Saturday, February 10, 2018

Puerto Rico rallies, wins Caribbean Series title

Feb 9, 2018

GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- Jonathan Morales hit a three-run homer in the seventh inning, and Puerto Rico won its second straight Caribbean Series title, rallying past the Dominican Republic 9-4 on Thursday night.
Down 4-3 in the seventh, Morales blasted his first home run of the tournament to give the Puerto Ricans their first lead of the game.
The Caguas Criollos, who rallied from a four-run deficit in their semifinal against Venezuela, gave Puerto Rico its 16th title in the tournament. Only the Dominican Republic (19) has more.
Rusney Castillo also homered for the Puerto Ricans, who played a shortened season after Hurricane Maria devastated the island last September.

"We overcame a big test because of the storm, but after Hurricane Maria I felt like we were going to win this, it was not normal what I felt, but we did it for the island," Morales said. "We were tested, but we overcame them because we are tough."
Puerto Rico won back-to-back championships for the first time since 1992-93.
"Before the tournament I did not want to talk about the back-to-back championships because I did not want to put extra pressure on the guys, but they made it a reality," Puerto Rico manager Luis Matos said. "Hurricane Maria was a disaster, the season was shortened and we played during the day and with lower salaries. There were a lot of things going on but we needed to put a fight, and we did it."
The Dominican Republic was trying to win its first title since 2012.

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New York Doesn't Prohibit Police from Having Sex with People in Custody

An NYPD cruiser in New York City. ( Giacomo Barbaro) / Flickr )
Feb 8, 2018 · by WNYC Newsroom

The court case of an 18-year-old Brooklyn woman who says two on-duty police officers raped her while she was in their custody is shining a light on a legal loophole in New York.
The officers have been indicted for allegedly handcuffing the woman one Friday night in September, putting her in the back of a police van, and repeatedly assaulting her. They claim the sex was consensual. They can make that defense, because New York has no law that specifically makes it illegal for police officers to have consensual sex with somebody they have arrested.
Albert Samaha wrote about this for Buzzfeed. He says there are laws in place about this for probation officers and prison and jail guards, but 35 states lack them for police.
"As a society, we've applied a different standard to police officers than we have for other forms of law enforcement," Samaha told WNYC, "because we trust them and because they operate in public. The things that they do on the street and in cars, theoretically we can see, and we can hold them accountable. You throw in the powers of the police union, and that just all goes together to maintain this loophole."

Samaha spoke with WNYC's Richard Hake.

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Thursday, February 8, 2018

Awaken the singular light
you see
the light is given
you know your past
the darkness of light
but you are a child
your body, can't be yours
life is to know yourself

First Nations launching call for mass demonstration to protest Trans Mountain

Posted by Zig Zag
Drummers from the Kwantlen First Nation at a Kinder Morgan on Burnaby Mountain, 2013. Photo by Mychaylo Prystupa.
by Shawn McCarthy, Globe and Mail, February 5, 2018
First Nations communities and their supporters are planning to ratchet up on-the-ground resistance to Kinder Morgan Inc.'s planned expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline with a call for a mass demonstration on Burnaby Mountain in March.
Members of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation – which is challenging the federal approval in court – is launching a campaign of volunteer recruitment and training Tuesday through a network of allied Indigenous communities and environmental groups.
"The spiritual leaders are calling for a mass mobilization," Rueben George, project manager for the Sacred Trust, which was established by the Tsleil-Waututh to oppose the $7.4-billion pipeline project.
"We want to rally support and bring out the facts of the destruction [the project] will cause and who really benefits."
The planned action could escalate into confrontation as opponents of the project are determined to stop construction, said Chief Bob Chamberlain, vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
"I can see [protesters] doing whatever it takes" to stop the project, he said. "This is going to escalate to a place that the government doesn't anticipate. We hope for peaceful, non-violent action but people are going to rise up to the challenge."
Opponents of the pipeline expansion demonstrated on Burnaby Mountain three years ago, and more than 100 people were arrested for refusing police orders to disperse. Smaller protests have sprung up in recent months around Kinder Morgan's Burnaby terminal, as the company continues to obtain permits from the B.C. government for preconstruction activity.
On Tuesday, the Tsleil Waututh will put out a call to allied nations and supporters of environmental organization, with organizers saying their network will reach some 200,000 Canadians.
The planned pipeline expansion has sparked an interprovincial battle between the British Columbia government, which opposes the project, and Alberta, which argues its oil industry desperately needs access to Pacific Rim markets in order to receive world prices for its crude.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Nanaimo, B.C., last week defending his government's decision to approve the project that he insists is in the national interest, while pledging to protect the coast from risks of a spill because of increased tanker traffic.
At an energy conference in Ottawa, several industry speakers said the Trans Mountain project is a key marker for the Liberal government, arguing that Ottawa's response in the face of opposition will determine whether Canada can complete controversial resource projects.
Mr. Trudeau should not leave Alberta to lead the defence of the project that Ottawa has declared to be in the national interest, said Martha Hall Findlay, president of Calgary-based Canada West Foundation. Instead, Ottawa must send a strong message that neither protesters nor the B.C. government will be allowed to derail the expansion, she told the Energy Council of Canada meeting.
At the town hall session in Nanaimo last week, the Prime Minister was jeered when he defended the government's decision.
"It is in the national interest to move forward with the Kinder Morgan pipeline and we will be moving forward with the Kinder Morgan pipeline," Mr. Trudeau told a rowdy crowd.
"We will also protect the B.C. coast," he said. However, he added that the Liberal's vaunted $1.5-billion ocean-protection plan was contingent on the pipeline proceeding, a statement viewed as a threat by pipeline opponents.
Chief Chamberlain complained that the Prime Minister is "holding the ocean-protection plan hostage" to the pipeline project.
The government is failing in its pledge of reconciliation by approving the Trans Mountain expansion project over the objections of several local First Nation communities, he said. The government has committed to respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which includes the principle that First Nations people be afforded the right to free, prior and informed consent over projects that impact their traditional territory.
Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr has said the UN principle provides for fuller consultation and partnership over decision-making, but does not provide any one Indigenous community with a veto over a project that is in the national interest.

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The Hidden History of Puerto Rican Sterilization

by Xavi Burgos Peña • February 1, 2016

Escambrón Beach Club, 1940s. Photo: Jack Delano
Due to PBS' new documentary No Más Bebés, there is an upsurge of media about sterilization and reproductive justice vis-à-vis communities of color. Given the current political climate, this could not have come at a better time. I would argue that we cannot fully understand Puerto Rico's current economic collapse, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the struggles of indigenous and undocumented communities without reflecting upon the not-so-distant history of eugenics as official state policy. We must acknowledge that the policing of Black, Chicanx, Indigenous, and Puerto Rican bodies were (and are) part and parcel to the U.S. government's efforts to establish a white Utopia, in this continent and beyond. It was mass sterilization in the past and it is police murder, "border protection", and militia land occupation now.
So, I implore you to take it upon yourself to do the research; it is a history that has been reported upon extensively, but is not widely known. As a start, I offer here the entire 1982 documentary film La Operación by Ana María García (in Spanish) on sterilization in Puerto Rico and the Diaspora. We cannot continue to transform our communities without the knowledge of the past grievances we seek to rectify.

