Discover Pemmican, The Power Bar Invented Centuries Ago by Native American Tribes

Outdoor enthusiasts of a non-vegetarian stripe, do you weary of garden variety energy bars and trail mix?

Perhaps you’re feeling adventurous enough to make your own pemmican, variously described by Tasting Historys Max Miller, above, as “history’s Power Bar” and “a meaty version of a survival food that has a shelf life not measured in months but in decades, just like hard tack.”

Perhaps you’re already well acquainted with this  low-carb, ketogenic portable provision, a culinary staple of the upper half of North America long before the first European traders set foot on the land. Many indigenous communities across North America are still producing pemmican for both personal and ceremonial consumption.

Back in 1743, Hudson’s Bay Company fur trader James Isham was one of the first to document pemmican production for an English readership:

 [Meat] beat between two Stones, till some of itt is as small as Dust…when pounded they putt itt into a bag and will Keep for several Years, the Bones they also pound small and Boil them…to Reserve the fatt, which fatt is fine and sweet as any Butter…Reckon’d by some Very good food by the English as well as Natives.

Perhaps now would be a good time to give thanks for the plentiful food options most of us have access to in the 21st-century (and pay it forward with a donation to an organization fighting food insecurity…)

A time may come when knowing how to make pemmican could give us a leg up on surviving, but for now, execution of this recipe is likely more of a curiosity satisfier.

To be fair, it’s not designed to be a delicacy, but rather an extremely long lasting source of calories, four times as nourishing as the same weight of fresh meat.

If you want to try it, lay in 2 pounds of meat – bison is historically the most popular and most documented, but deer, elk, moose, beef, fish, or fowl work well too.

You’ll also need an equal amount of suet, though heed Miller’s advice and add just enough to make things stick.

Bump the flavor up a notch with ground dried berries, sugar, or salt.

(Miller went the traditional route with chokeberries, procured in an extremely 21st-century manner.)

In terms of appliances, feel free to use such modern conveniences as your oven, your blender, and a small pan or mold.

(Please report back if you take the old school route with fire, direct sunlight, mortar, pestle, and a bag formed from undressed hide.)

Given Miller’s response to the finished dish, we’re hunching most of us will rest content to feast on historical context alone, as Miller digs into the Pemmican Proclamation of 1814, the Seven Oaks Incident and the unique role the biracial, bilingual Métis people of Canada played in the North American fur trade

Those still up for it should feel free to take their pemmican to the next level by boiling it with wild onions or the tops of parsnips, to produce a rubaboo or rechaud, as bushcrafter Mark Young does below.

You can also get a taste of pemmican by ordering the Tanka Bars that Oglala Lakota-owned small business produces on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation.

Watch more of Max Miller’s Tasting History videos here.

– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday. 

A Street Musician Plays Pink Floyd’s “Time” in Front of the 1,900-Year-Old Pantheon in Rome

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon we bring you this: a busker fittingly playing “Time” in front of the nearly 2000-year-old Pantheon in Rome. That the police try to break up the show hardly matters. The busker continues, and returns on other days to play “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” and “Comfortably Numb.” If you’re a Pink Floyd fan, this scene may call to mind Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii, the 1972 concert documentary that featured the band playing eight songs amidst the ruins of Pompeii. Rock among the rocks. You can explore that scene here.

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Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon Turns 50: Hear It Get Psychoanalyzed by Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin


Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon Turns 50: Hear It Get Psychoanalyzed by Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin

Coming after the maturation of the market for high-fidelity stereo systems but before the advent of home video, the nineteen-seventies provided just the right cultural and economic conditions for a heroic age of the record album. What’s Going On, Blue, Blood on the Tracks, Exile on Main Street, Born to Run, Rumours, Aja: that these and other seventies releases always rank high on best-of-all-time lists can be no accident. But no other mega-selling album of that decade achieved quite the combination of commercial and critical success as Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, which was originally released fifty years ago yesterday — and which remains on the Billboard charts today.

“In 1973, Pink Floyd was a somewhat known progressive rock band,” writes neuroscientist and music producer Daniel Levitin, but The Dark Side of the Moon “catapulted them into world class rock-star status.”

