o Hidden World
Two intrepid photographers explore the disappearing rituals of Africa
African Ceremonies by Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher Abrams, New York, 1999 Two volumes, slipcased, $150
Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher spent the past 10 years living and traveling in 26 African countries, gathering material for this monumental two-volume set. They photographed 43 ceremonies that span the human life cycle— from birth, through initiation, courtship, marriage, royal coronations, seasonal rituals and healing exorcisms, to death. By living among the people, learning their languages, eating their foods and adapting to their pace of life, the
women were able to witness ceremonies that might never have been recorded. Many of the traditions chronicled in African Ceremonies will disappear with the next generation.
Organized into sections corresponding to the cycle of life are nearly 850 full-color photographs. Some are an imposing 14 by 20 inches; all are stunning. Beckwith and Fisher introduce each section with a concise, informative essay. But it is the pictures that do the talking. —The Editors
1 Wodaabe competition of male charm and personality, Niger; 2 Surma girls decorate their faces to demonstrate friendship, Ethiopia; 3 Maasai youth becomes a warrior, Kenya/Tanzania; 4 Grandmother dresses her granddaughter for Ndebele wedding, South Africa; 5 Himba healing ceremony for women possessed by the spirit of a lion, Namibia
Laws of Calorie Counting
What is the bottom line on the energy we take in? Philip & Phylis Morrison recount the heroic, decade-long effort to find out
Gazing into our quiet street, we see a scrap of paper ruffle in the breeze or a little water creep along the gutter. Those motions have clear causes: wind and gravity. But the local raccoon that hunts by night and the car that rolls past are distinct. The forces that impel both are mustered internally: timed muscular contractions lift and plant paws, and a stream of explosions turns the wheels. Each self-mover draws on a diet of energy, the one scraps of food, the other gasoline.
The quantity of energy we take daily from food has entered common parlance in the U.S. Every edible offering on the shelf declares by law its nutritional energy in calories—units of heat, a form of energy release easily measured. (Bottled water declares itself out of the energy game: 0 calories per serving.) One kilocalorie is heat enough to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. (Many labels carry the term "calorie" but all the same intend by it the kilocalo-rie.) The energy we expend is neither provided as nor mainly used as heat.
By the mid-19th century, physicists and physiologists were on the track of energy balance in living creatures. In steady state, all energy expended has to be strictly accounted for by net energy taken in. The chemists made it clear that the foodstuffs we digest react through many steps with airborne oxygen, to produce the products of biochemical "combustion" without any frank fire. Our body is warm but nowhere near fiery. More a fuel cell than a heat engine, it absorbs oxygen to release chemical energy, turning energy-rich constituents of the diet into stabler compounds eliminated as wastes, including the invisible, incombustible gas carbon dioxide, exhaled with each breath.
Our vital co-food is atmospheric oxygen, produced mainly as gaseous waste by green plants benignly indifferent to its market value for life's fire and for the sparks of hearth and engine. We ingest mainly plant carbohydrates, the stoutest staff of life, and the plants take carbon dioxide from the air. The rate of change— whether swift flame or slow metabolism—does not affect the energy yielded in passing from one well-defined chemical state to another, all products taken into account.
The first experimental checks of energy balance in animals were made by two men trained in the lab of a celebrated Munich physiologist. Young Max Rubner measured in 1894 the heat output of dogs; that heat balanced the measured heat of combustion of their food, corrected by adding the few percent released on oxidizing the urine and feces. The dogs' sporadic mechanical work was ignored.
One college athlete expended 10,000 kilocalories cycling in place for 16 hours.
The second was a mature American chemist, Wilbur Olin Atwater. He came home to the U.S. in 1892 to inspire, instrument and direct an ambitious decade-long experimental campaign that asked whether human metabolism was tightly bound by the law of energy conservation.
twater and his group worked in the secluded basement of the science hall at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. By 1905 they had laid the quantitative foundations of the present calorie-counting and labeling activity around foods, with results used to this day the world over. Whether you count calories or not, you firmly follow Atwater's laws, of course subsumed under the general law of energy conservation.
Atwater and his physicist faculty colleague E. B. Rosa completed the first notable human calorimeter in 1894. A photograph shows their calorimeter: a small sealed room, four by seven feet in area, with a low ceiling. It was furnished with a folding wall bed, a folding chair, a telephone, a triple-glazed window that also provided entry, and a stationary bicycle, often used to extract work, released as heat, from the subject. Double walls of sheet metal enclosed the room, and three wooden walls outside that metal box guided layers of air under control. The copper inner wall held two grids: one of cooling-water tubes, and another of electrical heating coils. A large copper-wire resistance thermometer measured the room's air temperature to a hundredth of a degree; a second one kept good thermal contact with the copper wall. The ruling art here was to maintain a single room at air temperature and surround the human heat source by material at nearly matching temperature, all unmonitored gain or loss kept effectively nil. Water pumped through the walls of the room left warmer than it had entered: that change measured the energy provided by the test subject.
