Of Giants and Meat

Pondering the obvious can sometimes produce fruits.

Civilization—if we wish to call it that—could not have taken place without the development of agriculture.  People started living more in fixed places.  Also agriculture required the collective efforts of a good number of people.  Social forms—heretofore unknown—called “laws” had to be developed to organize the work force.  Also the rulers built monuments to scare the people into submission.

Regarded from the point of view of calories, agriculture is relatively inefficient.  One had to expend many calories to get the calories derived from grains. 

Before the end of the last ice age, about 11,000 years ago, big meat, in the form of your mastodon, or bison, and even your woolly rhinoceros, not to mention your poor, defenseless flightless birds, was abundant.  Sure hunting could be risky business, but the payoff in calories gained over calories expended was enormous compared to the payoff from agriculture.  As a result, these early human beings, if they did not die at birth, or were not carried off by some disease, or were not killed in a hunting accident, grew to be quite large.  Homo Erectus, one of the early meat eaters, may have been on average six feet tall.

When human beings however began to cultivate grain because of the calorie reduction, they shrank, so the fossil record suggests, by at least four inches, and continued to shrink well into modern times.  Modern times, in this case, being the Romans, whom, I have read, were about five feet tall.



Which got me to thinking.  The Greeks were not the only people to develop myths that included as an integral part: Giants.  Perhaps in some dim historical way—and perhaps too through oral tradition—the Greeks and other peoples “remembered” that time before agriculture, when human beings lived high off the hog and grew to be quite huge.  Perhaps they even came upon skeletons of these meat eaters, and began to imagine a previous time when Giants roamed the earth, and people lived hundreds of years.

Also could it be that these meat eaters provided the archetype for the Greek Gods.  These Gods, as I remember it, were not at all civilized.  They were arrogant, arbitrary, rapacious, and lawless.  May we find in them the nostalgic musings of your humble grain eater, more and more fettered by laws, working his or her life away in the burning sun for a few paltry grains of tasteless wheat or cracked corn, yearning for the time of Meat?


I think I have read too many Victorian novels.  Possibly in one of those, a character actually said, “Egad!”  Possibly the same character said, “Gadzooks!”  I don’t know that I have heard either spoken in real life.

But my GAD in “eGad” stands for Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  Trying to give a name to my current wretched emotional state I went on line and took a little self-diagnostic test for GAD.  Questions like the following appeared:

Yes or No? Are you troubled by:

·        Excessive worry, occurring more days than not, for a least six months?

·        Unreasonable worry about a number of events or activities, such as work or school and/or health?

·        The inability to control the worry?

Are you bothered by a least three of the following?

·        Restlessness, feeling keyed-up or on edge?

·        Being easily tired?

·        Problems concentrating?

·        Irritability?

·        Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, or restless and unsatisfying sleep?

·        Sad or depressed?

·        Disinterested in life?

·        Worthless or guilty?

I responded “yes” to each of these questions.  I mean, natch.  What else could the answer be?  So I guess I have GAD, though maybe these are trick questions or just stupid ones. 

How much should I trust a site that uses “disinterested” incorrectly?  “Disinterested” means “objective” and should not be confused with the word they want, “uninterested.”

This appeared on the American Association of Anxiety Disorders site.  You would think an organization with such an imposing name would have a proof reader or at least one person among them who knows something about usage.

eGAD—something more to worry about.

Memorial Day 08

Yesterday, the day before Memorial Day 08, we saw beaucoup pelicans near Goleta Beach:






Memorial Day morning we hop in the Toyota and a 15 minute drive takes us from Pelicans and the Pacific into the Mountains:

Word is some of the terrain out yonder gets less rain per year than the Sahara.  But as the vegetation in the foreground indicates, this range of mountains, nearest the ocean but on the opposite side from it, gets some rain. 


Having been reintroduced into the wilds, a few of the remaining California Condor may still live back in that direction.


That spot of blue in the midrange is a portion of Lake Cachuma, created by the damning of the Santa Inez River and the primary source of water for SB.

Variable Weather

Last weekend Carol and I walked out to the bluffs the temp. was in the 80’s.  We decided to walk right down to the beach for the first time in months to see if we could get cooler.  But no luck.  Still hot.


A week later it was cold, windy, and rainy.


Perhaps because of the weather the birds were very active:


Pelicans going this way and that and back again….



And vultures were circling something down below:



I am like 99% positive that this is a Western Turkey Vulture. 


Food as Commodity

Food Riots have broken out in portions of the globe; for some time now the Egyptian Army has been baking bread for the people.

So what’s the problem given especially that last year’s grain crop was the largest ever in the history of the world.

Well, that is the problem, not under, but over-production.

At one point, the people who sold food were concerned with overproduction.  They mourned the inelasticity of the human stomach. 

Right now in the US of A, agribusiness produces twice as many calories per day per person as are necessary for the survival and good health of any one person.  So let us say the average American requires for the purpose of survival and good health about 2000 calories a day.  That we might say is what a person would “need,” with variations of course for larger men, smaller women, and children. 

But the industry produces about 4000 calories per person per day.  The cheapness of food (that goes along with over production) as well as mass advertising has encouraged individuals to eat further into that 2000 extra calories roaming around out there just waiting to be devoured.

The problem is, as one person puts it, food has become a commodity.  Well, what else could it be, one might say.  But the definition of a commodity these days is not that of things bought and sold, but of the individual’s subjective relation to the thing purchased.  One “needs” 2000 calories, but one “desires” a Big Mac with heaps of bacon on top, plus cheese.  Desire, endless desire, pushes people further and further into those 2000 surplus calories.

Another way to conceive the problem.  Estimates in 2006 put the hungry at about 800 million and the obese at about 1 billion.  That’s staggering.  The problem will continue to grow as more developing nations adopt the eating habits of the West. 

Marion Nestle in her book on the politics of food reports the fight and the failure finally of the nutritional people, against the pressure of the food industry, to get written on that Infamous Food Pyramid: Eat Less!

Deeply Out of It

I have long tried, as an integral part of my teaching, to learn more about students in their social, cultural particularity.  I have done this partly by noting the differences between us, most especially the inter-generational gap.  Today I felt as if I had fallen more into an inter-generational abyss.

Students are giving their oral reports; and one student is trying to discuss the cell phone and its use among college students.  She wants to investigate the paradox: that while the cell encourages ongoing communication with people one already knows (from clear back in high school for example) it may—by just that fact—inhibit one’s ability to establish new connections with those in the immediate surroundings.

So to get the class engage a bit, she asked some survey questions.  The first one was:  how many people use their cell phone as their alarm clock.  All but three people raised hands in the affirmative.  I didn’t even know the cell phone could be used as an alarm clock?  I was nonplussed.  And to think, there sits that cell right next to the bed, the first thing your average student sees upon waking.

The next question was: how many at this very moment have the phone out where you can see it, right there on the desk.  I hadn’t thought to look till she asked.  Since she was upfront giving the report, I was sitting “with” the students, though more up towards the front.  I couldn’t see the whole room from where I was sitting, but looking off to the right I saw them everywhere..  Right there, usually in the upper right hand corner of desk.  Two thirds of the students raised their hands.  And probably more would have done so had I not been looking.

The student asked me to close my eyes for the next question:  how many students consult their cells during class.  I did as she asked so I don’t know the answer to that one—though I expect it was somewhere in the two thirds area again, maybe higher.

The student asked some other questions too but I have forgotten them.  Maybe I wasn’t paying attention.  And again in the discussion that followed many students said they felt very emotionally connected to their cell phones and that when they forgot them at home or misplaced them they felt lost, even anxious.

While the next student set up her oral report—she was having technical problems—the student next to me show me her Iphone.  I have to say that was one impressive phone; you could spend all day poking at that thing—texting friends, or checking the weather, or finding out what happened to Brittany on her big day, or seeing what time it is in Hong Kong.

She could check her email too with that phone, and in a couple of clicks pulled up the email I had sent to the whole class reminding them on what was on tap for that day.

I have to ponder this some more, but for that moment I felt deeply out of it.

Old Books

I have spent the better part of the last two days going over research proposals for my research paper writing class. 

Last week I had them bring in samples of their research, parts of articles they had found on the web, or through the library data base.  Somebody wrote me an email:  Is a book alright?  For God’s sake, yes, I wrote back.

I drifted around between the groups as they exchanged information on their possible research topics.  I stopped when I heard one young woman talking.  She was holding a book in her hand.  An old library book, I could tell, by its thick cover, the kind they used to put on books back in the day to protect them forever. 

The young lady was saying, she had been in the library looking for something and found this book.  She took it down from the shelf because she had seen it mentioned in something else she had been reading related to her research topic.  And she opened it up, she said, and the pages were all yellow with age, and the print was faded, and if you held it up to your nose the book smelled moldy.

