January 11, 2020
New research in South Africa has indicated that early homo were cooking carbohydrate-rich rhizomes about 170,000 years ago:
“[C]ircumstantial evidence for cooking is compelling. The spatial context of the rhizomes in ash rather than adjacent sediment is significant. Further support for cooking comes from amylase gene analysis results, which indicate that a high starch diet, possibly involving processing and/or cooking of carbohydrate-rich geophytes by early humans, was already in place by the Middle Pleistocene. Cooking enables dietary diversity, and transporting geophytes to a home base like Border Cave facilitates both food processing and sharing …
“The Border Cave discovery is early evidence of cooked starchy plant food. The wide distribution of Hypoxis, particularly the small, palatable Hypoxis angustifolia rhizome that grows gregariously in many habitats, implies that it could have provided a reliable, familiar staple food source for early humans moving within or out of Africa.”
This is additional evidence for the hypothesis that cooking made us human (or at least played a significant role in our societal development).
January 9, 2020
In the Public Domain Review, Patricia Mainardi has a fascinating essay on how the image of the pear became a symbol of opposition to the French monarchy in the 1830s.
The most famous of the images was probably this: Daumier’s The Past, the Present, the Future, depicting Louis-Philippe’s pear head in triplicate, his topknot defining the fruit’s stem. The caption (possibly written by Philipon himself) notes: “What was in the beginning: fresh and confident; What is now: pale, thin, and anxious; What will be: despondent and broken. ”
While originally based on the supposed physical shape of King Louis-Phillipe, it quickly became a general symbol for the anti-monarchists.
The essay goes into great detail about how this symbol developed into a political tool — a proto-meme.
“While the government at first responded to these drawings with repression and seizures, they gradually came to adopt, however reluctantly, a laissez-faire approach. In the course of numerous prosecutions, Philipon had learned how to turn court cases into circuses, much to the amusement of jurors who often declined to convict him.”
A really interesting piece of political history.
November 24, 2019
Erica Lagalisse will be talking about her recent book, Occult Features of Anarchism: With Attention to the Conspiracy of Kings and the Conspiracy of the Peoples, tonight at the People’s Co-op Bookstore, 1391 Commercial from 7pm to 9pm.
Erica Lagalisse is an anthropologist and writer, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the London School of Economics (LSE), and board member at The Sociological Review. Lagalisse’s doctoral thesis,“Good Politics”: Property, Intersectionality, and the Making of the Anarchist Self, explores anarchist networks that cross Québec, the United States and Mexico to examine contradictions within indigenous solidarity activism and settler “anarchoindigenism”. The comparative work also throws into relief the idiosyncracies of university-educated Anglo-American leftists, and draws on anthropological, feminist and critical race theory to show how they have preempted the black feminist challenge of “intersectionality” by recuperating its praxis within the logic of neoliberal self-making projects and property relations.
As always, the event is free!
November 22, 2019
Fifty-six years ago today, my mother and father visited their closest friends, Ron and Betty, who lived a few miles from us in West London. I was in the backseat of the small black car. It smelled of leather and my parents’ cigarettes. I was sullen because I was just turned 14 years old and I had far better things to do than visit my parents’ old fogie friends to play cards.
I remember this all so clearly because, just as we pulled up outside Ron and Betty’s row house, the car radio broke off its normal programming and a solemn voice replaced the happy chatter. The voice announced that President John F. Kennedy of the United States had been shot and probably killed. I can still feel the goose-flesh that crawled over my skin. I remember the loud gasp as my father realized what had been said. John Kennedy was one of my father’s heroes, and he was mine too. He was our hope for the future, and now he was dead. Nothing else about that evening do I remember. I’m sure my folks and their friends discussed the assassination, but that has passed from recall.
Within two years of that day, though, JFK had — in my eyes at least — fallen from the pedestal upon which his charisma, his beautiful family, and his martyrdom had placed him. He was quickly revealed as just another centre-right US politician who was happy to send the boys to war, who was happy to squander the nation’s wealth on weapons and imperialism, who had no answer to segregation but brother Bobby’s federal agents. We also learned (perhaps we always knew) he wasn’t quite such a great family man, either; that Camelot was an expensive sham.
Kennedy and his people lived in the tuxedoed world of High Society that was soon to be swept away by the real world of Soul on Ice and Revolver. We might have hated that big Texas bully who followed Kennedy, but it was Kennedy not Johnson who pushed the US into South Vietnam, and it was Johnson not Kennedy who brought forward the Civil Rights Acts. Looking back, we can now see that both Kennedy and Johnson were equal participants in the cabaret that is America the Superpower. Unfortunately for the truth, Kennedy will always have the smile, the beautiful wife, the cute John-John and Caroline, while Johnson will always be pulling the ears off those damn beagles.
November 9, 2019
Thirty years ago today: It was 9th November 1989 and I was watching TV, watching the news from Berlin. And soon a dozen people are hacking at the Wall from both sides and the party has begun and CNN’s cameras bring this extraordinary and historic wish-fulfillment into the living rooms of the world, and my living room in particular that November night.
And within moments, it seemed, there were thousands singing and candles blazing. And even though I was in Vancouver at the time, my heart was with them because at heart I was and remain a Londoner. And Berlin is VERY close to home to Londoners, especially to those who had spent decades watching people die as they tried to go over and under and around the Wall. And I wept openly and for days when the Wall came down.
It was a day of ultimate possibilities because here was an impossibility happening in front of our tear-misty TV-mediated eyes.
October 27, 2019
There are many wonderful sights to see in northern Canada, and one of the great joys are the Northern Lights. But as new research reveals, these majestic celestial shows have been fascinating people for thousands of years — and thousands of kilometres from the Yukon.
The earliest records of the aurora have now been identified as coming from the middle of the 7th century BC — almost 3,000 years ago — and from the royal archives of Nineveh in the Assyrian Empire. Three separate observers — known by cuneiform specialists for their regular and accurate astronomical observations — report “red glow”, “red cloud”, and “red sky” in reports to their royal masters. Exact dates are elusive, but they appear to be from about 660 BC.
We may wonder how the “Northern” lights could be seen in the Middle East. The researchers explain:
“the Middle East was closer to the north geomagnetic pole in the Assyrian epoch. While the north geomagnetic pole is situated near the region of North America today, it was situated in the region of Eurasia in the mid- to early 7th century BCE due to the secular variation of the geomagnetic field.”
When we are lucky enough to witness these sky dances, we are sharing the pleasures and excitements of hundreds of generations of those who have gone before.
October 14, 2019
Nine hundred and fifty three years ago today, one of the most important events in English and European history took place. Harold Godwinson, King of England, met William the Bastard Duke of Normandy in battle near Hastings on the south coast of England. Harold lost and died, and the Normans became masters of England. William was crowned king on Christmas Day, 1066.
The consequences were enormous.
- Most of the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy had been killed in the various campaigns Harold fought against invaders that year. They were replaced by William’s followers;
- The victorious William expropriated virtually all lands in the country by virtue of conquest. The feudal system, which was in its infancy in England during the late Anglo-Saxon period, was firmly established when William granted lands to his followers in exchange for fealty and military service;
- All important government and religious offices were taken over by Normans;
- Anglo-Norman, a dialect of Old French, became the language of the elite and of government service; many Romance-based words came into common use in England;
- The foundation of towns and urbanism generally was accelerated by the building of Norman castles.
Although Middle English would eventually establish itself as the national language, it and the society in which it grew was enormously influenced by the Norman conquest and its aftermath. Moreover, the roots of English interference in continental European politics and all that followed from that involvement can certainly be traced to 1066.
England would never be the same again.