ʿAwālī, Bahrain

And this, my friends, is what landscaping in the Middle East is like:

Before a tree can be planted, a pneumatic drill must penetrate the overlying rock strata, since this Middle Eastern settlement is built on a rocky outcrop.

I never thought I’d be thankful for my yard work.


avoirdupois weight

Try this on for size: A diamond that weighs over a pound!
Try this on for size: A diamond that weighs over a pound!

If you’re like me, sometimes weights and measures are confusing.  For example, I have trouble remembering if a pound has 16 or 12 ounces.  Different weight systems devised by medieval traders are the source of the confusion.

It all depends on what you’re measuring.  For most goods (avoir de pois means “goods of weight”), 16 ounces equals 1 pound.  However, If you’re measuring precious metals, you need to use troy weight, and 12 ounces is a pound there.  Since apothecaries’ weights (for pharmaceuticals) are no longer used, it’s the troy weights that are the source of confusion for me.

And, in case you wondered, diamonds have their own weight measure, the carat.  Wolframalpha.com calculates that it takes 2268 carats to make a pound.  According to Wikipedia, the South African Cullinan diamond, the largest gem-quality diamond ever found, weighs in at 3106.75 carat (621.35 g, 1.37 lb).

Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1HmKCTD

Avoidance relationship

First, a classic mother-in-law joke: “A man, his wife, and his mother-in-law went on vacation to the Holy Land. While they were there, the mother-in-law passed away. The undertaker told them, ‘You can have her shipped home for £5,000, or you can bury her here in the Holy Land for £150.’ The man thought about it and told him he would just have her shipped home. The undertaker asked, ‘Why would you spend £5,000 to ship your mother-in-law home, when it would be wonderful to have her buried here and spend only £150?’ The man replied, ‘A man died here 2,000 years ago, was buried here, and three days later he rose from the dead. I just can’t take that chance.'” (http://abt.cm/1HmH1Ff)

An avoidance relationship is the “institutionalized, formal avoidance of one individual by another”:

A classic example—and one found in numerous and diverse societies—is the mutual avoidance of a mother-in-law and her sons-in-law. In some societies the ideal traditional marriage might join a bride with a groom who is 10–15 years her senior—and often much older than that. In such situations, mothers-in-law and sons-in-law are likely to be of approximately the same age and therefore to be potential (if illicit) sexual partners. The avoidance relationship circumvents such liaisons, at least notionally, by proscribing contact between these individuals. Similar patterns of avoidance have been noted in brother-sister, father-daughter, and father-in-law–daughter-in-law relations.

I thought it was interesting that centuries-old mother-in-law jokes and stories have an anthropological basis.  (Also, why does EB list a father/daughter avoidance relationship but no mother/son one?)

The EB continues: “Many (but not all) cultures that have avoidance relationships also have institutionalized joking relationships, a complementary practice in which specific relatives may tease one another or even engage in ribald exchanges.”  I have always found it interesting to observe the use of humor in my own family.  Our use of humor is usually a form of aggression, though, and I wonder what anthropologists and psychologists would say about that.  (How do your friends and relatives use humor?  Comment below.)

Avila Camacho, Manuel (1897-1955)


Avila was a “soldier and moderate statesman whose presidency (1940–46) saw a consolidation of the social reforms of the Mexican Revolution and the beginning of an unprecedented period of friendship with the United States.”

The EB‘s article concludes with the following: “His administration was noted primarily, however, for the new relationship it established with Mexico’s neighbour to the north, the United States. The long-standing dispute over the expropriated U.S. oil properties was settled; Mexico supplied needed agricultural labour and raw materials for the Allied war effort, and it declared war on the Axis powers in 1942, even sending a squadron of pilots to serve in the Pacific.”

It seems that Mexicans were first used in American agriculture because of an agreement between Presidents Avila and Roosevelt.   According to Wikipedia (http://bit.ly/1HmBhLv),

The bracero program (named for the Spanish term bracero, meaning “manual laborer” [lit. “one who works using his arms”]) was a series of laws and diplomatic agreements, initiated by an August 1942 exchange of diplomatic notes between the United States and Mexico, for the importation of temporary contract laborers from Mexico to the United States. At the start of the program, train loads of Mexicans immigrants ready to work were sent over during the heart of WWII for the ’emergency wartime agricultural and railroad importations.’ Shortages of food and other goods throughout the U.S caused chaos throughout the nation, leading to the bracero program as a solution.

I find it interesting that many of our immigration problems have their origin in the exigencies of World War II.  Would there be a shortage of food today if the U.S. stopped using Mexican farm workers?  If not, as I suspect, do we really need them?

I also thought it was interesting that Mexico stole some of our oil properties.  Textbooks condemn the United States for “stealing”  the Southwest and California from Mexico, even though some of this land was actually purchased.  The fact that Mexico expropriated our oil properties makes me wonder just how Mexico’s record of theft compares with that of the United States.

For me, a good rule of thumb regarding historical narratives is this: If one side is always a demon and the other side is always an angel, the person telling the story is more a propagandist than a historian.

Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1HmDTJx

Aveyron, France


Bleu de Gex

Aveyron’s economy is dominated by sheep, the milk of which is used to make Roquefort cheese (left), matured in limestone caves.

I had no idea that sheeps’ milk was used to make cheese, so I researched cheese making and learned about Blue cheese (right).  The blue color comes from a penicillin mold.  What surprised me here is that I am allergic to penicillin, yet I love Blue cheese.

It seems there could be almost an infinite variety of cheeses if you combine different types of places it could be matured (types of caves?  types of barrels?), different types of molds, and different sources of milk.  I wonder if there are people with as much expertise in identifying cheeses as there are those who identify wine.  (I have heard of blindfolded wine experts who can identify not only a type of wine, not only the region it came from, but the EXACT FIELD it came from.  A palate that sensitive is amazing!)

Photo credits: On the left is Roquefort cheese (http://bit.ly/1HTvzUP); on the right is Blue cheese (http://bit.ly/1Hl3bWj)