June 30, 2005
The BBC Radio 4 program (programme, rather) "In Our Time" is having an online vote for the greatest philosopher of all time. You can read about the candidates and listen to other philosophers make a case for each. Even though I just earned a philosophy second major, I am hardly knowledgeable to make a fully qualified decision, but I would have to vote for Kierkegaard because his writing has the ability to turn my brain into a soupy mess, and I tend to like that.
Posted by Will at 08:57 PM
Kind of hard to see because of the glare and the size, but we finally got my diploma from UNC-Wilmington under glass. Well worth the thousands of dollars if I do say so myself...
Posted by Will at 07:01 PM
June 28, 2005
I never cease to amaze myself at the things I find interesting: National Geographic reports on the threat posed by Africanized honeybees (introduced by Europeans) to the Maya beekeeping tradition that has been around for thousands of years. Apparently the Africanized bees don't play well with the stingless meliponine, which are native to the Yucatán. You would think the colonists would be satisfied decimating the native human population, but they just had to go for the bees as well...
Posted by Will at 10:34 PM
June 27, 2005
Week in Review 1(3)
NT Week in Review
Vol. I, Issue 3
Not much time for commentary (see previous post), but here are some good links:
From the blogs:
Tak at Savage Minds discusses the implications of racial stereotyping in regards to Gwen Stefani's latest image, which includes Harajuku girls.
Another post from Savage Minds related to the "Indiana Jones syndrome" I discussed in an earlier post.
ACLU is at it again...this time about the Bush administration attack on free scientific inquiry.
The reconstruction of Mission San Luis de Apalachee in Tallahassee, FL continues to attract loads of tourists.
The Nomadic Thoughts Week in Review Series presents the "best of" from the roughly three dozen anthropology, philosophy, religion, and science news feeds that make up a part of Will's blogroll. It is published every Sunday night/Monday morning.
Posted by Will at 10:09 AM
June 25, 2005
Moving, Pt. I
The journey to graduate school continues with the first of two moves in the next couple of months. The lease is up in my current apartment next Thursday so I'll be living with my buddy for a month in an upstairs spare bedroom. It should be fun living out of boxes and sleeping on just a mattress for a few weeks. I'm still waiting to find out when I have to start my assistantship in Tampa. It's supposed to start August 7th but my lease down there doesn't begin until late that month so I'm hoping to get a little "extenuating circumstance" action going on. It's a bit frustrating being in sort of a limbo, but it's exciting at the same time.
So if I'm not blogging as compulsively as I have been, moving is why. I'll at least try to keep up with the now world-famous Nomadic Thoughts Week in Review series. I'm also going to be purchasing a new Dell at some point because my current HP notebook is four years old and, well, just don't buy a HP notebook if you're in the market.
Posted by Will at 11:48 AM
June 23, 2005
My Visited Country Map
Thought this "visited country map" might motivate me to travel as much as possible and blog about it along the way. So far, my map is pretty bare: United States, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and the Bahamas. Makes me realize how much of the world I really have to see (98% more to be precise). I'll put this in my "about" page as well. I've enabled HTML in the comments so go make your own and post it!
Posted by Will at 09:53 PM
June 22, 2005
That's dinosaurs, right?
There's an interesting discussion going on at Savage Minds about the "Indiana Jones Syndrome" in anthropology. Rex writes:
When I tell most people that I am an anthropologist, the most common response is “ah… dinosaur bones. Fascinating.” But, as Kerim points out many focus on the Indiana Jones thing as well. This isn’t surprising. As a kid I loved Indiana Jones flicks as much as anyone else, but I never went into anthropology because of them (how that happened is a longer story!). But truth be told, I am genuinely shocked at how many anthropologists I know got into the business as a result of Indiana Jones—and if people were willing to admit it, the numbers would rise even higher.
I commented here that I was not immune from the Indiana Jones syndrome.
Very rarely does an archaeologist need to replace an artifact with a bag of sand to avoid death.
I have heard the dinosaur comment a few times since I started taking anthropology classes. The best one was when one of the managers at a cafeteria I used to work at thought anthropology was the study of bugs. Many times, those of us in the field loose sight of the fact that anthropology really is a minority discipline at most American universities and that there are only a few thousand professional archaeologists in the entire country. As a result, the majority of non-anthropology geeks have false impressions or no impression at all. For such an important field, I hope that this changes over time.
American anthropology has always sort of been one of those disciplines that people view as either exotic and exciting or completely dull and unimportant. Both extremes are the result of ignorance and it is up to the field alone to correct these false impressions. As I am relatively new to the field I can't give an expert opinion but it seems to me that the key is dialogue. By engaging the general public on a regular basis we clarify what we're all about as well as the importance of what we do.
