May 102019
 

Six years ago today I started this blog, so it’s time once again to wish it a Happy Birthday.  I may bake a cake (and I have candles).

In years past I have posted all manner of things on this anniversary, but this year I am going to make a simple announcement. I’m giving up posting daily.  I am not giving up posting entirely, but it will be sporadic in future.  Instead I am starting a YouTube channel. I have it set up, but I need to work on my video skills, which will take time. I will not post videos daily – more like once or twice per week – and they will be all over the map: cooking, philosophy, history, songs . . . you name it.  When it is off the ground, I will post a link here.

If you click to “follow” this link you will receive notification of anniversaries from past years: https://www.facebook.com/BookOfDaysTales/  You have to be on FB to follow, I believe.

Between starting this post and putting it up I did bake a cake – chocolate and lychee:

¡Hasta luego!

 Posted by at 10:13 am
May 072019
 

Today is a rather odd coincidence day, the birthday, one year apart, of two Scottish philosophers, Thomas Reid (1710) and David Hume (1711).  In his day, Reid was perhaps the more influential, but nowadays Hume has the upper hand, although both have been superseded.  I’ll give you a small taste of their ideas, and of their critiques of one another, but my major point is to examine why we should care about the philosophy of knowledge and reason at all. Reid and Hume were pillars of what is now called the Scottish Enlightenment, the era that saw the flourishing of rigorous scientific method and the championing of reason over faith. The current pseudo-debate over science versus religion is an outgrowth of ideas generated in the 18th century, and the debates within the philosophical community of the era are germane to concerns we have nowadays – most especially political and social concerns. The question I ask continually in my own research is: “Why do people cling to ideas – often fervently – when they fly in the face of demonstrable facts?” Reid and Hume both had their answers to that question, radically different answers, involving the consideration of the question: “What is a fact, and how do we know it is true?”

Reid was the founder of the Scottish School of Common Sense, that is, “common sense” with a special philosophical meaning (sensus communis – natural senses humans have in common), not the popular meaning. According to Reid, our common sense is built on innate ideas (ideas we are born with). Hume denied the existence of innate ideas, believing that our ideas develop purely from our learned experience.  Reid believed, for example, that we are born with a sense of right and wrong – very Scottish Protestant of him, I am sure.  His moral philosophy is reminiscent of Roman stoicism in its emphasis on the agency of the subject and self-control. He often quotes Cicero, from whom he adopted the term “sensus communis”. Reid’s answer to Hume’s sceptical and naturalist arguments was to enumerate a set of principles of common sense (sensus communis) which constitute the foundations of rational thought. Anyone who undertakes a philosophical argument, for example, must implicitly presuppose certain beliefs like, “I am talking to a real person,” and “There is an external world whose laws do not change,” among many other positive, substantive claims. For Reid, the belief in the truth of these principles is not rational; rather, reason itself demands these principles as prerequisites, as does the innate “constitution” of the human mind. It is for this reason (and possibly a mocking attitude toward Hume and Berkeley) that Reid sees belief in the principles of common sense as a litmus test for sanity. For example, in The Intellectual Powers of Man he states, “For, before men can reason together, they must agree in first principles; and it is impossible to reason with a man who has no principles in common with you.”


Hume’s empiricist approach to philosophy places him with John Locke, George Berkeley, Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes as a British Empiricist. Beginning with A Treatise of Human Nature (1738), Hume strove to create a total naturalistic science of humans that examined the psychological basis of human nature. Against philosophical rationalists, Hume held that passion rather than reason governs human behavior. Hume argued against the existence of innate ideas, positing that all human knowledge is founded solely in experience.

In what is sometimes referred to as Hume’s problem of induction, he argued that inductive reasoning and belief in causality cannot be justified rationally; instead, our trust in causality and induction result from custom and mental habit, and are attributable only to the experience of “constant conjunction” of events. This is because we can never actually perceive that one event causes another, but only that the two are always conjoined. Accordingly, to draw any causal inferences from past experience it is necessary to presuppose that the future will resemble the past, a presupposition which cannot itself be grounded in prior experience.

Hume was also a “sentimentalist” who held that ethics are based on emotion (or sentiment) rather than abstract moral principles, famously proclaiming that “Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions.” Hume maintained an early commitment to naturalistic explanations of moral phenomena, and is usually taken to have first clearly expounded the is–ought problem, or the idea that a statement of fact alone can never give rise to a normative conclusion of what ought to be done. Hume influenced utilitarianism, logical positivism, Immanuel Kant, the philosophy of science, early analytic philosophy, cognitive science, theology, and other movements. Kant himself credited Hume as the spur to his philosophical thought who had awakened him from his “dogmatic slumbers”.

So, why should you care about any of these debates?  Right now they are important because they are crucial to understanding the state of the world today. What is the status of knowledge and rationality these days?  At election time do people look at the candidates on offer, assess all the information available to them, and then vote rationally? I think you know the answer to that question.  People favor candidates for many reasons, and logic is rarely in the mix when they make their choices.  As often as not they choose candidates who are going to work against their own interests and/or the interests of the country – and the evidence that they will do this is in plain sight. But they vote for them anyway. Why?  Much of it has to do with embedded ideas based on sentiment that cannot be changed by facts. Then we have to ask: How do we stop people from behaving irrationally, especially when their decisions negatively impact others in dramatic ways?  Good question. Such questions cannot be explored sensibly without knowing how people think, and our understanding in this regard is still pitiful.

