The importance of bread in society: the etymology of Lord

In listening to The History of the English Language, 2nd Edition by Seth Lerer (Lecture 8), I came across an interesting word etymology which foodies and particularly bread fans will appreciate.

Dr. Lerer was talking about the compression of syllables at the border of Old English and Middle English circa 1100 which occurred in such terms as hlaf weard, the warden (or guardian) of the loaf.

Who is the guardian of the loaf? The hlfaf weard << The hlaweard << the laweard << the lord. This is the etymology of the word 'lord'. Lord is the guardian of the bread, the mete-er out of bread in a cereal society.

An interesting linguistic change that tells us a lot about power, structure, religion, and society surrounding bread of the time. I suppose one could also look at Christian traditions of the time which looked at the transubstantiation of the symbolic bread of the Last Supper which is ritually turned into the body of Christ–Christ, our lord.

One can’t help noting the slang use of the word “bread” to mean “money”. Perhaps it’s time to go back and re-visit Jeremy Cherfas’ excellent podcast series Our Daily Bread?

Featured image: Bread flickr photo by adactio shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Bookmarked Food As Power: an Alternative View by Jeremy Cherfas (ARROW@TU Dublin)
Abstract:

Lost, sometimes, in the more metaphorical interpretations of food and power is the basic crudity of food as stored energy. Muscles turn the chemical energy stored in food into mechanical energy, which enables work to be done. Power is the rate of doing work. Food, literally, is a store of power. In the wake of World War Two, Europe faced a shortage of coal and oil, the two most important sources of chemical energy that threatened to gum up the transport of goods from place to place. There was, however, no shortage of unemployed men. Geoffrey Pyke, the quintessential British boffin, pointed out that people are actually much more efficient than steam engines at converting chemical energy to mechanical energy. Pyke’s proposal, that trains could be moved by cyclo-tractors, locomotives powered by the muscular effort of twenty to thirty men, themselves powered by sugar, went nowhere. The paper looks at the background to Pyke’s proposal, its reception at the time and the future of food-powered machinery.

Listened to Food as Power by Jeremy Cherfas from Eat This Podcast

Shortly after the end of World War 2 in Europe, one of the quintessential boffins who had worked on the war effort turned his attention to the most pressing problem of the peace: a shortage of coal and oil. But where others saw the problem as a lack of transport, Geoffrey Pyke, saw a much more fundamental problem; a lack of food. Food required transport, and there was no fuel to power the engines. Pyke came up with a solution. Use the chemical energy in food to fuel muscular engines.

This episode is an abbreviated version of a paper on Food as Power: An Alternative View, which I am presenting on 30 May 2018 at the Dublin Gastronomy Symposium. The entire symposium is on Food and Power, so what’s alternative about my view? Pyke’s insight, that the production and transport of food requires muscular power, remains true today, and despite the very clear evidence and advice that Pyke offered in 1946, it also remains more or less ignored.

Muscles versus steam engines

A crucial part of Pyke’s argument is the greater efficiency of muscles compared to steam engines, and that slips by relatively quickly in the podcast. So, here’s the diagram that Pyke published in The Economist

Efficiencies of steam engine and human muscle compared. Apologies for quality; photographed on a monitor.

And here’s the detailed logic:

A pound of coal contains about 3150 calories, and if fed directly into a steam engine will produce about 175 calories of useful work. A pound of coal can also be used to refine sugar beets, in which case it will produce about a pound of sugar. The sugar contains about 1820 calories. Feed that to a man, and his muscles can turn it into about 365 calories of useful work. The man’s overall efficiency is about 11.5 percent, versus the steam engine’s 5.5 percent. Convert the coal into sugar, then, and you can get twice the useful work out of people than if you feed the coal to a steam engine.

Pyke argued that it would be “more economic, and politically necessary” to use what little coal there was to refine beet sugar than to power locomotives. And, as he sagely pointed out:

Half of the sugar–given the appropriate equipment– would be needed for the haulers taking the place of the steam engines, but the other half would be available to feed other workers such as coal miners, whose present output is so heavily reduced for want of food.

Muscles still do most of the work

Seventy years on, FAO estimates that muscles still provide 94 percent of the energy for global food production, about one-third animal muscle and two-thirds human muscle. One of the abiding problems is that women, who produce much of the food in sub-Saharan Africa, often have no choice but to use inefficient tools, designed for and bought by men. So metaphorical power also is relevant. But perhaps the saddest observation is that engineers have done masses of work to create tools and machines that make better use of the muscular power supplied by smallholder farmers and draught animals. These tools and machines have proved themselves in manifold trials on experimental stations, but they are ignored by the farmers for whom they were developed. The Colonial Office, in 1946, warned Pyke that it would be the people, not the equipment, that might pose a problem, and so it has proved. One report I read was rather plaintively subtitled “Perfected but rejected”.

