Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for August 21st, 2021

Walking and listening

leave a comment »

I have rediscovered that listening while walking makes the walk easier. Today I walked farther, faster, and longer than yesterday, but instead of feeling tired, I felt invigorated. Of course, by walking six days a week I am naturally increasing strength and energy levels (the training effect Ken Cooper talks about), but still I think listening to the audiobook helped — plus the book (Hunt, Gather, Parent currently, on loan from library) was interesting and I learned things. (It really is a fascinating book.)

I did listen to the Edith Grossman translation of Don Quixote on walks in Monterey. Because the local library has quite a few books in downloadable audio format, I’ll look through those — I already spotted Jane Eyre, and that will be next. Once I run out of library audiobooks, there’s always

Written by Leisureguy

21 August 2021 at 4:42 pm

The road from Rome

leave a comment »

All roads lead to Rome, so the roads from Rome go everywhere. Walter Scheidel has an interesting essay in Aeon on the implications of that. He seems quite qualified to discuss the issue:

Walter Scheidel is Dickason Professor in the Humanities, professor of Classics and history, and a Catherine R Kennedy and Daniel L Grossman fellow in human biology, all at Stanford University in California. His recent books include Escape from Rome: The Failure of Empire and the Road to Prosperity (2019) and The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century (2017), and he is co-editor, with Peter Bang and Christopher Bayly, of The Oxford World History of Empire (2021).

Scheidel writes:

For an empire that collapsed more than 1,500 years ago, ancient Rome maintains a powerful presence. About 1 billion people speak languages derived from Latin; Roman law shapes modern norms; and Roman architecture has been widely imitated. Christianity, which the empire embraced in its sunset years, remains the world’s largest religion. Yet all these enduring influences pale against Rome’s most important legacy: its fall. Had its empire not unravelled, or had it been replaced by a similarly overpowering successor, the world wouldn’t have become modern.

This isn’t the way that we ordinarily think about an event that has been lamented pretty much ever since it happened. In the late 18th century, in his monumental work The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-1788), the British historian Edward Gibbon called it ‘the greatest, perhaps, and most awful scene in the history of mankind’. Tankloads of ink have been expended on explaining it. Back in 1984, the German historian Alexander Demandt patiently compiled no fewer than 210 different reasons for Rome’s demise that had been put forward over time. And the flood of books and papers shows no sign of abating: most recently, disease and climate change have been pressed into service. Wouldn’t only a calamity of the first order warrant this kind of attention?

It’s true that Rome’s collapse reverberated widely, at least in the western – mostly European – half of its empire. (A shrinking portion of the eastern half, later known as Byzantium, survived for another millennium.) Although some regions were harder hit than others, none escaped unscathed. Monumental structures fell into disrepair; previously thriving cities emptied out; Rome itself turned into a shadow of its former grand self, with shepherds tending their flocks among the ruins. Trade and coin use thinned out, and the art of writing retreated. Population numbers plummeted.

But a few benefits were already being felt at the time. Roman power had fostered immense inequality: its collapse brought down the plutocratic ruling class, releasing the labouring masses from oppressive exploitation. The new Germanic rulers operated with lower overheads and proved less adept at collecting rents and taxes. Forensic archaeology reveals that people grew to be taller, likely thanks to reduced inequality, a better diet and lower disease loads. Yet these changes didn’t last.

The real payoff of Rome’s demise took much longer to emerge. When Goths, Vandals, Franks, Lombards and Anglo-Saxons carved up the empire, they broke the imperial order so thoroughly that it never returned. Their 5th-century takeover was only the beginning: in a very real sense, Rome’s decline continued well after its fall – turning Gibbon’s title on its head. When the Germans took charge, they initially relied on Roman institutions of governance to run their new kingdoms. But they did a poor job of maintaining that vital infrastructure. Before long, nobles and warriors made themselves at home on the lands whose yield kings had assigned to them. While this relieved rulers of the onerous need to count and tax the peasantry, it also starved them of revenue and made it harder for them to control their supporters.

