September 11, 2007


A short video clip I took in New York City on May 18, 2007:

"War does not determine who is right - only who is left." ~Bertrand Russell

Posted by Will at 12:53 AM | Comments (1)

April 06, 2007

North Carolina moves forward

From the New York Times:

The State Senate expressed regret for the practice of slavery and apologized for official actions that promoted legalized discrimination over four centuries. “When you dehumanize a human being, it’s one of the worst things that you can do,” Senator Larry Shaw, Democrat of Fayetteville, said before senators unanimously approved a symbolic resolution. The resolution acknowledged the state’s “profound contrition for the official acts that sanctioned and perpetuated the denial of basic human rights and dignity to fellow humans.” The resolution now goes to the House. Maryland lawmakers approved an apology for slavery last week, and lawmakers in Georgia and Missouri are considering similar legislation. In February, the Virginia General Assembly voted unanimously to express its regret for that state’s role in slavery.

Interestingly enough, I'm reading a novel called Sands of Pride by William Trotter, which is set during the Civil War in Wilmington, NC where I went to undergrad. I wanted to read it because it's partly based on real events such as battles at Fort Fisher and events at actual homes in the downtown area, so I figured it would be neat to be able to recognize actual places. It was strange to read accounts of slave auctions that occurred right were I used to bar hop.

More details at the Raleigh N&O.

Posted by Will at 09:05 AM

April 05, 2007

The dance is over: Ahmadinejad's "gift"

I was intrigued by today's front page of The Independent, a UK newspaper that has been following the capture and release of 15 British sailors in Iran. Considering both angles of a story? What a concept!

As the story suggests, it's hard to say exactly who "won" this episode. On the one hand, Tony Blair and the Brits were level-headed the whole time, not jumping the gun, and I think this helped secure the release of the sailors. Patience and diplomatic constraint payed off. On the other hand, Ahmadinejad played the West like a deck of cards and was successful in completely mocking the Middle East policy of Britain and the United States. The final kick in the cajones came when he returned the sailors as "a gift." Ahmadinejad was basically saying that he can play hardball, and that he never had any intention of trying the sailors for entering Iranian waters. World politics is a strategic game of chess, and this becomes quite clear when the United States isn't directly involved and thus unable to spin the situation.


Posted by Will at 08:35 AM

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 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)

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

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 03, 2007

Cherokee Nation kicks out descendants of slaves


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

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

February 28, 2007

Cameron's Jesus tomb debunked

The other day I wrote about the manufactured circus surrounding the discovery of a cave reportedly containing the ossuaries of Jesus, Mary, and Mary Magdalene. The scientific evidence is to be presented not in an academic journal but on a Discovery Channel TV special this Sunday. Unsurprisingly, archaeologists all over the world are starting to speak out. William Dever is one of them and his comments in a Washington Post article pretty much sum up my feelings as well:

"I'm not a Christian. I'm not a believer. I don't have a dog in this fight," said William G. Dever, who has been excavating ancient sites in Israel for 50 years and is widely considered the dean of biblical archaeology among U.S. scholars. "I just think it's a shame the way this story is being hyped and manipulated."

Dever goes on to comment:

"I've know about these ossuaries for many years and so have many other archaeologists, and none of us thought it was much of a story, because these are rather common Jewish names from that period," he said. "It's a publicity stunt, and it will make these guys very rich, and it will upset millions of innocent people because they don't know enough to separate fact from fiction."

Jodi Magness, a UNC-Chapel Hill archaeologist as quoted in the same Post article:

[Magness] expressed irritation that the claims were made at a news conference rather than in a peer-reviewed scientific article. By going directly to the media, she said, the filmmakers "have set it up as if it's a legitimate academic debate, when the vast majority of scholars who specialize in archaeology of this period have flatly rejected this," she said.

Posted by Will at 04:03 PM | Comments (2)

February 25, 2007

Stick to sinking ships and aliens, James

Update: skip below for some links and a video of the documentary trailer.

File this post under the "um, this is random" department: director James Cameron is set to unveil a documentary he is making that among other things, claims that Jesus did not actually rise from the dead and that he had a son with Mary Magdalene. Not that I need James Cameron to provide evidence of either tidbit, but what's really strange (and unsettling) is that he claims to have archaeological and DNA evidence of it all, including the coffins of Jesus, Mary, and Mary Magdalene. From a blog post:

Ever the showman, (Why does this remind me of the impresario in another movie,"King Kong", whose hubris blinds him to the dangers of an angry and very large ape?) Cameron is holding a New York press conference on Monday at which he will reveal three coffins, supposedly those of Jesus of Nazareth, his mother Mary and Mary Magdalene. News about the film, which will be shown soon on Discovery Channel, Britain's Channel 4, Canada's Vision, and Israel's Channel 8, has been a hot blog topic in the Middle East. Here in the Holy Land, Biblical Archeology is a dangerous profession. This 90-minute documentary is bound to outrage Christians and stir up a titanic debate between believers and skeptics. Stay tuned.

It's important to remember that we live in a post-Da Vinci Code, quasi-academic world where the lines between entertainment and science are blurring faster than ever before. We'll have to see what really happens at the press conference on Monday, but I'm having a hard time believing that this is legit (legit in the sense that Cameron is serious about his evidence).

Update: a story from

Update 2: Now you can watch this morning's press conference online by clicking here (a direct link to the video that will open in your default player). The Lost Tomb of Jesus show is to air this Sunday night at 9pm ET on the Discovery Channel. Like a good scientist, I'll reserve judgment until I see the show, but in the meantime you can watch a series of interviews with the filmmakers and browse the official website about the's very shiny and soooo Indiana Jones!

Also, I did some Googling and Talmor Media is behind the promotion of the film. They have a truly over-the-top website at with all sorts of "archaeological" information and a section on theological implications. Talmor Media's YouTube Page has a bunch of video clips if your anxious for a preview. Below is a trailer for the documentary that comes across more like a Hollywood production than a documentary. It has a bitchin' soundtrack that I want to play every time I'm on a dig, regardless of the situation.

The whole production and hype is interesting and the show itself will probably hold my attention, but the archaeological discovery of the millennium? Sheesh...

Posted by Will at 07:56 PM

February 13, 2007

Good news?

Coming a day after Darwin's 198th birthday, I find it sad (and embarrassing) that in 2007 it is necessary to rejoice over the following news item:

Kans. ed board OKs evolution-centered science
TOPEKA, Kan. - The Kansas state Board of Education on Tuesday repealed science guidelines questioning evolution that had made the state an object of ridicule.
The new guidelines reflect mainstream scientific views of evolution and represent a political defeat for advocates of “intelligent design,” who had helped write the standards that are being jettisoned.

Just for kicks, I copied the full text of the AP news story but replaced "evolution" with "gravity" and "intelligent design" with "intelligent adhesion." The result (below the fold) is comical yet just as ridiculous as the current "debate" about evolution.

TOPEKA, Kan. - The Kansas state Board of Education on Tuesday repealed science guidelines questioning gravity that had made the state an object of ridicule.
The new guidelines reflect mainstream scientific views of gravity and represent a political defeat for advocates of “intelligent adhesion,” who had helped write the standards that are being jettisoned.
The intelligent adhesion concept holds that the laws of physics are so complex that they must have been created by a higher authority.
The state has had five sets of standards in eight years, with anti- and pro-gravity versions, each doomed by the seesawing fortunes of socially conservative Republicans and a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans.
The board on Tuesday removed language suggesting that key gravitational concepts were controversial and being challenged by new research. Also approved was a new definition of science, specifically limiting it to the search for natural explanations of what is observed in the universe.
“Those standards represent mainstream scientific consensus about both what science is and what gravity is,” said Jack Krebs, a math and technology teacher who helped write the new guidelines. He is also president of Kansas Citizens for Science.
The state uses its standards to develop tests that measure how well students are learning science. Although decisions about what is taught in classrooms remain with 296 local school boards, both sides in the gravity dispute say the standards will influence teachers as they try to ensure that their students test well.
John Calvert, a retired attorney who helped found the Intelligent Adhesion Network, said under the new standards, “students will be fed an answer which may be right or wrong” about questions like the origin of life.
“Who does that model put first?” he said. “The student, or those supplying the preordained ‘natural explanation’?”
The Board of Education’s swing back wasn’t likely to settle the issue, given many Kansans’ religious objections and other misgivings about gravity.
“I don’t think this issue is going to go away. I think it’s going to be around forever,” board chairman Bill Wagnon, a Topeka Democrat who supports gravity-friendly standards, said before the vote.
“There’s this, I think, political agenda to just ensure that gravity is the driving, underlying notion that has to be accepted in Kansas science standards in order for Kansas to keep its head up in the world, which is just bizarre,” said board member Ken Willard, a Republican who supported the 2005 standards.
The debate has branched off into history, with the current board planning to delete a passage about abuses of science.
The wording mentioned the Nazis, forced sterilization and the decades-long Tuskegee syphilis study, in which public health officials falsely told poor, black men with the disease that they were being treated for it.
Critics claim the board is trying to sanitize the sometimes ugly history of science, while scientists argue the passage was inserted by supporters of intelligent adhesion during the last revision and unfairly targets abuses perceived as linked to gravity.
Last year, legal disputes or political, legislative or school debates over how gravity should be taught cropped up in at least seven other states. But none of those has inspired attention — or comedians’ jokes — like Kansas has since a conservative-led state board deleted most references to gravity in rewriting the standards in 1999.
Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” had a four-part “Gravity Schmgravity” series in 2005, and hearings that year drew journalists from Canada, France, Britain and Japan..

Posted by Will at 07:56 PM

February 12, 2007

Darwin Day!

I almost forgot...happy 198th birthday to Charles Darwin and happy Darwin Day 2007!

Posted by Will at 01:37 PM

February 09, 2007

Religion and archaeology in Jerusalem

Another example of the clash between religion and science, this time at the very location where it all started, Jerusalem. From

jerusalem.jpgAmid the old city of Jerusalem and rising above it is the ancient site of Solomon's Temple and the point from which the Prophet Mohammed journeyed to Heaven. Holy to Jews and Muslims, it is as dangerous these days as a ticking atom bomb. Any readjustment of its ancient stones can detonate outrage among millions of faithful around the world. On Friday, Muslims in Jerusalem protested against Israeli excavation work next to al-Aqsa, one of Islam's holiest shrines, which sits atop the site. Around the world, Muslims declared a universal "day of anger," Israeli police stormed into the Muslim compound and fired stun grenades and rubber bullets at youths trying to hurl stones at Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall. Israeli police claim that 17 protesters and 15 police officers were injured in the clashes, but Palestinians say many more were hurt in skirmishes around the mosque grounds.

Full story here.

Posted by Will at 06:32 PM

February 05, 2007


I was browsing the Washington Post this morning and saw this story. I almost couldn't believe my eyes:

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the new U.S. commander in Iraq, is assembling a small band of warrior-intellectuals -- including a quirky Australian anthropologist, a Princeton economist who is the son of a former U.S. attorney general and a military expert on the Vietnam War sharply critical of its top commanders -- in an eleventh-hour effort to reverse the downward trend in the Iraq war.

The anthropologist in question is Lt. Col. David Kilcullen of Australia, who has studied Islamic extremism in Indonesia. Kilcullen will be chief adviser on counterinsurgency. Also,

Kilcullen has served in Cyprus, Papua New Guinea and East Timor and most recently was chief strategist for the State Department's counterterrorism office, lent by the Australian government. His 2006 essay "Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-Level Counterinsurgency" was read by Petraeus, who sent it rocketing around the Army via e-mail. Among Kilcullen's dictums: "Rank is nothing: talent is everything" -- a subversive thought in an organization as hierarchical as the U.S. military.

So, not only do we now have an actual anthropologist in a position of (potentially) great military power, we have a man in charge who actually reads...anthropological literature. I have yet to decide if Kilcullen is a good decision or not (I know absolutely nothing about him or his policies) but we're definitely moving in the right direction if fresh ideas are being explored. Are we finally on the right track in Iraq?

Update: Ed Batista wrote an article about a month ago about Kilcullen that talks about his article on counterinsurgency. Also, Savage Minds had a post about social scientists and the military (with some good discussion in the comments) and links to a New Yorker article about the issue.

Posted by Will at 08:35 AM | Comments (1)

January 19, 2007

Why Florida is great in the Winter, Pt. II

Reason #2 why Florida is a good place to live during the Winter months, and not in Scotland:


Yes, that's a cow up to it's neck in snow. Photo from the New York Times.

Posted by Will at 10:16 AM

January 18, 2007

Why Florida is great in the Winter

Reason #1 why Florida is a good place to be during the Winter months, and not in Portland:

Posted by Will at 02:20 PM

January 12, 2007

Isn't it ironic?

Cheers to the Freethought Weekly blog, who shares my frustration with the absurdity of mainstream news reporting and what the major outlets feature most prominently on their websites. Delta, who provides some amusing screenshots of various news sites, writes:

Anyway, I just downloaded this great extension for Firefox which lets me save screenshots of the web pages I go to. I made some comments on the news websites I visited. As you'll see, the US media is utter bullshit. Al Jazeera, however, was quite impressive. You may want to click on the photo to make it larger and easier to read. Am I the only one who thinks that ongoing, escalating, and upcoming war is something that should be the focus of reporting in a civilized society?

Interestingly, I too recently discovered the usefulness of the Al Jazeera English website. They may have a bad reputation among Americans, but they are literally the only news site I read on a regular basis that consistently features the most important world news stories prominently on the front page. Ironic, huh?

Posted by Will at 05:14 PM

December 06, 2006

Bruce Trigger, 1937-2006

McGill has the offical news release posted:

Bruce Trigger, 1937-2006
December 2, 2006
Bruce Trigger, renowned archaeologist, author and McGill professor, died Friday, Dec. 1, in Montreal, after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 69. Prof. Trigger's career in McGill's department of anthropology spanned more than four decades, during which he published more than 20 books, including A History of Archaeological Thought, which became required reading in the discipline.
Prof. Trigger, whose exhaustive exploration of the origins of the Hurons earned him an honorary membership in the Huron-Wendat Nation, was considered an authority on aboriginal cultures in northeastern North America. He was respected internationally as a scholar of early civilizations and revered by students as a man whose enthusiasm for archaeology made him an ambassador for his chosen field. His death came just two months after the October release of The Archaeology of Bruce Trigger, in which 22 scholars paid tribute to Prof. Trigger's influence on generations of archaeologists. At the launch of the book, Prof. Trigger said, "This last year has been one of the happiest of my life. First of all, I've been able to spend time with my wife and family, which is always very pleasant. In June, I was made Professor Emeritus and now this book, The Archaeology of Bruce Trigger, is evidence in print of my colleagues' appreciation."
Prof. Trigger was an officer of the Order of Canada and the Ordre national du Québec, and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. In 1991, he won the Quebec government's Prix Léon-Gérin. He is survived by his wife of 38 years, Barbara, two daughters, Isabel and Rosalyn, and grandchildren David and Madeleine.

Posted by Will at 05:11 PM

December 04, 2006

New buzz about "Apocalypto": excellent movie, but an Oscar?


Mel's new movie opens this Friday, and speculation about whether or not it will be considered for an Academy Award. From the New York Times:

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 4 — With some early reviews lauding the audacity and innovation of Mel Gibson’s bloody Mayan epic, “Apocalypto,” Hollywood’s tight-knit community of Oscar voters may find itself facing a difficult dilemma in the coming weeks: Will they consider the film for an Academy Award?

Early informal reviews are also starting to trickle in:

“Apocalypto,” which will open on 2,500 screens across the country on Friday, is as different from a typical Hollywood film as Mr. Gibson’s last one: it features unrelenting, savage violence, is told in an obscure Mayan language and uses many nonprofessional actors with a primitive look born far from Hollywood.
Most critics (including this newspaper’s) have yet to weigh in on “Apocalypto,” but the excitement of those who have — like that among journalists who lingered to debate the film after a screening ended in Los Angeles last week — has been palpable.
“ ‘Apocalypto’ is a remarkable film,” Todd McCarthy wrote in Variety. “The picture provides a trip to a place one’s never been before, offering hitherto unseen sights of exceptional vividness and power.”
“Gibson has made a film of blunt provocation and bruising beauty,” Peter Travers wrote in Rolling Stone. “Say what you will about Gibson, he’s a filmmaker right down to his nerve endings.”
Other reviewers allowed themselves to psychoanalyze Mr. Gibson even as they praised the film. In a mixed review in The Hollywood Reporter, Kirk Honeycutt observed that Mr. Gibson “knows how to make a heart-pounding movie; he just happens to be a cinematic sadist.”

And I have to share this absolutely beautiful photograph that accompanied the NYTimes piece of actor Fernando Hernandez (excuse me while I mop up the drool):


Posted by Will at 09:38 PM | Comments (1)

November 27, 2006

There are no words...

story.peace.wreath.ap.jpgFrom, this is just one of those stories that forces you to lower your head, pinch that little area between your eyes, and desprately try to suppress a scream of range and/or a laugh of bewilderment:

DENVER, Colorado (AP) -- A homeowners' association in southwestern Colorado has threatened to fine a resident $25 a day until she removes a Christmas wreath with a peace sign that some say is an anti-Iraq war protest or a symbol of Satan.

That's pretty much the essence of the story. An innocent peace sign wreath accused of being anti-war or a symbol of Satan. My question is what sort of neighborhood did this take place in? Denver isn't exactly the backwoods of the deep south (pardon the stereotype, being from the south myself) and I can't imagine a gated community that gated. To top it off, the homeowners association president who was trying to force the lady to take her wreath down and fining her $25/day ended up firing the entire homeowners committee after they basically told him he was nuts.

11/28 Update: Truce declared in peace wreath battle

Posted by Will at 10:49 PM

November 18, 2006

China in the NY Times

China is my latest pet interest. Never before have we seen such an important and immense expansion of population, economics, and influence. The "Waking Giant" is not only being thrust into the global economy, perhaps before it is fully prepared to, but it is having drastic effects on the natural environment as well. Related to China's entrance into the global economy are its cultural and historic resources. China is perhaps the most culturally rich yet understudied regions of the world in terms of archaeology and many predict that in the coming decades, the most important discoveries will occur within its borders. There's no reason to doubt that and now is as good a time is any to take notice.

This weekend, two great pieces from the New York Times:

China’s African Adventure
Angola is a very, very poor country, but it is also an extremely rich one, for immense deposits of oil lie under the South Atlantic Ocean within its territorial waters. Thanks to the growing appetites of several developing nations, China in particular, that need oil to sustain the furious expansion of their economies, last year Angola, which otherwise has almost no economy, had more than $10 billion to play with. And it has used that money to pay more advanced countries to rebuild its infrastructure. This vision — call it “Development by China” — looks like a catastrophic mistake to the Western experts and institutions that have scrutinized, invested in and at times despaired of Angola.
And yet Development by China looks more like Africa’s future than its past. Angola is not alone in having choices, for the high price of oil has begun to transform the prospects of African countries once viewed simply as basket cases. Earlier this month, Nigeria, the continent’s oil giant, signed an $8.3 billion agreement with China to build an 1,800-mile railway. Oil production in Africa is expected to double over the next 20 years while it stays flat or declines in much of the rest of the world. And China has already begun, in myriad ways, to serve the interests of these emerging clients, while the United States, preoccupied with terrorism, has seen its dominant status slip. Angola, once a cold-war pawn, can now serve as a kind of test case in the latest struggle to shape Africa’s destiny. Call it Chinese-style globalization.

The following story has two videos and a slideshow:

A Troubled River Mirrors China’s Path to Modernity

The source of the Yellow River, itself the water source for 140 million people in a country of about 1.3 billion, is in crisis, as scientists warn that the glaciers and underground water system feeding the river are gravely threatened. For the rest of China, where the economy has evolved beyond trading rings for sheep, it is the latest burden for a river saturated with pollution and sucked dry by factories, growing cities and farming — with still more growth planned.
For centuries, the Yellow River symbolized the greatness and sorrows of China’s ancient civilization, as emperors equated controlling the river and taming its catastrophic floods with controlling China. Now, the river is a very different symbol — of the dire state of China’s limited resources at a time when the country’s soaring economic growth needs more of everything.

Posted by Will at 10:56 PM

November 17, 2006

PlayStation 3 madness: blame Sony

playstation-3-gde.jpgI've been following the steady stream of stories having to do with today's release of the PlayStation 3 video game system by Sony. Remember the good ol' days when nerds used to line up outside of Radio Shack for the midnight release of Windows 95? Not any more. Since early this morning people have been shot with BB guns, real guns, trampled over, robbed, beaten, and assualted. Ex-senator from North Carolina John Edwards had a volunteer drop his name at a local Wal-Mart so his kids could have one. The problem? Edwards has been a vocal critic of Wal-Mart in the past. And I've just learned that a student was beaten and robbed on the campus of my undergrad school, UNC-Wilmington (also see

Consumers going crazy over a new product are nothing new-we've seen it with basketball shoes, computer software, and wedding dresses. But I can't remember so much violence over a single item and all because of the limited availability of the product. Obviously the stores aren't to blame. They stock what Sony ships to them. The individuals who were shot, beaten, robbed, and assaulted are only partially to blame. The real culprit in my opinion is the Sony Corporation for obviously manufacturing demand and not having the foresight to see such a fiasco coming. Clearly Sony could have produced thousands of more PlayStations than they already have, but instead they wanted to create the sense that these things were in such demand that fans were camping out in front of stores and getting into fights. It makes for nice public interest news stories and is free advertising for Sony. Yet another glaring example of corporate irresponsibility.


Ralph Clearly celebrates with his new PlayStation 3 after waiting in line for three days at a Best Buy store in Los Angeles, California.
Clearly and many others across the country -- some die-hard gamers and some planning to re-sell the coveted units -- began lining up days ahead of the release of Sony's newest video game console. In addition to being a platform for video games, PS3 is a high-definition DVD player.
The PS3, which retails for $500 or $600, depending on how large its hard drive is, went on sale Friday morning. Some stores held special midnight sales.

Update: from the folks who brought us the classic comes the following video on YouTube, via

Quite refreshing to see people taking their PS3 agression out on an actual unit rather than someone's face.

Posted by Will at 02:41 PM

November 08, 2006

My letter in the St. Petersburg Times

After some back-and-forth with the Hernando editors of the St. Pete Times my letter was published today, the day after the election with the blaring frontpage headline "Crist Crusies." Anyway, I'll give a little bit of background on the story that prompted my letter and then let my comments speak for themselves.

On November 1 the Times published a story about comments made by Mary Ann Hogan, the wife of Henando commissioner Tom Hogan, Sr. Essentially, she was upset that public funds were used help a mosque celebrate the Muslim holiday Eid-al-Fitr at a county park. You can read the whole news story here.

To summarize, here are the relevant passages from the story, comments that Mrs. Hogan and her husband made that upset so many people:

“Overall, worldwide, it certainly is,” said Commissioner Tom Hogan Sr. “Don’t you read your own paper?” He went on to say, “There’s a saying out there, and there’s some truth to it, that not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims. It’s their thing.”
“They can call it whatever they want to,” Mary Ann Hogan responded Tuesday. “I’m calling them barbarians. ”
“Don’t the administrators of this county know that in honor of Ramadan the Muslims in Iraq have killed an even greater number of our soldiers and Marines than in the preceding months?” she wrote.
“The stated goal of the Muslim faith is to kill us, the 'infidels.’ By providing county employees for their use Hernando County is sanctioning this hateful, frightening religion.”
“Illegal is bad enough,” she wrote, “but helping to promote the Muslim religion is immoral and un-American.”
Mary Ann Hogan responded in a telephone interview Tuesday morning. “Even if they have gotten citizenship, they are not true Americans in my opinion. They all want to kill us,” she said.
She said political correctness keeps many from speaking out. “These people are trying to kill us. They want to kill us. Why can’t you understand that? They say that. It’s written in their bible,” she said.
She said moderate Muslims haven’t done enough to condemn and stop terrorists. “I don’t want to sound like a raving maniac, but I think some raving is in order,” she said.

First of all, one thing that I don't agree with is that all Muslims are terrorists. This clearly isn't the case. Also, I disagree with bringing in the whole "un-American" rhetoric that conservatives love to throw around. The War on Terror and the problem of religious fanaticism transcends anything having to do with being American, un-American, Iraqi, Middle Eastern, Arab, whatever. It has to do with dogmatically adhereing to the principles of Islam as presented in the Koran.

Here is the full text of my letter as it appeared on (the newspaper's website) and in today's Hernando County edition of the St. Petersburg Times.

Faith is a motive for terrorism
I am saddened, but not surprised, that Mary Ann Hogan’s comments about the Islamic faith have left the Hernando community “aghast” and resulted in calls for the resignation of her husband, Commissioner Tom Hogan Sr. While indeed inflammatory to moderate Muslims and Christians, they have not said anything that is inconsistent with Islam as it is presented in the Koran.
We live in a society that happily picks and chooses our Christian or Muslim values, ignoring or downplaying the hatred, judgment and violence that permeate the holy books of these two religions. Although I depart from Tom Hogan in his statement that “all terrorists are Muslims,” I challenge the offended segment of the Hernando community to find an alternative motive for major terrorist attacks against America. Overwhelmingly, the base motive is religion, and until we as a society recognize this and are willing to criticize the irrationality of faith, we will continue to validate fundamentalism throughout the world.
- William Klinger, Tampa

Click here to view a PDF scan of the front page and my letter.

Posted by Will at 02:12 PM

November 03, 2006

Long live Dennett

dennett.jpgVia Ron of the God is for Suckers blog comes a link to a piece written today by Daniel C. Dennett, Tufts University philosopher and author of the fantastic Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. Two weeks ago he was rushed to the hospital with a "dissection of the aorta", which is a bad thing. He was practially dead while doctors operated on him thanks to the miracle He's recovering now and amazingly provided his fanatics with a wonderful account of his near-death experience and recovery. So who does an atheist philosopher thank instead of God? Goodness. Everyone should read Dennett's's moving in its clarity and inspiration. Here's an exceprt:

The best thing about saying thank goodness in place of thank God is that there really are lots of ways of repaying your debt to goodness—by setting out to create more of it, for the benefit of those to come. Goodness comes in many forms, not just medicine and science. Thank goodness for the music of, say, Randy Newman, which could not exist without all those wonderful pianos and recording studios, to say nothing of the musical contributions of every great composer from Bach through Wagner to Scott Joplin and the Beatles. Thank goodness for fresh drinking water in the tap, and food on our table. Thank goodness for fair elections and truthful journalism. If you want to express your gratitude to goodness, you can plant a tree, feed an orphan, buy books for schoolgirls in the Islamic world, or contribute in thousands of other ways to the manifest improvement of life on this planet now and in the near future.

Thanks goodness, indeed. Speedy recovery, Mr. Dennett.

Posted by Will at 11:23 PM

November 01, 2006

My Letter to the Editor

This morning I e-mailed a letter to the editor of the St. Petersburg Times in response to this news story that was published today. I just got a call from the editor and it's supposed to be published in Friday's Times (largest paper in Florida, 24th largest in the country). Anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis can guess the gist of my letter, but I'll post a scan when it's published.

Posted by Will at 04:07 PM

October 24, 2006

This can't be serious... has published the Top 49 Men, or those men that readers have determined as best representatives of the male gender. The number one "man's man" is George Clooney. Also on the top of the list is Jay-Z and Richard Branson, among others. Now, these men are certainly manly, but "best representative of the male gender"? Can you freakin' imagine the flack a woman's magazine would get if they named Paris Hilton and Angelina Jolie best representative of the female gender? Thanks, but no thanks. George Clooeny is a fine actor and Jay-Z had one good song when it was produced by a non-rapper (99 Problems), but I'll stick to not generalizing an entire gender based on an out-of-touch Hollywood elite. The only person mentioned in the article that I maybe agree with is Lance Armstrong, although he too is freakishly abnormal. But what's the criteria, you ask? Well, according to they gave up trying to come up with a list of use-submitted criteria. I assume this means that a manly man basically means anything:

In the end, we decided to let the list speak for itself. The Top 49 Men of 2006 is the product of more than one million votes cast by readers, and every guy on it possesses some quality, characteristic or virtue that we men prize and strive to cultivate in ourselves. You, the reader, built this list; now get on with reading it. Start with number 49.

Ah yes, a quality, characteristic or virtue that I try to cultivate in myself. I've always wanted Richard Branson's beard.

Posted by Will at 10:04 AM

September 24, 2006

Develop or Die

From the New York Times, depressing news from my previous neck of the woods:

Rare Woodpecker Sends a Town Running for Its Chain Saws

BOILING SPRING LAKES, N.C., Sept. 23 (AP) — Over the past six months, landowners here have been clear-cutting thousands of trees to keep them from becoming homes for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.
The chain saws started in February, when the federal Fish and Wildlife Service put Boiling Spring Lakes on notice that rapid development threatened to squeeze out the woodpecker.
The agency issued a map marking 15 active woodpecker “clusters,” and announced it was working on a new one that could potentially designate whole neighborhoods of this town in southeastern North Carolina as protected habitat, subject to more-stringent building restrictions.
Hoping to beat the mapmakers, landowners swarmed City Hall to apply for lot-clearing permits. Treeless land, after all, would not need to be set aside for woodpeckers. Since February, the city has issued 368 logging permits, a vast majority without accompanying building permits.

What is the cost of development? From what I understand North Carolina has been exploding in terms of land development in the Raleigh area and now in the southeast part of the state. I remember when I was a freshman at UNC-Wilmington you could buy a lot of beachfront property at Carolina beach for a mere few hundred thousand dollars. Now many of the same lots are well over a million dollars, and that's just for the land itself. I mention this because it shows that people will pay absurd amounts of money to live in a beautiful environment. What many don't realize is that if development continues at the current pace and is left unchecked (indeed, promoted) by local governments then there won't be any beauty to enjoy anymore in North Carolina.

The situation in Boling Spring Lake is especially depressing because people are destroying the land preemptively; that is, landowners perceive a threat from the natural environment and are making sure it doesn't get in the way of any future plans they may have to further decimate one of the most ecologically diverse states in the country. I speak as someone who enjoys being among living things other than humans. But even from the uninformed point of view of the landowner who values a nice house over a nice view from that house, it makes no sense to slowly but surely chip away at their natural surroundings. The very reason they value their land in the first place is going to be the very reason that it's going to be an artificial wasteland a few decades for now. I've seen it happen firsthand in both my hometown and where I went to college and it's not a nice thing to think about.

The sad reality is that what is happening in Boling Spring Lake is perfectly legal, as evidenced by City Hall handing out hundreds of logging permits, seemingly unconcerned about long-term effects. The Fish and Wildlife Service is making it clear that development=no woodpeckers. Sure, it’s just a woodpecker whose numbers are dwindling, and it’s not really the woodpecker that I’m concerned about. It’s what the woodpecker represents that makes me sad. Humans have reached a level of unabated ignorance about the environment in exchange for big homes and even bigger cars. My hope is not that Americans return to their early history of living at one with nature (which is a myth, anyway) but that we simply turn our iPods off for a few minutes, unplug from the internet, step outside, and look around. We are literally killing our surroundings at a rapid pace yet we remain unaware of it. As with so many other issues affecting humans, education is the remedy. Learn that this earth is not here as a gift from God to us but a natural entity that we are a part of, not apart from. In terms of ecology, we are no more or less significant than a cockroach, a housefly, or a woodpecker. We each have a specific role to play and ours is not to eliminate the opportunity for other living things to carry out theirs.

Posted by Will at 01:07 PM

September 19, 2006

New Apocalypto theatrical trailer

Mel and company have released the new theatrical trailer for the upcoming Apocalypto film loosely based on the Mayan civilization. Below is a low-fi YouTube version but you can view a better quality version at the Apple website.

Posted by Will at 08:27 PM

September 11, 2006

"The reason I don't dispair..."

Jon Stewart, on his first show back after 9/11/01:

Posted by Will at 09:44 PM

September 01, 2006 taken over by teenage girls?

The slowest news day EVER! Here's a screen capture from the front page of at about 10:20pm. Never mind one of the top stories is about 007's male kiss. Guess what happened to Jessica!!


Hence my disdain for the Mainstream Media.

Posted by Will at 10:22 PM

August 27, 2006

The Anderson Cooper Rule

"Is Anderson Cooper in Tampa yet?" That's StormTrack's latest headline. Definitely not a good sign. I have accordingly formulated a new rule of thumb that is potentially life-saving: The Anderson Cooper Rule. Anywhere you see Anderson Cooper in front of a camera, get away FAST. Why? Take a look:


ac_in_rain1.jpg CNN05.jpg



As always, StormTrack has the latest:

Currently, Ernesto is surrounded by very favorable environmental conditions. There is low shear (Figure 4) and the upper-level outflow is strengthening. Both of these factors are what is providing the environment for rapid intensification. In addition, these two parameters are forecast to only get better with time for Ernesto. Also, Ernesto is currently over extremely warm sea-surface temperatures and is forecast to continue over these warm waters, except for when the storm is over land. Any shift in the forecast track will have significant effects on the intensity forecast and for that reason, folks on the Florida coast need to realize that there is very real threat of a Category 3+ hurricane making landfall in the next 4 days.

Update: from Chris Mooney at The Intersection:

Ernesto is now a Category 1 hurricane, and appears to be one of those spooky ones that comes up through the Caribbean bouncing off of islands as if in a pinball machine, before finally expending its fury against the Gulf Coast. "Unfortunately," in the words of forecaster Stacy Stewart, the track has recently been adjusted so that Ernesto could be aimed towards some very vulnerable areas of Florida, namely, the Keys and Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg. Of course, anything could still happen, but the new projected track is a disturbing one. Moreover, the NHC sees little reason not to expect a major hurricane at landfall. It is going to be an interesting few days, to say the least...

Posted by Will at 12:25 PM

Oh great...

144732W_sm.gifI would show you where Tampa is on this latest hurricane track map, but it's obscured by that big black dot that says "8 AM Thu" They're expecting a Cat 3 by that time. From StormTrack:

Ernesto's limited strength thus far has been due to moderate wind shear displacing the convection from the center of circulation. While the center of circulation used to be on the very edge of the convection, it is now within the convection but displaced towards the west. This wind shear should lessen today and tomorrow, and allow for strengthening to continue. The current convective pattern is very healthy and Ernesto seems to mean business.

Posted by Will at 11:36 AM

August 26, 2006

An excuse to leave Tampa?

The folks over at StormTrack (the best resource for up-to-the-second storm info and analysis) seem a bit ominous about Ernesto's personality lately:

For a couple days now we have been talking up Ernesto and warning that there was a significant chance that this could be the new big story. After looking at the situation today, I am convinced that things could be very bad indeed. I always try not incite undue worry, but Ernesto could get ugly. Those of you in the Gulf Coast need to re-examine your hurricane plans, especially is you live in the north Gulf from Houston to Tallahassee. A very deep layer of warm water in the northern Gulf could allow for Ernesto to become a very powerful hurricane if it reaches the area.

The first classes of the Fall semester are next week and my girlfriend is visiting Tampa next weekend. I'll be watching this one closely...


Posted by Will at 06:08 PM

August 01, 2006

Always back up your data

Don't you hate it when your word processing program crashes while you're typing a paper or you loose your flash drive? What about humanity?

Cue the Alliance to Rescue Civilization, a group that advocates a backup for humanity by way of a station on the Moon replete with DNA samples of all life on Earth, as well as a compendium of all human knowledge — the ultimate detached garage for a race of packrats. It would be run by people who, through fertility treatments and frozen human eggs and sperm, could serve as a new Adam and Eve in addition to their role as a new Noah.

Full story in the New York Times.

Posted by Will at 01:43 PM

July 28, 2006

Mel in Mexico

From ABC News:

Mel Gibson Said to Offer Aid to Mexico Poor
VERACRUZ, Mexico Jul 14, 2006 (AP)— Mel Gibson, about to wrap up the filming of his Mayan epic, "Apocalypto," in the jungles of Mexico's Veracruz state, is donating money to build houses for poor people in the region.
The 50-year-old director-actor will donate the money through the Rotary Club and Mexico's family welfare agency, government officials announced Thursday.
Officials said the donation will be used to construct homes for poor residents of the port city of Veracruz and the city of San Andres Tuxtla.

Full story here.

Posted by Will at 08:21 PM

July 19, 2006

Become your own reporter

If you're confused about what's going in the Middle East, Kos elucidates the situation quite eloquently:

So we've got Israel attacking Lebanon. Israel attacking Palestine. Hezbollah attacking Israel. Palestinians attacking Israel. Israel threatening to attack Syria and Iran. Iran meddling in Iraq. The US meddling in Iraq. Lots of terrorists and insurgents targeting the US. The US threatening Iran. Sunnis attacking Shiites. Shiites attacking Sunnis. The US and NATO fighting a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan. Kurds attacking Turks.

Seriously, things are getting pretty bad between Israel's offensive against Hezbollah. From my perusal of alternative media outlets it seems that much of the story as reported through the major US outlets is being skewed in one way or another (big surprise there). What we cannot forget is the face of war: the innocent victims that are caught between (and often at the receiving end of) bullets and bombs.

So how do we wade through all the useless garbage constantly muddling the airwaves of CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, and others? Over the past year or so I have become quite the news junkie, and I have my strategy down to a science. All you need is an open mind and an internet connection.

First, CNN and the other TV news outlets do serve a useful purpose despite carrying stories about Oprah's sexuality and President Bush caught saying "shit" while chatting with Tony Blair. CNN in particular is known for their worldwide network of reporters and bureaus positioned to provide up-to-the-second news as soon as it happens. For this reason, I often check for breaking stories as they happen. That’s where they cease to be useful. Find what the headline is and get out.

The next step is to seek out news sources that aren’t based in the United States. This is especially critical with world news stories such as the Middle East situation and Darfur. My next stop is usually the international version of the BBC News homepage. While a major news outlet and not immune from biasness (no agency is), they offer a different angle on major stories and often report them in a more straightforward and concise manner. And like CNN, the BBC has a fantastic network of their own reporters around the world. So, between CNN and the BBC you are sure to read about every major news story out there if only by virtue of their highly integrated worldwide network.

As I mentioned, major news outlets are good for reading headlines, but the underlying significance of a story cannot be gleaned through a single outlet, especially the big ones. For that you have to rely on independent and aggregate outlets. Perhaps the best aggregate news outlet is Yahoo! News. They have spent quite a bit of money and energy into developing a pretty comprehensive website that pulls together stories from a host of news agencies, both big and small. Aside from a few public interest features, the meat of Yahoo! News is not original and are stories pulled from various sources. It’s usefulness lies in being able to quickly see how different agencies are reporting the same news and what priority they give a particular story. Another aggregate news site is Google News and they are unique because they don’t use human editors. All pages within Google News and computer generated based on the frequency of a particular story on outside sites monitored by Google. This virtually eliminates human bias and allows for lesser known but just as useful resources to surface.

My favorite, alternative news sources (or more accurately, opinion sources). I simply do not know enough about the world to recognize every possible angle of a story. Nobody does. As a result, we must rely on people that have a specific knowledge about a particular topic or geographical area. Finding these voices is often difficult because everyone and their mother thinks they are an expert. Typically from a global perspective, alternative sources are great for reading “the other side” of the story and seeing other points of view. Even if I don’t always agree with alternative descriptions of events, they are useful for making up your own mind. Sometimes, these sources do have original, first-hand reporting but usually they pick up on news from news wire services such as the Associated Press or Reuters and do further research. This research comes in the form of interviews, archival research, or simply applying one’s own knowledge to an event. Personal opinions sometimes find their way into alternative news stories but their insights are indispensable.

The Socialist Worker Online is a good example. The Socialist Worker is the newspaper of the International Socialist Organization: the extreme opposite of FOX News. While often extreme, their take on major stories is refreshing and makes you think. By no means an unbiased news source, The Socialist Worker online is more of a op-ed site than a traditional news agency but they sometimes highlight lesser known stories, typically human rights related, that don’t make the headlines of the more prominent outlets.

The online version of Mother Jones Magazine is in the same vein, but not as extreme as the Socialist Worker. They offer different takes on top stories and follow up that can’t be found anywhere else. As with many alternative sites, Mother Jones doesn’t pretend to be unbiased. They simply claim to bring forth stories you may otherwise never hear about and highlight perspectives that are typically suppressed in the mainstream media. is one of my favorite alternative news sites because its premises are exactly what I’ve been getting at in this post:

The purpose of our new Web magazine is to provide you with insightful and accurate reporting on current subjects and on issues that need to be brought to your attention. We want to challenge conventional wisdom. Over time, we hope to build a solid and reliable resource for those of you who want to explore particular topics by drilling down to unusual depth. In addition, we hope to create a home for thoughtful, provocative ideas and dialogue by a group of talented contributors and editors.

Truthdig is the epitome of what I want when I read the news: the story between the headlines. By bringing in a variety of editors and columnists, the site certainly exudes an air of relative objectivity in a world dominated by bloodthirsty corporate news agencies out for ratings. But as with any site that claims to present “the rest of the story,” one has to make up his or her own mind and go a step further by looking at still more sites.

As you can see, I am clearly a news junkie but I am even more of a truth junkie. I find nothing more satisfying in terms of news that finding out for myself what is happening in a different part of the world. You have to become your own reporter, culling information from a variety of sources and sorting out the hundreds of opinions that may or may not help you shape your own. It is dangerous to take what you hear on CNN or FOX News and think that’s the way things played out. It is equally unwise to rely solely on alternative sources for your information. They typically do not have the resources the large corporate agencies have at their disposal. The trick is to first figure out what is happening, then take a few minutes to search out other facts and opinions, including those that you are pretty sure you will disagree with (this is why I read for opinion and less frequently,

Posted by Will at 03:05 PM

July 11, 2006

Greek Antiquities to be Returned

From the New York Times:

Getty Museum Agrees to Return Two Antiquities to Greece
After months of international scrutiny of its collection of Greek and Roman antiquities, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles announced yesterday that it had agreed to relinquish ownership of two of four rare ancient works that the government of Greece says were illegally removed from within its borders.
The compromise accord, which was initially reached in May at a meeting in Athens between the museum’s director, Michael Brand, and the Greek culture minister, Georgios A. Voulgarakis, provides for the return to Greece of a large stele, or grave marker, acquired by the museum in 1993, and a small marble relief from the island of Thasos bought by the museum’s founder, the oil magnate J. Paul Getty, in 1955.

Posted by Will at 07:24 AM

July 02, 2006

New Thom Yorke Album

I realize this isn't archaeology or science related, but it is "nerd" related and can pass as culture, so I'll post it. The musical genius of my generation will release his first solo album on XL Records next week, called The Eraser. Radiohead's music practically defined my late highschool and college years and some of my best memories have been at the two shows I attented (or tried to attend, the one in VA was flooded out). I snagged a leaked copy from the internet, and its safe to say its on track to be one of my top albums of the year. The Eraser has lots of typical-Radiohead electronic bips and beeps but also a very mellow, melodic album that definitely stands on its own. Hopefully Thom will go on a solo tour so I can have an excuse to escape Tampa...

Read a NYT interview with Thom here.
Official The Eraser website here


Posted by Will at 01:51 PM

July 01, 2006

Archaeologists' criticisms of 'Apocalypto'

'Apocalypto' now for Mel, Maya and historians
Given Gibson's cinematic history, experts on the ancient Maya are looking forward to his upcoming epic, Apocalypto, with a mixture of curiosity and dread. They're pleased that Hollywood will feature a period of world history still little understood but worry that once again a movie may sacrifice historical accuracy for the sake of a good story.
"A lot depends on how well they depict the Maya. It may serve as a really good springboard into a lecture," says archaeologist Lisa Lucero of New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. "Or it may be something we have to nip in the bud in that first lecture."
Gibson wasn't available for comment, and the public relations firm for his Icon Productions declined to offer any details on the film's plot.
But according to the film's website, Apocalypto promises "a heart-stopping mythic action-adventure set against the turbulent end-times of the once-great Mayan civilization." The story centers on a kidnapped hero's bid to escape a mass sacrifice at one Maya center. According to another description of the plot in Time magazine's March preview, a ruler orders the mass sacrifice of hapless captives to appease the gods and avert a drought.
The only problem, and big cause for worry among archaeologists, is "the classic Maya really didn't go in for mass sacrifice," Lucero says. "That was the Aztecs." Other concerns: the modern-day Mayan Yucatec language spoken in the film is not the language of the ancient Maya, and the film's Mexican shooting locale is not the classic Maya homeland, says Penn State archaeologist David Webster.

Full USA Today story here.

Posted by Will at 05:22 PM

May 10, 2006

Sad but true

''There is a discounting of African lives that is complex, but what it comes down to is that the people of Darfur are poor, black, Muslim and don't sit over any valuable natural resources,'' said Eric Reeves, a Smith College expert on Sudan. "You can't get any poorer than that geopolitically.''

Susan Taylor Martin in the St. Petersburg Times this morning (in the same column):

Why should Americans care what happens in a far-off country, on a continent that seems perpetually mired in poverty, turmoil and corruption? Because, experts say, what began as a localized conflict could easily spread to a good chunk of Africa, turning it into a new breeding ground for terrorists and creating thousands of refugees who could end up in the United States.
If for no other reason, Americans should be concerned about Darfur "because peace is cheaper than war,'' as Reeves puts it. In three years, the U.S. government has spent about $800-million and that "is a lot of money that is essentially to preserve lives,'' he said. "It's not investing in infrastructure or anything else'' that could have long-term benefits.

Oh yeah, and the tens of thousands of people dying is repulsive in and of itself. What the hell is wrong with this country? When are we going to stop being American citizens before world citizens?

Posted by Will at 09:59 AM

May 05, 2006

Apocalypto website updated

Got an e-mail today saying that the official Apocalypto movie website has been updated with some exclusive photos. And if you haven't heard, the release date has been moved from this summer to December of this year due to some of the shoots being rained out.


Posted by Will at 05:12 PM

April 16, 2006

Apocalypto filming delayed because of rain

Gibson's `Apocalypto' delayed until December
LOS ANGELES - Movie fans will have to wait a bit longer to see Mel Gibson's next foray into olden times, the Mayan epic "Apocalypto."
The action adventure has been bumped from Aug. 4 release to Dec. 8. A spokesman for Disney, which is releasing "Apocalypto," said Sunday the production had fallen behind because of heavy rains in the wilds of Mexico, where Gibson is shooting the film.
Like Gibson's religious blockbuster "The Passion of the Christ," which was shot in Aramaic and Latin, "Apocalypto" is being done in an ancient tongue, Yucatec Maya.
"Apocalypto" follows the journey of a Mayan hero on the run through the rain forests of pre-Columbian Mexico.

Posted by Will at 03:46 PM

April 01, 2006

More on $200 Million NYU Gift

The New York Times has more on the controvery surrounding a huge private donation to NYU for an ancient studies institute:

It was a startling windfall, and one of the largest donations New York University had ever received: $200 million in cash and real estate for the founding of an ancient studies institute. The force behind the gift, the art collector Shelby White, described it as "the dream project of a lifetime" for her and her husband, the financier Leon Levy, who died in 2003.
Yet while many greeted the gift last week as an exhilarating bonanza, it is stirring intense debate among archaeologists across the country, and even at N.Y.U.
By accepting the money, some argue, the university is tacitly approving Ms. White's practice of buying Greek and Roman antiquities, including some that experts believe were looted from archaeological sites. Some scholars point proudly to policies adopted by their own institutions, including the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Cincinnati and Bryn Mawr College, to discourage or even ban the acceptance of Levy-White money.
To protest the donation, one professor has already resigned from N.Y.U.'s existing Center for Ancient Studies, an umbrella group that will continue to coordinate the university's study of antiquity across various disciplines.
"I simply no longer wanted my name to be affiliated with an organization that would accept such a gift without expressing severe reservations or even protest," said Randall White, a professor of anthropology who specializes in prehistoric art and technology and Europe's Paleolithic period. Mr. White's resignation from the center, which will not affect his teaching position, was first reported online by Science magazine.
"This is a major issue — the flow of antiquities through the art market," added Professor White, who is not related to Ms. White. "This is not a small issue cropping up by a few malcontents. This is something we fight daily to try to preserve the archaeological record."

Read the rest of the story here.

Posted by Will at 01:09 AM

March 30, 2006

Bush at Chichen Itza

Here are some photos of President Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Mexican President Vicente Fox touring Chichen Itza during a trip to Cancun (story here):

bush_cancun.jpg bush_cancun2.jpg
bush_cancun3.jpg bush_cancun4.jpg

Posted by Will at 12:47 PM

March 29, 2006

How money talks, loudly

This is just a plain fascinating story from ScienceNOW:

When New York University (NYU) officials announced last week the creation of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, it was widely seen as a major coup. The new Ph.D.-granting research institute, devoted to the art, archaeology, history, literature, and geography of ancient societies, was made possible by a private gift of $200 million in cash and real estate, one of the largest donations the university has ever landed. Yet some NYU faculty, along with outside archaeologists, are aghast that the school accepted the money. One leading NYU archaeologist has already resigned from the university's existing ancient studies center to protest the decision.
The fracas stems from the source of the new institute's funds: The Leon Levy Foundation, named after the late Wall Street investor and philanthropist. Levy and his widow Shelby White, the foundation's trustee, have for years been at the center of controversies surrounding their antiquities collection, which some archaeologists believe includes objects that had been looted and illicitly traded. Indeed, several institutions, including Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, have adopted explicit policies against accepting funds from the foundation. "I wouldn't touch a gift from Shelby White with a barge pole," says archaeologist Colin Renfrew of Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.

Posted by Will at 11:00 AM

March 19, 2006

More Apocalypto

Looks like TIME is turning out to be the source for Apocalypto news and features. A web feature was published today about the filming.

Says Richard Hansen, a Maya scholar at Idaho State University, head of the Mirador Basin Project and a consultant for Apocalypto: "This is by far the best treatment—the first treatment really—of the Maya any film has ever done. I'm amazed at the detail Mel’s shooting for."
In fact, says veteran production designer Tom Sanders, Apocalypto "is the hardest show I've ever worked on." Stacks of archaeology books and magazines are strewn about a massive warehouse in Veracruz, where an army of costume and makeup artisans from Mexico and Italy are painstakingly re-creating feathers of the nearly extinct quetzal for royal headdresses and long, looping earlobe extensions for warriors. (Because those prostheses are difficult to apply, the actors must wear them for days on end, which rather spooks fellow guests at the Fiesta Americana Hotel.) This month Gibson starts filming at a sprawling and meticulously appointed city of Maya pyramids and markets that Sanders' crew spent six months building outside Veracruz. It all suggests a Titanic-size budget, but Gibson will say only that his production company, Icon, is spending less than $50 million. (The Passion cost $30 million.)

Apocalypto in TIME
Crazy Mel at it Again
-5 pts. for Apocalypto (yes, already)

Posted by Will at 04:35 PM

March 09, 2006

Apocalypto in TIME

There's an online article over at TIME Magazine about Apocalypto and it's actors:

Their obscurity should come as little surprise. Just as he did in The Passion of The Christ, Gibson is using relatively unknown actors in the film (in which the actors speak only in Yucatán Maya), many of whom either are Mayas or are descendants of other New World tribes. "It brings an honesty and a valuable reality to what weíre doing," Gibson tells TIME, which was given the first exclusive look at the Apocalypto production for an upcoming story in the magazine. "These characters have to be utterly believable as pre-Columbian Mesoamericans."

Posted by Will at 11:59 PM

March 05, 2006

Crazy Mel at it again

Tune in for Oscar history tonight: Mel Gibson speaking the Maya language. From Time Magazine:

His last film, The Passion of the Christ, was spoken entirely in the dead languages of Latin and Aramaic. Now Mel Gibson will appear in a brief spot on this Sunday’s Oscar broadcast speaking another exotic tongue: Maya. That's the sole language of Apocalypto, the adventure epic set in Pre-Columbian Mexico that Gibson is currently shooting on the edge of southern Mexico's rainforests, in the state of Veracruz. ""I wanted to shake up the stale action-adventure genre," Gibson told TIME, which was given an exclusive peek at the filming for a story to appear in a forthcoming issue. "So I think we almost had to come up with something utterly different like this."

(via Eric at

Posted by Will at 05:29 PM

March 04, 2006

Hatred, from the inside

Alternative newspaper The Orlando Weekly has a fascinating story about a reporter who infiltrated a National Socialist Movement rally a couple of weeks ago in Orlando. Posing as a Nazi, James Carlson witnesses first hand what it's like to be on the other side of such a disgusting display of ignorance and hatred. It's an eye-opening read and I highly recommend it. Here's a short excerpt:

I introduce myself to a couple of people. Most of the Nazis milling about are from out of town. There are two burly guys from Wichita, Kan., two thin-framed friends from Tampa Bay and a carload from Savannah, Ga. There are a few marchers from Ohio, a couple from Lynchburg, Va., and one man down from Alabama. I count about 25 total waiting under I-4 to march. At least six are in "storm trooper" outfits like White's. Another quick fashion observation: long, stringy goatees are in with Nazis.

Posted by Will at 06:01 PM

March 03, 2006

Jared Diamond Interview in the Houston Chronicle

The Houston Chronicle has an interview with Jared Diamond, where he addresses some of the criticisms that have been following him since Guns, Germs, and Steel. It was given after a talk he gave in Houston last week and right before he spoke at USF (thanks to 3 Quarks Daily). An interesting tidbit coming from the article:

Diamond is currently working on another big book, due in 2012 ("If I live that long"). But he's not ready to talk about it yet.

I can't imagine what's next. Let the anticipation begin.

Posted by Will at 10:00 PM

Beware of the monkey

There's an opinion piece in today's Statesman Journal of Salem, Oregon about the new Curious George animated film and its misrepresentations of archaeology and history and how it seems to promote Western cultural supremacy. I fear many parents won't pick up on this unintended message which I feel is far more dangerous than what is found in any video game or rap video. Ann Nicgorski writes:

My concern with this story line, in which The Man in the Yellow Hat is an archaeologist and museum curator (as opposed to the gun-toting, pipe-smoking animal poacher of the original book series by Margret and H.A. Rey), is the insidious underlying assumption that one simply can go to Africa and transport significant cultural artifacts to a museum in New York. Granted, this is fiction, but even so, it provides our children with a clear lesson in Western cultural hegemony, a lesson that contemporary American children definitely do not need.


Posted by Will at 02:30 PM

Well Said

Add my name to the list:

A group of 12 writers have put their names to a statement in French weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo warning against Islamic "totalitarianism". Here is the text in full.

(Brought to my attention by dvarisco of Tasbir, who offers a response from a Muslim perspective)

Posted by Will at 09:49 AM

February 19, 2006

Won't you be my friend? Please? For the love of God PLEASE BE MY FRIEND!

Anyone who surfs the internet on a regular basis and/or is under the age of say, 35, is aware of the current revolution in online networking. This revolution has its roots with the internet itself but has gained momentum in the past couple of years with the websites and Both of these sites are geared toward high school- and college-aged kids obsessed with who knows them and who they know. spread through college campuses like a virus (and this time it wasn’t sexually transmitted) and eventually having a Facebook account was the norm among undergrads. I never jumped on the Facebook or Myspace bandwagon for a number of reasons, number one being I just didn’t care.

The premise behind these sites is simple: you create an account, upload a picture and some personal information, and people see your page, become your “friend”, and look to see who your “friends” are. Before long many users have an extensive network of people they go to school with and friends they’ve lost touch with in high school (users’ profiles are searchable by school name, hometown, etc.). I know all of this information because of the number of news stories that have come out over the past two years about the perils of being a part of these communities (read the AP story that prompted this post). As with anything on the internet, popularity brings negative attention and in the case of Facebook and Myspace it is rather pronounced due to the personal nature of the service. Indeed, the entire point of signing up is to disseminate personal information. Critics warn that these sites are dangerous and that personal information shouldn’t be given out, but what they don’t realize is that the entire foundation of social networking services is built, brick by brick, by such information.

I write this post to criticize the criticizers for not fully examining the implications and sociological dynamics of online networking of this breed. These communities are ripe for a scholarly study but not in the traditional framework that has typically structured studies of internet life. Individuality has been expressed online since the beginning but not in such a dramatic way as on Facebook and Myspace. To have a personal website or blog is to invite others to peruse your life in digitized form. You post something and people read it, sometimes interactively. With social networking sites a whole different plane of personal existence is being accessed. Kids expect for people to “accept” or “reject” them as virtual friends and expect this to translate into the real world. It is difficult to translate the virtual world into the physical but when it is attempted, the outcome is often undesirable.

This post was brought to you by a lack of sleep and several cups of coffee.

Posted by Will at 11:48 PM

February 17, 2006

Grab a coat, or a surf board

PZ (from Pharyngula) notes how it's "-16°F (-26°C) out there, with 15-20mph winds" this morning in Morris, Minnesota. In the comments of the same post, pablo cites his thermometer in Missouri at 13° F. Must be rough for's going to be a brisk 78° F today in Tampa. And I thought I was going to go all winter without sweating while walking to campus!

Posted by Will at 09:25 AM | Comments (2)

February 16, 2006

Language and grammar

Here's an interesting story on one of my favorite topics in anthropology, the evolutionary origins of language in humans. Mind-blowing stuff to think about.

Brain researchers discover the evolutionary traces of grammar
Researchers found that simple language structures are processed in an area that is phylogenetically older, and which apes also possess. Complicated structures, by contrast, activate processes in a comparatively younger area which only exists in a more highly evolved species: humans. These results are fundamental to furthering our understanding of the human language faculty.

Posted by Will at 11:59 AM

February 15, 2006

Technology and culture clash: information vs. China

Today representatives from four major tech companies testified before congress regarding doing business in China, which censors, among other things, the information available on the internet (story here). Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Cisco were there to defend their business practices against an angry panel of house representatives who accused the companies of giving into to an oppressive Chinese government. I've only browsed Google's testimony and from what I could tell they didn't disagree, concluding that disseminating some information to the Chinese people is better than nothing. I've rounded up a few relevant links:

A transcript of Elliot Schrage's testimony, representing Google:

At the outset, I want to acknowledge what I hope is obvious: Figuring out how to deal with China has been a difficult exercise for Google. The requirements of doing business in China include self-censorship – something that runs counter to Google’s most basic values and commitments as a company. Despite that, we made a decision to launch a new product for China – – that respects the content restrictions imposed by Chinese laws and regulations. Understandably, many are puzzled or upset by our decision. But our decision was based on a judgment that will make a meaningful – though imperfect – contribution to the overall expansion of access to information in China.

Jennifer Granick at Wired opines that "the internet cannot be both globally acceptable and a force for democracy":

Still, as various interest groups and regimes impose their values on global communications, the promise of internet-fueled democratic change dims. Spraying the world with a fire hose of information may not be the answer, but it's closer to the right result than filtering the internet down to a trickle. The answer to a global culture clash has to be coexistence, not control.

I'm torn on this issue, but I do have a hard time subscribing to Google's and the others' decision to concede to the Chinese government's censorship of information. On the one hand, nobody likes to see information censored for the purpose of surpressing a people. On the other, Google's philosophy that some information is better than none does make sense. But without context, what good is that information?

Posted by Will at 09:20 PM

February 12, 2006

Sam Harris on Islam and the Danish cartoons

One of my favorite authors, Sam Harris, has written another extraordinary piece, this time on the website Truthdig (archaeology meets media criticism). In it he offers his opinion on the recent violence over the Danish cartoons that have resulted in anger and violence among outraged Muslims (see my post here). He articulates why Muslims are outraged and proceeds to lay the smackdown:

It is time we recognized—and obliged the Muslim world to recognize—that “Muslim extremism” is not extreme among Muslims. Mainstream Islam itself represents an extremist rejection of intellectual honesty, gender equality, secular politics and genuine pluralism. The truth about Islam is as politically incorrect as it is terrifying: Islam is all fringe and no center. In Islam, we confront a civilization with an arrested history. It is as though a portal in time has opened, and the Christians of the 14th century are pouring into our world.

Read the piece and be enlightened. And if you haven't already, pick up The End of Faith by Sam Harris. It is the one book that has most profoundly changed my life.

Posted by Will at 11:09 PM | Comments (1)

Happy Birthday, Chuck!

I'll join the rest of the science blogosphere on this beautiful Evolution Sunday in wishing Charles Darwin a happy 197th birthday! His greatest legacy? In my opinion it's those little Darwin fish you can put on the back of your car.


Posted by Will at 04:29 PM

February 07, 2006

Could Apple make me drool any more?

We all know of the cultural phenomenon that is the iPod and iTunes. Well, they are approaching their 1 billionth song download and to celebrate they running a mouth-watering contest:

We’ve got one billion reasons to celebrate, and we’re starting with you. As we mark our way to one billion, the music fans who download every 100,000th song will receive a prize package featuring a black 4GB iPod nano and a $100 iTunes Music Card.

OK...unlikely but still exciting. What are the chances you say? I'm not mathmatician but I think a 1:100,000 chance of winning a Nano. That's not all. What do you get for downloading the 1,000,000,000 song on iTunes besides beating the most incredible odds in the history of iPod give-a-ways?

And if you're the lucky grand-prize winner who downloads the billionth song from the iTunes Music Store, you'll receive a 20-inch iMac, 10 60GB iPods, and a $10,000 iTunes Music Card to jumpstart your digital music collection. In addition, Apple will create a full-ride scholarship in your name to a world-renowned music school. Just think: You could help launch the careers of an entire generation of musicians.

You read right: TEN iPods. That's around $4,000 worth of iPods alone. I know there have been much bigger give-a-ways and contests in the past for a variety of reasons, but just imagine 10 iPods sitting in front of you. This is the cultural hold Apple has on a generation. I would say someone should write a book on it, but they already have. I bought Cult of iPod for my sister this past Christmas. Now all we need is a scholarly article or ethnography about it.

Posted by Will at 03:15 PM

February 06, 2006


Go now...University of California Press is having a blowout sale. Tons of books, many for under $10, including some bestsellers. Looks like they have some great stuff. Use the coupon code 06D3351. You can find the anthropology section here.

Posted by Will at 08:00 PM

February 05, 2006

To defend or not to defend: one big question

As an undergraduate, I majored in Religious Studies as well as Anthropology. I therefore have an obvious interest in the recent story developing all over the world where thousands of Muslims are rioting and causing violence and even more are expressing outrage at the publication of a series of cartoons in a Danish newspaper depicting Muhammad. The most cited one is him wearing a lighted bomb as a turban. Aside from the obvious stereotype, most Muslims are outraged more about the fact that Muhammad was depicted in the first place. Islam is a very iconoclastic religion, fiercely opposing any visual representation of their god, the Prophet Muhammad.

At first I hastily jumped to the conclusion that uproar was the result of a minority of fundamentalist Muslims overreacting to stereotypical and insulting images. Only after some of my undergraduate training resurfaced that I remembered that an image of Muhammad, tasteless or not, is a grave insult to the religion and those who follow it. We see images of Jesus everywhere including churches (which is effectively a manifestation of God) and the popular media often parodies God Himself. This does not happen with Islam and is one reason I am a vigorous proponent of teaching world religious as young as middle school and definitely in high school. That is not to say that I think the sole purpose of this is to avoid offending a handful of religious zealots or promoting political correctness. Understanding a religion other than your own is one of the most useful things you can do as a human being. This is why I chose to become a religious studies major a few years ago. What started out as idle curiosity eventually led to a self-realization that, ironically, hadn’t occurred as I grew up with a Christian worldview.

The violence and anger that is erupting in the Muslim world shouldn’t be surprising to any of us. Most Americans have a gross misunderstanding of Islam, its history, and most importantly its fundamental beliefs. I am not even halfway to a full understanding myself. I agree with Sam Harris that Islam is a religion that teaches hatred, ignorance, and violence. To say that Islam is misunderstood and is a religion of peace is a misunderstanding as well. I certainly don’t agree with the senseless violence occurring over these Danish cartoons but I can begin to understand why so many are outraged. I am still grappling with the implications of this. How can one defend an individual’s right to be angry if the basis of that person’s anger is a worldview that is inherently violent and destructive? Welcome to the real world. They don’t teach you this stuff in Sunday School.

Posted by Will at 10:54 AM | Comments (2)

February 02, 2006

AP Photo of the Year (in my book at least)

I found the following file image in an AP news story about's low 4th quarter earnings. Not particularly funny or anything, I just throught it amusing (and depressing) that I became visibly excited over seeing a load of boxes in one place. I am certainly NOT the cause of Amazon's 4Q shortfall (they only made a meager $199 million).


Posted by Will at 10:05 PM | Comments (1)

January 26, 2006

Hip hop and linguistics

Hip hop and linguistics: You ain't heard no research like it!
It's rare to use the words 'hip hop' and 'serious academic research' in the same sentence, but a University of Calgary linguistics professor has relied on rap music as source material for a study of African American vernacular English.
Dr. Darin Howe recently contributed a book chapter that focuses on how black Americans use the negative in informal speech, citing examples from hip hop artists such as Phonte, Jay Z and Method Man. Howe is believed to be the only academic in Canada and one of the few in the world to take a scholarly look at the language of hip hop.

Full story here.

Posted by Will at 10:22 AM

January 25, 2006

More on revival of Virginia Algonquian has a story on the UNC-Charlotte English professor who was asked to recreate the long-dead Virginia Algonquian language for Terrence Malick's The New World (see my review here).

One amusing example of Rudes' work involved a bit performer in The New World whose task was to walk up a hill, gaze down on the new colonists building Jamestown Fort and promptly be shot dead by the oh-so-civilized white men. The actor lobbied to say something cute before he was killed off, eventually settling on the New Yorker-worthy quip, "There goes the neighborhood."
To translate this short sentence, Rudes first rephrased it as "They will destroy the neighborhood." He already knew the word for "they;" the suffix to change it to the future tense; and the verb meaning "destroy." To create the word "neighborhood," he joined two words from the closely-related language of the Massachusett tribe, one for "neighbor" and one for "place." He then added the ending for "it is." He next changed the letters from the original Massachusett words to the corresponding Virginia Algonquian letters. Finally, he came up with the word "wikahkamikaaw" for "it is the neighborhood." Rudes later discovered that there was once a Virginia Algonquian town of the same name, reassuring him that his made-up word existed in the original language.

I have yet to read anything on reaction from the linguistic and Native American communities about the use of the language in the film, but I'll be sure to post anything here. Fascinating stuff!

Posted by Will at 04:48 PM

Sir, do you have a permit for that atlatl?

From National Geographic News:

Pennsylvania hunters hoping to stalk deer with Stone Age spear- throwers may get their chance later this year. Today the state's game commission gave preliminary approval for hunting deer hunting using the atlatl and dart.
The ancient weapon uses a throwing stick to propel spearlike projectiles farther and harder than hunters can with arm power alone.
The atlatl (pronounced AHT-lah-tuhl) predates the bow and arrow and was first used some 20,000 to 25,000 years ago, possibly earlier, by hunters around the world.
The weapon appeared in the Americas about the same time humans arrived. It was brought to its technological apex during thousands of years of Native American use.
"It's first and foremost a hunting weapon, and I think that naturally this is what it should be," said Jack Rowe, an atlatl enthusiast from Sayre, Pennsylvania, who lobbied for approval.


Full story and original graphic here.

Posted by Will at 03:06 PM

January 24, 2006

A head-against-concrete moment

I wish I could say this is not graphic and obscene, but I can't. Curious? Mark of backfill has the story, but make sure you're sitting down and not around any sharp objects...

Posted by Will at 05:29 PM

"Dig Adds to Cherokee "Trail of Tears" History"

From today's National Geographic News, here's a somber but interesting news story from my home state:

Archaeologists working in the rugged mountains of southwestern North Carolina are adding new details to the story of a tragedy that took place more than 160 years ago.
The scientists are uncovering the remains of farms and homes belonging to the Cherokee Indians before they were forced to abandon their property and move to Oklahoma.
About 16,000 Cherokee and hundreds of other Native Americans were forced out of North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama in the late 1830s. The event came to be known among the Cherokee as the Trail of Tears.
Brett Riggs, an archaeologist with the University of North Carolina's Research Laboratories of Archaeology, is leading the excavations. He said the relocation of the Indians was a form of ethnic cleansing.
"A group of people in possession of sovereign territory with a sovereign government were forced to abandon that land, and were forcibly deported," Riggs said.
"They were detained by the U.S. military, and then moved away from their homes to open the area for settlement by a whole different population. That fits the bill for describing ethnic cleansing as well as anything I can think of."

(Photo taken from the story)

Posted by Will at 12:33 AM

January 22, 2006

U. of New Hampshire's Indiana Jones

Here's a pop piece to entertain you:

It took Bill Saturno nearly a year to tell his wife and kids about his discovery of a lifetime.
That’s because the University of New Hampshire assistant professor of anthropology had nearly killed himself when he trekked into the Guatemalan jungle in March 2001 in search of artifacts rumored to have been uncovered by looters.
"I didn’t want to tell her what an idiot I had been - how I had put her and our family at risk," Saturno said with a guilty chuckle during a recent telephone interview from Santa Fe, N.M., where he is on sabbatical writing a book about the discovery of a mural that has set the Maya anthropological clock back some 500 years.
"We didn’t tell anybody until March of 2002 - that’s when the April National Geographic was released with the first article about the site," said Saturno, 36, a research associate at Harvard’s Peabody Museum, who set out with a small party funded by National Geographic on what was supposed to be an afternoon search for the as-yet undiscovered site of San Bartolo, north of Tikal (one of the great ancient Maya cities of Guatemala).
The group leaders heard rumors that looters had found stele (elaborately engraved stone slabs) and wanted to try and secure the site before it was pilfered.

