(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘sociology

“Have you ever bitten a red hot ice cube? That’s curry”*…

 

curry

Sir Joseph Paxton, “Capsicum ustulatum,” Paxton’s Magazine of Botany and Register of Flowering Plants, 1838

 

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue and the entire world changed: slavery, war, disease, colonization, and an immense transfer of wealth to Europe. And with that wealth too came New World nightshades—potatoes, tomatoes, tobacco, peppers of all kinds. It took some time for these fruits and vegetables to plant themselves into European cuisine. The tomato, for example, wasn’t widely used in Italian cuisine until the eighteenth century. But what about food further out from Europe? What about India?

Soon after Columbus’ first expedition, the treaties of Tordesillas and Saragossa divided the oceans of the newly-known world. The Portuguese effectively took the Atlantic and Indian oceans, while the Spanish took the Pacific. With that, the Portuguese established forts and trading posts along India’s Malabar coast. In time, aloo (potato), tamātar (tomato), and mirchī (chilies) were available on the western coast of the Indian subcontinent. Later, the English set up their first trading posts in India in the eastern Gangetic plain, bringing these same staples into North India.

So what was curry like before Columbus? Well, curry didn’t exist…

The pre-history of one of the world’s most– if not in fact the world’s most– popular family of dishes: “Curry Before Columbus.”

* Terry Pratchett

###

As we dig in, we might recall that it was on this date in 1922 that the Hollywood Bowl opened (after a few years of operation, in a less-finished state, as the “Daisy Dell.”  It’s shell-shaped amphitheater set into a hill, against the backdrop of the Hollywood Hills and the famous Hollywood Sign to the northeast, it has been the summer home of the L.A. Philharmonic and host to hundreds of other musical events each year.

300px-Hollywood_bowl_and_sign source

 

Written by LW

July 11, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Our situation is unique in the annals of life, yet inscribed for all time in the logic of history”*…

 

evolution

 

A scan of the history of gross world product (GWP) at multi-millennium time scale generates fundamental questions about the human past and prospect. What is the probability distribution for negative shocks ranging from mild recessions to the pandemics? Were the agricultural and industrial revolutions one-offs or did they manifest dynamics still ongoing? Is the pattern of growth best seen as exponential, if with occasional step changes in the rate, or as super exponential? If the latter, how do we interpret the typical corollary,that output will become infinite in finite time? In a modest step toward answering such ambitious questions, this paper introduces the first internally consistent statistical model of world economic history…

[Looking back to 10,000 BCE, the author concludes that] the world economic system over the long term tends not to the steady growth seen in industrial countries in the last century or so, but to instability. The credible range of future paths seems wide.

Oh, so very wide… David Roodman (@davidroodman) goes big: “Modeling the Human Trajectory” (pdf).

(Image above: source)

* François Meyer, 1974. La surchauffe de la croissance: Essai sur la dynamique de l’évolution

###

As we take the long view, we might recall that it is on this date each year that the roughly 300 residents of a small village participate in a drawing that determines who will be sacrificed to insure a good harvest… in Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery.”

Originally published in the June 26, 1948, issue of The New Yorker, it evoked strong initial negative response; subscriptions were cancelled; much hate mail received throughout the summer; and the Union of South Africa banned the story.  It is now considered a classic of short fiction (and among the most famous American short stories); it spawned several radio, television, and film adaptations, and inspired voluminous analysis, both literary and sociological.

lottery source

 

 

“We forced our opponents to change their minds”*…

 

Change

 

There are those who say this pandemic shouldn’t be politicised. That doing so is tantamount to basking in self-righteousness. Like the religious hardliner shouting it’s the wrath of God, or the populist scaremongering about the “Chinese virus”, or the trend-watcher predicting we’re finally entering a new era of love, mindfulness, and free money for all.

There are also those who say now is precisely the time to speak out. That the decisions being made at this moment will have ramifications far into the future. Or, as Obama’s chief of staff put it after Lehman Brothers fell in 2008: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”

In the first few weeks, I tended to side with the naysayers. I’ve written before about the opportunities crises present, but now it seemed tactless, even offensive. Then more days passed. Little by little, it started to dawn that this crisis might last months, a year, even longer. And that anti-crisis measures imposed temporarily one day could well become permanent the next.

No one knows what awaits us this time. But it’s precisely because we don’t know because the future is so uncertain, that we need to talk about it…

In a crisis, what was once unthinkable can suddenly become inevitable. We’re in the middle of the biggest societal shakeup since the second world war…

In a fundamentally optimistic essay, historian Rutger Bregman peers through the Overton Window to explain the seemingly-sudden ripening of ideas that seemed impossible just months ago: “The neoliberal era is ending. What comes next?

See also: “Bruno Latour: ‘This is a global catastrophe that has come from within’.”

And for some (more) historical context, in the form of a scientist’s computer model that tracks “cycles” he has detected in the U.S. since 1780– culminating (so far) in his prediction in Nature in 2010 that 2020 would see huge unrest– see “This Researcher Predicted 2020 Would Be Mayhem. Here’s What He Says May Come Next.”

* Margaret Thatcher in 2002, alluding to Tony Blair and New Labour when asked what she saw as her great achievement.  (N.B., as the piece excerpted above explains, in 2020, Bernie Sanders’s “moderate” rival Joe Biden is proposing tax increases

###

As we buckle up, we might recall that it was on this date in 1633 that Galileo delivered his Fourth (and final) Deposition to the court of the Inquisition, which had raised theological objections to his heliocentric view of the solar system (for the second time, he had been tried in 1616 for the same offense, and both censured and censored– his books were banned).  This second trial, occasioned by his publication of Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, which resurfaced his heliocentric view, ended the following day, when the Inquisitor issued these rulings:

 

  • Galileo was found “vehemently suspect of heresy”, namely of having held the opinions that the Sun lies motionless at the center of the universe, that the Earth is not at its center and moves, and that one may hold and defend an opinion as probable after it has been declared contrary to Holy Scripture.  He was required to “abjure, curse, and detest” those opinions.
  • He was sentenced to formal imprisonment at the pleasure of the Inquisition.  (On the following day this was commuted to house arrest, under which he remained for the rest of his life.)
  • His offending Dialogue was banned; and in an action not announced at the trial, publication of any of his works was forbidden, including any he might write in the future
300px-Galileo_before_the_Holy_Office

Galileo before the Holy Office, a 19th-century painting by Joseph-Nicolas Robert-Fleury

source

 

Written by LW

June 18, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.”*…

 

census

 

The census is an essential part of American democracy. The United States counts its population every ten years to determine how many seats each state should have in Congress. Census data have also been used to levy taxes and distribute funds, estimate the country’s military strength, assess needs for social programs, measure population density, conduct statistical analysis of longitudinal trends, and make business planning decisions.

We looked at every question on every census from 1790 to 2020. The questions—over 600 in total—tell us a lot about the country’s priorities, norms, and biases in each decade. They depict an evolving country: a modernizing economy, a diversifying population, an imperfect but expanding set of civil and human rights, and a growing list of armed conflicts in its memory…

From our friends at The Pudding (@puddingviz), a graphic history of the questions asked in the U.S. Census. What changes each decade, what stays the same, and what do the questions say about American culture and society? “The Evolution of the American Census.”

For a look at how the pandemic is impacting this year’s census, see “It’s the Official Start to the 2020 Census. But No One Counted On a Pandemic.” and “Coronavirus could exacerbate the US census’ undercount of people of color.”

* Article 1, Section 2, of the the Constitution of the United States of America, directing the creation and conducting of a regular census; Congress first met in 1789, and the first national census was held in 1790.

###

As we answer faithfully, we might send illustratively enumerating birthday greetings to John James Audubon; he was born on this date in 1785.  An ornithologist, naturalist, and artist, Audubon documented all types of American birds with detailed illustrations depicting the birds in their natural habitats.  His The Birds of America (1827–1839), in which he identified 25 new species, is considered one of the most important– and finest– ornithological works ever completed.

Book plate featuring Audubon’s print of the Greater Prairie Chicken

 source

 

Written by LW

April 26, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Children are not deceived by fairy-tales; they are often and gravely deceived by school-stories. Adults are not deceived by science-fiction ; they can be deceived by the stories in the women’s magazines.”*…

 

the_ladies_home_journal_1948_14763671891

 

In the 1890s, empire building was in the air in New York, and magazine editors succumbed to the craze. As President Theodore Roosevelt sent troops to Cuba and the Philippines, the magazine men—they were nearly all men—had quieter plans to extend their influence. They used their brands to sell model homes, universities, and other offerings of middle-class life. It was, after all, the Progressive Era, when technological innovations and post-Victorian values were supposed to hasten the arrival of a more enlightened, egalitarian social order. Before the concept of branding even existed, these new magazine ventures represented an exercise in branding. But woven into this phenomenon lay a stealth traditionalism, a new way of packaging the often conservative, sometimes quixotic visions of a few titans of the press.

Editors Edward Bok (Ladies’ Home Journal), John Brisben Walker (Cosmopolitan), and S.S. McClure (McClure’s) saw a way to directly shape their readers’ class aspirations. In 1895 Ladies’ Home Journal began to offer unfrilly, family-friendly architectural plans in its pages. They were mainly colonial, Craftsman, or modern ranch-style houses, and many still stand today. The Cosmopolitan, as it was then known, advertised the Cosmopolitan University, a custom-designed college degree—for free!—by correspondence course. McClure’s magazine, the juggernaut of investigative journalism—home to Ida Tarbell’s landmark investigation of Standard Oil, among many other muckraking articles of the Gilded Age—began to plot an array of ventures, including a model town called McClure’s Ideal Settlement.

Cannily noting the trend for smaller, servantless suburban homes, Journal editor Bok [the grandfather of Harvard President Derek Bok] was selling more than home design. Every house should be occupied by a female homemaker, he decided, and every family should aspire to a simpler, more frugal way of life. The campaign rapidly succeeded. By 1916 the editors of the Journal claimed that thirty thousand of their homes had been built. Part of this was due to the Journal’s wide circulation—it was the first American magazine to surpass a million subscribers. Its sister publication, the weekly Saturday Evening Post, was a fixture of nearly every household…

fireproof_house_2

“A Fireproof House for $5,000,” illustration by Frank Lloyd Wright in Ladies’ Home Journal, 1907

When the (male) proprietors of women’s magazines believed that their publications could change lives on a grand scale: “Editorial Visions.”

* C.S. Lewis

###

As we shape society, we might recall that it was on this date in 1914 that George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion premiered in London, featuring Mrs Patrick Campbell (for whom Shaw had written the role) as Eliza Doolittle.

The Greek myth of Pygmalion, who fell in love with one of his sculptures, was a popular subject for Victorian English playwrights, including one of Shaw’s influences, W. S. Gilbert, who had written a successful play based on the story,  Pygmalion and Galatea, that was first presented in 1871.  Shaw’s play in turn has been adapted numerous times, most notably as the musical My Fair Lady and its film version.

220px-Mrs._Patrick_Campbell_as_Eliza_Doolittle_1914

A Sketch Magazine illustration of Mrs. Patrick Campbell as Eliza Doolittle from April, 1914

source

 

%d bloggers like this: