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August 31, 2005

Katrina: the need for an anthropological perspective

I’ve heard it at least two or three times on the radio and television: Hurricane Katrina has brought the best and the worst out in people. As with any disaster, natural or otherwise, this is usually the case. I cannot begin to fathom how anyone could be taking advantage of such a situation as callously as those that have been looting in the hurricane area, particularly in New Orleans. As many have said, it is one thing to “loot” for bare necessities such as food and water, but blatantly stealing electronics, designer clothing, and other goods is the worst display of humanity and a prime example of everything that’s wrong with American culture. I could go on for pages about how our society has nurtured this behavior but I’ll spare you.

What I will comment on is the sad state of affairs in terms of survivors and refugees. Virtually every news image coming in from the New Orleans area, which experienced the worst flooding due to its location below sea level, has been of the poorest of the poor of Louisiana. These are these are the people that could not evacuate the area prior to the hurricane because they did not have the means to, presumably because they did not own or have access to a car. They ended up either at the Superdome, on a rooftop, or dead. I have yet to see footage of middle- or upper-class families sticking it out on a stadium floor or wading through waist-deep water that is most definitely contaminated. Why? The answer is obvious: they all had the means to get out.

While I cannot offer a solution to the poverty problem in New Orleans or elsewhere, I cannot help but place a certain degree of blame on the federal and local governments for the current situation. As some have noted, the mere fact that so many individuals were “left behind” is testament to the government’s lack of adequate disaster planning for the low-income, poor, and homeless population. Many have sympathized with local officials and authorities for doing the best they can in such an awful situation. Indeed they have been but much could have been prevented with a little foresight and planning. Much has been made of the fact that New Orleans as a city was waiting for the hurricane disaster that would sink the city. Why then have so many people been left behind to scrape by in a structure designed for football games and worse, left to die? To plan for the worst after the worst has happened is not acceptable. The majority of these people should have been in the state of Louisiana on Monday morning.

I anticipate a voice from the anthropological community in regards of diaster planning in the coming weeks and months. There is a class structure in America that sadly become very well-defined over the past few days. If one good thing is to come out of the Katrina diaster it is that disaster planning for low-income, disabled, elderly, poor, and homeless communities may now play a more prominent role in the agendas of local governments.

Posted by Will at 09:20 PM

First Week

My first week of graduate school classes has come and gone. I've had all my classes now and I'm more convinced than ever that I made the right decision. Having my archaeological methods class yesterday reminded me of the excitement of research and yes, even lab work (I’m a nerd like that). I soon realized that my professor for this course is the most visibly published I’ve ever had. It’s kind of neat to have a teacher that’s “the guy” in some specific area, in this case something to do with Mediterranean archaeology although he has simultaneous projects literally scattered all over the world (re: my dream job). Chiefdoms, which I had today, will be interesting for me because the professor for that class works in Mesoamerica and co-directs the university’s archaeological field school in Honduras. And as it turns out, I only have to audit and not officially register for the undergraduate linguistics course that I’m taking to play catch up. The financial aid gods are pleased about that one.

Most exciting of all, however, has been seeing familiar faces in all of my graduate classes. At least two people I’ve met are in all three. Also exciting and quite new is the diversity of both the faculty and graduates. My alma mater, UNC-Wilmington, is an insanely diversity-lacking institution in general, to say nothing of the anthropology department (unfortunately, minority archaeologists are extremely few). Having moved to Tampa, which is a far more diverse community than Wilmington, I’m already opening my eyes to the fact that I’m going to be presented with a number of varying opinions and views about anthropology and the world in general. One new student, a PhD candidate, is straight from the Philippines and was offering some excellent “outside” observations about American anthropology. As exclusive and elitist as the United States in general often is I can’t imagine being new to a country and being trained in an almost completely different way of thinking, as American anthropology is indeed quite unique in a historical-theoretical sense.

Posted by Will at 06:51 PM

August 29, 2005

The 22-year-old Freshman

I was embarrassed to own a car today. This morning the campus of USF looked like a used car lot from hell. It was, after all, the first day of classes and the single most attended day of the semester (aside from exam periods maybe). I experienced this problem at UNC-Wilmington for the past four years so it is nothing new, although at a school roughly two and a half times the size in terms of students the parking situation is a bit more obvious. I was warned by a returning student during the anthropology orientation that I shouldn’t expect to arrive for a class even half an hour prior and expect to get a decent parking spot, let alone one within comfortable walking distance from the desired classroom building. That student was absolutely correct. Although I didn’t have a class during peak hours (about 10am-3pm) I did arrive on campus at about 9:30 to meet with my GA advisor and I soon realized I was fortunate enough to find a spot in the Sun Dome parking that had to be almost a mile from the Social Sciences building. A mile isn’t a bad walk at all but the 90+ degree heat made it feel like twenty and I simply wasn’t used to dealing with parking on campus during the day. For the past two years at UNCW I rode by bike to campus and always laughed to myself at the students stuck in the incessant traffic jams during the day. Karma is a bitch indeed. To boot, when I tried to go back to my car after the ten-minute meeting I became misplaced on the sprawling campus. Mind you I never became lost, I simply enjoyed a long trek through the on-campus housing area and other parts of campus that I would normally never visit as a graduate student (the physical plant is huge by the way). I finally found my little black civic in the Sun Dome parking lot, but I was shocked to discover that the administration had actually extracted and moved the entire Sun Dome structure to another location on campus and inadvertently rearranged some of the cars in the process. I was satisfied that this was the reason for my temporary lapse in navigational awareness (again, I was never “lost” mind you). I felt like a freshman all over again.

Posted by Will at 11:42 PM

August 27, 2005

Website

My domain name, WilliamKlinger.com, now points to a little website I slapped together on my new laptop. Not much there yet but I anticipate it to be a clearinghouse for all my work and news at least while I'm at USF.

Posted by Will at 06:09 PM

August 26, 2005

Headstrong

I tried to keep busy today in a futile attempt to keep my mind off of the fact that I am new in a big city with literally no personal relationships formed yet. Despite that, there’s something depressingly satisfying about realizing that there’s no chance of running into someone you don’t want to see or otherwise wish to avoid contact with. On the other hand, even a disliked familiar face would be nice right now. I realize it’s only a matter of time before I form those important social bonds that will define my experience at USF but until then, I’ll sit here in my little box of a room enjoying cable television (mostly the National Geographic Channel) and my last few moments of mental clarity and relaxation before classes start.

