When you can't live without bananas

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Saturday, January 14, 2023

Links - 14th January 2023 (2)

Nature’s Very Own Suicide Bombers - "Some insects in the animal kingdom have been known to self-destruct, as a form of altruism to save their colonies or brethren, when harassed or pursued by a predator"

Why we're leaving the cloud - "Basecamp has had one foot in the cloud for well over a decade, and HEY has been running there exclusively since it was launched two years ago. We've run extensively in both Amazon's cloud and Google's cloud. We've run on bare virtual machines, we've run on Kubernetes. We've seen all the cloud has to offer, and tried most of it. It's finally time to conclude: Renting computers is (mostly) a bad deal for medium-sized companies like ours with stable growth. The savings promised in reduced complexity never materialized. So we're making our plans to leave.  The cloud excels at two ends of the spectrum, where only one end was ever relevant for us. The first end is when your application is so simple and low traffic that you really do save on complexity by starting with fully managed services. This is the shining path that Heroku forged, and the one that has since been paved by Render and others. It remains a fabulous way to get started when you have no customers, and it'll carry you quite far even once you start having some. (Then you'll later be faced with a Good Problem once the bills grow into the stratosphere as usage picks up, but that's a reasonable trade-off.)  The second is when your load is highly irregular... It's like paying a quarter of your house's value for earthquake insurance when you don't live anywhere near a fault line...  Now the argument always goes: Sure, but you have to manage these machines! The cloud is so much simpler! The savings will all be there in labor costs! Except no. Anyone who thinks running a major service like HEY or Basecamp in the cloud is "simple" has clearly never tried. Some things are simpler, others more complex, but on the whole, I've yet to hear of organizations at our scale being able to materially shrink their operations team, just because they moved to the cloud... The cloud is sold as computing on demand, which sounds futuristic and cool, and very much not like something as mundane as "renting computers", even though that's mostly what it is.  But this isn't just about cost. It's also about what kind of internet we want to operate in the future. It strikes me as downright tragic that this decentralized wonder of the world is now largely operating on computers owned by a handful of mega corporations. If one of the primary AWS regions go down, seemingly half the internet is offline along with it. This is not what DARPA designed!"

Russian Gas Station Offered Free Fuel To Anyone In A Bikini & Men Ended Up Taking Full Advantage Of It - "The Olvi gas station in Samara, Russia promised free fuel to anyone who turned up in a bikini. They probably thought that a lot of women will turn up, but they clearly didn't think things through."

Internet is a weird place where a picture of Elizabeth Olsen fixing sink pipe exists

Everything you thought you knew about inbox zero is wrong | WIRED UK - "Merlin Mann, the lifestyle "guru" that invented the concept of inbox zero in the early noughties, claims people took his idea far too literally. They advocated treating work emails like a never-ending task to be completed: once an email has been acknowledged it should be immediately archived, never to clutter the inbox again. Advocates of this philosophy even released handy tips on how to achieve this through infinite tags and categories. But people soon realised this is not just tedious but a massive waste of time. Mann, who admits his own work inbox is embarrassingly cluttered, agrees."

How non-English speakers are taught this crazy English grammar rule you know but you've never heard of - "But some of the most binding rules in English are things that native speakers know but don’t know they know, even though they use them every day. When someone points one out, it’s like a magical little shock. This week, for example, the BBC’s Matthew Anderson pointed out a ”rule” about the order in which adjectives have to be put in front of a noun... Forsyth also takes issue with the rules we think we know, but which don’t actually hold true. In a lecture about grammar, he dismantles the commonly held English spelling mantra ”I before E except after C.” It’s used to help people remember how to spell words like “piece,” but, Forsyth says, there are only 44 words that follow the rule, and 923 that don’t. His prime examples? “Their,” “being,” and “eight.”"

I before E; except when your foreign neighbor Keith receives eight counterfeit beige sleighs from feisty caffeinated weightlifters. Weird. : words

4 types of white guys - *Preppy, hunter, emo/goth, skinhead*

Bishops agree sex abuse rules - "Girls Think Tank Has Emerged as Key Voice for Human Rights — The San Diego Union-Tribune 1/3/11
Padres pitcher Latos writes ‘I hate SF’ on balls — The Associated Press 2/19/11
Youth hunts start season — The Bellingham (WA) Herald 9/24/10
Bishops agree sex abuse rules — The Sunday Business Post (Dublin, Ireland) 4/3/11
Police: Suicide followed natural death — Las Vegas Review-Journal 3/4/11
Bullying session to be rescheduled — The Post-Crescent (Appleton, WI) 1/18/11
1 in 5 U.S. moms have babies with multiple dads, study says — MSNBC.com 4/1/11
Judge raises bail for sex offender — The Boston Globe 7/30/10
Texas man accused of shooting deputies in custody — USA Today 9/20/10
Woman accused of mugging a man using a walker — San Antonia Express-News 4/1/11"

‘A crazy story’: how a Chinese vase valued at €2,000 sold for €8m - "In the 41 years of wielding the gavel at his auction house a stone’s throw from the royal chateau at Fontainebleau, Jean-Pierre Osenat had never seen anything like it... The story has cost one of the auctioneer’s experts his job, after a Chinese vase he declared an ordinary decorative piece worth €2,000 (£1,760) at most sold for almost €8m, nearly 4,000 times the estimate.  “The expert made a mistake. One person alone against 300 interested Chinese buyers cannot be right,” Osenat said. “He was working for us. He no longer works for us. It was, after all, a serious mistake.” The extraordinary story began earlier this year when a French woman living abroad decided to sell furniture and various objects from her late mother’s home in Brittany. Having entrusted Osenat with the sale, the vase – which had belonged to her grandmother – was packed up, dispatched to Paris and put in a “furniture and works of art” auction of 200 lots, none of which was valued over €8,000... The estimated price, between €1,500 and €2,000, reflected the expert’s view that it was a 20th-century decorative piece and not a rare artefact... The expert, who was sacked and has not been named, is reported to be standing by his original valuation.  Cédric Laborde, the director of the auction house’s Asian arts department, is still not entirely convinced the expert was wrong. “We don’t know whether it [the vase] is old or not or why it sold for such a price. Perhaps we will never know”... “The valuation corresponded to what the expert thought. In China, copying something, like an 18th-century vase, is also an art. In this case I don’t have an answer. Over the last few years there have been some surprises in auctions of Asian objects.”"

'Foodbank' nurse who put Nicola Sturgeon on spot in TV debate pictured enjoying lavish trip to New York - "The nurse who claimed she is forced to use foodbanks during the BBC Scotland election debate has been ridiculed after pictures emerged of her enjoying champagne in a five-star New York hotel.  Claire Austin, 50, posed with glasses of champagne and shared pictures of her lavish meals while on a luxury trip to the Big Apple over the New Year – despite telling Nicola Sturgeon she "can't manage" on her wages because the government are failing to fund the NHS.  Her Twitter profile also states hints that she is 'moderately rich' while it is believed her daughter attended a private school where the fees are more than £11,000 a year... in a sarcastic post she hit back at critics"

Jeffrey Dahmer Halloween costume sales banned on eBay
Maybe it's just me, but serial killers are scary. But Halloween has strayed from its earlier traditions

Quebec order of nurses disapproves of sexy, erotic Halloween nurse costumes - "To those considering dressing up this Halloween as a fetishized nurse, Quebec's order of nurses says you should think twice.  "The eroticization of the profession is socially and professionally unacceptable," the president of the OIIQ said in a press release... While the OIIQ is not about to start producing Halloween costumes it said, it has come up with a version which portrays nurses in a realistic way."
Might as well cancel Halloween. Deciding on an appropriate costume is a full-time job
The vast majority of female costumes are sexualised anyway

Nixing Halloween parade in Lower Merion causes big stir among parents who ask, ‘What’s next?’ - "“Security was a big concern,” said Amy Buckman, director of Lower Merion’s school and community relations. Although adults are screened when entering schools, that can’t happen outside. “Just the thought of having an entire school population of young children in a field surrounded by adults that we couldn’t possibly screen was worrisome,” Buckman said.  Lack of inclusivity was another factor, she said. “Our district prides itself on providing a sense of belonging to every student. And we have numerous students who for religious or cultural reasons do not celebrate Halloween.”  Some families choose to keep their children home that day, she said. “Other kids would just be sitting in the library ... and that does not help create a sense of belonging for children,” Buckman said. Furthermore, work obligations prevented some parents from attending the morning parade, disappointing their children... It’s not that students will have to bag Halloween pageantry. “Students who wish to come to school in costumes are invited to do so,” according to a letter emailed to parents last Friday. “Students are also invited to dress in a way that reflects something unique about them, their interests, culture or personality.”... “We seem to be taking the view of inclusivity as going down to the least common denominator, rather than trying to celebrate all cultures, all religions, all views for our kids,” she said.  “We’ve done other celebrations in the past, like Chinese New Year or Diwali. And certainly not every kid aligns with those”"

Sheriff's ‘ghost’ horse costume blasted for 'KKK' similarity - "An attempt by some Ohio sheriff’s officers to dress their horses up like “ghosts” for Halloween became more trick than treat for the department, when some residents complained they looked like the “Ku Klux Klan.”"
The risks of trying to be fun in a culture of offence

Meme - "I made a collage with a picture of me in the middle and some women on Facebook who decided to tell me they wouldn't have sex with me because im a conservative. To be clear I never initiated any conversation about having sex with these... Um people. They just felt the need to tell me completely unprompted that they would not have sex with me. Sincerely thank you it's a great relief to know that none of you will ever attempt to have sex with me."