Xavi Burgos Peña

Xavi Burgos Peña is co-founder of La Respuesta magazine. He is a Boricua/ Dominicano of the Diaspora who has lived his life between New York City and Chicago. His professional experience is mostly in the area of community-building, including youth development, social marketing, and organizing against gentrification. His journalism credits include being editor and chief designer for Que Ondee Sola magazine, columnist for La Voz del Paseo Boricua newspaper, contributor to Gozamos magazine, and guest writer for Claridad newspaper in Puerto Rico. Contact: View all posts by Xavi Burgos Peña →
Tags:colonialism eugenics reproductive justice sterilization

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    Design: Xavi Burgos Peña | @ quenepajuice
  • LaRes founder Xavi Burgos Peña and former political prisoner Ricardo Jiménez at the National Puerto Rican Day Parade. @prparadenyc #freeoscarlopez #boricuadiaspora

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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Black Lives Matter activist Muhiyidin d'Baha fatally shot in New Orleans

Feb.07.2018 / 2:59 PM ET
A Black Lives Matter activist who made headlines after video of him wrestling a Confederate flag out the hands of a protester in Charleston, South Carolina, went viral, was shot and killed in New Orleans on Tuesday.
A spokesperson with the New Orleans police department confirmed the death of 32-year-old Muhiyidin Moye, who went by Muhiyidin d'Baha, to NBC News in an email Wednesday. Police said d'Baha was shot in the thigh early Tuesday morning and transported to a nearby hospital where he died from his injuries.

 Charleston Black Lives Matter organizer Muhiyidin d'Baha. Dustin Waters / Charleston City Paper
It is unclear the details surrounding his death, but according to a police report, police dispatch received a call that a black male was laying on the ground and asking for help. When an officer arrived on the scene, a black male was found bleeding and a bicycle covered in blood not far from his body. Police also found a trail of blood leading away from the scene, a hat and fragments of a bullet in a grassy area. The report also says the officer was wearing a body camera and it was activated. A suspect has not been named, but the report also shows a black male is wanted for aggravated battery.
WCBD, an NBC-affliate, reports d'Baha was in New Orleans for work with his social justice organization. D'Baha's niece, Camille, created a GoFundMe page to raise money to get the activist home andfor his memorial service. As of Wednesday afternoon, over $22,000 had been raised.
"We don't have many details, but will update as soon as we do," she said on the page. "This is all so unexpected."
On Tuesday night, friends and family along with local civil rights activists gathered at a prayer vigil in front of North Charleston City Hall. Chanting 'Black Lives Matter' and sharing memories of d'Baha, members of the community discussed his legacy and plans to keep his name alive.
"When you have somebody who is that close and dedicates himself to uplifting the community and actually being a part of the community, he's a valuable piece of the puzzle," activist Johnathan Thrower told WCBD. "The intellectualism, the fire, the desire, the motivation, the way he rallied people in the city was just second to none."
D'Baha made national headlines in February 2017 when he was filmed on live TV hurling himself over a police line and wrestling a Confederate flag out of the hands of a white protester outside a rally in Charleston.
Although he was quickly arrested, video of the dramatic leap quickly went viral online. D'Baha later told The Washington Post that he felt compelled to act after he noticed black community "elders" react to the Confederate flag.
"And I looked at our elders and I saw, like, fear in their eyes," he said. "We're not going to pass this on another generation. Not another generation of people are going to be intimidated by this flag."
D'Baha was a prominent and vocal fixture in Charleston's Black Lives Matter movement, often organizing rallies or demanding accountability from the city's leaders during public meetings.
In a 2015 interview with the New Yorker, d'Baha reflected bitterly on the black community's reaction to the Charleston Church massacre and calls for prayers and forgiveness for Dylann Roof.
"That was accommodating white feelings and white superiority," d'Baha told the New Yorker. "It was 'Yes, Massa, can I have another?"

 Muhiyidin d'Baha addresses a group of demonstrators in Charleston, South Carolina. Dustin Waters / Charleston City Paper
It was that sense of merely "enduring" instead of forcing circumstances to change that d'Baha said forced him into activism, and sets the modern day Black Lives Matter movement apart from the older generation of civil rights protesters.
Black Lives Matter activist Deray McKesson, who met d'Baha in 2015 during organizing efforts in Charleston, told NBC News d'Baha was an "incredible guy and all around good person."
"This is a monumental loss in the organizing community and in general," McKesson said in phone interview. "He was a quiet power and understood the importance of helping people find the power they didn't know they had."

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The Death of John Anthony West

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Why of Cooking

What's the most efficient path to kitchen wisdom?

Wendy MacNaughton

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It's a shame that the standard way of learning how to cook is by following recipes. To be sure, they are a wonderfully effective way to approximate a dish as it appeared in a test kitchen, at a star chef's restaurant, or on TV. And they can be an excellent inspiration for even the least ambitious home cooks to liven up a weeknight dinner. But recipes, for all their precision and completeness, are poor teachers. They tell you what to do, but they rarely tell you why to do it.
This means that for most novice cooks, kitchen wisdoma unified understanding of how cooking works, as distinct from the notes grandma lovingly scrawled on index-card recipes passed down through the generationscomes piecemeal. Take, for instance, the basic skill of thickening a sauce. Maybe one recipe for marinara advises reserving some of the starchy pasta water, for adding later in case the sauce is looking a little thin. Another might recommend rescuing a too-watery sauce with some flour, and still another might suggest a handful of parmesan. Any one of these recipes offers a fix under specific conditions, but after cooking through enough of them, those isolated recommendations can congeal into a realization: There are many clever ways to thicken a sauce, and picking an appropriate one depends on whether there's some leeway for the flavor to change and how much time there is until dinner needs to be on the table.
The downside of learning to cook primarily through recipes, then, is that these small eurekas—which, once hit upon, are instantly applicable to nearly any other dish one prepares—are most often arrived at via triangulation. It's like trying to learn a language only by copying down others' sentences, instead of learning the grammar and vocabulary needed to put to paper lines of one's own.

