Quotulatiousness

April 16, 2017

The tale of unsalted butter in French cuisine

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, France, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

At his new blog, Splendid Isolation, Kim du Toit explains the historical roots of a French culinary oddity:

One of the quirks of French cuisine is that most often the butter is unsalted, and at a French dinner table you will usually find a tiny cruet of salt with a microscopic spoon inside, so that you can salt your butter (or not) according to taste. To someone like myself, accustomed only to salted butter, this seemed like an affectation, but it wasn’t that at all: it was the result of taxation, and this is one of the things changed forever by Napoleon’s administrative reforms.

One of the best parts of our U.S. Constitution is the “interstate commerce” clause, which forbids states from levying taxes on goods and services passing from one state to another, and through another in transit. This was not the case in pre-Napoleonic France. Goods manufactured in, say, Gascony or Provence would pass through a series of customs posts en route to Paris, and at each point the various localities would levy excise taxes on the goods, driving up the final price at its eventual destination.

Which brings us to salt. French salt, you see, was produced mainly on the Atlantic coastline, and was a major “export” of Brittany to the rest of France. Butter, of course, was produced universally — in and outside Paris and ditto for every major city — but the salt for the butter came almost exclusively from Brittany, and having been taxed multiple times by the time it reached points east like Paris or Lyons, it was expensive. So the cuisine and eating habits in those parts developed without the use of salt — or, if salt was requested, at an added cost. It’s why, to this day, many French recipes use unsalted butter as an ingredient. (In contrast, butter for local consumption in western France was [and still is] almost always salted, because salt was dirt cheap there.)

Napoleon’s reforms did away with all that; he saw to it that the douane locale checkpoints and toll booths along the main roads were abolished (causing salt prices in eastern France to plummet and become a mainstay of French cuisine at last). And when the towns and villages protested about the loss of tax revenue, Napoleon made up the shortfall with “federal” funds out of the national treasury.

Of course, the French treasury had in the meantime been emptied out by, amongst other things, the statist welfare policies of the Revolutionary government (stop me if this is starting to sound familiar). Which is why, to raise money, Napoleon invaded wealthy northern Italy and western Germany (as it is now), pillaged their rich cities’ treasuries and garnered revenue from the wealthy aristocracy, who paid bribes to avoid having their palaces sacked and their wealth confiscated.

Smoke Screens – Fortress Location – Recruitment Age I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 15 Apr 2017

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It’s time for Out Of The Trenches again where Indy answers your questions about World War 1, this week we talk about the recruitment age, smoke grenades and fortress locations.

Damnatio memoriae

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The Latin in the title is a modern construction, but it describes a fairly common way that Romans would (to borrow from Orwell) push memories down the memory hole, including even former Emperors:

In the Soviet Union, Josef Stalin didn’t just defeat his political enemies – he purged their memories from existence. Photographs were altered and history texts changed to eliminate any trace of those who stood against him, a practice that inspired George Orwell to write 1984. But Stalin was far from the first leader to erase his enemies. The ancient Romans, too, tried to erase people from history – even Emperors.

A new show on now at the British Museum explores the use of memory sanctions against Roman emperors and their families in antiquity. It also evaluates the physical treatment of objects deemed “pagan” or heretical in the Christianized empire of Late Antiquity.

But what was the point of “damnatio memoriae“? And can you ever fully expunge someone from the historical record?

A Basanite bust of Germanicus that has a series of cuts around his ear, a shorn nose, his right ear chipped away and a cross etched on his forehead. The bust is on display now at the British Museum. (Photo by Sarah E. Bond)

The British Museum is currently displaying an exhibit on ancient memory sanctions called: “Defacing the Past: Damnation and desecration in imperial Rome.” It is a fascinating look into the ways in which we interact with objects as a proxy for the actual person. It is also a look into what ancient historian Harriet Flower has called the “art of forgetting.” Although such sanctions are often called “damnatio memoriae,” this is a modern Latin phrase and thus a construct that did not in fact exist in antiquity. Use of the term suggests a monolithic way in which Romans could legally damn the memory of a disgraced or unpopular Roman emperor, when in fact there was no one term for such sanctions or even a fully systematized procedure for it. What we have today is instead the material remnants of various senatorial, imperial, and ecclesiastical decrees — as well as a number of personal choices.

Sanctions against the commemoration of a person could take many forms in ancient Rome and can be traced back to the Republican period. The dictator Sulla had the statues of his rival, Marius, pulled down. He also banned the display of wax imagines carried in funeral processions. We are told by Plutarch (Caes. 5) that the nephew of Marius, Julius Caesar, displayed these wax casts of Marius’ face for the first time in the funeral for his aunt Julia in 69 BCE. Julia had been Marius’ wife and was Caesar’s aunt. The disgraced general and his consorts were earlier declared hostes (enemies) of the Roman state, but their memory was clearly not forgotten. The absence of the imagines under Sulla had in fact always been conspicuous, rather than a tactic that led to the erasure of their deeds or memory.

If Walls Could Talk The History of the Home Episode 3 The Bedroom

Filed under: Britain, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 1 Feb 2017

QotD: The fascination of Hitler and Nazi Germany

Filed under: Europe, Germany, History, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

This morning I read Marina Fontaine’s review of Downfall (http://marinafontaine.blogspot.com/2017/03/netflix-review-downfall.html), yes, including mention of that scene, the one that’s been recaptioned several gazillion times, some with more humor than others. In the review, she asks why the fascination? What is it with the Nazis and Hitler?

I have a theory. It is purely mine, based on reading a metric crap-ton about all manner of things (and don’t ask me for cites because this stuff has stewed so long in the back of my head I no longer remember where I originally read whatever triggered any particular piece. You can get most of the raw facts off Wikipedia). It is also a very broad generalization. Coming years will determine whether or not it is correct in the big picture. I’m not optimistic (I hope I’ve got this horribly wrong. I fear I haven’t).

Okay. So.

The ongoing fascination with Hitler and Nazi Germany.

Simply put, it’s the most well-documented and acknowledged demonstration of the allure of evil and how easy it is for a more or less civilized people to descend into utter brutality. As such, it holds an unclean fascination not helped by uniforms that were designed to look good as well as be practical (or by the simple fact that evil, when done effectively, is sexy. Because it is invariably power, and untrammeled power at that. We’re human. Power attracts and corrupts us. The wiser among us acknowledge this so we can fight the effect).

The various Communist regimes can be dismissed as “not counting” because to the minds of those who do the dismissing, Russia, China, North Korea, and Eastern Europe “weren’t civilized”, and so Communism/Socialism would work just fine implemented by civilized people (they usually point to one of the Nordic nations when they do this). These same people are a big part of why the wrong lesson keeps being drawn from Nazi Germany.

The problem was not nationalism. It was not even the disgusting racial laws. Those laws could never have been passed, much less enforced, without the one big thing Socialism, Communism, and yes, Nazism have in common.

The supremacy of the state.

[…]

That bare listing of facts accounts for the rise of Hitler, but not the continuing notion that the Nazis were conservative (only if you define ‘conservative’ as ‘nationalist’). That one comes from two sources. One was Soviet propaganda aimed at making Communist and Nazi ideologies seem much more distinct than they actually were. The other was Allied propaganda aimed at much the same thing. It wouldn’t do, after all, to have people realize they were allied with a dictator every bit as vile as Hitler.

So in American and British media, the evil of the Nazis was played up, while the evil of the Communists was minimized where it couldn’t be silenced altogether. The Communist plants and fellow-travelers in both nations helped.

They were – and are – almost the same. Both demand an all-powerful state. The state determines who is deserving and provides for the deserving. The state dehumanizes the undeserving prior to eliminating them. The state determines the direction of industry (in the case of the Nazis, by requiring business owners to support the regime where the Communists took over the businesses). The state cares for you – but if you’re no use to the state, your care will be an unmarked grave in a prison camp/work camp/concentration camp/gulag. All hail the state.

Kate Paulk, “The Ease of Evil”, guest-posting at According to Hoyt, 2017-03-21.

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