I’m slowing getting the business end of moving to Florida out of the way. Already having established Florida residency at my new address, I went to the bank this morning to order new checks and change my statement address. Strangely I don’t feel like a Floridian quite yet. Maybe that will happen when I vote in my fist election here. Tampa dodged the bullet with Katrina although we did get a bit of weather that was probably associated with the hurricane. I went four years in Wilmington without having to evacuate for a ‘cane and I plan on going two more in Tama without getting kicked out.

This morning was my first “full” day of working for my graduate assistantship. I was initially given the menial yet necessary task of organizing and rearranging one of the lab spaces in the building. I’m not usually a superstitious person (in fact never) but there was something decidedly eerie about handling and relocating the nineteen human crania in a dead-quiet basement lab. I felt like the bastard child of Indiana Jones and Dr. Frankenstein.

The job of the semester for my GA will end up being the inventory and cataloging of the other biological lab’s specimen and teaching aid collection. It consists of a few dozen hominid crania and other various casts that are used as teaching aids and reference tools. Right now there is no established check-out or tracking system for the collection so I will be working with a PhD student in entering data and descriptions, applying barcode labels, and getting the barcode scanning system, which is new, up and running.

Posted by Will at 10:46 PM

August 25, 2005

Down to Business

I have been in Tampa now for almost a full week and today was by far the hardest for a number of reasons. This morning I surrendered my North Carolina driver's license and officially became a Florida citizen (hard part #1). I also registered to vote. At this point it really started to sink in that I was really here. After going to the beach one last time with my girlfriend, I took her to the airport and saw her off to North Carolina (hard part #2). Now I'm in a city of over 300,000 people and I don't know anyone on a personal basis yet (hard part #3). That in itself is a bit daunting and coupled with the fact that one of my best friends is ten hours away will make for a rough few days.

Tomorrow will be my first full day of work for my assistantship. I have quite a bit to do in the biological anthropology lab and helping my GA advisor get ready for his Human Variation course. Not to mention my own courses: the three regular grad sections along with an additional undergraduate linguistics requirement that I need to make up. I already have two reading assignments before classes start next week. Here goes nothing...

Posted by Will at 08:17 PM

August 23, 2005

Last Week of Fun: Day 4

Today was easily the hardest. My girlfriend and I finally checked out of the La Quinta Inn after 4 nights and moved into my new apartment near campus. I brought with me from North Carolina only what I could fit in my Honda Civic which wasn't much. After huffing and puffing it all up to the third floor we proceeded to hit up Target, Wal-Mart, and Best Buy for some of the essentials that didn't make it to Tampa with me. That took all day and took everything out of us. The new place is pretty cool and I have a nice setup. It's smaller than my other place but it's kind of nice because I won't be able to accumulate so much crap as I did over the past two years. The roommate seems to be really nice as well; an environmental biology major.

Posted by Will at 10:08 PM

August 22, 2005

Last Week of Fun: Day 3

I finally got to see some action today as I prepare to begin my graduate assistantship and classes, the latter starting next Monday. I had a meeting with my GA advisor where he explained to me a little about how the program works and the types of things I will be doing. Not ten minutes later I was actually helping another on of his GAs do some photocopying of journal articles for his Human Variation course. He also showed me one of the two biological anthropology laboratories which is in the process of being converted. There is quite a bit of organizing and arranging that needs to be done, so that will be one of my jobs as well. Part of the lab's bone/crania collection is a little scattered so I decided it would be nice to have a "bone closest" of sorts instead of having them in different locations. I knew I felt comfortable at USF when I wasn't weirded out handling a dozen or so human crania in a basement lab by myself. The department soon hopes to have them all bar-coded for easy check-out and referencing which I'm sure I'll be helping with.

The anthropology department new graduate student orientation was tonight as well. It was helpful in many respects and I finally got to match faces to all the names I had read about online and in the catalog. Not surprisingly much of the faculty seems very nice and all were thrilled that we had chosen South Florida. I got the distinct impression that all of them were very proud of the department and its various aspects. That made me even more confident in my decision to attend.

After the orientation there was a reception/party at a professor's house. Aside from the SEAC in 2003, it was the largest group of anthropologists in one room that I've seen. Not knowing anyone made it a little awkward but I eventually felt very comfortable mingling and meeting the new students as well as some second years. For the first time in a long time I felt like I was "in my element." It's not very often that I get to talk about research and areas of interest and have the other person know what the hell I'm talking about. All in all a great evening and a much-needed reinforcement of my graduate school choice.

Posted by Will at 11:17 PM

August 21, 2005

Last Week of Fun: Day 2

Today we made it over to St. Petersburg and Clearwater and went to the beach. Of course it was incredibly hot so we only ended up staying out for about an hour. The west coast of Florida is the Gulf of Mexico and it was a little different than swimming in the Atlantic, as I did in Wilmington. There weren't waves like I'm used to and the water was actually pretty clear. Oh, and it wasn't freezing cold like Wrightsville and Carolina beaches are even during the summer months. The Clearwater area is beautiful if one is able to look beyond the fact that every square inch is developed.

Tonight we are going back to downtown Tampa to check out the bay and eat at Kojak's, a "famous" rib shack that my father and I ate at a few months ago when we were in Tampa for reconnaissance. As always, there will probably be some cool shots up on Flickr later on.

Tomorrow it's back to business with the Anthropology Department's new graduate orientation at 4pm. At 6:30 there's a reception/party at one the prof's houses. I'm starting to get excited.

Posted by Will at 04:24 PM

August 20, 2005

"Winning the War against Trees"

Today was a long one. After arriving in Tampa in one piece last night, we didn't do much except pass out after the ten hour drive. I woke up this morning to make it to the campus-wide graduate orientation on campus. Not surprisingly, it was well-organized and informative. I'd taken care of much of the stuff discussed, such as getting an ID card and the like. I even got a pretty nifty free tote bag with the graduate school logo on it and filled with cool stuff (one thing you'll learn about me is that I'm a coupon whore).

After that my girlfriend and I had the rest of the day so we drove to downtown Tampa and went to Westshore Mall to find me some smart clothes to wear on my first days. I did end up getting a few things. I used to think that I didn't care what people thought of me (and I still don't to an extent) but my first days of class and my GA/TA position will be critical for first impressions. I resisted the temptation to purchase a tweed jacket with leather patches on the elbows. I also passed up a wonderful t-shirt at Urban Outfitters that had a line drawing of a bulldozer and a pine tree and the slogan "Winning the War against Trees." I still can't stop laughing. We also found a neat little spot in the Cuban district of Tampa, which is famous for cigars. King Corona Cigars is a neat little spot; very chill inside and you can sit outside and watch all the "interesting" people walk by.