June 21, 2005
Iraq one of world's most endangered cultural sites
No surprise here, but the war torn nation of Iraq has made World Monuments Fund's list of 100 at-risk sites:
Looting and the inability to mobilize restoration efforts in the war-torn region have taken its toll on relics that date back 10,000 years and could be wiped away, fund organizers said.
Some 10,000 sites in Iraq alone have come under siege, most recently from looting after the 2003 U.S. occupation there.
Many people don't realize that Iraq is perhaps one of the most important countries in our collective history. Within its borders lie the beginnings of civilization itself. I have read about archaeologists risking their lives to salvage what they can of the past and suppress the rampart looting that has plagued the country since the war began. Unfortunately, there is already quite a bit that has been lost but I feel there is still a bright future for research in Iraq once things calm down (relatively speaking). The recognition of Iraq as an endangered site can only help the cause of public awareness.
Update: BBC News has a good article on the nature of looting in Iraq, particularly at the National Museum.
Posted by Will at 08:18 PM
USNews.com has an excellent piece about the dangers archaeology. The story focuses on Mayanist David Friedel in Guatemala. While a great read, it does little to dispel the myth that archaeology is not always about digging up lost tombs and dodging looters' bullets. It does, however, give a pretty good rundown of where archaeology is heading as a profession and what needs to be done to protect our past. (thanks to Anthony of ArchaeoBlog)
Also, the new issue of Archaeology magazine came in the mail today with an article I can't wait to sink my teeth into. It's about investigating ancient cenotes, or sinkholes, with the help of Spanish colonial accounts written at the time of contact:
Few archaeologists are trained for the dangerous diving required to search these deep, dark, underwater caverns, and thousands of sites across the peninsula still await discovery and exploration. Now, researchers at the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán in Merida are trying to narrow their search for cenotes of enormous ritual importance to the Maya by using the detailed colonial accounts of human sacrifice.
There are many things about archaeology that excite me but cenotes have always been toward the top of the list. Perhaps the most well-known cenote is at Chichen Itza, the "Cenote of Sacrifice" (pictured).
Dredging has turned up everything from jade and gold jewelry to human bones. All thoughout and even after Chichen Itza's occupation, Maya pilgrims came from all over to toss sacrifices into the void. As you might of guessed, the cenote was believed to be a gateway into the underworld and its inhabitants.
Ref: Sharer, Robert J. The Ancient Maya, 5th ed. 1994. Stanford University Press: Stanford.
Posted by Will at 07:11 PM
June 19, 2005
Week in Review 1(2)
NT Week in Review
Vol. I, Issue 2
Welcome to the second issue of NT Week in Review. This is the first full week of reviews so we have plenty of blog posts and news stories to discuss. Enjoy!
From the blogs:
The Evolution-Creationism debate rages on over at The Panda's Thumb. PZ Myers hits hard, criticizing their methodology and agenda.
Brian Leiter links to a website about grade inflation over the past several years. The site itself is pretty much raw data but it was made as a result of an interesting Washington Post op-ed piece about the same topic.
Read this from John Hawks and see if you are as confused as we are.
Also from John Hawks (and a little more easy to read), cats may carry a parasite that can actually alter the personality of people they come in contact with.
Kerim at Savage Minds (an excellent group blog, by the way) has a great post about the varying degrees of interest in the subject of anthropology. Personally, I've heard people who think an anthropology course is the worst possible form of academic torture while freaks like me end of with a degree (hopefully two or three) in it.
News to me: In the Agora blogs about President Bush's stance on stem cell research. The news: he's not anti-stem cell research just opposed to using public tax dollars to fund it. A step in the right direction, but not far enough IMO.
Is That Legal (written by a law prof from North Carolina) discusses plagiarism, academic honesty, and the role of blogging.
The Panda's Thumb has the official statement from the annual meeting of American Association of University Professors on the teaching of evolution. Nothing surprising, as the AAUP opposes any form of creationism being taught at public institutions.
In a seemingly contradictory dilemma, researchers are trying to "save" a 5,000-year-old ice mummy, Oetzi, from bacterial contamination that has resulted in small bubbles to form in his bones.
A dig in London has uncovered artifacts that predate Christ. The 2,500-year-old piece of flint was found in association with the Iron Age Hill Fort.
The Sun Times reports that researchers have found the burial site of the 400-year sister of one of the founders of the Jamestown colony. As I wrote about in the last edition of Week in Review, the researchers hope to confirm the identity of Capt. Bartholemew Gosnold, who was excavated in Virginia.
Evidence at Qantir-Piramesses indicates that glass was made there out of raw materials as early as 1250 B.C., researchers from England and Germany report in Friday's issue of the journal Science.
Tom and Katie Watch: Looks like his religion and her conversion to it are "raising the profile of Scientology."
For a crash course in the history of the "civilization" of society, read Glenn Harlan Reynolds' piece at Tech Central Station. He raises the (sometimes scary) question of what the future holds for us as technology continues to change and shape our lives.
Also from TCS, Nima Sanandaji, an Iranian refugee to Sweden writes about her experience in an alien economic system which is characterized by a vast gap in work ethic and mentality. A must-read for anyone wondering what it's like for immigrants/refugees not coming to the United States.
The Nomadic Thoughts Week in Review Series presents the "best of" from the roughly three dozen anthropology, philosophy, religion, and science news feeds that make up a part of Will's blogroll. It is published every Sunday night/Monday morning.
Posted by Will at 10:07 PM
June 18, 2005
My Life is Complete!
I'm absolutely speechless. Excuse me while I go change my pants.
Guns, Germs and Steel: A National Geographic Presentation
Mondays July 11-25, 2005 on PBS
I have acquired yet another set of books to keep me busy for at least the next decade. As a result, my current reading list has grown to around four or five books at any given time. I purchased these through my sister's Barnes and Noble employee discount (shhh...) so it ended up being a good deal and one of the few times I've purchased brand new books as opposed to used to save a few dollars. Most of you will have heard of these titles, so please leave your comments if you've read any of them:
The "sequel" to Guns, Germs, and Steel, Collapse's tagline is "How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed." This one is unique in that it's the first book that I've ever looked forward to prior to its publication (I can remember when it was announced last year). The book is divided up into several chapters/themes with many sub-sections or what could be considered case studies. Diamond's overarching thesis is basically that the things that brought about the collapse of ancient societies (e.g. the Ancient Maya, Norse Greenland, Easter Island, the Anasazi) should be closely examined and considered because they can tell us much about the trajectories of present day societies, including the United States. Far from a doomsday prediction about our own fate, I predict Collapse to be an engrossing and enlightening lesson in how not to die.
Originally published almost two decades ago, The Blind Watchmaker is one of those books that everyone needs to read. Indeed, just after reading the intro to the 1996 edition and the original preface, Dawkins suggests that he intends to write a book for the general public that will help as much as it attempts to clarify. The tagline is "Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design." I was prompted to purchase this because of the many blogs I have come across dealing with the Evolution-Creation debate and the recent hearing in Kansas that have promted much heated discussion on the issue. I'm hoping this book will better enable me to counter Creationist arguments when (and if) confronted with them. Rather than just blindly repeating what Dawkins lays out in The Blind Watchmaker (as many Creationists do with their respective defenses), I hope to gain insight into evolutionary biology so I have more thorough understanding of its mechanisms.
Another Dawkins masterpiece, I got this one out of pure curiosity and reading pleasure. A few decades old, but its status will hopefully prove it to be timeless.
Another must-read, The Mismeasure of Man is the "definitive refutation to the argument of The Bell Curve." The Bell Curve was a book published in 1994 (Hernstein & Murray) that attempted to show evidence that supported a correlation between race, intelligence, and other biological characteristics. I bought this one for basically the same reason as I did The Blind Watchmaker and I anticipate it becoming one of those volumes that I come back to again and again over the years for some insight.
June 17, 2005
Only in North Carolina
I need to have a little sit down with the judges here in North Carolina and explain to them that sentencing a convicted anthropologist to community service in the Amazon Jungle is not exactly a "punishment."
Rosita Heredia was convicted recently of selling a 1,000-piece collection of tribal art that contained feathers of endangered and protected birds. Heredia, a cultural anthropologist trained at Harvard was subsequently sentenced to three years probation, 40 hours of traditional community service, and a total donation of $20,000 toward saving the Amazon.
Although I'm sure Heredia will be working hard in the sweltering heat of the Amazon, something tells me she'll be smiling all the while. For scientists bred to tolerate and even enjoy the often harsh conditions of field work, an anthropologist "forced" to serve in the Amazon reads like a cheesy joke, as the Times Online headline suggests.
My opinion? It seems like a reasonable sentence especially considering the donations she'll have to make. Besides this and the ludicrousness of the Amazon sentence, anthropology is such a field that her professional reputation is irreparably damaged for good. She never stands a chance of being fully respected in the field again, and that's the worst punishment of all.
Posted by Will at 01:29 AM
June 16, 2005
First, we must realize that the terms "hen" and "chicken" are technical terms from human cultural evolution that do not relate directly to the biology of wild fowl. Rather, these terms specify a wild fowl designated to become a domestic farm animal. The first "chicken" emerged on earth sometime around 2,500 B.C. in India, not as a result of mutation and selection (the red-combed wild jungle fowl, Gallus gallus, emerged that way), but as a result of the humans who first chased down Gallus gallus and put it in an enclosure allowing collection of eggs. Eureka, the first "chicken" was born, already fully grown, ready and able to lay eggs for breakfast.
... The age old "chicken and egg" dilemma exists because we are trying to answer what is conceptually a vertical question (i.e., where did chickens come from?) with a horizontal answer (i.e., they come from an egg which comes from a chicken). We are trying to answer what is conceptually a spiral question with a circular answer. In other words, some questions refer to horizontal and some to vertical natural processes and they must be answered accordingly. Some questions refer to linear processes and some to circular processes and they must be answered accordingly.
The chicken and egg can be seen to exist in a continuous horizontal cycle - as do the seasons of the year, the plantings of spring, the harvests of autumn, and the washing of dishes. These natural cycles comprise the circular conceptual world of the traditional Oriental ethical systems, providing for their closeness to these earthly realities. In complementary contrast, alpha (beginning) to omega (end) timelines comprise the linear conceptual world of the traditional Occidental religious systems. Neither the east or the west has it quite right.
Well, that settles that. The next time someone casually drops the chicken-or-egg question, paraphrase this article by Lower and watch them give you a blank stare. Yes folks, these are the kind of party tricks that nerds like me fantasize about using but rarely have the opportunity to.
Posted by Will at 10:03 PM
In the mid-'70s, the church, using a nondescript business name, purchased the Fort Harrison Hotel and Bank of Clearwater building. Since that time, the church has purchased much more property downtown, and is building the $50-million Flag building, across the street from the Fort Harrison Hotel, Clearwater is now the church's international "spiritual headquarters." More than 8,200 Scientologists now live in the Clearwater area.
At least now I know I'll have something to do when (if) I'm not busy with graduate school things: drive over to Clearwater and stare at the weird Scientologists (there are about 8200 of them in the area). Maybe I'll even get a glimpse of Tom and Katie.
Posted by Will at 01:05 PM
Evolution of Beliefs
I can't remember where I read this (leave a comment if you've read it too), but a professor was attacking the right's perceived liberal bias in academia by suggesting that liberalism is the inevitable outcome of an American education in the social sciences. I was struck by this for a number of reasons, most notably because I have come to realize the recent evolution of my own political beliefs and how much of that is the result of my four years at UNC-Wilmington. North Carolina is a state that is as red as they come and I have found that the UNCW student population is largely conservative, at least in a very general sense. There is only a small minority of vocal liberals and progressives on campus and they usually find themselves lost in a sea of military wives and girlfriends and rich white kids who have oval "W" stickers on the back window of their Jeep Cherokee (usually right next to a "Young Life" sticker). My point is that while I observe the student population to be largely conservative, the faculty and professorship embody the trend playing out across the United States. I could go into great detail here but many readers may already be aware that the vast majority of professors and faculty members at any major university in the United States are anything but politically conservative, especially in the social sciences.
In this context, I was ruminating on the implications of this and what it means to me and my educational history. For the past four years, I have taken mostly courses under the College of Arts and Sciences. Most of those were within the Anthropology and Philosophy & Religion departments. The social sciences in particular have mostly liberal professors (based on my personal observations) and the Philosophy & Religion department seems to be even more so. I do not want to give the impression that I feel my education has in any way been directly shaped by the personal political beliefs of these professors but rather that the curriculum and material in my anthropology and philosophy courses are typically in the context of what would be considered a liberal framework (the religion classes that I took were pretty straightforward surveys rather than interpretations of paradigms).
So, I am left to ponder how exactly my political beliefs are intertwined with my education. When I first came to UNCW as a timid freshman, I considered myself conservative but not Republican. I supported George W. Bush in his first run for office but four years later I was scared for the country should he be elected again (we're still alive, so far). I found myself progressing to a more liberal mindset and while I still agreed with Bush on some issues, they were little in number and growing fewer by the day. In learning about different cultures, worldviews, and religions, I came to know a different side of human existence that I hadn't realized was there. On the surface most of us lead a shallow, materialistic existence dominated by money, greed, and the effects of American pop culture. As I delved deeper into the important, philosophical questions I began to realize that my life didn't have to be one-dimensional any longer. Starting my junior year, the world began to take on new meaning and slowly but surely more and more dimensions became evident until they all blurred into one confusing view of reality. It's beautiful and scary at the same time but I wouldn't have it any other way. If you are one hundred percent comfortable with your existence, something is wrong. You aren't thinking hard enough. This is what I came to understand through my philosophy courses aided by my exposure to various topics in anthropology. It was a wonderful dynamic that was playing out before my eyes: my philosophy and religion courses were teaching me new ways to think while my anthropology courses gave me a frame of reference; something to which I could apply my newfound understanding of reality.
I have sort of strayed from the point I was trying to make, but I'll conclude by saying that I think there is anything but a liberal bias in academia. Instead, I feel that liberalism and progressivism is the result of the broadening of one's view of the world, which is what anthropology is all about. How can one travel outside of this country (in my case, to Belize, a third-world country) and still subscribe to the notion that the United States is in some way inherently better than or more privileged than another nation? This is a major tenent of the modern conservative movement and one that cannot be reconciled with an appreciation of the beauty and importance of things outside the realm of American politics and culture.
Posted by Will at 12:13 AM
June 15, 2005
The Tangled Bank
Today I came across a new (to me) blogging concept called "carnivals." The concept is pretty straight forward: bloggers submit what they feel are their best posts to one individual who aggregates the posts, comments on them, and then publishes it. This happens once a week and each week a new blog is the "host," that is to say that each week a different blogger publishes the carnival on his or her own blog.
The one I came across is called The Tangled Bank (around since April '04) and it's focused on writing related to science, nature, and medicine. It's a wonderful concept because it introduces readers to the best of the thousands of science blogs out there, plus you discover a potentially new blog each week as the hosts rotate. Naturally, I'm thinking about submitting in the future and maybe even hosting one day. So, if you like a particular post leave a comment and let me know!
Posted by Will at 04:20 PM
June 13, 2005
Week in Review
Over the weekend I had a thought that it might be nice for Nomadic Thoughts to have a gimmick of sorts, so I present the very first installment of the Nomadic Thoughts Week in Review series. Nothing unique in the concept itself but I'm hoping the material presented will be of interest to the readership out there and keep you coming back at least once a week.
The premise is simple: academic blogs and science news feeds make up about three dozen of the sites I read on a regular basis. These are linked in the left sidebar as my ever-expanding blogroll. Throughout the week I will clip posts and news stories that stand out and that are particularly interesting to me. I will link to the posts and perhaps provide some commentary. As always, your own comments are welcome (and much appreciated) on any of what I link to or have to say about it. Enjoy!
NT Week in Review
Vol. I, Issue 1
From the blogs:
Jason at Evolutionblog has an insightful post about "cosmological fine-tuning" and the implications of a theory of multiple universes in the evolution/creationism debate. A good one to sit down to with a cup of coffee and a couple of aspirin to swallow afterwards.
The Panda's Thumb has a great linked-filled post here about a series of legal briefs that have been filed related to the Cobb Co., GA court case in which labels were placed in biology textbooks kindly reminding students that evolution is "a theory, not a fact."
At Philosophy Now, Tim Madigan writes about the basis of morality. He tackles the age-old question of whether the basis for morality is divinely inspired and thus inseparable from religion or rather linked to our nature as humans. Madigan considers the field of evolutionary ethics and the possibility of finding the answer outside our own species.
Headlines from Inside Higher Ed:
Some technicalities have resulted in Bryan Leonard's Ph.D. dissertation defense, which questions evolution, being cancelled last week. As always, Panda's Thumb was on top of the story and provides some good background.
Some good news from Stanford U.: they have cut ties with four corporations that conduct business in Sudan that apparently indirectly support the genocidal government there.
An opinion piece by David Galef that made me laugh. Think of it as the "dumbest criminals" of the university system.
And some other headlines:
Excavations have begun in the fascinating archaeological quest to confirm the origins of one of America's founders at a church in the UK. UVA archaeologists believe that the identity of Bartholomew Gosnold, who founded the first English-speaking colony in Virginia in 1607 and whose remains were recently uncovered in Virginia, can be confirmed by DNA comparison with his sister's remains in Suffolk. An additional story here from the Telegraph.
Also from Virginia and UVA: archaeologists have found two graves that likely belonged to 19th century free blacks. The graves were found in association with a cemetery that was uncovered back in '93 during parking lot expansion project.
The world can't get enough of King Tut.
More glorious discoveries in the Maya world. In Guatemala archaeologists have entered a tomb with the remains of two women. The context of the remains suggests the powerful status of Maya women 1600 years ago. There is a great photo set with this story.
An interview with the director of the Iraq Museum. As you can imagine, they've been having a few problems regarding looting.
Finally, a moron gets his due for carving his and others' initials on a stone wall at an archaeological site in South Dakota.
Posted by Will at 01:22 AM
June 09, 2005
"N.C. bill would check criminal backgrounds before archaeology"
AP - Excavators who search North Carolina's waters and substrates for historical artifacts should be checked for criminal backgrounds to make sure they aren't likely to pilfer relics, the state's chief said Thursday.
His requests earned the support of a Senate judiciary committee, which unanimously approved a bill allowing state archaeologist Stephen Claggett to demand criminal background checks before issuing a permit to anyone who wants to dig or dive for artifacts.
Full story here.
Posted by Will at 08:11 PM
Not to toot my own horn, but Nomadic Thoughts has been added to the granddaddy of all academic blog lists: Crooked Timber (it's buried in the list under "anthropology"). Something tells me that this small step toward blogging immortality may have something to do with the fact that I submitted NT asking to have it put on the list. But for the time being, don't burst my bubble.
