Nov 122017
 

On this date in 2014 the lander module Philae detached from the Rosetta space probe built by the European Space Agency and landed on comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko (a.k.a. 67P) at 15:33 UTC.

Rosetta was set to be launched on 12 January 2003 to rendezvous with the comet 46P/Wirtanen in 2011. This plan was abandoned after the failure of an Ariane 5 carrier rocket during Hot Bird 7’s launch on 11 December 2002, grounding it until the cause of the failure could be determined. In May 2003, a new plan was formed to target the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, with a revised launch date of 26 February 2004 and comet rendezvous in 2014. The larger mass and the resulting increased impact velocity made modification of the landing gear necessary.

After two scrubbed launch attempts, Rosetta was launched on 2 March 2004 at 07:17 UTC from the Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana. Aside from the changes made to launch time and target, the mission profile remained almost identical. Both co-discoverers of the comet, Klim Churyumov and Svetlana Gerasimenko, were present at the spaceport during the launch.

To achieve the required velocity to rendezvous with 67P, Rosetta used gravity assist maneuvers to accelerate throughout the inner Solar System. The comet’s orbit was known before Rosetta’s launch, from ground-based measurements, to an accuracy of approximately 100 km (62 mi). Information gathered by the onboard cameras beginning at a distance of 24 million kilometers (15,000,000 mi) were processed at ESA’s Operation Centre to refine the position of the comet in its orbit to a few kilometres.

On 25 February 2007, the craft was scheduled for a low-altitude flyby of Mars, to correct the trajectory. This was not without risk, as the estimated altitude of the flyby was a mere 250 kilometers (160 mi). During that encounter, the solar panels could not be used since the craft was in the planet’s shadow, where it would not receive any solar light for 15 minutes, causing a dangerous shortage of power. The craft was therefore put into standby mode, with no possibility to communicate, flying on batteries that were originally not designed for this task. This Mars maneuver was therefore nicknamed “The Billion Euro Gamble”. The flyby was successful, with Rosetta even returning detailed images of the surface and atmosphere of the planet, and the mission continued as planned.

The second Earth flyby was on 13 November 2007 at a distance of 5,700 km (3,500 mi).] In observations made on 7 and 8 November, Rosetta was briefly mistaken for a near-Earth asteroid about 20 m (66 ft) in diameter by an astronomer of the Catalina Sky Survey and was given the provisional designation 2007 VN84. Calculations showed that it would pass very close to Earth, which led to speculation that it could impact Earth.[73] However, astronomer Denis Denisenko recognized that the trajectory matched that of Rosetta, which the Minor Planet Center confirmed in an editorial release on 9 November.

The spacecraft performed a close flyby of asteroid 2867 Šteins on 5 September 2008. Its onboard cameras were used to fine-tune the trajectory, achieving a minimum separation of less than 800 km (500 mi). Onboard instruments measured the asteroid from 4 August to 10 September. Maximum relative speed between the two objects during the flyby was 8.6 km/s (19,000 mph; 31,000 km/h). Rosetta’s third and final flyby of Earth happened on 12 November 2009.

On 10 July 2010, Rosetta flew by 21 Lutetia, a large main-belt asteroid, at a minimum distance of 3,168±7.5 km (1,969±4.7 mi) at a velocity of 15 kilometers per second (9.3 mi/s). The flyby provided images of up to 60 meters (200 ft) per pixel resolution and covered about 50% of the surface, mostly in the northern hemisphere. The 462 images were obtained in 21 narrow- and broad-band filters extending from 0.24 to 1 μm. Lutetia was also observed by the visible–near-infrared imaging spectrometer VIRTIS, and measurements of the magnetic field and plasma environment were taken as well.

In May 2014, Rosetta began a series of eight burns. These reduced the relative velocity between the spacecraft and 67P from 775 m/s (2,540 ft/s) to 7.9 m/s (26 ft/s). In 2006, Rosetta suffered a leak in its reaction control system (RCS). The system, which consists of 24 bipropellant 10-newton thrusters, was responsible for fine tuning the trajectory of Rosetta throughout its journey. The RCS operated at a lower pressure than designed due to the leak. While this may have caused the propellants to mix incompletely and burn ‘dirtier’ and less efficiently, ESA engineers were confident that the spacecraft would have sufficient fuel reserves to allow for the successful completion of the mission.

Rosetta’s reaction wheels also showed higher than expected friction levels, though testing during the deep space hibernation period revealed the system could be operated safety at much slower speeds reducing the bearing friction noise. Before hibernation, two of the spacecraft’s four reaction wheels began exhibiting increased levels of “bearing friction noise” and one was turned off after the encounter with Lutetia to avoid possible failure. Engineers turned on all 4 wheels after the spacecraft awoke from Deep Space Hibernation in January 2014, ran them at lower speeds and elevated the control settings on the bearing heaters using an On-board Control Procedure to help reduce the level of bearing friction noise seen on 2 of the Reactions Wheels prior to Deep Space HIbernation. These changes allowed all 4 Reaction Wheels to be used throughout the period Rosetta was in orbit around 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Additionally, new software was uploaded which would allow Rosetta to function with only two active reaction wheels if necessary.

In August 2014, Rosetta made a rendezvous with the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko and commenced a series of maneuvers that took it on two successive triangular paths, averaging 100 and 50 kilometers (62 and 31 mi) from the nucleus, whose segments are hyperbolic escape trajectories alternating with thruster burns. After closing to within about 30 km (19 mi) from the comet on 10 September, the spacecraft entered actual orbit about it.

The surface layout of 67P was unknown before Rosetta’s arrival. The orbiter mapped the comet in anticipation of detaching its lander. By 25 August 2014, five potential landing sites had been determined. On 15 September 2014, ESA announced Site J, named Agilkia in honour of Agilkia Island by an ESA public contest and located on the “head” of the comet, as the lander’s destination.

Philae detached from Rosetta on 12 November 2014 at 08:35 UTC, and approached 67P at a relative speed of about 1 m/s (3.6 km/h; 2.2 mph). It initially landed on 67P at 15:33 UTC, but bounced twice, coming to rest at 17:33 UTC. Confirmation of contact with 67P reached Earth at 16:03 UTC. On contact with the surface, two harpoons were to be fired into the comet to prevent the lander from bouncing off, as the comet’s escape velocity is only around 1 m/s (3.6 km/h; 2.2 mph). Analysis of telemetry indicated that the surface at the initial touchdown site is relatively soft, covered with a layer of granular material about 0.82 feet (0.25 meters) deep, and that the harpoons had not fired upon landing.

After landing on the comet, Philae had been scheduled to commence its science mission, which included:

Characterization of the nucleus

Determination of the chemical compounds present, including amino acid enantiomers

Study of comet activities and developments over time

After bouncing, Philae settled in the shadow of a cliff, canted at an angle of around 30 degrees. This made it unable to adequately collect solar power, and it lost contact with Rosetta when its batteries ran out after two days, well before much of the planned science objectives could be attempted. Contact was briefly and intermittently reestablished several months later at various times between 13 June and 9 July, before contact was lost once again. There was no communication afterwards, and the transmitter to communicate with Philae was switched off in July 2016 to reduce power consumption of the probe. The precise location of the lander was discovered in September 2016 when Rosetta came closer to the comet and took high-resolution pictures of its surface. Knowing its exact location provides information needed to put Philae’s two days of science into proper context.

Researchers expect the study of data gathered will continue for decades to come. One of the first discoveries was that the magnetic field of 67P oscillated at 40–50 millihertz. A German composer and sound designer created an artistic rendition from the measured data to make it audible. Although it is a natural phenomenon, it has been described as a “song” and has been compared to Continuum for harpsichord by György Ligeti. However, results from Philae’s landing show that the comet’s nucleus has no magnetic field, and that the field originally detected by Rosetta is likely caused by the solar wind.