But you're not reading this to learn about my clothing preferences, so I'll continue to update with all the gory details about my first week here in Tampa for graduate school. Nothing scheduled tomorrow except we're going to try and make it over to Clearwater to spend the day at the beach, Gulf side baby. I better get all this "fun stuff" out of my system before I forget what it is.

Here are a few photos from around Tampa, including our dinner at Channelwalk (a shopping and dining district) and Ybor City, the Cuban district. Check them out on my Flickr stream.

Posted by Will at 11:29 PM

August 18, 2005

The Journey Begins

The long-awaited weekend has finally arrived. After months of researching, planning, testing, applying, and accepting I’m finally off to graduate school in the morning. I feel now what I think I should have felt before I left for freshman year of undergraduate: anticipation for something bigger coupled with just enough nervousness to keep me excited about the whole thing. I can’t say that I have butterflies in my stomach because I’m too damn ready to get on with it, but I can safely comment that moving to a completely new area not knowing a single person in a several hundred mile radius has aroused in me a certain feeling that I can’t quite place my finger on. Academic life is nothing new to me, at least in theory, as I’ve read books, articles, and blogs about the subject: the necessary evils like various types of paperwork and the politics of simply being a part of higher education in America. As an archaeologist I can’t predict the future, simply help recreate the past. For this reason I can’t say where I’ll end up, but I have a growing suspicion that I was cut from the cloth of academia.

That being said, I leave bright and early tomorrow morning, embarking on a roughly ten-hour car ride to the Sunshine State. And so it begins. I plan on blogging the whole adventure, probably frequently before the novelty wears off and I get down to business. The original mission of Nomadic Thoughts is about to be realized: to document the thoughts and experiences of a new graduate student. I hope these posts aren’t completely useless. I’m hoping that someone who stumbles upon my blog will gain insight into what life is like on the other side of the graduation stage. It doesn’t have to suck, and most importantly it never has to be “the real world” (whatever the hell that means).

Posted by Will at 07:58 PM

Back to the Future, Ice Age Style

From National Geographic News:

A team of U.S. biologists and conservationists is proposing a plan that's equal parts Jurassic Park and Jumanji.
Their goal is to restore giant wild mammals to North America, like those that roamed the continent during the Ice Age—mammoths, saber-toothed cats, and the extinct American cheetah, among others.
Since those animals have long been extinct, the scientists propose repopulating the U.S. with the creatures' closest living relatives—such as lions, cheetahs, elephants, and camels.

The story, which features an interview with the lead author of the Nature article that proposes "rewilding," briefly mentions the possible effects on the American landscape and the question of whether or not such a proposal could be considered ecological tampering:

We argue that our proposal is based on a couple of facts that are very clear. One is that now the Earth is nowhere pristine. Our economics, our politics, our technology pervade every ecosystem.
So we argue that even though the obstacles and risks are substantial, we no longer accept a hands-off approach to wilderness preservation. By default or by design, we're going to basically decide what kind of world we want to live in.

I'll have to check out the full proposal in Nature before I can present an informed opinion from an anthropological perspective, but right off the bat I can see several potential problems the team might encounter in terms of popular opinion and ethics.

Posted by Will at 04:40 PM

August 17, 2005

New Banner Image

I was playing around on my new laptop and ended up designing a new banner image for Nomadic Thoughts. Like the previous banner, this one was taken while I was in Belize last summer for an archaeology field school I attended with UNC-Wilmington. Our dig site and lodging was adjacent to the village of Indian Church. The picture shows one of the main roads going through Indian Church and one that we would walk many a night to and from the local bar, the Blue Bird. The banner keeps with the symbolism of not knowing exactly where I'm going or where I'll end up but appreciating the beauty of things along the way.

Posted by Will at 04:03 PM

Genocide IS News: Beawitness.org

From a new American Progress Action Fund website, Beawitness.org:

Genocide is the ultimate crime against humanity. And a government-backed genocide is unfolding in the Darfur region of the Sudan. As the horror in Darfur continues, our major television news networks are largely missing in action.
During June 2005, CNN, FOXNews, NBC/MSNBC, ABC, and CBS ran 50 times as many stories about Michael Jackson and 12 times as many stories about Tom Cruise as they did about the genocide in Darfur.
Whether it is coverage of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s, the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s, or recent coverage of the tsunami, television news can help stop grave injustices and end human suffering. Increased television coverage of the genocide in Darfur has the power to spur the action required to stop a devastating crime against humanity.

I've added a Beawitness.org badge to the right sidebar. Do the same if you feel the abhorrent state of mainstream media reporting bothers you as it does me. If you don't have a blog or website, become aware by browsing the website and checking out some stats and why putting pressure on news networks is important.

Read my post here for my thoughts on the MSM, which appears on a blog I maintained for a philosophy class this past semester.

Posted by Will at 01:02 AM

August 16, 2005

"Intelligent Falling" Gaining Momentum

Pharyngula pointed me to an article (guess the source after you read it) about another scientific theory under attack:

KANSAS CITY, KS — As the debate over the teaching of evolution in public schools continues, a new controversy over the science curriculum arose Monday in this embattled Midwestern state. Scientists from the Evangelical Center For Faith-Based Reasoning are now asserting that the long-held "theory of gravity" is flawed, and they have responded to it with a new theory of Intelligent Falling.

Read the whole thing here.

The above story leads me to ponder a frightening scenario. With the recent attention given to the "Intelligent Design" theory of the origin of life coupled with the newly-established "Intelligent Falling" theory, I fear that our country will soon be replete with religious dogmatists whose aim is to attack the validity of sound science. Furthermore, I fear that some of these individuals will unite in solidarity, forming organizations with a mission of deception. Still further, if we are not careful the very people we entrust with preserving our way of life and upholding the tenants of the US Constitution may begin advocating such theories...

Posted by Will at 11:31 PM

August 15, 2005

Week in Review 1(10) - Commemorative Hiatus Edition

NT Week in Review
Vol. I, Issue 9

Well, I'm putting the Week in Review series on hiatus indefinitely as it comes down to the final days before I start graduate school. As it gets closer to G-Day I'm slowly realizing that I'll have virtually no time for compiling articles and offering any sort of worthwhile commentary. The compiling part takes no time but sitting down to format and write about the stories is a job in itself. And if you know me, I refuse to do anything half-assed! I'll still blog about news and events that I find interesting throughout the week and most prominently, about my experiences as a first-year graduate student at U. of South Florida. The latest: I leave for Tampa this Friday!

Anyone really into archaeology news probably already knows about these sites, but if you don't they've been invaluable to me for keeping up:

Archaeologica - the granddaddy of archaeology news
ArchaeoBlog - a steady stream of headlines and commentary presented in an entertaining fashion.
Topix.net Archaeology News - where I get most of my news from; updated several times a day

----------------------------------------------------
The Nomadic Thoughts Week in Review Series presented the "best of" from the anthropology, philosophy, religion, and science news feeds that make up a part of Will's blogroll. It was published every Sunday night/Monday morning over nine weeks.

Posted by Will at 04:44 PM

August 12, 2005

Start Shouting: My Atheism Story

My decision to enter graduate school was a decision to dedicate my life's work to the study of humans and their material remains. There are no "changing majors" in a master's program and thus I am bound to anthropology as both a career path and as a life philosophy. The American academy is an institution like no other; it has its own rules and politics and is governed not by a board of directors or a chief executive officer, but by your peers, fellow researchers, and students. But that is not what this post is about. It is about the unending search for reason that I have chosen to undertake.

I've never come out on either of my blogs and said that I'm an atheist. My unbelief usually manifested itself in such ambiguous phrases as "my rejection of religion" and "my dedication to reason." Among my peers, I was always secretly excited when I was able to proclaim my rejection of God or anything supernatural. Indeed it was a coming out of sorts, the kind that excites little children when they're showing off a new toy. My girlfriend accepts me as an atheist, although she jokingly believes my wedding is going to be in a cave, with bats. My sister, three years my senior and a believer herself, also accepts the fact that I find truth in a different book than her. I don't worry too much about the opinion of anyone else except my parents. I'm sure that they have a good idea because of those ambiguous phrases mentioned above that I used quite liberally in a blog I had to write for a philosophy course. Perhaps I was so "careful" with them because I had an unfounded fear that I would disappoint them. Part of that fear will always remain with me. They did, after all, invest so much love and attention during my formative years in the context of Christianity.

As a boy scout I took an oath to do my duty to God (although the scouts never taught me what that duty entailed other than blind acceptance). I went though confirmation at church but at that age I was still under the impression that God's work was arts and crafts and maybe a cheery song or two. I didn't know it then, but I was a zombie in training. I was being told fairytales and nightmares that were supposed to somehow make me a good person. Looking back, my church experience was nothing more than teaching me that I wouldn't get my dessert if I didn't clean my plate. All through high school I went intellectually unfulfilled. It's not that the courses weren't challenging enough, it's that I just didn't care. I received good grades, but I got them because I had to, not because I wanted to. College would change all that.

In the fall of 2001 I was a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. On September 12 of that same semester, I was a freshman who no longer believed in the God that I had grown up with for eighteen years. As I was sitting in my dorm room watching the World Trade Centers aflame, I remember thinking to myself that the world is going to be different from now on. I didn't know exactly how or to what degree, but it was going to be different. I went through that Tuesday like any other, unaware of the future implications of these terrorist attacks. One of my fondest memories of my first semester in college was walking through the center of campus, alone, on the night of September 11th. I had to be alone but I didn't know why. It's not that I get stressed out easily. I cried for a few minutes thinking of the thousands of people that had vanished from the earth in a matter of minutes. For the first time in my life, death was real and the fragility of life took on a new meaning. Around the time I entered college I was already starting to think about my personal religious beliefs. Sometime on or shortly after September 11th I remember saying to myself "even if God does exist, I do not want a personal relationship with a being that would allow something like this to happen." There was nothing that could possibly change that.

By the next year I had declared Anthropology as my major but I had no idea that my newly-realized unbelief may have played a role in that decision. I was now on a quest for truth in reason, the kind that could be found in dirt and DNA. But I did not emerge from my transformation completely ridded of the shackles of religion. I would soon declare Philosophy and Religion as a minor and eventually a second major. Although traditional religion and spirituality do nothing for me on a personal level, I still find them fascinating and worthy of inquiry. I am still amused by the possibility that people may think I'm religious just because I have a religion degree. One of my favorite books is Karen Armstrong's A History of God. One of my most enlightening college courses was Old Testament Literature. It didn't take long to realize that my fascination with religion was a quest to try and understand how so many people can be so obviously wrong about the world. I am not saying that I have all the answers, or any answers at all, but I do know a fairytale when I read one. If I do end up being wrong about the whole thing and I find myself engulfed in the flames of Hell, I will still manage to smile because I know I lead a fulfilling life without fear of my ultimate demise.

You may be wondering why I decided to write this entry in this blog (as opposed to my personal blog). Inspiration came from a number of sources. I will preface these remarks with the observation that it takes courage to "come out" as an atheist in the United States. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma attached to anyone who doesn't believe in something. Often times this is simply the result a general apprehension of deviating from the social norm and a fear of being rejected by society. Indeed, to be an atheist is by its very definition, among other things, a DESIRE to be rejected by the religious mainstream on ideological grounds. That being said, I overcame my childish fear of rejection by realizing that science provided a much firmer philosophical ground on which to stand than did religion. Secondly, Sam Harris' The End of Reason gave me more confidence in my five year old conclusion that there is no God and that a belief in one is dangerous. I decided to author this post itself by one of my favorite authors, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who posted on another blog that in order to prevent religion from destroying us we must "start shouting, to encourage the others." On the same blog, Sam Harris had this to say:

The only thing that permits human beings to collaborate with one another in a truly open-ended way is their willingness to have their beliefs modified by new facts. Only openness to evidence and argument will secure a common world for us. Nothing guarantees that reasonable people will agree about everything, of course, but the unreasonable are certain to be divided by their dogmas. It is time we recognized that this spirit of mutual inquiry, which is the foundation of all real science, is the very antithesis of religious faith.

Posted by Will at 12:09 AM

August 11, 2005

"Why Tolerate the Hate?"

From The New York Times comes an op/ed piece about the perils of multiculturalism and finding a balance between tolerance and rejection of violence. Irshad Manji writes:

As Westerners bow down before multiculturalism, we anesthetize ourselves into believing that anything goes. We see our readiness to accommodate as a strength - even a form of cultural superiority (though few will admit that). Radical Muslims, on the other hand, see our inclusive instincts as a form of corruption that makes us soft and rudderless. They believe the weak deserve to be vanquished.
Paradoxically, then, the more we accommodate to placate, the more their contempt for our "weakness" grows. And ultimate paradox may be that in order to defend our diversity, we'll need to be less tolerant. Or, at the very least, more vigilant. And this vigilance demands more than new antiterror laws. It requires asking: What guiding values can most of us live with? Given the panoply of ideologies and faiths out there, what filter will distill almost everybody's right to free expression?

