Like a Frog in a Pot

Consider the following thought experiment (based, I believe, on work by the philosopher Warren Quinn):

A surgeon implants a dial into your bellybutton, with numbered settings ranging from 0 to 99. Each setting represents a level of permanent and irreversible discomfort, with 1 being scarcely noticeable and 99 being utterly agonizing. However, the difference between any two sequential settings is imperceptible. The dial can only be turned up, never down; once set to any given number, the discomfort will remain at that level for the rest of your life (unless you turn the dial up further.) The scientist who did this to you is not totally unkind, however. He offers a deal: you never have to turn the dial; it can just stay at 0 for your whole life. But if you do turn the dial, he will pay you $10,000 for each setting you reach. What do you do?

The crux of this question is that consecutive settings differ only imperceptibly. So once the dial is set to 1, there seems to be no reason not to turn it up to 2 and collect the additional money. And because the difference between 2 and 3 is imperceptible, why stop at 2? And so forth all the way up to the excruciating 99th setting. Eventually you may find yourself in constant and terrible pain, having crept to that point by imperceptible degrees.

Beer of the week: Devils Backbone Vienna Lager – Based on the reading of the week, one might have expected a beer from Sierra Nevada, but that’d be too obvious. Instead, I’ve chosen a beer named for a different mountain. This amber lager has a delicious, bready aroma. This Virginia beer is loaded with lots of toasted malt flavor with hints of caramel. It is a very nice brew.

Reading of the week: Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada by Clarence King – The theme of imperceptible gradual change is explored in this reading. King describes how the the forests of the Sierra Nevada mountains transition gradually from “a great, continuous grove, on whose sunny openings are innumerable brilliant parterres” to “a dismal thicket, a sort of gigantic canebrake, void of beauty, dark, impenetrable, save by the avenues of streams, where one may float for days between sombre walls of forest.”

Question of the week: Would you turn the dial? If you do, is there any way to keep yourself from eventually working your way to 99?

“Something Specific”

Today, I gave 31 cents to a beggar. He asked for 50 cents, but all I had was 31. He said that he intended to purchase a can of Miller Genuine Draft. “Sometimes” he informed me, “you just get a craving for something specific.”

I am not bragging about giving such a small amount of money toward an arguably questionable cause. But it reminded me of a brief interaction with a former teacher several years ago. When she asked what I was up to, I replied that I was engaged in “constant self-improvement.” The answer was only mostly a joke.

It is remarkably easy to be a better man tomorrow than I was today, if I put my mind to it. Today I gave 31 cents to a guy who was down on his luck and wanted a cold beer. Tomorrow, I could cut a check to a much less dubious charity such as 2 Seconds or Less, that works with African schools to build nutritional gardens for student lunches. Or something like that. But being better tomorrow than today doesn’t have to be in the form of charity.

I didn’t make the bed today. I didn’t wash the dishes immediately after lunch. There are hundreds and thousands of ways that I could have lived today better. The key is recognizing these shortcomings and making the effort to be a better man tomorrow. So tomorrow I will make the bed and I will do the dishes as soon as I finish my meals. And if a man asks me for change so that he can by a can of beer, I will offer to buy him a pint myself. Something better than MGD. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Beer of the week: Miller Fortune – Well this is no MGD, that’s for sure. Supposedly, Miller designed this beer to try to capture some market share back from liquor companies that have been targeting “millennials”. Hence the higher than usual alcohol (6.9%) and the suggestion that the beer to be served in a rocks glass. The overall idea is to make a classier beer. If I were in charge, I’d have made “taste” a priority, but what do I know? Fortune comes in a fancy black glass bottle and pours a pretty, crystal clear, amber color. After that, things go down hill. The smell is unpleasant and reminds me of ice beer, which may be related to the higher alcohol content. Aside from the taste of corn, I am also reminded of cheap malt liquor. (I suppose that “cheap malt liquor” is redundant.) It certainly has more flavor than I would usually expect from anything marketed under the Miller name, but in this case I don’t think that is a good thing. There is a very slight upside; the use of the rocks glass supposedly lets the beer warm in the drinker’s hand. As the beer warms, there appears a slight hint of caramel at the end of each sip. It doesn’t make the beer to good by any means, but it does show some complexity. At least they deserve some credit for trying, right?