Firefox points the way to eradicating PDFs - "It's not sexy but it is good. Mozilla deserves our love for implementing a better PDF reader in the new Firefox browser, 106. It takes away the pain, just a bit, by doing in-browser renderings that can be annotated, decreasing the chance you'll have to find a third-party reader that does what you need...   The list of PDF's sins puts Las Vegas to shame, and they all stem from one of the 1990s' most grievous misconceptions, that the digital would be a more exploitable clone of the physical. That assumption is far from dead – it's why corporate VR is so awful – even though PDF has been a glaring demonstration of that folly for decades.  PDF is skeuomorphic, intended to carry the character of an old entity into a new one. It is designed to produce an exact replica of a printed document. Great if you want printed documents, terrible if you don't. But PDF works from the assumption that because human readable data has been distributed in formats that can't change from cuneiform to Caxton to Agatha Christie, that's how it's going to be in computer land... The results are lost productivity, lost opportunity, even lost users."

The Secret Tricks Hidden Inside Restaurant Menus - "Far from being glorified pricelists, restaurant menus are sophisticated marketing tools that can nudge customers towards certain choices. Restaurant menus can even tell us what to think.  “Even the binding around the menu is passing us important messages about the kind of experience we are about to have,” explains Charles Spence, a professor in experimental psychology and multisensory perception at the University of Oxford. “There are a lot of elements on a menu that can be changed to nudge the customer in one way or another.”... “For a large chain that might have a million people a day coming into their restaurants around the world, it can take up to 18 months to put out a menu as we test everything on it three times,” says Gregg Rapp, a menu engineer based in Palm Springs, California, who has worked on menus for small neighbourhood cafes and multinational giants during his 34-year-long career... Heavier menus have been shown to suggest to the customer that they are in a more upscale establishment where they might expect high levels of service. The font the menu is written in can convey similar messages; for instance an italic typeface conveys a perception of quality. But using elaborate fonts that are hard to read could also have another effect – it could alter how the food itself tastes... consumers often associate rounder typefaces with sweeter tastes, while angular fonts tend to convey a salty, sour or bitter experience. “Restaurants can play with this to nudge people towards ordering more expensive dishes,” explains Spence, whose recent book Gastrophysics: the New Science of Eating, looked at the issue in detail. But the language on the menu can be just as important, he adds. After all, a “grass-fed Aberdeen Angus fillet with thick-cut rosemary fries” sounds much more appetising than a simple “steak and chips”, does it not? This sort of descriptive language is widely used by the food industry. The British retailer Marks & Spencer famously uses long-winded, and often sensual, descriptions of the food it sells in its adverts, to convey the impression of the quality of its products. “This is not just a pudding,” one advert declared. “This is a melt in the middle, Belgian chocolate pudding served with extra thick Channel Island cream.” It saw sales rocket by 3,500 percent. Words have tremendous power over our food choice. Giving dishes descriptive names can increase sales by up to 27 percent in some cases. This becomes particularly effective if the description attaches some provenance to the ingredients – “Grandma’s home-baked zucchini cookies” sound much more appealing than “courgette biscuits”.  “Naming the farmer who grew the vegetables or the breed of a pig can help to add authenticity to a product,” says Spence. “Consumers take that as a sign of quality, even it has been made up. Sensory words can also make a dish seem more appealing.”... by cleverly naming dishes with words that mimic the mouth movements when eating, restaurants could increase the palatability of the food. They found words that move from the front to the back of the mouth were more effective – such as the made up word “bodok”...  Putting brand names into dish titles is also an effective strategy for many chain restaurants, as are nostalgic labels like “handmade” or “ye olde” according to Brian Wansink from the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University. A dose of patriotism and family can also boost sales... if longer words were used to describe a dish, it tended to cost more. For every letter longer the average word length was, the price of the dish it was describing went up by 18 cents (14p)... Certain colours like green are often used to imply the food is healthy and fresh, while orange is thought to stimulate the appetite... Red suggests a sense of urgency and perhaps draws attention to dishes the chef most wants you to buy – probably because they have the biggest profit margin...  “The dollar sign is a pain point that reminds the diner that they are spending money,” says Allen. “By just using the figure, or even better, writing it out in words, it can reduce that pain.”... By placing the most expensive item at the top of the menu, it makes those that come after it seem far more reasonably priced... “When we do eye tracking on a customer with a menu in their hand, we typically see hotspots in the upper right hand side,” he says. “The first item on the menu is also the best real estate.”... filling a menu with too many items can actually hamper choice, according to menu design experts. They say offering any more than seven items can overwhelm diners... in fast food restaurants, customers wanted to pick from six items per category. In fine dining establishments, they preferred a little more choice – between seven and 10 items... Boxes around certain dishes – often high-priced options like steaks – can be particularly effective.  Some restaurants also use logos that might signify a new time or a seasonal dish to draw a customer towards those choices. Images can also help, but it depends on where you are eating. In many parts of the world, pictures of food tend to be associated with cheaper fast food, and can put off the more snobby eater...  “Our minds find protein in motion – oozing cheese and dribbling yolk, very attractive,” says Spence. “As menus go digital, there will be more opportunity to show this off with videos and animations.” Menus of the future could become so sophisticated that they may even know what you want to order before you even realise it yourself"

21 Strange and Ingenious Uses for WD40 - "A 1983 survey revealed that 4 in every 5 American homes had a can of WD40 in them... The WD40 website promotes dozens of uses for their product, as well as a list of 2,000 uses submitted by actual users...
Use No. 1: Spray it on dead fish bait as “a great pike attractor.”
Use No. 2: Coat wire tomato cages with it to keep insects away.
Use No. 5: It works like magic on tangled horse manes and tails.
Use No. 6: Remove gunk from the base of the toilet bowl.
Use No. 7: It’s a great lubricant for prosthetic limbs.
Use No. 8: It shines the leaves of artificial plants...
There have been all sorts of guesses about what exactly is in WD40, but the company isn’t saying. In 2009, Wired Magazine sent some to a laboratory to have it analyzed. The verdict? Fish oil, Vaseline, and “the goop inside homemade lava lamps.” Fact is, nobody knows. The formula has never been patented, apparently from fear somebody would find out. Instead, it’s a closely guarded trade secret locked up in a bank vault in San Diego...
Use No. 9: There are arthritis sufferers who swear by spraying it on stiff limbs. (The company, on the other hand, advises against it.)
Use No. 11: Great for getting chewing gum out of your kids’ hair.
Use No. 12: It’s rumored to keep the Statue of Liberty rust-free.
Use No. 13: Takes the sting out of fire ant bites.
Use No. 14: It keeps mirrors and windows from fogging up, whether in the car or the bathroom.
Use No. 15: It repels pigeons from balcony railings.
Use No. 16: Paired with a long-handled lighter, it makes a great mini flame-thrower. (Proceed at your own risk.) For years, the number one complaint about the product was that people lost the little red straw that came with each can. In 2005, the company introduced the foldable Smart Straw to solve this problem. (Incidentally, the Smart Straw is smarter than you think. I just today read the can and realized that you can still spray it the old fashioned way if you just leave the Smart Straw folded. Am I the only person who didn’t know this? My guess is, yes.)... Police once used WD40 to extricate a naked burglar who had become wedged into ductwork. It was used to help pull a boa constrictor from pipes on the underside of a bus. A pet owner used it to free his parakeet—and himself—from sticky mouse paper...
Use No. 17: It keeps snow from sticking to shovels.
Use No. 18: It eliminates static on volume-control and tuning knobs.
Use No. 19: It cleans dog poop off tennis shoes.
Use No. 20: It camouflages scratches in cultured marble.
Use No. 21: It removes duct tape"

Benefits of Walking: Is Walking Every Day Really Enough Exercise? - "Kerry believes that walking is seriously underrated. While it isn’t as high intensity as other forms of cardio such as running, “it is effective in its own right, and no matter how fit you are, it is extremely beneficial”. Walking is particularly good for people who suffer from “knee, ankle or back problems”, says Kerry, as it can “reduce pain and improve your circulation and posture”.  There are a whole load of benefits you can get from walking. According to Dr Davies, it can help you “improve your breathing, lower your heart rate, feel happier, become more connected to your environment, and experience less pain if you struggle with pain-related health issues.”  And it’s not just about fitness: new research published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that brisk walking five times a week helps combat brain aging and memory loss by encouraging blood flow... Kerry recommends “a daily walk of at least 30 minutes”. This is the best way to “increase cardiovascular fitness, help to strengthen your bones, and boost muscle endurance and power”. However, Tashi Skervin, a runner, trainer, and founder of fitness bootcamp TSC Method, says that everyone is different. “Someone with quite a sedentary lifestyle will require more movement, whereas someone whose job involves them moving all day won’t need as much to ensure they reach the minimum amount required”... “practising good posture is important” while walking to ensure the exercise is comfortable and efficient. That means you should “keep your head up, lengthen your back, drop your neck and shoulders, and try to engage your core”. You also need to make sure you “swing your arms with each step to create momentum”.   Dr Davies recommends “finding your baseline duration each session”. Your baseline is basically “whatever you can manage without causing problems”, such as losing your form or injuring yourself. She suggests aiming to build from your baseline by at most 8-10% each week, to ensure you keep your “heart, lungs, muscles and other body systems” challenged.   It can also help to vary the intensity of the exercise. Tashi says that “some of your walks could be long and slow, and others can be short and brisk, and this will help to work different energy systems and improve your cardiovascular health”."

