Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Double IPA Blind Taste Test All-Star Tasting

By coincidence, I found myself with 6 of the 7 currently available top tier beers from our ongoing (three years now), highly unscientific Double IPA Blind Taste Testing. Previous results HERE.

We had five tasters trying 6 beers (not ideal for accuracy) but it's all for fun anyway. All beers were fresh (canned within the last month) except the Viridi Rex which was about 2 months old.  Here were the results:

Burlington Brewing Company It's Complicated Being a Wizard was a runaway winner.

Prairie Phantasmagoria, Alaskan Hopothermia, and Edmund's Oast Viridi Rex were effectively tied for second.

Fiddlehead Second Fiddle barely beat out Coast Boyking at the end of the rankings.

We found this surprising since Coast and Fiddlehead have been consistent winners in our ongoing tests (we always try to include one of the top tier beers in every session for comparison purposes).

Either way, this test was neither scientific nor fair, but it sure was fun!

Watching TV Makes You Smarter and Television is an Evil

This was a journal entry for an English class - but really just a chance to bitch about Magnum PI:

I watched the new Magnum P.I. series premier shortly after reading “Television Makes You Smarter” by Steven Johnson. The producers of the show either never read the article, or were actively attempting to prove his thesis wrong. The show had one major theme, totally spoon fed every bit of information, had literally NO complex themes and was ABSOLUTELY worse intellectually than the original – and that is a HIGH bar. The only part that made me think was the beginning, where Magnum is jumping out of a space capsule. The thought went, “Is this show really going to do this? Is it going to be that ridiculous?” Turns out it was an author’s rendition of one of his past misadventures, dramatized for the book. Then the rest of the show went full vapid and lame, making you wonder which was worse, the fake book or the real TV show.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

I almost missed that you had assigned both “Television is an Evil” by Theodore Dalrymple and the above discussed article. Nice contrast. I went ahead and re-read them together. My first time through “Television is an Evil” I really started wondering if it was satire. It went seriously over the top blaming TV for almost all of society’s ills. Not that this is far from the truth, but TV has brought a lot of good with the bad. How else are we going to find out how truly awful everyone we elect is?

I loved the quote the author laid out at the end describing TV people as awful, though I disagree that they are worse than politicians. Yesterday at lunch, the bartender was a former TV producer, and he was amazingly frank, charming and helpful. Of course, he was bartending because he had to leave TV in order to get sober and is now working towards a degree in Social Work, so he might not be the best example. 

Friday, October 5, 2018

Having A Skeptical Mind

Most people believe that they have a skeptical, critical mind. Some because they constantly question the arguments and ideas of people that they disagree with. Others because they adhere to some alternate, non-mainstream concept such as atheism, alternate medicine or even Flat Earth Theory. Most simply assume the existence of their skeptical mind because they’ve never actually challenged themselves on it and it makes them feel smart. The fact is, very few people think critically about the world around them, and even those that do, fall prey to the usual prejudices and biases. In our hyper-partisan world, a critical mind is vital to not getting sucked into the tribalism currently tearing our country apart. You need to humanize opposing viewpoints as the first step to tolerance. Not only that, but failing to think analytically and questioning your beliefs makes you less smart.

The first step to developing a skeptical mind begins with recognizing that most of what you read and hear is either wrong, misleading or incomplete. Find an article in a mainstream news publication on a subject for which you are an expert or very knowledgeable. Read it. Is it accurate? Chances are incorrect or imperfect information permeates the article. Completely wrong might also accurately describe it. Odds are that if you do this often enough, you will start wondering, “If every article I read that I’m knowledgeable of is so awful, what about the ones I know nothing about?” Now you are on the right track. From this point questions will start to flow every time you read something.

Next you start asking questions about things you just assume to be true. Start with minimum wage for an example. If you oppose it, ask yourself questions like: “How is someone with no skills supposed to support themselves without an adequate wage?”, or “If minimum wage earners had more money, would that stimulate the economy?”, or “Would raising the minimum wage reduce the costs of social welfare programs?” You could ask numerous other questions. If you can’t think of any, google it. Literally: “What questions should you ask if you oppose the minimum wage?” For balance, if you support the minimum wage, you might ask, “How does someone without the skills to provide the value of the minimum wage to an employer get a job?”, or “Won’t raising the minimum wage make things cost more?”, or “Won’t employers replace people with machines if we raise the minimum wage?”

Just the act of asking the questions will add to your skepticism, but that’s not enough. Now you need to answer them. Answer them honestly and with as much effort as possible. Here’s the hard part: answer them in a way that directly opposes your current belief. You don’t need a bunch of researching for this part (that comes later) you simply try to use logic. Follow a train of thought that leads away from your current belief. Every time you find yourself drifting towards your original idea, take the fork that leads away from it. You don’t have to agree with the points, just accept that they exist.

Now a true challenge. Take a repugnant or ridiculous belief. Racism, sexism, eugenics, anti-vax, flat earth. Try to figure out WHY someone would believe it. Don’t just assume they are unforgivably evil or stupid people. Very few people are actually bad people – selfish, ignorant and self-involved sure – but not evil. Try to think of a person you know who is both nice, and racist. Put yourself in their shoes. Recognize that calling them a racist is probably not the best way to change their mind. Knowing their motivations, biases and background makes a huge difference when it comes time to change their attitudes.

