean goods, the obstacles of trade would be in only one direction and Korea would be “downstream” of Australia. It would be more expensive to ship goods to Australia than from Australia and that would be… bad? Korea would then be situated relative to Australia in the way that “Havre, Nantes, Bordeaux, Lisbon, London, Hamburg, and New Orleans are with relation to the towns situated at the sources of” the respective rivers on which they lie since it is cheaper for goods to travel down the river than up the river. And are the cities at the mouth of the river not more prosperous than the cities at the source?

Beer of the Week: Hacker-Pschorr Münchner Gold- This is a good example of the Munich Helles Lager. It is a light, clear gold, with a very white head. The aroma is mostly of bready malt. The flavor matches the smell, malty with only a hint of hops at the end. As the beer warms, a touch of alcohol warmth is easily detected in the finish. 5.5% isn’t that high, but it sure makes itself felt.

Reading of the week: Stulta and Puera by Frédéric Bastiat – In this amusing little apologue, Bastiat tells the story of two towns that went to great expense to build a highway to facilitate trade and then went to the further expense of placing obstacles on the road to make trade more difficult and expensive.

Question of the week: Have you ever wondered why high-fructose corn syrup is used instead of sugar (sucrose) in the United States? Did you know that since the early 1980’s, tariffs have made sugar twice as expensive in the United States as it is in the rest of the world?


Charge of the Light Beer Brigade

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Someone had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Tennyson’s classic poem Charge of the Light Brigade is actually a story of a failed military action. In short, there was an order that was misunderstood which resulted in a cavalry charge against a strong defensive position. Naturally, the Light Brigade was repelled and suffered heavy casualties. Because of the poem, the folly has gone down in history as a glorious exhibition of the honor and ability of the British cavalry. But just like military action itself, the claim that the charge was honorable is also easily shot down.

According to Tennyson, the soldiers “knew / Someone had blunder’d”. They were aware that this mission was suicidal and was impossible. The suicidal part I will not take issue with here. It may be possible to make a rational decision to give up your life for the sake of your country or to achieve a “higher goal.” (The fact that we balk at the idea of suicide bombers and kamikaze pilots may induce us to seriously question whether it actually is possible to make that choice rationally, but that is not the issue here.) Tennyson tells us that “Theirs is not to reason why, / Theirs is but to do and die”. When they enlisted in the Light Brigade, they apparently signed away their rational faculties. The very thing that makes us human is our reason, and it is their very humanity that they gave up when they agreed to relinquish their ability to think.

One will readily argue that it is necessary for soldiers to give up their will and reason to their superiors if anything is to be accomplished. If soldiers are constantly questioning their superiors and failing to obey with alacrity, they put themselves and others at risk. Although it is true that soldiers must trust each other and their superiors and act in the faith that their orders are reasonable, they cannot simply follow without exercising their reason. In an ideal case, they have good reason to believe that their orders have been made by competent superiors who are better informed than they are. Blindly following orders in this case is a rational decision.   But the Light Brigade knew that something was wrong, that order could not have been made by a well-informed, rational superior:  “Someone had blunder’d.” If the act is not rational, how can it be honorable? French Marshal Pierre Bosquet famously said, “C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre: c’est de la folie.” [It is magnificant, but it is not war: it is madness.]

Yet Tennyson tells us to “Honor the charge they made”. Should we really be expected to honor madness?

Beer of the Week: Budějovický Budvar – Just as Pilsener originally meant “beer from Pilzen,” Budweiser once meant “beer from Budweis.” The people at the Budweiser Budvar Brewing Company still claim that is the only legitimate meaning of the word. As such, they have been battling with Anheuser-Busch in courts all over the globe in an attempt to secure the international trademark. This has met with limited success. Budějovický Budvar, according to their website, is not the brewery’s signature Budweiser Premium Lager, but their less alcoholic session beer, “ideal for those occasions when it is evident in advance that you will not finish with just one beer.” If that was their goal, they have not done a bad job. The beer has good hops on the nose and a decent lingering (although a little sour) finish, but is still light enough to make it go down quick. Better flavor than the A-B Budweiser, but about the same in terms of body and ability to be consumed in large quantities.

Reading of the week: Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson – Regardless of the philosophical implications of glorifying the tremendous error that resulted in the death, injury, or capture of so many men, this poem really does get the blood pumping. Although if you hear a recording of Tennyson reading it himself, it is more creepy than inspiring. (But what can you expect from a 120 year-old recording on wax?)

Question of the week: If one can rationally point out what an awful mistake the charge was, why is it still so captivating?


Paradise Found?

My father went to Honduras on vacation. Must be nice. However, I am on my way to Manila for a rugby tournament, so I have no room to complain. In fact, I also have no time to write a proper article. On the way there, I hope to finish reading Areopagitica by John Milton. Areopagitica is addressed to the Parliament of England and is a tract against censorship. His arguments stem partially from the historical perspective, pointing out that the only governments or institutions that advocated censorship in the past were tyrannical and unjust. Can you trust people who don’t want you to know something?

In lieu of my own choice for beer of the week, I include my father’s review of Port Royal Export from Honduras (without his permission.)

 When we left for Utila, one of the Bay Islands of Honduras, for a week long SCUBA adventure, there was much uncertainty about what awaited us.  Not least, the availability and quality of fermented grain drinks.

The first night in the lodge, we quickly found that there were two native beers available.  Salva Vida was pointed out as having “more flavor.”  I did drink a few while there, but, of course, I tried the only other available cerveza, which promptly became my favorite (of the two available in our resort).

The label of Port Royal claims various awards and medals which very well may have been justly awarded.  It is a Pilsner style beer with a light, crisp, clear color, having a medium light body with a refreshing clean flavor without sweetness.  (4.8 alcohol).  It is light on hops, but has no unpleasantness in the mouth or aftertaste.  It has an unbelievably rich, thick head – the photo was taken as an afterthought after the freshly poured glass had settled briefly.  Initially the head actually was reminiscent of the Dairy Queen trademark – curling above the level of the sides of the glass.

The Brewmaster Emeritus, ________ ________ [signature illegible] asserts that :  “By rigid adherence to brewing methods too often neglected in these times, we present here a beer in the traditional draft pilsner style of my native Bavaria.”  ( The only ingredients listed are: Agua, Malta de Cebada, and Adjuntos y Lupulo.)

Never having been to Bavaria, but favoring beers aspiring to similar claims, I cannot dispute the statement.  The beer was clean, and refreshing.  Just the thing after a full day including three boat dives under the tropical sun.

So he get’s “clean, and refreshing” beer (albeit brewed with “adjunctos”,) and I have to settle for San Miguel


Women Workers of the World Unite!

Yesterday was International Women’s Day. As we all know, International Women’s Day was founded as a socialist political event, aimed at liberating women from the drudgery of housework and exhorting them to join the glorious worker’s revolution. It later established as an official holiday of the CCCP by Vladimir Iliych Lenin. Of course, the event has mostly moved away from its specific political roots, but it would seem imprudent to avoid the chance to drink Russian beer and discuss Russian literature and misogyny.

In Anton Chekhov’s The Lady with the Dog, the character Dmitri Dmitritch Gurov first appears as a misogynist who refers to women as “the lower race.” But like all well-crafted characters (and real people,) there is more to him. He is also a philanderer. Of course, there is nothing mutually exclusive about misogyny and infidelity, but the cause of his infidelity seems somewhat incongruous with his professed views on women. Chekhov writes that Gurov does not feel comfortable in the company of men, “but in the company of women he felt free, and knew what to say to them and how to behave.” Can real misogyny coexist with this comfort and ease with women? Could he really disdain women if they are the only society in which he feels himself?

To be sure, he thought little of his own wife, “and he secretly considered her unintelligent, narrow, [and] inelegant,” but that is just one woman. Women who were not his wife attracted him and made them feel at ease. And all of the negative things he had to say about women, he said to men. Why should we give any weight to what he says to men when we have already been told that he does not know what to say around men? “In the society of men he was bored and not himself,” so are his professed misogynistic views to be regarded as really his own? Or are they simply the talk of a man saying what he thinks other men want to hear?

On my first reading, I had no sympathy for Gurov. Even with these questions in mind, a second reading produced very little inclination to take his side. But I suspect that Chekhov meant for the reader to come down somewhere in the middle. The final question of the story is not whether Gurov is right or wrong in anything that he does, but where can he possibly go from here?

Beer of the Week: Baltika No. 7 Export Lager – Having never heard of any Russian beers (I’ve only had American brewed “Russian imperial porters”,) my expectations were not high. This beer definitely surpassed my admittedly low expectations. It is a clear gold color with a pillowy head. The aroma has a slight hint alcohol at the end, as well as a sweet combination of fruit and of caramel malt. The taste is not quite as sweet as the aroma, but has a slight taste of apple cider. It is not the best beer in the world, but it is definitely better than plenty of “big-name” brews. Plus it has a really cool pull-tab cap.

Reading of the week: The Lady with the Dog by Anton Chekhov – Our introduction to Dmitri Dmitritch Gurov is not flattering. He has nothing good to say about women, even if he has nothing but sweet things to say to them. Whether or not the reader becomes reconciled to him as he changes throughout the story depends much on the reader, but only a certain sort of man can find him totally agreeable from the outset.

Question of the week: Chekhov writes that Gurov “had been unfaithful to [his wife] often, and, probably on that account, almost always spoke ill of women.” Does his disdain (or apparent disdain) for women result from his infidelity, or does his infidelity result from his disdain?


Seeing v. Believing

In his Discourse on Method, Descartes compares all sensory perception to the sight of somebody with jaundice. The jaundiced man sees everything with a yellow tint and it would be a mistake for him to believe that everything in the world really is yellow simply because he sees it that way. To Descartes, everybody is in this situation: our perceptions and impressions are not perfect, so it is a mistake to assume that everything actually is the way we see it.

Descartes uses the stars as an example of how flawed our perception is; the moon looks much larger than the stars, but we “know” that the stars are tremendously larger than the moon. However, it seems outrageously impractical to go about doubting all of our perceptions. When I buy a bottle of beer, I know that it will fit in my refrigerator by looking at it. I never stop and say, “this bottle looks to me as if it is smaller than my refrigerator, but I know that my senses are not to be trusted, so I had better measure it.” There are, of course, times when “eye-balling” is not adequately certain and measuring really is necessary, but for most day-to-day activities these cases are the exception rather than the rule.

Occasionally we do misjudge the height of a stair or mistake a glass wall for an open door, but how does that small inconvenience compare to the paralysis that would come from completely doubting our senses? Seeing is believing, and for the most part, that is a good thing.

Beer of the Week: Henninger Lager – This German import smells almost like a classic pilsner; the aromatic hops predominate. The flavor, however, is more malty, almost bready, with a faint hint of citrus. The finish has a nice little bit of spice from the hops. Unfortunately, the mouthfeel is a bit “wet” and “sticky”. Overall, it is not too bad a beer.

Reading of the week: The Ghosts by Lord Dunsany – This very, very short story is pretty interesting. (Also it contains a reference to Euclid, and that is pretty sweet.) In it, the narrator relates an  “experiment” he undertook to prove to his brother that one can see ghosts without believing in ghosts.

Question of the week: Was the experiment a success?