Later On

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Kimchi-inflected red-cabbage kraut

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Los Tres Amigos, ready for their Big Adventure

A new batch of fermented vegetables is now underway. Here’s what’s in it:

• 1 large head red cabbage (This time I discarded the core.)
• good-sized chunk of daikon radish
• 1 enormous Cosmic Crisp apple, halved vertically
• 1 large red onion, halved
• 2 large jalapeño peppers, including core and seeds

All of the above were thinly sliced (see below).

• 6 Medjool dates, pitted and chopped

Next three items were pulverized in my spice & herb grinder.

• 2 guajillo chiles
• 2 ancho chiles
• 1″ piece of ginger root, chopped reasonably small


• 60g coarse grey sea salt (Celtic is what I have)
• 1 packet Cutting Edge starter culture, hydrated before adding

Cabbage, radish, apple, onion, and jalapeños were slicked using my OXO large handheld adjustable mandoline, with the adjustment set at “1,” the first line after the “Lock” position (photo at right shows the adjustment dial). From a catalog entry: “It has an adjustable dial with 7 thickness options from 1mm to 4mm with 0.5mm intervals.” Thus my slices were 1mm thick.

I removed core and seeds from the guajillo and ancho chiles, toasted them in a skillet, then tore them into pieces and put them into my spice & herb grinder along with the chopped ginger, ground all that to a damp powder, and added it to the bowl of sliced vegetables and chopped dates, along with 60g of coarse sea salt. All that filled the largest bowl I have heaping full, but the vegetables collapsed a fair amount as I massaged them.

I massaged them for 5-10 minutes — going not by the clock but massaging until everything was well-mixed, the cabbage had become soft and supple, and liquid gathered in the bottom of the bowl. I then added the water with the starter culture and mixed that well with the bowl contents for a couple of minutes, still massaging.

Lesson learned: I though the daikon radish slices would break apart as I massaged the mix with the salt. They didn’t. Next time I’ll quarter the daikon lengthwise and then slice: small pieces. The apple did break up pretty well, but I think next time I’ll also quarter that before slicing.

I used 60 grams of salt because the total weight of ingredients was 3030g (6 2/3 lbs!). (I weighed the empty bowl before I began and subtracted that from the weight of the full bowl.) I took 2% of the ingredients’ weight and used that much salt. (TBH, I used 57g because I’m trying to ease up on salt.)

I tried to leave more room at the top in the three jars (two 1-liter, on 1.5-liter), but they were pretty full by the time I had packed them will all the kimchi/kraut mixture. They are firmly packed: I have a kraut packer that works well.

I distributed the liquid left in the big bowl equally among the packed jars, added spring water to barely cover, put a fermentation weight into each jar, and then screwed on a pickle-pipe fermentation airlock and took the photo above.

In two weeks I’m going to have a lot of kimchi-ish kraut. This homemade stuff is sweeter than store-bought, probably because of the apple (and, this time, the dates) and also perhaps because I don’t ferment it so long as commercial krauters do. 

Written by Leisureguy

24 January 2022 at 3:13 pm

“Multitasking Isn’t Progress—It’s What Wild Animals Do for Survival”

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Ted Gioia writes:

I plan to write a series of posts outlining some unconventional or dissident conceptual frameworks I’ve found useful in understanding contemporary society.

These aren’t the usual tired ideas or dead metaphors already familiar to us. I won’t even mention those stale truisms, because you already know every one of them—in fact, we would all probably be better off forgetting them.

Fewer things are more destructive than a dead-end concept. They are much like dead-end roads—they take you on a trip to nowhere. They provide an illusion of motion, but actually bring you further away from any useful destination.

The concepts I’m sharing are less familiar, and all the more valuable for that reason. They have forced me to look at everyday situations in new ways, requiring me to challenge some of my own preconceptions and attitudes. Even when they fail to encompass all of a particular reality, they still add value by disrupting the labels and assumptions that I use—and all of us use—to navigate through day-to-day life.

In this installment, I want to focus on Byung-Chul Han’s concept of the Burnout Society.

Han is one of the most significant German philosophers of our time, but his background is unusual. He was born in Seoul, South Korea in 1959, and studied metallurgy before moving to Germany to immerse himself in philosophy, theology, and literature. He received his doctorate in 1994, writing his dissertation on Martin Heidegger. His philosophy career didn’t start in earnest until his forties, yet he has now published at least twenty books.

Until recently, Han gave no interviews. In a celebrity-driven culture, he refuses to play the game, remaining stubbornly reluctant to discuss his own life and personal background. But that hasn’t prevented him from gaining a large audience, much broader than you might imagine a German philosopher attracting in the current day.  His lectures draw a capacity audience, and his ideas are now crossing over into other disciplines. In particular, a number of people in the art and culture world have started to pay close attention to his concepts and opinions.

Those who have read my book Music; A Subversive History may recall my use of Han’s aesthetic concepts—notably his view that the cult of smoothness is the defining quality of contemporary art. He applies this concept to everything from the design of the iPhone, with its comforting smooth contours, to the Brazilian bikini wax, which aims at a similar endpoint on our bodies.

In this instance, I want to focus on a different concept, namely Han’s notion that we are living in a “Burnout Society” that causes a wide range of characteristic dysfunctions and ailments. These are difficult for society to address because the assumptions built into our inquiries are actually causing these problems.

What follows below is mostly from Han, but reframed and focused by some of my own ideas.


Everywhere around us we see the signs: depression, burnout, hyperactivity, anxiety, self-harm. Sometimes the disorders get classified as medical syndromes with impressive acronyms, such as ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) or BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder).

In other cases—a suicide or fatal breakdown, for example—things have gone too far for even medical intervention. All the acronyms in the world won’t help you then. But in every instance, something similar can be seen: the victims are at war with themselves.

That’s misleading, Han would say. They only seem to be the instigators of their problems, which are coming from . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

This reminds of something I’ve come to realize in recent years. FOMO (fear of missing out) is pointless because you (and I and any individual) will miss out — inevitably. There is too much in the world — and even too much in human culture or even just in our own particular culture — to absorb. You (and I) will miss out on many more things than we don’t miss out on.

I blogged recently about two brief videos about areas of knowledge and activity on which I’ve totally miss out in the sense of having concrete and specific knowledge, experience, and skill: making movies and making small airplanes. I watched those two videos with fascination because they showed me how much i’ve missed out on in just those two specific areas.