Posted by Will at 12:53 AM
June 08, 2005
If even the pizza delivery guys are this awesome in Tampa, I think I'm going to like graduate school there just fine:
Florida man continues his pizza deliveries after being shot in the leg
June 8, 2005
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - A robbery attempt by a masked man and a gunshot wound to the leg didn't stop a pizza delivery man from making his rounds, pies in hand.
Thomas Stefanelli, 37, said dedication to his job at Hungry Howie's Pizza kept him on the job after a struggle with a robber Saturday night left him bleeding from a bullet wound in his left thigh.
Stefanelli arrived at a home only to realize it was vacant, police said. The masked man approached Stefanelli, pointed a gun and demanded money. Stefanelli said he fought with the man, and two shots were fired. One hit Stefanelli, but he did not immediately notice.
The shooter eventually fled with a second man.
"They figured they were going to make an easy mark by robbing a pizza delivery person," said police spokesman Joe Durkin.
Stefanelli finally noticed his wound. His cellphone wasn't working, so he drove to his next delivery address, dropped off the pie and called his boss to ask him to call the police.
Stefanelli went on to make three more deliveries.
"It bled a little bit, not much," he said.
He was treated at a hospital and released.
No arrests have been made, but police have identified several suspects, Durkin said.
Posted by Will at 10:51 PM
Inside Higher Ed reports on the case of Timothy Shortell, a Sociology professor at Brooklyn College. Amid controversy surrounding an essay he wrote for a website not affiliated with the College, Shortell has declined his election as chair of the sociology department. The essay, written for a website called The Anti-Naturals, caused controversy because it characterizes religious people as "moral retards" among other things. The essay has been interpreted as particularly offensive to Christians. Many were not happy with Shortell's thoughts on religion and began pressuring the College to do something. Although he was not forced to do so, Shortell decided to decline the offer of department chair, presumably because of indirect pressure from the administration. Shortell maintains that his thoughts on religion have no bearing on his academic career and that “It is a mistake to believe that simply because I have expressed my political views as a private citizen that I am unable to treat people fairly in my professional role" (quote from his website).
It is unfortunate that Shortell felt he had to forgo the opportunity of department chair because of external pressure to do so. This case is particularly notable because the offensive piece in question was written for a website that was not in any way affiliated with Brooklyn College or his role as an educator. While I believe that there is a certain responsibility that a professor has to live up to, the academy must distinguish between professional obligation and freedom of thought and speech. It would be one thing if Shortell qualified his statements by citing his role as a professor at Brooklyn College: that is irresponsible because it brings into the equation an indirect affiliation between his opinions and his institution. The only potential hole in this argument would be the fact that Shortell has linked to the Anti-Naturals website on his professional web page. Even then, it would be a stretch to assume that such a link implies a causal connection between his personal opinions and any perceived bias as a professor.
The whole situation as illustrated by the Shortell controversy is particularly worrisome to those of us who maintain public, online journals for whatever reason. I started Nomadic Thoughts in order to give me a chance to express my thoughts and opinions on anthropology and related topics. It is public because of my firm belief that the furtherance of scientific thought and theory can only happen through informed public discourse, hence the purpose of academic print journals and professional conferences. While important, the internet has provided scientists and researchers the opportunity to bypass the often restrictive and highly selective nature of these two venues and reach a much larger lay audience that may or may not be well versed in the rhetoric and lingo employed by professionals. As I mentioned in a pre-Nomadic Thoughts post on my personal blog, anthropology and the other social sciences should not be restricted to the few who hold degrees in these fields because doing so would defeat the whole purpose of such inquiry.
For these reasons, a writer must not feel restricted in what he says outside of his professional affiliation. While a certain degree of self-censorship is inevitable, the value of public discourse as described above ceases to be effective. This Fall I will be completely new in the world of higher education, although I am already somewhat familiar with how it works. For that reason, I am mindful of what I post here and how it may potentially affect my future in academia. The Shortell situation is a reminder that we don't live in a society where freedom of speech is absolute. It is sad when an individual with the qualifications and experience necessary to make him or her a quality educator able to make a difference is held back because of what some perceive as controversial statements in the private sector.
Posted by Will at 12:51 PM
June 07, 2005
Grad school conumdrum
I've hit my first road block on my journey to Tampa. While I was elated to find out I was awarded a 10 hour assistantship, the only catch is that it would begin on August 7th. Seeing that the lease for my apartment doesn't begin until late August, I would be homeless for about three weeks. Turning down the assistantship clearly isn't an option as it's such a great deal (salary, tuition waiver, experience, etc.). What to do? I guess I'll find out soon enough if anthropologists' reputation as a giving and communal bunch is true (floor space, anyone?).
