What Is It With Pigeons?

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Photographs courtesy Rorhof / Stadtarchiv Kronberg

Thank you Andrea DenHoed. We did not know how much we should appreciate them:

The Turn-of-the-Century Pigeons That Photographed Earth from Above

_3.jpgIn 1907, just a few years after the Wright brothers lifted off in Kitty Hawk, and while human flight was still being measured in metres and minutes, Dr. Julius Neubronner, a German apothecary, submitted a patent application for a new invention: the pigeon camera. The device was precisely what it sounds like—a small camera fitted with straps and equipped with a timer so that pigeons could carry it and take photos in flight. Neubronner first used the device on his own flock of homing pigeons, which he sometimes employed to deliver prescriptions. In the following years, he showed his camera at international expositions, where he also sold postcards taken by the birds. Additionally, he developed a portable, horse-drawn dovecote, with a darkroom attached to it, which could be moved into proximity of whatever object or area the photographer hoped to capture from on high. Continue reading

Junto Clubs For 2018 & Beyond

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The Junto Club outgrew into the American Philosophical Society.

This historical reference is not typical of posts on this platform, except for when one of our contributors was in the midst of historical coursework that led to riffs like this; and then during his archival research that led to riffs like this.

We are riffing now from a current need (to put it mildly) for better conversation, with hindsight to a widely respected man’s approach at a time full of contentions. Thanks to Andrew Marantz for this brief note, whose accompanying illustration below belies the seriousness of the situation. Click the image to the left above to go to a historical archive with more background on this Talk of the Town item below:

Benjamin Franklin Invented the Chat Room

Conversation clubs, inspired by the Founding Father, have never felt more necessary.

180409_r31846webIn 1727, when Benjamin Franklin was twenty-one, he and a few friends—among them a scrivener, a joiner, and two cobblers—formed a conversation club called the Junto. They met on Friday evenings at a Philadelphia alehouse. “The rules that I drew up required that every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discuss’d by the company,” Franklin wrote in his autobiography. The United States was not yet the United States, but already he sensed a civility problem. His solution: structured, secular chitchat, “conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute, or desire of victory.” Continue reading

Coffee, Journeys & Yemen

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CreditPatricia Wall/The New York Times

This review, thanks to Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, has my attention on The Coffee-Flavored American Dream of a young man with about as improbable a mission as I can imagine.  Returning to the coffee fields of Costa Rica’s Tarrazu region in a few days, I also plan to cross the Central Valley to see the latest mission accomplished of another coffee dreamer, the choice of Dave Eggers for his latest book topic is much appreciated.

A few years ago I traveled with a group of friends from the southern Yemeni port city of Aden to the capital of Sanaa in the north, taking the long coastal road that twists and curves around the bulge of Yemen’s southernmost tip. After passing the Bab el Mandeb strait, the road stretches along the seashore. Under a clear bright sky, the waters of the Red Sea shimmered and the sand glowed a warm ocher, the monotony interrupted only by an occasional fisherman’s shack, a small nomadic settlement or a bleached one-room mosque. Flat-topped trees looming in the distance suggested an African landscape.

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CreditLorenzo Gritti

Ahead of us lay the port of Mokha, or Al-Mukha in Arabic, where from the 15th century onward ships set sail with precious Yemeni coffee bound for Istanbul, London, Amsterdam and eventually New York — so much coffee that the word “mocha” became synonymous with it. Continue reading

Crafting History With Wood

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The elaborately detailed Bingham secretary enjoyed pride of place at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford until it was determined to be a forgery. Credit John Banks

The principle of the matter, depending on how you look at it, makes this story interesting. The idea that a person can craft new wood into historical storylines so compellingly that experts cannot detect the recency of the crafting? Wow. Fooling a buyer into paying a premium for the historical significance? Uh, no. Thanks to John Banks for this sleuth story:

The Civil War memorial secretary was widely embraced as a folk art treasure. Fashioned from walnut, maple and oak, it was said to have been created circa 1876 to honor John Bingham, a Union infantryman who had fallen at Antietam.

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A detail of the secretary, with the barnyard-bone lettering. CreditJohn Banks

Profusely adorned, it featured a music box that played “Yankee Doodle” and it was accompanied by a letter from a Bingham descendant, describing the significance of the piece to the family.“I was astonished by it,” said Wes Cowan, an auctioneer and dealer who examined the secretary at the Winter Antiques Show in New York in 2015.

The owner, Allan Katz, had bought it months earlier from a Massachusetts dealer for an undisclosed price, and was now trying to sell it for $375,000.

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John Bingham, left, and his brother Wells, Union soldiers from East Haddam, Conn. Credit via, Military and Historical Image Bank

“Clearly,” Mr. Katz, a Connecticut antiques dealer, said in a video filmed at the show, “we are hoping that it might go to an institution, because it really would be wonderful to share this with the public on a day-to-day basis.”

So it was gratifying, Mr. Katz said in an interview, when the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford purchased the work and gave it prominent display. Continue reading

Henry Worsley & The Importance Of Making Dreams Come True

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Before Henry Worsley set off alone, his family painted messages on his skis. “Come back to me safely, my darling,” his wife wrote.
Photograph by Sebastian Copeland

If you have not read it yet, go straight to it. If you have read it already, next you will want to listen to the author, the subject (via field recordings) and the subject’s wife.

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Henry and Joanna Worsley at the Korean War Veterans Memorial, in Washington, D.C., in 2015. Worsley served in the British Army for thirty-six years.
Photograph courtesy Joanna Worsley

We have linked to stories about explorers, though none specifically about Shackleton, in the past. The subject of this story has something important to say about his hero, and it is worth hearing his voice as well as his wife’s (click here).

The author, who we have linked to more than once, gave two excellent interviews about his process as a long-form story-teller, and if this is your thing, then you will want to listen to both, first here and more recently here.

The White Darkness: A Journey Across Antarctica

A solitary journey across Antarctica.

By David Grann

I. Mortal Danger

Worsley.jpgThe man felt like a speck in the frozen nothingness. Every direction he turned, he could see ice stretching to the edge of the Earth: white ice and blue ice, glacial-ice tongues and ice wedges. There were no living creatures in sight. Not a bear or even a bird. Nothing but him.

It was hard to breathe, and each time he exhaled the moisture froze on his face: a chandelier of crystals hung from his beard; his eyebrows were encased like preserved specimens; his eyelashes cracked when he blinked. Get wet and you die, he often reminded himself. The temperature was nearly minus forty degrees Fahrenheit, and it felt far colder because of the wind, which sometimes whipped icy particles into a blinding cloud, making him so disoriented that he toppled over, his bones rattling against the ground. Continue reading

Progress Through Yeast

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Fresh and dried yeast. It might not look like much, but it has shaped the way we eat and live, according to a new book. Maximilian Stock Ltd./Getty Images

Thanks to Menaka Wilhelm:

The Rise Of Yeast: How Civilization Was Shaped By Sugar Fungi

An imagined conversation between two yeast cells appears in Kurt Vonnegut’s 1973 novel Breakfast of Champions. “They were discussing the possible purposes of life,” Vonnegut writes. If that’s not absurd enough, their existential discussion takes place against a weird, dismal backdrop, “as they ate sugar and suffocated in their own excrement.” Little did they know, their little yeasty lives had an important, human-centric purpose. “Because of their limited intelligence, they never came close to guessing that they were making champagne.” Continue reading

Global Citizenship Via Suburban Malls

The Garden Court at Southdale Shopping Center, Edina, Minnesota, circa 1965

The Garden Court at Southdale Shopping Center, Edina, Minnesota, circa 1965 Minnesota Historical Society

Ok, we did not expect to get on a two-day roll with this topic, but Ian Bogost makes an interesting case about the role of malls in the development of cultural norms in the USA in the second half of the last century:

When Malls Saved the Suburbs From Despair

Like it or not, the middle class became global citizens through consumerism—and they did so at the mall.

“Okay, we’ll see you in two-and-a-half hours,” the clerk tells me, taking the iPhone from my hand. I’m at the Apple Store, availing myself of a cheap smartphone battery replacement, an offer the company made after taking heat for deliberately slowing down devices. A test run by a young woman typing at a feverish, unnatural pace on an iPad confirms that mine desperately needed the swap. As she typed, I panicked. What will I do in the mall for so long, and without a phone? How far the mall has fallen that I rack my brain for something to do here. Continue reading

Rice Rediscovered

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Upland red bearded rice, which grows in the Moruga district in Trinidad, turned out to be a missing culinary link between enslaved people in coastal Georgia and a group of slaves who were able to buy their freedom by fighting for the British in the War of 1812. Credit Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Salt & Pepper, Understood

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In European cooking, salt reigned supreme, and pepper was one of many spices used in heavily seasoned dishes. When they met, they were destined to be. Or, rather, it was destined that they would meet. Theo Crazzolara/Flickr

For this story, thanks to Natalie Jacewicz, a science writer based in New York City, and to National Public Radio (USA) whose attention to foodways is always welcome:

Salt and pepper shakers are so omnipresent on tabletops that adding a dash of the white or black stuff (or both!) is almost a dining rite. The seasonings pair well with just about everything and they go together like — well, salt and pepper. Continue reading

Werner, Syme & Darwin

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In his nearly five years aboard H.M.S. Beagle, Charles Darwin catalogued a dizzying array of new creatures. But how to show them to the people back home? Illustration by R. Fresson

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It is a fine way to start a new week, thinking of a young person setting sail, and to narrow the focus of that thought, consider color.  We appreciate the notice by Michelle Nijhuis in the current issue of the New Yorker magazine about the upcoming re-issuing of this book, and her comment about it is welcome. Less welcome is the fact that if you click on her link to the book, or search on the title of the book with a fresh search, you will be directed to Amazon. At least if you are searching from the USA. Even from a USA-based search you can find alternatives, but from sources in places such as this excellent shop in the UK, or this one in Scandinavia. With that in mind, if the review below makes you think about purchasing the book, please consider clicking the image to the left which will link you to a bookstore in the USA that is offering it for pre-sale. Either way, enjoy this for now:

The Book That Colored Charles Darwin’s World

“I had been struck by the beautiful colour of the sea when seen through the chinks of a straw hat,” Charles Darwin wrote, in late March, 1832, as H.M.S. Beagle threaded its way through the Abrolhos Shoals, off the Brazilian coast. The water, he wrote, was “Indigo with a little Azure blue,” while the sky above was “Berlin with [a] little Ultra marine.”

Nomen1Darwin, then twenty-three, was only three months into the nearly five-year adventure that would transform his life and, eventually, the way that humans saw themselves and other species. As the voyage’s so-called scientific person, he would collect masses of rocks, fossils, animals, and plants, periodically shipping his specimens to Cambridge in containers ranging from barrels to pillboxes. Like other naturalists of his time, though, his primary documentary tool was the written word, and during the voyage he drew many of his words from a slim volume called “Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours,” published in 1814 by the Scottish artist Patrick Syme.

Nomen2Syme’s guide, a facsimile of which will be released in early February by Smithsonian Books, contains samples, names, and descriptions of a hundred and ten colors, ranging from Snow White to Asparagus Green to Arterial Blood Red to, finally, Blackish Brown. Based on a color-naming system developed in the late eighteenth century by the German mineralogist Abraham Werner, the guide is full of geological comparisons: Grayish White is likened to granular limestone, Brownish Orange to Brazilian topaz. Syme, a flower painter and art teacher, added comparisons from the living world. To Werner’s eyes, the Berlin Blue that Darwin saw in the Atlantic sky resembled a sapphire; to Syme, the wing feathers of a jay. Continue reading

Understanding Oregon Rancher Culture’s Concerns

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If, like those of us who contribute to this platform, you had been following the standoff mentioned in this article, and following the Bundys as a sidenote, this article is worth a read. The author Jennifer Percy gives full voice, as far as we can tell, to the concerns of the people from that region and specifically their opposition to all aspects of the federal government other than the military. The last three paragraphs of the article are particularly chilling but getting there is a worthy journey:

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The landscape of eastern Oregon has little in common with the state’s Pacific Coast. Credit Peter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York Times

I took the eastern route from Idaho, on a day of freezing rain, over the Strawberry Mountains, into the broad John Day River Basin, in Oregon. I was used to empty places. Most of my childhood was spent in this region of eastern Oregon, in remote areas of the sagebrush desert or in the volcanic mountains with their jagged peaks and old-growth forests. My family moved away just before I entered high school, and I never returned; I’ve felt in romantic exile ever since. This part of America that had once belonged to my childhood became the spotlight of national news in the winter of 2016, when the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge — an old childhood haunt — became the scene of a cowboy takeover. The takeover began as a protest in the town of Burns after two ranchers were sentenced to prison for arsons on federal land. The ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond, caught the attention of the Nevada rancher Ammon Bundy, who thought the punishment unfair. Bundy and a crowd of nearly 300 marchers paraded through Burns, and a splinter group eventually took over the Malheur headquarters. For 41 days, they refused to leave, protesting federal ownership of public lands, which they considered unlawful and abusive. I didn’t understand what had happened since I left, why so many people seemed so disillusioned and angry.

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Joe Cronin on his ranch in the Malheur National Forest, in October. Credit Peter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York Times

The ground was snow-covered when I visited John Day last winter and the temperature below freezing. I was there to attend a meeting organized by Jeanette Finicum, the widow of LaVoy Finicum, an Arizona rancher who was shot and killed by government agents a year earlier. LaVoy was a leader of the Malheur occupation. He left the refuge for a speaking engagement in John Day with plans to return, but he was shot three times at an F.B.I. roadblock. For that reason, his widow was calling this event “The Meeting That NEVER Happened.” Continue reading

Nature, Money, Work, Care, Food, Energy & Lives

9780520293137Questions about the system we have been living with in the “developed” world have been mounting since Karl Marx got serious about writing. The end of the Cold War meant to many that “capitalism won” but the questions linger about whether this system can survive, or allow us to survive. Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore have laid it all out, bare and simple:

…Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore present a new approach to analyzing today’s planetary emergencies. Bringing the latest ecological research together with histories of colonialism, indigenous struggles, slave revolts, and other rebellions and uprisings, Patel and Moore demonstrate that throughout history, crises have always prompted fresh strategies to make the world cheap and safe for capitalism. At a time of crisis in all seven cheap things, innovative and systemic thinking is urgently required. This book proposes a radical new way of understanding—and reclaiming—the planet in the turbulent twenty-first century.

And Raj Patel serves it in a one hour dish here:

Amaranth’s Allies: Art, Academia & Activism

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New School students and faculty repotting seedlings on campus in preparation for the exhibition.

Search on the three words “seeds of change” on this platform and you will find dozens of stories dealing with topics like botanical hazard initiatives or innovative approaches to flora conservation and/or climate change and some of the radical plans made to prepare for it that we have linked to over the years. Type the same three words into your favorite search engine and the topics are much more diverse. The three words are also the name of an evolving exhibition, and the subject of an article that mixes art, academia and activism:

A Seed Artist Germinates History

An exhibition using plants brought to New York in ships’ ballast illuminates the city’s hidden past using stinging nettle, milk thistle and amaranth. Continue reading

Salt Pond Farming

Families in small town, coastal Maine have been fisherfolk for generations, but waters warm and fish patterns change, many are looking at alternative livelihoods. Joe Young, pictured above, is diversifying into oyster and kelp farming in addition to his dockside cafe that where he sells lobster rolls, lobster dinners and, now, his homegrown oysters.

A FISHERMAN TRIES FARMING

COREA, Me. — The boats start up around 3:30 in the morning, stirring the village with the babble of engines before they motor out to sea. They will return hours later, loaded with lobster.

Joe Young’s boat has not gone out lately. Instead, he puts on waders and sloshes into the salt pond behind his house, an inlet where water rushes in and out with the tides. After a lifetime with most of his income tied to what he finds in the sea, this lobsterman — and sixth-generation fisherman — is trying his hand at something new. He is farming oysters. Continue reading

Hunting & Gathering & Happiness

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A few months ago we saw this interview with James Suzman, but delayed linking it until we had an opportunity to get ahold of the book. Our interest was caught by his explanation for why the topic was important:

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The author James Suzman.

…If we judge a civilization’s success by its endurance over time, then the Bushmen are the most successful society in human history. Their experience of modernity offers insight into many aspects of our lives, and clues as to how we might address some big sustainability questions for the future.

And then we neglected to post it until today, reminded about the book by the folks at National Public Radio (USA) in a new interview with the author on the same topic:

There’s an idea percolating up from the anthropology world that may make you rethink what makes you happy.

The idea is not new. It surfaced in the popular consciousness back in the late 1960s and helped to galvanize a growing environmental movement.

And now several books are bringing it back into the limelight.

The idea is simple: Perhaps the American and European way of living isn’t the pinnacle of human existence. Humanity hasn’t been marching — in a linear fashion — toward some promised land. Perhaps, Western society isn’t some magical state in which technology free us from the shackles of acquiring basic needs and allows us to maximize leisure and pleasure. Continue reading

Cultural Conservation In A North American Indigenous Community

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Yurok dance feather regalia in cedar boxes, at Dave Severns’s camp on the Yurok Indian reservation. Credit Talia Herman for The New York Times

As important as cultural conservation is to us it gets half as much attention in these pages as nature conservation (a matter of life and death), so we are more than happy to share stories like this one (thanks to Patricia Leigh Brown) when they land on our desk:

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Dance feather regalia dry in the sand, made by Dave Severns, whose culture camp teaches young men a nearly forgotten art form. Credit Talia Herman for The New York Times

KLAMATH, Calif. — The gathering known simply as “Uncle Dave’s camp” begins at daybreak on the pebbled banks of the Klamath River, the age-old spruce and redwoods on the bluffs shrouded in mist.

Here on the Yurok Indian Reservation near the Oregon border, so remote that certain areas have yet to receive electricity, young male campers sit on cedar logs while keeping tabs on a river rock heated in a fire. The rock, hand-hollowed and chiseled with basketry patterns, contains a molten glue made from the dried air bladders of sturgeons. The syrupy concoction is a crucial ingredient for making feathered headdresses, hide quivers, obsidian-blade sticks and other forms of ceremonial dance ornaments, or regalia, that are at once works of art and living conduits to the spirit world. Continue reading

The Origin Of Feasting

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A life of hunting and gathering had advantages over one of farming and settlement. Illustration by Golden Cosmos

John Lanchester’s article, pondering technology versus science, gives fire its due in the course of reviewing a new book about how hunting and gathering gave way to progress. At the same time, Lanchester raises reasonable doubts about the gains:

book-scott-grain…We don’t give the technology of fire enough credit, Scott suggests, because we don’t give our ancestors much credit for their ingenuity over the long period—ninety-five per cent of human history—during which most of our species were hunter-gatherers. “Why human fire as landscape architecture doesn’t register as it ought to in our historical accounts is perhaps that its effects were spread over hundreds of millennia and were accomplished by ‘precivilized’ peoples also known as ‘savages,’ ” Scott writes. Continue reading

“Feast for the Eyes”

Ori Gersht’s Off Balance, 2006. Photograph: Ori Gersht/Aperture.org

I highly recommend this combination of retro covers from classic food and homemaking publications, stylized food presentations and deconstructed recipe imagery. Guaranteed to make you smile. (Check below the jump for more of my personal favorites.)

Repast lives: a history of food photography – in pictures

Continue reading

The Technological Wow Factor of Archaeology

Crist’s post about this fascinating National Geographic article last week touched on its excellent graphics but barely began to scratch the surface of the amazing technology that would certainly have left the readers of the early issues of the magazine speechless.

In addition to the world-class photography, the interactive 3-D graphic of the frieze above uses SketchFab technology to allow viewers to not only zoom in and out, but to turn the object around in all directions, as if handling it in person. Do take the time to play with it! Continue reading