Holger Danske

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    Wednesday
    Dec022009

    Anchor Brewing Company 35th Christmas Ale

    Anchor Brewing Company 35th Christmas Ale

    Anchor Brewing Company 35th Christmas AleWinter Warmer Ale 5.5% ABV

    This is the 35th year Anchor Brewing Company has made Christmas Ale, and it is different every year. I've never had another one, so I cannot compare. Don't use this review as a definitive guide for other years, since I have no idea how much it changes from year to year.

    With that said, this is a fine Christmas Ale. Thick and spicy, with moderate hop bitterness, this beer is quite dark. Even my rather limited palate can detect nutmeg and orange peel. I feel this is entirely proper for the season.

    Rating

    A fine beer for Advent. I approve. Unusually, this beer took a long time to finish. I savored its flavor at length, taking small sips and rolling it around my mouth. It repaid my patience.

     

     

     

     

    My other beer reviews

     

    Saturday
    Nov282009

    The Transition to a Traditional Society

    Since I have an interest in the metahistorical theories of Spengler and Toynbee, I have an expectation that modernity is close to its natural end. Not forever, just for now, because modernity is not unique, but is something that reoccurs in human history. My friend John Reilly has noted that the transition to a traditional society that occurs at the end of modernity is the triumph of the economic left and the social right.

    What he means by that is the social safety net becomes more important than economic efficiency, and traditional morality becomes unquestionable again. If you want to see why this is the case from an economic point of view, you should read this post by John Michael Greer. Greer provides historical arguments bolstered by economics, or the other way round. I especially like them because Greer points to the value of public order for the proper functioning of society, and that this public good is only provided by the government.

    Greer analyzes the value of the medieval guild system as a bulwark against starvation, but also as the economic engine that provided the innovations that modernity depended upon. Ensuring that the common good was served by a sufficient quantity of skilled labor was the gift of the guild system. The guild system is inefficient from a modern perspective, but it also guarantees quality and provides sufficient leisure for the most skilled technicians to be able to concentrate on new ideas.

    Greer is coming at this from the point of view of a committed proponent of Peak Oil. I remain less than convinced by the Peak Oil hypothesis, which seems to be a case of mistaking the map for the territory, but I find it interesting that Greer is describing a state of affairs that has been predicted by other men long ago. The final state of society after modernity has ended seems to have an inevitability that transcends the mechanism posited to cause it.

    h/t Jerry Pournelle's Mail

    Friday
    Nov272009

    Trait Substitution

    See part I, Personality Traits as Potentia

    See part II, Personality Traits as Natural

    This part is really more of a personal reflection than a post about the intersection of psychology and natural philosophy. But it seems to fit topically, so here it is.

    The Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar got me thinking of what I call trait substitution. When it comes to the task of living your life, it is rare that there is one and only one way to go about doing things. Not only are there many ways to live your life successfully, there are multiple ways to reach one and the same goal. Accordingly, having low-C does not mean that you cannot live a good life, just as low-g does not. If you have low-C and low-g, life will probably be rough. That sucks. [which brings up personality traits and social justice, but that is a topic for another time] 

    But in general, you can learn to build on your strengths instead of your weaknesses. Bach talked about having to learn how to do that in the interview I listened to. Basically, in his case he had to figure out how to use his smarts to compensate for a lack of discipline. This very much works the other way round as well. It is entirely possible to substitute hard work for smarts when it comes to school and work. I think there are at least a couple of ways of going about doing this, and one seems better than the other. [for me]

    You can try to figure how to get the same result in a different way [the creative solution], or you can try to convert one trait directly into another[the brute force solution]. 

    I  suppose I think of personality traits as fungible, in the economic sense. You can convert one into another at some exchange rate, which may or may not be favorable to you in terms of time, effort, and results. However, like when you exchange money, there is some cost. It is possible to make up for a lack of discipline by using to-do lists, and trying to work diligently in time blocks, or finishing tasks a little at a time, or whatever time-management thing someone has come up with. These are all ways of trying to convert smarts into conscientiousness directly. This is the brute force solution, and it can definitely work. At the very least, it works well enough to keep a small army of self-help gurus employed. But, I think the typical improvement is probably small. You can probably get 5-10 percentage points of change out of things like this. Which, if you are looking for a little boost to help you get things done is probably just the ticket.