Full story here.

Posted by Will at 01:16 PM

January 21, 2006

"Mexico Unearths Colonial Mural"

MEXICO CITY - Salvador Guilliem dangles on a narrow beam over the sunken remains of a mural painted by Indians shortly after the Spanish Conquest. Guilliem, an archaeologist, points out the newly excavated red, green and ochre flourishes in one of the earliest paintings to show the mixing of the two cultures.
The vivid scene of animals real and mythical cavorting around the edge of lakes that once shimmered in Mexico City was painted by Aztec Indians in the early 1530s during a rare, brief moment of tolerance in an era when Spaniards were obliterating Aztec culture to cement their own rule.

Full story here.

Posted by Will at 01:58 PM

The New World: Film Review

Last night I had a date with myself and saw The New World, a film by Terrence Malick and starring Colin Farrell, Christopher Plummer, Christian Bale, and Q’Orianka Kilcher. I was a bit skeptical going in because anytime Hollywood produces a period piece based on historical events, there’s room for interpretation and misrepresentation. Coming away, however, I was quite surprised at how good the film was and the unique approach the filmmakers took to retelling the story of John Smith and Pocahontas.


The Story

The majority of the film is set in what is today Virginia at the Jamestown colony and the surrounding area. It starts with the first English colonists arriving in Virginia to the bewilderment of “the naturals”, who don’t know quite what to make of the pale, dirty, and odorous strangers. Initially, they take the invaders arriving on their impressive vessels as gods from above and hesitantly welcome them to their lands. This of course doesn’t last very long once the Indians realize the English are here to take over. The story focuses on John Smith (played by Colin Farrell) who becomes infatuated with a young Indian girl played by a new actress, Q’Orianka Kilcher. Their relationship is based on that of Smith and Pocahontas although in The New World, we get a more realistic idea of what that may have played out. It should be noted that the John Smith-Pocahontas love story is largely myth. Both were historical figures but the details of their relationship and interactions are vague (there is a great piece in the Jan/Feb 2006 Archaeology magazine about Jamestown which mentions the film). When John Smith leaves Jamestown and Pochahontas (who is never referred to by that name in the entire film) believes he is dead, new colonist John Rolfe (Christian Bale) moves in and falls for her as well. He takes her as his wife and they have a child, living a seemingly happy life as Jamestown begins to flourish after a rough start. The rest of the film is about her experience with finding love and discovering its true nature.

The Film

Overall, I was impressed and left the theater satisfied. The first half of the film was the most entertaining (for me at least) because it focused on the landing in Virginia, the construction of the Jamestown fort, and the interactions with the Natives. The latter aspect was by far the most impressive because as far as I could tell, this was a pretty accurate portrayal of Native American life at the time of colonization. The costume and makeup of the indigenous actors was breathtaking down to the last detail and I saw those historic engravings come to life before my eyes. Also, from what I understand this is the first film to employ Virginia Algonquian, the language spoken at the time (National Geographic news has a fascinating story about this here). Linguists and historians were able to reconstruct the language from historical documents written by the colonists, including John Smith. As I anticipate with Mel Gibson’s upcoming film Apocalypto about the ancient Maya, this film is important if only because of the reconstruction and preservation of an indigenous language.



I am not the biggest fan of Colin Farrell, although he did a decent job in The New World. He wasn’t as annoying as he normally is perhaps because he was so reserved during this movie and his emotional outbursts were limited to important turning points in the film, something that added to the drama of the storyline. Q’Orianka Kilcher as Pochahontas was simply amazing. She is a young actor, 14 at the time the film was made, so she was very believeable and John Smith’s forbidden love interest. Far from being prurient, the scenes between her and Farrell seemed real. The filmmakers did an excellent job of editing, never showing the two in anything more than an intimate embrace. Knowing that the actor who plays Pochahontas is very young and that the historical Pochahontas was very young as well contributes greatly to the realism of their relationship (emphasized for dramatic effect in the film), which John Smith must hide from his fellow colonists. Christian Bale, who plays the newcomer colonist and tobacco farmer John Rolfe, was amazing as expected. Bale is one of my favorite actors and The New World is proof that he can pull off anything. His relationship with Pochahontas didn’t seemed forced despite the circumstances.


Overall, The New World was worth my student discount at the theater and worthy of a purchase when it comes out on DVD (although I recommend seeing it in the theater). This is a Hollywood film with all the trappings of one, but it wasn’t overproduced nor did it do a grave injustice to historical fact aside from perhaps embellishing John Smith and Pocahontas' intimacy. As I mentioned above, this most fascinating aspect of the film was hearing the Virginian Algonquian language and seeing early Native Americans come to life. I also enjoyed how the name "Pochahontas" is never spoken once in 2 1/2 hours. With all of the gross misrepresentations of Native American life associated with retellings of the Pochahontas story, the absence in this movie of the name was refreshing. As an anthropologist, I don’t need a movie to tell me that the Indians were real people with very real feelings, but this film may do just that for those with little or no knowledge of indigenous life at the time of contact.

Posted by Will at 01:04 PM | Comments (1)

January 15, 2006

Racial Progress

A revealing poll from the Associated Press (I respond to the questions myself below the graphic):


Do you think there has been significant progress toward Martin Luther King’s dream of racial equality?

Significant progress? Yes. Still a long way to go? Absolutely. The Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s was a turning point for the United States and King has come to embody everything that it stands for. As I just did in the last sentence, most everyone speaks of the Civil Rights movement as if it happened and then resigned to the history books. The truth is, in my opinion, we are still in the midst of the movement and have a quite a bit of ground to cover. This country was built on the backs of minorities from the days of conquest through slavery and all the way up to today. This fact isn’t easily forgotten and is often ignored. Unfortunately, the Katrina disaster set us back a decade or two because both blacks and whites sunk to name-calling and hurling false accusations. Sadly, I don’t think I’ll see true racial equality in my lifetime but I do believe my generation will continue to see progress, with a few steps back along the way.

Will you do anything to commemorate Martin Luther King Day this year?

As I did last year, I’ll probably read Letter from Birmingham Jail again. Embarrassingly, I only first read it a little over a year ago and I realized it was something that should have been read much earlier in life. Beautifully written and poignant, I get the distinct feeling that not enough people in this country have read it and really thought about it. One can learn so much from it and not just about race and equality. If you don’t normally do anything for the holiday, read Dr. King's Letter from Birmingham Jail.

Do you feel that Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday should be a national holiday?

Of course. We already have White History Month well-established January-December each year.

Posted by Will at 05:47 PM

January 13, 2006

Some archaeology news from south Florida

Ancient Remains Found in Downtown Miami
MIAMI (AP) - Archaeologists excavating two American Indian burial sites in downtown Miami say they have found hundreds of remains piled in limestone fissures, some of them stacked in stone burial boxes.
The remains are at least five centuries old and likely are the ancestors of the Tequesta tribe that met explorer Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513 when he claimed the land for Spain, archaeologists said.

Posted by Will at 08:41 PM

January 09, 2006

Mouse Power!

Mouse Thrown Into Fire Sets Home Ablaze
FORT SUMNER, N.M. (AP) -- A mouse got its revenge against a homeowner who tried to dispose of it in a pile of burning leaves. The blazing creature ran back to the man's house and set it on fire.

I used to have a pet mouse, so this story hits close to home. It's good to see some mice in the world are starting to stand up for their right not to be burned alive...and then screw over the guy who did it.

In Memory of Maximus Mouse, 2005-2005

Posted by Will at 07:57 AM | Comments (1)

January 08, 2006

Antiques Roadshow in Tampa

I don't usually watch Antiques Roadshow but they're going to be kicking of their 10th season in Tampa for the next three episodes:

ANTIQUES ROADSHOW kicks off its 10th anniversary season in Tampa, Florida, with new host Mark L. Walberg. Walberg joins appraiser David Rago in Tampa’s Ybor City, a historic district once known as the “cigar capital of the world,” to learn why there’s nothing more satisfying than a good cigar collectible. At the Tampa Convention Center, ROADSHOW appraisers discover some smokin’ finds, including an autographed scrapbook documenting Joe DiMaggio’s 1941 hitting streak; a marriage license issued to Davy Crockett for a wedding that never took place; and a painting by acclaimed 19th-century marine artist James E. Buttersworth.

Posted by Will at 02:43 PM

January 07, 2006

More King Tut

The Tampa Bay Times, a local entertainment paper, has a review of the King Tut exhibit in Ft. Lauderdale along with a couple of photos.

Previously on Nomadic Thoughts:
King Tut Exhibit Review, Part 1
King Tut Exhibit Review, Part 2
King Tut Exhibit Review, Part 3

Posted by Will at 05:22 PM

Two links... keep you busy over the weekend (at least for a few minutes). Slate has a piece up where they ask writers, artists, etc. "to name the most amazing—or most disappointing—cultural happening they stumbled on during the course of the year." An interesting read of some varying points of view.

Also, a little Florida evolution/ID news: the Gainesville Sun has story about teaching in public schools.

Sort of a slow weekend around here. My friends are still out of town and I'm picking one of them up at the airport tomorrow night. The past two days I started my second semester of graduate assistantships. The changes include a new GA advisor and an additional 10 hours with the chair of the department. For the time being my time will be divided between cleaning and organizing another lab and working on other things. I started in the lab a couple of days ago. Are archaeologists generally this disorganized and packrat-ish? It was fun to flip through student papers and projects from 10-15 years ago and play with field equipment that's easily two decades old.

Posted by Will at 02:48 PM

January 05, 2006

"Earliest known Mayan writing found in Guatemala"


ANTIGUA, Guatemala (Reuters) - Archeologists excavating a pyramid complex in the Guatemalan jungle have uncovered the earliest example of Mayan writing ever found, 10 bold hieroglyphs painted on plaster and stone.
The 2,300-year-old glyphs were excavated last April in San Bartolo and suggest the ancient Mayas developed an advanced writing system centuries earlier than previously believed, according to an article published on Thursday in the journal Science.
The glyphs date from between 200 BC and 300 BC and come from the same site in the Peten jungle of northern Guatemala where archeologist William Saturno found the oldest murals in the Mayan world in 2001. Radiocarbon tests prove the writing is 100 years older than the murals depicting the Mayan creation myth.
(Photo from the National Geographic News story)

Posted by Will at 09:38 PM

January 01, 2006

"Dig reveals first sign of Jewish life after Second Temple"

It's no secret that if I wasn't doing work in Mesoamerica I would be a Biblical archaeologist working in the Near East. So much to dig, so few years in a lifetime.

Recent archaeological excavations near the Shuafat refugee camp in northern Jerusalem indicate the existence of a Jewish community in Jerusalem after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E.
The findings - said to be the first indication of an active Jewish settlement in the area of Jerusalem after the city fell in 70 C.E. - contradict the common wisdom that no Jewish settlement survived the Roman destruction of the city. However, some Israeli archaeologists have argued that Jewish settlement revived and continued to exist even after the destruction.

Full story here.

Posted by Will at 10:39 PM

December 30, 2005

American teenager in Iraq

Now this is an incredible story about an American teenager who flew off to Iraq over Christmas break for a class assignment:

The next trimester his class was assigned to choose an international topic and write editorials about it, Hassan said. He chose the Iraq war and decided to practice immersion journalism there, too, though he knows his school in no way endorses his travels.
"I thought I'd go the extra mile for that, or rather, a few thousand miles," he told The Associated Press.
Using money his parents had given him at one point, he bought a $900 plane ticket and took off from school a week before Christmas vacation started, skipping classes and leaving the country on Dec. 11.

Read the whole thing because it's amazing the things this kid did. I realize his parents were pulling every strand of hair out but I really do admire the reasons he did this and what he hoped to gain. It was extremely risky and some would say idiotic, but his motivation gives me hope that not every American kid is hopeless:

"I want to experience during my Christmas the same hardships ordinary Iraqis experience everyday, so that I may better empathize with their distress," he wrote.
Farris Hassan says he thinks a trip to the Middle East is a healthy vacation compared with a trip to Colorado for holiday skiing.

Posted by Will at 12:56 AM

December 29, 2005

-5 pts. for Apocalypto (yes, already)

I've watched the Apocalypto teaser about five times now and didn't catch this (it's nearly impossible to discern with the naked eye) but Mel Gibson pulled a not-so-subtle Alfred Hitchcock on us:


You can see it by advancing frame-by-frame around the 1:45 mark in the teaser trailer.

(thanks to Hedonistica for pointing this out)

p.s. - I've added an "Apocalypto" category but I promise Nomadic Thoughts won't become an annoying fan site!

Posted by Will at 12:23 AM | Comments (3)

December 28, 2005


Not sure if this is old news or not but the teaser trailer for Mel Gibson's Apocalypto is online at Apple. I'll be following this film closely because it's the first big budget action-adventure story set in ancient Mayan civilization, so expect plenty of blog posts about it up until its release next summer. I'll temporarily set aside any academic credibility by completely going ga-ga over a Mel Gibson film about the ancient Maya, but the cinematography and set design are simply going to be too much for me to dismiss. Hell, I'll be the first to admit that I became interested in archaeology because of Indiana Jones (among other romanticized ideals) so drooling over a completely generalized and dramatized portrait of ancient life isn't out of character. As long as I keep one eye toward the thousands of pottery sherds and soil samples I'll be looking at next summer...

Posted by Will at 12:30 AM | Comments (1)

December 02, 2005

King David's Pad

There's a great piece today in the Washington Post about the supposed location of the Biblical David's house in Jerusalem. There is a mouth-watering photo that accompanies the story, sure to excite any archaeologist (click here for the full image):


Posted by Will at 10:45 AM

November 21, 2005

Bush in Mongolia

There's a great piece in the NY Times today about the President in Mongolia, where he "immersed" himself in the local culture.

Posted by Will at 03:53 PM

October 26, 2005

A belated Reply to my Guns, Germs and Steel review

Remember when I displayed just a tad bit of interest over the National Geographic/PBS special based on Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel that aired earlier this summer? Rick Matthews, who worked behind the scenes on the special, left an enlightening comment on one of my my posts about the program. To recap, I essentially said the producers and Diamond did a good job considering they had to condense such an expansive theory and supporting evidence into a three-hour television program that would appeal to a wide audience while at the same time representing Diamond's theory fairly. By default they fell short on the task because the book covers so much material (and, apparently, worked with a "budget from hell"), but for what they were hired to do I feel that Rick along with the writers, producers, and Diamond made a beautiful film that serves as a great introduction to the book. Anyway, here is a part of Rick's comments:

Jared is nuts - a genius , but nuts . A simple man with a concept that most folk dont understand until you stand and face the reality of what is going on beyond the shimmering TV screen . I read the book , the script and met the man and with a budget from hell we tried to make a film . If I had my way we would have done a Lawrence of Arabia multiplied 1000 times , as the story of colonization , disease , war , treasure and the untold stories of Africa , the far east and the Tintin fantasies of Central America , the moon and so on , can never be told and will never be understood - we all want to but will never be there ie as a voyeur or participant in word and pictures . Cassian , Jared , Sue and myself saw really bad stuff , good stuff and traversed a cultural minefield to make this film .We tried to open peoples eyes - damn hard these days !!

Posted by Will at 05:24 PM

October 19, 2005

Unwelcome Wilma

Looks like we're next. Just when you thought the US of A had enough we get one more kick in the nuts while we're down. Wilma is bearing down on the the Yucatan and could make landfall in southern Florida as early as Saturday. What's my evacuation plan, you ask? If by tomorrow or Friday it looks like Katrina's sister then I'm driving the hell north until I reach Canada. I was lucky for four years on the North Carolina coast but this looks like the real deal...the thing exploded into a category 5 overnight.


Posted by Will at 08:28 PM

October 11, 2005

"Hobbits" back in the news

Carl Zimmer, writer of one of my new favorite blogs The Loom, has a good post revisiting the H. floresiensis discovery last year on the Indonesian island of Flores (as well as a link to an archive of past posts). Peter Brown and company have published another article in Nature further supporting the classification of floesiensis as a human species.

In this week's issue of Nature, the scientists describe bones from nine individuals from the Liang Bua cave. Some of the bones--parts of the right arm and jaw--belong to an individual. Other leg bones, shoulder bones, and various bits of fingers and toes come from other levels in the cave. They were laid down in the cave over thousands of years, the youngest being just 12,000 years old--around the time when our ancestors were inventing agriculture.
The key conclusion of the paper is that these fossils look a lot like the original Hobbit bones reported last year. The new jaw, for example, has the same peculiar roots on its teeth as the old one, and both also lack a chin. If the original Hobbit was just a pathological human, the authors argue, then all of these new individuals would have to be pathological too. And the fact that these fossils span 80,000 years makes it even harder to hold the pathology argument. According to Harvard's Daniel Lieberman this pattern refutes the aberrant dwarf argument, which now "strains credulity," as he writes in an accompany commentary.

More: AP reports on the discovery of another H. floresiensis jawbone.

Posted by Will at 09:50 AM


Robot to climb Egyptian pyramid
Tom Perry
A robot will be sent up narrow shafts in the Great Pyramid to try to solve one of the mysteries of the 4500-year-old pharaoh mausoleum, says Egypt's top archaeologist.
Dr Zahi Hawass say he will this week inspect a robot designed to climb the two narrow shafts that might lead to an undiscovered burial chamber in the pyramid of Cheops at Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo.

Full story here.

Posted by Will at 08:54 AM

September 26, 2005

This is Bulls Country

There's a good story in the Tampa Tribune today about this weekend's game with 9th-ranked Louisville where South Florida walked away from their Big East debut (!) with a 45-14 win.

Read the piece online here.

Posted by Will at 12:51 PM

September 15, 2005


North Carolina hasn’t been washed away yet by Ophelia and relative to Katrina, they’re getting off pretty easy. Wilmington, home to my alma mater and my girlfriend, was hit today with high winds, rain, and some flooding. Classes have been cancelled since Monday. There’s lots of power out and downed trees but nothing major to speak of as far as I know. I find it ironic that as soon as I leave for one of the most hurricane-prone states in the nation my ex-state gets one head on. In four years at UNC-Wilmington I only experienced one significant hurricane and even then there was no mandatory evacuation in my area (the Outer Banks, on the other hand, are always evacuated). Simply put, I’ve been pushing my luck and I’m sure the moment I publish this post a ‘cane will start brewing in the Atlantic.

Posted by Will at 01:02 AM

September 06, 2005

Last Katrina post, I promise

As I feel many people are in the country I am starting to get “hurricane fatigue” in that I’m simply tired of talking about the week-old natural disaster, the mind-numbingly depressing aftermath, and the implications of it all. It’s what I’ve thought about the most over the past week and watched the most of on television. I must embarrassingly admit that the best field coverage on the usually integrity-challenged cable news networks came from FOX’s Shepherd Smith. A bit emotional at times but I simply cannot help but applaud his constant frustration at the whole situation which came to a head when he blew up during a live exchange with Bill O’Reilly on The Factor. I hereby nominate Shepherd and New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin as our next presidential administration. But I digress.

Tonight in my master’s pro-seminar course we talked a bit about Katrina in terms of progressivism, an anthropological theory that has society and culture progressing forward. At its extreme, progressivism holds (or held) that non-white races are in a lower stage of development that Europeans and that the latter is not necessarily the end of social progression but that were at least far more advanced artistically, intellectually and culturally. This really got me thinking.

Going back to Katrina I have written how much has been made of the fact that very little was done in the initial response to the subsequent flooding and displacement (and ultimately death) of thousands of Americans. There is a degree of progressivist thought that is very much alive today and that resulted in our being caught off guard by the aftermath of Katrina. By this I mean that traditionally the United States views itself as more advanced and thus somehow superior to most, if not all, other nations. While we do have the most powerful military and strongest infrastructure in the world our realization of this is simply out of control. This is nothing new. In the years following World War II Americans were indoctrinated with the idea that we were inherently better than other countries and that because we are able to help so many other nations we must constantly pat ourselves on the back. The obviousness of this doctrine has subsided a bit but the seed that was planed back then has sprouted and resulted in pure, unadulterated arrogance.

When we were hit below the belt on September 11th, we had an excuse: the Muslim world was jealous of us and our freedom and everything that we represented. Therefore, we must rise from the ashes of the World Trade Centers and show that we will not let our freedom fall at the hands of a few religious fundamentalists that don’t share our values. When Katrina hit we had no one to blame that resided outside the borders of the United States and thus outside of our comfort zone of a supremely-endowed way of life. Even 9/11 couldn’t do that because we had that outside entity to blame. We were caught completely off guard and for the first time in many years we became aware of our own vulnerability. All we could do as a nation is watch in horror as our own government failed us at many different levels. To an extent this could be said of 9/11: some “saw it coming” and could thus blame the government for lack of action, but Al Qaeda’s attack didn’t have the same visual obviousness as Katrina. We were one hundred percent sure that Katrina was going to attack the United States and that devastation would ensue.

Posted by Will at 11:12 PM

September 05, 2005

From the Outside Looking In

You know the Katrina situation is bad when people from third-world countries are shocked at the federal and local response (quotes taken from different parts of this Reuters story):

"I feel very sad about the situation in New Orleans at this time. It looks like a conflict in Africa. The U.S. as a superpower should have done more to solve the situation," said Edith Thompson, a restaurant owner in the capital Monrovia.
"The slow pace in response we have seen after Katrina was due to institutional constraints. I don't buy the racial line. I can liken bureaucracy to asking an elephant to do gymnastics," he said.
"For them as a great nation, I was surprised by the looting. You expect people to pull together," said George Sempa, a telecoms worker in the Ugandan capital Kampala.
"The floods in the U.S. are a natural event that transcends America's power. Despite all their technology and money, they weren't able to do much," said Samba Thiam, a student in the Senegalese capital Dakar where the worst flooding in 20 years have brought chaos in the last few weeks.
"It is not enough to have a warning system. You need to sensitize people to take warnings seriously. Tell them: 'Forget your attachments, you need to get out."

There's much debate happening about the shortcoming in government response to those affected by the hurricane, but it's easy to loose sight of the fact that the United States is and has been for a long time looked up to by many other nations (why I'll never know). They look up to our culture in general and try to emulate it by wearing American clothes, listening to American music, and devouring American television and films. On a more profound level, it seems to me that these same nations revere the infrastructure that allowed us to take care of our own people like other nations could not. This is the biggest reason why I think the handling of Katrina is a worldwide embarrassment. I'm not one to care about superficial appearances but how does it "make us look" when a country as arrogant as the United States completely fails to respond to a natural disaster within its own borders? If 9/11 and now Katrina fails to humble us as a nation, what the hell is it going to take? The story quoted above is a reminder that Americans live in a bullet-proof bubble that cannot be burst by the worst diasters.

Posted by Will at 12:15 PM

September 02, 2005

More on Katrina and Anthropology

I received an e-mail today from a fellow grad student about a professor at the University of Texas who is initiating an informal response from the academic community regarding Hurricane Katrina and what, if anything, different disciplines could contribute. He initially posed this invitation to his grad students at Texas but it made its way to USF anthropoplogy listserv so I was prompted to build on my previous post about Katrina and the possibility of an anthropological perspective. The following is what I submitted.

It is not immediately obvious what, if anything, the field of archaeology can offer to the understanding of and response to the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. We are after all concerned with the material remains of past cultures and societies. In one disturbing sense any academic endeavor carried out in the immediate disaster area will ultimately be a study of a past society. Archaeologists several hundred years from now may excavate in New Orleans and be able to correlate data with historical accounts of a great flood that happened back in AD 2005. It is unknown what conclusions they may draw.

In a broader context, the field of anthropology has much to offer to the study and documentation of Katrina. One news reporter spoke of a “leveling effect” whereby every private citizen within the disaster area suddenly became equal: all had lost virtually everything. Money no longer held any value and one could no longer be judged by their material possessions. It is obvious however that an overwhelming majority of those “left behind” were of the lowest economic class in the country before the storm. They simply did not have the means to evacuate the city when the government demanded it. These people were herded into the Louisiana Superdome like cattle to ride out the storm only to emerge on the other side as headless chickens. Government officials initially did little to displace the survivors from the area after the hurricane had passed. Indeed there was little that could be done in such a devastating aftermath. Looters practiced their trade with callous indifference to law and order while others had no choice but to participate just to survive.

The dynamics of the entire situation beg for anthropological insight. Overnight the Superdome was transformed into a new society with new rules and new survival tactics. New Orleans was no longer and its former citizens found themselves facing the challenges of a lawless, third world nation. This was a unique situation in which people who had very little to begin with had even less. How did they react, adjust, and cope with this new social environment? What effect did cramming twenty thousand people into a concrete structure have on the mentality of these people? Surely exhaustion, devastation, frustration, and confusion were the most prevalent. However I feel there was something less obvious going on inside the walls of the Superdome. With little social order to speak of and even less infrastructure guiding the actions of the survivors, what knowledge and abilities did they put into use over the past several days? How did they deal with unrest? These are anthropological questions whose answers can serve a purpose. That purpose make become more obvious in the coming weeks and months but it is safe to conclude at this point that by studying how the people affected by the hurricane reacted and acted will be integral to planning for similar future situations.

Posted by Will at 11:48 PM

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

August 18, 2005

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

Genocide IS News:

From a new American Progress Action Fund website,

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 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 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

August 08, 2005

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

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:

"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

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 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

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)

July 26, 2005

GG&S Debate Heats Up

This post is simply a way for me to organize the growing number of blog links that are discussing the recently-concluded Guns, Germs and Steel mini-series on PBS. In just the past two days I've noticed a sharp increase in GG&S discussion, at least on the blogs that I read. A few people are jumping all over the two Savage Minds posts, linked below. This post will be continiously updated as debate (hopefully) continues...

The two Savage Minds posts critical of Diamond's theory:

Anthropology's Guns, Germs and Steel Problem by Ozma
What's Wrong with Yali's Question by Kerim

Posts that directly respond to the links above:

Nobbled Savages by Henry at Crooked Timber
A Better Class of Critics of Jared Diamond, Please... by Brad DeLong
Kerim and DeLong begin to tangle antlers in the comments of this SM post.


Lindsey Beyerstein weighs in (mentions the "Diamond-bashers" at Savage Minds): Guns, Germs, Steel, and TV

John Hawks injects a history lesson into the debate here.

Henry at Crooked Timber refutes Tak's characterization of Jared Diamond as a racist based on a 1998 article he wrote on the Japanese.


Nomadic Thoughts' final review and analysis.

Michael Balter's Review in Science

Leave a comment if you have any more links that contribute to the debate, including reviews. I am elated to see so much discussion on such a notable book. Whether you agree with Diamond's theory or not, and whether you have an informed opinion or not, it is a fascinating topic for an online debate and one that will hopefully continue to grow.

Last updated 7/27 @ 1:51pm

Posted by Will at 07:00 PM | Comments (4)

Temptation Cave

A recent discovery in Germany is BlogPluse's 16th most popular link of the day. I can't figure out why so much interest in archaeology all of a sudden (warning: don't read below the fold lest you have a lithic fetish):


So along with Indiana Jones, we're now known for this:)

Posted by Will at 04:27 PM

Guns, Germs and Steel: Final Review and Analysis

Last night was the conclusion of the Guns, Germs and Steel mini-series on PBS. Episode Three, Into the Tropics, tests Jared Diamond’s theory of global European domination on the continent of Africa. He looks at why Europeans were so successful in and around the southern tip of Africa and why the Dutch failed miserably at extending their domination northward. Diamond concludes his train journey by examining the role of disease, climate, and technology in the development of global inequality.

