Later On

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Archive for December 24th, 2020

Enhancing Pink Power Juice; or, Gilding the Lily

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I often make this beverage as an afternoon treat, mixing it in the beaker that came with the immersion blender I use. Today I blended:

• 1 lemon, peeled as shown here
• 1/2 cup frozen mixed berries (blueberries,  blackberries, and raspberries)
• 1 1/2 cup frozen cranberries
• 1/2 cup roasted unsalted peanuts (omit if allergic to peanuts)
• 2 heaping tablespoons erythritol
• 3 tablespoons dried mint
• 1 teaspoon vanillin (artificial vanilla)
• hibiscus tea to cover

I blended it well and now I’m enjoying it.

After reading the article on vermouth quoted in the previous post, I was inclined to have some red vermouth on the rocks with a twist, but I have gradually come to realize that when I have a drink I almost invariably make unwise food choices (which and how much). So I dug around in my mind for something suitably enjoyable and festive and made this.

I do, BTW, very much like Carpano’s Antica Formula and often have that on hand for an aperitif or to use in making a Manhattan, though right now I have only Martini & Rossi.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 December 2020 at 3:54 pm

How U.S. Cities Lost Control of Police Discipline

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It doesn’t have to be the way it is. In the NY Times Kim Barker, Michael H. Keller, and Steve Eder report:

It took Portland, Ore., almost $1 million in legal fees, efforts by two mayors and a police chief, and years of battle with the police union to defend the firing of Officer Ron Frashour — only to have to bring him back. Today, the veteran white officer, who shot an unarmed Black man in the back a decade ago, is still on the force.

Sam Adams, the former mayor of Portland, said the frustrated disciplinary effort showed “how little control we had” over the police. “This was as bad a part of government as I’d ever seen. The government gets to kill someone and get away with it.”

After the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis officers in May spurred huge protests and calls for a nationwide reset on law enforcement, police departments are facing new state laws, ballot proposals and procedures to rein in abusive officers. Portland and other cities have hired new chiefs and are strengthening civilian oversight. Some municipal leaders have responded faster than ever to high-profile allegations of misconduct: Since May, nearly 40 officers have been fired for use of force or racist behavior.

But any significant changes are likely to require dismantling deeply ingrained systems that shield officers from scrutiny, make it difficult to remove them and portend roadblocks for reform efforts, according to an examination by The New York Times. For this article, reporters reviewed hundreds of arbitration decisions, court cases and police contracts stretching back decades, and interviewed more than 150 former chiefs and officers, law enforcement experts and civilian oversight board members.

While the Black Lives Matter protests this year have aimed to address police violence against people of color, another wave of protests a half-century ago was exploited to gain the protections that now often allow officers accused of excessive force to avoid discipline.

That effort took off in Detroit, partly as a backlash to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, when police officers around the country — who at times acted as instruments of suppression for political officials or were accused of brutality in quelling unrest — felt vulnerable to citizen complaints.

Newly formed police unions leveraged fears of lawlessness and an era of high crime to win disciplinary constraints, often far beyond those of other public employees. Over 50 years, these protections, expanded in contracts and laws, have built a robust system for law enforcement officers. As a result, critics said, officers empowered to protect the public instead were protected from the public.

In many places, the union contract became the ultimate word. The contract overrode the city charter in Detroit. The contract can beat state law in Illinois. The contract, for years, has stalled a federal consent decree in Seattle.

Many police contracts and state laws allow officers to appeal disciplinary cases to an arbitrator or a review board, giving them final say. Arbitrators reinstate about half of the fired officers whose appeals they consider, according to separate reviews of samplings of cases by The Times and a law professor. Some arbitrators referred to termination as “economic capital punishment” or “economic murder.”

Disciplinary cases often fall apart because of contractual or legal standards that departments must show a record of comparable discipline: A past decision not to fire makes it harder to fire anyone else.

Because many departments don’t disclose disciplinary action for police misconduct and there is no public centralized record-keeping system, it is difficult to determine how many cases are pursued against officers, and the outcomes.