On that note let’s turn to cooking.  What knowledge do you need to possess to follow a recipe successfully?  Recipes from 200 years ago made gigantic assumptions about what the cook who read them already knew.  They were of the style: “Take some of this and a bit of that and boil it over a brisk fire until it is done.” Contemporary recipes are much more specific when it comes to ingredients, preparation, quantities, timing, temperatures, etc., but an enormous amount is still left unsaid, or assumed.  I can give identical recipes to two different cooks, and even when following the recipes to the letter they will produce notably different dishes.  Years ago I used to make Argentine tortillas for my girlfriend all the time, and she asked me to teach her how to make them.  First, I showed her – step by step – then I stood over her and supervised her as she cooked one. We did this multiple times, and yet she never could replicate my method, and her tortillas were nothing like mine. Somehow our knowledge base was not the same. The knowledge base of expert cooks is a mystery.  I travel so much because it’s the only way to taste the dishes of the world.  People who have devoted their lives to hand making rice noodles, roasting duck, or slow baking tripe in their corners of the world, make dishes that cannot be replicated by anyone else.  You have to go to where the cooks live and work to sample their wares.

For today’s recipe think of those dishes that you know from the hands of one cook only.  They could be a memory of a favorite grandmother, or a special delight you experienced on a trip. I think of my father’s ravioli or my mother-in-law’s fried chicken; I think of my favorite Kunming duck and a little baklava shop in Istanbul.

 

May 022019
 

Today is the birthday (1903) of Dr. Benjamin McLane Spock, an influential US pediatrician, not to be confused with Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame. Dr. Spock is famous for Baby and Child Care (1946), one of the best-selling books of all time. The book’s premise to mothers is that “you know more than you think you do.” Spock was the first popular pediatrician to study psychoanalysis to try to understand children’s needs and how they fit into family dynamics. His ideas about childcare influenced several generations of parents to be more flexible and affectionate with their children, and to treat them as individuals. However, his theories were also widely criticized by colleagues for relying too heavily on anecdotal evidence rather than serious academic research.

Spock advocated ideas about parenting that were, at the time, considered out of the mainstream. Over time, his books helped to bring about major change. Previously, pediatricians had told parents that babies needed to learn to sleep on a regular schedule, and that picking them up and holding them whenever they cried would only teach them to cry more and not to sleep through the night (a notion that borrows from behaviorism). They were told to feed their children on a regular schedule, and that they should not pick them up, kiss them, or hug them, because that would not prepare them to be strong and independent individuals in a harsh world. In contrast Spock encouraged parents to see their children as individuals, and not to apply a one-size-fits-all philosophy to them.

In 1962, Spock joined The Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, otherwise known as SANE. Spock was politically outspoken and active in the movement to end the Vietnam War. In 1968, he and four others (including William Sloane Coffin, Marcus Raskin, Mitchell Goodman, and Michael Ferber) were singled out for prosecution by then Attorney General Ramsey Clark on charges of conspiracy to counsel, aid, and abet resistance to the draft. Spock and three of his alleged co-conspirators were convicted, although the five had never been in the same room together. His two-year prison sentence was never served; the case was appealed and in 1969 a federal court set aside his conviction.

In 1968, Spock signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War, and he later became a sponsor of the War Tax Resistance project, which practiced and advocated tax resistance as a form of anti-war protest. He was also arrested for his involvement in anti-war protests resulting from his signing of the anti-war manifesto “A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority” circulated by members of the radical intellectual collective RESIST. The individuals arrested during this incident came to be known as the Boston Five.

In the 1972 United States presidential election, Spock was the People’s Party candidate with a platform that called for free medical care; the repeal of “victimless crime” laws, including the legalization of abortion, homosexuality, and cannabis; a guaranteed minimum income for families; and for an end to American military interventionism and the immediate withdrawal of all American troops from foreign countries. In the 1970s and 1980s, Spock demonstrated and gave lectures against nuclear weapons and cuts in social welfare programs.

Norman Vincent Peale was a popular preacher who during the late 1960s criticized the anti-Vietnam War movement and the perceived laxity of that era, placing the blame on Dr. Spock’s books: “The U.S. was paying the price of two generations that followed the Dr. Spock baby plan of instant gratification of needs.” In the 1960s and 1970s, blame was placed on Spock for the disorderliness of young people, many of whose parents had been devotees of Baby and Child Care. Vice President Spiro Agnew also blamed Spock for “permissiveness”. These allegations were enthusiastically embraced by conservative adults, who viewed the rebellious youth of that era with disapproval, referring to them as “the Spock generation”.

It’s not fair to make generalizations about the ethos of a generation in this way, nor should Spock take credit, positive or negative, for the shaping of post-war generations. There were a great many more variables in play than a single child rearing book, no matter how popular it was. Furthermore, many of Spock’s detractors never read the book, but based their critique on hearsay.  In fact, Spock’s recommendations were not based on rigorous studies, and changed considerably over the life of the book as Spock’s attitudes changed.  For example, in the seventh edition of Baby and Child Care, published a few weeks after he died, Spock advocated for a bold change in children’s diets, recommending that all children switch to a vegan diet after the age of 2. Spock himself had switched to an all-plant diet in 1991, after a series of illnesses that left him weak and unable to walk unaided. After making the dietary change, he lost 50 pounds, regained his ability to walk and became healthier overall. The revised edition stated that children on an all-plant diet will reduce their risk of developing heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and certain diet-related cancers. Spock’s approach to childhood nutrition was criticized by a number of experts, including his co-author, Boston pediatrician Dr. Steven J. Parker, as too extreme and likely to result in nutritional deficiencies unless it is very carefully planned and executed, something that would be difficult for working parents.

I am glad to say that my son never ate specially formulated baby food of any kind.  He was breast fed as an infant, and when he shifted to solid food he ate what my wife and I ate – broken down in a small food processor when he was little, then cut up small and/or mashed as he grew older. I had only one rule: he had to taste everything before refusing it. If he took a bite of something and did not like it, I did not force him to eat more. But he could not refuse something based on looks alone. As an adult he has some broad tastes, and some odd dislikes – but I take credit for none of it.  He is fond of duck feet and pig’s stomach, and will eat raw chile peppers of any heat. Conversely, he hates eggs, mushrooms, and lentils. These preferences are not based on anything I did concerning his eating patterns; he developed his tastes all by himself.  Baby food, like breakfast food, is a Western invention of the 19th century.  Children can eat what adults eat, as long as when they are very small it is chopped up to make it manageable and to avoid choking. It does not need extra salt, sugar, or fat. Care should be taken only that the child’s diet is balanced. One of the advantages of serving the same food for children and adults is that leftovers never go waste.

 

Apr 232019
 

On this date in 1985, New Coke, the unofficial name for the reformulation of Coca-Cola, was introduced by the Coca-Cola Company to replace the original formula of its flagship soft drink Coca-Cola, or Coke. Immediately after World War II, the market share for Coca-Cola was 60%,  but by 1983, it had declined to under 24%, largely because of competition from Pepsi-Cola. Pepsi had begun to outsell Coke in supermarkets, and Coke maintained its edge only through soda vending machines and fountain sales in fast food restaurants, concessions, and sports venues where Coca-Cola had exclusive rights. Market analysts believed baby boomers were more likely to purchase diet drinks as they aged, and growth in the full-calorie segment would have to come from younger drinkers, who at that time favored Pepsi by even more overwhelming margins than the market as a whole. When Roberto Goizueta became Coca-Cola CEO in 1980, he pointedly told employees there would be no “sacred cows” in how the company did business, including how it formulated its drinks.

Coca-Cola’s senior executives commissioned a secret project headed by marketing vice president Sergio Zyman and Coca-Cola USA president Brian Dyson to create a new flavor for Coke. This research, called “Project Kansas”, took its name from a photo of Kansas journalist William Allen White drinking a Coke; the image had been used extensively in Coca-Cola advertising and hung on several executives’ walls. The sweeter cola overwhelmingly beat both regular Coke and Pepsi in taste tests, surveys, and focus groups. Asked if they would buy and drink the product if it were Coca-Cola, most testers said they would, although it would take some getting used to. About 10-12% of testers felt angry and alienated at the thought, and said they might stop drinking Coke altogether. The surveys, which were given more significance by standard marketing procedures of the era, were less negative than the taste tests and were key in convincing management to change the formula in 1985, to coincide with the drink’s centenary. But the focus groups had provided a clue as to how the change would play out in a public context, a data point the company downplayed but which proved important later.

Management rejected an idea to make and sell the new flavor as a separate variety of Coca-Cola. The company’s bottlers were already complaining about absorbing other recent additions into the product line since 1982, after the introduction of Diet Coke; Cherry Coke was launched nationally nearly concurrently with New Coke during 1985. Many of them had sued over the company’s syrup pricing policies. A new variety of Coke in competition with the main variety could also have cannibalized Coke’s sales and increased the proportion of Pepsi drinkers relative to Coke drinkers.

New Coke was introduced on April 23, 1985. The press conference at New York City’s Lincoln Center to introduce the new formula did not go well. Reporters had already been fed questions by Pepsi, which was worried that New Coke would erase its gains. Coca-Cola introduced the new formula with marketing pushes in New York, where workers renovating the Statue of Liberty for its 1986 centenary were given cans, and Washington, D.C., where thousands of cans were given away in Lafayette Park. As soon as New Coke was introduced, the new formula was available at McDonald’s and other drink fountains in the United States. Sales figures from those cities, and other areas where it had been introduced, showed a reaction that went as the market research had predicted. In fact, Coke’s sales were up 8% over the same period as the year before. Most Coke drinkers resumed buying the new Coke at much the same level as they had the old one. Surveys indicated that the majority of regular Coke drinkers liked the new flavoring. Three quarters of the respondents said they would buy New Coke again.[6] The big test, however, remained in the Southeast, where Coke was first bottled and tasted http://www.bookofdaystales.com/coca-cola/

Despite New Coke’s acceptance with a large number of Coca-Cola drinkers, many more resented the change in formula and were not shy about making that known — just as had happened in the focus groups. Many of these drinkers were Southerners, some of whom considered Coca-Cola a fundamental part of their regional identity.

Company headquarters in Atlanta began receiving letters and telephone calls expressing anger or deep disappointment. They were joined by some voices from outside the region. Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene wrote some widely reprinted pieces ridiculing the new flavor and damning Coke’s executives for having changed it. Comedians and talk show hosts, including Johnny Carson and David Letterman, made regular jokes mocking the switch. Ads for New Coke were booed heavily when they appeared on the scoreboard at the Houston Astrodome. Even Fidel Castro, a longtime Coca-Cola drinker, contributed to the backlash, calling New Coke a sign of American capitalist decadence. Goizueta’s father expressed similar misgivings to his son, who later recalled that it was the only time his father had agreed with Castro, whose rule he had fled Cuba to avoid.

Pepsi-Cola took advantage of the situation, running ads in which a first-time Pepsi drinker exclaimed, “Now I know why Coke did it!” Even amidst consumer anger and several Pepsi ads mocking Coca-Cola’s debacle, Pepsi actually gained very few long-term converts over Coke’s switch, despite a 14% sales increase over the same month the previous year, the largest sales growth in the company’s history. Coca-Cola’s director of corporate communications, Carlton Curtis, realized over time that consumers were more upset about the withdrawal of the old formula than the taste of the new one.