Posted by Will at 08:31 PM
On one of my two days off from work I chose to write about the social dynamics and interactive characteristics of the clientele. I work at a yacht club here in Wilmington that is strictly members only. Located on an island which is situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway, one has to own a house or be a guest of someone who owns a house to even gain access to the island via the single bridge that connects it to the mainland. Once on the island, the most noticeable thing is the absence of ambient noise and at night, the complete lack of light, save that which emanates from the houses themselves. The island prides itself on having absolutely no commercial development. The only structure on the island that is not a private residence is the yacht club. There are no streetlights or overhead power lines. When I leave work after dark, there is an eerie sense of "otherworldliness" characterized by an almost negative silence and complete darkness.
These are the richest of the rich of the East Coast: there are both permanent residents and those who have second and third vacation homes at the beach. My job is in the yacht club restaurant running food, among other things. About the only thing I don't do is cook and wait, which gives me ample opportunity to "study" the club's patronage, taking mental notes of what goes along with having millions and in a few cases, billions of dollars to your name. As an anthropology student, it's almost as if I'm conducting fieldwork that entails documenting the habits of a new species of humans.
There are just two main groups of people that would ever be on the island: homeowners and employees of the yacht club or the homeowners association (which I assume includes the security guards, etc.). As I mentioned above, you have to be either a member of one of these groups or a guest of the former. Prior to gaining access to the island, you have to pass through a security gate which is monitored 24/7. Once approved, you pass over the Intracoastal Waterway and onto the island itself. To the uninitiated, you immediately notice the differences between "their world" and ours. The speed limit over the bridge is 15 miles-per-hour and it never goes above 35 anywhere on the island. A terse message reminds members to "Walk left, bike right." Although to the average person these signs seem strictly utilitarian the anthropologist in me sees them as serving a dual purpose. Besides the utility aspect, such signs serve to let everyone know that "when you're on our island, you play by our rules." I cannot say much about other signs on the island because as an employee, I am not allowed to drive past the club where the massive houses begin.
The yacht club itself is replete with signs of social stratification. Upon entering through the front door, there is a simple sign carved from a single piece of wood that reads "Members Only." This is the most obvious example of separation that I have found. While the sign may indeed serve to keep unescorted guests from penetrating the walls of the club, I have a strong suspicion that it's main purpose is to make the members feel special, like this is their club paid for by their $40,000/year dues (not a typo). The prominence of the sign subconsciously reminds the members of this fact and that they are indeed separate and apart from the rest of the world while they're on the island.
The inside of the club, it is not much different than any other very fine dining establishment, except the yacht club logo is on everything. The dinner base plates, our employee nametags, pens, napkins, and bathroom hand towels. One is greeted by an oversized brass logo mounted on the wall at the entrance. Again, such signs serve to subconsciously remind the members where they are and why they are here. They are different, unique in their fortune and status.
I find it amusing that I see these types of things almost everywhere I go. The ways humans interact with one another in certain situations are as variable as life itself. In the example of the yacht club, we see a conscious effort being made on the part of the staff and management to allow the members to "live" their wealth. That is when they are within the walls of the club, which is the only public indoor space on the island, they feel comfortable. I make no moral judgements on these grounds, only the observation that there is much more that goes along with social status in America that simply realizing one is a part of a certain class. There is a prescribed subconscious element to class that makes its perpetuation virtually unbreakable.
Posted by Will at 04:05 PM
June 05, 2005
Contact from Belize
One of my anthropology friends from UNCW instant messaged me last night to mention (i.e. rub in) that he was having a blast in Belize at the field school this year. They're not staying at the Outpost Lodge this time, but rather in the adjacent village either in available houses or with a family.
The sights and (lack of) sounds of Indian Church Village are things that will never leave me. In many ways, they have become a part of my whole life experience and a reference point to any fieldwork that I will surely do in the future. I can almost see myself twenty years from now at a dig site relating to my fellow archaeologists (students, hopefully!) how I was so struck by the beauty and variety of the rain forest for the first time. That beauty seems indestructible. On more than one occasion when I was alone around Lamanai I imagined that it was the 19th century (yes, I still have the occasional intrepid explorer fantasy) and I was experiencing the environment the same way as those before me had. It was moments like those when I would imagine a world where the rain forest was indeed beyond the reach of modernization.
The hand of man has brought not only destruction to such environments over the millennia but methods of preservation that will make experiences similar to my own possible further down the trail. Unfortunately, not everyone is willing or able to see the beauty and diversity in nature, especially in Central America. I hold the belief that if victims of the rampart close-mindedness, hypocrisy, and otherwise shitty state of American culture were to travel for one week through any of the millions of acres of jungle to our south, we would inevitably see change in the way we think as a nation.
For many travelers, such a profound experience leaves one with the conclusion that the destination is not only a place, but a state of mind. For me, Belize and Guatemala are still physical places that I will hopefully one day return to, but they have become so much more since the whole experience has sunk in. I escape to them through my photos and saved e-mails and hope that in the future, they will still be physical places and not just a memory.
