Abby the Spoon Lady

I have no remarkable dexterity–in fact, a history of nerve and other damage to my left arm has left me with little dexterity at all.
I have no remarkable skills–nothing much to show for the last chunk of century.
I have no remarkable musical talent–a good ear and a passable voice that can follow the ear.

I do recognize musical talent, and there is a whole lot of it around me here–maybe there is a lot of music everywhere, maybe all around us, and we should drink our full of it every second.
I do recognize beauty, and Abby the Spoon Lady combines dexterity, skill and music in a way I have never seen before; each time I see her, I sit on the sidewalk amazed, fascinated, unable to tear my eyes from the dancing, flying spoons.
Then, she will always look over at me and grin a knowing grin.

This one just makes me want to ride the rails.



Cheaters Chili

Sometimes, you just need something quick to put in a pot to eat. This is a recipe that I explained to my daughter when she was leaving for college. It isn’t fancy, but it will get the job done.

Cheater's Chili (2)Step 1: bean there: Empty several large cans of beans, especially kidney–dark and light–but also chili or pinto or northern or red or black, into a pot or a slow cooker.

Step 2, done that: add one or several cans of diced tomatoes–generally the ones with peppers in them.

Step 3, improvise: I’ve asked you to do this before. Add whatever else you want–maybe some TVP? Some peppers, either sweet or hot? maybe some onions? maybe some spices–garlic, paprika, cayenne pepper, black pepper, cumin, curry, ras el hanout? something crazy like cooked down pumpkin or sweet potato or dried apricots?

Step 4, stew: cover and cook. A while if on a stove top, longer if in a slow cooker.Cheater's Chili (3) When the beans have cooked, the juice won’t be a broth, but more of a stew.

Step 5, serve: just in a bowl or cup? in a bowl over corn chips, tortilla chips or spaghetti? topped with cheese or sour cream? with fresh avocado, green onions or cilantro? Maybe serve with corn cakes or pepper muffins?


Of logical syllogisms and poets

saphhoἢ ὥσπερ Σαπφώ• ὅτι τὸ ἀποθνῄσκειν κακόν• οἱ θεοὶ γὰρ οὕτω κεκρίκασιν• ἀπέθνησκον γὰρ ἄν.
“…Or [as] Sappho [writes],
‘Death is an evil;
the gods have so decided,
for otherwise they would die.'”

Aristotle quotes the poet Sappho constructing a logically valid modus tollens syllogism to argue that death is not, as some suggest, a blessing but rather a curse.

A modus tollens (denying the consequent) syllogism is structured like this:

  • It can be shown that if [insert first statement] is the case, then it follows that [insert second statement] will be the case.
  • It can be shown that [second statement] is not true.
  • Therefore, [first statement] cannot be the case.

Or, to put it in symbolic terms:

modus_tollens_ornament_roundHer argument goes like this:

  • If death were a blessing, then the gods would have it–they being blessed, and able to have all good things.
    (Logically, if [death is a blessing], then it follows that [the gods would die])
  • The gods, however, do not die.
    ([the gods would die] is not true.)
  • So death cannot be good, but is a terrible evil.
    (Therefore, [death is a blessing] cannot be true.

But, of course, the greatest curse is being separated by those we love…


Sappho, fragment 94

Honestly, I wish I were dead.

Weeping many tears, she left me and said,
“Alas, how terribly we suffer, Sappho.
I leave you against my will.”

And I answered: “Farewell, go and remember me.
You know how I cared for you.
When you remember, remember
these good and beautiful times.

Beside me you put on
many wreaths of roses
and put garlands of violets        Sapphomet2
around your soft neck.            

You poured precious myrrh,
and royal perfume on your body,
pouring out your longing on soft beds.

And there was no dance,
no ceremony, no celebration,
without us.



viz. vs. vis-à-vis

Ve’re uff to see der Vizard!

Hey, just a note:
“Viz.” is not the same as “vis-à-vis.”

“Viz.” is short for the medieval Latin word videlicet, and is usually used the way we would use “that is to say,” or “namely.” It is very similar to “i.e.”

On the other hand, “vis-à-vis” is from a French term, literally “face to face.” It is used to highlight an aspect of something as it is in relation to (face to face, toe to toe) to another thing.


Guilt is a piss-poor basis for morality

The interns and I are continuing to discuss Greek philosophy, so don’t be surprised if that seeps into a lot of these entrées.

One of the hardest differences to try to make clear between our culture and the ancients–just one little facets of La querelle des Anciens et des Modernes, is how fundamental to their view of the world things like pride and honor and respect were. Since the interns handle money, a lot of my focus is upon ethics.

For most Americans, ethics is almost synonymous with morality, and morality is generally seen in terms of transgressing a set of imperatives. Obviously, the result of transgressing or even failing is guilt.


Socrates, descend from your clouds and talk dirty to us.

Put another way, we think of right and wrong in terms of a code or a bunch of rules. Somewhere in the back of our heads or hearts, we have a series Jiminy_Cricket_standing_up_to_Lampwickof “thou shalt not’s” and “don’t even think about it’s,” or our mother’s  voice saying: “do you really think that’s a good idea?” We live in a selfish, self-obsessed world, but at the same time are haunted by the voice of a little cricket tsk-tsk-ing us.
It seems unavoidable that we will break these rules and fail to live up to this code–in fact, it is virtually impossible that we do not. When we do, the result is guilt; in fact, the fear of guilt, the fear of having to walk that long dark hall to face the wrath of Jiminy is what is supposed to keep us in line.

piggy's glassesNot that that is always a bad thing: those without guilt are psychopaths, and we do, after all need something to keep us in line, something to avoid descending to chaos and anarchy and cruelty. After all, look how poorly we remain moral with guilt?

See, the problem with guilt is that is insatiable–there will always be more to feel guilty about. It is also much better at motivating us to avoid acts than to actually act.

By contrast, honor is an attempt to become better, and to take pride in being better. Caspar_David_Friedrich_-_Wanderer_above_the_sea_of_fogIt is striving for excellence, and taking joy in both the accomplishment and the striving–like the glory of running fast. It sets goals and standards–virtues and examples–and allows us to construct a narrative of being ethical, instead to just case studies of being unethical. It calls us to act rather than encouraging us to focus upon prevent illicit acts. We shouldn’t be regretting ethical failures–which is what guilt is–but instead we should be cultivating virtues that will allow us to act justly, kindly, honestly, generously, courageously, and so on, in the present and in the future.

And when we do, we should feel the reward of pride in an action well done, and look to the next task to accomplish.

The 300 Spartans at Thermopylae had no reason to feel guilty if they had backed down from the Persians–the Persians did, after all, outnumber them, and the Spartans had fulfilled their obligations to the other Greeks. No, the Spartans defended the fiery gates out of pride; they wanted to perform what they were called to do well.

Guilt prevents the worse from happening, and also nags us to help others, but the cost is an insatiable gnawing self-loathing, and ultimately the problem that the one who can best avoid guilt is the monk in the cell doing nothing.
Pride encourages us to outdo ourselves in living well and doing good, and can see ethics as something to build upon and strive for, but at the cost of encouraging the outward show rather than genuine goodness.

Better than either, though, would be compassion.


Blueberry Muffins

Alternative BakingOK, I get a few complaints: Does everything have to be crazy and have wild things like jalapenas or srirachi or beets? Can’t you just cook sweet, normal things?
Hey: some people appreciate a mad genius baker.
Still, I guess the critics have their point, so this one is for the folks who don’t want everything they eat to be some sort of experiment.


  • 2 cups flour (Whole wheat, white, both, as you wish)Blueberry Muffins (1)
  • ½ cup of sugar
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ tsp ginger
  • ¼ tsp cloves
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • 1 ½ cup blueberries (one would think fresh are better, but I think frozen might be)
  • ½ cup almonds
  • ½ cup apple sauce
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup buttermilk or Greek yoghurt or sour cream
  • ½ cup oil (it might work without this, especially since there is apple sauce; I liked making it with coconut oil.)

Step 1, Prepare Ye the way: Preheat the oven to 350°, either grease the muffin tins or put in the cupcake liners (I usually spray a little canola oil in the bottom of these to make things come out easier). I get 2 dozen medium sized muffins out of this mix.

Blueberry Muffins (3)Step 2, sifting the dry ingredients: In one bowl crumble up the brown sugar, then sift (mix if you don’t have a sifter) in the flour, white sugar, ginger, baking soda, and salt. Mix thoroughly.

Step 3, mixing the wet ingredients: In another bowl, mix the blueberries, almonds, apple sauce, vanilla, eggs, buttermilk, and oil.Blueberry Muffins (6)

Step 4, combining the big mess: Add the dry ingredients to the wet ones and mix well. You want to make sure the individual bits of apple are each coated to keep them from getting too clumpy.  The consistency should be much firmer than batter, but a little more liquid than cookie dough.

Blueberry Muffins (7)


Step 5, baking: Fill two dozen or so muffin tins. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. See how they look. Stick a toothpick in one and see if it comes out battery.


Step 6, sharing: As always, these are great for breakfast, or for a Blueberry Muffins (8)gentle afternoon tea. If you have to work Labor Day while everybody else gets to go have fun, share them with your crew. Randomly plant them for friends to find.