Monday, February 25, 2013

Short Story: "The Machine Stops" by E.M. Forster

A wonderful story by E.M. Forster (this was his only sci-fi work) about a world dominated by the machine, where all human interaction has died and people only communicate in a virtual environment. Keep in mind, this book was written in 1909:

Imagine, if you can, a small room, hexagonal in shape, like the cell of a bee. It is lighted neither by window nor by lamp, yet it is filled with a soft radiance. There are no apertures for ventilation, yet the air is fresh. There are no musical instruments, and yet, at the moment that my meditation opens, this room is throbbing with melodious sounds. An armchair is in the centre, by its side a reading-desk-that is all the furniture. And in the armchair there sits a swaddled lump of flesh-a woman, about five feet high, with a face as white as a fungus. It is to her that the little room belongs.

An electric bell rang. The woman touched a switch and the music was silent. "I suppose I must see who it is", she thought, and set her chair in motion. The chair, like the music, was worked by machinery and it rolled her to the other side of the room where the bell still rang importunately.

 "Who is it?" she called. Her voice was irritable, for she had been interrupted often since the music began. She knew several thousand people, in certain directions human intercourse had advanced enormously. But when she listened into the receiver, her white face wrinkled into smiles, and she said: "Very well. Let us talk, I will isolate myself. I do not expect anything important will happen for the next five minutes-for I can give you fully five minutes, Kuno. Then I must deliver my lecture on “Music during the Australian Period”."

She touched the isolation knob, so that no one else could speak to her. Then she touched the lighting apparatus, and the little room was plunged into darkness. "Be quick!" She called, her irritation returning. "Be quick, Kuno; here I am in the dark wasting my time." But it was fully fifteen seconds before the round plate that she held in her hands began to glow. A faint blue light shot across it, darkening to purple, and presently she could see the image of her son, who lived on the other side of the earth, and he could see her.

"Kuno, how slow you are." He smiled gravely. "I really believe you enjoy dawdling."
 "I have called you before, mother, but you were always busy or isolated. I have something particular to say."
"What is it, dearest boy? Be quick. Why could you not send it by pneumatic post?"
 "Because I prefer saying such a thing. I want----"
 "I want you to come and see me."
 Vashti watched his face in the blue plate. "But I can see you!" she exclaimed. "What more do you want?"
 "I want to see you not through the Machine," said Kuno. "I want to speak to you not through the wearisome Machine."
 "Oh, hush!" said his mother, vaguely shocked. "You mustn"t say anything against the Machine." 
"Why not?"
 "One mustn"t."
 "You talk as if a god had made the Machine," cried the other. "I believe that you pray to it when you are unhappy. Men made it, do not forget that. Great men, but men. The Machine is much, but it is not everything. I see something like you in this plate, but I do not see you. I hear something like you through this telephone, but I do not hear you. That is why I want you to come. Pay me a visit, so that we can meet face to face, and talk about the hopes that are in my mind."
 She replied that she could scarcely spare the time for a visit.
 "The air-ship barely takes two days to fly between me and you."
"I dislike air-ships."
 "I dislike seeing the horrible brown earth, and the sea, and the stars when it is dark. I get no ideas in an air- ship."
 "I do not get them anywhere else."
 "What kind of ideas can the air give you?"
 He paused for an instant. "Do you not know four big stars that form an oblong, and three stars close together in the middle of the oblong, and hanging from these stars, three other stars?"
 "No, I do not. I dislike the stars. But did they give you an idea? How interesting; tell me."
 "I had an idea that they were like a man." "I do not understand." "The four big stars are the man"s shoulders and his knees. The three stars in the middle are like the belts that men wore once, and the three stars hanging are like a sword."
 "A sword?;"
 "Men carried swords about with them, to kill animals and other men."
 "It does not strike me as a very good idea, but it is certainly original. When did it come to you first?"
 "In the air-ship-----" He broke off, and she fancied that he looked sad. She could not be sure, for the Machine did not transmit nuances of expression. It only gave a general idea of people - an idea that was good enough for all practical purposes, Vashti thought. The imponderable bloom, declared by a discredited philosophy to be the actual essence of intercourse, was rightly ignored by the Machine, just as the imponderable bloom of the grape was ignored by the manufacturers of artificial fruit. Something "good enough" had long since been accepted by our race.
 "The truth is," he continued, "that I want to see these stars again. They are curious stars. I want to see them not from the air-ship, but from the surface of the earth, as our ancestors did, thousands of years ago. I want to visit the surface of the earth." She was shocked again. "Mother, you must come, if only to explain to me what is the harm of visiting the surface of the earth."
 "No harm," she replied, controlling herself. "But no advantage. The surface of the earth is only dust and mud, no advantage. The surface of the earth is only dust and mud, no life remains on it, and you would need a respirator, or the cold of the outer air would kill you. One dies immediately in the outer air."
 "I know; of course I shall take all precautions."
 "And besides----"
 She considered, and chose her words with care. Her son had a queer temper, and she wished to dissuade him from the expedition. "It is contrary to the spirit of the age," she asserted.
 "Do you mean by that, contrary to the Machine?"
 "In a sense, but----" His image is the blue plate faded.
 "Kuno!" He had isolated himself.
 For a moment Vashti felt lonely. Then she generated the light, and the sight of her room, flooded with radiance and studded with electric buttons, revived her. There were buttons and switches everywhere - buttons to call for food for music, for clothing. There was the hot-bath button, by pressure of which a basin of (imitation) marble rose out of the floor, filled to the brim with a warm deodorized liquid. There was the cold-bath button. There was the button that produced literature. and there were of course the buttons by which she communicated with her friends. The room, though it contained nothing, was in touch with all that she cared for in the world.
 Vashanti"s next move was to turn off the isolation switch, and all the accumulations of the last three minutes burst upon her. The room was filled with the noise of bells, and speaking-tubes. What was the new food like? Could she recommend it? Has she had any ideas lately? Might one tell her one"s own ideas? Would she make an engagement to visit the public nurseries at an early date? - say this day month. To most of these questions she replied with irritation - a growing quality in that accelerated age. She said that the new food was horrible. That she could not visit the public nurseries through press of engagements. That she had no ideas of her own but had just been told one-that four stars and three in the middle were like a man: she doubted there was much in it.
Then she switched off her correspondents, for it was time to deliver her lecture on Australian music. The clumsy system of public gatherings had been long since abandoned; neither Vashti nor her audience stirred from their rooms. Seated in her armchair she spoke, while they in their armchairs heard her, fairly well, and saw her, fairly well. She opened with a humorous account of music in the pre Mongolian epoch, and went on to describe the great outburst of song that followed the Chinese conquest. Remote and primæval as were the methods of I-San-So and the Brisbane school, she yet felt (she said) that study of them might repay the musicians of today: they had freshness; they had, above all, ideas. Her lecture, which lasted ten minutes, was well received, and at its conclusion she and many of her audience listened to a lecture on the sea; there were ideas to be got from the sea; the speaker had donned a respirator and visited it lately. Then she fed, talked to many friends, had a bath, talked again, and summoned her bed.

Read the whole thing here:

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Book Review: "God is more than Enough" by Tony Evans

This is my first Tony Evans book. That is, it's the first one I've read. I've got his How Should Christians Vote? hanging out on the Kindle waiting on me to have time to give it the attention it may or may not deserve. Other than that, from my perspective he's basically been a name in the "religious" section at the bookstore, and I'm not even sure I could tell you which part of the religious section.

With all of that said, I was pleasantly surprised by this little book. Not that it's spectacular exegesis or anything like that, it's just a perfectly serviceable meditation on Psalm 23. (I say this in the context of having just finished reading several commentaries on Psalm 23 in preparation for covering it in Bible study.)

A few points on the book:

First, the author did an excellent job of highlighting the Gospel aspects of the Psalm. It's all too easy to read a Psalm like this and keep it vaguely touchy-feely, without remembering that Jesus is the good Shepherd, and that the way he cares for us most is through his sacrifice in our place on the cross. For that reason alone, I'm happy to recommend this book.

Second, the author stresses that God is sovereign--is our shepherd--in every aspect of life. Again, the temptation is either to over- or under-spiritualize this text. That is, one can either read this as God just being sovereign over your soul and not caring what you do day-to-day, or you can read this as God caring only for your physical well-being, and not caring about the state of your soul and your relationship with him. Evans stresses that God is our Shepherd in every aspect of human existence and in all circumstances. God is sovereign over our spiritual and physical lives in every situation in our lives.

My main quibble with the book is occasionally his choice of language. For example, in the chapter on God meeting our physical needs, he wanders near (but never really comes to) the idea that God will always make sure we are well-fed and employed. Again, he doesn't actively say this -he even explicitly says that God will be with us in suffering rather than taking our suffering away- but his language and use of examples leave the door open just enough that the reader ought to use a bit of caution.

That quibble aside, I am happy to recommend this book as something useful on Psalm 23 (though not so much as Henry or Calvin's commentaries, linked above).

This book was provided free by the publisher on the condition that I review it. I was not required to write a positive review.

Book Review: "Civilisation" by Kenneth Clark

Kenneth Clark may not know what civilization is, but he darn sure knows it when he sees it. Specifically, he knows it when he sees it in art and architecture.

A Confession:

This was a textbook I was assigned in high school. Specifically, by Ms. Scott for our Humanities class. I... may have read significantly less of it than I should have. (I did read everything assigned from our American Lit book, as well as all of Oedipus Rex and Beowulf, so it's not like I was a total slacker.) Apparently it is also a collection of the transcripts (mixed with images) from a 1960s BBC documentary, which I also have not seen.


This book is an overview of Western Civilization from about 1000 through the early 1900s from the perspective of Kenneth Clark and focused especially on art and architecture (but especially on art). Clark begins with the declaration that civilization only made it through the Dark Ages by "the skin of our teeth." Which immediately shows his own inclination- were he a Medievalist he would bristle at the idea of a "Dark Ages." Yet, despite the shrill cries of that stripe of scholar (apologies to my Medievalist friends), there was something almost lost in that stretch between the collapse of Rome and the rise of the Holy Roman Empire. And while I do not necessarily agree with all of Clark's conclusions, I think at least a couple of them are worthy of note. Again, he doesn't specifically outline a definition of "civilization", yet I think we can identify a couple of its characteristics based on his writings:

  • Civilization involves a sense of permanence--a connection not only with the past (any culture can have that, however primitive), but also with the future. For example, buildings in a civilization are constructed not just for the current generation and not just as an expression of the trends of the moment, but to last for future generations as well. (Hence Clark's focus on architecture.) There is a sense, not even necessarily an articulated one, that what is being captured in stone will exist beyond the present moment for the indefinite future. 
  • Civilization involves an attitude of confidence. Certainly since the Renaissance this has meant a confidence in humanity and its abilities. (Earlier, of course, the certainty would have been certainty in God, or even in the church.) 
Obviously, these two points are related- one doesn't build for the future unless one is confident that the future is somewhat certain. If a bunch of naked barbarians could stream out of the forest at any minute and kill you and burn what you've built, there's not much point in doing the hard work of spending the time and effort to construct things out of stone. 
That said, the "confidence" aspect of civilization Clark applies mostly to art, especially the artists' confidence in engaging with the natural and supernatural world. From ~1000 to the early 20th century, the growth of civilization has meant the development of the human soul as it relates to others, nature, God, and itself. This relationship has meant an increasing confidence in the ability of man to understand and engage these aspects of the world. That has been the nature of Western Civilization, at least according to Kenneth Clark.*

This is certainly a well-written and interesting book, and would probably be worth picking up in the television form (should the price ever drop to something reasonable). I certainly don't know enough about either art or architecture to challenge any of his assertions in those areas. I do know that such a focus means an largely excluding Protestants (not completely, of course) and emphasizing Catholicism. Which is fine and probably even fair.
What I think is interesting and worthy of some reflection is the whole question of what this "civilization" thing is in the first place. This is one of the questions I often ask my students (without really knowing the answer myself): how is "civilization" different from "barbarism", and why does it matter? I've gotten a whole spectrum of answers, ranging from modern versions of the ancient Greek rule of reason vs. rule of emotion/appetite, to Christian vs. reprobate, to variations on Clark's preservation vs. destruction. As I said, I'm not entirely sure what the answer is, and as a Christian I don't know how much I should be focused on that anyway. If all people need the Gospel (and they do) whether civilized or barbarian, it's hard to get on the hobby horse about which is which.
With that said, I think there is some value to civilization- value beyond the greater material accomplishments that wealth and order allow. (Remember that Attila was pretty darn rich and certainly had an ordered camp.)  And I suppose Clark's suggestion that such value comes through artistic Beauty is as good an explanation as any.

Recommended for those interested in philosophy, art, history, and related subjects.

*And according to Victor Davis Hanson, who basically explores the same topic as it applies to warfare in the Ancient World in one of his older books called The Western Way of War. This book is also worth reading, though Hanson has unfortunately gone a bit crazy these past few years...

Monday, February 11, 2013

So you think you're a skeptic? Book Review: "Outlines of Pyrrhonism" by Sextus Empiricus

Are you skeptical about things? Is your instinct to disbelieve what others tell you, however trustworthy it seems and however often I've they've been right in the past? Well, let me tell you that you've got nothing -nothing- on the ancient Greek skeptics.

We all know that the major figures of ancient philosophy are Plato, Aristotle, and a bunch of others. (Maybe also Cicero, if you were educated prior to the 1950s.) The author of Outlines of Pyrrhonism, Sextus Empiricus, is one of those "others"- and not a particularly significant other at that. As even the publisher's intro to this book admits, he is more important for preserving these ideas -already old in his own day- than he is for any original thought or great philosophy himself. With that said, this book is still utterly fascinating, if a bit long at times.

The overarching goal of Skepticism ( = "Pyrrhonism") is "ataraxia", or peace within the soul--translated variously in my edition as either "tranquility" or "quietude." This is the goal of many (most?) philosophical systems both ancient and modern: how can I understand myself, God, and the world and consequently be at peace? In pursuit of this quietude, most of the Hellenistic philosophies turned to dogmatic declarations about their three primary categories of concern: logic, physics, and ethics. That is, by making absolute claims about reason (logic), the material about which we reason (physics), and how our lives should be shaped by reason and reality accordingly (ethics), the dogmatic philosophies all promised peace within the soul if only one would endorse and live according to these doctrines.

And a note on the "dogmatic" philosophies: "dogmatic" is the name Sextus gives pretty much any philosophy that makes an absolute truth claim. He mostly engages the Stoics (the dominant philosophy of the Roman era), but also is clearly aware of and responsive to the Epicureans, Cynics, Platonists, Pythagoreans, Sophists, and Aristotelians.

The Skeptic Argument:

In response to the absolutism of the dogmatists, Skeptics claimed a different path to peace. Rather than trying to walk through their beliefs, it's perhaps easiest to dive in with an example. A dogmatist will say something like this:

Absolute truth (A): Matter exists.

Which seems reasonable enough, until we realize that there is another dogmatist out there -sometimes even from a different branch of the same school- who can quite reasonably make the exact opposite claim:

Absolute truth (B): Matter is an illusion.

Both A and B are asserted by the dogmatists with the full backing of both reason and experience. What, in this case, are we to do? The dogmatists will say that we need to compare A and B and decide which is right. If we consult and use reason, we can arrive at the truth.

Here is where the skeptic will accuse the dogmatist of cheating. When we are asked to be the philosophical judge and choose which is right between A and B, the Skeptic will point out that we can only truly judge between the two if we already know the answer to begin with. That is, to declare with certainty that A is true, or that B is true, you have to already know which is the case. But the point of the argument is that we do not know already. "Reason" only works as a tool to discover the truth when it is already in possession of some truth upon which to build. When we question those foundational truths (and what is philosophy if not that?) reason -even rightly used reason- fails us and traps us in either infinite regress or circular reasoning.

Again, note that the Skeptic is being as generous as possible and assuming that the rationality and the use of evidence on the part of each dogmatic position are legitimate. Our temptation is of course simply to declare for the side we already agree with and then decree that the other position has made an error of judgment. But, the Skeptic claims, when we do that we haven't solved the problem, we've just shown our own bias as judge.

So what are we to do? First, Sextus argues, we have to put to death our own dogmatism and see the legitimate aspects of the other side of the argument. We do this by opposing "appearances to judgments." (17) That is, we need to realize the opposition that exists between what our sense-perception tells us about the world and what the various judgments of the dogmatic philosophical systems claim. When we see this opposition, we then need to stop taking the side of whichever dogmatic philosophy we are inclined toward and be willing to examine each position carefully. This willingness to admit the strengths of each argument is called the "suspension of judgment." Much of the text of the Outlines of Pyrrhonism is dedicate to walking through many different schools of thought and exposing their weaknesses and strengths (mostly weaknesses) not in order to establish a contrary dogmatic truth, but rather to lessen our reliance on any kind of dogmatic truth in the first place. In the fields of logic, ethics, and physics, Sextus systematically demolishes the claims of the dogmatists by revealing their inherent weaknesses.

There are a number of ways the Skeptic can do this. Sextus talks about the "ten", "five", "two", and "eight" modes of skepticism. These are the different branches of Skeptic thought which have developed through the centuries and been used variously against the dogmatists. The "ten modes" explore specific arguments that reveal the faults of human thinking, such as the "fact of relativity." Here, Sextus argues,
we are plainly left with the conclusion that we shall not be able to state what is the nature of each of the objects in its own real purity, but only what nature it appears to possess in its relative character. (57)
Two millennia before Hume and Einstein, there was Sextus!

The "five modes" are broader in scope and involve showing that all dogmatic claims ultimately can be traced back to infinite regress, circular reasoning, or other such fallacies (discrepancy, relativity, and hypothesis, if you care). The "two" and the "eight" modes of Skepticism have to do with the uncertainty of our perceptions and the difficulties of establishing causation, though Sextus thinks that these last two sets of modes aren't really as useful as (and may even be variants of) the "five." By all of these modes, the dogmatic arguments are shown not to be so authoritative as they appear at first glance.

What Skeptics "Believe"

So, if skeptics reject all dogmatic claims, what truths do they hold to? How do they even express themselves? Of course, the skeptic will claim to hold to no truth, not even the truth that they hold to no truth (Sextus was very familiar with that particular challenge). They do, however, have certain expressions they draw upon to help others understand. Sextus goes through a number of these, but the two that (I think) he uses most often are:

  • "I determine nothing." But, we would ask, isn't this in itself a determination? Sextus goes on: "The skeptic determines nothing, not even the very proposition 'I determine nothing'; for this is not a dogmatic assumption, that is to say assent to something nonevident, but an expression indicative of our own mental condition. So whenever the skeptic says 'I determine nothing,' what he means is 'I am now in such a state of mind as neither to affirm dogmatically nor deny any of the matters now in question.' And this he says simply by way of announcing undogmatically what appears to himself regarding the matters presented, not making any confident declaration, but just explaining his own state of mind." (74-75)
  • "I suspend judgment." This is the most common formula in the book, and the one Sextus repeatedly calls us to. 
Again, these are not intended to be dogmatic assertions, but rather expressions of the soul who has released dogma and is standing apart with suspended judgment from the issues being raised. And what we find when we have suspended judgment and withdrawn our soul from deep commitment to dogmatic claims and all the stress and fighting that attend such claims is that we are at peace. The act of suspension of judgment results in the very ataraxia which was being sought to begin with. (I sense some Buddhist overtones here, though I am not familiar enough with Eastern thought to speak further to that.) True peace within comes not from clinging to uncertain truth, but from release from clinging to anything certain at all. 

And, I think there is some appeal to this kind of thought, even if the problems with it are obvious. We all at times want to step back and throw up our hands and announce with relish "I don't know!" There is a sense of peace to be had from not stepping into the fray or taking a side when there are relative strengths to be seen in both parties. And of course there can even be an element of humility to confessing ignorance in the face of the deepest philosophical problems. 

For all those strengths, however, the problems with Skepticism are many, too many to go into here. I'll just note that as a Christian I simultaneously believe that there is an absolute truth (contra-Skepticism) and that I am not capable of knowing it completely in my own faculties (pro-Skepticism), but that I can be made capable of knowing enough of the Person who is Truth by grace (no idea what Sextus would have thought of that). 

A Note on Practice

One question that immediately springs to mind when we hear the claims of the Skeptics -especially in the context of the example I used about matter above- is that of practice. If they really doubt both the existence and illusion of matter, if they didn't go around occasionally bumping into walls and falling off cliffs doesn't that mean that they are really dogmatic at heart? If they conform in practice to the claims of those that say "matter exists," aren't they refuting their own ideology? Such arguments can be made across the board- if they say "I suspend judgment" as to whether or not cannibalism is bad but they never eat human flesh, well, their actions seem to have revealed their true beliefs. 

Sextus has a reply to this as well. Several times throughout the text he mentions what he calls the "ordinary rules of life." (e.g. 267) That is, in general the Skeptic obeys the dominant custom of his land. In his opinion and thoughts he remains skeptical, of course, but in his soul he does everything with the understanding that he is simply obeying convention. As a result, even these conventional actions take on a tinge of the peaceful life as his souls expresses itself in action. This sounds kind-of like a cheat (we think one thing, but we do another just to get along), but on reflection it does work. If we really can't be certain about good or evil, then we might as well go along with the crowd- we don't know that it will hurt us any. So long as we remember that neither virtue nor vice is in question, we'll keep our state of ataraxia and enjoy the state of soul that our skepticism has brought about.

For those one or two of you who 1) are still reading and 2) actually might read this book someday, you don't have to read the whole Outlines of Pyrrhonism- much of it is repetitive analysis and application of Skeptical principles to strains of thought or ideas of the day. All of which would be interesting by themselves, but taken together it gets a bit tedious. I recommend that you read only the following sections and save yourself a bit of headache:

I. 1-177, 197-209
II. 1-22, 48-87, 193-228 (for a taste of application), 244-246 (day-to-day life), 251-259 (on sophistry)
III. 1-37, 168-187 (ethics), 188-242 (virtue and the 'art of living'), 250-279 (education), 280-281 (the Skeptic method and goal)
Recommended for those interested in ancient philosophy. If nothing else, Sextus provides a good compendium of some of the later Hellenistic and Roman philosophies, since he walks through a number of them in his quest to show how little absolute truth they actually contain.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Life without the Harpy: The Baking Attempt

Since my personal gravity has begun to affect the tides on the Eastern Shore, I have been for the past few weeks enduring the South Beach Diet. The first phase is 2-4 weeks long and involves removing all carbs and sugar completely from your diet. It is hell, though I forget which circle exactly:

The second phase (South Beach Phase Two=SBP2) is when you begin to add the "good" carbs (whole grains) and sugars (fruit) back into your diet. I like to think of this as the donut phase, since I've found a recipe for baked, whole grain donuts on the internet (here, if you're interested). The domestic harpy keeps a running blog of her cooking adventures (sorry, it's not available to the general public, though she has some nice stuff on books and movies that you can read here and here), so I thought I'd give that a whirl too. Well, that and cooking- that's also a bit out of my wheelhouse.

Okay, so, here we go.

Step One:

"Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease doughnut pan well (I use spray oil with flour in it i.e. Baking by Pam)."

Oven = preheating. Boom! Half the step out of the way! This cooking crap is easy, I don't know what women are always complaining about.

Use oil with flour in it? I'm not sure what that means, but hopefully Pam alone will be a close enough substitute.

Hmm, a "donut pan", I'm not sure what that is... Google to the rescue!

Fortunately, I know where she keeps the pans and such.

It appears we do NOT have a donut pan. Clearly, the wife has failed here.

Okay, new plan. I will now be making SBP2 friendly muffins. Because that's the pan we have.
Granted, the wife already made muffins before she left and there are still a few in the fridge, but at this point I'm committed to the project and not going to let something like lack of supplies stand in my way.

Still on step one, I need to wash off the muffin pan first, since it's been down near the mice. Which means I need to clean out the sink.

Somehow, I've ended up doing dishes before I've even started cooking. Is this normal? I feel as if something is amiss...

Okay, pan is washed and greased, the stove is preheated, and step 1 is in the bag!

Step Two:

"Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg and pecans (if using) together in a medium mixing bowl."

The recipe apparently calls for either "white whole wheat flour" or "unbleached all-purpose flour," and sugar. But! I don't want these to just be kind of SBP2 friendly, I want the full endorsement what's-his-name (Atkins? I think it's Atkins) who created the diet. Consequently I will be using Splenda and Red Mill Whole Wheat Flour. I fully expect to receive a call from Dr. Atkins thanking me for my bold new initiative in dietary healthiness.

I've added the flour and Splenda.
For future reference, the Splenda box has something called a "pour spout" and DOES NOT NEED TO BE OPENED FROM THE TOP.

If any Splenda company representatives are reading this, you should consider noting on the front that there is a spout on the side. Making the important things prominent is important for a business...

Okay, flour Splenda, baking powder, baking soda (disaster narrowly averted there-- you'd be amazing how alike baking powder and baking soda look), and salt all added. As for the 1/8 tsp nutmeg... is that even a measurable quantity? Shouldn't it be like a "pinch" or something? [Sigh]
Okay, eyeballing a 1/8 tsp nutmeg:

Close enough.

Dry ingredients mixed, step 2 is DONE. But... 1 tsp, 1/2 tsp, 1/4 tsp... All my measuring spoons are used. Which means doing dishes again. Just a few utensils, but still. Grr...

Dishes are done. And just as I was drying them, I remembered the extra measuring spoons stuck on the side of the fridge. [Sigh]

Step Three:

"Whisk yogurt, milk, egg, oil and flavorings together in a separate small bowl. Combine all at once with dry ingredients and stir only until everything is moistened."

Have been "cooking" for an hour. It is now 6pm, and thanks to the South Beach diet, I am hungry. Yet, I feel that should I stop at this point entropy will kick in and the world will collapse. Or at the very least, I will never finish making this. And even though I don't particularly care for cooking, stopping now would not only waste the ingredients already used, but I'm pretty sure it would be the equivalent of starting a book and then not finishing. I FINISH THE BOOKS I START.

This experience is reinforcing my hatred of cooking and my generally dim view of the universe.
But agreeing with Solomon is no reason to be a quitter, so I power on.

On opening the yogurt, it... doesn't look good. Like, kind of lumpy and gross. Does yogurt go bad? Should it be lumpy? Does it get moldy? Isn't it already some sort of mold?

You can't see in the picture, but there are definitely little white lumps in it.
I consider microwaving it to kill any bacteria that might have grown in it while on the shelf in the store, but since that might ruin the recipe (microwaving ingredients can do that, right? didn't I pick that up from my grandmother at some point?), I decide just to add it anyway and trust to Providence.

Finally, all wet ingredients mixed together and added to the dry.
Step three-- check!

Step Four:

"Spoon batter into pastry bag or quart-size zippered plastic bag. Seal. Snip small corner of plastic bag and force dough out of hole in a fat rope that encircles each doughnut cup. Fill only ½ to ¾ full or you will lose the hole in the middle of your doughnut. Makes 12 donuts and possibly 3-4 “donut holes” in a mini cupcake pan. Bake for 9-10 minutes."

Spoon batter into... wait, what? What is a "pastry bag"? Something that apparently a Ziploc bag is a legitimate substitute for? What kind of witchcraft is this? [Sigh] Once more to Google.

Apparently, according to whatever lunatic wrote this recipe, this

equals this

You know what? To heck with it- I'm sick of cooking and ready for dinner in any case. I'll just do what they say and when I'm standing there with a plastic baggie full of dough looking like a moron, I'll have good cause to write an angry comment afterwards.

Done! The result?

Actually... the Ziploc bag worked pretty well, once I checked the instructions again and remembered to snip the corner off.
And in retrospect, since I do NOT have a donut pan, I probably could have skipped the ziploc bag stage completely and spooned the dough directly into the muffin tin. [Sigh]
Well played, recipe maker, well played indeed.

I'm not entirely sure why there were only eleven instead of twelve, but I'm willing to concede that it may have been user error in this case.
Or possibly, the pan was wrong.

Okay, just ten short minutes from now and I will have South Beach approved donuts/muffins... doffins? munuts?

Scones. I have made South Beach Phase Two friendly scones.

Total time elapsed: Two Hours.

And now... more dishes.