Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Prayer from Thomas Merton

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself,

and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You.

And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust You always
though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for You are ever with me,
and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.

— from Thoughts in Solitude

Monday, November 24, 2014

Award winning vegetarian chili

Once upon a time I was asked to be one of six judges for a fund-raising chili competition. It was a fund raiser for an aquaponics project to be implemented in Haiti. The event was called the "Haiti Hoe Down."

Not content with cleansing my palate with water between servings, I brought a couple of mini bottles of scotch, which greatly amused my pastor, one of the other judges. I poured a mini bottle into a glass of water, and swished dutifully before and after each small tasting I was served. I then filled out my ballot, which had numerous categories (spiciness, balance of flavors, texture, &c.).

The thing is, Dr. SWMBO was not supposed to have entered anything. She had made a batch of vegetarian chili for her own self, knowing that if she didn't provide a veggie entree, no one would. But someone noticed her crock pot in a corner, unlabeled, and entered it into the competition.

It won first place.

And there were lots of great entries.

So here is her recipe, stolen from her blog post:


Chili Recipe

So, I’m finishing up responding to a few friends' blogs and, in doing so, had to reveal the heretofore secret identify. Figured I’d better get around to adding some old draft posts to the blog. In doing so, I’ve also been re-reading those drafts.

Anyhow, in one recent post I mentioned my internationally famous (eaten and appreciated by folks from the US, the Netherlands & Haiti), Prize-winning (1st prize in the 2001 Haiti Hoedown Chili Cookoff, 2nd place in 2002) Vegetarian Chili recipe.

Here’s the recipe, as I sent it out after the 1st cookoff. (If I can ever make the picture upload feature work, Iʻll post a "Before" picture of the ingredients.)
Subject: Haiti Hoe-Down Chili recipe, as best as I can reconstruct it
Date: Sat, 22 Sep 2001 22:12:29 -0400

I’m sending this recipe to [Izzy] to pass along to folks who might be interested. I will say that I am floored at having won a chili cook-off without using meat!-- but my strategy of bribing the judges must have been successful.

All measurements are incredibly inaccurate and approximate. I was in a bit of a hurry and mostly dumped in spices and ingredients until things looked right. Just like you cannot step into the same river twice, you can probably never make the same pot of chili twice--there will never be the same combination of left-overs and ingredients in the kitchen. [Note: this might look a bit green owing to the broccoli and the colors imparted by the curries and turmeric.]
“Vegetable”-tarian chili
Sauté together in 2 Tbsp. Extra-virgin Olive Oil until onions are tender:

  • 1/3 cup minced garlic
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • Sprinkle over these 3-4 Tbsp. Boston Kitchen brand Cajun Seasoning
Pour into crock pot:
  • 28 oz can Progresso tomato puree
  • ~1/2 cup mild salsa (Taco Bell brand, left-over from Taco Bell taco-kit.)
  • 2 15 oz. cans El Ebro Frijoles Negros (Black beans, available from Mexican stores)
Heat at medium setting.

Cook in large pan or Dutch oven in 1-2 Tbsp. Olive oil until well-heated:
  • 3/4 cup finely shredded carrots (or any amount left-over in freezer)
  • 16 oz. package frozen chopped broccoli (make sure to chop it small if all you have are just broccoli "pieces". You want the broccoli nearly unrecognizable.)
  • 6 thawed and crumbled Garden Burgers (***I’ve now tried the meatless crumbles. Tasty, but they don’t soak up the liquid as well.)
Put all vegetables into tomatoes and bean mixture in crockpot. Add spices, 2-3 vigorous shakes at a time, stirring and tasting until blend seems right. It helps if you misplace the chili powder and then compensate by adding curry and other spices to get the flavor right before you finally locate the chili, and then go ahead and add the chili powder after all. Spice measurements were extrapolated from looking at what was left in the jars. Tbsp. does mean tablespoon; it’s not a typo.
  • 3 Tbsp. Mild Indian Curry Powder
  • ~4 Tbsp. Hot Madras Curry Powder
  • 1-2 Tbsp. Ground Turmeric
  • 2 Tbsp. oregano
  • 2-3 Tbsp. Valle del Sol (Whole Foods brand) Chile Powder (***Chipotle powder wasn't readily available when I made my first batches of this. It’s an OK substitute, but far less is needed for "general audiences".)
  • 1/3 cup raw minced garlic-added at the last minute (***just before serving or driving to the chili cookoff) to minimize the time the garlic gets cooked.
Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup water since the Garden Burgers soak up lots of liquid. Heat chili to hot in crockpot, and then simmer at medium setting until ready to serve.
(Note from bitter experience: If you make it ahead of time, don’t leave chili cooking in the Crockpot over 6 hours--it can get a burnt taste.
***2010 Update: It’s OK to leave in a large crockpot, especially one with a "warm" setting, versus an older, smaller pot with only High and Medium settings.)

Serves 5 judges (1 Dixie cup each) and a line-full of Haiti Hoe-Downers. I don’t know if it freezes well, since there weren’t any left-overs.


Recipe (c) House of Chez Casa, Durham, NC, 2001.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Poor Scholar’s Soliloquy

by Stephen M. Corey, Teacher’s College, Columbia University, NY, Childhood Education, January 1944. Reprinted Childhood Education 38.8, 1962, pp. 382-3 and 64.3, Feb 1988, pp. 150-51. Occasionally found on the internet as Stephan M. Corey, University of Chicago.

No, I’m not very good in school. This is my second year in the seventh grade, and I’m bigger and taller than the other kids. They like me all right, though, even if I don’t say much in the classroom, because outside I can tell them how to do a lot of things. They tag me around and that sort of makes up for what goes on in school.

I don’t know why the teachers don’t like me. They never have very much. Seems like they don’t think you know anything unless you can name the books it comes out of. I’ve got a lot of books in my room at home-books like Popular Science Mechanical Encyclopedia, and the Sears & Wards catalogues--but I don’t sit down and read them like they make us do in school. I use my books when I want to find something out, like whenever mom buys anything second-hand I look it up in Sears or Wards first and tell her if she’s getting stung or not. I can use the index in a hurry.

