Later On

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

Archive for November 13th, 2021

Discovering the Oldest Figural Paintings on Earth

leave a comment »

Morgan Meis has an interesting article in the New Yorker, which begins:

Basran Burhan was born in Indonesia, on the centrally located island of Sulawesi. He studied archeology at Hasanuddin University, at first, he told me, mostly because he liked how it involved “a lot of outdoor activities.” After graduating, in 2010, he worked for a few different Indonesian research and cultural heritage institutions. He also became an independent archeologist, helping organize excavations for a researcher named Adam Brumm at Griffith University, in Australia. Burhan’s field work struck Brumm as exceptional, and on the strength of it Brumm tried to get Burhan into a Ph.D. program. But Burhan’s imperfect English delayed this project for a number of years. Instead, he kept working for Brumm and his team.

In 2017, Burhan was helping Brumm and other researchers plan their next season of fieldwork: searching for evidence of Paleolithic humans in Sulawesi. Earlier that year, Brumm had briefly explored a new area on the island that seemed promising. Burhan and a team of six Indonesian archeologists were sent there on a field exploration.

The survey lasted for several weeks. At some point, poring over a map of the island’s southern region, Burhan found his eyes drawn to an area he’d never noticed, let alone visited—a valley in a mountain region twenty miles or so northeast of the city of Makassar. There were no roads into the valley, and there was nothing on the map to suggest a way through the bush and mountain peaks. The map did indicate rice paddies and other signs of human habitation, but Burhan didn’t know if the area was currently populated. A good part of archeology is simply exploration. Burhan thought, Why not?

Burhan and his team asked for directions from whomever they encountered, and continually got lost. But eventually they found a path through a cave that led into the hidden valley. The area was inhabited by an especially isolated group of Bugis people, an ethnic group of southern Sulawesi who recognizes five separate genders. The Bugis claimed never to have seen a single Westerner in their valley.

Burhan and his team began to explore the caves in the area and, a few days later, he entered one of them alone. Burhan glanced up and saw a painting of a familiar animal: a Sulawesi warty pig, a medium-sized, hairy boar with small pointy ears and short legs. Burhan had grown up with just this sort of wild pig, which is relatively common on Sulawesi, and which Burhan described to me, laughing, as a crop-destroying nuisance, akin to “a plant disease.” Gazing with recognition at this pig, Burhan also noticed the painted silhouettes of two human hands toward its rear. The over-all look of the art work suggested to Burhan that it was very old—but how old?

Thus began a long process of trying to give the cave art a proper date. Experts were brought in from Griffith. Maxime Aubert, an archeologist and geochemist, decided to use a method called uranium-series dating. He removed some of the calcite on the surface of the painting, which archeologists sometimes call “cave popcorn,” and then analyzed it. Anything under the calcite layer had to be at least as old as what was on the surface. A number of problems arose with the machine that actually did the dating—the Nu Plasma Multi Collector Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer. Like “a Formula One race car,” Aubert said, it requires a team of highly trained engineers just to keep it going. Still, months later, a date was handed down: the painting of the warty pig was at least 45,500 years old. This makes it the oldest known example of figurative cave art in the world.

The implications of these dates are profound. The famous animal paintings in the Chauvet cave, of France, are dated at around thirty-five thousand years old; the Sulawesi warty pig outdoes them by roughly ten thousand years. Many archeologists and anthropologists talk about a “great leap forward” in human culture, suggesting that it occurred sometime between thirty thousand and sixty thousand years ago. During this “leap,” Homo sapiens are said to have initiated behaviors characteristic of modern humans. Such discoveries indicate that the leap may have occurred toward the more ancient end of that range.

The warty pig also upends any lingering belief that figurative cave art was a European thing. “The early cave art in Europe is so spectacular that it was hard for archeologists to tear their eyes away from it,” Brumm told me. This sometimes resulted in a “not fully conscious Eurocentrism.” According to Aubert, several scientific journals refused to publish the group’s papers on the Sulawesi cave-art finds, not because the data were incorrect but because “they just wouldn’t believe it.” He went on, “It’s ingrained in everything, this Eurocentrism.” These discoveries may help erase it.

