Back when P. Ballantine & Sons was one of the nation’s largest brewers–rather than just another classic brand in the Pabst portfolio–it ran a series of advertisements featuring prominent authors. Each ad asked the question “How would you put a glass of Ballantine Ale into words?” and each author wrote a letter in response. Among the spokesmen were John Steinbeck, James A. Michener, and C.S. Forester. But the biggest name in the ad campaign was Earnest Hemingway, who wrote:
“Bob Benchley first introduced me to Ballantine Ale. It has been a good companion ever since.
You have to work hard to deserve to drink it. But I would rather have a bottle of Ballantine Ale than any other drink after fighting a really big fish. When something has been taken out of you by strenuous exercise Ballantine puts it back in.
We keep it iced in the bait box with chunks of ice packed around it. And you ought to taste it on a hot day when you have worked a big marlin fast because there were sharks after him.
You are tired all the way through. The fish is landed untouched by sharks and you have a bottle of Ballantine cold in your hand and drink it cool, light, and full-bodied, so it tastes good long after you have swallowed it. That’s the test of an ale with me: whether it tastes as good afterwards as when it’s going down. Ballantine does.”
Earning a refreshing beer by “strenuous exercise” seems very on-brand for Hemingway. His story My Old Man begins with a description of a horse jockey’s exercise regimen, which consists of running and skipping rope in the hot Italian sun while wearing “a rubber shirt over a couple of jerseys and a big sweat shirt over that”. The narrator, his son, admires the hard work and dedication. We see the jockey’s physical training as virtue. As the story proceeds, however, he stops exercising and riding in favor of drinking whisky and betting on fixed races. He should have stuck to the honest, strenuous work of training and racing; that way, he might have earned a cold, refreshing Ballantine Ale. Instead, the story ends with the jockey “getting what’s coming to him.”
Beer of the week: Ballantine XXX Ale – I generally agree with Hemingway’s description of Ballantine Ale as “cool, light, and full-bodied, so it tastes good long after you have swallowed it.” It is clear gold, with a fine white head that leaves decent lacing. The aroma is of sweet malt and some grass. The flavor tastes of dinner rolls and just a bit of hops. Overall, it is like a slightly more flavorful macro lager. And, as Hemingway observed, the aftertaste is not bad at all.
Reading of the week: My Old Man by Earnest Hemingway – The jockey’s son tells us, “When I’d sit watching him working out in the hot sun I sure felt fond of him.” In large part, this story is about how a son sees his father, and how a son’s perception is changed–or not–when he learns of his father’s faults. It is definitely a good read for Fathers’ Day weekend.
Question for the week: Does Hemingway selling Ballantine make you think better of Ballantine or worse of Hemingway?
One day, a razor found himself in the sunlight. He was struck by the brilliant reflection of the sun on his steel and the extreme keenness of his finely honed blade. He said to himself, “why should such a marvelous razor as I be employed in the menial task of shaving rustic peasants?” And so he hid himself away where the barber could not find him. When the razor was finally located and brought out into the sun again, he found that he had gone to rust. His luster and his edge were lost.
This fable comes from Leonardo di Vinci’s notebooks. Afterward, di Vinci writes that “the same thing happens to those minds which instead of exercise give themselves up to sloth. They are like the razor here spoken of, and lose the keenness of their edge, while the rust of ignorance spoils their form.” To keep myself from going to rust during lockdown, I recently helped install a kegerator conversion kit.
Readers of this blog might guess that I am more inclined toward brainwork than handiwork; that I am more cerebral than mechanical. But my education included practical experiments based on the works of Archimedes, Antoine Lavoisier, and Michael Faraday. So when the time came to apply theory to practice, I was ready.
To be sure, there were hiccups along the way. Did I scratch my hand with a drill bit? Yes. Did the refrigerator door stubbornly refuse to shut so that we were forced to tear the shelves apart with a power saw and pliers? Absolutely. But in the end, all was well and the beer, by virtue of a few principles of fluid dynamics, flowed like water.
Elsewhere in his notebooks, di Vinci wrote, “He who can go to the fountain does not go to the water-jar.” I prefer, “He who has beer on tap doesn’t buy six-packs.”
Beer of the week: Northern Haze IPA – This hazy IPA comes from True North Ale Company in Ipswich, Massachusetts. It is almost muddy in appearance, with lots of yellow sediment. The addition of wheat to the grain bill adds not only to the cloudiness but also to the robust head. The aroma is fruity, with peach and berry notes as well as some piney hops. The flavor follows the aroma, with fruit notes early and a lingering bitter finish. A very nice choice for the first keg.
Reading of the week: Fables On Lifeless Objects by Leonardo di Vinci – Di Vinci’s notebooks are probably most famous for his flying machines and other inventions, but they include extensive writings on art, anatomy, engineering, and hydraulics. I don’t think he anticipated the kegerator, but I’d have to do a deep dive to be sure. This excerpt from the notebooks is a collection of charming fables.
Question for the week: As we know, di Vinci’s famous flying machines were not actually functional inventions. What is the value of a purely intellectual exercise–such as designing a flying machine that will never be built? Or, put in terms of the fable: does such an exercise hone the razor or hide it way?
Quis, asks Juvenal, custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard the guardians? (Or, as Lisa Simpson put it: “who will police the police?”) Answers to this famous question have been attempted, but few answers have been satisfactory. An equally famous quotation, if not equally ancient, may explain why some level of abuse is inevitable: “Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” (Lord Acton.)
But the context of Juvenal’s question may provide some insight for preventing police abuses today. Juvenal’s Satire VI is an invective against the perceived moral decay of Roman society. In particular, the custodes or guardians are introduced as a mechanism to prevent women from getting into trouble. But Juvenal laments that they will ultimately fail in that task. “I hear all this time the advice of my old friends: keep your women at home, and put them under lock and key. Yes, but who will guard the guardians? Wives are crafty and will begin with them.” The guardians cannot enforce morality on the women because they are susceptible to the very same vices.
The problem, in the modern context of policing, is that morality cannot be enforced by law. “Laws,” wrote Thomas Jefferson, “provide against injury from others; but not from ourselves. God himself will not save men against their wills.” And every law that attempts to enforce morality simply creates additional occasion for armed police to come into conflict with citizens. And more unnecessary interactions means more opportunity for abuse. After all, “the essential feature of government is the enforcing of its decrees by beating, killing, and imprisoning.” (Ludwig von Mises.)
In 2014, Eric Garner was choked to death by New York City police officers. Those police were enforcing a “sin tax” on cigarettes. The city had decided that smoking was immoral, had enacted a tax to penalize it, and tasked its sizable police force with enforcing the tax. Garner was allegedly evading the cigarette tax by selling individual darts, so the police accosted and ultimately killed him. The city did not plan on killing people who evaded the cigarette tax, but it was always a possibility.
More recently, Breonna Taylor was shot to death in her bed by Louisville police officers. This was the tragic and all-too-predictable result of a police tactic known as a “no-knock raid.” The Supreme Court of the United States has concluded that the fourth amendment to the Constitution requires that police announce their presence and allow the people inside the building to open the door before the police can execute a search warrant. However, an exception exists when the police claim that the subject of the search might destroy evidence if the police are forced to announce themselves before rushing in. The classic destruction of evidence concern is flushing drugs down the toilet. Breaking this all down into steps: the legislature decides that drug use is immoral, so they criminalize possession and sale of drugs; courts decide that getting drug convictions is so important that they are willing to abrogate the constitutional requirement that police announce themselves before executing a search; police perform no-knock raids by breaking into people’s homes in the middle of the night; and anybody foolish enough to try to defend himself against these apparent armed home invaders gets shot at. Police broke into Taylor’s house in the night; her boyfriend (a licensed gun owner) acted in self-defense; the police shot Taylor dead. The raid was not intended to result in a homicide, but it was always a possibility.
If police were not tasked with enforcing morality in the form of victimless crimes, they would have fewer confrontations with citizens and the police would need less policing.
Beer of the week: Natural Villain – Is there any villain more natural than the over-reaching authority figure? I think not. This highly-carbonated, clear-gold adjunct lager comes from Goose Island Beer Company. The aroma has notes of bread, grass, and corn. Natural Villain is crisp and refreshing with just a bit of lingering hops bitterness. As a summer thirst quencher, it is a good choice.
Reading of the week: Satire VI by Juvenal – Juvenal blames the moral decay of Rome on a long period of prosparity and peace. These two apparent goods, he claims, have made the Romans soft and corrupt. In particular, he asserts that Roman women have become prodigal, impious, intemperate, and lustful. In case you can’t locate the famous line, this translation has “watch the warders” for custodiet ipsos custodes.
Question for the week: Most of my analysis above relies on the premise that morality cannot and should not be legislated. Is that claim accurate? Shouldn’t legislatures attempt to make their citizens virtuous by outlawing vice?
This is the third in a series of posts on family (and Sierra Nevada beers.) The rest of the posts can be found here.
Oedipus’s family was dysfunctional, to say the least. Oedipus’s parents tried to kill him as an infant. When he had grown to be a man, Oedipus killed his father (although unaware of their relationship) and married his mother (likewise unknowingly.) His sons/brothers waged war against each other, vying for their father/brother’s throne. They ultimately killed each other on the field of battle. Oedipus’s uncle/brother-in-law Creon eventually sentenced Oedipus’s daughter/sister Antigone (whose fiancé happened to be her cousin, Creon’s son) to death for performing burial rites for one of her slain brothers. Not a great family situation all around.
