Would you like some beer with your water?

Last month news broke that Anheuser-Busch InBev is facing two big law suits. The more sensational suit is a class-action that alleges that they have been watering down their beers. Specifically, they are accused of adding water directly before bottling, reducing the alcohol percentage of several of their brands below the level stated on the labels. The reduction is claimed to be as high as 8%. (That is, 8% of 5%. So less than half of a percent. Numbers sure are nifty that way.)

As I mentioned in a recent post, class-actions are basically scams. The only people who get very positive results are the attorneys; successful plaintiffs generally get paid in coupons. My other beef with them is the math used to calculate damages. The plaintiffs in this case want the court to award $5 million in damages for AB InBev selling them 4.7% beer with a label that says 5%. How in the world is that worth $5 million in damages? Don’t get me wrong; if they are actually selling a product that is not consistent with the label, that is both wrong and illegal and they should be punished. And if InBev made an additional $5 million by filling more cans with less beer, they have no right to that money. But I just can’t imagine a scenario where I could stand in front of a judge and say under oath, “The difference between the label and the product was enough to cause me material damages on the order of 6-figures. But the product was not bad enough for me to just buy a different beer. Because, seriously, I  bought a six-pack of Budweiser every week for the past four years, even after I had found that I was dissatisfied with the product.”

What makes this case even more suspect is the fact that adding water immediately before bottling is totally standard practice and is in no way improper. They brew the beer slightly strong to begin with and then add water to get the alcohol level to the exact level they want. NPR decided to test some of the beers for themselves and found every one tested to be “well within federal limits” of their labeled alcohol content.

The second law suit is an anti-trust suit. The feds are trying to prevent AB InBev from purchasing Modelo, brewers of Corona. The logic of the suit is that the acquisition would create a giant company capable of obstructing the free market and causing price increases. As much as I love the idea of protecting the free market, the claims just don’t seem to make much sense to me. AB InBev is already a giant company. But they have been losing ground to smaller brewers for years now. Adding a few more macro-brews to their portfolio isn’t going to grant them a stranglehold on the market. If they attempted to raise prices across their newly acquired lines, that would only make it easier for other breweries to gain market-share just by keeping their prices the same. If anything, I’d expect prices to drop as the company consolidates production and streamlines distribution. It seems likely to me that AB InBev just didn’t make the right campaign contributions to make this deal go through smoothly.

Beer of the Week: Cafri – Until these law suits are sorted out (or until I forget,) I am boycotting AB InBev and Modelo beers. So this week’s beer is an unaffiliated, Corona-like brew from Korea. And, for what it is, it isn’t bad. Cafri is clear and smooth. It certainly does not have much flavor at all, but what is there is not at all offensive. It is more than adequate as a Corona substitute and was at one point my go-to cheap Korean beer.

Reading of the week: The Code of Hammurabi, Selections – The oldest extant written code of law seems primitive in some respects; there are regulations about how and when family members can be sold into slavery and under what conditions rape victims should be executed. But there are also some “progressive” laws; there are minimum wage requirements and laws that relieve debtors in the event that their crops are destroyed by acts of god. Also, there is a law against overcharging for beer. The penalty (rightfully) is death by drowning. Not in beer, in the river.

Question of the week: Under The Code of Hammurabi, a judge whose decision is later shown to have been made in error is permanently removed from the bench and forced to pay back the fine he imposed 12-fold. Would the American judicial system be better if judges whose decisions were overturned on appeal were forced to retire?

Rust Stains

Some little while ago now, I went on a bit of an adventure. The details will remain vague to avoid any trouble with any authority figures and so that I do not inadvertently encourage others to do anything that they ought not do. I must stress that I cannot advise that anybody attempt their own version of this particular adventure.

The adventure started, as most great adventures do, with alcohol. And a rather large amount of the stuff at that. I met up with two friends on a Friday evening. After a light repast and a few beers, we decided to drink our way down to the river. I say “drink our way” rather than “walk” because it was a very short walk that was punctuated by stopping at each of the several convenience stores on the way for beverages of a refreshing nature. When we got to the river, we found ourselves at the base of a bridge. Exploration and skylarkings naturally followed and in a few hours time, we had crossed the river in a most unconventional way. Highlights included an excellent view, an abandoned hardhat, and an awful fright courtesy of a police boat that we thought for sure had seen us.

What we had done, none of us would have done alone. It was also almost certainly illegal. We knew that we were in the wrong, and still we pursued our course. I cannot help but feel that it had a rather bonding effect, strengthening our friendship through a somewhat unorthodox trial. But can friendship really benefit from unvirtuous actions?

In his dialogue On Friendship, Cicero places the greatest emphasis on virtue and even claims the true friendship can only exist between men of great virtue. He admits that men of ordinary quality may experience ordinary friendship, but even then “if virtue be neglected, those who imagine themselves to possess friends will find out their error as soon as some grave disaster forces them to make trial of them.” I must reconcile Cicero’s opinion to my position in this way: it is unreasonable and immodest to expect to have friends who are significantly better than oneself, but friends of approximately equal virtue are adequately provided to assist one another in becoming better people. Our adventure together put us on a common level of virtue, now we can begin to build each other up. That is to say, next time, we won’t drink as much and we’ll keep our adventures more or less legal. Beer of the Week: Max Special Hop 2011 – As I mentioned in the review of regular Max, the advertising plan for this beer is to play up the fact that it is brewed with German hops and 100% malted barley (that is, without rice or other adjuncts.) As part of their “superior ingredients” approach, each year they come out with a limited edition brew with specially chosen hops. This year, the hops are from New Zealand. This is the beer that I took with me on my adventure across the river. The hops shine through in the aroma; it is not a strong aroma, but sweet, floral hops are definitely the primary smell. The flavor is sweet, but not syrupy like many adjunct lagers. It is not really much better than regular Max (which itself is very bland,) but it is somewhat impressive to see a large brewer attempting to produce a higher quality beer.

Reading of the week: On Friendship by Marcus Tullius Cicero, paragraphs 61-66 – Cicero, in this passage explains why friendship is “a matter of supreme importance” as well as discussing how a friendship should be ended if a friendship must end. 

Question of the week: Cicero says that mutual respect is friendship’s “brightest jewel.” Does that seem right?

Fully Satisfied Readers

Kant went searching after the truth behind a commonly held notion and found nothing. “This,” he writes “is indeed by itself a sufficient reason for writing a book.” He is serious on this point, but the humor of it is not lost on him. He has nothing concrete to say on the point, no grand revelation nor eternal law to propound, and that is remarkable in itself. Philosophy is just like that sometimes and there is nothing wrong at laughing at that fact.

Philosophy is full to over-flowing with esotericisms, contradictions, and, if viewed from the right angle, downright silliness. Yet, many approach it with great reverence. To many, philosophy is cold and serious business. For that reason, it is very refreshing to get a look at the lighter side of philosophy, and even more so when the lighter side is pointed out by a philosopher as eminent (and often dry and serious) as Immanuel Kant.

But just when one is happy to have a laugh at the “profound scholars” for “[rejecting] by a majority of votes” any course of study that is practical and reasonable, Kant makes one more quip:  “the present treatise will fully satisfy the reader; for the main part he will not understand, another part he will not believe, and the rest he will laugh at.” Suddenly, the reader can no longer be sure that the joke is not on himself.

Beer of the Week: OB Golden Lager – As the Korean beer market slowly becomes more interested in the quality of the beer rather than simply the price, the big brewers keep making moves to keep up with the beer drinking public. OB Golden Lager has an edge in the eyes of the informed beer drinker because it is made with 100% malted barley and imported German hops. Using German hops and only malt are steps in the right direction, now if only they would use more of both. Unlike Kant, OB can make no claim to leaving the consumer “fully satisfied.” Although the beer isn’t bad, it is watery and uninspired. The most notable thing about the beer is that the soda-like head dissipated in record time; I couldn’t even snap a photo before it was all gone.

Reading of the week: the Preface to Dreams of a Spirit-Seer by Immanuel Kant – Kant explains, while having a dig at philosophers in general as well as the Church (just for good measure,) why he has undertaken to write a treatise on a subject where no firm truth can be had, namely, the world of spirits.