And police chiefs acknowledge that they don’t always seek the discipline they think is warranted. That can lead to problem officers remaining on the streets. Rather than gamble on arbitration, some chiefs allow officers to quit or opt for financial settlements, which can enable them to move on to other departments with seemingly unblemished records.

“You would pay them to leave,” said Roger Peterson, the former police chief in Rochester, Minn., who said he had negotiated such payments for about a dozen officers during his 19-year tenure. “It stunk.”

Union leaders defend the disciplinary protections, saying that police work is difficult [unlike all other jobs, which are easy? – LG], and that rules help ensure that chiefs don’t impose discipline because of political pressure or personal biases. Public outcry, they said, can unfairly influence a city’s decision to fire an officer accused of excessive force. Will Aitchison, the union lawyer who represented Officer Frashour in Portland, said the arbitration process protected officers like him who were fired because of “political expediency.”

Nobody wants a bad cop,” said Brian Marvel, a San Diego police officer and the president of California’s largest law enforcement labor organization. “Good cops want bad cops out as bad as anybody else. But we still have to protect the due-process rights of all our members.”

Even so, many leaders argue that the protections handcuff them. Eric Melancon, chief of staff to the Baltimore police commissioner, drew a direct line between the laws from decades ago and the difficulties today.

“If George Floyd were to happen in Baltimore city,” he told a state policing commission, “we would not be able to terminate those officers.”

In the summer of 1967, civil unrest simmered in more than 150 cities nationwide. Detroit caught fire.

Black residents saw the almost all-white police force as . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 December 2020 at 3:30 pm

A Tale of Two Vermouths

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Laura Fraser has an interesting article in Craftsmanship magazine:

It all started when I was in the mood for a Negroni—a classic Italian cocktail that is herbaceous, bitter but balanced, and made from a combination of equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth, with a twist of orange. But I was out of Campari, and wanted something less lethal than a martini, which left only the vermouth.

But who drinks vermouth by itself? It’s the dusty bottle at the back of the liquor cabinet, brought out only for the occasional Manhattan or martini–and viewed, in the latter case, with a good deal of suspicion. Winston Churchill’s instruction for a martini was, allegedly, to “drink a tumbler of gin and bow in the direction of France.” Alfred Hitchcock’s martini recipe called for “five parts gin and a quick glance at a bottle of vermouth.” The mania for the dry martini, beginning in the 1950s, made vermouth unfashionable. Only Julia Child championed the much-maligned, herb-infused wine, inventing the “reverse martini,” where the vermouth took center stage, with only a splash of gin.

Well. In matters of taste—and with nothing else open in the liquor cabinet–are you going to listen to gin-guzzling gourmands or a French-inspired gourmet? I poured some vermouth on the rocks, added a twist, and drank it more or less straight—the way, it turns out, Europeans have been drinking it for centuries. It was surprising: light and refreshing, while satisfying that Negroni-like urge for something complex with a bitterness that bites back. I did glance at the bottle, as Hitchcock suggested, and considered that if I’d opened a fresh one sometime within the past seven years, it might have tasted even better. Vermouth is mainly wine—and wine, once opened, even if infused with herbs and fortified with brandy—doesn’t keep forever.

ntrigued, I began tasting other vermouths, starting in Italy, and spreading out to new artisanal varieties being made in the United States. It turns out that while I was rediscovering vermouth, so were the craft cocktail crowd and small-batch vintners, who have made this old-fashioned drink hip again. “Fifteen years ago, no one in the U.S. knew what a Negroni was, and even in Italy, vermouth was out of fashion,” says wine expert Claudio Villani of InoVino in San Francisco, who is from Florence. “Then the bar became central in restaurants, and you needed a mixologist, seasonal ingredients, and hand-crafted cocktail mixers, including vermouth.” In Barcelona, people have been going mad for vermouth bars, drinking the aperitif during “La hora de vermut,” which usually lasts three hours, not one; Spaniards tend to like their vermouth poured from the tap over ice with an olive and an orange twist, accompanied with a selection of anchovies, olives, mussels, and other savory snacks.