Its masterful engineering “propelled the music off of any sound system to become an all-encompassing, immersive experience” comprising songs that “flow into one another symphonically, with seamless musical coherence, as though written as part of a single melodic and harmonic gesture. Lyric themes of madness and alienation connect throughout,” enlivened by an “array of new electronic sounds, spatialization, pitch and time bending” as well as “clocks, alarms, chimes, cash registers, footsteps” and other elements not normally heard in rock music.

This description comes from an essay Levitin wrote for the Library of Congress in 2012, when The Dark Side of the Moon was inducted into the US National Recording Registry. For the album’s fiftieth anniversary, National Public Radio’s Morning Edition invited him to psychoanalyze it on-air. “Themes of madness and alienation permeate the record,” he says, making reference to the story of departed Pink Floyd member Syd Barrett. But “we can’t know for sure which specific lyrics were about Barrett, as opposed, more generally, to mental anguish,” a condition bound to afflict anyone too deep into the rock-star lifestyle.

In The Dark Side of the Moon‘s lyrics Levitin hears Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters’ metaphorical treatment of the difficult decision to fire Barrett, as well as his realization that “life wasn’t going to start later. It had started. And the idea of ‘Time’ was to grasp the reins and start guiding your own destiny.” As on the album as a whole, the theme comes through in not just the words but the soundscape: “Right off the bat, they’re playing with time. You hear that clop-clop sound, like a heartbeat or a clock ticking. And you think that the higher-pitched one is the downbeat. But as soon as the instruments come in, you realize you’re off the beat, and everything’s upside down. And your sense of time is distorted.”

Musical artistry accounts in part for the album’s massive success in part, but only in part. Storm Thorgerson’s iconic cover art, still seen on the walls of college dorm rooms today, also had something to do with its success as both cultural phenomenon and consumer product. But it could hardly have sold more than 45 million copies to date without chancing to hit the zeitgeist at a favorable angle: as Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason said, it was “not only about being a good album but also about being in the right place at the right time.” And with the heroic age of the album long over, The Dark Side of the Moon — a newly re-recorded version of which Waters announced just this year — isn’t about to be eclipsed.

Related content:

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“The Dark Side of the Moon” and Other Pink Floyd Songs Gloriously Performed by Irish & German Orchestras

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

John Cleese on How “Stupid People Have No Idea How Stupid They Are” (Otherwise Known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect)

Monty Python icon John Cleese had this to say about Marjorie Taylor Greene yesterday: “She is the perfect example of someone who is not intelligent enough to realise that she’s not very intelligent. Hence her enormous self-confidence. Sadly, her supporters are even less intelligent than she is. Hence their confidence in her.” It turns out that, as Cleese further explains in the video above, there’s a scientific term for MTG’s condition–the Dunning–Kruger effect, “a cognitive bias wherein unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is accurate” owing to “a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude” (and, by the same token, of “highly skilled individuals to underestimate their relative competence, erroneously assuming that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others”). This condition gets its name from Cornell University researchers Justin Kruger and David Dunning, the latter of whom Cleese–who has spent time at Cornell as a long-term visiting professor–counts as a friend. You can learn more about the Dunning–Kruger effect here.

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The Military Adventures of Alexander the Great: An Animated Documentary Shows How He Conquered Most of the Known World (336-323 BC)

To learn about history is to learn about war, or so it can feel when you go far back enough in time. And in any era of antiquity, few could have matched Alexander the Great’s mastery of that art. After becoming kind of the Macedon in 336 BC, at the age of 20, he spent a decade conquering other lands in order to build a vast empire stretching from Greece to India. How he managed to pull it off is the subject of the nearly hour-long Epic History TV video above, which traces Alexander’s life and reign over ever-vaster swathes of the then-known world.

Re-creating all the battles of Alexander’s conquest with not just maps but 3D animation as well, the production makes clearly legible the kind of violent conflicts that, no doubt chaotic when experienced on the battlefield, can also be difficult to follow in the pages of a textbook.

Its graphics and narration break down everything from how Alexander initially arranged his troops to how he responded, blow by blow, to the moves of enemy forces. All of it added up to a military strategy that kept Alexander undefeated in battle despite often having been outnumbered, and whose details are still studied today.

