Religion and ceremonies

I’m not a religious person, but two or three times a year my wife drags me to church. I love the rituals and the ceremonials.

At Easter the local Roman Catholic church on Good Friday enacts the ritual of the “Stations of the Cross”. Whatever one might think of religion, the ceremonials add a dignity to the institution of the church and I like this one.

The celebrants face in order one of the “stations” which is a depiction of one of the stages in the progress of Christ to the cross and thence to his entombment. At each station a fairly free-form prayer or verse is sung.

I find the ritual moving, but I don’t know why! As I said, I’m not religious, but the re-enactment of this religion’s pivotal event is engaging. I suspect that I would experience similar feeling if I experienced a similar re-enactment of another religion’s similar event.

Reenacting the Stations of the Cross in Jerusa...
Reenacting the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem on the Via Dolorosa from the Lions’ Gate to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a non-believer I’m bemused as to why I feel moved by the ritual. I should recognise it as such and discount it, but rituals such as this, and the marriage ritual do move me. Even if the ritual is supposedly secular as in many marriages.

Ceremony and ritual are so necessary to human social interactions that we invent them if there aren’t any there already – a good example is the POTUS, the President of the United States. So many rituals surround him, and they were invented just for him.

The stations of the cross supposedly started with St Francis of Assisi, and this is interesting, since “Francis” is the name chosen by the current and recently elected Pope. It will be interesting to see how far this apparently humble man can extend his concern for the poor throughout his church. Interestingly, he has included women and non-christians in his “washing of the feet” ritual for Maundy Thursday.

Pope Francis washes feet
Pope Francis washes feet

Hot Cross Buns

I thought about cooking “Hot Cross Buns” for a while, but finally decided to make an attempt at cooking some. There are three components to Hot Cross Buns, firstly the buns themselves, secondly the cross on the top, and thirdly the glaze. I used this recipe from the New Zealand Herald. Here’s the result.

Hot cross buns

The dough was straightforward, but included extra ingredients like sultanas. An interesting observation was that the sultanas seemed to pop out of the dough if they came to the surface during kneading!

After the usual kneading and rising the dough was divided into buns and the cross was put onto them. The cross was a simple mixture of flour and water but piping it onto the buns was a challenge. Unlike frosting or icing I didn’t find it easy to finish a line. I snipped the line of ‘cross’ with kitchen scissors to end it. A wet finger tidied up, but I wasn’t completely happy with the crosses (and they turned out to be chewy. The dog benefited!)

As a final step, when the buns were cooked, the glaze was applied. It’s a simple gelatine glaze, but I’ve not done one before, so I was pleased with the results. The glaze gave, as intended, a nice shiny, sticky finish to the buns.

The buns tasted great, so I consider this a great success.

Hot cross buns

Morals and Ethics


Almost every philosophy book, or at least the ones that deal with the whole of philosophy, has a section on morals and ethics. I’ve always been suspicious of such chapters as the topic seems to me to be a little vague, even for philosophy.

I saw a news report about a group of people who, at some risk to themselves, formed a human chain to rescue a boy in trouble in the sea. I asked the question “Would you have risked your life, like these people did to save the boy’s life or would you merely stand and watch?” Some of rescuers, notably the policemen who initially formed the chain, had to be helped out of the sea themselves.

I realised that I’d asked an unanswerable question. It very much depends on the circumstances. If you sincerely thought that your “help” would merely hinder the rescue, or if you sufferred from a medical condition such as a heart problem, then you would merely watch the rescue, no doubt willing the rescuers on. If you were fit and healthy and no other issues prevented you, you would no doubt take part, almost instinctively.

English: Hungarian Medal for Bravery

It strikes me from the above that morals and ethics don’t have any absolutes. There is no situation where it is completely obvious what the right course is. Should you kill one person to save a million? There is a school of thought called “Utilitarianism”, {link:} suggests that the best way to decide would be to consider the options and choose the that “maximizes utility, specifically defined as maximizing happiness and reducing suffering” (See the above link).


The trouble with this approach is that no two people would agree on the calculations involved. What if the person who is to be killed is your son or daughter? What is the situation were slightly less clear? Should a killer be put to death to protect his potential future victims?