June 04, 2005
"Environment atlas reveals planet wide devastation"
Full story here.
LONDON (Reuters) - The devastating impact of mankind on the planet is dramatically illustrated in pictures published on Saturday showing explosive urban sprawl, major deforestation and the sucking dry of inland seas over less than three decades.
NASA satellite photos taken 30 years apart and published by the United Nations Program for the Environment show the destruction of the rain forest in the national park of Iguazu on the Brazilian-Paraguayan border.(AFP/HO)
I think I can spot a Wal-Mart!
Posted by Will at 12:36 AM
June 03, 2005
An anthroplogist after my own heart
Check out this story in the student newspaper of Glendale College about Wendy Fonarow, an Anthropology professor who's master's thesis was on children's behavior on Halloween and her doctoral dissertation on "the aestetics and rituals of indie rock music".
Sustainable Harvest International
I came across a charity organization the other day called Sustainable Harvest International. They do some great work helping farming families in Central America (including Belize) deal with growing environmental problems that is making productive farming more and more difficult. It also aims to provide alternatives to slash-and-burn agriculture, which can be just as destructive.
One of our activities during the archaeology field school I attended in Belize last summer was to get some hands-on farming experience. We met Julio, a farmer who owned some land just outside the village where we stayed. He showed us how he farms and instructed us on how to plant the kernels. We tied coffee cans around our waist filled with corn kernels and walked up and down a plot of land in straight paths, digging a hole in the ground about every three feet with a pointed stick. Drop a seed in, cover the hole up a little bit, and move to the next spot. Each of us only did for about five minutes and got a sense of the tedium that went along with such a technique. Julio and farmers like him do this day in and day out over acres of land. I can't imagine.
Julio shows James (left) and I how he farms with a coffee can and digging stick on his farm in Central Belize. Not pictured: the swealtering heat.
When I went to Belize last summer for a month I was struck by the beauty in the simplicity of the villager's way of life. Many people get caught up in the "endearing quality" of their lives and look at them as if they're a precious relic of the past. The truth is, they are where they are because most of Belize and Central America is still third-world and plagued by an enormous drug trade that keeps them there. Belize isn't as bad off as most of the other countries such as Guatemala (which I also visited on my trip) and Nicaragua. There are, however, still farmers that need assistance in many ways. The best thing about Sustainable Harvest is that they claim to not approach farmers unless they are invited.
So check it out and consider donating. They have a chart of where different amounts of what different amounts of money would provide. If you're still worried about donating, Charity Navigator gives SHI a favorable rating and budget breakdown.
Posted by Will at 01:19 PM
June 02, 2005
Richard Dawkins lays the smackdown!
I was overjoyed when I came across this piece written by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. It is a brief and concise rebuttal to the fundamental flaws inherent in Creationism (a.k.a. Intelligent Design Theory):
Science feeds on mystery. As my colleague Matt Ridley has put it: “Most scientists are bored by what they have already discovered. It is ignorance that drives them on.” Science mines ignorance. Mystery — that which we don’t yet know; that which we don’t yet understand — is the mother lode that scientists seek out. Mystics exult in mystery and want it to stay mysterious. Scientists exult in mystery for a very different reason: it gives them something to do.
This passage adequately sums up why I'm an anthropology student: because I want to know. Only recently have I come to embrace my ignorance and what it means to do so. There's something beautiful about acquiring knowledge and embarking on a scientific endeavour, filling in little pieces of an infinitely large puzzle. As Dawkins notes, the difference between science and religion is that the former uses ignorance as a tool of sorts to drive inquiry, while the latter is content to accept probable unknowns as the product of something unknowable by its very nature. It is a paradox that led me to accept science and reject religion as a worldview.
Admissions of ignorance and mystification are vital to good science. It is therefore galling, to say the least, when enemies of science turn those constructive admissions around and abuse them for political advantage. Worse, it threatens the enterprise of science itself.
Here we have one of the clearest explanations of the most basic flaws of Creationism I have come across. Creationists are indeed a slick bunch and know how to use scientific language to make the public think they are a valid alternative to evolutionary science. I attended a lecture at UNCW back in April sponsored by a group called the Institute for Creation Research. The title of the talk was "using their own words against them." Amusing to say the least, but after reading Dawkins' article it's now quite clear their whole theory rests on trying to use our language against us.
Posted by Will at 06:03 PM
June 01, 2005
As you can see, I've been messing around with Nomadic Thoughts' template to include a sidebar to left, which will hold my growing blogroll and link list. If you have an 800x600 screen resolution you'll have to scroll to see the whole page, but other than that everything should be fine. Please leave a comment if something doesn't look right from your end!
Posted by Will at 11:52 PM