In school, though, we’ve got to learn whatever is in the book and I just can’t memorize the stuff. Last year I stayed after school every night for two weeks trying to learn the names of the presidents. Of course, I knew some of them--like Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln, but there must have been thirty altogether, and I never did get them straight. I’m not too sorry though, because the kids who learned the presidents had to turn right around and learn all the vice-presidents. I am taking the seventh grade over, but our teacher this year isn’t so interested in the names of the presidents. She has us trying to learn the names of all the great American inventors.

I guess I just can’t remember the names in history. Anyway, this year I’ve been trying to learn about trucks because my uncle owns three, and he says I can drive one when I’m sixteen. I already know the horsepower and number of forward and backward speeds of twenty-six American trucks, some of them Diesels, and I can spot each make a long way off. It’s funny how that Diesel works. I started to tell my teacher about it last Wednesday in science class when the pump we were using to make a vacuum in a bell jar got hot, but she, didn’t see what a Diesel engine had to do with our experiment on air pressure, so I just kept still. The kids seemed interested though. I took four of them around to my uncle’s garage after school, and we saw the mechanic, Gus, tear a big truck Diesel down. Boy does he know his stuff!

I’m not very good in geography either. They call it economic geography this year. We’ve been studying the imports and exports of Chile all week, but I couldn’t tell what they are. Maybe the reason is I had to miss school yesterday because my uncle took me and his big truck down and we brought almost 10 tons of livestock to the Chicago market.

He had told me where we were going, and I had to figure out the highways to take and also the mileage. He didn’t do anything but drive and turn where I told him to, Was that fun. I sat with a map in my lap, and told him to turn south, or southeast, or some other direction. We made seven stops, and drove over 500 miles round trip. I’m figuring now what his oil cost, and also the wear and tear on the truck--he calls it depreciation--so we’ll know how much we made.

I even write out all the bills and send letters to the farmers about what their pigs and beef cattle brought at the stockyards. I only made three mistakes in 17 letters last time, my aunt said, all commas. She’s been through high school and reads them over. I wish I could write school themes that way. The last one I had to write was on, “What a Daffodil Thinks of Spring,” and I just couldn’t get going.

I don’t do very well in school in arithmetic either. Seems I just can’t keep my mind on the problems. We had one the other day like this:

If a 57 foot telephone pole falls across a cement highway so that 17 3/6 feet extended from one side and 14 9/17 feet from the other how wide is the highway?

That seemed to me like an awfully silly way to get the width of a highway. I didn’t even try to answer it because it didn’t say whether the pole had fallen straight across or not.

Even in shop I don’t get very good grades. All of us kids made a broom holder and bookend this term, and mine were sloppy. I just couldn’t get interested. Mom doesn’t use a broom anymore with her vacuum cleaner, and all our books are in a bookcase with glass doors in the living room. Anyway, I wanted to make an end gate for my uncle’s trailer, but the shop teacher said that meant using metal and wood both, and I’d have to learn how to work with wood first. I didn’t see why, but I kept still and made a tie rack at school and the tail gate after school at my uncle’s garage. He said I saved him ten dollars.

Civics is hard for me, too. I’ve been staying after school trying to learn the “Articles of Confederation” for almost a week, because the teacher said we couldn’t be a good citizen unless we did. I really tried, though, because I want to be a good citizen. I did hate to stay after school because a bunch of boys from the south end of town have been cleaning up the old lot across from Taylor’s Machine Shop to make a playground out of it for the little kids from the Methodist home. I made the jungle gym from old pipe. We raised enough money collecting scrap this month to build a wire fence clear around the lot.

Dad says I can quit school when I am fifteen, and I am sort of anxious because there are a lot of things I want to learn--and as my uncle says, I’m not getting any younger.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Why Study Latin?

This by way of Michael Gilleland:

Moses Hadas (1900-1966), Old Wine, New Bottles: A Humanist Teacher at Work (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1962), p. 43:

The sole and sufficient reason for studying Latin, I then believed and still believe, is that it is fun to do so. People so constituted that it is incapable of affording them fun should not study Latin.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

No greater love….

“Ilse, a childhood friend of mine, once found a raspberry in the camp and carried it in her pocket all day to present to me that night on a leaf. Imagine a world in which your entire possession is one raspberry and you give it to your friend.”

Gerda Weissman Klein, Holocaust Survivor

engraved on the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Civil Disagreement

There is a marvelous quotation from the inimitable William Raspberry that I had only half-remembered and could cite only imperfectly. My brother came up with a more precise quotation from which I have found, so far, one decent source. Here is what I have now:
After writing more than 5,000 opinion columns, Mr. Raspberry said in a speech at the University of Virginia in 2006, he had learned two important lessons.
The first, he said, “is that in virtually every public controversy, most thoughtful people secretly believe both sides.”
“The second, which has kept my confidence from turning into arrogance, is that it is entirely possible for you to disagree with me without being, on that account, either a scoundrel or a fool.”
I would like to have a primary source (the speech itself) rather than this secondary source.

Little help?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Brussels Sprouts

For a brief while, we had a great little restaurant called Virtù up next to Dianne’s on Divine (which is now also closed) that had the best brussels sprouts in town. Below is what I’ve come up with as a kind of pale imitation thereof. (BTW, Il Giorgione, which now inhabits Virtù’s old space, is well worth a visit.)

Steam 3 sprouts per person until tender.

While they are steaming, thinly cut one slice of red onion per person and start to sauté in a pan with plenty of room.

When the onions have started to clarify, the sprouts should be tender. Remove them from the steamer, remove any coarse outer leaves, cut the sprouts in half, and put them flat side down into the pan with the onions.