Death Row

Some people introduce deities to provide an absolute basis for ethics and morals, but this merely shifts the question to deity – how does the deity provide moral and ethical direction? The question is no longer “What should I do?” but “What would God want me to do?” The believer has to make subjective moral judgements about the way that God would want morals to work. The believer is in fact no further on.

Moses receives the Tablets of the Law, and hea...

This seems to reduce morals and ethics to subjective opinions, a view known as “Relativism”. The religious view is that God (or whatever the deity is being called) sets the absolutes, so there can be no moral relativism. The difficulty with this view is that we are no further along in determining the absolutes if they are absolutes. It seems that different deities have different absolutes, and the same deity’s “absolutes” may change over time – the morals and ethics of earlier times is different to the morals and ethics of earlier times. For example slavery was OK at one time but is not OK today. In any a special class of people has evolved whose whole life is based on the need for the deities views to be defined and interpreted.

I’d suggest that most people treat moral and ethical matters more or less pragmatically, depending on their culture and upbringing. Those who are not on the breadline tend to consider that accepting an unemployment benefit or other benefit is somehow not morally correct while those without jobs are happy to claim them. If someone on a benefit were to suddenly become rich, and a rich person become desititute then they would get an idea of each other’s viewpoint. I’d suggest that the erstwhile rich person would accept the dole with reluctance, and their moral qualms would subside and the reverse would happen to the suddenly enriched beneficiary, who might come to feel that those on benefits are getting too much of his money. Hopefully the enriched beneficiary would have a more enlightened view than the erstwhile rich person had, though, having actually been a beneficiary at one time.

Huts and unemployed, West Houston and Mercer S...

While researching on the Internet on this topic, I came across this set of articles about morality and the brain {Link:} They are worth a look. One of the points is that the emotional side of the brain makes a decision, maybe about the killing of a child to save many, and the rational side tries to figure out why the emotional side made the decision. Maybe the discussion is pointless. Maybe most moral decisions made in the heat of the moment are made emotionally and all discussions on what the correct course should be are post-decision rationalizations. If that is so, then there is no real point in discussing what is right and moral as rational decisions do not come into it. But then again, maybe such decisions inform and incline the emotional side of the brain when it makes a decision. Maybe that’s what makes discsussion of moral and ethics topics in philosophy seem so fuzzy and unsatisfactory to me.

reason, conclusion - emotion, action
reason, conclusion – emotion, action (Photo credit: Will Lion)

Stuffed Baked Potatoes

Found at
Unfortunately these are not my baked potatoes. Click to see the source page.

Well, cheesy baked potatoes would be more accurate. I took two large potatoes, washed them and pierced them, and stuck them in the oven at 220 degrees centigrade. I checked them at 30 minutes, at 45 minutes, and one hour and still they weren’t completely done! Maybe they were too big. Almost certainly they were too big.

When they were done (I thought) I hollowed out the potatoes and mashed the innards and added the cheese. Then I put the cheesy mix back into the potatoes and put the potatoes back in the oven for 15 minutes.

As it turned out, while the top part of the potatoes was fully cooked, the bottom parts were OK, but could have done with a bit more cooking. Who would have thought that simple baked potatoes could have been such an issue?

Baked potatoes with cheese

The lessons I’ve learned is to use smaller potatoes – large ones take a long time. Also, I think I should have turned the potatoes at least once.

Cheesy potatoes

As usual I looked on the Internet for advice. To summarize the advice there, I could have wrapped the potatoes in foil, or zapped them in the microwave. If I take either of these approaches in the future, I could finish them off in the oven to crisp the skin before removing the innards and stuffing them.

Stuffed Marrow (a dismal failure)

I nearly didn’t post this, since it didn’t really work! All my previous “culinary experiments” have been passable or better, but this attempt was barely eatable. The marrow was under-cooked and the mince was well-cooked. Anyway, on with the story!

First, I cooked the onions in a frying pan with a little olive oil, and added the mince, browned it off, and added some stock. The usual thing. I cooked some carrots in another saucepan and added them to the mince, and added some sliced mushrooms towards the end.

Secondly, I sliced the marrow into two 10 centimetre sections and peeled them and removed the seeds leaving two rings of marrow flesh. Some people cook marrow with the skin on, like courgettes, but I’m used to removing the skin. Some time I will try them with skin on.

I then lightly oiled the marrow rings and placed them on a baking tray and filled them with the mince. They then went into the over for 30 minutes at 200 degrees centigrade. The result looked like this:

Marrow rings stuffed with beef mince
Marrow rings stuffed with beef mince

Here is a marrow ring plated up:

Stuffed marrow rings plated up with spaghetti

OK, as you can see from the above the marrow rings look very white, whereas they should have been a translucent green. Indeed they proved to be under-cooked. The mince stuffing was very dry on top and it should have been moist.

So, where did I go wrong? Firstly, I didn’t look up a recipe before I started to cook, since I thought that I could wing it. Bad idea! Secondly, had I read a recipe, I would have wrapped the stuffed marrow in foil before I put it into the oven. (Although this other recipe doesn’t use foil. It does cook at a slightly lower temperature.) I would probably still have created the rings, just for the look of it, but many recipes recommend halving the marrow to make a boat shape. Another options would be change the stuffing to something moister eg with added rice.

Oh well, next time…

A note on Silver Beet (Swiss Chard)

Silver Beet AKA Swiss Chard (Photo credit: Garden Club2011)

I’ve seen recipes for Silver Beet which use only the green leafy part of the plant. What a tragedy! The stalk part (white or red) is the best part. I usually pull off a stalk from the bunch then slice it into 10 – 15 cms length, all the way to the top of the leaf. Then the whole lot is dumped into boiling salted water for a few minutes. When cooked the green parts wilt down like spinach and the stalks become translucent and creamy.

In the picture below the cook has sliced the silver beet (swiss chard) into 2 – 3 cms lengths. I prefer them sliced into longer pieces.

Chard rice soup / Olleta de bledes vegana
Chard rice soup / Olleta de bledes vegana (Photo credit: Lablascovegmenu) The cook has sliced the stalks into short lengths.

Silver Beet Quiche

I had a couple of large bunches of silver beet and while I love silver beet I wanted to try something a bit different. I haven’t yet made much pastry so I thought I’d give it a try. I went looking for a quiche recipe and came across this Bacon and Leek Quiche recipe which I used as a basis.

Silver beet
Silver beet

So, first of all I made some pastry, using the food processor, and put it into the fridge for 30 minutes. Then I started on the filling.  I put the silver beet on to cook, in salted water. I cut the silver beet into length of 10 – 15 cms. I know that there are people who slice it up small and maybe add it to a stir-fry, but I very much prefer it cooked by itself. Silver beet cooks very quickly so it is also very easy to cook it this way.

A little butter, some milk, cheese and eggs were called for and I used the proportions as in the recipe. However I should have read the recipe more closely – the butter was used to cook the leeks in the original recipe, so I should have melted it before adding to the milk cheese and eggs. Instead I blended the whole lot and it didn’t look too nice, sort of curdled. I reasoned that the cooking process would sort it out. I had no option, apart from ditching the lot!

I retrieved the pastry from the fridge and rolled it out and lined the dish with it. I put some paper in the dish and put some lentils in the paper, I then put the pastry on to cook blind for 10 minutes as instructed in the recipe. Well, it took a lot longer than that to cook, probably because I’d rolled it out a little thickly, I suspect. I’d say about 30 minutes before the pastry was lightly browned at the edges and not too soft in the middle. I’ve looked at various recipes for baking pastry blind since, and they vary tremendously. Some people recommend up to 30 minutes, and some say that it is not necessary to use lentils or beans while baking pastry blind.
So I took the lentils and paper out and filled the case with layers of silver beet and milk cheese and eggs mixture, topped it with some more cheese and put it back in the oven for the recommended 30 minutes. I was a little worried that the pastry edges would burn, but they didn’t and the quiche browned up nicely! Here it is, straight from the oven!

Straight out of the oven

When I took it out of the dish it came out fine and didn’t break up, thank goodness.

Out of the dish

Here it is plated up with a rustic salad!

Plated up with a rough salad!

Plato extended

English: The School of Athens (detail). Fresco...