Notes

  1. The 2018 Dublin Gastronomy Symposium on Food and Power takes place on 29 and 30 May 2018.
  2. My own paper Food As Power: an Alternative View is available for download, as are many of the other contributions.
  3. Music from Podington Bear.
Read Power, Polarization, and Tech by Chris (hypervisible.com)
In Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, he writes about early colonists and how the rich were feeling the heat of poor white folks and poor black folks associating too closely with each other. The fear was that the poor, despite being different races, would unite against their wealthy overlords. Shortly after, the overlords began to pass laws that banned fraternization between the races. The message to poor whites was clear: “you are poor, but you are still far better than that poor black person over there, because you are white.” Polarization is by design, for profit.

📑 ‘The goal is to automate us’: welcome to the age of surveillance capitalism | John Naughton | The Guardian

Annotated 'The goal is to automate us': welcome to the age of surveillance capitalism by John NaughtonJohn Naughton (the Guardian)
The result is that these new knowledge territories become the subject of political conflict. The first conflict is over the distribution of knowledge: “Who knows?” The second is about authority: “Who decides who knows?” The third is about power: “Who decides who decides who knows?”  

📑 ‘The goal is to automate us’: welcome to the age of surveillance capitalism | John Naughton | The Guardian

Annotated 'The goal is to automate us': welcome to the age of surveillance capitalism by John NaughtonJohn Naughton (the Guardian)
The combination of state surveillance and its capitalist counterpart means that digital technology is separating the citizens in all societies into two groups: the watchers (invisible, unknown and unaccountable) and the watched. This has profound consequences for democracy because asymmetry of knowledge translates into asymmetries of power.  

📖 Read Chapter 1: A Networked Public pages 3-27 of Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest by Zeynep Tufekci

📖 Read Chapter 1: A Networked Public pages 3-27 of Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest by Zeynep Tufekci

Book cover of Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest by Zeynep Tufekci

Chapter 1 was pretty solid. This almost seems to me like it would make a good book for an IndieWeb book club.

Highlights, Quotes, Annotations, & Marginalia

A national public sphere with a uniform national language did not exist in Turkey at the time. Without mass media and a strong national education system, languages exist as dialects that differ in pronunciation, vocabulary, and even grammar, sometimes from town to town.  

What I’m understanding about the text is that it was hard for Turkish to interact with one another since there was no official language and how these girls for enforced to master this one language.—beatrizrocio

I suspect that it wasn’t the case that they had trouble communicating via speech, but that the formal language was more difficult for them. Typically most languages have a “high” (proper) form and a “low” (colloquial) form. Think of it more like the King’s Standard English versus the speech of an illiterate inner-city youth. They can both understand each other, but one could read and understand the New York Times, but the other would have significant trouble.

December 26, 2018 at 12:33PM

Political scientist Benedict Anderson called this phenomenon of unification “imagined communities.”  

December 26, 2018 at 12:35PM

Technologies alter our ability to preserve and circulate ideas and stories, the ways in which we connect and converse, the people with whom we can interact, the things that we can see, and the structures of power that oversee the means of contact.  

December 26, 2018 at 12:37PM

As technologies change, and as they alter the societal architectures of visi-bility, access, and community, they also affect the contours of the public sphere, which in turn affects social norms and political structures.  

December 26, 2018 at 12:40PM

For example, in a society that is solely oral or not very literate, older people (who have more knowledge since knowledge is acquired over time and is kept in one’s mind) have more power relative to young people who cannot simply acquire new learning by reading.  

To a large extent, this is also part of the reason we respect our elders so much today, although this is starting to weaken as older people are increasingly seen as “behind the times” or don’t understand new technologies…

December 26, 2018 at 12:45PM

In her lifetime, my grandmother journeyed from a world confined to her immediate physical community to one where she now carries out video conversations over the internet with her grandchildren on the other side of the world, cheaply enough that we do not think about their cost at all. She found her first train trip to Istanbul as a teenager—something her peers would have done rarely—to be a bewildering experience, but in her later years she flew around the world. Both the public sphere and our imagined communities operate differently now than they did even a few decades ago, let alone a century.  

It’s nice to consider the impact of the technologies around us and this paragraph does a solid job of showing just that in the span of a single generation’s lifetime.

December 26, 2018 at 12:47PM

movements, among other things, are attempts to intervene in the public sphere through collective, coordinated action. A social movement is both a type of (counter)public itself and a claim made to a public that a wrong should be righted or a change should be made.13 Regardless of whether movements are attempt-ing to change people’s minds, a set of policies, or even a government, they strive to reach and intervene in public life, which is centered on the public sphere of their time.  

a solid definition of what a movement is

December 26, 2018 at 12:49PM

Governments and powerful people also expend great efforts to control the public sphere in their own favor because doing so is a key method through which they rule and exercise power.  

December 26, 2018 at 12:49PM

homophily  

December 26, 2018 at 12:57PM

If you cannot find people, you cannot form a community with them  

December 26, 2018 at 01:05PM

The residents’ lack of success in drawing attention and widespread support to their struggle is a scenario that has been repeated the world over for decades in coun-tries led by dictators: rebellions are drowned out through silencing and censorship.  

December 26, 2018 at 04:47PM

In his influential book The Net Delusion and in earlier essays, Morozov argued that “slacktivism” was distracting people from productive activism, and that people who were clicking on political topics online were turning away from other forms of activism for the same cause.  

December 26, 2018 at 04:58PM

Another line of reasoning has been that internet is a minority of the pop-ulation. This is true; even as late as 2009, the internet was limited to a small minority of households in the Middle East.  

December 26, 2018 at 05:05PM

Only a segment of the population needs to be connected digitally to affect the entire environment. In Egypt in 2011, only 25 percent of the population of the country was on-line, with a smaller portion of those on Facebook, but these people still managed to change the wholesale public discussion, including conversa-tions among people who had never been on the site.  

There’s some definite connection to this to network theory of those like Stuart Kaufmann. You don’t need every node to be directly connected to create a robust network, particularly when there are other layers–here interpersonal connections, cellular, etc.

December 26, 2018 at 05:07PM

Two key constituencies for social movements are also early adopters: activists and journalists  

December 26, 2018 at 05:08PM

Ethan Zuckerman calls this the “cute cat theory” of activism and the public sphere. Platforms that have nonpolitical functions can become more politically powerful because it is harder to censor their large num-bers of users who are eager to connect with one another or to share their latest “cute cat” pictures.  

December 26, 2018 at 05:13PM

Social scientists call the person connecting these two otherwise separate clusters a “bridge tie.” Research shows that weak ties are more likely to be bridges between disparate groups.  

December 26, 2018 at 05:18PM

As Ali explained it to me, for him, January 25, 2011, was in many ways an ordinary January 25—officially a “police celebration day,” but traditionally a day of protest. Although he was young, he was a veteran activist. He and a small group of fellow activists gathered each year in Tahrir on January 25 to protest police brutality. January 25, 2011, was not their first January 25 pro-test, and many of them expected something of a repeat of their earlier protests—perhaps a bit larger this year.  

This mirrors the story of the rape that preceded the Rosa Parks protests in Alabama several years prior and helped set the stage for that being successful.
It’s often frequent that bigger protests are staged to take place on dates/times that have historical meaning.

December 26, 2018 at 05:31PM

His weak-tie networks had been politically activated  

This makes me wonder if she’s cited Mark Granovetter or any of similar sociologists yet?
Apparently she did in footnote 32 in chapter 1. Ha!

December 26, 2018 at 05:37PM

or example, it has been repeatedly found that in most emergencies, disasters, and protests, ordinary people are often helpful and altruistic.  

December 26, 2018 at 05:53PM

However, that desire to belong, reflecting what a person perceives to be the views of the majority, is also used by those in power to control large numbers of people, especially if it is paired with heavy punishments for the visible troublemakers who might set a diff erent example to follow. In fact, for many repressive governments, fostering a sense of loneliness among dissidents while making an example of them to scare off everyone else has long been a trusted method of ruling.  

December 26, 2018 at 05:56PM

Social scientists refer to the feeling of imagining oneself to be a lonely minority when in fact there are many people who agree with you, maybe even a majority, as “pluralistic ignorance.”39 Pluralistic ignorance is thinking that one is the only person bored at a class lecture and not knowing that the sentiment is shared, or that dissent and discontent are rare feelings in a country when in fact they are common but remain unspoken.  

December 26, 2018 at 05:57PM

Thanks to a Facebook page, perhaps for the first time in history, an in-ternet user could click yes on an electronic invitation to a revolution.  

December 26, 2018 at 06:00PM

Only a segment of the population needs to be connected digitally  

Don’t forget the power of the “sneakernet”!

December 26, 2018 at 06:59PM

👓 Thank you, world! | Scott Aaronson

Read Thank you, world! by Scott Aaronson (Shtetl-Optimized)

1. This post has no technical content. As the tag indicates, it’s entirely “Nerd Self-Help”—thoughts I’ve recently found extremely helpful to me, and that I’m hopeful some others might be able to apply to their own life situations. If that doesn’t interest you, feel free to skip.

2. I’m using the numbered list format simply because I have a large number of interrelated things to say, and getting each one down precisely seems more important than fashioning them into some coherent narrative.

From section 17:

But you, readers, armed with wisdom I lacked, can reach a happy place in your lives a hell of a lot faster than I did.

An important reason for people to blog and share their stories.

👓 Invisible Labor and Digital Utopias | HackedEducation

Read Invisible Labor and Digital Utopias by Audrey WattersAudrey Watters (Hack Education)
This is the transcript of the talk I gave this afternoon at a CUNY event on "The Labor of Open"
Interesting to hear that Audrey has now also removed the Creative Commons license from her website now as well as having disabled comments and the ability to annotate using Genius and Hypothes.is. I’m all for this and happy to support her decision despite the fact that it means that it’s potentially more difficult and circuitous to share and comment on some of her excellent work. I’m sad that we’re in a place that people on the web would attack, target, and otherwise bully people into needing to take such steps, but I’m glad that there are ways, means, and tools for blocking out these bad actors. While I might have otherwise reposted and annotated her piece directly, I’ll respect her wishes and her digital sovereignty and just quote a few interesting phrases instead. This being said, you’re far better off reading the original directly anyway.

While reading this I was initially worried that it was a general rehash of some of her earlier work and thoughts which I’ve read several times in various incarnations. However, the end provided a fantastic thesis about unseen labor which should be more widely disseminated.

almost all the illustrations in this series – and there are 50 of these in all – involve “work” (or the outsourcing and obscuring of work). Let’s look at a few of these (and as we do so, think about how work is depicted – whose labor is valued, whose labor is mechanized, who works for whom, and so on.

What do machines free us from? Not drudgery – not everyone’s drudgery, at least. Not war. Not imperialism. Not gendered expectations of beauty. Not gendered expectations of heroism. Not gendered divisions of labor. Not class-based expectations of servitude. Not class-based expectations of leisure.

And so similarly, what is the digital supposed to liberate us from? What is rendered (further) invisible when we move from the mechanical to the digital, when we cannot see the levers and the wires and the pulleys.

As I look back upon the massive wealth compiled by digital social companies for what is generally a middling sort of job that they’re not paying nearly as much attention to as they ought (Facebook, Twitter, et al.) and the recent mad rush to comply with GDPR, I’m even more struck by what she’s saying here. All this value they have “created” isn’t really created by them directly, it’s done by the “invisible labor” of billions of people and then merely captured by their systems, which they’re using to actively disadvantage us in myriad ways.

I suppose a lot of it all boils down to the fact that we’re all slowly losing our humanity when we fail to exercise it and see the humanity and value in others.

The bigger problem Watters doesn’t address is that with the advent of this digital revolution, we’re sadly able to more easily and quickly marginalize, devalue, and shut out others than we were before. If we don’t wake up to our reality, our old prejudices are going to destroy us. Digital gives us the ability to scale these problems up at a staggering pace compared with the early 1900’s.

A simple and solid example can be seen in the way Facebook has been misused and abused in Sri Lanka lately. Rumors and innuendo have been able to be spread in a country unchecked by Facebook (primarily through apathy) resulting in the deaths of countless people. Facebook doesn’t even have a handle on their own scale problems to prevent these issues which are akin to allowing invading conquistadores from Spain the ability to bring guns, germs, and steel into the New World to decimate untold millions of innocent indigenous peoples. Haven’t we learned our lessons from history? Or are we so intent on bringing them into the digital domain? Cathy O’Neil and others would certainly say we’re doing exactly this with “weapons of math destruction.”

👓 Jason Bateman Showed How “Family” Is Used To Excuse The Inexcusable | Buzzfeed

Read Jason Bateman Showed How “Family” Is Used To Excuse The Inexcusable by Anne Helen Petersen (BuzzFeed)
When Bateman dismissed Jeffrey Tambor’s outburst at Arrested Development costar Jessica Walter by saying “this is a family,” he reminded us how often that word is used to paper over serious problems.
There’s an interesting new viewpoint hiding in here. We’re going to need to redefine how we view families and their power structures as a result of the painful things they can hide. I’m reminded of some of the toxicity of the way that children can be indoctrinated within their families as well as ideas like “quiverfull” which are generally creepy conceptual ways of living.