When the onions start to brown, push them to a side of the pan away from the heat. Move them from time to time to keep them from burning.

When the sprouts have started to brown on the flat side side, flip them over. When they start to brown on their tops, flip them again.

Quickly but gently stir the onions and sprouts in together and splash some balsamic vinegar over them. Let the balsamic reduce a bit an infuse the veggies with its flavor.

S&P to taste.


When I'm doing this for just myself, I also crisp up a half strip of bacon and crumble it in while the balsamic is steaming away.

You’re welcome.

Chris’s Chimmichurri

We are soon to be godparents for the third time. (This time, it’s a boy.) The actual parents hosted a surprise birthday party for Dr. Nurse this year, and she absolutely loved the chimmichurri he had prepared for a couple of the dishes. He sent home a healthy does of the stuff and posted the recipe on FaceBook a couple of days later. Given how quickly things vanish down the FB feed, I thought I had better nab the recipe and put it here for safe keeping / duplication:

Put into a food processor:
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 sweet onion
  • 1 tsp red pepper flake
Pulse and let sit ten minutes.

  • 1.5 cups cilantro
  • 1.5 cups parsley
  • 1/2 cup fresh oregano (or 1/4 cup dried)
and pulse in
  • 3/4 cups extra virgin olive oil 
until a smooth past forms.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Time to play.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Doctor’s Potato Salad

Dr. Nurse makes a fantastic potato salad. It’s so good that when the family is doing a pot-luck, the two most requested items are her mother’s banana pudding and this. And we’re talking dozens of relatives with many, many recipes each. Tonight, she posted the recipe in a FB group for our youngest goddaughter’s grandmother’s birthday (clear on that?). Here’s what she said:

Creamy Potato Salad (adapted from a recipe appearing in our 1983 copy of the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.)

What follows is the recipe for a small batch. For feeding large crowds, I’ve put the larger quantities at the end.


Small batch:

Fill a stockpot 1/2 way full of water, add a bit of salt, put on to boil.

While the water is heating up, chop into medium-sized pieces
* 2 # unpeeled potatoes (about 6 large baking potatoes). [Do not peel the potatoes. Really. It’s a complete waste of time.]
Set aside.

Mix in a medium-sized bowl & set aside:
* 1/2 cup finely chopped white onions (I use the Pampered Chef version of the Slap Chopper)
* 1/3 cup sweet pickle relish (Mount Olive brand is great!)

Right about now, the water should be boiling. Add:
* the chopped potatoes
* 2 eggs
Reduce heat just enough to keep things boiling. Set timer for 15 minutes.

Mix together in another bowl:
* 1 & 1/4 cup Mayo
* 2 tsp sugar
* 2 tsp celery seed
* 2 tsp white vinegar
* 1 1/2 tsp salt
* 2 TBSP mustard (just plain cheap yellow mustard)

(Note on Mayo: Mayo preferences are very impassioned and very regional. That being said, I think this recipe tastes best with Dukes Mayonnaise. I buy new jars each time I make it.
If you are planning to have the potato salad outside for some period of time, you might want to use Miracle Whip Salad Dressing -- which also tastes a bit tangier. But then, you’ll have cooked eggs sitting out in the heat, and what’s the point of putting all of that work into a recipe that you’re just going to let go bad? Better to use the Dukes and keep the salad in the cooler.)

When the timer for the potatoes and eggs goes off, follow the instructions below.

  1. Strain off the water, leaving potatoes and eggs in a colander. DO NOT RINSE.
    (1.b. If you’ve rinsed off the potatoes, start over….)
  2. Return the potatoes to your stock pot. It makes a great HOT mixing bowl.
  3. Leave the eggs in the colander -- run cold water over them to stop the cooking process (so the yolks don’t turn green) and quickly peel off the shells. Leave the eggs in cool water.
  4. Add the onions and pickle relish to the hot potato pieces. Stir furiously -- you’re starting the mashing process, sweetening the potatoes and lightly cooking the onion and pickle flavors into each bite. You’re also softening up the veggies.
  5. Add the mayo mixture. Stir furiously. Things may start looking soupy and you may worry you have more sauce than potatoes. You’re fine.
  6. Set down that hot stock pot and head back to the sink where your eggs are chilling. Chop them finely, and bring them over to your work area.
  7. Add the eggs to your potato mixture. Stir well.
  8. Transfer the potato salad into a smaller bowl and set into the fridge to cool. I use 1-2 shallow pans so that the evaporative cooling goes more quickly, and then I transfer the whole thing into one bowl for serving.
  9. Get started on those dishes. You have been cooking and chopping, measuring and mixing almost the entire time that the potatoes were cooking, so you probably haven’t had a chance to clean up yet.
  10. 1After 2-3 hours, enjoy a truly different creamy potato salad. You’ve got tang, interesting flavors and textures in the celery seed and lightly cooked onions and relish bits, and in the small pieces of potato skin that were cooked into the mixture.


Quantities for large gatherings (ratio conversations are occasionally imprecise, but still tasty!)

* 5 pound bag of russet potatoes, chopped and NOT peeled (best if cooked in two large stock pots)
* 5 eggs
* 1 1/4 cup finely chopped white onion (or an entire large white onion!)
* 1 8-oz jar of Mount Olive Pickle Relish
* 3 8-oz jars of Duke’s Mayo
* 5 tsp (1 TBSP and 2 tsp) of each of the following:
   --celery seed
   --white vinegar* 1 TBSP salt
* 5 TBSP mustard


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Another from Margaret Atwood’s Power Politics

You fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye


Sunday, January 06, 2013

Benedictio Cretae

(I am lifting this from Rorate Caeli’s blog post. Everything in this post below this notice is copied & pasted straight from there, including his acknowledgement; I’m just putting it here so I don’t lose it.)

The Blessing of Chalk

In Latin:
V. Adiutorium nostrum in nomine Domini.
R. Qui fecit caelum et terram.
V. Dominus vobiscum.
R. Et cum spiritu tuo.
Bene+dic, Domine Deus, creaturam istam cretae: ut sit salutaris humano generi; et praesta per invocationem nominis tui sanctissimi, ut, quicumque ex ea sumpserint, vel ea in domus suae portis scripserint nomina sanctorum tuorum Gasparis, Melchioris et Baltassar, per eorum intercessionem et merita, corporis sanitatem, et animae tutelam, percipiant. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. R. Amen

In English:

V. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
R. Who made heaven and earth.
V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with thy spirit.
Bless, +. O Lord God, this creature chalk to render it helpful to men. Grant that they who use it in faith and with it inscribe upon the entrance of their homes the names of thy saints, Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthassar may through their merits and intercession enjoy health of body and protection of soul. Through Christ our Lord. R. Amen

I would like to acknowledge Michael Pearce of Maternal Heart of Mary in Sydney for providing me with the Latin texts and the English translations of the blessings.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Theodicy and Nativity

Of all the arguments against the existence of an omnipotent, loving God, the problem of the existence of evil is probably the most serious. How can one believe in a wise, loving, all-powerful God in a world where there are earthquakes, floods, & other natural disasters, let alone in a world where moral evil leads one gunman to kill nearly two dozen elementary school students and another to set a fire just so he can kill the firefighters who show up to put the fire out? Such things offend our notion of both a loving God and an all-powerful God. And wrestling with this conundrum has made shipwreck of the faith of many.

This morning at Mass, the priest was a stand-in from Ft. Jackson. I doubt that anyone who gives it any thought would dispute that a military chaplain is in a unique position to see the clash of Faith and Evil. We have demanded too much of our soldiers, both in extended and in too-frequently repeated tours in fields that are too difficult and too ambiguous. There have been increases in both ugly stories from the front lines and in suicides both at home and abroad. The priests in Newton have become intimately acquainted with the incarnation of evil and of the problem of theodicy; the chaplains charged with tending the souls of our military have lived with these incarnations for years.

At the morning Mass today, our chaplain priest made a connection between theodicy and the Nativity. And he was not the first to direct my attention to this connection. I have been giving a bit of attention (too little, I fear) to this connection since reading what was to me both an astounding and a sensible admission in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Here is §272:

272. Faith in God the Father Almighty can be put to the test by the experience of evil and suffering. God can sometimes seem to be absent and incapable of stopping evil. But in the most mysterious way God the Father has revealed his almighty power in the voluntary humiliation and Resurrection of his Son, by which he conquered evil. Christ crucified is thus “the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Cor 1.24-25) It is in Christ’s Resurrection and exaltation that the Father has shown forth “the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe.” (Eph 1.19-22)

There are other, related passages in the CCC. Take a look at §§309f.,  §412 & 413f.

The big trouble, to my own mind, is the frank admission in the CCC that there is no good, logical argument to be brought to bear here. The only way to thread the needle is a life of faith and trust. Cf. §273 “Only faith can embrace the mysterious ways of God’s almighty power. This faith glories in its weaknesses in order to draw to itself Christ’s power. (2 Cor 12.9; Phil 4.13.)” and §312 “In time we can discover that God in his almighty providence can bring a good from the consequences of an evil, even a moral evil, caused by his creatures: ‘It was not you,’ said Joseph to his brothers, ‘who sent me here, but God.... You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive.’ (Gen 45.8; 50.20; cf. Tob 2.12-18 (Vulg.).)”  &c.

While this *does* accord with my own experience that a life lived taking faith in Christ quite seriously is much better than one rejecting, ignoring, or simply paying lip service to a life in Christ, it does little good for those who want a compelling argument *before* casting their die and testing/trying/attempting a life of faith. And in this regard I have to note that the one Biblical book that deals most explicitly with the problem of evil, Job, makes it clear that Job never knows what the evil he endures either intends or effects. Job himself, the most righteous man on the face of the earth at that time (Job 1.1, 8), is left with no idea why he suffers. It is left for the audience of which he has no knowledge to draw the inferences.

And so, by analogy, are we left. We live in a world filled with evil and pain. We are told (and many of us believe) that there is a loving, omnipotent God who apparently *could* fix all this crap, but Who apparently chooses not to do so. And we (are told to) take it on faith that this is all for the best.

And what has all this to do with the Nativity? The Christian story tells us that the almighty, loving God took on human flesh, that He was incarnate, born, and lived as one of us. He was persecuted, tortured to death, & buried. He could have stopped this at any moment, but did not. He could have imposed perfect justice and ended His own pain at any moment, but did not.

What the Nativity tells us is that God has chosen not to end our pain, but to enter into it and walk with us in it. He has not wiped away out tears before sharing them with us. He has not eradicated our pain, nor given us the reason(s) for it, but has humbled Himself and shared it. He has walked with us in our pain, and has wept over the death of a friend. Further, we will be judged not for our own capacity for ending suffering, but for our incapacity for walking with others in their own suffering (Matt. 25.31-46).

In all honesty, I would have preferred that He had chosen to wipe away our tears before they were shed. I would wish to be spared from the pain caused by sin, both my own and others’. To a limited extent I understand and can even feel the benefit of having God become one of us and share our grief, but who among us would not prefer that the grief be avoided altogether?

But God has chosen not to answer our questions. He has chosen instead, in His nativity, to walk with us. He suffers as we suffer and calls us to suffer with others, or at least to be with others in their suffering. He has not wiped out suffering, as I would wish, but has called us to sit with other in their suffering.

God is love. That love does not eradicate our pain, but shares it with us. That love demands not that we eliminate others’ pain, but that we walk with others through it. Emanuel, God is with us. And He has not chosen to delete sin and its effects, but to enter in and share our pain with us. He calls us to do the same.

Nativity is God’s answer to suffering. I, personally, find it insufficient. But the Creator, against my limited wisdom and my very limited love, demands NOT that we eliminate the suffering of others, but that we share it; not that we heal the sick and spring the imprisoned, but that we sit with the sick in their illness and visit the imprisoned in their cells. The Nativity demands that we imitate Christ. We can not explain or remove suffering, but we must share it, must accompany others as they go through it.

Emanuel. God is with us. And so, we must be with each other. We are not called to remove another’s suffering, nor called to explain why God would let one suffer. We are called to imitate Christ and to be fully present with each other in our suffering.

 I trust that eventually we will be told the answer to why, that we will know the reason(s) for pain and suffering. I trust that theodicy will be apparent not as an intellectual goal, but as an objective reality. Until that day, I can only know that my responsibility is to imitate Christ by being with those who suffer.

This is the lesson of Nativity.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

“Love is a Fallacy” by Max Shulman

published as part of the collection The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis

Cool was I and logical. Keen, calculating, perspicacious, acute and astute—I was all of these. My brain was as powerful as a dynamo, precise as a chemist’s scales, as penetrating as a scalpel. And—think of it!—I only eighteen.
It is not often that one so young has such a giant intellect. Take, for example, Petey Bellows, my roommate at the university. Same age, same background, but dumb as an ox. A nice enough fellow, you understand, but nothing upstairs. Emotional type. Unstable. Impressionable. Worst of all, a faddist. Fads, I submit, are the very negation of reason. To be swept up in every new craze that comes along, to surrender oneself to idiocy just because everybody else is doing it—this, to me, is the acme of mindlessness. Not, however, to Petey.
One afternoon I found Petey lying on his bed with an expression of such distress on his face that I immediately diagnosed appendicitis. “Don’t move,” I said, “Don’t take a laxative. I’ll get a doctor.”
“Raccoon,” he mumbled thickly.
“Raccoon?” I said, pausing in my flight.
“I want a raccoon coat,” he wailed.
I perceived that his trouble was not physical, but mental. “Why do you want a raccoon coat?”
“I should have known it,” he cried, pounding his temples. “I should have known they’d come back when the Charleston came back. Like a fool I spent all my money for textbooks, and now I can’t get a raccoon coat.”
“Can you mean,” I said incredulously, “that people are actually wearing raccoon coats again?”
“All the Big Men on Campus are wearing them. Where’ve you been?”
“In the library,” I said, naming a place not frequented by Big Men on Campus.
He leaped from the bed and paced the room. “I’ve got to have a raccoon coat,” he said passionately. “I’ve got to!”
“Petey, why? Look at it rationally. Raccoon coats are unsanitary. They shed. They smell bad. They weigh too much. They’re unsightly. They—”
“You don’t understand,” he interrupted impatiently. “It’s the thing to do. Don’t you want to be in the swim?”
“No,” I said truthfully.
“Well, I do,” he declared. “I’d give anything for a raccoon coat. Anything!”
My brain, that precision instrument, slipped into high gear. “Anything?” I asked, looking at him narrowly.
“Anything,” he affirmed in ringing tones.
I stroked my chin thoughtfully. It so happened that I knew where to get my hands on a raccoon coat. My father had had one in his undergraduate days; it lay now in a trunk in the attic back home. It also happened that Petey had something I wanted. He didn’t have it exactly, but at least he had first rights on it. I refer to his girl, Polly Espy.
I had long coveted Polly Espy. Let me emphasize that my desire for this young woman was not emotional in nature. She was, to be sure, a girl who excited the emotions, but I was not one to let my heart rule my head. I wanted Polly for a shrewdly calculated, entirely cerebral reason.
I was a freshman in law school. In a few years I would be out in practice. I was well aware of the importance of the right kind of wife in furthering a lawyer’s career. The successful lawyers I had observed were, almost without exception, married to beautiful, gracious, intelligent women. With one omission, Polly fitted these specifications perfectly.
Beautiful she was. She was not yet of pin-up proportions, but I felt that time would supply the lack. She already had the makings.
Gracious she was. By gracious I mean full of graces. She had an erectness of carriage, an ease of bearing, a poise that clearly indicated the best of breeding. At table her manners were exquisite. I had seen her at the Kozy Kampus Korner eating the specialty of the house—a sandwich that contained scraps of pot roast, gravy, chopped nuts, and a dipper of sauerkraut—without even getting her fingers moist.
Intelligent she was not. In fact, she veered in the opposite direction. But I believed that under my guidance she would smarten up. At any rate, it was worth a try. It is, after all, easier to make a beautiful dumb girl smart than to make an ugly smart girl beautiful.
“Petey,” I said, “are you in love with Polly Espy?”
“I think she’s a keen kid,” he replied, “but I don’t know if you’d call it love. Why?”
“Do you,” I asked, “have any kind of formal arrangement with her? I mean are you going steady or anything like that?”
“No. We see each other quite a bit, but we both have other dates. Why?”
“Is there,” I asked, “any other man for whom she has a particular fondness?”
“Not that I know of. Why?”
I nodded with satisfaction. “In other words, if you were out of the picture, the field would be open. Is that right?”
“I guess so. What are you getting at?”
“Nothing , nothing,” I said innocently, and took my suitcase out the closet.
“Where are you going?” asked Petey.
“Home for weekend.” I threw a few things into the bag.
“Listen,” he said, clutching my arm eagerly, “while you’re home, you couldn’t get some money from your old man, could you, and lend it to me so I can buy a raccoon coat?”
“I may do better than that,” I said with a mysterious wink and closed my bag and left.
“Look,” I said to Petey when I got back Monday morning. I threw open the suitcase and revealed the huge, hairy, gamy object that my father had worn in his Stutz Bearcat in 1925.
“Holy Toledo!” said Petey reverently. He plunged his hands into the raccoon coat and then his face. “Holy Toledo!” he repeated fifteen or twenty times.
“Would you like it?” I asked.
“Oh yes!” he cried, clutching the greasy pelt to him. Then a canny look came into his eyes. “What do you want for it?”
“Your girl.” I said, mincing no words.
“Polly?” he said in a horrified whisper. “You want Polly?”
“That’s right.”
He flung the coat from him. “Never,” he said stoutly.
I shrugged. “Okay. If you don’t want to be in the swim, I guess it’s your business.”
I sat down in a chair and pretended to read a book, but out of the corner of my eye I kept watching Petey. He was a torn man. First he looked at the coat with the expression of a waif at a bakery window. Then he turned away and set his jaw resolutely. Then he looked back at the coat, with even more longing in his face. Then he turned away, but with not so much resolution this time. Back and forth his head swiveled, desire waxing, resolution waning. Finally he didn’t turn away at all; he just stood and stared with mad lust at the coat.
“It isn’t as though I was in love with Polly,” he said thickly. “Or going steady or anything like that.”
“That’s right,” I murmured.
“What’s Polly to me, or me to Polly?”
“Not a thing,” said I.
“It’s just been a casual kick—just a few laughs, that’s all.”
“Try on the coat,” said I.
He complied. The coat bunched high over his ears and dropped all the way down to his shoe tops. He looked like a mound of dead raccoons. “Fits fine,” he said happily.
I rose from my chair. “Is it a deal?” I asked, extending my hand.
He swallowed. “It’s a deal,” he said and shook my hand.
I had my first date with Polly the following evening. This was in the nature of a survey; I wanted to find out just how much work I had to do to get her mind up to the standard I required. I took her first to dinner. “Gee, that was a delish dinner,” she said as we left the restaurant. Then I took her to a movie. “Gee, that was a marvy movie,” she said as we left the theatre. And then I took her home. “Gee, I had a sensaysh time,” she said as she bade me good night.
I went back to my room with a heavy heart. I had gravely underestimated the size of my task. This girl’s lack of information was terrifying. Nor would it be enough merely to supply her with information. First she had to be taught to think. This loomed as a project of no small dimensions, and at first I was tempted to give her back to Petey. But then I got to thinking about her abundant physical charms and about the way she entered a room and the way she handled a knife and fork, and I decided to make an effort.
I went about it, as in all things, systematically. I gave her a course in logic. It happened that I, as a law student, was taking a course in logic myself, so I had all the facts at my fingertips. “Poll’,” I said to her when I picked her up on our next date, “tonight we are going over to the Knoll and talk.”
“Oo, terrif,” she replied. One thing I will say for this girl: you would go far to find another so agreeable.
We went to the Knoll, the campus trysting place, and we sat down under an old oak, and she looked at me expectantly. “What are we going to talk about?” she asked.
She thought this over for a minute and decided she liked it. “Magnif,” she said.
“Logic,” I said, clearing my throat, “is the science of thinking. Before we can think correctly, we must first learn to recognize the common fallacies of logic. These we will take up tonight.”
“Wow-dow!” she cried, clapping her hands delightedly.
I winced, but went bravely on. “First let us examine the fallacy called Dicto Simpliciter.”
“By all means,” she urged, batting her lashes eagerly.
“Dicto Simpliciter means an argument based on an unqualified generalization. For example: Exercise is good. Therefore everybody should exercise.”
“I agree,” said Polly earnestly. “I mean exercise is wonderful. I mean it builds the body and everything.”
“Polly,” I said gently, “the argument is a fallacy. Exercise is good is an unqualified generalization. For instance, if you have heart disease, exercise is bad, not good. Many people are ordered by their doctors not to exercise. You must qualify the generalization. You must say exercise is usually good, or exercise is good for most people. Otherwise you have committed a Dicto Simpliciter. Do you see?”
“No,” she confessed. “But this is marvy. Do more! Do more!”
“It will be better if you stop tugging at my sleeve,” I told her, and when she desisted, I continued. “Next we take up a fallacy called Hasty Generalization. Listen carefully: You can’t speak French. Petey Bellows can’t speak French. I must therefore conclude that nobody at the University of Minnesota can speak French.”
“Really?” said Polly, amazed. “Nobody?
I hid my exasperation. “Polly, it’s a fallacy. The generalization is reached too hastily. There are too few instances to support such a conclusion.”
“Know any more fallacies?” she asked breathlessly. “This is more fun than dancing even.”
I fought off a wave of despair. I was getting nowhere with this girl, absolutely nowhere. Still, I am nothing if not persistent. I continued. “Next comes Post Hoc. Listen to this: Let’s not take Bill on our picnic. Every time we take him out with us, it rains.”
“I know somebody just like that,” she exclaimed. “A girl back home—Eula Becker, her name is. It never fails. Every single time we take her on a picnic—”
“Polly,” I said sharply, “it’s a fallacy. Eula Becker doesn’t cause the rain. She has no connection with the rain. You are guilty of Post Hoc if you blame Eula Becker.”
“I’ll never do it again,” she promised contritely. “Are you mad at me?”
I sighed. “No, Polly, I’m not mad.”
“Then tell me some more fallacies.”
“All right. Let’s try Contradictory Premises.”
“Yes, let’s,” she chirped, blinking her eyes happily.
I frowned, but plunged ahead. “Here’s an example of Contradictory Premises: If God can do anything, can He make a stone so heavy that He won’t be able to lift it?”
“Of course,” she replied promptly.
“But if He can do anything, He can lift the stone,” I pointed out.
“Yeah,” she said thoughtfully. “Well, then I guess He can’t make the stone.”
“But He can do anything,” I reminded her.
She scratched her pretty, empty head. “I’m all confused,” she admitted.
“Of course you are. Because when the premises of an argument contradict each other, there can be no argument. If there is an irresistible force, there can be no immovable object. If there is an immovable object, there can be no irresistible force. Get it?”
“Tell me more of this keen stuff,” she said eagerly.
I consulted my watch. “I think we’d better call it a night. I’ll take you home now, and you go over all the things you’ve learned. We’ll have another session tomorrow night.”
I deposited her at the girls’ dormitory, where she assured me that she had had a perfectly terrif evening, and I went glumly home to my room. Petey lay snoring in his bed, the raccoon coat huddled like a great hairy beast at his feet. For a moment I considered waking him and telling him that he could have his girl back. It seemed clear that my project was doomed to failure. The girl simply had a logic-proof head.
But then I reconsidered. I had wasted one evening; I might as well waste another. Who knew? Maybe somewhere in the extinct crater of her mind a few members still smoldered. Maybe somehow I could fan them into flame. Admittedly it was not a prospect fraught with hope, but I decided to give it one more try.
Seated under the oak the next evening I said, “Our first fallacy tonight is called Ad Misericordiam.”
She quivered with delight.
“Listen closely,” I said. “A man applies for a job. When the boss asks him what his qualifications are, he replies that he has a wife and six children at home, the wife is a helpless cripple, the children have nothing to eat, no clothes to wear, no shoes on their feet, there are no beds in the house, no coal in the cellar, and winter is coming.”
A tear rolled down each of Polly’s pink cheeks. “Oh, this is awful, awful,” she sobbed.
“Yes, it’s awful,” I agreed, “but it’s no argument. The man never answered the boss’s question about his qualifications. Instead he appealed to the boss’s sympathy. He committed the fallacy of Ad Misericordiam. Do you understand?”
“Have you got a handkerchief?” she blubbered.