These days, if you take a seat at a bar with a serious mixology program in Brooklyn or San Francisco and ask for a vermouth, they don’t look at you like you just asked for a glass of your grandmother’s sweet sherry. They’ll ask which of the many new artisan brands you’d prefer. There’s even a bar in my neighborhood in San Francisco, the Alembic, that serves Brown Label vermouth on tap, made on the other side of town by a man named Carl Sutton. This made me curious to compare his vermouth—and how upstarts like him make it—with the Italian giants who’ve been concocting secret vermouth recipes since the mid-18th century.

HIPPOCRATES’ ELIXIR

Despite the vermouth revival, most Americans—including me, until recently—don’t understand what vermouth is, nor do they necessarily care to find out. When I opened a bottle of Italian amber vermouth for friends before a dinner party—a delicacy I’d bought in a musty shop in Turin and carried home—it was met with wrinkled noses and a request for white wine. Part of vermouth’s tainted reputation in this country is that it has mainly been made cheaply and in bulk in California, the herb flavors masking poor-quality wine, and it’s often the choice of down-on-their-luck drunks. But vermouth—perhaps the most complexly-crafted of wines—is usually much, much better than that.

Essentially, vermouth is neutral-tasting white wine that has been flavored with aromatic herbs, roots, and bark, and fortified with a neutral grape spirit, like must or brandy. In Italy, the definition of vermouth is stricter, requiring that caramel may be the only coloring, that it ranges between 14.5% and 22% alcohol, and that it contains one essential ingredient: artemesia, otherwise known as wormwood. The word “vermouth,” it turns out, is derived from “wermut,” the German name for the bark of this tree. Artemisia absintheum is the variety of wormwood that goes into absinthe, and all types contain the compound thujone, which has been considered dangerous and hallucinogenic, though recent scientists have ascribed the supposedly psychoactive effects of absinthe to overindulgence in the alcohol itself. In any case, thujone was banned from the U.S. for many years, and continues to be strictly regulated, which has made it difficult in this country to make what the Italians consider a “real vermouth.”

The invention of aromatized wine has been credited to Hippocrates, who used wormwood, dittany, and other Greek herbs to create a medicinal wine to help with digestion; “wormwood” was actually a treatment for intestinal worms. It became known as “Hippocratic wine” throughout antiquity, and the Romans improved the recipe by adding more herbs, including thyme, rosemary, and celery. But vermouth didn’t achieve its modern character until the Middle Ages, when Marco Polo introduced spices to the region, and the Venetians began their monopoly trade in cinnamon, myrrh, cloves, ginger, rhubarb, and other exotic botanicals.

Piedmont, a wine region in the north of Italy, which had been producing Hippocratic wines since the 18th century and grew abundant aromatic plants in its hills, was one of the first areas to begin cultivating the new exotics. In 1786, Antonio Benedetto Carpano, of the Fratelli Branca’s Carpano Antica distillery, took aromatized wine one step further and is credited with creating the modern vermouth. (To this day, Antica Formula remains a popular brand worldwide). The Carpanos’ success inspired others around Turin, including the Cinzano family, which opened its vermouth facility in 1816. Three years earlier, in southern France,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 December 2020 at 3:19 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Drinks

She Noticed $200 Million Missing, Then She Was Fired

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Corporations, as one can readily observe, are legal persons: sociopaths who will do anything for money and have no guiding ethical or moral principles. In ProPublica Scott Morris provides an excellent example:

Earlier this year, the governing board of one of California’s most powerful regulatory agencies unleashed troubling accusations against its top employee.

Commissioners with the California Public Utilities Commission, or CPUC, accused Executive Director Alice Stebbins of violating state personnel rules by hiring former colleagues without proper qualifications. They said the agency chief misled the public by asserting that as much as $200 million was missing from accounts intended to fund programs for the state’s blind, deaf, and poor. At a hearing in August, Commission President Marybel Batjer said that Stebbins had discredited the CPUC.

“You took a series of actions over the course of several years that calls into question your integrity,” Batjer told Stebbins, who joined the agency in 2018. Those actions, she said, “cause us to have to consider whether you can continue to serve as the leader of this agency.”