The isotopic signature of water vapor from comet 67P, as determined by the Rosetta spacecraft, is substantially different from that found on Earth. That is, the ratio of deuterium to hydrogen in the water from the comet was determined to be three times that found for terrestrial water. This makes it very unlikely that water found on Earth came from comets such as comet 67P, according to the scientists. On 22 January 2015, NASA reported that, between June and August 2014, the rate at which water vapor was released by the comet increased up to tenfold.

On 2 June 2015, NASA reported that the ALICE spectrograph on Rosetta determined that electrons within 1 km (0.6 mi) above the comet nucleus — produced from photoionization of water molecules by solar radiation, and not photons from the Sun as thought earlier — are responsible for the degradation of water and carbon dioxide molecules released from the comet nucleus into its coma.

I don’t have any great ideas for food recipes to celebrate a module landing on a comet, but I do have two ideas for recipes in a wider sense. Once is a “recipe” for making a comet, or a simulacrum of a comet made out of common items, most of which are available in the kitchen. If you go on YouTube and search for “comet recipe” you will find any number of videos of people replicating the structure of comets using household items.  Here’s one:

That recipe does not produce something edible, however. On the other hand, there are quite a few recipes for cocktails called “comet.” They are all quite different from one another, and none, in my opinion, evokes comets in any way. I don’t drink alcohol any more, but when I did I had some memorable experiences with blackcurrant vodka, so this one struck a chord:

Comet Cocktail

Ingredients

30ml Smirnoff Double Black vodka
10ml blackcurrant cordial
60ml pineapple juice
lemon wedge

Instructions

Shake the vodka, blackcurrant cordial, and pineapple juice in a cocktails shaker.  Pour over cracked ice in a glass and garnish with a lemon wedge.

 

 

Oct 222017
 

 

Today is the birthday (1920) of Timothy Francis Leary who was, in my youth, widely known as an advocate of psychedelic drugs used under controlled conditions for both therapeutic and mind-expanding purposes. He began experimenting with Psilocybin and LSD, both personally and on experimental subjects, in the early 1960s while a professor of psychology at Harvard University when the drugs were still legal.  He testified before Congress in favor of them being kept legal if used under professional supervision when the matter was being considered in 1966, but was unsuccessful. Henceforth, his continued advocacy of psychedelic drugs got him imprisoned multiple times, yet he continued public speaking on their behalf. He has the distinction of being named “”the most dangerous man in America” by president Nixon. Nixon was a crook, but no fool. He realized that Leary’s social and personal philosophy tore at the foundations of Western culture as it existed in the 1960s: much more insidiously dangerous than guns or alcohol. I could say an awful lot about Leary’s life and work but I’ll content myself with 2 very broad comments on them: one positive, one negative.  Don’t expect a recipe for LSD or marijuana brownies at the end.

Leary’s personal background shows that he was more or less rebellious from the start. He got tossed out of West Point after his first year for constantly breaking the rules. He had gone in the first place under the urging of his father. In late 1941 he enrolled at the University of Alabama where he developed an interest in psychology, but he was expelled a year later for spending a night in the female dormitory, losing his student deferment in the midst of World War II. Leary was drafted into the United States Army and reported for basic training at Fort Eustis in January 1943. He remained in the non-commissioned track while enrolled in the psychology subsection of the Army Specialized Training Program, including three months of study at Georgetown University and six months at Ohio State University. He worked in various branches of the army’s psychological units until the end of the war when he was discharged.

After retroactive suspension and eventual reinstatement at the University of Alabama, he ultimately completed his degree via correspondence courses together with psychology credits for his work at Ohio State and graduated on 23 August 1945. In 1946 he received an M.S. degree in psychology at Washington State University, and in 1950 he received a Ph.D. degree in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. You’ll have to read more of the details of his life and work for yourself. Here I’ll concentrate on two themes: his personal philosophy and his psychological theory.

Let’s start with his legendary mantra, “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” The three phrases within the mantra can actually be arranged in different ways. In a 1988 interview with Neil Strauss, he said that this slogan was “given to him” by Marshall McLuhan when the two had lunch in New York City, adding, “Marshall was very much interested in ideas and marketing, and he started singing something like, ‘Psychedelics hit the spot / Five hundred micrograms, that’s a lot,’ to the tune of the 1950s Pepsi commercial. Then he started going, ‘Tune in, turn on, and drop out.'” Though the more popular “turn on, tune in, drop out” became associated with Leary, his actual credo as proposed to his League for Spiritual Discovery was:

Drop Out – detach yourself from the external social drama which is as dehydrated and ersatz as TV. Turn On – find a sacrament which returns you to the temple of God, your own body. Go out of your mind. Get high. Tune In – be reborn. Drop back in to express it. Start a new sequence of behavior that reflects your vision.

I can relate to this. In reflecting on his days as a professor he described his life as a mindless cycle of drudgery: commuting in long lines of traffic, cranking out lectures, driving home, eating dinner and going to bed. I did the same for 30 years.  To be fair to both Leary and myself, it’s possible to be creative amid the toil, but it’s still toil. You’ve got a mortgage, and car payments, and laundry and whatnot that consume so much of your time and drive you to conformity. The urge to drop out is magnetically tempting but you resist out of fear – fear of having no money, of being ridiculed, of losing your way . . . etc. That fear keeps the system in place. It also keeps YOU in your place. 8 years ago I dropped out. I was able to retire at 58 and took the opportunity. I sold my house, gave away practically everything I owned, moved to Argentina where I was born, and since then have lived in England, China, Italy, Myanmar, and (for now) Cambodia. I’ve had some pretty hairy moments.  There were a couple of weeks in China when I had less than no money and was living in a squalid dormitory on a bowl of rice a day. Mostly it’s all right. I can teach when I need some spare cash, but otherwise I’m doing all right. It’s enormously liberating.

For Leary “turn on” involved psychotropic drugs, but his more general advice was to “find a sacrament.” He was opposed to chemicals such as heroin or alcohol that he thought dulled the mind, but I’m a bit more liberal minded about such things. Alcohol reduces inhibitions and frees the emotions, along with dulling the intelligence and putting you to sleep. It was a risk I was willing to take at the outset, but not any more. The liberation of the emotions is not worth the concomitant loss of intellect and productivity for me, so I don’t drink alcohol now. Nor do I do drugs. Instead I pursue the spiritual realms through various forms of reflection, meditation, and prayer that I have created for myself. That fits Leary’s broad conception of “turn on” I believe. Living in predominantly Buddhist countries helps in this regard.

The last phase is the “tune in,” that is, re-engage with society, but on a different plane. Leary did this via activism, public speaking, and writing. I do much the same but in a much less flamboyant way. I follow a quasi-Christian model of being the change I wish to see in the world: I am an ordained minister !! My view of Christianity is not dogmatic nor conventional, however. I’m willing to embrace anything that expands lovingkindness in the world. I teach and preach as the mood catches me, and where my path leads me. I also write blogs (duh !!), books, and articles.

In short, I give a big thumbs-up for Leary’s mantra (in the correct order): his intellectual theories – not so much.

Leary proposed The Eight-Circuit Model of Consciousness which was later expanded on by Robert Anton Wilson and Antero Alli. Leary suggested there were 8 periods [circuits] and 24 stages of neurological evolution. The 8 circuits, or 8 “brains” as referred by other authors, operate within the human nervous system, each corresponding to its own imprint and direct experience of reality. Leary and Alli include 3 stages for each circuit that details developmental points for each level of consciousness. The first 4 circuits deal with life on earth, and survival of the species. The last 4 circuits are post-terrestrial, and deal with the evolution of the species, altered states of consciousness, enlightenment, mystical experiences, psychedelic states of mind, and psychic abilities.

I could give you a whole outline of Leary’s agenda, but I’ll stop here and say that any neat package of periods and circuits in the evolution of consciousness immediately raises red flags for me. It just seems confining, academic, and altogether too tidy for my liking. 3, 8 and 24? Really? Why not 5, 6, and 30? Why use integers at all? To give you the flavor here’s the first and last stages:

  1. The vegetative-invertebrate circuit

This circuit is concerned with nourishment, physical safety, comfort and survival, suckling, cuddling, etc. It begins with one spatial dimension, forward/back. This circuit is imprinted early in infancy. The imprint will normally last for life unless it is re-imprinted by a powerful experience. Depending on the nature of the imprint, the organism will tend towards one of two basic attitudes:

A positive imprint in this circuit sets up a basic attitude of trust. The default “life position” (according to Transactional analysis) is “you’re OK.”

A negative imprint sets up a basic attitude of suspicion. The default “life position” (according to Transactional analysis) is “you’re not OK.”

. . .  skip to . . .

  1. The neuro-atomic metaphysiological

The eighth circuit is concerned with quantum consciousness, non-local awareness (information from beyond ordinary space-time awareness which is limited by the speed of light), illumination. Some of the ways this circuit can get activated are: the awakening of kundalini, shock, a near-death experience, etc. This circuit is sometimes compared to the Buddhist concept of Indra’s net from the Avatamsaka Sutra.

It’s all interesting reading, and I suggest you look into it if you are intrigued. Leary piles Freud, Jung, Nietzsche, quantum mechanics, Buddhism, Hinduism . . . whatever, into the mix. I’m fine with that. My mind is a kaleidoscopic garbage dump of information too. What I dislike is ORDER. Chaos and continua are more my bag. Look at a rainbow. Is it really made up of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, or is it a continuum containing (nearly) infinite color and variety? Here’s where perception creeps in. You’ll see 7 colors if that’s what you want to see; you’ll see infinite colors (and a lot of other things besides), if that’s what you want to see.

The simple fact, which Isaac Newton knew only too well, is that we are in a constant battle with chaos, and chaos is winning. Newton’s second law of thermodynamics is a killer. The total entropy (disorder) of a system always increases, and the process is irreversible. We can create order in one pocket of our world, but in so doing we create greater disorder in the larger world. Fight chaos if you like, but you’re going to lose. The very act of fighting creates chaos. Leary was fighting chaos and, in my endlessly humble opinion, lost. Creating orderly systems of complex things such as consciousness is an academic exercise that loses my interest very quickly. I’ll concede that the journey towards such conclusions can have merit. But I prefer chaotic journeys over orderly destinations.

This leads me to our recipe du jour. I’ve talked about “creative” recipe making many times here. I’ve also talked about “psychedelic” recipes – colorful swirls of stuff. This is the hazard of writing a daily blog for over 4 years. If I give you an orderly recipe, I’m going against the grain of the post. This site has some interesting ideas on unconventional cooking:

https://www.chowhound.com/post/unconventional-cooking-techniques-802907

It begins,

Recently, I had a conversation with an acquaintance, and after the topic turned to food (as it almost always does), we started talking about food experiences in university (communal kitchens, hotplates, etc). But he seemed a little startled when I said that I used to make grilled cheese sandwiches wrapped in foil using my clothes iron. It actually made a pretty decent sandwich…

The comments section contains a number of useful suggestions.

Right now I have no kitchen because I live in a hotel. I have an electric kettle and a refrigerator and that’s it. I do manage to cook after a fashion, however. I could make soups and stews right in the kettle if I wanted to – I bought it when I arrived in Cambodia. But I’m not big on cleaning up messes, and I need clean hot water for my yerba mate. Instead I use a variety of stock bases and sauces along with vegetables, fresh noodles, tofu, pickles, and whatnot to create soupy dishes in my soup bowl by adding the ingredients I want and then filling it with boiling water. Here’s the remains of yesterday’s dinner.

Today’s recipe will depend on how creative and unconventional you want to be.

 

 Posted by at 1:34 am
Sep 302017
 

On this date in 1967 BBC Radio 1 came on the air at 6:50 am with Tony Blackburn presenting its first show. I was listening on my faithful trannie. Before then the BBC consisted of three services: the Light Programme (broadcasting light – but not pop – music on both long and medium waves), the Third Programme (really imaginative name for a service that came after the Home and Light Programmes, broadcasting classical music), and the Home Service (heir to the original BBC radio programming of news, commentary, sports, quiz shows, etc.). Those 3 became Radio 2, Radio 3, and Radio 4 respectively, with Radio 2 broadcasting only on long wave, giving up the medium wave space to Radio 1.

Radio 1 was the BBC’s response to pirate radio stations which blossomed in the mid-1960s. The original “pirate” station was Radio Luxembourg It was an important forerunner of pirate radio and modern commercial radio in the United Kingdom. It was an effective way to advertise products by circumventing British legislation which until 1973 gave the BBC a monopoly of radio broadcasting on UK territory and prohibited all forms of advertising over the domestic radio spectrum. It boasted the most powerful privately-owned transmitter in the world (1,300 kW broadcasting on medium wave). In the late 1930s, and again in the 1950s and 1960s, it captured very large audiences in Britain and Ireland with its program of popular entertainment, especially music. I used to listen to Radio Luxembourg most evenings, when the signal was clearest, but they had the annoying habit of cutting off the end of records, presumably for copyright reasons.  Alan Freeman was one of the most famous DJs.

During the day I listened to Radio Caroline or Radio London, whichever signal was clearer. I lived to the west of London though, where signals broadcast from offshore were not stellar. I don’t know, and haven’t taken the time to research, why the BBC did not broadcast pop music in the 1960s until they came up with Radio 1. I imagine expense was a significant factor – with stuffiness not far behind. The BBC relied on radio and television licenses plus government funding for its operating budget, and I would think that fees for playing pop music were prohibitive.  The pirate stations got round this by being – er – pirates. But there was no getting around the fact that the pirates were immensely popular, and a complete nuisance. The Beeb sucked it up, hired the most popular DJs from the pirates, and went on the air with an all-music format.

The first disc jockey to broadcast on the new station was Tony Blackburn, whose cheery style, first heard on Radio Caroline and Radio London, won him the prime slot on what became known as the “Radio 1 Breakfast Show.” The first words on Radio 1 – after a countdown by the Controller of Radios 1 and 2, Robin Scott, and a jingle, recorded at PAMS in Dallas, Texas, beginning “The voice of Radio 1” – were “… And, good morning everyone. Welcome to the exciting new sound of Radio 1”. This was the first use of US-style jingles on BBC radio, but the style was familiar to listeners who were acquainted with Blackburn and other DJs from their days on pirate radio. The first complete record played on Radio 1 was “Flowers in the Rain” by The Move. The second single was “Massachusetts” by The Bee Gees. The initial rota of staff included John Peel and a gaggle of others, hired from pirates, such as Keith Skues, Ed Stewart, Mike Raven, David Ryder, Jim Fisher, Jimmy Young, Dave Cash, Kenny Everett, Simon Dee, Terry Wogan, Duncan Johnson, Doug Crawford, Tommy Vance, Chris Denning, Emperor Rosko, Pete Murray, and Bob Holness. Many of the most popular pirate radio voices, such as Simon Dee, had only a one-hour slot per week, (“Midday Spin.”)