I handed her a handkerchief and tried to keep from screaming while she wiped her eyes. “Next,” I said in a carefully controlled tone, “we will discuss False Analogy. Here is an example: Students should be allowed to look at their textbooks during examinations. After all, surgeons have X-rays to guide them during an operation, lawyers have briefs to guide them during a trial, carpenters have blueprints to guide them when they are building a house. Why, then, shouldn’t students be allowed to look at their textbooks during an examination?”
“There now,” she said enthusiastically, “is the most marvy idea I’ve heard in years.”
“Polly,” I said testily, “the argument is all wrong. Doctors, lawyers, and carpenters aren’t taking a test to see how much they have learned, but students are. The situations are altogether different, and you can’t make an analogy between them.”
“I still think it’s a good idea,” said Polly.
“Nuts,” I muttered. Doggedly I pressed on. “Next we’ll try Hypothesis Contrary to Fact.”
“Sounds yummy,” was Polly’s reaction.
“Listen: If Madame Curie had not happened to leave a photographic plate in a drawer with a chunk of pitchblende, the world today would not know about radium.”
“True, true,” said Polly, nodding her head “Did you see the movie? Oh, it just knocked me out. That Walter Pidgeon is so dreamy. I mean he fractures me.”
“If you can forget Mr. Pidgeon for a moment,” I said coldly, “I would like to point out that statement is a fallacy. Maybe Madame Curie would have discovered radium at some later date. Maybe somebody else would have discovered it. Maybe any number of things would have happened. You can’t start with a hypothesis that is not true and then draw any supportable conclusions from it.”
“They ought to put Walter Pidgeon in more pictures,” said Polly, “I hardly ever see him any more.”
One more chance, I decided. But just one more. There is a limit to what flesh and blood can bear. “The next fallacy is called Poisoning the Well.”
“How cute!” she gurgled.
“Two men are having a debate. The first one gets up and says, ‘My opponent is a notorious liar. You can’t believe a word that he is going to say.’ ... Now, Polly, think. Think hard. What’s wrong?”
I watched her closely as she knit her creamy brow in concentration. Suddenly a glimmer of intelligence—the first I had seen—came into her eyes. “It’s not fair,” she said with indignation. “It’s not a bit fair. What chance has the second man got if the first man calls him a liar before he even begins talking?”
“Right!” I cried exultantly. “One hundred per cent right. It’s not fair. The first man has poisoned the well before anybody could drink from it. He has hamstrung his opponent before he could even start ... Polly, I’m proud of you.”
“Pshaws,” she murmured, blushing with pleasure.
“You see, my dear, these things aren’t so hard. All you have to do is concentrate. Think—examine—evaluate. Come now, let’s review everything we have learned.”
“Fire away,” she said with an airy wave of her hand.
Heartened by the knowledge that Polly was not altogether a cretin, I began a long, patient review of all I had told her. Over and over and over again I cited instances, pointed out flaws, kept hammering away without letup. It was like digging a tunnel. At first, everything was work, sweat, and darkness. I had no idea when I would reach the light, or even if I would. But I persisted. I pounded and clawed and scraped, and finally I was rewarded. I saw a chink of light. And then the chink got bigger and the sun came pouring in and all was bright.
Five grueling nights with this took, but it was worth it. I had made a logician out of Polly; I had taught her to think. My job was done. She was worthy of me, at last. She was a fit wife for me, a proper hostess for my many mansions, a suitable mother for my well-heeled children.
It must not be thought that I was without love for this girl. Quite the contrary. Just as Pygmalion loved the perfect woman he had fashioned, so I loved mine. I decided to acquaint her with my feelings at our very next meeting. The time had come to change our relationship from academic to romantic.
“Polly,” I said when next we sat beneath our oak, “tonight we will not discuss fallacies.”
“Aw, gee,” she said, disappointed.
“My dear,” I said, favoring her with a smile, “we have now spent five evenings together. We have gotten along splendidly. It is clear that we are well matched.”
“Hasty Generalization,” said Polly brightly.
“I beg your pardon,” said I.
“Hasty Generalization,” she repeated. “How can you say that we are well matched on the basis of only five dates?”
I chuckled with amusement. The dear child had learned her lessons well. “My dear,” I said, patting her hand in a tolerant manner, “five dates is plenty. After all, you don’t have to eat a whole cake to know that it’s good.”
“False Analogy,” said Polly promptly. “I’m not a cake. I’m a girl.”
I chuckled with somewhat less amusement. The dear child had learned her lessons perhaps too well. I decided to change tactics. Obviously the best approach was a simple, strong, direct declaration of love. I paused for a moment while my massive brain chose the proper word. Then I began:
“Polly, I love you. You are the whole world to me, the moon and the stars and the constellations of outer space. Please, my darling, say that you will go steady with me, for if you will not, life will be meaningless. I will languish. I will refuse my meals. I will wander the face of the earth, a shambling, hollow-eyed hulk.”
There, I thought, folding my arms, that ought to do it.
“Ad Misericordiam,” said Polly.
I ground my teeth. I was not Pygmalion; I was Frankenstein, and my monster had me by the throat. Frantically I fought back the tide of panic surging through me; at all costs I had to keep cool.
“Well, Polly,” I said, forcing a smile, “you certainly have learned your fallacies.”
“You’re darn right,” she said with a vigorous nod.
“And who taught them to you, Polly?”
“You did.”
“That’s right. So you do owe me something, don’t you, my dear? If I hadn’t come along you never would have learned about fallacies.”
“Hypothesis Contrary to Fact,” she said instantly.
I dashed perspiration from my brow. “Polly,” I croaked, “you mustn’t take all these things so literally. I mean this is just classroom stuff. You know that the things you learn in school don’t have anything to do with life.”
“Dicto Simpliciter,” she said, wagging her finger at me playfully.
That did it. I leaped to my feet, bellowing like a bull. “Will you or will you not go steady with me?”
“I will not,” she replied.
“Why not?” I demanded.
“Because this afternoon I promised Petey Bellows that I would go steady with him.”
I reeled back, overcome with the infamy of it. After he promised, after he made a deal, after he shook my hand! “The rat!” I shrieked, kicking up great chunks of turf. “You can’t go with him, Polly. He’s a liar. He’s a cheat. He’s a rat.”
“Poisoning the Well ,” said Polly, “and stop shouting. I think shouting must be a fallacy too.”
With an immense effort of will, I modulated my voice. “All right,” I said. “You’re a logician. Let’s look at this thing logically. How could you choose Petey Bellows over me? Look at me—a brilliant student, a tremendous intellectual, a man with an assured future. Look at Petey—a knothead, a jitterbug, a guy who’ll never know where his next meal is coming from. Can you give me one logical reason why you should go steady with Petey Bellows?”
“I certainly can,” declared Polly. “He’s got a raccoon coat.”