Mirror galvanometers were the instruments of that world—DC, analog, sensitive—and patiently read out by hand. Two shifts of eight persons each recorded the temperatures, controlled the air and water flows, weighed food and water, caught the subject's water vapor by chilling, and calculated it all. The system was calibrated by weighing the fuel used by a lamp that burned pure - , alcohol. Many special digestion runs were made, to get the heat content of Continued on page 95
The Grand Plan
In which James Burke connects the dots between theology, calculus, social satire, locomotives, Napoleon and economics
Whenever I begin to feel that my life is one of trivia and secondary sources, I whistle a happy tune and recall the words of Reverend William Paley (1743-1805), a well-heeled English prelate who managed almost never to preach at the many ecclesiastical livings he almost never visited. And on the rare occasion when he did climb into the pulpit, he operated by the precept "Write one sermon and steal five."
Paley was the guy whose 1802 "Natural Theology" (a last, fixity-of-species Grand Plan fling before Darwin) bolstered religion by showing how a rational examination of design in nature proved the existence of God during a period when scientific and technological change were calling all in doubt. An elephant's "unbending" neck, for example, was compensated for by its flexible trunk. All the different bits of nature were there for a specific purpose, and the entire thing worked together for a common end.
In keeping with "write one, steal five," the metaphor by which Paley's work is best remembered—"God the watchmaker"—wasn't his. Nor was the whole basic idea, because he probably got it from something written over 100 years earlier: "The Wisdom of God," which treated much the same topic, with much the same purpose.
Its author, John Ray (another cleric-turned-naturalist), also lived at a time when epistemological rugs were being pulled out from under. For Ray, it was the avalanche of new species coming in from explorations East and West. He decided to start classifying the confusion and became an early eco-tourist, traveling throughout Britain and the Continent, peering and scribbling. If it came out of the ground, he described it, in a multivolume tome (History of Plants) that finally con tained 10,000 new entries. Really magnum opus. Unfortunately, Ray was to be overshadowed by the juggernaut success of the naming-of-parts classifier for all seasons: Linnaeus. Who named a yam after Ray. Gee, thanks.
Ray's contemporary in math and Greek (a popular mix) at Cambridge was another overshadowee (well, have you ever heard of Isaac Barrow?). The great Swiss noodler Jakob Bernoulli argued not long after Barrow's death that Barrow's work anticipated the calculus of Newton (historians still argue over whether Barrow was a teacher of, or an influence on, or one of the "five sermons" of, the Great Gravitator). Whether or not Barrow inspired Newton, it is undeniable that very few people could read and understand Barrow's stuff except Newton.
And the man who beat Newton to calculus (or didn't, as historians still argue) was Gottfried Leibniz, whose immense talents are still waiting to be fully recognized in most classrooms. One of Leibniz's many ideas was to develop an alphabet for reasoning, in which grammar and vocabulary became symbols, to be manipulated in-novatively in a machine, a wooden prototype of which he demoed in London in 1673. Lead-balloon time all around, to judge by the "looney idea" treatment it got in one of jogger and mega-satirist Jonathan Swift's pieces.
Mind you, Swift slagged off anybody at the drop of a hat, which might be why he never got anywhere, career-wise. Typically, he raised British government hackles when he drew attention to starvation and high birth rates in Ireland by suggesting that the solution to the problem was to add babies to the menu.
Another Irish scandal that drew Swift's ire was known as "Wood's half-pence." In 1721 King George's mistress, Ehrengarde Melusina von der Schulenburg, a lady known for greed but not beauty, fiddled William Wood (in return for a humongous cash backhander) the license to issue new Irish coinage. Wood then skimmed a little profit by shortchanging the amount of copper in the coins. And all this he did without a word to the Irish, who went ape (as did Swift). Wood lost his license
Swift suggested that the solution to the population problem was to add babies to the menu.
(and the one he had for new American coins).
Wood's foundry smelted with coal coked clean of impurities, an idea from the eminent ironmaster Abraham Darby, who realized what the steam engine was going to do to the metal market and so built a high-tech ironworks at Coalbrookdale, on the river Severn. Did so well, his family was still doing it to the third generation. In 1802 Abraham Ill's works built the first high-pressure locomotive, designed by Richard Trevithick, for use in hauling ore out of mines.
Trevithick was a larger-than-life Cornishman: inventor, entrepreneur, pals with the great. He spent 10 years engineering in South America, came home penniless, died in debt. His career had started after a meeting in London about his locomotive with an ex-schoolmaster from Rumford, N.H.— Ben Thompson, who'd fought for the Brits during the War of Independence and therefore left for England. There he founded the Royal Institution, became Sir Benjamin, and then (for services in Germany) Count von Rumford.
Thompson was another inventor with a practical bent, who came up with nifty ideas on fuel and fireplaces, to keep people warmer. Ended up hot stuff on heat. About which he won a blazing row ("Heat is result of motion") with French scientist Claude-Louis Berthollet ("No, it isn't"). Berthollet was by this time a chemical biggie. Not only was he the guy who first realized that chemical reaction was related to mass, and discovered that chlorine would bleach, and worked with all the stars (Lavoisier, Monge, Gay Lussac et al.), and was commissioner of agriculture and an educational reformer and member of the Academie Française and professor, and got the Légion d'Honneur— Napoleon loved him enough to take him on the French occupation of Egypt. He also sent him to vanquished Italy to choose which Great Italian Art to snitch. By 1804 Berthollet was running the French mint.
One of Berthollet's less illustrious fellow bureaucrats was an unknown named La-minière. All else I can find on this person was that in 1815 his daughter, Adèle, became the first wife of the son of the chief justice of Newfoundland, one Randolph Isham Routh, who had been the senior British commissariat officer at Waterloo when things went nasty for Napoleon. After Adèle's unfortunate early death, Routh married the cousin of the chief justice of Canada (was Routh a courtroom groupie?), and they had a son, Edward. Who ended up lecturer at Peterhouse, Cambridge, did dynamic stuff on dynamics and has to have been the greatest math teacher ever. Between 1862 and 1888 an unbroken line of 22 of his pupils won the top annual math prize. In 1865 the winner was John William Strutt, who would go on to become Lord Ray-leigh and a very big cheese: Privy Council, Royal Society, Rumford medal, chancellor of Cambridge, Nobel for isolating argon, and a lot besides.
And the reason he's in this modest connective tale is because the same year he came out first in math, the man who got second banana was Alfred Marshall. Who probably means more than even Rayleigh to many readers of this column, because in 1890 he delivered what has been described as the finest economics treatise of his generation: Principles of Economics. A work that helped to shape economics in the 20th century: a Grand Plan, if you like, of how it all worked.
But not quite as Grand as the Plan by his wife's great-grandfather: William Paley. S3
Wonders, continued from page 93 weighed excreta. A variety of diets provided values for the energy efficiency of digestion for the main nutrients. The standard diet fueled the subject with canned, boiled, fat-trimmed beef, bread and butter, and milk and gingersnaps! The experimenters persuade us by their comprehensive design and meticulous care that the small error they finally reported— about 0.2 percent difference between input heat and measured work and heat output—is credible. Their results were soon published.
Today's nutritionists use the net energy yield in kilocalories per gram for protein, fat and carbohydrate content; the values found at Middletown, internationally adopted since 1947, are improved only in some details. The device widely used to measure food energy directly is a small, strongly sealed steel "bomb calorimeter," held in a stirred water bath. Within it, small dried samples of foodstuff are ignited in pure oxygen. (We used one as a "jelly doughnut bomb.") The long lists of popular foods rely mainly on a computation of energy yield from the reported recipes. They use net yield factors that trace back to Atwater. The measurement of human energy use has come into medical diagnostics, chiefly by proxy; equivalent oxygen consumption is measured rather than heat transfer. Human calorimeters are not commonplace; they have a limited but proud history over the century, in particular around the development of practical space suits for astronauts and cosmonauts alike.
Let us recall young J. C. Ware, college athlete and bicycle racer. That fit specimen was the leading resident of the At-water calorimeter. Once Mr. Ware expended 10,000 kilocalories—12 square meals' worth—cycling in place for one 16-hour day, outworking the amazing road racers of the Tour de France. "Such subjects are to be cherished," writes Paul Webb, author of Human Calorimeters (Praeger, 1985), a fascinating history. (The various nutrition handbooks of the U.S. Department of Agriculture update the art. The Web is lively with today's mi-crocalorimeters, widespread in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.)
It was no small feat to set the inner fire of human life so convincingly among all fires, as once old Copernicus showed our earthly home to be but one among the visibly circling planets. E3
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