Happy Valentine’s Day

Hope you’re all having a nice V-day.

NY Times article: “Between Truth and Lies, An Unprintable Ubiquity,” by Peter Edidin – profiles the story of Harry G. Frankfurter, a Princeton philosophy professor, and his essay. “On Bull—-” (NY Times, as a family publication, couldn’t exactly print out the title, but you and I and the rest of the universe can pretty much figure it out; be advised that the appearances of the word “bull” in brackets below were what the Times had, not any editing on my part!):

The opening paragraph of the 67-page essay is a model of reason and composition, repeatedly disrupted by that single obscenity:

“One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much [bull]. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize [bull] and to avoid being taken in by it. So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern, nor attracted much sustained inquiry.”

The essay goes on to lament that lack of inquiry, despite the universality of the phenomenon. “Even the most basic and preliminary questions about [bull] remain, after all,” Mr. Frankfurt writes, “not only unanswered but unasked.”

The balance of the work tries, with the help of Wittgenstein, Pound, St. Augustine and the spy novelist Eric Ambler, among others, to ask some of the preliminary questions – to define the nature of a thing recognized by all but understood by none.

What is [bull], after all? Mr. Frankfurt points out it is neither fish nor fowl. Those who produce it certainly aren’t honest, but neither are they liars, given that the liar and the honest man are linked in their common, if not identical, regard for the truth.

“It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth,” Mr. Frankfurt writes. “A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it.”

The bull artist, on the other hand, cares nothing for truth or falsehood. The only thing that matters to him is “getting away with what he says,” Mr. Frankfurt writes. An advertiser or a politician or talk show host given to [bull] “does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it,” he writes. “He pays no attention to it at all.”

And this makes him, Mr. Frankfurt says, potentially more harmful than any liar, because any culture and he means this culture rife with [bull] is one in danger of rejecting “the possibility of knowing how things truly are.” It follows that any form of political argument or intellectual analysis or commercial appeal is only as legitimate, and true, as it is persuasive. There is no other court of appeal.

The reader is left to imagine a culture in which institutions, leaders, events, ethics feel improvised and lacking in substance. [….]

For Mr. Frankfurt, who says it has always been his ambition to move philosophy “back to what most people think of as philosophy, which is a concern with the problems of life and with understanding the world,” the book might be considered a successful achievement. But he finds he is still trying to get to the bottom of things, and hasn’t arrived.

“When I reread it recently,” he said at home, “I was sort of disappointed. It wasn’t as good as I’d thought it was. It was a fairly superficial and incomplete treatment of the subject.”

“Why,” he wondered, “do we respond to [bull] in such a different way than we respond to lies? When we find somebody lying, we get angry, we feel we’ve been betrayed or violated or insulted in some way, and the liar is regarded as deceptive, deficient, morally at fault.”

Why we are more tolerant of [bull] than lying is something Mr. Frankfurt believes would be worth considering.

“Why is lying regarded almost as a criminal act?” he asked, while bull “is sort of cuddly and warm? It’s outside the realm of serious moral criticism. Why is that?”

Hmm. Curiously interesting. But, I still wonder – wouldn’t it have been easier for the Times to just print “B.S.” than putting in “bull” in brackets? Or, is the abbreviation “B.S.” also considered profanity by itself?

A NY Times article on the wok, by Julia Moskin:

WHEN Grace Young’s family went to restaurants, her father always insisted that they sit right next to the swinging door to the kitchen. A liquor salesman who felt at home in every restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown, her father said food had to be eaten just moments out of the wok, while it is still fresh, hot and exuding wok hay, a Cantonese term, unknown in other parts of China, that translates loosely as “wok energy” or “wok breath.”

Wok hay is what happens when excellent ingredients – like ginger, noodles, shrimp, walnuts or Chinese chives – meet a wok crackling with heat. It is both a taste and aroma and something else, too, a lively freshness that prickles your nose and makes you impatient for that first taste, like the smell of steak just off the grill or a tomato right off the vine in August. Food with wok hay tastes intensely of itself.

“Wok hay makes the difference between a good stir-fry and a great one,” said Ms. Young, who traveled to China in 2000 and 2002 to study and document wok cooking and traditions. Her book, “The Breath of a Wok” (Simon & Schuster, 2004), is both an attempt to define wok hay and a guide to achieving it in an American kitchen. “It’s something that you create with a hot wok,” Ms. Young said, “but it’s also something you release that is already in the food.”

Today is the first day of the Lunar New Year, a 15-day celebration of renewal, which is the most important holiday of the Chinese year: Christmas, New Year’s Day, Easter and Yom Kippur all bundled together. It is considered the most auspicious time to buy a new wok or other cooking tools.[….]

And, fitting in with the holiday, I saw “The Wedding Date” movie the other day: cheesy movie, nothing too taxing, but heavy on the idea that all you need is love…

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