Short of enrolling in a cooking school, is there not a more direct, less haphazard way to arrive at a fuller idea of the theory behind good cooking? One gets the sense that chefs and cookbook authors are in possession of some magnificent guidebook full of culinary insights, consulting it to construct their dishes and revealing its secrets to everyday cooks only in fragments. No book could live up to that hyperbolic image, but I was still surprised, after roughly a year of searching, to find that there are very few books that concisely articulate the concepts that underlie good cooking, in a way that neither patronizes nor overwhelms. One might call what I was looking for "a metacookbook"—a book not about a certain cuisine or style of cooking, but about cooking itself—and I found good ones to be surprisingly rare.
One of the reasons for this is that the standard recommendations for a concept-based book about cooking are not completely helpful. Many of them, I found, were not metacookbooks at all, but rather in-depth guides to mastering the fundamentals of a classically respected cuisine (most often French or Italian) or matter-of-fact catalogues of cooking techniques, such as how to poach an egg or make a soufflé that doesn't cave in. And of the recommendations that did fit the category, few struck a readable balance between in-the-weeds scientific digressions and everyday pragmatism. After reading through about a dozen metacookbooks, I did eventually arrive at the sort of knowledge I'd hoped for, but I also saw how some were much better than others at getting me there. Of all of them, my favorite—and the one I'm most likely to recommend to a beginning cook with even a faint desire to improve—is Samin Nosrat's Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, which is out this week.
But before getting to Nosrat, I started where nearly everyone appears to start: with Mark Bittman. Bittman's How to Cook Everything was the first book several people (and websites) recommended to me when I first described the sort of knowledge I was after. Indeed, it was the first cookbook I ever received, from a gift-giver who correctly guessed that it would satiate my culinary curiosity (or, less charitably, that it would finally stop me from hovering over the stove, asking questions about every step of a preparation).
People start with How to Cook Everything for good reason: It is near-encyclopedic and approachably written. Moreover, it is highly reliable; when following one of its recipes, disappointments are rare, especially compared to what comes of cooking from the recipes that can appear at the top of Google results. All this, plus the fact that it includes many variations on each recipe, makes How to Cook Everything a fantastic book to have on hand, especially for beginners.
Learning about, say, the etymology of a leafy green sheds little light on how best to prepare it.
Yet, despite being so often recommended, it is not the ideal metacookbook. Over the course of a thousand pages, one may reach an understanding of what it takes for a meal to truly come together, but How to Cook Everything seems like one of those books that few other than the copy editors have read cover to cover. It is best used as a reference book, absorbed in two-to-three page bursts that describe the basics of, say, bouillabaisse or baked potatoes. Reading it in its entirety would be like reading through the dictionary.
Looking for a book that would more clearly illuminate what makes a good meal—which flavors or textures complement each other and fundamentally go together—the next phase of my search focused on science-heavy books. Perhaps I overcorrected by looking next to another common recommendation, Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. McGee is a legend in the food world, and the book, first published in 1984, is a favorite of many professional chefs. More than 30 years after its publication, the book still stands as an astounding informational achievement; in the foreword to a more recent edition, McGee recalls having had basic questions about food, failing to find satisfactory answers to them in book form, and hitting the stacks of a college library to read academic papers from journals like Poultry Science and Cereal Chemistry. The book he ended up writing based on that research unsealed knowledge that had previously been considered of narrow interest to academic and industry researchers, and the cooking-obsessed culture that has blossomed since its publication proved his instincts sharp.
The idea of a book that explains everything about cooking, down to the molecule, is fascinating, and On Food and Cooking is a fun title to have around. But learning about, say, the etymology of a leafy green sheds little light on how best to prepare it. McGee's book is so exhaustive that it might be less readable (in a cover-to-cover sense) than even Bittman's book. I tried to read it straight through, and stopped dejectedly in the middle of a history of dairy—I think around where McGee describes the first time humans turned water-buffalo milk into mozzarella. McGee's book is better skipped around in occasionally than turned to for a focused lesson on cooking concepts.
On Food and Cooking inspired a number of cooks and cookbook authors to integrate scientific approaches into their practices, and some of them have produced cookbooks that read as more populist versions of McGee's book. But however informative they are, the handful that I encountered more than anything prove the difficulty of writing about kitchen science in a way that both grabs the reader and feels relevant to actually developing better cooking instincts. The editors of the exacting and widely beloved magazine Cook's Illustrated put out The Science of Good Cooking, which breaks its teachings down into 50 lessons—an improvement on McGee from a readability standpoint. Still, the book is hardly more digestible than a textbook, with chapter titles ranging from the weakly playful ("All Potatoes Are Not Created Equal") to the downright dry ("Potato Starches Can Be Controlled").
Another option I checked out, Jeff Potter's Cooking for Geeks, similarly displayed the limits of grounding cooking lessons too much in science; what it made up for in its looser writing style, it more than lost in its distracting tendency to try flattering the "geeks" who might read it by pandering to the most basic clichés about them. The first line of the preface, for instance, is: "Hackers, makers, programmers, nerds, techies—what we'll call 'geeks' for the rest of the book (deal with it)—we're a creative lot who don't like to be told what to do." I know more than a few programmers who would be fascinated by the information in Potter's book but put off by his tone.
If the books put out by Potter and Cook's Illustrated make clear some of the challenges of framing a scientific approach, The Food Lab—a physical distillation of the spirit and content of J. Kenji López-Alt's passionately experimental blog of the same name on the website Serious Eats—demonstrates its potential. López-Alt's method is simple: He tries a bunch of different ways of preparing a dish, and then picks the best recipe and explains why it's the best, in uncomplicated but unpatronizing language. After a recipe for penne alla vodka, for instance, he includes an explanation of why it's good not to omit the vodka—it lends the dish a slight piquancy that can cut through the sweetness of the tomatoes and cream—and describes what the sauce tastes like without it. While López-Alt's book is full of recipes, it in my mind still qualifies as meta because he is intent on taking them apart to see how they work; in this way, López-Alt usefully cuts out some of the inefficient extrapolation that's usually required to squeeze lessons out of recipes, and simply explains why any given one works.
The downside of The Food Lab (for my purposes) is that it is compiled like How to Cook Everything, which makes reading it all the way through—and coming away with a simple, overarching understanding of the concepts behind good cooking—out of the question. Two prosier science-oriented metacookbooks I came across, Russ Parsons's How to Read a French Fry and Michael Pollan's Cooked, were at least meant to be consumed from beginning to end. But Parsons's, though highly insightful, could have used some further conceptual zooming-out beyond detailing the chemical specifics of certain dishes (like the browning of the titular french fry) and ingredients (like how a berry's cells change once it's picked or refrigerated). And the few big thoughts gleaned from Cooked, which takes several detours into memoir and food history, seemed too elementary.
Nosrat's wisdom is apparent in the way she instructs, which lets her cover food science without ever getting lost in the finer points of chemistry.
To be sure, the scientific route is likely one that will resonate with ambitious home cooks who gravitate toward precision. But I left each of these guides with a nagging sense that there is a simpler way—one more grounded in common sense and intuition—that might inspire people who do not already fancy themselves dedicated cooks and/or scientists. A more welcoming, more widely appealing, and thus more effective method might be one that teaches cooks to start with their thoughts and senses rather than a temperature setting on a sous-vide device. If a lesson or two about science is gained incidentally in the process, fine, but let's leave the history of water-buffalo domestication out of it for now.
The metacookbooks that take this tack are up against a challenge: It's hard to teach intuition, which in truth can only fully arise through experience. But it is possible to come close. Sally Schneider's The Improvisational Cook does a passable job of this, but reads a little too densely for a book about being spontaneous. More impressive was Michael Ruhlman's Twenty, whose organizing principle is to walk through 20 fundamental building blocks of good cooking—things like "grill," "vinaigrette," and my favorite, "think"—and includes recipes and little kitchen experiments that best illustrate each concept.
Cook's Illustrated gives readers 50 essential lessons and Ruhlman gives them 20, but my favorite metacookbook has only four. They make up its title: Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. In it, Samin Nosrat, a former chef at the foundational farm-to-table Bay Area restaurant Chez Panisse (and, among other things, Michael Pollan's cooking teacher), offers a beautifully simple checklist for ensuring a dish ends up in a good place: Has it been sufficiently salted? How was fat used to inflect its flavor and texture? Is there acid in there to balance out the overall flavor? And should it have been exposed to a different type or amount of heat? This is the book of cooking grammar that so many novices would benefit from.
Much shorter than reference-style books like How to Cook Everything and On Food and Cooking, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is written smoothly and casually, and kept breezy via charming watercolors by the perceptive Bay Area artist Wendy MacNaughton. Nosrat's wisdom is apparent in the way she instructs, which lets her cover food science without ever getting lost in the finer points of chemistry. Because she puts theory first, her approach to cooking is not just much easier to grasp and emulate than, say, López-Alt's, but it also applies to just as many dishes. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat's framework is a valuable user's manual for recipes, letting even the greenest cooks disassemble them to see how their parts fit together.
Her book is full of perspective-altering moments that are akin to being told about the arrow hidden in FedEx's logo and never being able to unsee it. Her guidance in salting water boiled for pasta (which is to do so very generously—it should taste "like the summer sea") led me to see how much of an exponential leap in quality can come from simply not being afraid of over-salting. There are plenty of books that contain the same information as Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat—indeed, its bibliography cites books by McGee, Ruhlman, and Pollan—but, at least for readers new to cooking, it demonstrates how some parts of its predecessors could stand to be boiled off. A book like López-Alt's is highly valuable to have around once one has confidence in the kitchen, but Nosrat's seems much more vital for the purposes of getting to that point.
Apart from these more subjective assessments of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, there is also an egalitarian argument for Nosrat's book that recommends it over its peers. While cooking is for many a hobby, it is also a thing that nearly everyone has to do, usually when time is short. As the writer Elizabeth G. Dunn wrote for this site two years ago, so many recipes and cookbooks today "carry promises of speed and ease," irritatingly claiming that "freezing my own chicken stock is a 'no-brainer' [and] homemade Calabrian chili oil is an 'easy' way to add big flavor." These assertions can weigh on hobbyist chefs who, despite trying their darnedest, still find from-scratch recipes onerous and time-consuming. But more importantly, they likely scare off the people who don't consider themselves cooks in the first place—arguably the people who would benefit most from a few basic pointers. Not everything described in Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is easy or quick, but it is nonetheless an achievement that Nosrat's book would be of value both to people who don't consider themselves cooks and to people actively striving to become better ones. It is additionally impressive that she accomplished this without going into as much depth as other writers have felt the need to.
On top of Dunn's point, so many of today's more popular cookbooks are essentially postcards from some idyllic region or some big-shot chef's critically acclaimed restaurant. They have recipes, sure, but they devote just as much space to the stuff of aspirational lifestyle publications—short essays reminiscing on some effortless backyard summer dinner party, photography whose beauty is perfectly calibrated to spark envy and lust. These cookbooks can be enchanting, but the message they carry is that your truest, most carefree self is unlockable only by assembling the perfect grain bowl in an immaculate kitchen other than the one you own. Nosrat's is different. It is about using simple concepts to make the most of the scratched-up cutting board, the stove in need of a thorough cleaning, and the slow-to-heat oven that are already right in front of you.