Reading of the week: Some Fruits of Solitude: Censoriousness by William Penn – A problem with self-improvement is that it can be difficult to see one’s own faults for what they are. “And nothing shews our Weakness more than to be so sharp-sighted at spying other Men’s Faults, and so purblind about our own.” Penn suggests being more charitable is a good place to start self-improvement because it gives us a more sympathetic view of the faults of others.

Question of the week: How can you be better today than you were yesterday?

Brewers and Patriots… and Jesus

There are those who will tell you that the Founding Fathers were not really Christians and that they never meant for the United States to be a “Christian nation.” It would seem, however, that at least one was fairly Christian and seemed to think the rest of the nation was or ought to be.

In 1777, after the Continental Congress had moved from Philadelphia to York, Pennsylvania because of the invading British army, things looked fairly bleak to some of the leaders of the revolution. However, by the end of the year, the rebel cause met with some success and this prompted Samuel Adams to propose what was to be the first national day “for SOLEMN THANKSGIVING and PRAISE.” He, in committee with Richard Henry Lee (who had introduced the resolution that led to the Declaration of Independence) and Daniel Roberdeau, introduced a legislation setting aside a day so “That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor.” Sounds pretty Christian, right? But that’s not all. The holiday was also established so that “they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins” and pray that they be forgiven “through the Merits of JESUS CHRIST.” That guy?! What’s he doing in there?!

Anyway, Sam Adams and his ilk sat at home and prayed all day. Presumably, some other people did not. At any rate, Providence (or superior tactics and greater dedication due to ideological and personal motivation) granted victory to the colonists. And with the invention York Peppermint Pattie over 150 years away, the young government moved to new accommodations. They bounced around a bit and “experimented” with Confederation, but finally settled down in a swamp. The government founded there, or rather, the remnants of it, are still in that swamp. And they’ve kept holiday but abandoned the meaning.

Needless to say, the blatant Christianity would find no place in Washington today. But Jesus is not the only part of this Proclamation that has gone by the wayside. Modern politics has been reduced to platitudes and pandering, leaving no room for the ideals laid down by the founding fathers. No pundits ask candidates about their plans for “cultivating the Principles of true Liberty, Virtue and Piety.” No serious nominee has room in his platform for “the greatest of all human Blessings, INDEPENDENCE and PEACE.”

Don’t worry, there are still some “Christians” in Washington. Unfortunately they want to tell everybody else how to live. And they’ve also hung on to another part of this Proclamation: asking God “to smile upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War[s].” So much for “INDEPENDENCE and PEACE.” Thanks, guys.

Beer of the Week: Samuel Adams Boston Lager – When an upstart Massachusetts brewery wanted a name that evoked thoughts of tradition and reliability, Sam Adams was the right choice. The man basically founded the traditional American holiday. He had also been a brewer himself, so the choice was a no-brainer. As for the beer itself, there is a reason it has grown so successful so quickly. The beer pours a light amber with a good, off-white head. There is a nice touch of earthy, bittering hops on the nose. The taste is driven by the hops and there is a bit of lingering sweetness. All in all, a very nice, classic lager.

Reading of the week: Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1777 by Samuel Adams in committee with Richard Henry Lee and Daniel Roberdeau – The first of many Thanksgiving Proclamations written by Samuel Adams ends by recommending that everybody take a day off of work. But it also advises against any recreation which might be unbecoming “on so solemn an Occasion.” So no touch football after dinner.

Question of the week: Many Christians acknowledge four purposes for prayer: adoration, thanksgiving, contrition and supplication. The Proclamation specifically mentions each of these four, (even naming adoration as “the indispensable Duty of all Men”,) so why should the holiday be called “Thanksgiving” instead of “Adoration” or either of the other options? Or,even better, why should there not be four separate holidays? “Supplication Sunday” has a nice ring to it.