28 June 2013
27 June 2013
|Michael Twitty by Jonathan M. Lewis|
I am currently engaged in a project I began in 2011 called The Cooking Gene Project—my goal to examine family and food history as the descendant of Africans, Europeans and Native Americans—enslaved people and enslavers—from Africa to America and from Slavery to Freedom. You and I are both human, we are both Americans, we are both quite “healthily” built, and yet none of these labels is more profound for me than the fact we are both Southern. Sweet tea runs in our blood, in fact is our blood…What I understand to be true, a lot of your critics don’t…which is, as Southerners our ancestors co-created the food and hospitality and manners which you were born to 66 years ago and I, thirty-six. In the words of scholar Mechal Sobel, this was “a world they made together,” but beyond that, it is a world we make together. So I speak to you as a fellow Southerner, a cousin if you will, not as a combatant.
To be part of the national surprise towards you saying the word “nigger” in the past (I am a cultural and culinary historian and so therefore I am using the word within context…) is at best naïve and at worst, an attempt to hide the pervasiveness of racism, specifically anti-Black racism in certain currents of American culture—not just Southern. Take for example the completely un-Christian and inhuman rage at Cheerios for their simple and very American ad showing a beautiful biracial girl talking to her white mother and pouring cereal on the chest of her Black father. That Cheerio’s had to shut down the comments section says that the idea of inter-human relationships outside of one’s color bracket is for many hiding behind a computer screen—a sign of the apocalypse. So just like those old spaghetti sauce ads, yes, America, racism—“it’s in there” even when we were prefer it not be.
When you said, “of course,” I wasn’t flabbergasted, I was rather, relieved…In fact we Black Southerners have an underground saying, “better the Southern white man than the Northern one, because at least you know where he stands…” but Paula I knew what you meant, and I knew where you were coming from. I’m not defending that or saying its right—because it’s that word—and the same racist venom that drove my grandparents into the Great Migration almost 70 years ago. I am not in agreement with esteemed journalist Bob Herbert who said “brothers shouldn’t use it either..” I think women have a right to the word “b….” gay men have a right to the word “queer” or “f…” and it’s up to people with oppressive histories to decide when and where the use of certain pejorative terms is appropriate. Power in language is not a one way street. Obviously I am not encouraging you to use the word further, but I am not going to hide behind ideals when the realities of our struggles with identity as a nation are clear. No sound bite can begin to peel back the layers of this issue.
Some have said you are not a racist. Sorry, I don’t believe that…I am more of the Avenue Q type—everybody’s—you guessed it—a little bit racist. This is nothing to be proud of no more than we are proud of our other sins and foibles. It’s something we should work against. It takes a lifetime to unlearn taught prejudice or socially mandated racism or even get over strings of negative experiences we’ve had with groups outside of our own. We have a really lousy language—and I don’t just mean because we took a Spanish and Portuguese word (negro) and turned into the most recognizable racial slur on earth…in any language…because we have a million and one ways to hate, disdain, prejudge, discriminate and yet we hide behind a few paltry words like racism, bigotry, prejudice when we damn well know that we have thousands of words for cars—because we LOVE cars…and food—because we LOVE food—and yet in this language you and I share, how we break down patterns of thought that lead to social discord like racism, are sorely lacking. We are a cleaver people at hiding our obsessions with downgrading the other.