Some Coca-Cola executives had quietly been arguing for a reintroduction of the old formula as early as May. By mid-June, when soft drink sales usually start to rise, the numbers showed that new Coke was leveling among consumers. Executives feared social peer pressure was now affecting their bottom line. Some consumers even began trying to obtain “old” Coke from overseas, where the new formula had not yet been introduced, as domestic stocks of the old drink were exhausted. Over the course of the month, Coca-Cola’s chemists also quietly reduced the acidity level of the new formula, hoping to assuage complaints about the flavor and allow its sweetness to be better perceived (advertisements pointing to this change were prepared, but never used).

In addition to the noisier public protests, boycotts, and bottles being emptied into the streets of several cities, the company had more serious reasons to be concerned. Its bottlers, and not just the ones still suing the company over syrup pricing policies, were expressing concern. Most of them saw great difficulty having to promote and sell a drink that had long been marketed as “The Real Thing”, constant and unchanging, now that it had been changed.

With the company now fearing boycotts not only from its consumers but its bottlers, talks about reintroducing the old formula moved from “if” to “when”. Finally, the Coca-Cola board decided that enough was enough, and plans were set in motion to bring back the old Coke. Coca-Cola executives announced the return of the original formula during the afternoon of July 11, 79 days after New Coke’s introduction. ABC News’ Peter Jennings interrupted General Hospital with a special bulletin to share the news with viewers. On the floor of the U.S. Senate, David Pryor called the reintroduction “a meaningful moment in U.S. history”. The company hotline received 31,600 calls in the two days after the announcement. The new product continued to be sold and retained the name Coca-Cola (until 1992, when it was renamed Coke II), so the original formula was renamed Coca-Cola Classic, and for a short time it was referred to by the public as Old Coke. Now all is back to normal with Coke being Coke and New Coke being history.

Corporate types and business schools will probably argue for decades over Coca Cola’s blunder, with the occasional conspiracy theorist arguing that the whole affair was carefully staged to boost sales (which saw an 8% surge when the old formula was re-introduced). Conspiracy theorists are (almost) always wrong; corporate executives are not that bright, and such a ploy would have been a gigantic gamble. I tend to favor the view that executives were too confident in their market research, especially the taste tests. The taste tests were done by comparing sips of drinks instead of comparing the full context of drinking a whole can of one drink compared to a whole can of another. As an anthropologist, I could have told them that: context is everything. Besides, Coca Cola has a gigantic socio-cultural context, especially in the US South. My wife’s relatives, for example, all born and raised in Kentucky, had social practices around drinking Coke. Her grandmother had a set of glasses with silver holders just for drinking Coca Cola with guests. You change that at your peril.

For today’s recipe I will refer you back to my original post:

The Coca-Cola company maintains an extensive file of recipes using Coke, mostly submitted by readers.  There are several recipes for marinades and sauces for grilled or roasted meats, but most of the recipes are for desserts.  I have not tried any of them, but by all means browse away to see if anything tickles your fancy:

http://www.coca-colacompany.com/search?q=recipes&fT=0000013e-f6b1-d4b9-a9fe-fefb859d0003

Apr 022019
 

Today is the birthday (1891) of Max Ernst, a German painter, sculptor, graphic artist, and poet who was a primary pioneer of the Dada movement and Surrealism. Ernst was born in Brühl, near Cologne, the third of nine children of a middle-class Catholic family. His father Philipp was a teacher of the deaf and an amateur painter. In 1909 Ernst enrolled at the University of Bonn to read philosophy, art history, literature, psychology and psychiatry. He visited asylums and became fascinated with the art work of the patients. He also started painting that year, producing sketches in the garden of the Brühl castle, and portraits of his sister and himself. In 1911 Ernst befriended August Macke and joined his Die Rheinischen Expressionisten group of artists, deciding to become an artist.

In 1912 he visited the Sonderbund exhibition in Cologne, where works by Pablo Picasso and post-Impressionists such as Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin profoundly influenced him. His work was exhibited that year together with that of the Das Junge Rheinland group, at Galerie Feldman in Cologne, and then in several group exhibitions in 1913. In his paintings of this period, Ernst adopted an ironic style that juxtaposed grotesque elements alongside Cubist and Expressionist motifs.

In 1914 Ernst met Hans Arp in Cologne. The two became friends and their relationship lasted for fifty years. After Ernst completed his studies in the summer, his life was interrupted by World War I. Ernst was drafted and served both on the Western Front and the Eastern Fronts. The effect of the war on Ernst was devastating; in his autobiography, he wrote of his time in the army thus: “On the first of August 1914 M.E. died. He was resurrected on the eleventh of November 1918”. For a brief period on the Western Front, Ernst was assigned to chart maps, which allowed him to continue painting.

In 1918, Ernst was demobilized and returned to Cologne. He soon married art history student Luise Straus, whom he had met in 1914. In 1919, Ernst visited Paul Klee in Munich and studied paintings by Giorgio de Chirico. The same year, inspired by de Chirico and mail-order catalogues, teaching-aide manuals and similar sources, he produced his first collages (notably Fiat modes, a portfolio of lithographs), a technique which would dominate his arts. Also in 1919, Ernst, social activist Johannes Theodor Baargeld and several colleagues founded the Cologne Dada group. In 1919–20 Ernst and Baargeld published various short-lived magazines such as Der Strom, and Die Schammade, and organized Dada exhibitions.

