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March 28, 2007

Four Stone Hearth @ Afarensis

One of the most consistently interesting science bloggers out there, Afarensis has the latest edition of the Four Stone Hearth blog carnival. My post about the portrayal of women in prehistory (which includes a magnificent photo of a scantily-clad Raquel Welch from the 1966 film One Million Years B.C.) made the cut, as did many other great posts, so be sure to check it out.

Posted by Will at 10:13 PM

March 26, 2007

67th Annual SfAA Meeting in Tampa

The Society for Applied Anthropology's 67th annual meeting is happening in Tampa this week and USF Anthropology is in full gear for being the unofficial host department. Jen, a fellow Anthroblogs.org blogger, USF graduate, and U. of North Texas graduate student is organizing a series of podcasts from sessions at the conference. Keep on eye on the podcast site and the offical SfAA website for what I assume will be regular updates. From the SfAA website:

Applied anthropology in the 21st Century faces challenges to contribute meaningfully and in a sustained way to understanding complex and recurring global struggles. The theme of "Global Insecurities" is both expansive and focused, designed to invite intellectual discussions and practical applications from our colleagues worldwide and especially from our Canadian neighbors to the north, and our southern neighbors in Mexico, the Caribbean, Central, and South America. From resource insecurity (e.g., clean water and air), basic necessity insecurity (e.g., food, shelter), infrastructural insecurity (e.g., health, education, public governance), to insecurity related to ethnic, class, and social relations (e.g., disparities and conflict) the 21st century is marked by increased uneasiness. Applied anthropology is specially suited to addressing those conditions through research, program design, evaluation, and advocacy at the local, national, and international levels.

Posted by Will at 03:34 PM

March 25, 2007

Religion in the classroom

Last week I wrote about a new book called Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't by Stephen Prothero, chair of the Boston U. religion department (quoted below). Something I've advocated for a long time is teaching world religions in public schools below the university/college level, which is done in very few school systems across the country. Developing a curriculum that doesn't tread too close to the separation of church and state but that teaches students the importance of understanding different cultures is not easy, but something that needs to be done more widely. A story published today at Time.com about teaching The Bible in public schools (emphasis mine):

To some, this idea seems retrograde. Citing a series of Supreme Court decisions culminating in 1963's Abington Township School District v. Schempp, which removed prayer and devotion from the classroom, the skeptics ask whether it is safe to bring back the source of all that sectarianism. But a new, post-Schempp coalition insists it is essential to do so. It argues that teaching the Bible in schools--as an object of study, not God's received word--is eminently constitutional. The Bible so pervades Western culture, it says, that it's hard to call anyone educated who hasn't at least given thought to its key passages. Finally, it claims that the current civic climate makes it a "now more than ever" proposition. Says Stephen Prothero, chair of the Boston University religion department, whose new book, Religious Literacy (Harper SanFrancisco), presents a compelling argument for Bible-literacy courses: "In the late '70s, [students] knew nothing about religion, and it didn't matter. But then religion rushed into the public square. What purpose could it possibly serve for citizens to be ignorant of all that?" The "new consensus" for secular Bible study argues that knowledge of it is essential to being a full-fledged, well-rounded citizen. Let's examine that argument.

Read the full story here.

Posted by Will at 01:18 PM | Comments (1)

Worth it?

From The New York Times:

Diamond mining in Sierra Leone is no longer the bloody affair made infamous by the nation’s decade-long civil war, in which diamonds played a starring role.
The conflict — begun by rebels who claimed to be ridding the mines of foreign control — killed 50,000 people, forced millions to flee their homes, destroyed the country’s economy and shocked the world with its images of amputated limbs and drug-addled boy soldiers.
An international regulatory system created after the war has prevented diamonds from fueling conflicts and financing terrorist networks. Even so, diamond mining in Sierra Leone remains a grim business that brings the government far too little revenue to right the devastated country, yet feeds off the desperation of some of the world’s poorest people. “The process is more to sanitize the industry from the market side rather than the supply side,” said John Kanu, a policy adviser to the Integrated Diamond Management Program, a United States-backed effort to improve the government’s handling of diamond money. “To make it so people could go to buy a diamond ring and to say, ‘Yes, because of this system, there are no longer any blood diamonds. So my love, and my conscience, can sleep easily.’