Flashback time:

I confess I listened to Tony Blackburn every morning even though he was thoroughly mainstream and a bit of a twerp. My mum would bring me a cup of tea in my bedroom at half past seven before she headed off to work in London and would turn on my much-prized (gigantic) stereo to Tony Blackburn and I would snooze and listen until I had to get ready for school. That stereo was the talk of my entire school, and I was the only student (or teacher for that matter) who had one.  I had worked at a factory during my Easter and summer holidays to buy it. It was an utter scandal. My mates liked it and came around sometimes to listen, but teachers and parents were horrified. “How could that boy throw all that money away on a stereo when he should have put it in the bank?????” Stereos were very rare in those days.  Most records were issued in mono (though you could get stereo), and most people had cheap mono record players.  I wanted REAL SOUND.  Stereo players were very expensive. I’d guess the modern equivalent would be around $10,000 (maybe a bit less). I didn’t care.  That stereo brought me years and years of enjoyment, and my mum was still using it until she died (in 2000).  I’d say that’s fair bang for your buck. I had no interest in money then, and still don’t. I work to earn what I want (or need), then quit.

John Peel was more a favorite of mine than Tony Blackburn. He played weird stuff that no one else played and his DJ style was legendarily laconic. He had relatively unpopular time slots, such as Sunday afternoons, and I would put him on sometimes when I was doing my homework – not often, because I like to work undisturbed. But sometimes the homework bordered on the mindless and so a distraction was welcome. It was on one such program that I first heard Young Tradition, and a capella group specializing in traditional music. Henceforth, I bought all their records and eventually became close friends with the bass singer Royston Wood (RIP), and later with Heather Wood, and on nodding terms with Pete Bellamy (RIP).

Sadly, or not, I completely lost interest in pop music when I went to Oxford in 1970. The stereo came with me, but I listened only to traditional music on it (except for parties when I dragged out “oldies” (even by then) from Hendrix, Who, et al).  Radio 1 was gone and forgotten.

Given the Move were first on Radio 1 it’s easy for me to use one of their songs as inspiration for a recipe. The Move were one of a select group of bands that came along too late to be part of the US’s pop scene “British Invasion” and so they are mostly known only to old gits like me who lived in England in the late 1960s. Blackberry Way was one of their hits – an incredibly forgettable song – so let’s go with blackberries.

I grew blackberries in my garden for many years.  They were incredibly prolific and hardy, with massive thorny branches, but luscious fat fruit if you were willing to brave the pricks. Before that I went blackberrying along the hedgerows. They’ve always been a fav. I’m quite happy with a fresh bowl topped with whipped cream, but this gallery will give you some ideas. Blackberry sorbet (or ice cream) is great; blackberries make a nice addition to apple crumble; blackberry and apple Charlotte, blackberry cobbler . . . you’ll figure it out.

Sep 252017
 

Today is the birthday (1903) of Markus Yakovlevich Rothkowitz (Ма́ркус Я́ковлевич Ротко́вич in Russian and Markuss Rotkovičs in Latvian), later Mark Rothko, Russian-Latvian-American artist born in Dvinsk, Vitebsk Governorate, in the Russian Empire (today Daugavpils in Latvia). His father, Jacob (Yakov) Rothkowitz, was a pharmacist and an intellectual who initially provided his children with a secular and political, rather than religious, upbringing. In an environment where Jews were often blamed for many of the evils that befell Russia, Rothko’s early childhood was plagued by fear. Fearing that his elder sons were about to be drafted into the Imperial Russian Army, Jacob Rothkowitz emigrated from Russia to the United States. Markus remained in Russia, with his mother and elder sister Sonia. They arrived as immigrants, at Ellis Island, in late 1913. From that point, they crossed the country, to join Jacob and the elder brothers, in Portland, Oregon. Jacob’s death, a few months later, from colon cancer, left the family without economic support. Sonia operated a cash register, while Markus worked in one of his uncle’s warehouses, selling newspapers to employees. His father’s death also led Rothko to sever his ties with religion. After he had mourned his father’s death for almost a year at a local synagogue, he vowed never to set foot in it again.

Markus started school in the United States in 1913, quickly accelerating from third to fifth grade. In June 1921, he completed the secondary level, with honors, at Lincoln High School in Portland, at the age of 17. Rothko received a scholarship to Yale. At the end of his freshman year in 1922, the scholarship was not renewed, and he worked as a waiter and delivery boy to support his studies. He found the Yale community to be elitist and racist, so he and a friend, Aaron Director, started a satirical magazine, The Yale Saturday Evening Pest, which lampooned the school’s stuffy, bourgeois tone. At the end of his sophomore year, Rothko dropped out, and did not return until he was awarded an honorary degree, forty-six years later.

In the autumn of 1923, Rothko found work in New York’s garment district. While visiting a friend at the Art Students League of New York, he saw students sketching a model. According to Rothko, this was the beginning of his life as an artist. He later enrolled in the Parsons New School for Design, where one of his instructors was the artist and class monitor Arshile Gorky. This was probably his first encounter with a member of the American avant-garde. However, the two men never became close, due to Gorky’s dominating nature. Rothko referred to Gorky’s leadership in the class as “overcharged with supervision.” That same autumn, he took courses at the Art Students League taught by Cubist artist Max Weber, a fellow Russian Jew. Weber had been a part of the French avant-garde movement. To his students, eager to know about Modernism, Weber was seen as a living repository of modern art history. Under Weber’s mentorship, Rothko began to view art as a tool of emotional and religious expression. Rothko’s paintings from this era reveal the influence of his instructor. Years later, when Weber attended a show of his former student’s work and expressed his admiration, Rothko was immensely pleased.

Rothko’s move to New York established him in a fertile artistic atmosphere. Modernist painters were having more shows in New York galleries all the time, and the city’s museums were an invaluable resource. Among the important early influences on Rothko were the works of the German Expressionists, the surrealist art of Paul Klee, and the paintings of Georges Rouault. In 1928, Rothko exhibited works, with a group of other young artists, at the appropriately named Opportunity Gallery. His paintings included dark, moody, expressionist interiors, as well as urban scenes, and were generally well accepted among critics and peers. Despite this modest success, Rothko still needed to supplement his income, and in 1929 he began giving classes, in painting and clay sculpture, at the Center Academy of the Brooklyn Jewish Center. As it later turned out, he would remain active in teaching at that location for 22 years, until 1952.

During the early 1930s, he met Adolph Gottlieb, who, along with Barnett Newman, Joseph Solman, Louis Schanker, and John Graham, was part of a group of young artists surrounding the painter Milton Avery, who was 15 years older than Rothko. According to Elaine de Kooning, it was Avery who “gave Rothko the idea that [the life of a professional artist] was a possibility.” Avery’s stylized nature paintings, using his rich knowledge of form and color, would have a tremendous influence on Rothko. Soon, Rothko’s paintings took on subject matter and color similar to Avery’s, as seen in Bathers, or Beach Scene of 1933-1934.

Rothko, Gottlieb, Newman, Solman, Graham, and their mentor, Avery, spent considerable time together, vacationing at Lake George and Gloucester, Massachusetts. In the daytime they painted artworks, then discussed art in the evenings. During a 1932 visit to Lake George, Rothko met Edith Sachar, a jewelry designer, whom he married later that year. The following summer, his first one-person show was held at the Portland Art Museum, consisting mostly of drawings and aquarelles. For this exhibition, Rothko took the unusual step of displaying works done by his pre-adolescent students from the Center Academy, alongside his own. His family was unable to understand Rothko’s decision to be an artist, especially considering the dire economic situation of the Depression. Having suffered serious financial setbacks, the Rothkowitzes were mystified by Rothko’s seeming indifference to financial necessity. They felt he was doing his mother a disservice by not finding a more lucrative and realistic career.