    However, my personal experience as someone with low-C is trying to convert g into C makes me really unhappy. Trying to do things that way just stresses me out, and doesn't make the work go any faster. It is just too mentally exhausting to work against my nature in that way. When I took the OCEAN test I scored at the 2nd percentile for conscientiousness.  My wife was a little more generous than I was and scored me at the 8th percentile, but we are pretty clearly talking low levels of conscientiousness here. A 5 point percentile point improvement would be only 13th at the best, and percentiles get wider in the tails, so it would probably be less than that. Basically I'm a lost cause.

    So, I was really interested to listen to Bach, because his experience mirrors my own. I just can't do things the way most people do them. Trying to be organized and on the ball is really, really hard. It is especially annoying to me because I can perfectly well understand what needs to be done, it is just hard to do. Until I started learning about personality traits, this was mysterious to me. Now, it is clear what the problem is. I had to give up trying to be conscientious, and embrace my erratic work style.

    My experience has been that I actually do better if I do things at the last minute, and get around to tasks when I remember them instead of trying to plan everything out. If it seems haphazard, that's because it is. But as long as the end result is acceptable, who cares? I actually find that really really good ideas percolate up into my mind as I procrastinate, and I continue to find success in life. This is the creative solution, finding a different way to get the end result. I just don't have to spend hours working on something to get a good result. I often find that I can bang out a rough draft of a technical report, and then drop it entirely for a day or so, and go back and revise it when I can get a fresh look at it. What matters is the final product, not the process of getting there. Which is probably confusing to some people, because it looks like I'm wasting time, but in the end I get as much, if not more done. It just comes out in these concentrated bursts.

    I study much the same way. Taking classes at Holy Apostles, there are these suggested course outlines they give you in the syllabus: read this chapter this week, and watch this lecture, so forth. Trying to follow these basically set me up for failure. It would be easier if I actually had a lot of classes to physically go to, and I needed to break up the work. As it is, trying to read little bits and pieces just bores me, and I get distracted with work and more urgent day to day activities. What I have found to work better for me is to just cram it all together. I read the whole text book right away, and then I probably read all the class notes. I may or may not actually get around to watching all the videos until right before the final. Often, I write the term paper in about a 48-hour period the week before it is due. There is often a big lull period in the middle of the semester, which I often occupy by reading related philosophy texts or journal articles. 

    This process evolved, and it works pretty well. The time it completely failed me is when I took Logic. I probably still need to go back over that, because of the difficulty of the subject, it really does need a slow and steady approach to really master the material. I now have to do that again later. On the plus side, I picked up enough that I know how the material is organized, so I can probably move through it quickly the second time.

    I cannot recommend this process. It is fraught with peril, and is probably unnecessary to someone with even low-mid levels of conscientiousness, but it works for me. 

    Thursday
    Nov262009

    The Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar

    Wednesday while doing other tasks I listened to a podcast interview with James Bach about his book, The Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar. Bach is a good example of a highly successful high-g, low-C entrepreneur. There is a good quote at about the 4 minute mark when Hanselman asks Bach whether he thinks he has a learning disability:  "I have no self-discipline....Unlike a lot of people, I seem to have no ability to learn things when other people tell me I have to, or do things when other people tell me I have to."

    It is very interesting to hear Bach describe how he struggled with school because he didn't like being told what to do. He frankly admits that he cannot force himself to be conscientious even when he knows good and well that it is in his best interest. Being a little bit that way, I'm entirely sympathetic.  You have to figure out how to deal with your nature, because trying to force a low-C individual to be even average-C is probably going to fail. You just have to learn to deal with it.

    Software is a field where high-g, low-C people have an opportunity to do well. You can demonstrate your skills pretty easily without the need for a degree, and enough famous people have done the same thing that it is more acceptable to forgo the degree.

    h/t John D. Cook

    Wednesday
    Nov252009

    Non-rational Choice Theory

    Last week I criticized Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa for his approach to explaining voting in terms of rational choice theory. This week, I would like to agree with Kanazawa, people really are irrational. I thought of this especially because of a piece by David Warren about how so many homeless people are mentally ill. The hard part about being crazy is that you need to not be crazy in order to stay on your meds. Granted, the meds are supposed to help with that, but it is never enough.

    But, the truth is, even sane people don't really do what their doctors tell them. Patient compliance is one of the hardest things for doctors to monitor, because everyone says they'll do whatever it is, and some percentage of people don't. I don't know whether C is correlated with this, but non-compliance is pretty widespread. Even when the benefit of compliance is obvious and the cost is equally obvious, a substantial proportion of totally normal people won't comply.