The five commissioners voted unanimously to terminate Stebbins, who had worked as an auditor and budget analyst for different state agencies for more than 30 years.

But an investigation by the Bay City News Foundation and ProPublica has found that Stebbins was right about the missing money.

Just days before Stebbins was fired, CPUC officials told California’s Department of Finance that the agency was owed more than $200 million, according to a memo obtained by the news organizations. The finance agency launched an investigation into the uncollected funds.

The news organizations’ investigation also found flaws in the State Personnel Board report that Batjer used to terminate Stebbins. Three former CPUC employees said in interviews that the report contained falsehoods. The report alleged that the auditor who discovered the missing money was unqualified. But hiring materials obtained by the news organizations show that state officials had determined that the auditor was the most qualified candidate, awarding him an “excellent” rating in every category.

Batjer, a former casino executive, was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to lead the commission in July 2019, the same month Stebbins briefed the commissioners on problems with the agency’s accounting practices. Early on, Batjer scrutinized Stebbins’ personnel decisions, according to previously unreported text messages obtained by the news organizations. Shortly after she was sworn in as president in August, Batjer texted a former colleague in Newsom’s cabinet.

Batjer told Julie Lee, who was serving as California’s acting secretary of Government Operations, or GovOps, that she was “very concerned”: She believed the auditor was not qualified for the job and was upset that Stebbins had given him a raise after putting him in charge of additional employees. Batjer had previously served as head of GovOps, which oversees the State Personnel Board.

“I find this outrageous!” Batjer wrote to her old colleague. “I’m terribly worried. Thanks much for any advice/help you can get before this gets much worse.”

“Let’s get together and figure this out!” Lee responded. “We will help you fix, don’t stress.”

The commissioners appear to have violated state transparency laws when they later exchanged text messages among themselves about whether to fire Stebbins. California law prohibits the majority of a public body from discussing matters under its jurisdiction outside of a regular meeting, particularly to build a consensus, legal experts said.

“I can’t imagine her remaining,” Batjer wrote a fellow commissioner in a private text message.

Stebbins filed a wrongful termination suit against the CPUC this month. In a series of interviews, the most extensive since her termination, she described an agency mired in disorganization and ineptitude. An experienced administrator, she was recruited by the previous president to clean up a dysfunctional agency. She found some of her employees did not know basic information about the utilities they were supposed to be regulating — in one case, lacking even current contact information for regulated water companies. Audits dating back to 2012 had found ineffective budget management and a need for improved fiscal monitoring.

“You’ve got just systemic issues,” Stebbins said in an interview. “The only way you can make those changes is to really tear it apart.”

Batjer did not respond to requests for an interview. The other commissioners did not return emails seeking comment. The CPUC has not yet responded to Stebbins’ lawsuit. Through a spokesperson, Lee denied that she triggered or influenced the investigation into Stebbins. The State Personnel Board declined to comment on their investigation.

In response to detailed questions, commission spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said that Stebbins’ allegation of $200 million in missing fines and fees was the result of a misunderstanding of the commission’s accounting practices.

Prosper did not address the apparent open meeting violations, citing pending litigation. But she said Stebbins’ manipulation of the hiring process warranted her dismissal. She acknowledged “some inaccuracies” in the state personnel report but dismissed them as “nonsubstantive details.”

“Her allegation that she was dismissed for finding alleged budget irregularities flies in the face of the clear public action taken by the CPUC,” Prosper said.

A Cleanup Job

The CPUC was formed in the early 20th century to regulate railroads. Since then, numerous other industries have been placed under its oversight, including giant electric and gas monopolies, phone companies, water providers and transportation companies like Uber and Lyft, making it one of the most powerful agencies in California.

But in recent years, the CPUC has faced accusations that it has become too cozy with utilities. In 2010, a PG&E gas line exploded in the San Francisco suburb of San Bruno, killed eight and destroyed 30 homes. The CPUC president at the time, a former energy executive, resigned after it was revealed he and his staff were helping a PG&E executive pick the judge for an upcoming rate case.

Stebbins was hired as the agency’s executive director in February 2018 to bring fresh scrutiny to its finances and operations.

Stebbins was disturbed by what she found at the CPUC. Fiscal mismanagement and disorganization made holding utilities accountable impossible, she said. She ordered extensive audits of agency divisions, accounting practices and specialized programs for providing services to impoverished and disabled California residents.

She quickly fired the head of the Water Division, who oversaw 110 investor-owned utilities serving about 6.3 million residents. Stebbins said that the division wasn’t . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s interesting albeit infuriating. Example:

Stebbins was disturbed by what she found at the CPUC. Fiscal mismanagement and disorganization made holding utilities accountable impossible, she said. She ordered extensive audits of agency divisions, accounting practices and specialized programs for providing services to impoverished and disabled California residents.

She quickly fired the head of the Water Division, who oversaw 110 investor-owned utilities serving about 6.3 million residents. Stebbins said that the division wasn’t keeping basic records like contact information for the utilities it regulates.

An audit found division staff members were often not conducting required on-site visits and when they did, the inspections were brief and incomplete. When a utility was found out of compliance with regulations, the division rarely issued citations, even when violations persisted. One utility had been collecting fees from ratepayers for 19 years and failing to send the money to the CPUC, Stebbins said.

“It was a nonfunctioning division, and it’s still for the most part nonfunctioning,” Stebbins said.

One audit Stebbins ordered found the CPUC was doing a poor job collecting on debts. It found $49.9 million in outstanding collections as of the end of 2019. That included more than $12 million in enforcement fines, more than $22 million in telecommunication fines and more than $14 million in reimbursable contracts. About $21.1 million had been due since before 2017.

“Given that nearly $50 million is owed to the CPUC,” the audit said, “CPUC should investigate whether the program areas utilize appropriate collection efforts against companies with delinquent payments and to what extent follow up occurs.”

I’m beginning to have some doubts about Gavin Newsom.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 December 2020 at 3:13 pm

Backstory to Apple’s new M1 System on a Chip: How an obscure British PC maker invented ARM and changed the world

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Image by Jason Korchinsky

Jason Torchinsky has in Ars Technica a fascinating article that includes videos. His article begins:

Let’s be honest: 2020 sucks. So much of this year has been a relentless slog of bad news and miserable events that it’s been hard to keep up. Yet most of us have kept up, and the way most of us do so is with the small handheld computers we carry with us at all times. At least in America, we still call these by the hilariously reductive name “phones.”

We can all use a feel-good underdog story right now, and luckily our doomscrolling 2020 selves don’t have to look very far. That’s because those same phones, and so much of our digital existence, run on the same thing: the ARM family of CPUs. And with Apple’s release of a whole new line of Macs based on their new M1 CPU—an ARM-based processor—and with those machines getting fantastic reviews, it’s a good time to remind everyone of the strange and unlikely source these world-controlling chips came from.

If you were writing reality as a screenplay, and, for some baffling reason, you had to specify what the most common central processing unit used in most phones, game consoles, ATMs, and other innumerable devices was, you’d likely pick one from one of the major manufacturers, like Intel. That state of affairs would make sense and fit in with the world as people understand it; the market dominance of some industry stalwart would raise no eyebrows or any other bits of hair on anyone.

But what if, instead, you decided to make those CPUs all hail from a barely-known company from a country usually not the first to come to mind as a global leader in high-tech innovations (well, not since, say, the 1800s)? And what if that CPU owed its existence, at least indirectly, to an educational TV show? Chances are the producers would tell you to dial this script back a bit; come on, take this seriously, already.

And yet, somehow, that’s how reality actually is.

In the beginning, there was TV

The ARM processor, the bit of silicon that controls over 130 billion devices all over the world and without which modernity would effectively come to a crashing halt, has a really strange origin story. Its journey is peppered with bits of seemingly bad luck that ended up providing crucial opportunities, unexpected technical benefits that would prove absolutely pivotal, and a start in some devices that would be considered abject failures.

