Happy Thanksgiving!

Whether you admit it or not, you have much to be thankful for.  For one thing, agricultural productivity is higher today than ever before…

harvesters

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Happy Thanksgiving! We have much for which to be thankful. Count your blessings. Tomorrow we can work to fix the bad stuff. Accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative.

"You can pull my right leg. And you can pull my left leg. But don't mess with Mr. In-Between." - Bob Hope

Oh, and happy Thanksgiving.

Pieter Breughel the Elder's 16th century "Wheat Harvest" depicts a group of peasants at their noon lunch during the reaping of wheat. Notice that 18 people are involved in a long process which today would require perhaps a single farmer who would knock this field out in minutes.

Let's not also forget other innovations that have increased yields, like irrigation, seed treatments, fertilization, and other labor saving technology that have also boosted the amount of wheat that can be harvested from same size plots.

The painting is actually named "The Harvesters"; it's one of the most important pieces of art ever because it delineates secular modernity from religious antiquity.

This may be naive, but look at the people in the picture. After working outside together--they are all from the same small village--they eat lunch together, relax, take naps. The wheat the harvest goes into the common store or they each get a share,they've known each other all their lives, they don't have metabolic disease because they exercise and eat way less sugar, they are not looking at their iphones (like me on thanksgiving commenting on a blog post, but my excuse is I'm digesting). They are living in a world closer to the world they evolved to live in, than the world we live in today. There is reason to believe that their lives, while less full of comfort and security, were happier and, more important, more meaningful. There are a lot of things that could be better in that world--things we have in our world--but I think there are a lot of thing in the world Beugal depicted that would feel like a relief to us

They were probably as happy as we are now, no more no less, because people derive happiness from the world around them. They don't know what they are missing from 2016, they just know they are doing ok in 1580 or so. They count their blessings same as we do. We can't go back to that world anymore than they can come to ours. But we can of course remind ourselves that some things were pleasant about that life, and strive to have those things in our life today. And the things we can't have, we have to accept not having.

Theoretically societies have some control over the way they choose to arrange their lives. If a majority of humans had some insight into the actual nature of humans, then they might choose to arrange their lives differently.

'Societies' are aggregates of individuals. Individuals have a lot of control over how they choose to arrange their lives. And like those farmers in 1580 individuals do the best they can and are generally happy with their lot.

All you can do, cw, is make your own choices. You can eat less sugar if you like, and exercise more, and turn off your iphone sometimes. Find what creates meaning for you and do that.

I find this passage to offer some perspective on how far we've come in the United States:

"If the physical task which lay before the American people had advanced but a short way toward completion, little more change could be seen in the economical conditions of American life. The man who in the year 1800 ventured to hope for a new era in the coming century, could lay his hand on no statistics that silenced doubt. The machinery of production showed no radical difference from that familiar to ages long past. The Saxon farmer of the eighth century enjoyed most of the comforts known to Saxon farmers in the eighteenth. The eorls and ceorls of Offa and Ecgbert could not read or write, and did not receive a weekly newspaper with such information as newspapers in that age could supply; yet neither their houses, their clothing, their food and drink, their agricultural tools and methods, their stock, nor their habits were so greatly altered or improved by time that they would have found much difficulty in accommodating their lives to that of their descendants in the eighteenth century. In this respect America was backward. Fifty or a hundred miles inland more than half the houses were log-cabins, which might or might not enjoy the luxury of a glass window. Throughout the South and West houses showed little attempt at luxury; but even in New England the ordinary farmhouse was hardly so well built, so spacious, or so warm as that of a well-to-do contemporary of Charlemagne. The cloth which the farmer's family wore was still homespun. The hats were manufactured by the village hatter; the clothes were cut and made at home; the shirts, socks, and nearly every other article of dress were also home-made. Hence came a marked air of rusticity which distinguished country from town,—awkward shapes of hat, coat, and trousers, which gave to the Yankee caricature those typical traits that soon disappeared almost as completely as coats of mail and steel head-pieces. The plough was rude and clumsy; the sickle as old as Tubal Cain, and even the cradle not in general use; the flail was unchanged since the Aryan exodus; in Virginia, grain was still commonly trodden out by horses. Enterprising gentlemen-farmers introduced threshing-machines and invented scientific ploughs; but these were novelties. Stock was as a rule not only unimproved, but ill cared for. The swine ran loose; the cattle were left to feed on what pasture they could find, and even in New England were not housed until the severest frosts, on the excuse that exposure hardened them. Near half a century afterward a competent judge asserted that the general treatment of cows in New England was fair matter of presentment by a grand jury. Except among the best farmers, drainage, manures, and rotation of crops were uncommon. The ordinary cultivator planted his corn as his father had planted it, sowing as much rye to the acre, using the same number of oxen to plough, and getting in his crops on the same day. He was even known to remove his barn on account of the manure accumulated round it, although the New England soil was never so rich as to warrant neglect to enrich it. The money for which he sold his wheat and chickens was of the Old World; he reckoned in shillings or pistareens, and rarely handled an American coin more valuable than a large copper cent."

--History of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson
by Henry Adams
The First Administration of Thomas Jefferson, Part I, Chapter 1

But they had slaves. How could that not be good (if you're not a slave)? Slaves vs. iPhones? Slaves win bigly!

Don't forget to look at the turkey at the center of this year's Thanksgiving - it is a little over double the size of the ones that were served at the first 340 Thanksgiving dinners!

Or even turkeys served 25+ years ago, leading one to question whether we still eat turkey.

But think about the turkeys we'll have 25 years from now! With CRISPR, we should be able to engineer them the size of Volkswagens! Might be hazardous to be a turkey farmer with birds like that.

And I thought what loomed ahead of us was merely the gigantic tomato, chicken, and egg.

Structural problems would probably set the upper limit. The extinct moa reached about 500 lbs, so that's probably about the limit which would apply to birds. Maybe fossil DNA might be available that we could use to combine the moa bone structure with the turkey's body plan. An ostrich can get over 300 lbs, so if no moa DNA is available maybe ostrich would work.

Whoa! The extinct elephant bird got over 1000 lbs. And it went extinct much more recently than the moa, so better chance of finding some DNA. At 10 feet tall, you wouldn't want to get it mad. Probably using the brain structure of some docile bird like a chicken would be smart. I wonder what the best way to cook a 1000 lb. chicken would be. I have a book which shows how to make a temporary oven by stacking cinder blocks which can handle a whole side of beef. But how would you even move a 1000 lb. chicken? Probably have to cut it up with a chainsaw, but even then moving the breasts might be a two- or three-person task.

I'm an American working/living in Canada. I miss US Thanksgiving! The Canadian version has much better timing (IMHO) but it's just not that big a deal here. So enjoy today, my fellow Americans.

An on a slightly odd note... my first bout of food poisoning in years made me very thankful to live in a country where this is quite rare. So also be thankful for being able to trust your food!

As a Canadian living in the US I quite agree on the Thanksgiving timing. I love turkey, but it's better to have a wider separation of turkey days. Fortunately my American wife is perfectly happy to move our celebration to near the Canadian timing, which also means we can invite friends and they will have time to come.

They look like a bunch of drunken lazy farmers.

They did drink fermented beverages.

Note the height of the wheat, reaching above the heads of the harvesters. Today's hybrid dwarf varieties would have been inconceivable to them.

They wouldn't have wanted the hybrid dwarf wheat. The straw was very important to them as well, for bedding for livestock, thatching, mattress stuffing and on the floors of their homes.

Some increased agricultural productivity is at the cost of increased suffering to animals, such as through the use of hog confinement systems. Group housing should be instituted which allows enough space for pigs to turn around and extend their limbs without touching the sides of the enclosures or each other.

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