The Economics Behind Grandma’s Tuna Casseroles - "All too often, cooking is explained in terms of social norms about femininity, or immigrants, or, in one New York Times column, the Cold War. This is all very well for sophomore sociology classes, but why does no one ever offer simple theories such as “they liked it”; “they thought it looked pretty like that”; or “that was what they could afford”? Having read quite a lot of the era's cookbooks and food writing, I find these the most likely reasons for the endless parade of things molded, jellied, bemayonnaised and enbechameled...
1. Most people are not that adventurous; they like what's familiar. American adults ate what they did in the 1950s because of what their parents had served them in the 1920s: bland, and heavy on preserved foods like canned pineapple and mayonnaise.
2. A lot of the ingredients we take for granted were expensive and hard to get. Off-season, fresh produce was elusive: The much-maligned iceberg lettuce was easy to ship, and kept for a long time, making it one of the few things you could reliably get year round. Spices were more expensive, especially relative to household incomes...
3. People were poorer... The same people who chuckle at the things done with cocktail franks and canned tuna will happily eat something like the tripe dishes common in many ethnic cuisines...
4. The foods of today’s lower middle class are the foods of yesterday’s tycoons. Before the 1890s, gelatin was a food that only rich people could regularly have... Over time, the ubiquity of these foods made them déclassé...
5. There were a lot of bad cooks around. These days, people who don’t like to cook, or aren’t good at it, mostly don’t. They can serve a rich variety of prepared foods, and enjoy takeout and restaurants. Why would you labor over something you hate, when someone else will sell you something better for only slightly more than it would cost you to make something bad?... Modern food writing has an enormous selection bias. The median cookbook reader is a much better cook, and much more interested in food, than the median audience of recipes from decades past...
6. Look at the sources of our immigrants... With the notable exception of the Italians, in the 19th century, most immigrants were from places with short growing seasons and bland cuisines, heavy on the cream and carbohydrates. After we restricted immigration in the 1920s, that’s what we were left with until immigrants started coming again in the 1960s. Of course, Louisiana had good French food, California and Texas had a Mexican influence, but by and large what we ate in 1960 was about what you’d expect from a German/English/Irish/Eastern European culinary heritage, adapted for modern convenience foods...
7. Entertaining was mandatory. Because people didn’t go to restaurants so much, they spent time having people over, or eating at someone else’s house. If someone had you over, you had to have them over."

There’s Already a Blueprint for a More Accessible Internet. If Only Designers Would Learn It - " The internet was a welcoming place when Cerf conceived of it. Email, for instance, originated as an assistive device that allowed the deaf to receive messages accurately. He developed its protocols, in part, to communicate with his wife Sigrid, who is deaf... But as websites got flashier, the experience has quickly become a source of frustration for disabled users... In 2017, the FBI arrested Maryland resident John Rayne Rivello for tweeting a strobing gif to embattled journalist Kurt Eichenwald with the words: “You deserve a seizure for your posts.” The New York Times reports that Eichenwald, who has epilepsy, immediately suffered a seizure upon seeing the animated message on his Twitter feed...  Getting web developers to implement WCAG’s best practices is difficult because accessibility is often an afterthought... A 2016 Microsoft-funded investigation about the economic value of accessible technologies to companies suggests several advantages for employees from increased talent diversity, boost in productivity, and increased retention. For customers, showing a company cares about accessibility engenders loyalty and generates repeat business.   There’s a particularly dramatic return for online businesses. For instance, UK insurance company  Legal & General Group doubled its online traffic in three months when it redesigned its website to make it accessible to disabled people. It recovered the cost of the redesign  within 12 months. Similarly, CNET improved its SEO and saw a 30 percent spike in Google traffic after adding transcripts of videos in 2016... “There’s a long history of innovations designed with and by excluded communities that have become a part of everyday life for many more people,” she explains to Quartz. Closed captioning, touchscreen mobile devices, audiobooks, and even the keyboard all originated as assistive technology... “Many of us are temporarily able bodied and will face exclusion as we age. When we design for inclusion, we’re designing for our future selves.”"

In Finland, Kids Learn Computer Science Without Computers - "unlike in some parts of the United States where learning to code is an isolated skill, Finnish children are taught to think of coding and programming more as tools to be explored and utilized across multiple subjects... If kids are in a physical-education class, students can act out the concept of a loop (essentially a sequence) by putting on a favorite tune and repeating a series of dance steps. Clap, clap, stomp, stomp, jump! The class can learn about different types of loops by adding other specifications—say, having students close their eyes—to the sequence or modifying it.  In art class, kids can learn about loops by knitting, which is, after all, a sequence of stitches that sometimes vary and sometimes stay the same...  Liukas pushes back at the idea that children are already tech-savvy simply because they seem to be able to navigate an iPhone intuitively... knowing how to use something isn’t the same as understanding how it works. And because programming can be taught in so many ways, Liukas said, it can be an opportunity for kids to learn lots of related skills, such as how to collaborate, how to tell a story, and how to think creatively...  This is where the argument that it’s supposedly not fair to compare Finland to the United States because the former is much smaller, more homogenous, and more egalitarian often comes in. But Samuel Abrams, a professor at Columbia University and the author of a book about the push to privatize education in the United States, challenges that narrative. Abrams, who outlined his research at the embassy, compared Finland’s high marks on international education tests to those produced by other, similarly sized Nordic countries that are also relatively more homogenous and egalitarian than the United States. Those countries—Sweden, Denmark, and Norway—score lower than Finland and more in line with America.  Finland, Abrams argued, sees education as a mode of nation building and economic development because it has to. While Norway has oil and Sweden has minerals and Denmark has banking, Finland has the brains of its citizens. And while Finland is today considered a frontrunner on education, that wasn’t always the case"

The Unusual Language That Linguists Thought Couldn’t Exist - "the dominant thinking until fairly recently was that universal linguistic properties reflect genetic predispositions. Under this view, duality of patterning is much like an opposable thumb: It evolved within our species because it was advantageous, and now exists as part of our genetic heritage. We are born expecting language to have duality of patterning.  What to make, then, of the discovery of a language whose words are not made from smaller, meaningless units? Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language (ABSL) is a new sign language emerging in a village with high rates of inherited deafness in Israel’s Negev Desert... words in this language correspond to holistic gestures... ABSL provides fodder for researchers who reject the idea that there’s a genetic basis for the similarities found across languages. Instead, they argue, languages share certain properties because they all have to solve similar problems of communication under similar pressures, pressures that reflect the limits of human abilities to learn, remember, produce, and perceive information"

The Dangers and Delusions of Critical Race Theory

Among other things, this is yet another explanation of the link between post-modernism and grievance mongering 


The Dangers and Delusions of Critical Race Theory

"Hamilton’s draft “Learn. Disrupt. Rebuild.” program included primary grade lesson plans using a definition of racism “grounded in Critical Race Theory,” which holds that, “Racism is ordinary, the ‘normal’ way that society does business.” The Toronto District School Board website even touts an anti-racist approach for learning and teaching mathematics...

CEOs of nearly 500 Canadian companies had by last autumn signed the BlackNorth Initiative’s “anti-racist pledge” promising to “counter anti-black racism in corporate Canada by setting measurable targets to track progress.” This would include hiring and promotion decisions on the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). The Justin Trudeau government, meanwhile, has launched Building a Foundation for Change: Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy 2019-2022, a sweeping initiative that creates an “anti-racism secretariat” aimed at battling racism across all levels of government, non-government organizations, and in Indigenous and other so-called “racialized” communities. In short, more government regulation and bureaucracy, driven by an uncompromising ideology convinced that racism is everywhere.

And late last year, Ontario NDP MPP Laura Mae Lindo put forward Bill 67, Racial Equity in the Education System Act. Her private member’s bill would have given legal sanction to a comprehensive program of closely-monitored antiracist “re-education” of teachers and professors, involving examinations and other certification procedures. Institutions would be required to have staff “experts” in “racial equity” to implement anti-racist policies and to recognize, track and investigate incidents of racism. Bill 67 died after second reading when Conservative premier Doug Ford called the June election, but the fact that just a single MPP voted against it demonstrates how widespread such thinking has become.

What do all these measures have in common? All are ostensibly dedicated to combatting racism in Canada. Who except racists would quarrel with that?...

CRT was spawned in the 1970s on American university campuses... It was not long before CRT flew the academic coop and, as journalist Douglas Murray vividly documents in The War on the West, began infiltrating more and more areas of Western society. CRT increasingly influenced the language and practices of education, culture and entertainment, then government and the mass media, eventually business and, as was recently seen to spectacular effect in the U.S., even the military.

To see the problem with CRT – and how grave it is – one needs to understand the irreconcilable differences between it and the theory of liberal democracy. Ours is a historically free society with a liberal-democratic form of government. One of the chief ends of such governments is to secure our individual rights and liberties. Liberal-democratic political philosophy envisions people as individuals endowed with free will, capable of exercising their rational faculties to make choices that best fulfill their desires or interests. We are, each of us, in the main responsible for what becomes of us. As humans we are all equal in this decisive respect. That is why it makes sense to think of every human being as inherently possessed of certain rights and liberties.

CRT, by contrast, sees us as members of racial groups whose choices are determined by their racial group-membership...

A fundamental principle of liberal-democracy is individual equality before the law. We are each entitled to equal protection of the law, and therefore any discriminatory treatment in law of any person or group of persons based on race, creed, colour, gender, etc., is unjust and should be prevented or eliminated.

This idea follows from the liberal-democratic conception of rights. As Harvard University political philosopher Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr. argued in 1993 in his book America’s Constitutional Soul, “rights” in this sense are formal. They entail formal equality, that is, equal protection – in law – of our freedom, irrespective of race, creed, gender, etc., to live our life as we please, though without any assurances of attaining happiness. Rights so understood were never thought to provide for so-called substantive equality, a newer and competing conception of equality that is discussed below.

Connected to liberal-democratic concepts is the principle of equal opportunity. This means that no individual is legally barred or discouraged from any particular activity or pursuit based on the individual’s race, religion, gender, etc. But this also means that different individuals, with their varying talents, interests, ambition and work ethic, will end up in different places in life – some wealthier, others poorer; some more educated, others less; and so on.

Critical race theorists (crits for short) reject all of this. For them, the principle of equality before the law is a sham, an ideological smokescreen that conceals injustice while perpetuating the existing, structural racial inequalities – that is, systemic racism. Accordingly, the crits have built much of their program around substantive equality, which seeks to achieve (or perhaps impose) an equality of societal conditions for all and, even more important, sameness of results or outcomes...

The U.S. doctrine of Affirmative Action (AA) launched towards the end of the Civil Rights period is a key example. While individual responsibility is fundamental to the idea of formal rights, it is easy to see how this concept will be diluted or even abandoned under a doctrine of substantive rights.

Hence also CRT’s more recent demand that governments, businesses and universities adopt hiring and admissions policies like non-merit-based DEI, which is basically the old, soured AA wine in new bottles. As Shelby Steele, a Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, points out in Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country, further massive government-run social engineering projects were sure to follow earlier, more limited programs, such as attempting to achieve racial desegregation of schools through state-mandated busing.

Should you point out to crits that such policies undermine free-market economics, which is, with due qualification, liberal democracy at work in the economic sphere, they will say, “Fine!” For them, capitalism (as they typically call it) is inherently racist... The crits see any statistical disparity in outcomes between races as proof of systemic racism. Individual choice, talent, drive and work ethic are of little practical significance and individual responsibility as liberals conceive it is a racist red herring.

Over time, CRT’s advocates come to see more and more things as racist or evidence of systemic racism...

If one objects that policies favouring one group over another amount to reverse racism, one is generally met with vitriol, denunciation and demands that one be silenced. And yet, some crits might actually concede this point. Leading CRT exponent Ibram X. Kendi comes close to doing so in How To Be An Antiracist: he considers “antiracist discrimination,” what we might call anti-white discrimination (or perhaps just racism), a matter of “equity.” “The only remedy to racist discrimination,” writes Kendi, “is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.” The clear implication is that, so long as it is discrimination against whites, it is socially just...

Systemic racism attributes such disparities to what crits regard as the capitalist system’s intrinsically racist structure and dynamics of power and domination. As Mansfield notes, such a society will be racist in the new, systemic sense even if none of its members is a racist in the traditional sense.

There is a fundamental flaw at the heart of CRT. Contrary to what crits hold, CRT’s concept of systemic racism is actually unable to explain the existence of racial disparities that are not products of overt racism. That’s because it simply assumes, in circular fashion, what it is supposed to explain: all racial disparities not causally related to overt (or traditional) racism are effects of systemic racism. This conceptual stratagem enables crits to maintain that if a black-white disparity in wealth cannot be traced to overt racism, then it must be a product of systemic racism, since it cannot be due to anything else. Systemic racism, then, is so defined as to rule out the existence of substantive disparities between races not reasonably attributable to racism of one form or the other. It has been set up to be self-proving and irrefutable.

This defining assumption permeates the literature of CRT. The price is serious and ever-growing distortion of reality. This includes overlooking people of colour who don’t fit the crit narrative, such as East Asian students who statistically perform as well as or even better than whites...

Faced with the logical incoherence at the heart of their theory and unable to address the empirical evidence contradicting their claims, crits deploy several tools to maintain their momentum. One is attempting to write off any countervailing studies or articles as bad science. Another is to ignore critiques and, where this fails, to deplatform the critics. A further technique supports the first two, denouncing critics and criticism as racist, indeed, to assert that white critics lack legitimacy to comment on anything to do with race (and, since the crits consider nearly everything to be about race, this would rule whites out of most public discussion). Paradoxically, such charges are often levelled by white crits, not that this slows them down. And increasingly common is to pursue the marginalization or destruction of the critic, worsening the phenomenon of cancel culture.

Continuing conflict over or caused by CRT is likely to have even greater and graver social consequences. The trafficking in pernicious falsehoods, author Murray predicts, will generate increasing hostility and hatred towards whites merely for being white and also towards non-whites who depart from the official CRT narrative. These are already being denounced as “white-adjacent,” “multiracially white” or worse.

Successful African-Americans who will have no truck with CRT or other woke ideology, such as constitutional-conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, journalist Candace Owens and Republican Senator Tim Scott, are routinely reviled as “Uncle Toms, sellouts, Oreos, [or] puppets,” to draw from Kendi’s list of demeaning racialized slurs. Kendi himself goes further. “Black people need to do more than revoke [the] Black card” of “Black on Black criminals,” he writes. “We need to paste the racist card on their foreheads for all the world to see.”

CRT’s perverse practical consequences extend even farther. Asian-American students are suing Harvard University over its racially discriminatory admissions policy which, they allege, disadvantages them while advantaging academically lower-scoring blacks and Hispanics. Racial neo-segregation” has become widespread at college residences, courses and graduating ceremonies – although it is now practised for the presumed benefit of blacks and Hispanics, not whites. Only last month it was learned that a student housing co-op in Berkeley, California has explicitly prohibited whites not only as tenants but from entering its common area, to protect “people of color” from “white violence and presence.” Barring whites in various ways has become a recurring practice on U.S. campuses. There is also increasing violence targeting white and so-called white-adjacent police and business-owners.

Why do crits cling so tenaciously to the concept of systemic racism if it has no real explanatory value and is contributing to worsening race relations? Possibly because without it, CRT loses not only its radical rhetorical appeal but, arguably, its reason for being. For the purpose of CRT appears to extend beyond even the already-radical idea of imposing uniformity of results across all racial groups in society. In the crits’ minds, the entire Western-style, liberal-democratic, free-market system, the essence of which is domination by “hetero-patriarchal capitalist racist” white men, is rotten through and through, and therefore must be remade from top to bottom.

Thus one powerful motive for propagating systemic racism is to foment a revolutionary political movement along Marxist-socialist lines – much as some groups linked to Black Lives Matter and Antifa imagine. In their view, battling the remnants of overt racism doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Concomitantly, that the concept of systemic racism obscures rather than illuminates the problem of actual racism seems not to bother crits, for they don’t care much about logic or evidence, or even about truth. This brings us to what are probably the most serious problems with CRT.

First is its misology – its deep distrust of reason. This is derived from its postmodernist forbears like Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. This tendency cashes out as the denial of objectivity in science or any form of rational, evidence-based argument, disdain for logical consistency and the debunking of the idea of objective, universal truth. For Foucault, science is, like every other social institution and practice, a manifestation of power. “We should admit,” he wrote in 1977’s Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, “that there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations.” For Foucault, the principles of science, including disinterested objectivity and logical coherence, are mere elements of an ideological construct.

We catch more than a whiff of that postmodernist misology and relativism, mixed with cultural self-loathing, in the document outlining the Toronto District School Board’s new, CRT-based approach to mathematics mentioned earlier. As Murray writes in The War on the West, citing the document, it seeks to “weed out ‘Eurocentric mathematical knowledges’ (sic) and replace them with ‘a decolonial, antiracist approach to mathematics education’” that includes “‘Indigenous pedagogical approaches…[and shows] respect for the diverse and multiple ways of knowing that are relevant to and reflective of students’ lived experiences.’” It remains unclear what this torrent of ideology will mean in practice. The entire world has embraced Western mathematics. Do the crits intend to get rid of calculus or propose that 2+2=5?

Perhaps, then, CRT is at bottom a kind of political rhetoric designed to play on the sentiments of white guilt and non-white resentment and to spur a new, anti-liberal-democratic political activism with revolutionary aims...

The logical consequence of CRT’s misology and activism is to rule out reasonable dialogue between crits and their opponents. All talk of antiracist “education” through open-minded discussion in antiracist workshops, like those led by CRT activist Robin DiAngelo, is thus hollow pretence.

In DiAngelo’s books White Fragility and Nice Racism, virtually every conceivable objection raised in her workshops by white persons of any political stripe is “explained” as a sign of their “white fragility.”...

As the Toronto District School Board put it in a document offering tips for parents on talking to their kids about racism, colour blindness “promotes the idea that non-white races are inferior.”

What’s more, DiAngelo avers, white fragility is a privilege of whites not available to non-whites, making it another phenomenon of white racism. Here, too, the concept is set up to be self-proving and unfalsifiable. Whites who admit to having harboured feelings of racism or used racial epithets are confessed racists, while whites who assert that they regard people of all races equally and deny being racist are guilty of white fragility, a form of racism. Kendi put DiAngelo’s thesis well when, in a comment on Good Morning America, he said, “[The] heartbeat of racism itself is denial and the sound of that heartbeat is ‘I am not a racist.’” The only way out for a white person is to publicly confess guilt and become (as Kendi insists) not a non-racist but an “antiracist.” Which really means that whites must remake themselves into active CRT adherents. Shades of Mao’s Cultural Revolution!

Since they won’t – and can’t – acknowledge that the basic concepts of CRT are in principle rationally contestable, then whatever it is that crits offer, it is not science. As philosopher of science Karl Popper demonstrated, an unfalsifiable proposition is not a scientific proposition, although it may figure in a secular religion.

Consequently, the crits’ most effective response to criticism is to dismiss their critics as racist and silence them using shaming or other coercion. This may be the most troubling of CRT’s many problematic aspects. People openly skeptical of the theory and its resulting practices are increasingly threatened with “cancellation,” ranging from damage to their reputation to loss of livelihood and physical harassment such as doxing.

A number of Canadian academics have already faced this...

Perhaps the best explanation for the spread of CRT’s influence is found in Steele’s 2007 book White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of America in the Civil Rights Era. Where whites in positions of power have embraced such empirically unfounded CRT concepts as systemic racism, it’s not because they hope these will provide real knowledge about racism. Rather, says Steele, they’ve been beguiled by the moral and emotional appeal. Adopting those “poetic truths” allows whites to dissociate themselves from the actual white racism that previously permeated American society and to expunge the lingering guilt while retrieving the moral authority lost when institutionalized white racism was at last publicly acknowledged.

Where blacks embrace CRT, according to Steele, they frequently do so because of resentment and the prospect of power over guilt-ridden whites or access to material benefits provided by CRT-influenced programs. But by no means all blacks feel this way; many have used their constitutionally entrenched and legally sanctioned rights to pursue the good life by means of their own hard work, talent and ambition. They regard CRT-related practices as patronizing, demeaning and ultimately disadvantageous to blacks.

One such person, Steele recounts, is Clarence Thomas, who after graduating Yale Law School “found his Ivy League pedigree to be tainted by affirmative action.” Thomas couldn’t land a position at a big-city law firm because his “interrogators assumed his presence before them was explained by racial preferences, not by talent. It was as if they were saying the pretence was over: Yale could afford tokenism, but they could not.” These setbacks did not stop Thomas, who became one of the U.S. Supreme Court’s leading intellects. But it is easy to imagine how a less driven individual might have given up and suffered the predictable emotional damage.

Despite its manifold flaws, logical incoherence and damaging effects, CRT is becoming nested in the place where it can do the greatest long-term damage: the school system...

Critics of Bill-67 note it would have included punishment of “transgressions” – like questioning the legitimacy of CRT-style programs – from “inquisitorial” bureaucrats wielding quasi-judicial powers against defendants who would be presumed “guilty until proven innocent” and denied normal due process rights. Punishments could include fines, suspension or even firing. Although the bill never made it to a final vote, there’s no guarantee something similar won’t return. Even without Bill 67, it is not much of a stretch to predict that teachers in CRT-influenced schools who question such measures could soon find themselves under pressure or even out of a job. This has already happened many times in the U.S. and, as we’ve seen, in higher education in Canada.

While CRT continues to make almost unopposed inroads across Canada, resistance to it in the U.S. has strengthened and spread dramatically...

As the CRT sensibility takes increasing hold, young people across Canada will suffer. They will be raised to despise our Enlightenment heritage with its affirmations of liberal-democracy, science and pluralism, while gaining no clarity regarding any sensible alternative. They will grow up intellectually deficient, bedevilled by a vague, utopian vision of government-engineered “equity” yet bereft of any capacity to subject that vision to rational scrutiny. Poorly educated in the discipline of logical, evidence-based argumentation, promulgators of CRT and other woke “poetic truths” in positions of power can be expected to enforce this burgeoning secular religion with a fanatical zeal whose limits remain undefined.

At the same time, those whom CRT has promised the world may well experience a period of hope or exhilaration. But when utopia isn’t reached, they will likely descend into confusion, resentment and anger, perhaps worse than ever. Whites and perhaps not a few individuals of Asian descent will be racked by guilt, ashamed of their achievements, constantly on edge about being accused and frightened of their potential accusers. Race relations in Canada – a country that long considered itself and was seen by much of the world as a beacon of tolerance and pluralism – can only suffer."


Links - 14th January 2023 (1 - History Extra Quoting)

Georgian Britain: the highs and lows of a transformative age | HistoryExtra - "There was a liberal strand of opinion as well as a sort of acquisitive commercial strand. But a local strand thinking, our well this is our chance to do good in the empire, or, initially, our settlements are what became to be called the empire, can be a force for good. And they tend to view the Indians as a backward society, who, whose ways you know, who bring them literacy and education, a greater role for women. So there was a eventually there was a liberal strand of support for what was going on. And the sort of thing that they stopped, which I'm sure, we would all wish to stop today, just as they wished to stop then was Sati, when the the widow would throw, immolate herself and on the burial pyre to die, as was because there was no no pension and no family savings. So it was a way of saving for the family. But it was horrible for the woman, needless to say. So they did stop that, for example, they stopped Sati. So there was a liberal strand of reform. And so one of the things I emphasize, it's a changing package of feelings all the time as you go through, a changing package of whether Britain is taking wealth from India or investing in India, but a lot of investment goes into India, is a continuous dynamic all the time and differing responses from Indians, some of them welcomed what was happening and some worked with the missionaries and were keen to develop the schools and bring education to people."

Vichy France: everything you wanted to know | HistoryExtra - "The question of public opinion and support for Pétain continues to be a point of debate. And I would say that at the beginning of the war, Vichy did have support, many people were relieved that the fighting was over and Pétain himself, as you mentioned before, he was a war hero. He was someone who was revered. He was a grandfatherly figure. Here was this, this war hero, this person who is very trusted, and if he's telling you that, that this war should be over, and that we should return to normal, and he's going to protect us from the death and the destruction that we saw in the First World War, a lot of people feel very relieved by this. They're, they're glad that the fighting is over. They're glad that Pétain, right, the victor of Verdun, he has our best interests at heart. He's going to save us. And so there is this kind of, at the beginning, a sense of relief and support for Vichy. I would say though, overall, though, when we kind of look more closely, about 2% of the French population, were actively and strongly committed to collaboration. People who believed in the Nazi cause, people who are working for the government, people who think that this is the right direction for France. At the other end of the spectrum, you've probably got about a similar number, about 2% of people who are active in the resistance. People who are actively fighting against the Nazis, who joined resistance organizations, who take up arms or are printing newspapers. So we've got 2% collaborationist, about 2% active resistance, but the majority of people fall somewhere in between, they're just trying to get by, they're just trying to live their lives and survive in these in these harsh conditions. The the laws are changing, it's hard to get food, there's 1.8 million prisoners of war, so many homes, are without fathers, or brothers or sons. People who would have been working in the factories or working on the land...
The Germans actually forcibly and physically take Petain and Laval who was the head of the government, and they are taken first to another place in France, and then they are taken to Germany, to a castle in the false hope that that they would be kind of brought back into power in the future… he's actually quite angry with the Germans for taking him out of, out of France, and he refuses to perform any of his duties as as head of state... Growing up in the US, and when I was at school, we were always taught… the list of the Allies. And we had the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and France, France was always on our list of people who were on the Allied side, we didn't learn about Vichy France, we didn't learn about collaboration, we just learned kind of about the outcome at the at the end of the war. And you see that reinforced after the war as well. In the division of Germany into zones after the war, right, you had the French zone and the British zone and the American zone and the Soviet zone… the leaders were brought to trial after the war. But they are not tried before international courts, like you had with the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi leaders. Instead, the French leaders are tried before the French High Court, and they are being tried for for treason… Petain had actually been offered asylum in Switzerland. And it was kind of hoped that he would, he would stay ,there he could be tried in in absentia. Petain really wanted to provide his account of the warriors, how he had sacrificed how he had been a great leader, and how he had protected France and so he returns to France, and he will be put on trial. His trial will begin in July of 1945. And his defense strategy really was to claim that Vichy had acted as a shield, that Vichy had protected the French from the worst of Nazi demands. Through collaboration, by collaborating they had been able to protect France and Petain’s defense also claimed that he had been playing a double game throughout the war. And that while he had been collaborating with the Nazis, he was also in contact with the British. This is not true, none of this was was convincing, and Petain was found guilty of treason and was condemned to death. However, due to his age, we have to remember that he was 84 at the beginning of the war, so this is this is four years later, the court recommended then that his sentence should be commuted to life imprisonment. And Charles de Gaulle does accept this thing… Laval is found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. But before he was to be executed, he swallowed a cyanide pill. But they wanted to make sure that he was actually executed. His stomach was pumped repeatedly. And he was actually dragged basically half dead to his execution... Sentences did become kind of more lenient, the further away from the war the trial was. And we'll actually see kind of a resurgence of of these trials in the mid 1990s, when people who had been kind of very leniently sentenced after the war, were retried in the 90s, for crimes against humanity, especially for their role in the deportation of Jews from France...
Immediately after the war, there is this myth of resistance, that that dominates public memory. And it's really coming from De Gaulle, where he's come back into France, he's, he's the head of the Provisional Government, and he talks about France as a nation of resistors. And so all, it's a way to kind of cover up all of those divisions and to prevent that kind of civil war and all of those reprisals that you see at the end of the war, but it lasts for a very long time. And it's not really until the 1970s, that the first cracks in this myth start to appear. And then you kind of get a swing in the opposite direction from everybody being a resistor, you get this almost opposite idea that everybody was, was a collaborator. And there will be several scandals that bring Vichy back into the public eye, especially in the 80s, it was revealed that French President Francois Mitterrand had worked for Vichy before, before joining the resistance... it's not until 1995 that the French president publicly acknowledged French complicity in the Holocaust"

Christmas feasts, episode 1: Medieval & Tudor revelry | HistoryExtra - "‘All of the tenets of the Catholic Church was still in force, which meant that an awful lot of the year was a fast day, if you were in the Medieval or early Tudor era of fasting. It didn't, it hadn't, it was sort of supposed to mean abstinence, but it had come to mean fish days. So it had come to mean that you couldn't eat animal products at all. So no dairy, no animal oils, no lard and things like that, that were quite important. Obviously no meat either. So you've got a lot of things like almond milks or other nut milks, you've got isinglass being used instead of gelatin, which is the gallbladder of sturgeon. Do not ask me who first discovered that was jelly, and you have a lot of fish. So in reality, for those who were rich, there was certainly no abstinence, there was just amazing fish feasts. For the poor, it was things like stock fish, which were very hard and nasty, and they did lack protein. But the point about Christmas was Advent was a whole period of fast. So from the first of December through to either the evening of the 24th, or the morning of the 25th, depending on who you read and who was doing it, you were on these fast days. So if you're wealthy, it's endless sturgeon, porpoise, you know, put a dolphin in there. What else, beavers’ tails, because they weren't actually meats, because they kind of were scaly, lot of seabirds, because again, they're on the sea. So they're definitely not meat, right? So you know, things that we would potentially go, actually, I don't really want to eat a seagull, but by the time you gilded it, and you've roasted it, and you've stuffed it with fruit, and you've covered it with beautiful spice sources, to be honest, you know, you can't really taste the seagull anymore. So there's all of that for the rich. And then for the poor is this awful diet of stockfish and pease pudding. But I mean, to be honest, the diet of the poor is awful anyway. But you can see why after kind of 24 days, just endless that you get to Christmas, and you've got the full 12 days, the one that we sing about today. So the 12 days really were in the medieval era, a massive excuse for a party every single day named after a different saint, different customs, all sorts of kind of cool stuff, social upheaval, but a really, really big emphasis on eating and drinking...
One of the real characteristics of this era, at least until Henry the Eighth started to stamp it out, was the sort of topsy turvy society. So in the medieval era, a lot of churches would elect a boy bishop and nunneries would elect a girl abbess, and they would kind of rule the roost for the day. It goes back really probably to Roman Saturnalia celebrations, where sometimes a slave would be elected to be the head of the household or even given his or her freedom. And so this is this kind of danger about Christmas, really, that is quite subversive, and it's sort of where panto comes from to a small extent in this idea of, you know, people cross dressing and a lot of fun being had and the normal rules not applying. Henry the Eighth wasn't very fond of a lot of that, because obviously, second son, not the greatest claim to the throne, Tudors a bit of an upstart, so he did start to stamp down on some of those things, and they gradually kind of dwindled, but even say you had Lords of Misrule, appointed, certainly at court and at big houses all the way through to the 17th century. And their role was to preside over the partying aspect and organize festivities. And there was a lot of dressing up, and a lot of dancing. And it does sound like quite a lot of fun, to be honest.’"

Christmas feasts, episode 2: Georgian elegance | HistoryExtra - "‘And we're going to play Snapdragon because nothing says Christmas like a massive bowl, full of currants with brandy, and it's set on fire, where we will have to reach in and pull out a currant because that is pretty cool. And you know what? Even the kids can join in.’...
‘Christmas pudding, Christmas cake - none of that exists. But there are foods which I would say that pretty much every table has on at Christmas. So the big ones are beef and plum pudding. And they're going to be either end of the table at the second course. So you're going to have a massive sirloin of beef because we are wealthy and we can afford it and at the other end is going to be a huge plum pudding almost the same size of the beef. And we'll probably have boiled that in a cloth because it is Christmas and while molds are in and plum puddings are big news, I think the traditional cannonball shape, it's the one you see on all the satires, and to do that you're gonna make your plum pudding mixture, which is very similar to a modern day Christmas pudding mixture but with less, a lot less sugar, and it's normally firmer, and you pile it all into pudding cloth and you squeeze it round and it forms an amazing ball and then you boil that in the world's biggest saucepan or indeed copper as such as you would get in a laundry, and it comes out and you have this sort of cannonball shaped putting, although, realistically, it's more of a squat oval, trust me.’
‘And so that wasn't a desert as it would be today, it was served with the beef.’
‘Yes, so desert in the Georgian period is quite specific and it evolved out of the banqueting course that we talked about in the last episode, in the Tudor episode, the banqueting course for the Tudors was all about sugarcraft and sort of palate cleansing, really. And that evolved over the next 200 years or so to be something that was still about cleansing your palate, and it was usually for the Georgians, ice cream, a little bit of sugar stuff. So maybe some sculpture, nuts, very, very lots of fresh fruit, especially in December, because you could show off the skill of your gardeners with your fresh fruit. But the idea of dessert was it wasn't a course as such. I mean, it was but it wasn't, it wasn't gonna fill you up. You don’t want to eat dessert and then go oh god, I can’t eat. So dessert was light, and all of the dishes that we today would call dessert, or we would lump under the generic heading of pudding. They were all in the second course. And puddings were very specific. They were actual puddings, they were not cakes, or brownies, or gateau or whatever. They were puddings and puddings, boiled in a pudding mold, mainly. although you could bake them and they were also sausages but let's not go into the definition of puddings because we'll be here forever… The plum pudding is a lot like chutney I suppose, if you think about the rich flavors that we would associate with chutney, so dried fruit, spices, obviously chutneys have vinegar in but they also have a lot of sugar in. So they've got that sort of sweet-savory note, and that's what a good plum pudding with beef would have. It, the beef complements the plum pudding and vice versa. And they were absolutely emblematic of of England in particular. So, if you look at satires in the Georgian era, you will often find the plum pudding used to stand in for Britain. There's a very famous Gillray satire called the plum pudding in danger, where Napoleon is carving up the plum pudding, which is a map of the globe and they're really really sunk into the English psyche. And those are feast foods. So coronation feasts, birthday feasts, coming of age feasts, you name it, if it's a feast, beef and plum pudding...
Roasting at that point meant putting something in front of a fire. So you could roast in heavily inverted commas, potatoes, but actually they're baked potatoes’"

Christmas feasts, episode 4: WW2 rationing & postwar absurdity | History Extra - "‘People did eat a lot of vegetables. By the end of the war, the nation was healthier than it had ever been before. Because the rich had their sugar and meat and dairy intake restricted. And the poor were guaranteed a certain level of meat and other bits and pieces. So, you know, and also everybody ate loads and loads and loads of fruit and vegetables, which is brilliant. But it rebounded massively in the 1950s when our sugar consumption went through the roof, and we ate more per capita than we've ever eaten before or since. Amd people didn't like vegetables very much. And they just wanted a steak because that was what they couldn't get hold of during the war. So yeah, I've really loved to be able to tell you that vegetable cookery was amazing. Really, really wasn't'...
‘A Christmas staple is leftovers. Not necessarily in the Second World War but what have been some of the most useful recipes for rustling up some tasty less leftovers in the past?’
‘Well, I always have a real problem with the idea of leftovers because it's somehow quite pejorative. And people think of leftovers as something which are kind of sloppy seconds. And the, even the concept is relatively modern. So you don't really get the word leftovers even until quite late on in the 20th century and, and it's very much kind of post fridge development. Once you've got a fridge and you can put things in plastic containers and leave them to die, then you get leftovers. Previously, you had cold meat cookery. And it was, again, the emphasis was on the meat because that was the expensive bit or you had sort of recipes to use previously cooked ingredients. And that was the light in which they were seen. So you didn't have leftover potato, you had a really conveniently ready cooked set of starchy things to put into a pudding or a curry or whatever. And I think one of my favorite recipes for using leftovers is a vegetable curry actually from 1901. And it's narrated by Katharine Mellish. And she uses sort of small amounts of pre cooked vegetables… it's really easy as well because you just chuck everything into a pan with loose desiccated coconut. You use cucumber and apple as a base, which is the only kind of must do and the cucumber and apple are fried off. And then you use just plain curry powder and you can chuck in cream... And the apple and the cucumber, give it a fruitiness... it’s very much an Anglo Indian curry. But it is excellent and it is very versatile... this is a really really useful recipe for using up bits of vegetables and actually it does come into its own at Christmas where people are so full that they might leave just a minuscule amount of whatever it is’"

Tutankhamun: the mystery of Nefertiti | HistoryExtra - "'It's a shame that we focus on the beauty. Quite often when I talk about Nefertiti, it's the thing that people want to know about. They'll ask about her beauty routines and her makeup and so on rather than what she did, which is a great shame. It's caused us to focus on her in a way, which is good in some ways, but I think also it's almost given her a disproportionate importance as well. To think that a lot of our emphasis on Nefertiti is due to the bust and without that bust would we be so happy to accept her in her role as we interpret it? I don't know, it's a very difficult question, it's an interesting one' Actually if you look at the literature before and after the discovery of the bust, before the bust is discovered, Nefertiti is a footnote. After the bust is discovered, she's a superstar'"

The Black Death: origins & spread | HistoryExtra - "‘This one kind of millet is so great. You can feed, feed a cup of it in the morning to a soldier, and he will be good for the rest of the day. Also, you can brew beer with it, it was that one detail. I mean, it really was that one detail that all the other pieces of the puzzle fell into place.’
‘So you're provisioning an army, you're transporting huge sacks of grain who loves huge sacks of grain? Rodents. Are those rats? Are those another kind of rodent? I have no idea, at this point. Archaeologically, rodents are very hard to establish in the material record because they're so small and their bones are fragile’..
‘Developments like this could rewrite what we think we know about the spread and extent of the Black Death across the globe.’
‘Our traditional narrative of the Black Death tells a story of a focus of plague around the Black Sea, and then moving into the Mediterranean and from there into Europe, into North Africa. So Middle East, Europe, North Africa. That's part of what had always troubled me about the Black Death narrative is, if you look at the map, there's no explanation about why the edges of the map are where they are, is. So if it's coming out of, let's say, the Caucasus, so the mountains that separate the Black Sea from the Caspian Sea, why doesn't it also move eastward? Why do we not have narratives about the Black Death in central Eurasia? Why do not have narratives about the Black Death in in China, Tibet or India? We still can't answer those questions. But what is clear is that because of prodding, in part, by me, historians of China are now going back and looking more closely at the records...
There's clear evidence for the presence of plague in Iraq, in Syria, and possibly also in Egypt, in the 13th century. So almost 100 years before our regular narrative of the Black Death starts, plague has already moved across central Eurasia… what happens in the 14th century is different than anything I have documented in in the 13th century, and that nobody can explain that yet. Because what I, what I have documented for the 13th century is sporadic plague outbreaks… it disappears. And again, that's not surprising that it disappears, because again, it's not a human disease. So that's, then what is still puzzling about the 14th century is, why is there a systematic spread of plague. And the tentative argument that I can give right now is, number one, grain supplies are clearly involved in the 14th century as well.’
‘This helps us to rethink some of the key moments in the traditional stories that are told about the spread of the Black Death. And one of those moments is the siege of Caffa.’
‘There's an old story, it actually is comes from the 14th century, claiming that Mongols were besieging a city of Caffa.’ ‘According to this old story, the Mongols were marred by plague during military campaigns in the 1340s. Gabriel de Mussis claims that while they were besieging the Genoese run port city of Caffa, they catapulted plague ridden corpses into the city, I guess you could see it as an early form of biological warfare. The story goes that the residents of Caffa were soon after afflicted by disease, and many then fled to Europe carrying of course, the Black Death… Monica has a different take on events.’
‘So this was a, a merchant establishment of the Genoese. Both Genoa and Venice in Italy, had set up regular trade trade infrastructures going between Italy and the Black Sea. And the big thing they're importing is grain. What Barker was able to establish is that the siege happened, a couple of sieges happened. And there was no outbreak of plague, associated with the siege itself. It was only a year later, because after the seas there was, there were embargos. So this is like, we're not going to trade any grain and you can't, you can't sell your grain to these people. So there's this, there's this kind of economic war going on. And it's only economic. And then in 1347, the the the embargoes get lifted. And then we start seeing plague moving because the the grain shipments have started again. So it's those ships carrying the grain back to Italy, which is, is starving. It's a complicated story, but but again, the pieces fit in terms of, of the mechanics. Now the question is, which nobody can explain right now is, why all of a sudden, were so many grain supplies contaminated, with plague? What was moving it around? So is there just kind of a flurry of rodents? Or is there a new kind of flea that's involved in the transmission? We have absolutely no information about that right now.’"

The Black Death: living through the plague | HistoryExtra - "‘It's easy to imagine just how terrifying these tales of desolation in far off lands would be. I think we often have a vision of the medieval world as insular and isolated. But when we look at the spread of the news of plague in the 14th century, we can actually see that extensive networks of communication were really crucial in spreading news of what was happening elsewhere.’
‘It's merchants It's also clerics. It's by letters. For instance, one bit of news that that really rather startling is notions from these chroniclers in Eastern Europe, who through their network their ecclesiastic networks have already heard of the plague in in the winter of 1348 that has already struck Avignon, and through the connections with the papacy in Avignon, so they know about this.’
‘And before long medieval communities recognize the scope of this pandemic as something much, much bigger than a localized outbreak.’"

The Black Death: medieval medical thinking | HistoryExtra - "‘These ideas in which the movements of planets and the Zodiac have an influence on air, which then have an influence on bodily health seem a bit left field. But Elmer suggests that if you dig a little deeper, they're not so strange after all.’
‘On the one hand, these ideas are quite alien to us, let's say. On the other hand, I think we have a full recognition of things like the effect of the seasons on our health. And we're, we have a heightened understanding of that right now with COVID. I mean, we've seen now over the space of two years, that the incidence of the virus is worse during the winter months. So those winter months align with certain signs of the zodiac so you can see that these ways of thinking are not totally alien. There is medical thinking that looks at the effects of the moon on the menstrual cycle and things like that. So, you know, I think really, we can understand that medieval people took full account of the environment, and that environment for them extended into the heavens.’"

The Black Death: death, sin & spirituality  | HistoryExtra - "'This point about the flagellants not actually being that popular in England, is a really interesting one.They’ve become one of the most iconic images of the Black Death. But as Helen says, it's important to remember that not everyone subscribed to such an extreme response.'…
‘It might be that people actually didn't like how freely this group of people were moving. Um, it could be that that was actually quite unsettling to have people entering a place when there is such a virulent epidemic. And that is, you know, all encompassing. So it could be that that's the reason that they found them particularly unsettling. They didn't know what they carried. Maybe it was the very visceral projection of sin that people found unsettling or uncomfortable. I think that they were considered to be this very strange, very macabre and quite harrowing snapshot of the general pervading mood in the wake of the Black Death.’
‘And those higher up also shared this idea that the flagellants extreme response was not necessarily in keeping with the rest of the church. In 1350, King Philip of France issued an edict to suppress the flagellants, condemning them as a sect, quote, conceived in detriment of the Christian faith against the commandments of our Savior Jesus Christ. And as a great peril to the souls of the said people. Heinrich Hereford expressed a similar disdain for the flagellants that he encountered. Just as persistent burrs often grow on the harness [sp?] he wrote. So these unlearned and stupid people, unfortunately and stubbornly usurp even the preacher’s office with their penitential whips. Concerning religious and clerical matters, they do not think or speak wisely. Heinrich of Herford also recounts a really revealing story in which two Dominican friars meet some flagellants in a field outside Meissen. He recounts how the preachers become, quote, so exasperated by their arguments that they wish to kill them, leading to a confrontation. The more agile preacher managed to run away from the flagellants, but the other was stoned to death by them. But in some parts of Europe, the flagellants did receive a somewhat warmer welcome’...
'I think it's true that like, soon, an entire lifetime, a medieval person would see the same amount of images that we see in one day. So you can imagine how people would react to that thinking, that that was their reality. So you're really living in this sort of age of paranoia and fear...
Another change in commemoration that we see just at the end of the Black Death, and even in the sort of just after it and you see it earliest in these brasses, but then later on, when the you know, the population had risen again, you start seeing it in tombs as well, is this, there's this lovely gesture of hand clasping in couples and this is something you might be more familiar with, which is a real trend in the second half of the 14th century, you don't really see it at all before the 14th century, and it's specifically in England that you see it. So a couple are literally shown holding hands, they've got their their hands clasped on their tomb... was it relative to the importance of unity through marriages, you know, fulfilling a contractual obligation, and that was seen as an important thing. But it also could be read as a gesture of love and respect'"

The Black Death: how the pandemic transformed societies | HistoryExtra - "‘For ordinary people, for workers, for agricultural laborers, for tradesmen, this is certainly a time when life is better. And actually, one of the ways that this plays out really interestingly, is through the parish. So often, when we talk about the Black Death, we don't think about the parish and the impact that it had. But because people have more money, and because of the development of the doctrine of Purgatory, where people were trying to offset sin during their lifetimes, they start to pour enormous amounts of money into their parish church. And some of the most stunning medieval churches that survive today are from that sort of one to 200 year period after the Black Death. And it's not really the, the gentry, the nobility that are investing, it's ordinary people. And so that can really be seen as an indicator of improvements in standards of living, in wages, in surplus wealth. I mean, some historians do argue that really, for ordinary people, they have purchasing power that's not rivaled, until, you know, after the Second World War. So for ordinary people who make up the majority of the population, I would definitely say that this is this is a better time to be alive than previously.’
‘But of course, as always, there's a catch.’…
‘In the quarter century after the Black Death, the 1350s, 1360s, there's high taxation, the government is intervening in the labor market in a way that it's never done before. It's trying to regulate the commodities market in a way it's never done before. And that's causing huge tension. Tax per head is three to four times greater, and you're terrified, you're terrified about, is it, is it coming back? And and is this divine retribution. Is it the end of the world'"

Plague doctors: Separating medical myths from facts - "You’ve seen them before: mysterious figures, clad from head to toe in oiled leather, wearing goggles and beaked masks. The plague doctor costume looks like a cross between a steampunk crow and the Grim Reaper, and has come to represent both the terrors of the Black Death (opens in new tab) and the foreignness of medieval medicine.   However, the beak mask costume first appeared much later than the middle ages, some three centuries after the Black Death first struck in the 1340s. There may have been a few doctors in the 17th and 18th centuries who wore the outfit, including the iconic beak mask, but most medieval and early modern physicians who studied and treated plague (opens in new tab) patients did not. According to Michel Tibayrenc's book "Encyclopedia of Infectious Diseases" (John Wiley & Sons, 2007), the first mention of the famous plague doctor costume is found in a mid-17th century work written by Charles de Lorme, a royal physician in the service of King Louis XIII of France... The plague doctor getup, and especially the beaked mask, has become one of the most popular costumes in the "Carnevale," or Carnival of Venice in Italy. In fact, some historians have argued that the beaked plague doctor was nothing but a fictional and comedic character at first, and that the theatrical version inspired genuine doctors to use the costume during the outbreaks of 1656 and 1720."

Medieval masterclass 1: Imperium 410-750 | HistoryExtra - "‘It becomes increasingly hard to find memorable, let alone successful Roman emperors, who or rather emperors who are memorable for their competence rather than their absolute ridiculousness. It becomes ever harder to find those as we move from the third, fourth, and move into third, fourth, fifth centuries’...
‘You would contend that the Islamic caliphs could be described as the inheritors of Rome’...
‘You take one look at the map and say that's the closest thing that will that's that that's pretty close to the Roman Empire... the sheer territorial conquests of the early caliphs, and their rise in military power and confidence, up to the middle of the eighth century, is absolutely astonishing. As is and what's comparable with Rome, I think as much as the extent of the conquests, is the imprint, the historical imprint that the first Islamic caliphates left on the world, which we can still feel today, because if you look at this map, if we take away, Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, Hispania, you know, Iberian Peninsula. Most, if not all, of the rest of the map is still predominantly Islamic territory, you know, these are predominantly predominantly Islamic countries. So in terms of religion alone, the imprint of this, this astonishing new faith Empire is still profoundly seen in the world today, as is the language, you know. Putting aside Persia, Islam, was a faith bound up in language in a way that Christianity wasn't in its early stages. And it isn't today.’"

Medieval masterclass 3: Rebirth 1216-1347 | HistoryExtra - "‘The trope, the myth about the Mongol Empire was that a woman could walk naked with a gold vase on her head from one end to the other and not be molested or robbed or mistreated in any way because of the fear of the inhabitants of the Mongol Empire held for the wrath of the Khans’"

Medieval masterclass 4: Revolution 1348-1527 | HistoryExtra - "‘I was very pleased to learn in your book that, that we know that the Renaissance began on the 26th of April 1326. That's right, yeah?’
‘Is there, does this involve a mountain? Petrarch going up his mountain? It's fun, isn't it? Yeah. So the, Jacob Burckhardt, writing a long time ago, can’t remember exactly when he wrote, this, claimed that the Renaissance had begun on the the this exact day in 1326 when the great poet Petrarch climbed a mountain. And he went up the mountain with his brother, very dangerous mountain to go up. And he looked out at the scene and considers the world that was below him and had poetic thoughts about it. And to Burckhardt, this was, you could pinpoint, Burckhardt thought nobody, no medieval person would ever have done this, they wouldn't have climbed the mountain just for the sake of climbing the mountain, just because it was there. To use was it Mallory's phrase, or whatever it is, that that just wouldn't have occurred. And so and so in Burckhardt definition, the, what underpins the Renaissance is the pursuit of, of beauty and art and knowledge as as a high spiritual end in itself and as a route to the divine. And that the divine thereby can be, is found within the individual and their artistic impulses and responses, and to Burckhardt, that's the difference. Now, I think that there may be something to be said, for some parts of that argument. Certainly, I mean, it may, but it may not be an argument of differentiation, and it may be just an argument of characterization. We may just simply be saying, what is it about? What's going on in the roots of art and the 15th century art and literature? Well, it's an internalization. Okay, it's not the outward contemplation of, in the Christian tradition, Christ. And, and, you know, the saints and whatever. It's the, it's the route to the divine being turned inwards... It wasn't the case that nobody had challenged the authority of the institutional church until Luther…  they were persecuted and killed as heretics and the the institutional power of the Catholic Church, which had reached its high watermark, and had had it's the sort of the high bar for its ambition set in 1215, the fourth Lateran Council by Pope Innocent the Third, that remained broadly, broadly unchallenged. What separates, what in that instance, the medieval from the early modern, is the fact that that after Luther, that's no longer the case. Its its criticism of the church has been, is totally absorbed into international politics, and where you stand on, it's no, it's not like the Great Schism at the end of the 14th century, or the 15th century where you just have two rival Popes or sometimes three rival Popes and and countries line up according to which one they want, because those Pope's don't fundamentally disagree on gigantic, deep issues of theology, it's a question of who gets to actually be the Pope. What's different about the Reformation is that there are people saying there shouldn't even be a Pope. And that is to say, that’s bound into international politics, is bound into social and cultural identities, it's bound into civil wars, it's bound into the rights of the individual. If you think about the long struggle for Catholic emancipation in England, for example, you know, hundreds of years. Your, your position on the issues originally raised by Martin Luther becomes, becomes a marker of identity and a marker of your civil liberties. So that and that's just not the case in the Middle Ages.’"

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