Before the link goes down again... This won't be easy. But I press on regardless.
P.J. O'Rourke on Classical Education
Get an education - a classical education filled with Plato, Cato, Pliny the Elder, Pliny Junior, and Cicero by the yard; with Marathons of an un-Boston kind and Hannibals who cross the Alps, not Jodie Foster; an education that includes Pythagoras's theorem, Zeno's paradox, Occam's razor, the rest of Occam's toilet kit, some basic science (nothing beyond a Bunsen burner), and a few of the mustier works of great literature. (What is Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba?)
The entire British Empire was built by young men who'd studied nothing but Latin, Greek, and plane geometry. They graduated from college, were sent out to rule India, and telegraphed home: "People here acting as though they were in The Iliad. Have figured out all the angles. Send pecunia."
Nowadays Oxford and Cambridge have courses in anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science, economics, and no telling what else. Meanwhile the British Empire has shrunk to three IRA informants, a time-share deal with the Red Chinese in Hong Kong, and that bed-and-breakfast of an island, Bermuda. Sic transit gloria mundi, as if anybody knew what that meant anymore.
There are, admittedly, things that can't be learned by studying the classics. But education is not just a matter of learning things. There's a difference between information and knowledge. It's the difference between Christy Turlington's phone number and Christy Turlington. There's also a difference between knowledge and meaning. Socrates wouldn't know grunge rock, but he'd know what it means. It means every flannel shirt in America should be dripped in Prozac. Furthermore, there's a difference between meaning and life. Hillary Clinton loves the "politics of meaning" and all it's gotten her is week upon week locked in a roomful of nerds figuring how to pay the country's doctor bills. What kind of life is that?
A classical education helps us unravel these, as it were, Gordian knots. It teaches us the lesson of continuity in human affairs. We read Juvenal's Sixth Satire:
"Meantime she completely
Ignores her husband, gives not a moment's thought
To all she costs him. She's less a wife than a neighbor -
Except when it comes to loathing his friends ..."
And we realize first wives weren't born yesterday.
If we can do such reading in the original language, we can travel back in time, go back two thousand years and find what's inside people's minds ... some pretty nasty minds, too, such as that of the poet Nicarchus:
"You should certainly have made a sign saying which was
your mouth, which your asshole.
Just now when you were gabbing I thought you'd farted."
And a classical education gives us perspective. For instance, the fall of Rome is a melancholy tale, but careful readings in history show us that we happen to be the people Rome fell to.
A classical education provides no skills. But, personally, at age forty-five, I don't want a skill. If I had a skill I'd have duller work. I'd be a dentist. Instead, I get to pursue that career of professional amateurs called journalism. Besides, the skills I might like to have - getting on the green in three, pestering trout with lint on a pin - aren't gotten in school. And school is what I wish I'd gone to more of. Much stupid behavior could have been thereby avoided.
If I'd known how Plato came a cropper trying to put his Republic into practice under Dionysius II in Sicily or if I'd had a better idea what caused the collapse of representative government in Rome and Athens, I would have been spared a decade of radical politics.
If I'd read the mush in Virgil's Ecologues:
"... for you the Nymphs bring lilies,
Look, in baskets full; for you the Naiad fair,
Plucking pale violets and poppy heads . . .
et cetera, et cetera, et cetera"
I would have been nauseated enough to escape all sorts of hopeless romances.
If I'd been led from Aristotle through Roger Bacon and Erasmus to the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century - if I'd realized what pains mankind had taken to achieve empirical observation, logical thought, and experimental methods of proof - I would have eschewed vibes, auras, mantras, astral projections, and all the other mental rubbish of the last thirty years.
And, if I'd read Petronius and François Villon, I would have given the feckless bohemian life a pass and gotten a bath and a job.
On the other hand, I liked being a hippie pretend guerrilla writing horrible long poems to Suzy and Moonbeam and Babs. I had a great time thinking I could end war and social injustice by letting my hair grow and dressing like a circus clown. And - though we're not supposed to say it these days - the drugs were swell.
Such follies are born of ignorance, but I've enjoyed them. So maybe you shouldn't get an education after all. I'm not well educated enough to know.
P.J. O'Rourke's recommendation of the Classics, from his latest collection, entitled Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995). It was originally published in Esquire, October 1993, as part of a sixtieth-anniversary "Sixty Things a Man Should Know" collection.
Monday, June 21, 2010
A little rearrangingitivity.
For reasons I can't QUITE explain just yet, all of my recipe/food/beverage posts (AND ONLY THOSE) will be moving.
I'll put up the link when that's all set up.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
No pictures, alas.
Today, dear Internet, I made and utterly savo(u)red a hamburger of such excellence it has left me marveling 4 hours after the fact.
I regret we are not yet capable of feasibly cloning cows, because this cow was definitely worthy of getting the whole Jurassic Park treatment. This was a Hall of Fame cow, whose sacrifice for a greater purpose was so noble and pure it was clearly maniftest to every single tastebud I currently own.
My sorrow will be great when it finally sinks in that the odds of ever again having a burger anywhere near as delicious are smaller than even purely theoretical particles. But my soul is still aglow and sorrow will have to wait, much like Suicide Tuesday for devotees of XTC*.
To anyone wishing to attempt to replicate it here is the basic road map.
Take a couple of pounds of beef from the short rib (sans bone and sinew, natch) and put it through your grinder**. If using your grinder is a complete PITA to you, feel free to skip to the end. Use the coarsest setting, and grind TWICE. This is key.
Form the burgers -- a gentle hand, s'il vous plait -- into burgers 1''/2.5cm thick. Very often in food programs you see skyscraper-ish burgers anchored by lumps o' cow 3''-4'' tall. Unless you have developed a way to unhinge your jaw, this is not a fun way to eat and you will not get a good, even bite of your burger and you will not get the full spectrum of taste of beef, bun and condiments. The diameter of your burger should be +/-½''/1cm greater than that of your hamburger bun, to compensate for the shrinkage in cooking. Give the burger meat a slight dent in the center, to compensate for the puffing that also happens whilst cooking.
At this stage there is a hotly debated divergence of opinion. Cook on an open grill or in a pan/griddle? Each has its advantages. An open grill allows for smoke and flame to interact with the beef, and a pan or griddle allows for greater searing (esp. in a cast-iron pan situation) and a greater retention of rendering fat. I prefer grill. The beef has enough fat that any which renders out will not go missing, and the searing is sufficient. You do whatever you want.
I salted the burgers, then dusted them with a certain steak rub which I hacked (because I was NOT going to pay $2.50/oz.) to my immense delight.
As far as bread goes, I went to my local bakery where they had these buns made out of the same eggy dough as challah. This is ideal, because the crumb is tender enough to collapse slightly under bite, absorbent enough to contain condiments and juices, and will toast slightly in a beautiful way.
Heinz Organic Ketchup - the ne plus ultra of ketchups. In a trial of a thousand years I might come up with something almost as good. So I just buy it.
Grey Poupon Dijon Mustard and Gulden's Spicy Brown Mustard - 50-50.
Vidalia onions, raw and sliced as thinly as your patience will allow. (In my case, I like one gossamer-thin slice that covers the surface area of the cooked beef.
McClure's Pickle relish, the regular not the hot. About a tablespoon, spread evenly.
Cook the burger over a rocket-hot flame, and the nanosecond you have proper grill marks, flip over to a cooler -- think "medium" vs. "high" -- section of the fire. Cook 2 minutes for medium rare...which, because you ground this yourself, is a far safer proposition.
* The recreational pharmaceutical, not the band.
** Mincer, for the rest of the Anglosphere.
Wednesday, June 09, 2010
I need to work on three areas. My breads, my pastry and my cakes. I want to develop one go-to, "I have it wired to my synapses" recipe for each. Whenever I make something I have to refer to whatever cookbook I am using as if I were reading the manual for a defibrillator or a bomb-defusing manual.
These should be relatively simple (NOT dumbed down) and with short-ish ingredient lists.
Feel free to suggest.
Friday, June 04, 2010
The promised assortedness.
Still, there is no One Great Thing about which to write.
So I will try to fill up this space with (one hopes) entertaining miscellanea.
1- Steal these wines. It seems the Vinapedia site is down, a victim of the Slightly Less Great Depression. So I must make my suggestions here:
Las Rocas 2007 Bodegas San Alejandro Garnacha Calatayud - Brilliant garnet. Velvety cherry and framboise on the nose, with hints of coffee, anise and cocoa. Bit of "smoky" going on, with elegant underlying tannins. Light but long finish. At $10, this is a steal.
Primus 2007 Veramonte Colchagua Valley - I've mentioned these wines before, and this Bordeaux blend remains an astonishing bargain. Deep scarlet. Fresh raspberry/blackberry aroma, that carry through to the palate, along with a tart sort of raisiny/minerally something, and some cocoa notes are lurking there too. Modest tannins show up if you aereate it. You can let it spend some time in the cellar and your patience would be rewarded. Good finish, decent length and just sharp enough.
2- Blogfests. I shan't name names, but some among the assembled like traipsing off to events where other bloggers of similar description gather for, as The Master wrote, "browsing and sluicing." Which is fine. I've never understood the desire to gather with fellow-blogging lefthanders or redheads or [insert demographic category here] but we live in a pluralist society and so, when this sort of thing is announced, up goes my banner of live-and-let-live.
This won't be easy.
But I press on regardless.