Monthly Archives: May 2017

Capital and slavery in America

It is striking to see what percentage of American capital attributed to slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries (the striped section in the chart above). In the late 18th century only agricultural land counted for more, and there slavery contributed to that too.

The American Civil War and the emancipation of those bound in slavery destroyed all that capital, and that was great and necessary. While it is wrong to consider slavery only in terms of money, it is impossible to talk about slavery in the United States without considering its relationship to the economy and capital.  The capital that derived from slavery was massive.

In the U.K. the abolition of slavery resulted in the government providing capital back to the slave owners. It was a terrible omission that neither the U.K. nor the U.S. provided capital to the freed slaves.  There are those, like Ta-Nehisi Coates, who argue that such capital in the form of reparation is due.  Based on the chart above, a case could be made that it would be a tremendous amount of money.

(Chart above taken from “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” by Thomas Piketty)

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Some perspective on the Arctic “doomsday” seed vault threatened with flooding

After reading this, The Arctic “doomsday” seed vault is supposed to ensure the future of humanity. It just flooded, I wondered why there is only one of these?! If this one gets destroyed, are we doomed?!

I should relax, though remain concerned: it turns out there are many seed vaults around the world.  I discovered this after a few minutes on Google. It’s still bad that this one is being threatened. And I can see why so many stories are being written about it. But some context is important.

In addition, the people maintaining this vault have plans to deal with the threat to it. I expect that this one will survive along with all of its seeds.

Yes, global warming is still a major problem and it is threatening our future. The flooding at this seed bank is not.

Foodism and the problem with home-cooked meals

I was prepared to argue with this article in Vox from some time ago: The problem with home-cooked meals , because I am a big proponent of such meals.  However, the closer I read it, I think the main issue I have with it is the title. If it was titled “The difficulties in preparing home-cooked meals”, I would have been more receptive. Read the article. If you are a foodist like myself, it might seem hard to understand at first that people have difficulties with home-cooked meals, but like many things, the difficulties arise from lack of time, knowledge, and resources (money but also access to good food, even if you have money).

I believe that there are a number of ways to address those difficulties. First, I think city governments need to treat access to food the same way they treat access to other things such as transportation, water, parks and even sunlight. If housing doesn’t have access to water or electricity or transportation, then developers shouldn’t be allowed to build it and people should not be expected to move there. Access to good food should be part of that set of restrictions.

Second, we need to better educate people on how to prepare food.  Too much of our education system is spent on academic topics. Kids should be taught a wide range of subjects, and one of those should be how to prepare food no matter how much time or a budget you have. (They should also be taught how to manage finances, how to do basic home repairs, and how to deal with personal difficulties, among other topics.) There is a wealth of information available on food preparation, but often to me it seems aimed at foodists and is aspirational. There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to make good food. In addition, though, people should learn how to make straightforward nutritious food, with anything from 2 ingredients on up, with or without a recipe, in 2 minutes or over 2 days.

Third, we need to change our emphasis on a form of eating. There is a belief that some North Americans have that home cooked meals should be prepared and eaten a certain way. Often this certain way involves 30 minutes to an hour of food preparation followed by an equal amount of time eating it. Culturally that may have been the way it was done, but there is nothing that says we must continue to eat that way. You should be able to prepare and eat good meals with the resources you have.  If that means a 5 minute preparation and a 5 minute stand up meal, so be it. Better that than 30 minutes spent eating over processed food in a chain restaurant.

Finally, we need a more expansive and less snobby approach to what constitutes good food. If you are a foodist and you want to cook with homemade stock, fresh herbs, wine and hard to source ingredients, and that works for you, that’s great. For most people, if you have limited access to good food, then you can still make good meals with what you have available, and there is no shame in that.  Besides, the social status of ingredients come and go: eat the best you can with what you have, be that a roasted chicken and a salad or a bowl of chunky vegetable soup.

For many people, food is a means to an end: I’m hungry, I eat food, I’m no longer hungry. For others, their life revolves around food. Wherever you fall on that spectrum, having an open mind about how others eat and being open to alternative ways to dealing with food will benefit everyone, including yourself.

(Image is of a ham, painted by Manet.)

P.S. In case you don’t think it is a word, here is the definition of definition of foodism, from the Oxford English Dictionary:  “A keen or exaggerated interest in food, especially in the minute details of the preparation, presentation, and consumption of food.” Therefore people who have foodism are foodists.

 

 

Thoughts on the legend that is Jean-Michel Basquiat

Basquiat in a suit

The big art news this week was a record sale for one of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s paintings.  Right after reading about that, I saw this tweet by Will Black: “Painting by street artist Basquiat, who lived in a cardboard box, sells for $110.5m in New York. Value PEOPLE while they are ALIVE”.

A few thoughts on that tweet. First, while Basquiat may have been poor starting out, by the time he died too young at the age of 27, he had a net worth of $10 million dollars. Second, that transition from poverty and obscurity to wealth and fame was fast. We should value people while they are alive, but there are better people to use as an example than Jean-Michel Basquiat.

As for my own thoughts, I have always loved Basquiat’s paintings since the 80s. Their greatness was there from the beginning. If we knew nothing else about the artist than his work, we would still think he was great.

But Basquiat was not just a painter: he was more like a rock star. Like Keith Haring, he had a public persona more akin to music superstars much in the same way that Andy Warhol did. It’s no surprise that Basquiat was influenced by Warhol in more ways than one. And now, at least in the world of the art market, he has surpassed Warhol.  It’s good to see that too. For many reasons.

Jean-Michel Basquiat had something else that was great, and that was his sense of style. There’s a good piece in Dazed on the importance of clothing to him. They correctly note that:

Jean-Michel Basquiat was a fashionable man. He walked the Comme des Garçons runway for their SS87 collection and favoured the long, slim cut, slightly militaristic jackets of Issey Miyake. Biographers and friends recall the stories of Basquiat setting up tabs at his favorite clothing boutiques, trading canvasses for clothes.

Jean-Michel Basquiat was a legend for his time, and a star. It’s good to see that star is getting brighter.

For more on his fashion, see: The meaning and magic of Basquiat’s clothes | Dazed. It’s a strong piece.

If you are worried about the WannaCrypt ransomware (and if you are a Windows user, you should be), then…

…Then you want to go here and download and install the appropriate software for your Windows system: Security Essentials Download.

According to this, Microsoft has upgraded it’s security software to prevent similar attacks. That’s good. What’s not good is that you can be certain there will be a wave of copycat attacks coming. Get the software and install it today.

My new productivity tool: E.gg Timer – a simple countdown timer

My new favorite productivity tool is this site: E.gg Timer – a simple countdown timer. Whenever I am procrastinating, I will use it to get myself to focus by starting it for 5, 10, or more minutes and telling myself: I will focus until the timer goes off. I have found this approach very effective, and this site helps me. It also helps because if I find myself going to my browser to mindlessly go on some time wasting site (hello, Twitter!) I will see this and I will remember to focus.

Fans of the pomodoro technique will see there is a special timer just for it.

As a bonus, you can use it to do a high intensity tabata workout.

Great tool. Highly recommended.

On  George W. Bush the painter, or, the importance of good teachers

Whatever you think of George W. Bush as a president, most agree he is  not bad painter. There are two reasons for the latter: one, he had good teachers, and two, he is a good student. How do I know he had good teachers? According to this, Pocket: Art critics alarmed to discover that George W. Bush is actually a pretty good painter, Bush…

… didn’t have to sign up for classes at a local art school or the museum, of course. Instead, he took private lessons from a prominent Dallas artist named Gail Norfleet. Norfleet wrought a change in Bush’s worldview. He began to see the colors even in shadows, the subtle shifts of palette in a clear blue sky. “I was getting comfortable with the concepts of values and tones,” Bush writes in the introduction to his book. Norfleet also thoughtfully introduced the once monochromatic president to her mentor, another well-known Dallas artist named Roger Winter, and it was he who gave Bush the idea to paint world leaders. Bush also consulted a landscape painter, Jim Woodson, whose visions of the vast, untouched terrain of New Mexico are nothing like the conventional bluebonnet vistas many still associate with Texas art. It was Woodson who introduced Bush to, among other things, larger canvases and thicker paint, and guided him toward a more complex view of the world about him. (Underlying by me for emphasis).

 

Bush took the lessons from these teachers to heart. But he was fortunate to have access to good teachers. A lesson for us all.