Ernst and Luise’s son Ulrich ‘Jimmy’ Ernst was born on 24th June 1920; he also became a painter. Ernst’s marriage to Luise was short-lived. In 1921 he met Paul Éluard, who became a lifelong friend. Éluard bought two of Ernst’s paintings (Celebes and Oedipus Rex) and selected six collages to illustrate his poetry collection Répétitions. A year later the two collaborated on Les malheurs des immortels and then with André Breton, whom Ernst met in 1921, on the magazine Littérature. In 1922, unable to secure the necessary papers, Ernst entered France illegally and settled into a ménage à trois with Éluard and his wife Gala in Paris suburb Saint-Brice, leaving behind his wife and son. During his first two years in Paris, Ernst took various odd jobs to make a living and continued to paint. In 1923 the Éluards moved to a new home in Eaubonne, near Paris, where Ernst painted numerous murals. The same year his works were exhibited at Salon des Indépendants.

Although apparently accepting the ménage à trois, Éluard eventually left, first for Monaco and then for Saigon. He soon asked his wife and Max Ernst to join him; both had to sell paintings to finance the trip. Ernst went to Düsseldorf and sold a large number of his works to a long-time friend, Johanna Ey, owner of gallery Das Junge Rheinland. After a brief time together in Saigon, the trio decided that Gala would remain with Éluard. The Éluards returned to Eaubonne in early September, while Ernst followed them some months later, after exploring more of South-East Asia. He returned to Paris in late 1924 and soon signed a contract with Jacques Viot that allowed him to paint full-time. In 1925 Ernst established a studio at 22, rue Tourlaque.

In 1925, Ernst invented a graphic art technique called frottage, which uses pencil rubbings of objects as a source of images. He also created the ‘grattage’ technique, in which paint is scraped across canvas to reveal the imprints of the objects placed beneath. He used this technique in his famous painting Forest and Dove. The next year he collaborated with Joan Miró on designs for Sergei Diaghilev. With Miró’s help, Ernst developed grattage, in which he troweled pigment from his canvases. He also explored with the technique of decalcomania, which involves pressing paint between two surfaces.

In 1927, Ernst married Marie-Berthe Aurenche. Ernst appeared in the 1930 film L’Âge d’Or, directed by the Surrealist Luis Buñuel. Ernst began to sculpt in 1934 and spent time with Alberto Giacometti. In September 1939, the outbreak of World War II caused Ernst to be interned as an “undesirable foreigner” in Camp des Milles, near Aix-en-Provence, along with fellow surrealist, Hans Bellmer, who had recently emigrated to Paris. He had been living with his lover and fellow surrealist painter, Leonora Carrington who, not knowing whether he would return, saw no option but to sell their house to repay their debts and leave for Spain. Thanks to the intercession of Paul Éluard and other friends, including the journalist Varian Fry, he was released a few weeks later. Soon after the German occupation of France, he was arrested again, this time by the Gestapo but managed to escape and flee to the US with the help of Peggy Guggenheim and Fry. Ernst and Peggy Guggenheim arrived in the United States in 1941 and were married at the end of the year. Along with other artists and friends (Marcel Duchamp and Marc Chagall) who had fled from the war and lived in New York City, Ernst helped inspire the development of Abstract Expressionism.

His marriage to Guggenheim did not last and in Beverly Hills, California in October 1946, in a double ceremony with Man Ray and Juliet P. Browner, he married Dorothea Tanning The couple made their home in Sedona, Arizona from 1946 to 1953, where the high desert landscapes inspired them and recalled Ernst’s earlier imagery. Despite the fact that Sedona was remote and populated by fewer than 400 ranchers, orchard workers, merchants and small Native American communities, their presence helped begin what would become an American artists’ colony. Among the monumental red rocks, Ernst built a small cottage by hand on Brewer Road and he and Tanning hosted intellectuals and European artists such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Yves Tanguy. Sedona proved an inspiration for the artists and for Ernst, who compiled his book Beyond Painting and completed his sculptural masterpiece Capricorn while living there.

As a result of the book and its publicity, Ernst began to achieve financial success. From the 1950s he lived mainly in France. In 1954 he was awarded the Grand Prize for painting at the Venice Biennale. He died at the age of 84 on 1st April 1976 (one day before his birthday) in Paris and was interred at Père Lachaise Cemetery.

Here are three Dadaist recipes from Man Ray:

    Le Petit Dejeuner. Take a wooden panel of an inch or less thickness, 16 to 20 inches in size. Gather the brightly colored wooden blocks left by children on the floors of playrooms and paste or screw them on the panel.

    Déjeuner. Take the olives and juice from one large jar of prepared green or black olives and throw them away. In the empty jar place several steel ball bearings. Fill the jar with machine oil to prevent rusting. With this delicacy serve a loaf of French bread, 30 inches in length, painted a pale blue.

    Dîner. Gather wooden darning eggs, one per person. If the variety without handles cannot be found, remove the handles. Pierce lengthwise so that skewers can be inserted in each darning egg. Lay the skewered eggs in an oblong or oval pan and cover with transparent cellophane.

Yum — bon appétit

Mar 302019
 

Yes, indeed, 68 today. Past birthday posts can be found on these pages:

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/juan-alejandro/

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/juan-alejandro-2/

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/birthday-boy/

I always treat my birthday as my own personal New Year’s Day when I reflect on the previous year and the year to come.  Last year I traveled more than expected because I put a new plan into effect. I got tired of making long hauls with endless layovers, so I decided to break long trips into stages – NO LAYOVERS. I had to get to Mantua in northern Italy to retrieve my belongings that I left there when I moved to Myanmar. Short hops in May took me to Bangkok for a few days, Kathmandu for a week, and Istanbul for a week. Then a short stay in Rome before heading north. In September I was booked to see the World Nomad Games in Cholpon Ata in Kyrgyzstan, so, going and coming, I traveled to Thailand, Kazakhstan, China, and Tibet. For Christmas, a friend wanted company on her visit to Vietnam and then added Laos for good measure. So that closed out 2018.  This coming year is still an open book. I traveled with a purpose last year; this year there is nothing pressing. It will come to me, no doubt.

More pertinent to this blog is my (tentative) decision to stop posting when its 6th birthday comes around (May 10th). Barring difficulties, such as illness or travel, I have posted every day – including Saturdays and Sundays – for 6 years and it is getting a bit stale for me. Time for newer pastures I think. I have a YouTube channel set up, and I may migrate there – not posting daily, but regularly. We’ll see. Different medium and different messages (although some cooking will appear, no doubt).

Today’s birthday menu is:

Salmon pâté

Leek and potato soup

Fried whitebait

Steak and kidney pudding

Birthday cake

Here’s your gallery:

 

 Posted by at 12:29 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 082019
 

Today is the birthday (1822) of Jan Józef Ignacy Łukasiewicz, a Polish pharmacist, engineer, businessman, inventor, and one of the most prominent philanthropists in the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, crown land of Austria-Hungary. Łukasiewicz was a visionary who saw the potential of petroleum products at a time when the chief fuel powering the Industrial Revolution was coal. He built the world’s first modern oil refinery, discovered how to distill kerosene from seep oil, invented the modern kerosene lamp (1853), created the first modern street lamps in Europe (1853), and constructed the world’s first modern oil well (1854). Chances are you have never heard of Łukasiewicz, yet his inventions changed the world. It should be noted, in small mitigation, that kerosene can be made in different ways and was known in antiquity. While Łukasiewicz perfected his method, others were working in Canada and the US on the production of kerosene from coal as a byproduct of gas production.

Ignacy Łukasiewicz was born in Zaduszniki, near Mielec, in the Austrian Empire (after the Partitions of Poland) as the youngest of five children. His family was of Armenian origin. His parents were Apolonia, née Świetlik, and Józef Łukasiewicz, a member of the local intelligentsia nobility entitled to use the Łada coat of arms and a veteran of Kościuszko’s Uprising. The family rented a small manor in Zaduszniki but, soon after Ignacy’s birth, was forced by financial difficulties to relocate to the nearby city of Rzeszów. There Ignacy entered the local secondary school (Konarski’s Gymnasium), but failed to pass the examinations and left in 1836. In order to help his parents and financially support all the relatives, he moved to Łańcut, where he began work as a pharmacist’s assistant. Toward the end of his life, Łukasiewicz often described his childhood as happy; the home atmosphere was patriotic and somewhat democratic, and he commonly recalled his first tutor, Colonel Woysym-Antoniewicz, who resided in their house.

Upon moving to Łańcut, Łukasiewicz also became involved in several political organizations that supported the idea of restoring Polish sovereignty and independence and participated in many political gatherings around the area. In 1840 he returned to Rzeszów, where he continued working at Edward Hübl’s private pharmacy. In 1845 he met diplomat and activist Edward Dembowski, who admitted Łukasiewicz to the illegal “Centralization of the Polish Democratic Society”, a party that focused on radical policies and supported a revolt against the Austrian government. The organization’s aim was to prepare an all-national uprising against all three partitioning powers. Since the movement was seen as a possible danger to the Austrian monarchy, on 19th February 1846 Łukasiewicz and several other members of the party were arrested by the Austrian authorities and imprisoned in the city of Lwów. However, on 27th December 1847 Łukasiewicz was released from prison due to lack of evidence, but for the rest of his life he was regarded as “politically untrustworthy” and often observed by local police who held his records. He was also ordered to remain in Lwów with his elder brother Franciszek.

On 15th August 1848 he was employed at one of the biggest and best pharmacies in Austrian Galicia (so-called “Austrian Poland”); the Golden Star (Pod Złotą Gwiazdą) Pharmacy in Lwów, owned by Piotr Mikolasch. In 1850, a handheld pharmaceutical almanac and a precious document entitled manuskrypt, the joint work of Mikolasch and Łukasiewicz was published. Because of this achievement, the authorities granted him a permit to continue pharmaceutical studies at the Royal Jagiellonian University in Kraków. After several years of studies, financed mostly by Mikolasch, he passed all his university examinations except for that in pharmacognosy (natural plant medicine), which prevented him from graduating. Finally, on 30th July 1852 Łukasiewicz graduated from the pharmacy department at the University of Vienna, where he earned a master’s degree in pharmaceutics. As soon as he returned to the pharmacy of Piotr Mikolasch in Lwów, he began a new phase of his life devoted to the studies of exploiting kerosene.

While oil was known to exist for a long time in the Subcarpathian-Galician region, it was more commonly used as an animal drug and lubricant, but Łukasiewicz was the first person to distill the liquid and was able to exploit it for lighting and to create a brand new industry.

In autumn of 1852 Łukasiewicz, Mikolasch and his colleague John Zeh analyzed the oil, which was provided in a few barrels by traders from the town of Drohobycz.  In early 1854 Łukasiewicz moved to Gorlice, where he continued his work. He set up many companies together with entrepreneurs and landowners. That same year, he opened the world’s first oil “mine” at Bóbrka, near Krosno (still operational in the 21st century). At the same time Łukasiewicz continued his work on kerosene lamps. Later that year, he set up the first kerosene street lamp in Gorlice’s Zawodzie district. In subsequent years he opened several other oil wells, each as a joint venture with local merchants and businessmen. In 1856 in Ulaszowice, near Jasło, he opened an “oil distillery” — the world’s first industrial oil refinery. As demand for kerosene was still low, the plant initially produced mostly artificial asphalt, machine oil, and lubricants. The refinery was destroyed in an 1859 fire, but was rebuilt at Polanka, near Krosno, the following year.

By 1863 Łukasiewicz, who had moved to Jasło in 1858, was a wealthy man. He openly supported the January 1863 Uprising and financed help for refugees. In 1865 he bought a large manor and the village of Chorkówka. There he established yet another oil refinery. Having gained one of the largest fortunes in Galicia, Łukasiewicz promoted the development of the oil industry in the areas of Dukla and Gorlice. He gave his name to several oil-mining enterprises in the area, including oil wells at Ropianka, Wilsznia, Smereczne, Ropa, and Wójtowa. He also became a regional benefactor and founded a spa resort at Bóbrka, a chapel at Chorkówka, and a large church at Zręcin.

As one of the best-known businessmen of his time, Łukasiewicz was elected to the Galician Sejm. In 1877 he also organized the first Oil Industry Congress and founded the National Oil Society. Ignacy Łukasiewicz died in Chorkówka on 7th January 1882 of pneumonia and was buried in the small cemetery at Zręcin, next to the Gothic Revival church that he had financed.

All my life (until recently) I’ve had at least one kerosene lamp and a kerosene stove – for emergencies and for camping. I had pressure lamps and stoves because simple ones with nothing but wicks can produce a fair amount of soot. Pressure equipment provides a more complete combustion of the kerosene as well as a brighter light and stronger heat for cooking. Growing up in Australia we had a kerosene stove in the living room as our sole heating for the winter months, and camping with the boy scouts we used kerosene lamps at night. You could honor Łukasiewicz with a Polish recipe, and a scan through my posts will provide ample selection. Instead, here’s a video on cooking on a kerosene stove (not pressurized), to show how effective even the simplest equipment is. His technique for cooking of eggs is not to be imitated!!

Mar 032019
 

Today is World Hearing Day, a campaign held each year by the Office of Prevention of Blindness and Deafness of the World Health Organization (WHO). The campaign’s objective is to share information and promote actions towards the prevention of hearing loss and the improvement of hearing care. The first event was held in 2007. Before 2016 it was known as International Ear Care Day. Each year, the WHO selects a theme, develops educational materials, and makes these freely available in several languages. It also coordinates and reports on events around the globe.

Public domains materials at https://www.who.int/deafness/world-hearing-day/2019/en/

Poster and other materials available online at https://www.who.int/deafness/world-hearing-day/2019/en/

The theme of the campaign for 2019 is “Check your hearing” since data from both developed and developing countries indicate that a significant part of the burden associated with hearing loss comes from unaddressed hearing difficulties. A study conducted in the United Kingdom indicates that only 20% of those who have a hearing problem seek treatment. A study performed in South Africa reported that individuals who experience hearing difficulties wait between 5 and 16 years to seek diagnosis and treatment.

This issue strikes particularly close to home for me because I am severely hearing impaired in my right ear and partially impaired in my left. It’s a genetic disorder. One of my sisters has hearing aids and my maternal grandfather had a similar disability. I’ve had multiple tests done by audiologists, but so far I’ve managed without any special aids. I can’t understand people if they speak too softly, but I lip read (or, more accurately, speech read) well enough. Also, I cannot understand speech in locations where there is too much ambient noise, so I avoid them as much as possible.  At this stage it’s more of a nuisance than a crippling problem, although my friends are more disadvantaged than I am because they rarely remember that I am hearing impaired and do things such as walking with me on my right side or speaking to me from another room, and in those situations I cannot understand what they are saying. When possible I use earphones and/or closed captions for television and streaming.

People tend to forget that I am hearing impaired because I have good compensating mechanisms in place, but it does annoy me if they get their hackles up when they think I should have heard them the first time, yet they’ve been talking softly on my right side. Hearing impaired is hearing impaired. Getting irritated with me is not helpful. So my two cents for World Hearing Day is to encourage everyone to be more understanding of people with disabilities. Yes, I could be fitted for a hearing aid if it would make you happier, but it really takes very little effort to look at me when you are talking to me, and that way I can see your mouth and understand you. Is that asking too much?


I liked the theme for 2015, “Make Listening Safe”, which drew attention to the rising problem of noise-induced hearing loss due to recreational exposure. I would have widened the theme, though. The focus was primarily on concerts, movies, etc. where the volume of sound equipment is intentionally high. I am very careful to avoid such situations because I cannot afford to have additional damage to what hearing remains due to careless exposure caused by others.

Instead of a recipe today I am going to give you a video that focuses primarily on the sounds of cooking. It’s shot outdoors, so there are also some sounds of nature thrown in for good measure. It’s a bit backwoodsy, but it’s mainly making the point that cooking involves all the senses including hearing. Many cooking styles such as baking and simmering aren’t exactly a symphony of sound, but frying more than makes up for it.

Jan 042019
 

Today was not a good date in two separate years for Charles I of England. On this date in 1642 he stormed into the House of Commons with armed guards to arrest five members he had a dispute with, and on this date in 1649 – perhaps as an anniversary present – the Rump Parliament voted to put him on trial for treason, ending in his execution. These two events can be thought of as bookends to what is generally known as the English Civil War (or Wars) even though there had been numerous civil wars previously (during the Anarchy, for example, or the Wars of the Roses).

When the last Tudor monarch, Elizabeth I, died childless, the throne of England passed to the son of Mary Queen of Scots – James VI of Scotland – who was the great-great-grandson of Henry VII, inaugurating the House of Stuart as James I of England. Despite numerous tensions and disputes with the nobility, as well as an ongoing dispute between Catholic and Protestant lords that led to the Gunpowder Plot — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/the-gunpowder-plot/ — and did not end until his son James II was deposed, James I managed to hold on to his throne, and die in his bed, by being a shrewd and effective conciliator (mostly drinking heavily rather than antagonizing people). His son, Charles I, was not so lucky because he was far from being a peacemaker, but, instead, was egotistical, arrogant, and headstrong, believing firmly that kings were appointed by God and should be given the authority to rule autocratically as absolute monarchs. Parliament respectfully disagreed.

Charles’ increasing monarchic profligacy resulted in two important Acts in pursuit of the rights of Parliament and People, the Triennial Act of 1641 which gave Parliament autonomy of the monarchy, and the Habeas Corpus Act of 1640, which extended one of the key terms of Magna Carta to the general population, the right not to be summarily arrested by the king without due process.  The increasing tensions between Charles and Parliament led the king to attempt to arrest (without warrant or just cause) five members of the Long Parliament.

John Pym

Charles believed that Puritans encouraged by five vociferous Members of the House of Commons, known thereafter as the Five Members – John Pym, John Hampden, Denzil Holles, Arthur Haselrig and William Strode – together with the peer Edward Montagu, Viscount Mandeville (the future Earl of Manchester), had encouraged the Scots to invade England in the recent Bishops’ Wars, and that they were intent on turning the London mob against him. When rumors reached the court that they were also planning to impeach the queen for alleged involvement in Catholic plots, Charles decided to arrest them for treason. The counterclaim was that the king had an Irish army set to reduce the kingdom.

The Speaker of the House during the Long Parliament was William Lenthall. On Tuesday, 4th January 1642, Charles entered the House of Commons to seize the Five Members, and sat in the speaker’s chair. Not seeing the Five Members and commenting “I see the birds have flown”, the King then turned to Lenthall, who stood below, and demanded of him whether any of those persons were in the House, whether he saw any of them and where they were. Lenthall fell on his knees and replied: “May it please your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here”. However, he later consented to appear as a witness against Thomas Scot in the wave of prosecutions of the regicides in 1660 which followed the Restoration of the monarchy under Charles II.

This action of the king was the catalyst for the Civil War, the beheading of the king, and the rule of Oliver Cromwell. After his failure to capture the Five Members and fearing for his family’s lives, Charles left London for Oxford. Most of the royalist members of Parliament joined him there, where they formed the Oxford Parliament. The Long Parliament continued to sit during and beyond the Civil War without its royalist members, because of the Dissolution Act.

Nowadays, Charles’s act is commemorated at the annual opening of parliament when the reigning monarch delivers a speech (written by the Prime Minister of the Commons) from the throne in the House of Lords.  The monarch sends a representative, known as Black Rod, to the Commons chamber to summon the members of Parliament to hear the speech, and, when he approaches, the chamber the door is slammed in his face, signifying the fact that both the monarch and any representative is barred from entering the Commons. Black Rod knocks three times on the door, and the members of Parliament, after hearing Black Rod’s summons, file to the House of Lords where they hear the monarch’s speech crowded into the doorway of the House of Lords. The Commons’ chamber remains their sanctuary.

After the royalist army had been defeated, it became apparent to the leaders of the New Model Army that Parliament—then controlled by the Presbyterian faction—was ready to come to an agreement with Charles that would restore him to the throne (though without effective power) and negate the power of the Army, they resolved to shatter the power of both king and Parliament. Pride’s Purge brought Parliament to heel under the direct control of the Army; the remaining Commons (the Rump) then on 13th December 1648, broke off negotiations with the king. Two days later, the Council of Officers of the New Model Army voted that the King be moved from the Isle of Wight, where he was prisoner, to Windsor, “…in order to the bringing of him speedily to justice.” Charles was brought from Windsor to London in the middle of December.

On 4th January 1649, the House of Commons passed an ordinance to set up a High Court of Justice, to try Charles I for high treason in the name of the people of England. The House of Lords rejected it, and as it did not receive Royal Assent, Charles asked at the start of his trial on 20th January in Westminster Hall, “I would know by what power I am called hither. I would know by what authority, I mean lawful authority”, knowing that there was no legal answer under the constitutional arrangements of the time. In fact, he offered no defense whatsoever, refusing to accept (quite correctly), the legitimacy of the court that was trying him. In consequence, he was convicted with 59 Commissioners (judges) signing the death warrant. At the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II, all the living signers of the death warrant were tried and executed as regicides.

Charles was stalwart in the face of his execution on January 30th and wore two heavy shirts to the beheading block in case his shivering from cold were mistaken for fear. Prior to his execution he took a glass of claret and a piece of bread (not intentionally Eucharistic, I believe – but also not much of a final meal). The tradition of a condemned prisoner being granted a last meal request before execution is not especially old – 19th century in most countries – and is being increasingly abolished in countries that still apply the death penalty. In September 2011, the state of Texas abolished all special last meal requests after condemned prisoner Lawrence Russell Brewer requested a huge last meal and did not eat any of it, saying he was not hungry. His last meal request was for a plate of two chicken-fried steaks with gravy and sliced onions, a triple-patty bacon cheeseburger, a cheese omelet with ground beef, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, jalapeños, a bowl of fried okra with ketchup, a pound of barbecued meat with half of a loaf of white bread, a portion of three fajitas, a meat-lover’s pizza (topped with pepperoni, ham, beef, bacon, and sausage), a pint of Blue Bell ice cream, a slab of peanut-butter fudge with crushed peanuts, and a serving equivalent to three root beers.

I believe that I have asked this question before, but it is worth asking again today: “What would you order for a last meal?” I have seen this question played out on cooking competition television shows where contestants are invited to prepare “last meals” for a panel of celebrity judges. I think I’d have to go with cock-a-leekie soup, steak and kidney pudding, and apple crumble – suitably English of me, I know, and might well be replaced with locro (with tripe) and milanesa at the last minute.