Returning to New York, Rothko had his first East Coast one-person show at the Contemporary Arts Gallery. He showed fifteen oil paintings, mostly portraits, along with some aquarelles and drawings. Among these works, the oil paintings especially captured the art critics’ eyes. Rothko’s use of rich fields of colors moved beyond Avery’s influence. In late 1935, Rothko joined with Ilya Bolotowsky, Ben-Zion, Adolph Gottlieb, Lou Harris, Ralph Rosenborg, Louis Schanker and Joseph Solman to form “The Ten” (Whitney Ten Dissenters). According to a gallery show catalog, the mission of the group was “to protest against the reputed equivalence of American painting and literal painting.”

Rothko was earning a growing reputation among his peers, particularly among the group that formed the Artists’ Union. The Artists’ Union, including Gottlieb and Solman, hoped to create a municipal art gallery, to show self-organized group exhibitions. In 1936, the group exhibited at the Galerie Bonaparte in France, which resulted in some positive critical attention. One reviewer remarked that Rothko’s paintings “display authentic coloristic values.” Later, in 1938, a show was held at the Mercury Gallery in New York, intended as a protest against the Whitney Museum of American Art, which the group regarded as having a provincial, regionalist agenda. Also during this period, Rothko, like Avery, Gorky, Pollock, de Kooning, and many others, found employment with the Works Progress Administration.

In 1936, Rothko began writing a book, never completed, about similarities in the art of children and the work of modern painters. According to Rothko, the work of modernists, influenced by primitive art, could be compared to that of children in that “child art transforms itself into primitivism, which is only the child producing a mimicry of himself.” In this manuscript, he observed that “the fact that one usually begins with drawing is already academic. We start with color.” Rothko was using fields of color in his aquarelles and city scenes. His style was already evolving in the direction of his renowned later works. Despite this newfound exploration of color, Rothko turned his attention to other formal and stylistic innovations, inaugurating a period of surrealist paintings influenced by mythological fables and symbols.

Rothko’s work later matured from representation and mythological subjects into rectangular fields of color and light, culminating in his final works for the Rothko Chapel. Between his early style of primitivist and playful urban scenes, and his later style of transcendent color fields, was a long period of transition. This development was marked by two important events in Rothko’s life: the onset of World War II, and his reading of Friedrich Nietzsche.

It always intrigues me to leaf through a well-known artist’s progression from early works that are in all manner of styles to the mature works that we all recognize.  Here’s a sampler for you sort of in chronological order:

   

      

For Mondrian I showed images of Mondrian-inspired food. http://www.bookofdaystales.com/mondrian/  I can sort of do the same for Rothko although this stuff is not edible – as is. It’s rice in the shape of Rothko paintings. Go here for the full treatment: http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2012/11/12/164964422/mark-rice-ko-a-flavorful-interpretation-mark-rothko-s-paintings  I’ll just lift a bit of the text to give you the “flavor” (sorry!). Bad puns are a weakness. They started it with Rice-Ko !!!

Back in 1958, when Mark Rothko was commissioned to do a series of murals for The Four Seasons restaurant in New York — a place he believed was “where the richest bastards in New York will come to feed and show off” — his acceptance of the assignment was subversive at best. He hoped his art would “ruin the appetite of every son of a [beep] who ever eats in that room,” according to a Harper’s magazine article, “Mark Rothko: Portrait Of The Artist As An Angry Man.”

His distaste for the social elite led to a series of paintings that continue to captivate art enthusiasts of different backgrounds, tastes and generations. His painting, Orange, Red, Yellow 1961, sold on May 8 this year for $86.9 million at Christie’s.

Rothko eventually abandoned The Four Seasons project. Instead, he gave some of the pieces to the Tate Modern museum in 1969, just before committing suicide.

But the murals that were meant to ruin the appetite of wealthy patrons inspired chef/stylist Caitlin Levin and photographer Henry Hargreaves to interpret Rothko’s collection using rice.

“We had been doing a project about gradient food dye using several kinds of food like bananas, bread and rice and we thought, how about using rice to recreate Rothko’s paintings?” says Levin. Although dyeing rice is time consuming, Levin said it is an easier medium to work with than other foods when recreating the depth of color found in Rothko’s pieces.

After coloring, styling and photographing the rice, chef and food stylist Caitlin Levin made coconut rice. “It tastes the same,” she says.

 

 

So . . . I’d say coconut rice is the order of the day. Here’s south Indian coconut rice (in Tamil). You’ll get the drift.  Coconut rice is festive rice through south and southeast Asia with numerous variants.

Sep 212017
 

Today is the feast of St Matthew the Apostle (מַתִּתְיָהוּ‎‎ Mattityahu or מתי‎ Mattay, “Gift of YHVH”; Ματθαῖος Matthaios) who, according to the Greek Bible, was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus and, according to Christian tradition, was one of the four Evangelists. Well, Matthew the Apostle and the person who wrote the gospel that became the Gospel According to Matthew are without a doubt two different people, but they both get celebrated today (as the same person), so I’ll go with the flow even though I’m more interested in the gospel than in the apostle who is a tad one dimensional.

Matthew the apostle is mentioned in Matthew 9:9 and Matthew 10:3 as a publican who, while sitting at the “receipt of custom” in Capernaum, was called to follow Jesus. Those passages suggest that Matthew collected taxes from the Judean people for Herod Antipas. That’s how he’s characterized in Christian tradition. Matthew is also listed among the twelve, but without identification of his background, in Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15 and Acts 1:13. In passages parallel to Matthew 9:9, both Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27 describe Jesus’ calling of the tax collector Levi, the son of Alphaeus, but Mark and Luke never explicitly equate this Levi with the Matthew named as one of the twelve apostles. That’s the sum total of what we know from the gospels.  As such the information is not much of an addition to the gospel story. The gospel attributed to Matthew has much more to offer.

First we must understand that the gospel was originally anonymous and was not attributed to the apostle Matthew until the 2nd century. Scholars usually date it in the period 80 to 90 CE which means it’s highly unlikely to have been written by an eyewitness, let alone an apostle. The gospel itself does not claim to have been written by an eyewitness, and the scholarly consensus is that it, and Luke, were written using Mark as a source book. What is most interesting to me are the parts of Matthew that are not found in the other gospels, and the special spin that Matthew puts on materials it has in common with the other gospels.  I’ll just hint at the complexity here.

That Matthew was written by a Jew is patent from the opening genealogy.  Genealogies were of enormous importance and interest to writers of the Hebrew Bible, and many laypersons tend to skip over the lists of “X begat Y” because they don’t know how to read them.  I am an anthropologist, so I know better.  First question to ask is, “Who begins the genealogy?” This is the person whose identity is critical.  In Matthew the genealogy of Jesus begins with Abraham emphasizing that he was one of God’s chosen people destined to inherit Israel. Matthew wants to make it clear with his genealogy that Jesus was a Jew. (By contrast, Luke traces the genealogy of Jesus to Adam, emphasizing that Jesus was a man). Matthew’s genealogy (and other parts of the gospel) tells us, by inference, that the author was a Jew who was intent on proving that Jesus was the Jewish messiah. The rest of the genealogy cements this point, with stress on the fact that every 14 generations there was a key event in Jewish messianic history, thus: Abraham, king David, Babylonian Exile, Jesus.

The nativity of Jesus in Matthew is unique and quite different from the story in Luke (the only other place in the gospels where the narrative appears). Mark and John launch straight into the baptism and the ministry with no childhood tales. Matthew’s version has no manger, shepherds, angels etc. He mentions the Magi (Wise Men from the east), then gives us the slaughter of the innocents and the flight to Egypt. So we can add gold, frankincense and myrrh, plus the star to our Christmas decorations, and if we pay attention (as I do), we add Epiphany, not to mention the 12 days of Christmas into the equation.

For me the centerpiece of Matthew, and Christianity in general, is the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5 to 7).  All you need to know about Christianity is there. Here you’ll find the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, along with a ton of pithy sayings that sum up discipleship and the Christian life.  It is bedrock for me; the place I return again and again. There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus never delivered the sermon as given in Matthew, but it contains original sayings from lists that must have been widely circulated after Jesus died. It’s possible that it’s like the preaching of Jesus even if it is not an exact copy.  We have scores of examples in ancient Greek and Latin texts of speeches given by key people at critical moments that no one expected to be verbatim transcripts. What was necessary was to convey the essence of a speech, not the precise wording. I imagine that that is what Matthew was aiming for.

Our recipe for the day is easily taken from Matthew 14:

13Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.  

Bread and fish is a great combination.  Of course, if you want to be hyper-New York Jewish you should have lox (smoked salmon) with cream cheese on a bagel (I like mine toasted). When I am in England I eat buttered bread and smoked fish all the time. It’s easy to find smoked halibut, trout, and (especially) whiting. When I was a small boy (preschool) in Eastbourne, on the south coast, my mother sometimes made me poached whole plaice which she served with brown bread.  For reasons I still cannot fathom, she thought the brown bread would prevent the tiny bones from getting stuck in my throat. Sanity and English mothers are rare companions.

Take this day as your opportunity to experiment with the bread and fish of your choice.

Sep 152017
 

Today is Free Money Day, an annual, global event held since 2011 as a social experiment and to promote sharing and alternative economic ideas, advocated by the Post Growth Institute (PGI).  You can find details about PGI here:

http://postgrowth.org/

Free Money Day is held annually on September 15, the anniversary of the Lehman Brothers’ 2008 filing for bankruptcy. Participants offer their own money to passing strangers at public places, two coins or notes at a time. Recipients are asked to pass on one of the notes or coins to someone else. 68 events were held in 2011. On one past Free Money Day, according to the official website, 138 Free Money Day events were held in 24 countries. The money is given without obligation; it is hoped that the event and the transactions will stimulate conversations about the role of money in society, increase awareness about debt and make people think about their own relationship with money.

This is from the FREE MONEY DAY facebook page:

Our economy can work for everyone!

How? The same way every healthy system works, through good circulation. For the body, it’s blood; for the environment, it’s oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen; for our economy, it’s money.

If your heart stops pumping blood through every part of the body, tissue dies. If vital elements don’t circulate appropriately throughout the environment, our ecosystem collapses. When money accumulates at the top, instead of circulating freely through every economic level, a sick economy is inevitable.

Free Money Day is an opportunity to encourage money to circulate more freely through our economy. Whether you leave a little money with a note on a park bench, or hand money to complete strangers, know that by sharing money more freely you are helping to create a more caring, sharing economy.

I can’t find a reference to it now, but I remember my father telling me a story about a man in the 19th century standing on London Bridge offering free money to strangers (guinea coins, I think), and no one would take them. They assumed they were fake, or there was some kind of catch. Sheer, unadulterated altruism with money just raises suspicion it seems. Getting people to think about their relationship to money is the whole point of the day, and my own experiments over the years have been enlightening to me.  Money is such a fraught subject for so many people.  For some time when I was a university professor I would teach once in a while about the emotions and beliefs surrounding money, and, on occasion, to illustrate a point I would offer a dollar bill to a student – free. It’s hardly a king’s ransom, but you’d be surprised at how few people wanted to take the money.

I’m not rich by any means.  In fact I’ve had times in my life when I have had zero in the bank and had to scrounge a meal.  Once as a young professor I had to collect empty cans on my campus and get the deposit from them just to pay the toll to cross the bridge to drive home.  Nowadays I have enough to live on and not much more, and that’s fine.  If I have a little extra and someone needs help with money, I give it to them. I’ve gathered over the years that that attitude makes me a bit of a weirdo.  So be it. Money is not important to me as long as I have enough to live on. I’m not interested in accumulating wealth.  As far as I can tell, accumulating wealth corrupts people, or, at least, distorts their perspective on life.

One of the most profoundly influential ideas that I got from Marx is the notion of “exchange value” versus “use value.” In monetary terms (exchange value), a dinner that costs $20 and a shirt that costs $20 are equivalent, but if you are hungry a shirt is not much use to you. In that sense, money is a false common denominator, and if you see items in terms of their monetary value instead of their use value you are dehumanizing yourself (as well as those items) by reducing them to a scale that is ultimately meaningless – or, more precisely, has the meaning you bestow upon it because it has no intrinsic meaning, or value. Money has no use value: you can’t wear it or eat it; you can only exchange it for things you can wear or eat. Yet money gets invested with immense power despite its lack of intrinsic worth.

I could not participate properly in Free Money Day today because I live in Myanmar and don’t speak Burmese (even a little).  Consequently, it would have been impossible for me to go up to a stranger, hand him two notes (there are no coins in Myanmar) and explain what I was doing. Instead I chose a teacher at my school and gave her two 5,000 kyat notes (about $4 dollars each) and explained to her about Free Money Day: she could keep one of them and had to give the other one away. Her first response was “Really ?????” and wouldn’t take the money. I had to offer it three times before she would take. Finally, she gave in.  Then periodically throughout the day I added some comments and a few questions.  I told her that she had to give away one note today (my invention to push the issue).  I got “Really ?????” again.

After a while she told me that she was thinking carefully about it, but had made no decisions. The thing is that this is a very strange act for Myanmar. Myanmar is a poor country where most people work long hours for little money. Giving away hard-earned money for no reason is not only unheard of but also completely illogical. Eventually she asked me, “Why did you pick me?” I replied, “Because I like you?” Again I got “Really ?????” Telling people your true feelings is as unheard of in Myanmar as giving away free money: if not more so.

My wife related a story about money her therapist told her that leads to our recipe for the day.  Apparently he was in therapy as a young man, and one day he was really down in the dumps about a lot of things but lack of money topped the list, and at the time he was hungry with no money for a meal. His therapist took him out on the streets and panhandled a little money. Then he went to a convenience store, bought two cups of instant noodles, used the hot water at the store to heat them, then sat on the street with my wife’s therapist, and they ate them.  His simple comment was, “You see, you’ll always have enough if you have faith and a little imagination.”

Your dish of the day, therefore, is a cup of instant noodles. They’re not gourmet food they fill a chink and they teach an important lesson about the value of money and the value of life.

Aug 082017
 

Today, August 8th, can be written 8/8 in both day/month and month/day systems, and in certain languages the words for eight-eight can have punning meaning. In Mandarin Chinese, for example, eight-eight  –  八八 (bābā) – sounds like 爸爸 (bàba – daddy), and so at one time August 8th was father’s day in China. It’s still father’s day in Taiwan and Mongolia, but not in the People’s Republic.

In Swahili, the national language of Tanzania, eight-eight is Nane Nane, which is also the name of an Agricultural Exhibition that takes place every year around this date [8/8] in varying locations of Tanzania. At the Nane Nane Agricultural Exhibition, farmers and other agricultural stakeholders (e.g., universities and research institutes, input suppliers or fertilizer producing industries) showcase new technologies, ideas, discoveries and alternative solutions concerning the agricultural sector.

In English, puns are generally treated as rather low-grade humor, but in many, many cultures and languages puns hold a special place. In Biblical Hebrew, for example, proper nouns, especially personal names, involve complex, often tortured puns. The first man is commonly called Adam in English, but in Genesis, Adam is not his name so much as what he is: a man (referred to in the text simply as ha-adam – the man), which sounds like ha-adamah, “earth” (making a pun out of the fact that “the man” was originally fashioned from “the earth”). Likewise Jacob, founder of the lineages of the 12 tribes of Israel, begins life with a name that sounds like “heel grabber” reflecting that he was the second born of twins who, by grabbing his elder brother’s (Esau’s) heel coming from the womb will ultimately usurp him as leader of a nation. His name is changed to Israel after he wrestles with an angel where is-ra-el puns with ish-ra-el – a man who fights with God. Absolutely every personal name in Genesis has a punning meaning which is lost in translation, but is the core of rabbinical and Talmudic analysis and reflection. Nobody minds that these meanings are puns rather than genuine etymological relationships. Puns have sacred power.

Chinese puns are immensely important in a number of different ways. Chinese puns and homophones work only in spoken language because words that sound identical or similar are easily distinguished by Chinese characters in writing. Nonetheless the Chinese take puns and homophones very seriously. The number 4 is an unlucky number in Chinese culture because the word for 4 () sounds like the word for death (sǐ) – and, by coincidence, a similar pun and superstition holds true in Japanese (even though the Chinese and Japanese words are etymologically unrelated). Consequently, many Chinese high-rise buildings have no floors that have numbers with 4 in them. My first apartment in Yunnan was apartment #4 on the 13th floor, so I felt it had a kind of East meets West misfortune about it. Nothing bad happened there, I’m glad to say.

It is common in China for a bride and groom to exchange gifts of chopsticks because the word for chopsticks, 筷子 (kuàizi) puns with 快子 (kuàizǐ) which means “to have a son quickly.” Conversely, it is very bad luck for couples to give gifts of shoes because “shoes” (鞋 xié) in northern Mandarin is a homophone of “evil” (邪 xié). Similarly, it is bad luck to share a pear with your lover because “to share a pear” (分梨) is a homophone of “separate” (分离), both pronounced “fēnlí” in Mandarin.

The image of a carp swimming around lotuses is a common depiction of good fortune in China because “carp” (鲤, lǐ), “fish” (鱼, yú), and lotus (莲, lián) are near homophones with “profit” (利, lì), “surplus” (余, yú), and “successive” (连, lián) respectively.

Instead of a recipe today here are a few food puns. Sorry !!!

The wedding was so beautiful, even the cake was in tiers.

Lettuce not panic. Romaine calm.

Jul 172017
 

Today is International Firgun Day. The term “firgun” (Hebrew: פירגון) is an informal modern Hebrew term and concept in Israeli culture, which describes genuine, unselfish delight or pride in the accomplishment of the other. It can also be used to mean a generosity of spirit, an unselfish, empathetic joy that something good has happened, or might happen, to another person. The concept does not have a one-word equivalent in English, probably for good reason: that is, the idea is rather alien in the English-speaking world. The infinitive form of the word, “Lefargen”, means to make someone feel good without any ulterior motives. This absence of negativity is an integral part of the concept of firgun.

The word can be traced back to the Yiddish word “farginen” (a cognate of the German word “vergönnen. The word was initially used in the 1970s in Hebrew, and gained momentum in subsequent decades. The thing about firgun is that it’s not just about giving compliments, the feelings expressed must be authentic and without agenda. Scholars suggest that the concept of firgun can be found in Talmudic Hebrew as “ayin tova” — “a good eye” – a phrase not commonly used in modern Hebrew.

In 2014, Made in JLM (Jerusalem), an Israeli non-profit community group, set out to create “International Firgun Day”, a holiday celebrated yearly on July 17, where people share compliments or express genuine pride in the accomplishment of others on social media.

Here’s what they say on their website:

יום הפרגון הבינלאומי נחגג גם השנה, זה הפעם הרביעית, ב-17 ביולי ואתם מוזמנים להצטרף מכל מקום בעולם ולחלוק את ערך הפרגון. מה עושים? בוחרים אדם/עסק/ארגון שמגיע לו #פרגון, מוסיפים את התמונה שלו ולמה הוא נבחר, ומתייגים 3 אנשים נוספים שמתבקשים לפרגן את זה הלאה. אנו תלויים בכם- אנא הזמינו חברים, שתפו ופרגנו! אין לכם רעיונות לפרגון? כנסו לפירגונטור, מחולל הפרגונים האוטומטי: www.firgunator.com

My modern Hebrew is not stellar, but this is the gist:

International Firgun Day is celebrated this year, for the fourth time, on July 17th, and you are invited to join from anywhere in the world and share the value of your empathy. What do you do? Choose a person / business / organization that deserves a #firgun, add its image and why you selected it, and tag 3 additional people and ask them to forward it. We depend on you – please invite friends, share and distribute! Don’t have any ideas for good wishes? Go to the Firgunator, the automatic firgun generator: www.firgunator.com

So . . . International Firgun Day is a virtual event. Get on it everyone !!! Send a kind word to or about someone for no other reason than that you feel it.

As it happens, there’s a certain amount of firgun in my cooking. I cook because I enjoy making people happy, not because I want compliments. I write this blog to spread happiness. Ulterior motives ruin everything.

I entered “cock-a-leekie” (one of my favorite dishes) into the Firgunator and got:

Cock-a-leekie, I would have definitely protected the earth from the aliens with you. Your words are so sophisticated, I have no idea what you are saying.

Jun 212017
 

I am choosing today as a personal Turning Point for a variety of reasons. Today is the June solstice, a natural turning point in the solar year:

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/solstice/

Of course, it is the summer solstice (longest day) in the northern hemisphere, and the winter solstice (shortest day) in the southern hemisphere:

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/willkakuti/

People who live on the equator don’t have much to write home about on this day, but those north of the Arctic Circle or south of the Antarctic Circle have 24 hours of daylight or 24 hours of darkness respectively, so it’s a reasonably dramatic turning point for them.  Between the tropics and the Arctic/Antarctic Circles, worldwide, the solstice is a milder, but nonetheless important, turn of the year for all cultures.

Because in 1986 the June solstice and the Full (Strawberry) Moon fell on a Saturday, my wife (RIP) and I chose it for our wedding day:

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/june-wedding/

Generally at this time of year I start traveling and call a halt to this blog for a few weeks because I don’t have time for daily posts.  This year I am leaving Mantua for Mandalay where I will be teaching for the next 8 months, so why not take today as my Turning Point? I’ll be gone from posting here for a few weeks as I adjust to a new culture and a new timetable.

Tonight I’m having a dinner party for a few friends to mark the day as a transition point for me.  It’s stiflingly hot in Mantua right now, so I’m making an entirely cold meal, and I am following standard Italian norms: antipasti, i primi, i secondi, dolci. This is my last chance before I get immersed in Burmese cuisine.

My antipasti are prosciutto, tomino Langherino, and smoked salmon:

First course is pasta primavera:

Second course is chicken breast in olive oil and lemon over a bed of mixed salad:

Dessert is a Margherita cake with apples, glazed with fruit sauce and filled with frutti di bosco (optional whipped cream):

A dopo amici.

 Posted by at 11:32 am
Jun 052017
 

Another major coincidence day.  Today is the birthday of two monumentally influential economists: Adam Smith (1723 OS) and John Maynard Keynes (1883). If I set my mind to it I would be writing for days about their respective theories, comparing them, and evaluating their strengths and weaknesses. I’m not going to, however. Even though it may look otherwise, this is, first and foremost a RECIPE blog and I want to stay that course even though I am patently easily distracted by history.  I’ll paint in very broad strokes before I get to my recipe and you can delve the mysteries of economics on your own if you are interested. I make no apologies for being overly simplistic.  It is a sad fact that most modern-day politicians are also overly simplistic when it comes to economics. I claim the right to be so because I am not making policy decisions that affect millions. Politicians ought to be more educated.

Smith’s magnum opus, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, generally referred to by its shortened title The Wealth of Nations, was first published in 1776, but went through many major revisions. Wealth of Nations presents considers such basic issues as what builds a nations’ wealth, the division of labor, productivity, and free markets. It is today a foundational work in classical economics. Smith’s thought is severely limited by the fact that he was writing at the extreme beginnings of the Industrial Revolution and so takes no account of the impact on macroeconomics of the factory system, mass industrial production and consumption, nor mass media and advertising.

Smith is sometimes best remembered for his concept of the “invisible hand” (which he called AN invisible hand), even though he used the term only three times in his voluminous writing. The idea is implicit throughout, however. Smith argued that when left with substantial freedom, economic systems are able to regulate themselves. The ability to self-regulate and to ensure maximum efficiency, however, is limited by externalities, monopolies, tax preferences, lobbying groups, and other “privileges” extended to certain members of the economy at the expense of others.

Smith’s most basic hypothesis is that rational self interest ultimately leads to an economy in which all benefit. Take a hypothetical man blessed with a ton of money.  What should he do with it? Assuming he is self interested he will want to make a profit. He has a choice between hiring hundreds of (unproductive) servants or hundreds of (productive) workers.  For comfort he might hire some servants but they produce zero profit for him. He is much better off hiring as many productive workers as he can.  They have jobs, he makes a profit – seemingly win-win.  Without regulation the system achieves a balance via the forces of supply and demand. Of course it’s not as simple as that, nor did Smith suggest it was.  But that’s the core. It’s also the basis of Reaganomics or “trickle down” economics: make the rich richer by leaving them unfettered by taxation and whatnot and their wealth will naturally filter down to the benefit of everybody. I think we all see the inherent flaws in that mode of thinking.

Keynes produced his most influential work The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money during the Great Depression in 1936, challenging the ideas of the neoclassical economics of the time that held that free markets would, in the short to medium term, automatically provide full employment, as long as workers were flexible in their wage demands. He instead argued that aggregate demand determined the overall level of economic activity and that inadequate aggregate demand could lead to prolonged periods of high unemployment. Keynes advocated the use of fiscal and monetary policies to mitigate the adverse effects of economic recessions and depressions. Classical economic theory had natural swings from boom to bust built in, and Keynesian models sought to flatten out these curves in the system through enlightened regulation.

From the end of the Great Depression to the mid-1970s, Keynes provided the main inspiration for economic policy makers in Europe, the US, and much of the rest of the world. While economists and policy makers had become increasingly won over to Keynes’s way of thinking in the mid and late 1930s, it was only after the outbreak of World War II that governments started to borrow money for spending on a scale sufficient to eliminate unemployment. According to the economist John Kenneth Galbraith (then a US government official charged with controlling inflation), in the rebound of the economy from wartime spending, “one could not have had a better demonstration of the Keynesian ideas.”

The “Keynesian Revolution” was associated with the rise of modern liberalism in the West during the post-war period. Keynesian ideas became so popular that some scholars point to Keynes as representing the ideals of modern liberalism, as Adam Smith represented the ideals of classical liberalism. After the war, Winston Churchill attempted to check the rise of Keynesian policy-making in the United Kingdom and used rhetoric critical of the mixed economy in his 1945 election campaign. Despite his popularity as a war hero, Churchill suffered a landslide defeat to Clement Attlee whose government’s economic policy continued to be influenced by Keynes’s ideas.

As a not inconsequential side note Keynes thought that the pursuit of wealth for its own sake was a pathological condition, and that the proper aim of work was to provide leisure. He wanted shorter working hours and longer holidays for all. Keynes was interested in literature in general and drama in particular and supported the Cambridge Arts Theatre financially, which allowed the institution, at least for a while, to become a major British stage outside London.

Keynes’s personal interest in classical opera and dance led him to support the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden and the Ballet Company at Sadler’s Wells. During the war, as a member of CEMA (Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts), Keynes helped secure government funds to maintain both companies while their venues were shut. Following the war, Keynes was instrumental in establishing the Arts Council of Great Britain and was its founding chairman in 1946. Unsurprisingly, from the start the two organizations that received the largest grants from the new body were the Royal Opera House and Sadler’s Wells.

Not only do Smith’s and Keynes’s ideas clash in government policies these days – head on – a host of other economic models vie for ascendancy. In the end, however, the unregulated free market versus enlightened regulation lie at the heart of the matter for the vast majority of people, including policy makers (none of whom appear to think very deeply about these matters).

As an anthropologist I can’t help but notice that the role of culture is almost entirely absent from the theories of both men. Terms such as rational self interest, supply and demand, profit motive etc. are not culture-free terms. Max Weber, for example, pointed out that what counts as self interest is influenced by cultural factors. He noted that in modern economies higher wages could stimulate higher productivity whereas in what he called “traditional economies” the opposite is the case.  The issue comes down to whether a culture works on the assumption that “more is better” or “enough is enough.” Weber argues that in modern economies the majority will always work more because the people want more, whereas in traditional economies people have a sense of when they have enough for their needs, and so will work only sufficient hours to get what they need. If you pay people higher wages in a traditional culture they will work less.  It comes down to whether a culture is driven by need or desire. Their economies will be very different.  Of course, for the West desire trumps need almost all the time. Gracias a dios, I escaped the endless desire for more and more a long time ago.  Sure a Ferrari will get me from A to B very efficiently and I will look good to others in the process. But a Fiat will get me from A to B also; so will a bus or a bicycle. Nowadays you’ll usually find me on a bus when I need to travel – taking photos or reading a book.

The economics of food shopping is by no means a trivial matter.  I am always acutely aware of the price of various items. It’s not that I cannot afford to pay a lot for certain things, but generally I am not going to – except on special occasions. This is the main reason that I cook the way locals cook for the most part. This is not a rigid rule of course.  I mostly cooked using Argentine staples when I lived in Buenos Aires, but I did make the occasional trek to barrio Chino to stock up on Asian foods because Argentine cooking is dreadfully bland. For me food shopping requires balancing three variables: 1. What I can afford (or what I am prepared to pay).  2.  What I need for a healthy diet. 3. What I am in the mood for. On good days I can juggle all three nicely.

Right now I’m preparing to leave Italy so another variable has entered the picture – part of the supply side. I have to use up a kitchen full of non-perishable foods such as rice, beans, lentils, pasta etc. or get rid of them.  The canny wee Scot in me will not countenance throwing them out or giving them away, so  my daily recipes feature a lot of rice and beans.  But I don’t want to be dreary.  I go to the market almost daily and hunt for special offers – especially overstocks of perishables that have reached their sell-by date. Supply and demand work to my benefit most days. This does mean that I cannot eat what I want, when I want, without paying the price.  I live with that because I can always make something tasty with what I have.

I could give you a recipe for my Stick Everything in a Pot Soup recipe I suppose, but the name pretty much says it all. The thing is that “everything” does not literally mean “everything.” It does mean putting things together that you do not normally think of as going together – for the sake of using them up. You can make an awful mess if you are not careful.  Timing is paramount (as it is with markets). Meat, onions, and other seasonings go in first.  Dried beans and pulses also need a lot of time to cook. Generally I don’t find that rice and pasta work well together in a soup. You can use one or the other, but their cooking times need to be carefully gauged so that they do not overcook. Same for vegetables.  Usually I plan about 2 hours to cook this kind of soup and carefully plan (on paper) when I will add each ingredient so that I end up with a soup in which every ingredient is perfectly cooked, and not overcooked.