By his mid-twenties, Alexander had conquered the once-mighty Persian Empire. But with the ambition befitting a victorious young man — not to mention one who’d been tutored by Aristotle himself — he would settle for nothing less than ruling the world, or at least the world as a Greek in the fourth century BC would have conceived of it, and he managed to get quite close to that goal before his death at the age of 32. That he was felled by an illness rather than in war is one of history’s great ironies, given that he’d personally led his troops into all their battles. As for the fact that we remember Alexander’s name well over two millennia after his death, it’s safe to say that it wouldn’t surprise him.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Ukraine Releases a Banksy Stamp That Features a Kid Judo Flipping an Older Man Resembling Vladimir Putin

Last fall, Banksy traveled to Ukraine and spray-painted a series of murals that offered a stinging commentary on the war launched by Vladimir Putin and Russia’s military forces. Now, to mark the first anniversary of the invasion, a defiant Ukraine has released an official postage stamp featuring one of Banksy’s murals. It depicts a young boy judo flipping an older man on his back. Seeing that Putain likes to pretend that he’s a judo expert (he does the same with hockey too), it’s not hard to get the message here. But just for good measure, the Ukrainians drive the point home with a little shorthand at the bottom of the stamp. Translating the Cyrillic script, it reads “FCK PTN!” And who could disagree.

via Hyperallergic

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Venice’s Canals Have Run Dry During a Winter Drought, Leaving Gondolas Stuck in the Mud

When Venice was way under water a decade ago, we posted about it here on Open Culture. By that time, the City of Canals was supposed to have been protected by MOSE, a $7 billion flood-control system not actually completed until 2021. But a drought struck the following year, and what afflicts Venice right now isn’t an excess of water but a lack of it. “Weeks of dry winter weather have raised concerns that Italy could face another drought after last summer’s emergency,” reports Reuters, “with the Alps having received less than half of their normal snowfall.”

Venice in particular “faces unusually low tides that are making it impossible for gondolas, water taxis and ambulances to navigate some of its famous canals,” a phenomenon blamed on a combination of factors including “the lack of rain, a high pressure system, a full moon, and sea currents.”

The Guardian video above includes, among other dispiriting scenes, a gondolier struggling to maneuver through one of the canals of Venice not quite reduced to muddy ditches. It also shows the contrast with the flooding Venice endured as recently as 2019, which had tourists and locals alike up to their knees in water.

These conditions are striking, but not unprecedented in Venice’s history of over a millennium and a half. “Although they’ve become significantly less frequent over the past two decades due to rising sea levels, Venice still sees one to ten low tides every year,” writes The Local‘s Giampietro Vianello. “The city has seen 160 low tides with levels equal to or lower than -90cm since 1872, whereas the current tide has ‘only’ reached the -70cm mark so far.” Forecasts do indicate a rainfall to come across northern Italy, but at least until then, modern-day Robert Benchleys will have to alter their message back home: “Streets empty of water. Please advise.”

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Michelangelo’s Illustrated Grocery List

Image by Casa Buonarroti, via Wikimedia Commons

I admit to having a hard time keeping grocery lists. Do I write them by hand? If so, do I do it in a dedicated notebook, on a refrigerator pad, or on any old scrap I find around? Do I compose them electronically, using some combination of my computer, my phone, and other, more specialized devices? And do I keep separate lists for separate trips to separate stores? (Certain delicacies, after all, you can only get at Trader Joe’s.)

Living in the 15th and 16th centuries, the Italian High Renaissance sculptor, painter, architect, poet, and engineer Michelangelo faced a rather less complicated shopping problem: he had only to send assistants off to market to bring back what he needed. Though vanishingly few of this prolific creator’s papers survive today, we do happen to have a few of the grocery lists he sent with them, like that which you see above.

John Updike once wrote that “excellence in the great things is built upon excellence in the small,” and the observation holds up ideally when we think about Michelangelo’s numerous great achievements — PietàDavidThe Last Judgment, St. Peter’s Basilica — in comparison to this humble yet striking rundown of ingredients for a meal, of the same basic kind each of us scrawl out regularly. But when Michelangelo scrawled, he scrawled with both a craftsman’s practical precision and an artist’s evocative flair. “Because the servant he was sending to market was illiterate,” writes the Oregonian‘s Steve Duin in a review of a Seattle Art Museum show, “Michelangelo illustrated the shopping lists — a herring, tortelli, two fennel soups, four anchovies and ‘a small quarter of a rough wine’ — with rushed (and all the more exquisite for it) caricatures in pen and ink.” As we can see, the true Renaissance Man didn’t just pursue a variety of interests, but applied his mastery equally to tasks exceptional and mundane. Which, of course, renders the mundane exceptional.

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Kurt Vonnegut Diagrams the Shape of All Stories: From Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” to “Cinderella”

Few American novelists of the twentieth century looked as professorial as Kurt Vonnegut, at least in a rumpled-fixture-of-the-English-department way. But though he did rack up some teaching experience, not least at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he could hardly have been a conventional lecturer. This is evidenced by the 2004 clip above, in which he explains his ideas about the “shapes” taken by all stories — an idea he first formally presented as his master’s thesis in anthropology at the University of Chicago. Though the thesis itself was rejected (a quarter-century later, the university accepted Cat’s Cradle in its stead), its ideas proved powerful enough to entertain Vonnegut’s audiences up until the end of his life.

On his chalkboard, Vonnegut draws a vertical and a horizontal axis: the former charts the protagonist’s fortune, good or ill, and the latter represents time (from B to E: “beginning, entropy”). He then plots the curve of an especially simple and reliable story form, “man in a hole,” which involves someone getting into trouble — downward turns the slope — then getting back out again.

But the protagonist should end up a bit higher on the scale of fortune than he began, because “the reader thinks, ‘Well, by God, I’m a human being too. I must have that much in reserve if I get into trouble.” Then come the stories of other shapes, including such popular favorites as “Cinderella” and Kafka’s Metamorphosis.

“This rise and fall,” Vonnegut warns us, “is, in fact, artificial. It pretends that we know more about life than we really do.” When he attempts to describe the shape of Hamlet, he ends up coming across one reason the play is regarded as a work of genius: “we are so seldom told the truth,” but Shakespeare tells us the truth that “we don’t know enough about life to know what the good news is and what the bad news is.” Rather, “all we do is echo the feelings of people around us.” As Vonnegut’s readers know, a dimmer view of human nature than his would be hard to come by. But if he didn’t have faith the ability of stories to teach us good from bad, he did have faith in their ability to teach us that we aren’t about to figure it out for ourselves.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Retired Math Teacher Helps Students Learn Geometry Through Quilting

Some real talk from retired geometry teacher Wendy Lichtman, above, the author of several math-themed YA novels:

Not many 15-year-olds care that two parallel lines are crossed by a transversal.

“But right here are two parallel lines,” she continues, pointing to a pink and orange quilt. “and these are transversals, and they are at a 90º angle and it feels real. You’ve gotta get it to look right.”

The teenaged participants in the Oakland, California program she founded to demystify geometry through hands-on quiltmaking get it to look right by plotting their designs on graph paper, carefully measuring and cutting shapes from bright calico of their own choosing. (Licthman has committed to buttoning her lip if their favored print is not to her taste.)

Lichtman came up with this creative approach to help a bright student who was in danger of not graduating, having flunked geometry three times.

She details their journey in How to Make a Geometric Quilt, an essay formatted as step-by-step instructions…not for quiltmaking but rather how those in the teaching profession can lead with humility and determination, while maintaining good boundaries.

Some highlights:

6. Sometime after the sewing has begun, and the math notebook is ignored for weeks, begin to worry that your student is not really learning geometry.  She’s learning sewing and she’s learning to fix a broken bobbin, but really, geometry?

7. Remind yourself that this kid needs a quilt as much as she needs geometry.

8. Remember, also, the very, very old woman who taught you hat-making one night long ago.  She had gone to school only through 5th grade because, she said, she was a Black child in the deep south and that’s how it was back then.  Think about how she explained to the hat-making class that to figure out the length of the hat’s brim, you needed to measure from the center to the edge with a string and then do “three of those and a little bit more,” and remember how you sat in awe, because three radii and a little bit more is the definition of pi, and this hat-maker had evidently discovered for herself the formula for circumference.