Like the previous two episodes, Into the Tropics was wonderful aesthetically but it was a little more scattered than its predecessors. Africa is a rather large continent and it is clearly impossible to apply Diamond’s theory to such a geographically expansive area in less than an hour. Whereas Episodes One and Two achieved the goal of providing a good introduction to the roots of European domination, Episode Three was a bit of a stretch. The conclusion, however, was well written and summed up the series quite well, but it felt rushed; sort of that “oh crap, we’re running out of time so let’s get to the point” feeling. I believe I got this feeling because this particular episode dealt with a vastly important and emotional topic and focused largely on contemporary human suffering. The footage of Diamond breaking down in a Zambian children’s hospital was awkward yet effective.

Now that I have the entire series to base my opinion on, I still stand by my belief that documentary filmmaking on scientific topics does not have to be high-density in order to provide a useful tool for both laypersons and professionals. The fields relevant to Guns, Germs and Steel (geography, anthropology, environmental science, etc.) all have their professional journals and academic conferences that provide a useful and necessary forum for the exchange of ideas and thus the development of theory and method. Speaking from an anthropological perspective, I have always thought that the entire point of scientific inquiry was to address real problems relevant to real people. If a topic is of absolutely no use to anyone and as a result makes no useful contributions to the broad base of human knowledge then such a topic is a lost cause (thankfully, it is hard to think of a feasible research project that does not meet these requirements). For this reason, the aim of any scientist, social or otherwise, should strive to make their research available to the masses. This may mean numerous translations in some cases or the preparation of visual aids in others. Particularly in anthropology, there is a cultural divide that often must be crossed to do this.

I feel that Guns, Germs and Steel (the television version) does just that: it provides a succinct yet informative introduction to Jared Diamond’s theory. It doesn’t rob the viewer of the importance of the topics covered nor does it sell short the science of those topics. The television series never purported to be a highly scientific documentary examining the ultimate and proximate factors in the development of inequality. In this respect, neither does the book that the series is based on (although is does examine the factors closely).

There has been some great discussion happening on academic blogs in the wake of Guns, Germs and Steel, most notably at Savage Minds which offers two posts, both critical of Diamond’s theories rather than the television series itself. I suggest you read them to balance out the GG&S love-fest that has been going on here at Nomadic Thoughts for the past three weeks:

Anthropology's Guns, Germs and Steel Problem by Ozma
What's Wrong with Yali's Question by Kerim

Posted by Will at 11:13 AM | Comments (1)

July 22, 2005

My psuedo-interview with Jared Diamond

As I mentioned a few posts back, hosted an online "chat" with Guns, Germs and Steel author Jared Diamond this past Wednesday and the question I submitted for the chat was answered (read the whole transcript here):

Wilmington, N.C.: Dr. Diamond, whenever a documentary such as Guns, Germs and Steel is released on television, there always seems to be some criticism from academics and other experts in the discipline that the program focuses on. What was your experience with helping to produce a television series in which your expansive theory was adequately covered in such a relatively short amount of time (a three-hour program)?
Dr. Jared M. Diamond: Well, I had to get used to the fact that a 200,000 word book that would take 20 hours to read out loud has to get summarized for TV within 3 hours. A lot had to be shortened, but on the other hand, TV can evoke and recreate in a way that a book cannot. And I myself think that it is wonderful how National Geographic and Lion TV succeeded in making complex subjects come vividly alive.

(My question was actually inspired by recent posts by two other bloggers: PZ at Pharyngula because of his concern over the "low-density" format of science shows on television; and Alun for his post on archaeology on television.)

Diamond's response to my question is parallel to my own belief that the visual aspect of television and other multimedia can work wonders for both students that are learning for the first time and experts who are already familiar with the subject matter. I've been reading the book off and on for a few years now and just from watching the first two episodes I already have clearer understanding of Diamond's theory. Naturally he's going to defend science on television because he's currently promoting his special on PBS, but I think low-density science programming for the masses is just as important (if not more so) than technical professional journals. Naturally, I would have loved to see Guns, Germs and Steel as a 10-disc epic documentary a la Kens Burns, but three hours was enough to scratch the surface in such a way as to provide a thorough introduction to the theory of ecological/geographical determinism.

As an aside, the GG&S DVD that I ordered from the other week just arrived and it's magnificent. The 2-disc set includes all three episodes plus some pretty cool interactive special features. If you're going to buy it, get it at Amazon because it's about $15 cheaper than the PBS store and Best Buy.

Posted by Will at 06:35 PM

Panda's Thumb reports from Creation Mega Conference

Jason at The Panda's Thumb is providing a series of incredibly fascinating posts about his time at the Creation Mega Conference in Lynchburg, Virginia (home of Liberty University, Falwell's institution). They're coming in parts, so read there or keep an eye on this post for excerpts:

Part 1:

People start taking their seats and Jerry Falwell approaches the platform. Golly! He's famous. I've seen him on television.

He describes the conference as an historic event, and claims around 2000 attendees. My own informal count says that's a plausible number. He then asserts that all the polls show that 2/3 to 3/4 of Americans agree with AiG on this issue, which is total nonsense. The polls have consistently shown that the percentage of people accepting the Young-Earth position is just under fifty percent.
He boasts that the debate is being won by the church. He says that despite having the media, Hollywood and academe against them, the church of Jesus Christ returned George W. Bush to the White House. And this is about science, right?

Part 2:

At scientific conferences, the purpose of the presentations is to transmit facts and ideas to the audience. Glitz and flash are not viewed as important. But in creationist conferences, the point is to fool people into thinking that something of great import is being delivered from the stage. They want to provoke the reaction, “How could they be wrong? Their presentation is so slick!”

Part 3:

Nonsense has to be confronted. A short drive from my home, some two thousand people are gathering to listen to a series of frauds and charlatans impugn the characters of my colleagues and tell lies about what scientists believe and why they believe it. How could I live with myself if I didn't do what little I could to challenge it? Frankly, I think it should be a requirement of every science PhD program in the country that students attend a conference such as this. Let them see first-hand the ingorance, the anti-intellectualism, the anti-science propaganda, the anti-anything that doesn't conform to their idiosyncratic interpretation of the Bible attitude. Maybe then people on my side of this would wake up, and stop acting like it's a waste of time to pay attention to these folks.

Posted by Will at 06:08 PM

July 18, 2005

GG&S Episode Two Review

We're two thirds of the way through the epic Guns, Germs and Steel mini-series on PBS and I'm becoming increasingly more convinced of the validity of Jared Diamond's theory of geographical/ecological determinism. I'm hesitant to admit that a "popular" television program has been helpful in elucidating Diamond's theory, but I would be lying if I said that I'm glad I read the book before watching the program. While many criticisms of adapting archaeology and history for television may be true in this case (see Alun's enlightening post here), I am nevertheless impressed by the program thus far. For anyone wishing to delve into the book, I would recommend watching the series first for a visual backdrop and a relatively brief introduction to the man and his theory. While the series clearly does not do the entire scope of the book justice, it is helpful in this respect.

Like the first episode, the second was beautifully filmed and included plenty of helpful animated maps and re-enactments. It focused primarily on the Spanish conquest of the Inca in the 16th century, culminating in the capture, exploitation, and eventual execution of Atahualpa, the great Inca Sun-God (the son of the sun to be specific). Jared Diamond believes that the reason the thousands of Inca were taken by the small band of rag-tag Spanish adventurers lay in each civilization's respective geography. The Spanish had agriculture on their side, enabling them to develop the technologies necessary to create steel for swords and armor. They also brought with them the powerful and intimidating horse, which no Inca had ever seen at the time leading up to conquest. Perhaps most crucial of all, the Spanish carried immunity to human diseases derived from European domesticated animals, two things the Inca lacked. All of these things interacted in such a way as to enable a small yet representative group of one civilization to literally demolish an entire empire stretching almost the length of South America.

As I mentioned in my review of Episode One, I was a little nervous about the re-enactments that were so prominent in Episode Two. Fortunately, they weren't too cheesy and I'm elated that they used no translations or even subtitles in the little dialogue that was spoken by the actors. Only Spanish and what I presume to be a native Inca language could be heard throughout. In a way, this provided an inkling of what it must have been like to experience this extreme example of a clash of cultures.

Posted by Will at 11:20 PM

Online Chat with Jared Diamond; Episode 2 Tonight is hosting an online "chat" with Jared Diamond this Wednesday at 3pm ET. Diamond will be discussing the Guns, Germs and Steel series on PBS as well as the book. You can submit questions now or during the chat on Wednesday.

In related news, Episode 2 of Guns, Germs and Steel airs tonight on PBS:

On November 15th 1532, 168 Spanish conquistadors arrive in the holy city of Cajamarca, at the heart of the Inca Empire, in Peru.
They are exhausted, outnumbered and terrified – ahead of them are camped 80,000 Inca troops and the entourage of the Emperor himself.
Yet, within just 24 hours, more than 7,000 Inca warriors lie slaughtered; the Emperor languishes in chains; and the victorious Europeans begin a reign of colonial terror which will sweep through the entire American continent.
Why was the balance of power so unequal between the Old World, and the New?
Can Jared Diamond explain how America fell to guns, germs and steel?

Episode 2 review to come...

Posted by Will at 03:18 PM

July 11, 2005

GG&S Episode One Review

I'll give a complete series review in about three weeks when it's over, but if the first episode of Guns, Germs and Steel is any indication, this PBS special is going to rank up there with Nature's Africa mini-series (the best history/nature documentary ever).

Entitled "Out of Eden," the first installment was about farming, plant and animal domestication, and the establishment of the first settled communities in Mesopotamia, Asia, and Northern Africa. It was beautifully filmed with some great archival footage of New Guineans muscling out a living. I was thankful that the reenactment sequences weren't terribly annoying and overdramatic as I'm afraid they're going to be in the next episode which features Pizzaro's conquest of the Inca.

The visual representations of the topics discussed in Guns, Germs and Steel the book have clarified many aspects of Jared Diamond's theory of geographical and ecological determinism. It was helpful to see a couple of the relevant archaeological sites that support his theory as well as the actual people that provided Diamond's inspiration to answer "Yali's question."

Update: PZ has his review at Pharyngula, along with some good discussion in the comments section.

Posted by Will at 11:28 PM

GG&S Program Reminder

Just a reminder that the first installment of the 3-part series Guns, Germs and Steel airs tonight on PBS (the DVD hits streets tomorrow). As always, check your local listings.

That being said, if anyone needs me tonight around 10pm I'll be planted in front of the television with my copy of GG&S in one hand and my Jared Diamond action figure in the other.

Posted by Will at 03:54 PM

July 08, 2005

More on the Guns, Germs, and Steel Special on PBS

I mentioned a few weeks ago the special that is going to air on PBS (July 11-25) based on Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel book. John Hawks writes about a Science magazine review (subscription only, of course) of the special that turns out to be somewhat critical of the three-part series, as indeed many observers have been of Diamond's GG&S theory in general. John writes:

As for myself, I think the book is very entertaining. But it clearly leaves out much of what we know from archaeology about the origins of complex societies -- and much of what we know is not congenial to his thesis. By and large, Diamond does not think that non-geographic social factors were important to the makeup of complex societies. Nor does he give any credence to the idea that genetic differences have any causal role. It has been many years since I read the book, but my troubles with it mainly derive from these issues. Diamond assumes that the fate of societies is essentially cast by their ecological circumstances. Once agriculture begins, all else is an inevitable consequence of population growth and local ecology.

I've just begun reading Collapse (see my post here), the "sequel" to GG&S but I might have to go back and re-read the latter with a more critical eye. When I first read the book I did take note of the relative lack of archaeology but didn't think it necessarily hurt Diamond's theory of ecological determinism (it was clear he used archaeological evidence, but it wasn't that prominent). In regards to the PBS special, I'm expecting it to be popularized for a general audience (as it should be) but at the same time I hope to get a clearer picture (literally) of Diamond's general theses.

Update: Tad at FieldNotes alerted me that PBS's official website companion to the series is now up in all it's geographical, ecological, and anthropological glory.

Update 2: National Geographic News has an interview with Jared Diamond here.

Posted by Will at 02:22 PM

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.

Story here.

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

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

DVD here.



Posted by Will at 03:02 PM | Comments (1)

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.

Propers to Bob at the B-Log for alerting me to this story that happened in my own backyard.

Posted by Will at 01:29 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

June 08, 2005

That's Dedication...

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
Canadian Press
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

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

May 31, 2005

Past or Future?

An interesting (and accessible) article in the New York Times (via IHT) about another example of archaeology coming to the rescue. Amid all the violence, genocide, and horrible atrocities in Sudan, progress seems to be coming in the form of a $1.8 Billion dam that is to provide parts of the third-world country with sustainable electricity. As with any large construction project anywhere in the world, previously unknown archaeological resources have been discovered all around the dam site and have only come to light because of it. Unfortunately, the project waits for no one so archaeologists have been brought in from all over the world in an effort to salvage as much of the past as they can:

The affected locations, according to government scientists, include the noted towns and cemeteries from the Pharaonic period and the Napato-Meroitic era, which stretched from 900 B.C. to A.D. 350, at Gebel Barkal, the post-Meroitic tumuli, or grave mounds, of Zuma and the Christian monastery of Ghazali, among others.

Along with environmental concerns, the preservation of archaeological resources is a touchy issue, especially in situations like these. On one hand, the ethical archaeologist in all of us would spend years excavating any and all important sites that can illuminate the past, without regard to other circumstances. Of course, such a scenario is virtually impossible and we are forced to deal with the issue as is. On the other hand, Sudan is a terrible situation right now and bringing electricity to some parts of the county may just help bring the country the help it needs. I'm not an expert in the history of the Darfur conflict but it seems to me that the situation could only be mitigated if the country's leaders looked to bettering the quality of life. Consistent, sustainable electricity may end up being a small step toward that goal.

So, as the article mentions, no archaeologist in his or her right mind wants to race against the clock but in this case it must be done and with good reason. At least it's not a Wal-Mart...

Posted by Will at 07:50 PM