Martha and Me
The Case of the Inhomogeneous Cheese Slice
I have to admit that I am disappointed. Of the vast number of people who read this blog, I have not had a single response to the Think Like A Richard Quiz item below.
One would think that at least a handful of Russian scholars would be conversant with this fellow (or at least his accomplishments) and would by now have offered elucidation. But not a word from anyone. So, of course I have a story to tell...
A few years ago I was eating a slice of Swiss cheese. This was not a particularly distinguished breed of Emmentaler, but rather an ordinary slice such as one picks up for sandwichal activities, as an ingredient or as a substrate and bread-substitute. As I was munching in a more or less linear fashion, I noticed that the flavor was changing from one end of the slice to the other. Hmmm. Repeating the action to verify it was the cheese itself and not some gustatorial illusion, I concluded that the cheese slice was indeed inhomogeneous. Not recalling having encountered such a cheesy variation in the past, I did what I always do in such matters: I accosted the nearest human female, which, as often is the case, was my long-suffering housemate.
After describing the notable lack of uniformity in this single cheese slice, I proceeded to pester her with interminable questions about why this might be so. Possibly she felt that it was not a valid subject for deep examination, for she delivered this verdict: "Richard, cheese making is not an exact science."
Harumph. As someone—probably Asimov—pointed out, the most valuable exclamation a scientist can utter is not "Eureka," but rather "That's funny..." And why isn't cheese making an exact science, anyway? I did not delude myself that this supermarket-grade "Swiss" cheese came from anything other than a giant vat in Mr. Kraft's basement, and so should be consistent. I decided that this indeed is a valid subject for deep examination, and decided to inquire of an expert. This event occurred several years ago, at which time one Martha Stewart held forth daily on a teevee program about home- and food-related issues. I wrote to Martha, explaining my "That's funny" moment with a slice of cheese. I entreated her to explain this anomaly.
Not so long thereafter Ms. Stewart found herself in deep trouble with the government of the United States of America, which eventually sent her to prison and then to home detention. Despite the fact that she never responded to my entirely reasonable question about cheese, I had no ill will for her. In fact, I felt that she should be acquitted of all the charges against her based on the following facts:
These admittedly extrajudicial and conscious (on my part) considerations apparently held no sway over the karmic necessity for punishing her with respect to her non-response vis-à-vis the question of the inhomogeneous cheese slice. She has served her time and I am reluctant to belabor her further, lest a moment's inattention to my email result in further unpleasantness. Thus, not only does the cheese question remain unresolved for me, but I have encountered an additional fromagic conundrum: Small wheels of Saga brand Creamy Brie, while individually consistent, have a surprising amount of variability, from pungent to bland, from very soft to fairly sturdy, when compared to a group of their conspecifics. Perhaps I shall find a more responsive expert in the future.
back to the essay question: