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Friday, January 25, 2013

Chocolate In Utah

The headline says "Earliest Evidence of Chocolate in North America," but do not be swayed, Gentle Reader.  It's not just evidence of chocolate in North America, it's evidence that the history of the American Southwest must be rewritten.

The article states:
Researchers report that half a dozen bowls excavated from the area contain traces of chocolate, the earliest known in North America. The finding implies that by the end of the 8th century C.E., cacao beans, which grow only in the tropics, were being imported to Utah from orchards thousands of kilometers away.
I've been reading my Lekson so it's no surprise that the cultures populating the Southwest at the time, from Arizona up to Utah into Colorado and all through New Mexico, may have actually been the Northern frontiers of what we call Mesoamerica, but the date is interesting.  A lot of things were happening in Mesoamerica at that time.  The classic Maya were on the wane, the Toltecs were on the rise, and way up north in the "Southwest" it was the beginnings of the Anasazi.

It's almost as if the arrival of cacao beans in Utah coincided with the birth of civilization in the area, and no...I do not think it had much to do with the beans themselves. It seems quite obvious that people from Mesoamerica brought the beans into Utah and, here's the important part, did not leave their ideas at home.

The article continues:
In Mesoamerica, cacao was mostly a food of the elite, who sipped a foamy chocolate drink, often spiked with spices, at banquets and other ceremonial occasions. But an 8th century village such as Site 13 probably would have been classless, so the chocolate would've been consumed by ordinary people.
I have to say, why must we cling to this bullshit "classless" stuff?  If cacao was a luxury good in its place of origin, then wouldn't it follow it was also a luxury good in the place it was exported, maybe even more so?  Is it too horrible to think that the people who lived at Site 13 weren't some isolated tribe lucky enough to have contact with Mexican (ie, Mesoamerican) traders, but were actually a political elite powerful enough or rich enough to afford a luxury like cacao?

Why must we continue to believe in the "noble savage" myth and refuse to give these people their due?

This makes sense:
The results, combined with the team's earlier findings, show that "either a lot of people moved north or there was intensive trade bringing this cacao up" from Mesoamerica to the American Southwest, Dorothy Washburn says. "There's this incredible and sustained contact between these two areas."
And that's just the thing.  Maybe we should stop thinking about Mesoamerica and the American Southwest as "two areas."  Geographically isolated from each other, sure, but quite clearly culturally connected.  For what it's worth, I'm going with "a lot of people moved north."  It would explain not only the presence of corn and cacao, but also the development of later political structures like those at Chaco Canyon and Cahokia. 

The bottom line, I guess, is this: 
Most researchers think the cultural development of the Southwest was largely independent of Mesoamerican influences, he says, but a chocolate-drenched Southwest implies that Mesoamerica's influence on Southwestern architecture and rituals might have been greater than expected.  (my emphasis)
You think?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Weird Dreams

I've been having some weird, incredibly vivid dreams lately.  It's been interesting, but not particularly restful.

Today I had a dream that I was in a western with Brad Pitt.  It was a good movie, but Brad Pitt was a very bad guy.

Then I had a dream that I went to Texas with my brother, only Texas looked like a science fiction version of Mars, with red mountains and purple trees.  I mean, these mountains were massive.  They made the Rockies look like foothills.  Why did I think that was Texas?  The city we were in looked like Dr. Seuss created it and you had to watch out for the white snakes that slithered through the grass.  If they bit you, you were dead.

The last dream I had, I was camping with Anthony Bourdain.  Not out in the wilderness, just on this bluff overlooking a highway.  For some reason I brought a mattress, a full size big ass hard to carry mattress.  Bourdain was going to figure out a way to put it in the tent while I started the fire.

 I kept waking up, having to shoo my kitties away, but man....what's a guy gotta do to get some sleep around here?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Couple Things

I've been elbow-deep in the second season of Shameless, the American version, so I haven't been spinning my way through the interwebs this weekend.  Having some time to kill before the laundromat opens this morning, this is what I found:

Matt Yglesias on the revelations that Subway's "foot long" sandwiches are only 11 inches, writes:
If that were all there is to the story, I would say fair enough. The real problem with Subway is that their food isn't very good and their restaurants are a bit smelly. Eleven inches of those sandwiches is plenty.
I have to say, he's right.  At one time, Subway was a suitable alternative to the thrown-together crap at other big chains, but somewhere along the way, they succumbed to the "Expand to Ubiquity" curse.  While I can appreciate bringing these restaurants into every strip mall and Wal-Mart in America, I do think that the primary concern of any restaurant should be serving good food rather than finding new places in which to dispense crap.

That's why it always makes me laugh when I hear some franchise-owners complain about Obamacare.  I want to sit them down and say, "Look, it's hard enough to make money running a crappy restaurant, but you're running forty of them.  What did you think would happen?"

Dave Weigel writes about how Obama's inauguration speech touched on gay rights, and makes this keen observation:
Hearing the president say this, though, not in a forced TV interview but in a speech that'll be printed in histories of the era, felt like a true sea change.
What did the president say?  Among other things, this:
Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.
Obama's taken a lot of heat for "evolving" on this issue.  The main complaint seems to be that he's just doing it for political gain, which is funny because it hints that the haters are at least semi-aware that they're losing on this one, and losing big.