Plato conceived the idea that each and every real physical object is an inferior representation of an idealised “Form”. Forms were supposed to be “more real” in some sense than the ordinary real world objects that the Form idealises. Wikipedia says this, in its article on the theory of Forms:

These Forms are the essences of various objects: they are that without which a thing would not be the kind of thing it is. For example, there are countless tables in the world but the Form of tableness is at the core; it is the essence of all of them.

There are several issues with this approach. For instance, when one looks at a table, one can count its legs. Many tables have four legs, while some may have more than four and some may have less than four. Some may rest on a pedestal and so have no legs at all.

So what is the essence of a table? It seems that there are many attributes of tables that are variable, like the number of legs, which is pretty shoddy for an ideal of an object. One could define a table by the uses to which it is put, but again the uses to which a table can be put are variable. We have writing tables, operating tables and pool tables. It seems that there is no attribute can be found which has a single value which makes a table a table.

For Plato the Form of a physical object is the richer of the the two. In the Analogy of the Cave, the real world objects were mere shadows of the Forms. However, it appears that the real world objects have to be richer than the ideals of the objects. This derives from the necessity of distinguishing one real object from another. This table here is different from that table there (in spacial location if in nothing else), and specific location is an attribute that the ideal cannot have.

like being in the Plato’s cave
A shadow in Plato’s cave

Computer scientists have a solution to these issues, based around the concept of an “object”. An object is a container which may contain other objects, properties, or actions (called “methods” in the jargon) and which belongs to a class of objects. A table object for example may contain zero or several leg objects, it may contain the property of being wooden, and may contain the actions or methods of “lay”, “dine off”, “clear”, and so on.

English: Showing the main components of a class

Included objects can be considered parts of the object like the legs of the table. The properties are descriptive of the object, such as “wooden” or the property of “has four legs”. The actions or methods are things that you can do to the table, such as “dine off” it or “lay it for dinner”.

All objects belong to a class of objects and are called “instances” of the class. Each class is unique. There is only one class called “table” for example, and all table objects (instances of the class) derive or in other words are instantiated from it.  A class is also a container and may bring properties and methods to the derived instance, so the table class may contain an action or method of “lay for dinner” and a property of “has four legs”.

English: Diagram of relationship between objec...
English: Diagram of relationship between objects and classes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So far so good. The Form equates to the class and the real world object to the instance object, so the computer science model aligns with Plato’s model. However the computer science model has a few more wrinkles which Plato’s model doesn’t.

Firstly, when the object is instantiated in the computer science model, the new object doesn’t have to incorporate the properties and actions or methods of the class that it is modelled on. For example, if the new table is used for writing letters, then it doesn’t need the action or method of “lay for dinner” so it can omit it. On the other hand it may benefit from a “clear space” action or method! It would probably carry over a “has four legs” property if the class supplies it. The instantiation process is very flexible! Class properties and actions or methods can be included in the instance or new properties and actions or methods can be created, if required.

Secondly, each and every object can implement one or more classes. This is a fancy way of saying that it can pick and choose properties and actions or methods from one or more classes. In other words a table object may be made of wood, hence, to use the jargon, it inherits from the class of “wooden objects” the action or method “polish”. We can polish a wooden object, and we can eat off a table object, so we can do both off a wooden table.

English: answer to the question: Draw an inher...
Inheritance diagram

The point of all this is to address some of the deficiencies of Plato’s theory of Forms. Plato’s idea was that any table object derived from an archetypal table Form, which was not a real world object but still existed in some sense. The idealised Form was considered “purer” and was the essence of a table, comprising only those attributes shared by all tables. The difficulty here is finding any attributes that every table has, and which no “non-table” has. Using the extended Platonian scheme, if you extract all the properties and actions or methods that are not common to all tables, it seem that you might be left is an empty Form.

Empty (Photo credit: joshwept)

That may seem to be a disadvantage of this approach, but it is a strength. What sort of object do you get if you have an object which contains two box objects and a plank object? If you add the action or method of “eat off” you have a “dining table object” possibly with a property of “make-shift”.

So, under this extended Platonian scheme, what actually makes a table object a table object and not some other type of object? That’s actually a lot harder question than the question of what is a table object. Evidently it is a more subjective question as people will disagree what constitutes a table.

table with chairs
table with chairs (Photo credit: srqpix)