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No time for novels – should we ditch fiction in times of crisis?

When our daily news is apocalyptic, it's irresponsible to read made-up stories. It's time to start reading the serious stuff instead

Zoe Williams recommends reading serious non-fiction rather than novels. Photograph: Frank Baron for the Guardian
It's something that they say a lot in publishing, apparently, that once you turn 40, you start reading biographies. I do remember in my 20s, someone nearing 40 saying, "When a novel says, 'So-and-so walked into the room,' I have this voice in my head shouting 'So? They're not real! The room isn't real!'" I thought, what an incredibly weird, sad, unexpected, unattractive side of ageing, like getting cellulite on your nose. Sure enough, though, I've found my appetite for fiction has fallen off a cliff. It's possible that this is just part of my inexorable crawl toward death. But there's a topnote of guilt, which reminds me of that wartime poster: "To dress extravagantly in wartime is worse than bad form. It is unpatriotic." When the news is so apocalyptic, and there is so much to understand, and a lot of it is quite basic (what's the point of low interest rates again? How do you devalue a currency? Why are there so many earthquakes? Tell me one more time about tectonic plates; I promise this time I'll listen … ), it feels more than frivolous to read about made-up people. It feels unpatriotic. Or, to put it another way, it is like watching the telly when you have homework.
There is a surge in popular economics books – if you look at the Penguin catalogue for next year, every second one is about money, how it works, how it doesn't work and how soon it will end.
There is a surge of books about the changing world order: India Rising, from Faber, as of course it is, but also Keeping Up With the Germans. Its author, Philip Oltermann, finished it before the crisis, and before Angela Merkel fetched up at the centre of the eurozone pantomime. He describes the eerie experience of hearing economic commentators pose exactly his question, as a matter of urgency: how on earth can everybody keep up with the Germans? The book is not straightforward economics. "It's a book about why English and German people sometimes get on and sometimes don't. It's a book that argues that, in order to understand the phenomenal success of the German economy over the past 50 years, we need to look beyond the cliche of robotic, machine-like 'efficiency' and understand why Germans are ultimately sentimental romantics, even when it comes to cars."