    How do you model a bad decision?

    Tuesday
    Nov242009

    Physicists' notoriously casual attitude toward mathematics

    Alexander Pruss, a philosopher at Baylor, comments on physicists' notoriously casual attitude towards mathematics and notation. This is right on. Like the first commenter, in school I remember the snide remarks the math and physics profs would direct at each other on this subject. As a physicist at heart, I pretty much adopted the more casual, plug-n-chug attitude of the physics professors. I suppose engineers are even worse.

    This brings the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics to a whole new level. Math still works even when you are not really doing it right.

    h/t The Fourth Checkraise

    Tuesday
    Nov242009

    Personality Traits as Natural

    See part I, Personality Traits as Potentia.

    A further difficulty I have encountered when talking about personality traits such as conscientiousness is their heritability. When I say that a personality trait like C is about 50% heritable, I am often greeted with unbelief. How can this be so? 

    This is so because personality traits are natural, in the fullest sense of the word. By this, I mean that the traits of openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, are part of our shared human nature, and can be expected to have all the properties that implies.

    The first thing to do is define natural. This is hard, because it is an analogous name, with many different, but related meanings. What I mean by natural is what Aristotle and Aquinas meant: a nature is an inner source of activity that makes a thing to be what it is. The word comes from the Latin natus, to be born. The contrary of this is artificial, and by this I mean art as something created by means of the directive actions of a mind.

    Let us consider an example borrowed from Mike Flynn. The strength of our muscles is something we are all familiar with. It is clear that some people are stronger than others. But what is the source of these differences? You can be either naturally strong, or artificially strong. Consider that without the benefit of exercise, some people are simply larger and more powerful. Now clearly, the level of everyday activity that a person sees will influence how strong they are. Typically, a lumberjack is stronger than an accountant. But let us imagine we are dealing with people who do the same things, so that factor is held constant. The level of strength each person has will be determined by their individual nature, some more, some less. 

    Now, if look at the art of exercise, we can increase our strength above our natural strength. Thus, by diligent application, the weaker can become stronger. However, if we again hold the level of activity constant, those with greater natural strength will probably end up stronger too, because there is more potential strength in their nature. This is not necessarily always so, but with human strength it seems to be so.

    So then, human strength is a combination of nature and art. For any given person, some amount will be natural, and some amount artificial. One way you can tell the difference between nature and art is that if you take away the art, nature will reassert itself. If you stop going to the gym, your strength will return to its natural level. Now, clearly, it is possible to cause natural strength to wither away too. But Aristotle's concept of nature overlaps with what we would call normal. If you deny a man food and space to move around in, as prisoners in a gulag perhaps, their natural strength will be diminished. But to speak of the natural always means to analyze what is needed for the nature to function, some minimum level of food and activity. To say that a thing is natural does not mean it operates like magic.

    So what does this mean for personality traits? If the OCEAN traits are natural, then that means that they are at least partly material, in the Aristotelian sense, which means that they can be heritable in the same way that any biological traits are. Thus we should not be surprised that children are like their parents in these traits. It also means that if you take away what people need to actualize these traits, they will suffer for it. In the case of g, nutrients like iron and iodine are important for brain development. Take them away during childhood, and a person will never be the same. Also, it means that these traits can be affected by art over and above their natural levels, but where you start influences where you end up.

    Consider Olympic weightlifting. How many gold medal weightlifters are petite, small-framed people? This is not to say that a 5 foot, 90 lb. woman couldn't take up Olympic weightlifting. It is a powerful exercise for building strength. But, I doubt she'll be lifting 150kg no matter how hard she tries. Her nature lacks the potential for that.

    Artificially strong

    Naturally and artificially strong

    I'n not impugning the strength of Annie in the first picture. She is probably stronger than me. However, there is a clear difference between here and Huang Huan, gold medal winner at the Beijing Olympics.  Huang has a much different build than Annie, and is probably naturally stronger. Then Huang built up her strength to truly amazing levels. Huang is both naturally and artificially strong.

    Personality traits are much the same. Different people are born (natus) with differing endowments of traits. It is pretty clear that lacking conscientiousness is generally a bad thing, in the same way that being weak and sickly is a bad thing. But, no trait of this kind is unaffected by what you do. This is what personal development is all about. Having low agreeableness does not have to mean you are rude. You can learn manners. It will be harder, and someone with low A will probably never be truly suave, but you can learn how to behave in such a way that social friction is decreased. Manners are the art by which we strengthen agreeableness.

    The objective with any kind of behavioral modification like this [Aristotle would have called it cultivation of the virtues] is to develop a habit to the point where it becomes literally a second nature, but experience will show that just like exercise, you need to keep it up or the first nature will have its revenge. If we turn to g, this is the explanation for the fadeout effects that are seen with any kind of intervention to raise intellectual ability. If you look at kids in Head Start, or anything like it, you will see a big effect at first, but if you look a few years later, you almost cannot tell any difference. Nature is reasserting itself, because after kids get out of Head Start, they are no longer performing the mental exercise that artificially raised their academic ability.

    Viewing personality traits as natural thus can help explain what we see. Conscientiousness really is heritable, but that does not mean you can't learn to straighten up your house and do things on time if you C is low. It does however mean it will probably be really hard. You literally have to work against your own nature. Someone with a high C will do those things easily, naturally. Just the same with g. It is entirely possible to raise IQ artificially, but if you stop the intervention, you will lose the effect.  Unless of course, you know how to change the underlying nature. Which to the best of my knowledge, we do not.

    Monday
    Nov232009

    Non-theistic Intelligent Design

    Note that is non-theistic, not a-theistic. If you've never heard of such a thing, read this book review of Signature in the Cell by John Walker, and see what you think. I've never been a fan of intelligent design of either variety, but Walker is a thoughtful man, and I suspect a discussion with him on the subject would be most interesting.

    Monday
    Nov232009

    Boondock Saints Mini-Review

    I'm hoping to see Boondock Saints II this weekend while I'm traveling for Thanksgiving. Living in the Wild West means that the movie isn't showing here. Here is my long-delayed review of the original.

    A With Both Hands Mini-Review

    Boondock Saints
    Written and directed by Troy Duffy
    Starring Willem Dafoe, Sean Patrick Flannery, Norman Reedus, Billy Connolly

     


    Boondock Saints is one of my favorite movies. I say this to make it clear that I like the movie despite [or because of] it being terrible. Upon watching the movie prior to writing this review, I was struck by just how unpolished it seemed. However, I think this is really to the movie's credit, because it was shot quickly on a small budget. Listening to the commentary track was also instructive. Troy Duffy actually received a letter from the Archdiocese of Toronto calling him the spawn of Satan and his script the work of Satan, and refused to allow him to film on Church property. This explains the strangeness of the church used in the movie (it's actually a Methodist church) and the incorrect order of the Mass and deviant wording of the Our Father. Duffy not being Catholic, there was no one to clue him in.

    I can understand the reluctance of the Archdiocese of Toronto to get involved. Boondock Saints is really about vengeance and vigilantism, both things the Catholic Church strictly forbids. In fact, for a private party to take on the function of the state in dispensing justice is to de facto declare war on that state. But for all that, I think the premise is nonetheless broadly comprehensible to a lot of people: letting the obviously guilty go free for procedural reasons is a manifest injustice. My best guess as to why I like this movie so much is that it puts a pseudo-Catholic tinge on the popular feeling that justice has not yet been satisfied. Plus it's fun to watch bad guys get killed in interesting ways.

    My other movie reviews

     

    Saturday
    Nov212009

    Beaver Street Brewery Ahhh...Bock

    Beaver Street Brewery Ahhh...Bock

    Beaver Street Brewery Ahhh....Bock
    Bock Style Lager 7.2% ABV

    This is a pretty terrible picture, but you can at least see the dark maltiness of the beer. I ordered one of these with Beaver Street Brewery's Shrimp Gordita Platters. I enjoyed them together, the creaminess of the beer went well with the spicy, crunchy shrimp. This beer is thick. It actually reminded me of a malted milkshake. The roasted malt predominates the flavor, with very little hops. The Magistra took a taste and said that it tasted baked, which I thought was a pretty good description. The head was thick and fluffy, and had quite the flavor itself.

    Rating

     

    This is a good beer if you like to savor your beverages. It was so thick and strong that it took me an entire meal to finish just one. I liked it immensely, but you cannot easily enjoy too many of them without feeling excessively full. Given the alcohol content, that is perhaps for the best.

     

    My other beer reviews