As the two become better acquainted, the student let her guard down, revealing more about her situation while they swapped stories of their mothers.

But this was no easy A.

In addition to expecting regular, punctual attendance, Lictman stipulated that in order to pass, the student could not give the fruits of her labor away.

(Solid advice for creators of any craft project this ambitious. As Debbie Stoller, author of Stitch ‘n Bitch: The Knitter’s Handbook counsels:

…those who have never knit something have no idea how much time it took. If you give someone a sweater, they may think that you made that in an evening when you were watching a half-hour sitcom. It’s only when people actually attempt to knit that they finally get this realization, this light bulb goes on over their heads, and they realize that, “Wow, this actually takes some skill and some time. I’ve got newfound respect for my grandma.”)

Ultimately, Lichtman concludes that the five credits she awarded her student could not be reduced to something as simple as geometry or quilt-making;

You are giving her credit for something less tangible.  Something like pride.  Five credit hours for feeling she can accomplish something hard that, okay, is slightly related to geometry.

Examples of the current cohort’s work can be seen on Rock Paper Scissors Collective‘s Instagram.

Once completed, these quilts will be donated to Bay Area foster children and pediatric patients at the local Children’s Hospital.

via BoingBoing

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Via Boing Boing

– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Why Maya Angelou’s Memoir I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Became One of the Most Banned Books of All Time

Some good news: Maya Angelou’s 1969 memoir I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, a recounting of her first 17 years, including a rape at the age of 7 or 8 by her mother’s boyfriend, and her subsequent emotional trauma, no longer leads the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom’s list of banned and challenged books.

The bad news: there will always be titles assigned to high schoolers that vividly depict young people’s actual experience, that parents and community groups will target on similar grounds.

New African listed some of the verbatim objections that have been leveled against I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – that it encouraged “profanity”, was filled with “descriptions of drug abuse, sexually explicit conduct and torture”, preached “bitterness and hatred against whites”, was “likely to corrupt minors” and contained “inappropriately explicit sexual scenes.”

Angelou, who accused the book’s detractors of not reading more than two words of it, bridled that anyone would “act as if their children are not faced with the same threats.”

Mollie Godfrey’s TED-Ed lesson, animated by Laura White. above, points out how radical Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings was for a work of its time:

Her autobiography was one of the first to speak openly about child sexual abuse and especially groundbreaking to do so from the perspective of the abused child. For centuries Black women writers have been limited by stereotypes characterizing them as hypersexual. Afraid of reinforcing these stereotypes, few were willing to write about their sexuality at all but Angelou refused to be constrained. She publicly explored her most personal experience without apology or shame.

Robert P. Doyle, vice-president of the Freedom to Read Foundation, revealed that the ALA was inspired to launch Banned Books Week in 1982, when the American Booksellers Association displayed I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and other works in a cage outside the entrance to their annual conference:

The display generated a lot of press attention. And the book community realized that we have not only an opportunity, but a responsibility to engage the American public in a conversation about the First Amendment as it relates to books and literature. A coalition was formed immediately with the authors, publishers, and major distribution centers (bookstores and libraries) in the U.S. to draw attention to the importance of the freedom to read, to publicize threats to that freedom, and to provide information to combat the lack of awareness.

Many of the book’s high profile defenders discovered it at a formative age, including rapper Common, who decided to become a writer after encountering it as a 5th grader, and Oprah Winfrey, who was blown away to learn that another young Black girl had also endured sexual abuse:

I read those words and thought, “Somebody knows who I am.”

No less moving is a comment on Godfrey’s TED-Ed lesson left by a teacher in Texas:

Caged Bird helped saved my life. Thankful for the day my 11th grade English teacher at a conservative Christian school handed it to me and said, “read this, sweet pea”…I still encourage my students at a conservative Christian school in TX to read it.”

“I am glad you got the help you needed,” another viewer responded. “I live in Florida, and that teacher who helped you would be charged with a felony here. I’m dead serious.”

Listen to Maya Angelou discuss I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in this 1970  interview with Studs Terkel. 

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– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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