And that, in a way, is why I feel as if I should be reading it. It's reasonable, as an adult, to decide you don't want to read a book about the German economy, because you probably wouldn't understand it, whereas it seems unreasonable to watch a crisis unfold before your eyes, and know so little about it.
There are two questions looming over every conversation – how did we get into this mess? And who, in 10 or 20 or 30 years' time, will have come out of it? I had a sudden snap of realisation about how prevalent those questions had become when I was flicking through a book called Running With the Kenyans; I misread it as "Running With the Keynsians"; my friend misread it as "Running with the Koreans".
The key text for popular economics is John Lanchester's Whoops! Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay. It's sold 30,000 copies since it was published last year. (For comparison, Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman wrote an incredibly slim, readable volume called The Return of Depression Economics, and that's sold 19,000 in three years – these are UK figures, by the way.) Lanchester wrote the book because he was researching the financial industry for a novel, Capital, which is out next year; and the intricacies of the way finance worked seemed a) so interesting and complex that they were effectively a character in their own right, and b) vitally, this was stuff nobody understood. "I felt, and still feel, that the gap between people who speak money and people who don't is actually a democratic deficit. This is the only time I've ever felt that I have a citizenly duty to keep it up. I mean, only reactively, when I'm asked." I personally am of the view that he should do a Whoops Roadshow, but that is between him and his citizenly duty – at some point you do start thinking, I should have understood this before circumstances made it alarming not to understand it.
Much of the territory of Whoops relates to financial instruments, CDOs and other toxic debt bundles. "Some of the people who didn't understand them were the directors of major banks. That should be a joke, but isn't." That counts as a mitigating factor, for the layman – but the storm we're living through now makes me realise how little I understood of any of the past 20 years, in terms of the economic foundation stones they were laying down. So to take, at random, the eurozone again: there were people objecting who weren't just dyspeptic Tories. There were also leftwing Eurosceptics, Jack Straw, the late Peter Shore, predicting exactly, to the letter, what would happen to a single currency – that the interest rates would be determined by the strongest economies, but wouldn't suit the weaker ones, which then wouldn't be able to devalue and wouldn't be able to leave. I didn't really know why a low interest rate would suit a strong economy, and I didn't understand the point of devaluation. I was too busy reading Martin bloody Amis. As if that's going to help. Lanchester says, possibly by way of reassurance, "We'd all rather be in the back seat of the car, with our parents in the front, driving. But now we've woken up doing 90." The problem with ignorance is twofold: you feel alienated and disempowered, and that's quite anxious-making, but you also feel embarrassed by the limits of your understanding, so you back out of the conversation.
When you back out of a conversation at a macro-level, that's how you wake up doing 90, with a government full of bankers and technocrats. I'm emphatically not saying, "We're all going to be Italy in a minute," because that's the kind of scaremongering nonsense that you'd only start if you hadn't just read (26 pages of) Akerlof and Shiller's Animal Spirits. The alienation effect makes it necessary, much as it pains me to say it, to understand what the parents who were driving were actually thinking: so not only do we have a citizenly duty to understand Germany, economics, the new world order, science and climate, but we probably also have to read, if not Tony Blair's autobiography, at least Gordon Brown's and/or Alistair Darling's.
But this isn't just semi-sincere self-flagellation; there is also a problem with the modern novel and its continuing fear of saying anything useful, for fear of not sounding literary enough. Everyone expected Alan Hollinghurst to write the definitive book of our recent past, since that's what he did for the 1980s, in The Line of Beauty. Instead, to use a technical publisher's term, he "did an Atonement" – this is where you re-site your large themes in the past, where they are more attractive and less political. Hannah Griffiths, editorial director at Faber and Faber, explains that this is partly a pragmatic consideration: "You'd have to write a very ambitious contemporary novel, because they take so long to come out."
Damian Barr is a writer and playwright who also runs literary salons in Shoreditch House, as a result of which he has read almost everything: "There is this false idea that fiction has no particular stance because it is made up, as a result of which it doesn't have to be informed, and it doesn't have to inform. I think we desperately need to be informed about our times, and our history, and our human condition, and at the moment, the novel is really only good for the latter. Of course, I only mean the ones worth reading." Lanchester notes: "In general, the literary novel has turned slightly too far away from the things that press on people. It is an utterly bizarre place to have ended up, but if the subject of a novel is too interesting, that's not literary enough." I can remember the beginning of falling out of love with fiction, when it began to annoy me if the main character didn't have a job or any visible means of support. Once that annoys you, you get annoyed by almost everything.
And if fiction is permeated by considerations – some practical, some literary, some pretentious, some reasonable, because long explanations of things are boring – that make it fight shy of big questions; even non-fiction shares some of this coyness. The Costa shortlist came out this week, and in the biography section, one (broadly) about the first world war, one (broadly) about the second, one biography of Charles Dickens and Patrick and Henry Cockburn's Henry's Demons: Living with Schizophrenia, a Father and Son's Story. And that last is a fine book, but Cockburn's area of expertise, won over a lifetime, is as a foreign correspondent. Yet when he writes a book about Iraq (Muqtada al-Sadr and the Fall of Iraq), about things that would be quite useful to know, especially if we're going to start attacking Iran, the mainstream acts as if it had never happened.
Of course, there's a caveat, isn't there? A novel that does take on big contemporary questions, even if it then hinges on an understanding of complex warfare, or politics, or industry, or finance, if it can do that and not be boring, not be full of what science fiction calls the "tell me, Professor" moments, that will be more use to you, probably, than any amount of explication delivered in factual, readable, lay terms. "If I've learnt anything real," Griffiths concludes, "I've learnt it through fiction."
And this point is made flesh, really, by John Lanchester, who illuminated all this nefarious financial jiggery-pokery – but Whoops was a side-dish or an amuse-bouche to the main project, Capital, a great monster of a novel, which does more than illuminate finance: it animates it; and that's when you fully comprehend something, when you can see its face.

Since you're here …

… we have a small favour to ask. More people are reading the Guardian than ever but advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. And unlike many news organisations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as open as we can. So you can see why we need to ask for your help. The Guardian's independent, investigative journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce. But we do it because we believe our perspective matters – because it might well be your perspective, too.
I appreciate there not being a paywall: it is more democratic for the media to be available for all and not a commodity to be purchased by a few. I'm happy to make a contribution so others with less means still have access to information. Thomasine F-R.

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The Vibrational Quality of 108

February 4th, 2018
By Ethan Indigo Smith

108 is considered the most valuable number in numerology, metaphysics and symbolism. But why is 108 so significant?
Among Eastern theologies, there is said to be 108 emotions, 36 of the present, 36 of the past and 36 of the future. In Hinduism there are 108 names for every god. In Buddhism there are considered to be 108 paths to god, and in contrast, 108 defilements or sins. Mantras are chanted 108 times, and 108 sun salutations are performed by Yogis on solstices and equinoxes. In Sanskrit there are 54 letters, each with a masculine and feminine form, making 108 characters. 108 represents the divine trinity of time: 1 symbolizes the singularity of the present, 0 the nothingness of the past, and 8 the infinity of the future. And as a meditative tool, 108 describes a simple pathway to a meditative state, as our awareness moves from 1 (the present), to 0 (nothingness) to 8 (the infinite whole).
But these celebrations of 108 are just the tip of the theological iceberg.
The celestial orchestration of Earth, the Sun and our Moon is based on the divine proportional ratio of 108 — something that was appreciated by the ancients long before modern astronomers did the math. For instance, the diameter of the Earth at the equator is 7926 miles while the diameter of the Sun is about 108 times that: about 865,000. The average distance between the Earth and the Sun is 108 times the Sun's diameter: 93,020,000 miles. The average distance from the Earth to the Moon is 238,800 miles, about 108 times the Moon's diameter: 2180 miles. Through this astronomical, divine and miraculous positioning, 108 is symbolic of celestial order and perfection.
Importantly, as a metaphysical symbol, 108 also represents the three main types of energy and movement in Yoga, meditative movement, Tai Chi and martial arts. In Chinese martial arts, acupressure, as well as Indian fighting techniques, there 108 main pressure points, and numerous forms of Tai Chi have 108 movements. In fact, one of the first yoga systems to be brought to the west, The Five Tibetan Rites of Rejuvenation, contains 108 breath coordinated movements.

108 and the Flow of Moving Energy

108 symbolizes forms of movement, which is particularly applicable to meditative practices such as Tai Chi. 1 symbolizes linear movement, 0 symbolizes circular movement, and 8 symbolizes spiraling movement. There are circumstances in which one energy or another is more suitable, but in general the spiraling energy is the most powerful. Spiral movement is a combination of the masculine straight energy and the feminine circular energy. The combination of the two creates spiraling flow.
Most often, most people move in a linear fashion; we humans are very linear and upright beings. Imagine moving more relaxed and less extended and less linear, to integrate circular flow and remove the skips and stops that are sometimes present in linear movement. When we practice movement mindfully, in a slow manner, like in Tai Chi, we can relax and flow more easily without the stopping points that linear movement tends to result in. The smoothness of continuing circular movement has no stopping points, and thus allow our energy to flow through our movements. Circular movements are normally much more effective, and are certainly less likely to cause injuries when we get in our own way, and hurt ourselves by overextending.
The combination of straight and circular flow results in spiraling movements and energy. Spiraling energy is the highest form of energy in martial art because it tends to overwhelm opposition. Linear movements function in one direction. Circular movements can incorporate two planes of energy, or energy from two directions, or two planes. But a spiral is a combination of linear and circular energy and can act on three directional planes of the opposition, and is thus the most powerful and overwhelming to the sense of balance to the opposition. Spiraling energy integrates force that interacts with the plane we are facing as well as applying force to the vertical and horizon planes. The more circular and spiral potential we integrate into martial art, the more we are able to deal with force that would otherwise cause imbalance.
The three forms of energy — linear, circular and spiraling — are recognized in martial arts, but this understanding is certainly not limited to the application of force through martial arts. The idea that there is linear, circular, and spiraling movements is less theoretical and more vibrational. For instance, bacteria, which are subject to the same vibrations, form in the same manner as this aspect of 108. Bacteria can be found in three shapes; rod, (linear) cocci, (round) and spirillum (spiraling). The worst of the little nasties for we humans to deal with tends to be spirillum: the spiralling energy.

