Books History Women's history

An interesting character in a period of change

From Venantius Fortunatus: A Latin Poet in Merovingian Gaul by Judith George

p.2 “This period was one of cultural transition, the Gallo-Romans clinging their traditional Romanitas, the Franks assimilating it with verve and enthusiasm. The impact of a poet of Fortunatus’ calibre and pedigree, an embodiment of the literary tradition they revered, on so susceptible an audience was bound to be strong. Even two generations later, the grandson of Dynamius, a Provencal noble and patron of the poet, composed an epitaph for his grandparents, with pride in their association wjth Fortunatus… his influence can be seen in writers not only in Gaul, but also in Anglo-Saxon England and in Ireland, well into the Middle Ages.”

p. 13 “The nuns of Radegund’s community in Poitiers adopted the Rule of Caesarius, which specified they should learn to read, and spend two hours a day doing so. Caesaria, abbess of the convent of St Jean in Arles, advised them: ‘COnstantly read and listen to the holy writings … gather from them previous pearls to hand on your ears, make from them rings and bracelets’… one of the biographies of their founder was written by a nun, Baudonivia, confirms the general practice of more than basic literacy.”

p. 163 “Baudonivia records of Radegund that: “She was always anxious for peace, always concerned with the wellbeing of her country. When there was tension between the kingdoms, since she loved all the kings, she prayed for the life of all and taught us to pray without ceasing for their settled state. When she heard there was any ill feeling between them, she feared with all her being and sent letters to both sides alike, so they would not resort to arms or war between themselves, but should establish peace, and thus the country not come to disaster. Likewise, she directed requests to their chief men that they should give peaceable advice to the high kings, so that, under their government, the wellbeing of the people and country should be improved.”

p. 35 “Panegyric was one of the most important literary genres in public and ceremonial life in the classical world, a vital tool of political communication and negotiation, especially between a ruler and his people. .. the fourth-century panegyrists under the Tetrarchy and the Gallic rhetorical schools that this genre reached a peak in its popularity, its recognized part in cultural life, its wide use as a subtle and influential political tool and in the full exploration of its literary potential.”

p. 59 “the address to Chilperic … was given in a tense political situation, where Fortunatus was playing an active and interventionist role. The formal structure of the genre brought to bear on Chilperic the full prestigious weight of Roman panegyric, playing on the king’s cultural aspirations, and holding up to him a mirror of the ideal statesman, the Christian ruler.”

Books Environmental politics

Notes from Mark Cocker’s ‘Claxton’

My favourite passage …

“The first badger to appear… got down to the opening chore of the evening. A good scratch requiring all four paws working vigorously through the side and belly hair, and even from 50 metres away you could hear those razor-sharp claws raking the dried skin.
“One of the stranger biological links between badgers and humans is a shared species of flea, although perhaps a more inspiring sense of common ground arises from the abundance of historical marks that both of us leave in the landscape. Whenever I go badger watching I am always overwhelmed by the deep sense of tradition that surrounds their lives. It is not just the network of visible tracks, worn through years of passage up and down the hillside, not is it simply the tonnes of hard, red,clay-rich soil heaped outside the sett’s complex of holes.
“Some of the details at this sett are oil marks and pied hairs left on part of a lime=tree trunk where the badgers, each in turn, slump with ursine contentment to perform their elaborate groom and toilet. … every night of the year, generation after generation.” (p. 65)

The bad news …
At the end of March … “the vocal duel between two local song thrushes wakes me every morning at the moment … it is a fabulous noise that gains momentum as the season draws on, with a vocalist adding new motifs to his repertoire. A bird borrows elements from the others that it can hear, and you can imagine these scraps of melody being passed all around the country… The British Trust for Ornithology discovered that half of them have gone in 30 years…. What price should we put on the song thrush’s priceless song?” (p. 51)

And more …
Willow warblers are Afro-Palaearchtic migrants, wintering in a wide belt of sub-Saharan Africa then spreading to breed across the boreal regions of Eurasia, from easternmost Siberia to the Atlantic coasts of Ireland … the sound is an audible analogue of that wider sense of luxury and nonchalance at the heart of summer. Alas there is now less scope for complacency than there used to be: willow warbler numbers have fallen like a stone in the last 30 years, declining possibly as a consequence of habitat loss and climate change by 60%.” (p. 69)

Interesting facts..
Holly for centuries “was used as a hedgerow or boundary tree and an important part of its meaning in the landscape was a coded language of arbitrary division, ownership and power that only the human eye could decipher. Even now makers of the British Ordnance Survey maps regard old holly trees as the best guide to the course of historic boundaries between parishes and neighbouring estates or farms.” (p. 180)

“Every autumn the average jay plants 5,000 acorns to retrieve as food in the winter. .. [in the US] one blue jay was recorded to plant 100,000 beech nuts in one month. … They are the great keepers of the northern forests and are busy now husbanding that vast carbon-rich landscape in its millennial journey north as climate change begins to take hold.” (p. 157-8)

“The grasshopper discovery of my summer [2010] has been the widespread local presence of Roesel’s bush cricket, a species that until recently was listed no further north in East Anglia than Essex … on a northward march, possibly as a consequence of climate change. The first Norfolk record was 1997… the song, a long soft drawn-out reeling buzz, is one of the most resonant of all orthopteran melodies. Whenever I hear one I dig at the grasses at the roadside to reveal a weird armour-plated brute who is as hideous as he is beautiful.”

Books Politics

German manufacturing

Notes from Germany’s Economic Renaissance: Lessons for the United States, by Jack Ewing

p.162 – “95% of all German companies with fewer than 500 employees are family owned, and 85% are managed by the owner.. The German managers in the book, and many others whom I have met over the years, take a palpable joy in making things. … Money is important, but it is not what gets them out of bed in the morning. … They take pleasure and pride in creating livelihoods for the people who work for them, in supporting their local economies, and above all in creating an institution that will outlive them.”

p. 163 “In Germany, almost any company with more than a few dozen workers is likely to have an employee council with a right to be consulted on major changes in working conditions. With no choice but to deal with workers, German managers have learned to use employee councils as a forum to get workers to buy into the program. The legal requirements aside, German companies have a strong incentive to retain their people, because of their dependence on highly skilled workers and their investment in training.”

p. 164 “Another German innovation… is the work-time account, where workers bank overtime in the form of hours rather than cash. When times are slow, they work fewer hours, but take home the same pay by drawing from the work-time accounts. The system makes it easier for companies to hold onto their workers during a temporary downturn, preserving the investment that has been made in their training. And of course, it spares the workers the trauma of unemployment.”

Books History

Cookery of ages

From A History of Food in 100 Recipes, by William Sitwell

Recipe for Erbolate (baked eggs with herbs)
Take parsel, myntes, saucrey & sauge, tansey, veruayn, clarry, rewe, ditayn, fenel, southrenwode, hewe hem& gringe hem smle, meddle hem up with Ayrenn, do butter in a trape, & do pe frs perto & bake & messe it forth. {Take parsley, mint, savory, sage, tansy, vervain, clary, rue, dittany, fennel, southernwood. Chop them and grind them small. Mix them with eggs. Put butter in a baking dish and put the mixture in it. Bake and serve it in portions.
From The Forme of Cury, by the master cooks of Richard II.
“In the form of a vellum scroll, a copy of it lives in the British Library. Its graceful prose, daintily written in soft red ink, details 196. This recipe encapsulates the spirit of the book, written with the approval of medical gurus and philosophers, the herbs being meant mainly for medical purposes. … baked and sliced into portions, the resultant dish is more omelette than souffle.

From Feeding the Nation by Marguerite Patten, a home economist who had worked for the Eastern Electricity Board and Frigidaire trying to sell fridges before World War II.
3lb elderberries
3lb apples
5lb sugar
Remove berries from stalks and wash. Warm them to draw juice. Simmer for 1/3 hour to soften skins. Core apples and simmer until quite soft in another pan with very little water, pass through sieve or pulp well with a wooden spoon, add apples to to elderberries, reheat and add sugar. Stir until dissolved and boil rapidly until jam sets. Make first test for setting after 10 minutes. Put into hot jars and seal.

This at a time after Lord Woolton set up the Ministry of Food. From his memoirs: “The country never realised how nearly we were brought to disaster. During the course of two hours on a Friday afternoon, I received five separate signals from the Admiralty reporting food shops had been sunk on the Atlantic route. By some extraordinary misfortune, these five ships were largely stocked with bacon.” p. 236

He was a national figure. One broadcast radio ditty ran: “Those who have the will to win/ Cook potatoes in their skin. Knowing that the sight of peelings/Deeply hurts Lord Woolton’s feelings.” p. 237

Books History

The chemistry of chocolate

From Stuff Matters, by Mark Miodownik
p. 92-3
“Cocoa trees grow in tropical climates and produce fruit in the form of large, fleshy coca pods. These look like some form of wild and leathery orange or purple melon. The pods grow directly out of the trunk of the tree … inside each pod are 30 to 40 soft, white, fat almond-shaped seeds the size of small plums. … we harvested the cocoa beans using machetes, and then deposited them in a heap on the ground, where we left them to rot. This is how all chocolate is made. Over two weeks the heaps of beans start to decompose and ferment, and in the process they heat up. This serves the purpose of ‘killing’ the cocoa seeds, inasmuch as it stops them from germinating into cocoa plants.But more importanty it chemically transforms the raw ingredients of the cocoa beans into the precursors of the chocolate flavours…. fruity ester molecules are created, the result of a reaction between the alcohols and the acides that are created by enzymes acting within the cocoa beans… the taste of chocolate is highly dependent not just on the ripeness and species of the cocoa bean, but also on how high the rotting piles of beans are stacked, how long they are left to rot and generally what the weather is like.”