When, in the year 800, the Frankish king Charlemagne decided that he was a new Roman emperor, it was already too late. In the following centuries, royal power declined as aristocrats asserted ever greater autonomy and knights set up their own castles. The Holy Roman Empire, established in Germany and northern Italy in 962, never properly functioned as a unified state. For much of the Middle Ages, power was widely dispersed among different groups. Kings claimed political supremacy but often found it hard to exercise control beyond their own domains. Nobles and their armed vassals wielded the bulk of military power. The Catholic Church, increasingly centralised under an ascendant papacy, had a lock on the dominant belief system. Bishops and abbots cooperated with secular authorities, but carefully guarded their prerogatives. Economic power was concentrated among feudal lords and in autonomous cities dominated by assertive associations of artisans and merchants.

The resultant landscape was a patchwork quilt of breathtaking complexity. Not only was Europe divided into numerous states great and small, those states were themselves split into duchies, counties, bishoprics and cities where nobles, warriors, clergy and traders vied for influence and resources. Aristocrats made sure to check royal power: the Magna Carta of 1215 is merely the best-known of a number of similar compacts drawn up all over Europe. In commercial cities, entrepreneurs formed guilds that governed their conduct. In some cases, urban residents took matters into their own hands, establishing independent communes managed by elected officials. In others, cities wrung charters from their overlords to confirm their rights and privileges. So did universities, which were organised as self-governing corporations of scholars.

Councils of royal advisers matured into early parliaments. Bringing together nobles and senior clergymen as well as representatives of cities and entire regions, these bodies came to hold the purse strings, compelling kings to negotiate over tax levies. So many different power structures intersected and overlapped, and fragmentation was so pervasive that no one side could ever claim the upper hand; locked into unceasing competition, all these groups had to bargain and compromise to get anything done. Power became constitutionalised, openly negotiable and formally partible; bargaining took place out in the open and followed established rules. However much kings liked to claim divine favour, their hands were often tied – and if they pushed too hard, neighbouring countries were ready to support disgruntled defectors.

This deeply entrenched pluralism turned out to be crucial once states became more centralised, which happened when . . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more — including, as noted above, several books.

Written by Leisureguy

21 August 2021 at 4:09 pm

Sultana Spinach

leave a comment »

I think this will be tasty. I need to cook Greens, and it’s the end of the week so I’m going with what I’ve got, and thus the greens in question will be three 300g packages of frozen chopped spinach: 900g = 2 lbs (or, more accurately 1 lb 15.75 oz). So:

Garlic and 1 teaspoon measure for scale

• 1 head of Russian red garlic, cloves peeled, chopped small, and allowed to rest
• about 1-1.5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 quite large red onion chopped
• 6 dried chipotles, cut up with kitchen shears
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• 4 medium turmeric root, minced
• 3 packages frozen chopped spinach, 2 lbs total
• 1/4-1/3 cup Bragg’s apple cider vinegar
• 1/3-1/2 cup sultanas 
• about 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper (for the turmeric)
• several good dashes fish sauce

The photo is to give you an idea of the size of the cloves — the total amount of garlic is, shall we say, generous, but this garlic is not so pungent as the common garlic from Gilroy, but sweeter and not at all harsh or biting. I did, of course, allow the garlic to rest for 15 minutes after chopping before beginning to cook. 

I used my 4-qt All-Clad d3 Stainless sauté pan — the large cooking surface works well for this amount. I added the oil, onions, chipotles, and salt to the skillet and sweated the onions on 2 until they were transparent and just about to brown, then added garlic and turmeric and continued to cook, stirring often with a wooden spatula, for 2-3 minutes.

I then added the remaining ingredients, covered, and let it cook for 10 minutes. By that time, the blocks of frozen spinach had thawed, so I broke them up with the spatula and stirred well to mix everything together. 

I covered the pan again, turned heat of 225ºF and set the timer to 20 minutes. The spinach is already pretty well cooked before being frozen (because it’s blanched), but I wanted to let the flavors meld. 

It’s done, and it is indeed quite good, with good warmth from the chipotles and a touch of sweetness from the sultanas. The fish saurce adds umami, and it hits the spot as Greens. I’m having it with Grain (oat groats from the fridge), Beans (Du Puy lentils, likewise), and Other Vegetables (Chayote Delight from the other day). I mixed in 1 tablespoon flaxseed, freshly ground.

Sultana Spinach, ready to serve

Written by Leisureguy

21 August 2021 at 3:39 pm

Frugality theater

leave a comment »

I’ve been scrupulously turning off my printer when I’m not using it, but this morning I wondered whether that was actually worthwhile. A little time at the internet revealed that 72 my printer in sleep mode consumes 1.21 watts, and I pay 6.55¢ per kwh, so the cost of leaving the printer on is CA$ 1.21*.0655/1000  per hour, or CA$ 0.0000079255 per hour, which is roughly 5.7¢ per month (5.71¢ rounded).

I think I’ll just leave the printer on.

Update — Simpler:

Hours in a month: 24 hrs * 30 days = 720 hrs

1.21 watts * 720 hrs = 871 watt-hours in a month, which is 0.871 kwh

6.55¢ (price of 1 kwh) * 0.871 kwh =  5.7¢ per month

Written by Leisureguy

21 August 2021 at 11:29 am

Posted in Daily life

Monumental Timekeepers

leave a comment »

Sundial, Roman, circa first century. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

David Rooney writes in Lapham’s Quarterly:

Everyone in Rome remembered the day the sundial came to town. Manius Valerius Maximus, the returning war hero, had stood proudly and imperiously on the elevated rostrum at the heart of the Roman Forum. In front of him were huge, cheering crowds, eager to celebrate their elected consul who had commanded Rome’s military forces to a decisive victory on the island of Sicily. It was Valerius who had captured the city of Catania for the Roman Republic, and it was he who brokered a treaty at Syracuse, the most important strategic alliance in Roman history. The year was 263 bc, and the taking of Catania an early success in the First Punic War, between the rival states of Carthage and Rome. War booty, plundered from the island, brought the victory tangibly back to the people. Often that meant the prows of captured enemy ships, hacked off and mounted on columns in public centers like the Forum. But it was not all about military trophies and plundered treasure. One of the objects that Valerius had looted from Catania was modest to look at, even mundane. But it came to change the lives of ordinary Romans—​and our own—​forever.

Pointing to a spot by the rostrum on which he stood, Valerius revealed the sundial he had brought back from Sicily and mounted on a column that bore his name. It took the form of a large block of marble in which a hemispherical cavity had carefully been chiseled out. At the top of the cavity was a bronze pointer, or gnomon, and lines carved into the marble acted as the time-​telling scales onto which the gnomon’s shadow fell. It told the time and calendar of Sicily, slightly different from that of Rome, but it did not really matter. It showed that Rome was on top, and the crowd had gone wild.

Everybody knew that triumphal columns in public spaces like the Forum were symbols of great military power, which meant that Valerius’ public sundial of 263 bc, which was Rome’s first, was not simply an ornament. As war booty from the sacking of Catania, displayed on its column in the very spot where Rome’s most famous public speeches were made, Valerius’ sundial stood proudly for the military might of the Republic. But this column was destined for higher fame. As the crowd dispersed from the Forum that day, few realized the true significance of what they had just witnessed. It had seemed as if they were celebrating a decisive victory against the Carthaginians by cheering the plundered sundial set up in Valerius’ name. But they soon learned otherwise.

The sundial from Catania was joined by dozens more across Rome, each designed to regulate and control the myriad daily activities of Rome’s citizens—​who quickly became uneasy at the intrusion of this new timekeeping technology.

Things eventually got so bad that sundials became a target for the city’s playwrights and critics, who poured scorn on the new devices. Writing a few years after the Forum sundial had first been installed, one exasperated playwright made a character exclaim:

The gods damn that man who first discovered the hours, and—​yes—​who first set up a sundial here, who’s smashed the day into bits for poor me! You know, when I was a boy, my stomach was the only sundial, by far the best and truest compared to all of these. It used to warn me to eat, wherever—​except when there was nothing. But now what there is, isn’t eaten unless the sun says so. In fact town’s so stuffed with sundials that most people crawl along, shriveled up with hunger.

