Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, May 12, 2017

Three Things

1. I guess it's time for a couple of phone-desktop convergence updates. First, Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu variety of Linux, just put out the last release that will feature its "Unity" desktop. This was supposed to make it simple for people to just plug a phone running Ubuntu into an adapter and, with a screen and other peripherals now attached, use it like a desktop. Seeing next to no adoption of their OS on phones, Canonical decided to stop pouring resources into the effort.

But phone maker Samsung is still trying. Its latest effort, a docking station, just got a mixed review at Ars Technica. At around $150, the reviewer points out, one could just buy a Chromebook for a similar degree of portability and functionality.

2. The next time you hear how crucial government funding of medical research is, consider the following:

People assume the NIH research brings us most new treatments and drugs, but that's not true either. To quote my brother from this winter's issue of National Affairs, "Three separate analyses concluded that 85 percent of the drugs approved by the FDA since 1988 arose solely from research and development performed within ... industry." [bold added]
This comes from the latest John Stossel column, which advocates actually moving towards a free market in medical care, contra the ObamaCare Lite recently passed by the House.

3. The Atlantic asks, "Why Isn't Native American Food Hip?" One would think that the time is ripe for Amerindian food, with the recent flowering of interest in different culinary traditions and the trendiness of locally-produced foods, but there are headwinds:
The confusion about what constitutes Native American cuisine isn't surprising; there's no easy definition. Of the more than 500 recognized tribes in the U.S., each has different cooking traditions shaped by access to different resources. That can make the task of launching and marketing a Native American restaurant difficult. Where one customer might expect to see buffalo and venison on a menu, another might anticipate salmon and squash. No restaurant can cater to everyone's interpretation of what constitutes Native American food. Mitsitam, the highly regarded cafe in the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, got around this by setting up a series of stations, each dedicated to the cuisine from a different region. "A lot of people don't really identify with native foods because they're not educated about it," said Jerome Grant, the executive chef at Mitsitam. "We kind of educate people of the indigenous ingredients of the areas."
The fact that there is no one cuisine strikes me as a marketing and logistical nightmare by itself. But it's far from the only problem.

Weekend Reading

"Everyone has endured the vanishing keys, the elusive password or that pesky oven that might -- or might not -- be on." -- Michael Hurd, in "Give Your Memory a Jump Start!" at The Delaware Wave

"You haven't seen hatefulness until you try to discuss politics with a leftist." -- Michael Hurd, in "Hollywood's Hypocrites Can't Take What They Dish Out" at Newsmax

My Two Cents

After reading the second Hurd column, quoted above, I can't resist adding that sometimes, you needn't even try. Interesting bonus: This guy was a one-percenter three years early...

-- CAV


Dinwar said...

I see two problems with popularizing Native American culture, both stemming from politics/social issues.

First, the concept of "Native Americans" being one thing is ridiculous, but it's engrained in how we think of them. If you look at European cuisine we accept as given that there is a wide difference between French, English, German, and Italian food. North America (to say nothing of Central and South America) has a larger surface area and more diverse geography than Europe; we should expect MORE diversity in cultures in North America than we see in Europe. Yet we insist on treating North America as a homogenous entity. This extends beyond food, and beyond the Native American issues--this is the unspoken premise behind every attempt to apply European solutions to American problems.

Second, white people are blasted as "appropriating other people's culture" when they embrace aspects of non-European cultures. White people are increasingly expected to allow others to celebrate their cultures, but to keep our filthy hands off them. If some aspect of another culture becomes popular it's seen as polluting that culture, or selling out that culture for the entertainment of rich white people. The idea that we would choose something because it's GOOD never crosses the minds of such Liberal idiots.

I would love to know more about Native American foods, in part because their foods arose here. These plants and animals are adapted to the soil and weather conditions of the region. Ignoring the nonsensical concerns of Environmentalists, increasing use of native or traditional crops could save time, effort, and money because those crops are adapted to the region--meaning they can handle the soil, weather, and weeds better than plants adapted to the conditions of other continents.

Gus Van Horn said...


Actually, the phrase "native Americans" makes me cringe without fail, because it treats human migration as unnatural, and implies that, whatever sins men of past generations of Europeans committed, their descendants are also guilty. (This sets aside the whole valid question of the relative merits of the civilizations.) As far as I am concerned, anyone born here fits that description. I am willing to concede that "Indian" is an unfortunate and confusing term, and so prefer "Amerindian." It both admits and corrects the error, and avoids committing an injustice against an entire civilization.

That said, I can forgive non-leftists for assuming Amerindians are homogeneous. That's usually just an innocent kind of ignorance. It's the multiculturalists who came up with that term I have issue with, and it is they, along with any past bad actors, who make any genuine attempt to explore Amerindian culture fraught with guilt and emotional baggage.

You are correct that the idea that "we would choose something because it's GOOD never crosses the minds" of such people probably does also militate against the popularity of an Amerindian cuisine.

That said, you might find the a link from an old post of mine about the ground nut interesting. Perhaps its resistance to Western agricultural methods could prove an illusion after some innovator solves the problems(s) OR a cuisine using the ground nut could become prohibitively expensive and, thus, fashionable.


Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, you write, “I am willing to concede that ‘Indian’ is an unfortunate and confusing term, and so prefer ‘Amerindian.’ It both admits and corrects the error, and avoids committing an injustice against an entire civilization.”

First, just a note: In linguistics their languages are simply called “American languages.”. Of course, in a very real sense English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese are American languages too, but it’s the simplest way of referring to them.

In any case, Amerindian agriculture is actually of some interest to historians and anthropologists—the spread of maize is quite interesting in what it tells us about trade routes as well as ethnobotany, for example. (For example, maize by itself is nutrition-deficient. One way to get around the problem is, basically, to make grits; another is to eat maize and peas together; you can even grow them together, as many Amerindian peoples did, so that the corn stalks provide supports for the vines of the peas. It’s interesting to consider what observations and experiences led to such techniques.) More than that, it’s important to the history of the American South, which is a major scene of mutual borrowings among three culture groups, English, West African, and Southeast Amerindian.

Basically, what is called “soul food” has a very large component of Amerindian ethnobotany to it. It was in the early 1700s, you see, that the black population in the South started surpassing the white population (1708-1709 in South Carolina, for example). However, black slaves made up only about ¾ to 4/5 of the slave population; the balance were Amerindians, war captives sold to the English colonists by their Amerindian allies. And unlike the black slaves, for whom young men were preferred, women were preferred for Amerindian slaves because they were less likely than Amerindian men to run away and try to pass through the allied peoples’ territories to return home. Naturally, the slaves raised families, and this was a major route by which Amerindian botanical knowledge entered both “soul food” and (not an entirely different cuisine) “Southern cooking.” (The major African contributions to Southern agricultural knowledge include rice cultivation, indigo cultivation, and West African cattle-raising techniques—this is thought to be why we talk about “cowboys” rather than “cowmen,” for example.) This is not to say it’s the only route by which Amerindian botany entered American culture—there was of course also intermarriage of the English and Amerindians. Linguistically, it’s worth noting that many of the borrowed words in English for American plants and animals are Algonquin words, which entered English in New England--squash, succotash, quahog, hominy, pecan, persimmon, and many others. Given the nature of New England society, this was due mostly to trade and intermarriage, not slavery.

Gus Van Horn said...


Your comment reminds me of some survival advice I got before I briefly transplanted to Boston: Look for soul food restaurants.

This proved unnecessary since (a) I could already cook what I wanted and quickly figured out the rest (Examples: A friend with a garden gave me green tomatoes so I could develop a fried green tomato recipe, and I used shrimp/crab while developing etouffee until I though it worthwhile to mail order crawfish.), (b) I learned that "swai" was a regulation-mandated substitute for catfish, and (c) Southern cooking had become fashionable enough that I could go to the ethnic foods aisle at Shaw's and find "Southern Cuisine," which made me smile for more than one reason.


Dinwar said...

Typing "Native Americans" always makes me cringe as well, I just hadn't found a decent alternative. As you said, anyone born in the USA has a claim to the title. The collectivist, ancestral guilt aspect--that we are evil because our ancestors did something wrong--makes the term unpalatable, to say the least! While I acknowledge it's irrelevant to my life, I do find it darkly ironic that my ancestors settled in what was, at the time, a poisonous swamp no one lived in. They drained the swamp, cultivated it, and eventually put oil wells in it, turning the poison into something that advanced human life. Yet I'm supposed to feel guilty about their actions.

My point isn't "My ancestors already paid the debt"; my point is that the collectivists and racists pushing racial guilt can't even be bothered to apply their standards consistently! Which, admittedly, we already knew.

You're right that exploration of Amerindian culture is rife with emotional baggage, which makes it difficult to study. There's another aspect that makes it difficult, though. I know North America, and I believe Central and South America, experienced what amounts to an apocalypse with the arrival of Europeans in the 1500s/1600s. I don't blame Europeans; however, it's pretty clear that diseases brought over by Europeans wiped out the existing civilizations in North America. There are numerous records of survivors showing settlers sites of former villages and agricultural lands, for example. And since Amerindians didn't generally have written records, much of their culture is simply gone. These two issues--the collectivist nonsense and the catastrophic loss of life in those civilizations--make this a very difficult topic to delve into.

The production of maize is certainly an interesting area of research! My encounter with it is in the form of dental work. Maize has a relatively high sugar content, and you can identify when it entered into a population's diet by noting the prevalence of cavities in their teeth (at least in the Desert Southwest).