Reading Roundup: Edible Entrails & Self-Fermenting Wine
Micro-reviews of media I consumed recently, articles about non-western foods, textbooks about the Bronze Age, & the Citibank v. Revlon case.
The idea of a Resonance Calendar seems to have come from the community surrounding the notetaking app Notion, but I’ve adapted it for how I use Obsidian and I’ve found it really useful as a practice. The idea is to keep track of and reflect on the various things that you read, watch and listen to. Each month, as a part of my spaced repetition learning practice, I go back over what I read and review the summaries I wrote about why I bothered.
I asked my local library whether they had any of the books on my wishlist available via Interlibrary Loan and I didn’t realize that they would send me all of the books, so I spent most of the month frantically reading a bunch of academic textbooks before I had to return them, including:
- The Civilizations of Africa: A History to 1800 by Christopher Ehret. It covers the importance of the Commercial Revolution, the impacts of cattle-keeping, the emergence of nomadic pastoralism in the Sahara (thanks to Arabian camels!), the development of manufacturing centers, and early diplomacy (among other things).
- The Horse The Wheel And Language by David Anthony was also wonderful and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in how Bronze Age nomads from the Eurasian steppes impacted the development of civilization. The book covers a lot of linguistics, which I mostly skipped over, but is also a really impressive description of the author’s life’s work in tracing the domestication of the horse and the impact of innovations like chariots.
I also continued with:
- The Golden Thread by Kassia St. Claire. — I started the chapter about Viking sails. It discusses Ibn Fadlan and his interactions with the Vikings… which included coming across the funerary practice of ritually raping and murdering a chief’s concubine. 🤯
- Apparently, pigs are pretty good at video games, according to a study shared by the Huffington Post. Notably, the pigs did better than a dog. Pigs are a particular interest of mine; I looked into them for a newsletter article back in November.
- This Atlas Obscura article about the difficulties of commercializing palm wine crossed my RSS feed and I really found it fascinating, because palm wine is both naturally occurring, cultural important, and difficult to export because it ferments so rapidly that it turns to vinegar within days.
- I really enjoyed this article about Ancient Mesopotamian Gardens — it’s got some fascinating references to Babylonian literature and some really compelling and evocative descriptions of what the Hanging Gardens might have looked like.
- I enjoyed The Precision of Sensory Evidence via Scott Alexander at Astral Ten Codex. It presented the first “unified theory of depression” I’ve ever really come across, and has some really interesting explanations — with citations, from a licensed psychiatrist — of recent research into how depression commonly works, how “priors” can come to outweigh other lived experiences when experiencing depression — and why meditation and yoga and massage (and hugs!) help combat this.
- The blogger at Old European culture has a really great article about the culinary uses for entrails and organs, the animal slaughtering schedule/calendar in 1900s Serbia, and posits that the eating of entrails and especially chyme, which is basically gastric juices and partially digested food from the entrails of animals. He posits that neolithic humans eating chyme may have been related to the early invention of cheese and may even be related to the origins of lactose tolerance in humans. He discusses this more in this twitter thread.
- The Citibank vs. Revlon case is pretty interesting (and high in schadenfreude). It boils down to a “no take backsies” kind of argument. Apparently it’s an accepted part of the finance world that take-backsies is allowed and legal if the judge decides that all parties involved could reasonably be expected to view it as a mistake at the time the transaction occurred. But this only applies for obvious mistakes and the debate is basically over how much you can expect someone who receives money to be like “are you sure? are you SURE you want to do something that totally makes sense?”
- The more I read about the citibank news, the more I realized the whole situation is even crazier than I thought it was. I’m not entirely sure I understand it well enough to do it justice, but I think the tl;dr here is that Citibank and Revlon did some kind of loan restructuring that their software wasn’t designed for, and the poor guy in charge of clicking the buttons on the computer at Citibank had to deal with this a really unintuitive, antiquated UI, and accidentally sent like 900 million dollars to some hedge funds who didn’t realize it was “in error” so a judge says they get to keep the money.
I also spent a lot of time on the AskHistorians subreddit, which is notable for being one of the most heavily moderated subs on reddit. Here were some of my favorite questions and answers:
- I enjoyed this r/AskHistorians thread about why paintings of Jesus with his disciples imply that they were much older than him — depictions of the apostles were apparently deliberately modeled on pre-established visual tropes for Hellenistic philosophers/teachers, i.e. older and bearded.
- This thread about privacy and sex in different cultures throughout history, which involves a very polite disagreement (aka a bare-knuckle brawl by academic standards) between academics about how the Protestant Reformation impacted European ideals about sex and privacy, the importance of beds (and more importantly, bed curtains) as cultural heirlooms, and some interesting legal cases, particularly relating toward the evolution of Italian sexual mores from the Roman era to Florence with regards to sodomy norms at different ages.
- This discussion covers what a chantry is and why they no longer exist. It never bothered me enough to look it up because I honestly assumed that Dragon Age had just invented them as an alternative to “Catholic Church” but it’s kind of cool knowing that they based it on something real.
- There was an interesting history of the invention of the bow with some useful insights about why it’s difficult to determine whether the bow and arrow were invented once (like the wheel) or multiple times (like agriculture) in different times and places. It also covers competing technology like the blow pipe and sling. One problem is that arrows can be made of bone or wood and don’t necessarily remain in the archaeological record.
- Read this interesting r/AskHistorians answer to “how much of the modern Russian Far East did the Chinese explore?” that details the interactions between Russia and China, particularly in Mongolia and Manchuria from the 7th century to the 1800s. This was linked from an answer about Hokkaido (Japan) and the native Ainu people.
- I really enjoyed Paladin’s Strength, which is the newest T. Kingfisher book. T. Kingfisher is the pen name of Hugo-award winning author Ursula Vernon; she uses it for “adult” fiction, most of which is lighthearted, macabre takes on folklore & subversions of d&d tropes. It’s book 2 of the Saint of Steel series, which were apparently meant as lighthearted romances but are too odd to be really fit that genre.
- Altered Carbon is surprisingly good. I was wary at first because there was a chance they might go the deeply unpleasant route of The Expanse and present the Cowboy Cop character as laudable and I was a little uncomfortable with an Asian character being played by a young Jean Claude Van Damme look alike thanks to the whole “put your brain in a new body” conceit, but after a few episodes I’ve been able to relax; Will Yun Lee plays Takeshi Kovacs in the flashback scenes and it doesn’t feel whitewashed. The show really leans in to letting the uncomfortable things be uncomfortable, which is kind of rare in my experience.
Note: There are a couple of affiliate links & codes scattered around, but these always come from links I was already recommending and usually I share them because they benefit you too (i.e. getting you extra time on trials).
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