Figurative cave painting, involving depictions of animals or people, isn’t the only kind of prehistoric art. The Blombos Cave, in South Africa, has yielded objects inscribed with  . .  .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 November 2021 at 5:08 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, History, Science

Cabbage & Red now fermenting

leave a comment »

Fermentation underway, 5 minutes in

I posted earlier what I thought I’d do, but the final recipe turned out be slightly different, but I now know quantities. I decided to use a Savoy cabbage instead of Napa or green cabbage because I saw a very nice head of it when shopping. It was a good choice.

The first thing I did was dissolve 1 1/2 tablespoons coarse Celtic grey sea salt in about 1 cup of water, and dissolve 1 packet of the starter culture in another. I let those sit while I prepared the veggies.

Everything but apples & cabbage

The photo at the right shows what I got from the first few ingredients:

• 2 bunches small red radishes, halved
• 1 large red onion, halved lengthwise, then sliced and cut
• 2 jalapeños, halved lengthwise, then sliced
• 6 cloves garlic, chopped coarsely
• peel of an orange (using a peeler)

That made 1 qt (4 cups). I ended up not using all the radishes. I picked out the smaller and halved them, and I quit when I had two cups. That seemed plenty, so I moved on to the onion.

I halved the onion  lengthwise, then sliced each half across, making semicircular slabs. I held those together and cut across the slices to make 3 equal sections (60º each), so the onion pieces were were 1/3 of  a semicircle. That made just about another two cups. So I used just one onion instead of the two I thought I might need.

I figured the jalapeños, garlic, and orange peel would not add to the volume because they would settle into the interstices, so I added those and called it all 4 cups.

The full batch except brine and culture

So with 1 quart completed, I knew the rest: 

• 2 cups diced Royal Gala apples
• 6 cups shredded Savoy cabbage

It turns out that 2 Royal Gala apples make 2 cups when diced. I did not core them, but used them seeds and all. And just two leaves more than 1/4 this Savoy cabbage made 6 cups when shredded.

I mixed together all ingredients (which did require a larger bowl), then poured over the brine and the water with the starter culture, and mixed all well.

Savoy cabbage is somewhat fluffy, but still the 3 jars were quite full. Once the jars were packed, I poured in the liquid remaining in the bowl, a roughly equal amount to each jar, pressed in the fermentation weights, and then added spring water to barely cover the veggies (not the weights).

I believe these will be ready next Sunday.

UPDATE: I let it go for two weeks after watching Pro Home Cooks’ video about fermenting vegetables. Final result in this post. /updat

PS And a tasty dinner meal to boot. In my No. 8 Field Company skillet, I drizzled a little olive oil and cooked:

• 1/2 large red onion, chopped
• 2 bunches radish greens, rinsed well (they’re very dirty) and chopped

I cooked the onions until they were transparent, then added the radish greens and continued cooking until greens wilted and seemed done, turning frequently with a spatula. 

I put into a large bowl:

• 1/2 avocado, cut up into bite-size pieces
• 1/2 cup black-eyed peas
• 1/2 cup unpolished kodo millet
• about 1 Tbsp Bragg’s apple-cider vinegar

I added the cooked onions and greens, stirred to mix, and topped with a little kala namak.

Extremely tasty.

Written by Leisureguy

13 November 2021 at 2:13 pm

How the U.S. Hid an Airstrike That Killed Dozens of Civilians in Syria

leave a comment »

Military ideas of “honor” seem to be self-serving. Dave Philipps and Eric Schmitt report in the NY Times. Link here is a gift link that bypasses the paywall.

In the last days of the battle against the Islamic State in Syria, when members of the once-fierce caliphate were cornered in a dirt field next to a town called Baghuz, a U.S. military drone circled high overhead, hunting for military targets. But it saw only a large crowd of women and children huddled against a river bank.

Without warning, an American F-15E attack jet streaked across the drone’s high-definition field of vision and dropped a 500-pound bomb on the crowd, swallowing it in a shuddering blast. As the smoke cleared, a few people stumbled away in search of cover. Then a jet tracking them dropped one 2,000-pound bomb, then another, killing most of the survivors.

It was March 18, 2019. At the U.S. military’s busy Combined Air Operations Center at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, uniformed personnel watching the live drone footage looked on in stunned disbelief, according to one officer who was there.

“Who dropped that?” a confused analyst typed on a secure chat system being used by those monitoring the drone, two people who reviewed the chat log recalled. Another responded, “We just dropped on 50 women and children.”

An initial battle damage assessment quickly found that the number of dead was actually about 70.

The Baghuz strike was one of the largest civilian casualty incidents of the war against the Islamic State, but it has never been publicly acknowledged by the U.S. military. The details, reported here for the first time, show that the death toll was almost immediately apparent to military officials. A legal officer flagged the strike as a possible war crime that required an investigation. But at nearly every step, the military made moves that concealed the catastrophic strike. The death toll was downplayed. Reports were delayed, sanitized and classified. United States-led coalition forces bulldozed the blast site. And top leaders were not notified.

The Defense Department’s independent inspector general began an inquiry, but the report containing its findings was stalled and stripped of any mention of the strike.

“Leadership just seemed so set on burying this. No one wanted anything to do with it,” said Gene Tate, an evaluator who worked on the case for the inspector general’s office and agreed to discuss the aspects that were not classified. “It makes you lose faith in the system when people are trying to do what’s right but no one in positions of leadership wants to hear it.”

Mr. Tate, a former Navy officer who had worked for years as a civilian analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Counterterrorism Center before moving to the inspector general’s office, said he criticized the lack of action and was eventually forced out of his job.

The details of the strikes were pieced together by The New York Times over months from confidential documents and descriptions of classified reports, as well as interviews with personnel directly involved, and officials with top secret security clearances who discussed the incident on the condition that they not be named

The Times investigation found that the bombing had been called in by a classified American special operations unit, Task Force 9, which was in charge of ground operations in Syria. The task force operated in such secrecy that at times it did not inform even its own military partners of its actions. In the case of the Baghuz bombing, the American Air Force command in Qatar had no idea the strike was coming, an officer who served at the command center said.

In the minutes after the strike, an alarmed Air Force intelligence officer in the operations center called over an Air Force lawyer in charge of determining the legality of strikes. The lawyer ordered the F-15E squadron and the drone crew to preserve all video and other evidence, according to documents obtained by The Times. He went upstairs and reported the strike to his chain of command, saying it was a possible violation of the law of armed conflict — a war crime — and regulations required a thorough, independent investigation.

But a thorough, independent investigation never happened.

This week, after The New York Times sent its findings to U.S. Central Command, which oversaw the air war in Syria, the command acknowledged the strikes for the first time, saying 80 people were killed but the airstrikes were justified. It said the bombs killed 16 fighters and four civilians. As for the other 60 people killed, the statement said it was not clear that they were civilians, in part because women and children in the Islamic State sometimes took up arms. [Sounds a lot like “Kill ’em all and let God sort them out.” – LG]

“We abhor the loss of innocent life and take all possible measures to prevent them,” Capt. Bill Urban, the chief spokesman for the command, said in the statement. “In this case, we self-reported and investigated the strike according to our own evidence and take full responsibility for the unintended loss of life.”

The only assessment done immediately after the strike was performed by the same ground unit that ordered the strike. It determined that the bombing was lawful because it killed only a small number of civilians while targeting Islamic State fighters in an attempt to protect coalition forces, the command said. Therefore no formal war crime notification, criminal investigation or disciplinary action was warranted, it said, adding that the other deaths were accidental.

But the Air Force lawyer, Lt. Col. Dean W. Korsak, believed he had witnessed possible war crimes and repeatedly pressed his leadership and Air Force criminal investigators to act. When they did not, he alerted the Defense Department’s independent inspector general. Two years after the strike, seeing no evidence that the watchdog agency was taking action, Colonel Korsak emailed the Senate Armed Services Committee, telling its staff that he had top secret material to discuss and adding, “I’m putting myself at great risk of military retaliation for sending this.”

“Senior ranking U.S. military officials intentionally and systematically circumvented the deliberate strike process,” he wrote in the email, which was obtained by The Times. Much of the material was classified and would need to be discussed through secure communications, he said. He wrote that a unit had intentionally entered false strike log entries, “clearly seeking to cover up the incidents.” Calling the classified death toll “shockingly high,” he said the military did not follow its own requirements to report and investigate the strike.

There was a good chance, he wrote, that “the highest levels of government remained unaware of what was happening on the ground.”

Colonel Korsak did not  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and no paywall on this one.

Written by Leisureguy

13 November 2021 at 1:05 pm

Management posts updated

leave a comment »

I have a two posts related to managerial tasks — Hiring a STAR and The Yessable Proposition — and one for those who are just entering the world of work — 12 Pointers. I updated all of those with better links to download the associated PDFs. (I also updated the PDF on an interesting diet idea: choosing foods by color, which turns out to work well in insuring variety and nutrient coverage in one’s diet).

Written by Leisureguy

13 November 2021 at 12:10 pm

Posted in Books, Business, Daily life, Food

Adam Smith warned us about sympathising with the elites

leave a comment »

Blake Smith, a collegiate assistant professor at the University of Chicago, writes in Psyche:

In his Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), Adam Smith developed a theory of psychology based on ‘sympathy’ and outlined a way of living based on ‘reason and philosophy’. These ideas not only banish the (already disappearing) stereotype of Smith as a pioneer of free-market policies, but challenge some of our most cherished ideas about the sources of happiness.

Published 17 years before The Wealth of Nations (1776), Moral Sentiments begins by rejecting the idea that people are basically self-interested. ‘How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortune of others,’ Smith declares. We are often motivated, and indeed dominated, by our emotional involvement with our ideas about other people, which Smith calls ‘sympathy’.

It’s easy to misunderstand what Smith is getting at. ‘Sympathy’, taken etymologically, comes from Greek roots meaning ‘feeling with’. In our everyday speech, we often take sympathy to be a process driven by emotion. In his book Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion (2016), the psychologist Paul Bloom cites Moral Sentiments many times, arguing that by ‘sympathy’ Smith means what he himself means by ‘empathy’: ‘feeling other people’s pain and pleasure’. But this is not at all what Smith means.

Sympathy, Smith believed, was inseparable from imagination and from reasoning. We can’t access what other people feel. Instead, we imagine what other people must be feeling, or rather what we believe that we would feel if we were in their position. Consider a mother listening to the cries of her sick infant. The baby ‘feels only the uneasiness of the present instant’. The mother, however, not only suffers from the pain she believes that her baby feels, but also from the ‘unknown consequences of its disorder’. She sympathises not with her child but with this ‘image of misery and distress’, created by her imagination and her inferences about the future.

Scholars have tried for generations to square Smith’s emphasis on sympathy in Moral Sentiments with his apparent endorsement of selfishness in Wealth of NationsMoral Sentiments, however, presents a paradox of its own. While Smith argued that sympathy is a key to our psychological life, he also warned that it’s the cause of superstition, political and economic inequality, and everyday misery.

Sympathy often leads us to feel and act in ways that diminish our freedom and happiness. We sympathise with the dead, imagining how unhappy we would be if we were deprived of life’s pleasures. Our belief in the afterlife, Smith suggests, arises out of this ‘illusion of the imagination’ that sympathises with those who no longer suffer.

We make a similar mistake, he warns, when we think about the ‘the rich and the powerful’. We imagine the happiness they enjoy, and share in that imagined happiness so strongly that we come to believe they deserve it. We grieve for ‘every injury that is done them’, although we feel ‘indifference’ for the ‘misery’ of the poor. Thinking about their lives gives us no vicarious happiness.

But the rich and powerful, Smith argued, are neither happier nor morally superior to other people. They are often miserable and vicious. And they use our illusions about them to justify their privileges. Elites benefit from inequalities of wealth and power in our society because the basic structure of our emotional life, sympathy, leads us to identify with our oppressors.

Sympathy drives us to ambition as well as superstition and oppression. Smith invited readers to contemplate a ‘poor man’s son, whom heaven in its anger has visited with ambition’. Such a person sympathises with the rich and powerful, working hard to become like them. He sacrifices ‘the real happiness of life’, which consists of ‘ease of body and peace of mind’. He makes himself miserable trying to imitate the rich, who are not happy themselves.

There is an alternative. Smith suggests that we can free ourselves from sympathy by . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 November 2021 at 9:52 am

Two things I especially like about Otoko Organics shaving soap

with one comment

Two things about Otoko Organics shaving soap that stand out as particularly good: its fragrance and its lather. Both were evident this morning. This may be another soap that works best with a fine-bristle synthetic, though I think I recall getting excellent results using a badger brush. But this morning I used a 22mm synthetic from Maggard Razors, and I loved the lather. As I’ve mentioned it is somewhat different from a soap lather: more stiffish. But it does a very nice job indeed.

Three passes with the inestimable Merkur Progress left my face exceptionally smooth — perhaps Otoko Organics played a role there as well — and then a dab of Arko aftershave gel finished the job. 

What a fine way to begin the weekend — despite the clouds of grey packing the sky overhead.

Written by Leisureguy

13 November 2021 at 9:18 am

Posted in Shaving

%d bloggers like this: