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Amendment II: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

I was sitting around on this beautiful morning reading the Bill of Rights, as I am want to do. I noticed something about the Second Amendment that hadn't struck me before. It is the only one that provides a rationale. It's not just the only such amendment in the Bill of Rights, it is the only one of the 27 amendments to the Constitution that specifically states why the rule is there.

I went online to learn more about the Second Amendment. There are no end of resources for analysis and opinion about each and every word:
  • What does “well regulated” mean? This is pretty easy; in the 18th century “well regulated” meant something that functions properly, like a wristwatch that keeps time or a well-oiled plow.
  • Why did they use the indefinite article “a” instead of the definite article “the” in specifying “a well regulated militia”? At the time of the first Congress most people in America saw the country as a confederation of states. Just as today, the representatives considered themselves to represent their own state as much as, or more than, the nation. Each state had its own militia. Thus, the authors were obviously thinking of their own state militias, rather than the national army.
  • What does “militia” mean? What does it mean to “keep” arms? What does it mean to “bear” arms? And so on, and so forth. I leave it as an exercise to the reader to study up on any of these terms that interest you.
I have my own opinions on the interpretation of the amendment based upon historical linguistics. I also have opinions as to whether or not *any* of the amendments to the Constitution should be re-amended or reinterpreted in the light of modern society. But that's not what I'm interested in this morning. I'm wondering why it is that this amendment comes with an explicit reason when none of the others do, and what it would mean if that reason were no longer valid.

“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state…” Why? Why did the first Congress of the United States give a rationale for the Second Amendment but not for any of the others? Why didn't they just say, “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”? Alternatively, why doesn't the First Amendment say, “Because we're a nation with many different religions, and we want people to be able to speak their minds, and we were escaping religious and intellectual persecution when we came here in the first place, Congress shall make no law…” Why doesn't the third amendment say, “Because we believe in private property, no soldier shall, in time of peace…”? Etc.

Moreover, they gave one and only one, very specific, reason. They didn't write “Because we haven't yet established an effective police force so people need to be able to defend themselves, and because people need to be able to hunt for food, and because practically everyone has weapons …and since a well regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state…” No. For this one amendment they gave a reason that was singular and specific. What were they thinking when they chose to write this amendment in this way? What is it about the right to bear arms that compelled explanation when other amendments, no less important and no less worthy of justification, did not?

The authors of the amendment say the reason that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” is that “A well regulated Militia [is] necessary to the security of a free State.” If by “the security of a free state” they meant protecting the United States of America against foreign enemies, then clearly we now have that covered, with or without citizens keeping and bearing their own arms. The current Armed Forces of the United States is the most powerful on earth. When young men and women enlist, they are extensively trained in the use of whatever weapons are appropriate for their service. Prior experience with arms does not necessarily improve the quality of our national security. Most people entering the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or National Guard, will never have had any experience with the actual weapons they will need to use. Even gun owning families are unlikely to have fully functional, state of the art, US military armaments. Yes, some do - but as a percentage of gun owners, that number is small. Even if they did, the amount of time most youth will have spent training with such weapons is likely insignificant in comparison to what the government will provide once they don a uniform. Arguably, the hundreds or thousands of hours that kids (and adults) spend playing video games might be more valuable training than the actual possession of such weapons.

Also, our Armed Forces do not currently expect volunteers or draftees to show up with their own guns. That was the case at one time, but no longer. The US government provides our soldiers with the weapons that they are expected to use. Bringing your own Winchester to Desert Storm would be unnecessary.

Others suggest that “the security of a free state” should be interpreted in the context of the early days of the country when the states thought of themselves more as a confederation than a nation. The country had only been around for a few years and no one knew how it was going to work out. Many states had long been rivals. With that context in mind, “the security of a free state” could mean that the individual states wanted to maintain their ability leave the union and even to potentially fight each other. Thus, they wanted to make sure that the federal government couldn't make a law that would stop that from happening. I seem to recall that we gave secession a try and it didn't work out so well. In almost 250 years we've gone that route a grand total of once. I hope that no one wants to do it again.

But even if they did, would individuals keeping and bearing arms, and well regulated state militias, really do the job in 2015? For the sake of argument (and so as not to piss off anyone residing in other states) I will pick on my own state - California. Let's say that California decided to violently secede from the union. We would need to have modern, military grade weaponry to even attempt such lunacy. Fortunately, a fair amount of military manufacturing occurs in California. So, we might be able to raid Lockheed Martin and other manufacturers for armaments with which to take on the US government. But that doesn't mean that individual Californians owning small arms would give the state much of a leg up in this battle. We would need tanks, airplanes, drones, bombs, rockets, etc. The Second Amendment does protect our right to own such weapons, but how many of us do, and how many of us know how to use them and use them well? I think it goes without saying that even taking advantage of military hardware that's manufactured within California, and even given the state's large population, we wouldn't have a prayer against the combined might of the other 49 and the well trained, well equipped US Armed Forces.

It is common to hear people speak of the Second Amendment as meaning that individuals, and small militias, should be able to overthrow the government should it fall into tyranny. But clearly this has never happened, and given modern defenses this cannot happen using conventional weapons. Through our history there have been numerous terrible assassinations, and attempted assassinations, of our leaders. Fortunately these events are getting less common - probably due to the formidable security we provide to those at the highest levels of government. There are certainly no fewer people that have hated each of our recent Presidents, but based on results, killing them with a firearm appears to be impossible.

Even if we consider past attacks on Presidents, cabinet members, and congress people, the assailants were virtually always insane individuals. Regardless of the attackers and their motivations (rational or otherwise), no assassination has ever changed our government in any way other than personnel. Perhaps JFK was killed as part of a conspiracy that disagreed with his policies. Maybe John Wilkes Booth's action echoed the sentiment of a contingency of Southern confederates. But even in these cases, though the Presidents were killed, the structure and policies of the US Government continued.

In recent decades there have been some noteworthy attacks on the US government by citizens who had ideological agendas. Ted Kaczynski (the “Unabomber”) and Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols (bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City), are just two that come to mind. It is important to recognize that the Second Amendment did not help either of them in their attempts to stop the government which they viewed as tyrannical.

There have also been militias that have formed and used their Second Amendment rights to stockpile munitions for purposes such as seceding from the US, creating their own laws, or refusing to pay taxes. Supporting the USA and the Constitution is generally labelled “patriotic.” We have a different word for the actions of such militias - we call it “treason.” Is it unpatriotic to suggest that militias shouldn't be able to use the Constitution to help them commit treason?

If one wanted to image nightmare scenarios of attacks on the Federal Government, one could speculate about the use of non-conventional weapons ala The Unabomber, McVeigh and Nichols, etc. Chemical or biological attacks, nuclear weapons, dirty bombs, poisons, and the like, might, possibly be able to take down the government. I would like to believe that there are agents at the Secret Service that spend their careers trying to think up such things, and then devising counter measures. In any case, even if an individual or group were able to conceive, create, and successfully execute such an attack, the right to bear arms would be irrelevant to their plans. The weapons protected by the Second Amendment wouldn't come into play. The government has proven defenses against those - a successful attack would come from some other quarter, as Al-Qaeda showed so terribly in 2001.

So, I believe that the explicitly specified rationale in the Second Amendment is no longer valid. Therefore, the prohibition against infringement upon which it is based is no longer valid. This leaves two options before the American people: (1) allow the government to infringe upon the right to keep and bear arms, or (2) craft a 28th amendment that guarantees this right without any justification or qualification.

I find myself wonder what the authors of the Second Amendment would say if they were alive today and heard my argument that a “well regulated militia” will no longer provide for the security of our free state. Would they agree with me? If so, what would they then say about the right of people to keep and bear arms? Would they conclude that this right may now be infringed since the purpose of the amendment is gone? Or would they insist that there were other compelling reasons to protect the right to bear arms? If they felt that this right must still be maintained, would they agree that a new amendment must be crafted, since the Second Amendment is rendered invalid by its obsolete rationale?

I wonder.

Aka “Kero”

She was the queen of dogs.

Recently, the subject of the kosher prohibition against eating pork came up in a conversation I was having with a friend on Facebook. She mentioned several commonly held ideas about the origin of this restriction and asked me what people current think. Being of Jewish descent, I have always been interested in the laws of kashrut (the Jewish dietary laws that define what foods are kosher, “fit”.) In the course of my studies as a culinary historian I have frequently run into kashrut and other food taboos. I decided I would jot down a few thoughts on the subject. Two weeks and over four thousand words later, here is the result. Along the way I have even changed my own thinking on the subject.

Note: Many of the points presented here could also apply Muslim halal laws. Nonetheless, I am only covering kashrut for two main reasons. First, I am much more familiar with kosher laws than I am with halal. Second, limiting the scope of the discussion improves clarity and readability. However, there is one noteworthy point where Jews and Muslims differ as to the treatment of swine. Jews are prohibited not only from eating pigs but also from raising them or even touching them – dead or alive. The Koran prohibits Muslims from eating the flesh of pigs, but makes no other prohibitions regarding them. Theoretically, a Muslim could be a pig farmer, butcher, etc. without violating their law. 

At its most basic, there are two classes of reasons why Judaism could proscribe eating pork:
  1. God truly did prohibit it.
  2. Some person, or group of people, disallowed eating pigs for some reason and then ascribed that prohibition to God.
Let’s start with the first case; God told the Jews that they may not eat pork. Moreover, they may not even touch a pig, dead or alive.

[For the sake of this discussion, let us take it as a given that the Judeo-Christian God does exist and that the Old Testament, the Talmud and other Scripture (as well as New Testament,) are divinely inspired texts. There are those that would dispute this supposition, and other readers will no doubt bristle at the suggestion that this needs to be stipulated. However, this essay is about pigs and Judaism. If I were to digress into questions about the existence of God and the validity of Judeo-Christian scripture, I would enter a quagmire from which we would never return.]

I have a number of problems with the notion of God declaring the pig to be “an abomination” and prohibiting the Jews – his “chosen people” – from eating or even touching them. For one thing, God created the pig. If he considered pigs to be abominations, why did he make them in the first place? God “…formed out of the earth all the wild beasts and all the birds of the sky…” Why would God create an abominable creature from the soil in the Garden of Eden? Further, why would the pig be so hated that man cannot even touch one without becoming “unclean.” The serpent that offered the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil became “…more cursed…than all cattle and all the wild beasts…” While kashrut prohibits the eating of snakes (and anything else that crawls on its belly), Jews are allowed to touch them. Arguably we are encouraged to kill them. God says to the snake, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; they will strike at your head, and you will strike at their heel.”

Remember, this is the Old Testament God were talking about here. This is the God of fire and brimstone. This is the God that created Adam and Eve in his own image, then cursed them and threw them out of Eden for disobeying just one rule, just one time. This is the God that directed Abraham to sacrifice his son. This is the God who decided to test the faith of Job, is most faithful follower. This is the God who sent the Jews down into Egypt to be slaves for 400 years. Heck, this is the God that went on in the New Testament to have his own son tortured to death. That’s how he treats people he likes! I can’t see the Old Testament God looking upon the pig and telling the Jews, “don’t get anywhere near these things.” It seems to me that if God truly felt that pigs were unclean and an abomination, his commandment would be “kill them, eat them, kick them in the nuts, do whatever you want. You don’t even need to bother killing them humanely. You see a pig, do with it as you will.” It stretches credibility beyond the breaking point to suggest that if God hated pigs, he would give them a pass. I mean really, “You’re my chosen people, I’m sending you into slavery for 400 years. But, pigs are an abomination, leave them alone to do whatever they like. Hit snakes on the head, but leave pigs alone.” Sure, God moves in mysterious ways, but that is retarded.

I also have to wonder about the flood. God instructed Noah to create an ark and gather two of each animal so that they would survive the flood and repopulate the earth. What a perfect opportunity to get rid of swine (and snakes too, for that matter.) God could easily have said “gather together two of each animal… except for pigs.” God destroyed every living thing on earth because man had become wicked. If you're getting rid of wicked men, why not dispose of wicked animals while you're at it?  Kinda makes you wonder.

I know, I know, the point is that pigs are “unclean” and if you touch them you will become unclean. But the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was very explicit about taking sides and putting his finger on the scales in favor of his team (just as he continues to do on Superbowl Sunday.) He made one day’s worth of oil last for eight days. He guided David’s hand to slay Goliath. God told the Israelites, “Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.” I can imagine that after the slaughter there was nothing left but pigs wandering among the dead people, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.

If the Old Testament is correct then we know his position on pigs – God hates pigs. Couldn’t He have found some way to make the Jews immune to the pig’s powers of defilement so that they could do His will and smite them? I’m sure many will disagree, but I am convinced that God does not have it in for the pig. Maybe it was a misunderstanding. Maybe He thinks that “wigs” are an abomination.

With divine edict disposed of, let us consider the second case; humans created the prohibition against eating pigs and ascribed that prohibition to the word of God - either at that time, or later.

One of the most popular explanations for the Jewish prohibition on eating pork is that by avoiding pork you avoid trichinosis. This is what my mother told me when I was a child. Of course, no one in biblical times knew that there were microorganisms that could cause disease, but they undoubtedly did make the connection between eating certain foods and illness or death. Culinary history is rife with texts on what foods make you "sanguine", "choleric", "melancholic", "phlegmatic", and so on.

By and large, Jews are very chauvinistic and are particularly proud of their intelligence. This isn’t odd or unusual - there is hardly a self-identified group on earth that doesn’t believe that they are the smartest, strongest, sexiest, and most blessed people that ever lived. But Jews are especially bullish on braininess, so the “avoid trichinosis” idea is particularly appealing to modern Jewry. It says, “Look how smart we were. We figured out how to avoid food borne illness long before anyone knew about microscopic pathogens.” Despite pumping up our collective egos, this idea is utter hogwash.

It is enormously clear that pastoral humans, be they agrarian or hunter-gatherers, learn over generations to exploit everything in their environment. Peoples of Central America and northern South America learned to detoxify cassava, an important staple crop that contains cyanide and is otherwise deadly. Similarly, Californian native tribes found that they could remove the saponins from buckeyes to make them edible. Someone, at some point in time, found that though rhubarb leaves are toxic, the stems are not. So, too, the tubers of potatoes and the fruits of tomatoes are nutritious and delicious, but the green parts are poisonous. Everywhere that humans have gone, they have learned to use fermentation for preservation and alcohol production – but it is a fine line between healthful yoghurt and raging diarrhea.

Clearly humans don’t abandon a food source just because the first few hundred people that try it drop dead. Imagine if the first person to chew on the grains growing wild on the Anatolian plane had said, “Ouch! That hurt my teeth. The gods are telling me that we must not eat this.” If humans gave up that easily, wheat, barley, rye and other grains would never have entered our larders. We’d still be hunter-gatherers hoping our spears were strong enough to take down a menacing tiger.

Human populations across Europe and Asia (other than Jews and Muslims) learned how to safely take advantage of pigs as a food source. As it happens, this is relatively easy with pigs, since trichinosis is a parasite, not a bacteria. Unlike bacteria such as salmonella or campylobacter, there is little risk of cross-contamination between raw pork and other foods. You must consume undercooked infected pork to contract the disease. [Side note: apparently one can also acquire trichinosis from other infected humans.] Bacterial food-borne pathogens are much more easily transmitted via tools, surfaces, hands, etc.

What this means is that if the “trichinosis hypothesis” were true, it would actually imply that Jews were less intelligent than other contemporary groups. While everyone else in Eurasia figured out how to safely cook pork, the Jews threw up their hands and said, “I’m stumped. Let’s just make a rule against eating these beasts.”

Others have suggested that the taboo against eating pork is related to cannibalism. Pigs are very similar to humans, especially in the texture of their skin. But, scripture is quite explicit in declaring pigs unclean and an abomination. If we avoid eating pigs because they are too similar to us, but we also declare them to be abominable, what are we saying about ourselves? No, clearly that theory doesn’t work.

Some propose that eating pigs is taboo because they are intelligent. This is another extremely modern notion. While throughout history various groups have considered certain animals divine, or repositories for human spirits, or possessing of special powers, there is no evidence that early Jews, or any other people of the region, held pigs in any regard. It is only quite recently that people have come to recognize pigs as relatively intelligent creatures. Ascribing this knowledge to the Israelites is a fallacy.

One excellent work on the subject of the prohibition of pigs in Judaism and Islam is The Abominable Pig, by Marvin Harris. This essay can be found in the Food and Culture: A Reader. Harris does an outstanding job covering the background for the material that I am considering here. However, and with great respect, I disagree with the conclusion he arrives at in his paper.

If I am correctly interpreting his thesis, he believes that the dietary laws of Leviticus amount to a set of best-practices for farmers and shepherds in the region. Furthermore, in order to establish and maintain their power, Jewish priests put them forth as a set of laws that their followers were bound to obey. Kind of  Poor Richard's Almanack, but with penalties for disobedience. However, Harris says that the priests were careful to create laws that wouldn’t be too onerous for the faithful to accept. Since pigs don’t do well in hot, dry environments, prohibiting them would not have had a major impact on most Jews. Similarly, Jews were not eating camels and were far enough from the sea that shellfish was not an important source of protein. Certainly if they had made a rule prohibiting lamb, there would have been an uprising of biblical proportions.

I am not convinced by this argument. The wording of Leviticus seems too strong for a set of throw-away rules intended to make the “legislature” look like they were in charge. Certainly there are some peculiar sounding laws. You will be stoned to death if you mix two different fibers in a piece of cloth? Surely this wasn’t pronounced on a whim to take up space in a book of rules. There must have been some reason – perhaps people were making cheap cloth by combining expensive, quality lamb’s wool with cheaper flax? Or perhaps the wool merchants paid off the priests to add that law. Whatever the reason, it just seems too random, and with too harsh a sentence, to be simply a show of legislation. Disallowing the planting of two kinds of seeds in a field fits the same mold. Meanwhile, in Exodus there is a law against making an altar with hewn or dressed stones. Why? Did the stonemasons piss off their rabbi?

Also, the New Testament makes it clear that Jewish law was perceived as onerous. In the book of Acts the apostles debate whether Christians should obey the Old Testament laws, especially Gentiles who were becoming Christian. Acts 15:20-28 says “And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead, we should write and tell them to abstain from eating food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming blood…it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements…” The fathers of Christianity - themselves former Jews - had to abandon these laws because they realized that their religion would have trouble growing beyond Jewish converts with such laws in place. Harris’ contention that kashrut and other biblical rulings were not a burden appears to be in error.

The laws in Leviticus and other scripture don’t strike me as just good ideas expressed as commandments, nor as laws created for the purpose of showing legislative power. I am much more convinced by two other ideas.