Despite this profoundly messed up home life, Antigone somehow learned to put family first. After Oedipus blinded himself, she personally led and waited on him throughout his exile. When her brothers quarreled between themselves over the throne, Antigone pleaded with Polynices to make peace with Eteocles. And, when the corpse of Polynices lay in the open as a feast for birds and wild dogs, Antigone she defied the law to give him a proper burial.
In the face of misfortune, war, and an unjust government, Antigone steadfastly maintained her familial allegiance, even in a family most notable its members’ crimes against each other. So even if your family is pretty awful, Antigone can be a role model.
Beer of the week: Sierraveza – This “easy-drinking lager” is in the style of a Mexican cerveza. It is quite carbonated, and pours clear gold with a bright, white head. The aroma is led by pale malts and has a slightly floral note. The beer is crisp, with just enough floral hops to leave a lingering bitterness. “Easy-drinking” indeed.
Reading of the week: Phoenissae by Seneca the Younger – Although Seneca is better known for his letters and works on stoic philosophy, he also wrote several tragedies. This partial retelling of the Oedipus myth begins with an eloquent speech by Antigone about her dedication to her father. The speech prompts Oedipus to ask how a sinner such as himself could have fathered such a dutiful daughter.
Question for the week: Do we, like the Greeks, consider patricide–and, consequently other crimes against family–to be worse than similar crimes against non-family members? Why or why not?
This is the last in a series of four posts on Epicureanism (and South American beers.) The rest of the posts can be found here.
Step 4: τὸ δὲ δεινὸν εὐκαρτέρητον – What is Terrible is Easy to Endure
Epicurus writes that “[c]ontinuous pain does not last long in the flesh; on the contrary, pain, if extreme, is present a very short time, and even that degree of pain which barely outweighs pleasure in the flesh does not last for many days together. Illnesses of long duration even permit of an excess of pleasure over pain in the flesh.”
If, as Protagoras said, man is the measure of all things, then one man—Socrates—is the measure of all Greek philosophy. Would he agree with Epicurus’s statement about pain and endurance?
In Plato’s Phaedo, Socrates muses on the odd pleasure he experiences upon having his chains removed: “How singular is the thing called pleasure, and how curiously related to pain, which might be thought to be the opposite of it; for they are never present to a man at the same instant, and yet he who pursues either is generally compelled to take the other; their bodies are two, but they are joined by a single head.” This curious connection between pain and pleasure may lend weight to Epicurus’s point of view. One can endure almost anything because even truly awful pain must have its related pleasure.
In Xenophon’s Apology, however, Socrates identifies a sort of suffering that is chronic and worth dying to avoid. In the face of capital charges of impiety and corrupting the youth, Socrates decided to commit suicide by jury. He reasoned that it would be better to die while still at the peak of his mental powers than face the possibility of a protracted physical and psychological decline in old age. “If my years are prolonged, I know that the frailties of old age will inevitably be realized,—that my vision must be less perfect and my hearing less keen, that I shall be slower to learn and more forgetful of what I have learned.” Old age, to Socrates, was both terrible and impossible to endure—the exception that proves Epicurus’s rule.
Beer of the week: Latitud Cero° Concordia – This Helles-style lager comes from La Paz Cerveceria in Ecuador. It’s straw-colored, with a slight haze. The aroma is of light toast, caramel and grass. The body is more substantial than I’d have guessed, which results in an uncommonly long finish for such a light lager.
Question of the week: Is suicide acceptable in the face of protracted suffering?
This post was made possible by a generous contribution by Muriel toward the BeerAndTrembling education fund. Now that the campaign is no longer live, I encourage readers to participate by reaching out in the comments or through the “Make a Recommendation” page.
Mark Twain’s writing is always quotable, usually funny, and occasionally sublime. There are, of course, the odd missteps. For example, I find A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court to be a very uneven mix of sunny humor and dark, cynical satire. And I was generally unimpressed when I recently cracked open Innocents Abroad. But tastes vary, and no body of work can be all chefs d’oeuvre.
Even Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not unalloyed genius. Earnest Hemingway advised readers of Huckleberry Finn to quit before the final chapters. But, at least in my opinion, almost everything before Hemingway’s recommended cutoff point is excellent. The book begins with a notice: “PERSONS attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.” Despite this stern warning against looking for meaning in the book, it is impossible not to see something important in Chapter XXXI.
By that point in the book Huckleberry Finn and Jim have travelled a considerable distance down the Mississippi River together. Huck is running from his abusive father and Jim is running from slavery. Eventually, they fall in with two traveling grifters. These frauds try to earn quick money by giving dance lessons and lectures on temperance, “missionarying, and mesmerizing, and doctoring, and telling fortunes, and a little of everything.” They are, however, generally unsuccessful. Eventually, they decide on a more profitable scheme: they betray Jim and sell him back into slavery.