Friday, July 27, 2012

A bit about marriage

There are many admirable and enjoyable scenes in this movie, but the one that stopped me in my tracks and made me start typing is this one:

Victor: I don't like divorce. Once more, I don't think adultery sufficient grounds for it.

Hilary: Oh, what a masculine attitude.

Victor: I don’t think marriage is just a liason to be terminated when the sexual side of it gets boring or irksome to either party.

Hilary: Oh, it’s never been boring or irksome; not for me it hasn’t! And don’t talk about “either party”; it makes it sound like a contract.

Victor: And if people make promises, what else can it be but a contract? You promised to be faithful. Well you’ve broken that one; must I respond by breaking one of mine? “To have and to hold, from this day forth; for better, for worse.” This moment in our lives must obviously come under the heading “for worse.” And the popular measure taken nowa days is to say, “well, the ‘better’ part of it is over, and here we are with the worse so goodbye, my dear, it was fun while it lasted. You take your boyfriend, I’ll take my freedom, and I’ll be on the Riviera before you.” Well, I think that’s wrong. If your mistress is unfaithful, she should be discarded. If your wife is, she should be befriended.

Hilary: Befriended? Meaning helped and patronized?

Victor: Meaning beloved and cherished.

-- Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in The Grass is Greener

Monday, May 28, 2012


I was recently asked to share my crouton recipe. The thing is, it’s not really a recipe, and I can’t say anything about actual amounts, since I tend to eyeball the whole thing. But what I DO have is a procedural difference. I decided a while ago to make my croutons differently from what the standard recipes require.

Most recipes have you cut up & dry out the bread cubes and then add oil & spices. This only puts the flavor of the spices onto the surface of the croutons. What I do is soak the bread cubes in oil & spices BEFORE drying them out; this allows the oil to transport the flavors of the spices all the way through the bread cubes. The result is much, much more flavorful.

So, here’s what I use:
  • a 1 gallon ziplock bag
  • a brown paper lunch bag
  • 3-4 cups of bread cubes (I use stale bread of all sorts. I recently got fabulous results from some pumpernickel bagels; no lie.)
  • a healthy dose of olive oil (I end up using ⅓ - ½ c.)
  • spices (we like really spicy croutons, so I tend to start with a whole lot of Zataran’s Creole spice and sometimes add some extra red pepper flake; were I doing Italian soups, I would use a whole bunch of thyme, oregano, and probably garlic. Use what you like, and use a whole lot more than you think you need.)
And here’s what I do:
  1. Cut the bread into cubes of a size you find pleasing. For us, the center-cut cubes tend to be just under ½" on a side, and edges are smaller.
  2. Put the bread cubes into the brown paper bag and the paper bag into the ziplock.
  3. Glug a bunch of olve oil onto the bread.
  4. Add the spices.
  5. Fold down the brown paper bag and close the ziplock.
  6. Shake it up baby. Now, twist & shout.
  7. Every couple of hours, shake the bag and set it with a different side down. Notice that the oil leaking through the brown paper has taken on the color of the spices.
  8. Go to bed.
  9. Wake up & shake some more, then set it down with a different side u.p.
  10. Go to work.
  11. Come home, shake, & rotate some more.
  12. Pour the oily, spicy bread cubes out onto a baking sheet, one layer deep.
  13. Bake at 200°F, checking & stirring occasionally untl the cubes are very dry indeed.
  14. Put the croutons into an air-tight container and use them a bit at a time in soups.
See? It’s not so much a matter of spices (which can be changed to taste) but procedure. You want the oil to have lots of time to spread the flavors all the way to the middle of the croutons. The and only then do you dry them out.

That’s the dealio.