One strong possibility is that the kashrut were cultural markers for the Jewish tribes. There are many such markers that help define group identity, including food choices and recipes, language, clothing, songs, celebrations, games, methods of farming, methods of building, ornamentation, festivals, and so on. These markers are extremely important to human groups.

Exclusionary rules (taboos) are the most powerful for group cohesion. If you belong to a tribe that wears a particular kind of hat, and there is a nearby tribe that weaves tunics with a distinctive pattern, you can ally yourself with both by wearing the hat of your people and the tunic of the other. However, if the other tribe makes a rule stating that hats may not be worn and yours declares that hats must be worn, then you are going to have to choose. You can no longer be “slightly pregnant.” Exclusionary rules are particularly important because the king of the Dandy Hats may someday call upon you to fight against the Fancy Frocks. Being a fence sitter is definitely frowned upon.

But, practically speaking, exclusionary cultural markers can effectively be arbitrary. Why pick on pigs? The ancient Israelites were basically pastoral shepherding peoples. They farmed the land and herded flocks of sheep, goats, and cows. These three animals did well in the fertile hills and valleys of the Levant, eating the abundant grasses and shrubs that grew there while tolerating the hot, dry climate. Furthermore, being ruminants, these animals did not compete with humans for food; we don’t eat grasses, and ruminants don’t need to be fed crops that people are growing for their own consumption. 

Over time other groups entered the area competing for land and grazing resources. Among the people that would have come into conflict with the early Jewish tribes were Bedouins. Their nomadic lifestyles were completely dependent on camels. Other than for long-distance travel, camels would have been almost useless to the early Israelites. They grow and reproduce very slowly, so they are a poor food source compared to animals that the Jews were husbanding. Camels can be used for pulling plows, but oxen are better. It is possible that some wealthy Jews may have kept camels for transport, but they would have been a luxury item. Certainly few if any Jews were eating them. Even if a camel became old or sick, it wouldn’t have been eaten because the laws of kashrut mandate that only healthy animals may be slaughtered for food. But the Bedouins did eat their camels in times of need and drank their blood when thirst descended in the desert. For Bedouin tribes, prohibitions against eating camels would have been suicidal. The Jewish people could have differentiated themselves from Bedouins by proscribing camel meat.

Imagine the grizzled shepherd sitting at home drinking a beer after a long day in the hills tending his flocks. His daughter comes home and says, “Daddy, I met the cutest Bedouin boy in the market today. He took me for a ride on his camel and wants me to meet his family. Can I daddy, can I?”

I’m pretty sure his answer would be “Hell no! We are the people who tend the animals with cloven feet. These Bedouin scum are overrunning our land and taking our jobs. They are dirty, awful people and their animals are useless to us.”

“But daddy, he was really cute. What’s wrong with camels, anyway? Who cares about their feet?”

“Er, um, uh, well… I know… the Lord our God told us not to eat camels. Yeah, that’s it, it was God,” pointing his finger emphatically skyward, “God told us only to eat animals with cloven feet. Oh, and you’re grounded until I can find someone of our own tribe to marry you. No Bedouin boys for you, young lady!”

Meanwhile other populations with a practice of pig farming were no doubt challenging the Israelites for farmland, shaded forage, and water. Pigs require water for drinking and mud in which to wallow. They also root around destructively and are quite happy to eat the foods upon which humans depend. Pig farming tribes would have been a great threat to the ecology of the area and the Jews way of life.

A girl comes home from the market one day and tells her mother, “Mommy, I met this cute boy in the market today. He gave me these pork ribs to give to you and says he wants me to meet his parents.”

“Hell no!” the mother replies. “Throw that cursed meat away. We are the people who tend the animals that chew their cud. These pig farmer scum are overrunning our land and taking our jobs. They are dirty, awful people and their animals are useless to us.”

“But mommy, he was really cute. What’s wrong with pigs, anyway?”

“Er, um, uh, well… I know… the Lord our God told us that pigs are an abomination. Yeah, that’s it, it was God,” pointing her finger emphatically skyward, “God told us only to eat animals that chew their cud. Why can’t you find a nice Jewish doctor like your sister did? No pig-boys for you, young lady!”

While I am being intentionally silly in these examples, any folklorist will tell you that this is exactly how culture is created – people make shit up – especially when they want to justify their actions or beliefs.

In The Abominable Pig, Harris proposes this idea but rejects it because, he tells us, there were other groups in the area that shunned pigs, including Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Babylonians. He says that prohibiting pigs was not sufficiently exclusionary to use as a cultural marker. It may be true that banning pork was insufficient for the Jews to define themselves versus all other groups in the region, but, I believe that in concert with the many other laws of Leviticus, it did create identity, and it served to differentiate the Jewish tribes from specific pig farming neighbors with whom they were competing.

Previously I felt that the idea of cultural markers was the most likely reason for creating the laws of kashrut and the abomination of the pig. But, while I still believe that it is a strong possibility, in the course of working on this essay I have decided that there is an even better argument to be made for another theory.

The simplest of all the explanations for prohibiting pork is that the Jewish priests simply reused regulations created in the cultures that preceded them. Judaism did not appear fully formed with priests, scripture and followers; it evolved from a long history of Semitic people in the Levant. If the people that formed the tribes of Israel grew up in cultures that shunned pigs, then they would have done the same.

Harris notes that Egyptians at one time ate large numbers of pigs. However, over time pork consumption decreased until finally swine were prohibited. Why? He suggests that it had to do with deforestation caused by population growth. This may be correct. But it might just as easily have been the whim of some Pharaoh. Agriculture in Egypt was centrally controlled by the Pharaoh and his priests who maintained their rule by understanding the seasons and controlling the flooding of the fields of the Nile delta. Thus, if one day some Pharaoh’s toe was pooped on by an ornery pig, he could have ended pig farming throughout the land with a snap of his fingers and without giving a reason. Someday Egyptologists may find a column covered in hieroglyphics describing a Pharaoh that had his privates bitten off while fornicating with a pig, and commanding prohibitions on bestiality and the abomination of swine. Until then we can only speculate about why Egyptians and other groups in the region reduced their pig consumption and ultimate grew to hate these creatures.

Many of the bible stories trace their roots to the mythology of other regional traditions – both those that preceded Judaism and contemporaneous religions. The rulers of the early Jewish tribes, and the tribespeople themselves, were already familiar with a set of laws, practices, prohibitions, taboos, and stigmas. Simply codifying the dominant rules of the region as the laws of the newly evolving religion would have made perfect sense. Dietary laws and other cultural practices could also have been adopted from neighboring groups over time – be those neighbors friend or foe. 

We know that culture is transmitted between allies and with trading partners. Culture is also acquired from enemies. The Jews took slaves and wives from the peoples that they conquered. Though not powerful within the community, these individuals were certainly in a position to influence behaviors within a household. If a wife taken from rival tribe refused to touch pork, a man had just two choices – kill her and get another wife, or go without pork. Undoubtedly both approaches were practiced. 

Meanwhile, regardless of where you stand on the literal truth of the bible, it seems clear that some large group of Jews were slaves in Egypt for a length of time. Even the most casual observer of human societies knows how quickly memes spread – especially those related to safety and food. If someone tells you that eating Pop Rocks while drinking soda can make your stomach explode, or that Bubble Yum contains spider’s eggs, you are likely to pass that wisdom on, even if you don’t much like the person that told you. During the enslavement of Jews in Egypt it would have been very easy for one group to have infected the other with the distrust of pork.

Furthermore, over centuries, alliances and enmities ebb and flow (as they do to this day.) If the Jewish people adopted a distaste for pigs and ban on pork from the Egyptians, Babylonians or Phoenicians during a time of cooperation, they likely would have retained the prohibition even if relations subsequently soured. Islam got its dietary restriction against pork from the Jewish philosopher Maimonides. When Jews and Muslims later came into conflict, the Imams didn’t decree that since they no longer liked the Jews, pork was back on the menu.

I would love to be able to say with conviction why Jewish law bans the consumption of pork and the abomination of the pig. Unfortunately, certainty disappears with time and a very great deal of time has passed. But, through research and contemplation I have convinced myself that the simplest explanation is the most likely. The laws of kashrut are simply the codification of preexisting cultural traditions of the region. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
California Bay (left) and True Bay (right)

Living here in the San Francisco Bay area, I find that there is a lot of confusion about the difference between the leaves of our native “California Bay” (which many locals call “Bay Laurel”) and the leaves of true "Bay Laurel”. This isn’t an esoteric distinction, as each of these plants' leaves are used as culinary herbs. I was misinformed about them when I first moved here. Someone told me that the trees growing in the hills were “Bay trees” and that the leaves were great for cooking. Another friend said that they were the same plant from which we get “Bay leaves”, though they were more pungent than the ones grown around the Mediterranean - because of location, not species. Though I understood that gourmets prefer the more refined taste of Mediterranean bay leaves, it only made sense to use the abundantly available leaves of “bay” trees growing right here in the “Bay Area.”

It turns out that “Bay Laurel”, or “True Bay” - the Mediterranean tree from which we get the bay leaves that most people use for cooking - is actually Laurus nobilus. “California Bay” is Umbellularia californica. Both plants are in the same family, Lauraceae, but, as the Latin names show, they are not just different species, they come from different genuses. Being in the same family, it is not surprising that they share a number of physical features and their leaves include similar flavonoids that make them comparable in cooking - but they are not the same.

For the food chemists out there, the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry (J. Agric. Food Chem. 2013, 61, 12283−12291) tells us that 1,8-cineol is the primary essential oil in Laurus nobilusLaurus nobilis contains 57% of this compound, but it makes up only 20% of the essential oil in U. californica. Conversely, Umbellulone is 37% of the essential oil in U. californica, but it isn’t found in L. nobilis at all. Methyleugenol, thymol, and α-terpineol make up 8.4%, 7.8%, and 6.5% of U. californica but are mostly or entirely missing from oil of L. nobilis. There are many other differences in the composition of oil extracted from leaves of these two plants. I have reformatted the table from the JAFC article and provided it for your enjoyment at the bottom of this post.

What’s really important for Californian cooks is the awareness that these are different plants with different flavors. Both leaves are equally edible and both can be used in cooking, but substituting one for the other could produce different results. You can think of it like using Italian basil in place of Thai basil, or, possibly, like replacing lime juice with lemon. If the ingredient is a minor element in a recipe, the results might be indistinguishable. But, if it is a key component of a dish, substitution could create a very different taste.

Though L. nobilus is not native to the area, it grows very well in our Mediterranean climate, so one might run into both of these trees. So, if you're not up to the task of nibbling on a leaf and saying "ahhh, yes, I definitely sense 8.4% methyleugenol", how do you tell them apart? Here are some of the major physical differences between their leaves.

The photo on the left shows the tops of the leaves, the image on the right is of the undersides. In each picture, a leaf of Umbellularia californica is on left and Laurus nobilus is on right

The leaves of Laurus nobilus:
  • Wider than Umbellularia californica
  • Pointier
  • Deeper green
  • Have a slightly wavy edge
  • Thicker and more brittle than those of U. californica
Umbellularia californica leaves:
  • Narrower than those of Laurus nobilus
  • Have rounded tips
  • Are lighter green
  • Have a smooth edge
  • Are thinner, softer, more supple, and more readily bent than those of L. nobilus.
[Note: These differences apply to mature leaves. The young leaves of both trees are light green and soft, making them much harder to distinguish.]

Umbellularia californica in bloom

Umbellularia californica bearing fruit

Umbellularia californica fruit and nut

The following table lists the compounds found in L. nobilus and U. californica. It is from from The Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. It has been edited for format, not content.

Compound  RRI-a  RRI-b  U. cal %  L. nobilius %  ID method
α-pinene 1032 939 0.1 3.8 tR,MS
α-thujene 1035 0.4 tR,MS
β-pinene 1118 979 0.1 3.6 tR,MS
sabinene 1132 975 0.1 5.7 tR,MS
myrcene 1174 991 0.2 tR,MS
α-terpinene 1188 1017 0.2 0.2 tR,MS
dehydro-1,8-cineole 1195 0.9 MS
limonene 1203 1029 0.1 1 tR,MS
1,8-cineole 1213 1031 19.5 57.4 tR,NMR,MS
γ-terpinene 1255 1060 0.3 0.3 tR,MS
p-cymene 1280 1025 2.1 2.2 tR,MS
terpinolene 1290 1089 0.1 0.1 tR,MS
α,p-dimethylstyrene 1452 0.1 MS
trans-sabinene hydrate 1474 1098 0.1 0.6 MS
camphor 1532 0.2 tR,MS
linalool 1553 1097 0.4 0.3 tR,MS
cis-sabinene hydrate 1556 1070 0.1 0.6 MS
trans-p-menth-2-en-1-ol 1571 0.1 0.2 MS
pinocarvone 1586 0.3 tR,MS
bornyl acetate 1591 0.2 tR,MS
terpinen-4-ol 1611 1177 6.6 4 tR,MS
cis-p-menth-2-en-1-ol 1638 0.1 MS
trans-p-mentha-2,8-dien-1-ol 1639 0.5 MS
thuj-3-en-10-al 1642 0.5 MS
myrtenal 1648 0.8 MS
umbellulone 1657 1171 36.7 tR,NMR,MS
trans-pinocarveol 1670 0.5 tR,MS
δ-terpineol 1682 0.6 0.9 MS
α-terpineol 1706 1189 6.5 3.8 tR,MS
α-terpinyl acetate 1709 7 tR,MS
borneol 1719 0.1 tR,MS
β-bisabolene 1741 1506 2.2 MS
phellandral 1744 0.1 0.4 MS
(E)-α-bisabolene 1784 0.5 MS
ar-curcumene 1786 0.1 MS
myrtenol 1804 0.3 tR,MS
nerol 1808 0.1 tR,MS
trans-p-mentha-1(7),8-dien-2-ol 1811 0.3 MS
p-mentha-1,5-dien-7-ol 1814 0.2 MS
2-tridecanone 1815 0.1 MS
trans-carveol 1845 0.1 tR,MS
p-cymen-8-ol 1864 0.2 0.2 tR,MS
cis-p-mentha-1(7),8-diene-2-ol 1896 0.3 MS
cuminyl acetate 1981 0.1 tR,MS
caryophyllene oxide 2008 1583 < 0.1% 0.1 tR,MS
methyleugenol 2030 1404 8.4 0.9 tR,MS
(E)-nerolidol 2050 1563 0.3 tR,MS
p-mentha-1,4-dien-7-ol 2073 0.3 MS
elemol 2096 1550 0.4 MS
cumin alcohol 2113 0.5 0.1 tR,MS
cis-p-menth-3-en-1,2-diol 2184 < 0.1% MS
eugenol 2186 1359 0.4 0.1 tR,MS
γ-eudesmol 2185 0.2 MS
thymol 2198 1290 7.8 tR,MS
carvacrol 2239 1299 < 0.1% tR,MS
elemicine 2245 1557 0.1 MS
α-eudesmol 2250 1654 0.1 MS
β-eudesmol 2257 1651 0.2 0.3 MS
chavicol 2353 0.2 MS
dodecanoic acid 2503 0.3 tR,MS
hexadecanoic acid 2931 0.1 tR,MS

RRI-a: relative retention indices calculated against n-alkanes on polar column.
RRI-b: relative retention indices calculated against n-alkanes on apolar column (Adams, 2001).

U Cal %: % of compound found in Umbellularia californica.
L. Nobilius %, % of compound found in Laurus nobilius
[each of these % calculated from FID data for polar column]

Identification method: tR, identification based on the retention times (tR) of genuine compounds on the HP Innowax column; MS, identified on the basis of computer matching of the mass spectra with those of the Wiley and MassFinder libraries and comparison with literature data.  NMR spectra were recorded on American Varian Mercury plus 400 NMR spectrometers.

Five or six years ago my neighbor Bill suffered a very unusual stroke. The stroke destroyed his ability to form new memories. I am told that this is extremely rare. I don’t know how long he is able to remember anything, but it appears to be no more than a couple of minutes. Interacting with Bill is very strange.

A while back Bill visited with me for a couple of hours. At the time I did not know about his condition. It was a very disconcerting afternoon as Bill told me the same stories from his life over and over again. He told me about the salon where he works (or, as I later learned, "worked") as a hairdresser. As soon as he finished describing the salon, he started over again telling me about the salon and his job. He told me about his kids, then about the salon, then about his kids, then about his first wife, then his kids, then the salon, then the salon again, then his first wife again… and on and on. On the first couple of repetitions I was completely confused. I wasn’t sure if he was repeating himself for emphasis, or if it was some sort of a peculiar joke, or the world’s worst case of egotism. Eventually I realized that there was some pathology there. It was later that I learned from another neighbor about Bill’s stroke.

On another occasion I was in my garden when Bill came up and asked if he could use my phone. He told me that his car was at the local gas station being repaired. He wanted to call them to ask when his car would be ready, but his phone wasn't working. Of course I invited him in to use the phone. He called a number that he had written down on a piece of paper, but the number was wrong – God knows how old the piece of paper may have been or what that phone number really was. I helped him look up the correct number for the nearby gas station. When we reached them, they told him that his car had been done and delivered the day before. They said he would find his car in his garage. Fortunately they must have been aware of Bill's condition, so they took it in stride. I wondered how Bill remembered having his car serviced at all, or if he brought his car to them years earlier and now calls them every day to check on its status. After hanging up the phone, Bill thanked me and went home. I watched him walk back towards his house desperately hoping that he would forget about his car completely. I would hate to think of him trying to drive.

I see Bill walking around my neighborhood several times a day with a caretaker. Sometimes they are walking side-by-side chatting, sometimes the caretaker is trailing behind. Every time I see Bill I have the peculiar experience of deciding whether or not I feel like bothering to interact with him. After all, we’ll just have the same conversations over again, and he won’t remember that we’ve ever met. I could be nice to him, or I could call him insulting names, or I could just walk right past as though he was a total stranger. As far as Bill is concerned, a minute later it would make no difference.

The other day I was walking my dog when I ran into Bill. I said, “Hi Bill, how are you doing?” Of course he didn’t recognize me, so I introduced myself and pointed out that I lived in the house around the corner. We talked a bit.

I said to him, “Wow, Bill. You really do walk a lot. I see you walking around the block all the time.”

“No, you must be mistaken,” he replied, “I only walk once in the morning and once in the evening.”

Of course it was he who was mistaken. He just didn’t remember that he does his morning walk three or four times, and his evening walk three or four times.

As strange as it is to experience Bill from the outside, I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like to be Bill. What must it be like to wake up each morning and look in the mirror to discover that you are much older than you thought? How shocking it must be to brush your teeth, shower, shave, and dress to get ready for work, then learn that you haven’t worked for years. I can’t imagine the conversation that must ensue each day as a total stranger enters Bill’s home and explains that he is the caretaker, that he has been taking care of Bill for years, and that the last half decade of his life is effectively gone.

What are we if not our memories? Bill has all of his memories from before the stroke. He seems quite happy and he is in excellent health (no doubt from all the walking.) He joyfully recalls his memories from the first 60-some years of his life. But, from a purely philosophical standpoint, I find myself wondering what it means to be alive if you cannot create new memories? In some abstract sense, is Bill alive?

This is the strange imponderable that I am pondering this morning. I have no idea what it means. If I should happen to come up with an answer, I can only hope that I remember it.
Sambucus canadensis 'Wyldewood 1'

When I was planning my garden a few years ago, I decided that I wanted to have elderberries. I found a study done by the University of Missouri which concluded that the most fruitful variety of elderberry was a tree named 'Wyldewood 1'. It turns out that the only place to get them is from Wyldewood Cellars in Kansas. At the time, they were not prepared to ship plants to California. After some work learning about the requirements of the California Dept. of Agriculture and several hours on the phone, I was able to convince them to go through the process of having one of their trees inspected and sent to me. Thus, I became the first owner of a Sambucus Canadensis 'Wyldewood 1' in California. Over the years it has grown to become a fine specimen.

Last year when the tree was in full bloom I invited my friend Sean to join me in making elderflower liqueur. I picked a bucket of the most fragrant flowers, then Sean and I each spent an hour snipping the tiny flowers from the flower heads for our batches of liqueur.

We were working from a recipe that we found online at It indicated that we should infuse Everclear or vodka with the elderflowers for “…at least a few days…” but, the author noted “I typically hold mine for two weeks, although I used to do a month.” After infusion, one strains the liquid and adds simple syrup. Sean took his jar of vodka and flowers home, and I put mine in my root cellar to rest. After two weeks I opened my mason jar and strained it. Not sure how sweet I wanted it, I experimented with small samples, varying the amount of simple syrup. The results were mediocre at best. No amount of variation in sweetness made a product that I particularly wanted to drink. It had more of a vegetable taste than a flowery one. I tried experimenting with various ways of improving the flavor: adding lemon juice, lemon zest, limoncello, water, additional vodka, and so on. I tried everything I could think of with no success. I checked on the St. Germaine web site to see if they had any suggestions, but, unsurprisingly their recipe is a closely held secret. I emailed Sean asking him how his liqueur had turned out. He said that it was revolting, so he had thrown it away.

I didn’t tell Sean, but I was embarrassed about the time and effort we had put in for such poor results. I was also anxious about the possibility that my elderflower tree produced flowers that were unsuitable for culinary use. Perhaps, I worried, all of my effort to get this particular elderberry tree had been not just a waste of time, but actively counterproductive.

This year, with the tree grown even larger, the supply of elderflowers was enormous. I was reluctant to drag anyone else into further folly without having a better idea of how to use the bounty of my tree, so, I proceeded on my own. I decided to start by trying to making elderflower syrup for soft drinks.

As before I gathered a bucket of fresh, beautiful, fragrant flowers. I spent considerable time snipping the flowers from their clusters, trying to get as little of the stems as possible – both to avoid the vegetable quality of my failed liqueur and because the greens are slightly toxic. Part way through I discovered that it was actually much easier to pull the flowers off by hand that to cut them off with scissors. Every recipe I have seen refers to cutting, snipping, etc., but for me, bare fingers were really the way to go. If you are working with elderflowers, I recommend giving the hands-on approach a try.

There are many more recipes for elderflower syrup than there are for liqueur. Most of them are quite similar. I chose to base my syrup on one from The Huffington Post.

Here is my (heavily edited) version of their recipe:

  • 1 Kg (2.2lbs) sugar
  • 5 Cups water
  • 2 Cups elderflower blossoms
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • Optional:
    • 1 tsp citric acid
    • and/or replace part of the sugar with dextrose and/or fructose (corn syrup)
Mix the sugar and water, adding either citric acid or dextrose and/or fructose. Bring to a boil over medium heat. If using citric acid, boil for 5 minutes after the sugar has dissolved to invert part of the sugar.

Put the flowers and lemon slices in a non-reactive bowl. Pour the hot syrup over them, stirring gently. Cover with foil or a tea towel and let sit in a dark place for 3-4 days, stirring daily.

Strain the syrup and then filter it through a pre-wetted coffee filter. Note that even with filtering a lot of pollen will remain in the syrup. Though it has no impact on the taste, it settles out and looks unattractive. To make a clear product, put the syrup in bottles and decant repeatedly over several days until it is clear enough for presentation.

If it isn’t going to be used immediately, the syrup should be refrigerated, or it can be frozen or stored using standard canning techniques.

[Side note: the author of the blog on Huffington Post provides a recipe that works well, but I believe she is slightly mistaken about the purpose of the citric acid. In her posting she says “It acts as a natural preservative, and helps the syrup stay fresh longer.” However that isn’t really an issue here as the sugar and lemon are preservatives. A whole lemon on average contains about 3 grams of citric acid which is almost as much as the 4.5 grams found in a teaspoon of citric acid powder. Also, if you want to store this syrup you must still take further actions to preserve it, such as refrigeration or canning.

What is really happening with the citric acid in this recipe is that it is being used as a catalyst for inverting the sugar. Sucrose, a polysaccharide, is said to “invert” when it is split into its two components: glucose (dextrose) and fructose. You can invert sugar by boiling it with water. The longer it is boiled, the more of the sucrose will invert. Adding acid causes the inversion reaction to happen more rapidly. A sucrose solution will tend to crystallize over time. The presence of other sugars interferes with crystal formation, so, boiling the solution for 5 minutes with citric acid results in a syrup that is less likely to form sugar crystals (“sugaring off.”) If you don’t have citric acid, or choose not to use it, you can add fructose or dextrose, or boil the sugar solution for more than 5 minutes to achieve the same result. Or you can forget about it and just use the syrup before it crystallizes.]

The elderflower syrup thus created is great with soda water for a cooling summer beverage, and is also excellent over crushed ice.

Having succeeded in making a delicious syrup, I got to thinking about elderflower liqueur again. First I tried simply putting some of my syrup into vodka. The result was 10 times better than last years’ liqueur, but I think it tasted more like elderflower syrup in vodka than real liqueur. [More on this later, but I assume that the difference between an alcohol infusion to which sugar-water is added and a sugar-water infusion to which alcohol is added, is a function of which flavinoids dissolve in water vs. alcohol. If you have further insight into this, please let us know in the comments below.]

Next I put a batch of carefully picked elderflowers in vodka. This time I tasted it after 24 hours. It already had a lot of the flowery flavor I was looking for, but there were also already some vegetable notes. I removed half and let the other half go for another 24 hours. The portion that infused for 48 hours had (to my palate) only slightly more flower flavor, but considerably more vegetable elements. After adding simple syrup I judged the 24 hour infusion to be good, and the 48 hour infusion to be just OK. It was clear to me that 48 hours was a bit much and the 2 to 4 weeks suggested by the author was vastly too long. Though the short-infusion liqueur was good, no one would ever mistake it for St. Germaine, and I doubt anyone would choose my infusion experiments over the bottled product.

I can’t help wondering why I succeeded in making a delicious elderflower syrup, but continued to fail to make elderflower liqueur that is worth drinking. I suspect that the core of the issue is that alcohol is too strong a solvent for my elderflowers, but there are a number of possibilities:

  • To infuse elderflowers into alcohol, maybe I need to do something special to avoid extraction of flavors from the stems. Possibly this involves a technique for removing 100% of the green material, or maybe the flowers must be dried or otherwise processed first. Perhaps there is a temperature, pressure, additive, or steam/cooking process that allows the flower flavor to come out without the green taste.
  • Alcohol and water are both strong solvents. Perhaps pure alcohol extracts only the desired flower flavors, while using vodka allows the flavonoids in the stems to be released as well.
  • In making the non-alcoholic syrup, simple syrup is poured over the flowers while hot from the stove, thus partially cooking them. The vodka infusion is a cold process. The hot syrup might influence the way the flavors are extracted.
  • Perhaps the flowers of Sambucus Canadensis ‘Wyldewood 1’ are too delicate for alcohol infusion. Or perhaps the stems of this plant contain more or stronger flavors than other varieties of Sambucus. Maybe my plant’s stems include elements that more readily dissolve in alcohol. Or perhaps this variety of elderberry, grown in my terroir, expresses these undesirable flavors in alcohol.
Next year I may try other experiments with different techniques, or flowers from different trees, to see if I can solve the mystery. But, at least I know my tree can produce delicious syrup, the fruits are excellent, and it is wildly productive.

I have been looking forward to the release of Windows 10 for some time. Friends of mine inside Microsoft have told me that Windows 10 is what Windows 8 should have been. However, with just a couple of weeks to go before its public release, there are starting to be rumors that Windows 10 is going to be a “subscription” product. That is, you will subscribe to Windows and pay an annual fee. Then, Microsoft will roll out new updates and new versions to your machine, as long as you have a valid subscription. It’s not clear in this scenario if Windows will stop working when your subscription expires, or if an expired subscription would simply mean no new versions and fixes.

I’m really surprised by this. My sense is that for Microsoft to put the Windows 8 debacle behind them, Windows 10 has to be an out-of-the-park homerun. Windows 10 has to contain absolutely nothing that would cause anyone to pause for a moment before choosing to upgrade. I imagined Windows 10 as the heir apparent to Windows 7. That it would behave like a new and improved Windows 7; smaller, faster, and more secure, but with the familiar old Windows user interface. Sure, there would be an option to turn on the Win8 “Metro” UI for the three customers that actually liked Windows 8, but for the rest of us, Metro would just be a distant nightmare. I also imagine that Windows 10 will contain support for new hardware, such as M.2 SSD’s. Also, I hope that the new Windows might contain some killer app (not necessarily new to computing, but new to Windows), for example, built-in voice recognition that would knock Dragon Naturally Speaking off the block, or perhaps consumer-level photo editing software that would completely replace Google’s Picasa or Adobe’s consumer-level Photoshop SE.

That Microsoft is considering changing the Windows sales model ala Google’s Android OS, takes me by surprise. A subscription model for Windows is something that might give me, and other consumers, a reason not to buy. On the other hand, I have never been concerned by the fact that Google rolls out new versions of Android from time to time. Not only hasn’t this bothered me, I have usually been upset when my wireless carrier (Verizon) has been slow in providing the latest Android update. There are several reasons for this. For one thing, if a new version of Android were rolled out, and it was terrible, it would only impact my phone. Yes, that would be inconvenient, but nowhere nearly as disastrous as if my computer were forcibly upgraded to an operating system that I hated. Also, it’s worth noting that Android is actually open source. There are many variants of Android freely available that you can download and install on your phone, should you choose to do so. Were Google to create a new version of Android that is as hateful as Windows 8, one can be sure that in no time third parties would provide Android versions that fixed the problems. Such is not the case with Windows. Most important of all, I have never heard of a release of Android that people didn’t like. I do recall an update a couple of years ago that everyone agreed took some getting used to, but I never heard anyone say that it wasn’t a welcome improvement over the prior Android.

Microsoft, by contrast, has at least two recent OS duds under its belt: Vista and Windows 8 (to say nothing of prior missteps in both operating systems and applications.) Windows Vista was roundly despised by consumers and pundits. Personally I liked Vista and have no idea why people disparaged it. But, that said, it is clear that many people didn’t like it and if they had been forced to install it there would have been considerable gnashing of teeth. More recently, Windows 8 was absolutely catastrophic. I tried it on a virtual machine. After 15 minutes I shook my head in disbelief and deleted it. Subsequently I tried Win8.1 on a tablet for a couple of frustrating days before returning it to the vendor for a refund. Everyone I know that uses Windows 8 (outside of Microsoft) says that they find it utterly confusing. So, if Windows 10 ushers in a new era of Windows as a subscription service, potential buyers will have to ask themselves if they trust that Windows 11, 12, 13, and onward, will all be good upgrades. No matter how good Windows 10 might be, will I want to commit to letting Microsoft force new OS versions onto my machine? Honestly, the answer is “no”.

In just a couple of weeks we will learn what Windows 10 is actually going to be. Perhaps the rumors of Windows 10 as a subscription-only service are incorrect. Perhaps it will be good, old fashioned, installed software. Or, perhaps, like the most recent version of Office, you’ll have a choice of two flavors: a subscription version (e.g. Office 365) and a standalone version (e.g. Office 2013.) Regardless, I will be holding onto my Windows 7 discs in case I ever need to revert back to the last known good version of Windows.