Problem two…I want you to understand that I am probably more angry about the cloud of smoke this fiasco has created for other issues surrounding race and Southern food. To be real, you using the word “nigger” a few times in the past does nothing to destroy my world. It may make me sigh for a few minutes in resentment and resignation, but I’m not shocked or wounded. No victim here. Systemic racism in the world of Southern food and public discourse not your past epithets are what really piss me off. There is so much press and so much activity around Southern food and yet the diversity of people of color engaged in this art form and telling and teaching its history and giving it a future are often passed up or disregarded. Gentrification in our cities, the lack of attention to Southern food deserts often inhabited by the non-elites that aren’t spoken about, the ignorance and ignoring of voices beyond a few token Black cooks/chefs or being called on to speak to our issues as an afterthought is what gets me mad. In the world of Southern food, we are lacking a diversity of voices and that does not just mean Black people—or Black perspectives! We are surrounded by culinary injustice where some Southerners take credit for things that enslaved Africans and their descendants played key roles in innovating. Barbecue, in my lifetime, may go the way of the Blues and the banjo….a relic of our culture that whisps away. That tragedy rooted in the unwillingness to give African American barbecue masters and other cooks an equal chance at the platform is far more galling than you saying “nigger,” in childhood ignorance or emotional rage or social whimsy.
Culinary injustice is what you get where you go to plantation museums and enslaved Blacks are not even talked about, but called servants. We are invisible. Visitors come from all over to marvel at the architecture and wallpaper and windowpanes but forget the fact that many of those houses were built by enslaved African Americans or that the food that those plantations were renowned for came from Black men and Black women truly slaving away in the detached kitchens. Imagine how I, a culinary historian and living history interpreter feel during some of these tours where my ancestors are literally annihilated and whisked away to the corners of those rooms, dying multiple deaths of anonymity and cultural amnesia. I’m so tired of reading about how “okra” is an “African word.”(For land’s sake ya know “apple” isn’t a “European word” …it's an English word that comes from German like okra comes from Igbo and Twi!) I am so tired of seeing people of African descent relegated to the tertiary status when even your pal Alton Brown has said, it was enslaved Black people cooking the food.
Culinary injustice is the annihilation of our food voices—past, present and foreseeable future—and nobody will talk about that like they are talking about you and the “n word.” For shame. You see Paula, your grits may not be like mine, but one time I saw you make hoecakes on your show and I never heard tell of where them hoecakes really came from. Now not to compare apples and oranges but when I was a boy it was a great pleasure to hear Nathalie Dupree talk about how beaten biscuits and country captain and gumbo started. More often than not, she gave a nod to my ancestors. Don’t forget that the Southern food you have been crowned the queen of was made into an art largely in the hands of enslaved cooks, some like the ones who prepared food on your ancestor’s Georgia plantation. You, just like me cousin, stand squarely on what late playwright August Wilson called, “the self defining ground of the slave quarter.” There and in the big house kitchen, Africa, Europe and Native America(s) melded and became a fluid genre of world cuisine known as Southern food. Your barbecue is my West African babbake, your fried chicken, your red rice, your hoecake, your watermelon, your black eyed peas, your crowder peas, your muskmelon, your tomatoes, your peanuts, your hot peppers, your Brunswick stew and okra soup, benne, jambalaya, hoppin’ john, gumbo, stewed greens and fat meat—have inextricable ties to the plantation South and its often Black Majority coming from strong roots in West and Central Africa.
Don’t be fooled by the claims that Black people don’t watch you. We’ve been watching you. We all have opinions about you. You were at one point sort of like our Bill Clinton. (You know the first Black president?) When G. Garvin and the Neely’s and the elusive B Smith (who they LOVED to put on late on Saturday nights or early Sunday mornings!) were few and far between, you were our sorta soul mama, the white lady with the gadonkadonk and the sass and the signifying who gave us a taste of the Old Country-which is for us—the former Confederacy and just beyond. Furthermore, as a male who practices an “alternative lifestyle” (and by the way I am using that phrase in bitter sarcastic irony), it goes without saying that many of my brothers have been you for Halloween, and you are right up there with Dolly Parton, Dixie Carter and Tallullah Bankhead of old as one of the muses of the Southern gay male imagination. We don’t despise you, we don’t even think you made America fat. We think you are a businesswoman who has made some mistakes, has character flaws like everybody else and in fact is now a scapegoat. I find it hard to be significantly angry at you when during the last election the re-disenfranchisement of the Negro—like something from the time of W.E.B. Du Bois was a national cause celebre. Hell, today the voting rights act was gutted and I’m sure many think this is a serious win for “democracy.” If I want to be furious about something racial—well America—get real—we’ve had a good twelve years of really really rich material that the National media has set aside to talk about Paula Deen. Yes Paula, in light of all these things, you are the ultimate, consummate racist, and the one who made us fat, and the reason why American food sucks and ……you don’t believe that any more than I do.
A fellow Georgian of yours once said that one day the “sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners would sit down at the table of brotherhood.” Well no better time than now. Paula, I don’t have to tell you redemption is yours to choose, to have and to embrace. As a Jew, I extend the invitation to do teshuvah—which means to repent—but better—to return to a better state, a state of shalem–wholeness and shalom–peace. You used food to rescue your life, your family and your destiny. I admire that. I know that I have not always made good choices and to be honest none of us are perfect. This is an opportunity to grow and renew.
If there is anything The Cooking Gene has taught me—its about the art of reconciliation. We aren’t happy with you right now. Then again some of the things you have said or have been accused of saying aren’t surprising. In so many ways, that’s the more unfortunate aspect. We are resigned to believe and understand that our neighbor is to be suspected before respected. It doesn’t have to be this way, and it doesn’t have to go on forever. As a species we cannot conduct ourselves in this manner. As creations of the Living G-d, we are commanded to be better. You and I are both the descendants of people who lived, fought, died, suffered so that we could be better in our own time. I’m disappointed but I’m not heartless. And better yet, praise G-d I ain’t hopeless.
If you aren’t busy on September 7, and I surely doubt that you are not busy—I would like to invite you to a gathering at a historic antebellum North Carolina plantation. We are doing a fundraiser dinner for Historic Stagville, a North Carolina Historic Site. One of the largest in fact, much larger than the one owned by your great-grandfather in Georgia. 30,000 acres once upon a time with 900 enslaved African Americans working the land over time. They grew tobacco, corn, wheat and cotton. I want you to walk the grounds with me, go into the cabins, and most of all I want you to help me cook. Everything is being prepared using locally sourced food, half of which we hope will come from North Carolina’s African American farmers who so desperately need our support. Everything will be cooked according to 19th century methods. So September 7, 2013, if you’re brave enough, let’s bake bread and break bread together at Historic Stagville. This isn’t publicity this is opportunity. Leave the cameras at home. Don’t worry, it’s cool, nobody will harm you if you’re willing to walk to the Mourner’s Bench. Better yet, I’ll be there right with you.
Culinary Historian, Food Writer and Living History Interpreter
Michael W. Twitty
Afroculinaria via Jezebel
26 June 2013
Click image to enlarge
The School of Venus, or the Ladies Delight Reduced into Rules of Practice, a surprisingly modern exploration of sexuality written in the form of a dialogue between a teenage girl and her more experienced cousin, was originally written in French and published in English in 1680.
The 166-page text, which has been digitized by Google Books, opens with a pseudo-dedication to one “Madam S—- W—-,” which lauds “with what eagerness you perform your Fucking excercises” and imagines “a Pyramide of those standing Tarses [penises]" to rival "that Monument of Sculls erected, by the Persian Sophy in Spahaune” ...Frank, explicit language and illustrations, just a click away on Google Books.
The main narrative then begins, introducing its two principle characters: Katherine, “a Virgin of admirable beauty” and “a Kins-Woman of hers named Frances.” Frances “come[s] to chat” with Katherine one morning, finding her alone and working “as if it were a Nunnery.” Frances reproaches her cousin for being “such a Fool [as] to believe you can't enjoy a mans company without being Married.” Katherine naively explains that she enjoys the companionship of many men (“my two Unkles, my Cousins, Mr. Richards and many others”) but Frances explains that she means something altogether different (note that the early modern 's' can sometimes look like an 'f')
25 June 2013
23 June 2013
Lindsay Benner, a professional juggler, honed her talents at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco after graduating college. As the finale to her street performance there, Ms. Benner would select two men from the audience, climb up and stand on their folded arms, then juggle flaming torches above their heads. "The trick to juggling is being willing to let everything fall to the ground," said Ms. Benner, now 31, a native of Berkeley, Calif., and a graduate of the University of Connecticut with an M.F.A. in acting.NYT via The Atlantic Wire
Yet in matters of love, she abhorred juggling. By 2009, she had had a string of monogamous relationships, none lasting much more than a year. Performing often conflicted with her love life. She has traveled to Ireland, Japan and New Zealand, among other far-flung places, and no beau ever joined her worldwide tours. She moved to Los Angeles to act in films and commercials, and perform at the Comedy Store, the Magic Castle and on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. She also began dating an "attractive, well-built, bubbly" man, the type she never would have dated in high school as a shy teenager. "He was the way I would have imagined my dream guy," she said. They had been happily dating for four months, and she "was all in — but he was into keeping his options open," she said.
Just before Christmas that year, Ms. Benner was at a party with her boyfriend, and in walked Dan Das Mann, now 43, a sculptor visiting from San Francisco. He and Ms. Benner locked eyes. Both felt an intense zing. Ms. Benner was baffled. Was this love at first sight? "I’d never felt electrified by the sight of a perfect stranger," she said. Mr. Das Mann — whose creations are monumental sculptures set ablaze, and capped by fireworks and explosions, including 900 gallons of jet fuel that blew up into a mushroom cloud — had a similar reaction. "It was almost déjà vu, like I already knew her intimate secrets," he said. He was a year out of a long-term relationship and looking for love, but he didn’t anticipate finding it on another man’s lap. Later at the party, she ran into him alone in an empty room. Spontaneously, they hugged and then began talking. She soon learned she had seen Mr. Das Mann at the Burning Man arts festival in 2005. She had been captivated by one of his artistic collaborations: a 40-foot steel sculpture of a mother passing fire to her child. After viewing it, she approached the longhaired, bearded "older hippie dude" to thank him for his work. She hadn’t recognized Mr. Das Mann, who now had short hair and was clean-shaven, with mischievous blue-green eyes. After two hours, Ms. Benner, whose onstage persona is described as half Lucille Ball and half Charlie Chaplin, told a joke. He didn’t laugh. Instead, he asked pointedly: "Have I really found you? Are you the one?" Before she could answer, Ms. Benner’s boyfriend entered the room, and she left with him.
Ms. Benner, who is known for her common sense, woke the next day feeling uncharacteristically confused. "I felt more connected to Dan than the person who I was meant to be in love with," she said. Mr. Das Mann was not her type: he was older than her dating range, four inches shorter than she was, and much more unconventional as an artist and developer of workspaces for artists. For Mr. Das Mann, who is known for his determination, the next day meant calling his mother, Barbara Lowry of Dallas, as he did daily. "I told her I’d found the one I am going to marry," he said. "Only she had a boyfriend." Ms. Lowry describes her son as "a force" and "able to accomplish absurd achievements against all odds." She had no doubt her son would prevail. "There’s no give-up in Danny, she said.
A week later, after exchanging a few texts, Mr. Das Mann and Ms. Benner agreed to meet when she was visiting family in the Bay Area for the holidays. They could be friends, she told him, refusing to call it a date. It was a marathon day; they shared a formal tea ceremony, went bowling and saw a movie. The "non date" was filled with witty conversation, laughter and a deep familiarity. A second outing was equally adventurous and similarly chaste. "I felt pretty sure that if I pushed, Lindsay would bolt," said Mr. Das Mann, who that week saw her perform her act at the waterfront. He was in awe: she charmed her audience with her flashing blue eyes, then persuaded them to pay for a show that minutes before they had no intention of seeing. "Lindsay is fearless," he said. Later that week, the third time they were together, he couldn’t help himself. He made his move: a single kiss. "In that kiss I saw a vision of my future: full of amazing people, adventures and creativity," she said. But she was torn; she told him she had to see the other relationship through or she would forever wonder what-if.
For six weeks, she juggled the weight of the two relationships — a precarious feat. She and Mr. Das Mann exchanged more than a thousand texts, and then, overwhelmed, she asked for a complete break. Mr. Das Mann, impressed by her kindness and integrity, respected her wish, but then he broke the silence with a single text of one comma. "The comma was to signify that in my opinion, we were just on pause," he said.
On Valentine’s Day weekend in 2010, the drama peaked. She was to perform at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles. He was in town for a party in which he would coach guests to weld an enormous sculpture. But Cupid had a sense of humor: Ms. Benner’s boyfriend, who was also a producer of artistic performances, was Mr. Das Mann’s supervisor at that event. Ms. Benner said her boyfriend was aware and apprehensive of the connection between her and Mr. Das Mann. That night, Mr. Das Mann slipped away to see her show (without the approval of his supervisor). Seeing Mr. Das Mann in the audience, Ms. Benner realized he had been devoted to her from the moment he met her. "He’d supported me artistically, and in my hard decision-making," she said. "My happiness mattered to him." With Mr. Das Mann waiting nearby, she made a teary breakup call that night, freeing herself to follow her heart. Then, she fell into Mr. Das Mann’s arms. "Can we go home now?" he recalled asking her.
That night, their first together, they each proposed marriage. On June 15, after three years of worldwide adventures and mutual support of their artistic pursuits, the couple married at the Ralston White Retreat in Mill Valley, Calif., with the Rev. Patricia de Jong, a Congregationalist minister, officiating. The 130 guests, including Ms. Benner’s parents, Patricia E. Benner, a retired professor at the University of California, San Francisco, and Richard V. Benner, an organizational sociologist and former assistant dean at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, watched as the ceremony began with a juggler, then the entrance of eight hirsute groomsmen in gold-and-purple faux fur coveralls cut like tuxedos. ("I hope the mother of the bride forgives me," said Mr. Das Mann, who had surprised his attendants with the outrageous outfits.)
Circled by redwoods towering into a clear blue sky, sparks flew as men wielding torches cut figures into a steel door through which the couple entered. The couple vowed to "be insane, just the way you like it" and to always juggle and dance. The bride, in a one-shouldered custom dress from Thailand, occasionally stole the show with her off-the-cuff humor and pantomime. "Many men have fallen in Lindsay’s shadow," said Solana Fuller, the maid of honor. "She’s met her counterpart." During his toast, the bride’s father choked with emotion. "Lindsay and Dan will encounter many things in their future," he said, "but never boredom."
Each guest received a river rock, laser-engraved with an address on the outside and sent through the United States Postal Service. The rock was sliced and bound with wire, and inside were the laser-engraved details of the wedding. The rocks were meant to signify the couple’s lasting commitment. (Only one recipient called the police, fearing it was a grenade.)
20 June 2013
Click image to enlarge
This is just the best thing ever. Click here to start your virtual tour.
|The protuberances on this 3-D model of a neuron|
are “pre-synaptic terminals” – points where the
cell will form connections with other neurons.
The researchers behind the BigBrain, led by Katrin Amunts at the Research Centre Jülich and the Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf in Germany, imaged the brain of a healthy deceased 65-year-old woman using MRI and then embedded the brain in paraffin wax and cut it into 7,400 slices, each just 20 micrometers thick. Each slice was mounted on a slide and digitally imaged using a flatbed scanner.
Alan Evans, a professor at the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and senior author of a paper that reports the results in the journal Science, says his team then took on “the technical challenge of trying to stitch together 7,500 sheets of Saran wrap” into a three-dimensional object using digital image processing. Many slices had small rips, tears, and distortions, so the team manually edited the images to fix major signs of damage and then used an automated program for minor fixes. Guided by previously taken MRI images and relationships between neighboring sections, they then aligned the sections to create a continuous 3-D object representing about a terabyte of data.
|Researchers used a tool called a microtome to cut a brain into slices 20 micrometers thick.|
Evans says that existing three-dimensional atlases of human brain anatomy are usually limited by the resolution of MRI images—about a millimeter. The BigBrain atlas, in contrast, makes it possible to zoom in to about 20 micrometers in each dimension. That’s not enough to analyze individual brain cells, but it makes it possible to distinguish how layers of cells are organized in the brain.
Joshua Sanes, a neuroscientist at Harvard University, says the project represents one step toward realizing neuroscientists’ aspiration of looking at the human brain “with the sort of cellular resolution [with which] we can look at mouse or fly brains.” But while the atlas is a technical achievement that gives an unprecedented view of an entire brain’s anatomy, it can’t answer questions about brain activity or function, or about the connections between brain cells. The atlas also represents only a single brain, so it doesn’t capture variability between brains.
But Evans says it can be an important resource for future research. One of the larger goals of several brain initiatives worldwide—including the European project and the nascent BRAIN Initiative in the U.S. (see “The Brain Activity Map”)—is to integrate different kinds of data about brain structure and function, he says, and to create computational models of the brain to study processes such as childhood development or neurological diseases. Evans says such work depends on having a clear picture of the brain’s anatomy as a reference, and the BigBrain can serve as a platform on which other information can be mapped. “It’s the mother ship,” he says.
The researchers plan to lead studies integrating the BigBrain with other kinds of data, examining questions such as how genes are expressed and how neurotransmitters are distributed across the brain. They hope to repeat this work in other brains to start to look at how their structures vary.
MIT Technology Review
17 June 2013
13 June 2013
Little Jaxson Denno was fully expecting to hang out with The Invincible Iron Man when his mom told him Tony Stark was shooting a movie in his neck of the woods. Needless to say, the 18-month-old Western Massachusetts native was none-too-pleased when he ended up meeting Robert Downey, Jr. instead. A ... photo of their encounter show[s] Jaxson bawling his eyes out as a perplexed Downey attempts to console him. "He was fine as soon as he talked to him," said Jaxson's mom Heather. She explained that Jaxson was "confused because I kept telling him it was Iron Man and he knew it wasn't. Well, not Iron Man in the suit."Gawker
It is one of the best newspaper apologies ever.
The Sun says it's sorry for the weekend report "Flying saucers over British Scientology HQ" — flat silver discs were seen hovering by three airplane pilots — explaining, "Following a letter from lawyers for the Church, we apologise to any alien lifeforms for linking them to Scientologists."
As Lawrence Wright reported in his book Going Clear, the Church of Scientology in infamous for aggressively suing its critics for libel — something that's all the more dangerous in Britain, where it's a lot easier to win libel suits. It's so easy that Going Clear was not published in Britain.
The Atlantic Wire
09 June 2013
08 June 2013
06 June 2013
05 June 2013
01 June 2013
Glenn Hodges writing for National Geographic:
Cahokia was the apogee, and perhaps the origin, of what anthropologists call Mississippian culture—a collection of agricultural communities that reached across the American Midwest and Southeast starting before A.D. 1000 and peaking around the 13th century. The idea that American Indians could have built something resembling a city was so foreign to European settlers, that when they encountered the mounds of Cahokia—the largest of which is a ten-story earthen colossus composed of more than 22 million cubic feet of soil—they commonly thought they must have been the work of a foreign civilization: Phoenicians or Vikings or perhaps a lost tribe of Israel. Even now, the idea of an Indian city runs so contrary to American notions of Indian life that we can't seem to absorb it, and perhaps it's this cognitive dissonance that has led us to collectively ignore Cahokia's very existence. Have you ever heard of Cahokia? In casual conversation, I've found almost no one outside the St. Louis area who has.Link