Full story here.

Posted by Will at 11:52 AM | Comments (2)

Planet Earth

Fire up your DVR and if you're lucky enough to own an HD TV, even better. Tonight is the premiere of the Discovery Channel's 11-part series Planet Earth. It's supposed to be one of the most magnificent nature documentaries ever produced, with many never-before-filmed scenes with high-tech filming and editing. James Poniewozik at Time Magazine speaks highly of it. You can watch some clips of the series at the Discovery Channel website...it truly is remarkable. Hopefully the series will live up to it's hype because the Discovery Channel needs to redeem itself after airing James Cameron's quasi-historical flop The Lost Tomb of Jesus. Watch a trailer:

Posted by Will at 12:45 AM

March 24, 2007

It's official: Largo, FL is afraid of change

Exactly one month ago today I wrote about Dave Barry's Underground Weirdness Magnet hypothesis, that invisible force that draws all strange news makers from around the country to Florida. Well now it looks as if Florida, and specifically the city of Largo just across the bay from me, has a giant Underground Bigot and Discrimination Magnet as well. Largo's city manager, Steve Stanton, was fired in the wee hours of this morning after several hours of deliberation at a public meeting of city commissioners. From the St. Petersburg Times (also at CNN.com):

LARGO - Steve Stanton couldn't overcome the odds. Largo city commissioners voted 5-2 to fire him early this morning, a month after he revealed he planned to become a woman.
The vote was identical to one taken Feb. 27 and came after a six-hour meeting including four hours of public testimony, most of it urging the commission to save Stanton's job.

The public was allowed to speak for a few of those hours, and from what I can gather the majority of the public in Largo and elsewhere support Stanton and his decision to undergo gender reassignment. Regardless, after 14 years of faithfully serving the City of Largo to the best of his ability, he was fired because five of the seven city commissioners are nothing more than bigoted morons who are scared to death of what they aren't familiar with. There was even the obligatory "we don't take too kindly to your type of folk" comment from an equally ignorant citizen:

"We're a disgrace," said resident Jimmy Dean. "It seems a couple people here want to make Largo into a weirdo town."

I've never been more angry or embarrassed to call myself a Florida resident and I am literally counting down the days until I can joyfully destroy my Florida driver's license and voter registration card. I could write pages about why what happened to Steve Stanton is not only morally wrong, but scientifically wrong as well. Many of the bigots over in Largo will disagree, but there is no sound evidence from the social or behavioral sciences that demonstrates transgendered individuals are any less able to perform any variety of job functions. Anthropology is especially relevant here because one of the first lessons we're all taught in an Introduction to Anthropology course is that "gender" is a cultural phenomena that varies widely between and even within societies.

To automatically assume that Stanton's job performance would suffer because he's wearing a dress instead of a necktie is to not only ignore decades of research and progress in the social sciences but to further discriminate against a segment of society that some view as unacceptably different. There was once a time when discrimination against individuals who happened to have dark skin was sanctioned by local, state, and federal governments and written into laws. We soon learned that "race" is culturally constructed and has no biological basis. The gay, lesbian, and transgendered communities face a similar uphill battle which they have not yet completely won.

So to Largo City Commissioners Mary Gray Black, Andy Guyette, Gigi Arntzen, Harriet K. Crozier, and Gay Gentry: you should be ashamed of yourselves for voting to remove a completely qualified individual for a reason that cannot be described as anything but bigoted. You failed to demonstrate that Steve Stanton's job performance was suffering prior to his removal, and you failed to demonstrate that his job performance would suffer after his gender reassignment surgery. You may have placated some citizens in Largo, but you have let the city down and have embarrassed the large majority of Floridians who have long abandoned discriminatory practices. Your goal was to prevent Largo from becoming a laughing stock because your city manger was going to change gender. Wake up: you are now a national laughing stock because you catapulted your city decades into the past when it was OK to hate someone because they were different.

267 days to go...

Posted by Will at 02:24 PM

March 23, 2007

Gibson vs. history

Mel Gibson came face to face with his arch enemy last night in California: historical accuracy. At a screening of the film at California State University Northridge, a Central American studies professor dared to question the accuracy of Gibson's portrayal of the ancient Maya in his latest film Apocalypto:

Gibson directed an expletive at the woman, who was removed from the crowd.
"In no way was my question aggressive in the way that he responded to it," Estrada said. "These are questions that my peers, my colleagues, ask me every time I make a presentation. These are questions I pose to my students in the classroom."

Read the full AP story here (thanks to my dad for the link).

Posted by Will at 09:58 PM

March 21, 2007

Portrayal of women in prehistory

cavewoman.jpgOne of the most fascinating discussions in my Theory course last semester was about how ancient women have been described in the archaeological literature and how such portrayals are a reflection of the decidedly sexist history of academic archaeology. While much progress has been made since the days of "man the hunter," a Salon.com piece published today revisits the debate and how many portrayals of "cavewomen" in the popular media continue to be a caricature of reality. Accounts of man the hunter, woman the gatherer have become so entrenched in our culture that it still passes as the way things were. The Salon.com article discusses a new book by James Adovasio (of Meadowcroft Rockshelter fame) et al. entitled The Invisible Sex: Uncovering the True Roles of Women in Prehistory that should prove to be an enlightening read. An excerpt from the article:

The lifestyles of the female and prehistoric are a surprisingly frequent topic of conversation, especially when you consider that Paleolithic women didn't have corporate careers to abandon in favor of becoming stay-at-home moms or the disposable income to buy Jimmy Choo sandals. As with their educated upper-middle-class sisters of today, people think they understand exactly how prehistoric women lived, even though these notions often turn out to be more cartoon than reality. And I mean that literally, since single-panel cartoons in the New Yorker featuring shaggy cavemen in one-shoulder bearskin outfits dragging their consorts by the hair probably represent the sum of what most of us know about the lives of our (very) distant ancestors.
Actually, what's astonishing is how much the members of the peanut gallery think they know about such things, considering how few sureties real paleoanthropologists will swear to. "The Invisible Sex: Uncovering the True Roles of Women in Prehistory," by J.M. Adovasio, Olga Soffer and Jake Page, promises to lay out everything the most current research has established about archaic women, and the truth is that it's pretty thin gruel. The authors can point out some embarrassing mistakes made by past experts and suggest some intriguing alternative interpretations of various facts and artifacts, but even so there's a lot of padding and extraneous material in this book's 300 pages.

Posted by Will at 10:34 AM

March 20, 2007

Moral behavior began with primates

From the New York Times:

Some animals are surprisingly sensitive to the plight of others. Chimpanzees, who cannot swim, have drowned in zoo moats trying to save others. Given the chance to get food by pulling a chain that would also deliver an electric shock to a companion, rhesus monkeys will starve themselves for several days.
Biologists argue that these and other social behaviors are the precursors of human morality. They further believe that if morality grew out of behavioral rules shaped by evolution, it is for biologists, not philosophers or theologians, to say what these rules are.
Moral philosophers do not take very seriously the biologists’ bid to annex their subject, but they find much of interest in what the biologists say and have started an academic conversation with them.
The original call to battle was sounded by the biologist Edward O. Wilson more than 30 years ago, when he suggested in his 1975 book “Sociobiology” that “the time has come for ethics to be removed temporarily from the hands of the philosophers and biologicized.” He may have jumped the gun about the time having come, but in the intervening decades biologists have made considerable progress.

Full story here.

Posted by Will at 04:12 PM

Religious Literacy

If you caught The Daily Show last night you saw an interview with Stephen Prothero, chair of the Religion Department at Boston University and author of a new book entitled Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't (watch the interview below the fold). I was very pleased to hear about this book and about the initiative the author took in addressing the problem of religious illiteracy in the United States. Considering that much of the political debate has religion at its core (terrorism, abortion, separation of church and state, etc.) I've always found it shocking how little most Americans know about world religions, especially Christianity and Islam. Even more disturbing is the gap in the knowledge of our lawmakers. An easy way to know if you should read Prothero's book (or do some internet research in your spare time) is to ask yourself two questions: what are the Ten Commandments and what is the difference between Sunni and Shi'a Islam? Hint: both of these are very basic and fundamental aspects of two major world religions.

Watch the Daily Show interview:

Posted by Will at 01:13 PM

March 19, 2007

No love from Delta or the Northeast

My return from North Carolina to Tampa tops the list of the most frustrating flying experience so far. Normally I fly Southwest between Tampa and Raleigh, but this Spring Break was a little different because I was hitting Chicago last weekend and flying directly into Wilmington to spend this past week with my girlfriend. Going against her suggestion, I decided to use Delta for the trip because it's one of the two airlines that flies into Wilmington (the other being US Airways). Well, thanks to the bad weather in the north many of the Delta flights that go through Atlanta were canceled, and I was told the earliest I could leave was Tuesday morning. Normally I would be thankful for an opportunity to stay in NC longer, but since my girlfriend left for Indianapolis this morning, I had to get moving. So Delta bought me a $180 taxi cab ride from Wilmington to Raleigh where I'm sitting now, waiting to fly out later this afternoon to arrive in Tampa at 2:30. Frustrating enough, but the ironic thing is that I was just in Raleigh yesterday visiting family.

My countdown timer in the right sidebar isn't moving fast enough...

Posted by Will at 08:56 AM

March 15, 2007

Free New York Times Select subscriptions

Excellent news for news junkies like myself: The New York Times is about to start offering completely free subscriptions to their Times Select service, which provides access to all the newspaper's articles, archives back to the 1851, and opinion pages, with a valid university or college e-mail address. A year or two ago they started putting a lot of content behind a subscription wall, to which I paid $25/year to access. Even better news, previous subscribers will get a refund for their current subscription! Take advantage of this if you have a university email address.

Posted by Will at 04:15 PM

Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" for rednecks

Well, spring vacation in Chicago was a blast, and it wasn't as cold as expected (mid-50s for Chicago is quite warm). Unfortunately I didn't take any photos but I will hopefully go back soon to visit by buddy once he moves up there. For now, enjoy this clip from a recent episode of Family Guy:

Posted by Will at 10:31 AM

March 08, 2007

Wrong direction for Spring Break?

I'm heading out to Chicago this morning on a road trip with my buddy. Some would say I'm going the wrong direction for Spring Break. Indeed, it's going to be close to 80 degrees in Tampa today and only about 35 in Chicago. My biggest goal is making it to the Field Museum of Natural History, home to one of the most famous anthropological collections in the world. After a weekend in Chicago I fly to Wilmington, NC to spend the week with my lady and enjoy my old college hometown. Plenty of photos to come.


Posted by Will at 07:17 AM | Comments (1)

March 05, 2007

Conan and Jim Carrey debate quantum physics

Man, I really need to start watching Late Night again:

Posted by Will at 07:06 AM

March 04, 2007

NYT Magazine: Darwin's God

Be sure to check out this easy to understand and well-written piece from the New York Times Magazine. It follows Scott Atran, an anthropologist at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris. The piece touches on what in my opinion are some of the most important questions that we can ask about our world:

Which is the better biological explanation for a belief in God — evolutionary adaptation or neurological accident? Is there something about the cognitive functioning of humans that makes us receptive to belief in a supernatural deity? And if scientists are able to explain God, what then? Is explaining religion the same thing as explaining it away? Are the nonbelievers right, and is religion at its core an empty undertaking, a misdirection, a vestigial artifact of a primitive mind? Or are the believers right, and does the fact that we have the mental capacities for discerning God suggest that it was God who put them there?
In short, are we hard-wired to believe in God? And if we are, how and why did that happen?

So why are these questions important?

About 6 in 10 Americans, according to a 2005 Harris Poll, believe in the devil and hell, and about 7 in 10 believe in angels, heaven and the existence of miracles and of life after death. A 2006 survey at Baylor University found that 92 percent of respondents believe in a personal God — that is, a God with a distinct set of character traits ranging from “distant” to “benevolent.”

And the central conclusion:

This internal push and pull between the spiritual and the rational reflects what used to be called the “God of the gaps” view of religion. The presumption was that as science was able to answer more questions about the natural world, God would be invoked to answer fewer, and religion would eventually recede. Research about the evolution of religion suggests otherwise. No matter how much science can explain, it seems, the real gap that God fills is an emptiness that our big-brained mental architecture interprets as a yearning for the supernatural. The drive to satisfy that yearning, according to both adaptationists and byproduct theorists, might be an inevitable and eternal part of what Atran calls the tragedy of human cognition.

Posted by Will at 10:49 AM

March 03, 2007

Cherokee Nation kicks out descendants of slaves

From MSNBC.com:

Cherokee Nation votes to expel 'freedmen'
OKLAHOMA CITY - Cherokee Nation members voted Saturday to revoke the tribal citizenship of an estimated 2,800 descendants of the people the Cherokee once owned as slaves.
With a majority of districts reporting, 76 percent had voted in favor of an amendment to the tribal constitution that would limit citizenship to descendants of “by blood” tribe members as listed on the federal Dawes Commission’s rolls from more than 100 years ago.
"Don't get taken advantage of by these people. They will suck you dry," Darren Buzzard, an advocate of expelling the freedmen, wrote last summer in a widely circulated e-mail denounced by freedmen. "Don't let black freedmen back you into a corner. PROTECT CHEROKEE CULTURE FOR OUR CHILDREN. FOR OUR DAUGHTER[S] . . . FIGHT AGAINST THE INFILTRATION."

From a news release posted on the official Cherokee Nation website:

“The Cherokee people exercised the most basic democratic right, the right to vote,” said Chad Smith, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. “Their voice is clear as to who should be citizens of the Cherokee Nation. No one else has the right to make that determination. It was a right of self-government, affirmed in 23 treaties with Great Britain and the United States and paid dearly with 4,000 lives on the Trail of Tears.”

Posted by Will at 11:48 PM

North Carolina shipwreck

Exciting archaeological news from my home state. From CNN.com:

vert.artifact.ap.jpgRALEIGH, North Carolina (AP) -- A shipwreck off the North Carolina coast believed to be that of notorious pirate Blackbeard could be fully excavated in three years, officials working on the project said.
"That's really our target," Steve Claggett, the state archaeologist, said Friday while discussing 10 years of research that has been conducted since the shipwreck was found just off Atlantic Beach.
Archaeologists and historians planned Friday to review 10 years of research on the shipwreck. It is the oldest shipwreck discovered off the North Carolina coast.

Full story here.

Posted by Will at 07:43 PM

March 02, 2007

When readings science blogs pays off

I was checking out the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog (yes, I know, not exactly TMZ or PerezHilton) and I was linked up with a fantastic website, the Beer Mapping Project. They use Google Maps to plot the location of your favorite beers and where you can find them. The list of cities with maps is limited at the moment, but my spring break houdestination next week, Chicago, is included. There is also a national map showing all the breweries and brewpubs. This is a more complete map, which has my favorite brewpub, Front Street Brewery in Wilmington, NC.

This is a brilliant site, and is essentially a geographic information system (GIS). So, the site is combining two of my favorite things: beer and maps (in that order).


Posted by Will at 09:49 AM | Comments (1)