Drying and roasting … ” roasting turns the bean into a mini chemical factory,… first, the carbohydrates within the bean, which are mostly sugar and starch molecules, start to fall apart because of the heat. This is essentially the same thing that happens if you heat sugar in a pan: it caramelises. Only in this case the caramelizing reaction takes place inside the cocoa bean, turning it from white to brown, and cretaing a wonderful range of nutty caramel flavour molecules…. Another type of reaction, … also contributes to the colour and flavour of the cocoa: the Malliard reaction. This is when a sugar reacts with a protein …. reacting ith the acids and esters and resulting in a huge range of smaller flavour molecules. It is no exageration to say that without the Maillard reaction the world would be a much less delicious place: it is the Maillard reaction that is responsible for the flaour of bread crust, roasted vegetables, and many other roasted, savoury flavours. In this case the Maillard reaction is responsible for the nutty, meaty flabours of chocolate, while also reducing some of the astringency and bitterness…

Grind up the fermented and roasted cocoa nuts and add them to hot water and you have the original hot ‘chocoatl’ made by the Mesoamericans… When Europeans explorers got hold of the drink… they exported it to coffee houses, where it competed with tea and coffee to be the beverage of choice of Europeans – and lost. What no one had really mentioned was that ‘chocatl means ‘bitter water’ and even though it was sweetened with the new cheap sugar … it was also a gritty, oily and heavy drink, because 50% of the cocoa bean is cocoa fat. This is how it remained for another 200 years, an exotic drink, notable but not terribly popular.”

Books Environmental politics Politics

Notes from The Sustainable Economics of Elinor Ostrom by Derek Wall

p. 186-7 “Elinor Ostrum, and indeed Vincent, viewed ecological matters as fundamental to their political economy from the early days of both of their respective careers. Vincent and Elinor had observed how democratic structures had been used to manage real-life environmental problems, such as the dilemma of how to share grazing land or water basins. Yet Hardin [of Tragedy of the Commons] ac=dvocated largely top-down, and potentially authoritarian, solutions to these environmental problems… Elinor Ostrum, to her credit, worked very hard to challenge it. Bu doing so she has helped to promote environmental sustainability and the rights of collective resources owners – from indigenous people to peasant farmers to free/open source software designers.

The reality is that there is a spectrum, or kaleidoscope, of property rights. When we move beyond the idea of the binary of state and private property, the alternative is not simply the commons. The notion of commons, both as a resource and a property right, is an advance over the binary. Commons, rather than being unowned non-property, have been identified as collectively managed resources. Yet Elinor Ostrom’s work points to a conception of property beyond the commons. Items can be owned in a variety of ways and, as more sophisticated legal theorists have long understood, even privately owned items contain a bundle of rights. The insights gained from John R Commons that property systems are diverse further opens up a new economic and legal understanding. This enhances concepts such as usufruct, the right to access a resource on the condition that it is maintained and not degraded, which are essential to creating more environmentally sustainable systems of governance. ..

The norms and rules of usufruct are the norms and rules of sustainability. An economics of social sharing, whilst not investigated by the Ostroms, fits well with their research. With the social sharing of physical goods it is possible to cut the knot of prosperity versus environment dilemma, and have access to more physical goods than we need, while reducing other use of resources. Neither usufrust nor social sharing automatically solve sustainability problems, but they are useful tools that make them easier to face. More fundamentally, the Ostroms’ concern with self-governance suggests that grassroots popular design can be promoted as a means of dealing with a range of ecological problems, including climate change.

Elinor Ostrom’s approach to sustainability, therefore, cannot be reduced to a calculation of costs, or governmental regulation, or any other panaceas. Social-ecological systems are complex, and purely cost considerations, or centrally imposed regulatory measures are inadequate to their maintenance. The seven-generation rule is helpful in understanding her perspective … however, she did not believe a normative commitment to sustainability was sufficient, but that practical policies had to be worked out. Policies that were developed democratically were more likely to be effective, and people needed to see practical gains from such policies.