But everything truly did sort of get set in motion by a TV show—a 1982 BBC program called The Computer Programme. This was an attempt by the BBC to educate Britons about just what the hell all these new fancy machines that looked like crappy typewriters connected to your telly were all about.

The show was part of a larger Computer Literacy Project started by the British government and the BBC as a response to fears that the UK was deeply and alarmingly unprepared for the new revolution in personal computing that was happening in America. Unlike most TV shows, the BBC wanted to feature a computer on the show that would be used to explain fundamental computing concepts and teach a bit of BASIC programming. The concepts included graphics and sound, the ability to connect to teletext networks, speech synthesis, and even some rudimentary AI. As a result, the computer needed for the show would have to be pretty good—in fact, the producers’ demands were initially so high that nothing on the market really satisfied the BBC’s aspirations.

So, the BBC put out a call to the UK’s young computer industry, which was then dominated by Sinclair, a company that made its fortune in calculators and tiny televisions. Ultimately, it was a much smaller upstart company that ended up getting the lucrative contract: Acorn Computers.

An Acorn blooms

Acorn was a Cambridge-based firm that started in 1979 after developing computer systems originally designed to run fruit machines—we call them slot machines—then turning them into small hobbyist computer systems based on 6502 processors. That was the same CPU family used in the Apple II, Atari 2600, and Commodore 64 computers, among many others. This CPU’s design will become important later, so, you know, don’t forget about it.

Acorn had developed a home computer called the Atom, and when the BBC opportunity arose, they started plans for the Atom’s successor to be developed into what would become the BBC Micro.

The BBC’s demanding list of features ensured the resulting machine would be quite powerful for the era, though not quite as powerful as Acorn’s original Atom-successor design. That Atom successor would have featured two CPUs, a tried-and-true 6502 and an as-yet undecided 16-bit CPU.

Acorn later dropped that CPU but kept an interface system, called the Tube, that would allow for additional CPUs to be connected to the machine. (This too will become more important later.)

The engineering of the BBC Micro really pushed Acorn’s limits, as it was a pretty state-of-the-art machine for the era. This resulted in some fascinatingly half-ass but workable engineering decisions, like having to replicate the placement of an engineer’s finger on the motherboard with a resistor pack in order to get the machine to work.

Nobody ever really figured out why the machine only worked when a finger was placed on a certain point on the motherboard, but once they were able to emulate the finger touch with resistors, they were just satisfied it worked, and moved on.

Here, listen to one of the key engineers tell you himself: . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s fascinating (to me, at any rate).

Written by LeisureGuy

24 December 2020 at 1:16 pm

“All I Want for Christmas,” Star-Trek style

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Written by LeisureGuy

24 December 2020 at 12:54 pm

Posted in Memes, Movies & TV, Music, Video

An English word that has come down directly from Proto-Indo-European

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Sevindj Nurkiyazova writes in Nautilus:

One of my favorite words is lox,” says Gregory Guy, a professor of linguistics at New York University. There is hardly a more quintessential New York food than a lox bagel—a century-old popular appetizing store, Russ & Daughters, calls it “The Classic.” But Guy, who has lived in the city for the past 17 years, is passionate about lox for a different reason. “The pronunciation in the Proto-Indo-European was probably ‘lox,’ and that’s exactly how it is pronounced in modern English,” he says. “Then, it meant salmon, and now it specifically means ‘smoked salmon.’ It’s really cool that that word hasn’t changed its pronunciation at all in 8,000 years and still refers to a particular fish.”

How scholars have traced the word’s pronunciation over thousands of years is also really cool. The story goes back to Thomas Young, also known as “The Last Person Who Knew Everything.” The 18th-century British polymath came up with the wave theory of light, first described astigmatism, and played a key role in deciphering the Rosetta Stone. Like some people before him, Young noticed eerie similarities between Indic and European languages. He went further, analyzing 400 languages spread across continents and millennia and proved that the overlap between some of them was too extensive to be an accident. A single coincidence meant nothing, but each additional one increased the chance of an underlying connection. In 1813, Young declared that all those languages belong to one family. He named it “Indo-European.”

Today, roughly half the world’s population speaks an Indo-European language. That family includes 440 languages spoken across the globe, including English. The word yoga, for example, which comes from Sanskrit, the language of ancient India, is a distant relative of the English word yoke. The nature of this relationship puzzled historical linguists for two centuries.

In modern English, well over half of all words are borrowed from other languages. To trace how language changes over time, linguists developed an ingenious toolkit. “Some parts of vocabulary are more stable and don’t change as much. The linguistic term [for these words] is ‘a core vocabulary.’ These are numbers, colors, family relations like ‘mother,’ ‘father,’ ‘sister,’ ‘brother,’ and basic verbs like ‘walk’ and ‘see,’ says Guy. “If you look at words of that sort in different languages, it becomes fairly clear which ones are related and which ones are not. For example, take the English word for number two, which is dva in Russian and deux in French, or the word night, which is nacht in German and noch in Russian.”

Analyzing the patterns of change that words undergo, moving from one language to another, showed how to unwind these changes and identify the possible originals. “Reconstructed vocabulary of Indo-European is based on a comparison of descendant languages,” explains Guy. “You collect words that mean more or less the same thing in all the languages, and if they look like each other in terms of their pronunciation, then it’s a good candidate for a descendant from a common ancestor.” The English word honey is madhu in Sanskrit and myod in Russian. Sanskrit and Russian haven’t shared a common ancestor since Indo-European, so these words had to come from the same source. (There are also the words mead in English, met in German and mjød in Danish that refer to an alcoholic drink made from honey.)

After discovering a word that might have existed in the Indo-European, linguists compared how its pronunciations changed from language to language. For example, sound [k] changes to [h] from Latin to Germanic, and the Latin word casa transforms into the English house while the French word cœur transforms into the English heart.* With hints like that, linguists could undo the sound changes and trace the original pronunciation. In several thousand years, most words change beyond recognition, like the word wheel, which initially might have sounded “kʷékʷlos.” But there were some remarkable exceptions—like the timeless lox.

The family tree of the Indo-European languages sprawls across Eurasia, including such different species as English and Tocharian B, an extinct language once spoken on the territory of Xinjiang in modern China. In Tocharian B, the word for “fish/salmon” is laks, similar to German lachs, and Icelandic lax—the only ancestor all these languages share is the Proto-Indo-European. In Russian, Czech, Croatian, Macedonian, and Latvian, the [k] sound changed to [s,] resulting in the word losos.

This kind of millennia-long semantic consistency also appears in other words. For example, the Indo-European porkos, similar to modern English pork, meant a young pig. “What is interesting about the word lox is that it simply happened to consist of sounds that didn’t undergo changes in English and several other daughter languages descended from Proto-Indo-European,” says Guy. “The sounds that change across time are unpredictable, and differ from language to language, and some may not happen to change at all.”

The word lox was one of the clues that eventually led linguists to discover who the Proto-Indo-Europeans were, and where they lived. The fact that those distantly related Indo-European languages had almost the same pronunciation of a single word meant that the word—and the concept behind it—had most likely existed in the Proto-Indo-European language. “If they had a word for it, they must have lived in a place where there was salmon,” explains Guy. “Salmon is a fish that lives in the ocean, reproduces in fresh water and swims up to rivers to lay eggs and mate. There are only a few places on the planet where that happens.”

In reconstructed Indo-European, there were words for bearhoneyoak tree, and snow, and, which is . . .

Continue reading.

There’s also a good discussion of this in David Anthony’s fascinating book The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World.

See also this earlier post and this one as well.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 December 2020 at 11:36 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Memes

La Toja and the (original) Game Changer

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La Toja has a great backstory, which I recounted in a previous post, and the soap makes a great lather and does seem especially good in its effect on my skin. The original (.68-P) Game Changer is for me a wonderful razor, and three passes did a fine job. A splash of La Toja aftershave, and here we are at Christmas Eve. Have a good day!

Written by LeisureGuy

24 December 2020 at 11:27 am

Posted in Shaving

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