I’ve made my peace with that, and I focus on enjoying (and doing as well as I can, which is generally far short of expertise) things I do encounter and like. Rather than being frustrated by all that I’m missing, I luxuriate in all that I have. That seems the sensible choice, given the ineluctable realities of life. I leap joyously into those things I am not missing out on, and I continue to pay attention to what I encounter, and occasionally seize onto something new (fermenting vegetables, for example).

I believe it’s a big mistake to miss what you actually encounter because your attention is focused on worry about things you’re missing. We taste but a tiny sliver of what life has to offer, so it’s important to enjoy the slice we get.

Written by Leisureguy

24 January 2022 at 12:13 pm

Rejoice! Bookworms live longer!

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Rhea Hirshman writes in the Yale Alumni Magazine:

The next time you talk to a clinician about how you’re taking care of your health, you might want to include a discussion of your
reading habits.

Although sedentary activities are not usually regarded as promoting health, a recent study by Yale researchers showed a significant link between book reading and longevity. (The work was published in the journal Social Science and Medicine.) Researchers examined data from 3,635 individuals who have been involved over several years in a nationwide health study of people over age 50. Based on their answers to the question “How many hours did you spend last week reading books?” respondents were divided into three groups: those who read no books, those who read books for up to three and a half hours, and those who read books for more than three and a half hours.

The study showed a marked advantage for book readers. Over 12 years of follow-up, those who read books for up to three and a half hours per week were  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 January 2022 at 10:24 am

A discovery regarding appetite

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I have read about “intuitive eating,” but don’t really know much about it. I think the idea is to eat only when hungry and to do that by paying attention to your body’s cues. That sounded to me a lot like it meant to eat when I felt like eating and, unfortunately, I find I frequently feel like eating, which makes maintaining a healthy weight difficult.

The other evening I was thinking about this, and I recalled something from one of the books that  I find myself repeatedly recommending, namely A Life of One’s Own, by Joanna Field (the pseudonym of Marion Miller — the book has been republished with Miller shown as the author). Here’s the passage:

The first hint that I really had the power to control the way I looked at things happened in connexion with music. Always before, my listening had been too much bothered by the haunting idea that there was far more in it than I was hearing; but occasionally I would find that I had slipped through this barrier to a delight that was enough in itself, in which I forgot my own inadequacy. But this was rare, and most often I would listen intently for a while and then find I had become distracted and was absorbed in the chatter of my own thoughts, personal preoccupations. Impatiently I would shake myself, resolving to attend in earnest for the rest of the concert, only to find that I could not lose myself by mere resolution. Gradually I found, however, that though I could not listen by direct trying I could make some sort of internal gesture after which listening just happened. I described this effort to myself in various ways. Sometimes I seemed to put my awareness into the soles of my feet, sometimes to send something which was myself out into the hall, or to feel as if I were standing just beside the orchestra. I even tried to draw a little picture to remind myself of how it felt. [drawing is shown in the text – LG]

In my notes I find:

Last Wednesday I went to the opera at Covent Garden, Rigoletto. I was dead tired and could not listen at first (sitting on the miserably cramped gallery benches), but then I remembered to put myself out of myself, close to the music – and sometimes it closed over my head, and I came away rested in feeling light-limbed.

At this time also I began to surmise that there might be different ways of looking as well as of listening.

One day I was idly watching some gulls as they soared high overhead. I was not interested, for I recognized them as ‘just gulls’, and vaguely watched first one and then another. Then all at once something seemed to have opened. My idle boredom with the familiar became a deep-breathing peace and delight, and my whole attention was gripped by the pattern and rhythm of their flight, their slow sailing which had become a quiet dance.

In trying to observe what had happened I had the idea that my awareness had somehow widened, that I was feeling what I saw as well as thinking what I saw. But I did not know how to make myself feel as well as think, and it was not till three months later that it occurred to me to apply to looking the trick I had discovered in listening. This happened when I had been thinking of how much I longed to learn the way to get outside my own skin in the daily affairs of life, and feel how other people felt; but I did not know how to begin. I then remembered my trick with music and began to try ‘putting myself out’ into one of the chairs in the room (I was alone so thought a chair would do to begin with). At once the chair seemed to take on a new reality, I ‘felt’ its proportions and could say at once whether I liked its shape. This then, I thought, might be the secret of looking, and could be applied to knowing what one liked. My ordinary way of looking at things seemed to be from my head, as if it were a tower in which I kept myself shut up, only looking out of the windows to watch what was going on. Now I seemed to be discovering that I could if I liked go down outside, go down and make myself part of what was happening, and only so could I experience certain things which could not be seen from the detached height of the tower…. One might have thought that after the discovery of such a new possibility I would have been continually coming down to look at things. Actually, however, with the press of a daily work which demanded thought, not feeling, I seem to have forgotten the fact of this new freedom, also I think I was afraid of it and loth to leave the security of my tower too often.

So as I was sitting my chair and thinking about getting something to eat, I remembered that passage and decided to put my consciousness into my body — specifically into my gut. When I did, I felt no urge at all to eat. in fact, I felt quite satisfied.

That was odd, because I had definitely been thinking about getting something to eat, so I tried putting my consciousness into my mouth — and there it was. I suddenly had a clear and distinct desire for food in my mouth: a salad, cold and crisp and crunchy; or a hot meal with softer textures, like mushrooms sautéed with butter and onions and some cooked grain; or perhaps some cold spicy veggies, like a bowl of the Other Vegetables or Spinach that was in the fridge. I definitely felt like ating.

Then I switched my consciousness back to my gut, and again the urge to eat vanished. I felt satisfied and didn’t really want anything. I found that interesting (and I did not eat anything more that evening.)

It seems clear that my mouth likes stimulation, and eating food is just such an activity. So my mouth enjoys food a lot, and is always ready for more. In contrast, my gut seems to desire food only when it needs food, and otherwise it wants to be left alone to go about its business and not be bothered by taking on more work.

It’s like my mouth is flighty — easily aroused, readily distracted, never satisfied — so it’s important that i pay attention to my gut, a more reliable guide to my need for food. My mouth is always up for food and is easily distracted into wanting food, so I must it keep it on a short leash. It can have its fun only when my gut wants food — not nearly so often as when my mouth wants entertainment.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2022 at 10:08 pm

The Spacing Effect: How to Improve Learning and Maximize Retention

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An interesting post in the FS blog. (The idea of spaced repetition is built into Anki’s (powerful, free) flashcard system.) The blog post begins:

We are not taught how to learn in school, we are taught how to pass tests. The spacing effect is a far more effective way to learn and retain information that works with our brain instead of against it. Find out how to use it here.

“Every perception is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.”

— Gerald Edelman, Second Nature: Brain Science and Human Knowledge

The most important metaskill you can learn is how to learn. Learning allows you to adapt. As Darwin hinted, it’s not the strongest who survives. It’s the one who easily adapts to a changing environment. Learning how to learn is a part of a “work smarter, not harder” approach to life—one that probabilistically helps you avoid becoming irrelevant. Your time is precious, and you don’t want to waste it on something which will just be forgotten.

During the school years, most of us got used to spending hours at a time memorizing facts, equations, the names of the elements, French verbs, dates of key historical events. We found ourselves frantically cramming the night before a test. We probably read through our notes over and over, a gallon of coffee in hand, in the hope that the information would somehow lodge in our brains. Once the test was over, we doubtless forgot everything straight away.1

Even outside of formal education, we have to learn large amounts of new information on a regular basis: foreign languages, technical terms, sale scripts, speeches, the names of coworkers. Learning through rote memorization is tedious and—more important—ineffective. If we want to remember something, we need to work with our brains, not against them. To do that, we need to understand cognitive constraints and find intelligent ways to get around them or use them to our advantage.

This is where the spacing effect comes in. It’s a wildly useful phenomenon: we are better able to recall information and concepts if we learn them in multiple, spread-out sessions. We can leverage this effect by using spaced repetition to slowly learn almost anything.

It works for words, numbers, images, and skills. It works for anyone of any age, from babies to elderly people. It works for animals, even species as simple as sea slugs. The effect cuts across disciplines and can be used to learn anything from artistic styles to mathematical equations.

Spaced repetition might not have the immediacy of cramming or the adrenaline rush of a manic all-nighter. But the information we learn from it can last a lifetime and tends to be effectively retained. In some ways, the spacing effect is a cognitive limitation, yet a useful one—if we are aware of it.

In Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language and Never Forget It, Gabriel Wyner writes:

Spaced repetition…[is] extraordinarily efficient. In a four-month period, practising for 30 minutes a day, you can expect to learn and retain 3600 flashcards with 90 to 95 percent accuracy. These flashcards can teach you an alphabet, vocabulary, grammar, and even pronunciation. And they can do it without becoming tedious because they’re always challenging enough to remain interesting and fun.

In Mindhacker, Ron and Marty Hale-Evans explore further:

Our memory is simultaneously magnificent and pathetic. It is capable of incredible feats, yet it never works quite like we wish it would. Ideally, we would be able to remember everything instantly, but we are not computers. We hack our memory with tools like memory palaces, but such techniques required effort and dedication. Most of us give up, and outsource our memory to smartphones, cloud enabled computers, or plain old pen and paper. There is a compromise…a learning technique called spaced repetition which efficiently organizes information or memorization and retention can be used to achieve near perfect recall.

“If you wish to forget anything on the spot, make a note that this thing is to be remembered.”

— Edgar Allan Poe, Marginalia

The Discovery of The Spacing Effect

Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850-1909), a German psychologist and pioneer of quantitative memory research, first identified the spacing effect. After earning his PhD in Germany, he traveled to London. Like so many people, he found his life forever changed by a book.

The work in question was

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2022 at 8:46 pm

Newsletter Natural Selection

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Slime Mold Time Mold has a very interesting post, which begins:

Apparently, Substack wants to destroy newspapers. And maybe that would be good — maybe it would be good for journalism to be democratized, for bloggers to inherit the earth. Of course we’re bloggers and not newspapers, so maybe we’re biased.

Obviously it would be great if someone came up with a set of blogging and newsletter tools that were just amazing, that were the clear front-runner, that outperformed every other platform. We’d love it if the technical problems were all solved and we just had a perfect set of blogging tools.

But if everyone ends up on the same platform, well, that’s kind of dangerous. If one company controls the whole news & blogging industry, they can blacklist whoever they want, and can squeeze users as much as they want.

Even if you think Substack has a good track record, there’s no way they can guarantee that they won’t squeeze their writers once they control the market. Even if you trust the current management, at some point they will all retire, or all die, or the company will be bought by, and then you’re shit outta luck.

Substack just can’t make a credible commitment that makes it impossible for them to abuse their power if they get a monopoly. You have to take them at their word. But since management can change, you can’t even really do that. They just can’t bind their hands convincingly.

But there may be some very unusual business models that would fix this problem. 

On the Origin of Substacks

Imagine there’s a “Substack” company that commits itself to breaking in half every time it gets 100,000 users (or something), creating two child companies. Each company ends up with 50,000 users. All the blogs with even-numbered IDs go to Substack A, and all the blogs with odd-numbered IDs go to Substack B. The staff gets split among these two companies, and half of them move to a new office. Both companies retain the same policy of breaking in half once they hit that milestone again — an inherited, auto-trust-busting mechanism.

(Splitting into exactly two companies wouldn’t have to be a part of the commitment. They could equally choose to break up into Substack Red, Substack Blue, and Substack Yellow: Special Pikachu Edition.)

In addition, a core part of the product would be high-quality, deeply integrated tools to switch from one of these branches to another. Probably this would involve an easy way to export all your posts and a list of your subscribers to some neutral file format (maybe a folder full of markdown, css, and csv files), and to import them from the same format into a new blog. If you end up in Substack B and you want to be in Substack A instead (your favorite developer works there or something), the product would make it very easy to switch, maybe to the point of being able to switch at the push of a button.

To help with this, the third and final commitment of the company, and all child companies, would be to . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — and no paywall. And it’s intriguing — and something a company could easily do.

What I like is that it harnesses the power of cultural evolution in a way that supports the common welfare.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2022 at 5:25 pm

The mask conundrum: A dialogue

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Kevin Drum treats us to a Socratic dialogue. He writes:

There’s a fundamental problem with our campaign to get people to wear masks. It’s pretty obvious, but here it is:

Socrates: Our greatest healers and physicians are united in urging us to wear masks in order to fight the plague that runs rampant among us. Do you believe their advice to be sound?

Glaucon: Why yes.

Socrates: And what evidence do they offer that you find so persuasive?

Glaucon: It is obvious that masks reduce the expulsion of bad airs from breathing and coughing. If I am suffering from the plague—but still out in the agora because I am not yet feeling any ill effects—it diminishes the number of malignant corpuscles that I introduce into the world.

Socrates: So when you wear a mask, you do it to help other people, not yourself?

Glaucon: That is so. It is not perfect, but it is still beneficent to the good health of Athens.

Socrates: And you consider this a virtuous act.

Glaucon: Indeed I do. A respect for the good of society is one of the highest virtues.

Socrates: Quite so. But you’ll admit that not everyone thinks as you do.

Glaucon: Unhappily, all my experience among men teaches me that you are right.

Socrates: So on the one side, we have your fellow citizens of virtue. They are the most likely to heed the advice of our physicians, are they not?

Glaucon: I cannot disagree.

Socrates: And being virtuous, they have probably already visited a physician and procured for themselves a potion that protects against the plague?

Glaucon: Indeed, I myself have done so. I believe it was called a “vaccine.”

Socrates: And what does this “vaccine” accomplish?

Glaucon:  . . .

Do continue reading. Drum points out a paradox we need to solve.

Written by Leisureguy

22 January 2022 at 1:36 pm

Best Food to Prevent Common Childhood Infections

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22 January 2022 at 11:08 am

What is the color of something infinitely hot?

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That is, to what color does something converge as you continually increase its temperature?


Detailed explanation.

Written by Leisureguy

22 January 2022 at 10:44 am

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Flying in miniature: Secrets of the featherwing beetle

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Written by Leisureguy

21 January 2022 at 7:55 pm

Study: Green MedDiet Can Slow Brain Atrophy Among Over-50s

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Paolo DeAndreis writes in Olive Oil Times:

A common aging process known as brain atrophy has been effectively limited by the adoption of a Mediterranean diet significantly high in polyphenols and low in processed and red meat, known as Green-Med.

A team of researchers from Ben Gurion University in Israel has found significant beneficial effects of Green-Med adoption on a large group of overweight employees at the Dimona Nuclear Research Center. Two hundred twenty-seven participants completed the 18-month trial during which several brain parameters were analyzed.

The employees were divided into three groups. The first was asked to follow a healthy diet, the second one was instructed to adopt a traditional Mediterranean diet and the third one was asked to follow Green-Med. All of them were also asked to carry out specific physical activities and all were given a free gym membership.

To enhance the high-polyphenol profile of Green-Med, the researchers introduced walnuts and green tea into the diet.

In a note, researchers explained that the polyphenols in walnuts decrease the risk for dementia and reduce brain inflammation. Green tea’s polyphenols are also known for their favorable effects on cognitive function and reduced inflammation in the brain. [FWIW, I eat 1/4 cup of walnuts daily, and I drink green tea (and hibiscus tea) daily. – LG]

While walnuts were also given to the MedDiet group, scientists administered a specific strain of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 January 2022 at 3:13 pm

This may make you feel better about the state of the planet

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A satellite view of the Nachusa Grasslands in Illinois.

About 100 miles west of Chicago, Illinois, a tallgrass prairie teems with life. Here in this 3,800-acre piece of land, you can walk among brightly colored fields of wildflowers, hear the song of cerulean warblers and the hoot of short-eared owls, and, if you’re lucky, glimpse rare box turtles.

It wasn’t always this way. Over the past two centuries, the Prairie State lost all but about 0.01 percent of its original prairie. This particular region, now known as the Nachusa Grasslands, was covered in part by neat rows of corn and soy, and that left little habitat for monarch butterflies, bison, or any of the thousands of plants and animals that depend on prairie ecosystems.

That started to change in the 1980s, when a crew of volunteers and scientists began reviving the land — planting seeds, carrying out controlled burns, and reintroducing native species. The ecosystem bounced back, and today, the Nachusa Grasslands are home to 180 species of native birds, more than 700 species of plants, and a small herd of bison.

In an age of extinction and climate change, you don’t often hear this kind of success story. Yet the Nachusa Grasslands of the world can help people find hope that the Earth isn’t doomed.

Last summer, Thomas Crowther, an ecologist at ETH Zurich, launched Restor, a mapping tool that shows where in the world people are doing this sort of restoring or conserving of ecosystems. Think of it as the “nature is healing” meme from the early pandemic, but serious.

We should be angry about climate change and the destruction of ecosystems, Crowther told Vox. “But without optimism, that outrage goes nowhere,” he said. Examples of people restoring land give us all something to root for, and now there’s a spot to find a whole bunch of them — tens of thousands, actually.

Restor joins a trove of new environmental initiatives that focus on ecological “wins.” Last summer, for example, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) — which oversees the official “red list” of threatened species — came up with a new set of standards to measure the recovery of species, like the California condor. Perhaps it’s a sign that people want to look beyond what we have to lose, especially when there’s so much to gain.

Where nature is really healing

There are more than 76,000 examples of restoration on Restor. In a former cattle ranch in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, for example, a nonprofit planted trees to revive an ecosystem that’s now home to more than 170 species of birds. In the Tanzanian savanna, members of local villages have helped restore acacia woodlands, which provide fuelwood and timber, as well as habitat for hyenas, jackals, and other animals. (You can find several other inspiring examples here.) Restor is an open platform, so anyone can upload their own project if it involves conserving land, Crowther said.

“We’ve never known where all the conservation and restoration is happening on our planet,” Crowther said. “It’s the first time we can begin to visualize a global restoration movement.”

Restor’s aim to map restoration sites worldwide is “excellent,” but it comes with some limitations, said Karen Holl, a restoration expert at the University of California Santa Cruz who sits on Restor’s science advisory council. For one,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 January 2022 at 12:50 pm

Don’t choose extinction

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Written by Leisureguy

21 January 2022 at 12:09 pm

Abolish Coroners

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Eleanor Cummins writes in the New Republic:

They’re responsible for a massive undercounting of Covid deaths in America. But that’s just the latest reason to get rid of this poorly regulated, overly politicized, and utterly unscientific relic of the colonial era.

Wavis Jordan “doesn’t do Covid deaths.” That’s what the pastor and Republician coroner of Cape Girardeau County, Mississippi, told Missouri Independent last month. He requires families to submit a positive test if they want coronavirus listed on the death certificate. Otherwise, the cause of deaths at home in his county are attributed to a range of other conditions that might be exacerbated by Covid-19, including Alzheimer’s, heart attack, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease—but never the virus itself.

Jordan isn’t the only death investigator undercounting Covid-19. In Louisiana’s Lafayette Parish, for example, people are currently being pronounced dead over the phone; without enough Covid tests, the county writes down “what the families tell us,” according to a recent USA Today report. In Rankin County, Mississippi, the local coroner told USA Today that many families initially refuse Covid-19 as a cause of death—until they learn about the federal government’s burial reimbursement program. The cut corners add up: In 2020 and 2021, there were one million excess deaths in the United States, but only 800,000 have been attributed to Covid-19 by the coroners and medical examiners on the ground.

These stories may seem shocking. But they’re no surprise to anyone familiar with the American coroner system, a notoriously underfunded, under-regulated, and often unscientific relic of the colonial era—and the crumbling bedrock of modern public health surveillance. The pandemic has simply shown what many public health experts have been arguing for years: The coroner system has got to go.

Historically, coroners have been political appointees or elected officials associated with the criminal justice system. They investigate any death that doesn’t appear natural—a broad category that includes suicides, homicides, and accidents. They may also pitch in with pandemics, natural disasters, and other mass casualty events that overwhelm frontline services. For those who die in a hospital, the majority of death certificates are signed by physicians. But when people begin to die en masse at home, as happened in the early parts of the pandemic, the responsibility falls on coroners and medical examiners. In 2018, the most recent year for which national data is available, more than 1.3 million deaths were referred for further investigation, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

In the last century, the role of coroners and medical examiners has become increasingly important for tracking diseases, researching outcomes of both chronic and infectious diseases and safety issues, and developing effective public health intervention strategies. But unlike medical examiners, who are physicians and, in ideal cases, trained forensic pathologists, the bar for coroners is often much lower. In some states, anyone 18 years or older with no prior felonies may be elected coroner. Once they’re in office, training is patchwork; some jurisdictions require no further education at all.

The coroner system has its roots in medieval England, where coroners protected the interests of the crown, including investigating deaths and collecting taxes. It arrived in the U.S. in the colonial period, where  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 January 2022 at 11:36 am

The Great Siberian Thaw

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I do wish the New Yorker offered a gift-link option, but they don’t. Still, this report is worth pointing out because it is clearly “mene mene tekel upsharsin” message for our current civilization and society. Joshua Yaffa reports:

Flying over Yakutia, in northeastern Russia, I watched the dark shades of the boreal forest blend with patches of soft, lightly colored grass. I was strapped to a hard metal seat inside the cabin of an Antonov-2, a single-­engine biplane, known in the Soviet era as a kukuruznik, or corn-crop duster. The plane rumbled upward, climbing above a horizon of larch and pine, and lakes the color of mud. It was impossible to tell through the Antonov’s dusty porthole, but below me the ground was breathing, or, rather, exhaling.

Three million years ago, as continent-­size glaciers pulsed down from the poles, temperatures in Siberia plunged to minus eighty degrees Fahrenheit and vast stretches of soil froze underground. As the planet cycled between glacial and interglacial periods, much of that frozen ground thawed, only to freeze again, dozens of times. Around eleven and a half millennia ago, the last ice age gave way to the current interglacial period, and temperatures began to rise. The soil that remained frozen year-round came to be known as permafrost. It now lies beneath nine million square miles of Earth’s surface, a quarter of the landmass of the Northern Hemisphere. Russia has the world’s largest share: two-thirds of the country’s territory sits on permafrost.

In Yakutia, where the permafrost can be nearly a mile deep, annual temperatures have risen by more than two degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution, twice the global average. As the air gets hotter, so does the soil. Deforestation and wildfire—both acute problems in Yakutia—remove the protective top layer of vegetation and raise temperatures underground even more.

Over thousands of years, the frozen earth swallowed up all manner of organic material, from tree stumps to woolly mammoths. As the permafrost thaws, microbes in the soil awaken and begin to feast on the defrosting biomass. It’s a funky, organic process, akin to unplugging your freezer and leaving the door open, only to return a day later to see that the chicken breasts in the back have begun to rot. In the case of permafrost, this microbial digestion releases a constant belch of carbon dioxide and methane. Scientific models suggest that the permafrost contains one and a half trillion tons of carbon, twice as much as is currently held in Earth’s atmosphere.

Trofim Maximov, a scientist who studies permafrost’s contribution to climate change, was seated next to me in the Antonov, shouting directions to the pilot in the cockpit. Once a month, Maximov charters the plane in order to measure the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere above Yakutia. He described the thawing permafrost as a kind of feedback loop: the release of greenhouse gases causes warmer temperatures, which, in turn, melt the permafrost further. “It’s a natural process,” he told me. “Which means that, unlike purely anthropogenic processes”—say, emissions from factories or automobiles—“once it starts, you can’t really stop it.”

A hose attached to the plane’s wing sucked air into a dozen glass cylinders arrayed on the floor of the cabin. By comparing the greenhouse-gas numbers over time, and at various altitudes, Maximov can estimate how permafrost is both affected by a warmer climate and contributing to it. When he started taking airborne measurements, half a decade ago, he found that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air above Yakutia was increasing at double the rate of historical averages. Methane has a shorter life in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, but it is more than twenty-­five times as effective at trapping heat. According to Maximov’s data, methane is also being released at an accelerated rate: it is now accumulating fifty per cent faster than it was a generation ago.

At the moment, though, I was mainly concerned with the stomach-turning lurches the plane was making as it descended in a tight spiral. We had dropped to a few hundred feet above the ground so that Maximov’s colleague, a thirty-three-year-old researcher named Roman Petrov, could take the final sample, a low-altitude carbon snapshot. The plane shook like a souped-up go-kart. Petrov held his stomach and buried his face in a plastic bag. Then I did the same. When we finally landed, on a grass-covered airstrip, I staggered out of the cabin, still queasy. Maximov poured some Cognac into a plastic cup. A long sip later, I found that the spinning in my head had slowed, and the ground under me again took on the feeling of reassuring firmness—even though, as I knew, what seemed like terra firma was closer to a big squishy piece of rotting chicken.

Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as the Russian Empire expanded eastward, reports filtered back to the capital of a “firm body of ice” in the ground, in the words of one explorer, that “was never heard of before.” In Yakutsk, the capital of Yakutia, early settlers struggled to grow crops and find sources of fresh groundwater. In the summer of 1827, a merchant named Fedor Shergin, whom the tsar had dispatched to Yakutia as a representative of the Russian-­American Company, tried to dig a well. Shergin’s team of laborers spent the next decade chiselling a shaft, reaching three hundred feet down, only to find yet more frozen earth. Finally, in 1844, Alexander von Middendorff, a prominent scientist and explorer, made his way from St. Petersburg to Yakutsk and estimated, correctly, that the soil under the shaft was frozen to a depth of at least six hundred feet. His findings jolted the Russian scientific academy, and eventually reached the salons of Europe.

Today, the entrance to Shergin’s shaft, as it is known, is housed in a log cabin in the center of Yakutsk, wedged between a concrete apartment block and the burned-out shell of a former military academy. One afternoon last summer, I visited the site with Yuri Murzin, a scientist from the Melnikov Permafrost Institute, based in Yakutsk. “The study of permafrost began here,” he said. “Before Shergin’s shaft, practically no one outside of Yakutia had any idea such a thing existed.” Murzin and I wanted to have a look inside the shaft, which required lifting a series of heavy wooden lids. A column of cold air rushed upward. I looked down but saw only a wall of black. A musty aroma of dirt and ice wafted into the cabin. “It smells of antiquity, of time gone by,” Murzin said. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the article:

But it was Zimov’s ideas on permafrost that had brought him scientific renown. In the early nineties, he was among the first to come to several related realizations: permafrost holds immense quantities of carbon; much of that carbon is released as methane from thermokarst lakes (the presence of water and the absence of oxygen produce methane, as opposed to carbon dioxide, which is released from upper layers of soil); and a sizable portion of those emissions comes in the fall and the winter, cold periods that Arctic scientists had previously considered unimportant from a climate perspective.

. . . Walter Anthony found methane emissions five times higher than Zimov’s initial estimate. Radiocarbon dating showed that the gas was emitted from organic matter that formed between twenty and forty thousand years ago, during the Pleistocene era, indicating that permafrost thaw had reached layers that were deep and ancient. The research was published in a paper in Nature, in 2006, which immediately became a foundational text in establishing the impact of permafrost thaw on climate change.

When I was in Chersky, Zimov took me out to the lake. We walked through shrubs and felt the crunch of bright-red cloudberries under our feet. At the water’s edge, Zimov asked, “You see the bubbles?” Once I knew to look for them, they were impossible to miss. It was as if the lake were a giant cauldron on the brink of a very slow, barely perceptible boil, with a pop of air here and there. Methane.

Zimov explained that, even during Chersky’s frigid winters, temperatures under the lake’s surface remain above freezing. Unfrozen water allows microbes to keep digesting organic matter long after the surrounding landscape is covered in snow. Water also has a powerful erosion effect. “The bank is slowly thawing and collapsing, taking with it fresh pieces of permafrost into the lake,” Zimov said—more fuel for the release of methane. As Walter Anthony, who is now a professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, put it to me, “Once permafrost thaws to the point where it creates depressions filled with water, the thaw starts to go deep and fast and expands laterally—you can’t really stop it.”

The mean annual temperature in Chersky has risen by three degrees Celsius in the past fifty years. An equally pressing problem is snow cover. “Snow is like a warm blanket—it doesn’t allow the wintertime cold to penetrate all the way into soil,” Zimov said. One of the effects of climate change is more precipitation in the Arctic ecosystem around Chersky. Yearly snowfall has increased by as much as twenty centimetres since the early eighties, adding two more degrees of warming effect. As a result, Zimov explained, permafrost that used to be minus seven degrees Celsius is now on the verge of thawing, if it hasn’t already.

Adecade ago, a paper about emissions from undersea permafrost led to a moment of hysteria over a so-called methane bomb in the Arctic, poised to release a devastating amount of warming gas all at once. In the years since, much of the scientific community has come to see permafrost thaw more as a slow-motion disaster. “The permafrost isn’t going to release a catastrophic explosion of carbon that would, say, double overnight the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” Ted Schuur, who leads a project on permafrost thaw and climate change at the University of Northern Arizona, told me. “Instead, this carbon is going to leak out from all over the Arctic and, over time, add a substantial amount to the carbon humans have already added by burning fossil fuels.” . . .

Methane as a greenhouse gas is more than 25 times more effective than CO2 in trapping heat.

Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2022 at 4:05 pm

The last design you’ll ever make

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The original Östereich Post KS 1952

Interaction Magic has a lengthy and well-illustrated article on the right to repair. It begins:

In the summer of 1950, a secret team of Austrian engineers embarked on project Nr. 121. From the basement of their Östereich Post headquarters, they set out to define a global benchmark in sustainable product design. The KS1952 Telephone that followed was a huge commercial success, influencing half a century of consumer electronics innovation and spawning the famous German Langzeitdesign (“Long term design”) movement.

You’ve never heard of this, because it’s complete fiction. The telephone is real and inside it’s a masterclass in design for repair. But instead of half a decade of global Langzeitdesign, we’ve waited almost seventy years for the growing right to repair movement to propel via grassroots movementscafesclinicsfestivals and (slowly) EU law into the mainstream.

To conserve the resources we have, repairing products to extend their lifespan is critical as there are currently no viable alternatives. Re-manufacturing of electronics has yet to appear at any significant scale. In the UK, less than 10% of all plastic is actually recycled. Microsoft’s Ocean Plastic Mouse might look cute, but if you really cared about the oceans you’d be best off not buying a new mouse at all.

Designers were brought up to design from cradle to grave. Our new challenge is to postpone that grave as long as we can.

How can we design the last product our customers will ever need buy?

Designing for a right to repair

From Teslas to insulin pumps, whether you design for it or not, the products we make will get opened up and repaired.

Consciously designing for repair needs three parts:

  1. A supply chain of replacement parts
  2. Design for re-assembly
  3. Accessible documentation

For consumer electronics, extending the product’s lifespan traditionally relied on ability of the manufacturer to supply replacement parts. Little Henry Hoover sets the benchmark here. This charming British design icon has 75 components, almost all of which can be used to repair the original 1981 design.

Unlike vacuum cleaners, consumers tend to notice meaningful improvements in the capabilities of smartphones every 3-5 years. Fairphone launched the Fairphone 1 in December 2013. They rightly deserve praise for a business built on lowering their environmental impact, from material sourcing and labour conditions to modularity and repairability. Despite these best intentions, Fairphone managed only 4 years of spare parts until the impact of managing a growing supply chain of obsolescence forced their hand.

Repair not replace is nothing new. We’ve been doing this for hundreds of years for economic, if not environmental, reasons. Yet problems arise when we depend on the manufacturer’s own parts for repair. Right to repair is as much mindset shift as engineering challenge and retaining all of the power with manufacturers is little better than providing no repair option at all.

Brands and manufacturers must learn the benefits that arise when they relinquish control of the repair process to their customers. As designers, our brief is simple. We must design for repair, assuming we’ll no longer be there to help.

And it all starts with  …

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Written by Leisureguy

19 January 2022 at 1:32 pm

Textual Healing: The Novel World of Bibliotherapy

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I can totally understand this. For one thing, when you are really immersed in a book, your consciousness enters a world far from the chair in which you sit and the room around you. This happens often in reading a work of fiction, but also with some nonfiction (e.g., The Great Influenza, or The Horse, the Wheel, and Language, or No Contest, or Which Side Are You On? or The Kings Depart or. … oops — got lost there for a minute; see this list for links and comments on those titles).

Katrya Bolger writes in The Walrus:

WHEN THE PANDEMIC STRUCK, in March 2020, Anne Boulton was already feeling overwhelmed. She was pursuing a PhD at Laurentian University, which meant teaching in the English department and spending her days at home reviewing readings on literature and psychoanalysis for her thesis. But personal issues were bubbling just below the surface. “When COVID happened,” she says, “suddenly you were faced with your own isolation.” She wanted to better address the strain she was dealing with.

Boulton contacted Hoi Cheu, her supervisor at Laurentian. Besides teaching literary theory, Cheu is a trained marriage and family therapist: he has drawn on his experience in both areas to offer therapeutic support, on and off, for about thirty years. He also trained in bibliotherapy, using his dual background in psychology and literary studies to recommend specific texts for people coping with life challenges from loneliness to mental illness.

Bibliotherapy is premised on the idea that books can be healing tools. It can occur in individual or group settings, though the main distinction is between clinical bibliotherapy, where texts, including fiction and nonfiction, are recommended by a clinical therapist, and nonclinical bibliotherapy, as practised by a facilitator such as a librarian. Though not a stand-alone clinical practice in Canada, clinical bibliotherapy is a method used by professionals who already have certification in counselling, therapy, and clinical therapy and want to help patients seeking an additional outlet. Nonclinical bibliotherapy can’t replace professional help for patients with mental illnesses; instead, it is often used in conjunction with other forms of clinical therapy.

Cheu, based in Sudbury, Ontario, first learned of bibliotherapy during his undergraduate degree, when he came across English professor Joseph Gold’s Read For Your Life, which outlines the benefits of bibliotherapy. In fact, the British-born Gold is widely credited with bringing bibliotherapy to Canada. Cheu began working under Gold during his master’s at the University of Waterloo and later wrote his PhD thesis on James Joyce and the art of Zen, applying principles of Buddhism to his analysis of the Irish writer’s works. He eventually became Gold’s assistant, joining him in sessions with clients in his private practice. Books, Cheu says, provide a safely cocooned space inside which people can unearth painful and sometimes repressed feelings.

When Cheu and Boulton logged on to their first virtual session, Cheu started taking notes on Boulton’s needs. “What literary character do you most identify with?” he asked her. She responded with Anna Karenina. She related to the Leo Tolstoy heroine’s strength of spirit. Like the Russian socialite, Boulton was comfortable asking for what she wanted even when she had repeatedly been discouraged by those around her. From this first session, Cheu started to build out her reading list. There was Kaye Gibbons’s Ellen Foster, a novel about a young heroine’s tumultuous childhood in the American South. And there was Nikolai Leskov’s “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk,” a short story about a young woman seeking to escape a stifling marriage to an older man. Being a good student of English literature, Boulton dove into the texts with vigour.

THOUGH THE FIRST known use of the term bibliotherapy appeared in a satirical essay published in a 1916 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, the idea of offering reading material to those in mental distress dates back to eighteenth-century asylums. By the early twentieth century, librarians in US hospitals were even considered therapists. American military libraries also prescribed books to soldiers suffering from trauma after the First World War. These programs were eventually expanded to other hospitals and libraries.

The growing interest in the field of psychotherapy in the 1930s led to research on bibliotherapy. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, several books were published on the subject. And, as mental health treatment expanded, bibliotherapy gained broader appeal, according to Bibliotherapy: A Critical History.

Proponents of bibliotherapy firmly believe . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

18 January 2022 at 4:26 pm

How coal holds on in America

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Cultural forces, conventions, pressures, and loyalty can result in what appears, to someone who is not a part of the culture, something that seems senseless if not outright stupid. The practice, thankfully abandoned, of footbinding in order to deform the feet, or (still practiced) female genital mutilation come to mind. Coal in North Dakota seems to be an example. Joshua Partlow reports in the Washington Post (and that’s a gift link, so no paywall):

David Saggau, the chief executive of an energy cooperative, tried to explain the losing economics of running a coal-fired power plant to a North Dakota industry group more than a year ago.

Coal Creek Station had lost $170 million in 2019 as abundant natural gas and proliferating wind projects had cut revenue far below what it cost to run the plant. After four decades sending electricity over the border to Minnesota, Coal Creek would be closing in 2022, Saggau said, and nobody was clamoring to buy it.

“We made folks aware that the plant was for sale for a dollar,” Saggau, of Great River Energy, told the Lignite Energy Council during an October 2020 virtual meeting. “We’re basically giving it away.”

A renewable future was at hand. Winds come howling over the Missouri River in the heart of North Dakota — at the site where Lewis and Clark spent their first frigid winter — and Great River Energy planned to supply wind power over Coal Creek’s valuable transmission line. NextEra Energy, EDF Renewables and other powerhouse firms were racing to lock landowners into leases to harvest some of the most powerful and sustained winds in the country.

But that new clean-energy future never materialized in this part of coal country, with a landscape that has been mined for more than a century and has the scars and sinkholes to prove it. And the sale of Coal Creek Station, which received its last major permit approval earlier this month, illuminates the United States’ halting transition to renewables. Even in places such as North Dakota, where supply and demand align with clean energy, culture and politics pose major obstacles.

In these rural North Dakota counties, local officials passed ordinances that blocked wind and solar projects. State officials rallied to save Coal Creek, and a politically connected North Dakota energy firm stepped in to prolong its life, promising someday to capture its carbon emissions and store them underground.

“I’m not just looking to prop up coal,” Stacy Tschider, the president of Rainbow Energy Marketing Corp., said in July when his company announced it was buying the plant. “I’m looking to take coal to the next level.”

During the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow in the fall, conference head Alok Sharma declared that “the end of coal is in sight.” More than 40 countries pledged to phase out coal, the single-biggest source of atmosphere-warming carbon dioxide emissions. The United States did not join them. Despite its rapid decline, coal still generates about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity and has strong political backing in pockets of the country.

Charles Stroup, a local banker and land agent who supports wind power in North Dakota’s Mercer County, compared the coal industry here to a dying relative that the community is desperate to save, no matter how grim the prognosis.

“Mother doesn’t die in 10 minutes,” Stroup said. “She takes a while.”

For many here, the loss of coal remains unthinkable, and new sources of energy — no matter how promising for local residents and governments — represent a serious threat.

“If we get the word that [Coal Creek Station] is gone for sure, the best business and economic play for the lignite counties and the State is to ban any more renewables,” McLean County state’s attorney Ladd Erickson wrote in an email in 2020 to aides to North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) and Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), part of a batch of documents obtained through a state public records request.

Otherwise, Erickson, an elected official who serves as prosecutor and legal adviser to the county commissioners, warned that “there will be no more coal mining because new mine areas will be all wind turbines, solar panels, and power lines.”

Homages to coal

The prospect of Coal Creek’s closing landed hard in Underwood, a city of about 800 people. The antiques shop on its . . .

Continue reading.(Gift link: no paywall)

The fate of human civilization is small potatoes compared to local politics and cultural allegiance. You can see now why the residents of Easter Island were able to chop down every palm on the island and thus destroy the forests that were the basis of the environment on which they depended. North Dakota proudly continues that tradition.

Written by Leisureguy

18 January 2022 at 2:54 pm

The Effects of Avocados & Red Wine on Meal-Induced Inflammation

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One takeaway from this brief video is that the common combination of wine and cheese or wine and pâté is not a good idea. I also was interested to learn that having an avocado on a burger is a good idea (though not so good as skipping the burger: not the effect of combing meat and white bread).

Written by Leisureguy

18 January 2022 at 4:18 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

Archaeology’s sexual revolution

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Emilie Steinmark writes in the Guardian:

In the early summer of 2009, a team of archaeologists arrived at a construction site in a residential neighbourhood of Modena, Italy. Digging had started for a new building and in the process workers unearthed a cemetery, dating back 1,500 years. There were 11 graves, but it quickly became clear that one of them was not like the others. Instead of a single skeleton, Tomb 16 contained two and they were holding hands.

“Here’s the demonstration of how love between a man and a woman can really be eternal,” wrote Gazzetta di Modena of the pair, instantly dubbed “the Lovers”. However, according to the original anthropological report, the sex of the Lovers was not obvious from the bones alone. At some point, someone tried to analyse their DNA, but “the data were so bad”, says Federico Lugli at the University of Bologna, that it looked like “just random noise”.

For a decade, the assumption about the Lovers’ sex remained unchallenged. Then, in 2019, Lugli and his colleagues decided to try a newly available technique for determining the sex of human remains using proteins in tooth enamel. To their surprise, the Lovers were both male. The pair sudde

The story of the Lovers is part of an ongoing sexual revolution in archaeology. For decades, archaeologists have had to rely on grave goods and the shape of bones to tell them whether a skeleton belonged to a man or a woman, but over the past five years, the use of new, sophisticated methods has resulted in a string of skeletons having their presumed sex overturned. The ensuing challenges to our ideas about sex, gender and love in past societies have not been without controversy.

The wider debate on sex in archaeology took off in earnest with the now-famous 2017 paper about a Viking warrior, found in a grave full of weapons in Birka, Sweden. The grave had been known since the late 19th century and had been presumed to contain a man, but it wasn’t until Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson from Uppsala University, Sweden and her team tested a DNA sample that anyone could be sure.

Traditionally with DNA analysis, you look for a gene linked to a sex chromosome, such as the AMELX gene on the X chromosome and its counterpart AMELY on the Y chromosome. As females usually have XX chromosomes and males usually XY, the logic goes that if there is significant AMELY present in the sample, it belongs to a male. Nowadays, the analysis takes into consideration much more of the genome, but the principle largely remains the same. And the DNA from the Birka Viking was clearly female.

But the notion of a female warrior did not fit with the existing ideas about the Vikings. According to convention, weaponry, in particular, swords, belonged with men and jewellery belonged with women. If this skeleton was a woman, some argued, the weapons and the warrior status should be re-evaluated. Hedenstierna-Jonson found this baffling, because everyone was fine with the warrior interpretation when the skeleton was thought to be a man, she says. “That cannot change just because we find out it’s a woman.”

Leszek Gardeła, an archaeologist at the National Museum of Denmark and author of the book Women and Weapons in the Viking World, does not want to take a stance either way. “I think she could have been a warrior,” he says, but underlines that 90% of graves with weapons contain biologically male individuals. Weaponry in women’s graves is also no guarantee that they were warriors; an axe, for example, could be used for many things, including various Norse magic rituals often associated with women. “There was space in the mental universe of the Vikings for women warriors,” he says, “[but] I don’t think it was the norm.”

In any case, most agree that old ideas about “male” and “female” grave goods produce interpretations that are at best conventional and at worst biased. This is especially apparent when both feature in the same grave, such as the Viking grave discovered in 1867 at Santon Downham in Norfolk. “Most of the literature says it’s a double grave,” says Gareth Williams, a curator at the British Museum, “but there is no evidence to actually support that.” Only one skeleton, since lost, was originally reported. Rather than a double grave, the more obvious explanation could be a single grave of a person who did not strictly conform to gender norms. Williams thinks the grave probably contained a sword-wielding woman because “there were strict taboos against wearing anything that could be seen as effeminate” for Viking men.

Without the missing skeleton, the truth will stay unknown, but others are tackling similar cases with the new methods. Last August, Ulla Moilanen from the University of Turku, Finland, led the reassessment of a proposed “double” burial from early medieval Finland, which contained a single skeleton in female dress with swords. DNA analysis revealed that the grave belonged to a person with XXY chromosomes, or Klinefelter syndrome, who probably looked no different from an XY male. That is what makes this grave so interesting, argues Moilanen, “because a male-looking individual was dressed in clothes and equipped with jewellery usually associated with females”.

The obvious question to ask is: which long-standing analysis will be next to fall? After the Lovers of Modena paper, Lugli says, the team thought about testing other “lovers” buried across Italy. Contenders included the  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2022 at 6:56 pm

Posted in Daily life, History, Science

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