Mar 182019

Today is the birthday (1846) of Kicking Bear, also called Matȟó Wanáȟtaka, an Oglala Lakota who became a band chief of the Miniconjou Lakota Sioux. He fought in several battles with his brother, Flying Hawk and first cousin, Crazy Horse during the War for the Black Hills, including Battle of the Greasy Grass (Little Bighorn). Kicking Bear was one of the five warrior cousins who sacrificed blood and flesh for Crazy Horse at the Last Sun Dance of 1877. The ceremony was held to honor Crazy Horse one year after the victory at the Battle of the Greasy Grass, and to offer prayers for him in the trying times ahead. Crazy Horse attended the Sun Dance as the honored guest but did not take part in the dancing. The five warrior cousins were brothers Kicking Bear, Flying Hawk and Black Fox II, all sons of Chief Black Fox, also known as Great Kicking Bear, and two other cousins, Eagle Thunder and Walking Eagle.

Kicking Bear was also a holy man active in the Ghost Dance religious movement of 1890, and had traveled with fellow Lakota Short Bull to visit the movement’s leader, Wovoka (a Paiute holy man living in Nevada). The Lakota men were instrumental in bringing the movement to their people who were living on reservations in South Dakota. Following the murder of Sitting Bull, Kicking Bear and Short Bull were imprisoned at Fort Sheridan, Illinois. Upon their release in 1891, both men joined Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, and toured with the show in Europe, although they found the experience humiliating. After a year-long tour, Kicking Bear returned to the Pine Ridge Reservation to care for his family.

In March 1896, Kicking Bear traveled to Washington, D.C. as one of three Lakota delegates taking grievances to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He made his feelings known about the drunken behavior of traders on the reservation, and asked that Native Americans have more ability to make their own decisions. While in Washington, Kicking Bear agreed to have a life mask made of himself. The mask was to be used as the face of a Sioux warrior to be displayed in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.

Kicking Bear painted his account of the Battle of Greasy Grass at the request of artist Frederic Remington in 1898, more than twenty years after the battle. Kicking Bear was buried with the arrowhead as a symbol of the ways he so dearly desired to resurrect when he died on May 28th, 1904. His remains are buried somewhere in the vicinity of Manderson-White Horse Creek.

Wohanpi has been a classic Lakota dish for centuries, but there is not really much to give in the way of a recipe because in its traditional form it is made from what you might expect: hunted meat and gathered vegetables. It could be made with bison, elk, or the like, with wild onions and timpsula (wild turnip). You get the idea. These days, Lakota cooks may make it with beef, potatoes, and carrots yet still call it wohanpi. A version made with beef, potatoes, and carrots would certainly be symbolic of what has happened to the Lakota over the years, but if you want to truly celebrate Kicking Bear you might try to get some bison, elk, or deer meat, and simmer it (cubed) for several hours along with whatever vegetables indigenous to North American you can find – preferably wild. That’s something of a challenge, but it can be done. There are sites such as this one for example. Good Hunting.

Mar 172019

The lead image here is called “Burst of Joy” a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph by Associated Press photographer Slava “Sal” Veder, taken on this date, 1973 at Travis Air Force Base in California. The photograph came to symbolize the end of United States involvement in the Vietnam War, and the prevailing sentiment that military personnel and their families could begin a process of healing after enduring the horrors of war. I will talk about Vietnam’s healing after the atrocities committed by the U.S. military in a bit (yesterday was the anniversary of the Mỹ Lai Massacre in 1968).

The first group of POWs leaving the prison camps in North Vietnam left Hanoi on a U.S. Air Force Lockheed C-141 Starlifter strategic airlift aircraft nicknamed the Hanoi Taxi, which flew them to Clark Air Base in the Philippines for medical examinations. On March 17th, the plane landed at Travis Air Force Base in California. Even though there were only 20 POWs of that first increment released aboard the plane, almost 400 family members turned up for the homecoming. Lt Col Robert L. Stirm, USAF gave a speech, “on behalf of himself and other POW’s who had arrived from Vietnam as part of Operation Homecoming.”

Smithsonian Magazine says that “Veder, who’d been standing in a crowded bullpen with dozens of other journalists, noticed the sprinting family and started taking pictures. ‘You could feel the energy and the raw emotion in the air’.” Veder then rushed to the makeshift photo developing station (for 35 mm film) in the ladies’ room of the air base’s flightline washrooms, while the photographers from United Press International were in the men’s. Smithsonian Magazine says that “In less than half an hour, Veder and his AP colleague Walt Zeboski had developed six remarkable images of that singular moment. Veder’s pick, which he instantly titled “Burst of Joy,” was sent out over the news-service wires”.

The photograph depicts United States Air Force Lt Col Robert L. Stirm being reunited with his family, after spending more than five years in captivity as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. Stirm was shot down over Hanoi on October 27th, 1967, while leading a flight of F-105s on a bombing mission, and was not released until March 14th, 1973. The centerpiece of the photograph is Stirm’s 15-year-old daughter Lorrie, who is excitedly greeting her father with outstretched arms, as the rest of the family approaches directly behind her.

Despite outward appearances, the reunion was an unhappy one for Stirm. Three days before he arrived in the United States, the same day he was released from captivity, Stirm received a “Dear John” letter from his wife Loretta (running happily to greet him in the photo) informing him that their marriage was over. Stirm later learned that Loretta had been sleeping with his fellow officers back home throughout his captivity, receiving marriage proposals from three of them. In 1974, the Stirms divorced and Loretta remarried, but Stirm was still ordered by the courts to provide her with 43% of his military retirement pay for alimony and child support once he retired from the Air Force. Stirm was later promoted to full Colonel and retired from the Air Force in 1977.

So . . . how much of what we see in the photo is real? The photo became the image of what the end of the war meant for the United States, but it is an extraordinarily limited depiction of all that was actually going on. Even at that moment Stirm felt utterly betrayed by his wife. Ever after, he could not bring himself to look at the photo. Certainly the joy of his children was real. Certainly, also, the feeling of joy of the US nation was quite real. The feeling in Vietnam was not in any sense equivalent. The country had been oppressed by the French colonial masters for well over 100 years, and, when they were finally evicted, the country was divided by civil war, and the US moved in to support the South against the North. When the US finally pulled out – defeated – the country had been devastated by endless bombing, chemical attacks, and civilian massacres. “Burst of Joy” is a reasonable depiction of the relief that the US felt at the ending of a war that had divided the nation politically, but the US did not have to face the decades of reconstruction and renewal that Vietnam had to face. A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but this one tells a most lopsided story. Pardon me, but I live on the Mekong Delta across from Saigon, so you will understand that my vision is a little skewed.

Pho is the classic Vietnamese dish that can be found in infinite varieties across Vietnam. Pho with beef is absolutely standard, and the heart of the dish is the broth made by long boiling of marrow bones with spices. This video gives you the general idea but you have to go to Vietnam for the real experience. These days you can buy concentrates to make the broth at home, but they do not have the richness nor complexity of a broth made from scratch.


Mar 162019

Today is another coincidence day – the birthdays of two Amsterdam authors of the Dutch Golden Age: Gerbrand Adriaenszoon Bredero (1585) and P. C. Hooft (1581). Not surprisingly, they were friends and collaborated, but there is no record of them ever having a shared birthday party. We will have to make up for the omission.

Bredero was born in Amsterdam in the Dutch Republic, where he lived his whole life. He called himself “G.A. Bredero, Amstelredammer”, and sometimes he is called Breero or Brederode. He was the third child of Marry Gerbrants and Adriaen Cornelisz Bredero, who was a shoemaker and a successful real estate agent. Bredero was born in the Nes, nowadays number 41, and in 1602 he and his family moved to a house on Oudezijds Voorburgwal, now number 244, which his father had bought. Bredero lived in this house for the rest of his life. Both houses are now restaurants in Amsterdam’s famous red light district.

At school Bredero learned French and possibly also some English and Latin. Later he was educated as an artist by the Antwerp painter Francesco Badens, but none of his paintings have survived. In 1611 he became a member of the rederijkerskamer d’Eglantier (“Eglantier rhetoric chamber”), where he was an active member and became friends with Roemer Visscher and P.C.Hooft. Together with Hooft he supported Samuel Coster in the creation of Nederduytsche Academie (First Dutch Academy) which was intended to provide a better environment for the production of plays than the rederijkerskamers. Around this time he wrote the play De Spaanschen Brabander Ierolimo. Between 1611 and 1618, seven of his plays were produced in Amsterdam.

The only public position Bredero achieved was as vaandrig or standard bearer of the civic guard. On 23rd August 1618, at the age of 33, Bredero suddenly died, shortly after he had recovered from pneumonia that he had contracted after falling through ice. He never married.

Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft, often abbreviated to P.C. Hooft, was born in Amsterdam as the son of the then mayor, Cornelis Hooft. In 1598, his father sent him to France and Italy in order to get prepared for a career as merchant. However, Pieter was more interested in art. In particular, he was deeply impressed by the Italian renaissance. In 1609, he was appointed bailiff of Muiden and the Gooiland. He founded the Muiderkring, a literary society located at his home, the Muiderslot, the castle of Muiden, in which he got to live due to his appointment as sheriff of Muiden. Among the members were the poets and playwrights Constantijn Huygens, Maria Tesselschade, Bredero and Joost van den Vondel, as well as the Portuguese singer Francisca Duarte.

Hooft was a prolific writer of plays, poems and letters, and his output can be divided into three periods: (1) 1602 – 1611, love poems (2) 1612- 1618, plays (3) 1618 onwards, history. After the death of Bredero, he concentrated on writing his history of the Netherlands (Nederduytsche Historiën), inspired by Roman historian Tacitus. His focus was primarily on the Eighty Years’ War between the Netherlands and Spain. Though his avowed intent in this work was to give a report of the events which was as impartial as possible, he did not really succeed. The first volumes of his massive history were published in 1642, but he died in 1647 before the full oeuvre was in print.

The classic cookbook of the Dutch Golden Age is De Verstandige Kok (The Sensible Cook), published in 1669. Despite the fact that the Dutch dominated the spice trade for centuries, their cooking has never been overwhelmingly spicy. The term “bland” more frequently comes to mind, but in the Golden Age there was an emphasis on variety, freshness, and quantity. You may also be familiar with numerous still lifes of tables groaning with attractive raw ingredients. Here is chicken stewed with vegetables which is meatier than the title suggests. The hen is cooked with mutton (for a rich broth) and veal meatballs are added along with the vegetables.

Om een Hoen te stoven met Groen.

Neemt een goet Hoen wel gesuyvert, laet met eenige stucken Schape-vleesch, met weynigh Zout koken, half gaer zijnde, doet daer by in een stoof-panne, wat Sausisen of kleene Frickedil, oock een goede handt vol Endivie, Salaet, Suringh en Sellery, oock Aspargies, en voor al de Boter niet te vergeten.

To stew a hen with greens

Take a good chicken, well cleaned, and boil it with some pieces of mutton with a little salt. When it is half done, add some sausages or small meatballs in a stewing pan, and a large handful of endives, lettuce, sorrel and celery, also asparagus. Especially do not forget the butter.

Om Frickedillen te maken.

Neemt Kalfs-vleesch, met Kalfs-vet ghehackt, doet daer by Foelie, Noten, Zout, Peper, kneet wel onder een, dan kont gy daar van maken soo groot en kleyn als ‘t u belieft, oock heel in de panne braden; veele nemen een weynigh van de uytterste Schilletjes dun afgeschilt, van Orangie-appelen of Lamoenen, en daer heel kleyn onder gekerft, geeft een heel goede geur, en smakelijck.

To make meatballs

Take veal, chopped with veal fat, add mace, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Knead it well together. You can make them as large or small as you like, or fry it [the chopped meat] in one piece in the pan. Some people take a little of the zest of an orange or lime. Chopped small with the meat it gives a very good fragrance, and very tasty.






Mar 152019

Today is the birthday (1851) of Sir William Mitchell Ramsay, FBA, a Scottish archaeologist and Biblical scholar. Although Ramsay was educated in the Tübingen school of thought (founded by F. C. Baur) which doubted the reliability of the Greek Testament, his extensive archaeological and historical studies convinced him of the historical accuracy of the Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline epistles. His work, unlike that of Biblical archeologists who worked primarily on the foundations of Israel in his day, is still respected (with qualifications).

Ramsay was born in Glasgow, Scotland, the youngest son of a third-generation lawyer, Thomas Ramsay and his wife Jane Mitchell (daughter of William Mitchell. His father died when he was 6 years old, and the family moved from Glasgow to the family home near Alloa. He studied at the University of Aberdeen, where he achieved high distinction and later became Professor of Humanity. He won a scholarship to St. John’s College, Oxford, where he obtained a first class in classical moderations (1874) and in literae humaniores (1876), that is, Latin and Greek. He also studied Sanskrit under Theodor Benfey at Göttingen. In 1880 Ramsay received an Oxford studentship for travel and research in Greece. At Smyrna, he met Sir C. W. Wilson, then British consul-general in Anatolia, who advised him on inland areas suitable for exploration. Ramsay and Wilson made two long journeys during 1881-1882.

He traveled widely in Asia Minor and rapidly became the recognized authority on all matters relating to the districts associated with Paul’s missionary journeys and on Christianity in the early Roman Empire. Greece and Turkey remained the focus of Ramsay’s research for the remainder of his academic career. In 1883, he discovered the world’s oldest complete piece of music, the Seikilos epitaph. He was known for his expertise in the historic geography and topography of Asia Minor and of its political, social, cultural, and religious history. He was made a fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, in 1882. From 1885 to 1886 Ramsay held the newly created Lincoln Chair of Classical Archaeology and Art at Oxford and became a fellow of Lincoln College (honorary fellow 1898). In 1886 Ramsay was appointed Regius Professor of Humanity at the University of Aberdeen. He remained affiliated with Aberdeen until his retirement in 1911.

Ramsay was known for his careful attention to 1st century CE events, particularly the Acts of the Apostles and Pauline Epistles. When he first went to Asia Minor, many of the cities mentioned in Acts had no known location and almost nothing was known of their detailed history or politics. Acts was the only record and Ramsay, skeptical, fully expected his own research to prove the author of Acts hopelessly inaccurate since no one author could possibly know the details of Asia Minor more than a hundred years after the events described therein (the dating of Luke-Acts in Ramsay’s day – since revised earlier). He therefore set out to put the writer of Acts on trial. He devoted his life to unearthing the ancient cities and documents of Asia Minor. After a lifetime of study, however, he concluded:

Further study … showed that the book [Acts] could bear the most minute scrutiny as an authority for the facts of the Aegean world, and that it was written with such judgment, skill, art and perception of truth as to be a model of historical statement. . . . I set out to look for truth on the borderland where Greece and Asia meet, and found it there. You may press the words of Luke in a degree beyond any other historian’s and they stand the keenest scrutiny and the hardest treatment.

When Ramsay turned his attention to Paul’s letters, most of which the critics dismissed as forgeries, he concluded that all thirteen New Testament letters that claim to have been written by Paul were authentic. Contemporary scholars are a good deal more guarded on this point. There is nearly universal consensus in modern scholarship on a core group of authentic Pauline epistles whose authorship is rarely contested: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon.  Scholarly opinion is sharply divided on whether or not Colossians and 2 Thessalonians are genuine letters of Paul. The remaining four contested epistles – Ephesians, as well as the three known as the Pastoral epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus) – have been labeled pseudepigraphical (falsely bearing Paul’s name) by most critical scholars. The primary opposition to Pauline authorship for the contested epistles is linguistic: the Greek in them does not accord with Paul’s style, and, in the latter cases, contain numerous anachronisms.

Here is an Anatolian recipe for lamb with purslane and pulses that now uses New World ingredients (such as tomato paste and chiles), which I have eliminated to give something closer to an ancient recipe. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) was a common green in antiquity but is not so easy to find these days outside the Mediterranean, although it is used in Mexican cooking.  It is easy to grow. It has a slightly sour taste. Cooking times here are approximate. You must check the lamb when it is cooking to be sure it is tender before adding other ingredients.

Anatolian Lamb Stew

½ cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained
¾ cup small brown lentils
¼ cup olive oil
5 oz boneless lamb shoulder, cubed
1 onion, peeled and
1 ½ lb purslane, thick stems discarded and leaves coarsely shredded
½ cup coarse bulgur
2 tbsp minced garlic
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
chopped spearmint, leaves
salt and black pepper

chopped green onions and lemon wedges (for serving)


In separate pots, cover the chickpeas and lentils with water, bring to the boil and simmer until cooked (about 1 hour). Drain and reserve the cooking liquid.

In a large, cast-iron pot, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the lamb and cook until browned. Stir in the onion, and cook until softened but not browned. Add ½ cup of water and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for 40 minutes, stirring from time to time and adding liquid if it becomes too dry.

Add the purslane, bulgur and ½ cup each of the reserved chickpea and lentil cooking liquids to the pot. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Add the chickpeas, lentils, garlic and enough water to barely cover. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a small skillet, heat the remaining oil. Add the spearmint and ground black pepper to taste. When the oil begins to sizzle, give it a stir and drizzle it over the stew. Stir once and let stand for 30 minutes. Serve the stew at room temperature or let cool, then refrigerate and serve chilled the following day. Serve the scallions and lemon at the table.

Mar 142019

On this date in 1885, The Mikado; or, The Town of Titipu, a comic opera in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert, opened in London, where it ran at the Savoy Theatre for 672 performances, which was the second-longest run for any work of musical theatre and one of the longest runs of any theatre piece up to that time. Before the end of 1885, it was estimated that, in Europe and America, at least 150 companies were producing the opera. I first saw a school production of The Mikado in South Australia when I was 12.  I had already seen an amateur production of H.M.S. Pinafore, so I was aware of Gilbert and Sullivan. Mikado cemented my interest, and when I moved to England a few years later I saw the D’Oyly Carte company at the Savoy Theatre in London several times. I can sing most of the famous male arias from memory even now, although my interest in the music has faded quite considerably.

The movie Topsy-Turvy does a halfway decent job of evoking the era when Mikado was first produced, although it commits numerous historical errors. Gilbert and Sullivan had had remarkable success with their previous collaborations but interest in their work had reached a plateau. The opera immediately preceding The Mikado was Princess Ida (1884), which ran for nine months, a short duration by Savoy opera standards. When ticket sales for Princess Ida showed early signs of flagging, the impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte realized that, for the first time since 1877, no new Gilbert and Sullivan work would be ready when the old one closed. On 22nd March 1884, Carte gave Gilbert and Sullivan contractual notice that a new opera would be required within six months. Sullivan’s close friend, the conductor Frederic Clay, had suffered a serious stroke in December 1883 that effectively ended his career. Reflecting on this, on his own precarious health, and on his desire to devote himself to more serious music, Sullivan replied to Carte that “it is impossible for me to do another piece of the character of those already written by Gilbert and myself”. Gilbert, who had already started work on a new libretto in which people fall in love against their wills after taking a magic lozenge, was surprised to hear of Sullivan’s hesitation. He wrote to Sullivan asking him to reconsider, but the composer replied on 2nd April 1884 that he had “come to the end of my tether” with the operas:

     …I have been continually keeping down the music in order that not one [syllable] should be lost…. I should like to set a story of human interest & probability where the humorous words would come in a humorous (not serious) situation, & where, if the situation were a tender or dramatic one the words would be of similar character.

Gilbert was hurt, but Sullivan insisted that he could not set the “lozenge plot.” In addition to the improbability of it, it was too similar to the plot of their 1877 opera, The Sorcerer. Sullivan returned to London, and, as April wore on, Gilbert tried to rewrite his plot, but he could not satisfy Sullivan. The parties were at a stalemate, and Gilbert wrote, “And so ends a musical & literary association of seven years’ standing – an association of exceptional reputation – an association unequaled in its monetary results, and hitherto undisturbed by a single jarring or discordant element.” However, by 8th May 1884, Gilbert was ready to back down, writing: “am I to understand that if I construct another plot in which no supernatural element occurs, you will undertake to set it? … a consistent plot, free from anachronisms, constructed in perfect good faith & to the best of my ability.” The stalemate was broken, and on 20th May, Gilbert sent Sullivan a sketch of the plot to The Mikado. It would take another ten months for The Mikado to reach the stage.

Topsy-Turvy repeats numerous historical inaccuracies concerning how Gilbert conceived of Mikado’s setting. He was not inspired by an exhibition of Japanese culture in Kensington, which began after he had already mapped out the first act. Nor was he prompted by the accidental fall of a Japanese sword in his study. Both tales have been debunked numerous times. It is more likely that he simply found Japanese culture appealing given that in the 1860s onwards, Japanese artefacts and photography were popular in London.  It should also be noted that the plot has very little to do with Japan. The purpose of the opera was to lampoon British politics and culture, but by setting it in Japan, Gilbert  avoided being entirely direct about his intentions.

Gilbert did take advantage of the presence of the Japanese exhibition to imbue the performance with some authentic cultural notes as illustrated in this clip:


Mrs Beeton supplies this recipe which contains a note about Chinese or Japanese origins of endive.  Later she also comments on the use of soy sauce in cooking, although at the time it was generally unknown in Britain. She claims that Japanese soy sauce is superior to Chinese, but I doubt that she knew anything about the matter. It is her birthday today, anyway, so I felt it fitting to include one of her recipes.


  1. INGREDIENTS.—6 lbs. of shin of beef, a knuckle of veal weighing 5 lbs., a few pieces or trimmings, 2 slices of nicely-flavoured lean, ham; 1/4 lb. of butter, 2 onions, 2 carrots, 1 turnip, nearly a head of celery, 1 blade of mace, 6 cloves, a hunch of savoury herb with endive, seasoning of salt and pepper to taste, 3 lumps of sugar, 5 quarts of boiling soft water. It can be flavoured with ketchup, Leamington sauce (see SAUCES), Harvey’s sauce, and a little soy.

Mode.—Slightly brown the meat and ham in the butter, but do not let them burn. When this is done, pour to it the water, and as the scum rises, take it off; when no more appears, add all the other ingredients, and let the soup simmer slowly by the fire for 6 hours without stirring it any more from the bottom; take it off, and let it settle; skim off all the fat you can, and pass it through a tammy. When perfectly cold, you can remove all the fat, and leave the sediment untouched, which serves very nicely for thick gravies, hashes, &c.

Time.—7 hours. Average cost, 1s. per quart.

Seasonable all the year.

Sufficient for 14 persons.

ENDIVE.—This plant belongs to the acetarious tribe of vegetables, and is supposed to have originally come from China and Japan. It was known to the ancients; but was not introduced to England till about the middle of the 16th century. It is consumed in large quantities by the French, and in London,—in the neighbourhood of which it is grown in abundance;—it is greatly used as a winter salad, as well as in soups and stews.

 Posted by at 10:33 pm
Mar 132019

Today is the birthday (1593) of Georges de La Tour, a French Baroque painter, who spent most of his working life in the Duchy of Lorraine, which was temporarily absorbed into France between 1641 and 1648. He painted mostly religious chiaroscuro scenes lit by candlelight. His style is reminiscent of Caravaggio, whose chiaroscuro paintings I particularly like, and try to replicate the feeling sometimes in my photography.

Georges de La Tour was born in the town of Vic-sur-Seille in the diocese of Metz, which was technically part of the Holy Roman Empire, but had been ruled by France since 1552. Baptismal records show that he was the son of Jean de La Tour, a baker, and Sybille de La Tour, née Molian. La Tour’s educational background is unclear, but it is assumed that he traveled either to Italy or the Netherlands early in his career. He may possibly have trained under Jacques Bellange in Nancy, the capital of Lorraine, although their styles are very different. Although his paintings reflect the Baroque naturalism of Caravaggio, the ideas probably reached him through the Dutch Caravaggisti of the Utrecht School and other Northern (French and Dutch) contemporaries.

In 1617 he married Diane Le Nerf, from a minor noble family, and in 1620 he established his studio in her quiet provincial home-town of Lunéville, part of the independent Duchy of Lorraine which was occupied by France, during his lifetime, in the period 1641–1648. He painted mainly religious and some genre scenes. He was given the title “Painter to the King” (of France) in 1638, and he also worked for the dukes of Lorraine in 1623–4, but the local bourgeoisie was his main market. He is not recorded in Lunéville between 1639 and 1642, and may have traveled again at this point. He was involved in a Franciscan-led religious revival in Lorraine, and over the course of his career he moved to painting almost entirely religious subjects, but in treatments with influence from genre painting. The entire de La Tour family died in 1652 in an epidemic in Lunéville.

La Tour is best known for the nocturnal light effects which he developed much further than his artistic predecessors had done, and transferred their use in the genre subjects in the paintings of the Dutch Caravaggisti to religious painting in his. Unlike Caravaggio his religious paintings lack dramatic effects. He painted these in a second phase of his style, perhaps beginning in the 1640s, using chiaroscuro, careful geometrical compositions, and very simplified painting of forms. His work moves during his career towards greater simplicity and stillness—taking from Caravaggio very different qualities than Jusepe de Ribera and his Tenebrist followers did.

He often painted several variations on the same subjects, and his surviving output is relatively small. His son Étienne was his pupil, and distinguishing between their work is difficult. The version of the Education of the Virgin in the Frick Collection in New York is an example, as the Museum itself admits. Another group of paintings (example left), of great skill but claimed to be different in style to those of La Tour, have been attributed to an unknown “Hurdy-gurdy Master”. All show older male figures (one group in Malibu includes a female), mostly solitary, either beggars or saints.

After his death at Lunéville in 1652, La Tour’s work was forgotten until rediscovered by Hermann Voss, a German scholar, in 1915; some of La Tour’s work had in fact been confused with Vermeer, who underwent his own rediscovery in the nineteenth century.

Here is your gallery:

The cooking of Lorraine is akin to neighboring Alsace, and, of course, is well known for quiche Lorraine which I have given a recipe for already. There are also posts with recipes for other Lorraine specialties. Here, instead, is a video focusing on the wine making region of the Moselle valley (with some hokey stuff about Roman times). At around 9:20 is a section on making various kinds of flammkuchen, a Moselle regional specialty.


Mar 122019

Today is the birthday (1864) of William Halse Rivers (W.H.R) Rivers, FRCP, FRS, an English anthropologist, neurologist, ethnologist and psychiatrist, who has two claims to fame: first as an ethnographer and second in treating First World war officers who were suffering from “shell shock” (post-traumatic stress disorder).

Rivers had a quirky and illustrious family background, including an uncle who lost a leg on HMS Victory at the battle of Trafalgar, kin who studied stammering and also anthropology, and rafts of distinguished clergymen. His childhood was also noteworthy. After the age of 5, he had no ability to form visual memories, and, ironically, given the family history, had a pronounced stammer. Rivers was set to follow family tradition and take his University of Cambridge entrance exam, possibly with the aim of studying Classics, but his plans were thwarted when, at the age of 16, he was struck down by typhoid fever and forced to miss his final year of school. Without a scholarship, his family could not afford to send him to Cambridge.

His illness had been a bad one, entailing long convalescence and leaving him with effects which at times severely handicapped him. Whilst recovering from the fever, Rivers had formed a friendship with one of his father’s speech therapy students, a young army surgeon, and through the friendship decided to study medicine and apply for training in the Army Medical Department. He studied at University of London and St Bartholomew’s Hospital. He qualified as a physician in 1886 but was found physically unfit for military service, so, instead, he signed on as a ship’s surgeon, journeying to Japan and North America, and beginning a lifetime of world travel.

On his return to England, Rivers qualified as a specialist in neurology and began to take an interest in the nascent field of psychology. He delivered papers to the Abernethian Society of St. Bart’s on “Delirium and its allied conditions” (1889), “Hysteria” (1891), and “Neurasthenia” (1893). In 1892, Rivers traveled to Jena to expand his knowledge of experimental psychology. Whilst in Jena, Rivers became fluent in German and attended lectures, not only on psychology but on philosophy as well. In his diary he wrote: “I have during the last three weeks come to the conclusion that I should go in for insanity when I return to England and work as much as possible at psychology.”

In 1893 he was offered a teaching post at Cambridge, but he continued to lecture at Bart’s and University College, London. With ill equipped facilities at Cambridge he embarked on studies of sensory perception, especially color vision, and then on the effects of coffee, tea, alcohol, and tobacco on muscular and mental endurance. In the latter case, he was aware that there were psychosomatic effects as well as purely physical ones, and so invented the double blind test (in which neither the tester nor the subject being tested knows whether the substance being taken is an active drug or a control placebo). In 1904 with the assistance of professor James Ward, Rivers founded and subsequently edited the British Journal of Psychology.

In 1898 Alfred Cort Haddon made Rivers first choice to head an expedition to the Torres Straits. Rivers’ first reaction was to decline, but he soon agreed on learning that C.S Myers and William McDougall, two of his best former students, would participate. The other members were Sidney Ray, C.G Seligman, and a young Cambridge graduate named Anthony Wilkin, who was asked to accompany the expedition as photographer.

From Thursday Island, several of the party found passage, soaked by rain and waves, on the deck of a crowded 47-foot ketch. In addition to sea sickness, Rivers had been badly sunburnt on his shins and for many days had been quite ill. On 5th May, in a bad storm nearing their first destination of Murray Island, the ship dragged anchor on the Barrier Reef and the expedition almost met disaster. When the ketch dropped anchor, Rivers and Ray were at first too ill to go ashore. However, the others set up a surgery to treat the native islanders and Rivers, lying in bed next-door tested the patients for color vision. He developed positive feelings for the work and a deep concern for the welfare of Melanesians for the rest of his life.

In the course of his examinations of the visual acuity of the locals, Rivers showed that color blindness did not exist or was very rare, but that the color vision of Papuans was not the same type as that of Europeans; they possessed no word for blue, and applied the same name to the brilliant blue sea or sky as to the deepest black. Rivers also began collecting family histories and constructing genealogical tables. At this point his purpose appears to have been more biological than ethnological since such tables seem to have originated as a means of determining whether certain sensory talents or disabilities were hereditary. However, these simple tables soon took on a new perspective. It was at once evident to Rivers that the names applied to the various forms of blood relationship did not correspond to those used by Europeans, but belonged to what is now known as a ‘classificatory system’ whereby some kin are given terms based on their social relationship, not on blood relationship. This was a revolutionary finding, still of great importance in anthropological kinship studies. The Torres Straits expedition was revolutionary in many other respects as well. For the first time, British anthropology had been removed from its armchair theorizing and placed on a sound empirical basis, providing the model for future anthropologists to follow.

The expedition ended in October 1898 and Rivers returned to England. Subsequently he went to Egypt to run tests on the color vision of Egyptians, but he wanted a demographically small, fairly isolated people, comparable to the island societies of the Torres Strait, where he might be able to get genealogical data on each and every individual. The Todas in the Nilgiri Hills of Southern India suited his needs, and he ended up producing a detailed ethnography of them that became a model for subsequent ethnographers.

From 1908 until the outbreak of the First World War  Rivers was mainly preoccupied with ethnological and sociological problems. He relinquished his official post as lecturer in experimental psychology in favor of Charles Samuel Myers, and now held only a lectureship on the physiology of the special senses. By degrees he became more absorbed in anthropological research. But though he was now an ethnologist rather than a psychologist he always maintained that what was of value in his work was due directly to his training in the psychological laboratory. In the laboratory he had learnt the importance of exact method.

During 1907–8 Rivers traveled to the Solomon Islands, and other areas of Melanesia and Polynesia. His two-volume History of Melanesian Society (1914), presented a diffusionist thesis for the development of culture in the south-west Pacific. In the year of publication he made a second journey to Melanesia, returning to England in March 1915, to find that war had broken out. When Rivers returned to England in spring 1915, he had trouble at first finding a place for himself in the war effort. He signed up to serve as a civilian physician at the Maghull Military Hospital near Liverpool. Upon his arrival in July 1915, he was appointed as a psychiatrist to treat “insanity” in soldiers, by which was meant working with soldiers who had been diagnosed as suffering from any of a wide range of symptoms, which were collectively referred to as “shell shock.” These soldiers were known to demonstrate symptoms such as temporary blindness, memory loss, paralysis, and uncontrollable crying. As such, by the time Rivers was assigned to Maghull War Hospital, it was known as the “centre for abnormal psychology,” and many of its physicians were employing techniques such as dream interpretation, psychoanalysis and hypnosis to treat shell shock, also known as “war neuroses.” After about a year of service at Maghull War Hospital, Rivers was appointed a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps, and was transferred to Craiglockhart War Hospital near Edinburgh. There, Rivers treated officers who had been diagnosed with “shell shock,” and he also began formulating his theory regarding the origin and treatment of the war neuroses.

Rivers, following Freud in practice but not in theoretical underpinnings, formed his own version of the “talking cure” which was primarily based on catharsis: the idea that bringing repressed memories into the light of consciousness rids memories and thoughts of their power. As a result, Rivers spent most of his days talking with the officers at Craiglockhart, guiding them through a process Rivers referred to as autogonosis. Rivers’ autogonosis consisted of two parts. The first part included “re-education,” or educating the patient about the basics of psychology and physiology. River’s method also consisted of helping a soldier comprehend that the illness he was experiencing was neither strange nor permanent.

Rivers’ approach to treating the war neuroses made him a pioneer in his day. While he was not the first to advocate humane treatment methods for the war neuroses, he was one of the few to do so in a time when there was much debate over the cause and thus the “correct” treatment for shell shock. Rivers encouraged his patients to express their emotions in a time when society encouraged men to keep a “stiff upper-lip.” River’s method, and his deep concern for every individual he treated, made him famous among his clients. Both Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves wrote highly of him during this time.

Rivers had visited his Cambridge college frequently during the war although, having resigned his position as lecturer, he held no official post. However, upon his return from the Royal Air Force in 1919, the college created a new office for him – “Praelector of Natural Science Studies” – and he was given a free rein to do as he pleased. He formed a group called The Socratics and brought to it some of his most influential friends, including H. G. Wells, Arnold Bennett, Bertrand Russell and Sassoon. Sassoon (Patient B in Conflict and Dream), remained particularly friendly with Rivers and regarded him as a mentor. Having already been made president of the anthropological section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1911, after the war he became president of The Folklore Society (1920), and the Royal Anthropological Institute (1921–1922). He was also awarded honorary degrees from the universities of Manchester, St. Andrews and Cambridge in 1919.

Rivers died of a strangulated hernia in the summer of 1922, shortly after being named as a Labour candidate for the 1922 general election. He had been taken ill suddenly in his rooms at St John’s on the evening of Friday 3rd June, having sent his servant home to enjoy the summer festivities. By the time he was found in the morning, it was too late yet he was selfless to the last. There is a document granting approval for the diploma in anthropology to be awarded as of Easter term, 1922, to an undergraduate student from India. It is signed by Haddon and Rivers dated 4th June 1922. At the bottom is a notation in Haddon’s handwriting:

Dr. Rivers signed the report on this examination on the morning of the day he died. It was his last official act. A.C.H

Rivers signed the papers as he lay dying in the Evelyn Nursing Home following an unsuccessful emergency operation. He had an extravagant funeral at St. John’s in accordance with his wishes as he was an expert on funeral rites and his cremated remains were interred in the Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground in a grave with a large stone cross. Sassoon was deeply saddened by his death and collapsed at his funeral. His loss prompted him to write two poems: “To A Very Wise Man” and “Revisitation.”

Here is a recipe from Thursday Island in the Torres Strait called nummus. It is very similar to Peruvian ceviche.

Thursday Island Nummus


500 gm white fish fillets, thinly sliced
white vinegar
½ cup of fresh lime or lemon juice
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp raw sugar
5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
5 tbsp fresh ginger, freshly chopped
1 -2 fresh chile peppers, chopped (or to taste)
1 large onion, peeled and sliced


Place the fish in a mixing bowl and pour about half a cup of vinegar over it. Turn the fish around in the vinegar with your hands, pushing and kneading. After a few minutes add half the lime of lemon juice and continue to knead for another minute. Add the salt and continue to knead for two more minutes. Add sugar, chile, garlic, ginger, onion, and mix well.

Chill for several hours or overnight.

 Posted by at 4:40 pm
Mar 112019

Today is the birthday (1915) of Joseph Carl Robnett Licklider, known simply as J. C. R. or “Lick,” a US psychologist and computer scientist who is considered one of the most important figures in computer science and general computing history. Chances are that you have never heard of him. If you are knowledgeable about the workings of the internet, you might know that LTP stands for Licklider Transmission Protocol. If I have lost you already, then I am sure you have zero idea concerning his importance. Lick is particularly remembered for being one of the first to foresee modern-style interactive computing and its application to all manner of activities; and also as an Internet pioneer with an early vision of a worldwide computer network long before it was built. He did much to initiate this by funding research which led to many innovations, including today’s canonical graphical user interface, and the ARPANET, the direct predecessor to the Internet. He has been called “computing’s Johnny Appleseed”, for planting the seeds of computing in the digital age. Licklider conceived of computers as becoming much more than complex number crunchers, and, instead, being extensions of all manner of human needs and occupations from games to general interaction.

Licklider was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the only child of Joseph Parron Licklider, a Baptist minister, and Margaret Robnett Licklider. He studied at Washington University in St. Louis, where he received a B.A. with a triple major in physics, mathematics, and psychology in 1937 and an M.A. in psychology in 1938. He received a Ph.D. in psychoacoustics from the University of Rochester in 1942. Thereafter, he worked at Harvard University as a research fellow and lecturer in the Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory from 1943 to 1950. He became interested in information technology, and moved to MIT in 1950 as an associate professor, where he served on a committee that established MIT Lincoln Laboratory and a psychology program for engineering students. While at MIT, Licklider worked on Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE), a Cold War project to create a computer-aided air defense system. The SAGE system included computers that collected and presented data to a human operator, who then chose the appropriate response. Licklider worked as a human factors expert, which helped convince him of the great potential for human/computer interfaces.

Licklider became interested in information technology early in his career. His ideas were the forerunners of graphical computing, point-and-click interfaces, digital libraries, e-commerce, online banking, and software that would exist on a network and migrate wherever it was needed. Licklider’s contribution to the development of the Internet consists of ideas, not inventions. He foresaw the need for networked computers with easy user interfaces.

Licklider was instrumental in conceiving, funding and managing the research that led to modern personal computers and the Internet. In 1960 his seminal paper on “Man-Computer Symbiosis” foreshadowed interactive computing, and he went on to fund early efforts in time-sharing and application development, most notably the work of Douglas Engelbart, who founded the Augmentation Research Center at Stanford Research Institute and created the famous On-Line System where the computer mouse was invented. He also did some seminal early work for the Council on Library Resources, imagining what libraries of the future might look like, which he had described as “thinking centers” in his 1960 paper.

In “Man-Computer Symbiosis”, Licklider outlined the need for simpler interaction between computers and computer users. Licklider has been credited as an early pioneer of cybernetics and artificial intelligence (AI), but unlike many AI practitioners, Licklider never felt that humans would be replaced by computer-based entities. As he wrote in that article: “Men will set the goals, formulate the hypotheses, determine the criteria, and perform the evaluations. Computing machines will do the routinizable work that must be done to prepare the way for insights and decisions in technical and scientific thinking”. This approach, focusing on effective use of information technology in augmenting human intelligence, is sometimes called Intelligence amplification (IA).

During his time as director of ARPA’s Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO) from 1962 to 1964, he funded Project MAC at MIT. A large mainframe computer was designed to be shared by up to 30 simultaneous users, each sitting at a separate “typewriter terminal”. He also funded similar projects at Stanford University, UCLA, UC Berkeley, and the AN/FSQ-32 at System Development Corporation. Licklider played a similar role in conceiving of and funding early networking research, most notably the ARPAnet. He formulated the earliest ideas of a global computer network in August 1962 at BBN, in a series of memos discussing the “Intergalactic Computer Network” concept. These ideas contained almost everything that the Internet is today, including cloud computing.

In 1967 Licklider submitted the paper “Televistas: Looking ahead through side windows” to the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television. This paper describes a radical departure from the “broadcast” model of television. Instead, Licklider advocates a two-way communications network. The Carnegie Commission led to the creation of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Although the Commission’s report explains that “Dr. Licklider’s paper was completed after the Commission had formulated its own conclusions,” President Johnson said at the signing of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, “So I think we must consider new ways to build a great network for knowledge—not just a broadcast system, but one that employs every means of sending and of storing information that the individual can use”. His 1968 paper “The Computer as a Communication Device” illustrates his vision of network applications and predicts the use of computer networks to support communities of common interest and collaboration without regard to location.

All well and good. We know the capacity of the internet to store and make available mountains of information. Before the internet I needed a good academic library to do my research. Now I can do about 80% of my research online, which is wonderful because it means I can live in Cambodia and still have access to a vast array of information from around the world. I still need to travel to libraries for certain research because the materials I need to consult have not been digitized or are not publicly available. That’s the other 20%. Unfortunately the ready availability of masses of information does not make people any smarter. Having information is one thing, knowing how to use it is quite another.

In my last comment I am reminded of recipes as general blocks of information. You need to know how to read a recipe and how to interpret its instructions. Having a recipe by itself is not enough information if you don’t know what to do with it. If you are an experienced cook, I can give you a list of ingredients and some very general ideas and you can create a dish. If you have little or no experience, I have to go to extraordinary lengths to make that information usable. About 8 years ago, I was living in Buenos Aires and my son had it in mind to make a roast goose for Christmas dinner, and asked me how to do it. All through his growing up, I had roast a goose for Christmas, and this was his first year alone. If he had been an experienced cook, I could have explained in a few sentences, but he had only basic knowledge, so I ended up writing 2 pages of notes for him, and on Christmas Day I was on the phone with him 3 times explaining aspects of the process he was struggling with. Even as I write, I am periodically sending text messages to a former student in China who has decided that she wants to learn how to cook and has been going to the market after work and then sends me photos of what she has bought, and wants to know what to do with what she has. There is so much more to cooking than simply having basic information.

I’ll leave you with a puzzle. My Chinese student sent me photos of what she bought: ground beef, onions, leeks, tomatoes, Chinese greens, asparagus and mushrooms. What would you suggest she make for dinner?

Mar 102019

Today is the birthday (1628) of Marcello Malpighi, an Italian biologist and physician, who is sometimes referred to as the “father of microscopical anatomy, histology, physiology and embryology”. Malpighi was born in Crevalcore near Bologna, son of well-to-do parents. He studied a variety of subjects including Aristotelian philosophy, physics, and medicine at the University of Bologna, and took positions in both Bologna and Pisa teaching philosophy and physics before settling to the study of anatomy in 1660.

Although he conducted some of his studies using vivisection and others through the dissection of corpses, his most productive efforts appear to have been based on the use of the microscope. Because of this work, many microscopic anatomical structures are named after Malpighi, including a skin layer (Malpighi layer) and two different Malpighian corpuscles in the kidneys and the spleen, as well as the Malpighian tubules in the excretory system of insects. Although a Dutch spectacle maker created the compound lens and inserted it in a microscope around the turn of the 17th century, and Galileo had applied the principle of the compound lens to the making of his microscope patented in 1609, its possibilities as a microscope had remained unexploited for half a century, until Robert Hooke improved the instrument ( ). Following this, Malpighi, Hooke, and two other early investigators associated with the Royal Society, Nehemiah Grew and Antoine van Leeuwenhoek were fortunate to have a virtually untried tool in their hands as they began their investigations.

Working on frogs and extrapolating to humans, Malpighi demonstrated the structure of the lungs, previously thought to be a homogeneous mass of flesh, and he offered an explanation for how air and blood mixed in the lungs. Malpighi also used the microscope for his studies of the skin, kidneys, and liver. For example, after he dissected a black male, Malpighi made some groundbreaking headway into the discovery of the origin of black skin. He found that the black pigment was associated with a layer of mucus just beneath the skin. Malpighi seems to have been the first author to have made detailed drawings of individual organs of flowers. In his Anatome plantarum is a longitudinal section of a flower of Nigella (his Melanthi, literally, honey-flower) with details of the nectariferous organs. He adds that it is strange that nature has produced on the leaves of the flower shell-like organs in which honey is produced.

Malpighi had success in tracing the ontogeny of plant organs, and the serial development of the shoot. He specialized in seedling development, and in 1679, he published a volume containing a series of exquisitely drawn and engraved images of the stages of development of Leguminosae (beans) and Cucurbitaceae (squash, melons). Later, he published material depicting the development of the date palm. Linnaeus named the genus Malpighia in honor of Malpighi’s work with plants; Malpighia is the type genus for the Malpighiaceae, a family of tropical and subtropical flowering plants.

Because Malpighi was concerned with teratology (the scientific study of the visible conditions caused by the interruption or alteration of normal development) he expressed grave misgivings about the view of his contemporaries that the galls of trees and herbs gave birth to insects. He conjectured (correctly) that the creatures in question arose from eggs previously laid in the plant tissue. Malpighi’s investigations of the lifecycle of plants and animals led him into the topic of reproduction. He created detailed drawings of his studies of chick embryo development, seed development in plants (such as the lemon tree), and the transformation of caterpillars into insects. His discoveries helped to illuminate philosophical arguments surrounding the topics of emboîtment, pre-existence, preformation, epigenesis, and metamorphosis.

In 1691 pope Innocent XII invited him to Rome as papal physician. He taught medicine in the Papal Medical School and wrote a long treatise about his studies which he donated to the Royal Society of London.

Marcello Malpighi died of “apoplexy” (probably stroke) in Rome on 29th September 1694, at the age of 66. In accordance with his wishes, an autopsy was performed. He is buried in the church of the Santi Gregorio e Siro, in Bologna, where nowadays can be seen a marble monument to the scientist with an inscription in Latin remembering – among other things – his “SUMMUM INGENIUM / INTEGERRIMAM VITAM / FORTEM STRENUAMQUE MENTEM / AUDACEM SALUTARIS ARTIS AMOREM” (great genius, honest life, strong and tough mind, daring love for the medical art).

Given Malpighi’s studies of Leguminosae and Cucurbitaceae here is a recipe for an Italian bean and squash soup.

Tuscan Bean and Squash Soup


1 lb dried borlotti beans
3 quarts beef stock
½ cup chopped canned tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
¼ cup chopped celery leaves
dried oregano
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
2 lb butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
crushed red pepper


Soak the beans overnight.

Drain and rinse the beans, then transfer them to a stock pot. Cover with stock and bring to a simmer over moderate heat. Cook the beans until almost tender, about 1 hour. Add the tomatoes, garlic, celery leaves, oregano to taste, and ¼ cup of the olive oil. Season to taste with salt. Continue cooking until the beans are very tender, about 1 to 1 ½ hours longer.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the remaining ¼ cup of olive oil. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until softened but not browned. Add the squash and 1 cup of water, cover and simmer over low heat until the squash is barely tender, about 10 minutes.

When the beans are fully cooked, stir in the squash mixture. Season crushed red pepper to taste and simmer for 5 minutes. Serve with crusty bread.


Mar 092019

An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, usually simply called The Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith was first published on this date in 1776, while the Agricultural Revolution was in full swing and the Industrial Revolution was cranking up. Smith concerned himself with the question of why some nations had more wealth than others, the division of labor, free markets, the law of supply and demand, competition, profit, and productivity, and the book is considered a founding work of classical economics. It influenced governments and organizations, setting the terms for economic debate and discussion for the next century and a half.

The Wealth of Nations was the product of 17 years of notes and earlier works, as well as conversations among economists of the time concerning economic and societal conditions during the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Smith sought to offer a practical application for reformed economic theory to replace the mercantilist and physiocratic economic theories that were becoming less relevant in a time of industrial innovation. The book influenced economists, politicians, mathematicians, biologists, and scholars in a wide variety of fields. The Wealth of Nations was as foundational in the field of economics, as Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica for physics, Antoine Lavoisier’s Traité Élémentaire de Chimie for chemistry, or Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species for biology.

Smith’s main tenet is that some nations are wealthier than other nations, not because some countries work harder or have better resources, but because of the judicious exploitation of free trade. Smith argues that free trade allows countries to import goods that are expensive to produce within their borders and export goods that are cheap to produce. Opening borders is better in the long term because the long-term cost of production is lower. One of the central ideas of Smith’s economics is what he calls “the invisible hand of the market place.”  The “invisible hand” in some ways foreshadows the concept of culture in anthropology: that is, there are natural forces at work that regulate communities (and markets) regardless of conscious involvement. People who create products will always work to make the biggest profit. This spells success all around, because when business owners have the long view in mind, they will put out their best work. He gives the example of a butcher. If a butcher sells bad cuts of meat, his customers will not come back. He might make a profit in the short term, but in the long term, it is better to sell a good product for a price people are willing to pay. The invisible hand of the market ensures a prosperous system that works for the good of the majority. Smith acknowledges that some will become super rich, and some will stay poor, but for him, this is a logical price to pay for a thriving economic system. In order for freedom to prevail, and for the majority to pursue their happiness and goals, the system must allow for some measure of inequality.

Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations in response to the prevailing economic theory of the time, mercantilism. Mercantilism stated that international trade results in a collection of winners and losers. For one country to get rich, it is necessary that another country be poor. Because resources are limited a country will have to put in measures to ensure its prosperity at the expense of another. This theory meant that countries tried hard to bring money and resources within their borders, but blocked free exchange so that money stayed inside. Countries would levy tariffs on goods coming from outside countries, sometimes at the expense of their own long-term good. If another country produces something more cheaply than your country can, you can place tariffs on imports, so that the product made inside the country is competitive. The problem is that this action raises prices.

We could argue about the merits of Smith’s advocacy of free trade and laissez-faire economics for a long time. In the nineteenth century in Britain, unregulated capitalism without social safety nets led to catastrophic urban poverty, with political economists such as Karl Marx providing a very different analysis running counter to Smith’s. Smith, himself, also put limits on completely unregulated production. He believed that some taxation was needed to provide for services, such as roads, that benefitted everyone, and he was also strongly opposed to monopolies that circumvented the natural processes of free market competition and artificially forced up prices. Thus, economic systems always needed some regulation. How much regulation and taxation is a continuing debate.  Smith’s basic premise that all people are self-interested and striving for the best for themselves and this fact drives markets and individuals to maximize benefits for all concerned, is deeply contested to this day.

Here is a frugal Scots recipe for apples and oats that I make once in a while when I want a quick dessert.

Apples and Oats


1½ oz butter
2 oz brown sugar
4 oz rolled oats
4 cooking apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 tbsp lemon juice


Preheat the oven to 300°F.

Melt the butter in a pan and add the oats and sugar. Mix well. Spread out in a shallow tin and toast in the oven until they are golden brown. Keep an eagle eye on them, and shake periodically. They will brown quickly and unevenly if not shaken.

Toss the apples in the lemon juice and put them in a casserole with a tight-fitting lid. Bake in the oven until the apples are soft and fluffy (about 30 minutes). Beat in the sugar to taste and allow to cool.

In a loaf pan, arrange a layer of oats, then apples and repeat until all are used up, with a layer of oats on top. Let rest for at least an hour. Serve with whipped cream.