Blaise Pascal was a late-Renaissance Renaissance man. There was that brief stint as a tax collector, but he otherwise seems to have led a life of broad achievement.
He is credited with advancing our understanding of geometry. He studied the nature of fluids and in the process invented the hydraulic press and the syringe. His experiments with barometers definitively proved that, pace Aristotle, nature is perfectly comfortable with vacuums.
Most of the references I visited made note of the fact that many of his discoveries and theories were made before he reached the age of sixteen without revealing which of his contributions were prodigious and which were merely the ho-hum expressions of an adult genius. Certainly we can count the mechanical calculator among the former. He didn't invent that until he was twenty-two. Slacker.
But he won't be remembered for any of the above, at least not in the popular imagination.
Section 233 of Pensées, a posthumously published collection of his notes on theology, posits that if you are on the fence about the existence of God, a cost benefit analysis shows that you are in a far better position to reap rewards if you fall in with those on the pro side of the deity exists ledger. This weighing of metaphysical pros vs. physical has become known as Pascal's Wager.
Section 233 was meant to be a single part of a greater argument. It's a little ironic that the best known part of a work of apologetics can be boiled down to "If you are unsure, fake it because you might get better stuff."
It's also a little ironic that the author of what has been interpreted by many as the "go along to get along" doctrine was a member of a movement branded heretical by Innocent X, but very few of us are consistent in the "practice what you preach" department.
That brings us to heresy of my own.
I've adopted a mirror image of Pascal's as a personal wager. As a practicing Catholic I'm well aware of The Church's admonitions against the belief in superstition. But as a practicing football fan, I'm absolutely terrified that my team will lose if I'm not properly decked out in the appropriate colors for the game.
Beyond theology, my rational mind tells me that the game will be won or lost by players who possess or do not possess more talent than the opponent, who practiced or did not practice with intensity and dedication, and by coaches who planned well and ruthlessly. But that said, if the game is anywhere near to being close, I have to stand. Chairs are what make you lose.
I know it's stupid. But per Pascal, what if it isn't. What did I lose by wearing red and pacing behind the couch? Nothing. What am I risking by lounging for three hours on the couch in my beat up blue sweatshirt? A possible loss and the guilt that my inaction was a contributing, if not the contributing, factor (and deep vein thrombosis.)
So for our game against the Michigan State Spartans I'll be wearing one of my red shirts with the little elephant insignia on the left breast and standing behind a perfectly comfortable reclining chair. I hope that you too will be adding whatever bit of superstitious stupid you have come to have blaspheming faith in. It's the playoffs after all.
Speaking of superstitions, for whatever reason, we in the South require black eyed peas at the New Year to properly prosper. Some say they should be eaten on New Year's Eve, some maintain that they are properly had on New Year's Day itself. I say split the difference. Below is a recipe for spicy pea cakes. Make them as a pre game appetizer and hit the leftovers after the ball falls or in the morning. Or ignore the superstition entirely. What do you have to lose?
Black Eyed Pea Cakes with Red Eye Gravy
12 oz. Black Eyed Peas
1 Spicy Red Chili, deseeded and diced
Small handful Flat-leaf Parsley, finely chopped
Slightly smaller handful Chives, chopped
A handful Corn Bread, crumbled
Flour for dusting
Salt and Pepper to taste
For the gravy
3-4 ounces of pre-cooked Pork (I used some Iberian Jamon, but ham, tasso, porchetta, even prosciutto would work as well)
1 mug Coffee
Half as much Beef Stock
1 dash or 2 Tabasco
1 tbsp. Butter
Cook the peas as per directions and drain, withholding a little of the pot liquor. Set the liquid aside and return the peas to the pan and mash with a potato masher. You want leave about a third of the peas whole for texture, so mash, but do a half assed job. Two thirds assed job.
Add the peas to a mixing bowl and salt and pepper to taste.
Mix in the egg, chives, flat-leaf, chili and cornbread until the ingredients are evenly incorporated and then forget to take a picture of this step for the blog. If the final result is too dry, add some of the pot liquor. If it's too wet, add more cornbread.
Form into patties and lightly dust them with flour.
Heat a few glugs of vegetable oil in a skillet and add the patties. Sautee over a medium heat for four minutes or so a side.
Once the patties are done, remove them to a warm plate and wipe any excess oil from the pan. Dice or tear whatever pork you are using into bite size or smaller pieces.
Melt the butter in the skillet and fry the pork for two or three minutes.
Add the coffee and beef stock and reduce for five minutes over high heat. Be sure to scrape up any bits of pork at the bottom of the pan and keep them in the liquid. They are loaded with flavor.
Serve your cakes with a healthy pour of gravy and sit in smug satisfaction knowing that prosperity is surely coming your way.
Roll Tide, no injuries, RTDBL, beat Sparty, and to that anOSU fan who kept yelling at me from three rows down at the Sugar Bowl last year (but only when his team was in the lead because that's the kind of brave he was), enjoy the Fiesta Bowl, jackass. If I may quote him, "How about now, mother*****r?"
He sure did live in the moment.