Integrating Stillness

Along with linear, circular, and spiral movement and energy, there is also an unsaid fourth aspect; that of stillness. Tai Chi may be the practice of flow and moving dynamically, but one of the most potent practices of Tai Chi and Chi Gung is stillness. This is most frequently done in The Universal Pillar meditation position. Twenty minutes of stillness is as profoundly empowering as twenty minutes of dynamic movement.
To take advantage of this practice, apply the Tai Chi principles of relaxation, posturing and unlocked joints, mindfulness of knees being above the feet, standing still and relaxing as the tension is released. Hold your hands in front of you, palms facing you at about heart height in a relaxed position. Such dynamic stillness can be endlessly refined however in the beginning, we can note to relax shoulders, tuck the tailbone, and maintain knee alignment over the feet, not past the toes. Breathe in a relaxed manner and imagine smooth circulation of internal energy.
Twenty minutes of stillness is as profoundly empowering as twenty minutes of dynamic movement. And perhaps, in the same way that when we integrate a comprehension of stillness as well as the linear, circular and spiraling flow of energy into our physical movement, we can better deal with obvious oppositional forces — be it our opponents in martial arts or the imbalances that cause us injury in physical activity — we might also apply this concept to better deal with less obvious, near-invisible adversaries. If we integrate 108, stillness, and linear, circular and spiraling movement potentials into our daily lives, we can better deal not just with adversarial encounters but with whatever is thrown at us — be it intellectual, emotional, or metaphysical.

108 Steps to Be In The Zone

Want to learn more about the metaphysical relationship of 108, and how it can help you live "in the zone"? Check out Ethan Indigo Smith's book 108 Steps to Be in The Zone.
In this work, Ethan provides a set of 108 meditative practices and steps toward self discovery and individual betterment, including techniques to develop balance, transmute sexual energy and better the self.
"Ethan's work on meditation achieves a level of  rarefied  quality so necessary to metaphysical writing and teaching. The 108 Steps is simple and profound, and rich in details and analogies that bring the inner truths of diverse traditions into usefulness in the present time. Ethan's writing… lays out a system that can be used beneficially to reveal one's inner nature and the truths we all seek sooner or later." ~  Laura Peppard, Founder and Director of the Reno Psychic Institute.
"108 Steps to Be in The Zone" is available here on
About Ethan Indigo Smith:

Activist, author and Tai Chi teacher Ethan Indigo Smith was born on a farm in Maine and lived in Manhattan for a number of years before migrating west to Mendocino, California. Ethan's work is both deeply connected and extremely insightful, blending philosophy, politics, activism, spirituality, meditation and a unique sense of humor.
You can connect with Ethan on Facebook, check out his author page on Amazon, or visit his websites, Geometry Of Energy and Meditation 108, where Ethan offers lessons on individuation, meditation, the conceptualization of energy, and the metaphysical significance of 108.
Ethan's publications include:
Recommended articles by Ethan Indigo Smith:

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Fortresses, farmlands of the Maya emerge from massive LiDAR survey

Huge sprawl of the civilization emerges from beneath the foliage.

Kiona N. Smith - 2/1/2018, 4:30 PM
A recent aerial survey revealed thousands of ancient Maya structures previously hidden beneath the dense Guatemalan jungle, including houses, irrigation canals, fortifications, and even a pyramid. More importantly, though, the survey of 2,000 square kilometers of northeastern Guatemala provides a bird's-eye view of the landscape of ancient Maya cities, farms, and highways. That big picture view of the Maya is letting archaeologists ask bigger questions about this still-enigmatic civilization.
A sense of mystery still surrounds the Maya, mostly because so much of their once powerful and sophisticated society now lies hidden beneath thick tropical foliage. In recent years, archaeologists have started using lasers to peer beneath the thick canopy of leaves and map the ancient Maya landscape from above. They're using a technology called "light detection and ranging," or LiDAR, which maps the height of features on the ground by measuring how long it takes infrared light beamed down from a plane to bounce off those structures and return to the instrument.
Using a plane lets surveyors cover a lot of ground in a short time, and one recent survey covered the largest area so far. The results hint that Maya civilization may have been more extensive and more densely populated than archaeologists realized. The survey, funded by the nonprofit Pacunam foundation, covered 2,000 square kilometers of northeastern Guatemala in 2016. Archaeologists have been poring over the data since early 2017, and they say they've discovered more than 60,000 new structures, from irrigation canals and highways to fortresses and pyramids.
It's the scale of the survey, not the density of the finds, that has archaeologists so excited. The survey offers a look at the ancient Maya landscape in ways that have been impossible until recently.

Maya breadbasket

And that lets archaeologists ask big questions about ancient populations, economies, and agricultural sustainability. For instance, in the swampy valleys around the ancient city of Holmul, near the modern border with Belize, the LiDAR images showed thousands of acres of gridlike canal systems outlining raised blocks of land.
"These features are so extensive that it makes us start to wonder: is this the breadbasket of the Maya lowlands?" said archaeologist Tom Garrison of Ithaca College, whose team is working with the survey data. "Is this where they're growing so much... that maybe they're building an economy around it? Because where I work, close to Tikal, we have these features, but they're in smaller pockets."
Mapping at this scale lets archaeologists consider how the ancient Maya supported such a large population and how cities like Tikal and Holmul were linked economically.
Today, the ancient farmland lies fallow in a region dominated by destructive slash-and-burn farming. But if the Maya once supported several million people by farming this swampy ground, archaeologists want to know how. The big questions, which archaeologists in the field will spend the next several years trying to answer, include exactly what the Maya grew in their irrigated fields and how they fertilized the otherwise inhospitable swampy soil around Holmul.

An ancient fortress

The ancient city of Tikal, west of Holmul, is now looking much larger than archaeologists realized. Defensive walls around Tikal were first discovered in the 1960s, but according to the new survey data, those fortifications are more extensive than previously thought.
"The LiDAR really revealed this big earthwork in a much more comprehensive way than we'd seen before, including areas where previous teams had maybe thought that there was no wall," said Garrison. In some places, water drainage has worn down the earthwork walls until what remains is such a subtle rise you couldn't see it even if you were standing right beside it—but it's clearly visible from the air with LiDAR.

Enlarge / Mapping the Maya landscape.
21st Century Fox
"There has been substantial evidence of warfare in the Maya area. But the fortifications that they found are amazing. These finds will be significant contributions to the study of Maya warfare," said archaeologist Takeshi Inomata of the University of Arizona, commenting on the survey results. "The specific interpretations will depend on the dates of those sites and their social contexts, which need to be studied through excavations."
Garrison and his team are planning to do just that. They've already spent a season in the field, and he says they're planning to return for more thorough excavations of the Tikal earthworks.

Getting their hands dirty

Even with good remote data, archaeologists have to do what's called ground-truthing: making sure that what they think they see in the LiDAR images matches what's actually on the ground. And they also have to get their hands dirty in order to study the kinds of details that don't show up from the air: things like how old a building is and when it was used.
Looking at the LiDAR image is like looking at 2,500 years of shifting, moving human occupation all compressed into one snapshot. The images show 30 or 40 structures per square kilometer, but those structures weren't all built or used at the same time. One of the big tasks facing Maya archaeologists now is figuring out which of the buildings, fortifications, and canals were used when. That will have important implications for figuring out how many people lived in the Maya lowlands at any given time.
Fourteen of the archaeologists who received data from the project say they're planning to submit a paper to a journal in the next few weeks describing some of the fieldwork they've done in response to the images. But ahead of the paper, they're sharing some of their findings with the public in an upcoming National Geographic special on Tuesday, Feb. 6 at 9 p.m. EST/8 p.m. CST., which includes footage from both the 2016 survey and the 2017 field season.

LiDAR is gaining ground

This is one of the largest-scale archaeological LiDAR surveys so far, but it's not the first. In 2009 and 2010, archaeologists Arlen and Diane Chase pioneered the technique in Belize. And so far Richard D. Hansen, director of the Mirador Basin Project in northeastern Guatemala, and his colleagues have mapped 750 square kilometers of the largest, earliest Maya cities in the Mirador-Calakmul basin, which archaeologists think is the original home of the Snake Kingdom. They plan to continue LiDAR surveys there in March 2018.
"We spent more than $1 million and 15 years in mapping [52 square km] of the Mirador Basin with sophisticated Total-Station laser mapping systems, and our LiDAR data quickly surpassed that research in exponential fashion with 38 hours of flights," said Hansen.
As more Maya archaeologists start using LiDAR, Pacunam hopes to encourage researchers in Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, and Honduras to share their survey data. Hansen, who helped found Pacunam, says his team plans to contribute. Meanwhile, the Pacunam survey flights have so far covered only a 10th of the 20,000 acres the foundation wants to map over the next few years. But as technology sheds new light on the Maya landscape, it illuminates as many questions as answers about the people who once lived here.
"What's exciting about this technology is it tells us more about [Maya culture] than we've ever known, but it also still leaves some of that mystery for us: these things that we can't totally explain that need to be researched," said Garrison.

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Egyptian Archaeologists Unearth A 4,400-Year-Old Tomb

10:58 AM ET
A woman takes a photo inside the tomb of an Old Kingdom priestess that was unveiled on Saturday after being discovered during excavation work in Giza's western cemetery by a team of Egyptian archaeologists. Mohamed El-Shahed/AFP/Getty Images hide caption
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Mohamed El-Shahed/AFP/Getty Images
Egyptian archaeologists unearthed a well-preserved 4,400-year-old tomb from Egypt's Fifth Dynasty, a prosperous era where pharaohs ruled, palaces were erected and pyramids were built.
Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Enany said that the tomb belonged to Hetpet, a priestess to the goddess of fertility Hathor. Female priests were not common in ancient Egypt. Hathor, who also represented music and dance, had a number of them in her priesthood, reports National Geographic.
The tomb was discovered in Giza's western cemetery by a team of Egyptian archaeologists at the helm of Mostafa Waziri, the secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.
al-Enany told reporters during a press conference on Saturday that the cemetery where the tomb was found is home to the graves of other official figures from the Old Kingdom's Fifth Dynasty, which spanned from 2465 BC to 2323 BC.
Hetpet's name and various titles are engraved inside the tomb, alongside paintings and other artifacts including a purification basin.
"The tomb is in very good condition," Waziri told the Agence France-Presse. "There are colored depictions of traditional scenes: animals grazing, fishing, bird-catching, offerings, sacrifice, soldiers and fruit-gathering."
The paintings — which Waziri says are unusual — show scenes of music and dance. One scene features two monkeys eating fruit and dancing in front of an orchestra.
GIZA - Well-preserved and rare wall paintings inside the tomb of an Old Kingdom priestess that was unveiled on February 3, 2018. (Mohamed El-Shahed/AFP/Getty Images) Mohamed El-Shahed/AFP/Getty Images hide caption
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Mohamed El-Shahed/AFP/Getty Images

"Such scenes are rare ... And have only been found previously in the tomb of Ka-Iber, where a painting shows a monkey dancing in front of a guitarist, not an orchestra," Waziri told the AFP.
Since the overthrow of the dictatorial Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the country's once-booming tourism industry has sharply declined.
The Supreme Council of Antiquities has made several discoveries throughout Egypt since the beginning of 2017. The ministry hopes that its recent string of archaeological progress will entice more tourists to visit Egypt.
"This is a very promising area. We expect to find more," al-Waziri told reporters at the site.

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American History for Truthdiggers: Original Sin

The swampy environs of Jamestown, Virginia, claim the life of another 17th-century English settler in this painting by National Park Service artist Sydney King. (National Park Service / Public Domain)
Truthdig editor's note: The past is prologue. The stories we tell about ourselves and our forebears inform the sort of country we think we are and help determine public policy. As our current president promises to "Make America great again," this moment is an appropriate time to reconsider our past, look back at various eras of United States history and re-evaluate America's origins. When, exactly, were we "great"?
The "American History for Truthdiggers" series, which begins with the installment below, is a pull-no-punches appraisal of our shared, if flawed, past. The author of the series, Danny Sjursen, an active-duty major in the U.S. Army, served military tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and taught the nation's checkered, often inspiring past when he was an assistant professor of history at West Point. His wartime experiences, his scholarship, his skill as a writer and his patriotism illuminate these Truthdig posts.
American Slavery, American Freedom (Colonial Virginia 1607-1676)
Origins matter. Every nation-state has an origin myth, a comforting tale of trials, tribulations and triumphs that form the foundation of "imagined communities." The United States of America—a self-proclaimed "indispensable nation"—is as prone to exaggerated origin myths as any society in human history. Most of us are familiar with the popular American origin story: Our forefathers, a collection of hardy, pious pioneers, escaped religious persecution in England and founded a "new world"—a shining beacon in a virgin land. Of course, that story, however flawed, refers to the Pilgrims, and Massachusetts, circa 1620. But that's not the true starting point for English-speaking society in North America.
The first permanent colony was in Virginia, at Jamestown, beginning in 1607. Why, then, do our young students dress in black buckle-top hats and re-create Thanksgiving each year? Where is the commemoration of Jamestown and our earliest American forebears? The omission itself tells a story, that of a chosen, comforting narrative (the legend of the Pilgrims), and the whitewashing of a murkier past along the James River.
The truth is, the United States descends from both origins—Massachusetts and Virginia—and carries the legacy of each into the 21st century. So why do we focus on the Pilgrims and sideline Virginia? A fresh look may help explain.
The Age of 'Discovery'
When it comes to history—like any story—the starting point is itself informative. I taught freshman history at West Point, a far more progressive and thoughtful school than many readers probably imagine. Nonetheless, with cadets required to take only one semester of U.S. history, we had just 40 lessons to illuminate the American past. So where to start? The official answer—as in so many standard history courses—was Jamestown, Virginia, 1607.
That, of course, is a fascinating, perhaps absurd, choice. Such a starting point omits several thousand years of Native American history, of varied, complex civilizations from modern Canada to Chile. Time being short and all, 1607 remains a common pedagogical starting point. As a result, from the beginning, our understanding of U.S. history is Eurocentric and narrow (covering only the last 400 or so years). Consider that Problem No. 1.
Next, contemplate the language we use to describe the "founding" of new European colonies. This is, say it with me, the "Age of Discovery." In 1492, Columbus discovered (even though he wasn't first) America. Now, that's a loaded term. Isn't it just as accurate to say that Native Americans discovered Columbus—a lost and confused soul—when he landed upon their shores?
When we say Europeans discovered the "New World," we're—not inadvertently—implying that there was nothing substantial going on in the Americas until the Caucasians showed up. Europe has a dated, chronological history, reaching back at least to the Greeks, which most students learn in elementary school and later on in Western Civilization classes. Not so for the Native Americans. Their public history starts in 1492, or, for Americans, in 1607. What came before, then, hardly matters.
Inauspicious Beginnings
Englishmen came neither to escape religious persecution nor to found a New Jerusalem. Not to Virginia, at least. No, the corporate-backed expedition—by the Virginia Joint Stock Company—sought treasure (think gold), to find a northwest passage to India, and balance the rival Catholic Spaniards. But, first and foremost, they pursued profit.
The expedition barely survived. That should come as little surprise. They chose a malarial swamp for a home. The first ships carried mostly aristocrats—"gentlemen," as they were then labeled—with a few laborers and carpenters for good measure. Gentlemen didn't work or deal with the dirty business of farming and settling. But they did like to argue—and there were too many "chiefs" on this voyage. The first party did not include any farmers or women. Only 30 percent survived the first winter. Two years later, only 60 out of 500 colonists survived the "Starving Time." Over the first 17 years, 6,000 people arrived, but only 1,200 were alive in 1624. One guy ate his wife.
So why the disaster? Why the poor site selection and early starvation? First off, the colonists chose a site inland on the James River because they feared detection by the more powerful Spanish. But mainly the disaster came down to colonial motivations. Jamestown was initially about profit, not settlement. Corporate dividends, not community. This was the private sector, not a permanent national venture. In that sense, matters in early Virginia were not unlike modern American economics.
Saved by Tobacco, the First Drug Economy
"Martin's Best Virginia at the Tobacco Role in Bloomsbury Market," a woodcut advertisement for Virginia tobacco showing black children working on a tobacco plantation in Virginia.
(Wikimedia Commons)
They never did find much gold, or, for that matter, a northwest passage. Then again, they didn't all starve to death. Rather, the venture was saved by a different sort of "gold"—the cash crop of tobacco. Tobacco changed the entire dynamic of colonization and control in North America. Finally, there was money to be made. The Englishmen shipped the newest vice eastward and pulled a handsome profit in return. Our beloved forefathers were early drug dealers. More migrants now crossed the Atlantic to get in on the tobacco windfall.
The plentiful "gentlemen" of Virginia sought to re-create their landed estates in England. Despite significant early conflict with the native Powhatan Confederacy, large tobacco plantations eventually developed along the coast. Who, though, would work these fields? Certainly not the landowners. The burgeoning aristocracy had two choices: lower-class English or Scots-Irish indentured servants (who worked for a fixed period in the promise of future acres) and African slaves. Whom to choose? Unsurprisingly, ethics played little role, and cost was the defining factor.
When mortality was high in the colony's early years, plantation owners favored the cheaper indentured (mainly white) servants. But as more families planted corn, kept cattle and improved nutrition, death rates fell and slaves became more appealing. After all, though expensive in upfront costs, slaves worked for life, and the slave owners got to keep their offspring. Nevertheless, for the first several decades, an interracial mix of slaves and servants worked the land in Virginia.
Bacon's Rebellion and the American Future
"The Burning of Jamestown" by Howard Pyle. It depicts destruction in Jamestown, Virginia, during Bacon's Rebellion (1676-77). (Wikimedia Commons)
The problem with the tobacco economy was one of space. To be profitable, cash crops require expansive acreage, and in Virginia this meant movement inland. This expansion set the Englishmen on a collision course with local Native Americans. Furthermore, what was plantation society to do about those indentured servants who survived and matriculated? Land would have to be found somewhere. (Though not near the coasts and early settlements. The "gentlemen" weren't about to divide up their own large estates.) In order to maintain their chosen societal model—landed aristocracy—in which the wealthiest 10 percent possessed half the wealth and the bottom 60 percent held less than 10 percent of accumulated wealth, new land would have to be found further west—in "Indian territory."
Thing is, after some bloody, early wars with the Powhatan, most "gentlemen" preferred a stable, secure status quo. (Not another war. That'd be bad for business.) However, falling tobacco prices, increased competition from nearby colonies and the relentless search by the former indentured class for more land brought frontier Virginians into conflict with an easy scapegoat: nearby Native Americans. Frustrated lower-class men—both white and black—rallied behind a young, discontented aristocrat, a firebrand named Nathaniel Bacon. Bacon led his interracial poor-people's army in attacks on local Natives and, eventually, on Gov. William Berkeley and the establishment "gentlemen." In 1675 and 1676, Bacon's throng destroyed plantations and even burned Jamestown before Bacon died of disease (the "bloody fluxe") and the rebellion petered out.
Bacon's Rebellion was one of the foundational—and most misunderstood—events in American history. Here, a populist army savagely assaulted hated Native Americans and aristocrats alike. A mix of black and white former indentured servants demonstrated the fragility of Virginian society. The planter class was terrified. In order to avoid a repeat at all costs, the landed gentry made a devil's bargain. To ensure stability, they realized they must co-opt some of the poor without ceding their own privileged status.
Enter America's original sins: racism and white privilege. Plantation owners simply hired fewer indentured servants and became more reliant on (black) African chattel slaves for their labor force. The planters also threw a bone to the middling whites, lowering some taxes and allowing more political representation for white male Virginians.
The implications were as disturbing as they were enduring. White unity became the organizing principle of life in colonial Virginia. To be fair, poor whites lived difficult lives and always outnumbered their aristocratic betters. Nonetheless, these lower-class Caucasians benefited from the new, racialized social system. Pale skin became a badge of honor—life may not be optimal, but "at least we are white." Black freemen became a thing of the past, and soon "blackness" became inseparably associated with slavery and the lowest of social classes. Black skin became a brand of slavery, and runaways could no longer blend into colonial society. Slaves were easily spotted by virtue of their color.
Bacon's Rebellion linked land, labor and race together in nefarious ways. Land (ownership) remained the path to freedom. Labor remained essential to profiting from the land, and race came to define the relationship between land and labor. After 1676, a class-based system morphed into a race-based system of labor and social structure. The demand for African slaves rose and a triangular trade developed among North America, Africa and Europe. It seemed everyone benefited from slave labor—it became an Atlantic system. The American South had transformed from a society with slaves to a slave society. It would remain so for nearly two centuries. Race became a prevalent fact of life in the Americas—and still is, 342 years later.
* * *There's nothing simple about America's origins, and it is well that this is so. In that way, the United States is like most other modern nation-states. Leaving behind exceptionalist rhetoric and exploring uncomfortable truths signify intellectual maturity. Should this country wish to move forward, be its best self and fulfill the dream of its finest rhetoric, then the citizenry must dispense with reassuring myths and grapple with inconvenient truths.
What, then, do Jamestown and early Virginia have to tell us in 2018? Perhaps this: American slavery arose alongside and intertwined with American freedom. Our society descends from a sinister original sin: the development of a race-based caste system along the banks of the James River. Race, class, labor and slavery were inextricably linked in our colonial past. They remain so today.

This is the first installment in the ongoing "American History for Truthdiggers" series. A new chapter will be posted on Truthdig every other Saturday.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.
To learn more about this topic, consider the following scholarly works:
● James West Davidson, Brian DeLay, Christine Leigh Heyrman, Mark H. Lytle and Michael B. Stoff, "Experience History: Interpreting America's Past," Chapter 3: "Colonization and Conflict in the South 1600–1750" (2011).
● Ira Berlin, "Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America" (2000).
● Edmund Morgan, "American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia" (1975).

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