A later writer described sundials like the one mounted at the Forum as “hateful” and called for the columns on which they were fixed to be torn down with crowbars.

But it was too late. Public sundials began to appear across the Republic. Valerius’ own triumphal sundial survived the public outrage for exactly ninety-​nine years, only to be replaced in 164 bc by one that was even more accurate. Five years after that, the hated sundials of Rome were joined by a new public timekeeper at the Forum, a water clock, which . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

The march of memes: once they take hold, there’s no turning back (although the samurai of Japan did fight with some success — for a while — against firearms, viewed as dishonorable).

I would bet that in the first decades after the sundial came to Rome, there were many men who would say, “Cum puer eram, . . .”

Written by Leisureguy

21 August 2021 at 10:41 am

Sometimes a shave really hits the spot

leave a comment »

You coffee drinkers have doubtless noticed how you can drink the same coffee, brewed the same way, every morning, and on some occasional morning find that the cup of coffee is unusually delightful in its aroma and taste. The same thing happens with shaving — everything comes together and the experience and result are a cut above the usual pleasure. 

In the case of shaving, an ensemble production, it’s difficult to assign to any single element the reason for the upgrade. The razor is usually praised, but the razor occupies but a single role and in this sort of shave everything has to come together into a harmony of action, pleasure, and result — a euphonious whole (or, as Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks had, a “Euphonious Whale”).

This morning my shave was one of those. To credit each player, the synthetic brush — a limited edition, as it turned out — is from Chiseled Face, and though I especially like the handle — a Polo variant in treated wood — the knot is just a regular good synthetic knot of the Plissoft variety. 

The soap is a good soap. Mike’s Natural soaps to me seem a bit light on the fragrance, but they do turn out a very good no-nonsense lather from sensible but not exotic ingredients:

Distilled water; saponified tallow (beef) and stearic acid; vegetable glycerin; saponified kokum butter, avocado oil, and shea butter; lanolin, fragrance and/or essential oil(s); saponified coconut oil; kaolin clay, vitamin E.

For an artisanal soup, this is not an unusual list (though it would be exotic indeed in a mainstream soap), but of course some of the magic comes in the making: how the ingredients are cooked, combined, and cured. Mike’s soaps are hard (though not triple-milled or the like), and they produce a reliable lather. Of this particular soap, he writes:

Orange, Cedarwood, & Black Pepper (EO) – While orange is the dominant scent here, a judicious blend of cedarwood and black pepper is easily discerned and provides additional complexity.

As I said, the fragrance is light, but it is detectable, and his description is accurate.

I applied the lather to stubble that had been prepped with Grooming Dept Moisturizing Pre-Shave, which plays a strong supporting role in the production.

The iKon stainless open-comb, now with a B1 coating, is always well-behaved while at the same time ruthlessly efficient at removing stubble. It feels very good in my hand — the handle’s chequering is crisp — and on my face, but the stubble falls swiftly to it. When I felt my face following the final rinse, no real cleanup was needed, though I did run the razor over a couple of spot just because I enjoyed wielding it and feeling its glide across the skin.

The blade was a previously use Personna Lab Blue, which for me is a good brand. I’d buy another box of 100 except that I have so many blades on hand it seems silly to add more to the pile. But certainly the blade deserves a round of recognition, it’s the blade that does job in the sense that it’s there that the rubber hits the road, as it were.

And the final finishing touch that left my face feeling new: a good splash of Stirling Soap Company’s Executive Man, upgraded with a squirt of Grooming Dept Hydrating Gel. Executive Man touts its fragrance as “inspired by” Creed Aventus, a very nice fragrance indeed, and it carries that fragrance in a good blend of ingredients:

Denatured Alcohol, Witch Hazel, Fragrance Oil, Aloe, Glycerin, Hydrovance

That’s a straightforward, skin-friendly mix, but again it’s not something typical of a mass-market aftershave.

Together that combo started my weekend with a pleasurable experience — and that’s the best way to start a weekend. IMO.

Written by Leisureguy

21 August 2021 at 9:35 am

Posted in Shaving

%d bloggers like this: