Friday, August 29, 2008

Notes from the Science World

Anthropology in the News always has some interesting links, especially when those links lead to other links.

First, I just want to point out that only the Canadians would perform a scientific study using hockey. It would be interesting to compare these results to Army studies, as you could definitely point out that someone like Patton (for example) had a wider face compared to someone like Eisenhower. There ya go, 100% certainty with my n of 2 - now that's good science!

Second, and one I have a little more issue with, apparently mathematician Marcus du Sautoy really hated the Eighties... According to Dr. du Sautoy, eighties fashion, based so prevalently on asymmetry, flies in the face of acceptable evolutionary practice, and should be "consigned to history." Way to maintain your scientific objectivity, Doctor. He even states that "As a student in the 80s I was never attracted to the music of the likes of Flock of Seagulls or Human League. Now I know why." Or maybe you were just unpopular... The revival of Eighties music and the affection my generation has for it would certainly put the lie to your conclusions.

Now, from a historical perspective, much of eighties fashion was based on punk, and punk was deliberately anti-establishment - especially in its approaches to style and fashion. So it's hardly surprising that eighties fashion wouldn't be "acceptable" or "mainstream" (although considering the very idea of "fashion" what is?). And it is this inversion which I think is so essential to understanding eighties fashion: the asymmetry of it would easily be offset by the rebelliousness and individuality of it, which is also something which people look for. Although the current paradigm for homosexuality seems to be based on female fecundity, there is also something to be said for the idea that homosexuality is linked to artistic ability (NOTE: not that homosexuals are more artistic), and thus there is an advantage to carrying such a gene, even if not expressing it. However, we do know that spouses of artists seem to be more accepting of adultery (I can't find the stupid story, I keep getting self-help links on google :( ), suggesting again that these is something special about personal expression.

So - maybe the asymmetry of eighties fashion reflects the artistry of that decade, and should be viewed as something a little more complex than a simple evolutionary attempt to find a mate.

And finally, no mention of how asymmetry can in fact highlight the underlying symmetry of an individual...

Thursday, August 28, 2008

This is the stuff that infuriates me

I just read a short editorial by Ward Connerly, whose name I don't know exactly, but sounds familiar (although it might be because it sounds a bit like Ward Churchill...). In this editorial, he quotes What Would Martin Say? about the wonderful things Martin Luther King Jr. would say about modern America. Of course, he then ends it with: "After applauding the programs, quotas, set-asides, and preferences that helped make at least some of this progress possible, he’d end them all — every last program — by shouting, “Thank God almighty, we’re free at last.”" Now here's the problem... like almost every other conservative, Mr. Connerly stops there, not completing the quote: "But then after the glittering successes had stopped blinding him, he'd see far too many young blacks acquainted with the justice system..." (etc.) Clarence Jones is not saying that America is a wonderful racism-free place, as Connerly would have you believe, he's actually saying that despite many advances, like still sucks for most African Americans (which I completely agree with).

Now, Connerly's editorial is offensive on many levels. First, he misquotes. This is offensive to me because he obviously assumes that I'm not smart enough to look up the original source material and see that he is wrong. For his main audience (conservatives), this is probably true, as why should they bother looking it up when its inherent truthiness provides it with all the support it needs? What is scary to me is that I don't think any of them will look it up. Of course, misquoting has a long and glorious history among conservatives. And just because I hate her so much, another one.

Now, here's the second problem with Connerly's essay: it takes a black man to question Obama's credentials on affirmative action. I know the Rushes and Hannitys have been questioning affirmative action for years, but in order to increase the cachet of the argument, it has to be made by someone who could (did? I don't know) have benefited from those same programs. If we have really reached the point at which racism is gone and equality exists, it wouldn't have to be a black man making the argument to get taken seriously. Using a black person (and I fully believe that National Review has used Connerly for just this purpose) to decry affirmative action is like parading a Soviet defector during the Cold War as propaganda. (And again, just because it's funny.)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

if you ever want to feel old...

go to a wine tasting. I mean, seriously. I swear some of these kids who showed up were teenagers on summer break from high school, or at the very least freshmen in college. Good for the young kids to get out and enjoy the stuff, but I feel so OLD! And yes, I'm getting up there, mid-30s now (joy), but these kids are younger and younger every year. Or I guess in the words of a friend of mine, I keep getting older, but they stay the same age every year... (forgive my crassness)

However, I must say that it was a very good tasting event, very laid back and relaxed. In all honesty, it almost felt like I was in the Napa, CA depicted in Bottle Shock, complete with one guy who had just bought a vineyard and was looking for volunteers to help out with this year's harvest. Good wine, too, I hope he makes it.

In other news, apparently one of my old high school teachers was arrested for being a pedophile. Don't really know how to take that one, yet. He seems to have a lot of public support, and I'm waiting to find out if the whole thing is a railroad, which I suspect it is, the case seems a bit forced at the moment.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Breastfeeding and the Big Sort

So, I just finished reading The Big Sort, a book which I heartily recommend to everyone. I would describe it as the Freakonomics of political science. In essence, it is a description of how people in America are dividing themselves geographically based on political beliefs. Of course, it does go a bit beyond that, and I've even found some bits that fit into my own dissertation (which is actually quite remarkable, considering how qualitative my dissertation is).

Then, today, there was this article on breastfeeding from the (I kid you not) Journal of Human Lactation. Reminds me of a joke:

"What kind of doctor is your father?"
"He's a naval doctor."
"Oh, how they specialize these days"

(the funniest part of that joke is that my father is, indeed, a naval doctor...)

Back to my point, however, at the end of the article, "Many personal characteristics, such as a mother's age and education level, influence whether a baby is breastfed. Surprisingly, the new study found that where babies live also plays a role. 'We are finding that breastfeeding rates aren't just explained by the individuals who live in these areas, there's something about the areas themselves and breastfeeding,' said BYU co-author John Hoffmann." Too bad Mr. Hoffman didn't read Big Sort, because it certainly goes a long way to explain the hidden variable of geographic and ideologic connections with breastfeeding.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Ironies of Airline Tavel

Well, I was supposed to be elsewhere this weekend, but God did not want it so. A number of different reasons, not really worth going into here.

I have a morning meeting, I do that, then take the Metro to the airport. Get to the airport, and I am flagged for "extra search" or whatever they call it. Now, I can honestly say, after spending 30-some odd hours in a hangar in Charlotte, there's not much commercial travel can throw at me that I don't take with a smile. However, I find it very ironic that I have just come from a classified meeting, military CAC Card in hand, and I'm the one selected for additional screening...

Oh, and this jump the line crap at security really pisses me off. Now yes, you're willing to go through a background check and get fingerprinted and whatever, and in return you get to jump the line at security. I have no problems with that element. What I do have a problem with is the $128 they charge you for this service. Hey sure, background checks take time and money, keeping up the database, whatever. But you know what, there's an awful lot of people (myself included) who have already done all this - it's called a background check and a security clearance. If these "clear"s can jump the line for providing that info, shouldn't I be able to as well?

And what's up with the name... is this another example of the Scientologists trying to take over the world? Or maybe it's just a woman thing...


So, postmodernism is something that's notoriously difficult to pin down. I typically try and use the idea of pastiche for my students, to give them a general sense of the post-modern self-referential viewpoint. As an example, I've been using Scream, especially contrasting it with movies like Scary Movie (pastiche vs spoof).

So, I saw Tropic Thunder tonight. Wow. I am actually amazingly impressed by the levels of humor and pastiche that are going on in this film. And it's more than just Robert Downey Jr.'s performance (which is excellent). The whole film has wonderful references, Apoc Now, Private Ryan, Tootsie, River Kwai, a Nick Nolte reference that is not done by Nick Nolte, and a set of "trailers" which completely tell you everything you need to know about the main characters without any exposition whatsoever.

Oh yes, and Tom Cruise puts on one of his best performances. Ever.