Which brings us to politics. Chances are, either you or someone you know reflexively disagrees with everything that one party does, and agrees with the other (unless something “bipartisan” is going on). The simple, obvious unanswered question is: “How is it possible that one group of politicians is always right and the other group is always wrong?” I’ll give you a hint…no I won’t, you get it. Take the party you identify with and list ten things they do that are wrong. Take the party you oppose and list ten things they do that are right. Here’s the catch: you can’t use “bipartisan” ideas – the other party must be opposed to the things you select. If you can’t do this, go back and re-read this whole essay and try again. Still not there?

Research. Crank up your Google-Fu and start searching. Read articles that oppose your viewpoint. Go beyond the normal news sources (we already figured out how wrong they were several paragraphs ago). Find academic blogs – professors LOVE to write, especially economics and legal professors. Do NOT make arguments against the points being made while you read. I know that you might find this hard, but try to think about why they might be RIGHT. You don’t have to conclude they’re right, just expose yourself to their ideas. Buy a book from someone you disagree with, preferably someone with a good bibliography. Ralph Nader writes excellent ones for you to try if you are a Republican and Ann Coulter is a good choice if you are a Democrat. I recommend them not because they are brilliant or accurate, but because of their bibliographies – a chance for you to see where their ideas come from.

Having a skeptical mind doesn’t mean changing your mind to another belief. The point is accepting that the other belief exists, and that while the arguments you hear may be wrong, they have at least some merit. Especially important is knowing that a person or group who doesn’t see things your way does so not because they are bad people, or ignorant, but instead they form opinions rooted in valid belief systems. You also might find out that you are wrong about some things, and being less wrong is the foundation of both human and individual progress.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

My Changing Attitudes Towards War

One of the things that I often say about myself is that there has been one constant in my life, and that is that five years ago I was a moron. I strongly suspect that this is not going to change going forward. It has lead to a strong tendency to temper the fervency with which I advocate my opinion, and to cause me to be far more willing than most people to change my opinion. One area in which this has affected my life is in my attitude towards war. Early in my life I was unashamedly, unconsciously pro-war. Later I became a much more measured advocate towards war, but still saw it as an extremely valid and useful tool for world politics. Now, I wouldn’t say am totally against war, but my standard for when it is justified is extremely high. It was the BBC television series Doctor Who which finally pushed my teetering attitude over the edge to my current stance. More on that later.

Like most children, I loved playing war. I always knew I would end up in the military, and, when I was finally allowed to join (The Navy, not the Marines as I wanted – stupid parents) my biggest regret was that we weren’t at war, and it looked like we never would be. I didn’t count the Cold War because it was only proxies doing the shooting, and not Americans. I also was unhappy because as a Submariner, only a big war with a major opponent would get me into any action. I told you I was a moron.

Fast forward to 1991 and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. I was stoked. To be clear, my attitude had changed a little bit. Now I was only in favor of war for “good” reasons, though this was a pretty broad definition. The Iraq war was the perfect war. Unprovoked aggression by an evil country against a good country. Yeah, I thought Kuwait was totally innocent. Did I mention I was a moron? Back then, I was gung ho, all go, all in! Best of all, my submarine was tasked with a short notice, high speed sortie to protect our troop transports from the inevitable attacks by Libyan submarines from that devil Quadaffi! My biggest regret back then was that we didn’t get to launch any cruise missiles. The Kuwait war went splendidly – quick, easy and an absolute victory. All my beliefs about war were validated.

Then 9/11 happened and I was pissed, and not just because of the attack. I was on SHORE duty, teaching, surrounded by students who would soon transfer to combat submarines and carriers and maybe get a chance to take part in what would certainly be a quick and decisive war with Afghanistan. Even when we went after Iraq I was still sure it would be over quickly, and I would miss out. I was just a little bit off on that one. As the war dragged on for more than a decade, and I exposed myself to new and different sources of information, my attitudes started to shift.

Fast forward ten years and two submarines later and now I’m a civilian. All the same people are making all the same arguments for and against war. The wars are still going on, and I’m paying more attention to the collateral damage. I’m watching the rise of ISIS, the Syrian civil war and the refugees. I can’t tell you exactly when I said, “Fuck This!”, but I can tell you it was while watching the Doctor Who episode called The Zygon Inversion. The Doctor was trying to talk entrenched factions out of going to war and he said: “When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who’s going to die. You don’t know whose children are going to scream and burn, how many hearts will be broken, how many lives shattered, how much blood will be spilled until everybody does what they were always going to have to do from the very beginning: sit down and TALK!” Somehow this coalesced the arguments, highlighting the endless war, and the endless repercussions and the feeling that, something just isn’t right into a concrete understanding that it’s just not working. Innocent people get hurt in war, and sometimes that has to be accepted for the higher ends. But for how long, and how many? For what ends?

Nowadays I find myself arguing about endless war a lot on Social Media. I see all the same things said and the same arguments made. Most of them are still cogent, well thought out arguments about deterrence, and self-defense and defense of others. Someone will inevitably ask me how I can’t understand how important it is to end this and that bit of injustice. They’ll talk about how tyrants have to be confronted or they just get bolder and do worse. I tell them, “I would have said the exact same thing as you, SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO WHEN THE WAR STARTED! Talk to me again when the war is over and we’ve actually accomplished all those high and mighty goals.” Thanks Doctor, for helping to straighten me out. Now I just have to figure out the other things I’m still a moron about…