The paradox described by Manji is one that Americans refuse to struggle with. As with many other issues in American politics that have very important social implications, too many people see it as a black or white issue: either we let the terrorists kill us all or we kill all of them first at any cost. Many conservatives advocate closed borders and racial profiling while at the same time reveling in the United States' status as the epitome of cultural and political greatness where all non-Americans should want to come to live. This is a paradox in itself and one that deserves a deeper examination of its own. Other extremes, such as multiculturalism or more specifically, a strict adherence to tolerance, is just as dangerous because it disallows for the condemnation of violence that is religious of culturally based, as terrorism is both. As Manji explains, we need to find a balance between the two that allows for individuality:

Which brings me to my vote for a value that could guide Western societies: individuality. When we celebrate individuality, we let people choose who they are, be they members of a religion, free spirits, or something else entirely. I realize that for many Europeans, "individuality" might sound too much like the American ideal of individualism. It doesn't have to. Individualism - "I'm out for myself" - differs from individuality - "I'm myself, and my society benefits from my uniqueness."

This view does lean toward the tolerance model but it does so with an eye towards self-awareness and enough wiggle room to condemn terrorism and other violence that is born from a clash of cultures. I believe that a "war on terror" cannot be won by conventional weapons alone. Instead, we have to wage a war on ignorance and lack of reason.

Posted by Will at 03:31 PM

First words of Incan Empire revealed?

Despite all its magnificent architecture, beautiful artwork, and centralized rule that extended north and south throughout the entire empire, the Inca of South America never got around to developing an archaeological observable form of writing. The closest they presumably came was the quipu, a system of strings and knots that were used to preserve information that probably had to do with public administration of the vast empire. Now, two researchers from Harvard University claim they have found a three-knot pattern in some of the strings. The discovery may indicate the use of a place name. Full story below the fold:

Possible Pattern Found in Incan Strings
By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, AP Science Writer

Three figure-eight knots tied into strings may be the first word from the ancient Inca in centuries.

While the Incan empire left nothing that would be considered writing by today's standards, it did produce knotted strings in various colors and arrangements that have long puzzled historians and anthropologists.

Many of these strings have turned out to be a type of accounting system, but interpreting them has been complex.

Now, Gary Urton and Carrie J. Brezine of Harvard University say they have found a three-knot pattern in some of the strings, called khipu, that they believe identifies them as coming from the city of Puruchuco, about seven miles north of modern Lima, Peru.

They used computers to analyze 21 khipu found at Puruchuco and divided them into three groups based on the knot patterns. Their findings are reported in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

One group seems to be for local use and the other two groups — each with the three-knot pattern — may have been used to report local activities to higher authority, or to receive messages from those authorities. Details of the information from the local khipu was coded onto the others intended for travel.

In this case, the researchers believe they have found a place name in the three knots. "If that's the case, we should ideally be able to look around at other khipu and see if we see this arrangement," Urton said.

"We suggest that any khipu moving within the state administrative system having an initial arrangement of three figure-eight knots would have been immediately recognizable to Inca administrators as an account pertaining to the palace of Puruchuco," the researchers said.

"For the first time, really, we can see how information that was of interest to the state was moving up and down in a set of interrelated khipu," Urton said in a telephone interview.

"We assume it has to do with tribute, the business of the state, general census taking or what resources existed or what activities were taking place," he said.

Identifying a place-name, they said, could provide the first foothold for interpreting the knots.

Potentially, Urton said, they might be able to build up an inventory of place names, the first time khipu knots have been directly associated with words rather than numbers.

There are between 650 and 700 khipu in museums, he explained, and about two-thirds of them have the knots organized in a decimal system indicating their use in some sort of accounting.

But the remaining khipu have knots in other patterns, perhaps a form of written language, if the researchers can work it out.

"We think those may be the narrative ones, "Urton said. "The identities attached to those knots may not be numerical. If we can use the numericals to account for objects, that may give us clues to how they were assigning identities to objects," he said, citing such items as llamas, gods, defeated cities and warriors that might have been counted.

If they are able to find such words, then they could look for those words in the narrative khipu.

What is missing is something like the Rosetta stone, which allowed Egyptian hieroglyphics to be deciphered when researchers realized it contained identical text in three languages, two of which could still be understood.

The Inca empire flourished along the western edge of South America in the late 1400s, ending with the arrival of the Spanish in the early 1500s. There are reports of the Inca telling the Spanish conquerers that the khipu told history, good and bad. The Spanish reportedly wrote down some of the Inca stories, but destroyed many of the khipu.

Galen Brokaw, professor of languages at the University at Buffalo, called the paper "exciting," because Urton was able to show a relationship between three levels of khipu.

"Each higher level condenses the more specific and detailed information of the level immediately below it. So, this provides us with an idea about how khipu were used in the Inca administration. To a non-specialist, it may sound like a fairly small discovery, but within the context of khipu studies it is fairly significant," Brokaw said.

Heather Lechtman, a professor of archaeology and ancient technology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology — after hearing a description of Urton's paper — said "he is making an interpretation, and I expect that he is not far from the mark."

Neither Brokaw nor Lechtman was part of Urton's research team.

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation, Dumbarton Oaks Foundation, Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Posted by Will at 03:13 PM

Mormons Taste Like Chicken

The Evangelical Atheist, taking a hint from Jonathan Swift, has an interesting idea for curbing the recent trend in Mormon communitues of expelling teenage boys because their numbers threaten the institution of polygamy. The solution is two-fold because it takes advantage of the Chinese and Indian practice of female infanticide. Everybody wins, including cultural relativists!

The solution is a swap. I propose an intercontinental, unwanted child-trading program in which male, teenage Mormons are flown to China and India in exchange for imports of female babies. I know what you’re worried about. Utah’s population is about 0.1% of China and India combined. That’s OK. The exchange rate would be set at 1,000 female babies for each male Mormon. Finally, a good exchange rate with China! Everybody wins. The Chinese and Indians get some extra boys, and the Mormons get more wives than they know what to do with. As a bonus, they’re still babies. The sick bastards can start raping and molesting them immediately instead of using their own daughters like they do now.

(File under "Social Irony", right next to A Modest Proposal)

Posted by Will at 01:20 PM

Temporary Housing

Tonight I reserved a room at the La Quinta Tampa Bay USF for four nights. As I mentioned earlier, I've had to use my parents' dial-up internet connection while I'm at home so comparison shopping and Googling took the better part of my evening. Considering my father's computer is relatively new and primarily for business, having dial-up is like using a lawnmower engine to power a Hummer. But I digress.

I'm starting to get excited about the actual trip itself. I've always looked forward to road trips and the ten hours to Tampa from North Carolina is going to fly by because the impending excitement of the initial few weeks of graduate school. So besides getting my car insured, registered, and tagged, situating my finances with the university, figuring out my final schedule, going to two separate graduate orientations, and actually moving in to my new apartment once it opens up, it'll be like any relaxing Florida vacation! Still not sure of the exact "fun" plans for me and the lady while she's down there with me. The Killers are playing at the USF Sundome that Sunday, but so is Avril Lavigne the night before. Decisions...

Posted by Will at 12:57 AM

August 10, 2005

Dawkins vs. Gilder

I left Wilmington yesterday for the last time as a student to come home to Winston-Salem for about two weeks before I leave for Tampa and graduate school. Unfortunately, my parents sill use what is called a "dial-up" internet connection so my blogging for the next two weeks will take a tad longer, but you won't notice.

Despite the archaic internet connection I'm using, I was able to tune in to a replay of this morning's On Point radio program on NPR. Originally intended to be a head-to-head debate between famed evolutionist Richard Dawkins and Discovery Institute fellow George Gilder, Dawkins was wise enough not to give Gilder the time of day, so instead they went "back-to-back", Gilder going first then Dawkins responding from Oxford. I listened to about three minutes of Gilder's babbling before skipping ahead to Dawkins' segment (about 20 minutes in). My conclusion: I could listen to Richard Dawkins read the phone book and still be mesmerized. Needless to say, he put Guilder to shame in many respects. I was surprised to hear that the last guest on the program was Michael Ruse, who I just blogged about in my previous post. As always, Pharyngula has a full review and opinion of the show.

My favorite quote from the program comes from none other than Richard Dawkins, who said the following in response to a caller who stated the tired "complexity of life as evidence of God" argument:

"Do go read a book, they are fascinating. You'll love them."

Posted by Will at 03:18 PM

Reconciling Religion and Evolution

Ektopos, a philosophy news portal, has links to two interesting pieces related to religion and science. Both have to do with individuals that believe religion and science needn't be opposed to each other. The notion that natural science, particularly evolutionary biology, necessitates atheism is rejected by both men and it is interesting to read about how they achieve their conclusions. While I stop short of admitting there is a valid debate between Creationism/ID and Evolution, the increasingly visible segment of scientists who are trying their hardest to reconcile faith and science deserve serious philosophical contemplation. Granted, most can be dismissed as nothing more than misguided fundamentalists who are severely ignorant of the facts, but there are an enlightened few who are making sincere attempts to link both sides into one seamless philosophy of life:

Breaking the Science-Atheism Bond (BeliefNet) - Alister McGrath, a professor of historical theology at Oxford, explains what led him to eventually reject atheism as a personal philosophy despite having a firm scientific education. While I disagree with his assumptions about atheism and the leaps of faith he takes in regards to his Christianity, I respect his views because they work for him and aren't completely off base, as many theologies are when speaking of science:

To this day, I have never seen the sciences and religion as being fundamentally opposed to each other. As an historian, I am fully aware of important tensions and battles, usually the result of specific social conditions (such as the professionalization of science in late Victorian England) or the unwise overstatements of both scientists and theologians. Yet I judge that their relationship is generally benign, and always intellectually stimulating. My Christian faith brings me a deepened appreciation of the natural sciences, and although I am no longer active in primary scientific research, I keep up my reading in the fields that interest and excite me most: evolutionary biology, theoretical physics, biochemistry, and biophysics.

Priests in lab coats - Salon.com has this interview with Michael Ruse, a philosopher of science, who takes the interesting stance of subscribing to Darwinian evolution on the one hand and defending scientists who find no fundamental oppositions between science and religion. Not an atheist, he rejects Creationism and Intelligent Design as "intellectual dead ends" and avoids religious fundamentalism at all costs. His agnostic philosophy enables him to support both sides of the religion-evolution debate, although this article correctly surmises that the evolution side isn't very happy (they tend to be a little defensive sometimes:

Above and beyond that, Ruse makes a heretical argument in "The Evolution-Creation Struggle" that will not endear him to members of his own team. Creationism and evolutionism, he says, are siblings, born of the same historical crisis, and they provide distorted reflections of each other. "The two sides share a common set of questions and, in important respects, common solutions," he writes. More explosively, he thinks both are essentially theological in character; they are "rival religious responses to a crisis of faith -- rival stories of origins, rival judgments about the meaning of human life, rival sets of moral dictates, and above all what theologians call rival eschatologies -- pictures of the future and of what lies ahead for humankind."

Although you have to register or get a free "site pass," definitely try to read this article/interview in full. It's very enlightening and raises some useful questions.

Posted by Will at 12:45 PM

August 09, 2005

Laser Buddhas

A neat story out of Afghanistan: California artist Hiro Yamagata is recreating with laser projections the country's famous 1600 year old stone Buddha statues that were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001:

"Many people say, 'My art will heal the people,'" said Yamagata. "Of course I help people, but it's more about not harming people."

laserbuddha

Posted by Will at 11:42 PM

August 08, 2005

"The Republican War on Science" Website Launch

Author and blogger Chris Mooney, a regular stop on my blog-reading rounds, has written a book called The Republican War on Science. It's set for an August 30th release date and Chris announced on his blog today that its slick new website has been launched. Go check it out and see if the book looks worth a read.

Posted by Will at 04:15 PM

Teaching Assistant

I received a delightful little bit of news through e-mail today: in addition to assisting my advisor with his research, I'll be a T.A. for his Human Variation course! I'm not sure exactly what my duties will be yet. This came as a surprise to me because I didn't think they gave T.A. positions to brand new graduate students. It's not completely random though, as I just took a course at UNCW in human biological variation this past spring. I'm starting to see any free time I will have in Florida slowly slip away but it's not necessarily a bad thing.

Today is my last in Wilmington before I leave to go home for a week and a half to hang out with my parents, see my grandfather (who just had bypass surgery and is doing well), and otherwise say goodbye to the state of North Carolina, at least for the time being. I leave for Tampa next Friday. Hard to believe it's already here.

Posted by Will at 01:42 PM

Ape to Man

The Ape to Man documentary aired last night and I was able to catch the whole thing. My reaction is mixed: I enjoyed the fact that it focused on the history of evolutionary theory and while the re-enactments were a little corny, they seemed to go along with the goal of the program nicely. The only thing that really made me laugh out loud and almost embarrassed me was the actor who played 1970's Don Johanson's colleague; the guy with the huge sideburns and obviously faux handlebar mustache. To boot, he was a spitting image of Brian Fantana from Anchorman.

Posted by Will at 10:09 AM

August 07, 2005

"Ape to Man" Documentary

As you may have seen, The History Channel is presenting a two-hour documentary tonight (9pm ET) called "Ape to Man":

APE TO MAN examines the major discoveries that have led us to the understanding we have today, including theories that never gained proper acceptance in their time, an elaborate hoax that confused the scientific community for years, and the ultimate understanding of the key elements that separate man from apes.

I'm going to watch the program tonight with the same cautious excitement that defined my Guns, Germs and Steel experience last month. It's definitely going to be entertaining although actors portraying early humans have always seemed cheesy to me, but I will be interested to see if Ape to Man holds up to my theory that science programming on television needn't be high-density to be worthwhile.

Additionally, this special could not have come at a better time. We are still experiencing the fallout from President Bush's unitelligent comments on Intelligent Design and the public is eating the evolution/creation debate up. The program is good for science because it will reinforce the validity of the theory of evolution in the face of the ignorance that plagues a large segment of the population.

Around the internet:
Archaeology magazine's online review
Pharyngula's comments (always amusing, always right on)

Posted by Will at 05:03 PM

Week in Review 1(9)

NT Week in Review
Vol. I, Issue 9

From UC Berkeley News, two scholars are challenging current archaeological orthodoxy regarding Polynesian contact on the West Coast:

In a recently published article, they claim to have found new linguistic and archaeological evidence that Polynesians landed in Southern California between 400 and 800 A.D. and shared their advanced boat-building techniques with the region's Chumash and Gabrielino Indians

If you think going to the dentist for a cleaning is annoyingly tedious, at least you have the ability to tell them what you eat:

Researchers have used new microscopic technology to reconstruct the diets of two extinct human species that lived in what is now South Africa.
The technique involves scanning the tooth surfaces in extreme detail to learn what a species ate. Reconstructing the diet of extinct human species can help shed light on our evolutionary history.
Dental microwear analysis investigates the microscopic scratches and pits that form on a tooth's surface as a result of its use.

The conclusion?

"Diet is a direct link between an animal and its environment," he added. "It is the single most important factor underlying behavioral differences among living primates, and the same was probably true of early hominins. After all, you are what you eat."

Read the whole article from National Geographic News here.

A nice story about spreading the significance and pure fun of archaeological research, this time in the form of a kid's camp. One girl is going to make a fine archaeologist one day:

The camp has definitely made an impression on 12-year-old Hannah Kalichman. As she worked to sift through soil during Thursday's dig, her clothes were covered in dirt. But she explained that it was important to find everything she could.
"If we threw away one piece of coal," she said, "it would be like throwing away history."

The case of the fake mummy:

A "mummy" that duped archaeologists and nearly sparked a diplomatic row between Pakistan and Iran is finally being laid to rest.

From New Scientist, Creationism rift opens within The Vatican:

The Vatican’s chief astronomer, George Coyne, has rebuffed controversial comments made by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn in The New York Times on 7 July that evolution is incompatible with a belief in God.
In his article, Schönborn dismissed as “rather vague and unimportant” a statement made by Pope John Paul II in 1996 which seemed to indicate the church’s acceptance of evolution. “Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science,” Schönborn wrote.

"Buddah wuz here":

Kolkata, Aug 7 (IANS) New excavations in Orissa have revealed that Lord Buddha more than 2,500 years ago had visited the state and preached there, say archaeologists, belying earlier theories that the founder of Buddhism had never been there.
The discovery of three stupas (edicts), put up by Emperor Asoka after he converted to Buddhism, at Tarapur, Kayama and Deuli in Jajpur district to mark the places where the Buddha had preached in the state point towards a Buddha trail in his lifetime.

That camel footprint would look marvelous next to my looted Aztec burial goods: Ancient camel footprints chiseled off desert rock I think I've found a new pet cause for Brad Pitt: "Save the Camel Footprints."

Remains of Ancient Church Found in Egypt

CAIRO, Egypt - The remains of an ancient church and monks' retreats that date back to the early years of monasticism have been discovered in a Coptic Christian monastery in the Red Sea area, officials said Saturday.

----------------------------------------------------
The Nomadic Thoughts Week in Review Series presents the "best of" from the 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 04:11 PM

August 06, 2005

Nomadic Thoughts: Reloaded

I just ordered my new notebook computer from Dell.com today. It's tax-free weekend in North Carolina so I saved $96.04 on the order. I got an Inspirion 6000 with a pretty sweet setup. Some of the basics:

-Intel Pentium M Processor 730
-80 gig hard drive
-15.4'' widescreen display
-CD Burner/DVD combo drive
-Windows XP Professional
-Additional 9-cell LI battery
-Internal wireless

I'm mostly excited about the 80 gig hard drive to hold all my legally purchased and copied music files plus the burner to reproduce said files. I'm also psyched about the backup battery that I opted for which has more life than the primary. I already have a wireless setup but going internal will be easier for campus and other places. I didn't have a need for the DVD combo drive but it was included. The widescreen display will be neat too for working on the internet and with other files.

Posted by Will at 05:53 PM

August 05, 2005

Hi-Res CT Scan Images of 2,000 year-old Mummy

This is a must see: scientists have used an incredibly powerful CT scanner and imaging equipment to create high resolution images of a 2,000 year old sub-adult Egyptian mummy:

mummylores.jpg
"Real anatomy exists in three dimensions, so any time you can view anatomical data in 3D, you'll have a much more accurate picture of the subject," said Paul Brown, DDS, of the Stanford-NASA National Biocomputation Center. Brown and a team of fellow dentists, orthodontists and oral surgeons determined the mummy's age and other features by studying the 3D visualization. "Even multiple two-dimensional CT slices can never allow you to understand a subject's dental condition as quickly or as accurately as a quality 3D visualization."

The full story tells all about it and includes a video and two of the hi-res images (thanks to ArchaeoBlog).

Posted by Will at 11:08 PM

Guatemala's Popularity on the Rise

There's a great story in the LA Times (via Newsday) about the reemergence of Guatemala after decades of violence and civil war. Along with its booming tourism industry, Guatemala has Francis Ford Coppola's new resort on Lake Petén Itzá. I also learned from the story that CBS is planning to film the next season of "Survivor" in the country. It's easy to see why Guatemala is experiencing an incredible growth in tourism: it's simply one of the most beautiful countries in the world. I've only been to four countries other than the United States but when I was in Guatemala for a few days last summer I was awestruck by the beauty of the culture and its people. It seemed so full of life and energy despite its history of violence and bloodshed; a stark contrast from attitudes in the United States. While part of me felt sympathy for the poverty that plagues Guatemala I had infinite respect for the character of the people. I was only there for four days but I got a strong sense of the pride and quiet dignity they possessed. Most of them knew violence all too well but they were somehow above that, at least on the surface.

Posted by Will at 12:23 PM

Analysis of Bush comments on ID and the Role of Science

John Hawks has the best analysis thus far of Bush's comment that ID should be taught in public schools alongside evolution. An evolutionist himself, Hawks neither attacks nor endorses the president’s viewpoint, choosing instead to do what all rational people should do: look at the facts and appeal to reason.

Unfortunately, the evolution/intelligent design debate is one that scientists cannot ignore. While biologists, anthropologists, and other fields can and must consistently reject any form of Creationism, we cannot simply dismiss it. I refer here to public opinion and its role in the advancement of sound scientific inquiry. Some of you may know I've been a hardcore supporter of the general public's admittance into the often-circumscribed fields of specialized science. This won't happen if we lambaste anyone that merely suggests the possibility of the validity of intelligent design. There is a fine line between a respect for the freedom of religious belief and the respect of the beliefs themselves. As champions of reason and evidence we have a responsibility to reject those beliefs but as stewards of the investigable world we are obligated not to alienate those who hold them. Like Hawks, I'm not defending what Bush said. Intelligent design should not be taught in public schools not only because it's religion disguised as science but also because as a scientific theory, it doesn't stand on its own and never will.

Science has to constantly reject the influence of religious dogma which comes from all sides in the form of a barrage of attacks. Instead of shooting back and dismissing ID'ists as hopelessly ignorant (unfortunately many of them are) maybe we should at least try to reason with and educate them. We may not get very far in this century but it's all we can do at present.

Posted by Will at 11:22 AM

August 04, 2005

Epilogue

It's really starting to sink in that I'm moving from Wilmington and to a completely new and foreign place. The move to Tampa has been looming for about four or five months now and it's right around the corner. In three weeks I'll leave Wilmington one last time as a new graduate with a catalog of memories, both good and bad. Who knows where I'll end up, but I don't like to completely close the chapter just yet. I've called Wilmington "home" for the past four years (albeit a second home) and I'm not prepared to say goodbye just yet. I know I'll be back, but I'm not sure for what purpose.

The only part of the upcoming trip that I'm truly nervous about are those last moments before I say goodbye to my girlfriend at the airport. The most I've been apart from her over the past year has been maybe a week at the most. Since her and me both call Winston-Salem our hometown and UNCW our college, there was little opportunity for us to really miss each other. If all goes as planned, I'll be in Tampa for at least the next two years, maybe more. Who know where she is going to end up. I think about that alot but I keep coming back to the present and remind myself that the here and now is what's important. Planning is important but too much of it can lead to disappointment. I've never been in a long-distance relationship before but I know that we'll be fine and that this will prove an exciting experience for both of us. Two of my close friends have succeeded at long-distance (one from here to New York and the other from here all the way to Australia). How I handle my feelings and experiences in the context of being 10 hours apart will be an exercise in my training unlike any other. While learning about Maya archaeology and the history of anthropological theory I'll be examining myself, which I feel is going to pay off.

I can tell things are starting to wrap up because my activities in Wilmington have been taking on new meaning over the past several weeks. A few days ago the lady and I drove down to Fort Fisher and caught the 7pm ferry to Southport and enjoyed a comfortable dinner on the deck of The Shrimp House. The view was magnificent and symbolism was all around. As I ate my pound of jumbo shrimp I had a great view of an industrial lighthouse in the distance. Every few moments it would flash brightly two or three times in my direction as if it were calling me. Was the lighthouse symbolic of Tampa? Was I being signaled to relocate? As I had these thoughts and complimented myself on how deep I was being, I realized that I had just consumed a Newcastle rather quickly.

(Expanded on a recent entry from my personal blog, The Journal)

Posted by Will at 09:30 AM

August 03, 2005

GG&S Debate Summary at Inside Higher Ed

In the wake of the PBS special based on Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, a multi-blog debate exploded that brought in all kinds of opinions and thoughts on the matter. I posted quite a bit about the series itself, including one post about the debate, which started at Savage Minds. For anyone who wants to catch up or find out what all the uproar was about and what started it, Inside Higher Ed has a great piece on the debate's short history (thanks Kerim).

Previously on Nomadic Thoughts:
More on the Guns, Germs, and Steel Special on PBS
GG&S Episode One Review
GG&S Episode Two Review
My psuedo-interview with Jared Diamond
Guns, Germs and Steel: Final Review and Analysis
GG&S Debate Heats Up

Posted by Will at 03:10 PM

August 02, 2005

Groundbreaking linguistics research to change anthropology forever

For all you linguists out there, billmon from the Whiskey Bar describes an exotic language, Journalish, and one its variants known as Newspaperese. The findings will undoubtedly rock the world of anthropological linguistics and may even cause Noam Chomsky to exhibit a human emotion:

The crudest dialects (such as Cablenewsian) consist of little more than simian grunts and howls, accompanied by hand and facial gestures so simple and obvious that even total morons (as well as some CNN anchors) can understand them.
But the written version of Journalish -- Newspaperese -- isn't always that easy. While still primitive compared to standard English, Newspaperese texts can be very hard to decode. Anthropologists attribute this to the dominant social norms of most Journalish tribes: extreme deference to authority, an almost pathological fear of being shunned, and a deep aversion to acknowledging unpleasant facts that might cause the tribal chiefs to lose face.

Posted by Will at 06:55 PM

Ancient Maya origins reconsidered

From the LA Times (via SFGate.com):

New theory on genesis of Mesoamerican culture
Analysis of 3,000-year-old pottery shards from the ancient Olmec capital of San Lorenzo contradicts the notion among some researchers that the Olmec civilization was the "mother culture" that laid the foundation for the Inca, Maya and other civilizations of Central and South America.
Impressed by these sculptures in the 1940s, artist Miguel Covarrubias argued that the Olmec must have been the progenitors of the other cultures in the area. In one form or another, this idea has been roiling the often contentious world of Mesoamerican archaeology for at least 50 years.

Posted by Will at 04:21 PM

Bush actually supports something "intelligent"?...wait, nevermind.

If you read any blog that has anything to do with science, you've probably already read about this story:

WASHINGTON (AFP) - President George W. Bush has said he supports teaching US science students "intelligent design" -- a God-centered alternative to the traditional theory of evolution, US media reported.

Everyone's getting fired up about this and PZ is keeping a list of them at Pharyngula, although I don't see how he can see his computer screen through all the smoke and flames that are shooting from head!

I could easily rant for paragraphs on Bush's statement but it would just be parroting comments made by bloggers more knowledgeable of the whole creationism/evolution debate than myself (see PZ's list and/or The Panda's Thumb). This issue will die down pretty quickly anyway; just another example of Bush attempting to subvert reason.

Posted by Will at 01:47 PM | Comments (2)