She opened the book, as she was sitting there, to show the yellow pages, and the faded lettering, and she started reading she said, and it was like the book had been written yesterday, though really it had been written in 18 something or other.  Way back when.

What was the book, I asked.  By some guy, she said, and said his name wrong.  Thorstein Veblen.  “The Theory of the Leisure Class.”  All about conspicuous consumption.  And he wrote about “predatory capitalism too,” she said.

Just yesterday, she said, looking a little bemused and amused at once.

A great book, I said, and would have said more but stopped because I have been feeling really vulnerable lately and didn’t want to make like an idiot of myself.  Because I was touched.  Somebody, in one of my classes, had actually opened an old book (maybe for the first time)—one all yellow and moldy—and read something that seemed as if it could have been written yesterday.  So perhaps all haphazardly, by way, one might say, of collateral benefit, my writing class contributed to somebody’s real education—by affording that person a moment of historical awareness, of seeing that all that is so pressed up against our faces, and so much now, is not really all that new and that where one is now and where one might be later are part of, extensions and extrapolations of things, long in motion.

I can remember that feeling from back in high school when I started haunting the public library, and opening an old book, and thinking, Damn but this is news!  How come it isn’t on the front page?

Betty, the Uber Crow

The New Yorker had an interesting article dealing with intelligent bird brains.  One such is Betty, the Caledoin crow, who has been studied for some time by one Professor Kacelnick of the UK.

Betty, while just a bird brained crow, makes tools.

They like to eat pig heart—do those crows.  So the Professor put some in a flask and next to that a straight piece of metal and waited to see if Betty and the other crows would use it to get at the pig heart.  Here’s what one report says:

Betty’s tool-making abilities came to light by accident during an experiment in which she and Abel had to choose between a hooked and a straight wire for retrieving small pieces of pig heart, their favorite food. When Abel [another crow] made off with the hooked wire, Betty bent the straight wire into a hook and used the tool to lift a small bucket of food from a vertical pipe. This experiment was the first time the crows had been presented with wire.

The researchers then devised a new experiment to test Betty’s startling behavior systematically. They placed one piece of straight garden wire on top of the tube and waited for either crow to try retrieving the food. In her 10 successful retrievals, Betty bent the wire into a hook nine times. Abel retrieved the food once, without bending the wire.

But what does this prove?  That crows have cognitive abilities heretofore unnoticed?  Not necessarily.  Betty may be a genius crow because it appears the other crows can’t do what Betty does.  For scientists trying to make a general claim this is a problem.  Exceptions don’t prove the rule.

But this got me to wondering.  Perhaps this is always the case.  I know animals learn from each other.  To me that would be the next thing to test.  Did or do the other crows pick up Betty’s wisdom?

And is this perhaps not applicable also to the human species.  If as sociologists say human beings are herd animals, “learning” is pretty much a case of monkey-see, monkey-do.  We “ape” each other.  What if every so often a particularly “intelligent” naked ape came along, did something smart (that increased chances of survival in a particular situation) and us other naked apes picked it up and then passed it along as part of the cultural heritage.

If this is the case, the so-called “progress” of the human race may be the result not of the general intelligence of the species but the product of individual genetic freaks.

God  bless the freaks.

Click here for some video of Betty at work.

Carol’s Presentation

Carol is giving a presentation today over at the university.  They did a nice write up about it in the local, alternative paper, fittingly called "The Independent," as follows:

A Dance of Hope

One Choreographer’s Response to the Holocaust

Friday, May 9, 2008

It’s not news to most of us that dance can tell a story, but we don’t necessarily expect dance to address issues as huge as the Holocaust.

Dr. Carol Press’s “Splinter of Hope” defies expectations.

Press is a choreographer, dancer, writer, and teacher who delights in interdisciplinary research in creativity and psychology. In addition to being a lecturer in UCSB’s Theater and Dance Department, she teaches Dance History at Santa Barbara City College and is a dance artist-in-residence for the Santa Barbara County Schools in California.

Photo: Courtesy Photo

Carol Press

In 2004, Press was approached by psychiatrist, writer, and Holocaust survivor Dr. Anna Ornstein and asked to appear on a panel at a conference addressing our need, as humans, to be creative. Ornstein’s central focus was on the fact that art was made by inmates in Nazi concentration camps, sometimes under penalty of death.

Ornstein had just written My Mother’s Eyes: Holocaust Memories of a Young Girl. A collection of stories to pass down to her children, the book contained an account of the day that she and her mother were branded in Auschwitz.

“I saw a very visceral choreographic image in response to this,” said Press, “and decided that as part of my presentation at the conference, I would dance my response.”

When she showed the work-in-progress to Ornstein, Press discovered that the young girl and her mother remembered the day they were branded with forearm tattoos as a day of hope, as it meant they were to be transferred to a labor camp rather than put to death immediately.

“She got up,” Press said. “This amazing woman—and did one of the movements from my dance. She said that this one in particular had really touched her and reminded her of the feeling that day–of a slight ray of sunshine coming through this incredible darkness.”

Press titled the work “Splinter of Hope.”

“The dance is about a journey,” she said, “an interior landscape. It’s about a woman dealing with trauma by reminding herself what it’s like to feel joy. And that makes it easier to confront the trauma. It’s a way to transform ugliness into beauty.”

On Tuesday, May 13 at UCSB, Press will present Moments of Meeting: Choreographic ‘Moments’ in Response to the Holocaust, a lecture, performance, and workshop where she will speak about the creative process in general and about her process of creating “Splinter of Hope” specifically. This will be the first time the dance has been performed by anyone other than herself; Press has set the piece on Santa Barbara Dance Theatre member Sarah Pon.

“In working with Sarah, and not performing myself, I had the opportunity to make the dance better, and to change parts of it as I went along,” Press said. “Sarah was wonderfully open to that.”

“At first I was a little intimidated,” Pon said of performing the piece. “I thought I didn’t have any tragedy in my life to pull from to find that kind of tortured feeling. But the human emotions of fear and pain and hope and strength are universal. Everyone has experienced them in different ways. So through the narrative and the movement, I’ve started to create my own emotional experience while performing it, even though it’s not the same way Carol has experienced it, with her background.”

After Pon’s performance, Press will facilitate a very simple movement workshop for all attendees, focused on paying attention to the present moment in everyday life, which Press calls “moments of meeting.”

Leslie Hogan composed the music for “Splinter of Hope,” which will be played live by cellist Virginia Kron, onstage in the performance space. It was Hogan and Press’ first collaboration, but they now work together regularly.

“She is amazing,” Press said of Hogan. “The dance was completely choreographed. Then she created the music, which fits like a glove.”

“It helps that I’ve worked with dancers off and on for the past twenty years,” Hogan said. “So it was a process I’d been through before, where the dance had been created in silence, and then I had to figure out what to do with the music. To be perfectly honest, when I first watched the dance I wasn’t convinced it needed any score at all. It seemed to me it was complete in itself.”


Sarah Pon will perform “Splinter of Hope” on Tuesday, May 13 at 5pm at UCSB’s HSSB Ballet Studio as part of Moments of Meeting. The event is free of charge, and is sponsored by the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center and the UCSB Department of Theater and Dance. For more information, visit ihc.ucsb.edu.

The Daily Future

I think I will no longer read about the future.  Doing so irritates the bowel.

I should not read the newspaper since, while it is mostly about what happened yesterday, some of what happened yesterday may have implications for the future.  So I should not pay any attention to it.

Of the newspaper Henry David Thoreau wrote:

Do not read the newspapers.


If words are invented to conceal thought, I think that newspapers are a great improvement on a bad invention.


Blessed are they who never read a newspaper, for they shall see Nature, and, through her, God.  

He also said newspapers are just gossip; but HDT was in not into things so transparently transcient.  He inquired into eternity.

I wonder what he would think of the news today.

The day I read about Peak Oil Production, I went online to check my email, and the first thing on the Yahoo New’s Story List was “Brittany’s Big Day!”  I did not click on “Brittany’s Big Day.” But I assumed the Brittany to which reference was being made was Brittany Spears (is that her name).  Later that day I asked my students what Brittany’s big day had been about.  They said she had to go to court in a fight for the custody of her child.

Well, I suppose that was a big day for Brittany.  But honestly, I can’t see why it would be news for anybody but Brittany.

To see if Brittany’s court case had some implications perhaps for constitutional law, or something important that I was missing, I went back to my Yahoo Page, but the link to “Brittany’s Big Day” was no longer there.  I guess her Big Day was over.

At least with the newspaper, the news happened only daily.

Now it changes by the hour and the minute.