Question of the week: Why are questions about the soul and other subjects regarding “the land of shadows” so interesting even though no definite answers can be reached? And why is it so tempting to make positive statements about such subjects?

Lies, lies, lies

The details of the assassination of Osama bin Laden have gone through a few official revisions. First Osama was in a mansion, engaging in a fire-fight and using his wife as a human shield. Slowly, as information started coming from other sources, we have learned (or we think we have learned) that the “mansion” was a house in an unimpressive part of town and had a value of about a quarter of the initial report. It also came to light that the wife was not a human shield, but was running toward the SEALs. Lastly, Osama was unarmed and it seems probable that the “fire-fight” consisted of the SEALs shooting everybody quickly and efficiently without any resistance to speak of.

H. L. Mencken claims that “lying stands on a stands on a different plane from all other moral offenses.” Unlike murder or stealing, lying is not legislated against or universally recognized as wrong. However, the presence of  lies surrounding other actions serves as an “accurate gauge of other immoral acts.” Various actions are not wrong in themselves, but when combined with lies they become immoral. So it seems that the most important question about the bin Laden assassination is not “what really happened?” The most important question is “why did they lie about what happened?”

Beer of the Week: WA Bar Dunkel – The distributor of this beer may not be a liar, but he is certainly a bit misleading (although perhaps unintentionally.) First, the name is taken from a chain of bars in Korea called WA Bar. The beer itself, however, is from Germany and is brewed by our friends at Oettinger. So the beer is brewed in Germany and repackaged in Korea (notice the Korean writing on the can.) Most interesting though is the beer itself. I don’t recall ever having a dark wheat beer. This dunkel weizen is rather good. It has some of the caramel and coffee flavor of a stout, but with the sweet, light feel of a hefewiezen. And it has a good head on its shoulders.

Reading for the Week: Damn! A Book of Calumny by H. L. Mencken, Chapter XII: On Lying – Lying is in a class of it’s own. It is unlike other sins, yet almost a necessary part of many of them. And as for Mencken, he shows his devilish wit even in this short passage when he declares that “the line between stealing and not stealing is beautifully vague.”

Question of the Week: Is lying immoral in and of itself? If so, why is lying not prohibited in civilized society?

It Just Shows You


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?

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”?

The Right Man Was Convicted

I have, on the rarest of occasions, been mistaken. If that admission has not rocked your world to its foundation, I am sure it is because you reasoned thusly: “I am always right. Jake is not me. Anybody who is not me must differ from me in some respect. Therefore, Jake must be wrong at least sometimes.”

As Ben Franklin wrote, “Most men… think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them, it is so far error.”

We regard this as something of a joke. We agree that people tend to be extremely confident in their beliefs even (or perhaps especially) when they do not have all of the information. But since we really do know better, the convictions of others are laughable.

However silly self-confidence can seem in such an uncertain world, it does serve one useful purpose. Namely, it gives people the grounding required to act. Without convictions, one can hardly be expected to do anything wholeheartedly. That has long been one of the great arguments against philosophy in general is that it produces no action. Socrates’ “I know that I do not know” is not exactly a call to arms.

The problem of how to be a man of action while still living the life of the mind is one that Franklin himself seems to have over-come. It seems that part of his ability to act was his willingness to compromise for the sake of practical progress. He never lost sight of the his real world goals and always looked for a way to realize theoretical progress.

Beer of the week: Budweiser – As part of “America Night”, I read Franklin and made a delicious cheese steak sandwich with real American colby-jack cheese. However, the night went wrong when it came to the beer. A careful examination of my Budweiser bottle revealed the OB logo on the glass. Further research indicates that Budweiser sold in Korea is brewed in Korea. The tasted confirmed it. Imagine a bland, watery beer… then add water. In general, I do not care much for Korean beer (or Budweiser for that matter,) but this was the worst Korean offering yet.

Reading for the week: Disapproving and accepting the Constitution by Benjamin Franklin – In a very short address, Franklin makes a few bons mots about self-confidence and then proceeds to justify compromise for the sake of the practical end of a working federal government.

Question for the week: What is the limit to which one can “sacrifice [his opinion] to the common good” before he does the common good a disservice by not insisting on some point of principle?