It is under these circumstances that Huck is faced with a moral crisis. He sees two options. One option is to contact Jim’s “rightful” owner, in the hopes that Jim may return to his previous slavery rather than the possibly harsher slavery with of his new masters. Or he can attempt to help Jim escape bondage yet again. It may seem easy, from the reader’s point of view, to see what the “right” thing to do is. The problem for Huck is that he has been taught that what is lawful is good, and what is unlawful is bad. And, according to the laws of man and God, Jim is meant to be a slave. To defy those laws is to become a social pariah and invite eternal damnation.
Huckleberry, as the narrator, describes his inner turmoil. He knows that helping a slave to get his freedom, according to society, is about the most wicked, low-down, rotten thing that he could do. He’d be positively ‘shamed to death to face his friends and neighbors after doing such a despicable thing. Moreover, he believes truly that “everlasting fire” is the reward for aiding Jim’s escape. He sincerely, desperately wants to be good. But being good means he must abandon his friend when he needs him the most. Huck tries to pray, but can’t because he cannot repent wanting to help Jim. And if he cannot repent, he cannot be saved. So he makes his choice:
“All right, then, I’ll GO to hell” …
It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my head, and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn’t. And for a starter I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog.
Twain later wrote that Huck’s inner conflict was the collision of “a sound heart and a deformed conscience.” Society had played Huck a cruel trick by convincing him that virtue was evil and evil was virtuous. So while he believed honestly that he was irredeemably wicked, he was actually irrepressibly good. His sound heart overcame his deformed conscience.
Beer of the week: Bud Light Orange – Like some of Twain’s writing, this beer seems caught between being for children or adults. On the one hand, it smells and tastes like an orange lollipop. It occasionally even causes that peculiar pain you can get in the back of your jaw when eating citrus candies. On the other hand, it is beer. In fact, although it is too sweet, it is not quite candy-sweet. It actually tastes a bit like beer. But whoever Bud Light Orange is for, it ain’t me. (Although I honestly would try it as the base for a float with vanilla ice cream, because I am a kid at heart.)
Reading of the week: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain – There is not much more to be said about this excerpt that I didn’t say above. But I really do find this to be one of the most moving pieces of writing I’ve ever read.
Question for the week: How can we avoid having our consciences deformed by a misguided society?
This is the third in a series of four posts on Epicureanism (and South American beers.) The rest of the posts can be found here.
Step 3: καὶ τἀγαθὸν μὲν εὔκτητον – What is Good is Easy to Get
According to Seneca, The Garden of Epicurus bore the following inscription: “Stranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest good is pleasure.” As a result of the Epicurean focus on pleasure, Epicureanism is often misunderstood as decadent and gluttonous. We associate Epicureanism with good food, good drink, and plenty of both. But that is not a fair characterization.
“By pleasure,” writes Epicurus to Menoeceus, “we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul. It is not an unbroken succession of drinking-bouts and of merrymaking, not sexual love, not the enjoyment of the fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life; it is sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs through which the greatest disturbances take possession of the soul.” Good things are those that satisfy our basic needs. Striving for more than our minimum requirements actually decreases our pleasure because it makes us anxious. Because luxuries are hard to acquire, the effort to get them results in a net loss of pleasure. To say nothing of the unpleasant aftereffects of overindulgence.
As Montaigne put it, “If you found your pleasure upon drinking of the best [wine], you condemn yourself to the penance of drinking of the worst. Your taste must be more indifferent and free.” Why spoil your palate on expensive wine and deny yourself the pleasure of cheap wine? There is more pleasure in prudently settling for the basics than anxiously scrambling after the best.
Beer of the week: Chaski Porter – Given Montaigne’s dictum about settling for cheap wine, I suppose that I should have paired this week’s reading with a cheap beer. But I got this Peruvian porter from Barbarian Cerveceria Artesanal at a very good price, and by drinking only one at a time, I maximize the pleasure while minimizing anxiety over my beer budget. Chaski is very carbonated. It is dark brown with a rocky, tan head. The aroma has hints of soy sauce and chocolate. The beer is a bit thinner than expected, with coffee notes dominating. I am not a big porter drinker, but Chaski is pretty good.
Reading of the week: Of Drunkenness by Michel de Montaigne – The philosophy of Montaigne is difficult to pin down. It is not accurate to call him an Epicurean, but he was certainly influenced by Epicureanism. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy relates that Montaigne’s Essays quote one verse out of every sixteen in Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things.
Question of the week: Is there not a certain pleasure in working toward and attaining something beyond our basic needs?