15 December 2012

A Dangerous, Growing Problem in Our Country:

Friends, we've got to do something.  
Too many heartbreaking mass incidents in this nation have left us all less safe.  There are too many of them out there, and several are in the hands of those who have no business owning one.  Some of us acquire them legally, but far too many are stolen and traded, or disassembled and their parts traded/sold on a black market.

The main problem is that people think they've got some kind of right to own one, forgetting that it's first a responsibility.  I understand they're "tools," but unlike other tools such as hammers or saws, these seem to keep harming people.  The worst part is that some people feel the bigger it is, the safer they are.  We all know they've gotten safer in the last 100 years, but they will never be 100% safe.  Yes, there are deaths due to accidents, but some deaths happen when an unlicensed person got a hold of one illegally, or misused one, or used one while angry. Innocent kids have died simply because a parent forgot about the potential threat.

Another problem is that it's glorified by video games and by the media.  Children are desensitized from a very young age, and many times aren't taught about the dangers of misuse.  They can even buy them as toys!  What does this teach children about something that can so easily become a deadly weapon?  Sure, there's age requirements, but how many of you know someone who messed around with one while under the legal age?  Sometimes irresponsible parents even encourage the behavior!

Yes, there are laws in every state limiting who can and can't get one.  Yes, there are regulations on their sale and licensing.  But what has that accomplished?  Every single day there are more deaths, and unfortunately it is sometimes on a massive scale.  Innocent people are hurt or killed.  

Friends, we've got to do something, anything!  We've got to get these cars off the roads.

Note: I do not own a gun.  I have no intention of ever owning a gun. I don't like them. Some of the arguments out there both for and against guns have left me dumbfounded.  The problem is when the wrong person gets his hands on them, as with cars, or explosives, or Sudafed (used to create Meth).  I seriously wonder what we can/will do about that in our country, and am of course extremely angry about the senseless loss of young life at the school in Connecticut. 

13 November 2012

Secession is nothing but revolution. - Robert E. Lee

Secession is nothing but revolution.... It is idle to talk of secession: anarchy would have been established, and not a government, by Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, and all the other patriots of the Revolution.  
-Robert E. Lee, Letter to his son, 23 January 1861. 

There has been a lot of excitement recently about petitions from angry people who are displeased about the President's election to a second term. While I understand that others are less-than-thrilled about this event, I am curious as to why they believe that their state's secession would fix their problems. If anything, seceding from the United States and forming a group of sovereign states is a disaster for all but a few states.* 

I mean, did they ever take a history class? 

No, I'm not talking about the failure of the seceded states during the Civil War. Go back a little further. No, not the threatened secession of New England due to the War of 1812. Further back. 

The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union didn't go well for us. Sure, there were some good points, such as each state setting their own laws based on cultural values, and the great loyalty each person felt for his or her home state. Ultimately, the weaknesses became too much for our fledgling nation, and led to the creation of our stronger government. 

Yes, according to some of our Founders, states have the right to secede. We have the right to do many other things too, such as drop out of high school, drink ourselves to death and destroy our own property. Most of us would agree that those actions aren't good ideas. 

Secession today is also not a good idea. Most states struggle with their budgets, and that's with federal assistance. What will states do when they suddenly have international borders to protect? Where will they draw the secession line? Can counties secede (as when West Virginia left Virginia)? What about townships? 

  •  Economy: 
Will the newly seceded state mint its own money? Will other states recognize that currency? What about trade between other states? Tariffs? What are they producing inside the state already that will be valuable for international trade?

  • Defense: 
Militias are great, but where will struggling states get the money for all those weapons needed to compete on an international level? How will they fund their military? Is this a volunteer militia only? Conscription? How will service be enforced if Michigan invades Ohio? What if Iran invades Tennessee? Will Arkansas come to its rescue, or will Arkansas be too busy worrying about incursions from Texas?

I strongly suggest not going the other way. 

  • Infrastructure: 
Those Federal Highways aren't going to maintain themselves. Many of Oklahoma's state roads are pretty bad. I'd hate to have to drive on the roads after the federal dollars are lost. 

"A man must be far gone in Utopian speculations who can seriously doubt that, if these States should either be wholly disunited, or only united in partial confederacies, the subdivisions into which they might be thrown would have frequent and violent contests with each other....To look for a continuation of harmony between a number of independent, unconnected sovereignties in the same neighborhood, would be to disregard the uniform course of human events, and to set at defiance the accumulated experience of ages." 

-Hamilton, Federalist Papers


* TX and FL might be able to do it, due to their population, location and resources already in place.

21 September 2012

When The Victorious Write History

We've all heard the saying, "history is written by the victors," and it has held true for as long as the winning team has recorded history. 

Richard III was a conniving, murdering hunchback of a king.  The English people were better off after he was killed in battle, and the benevolent Tudors took over.  Historians writing after his death recorded this, so it must be true.  Shakespeare penned it as well, so it must be true.  Right?

Actor Anthony Sher's 1984 performance of Shakespeares's Richard III.

Remember that all authors will have a bias; in particular, the writings of those who stand to profit from a certain viewpoint must always be viewed as suspect.  Shakespeare wrote for an audience living under Queen Elizabeth from the House of Tudor.  The Tudors had every reason to wish their ascendency to the throne be viewed as legitimate.  However, they needed to avoid turning the overthrown king into a martyr.  By altering the image of King Richard III into a twisted, wicked man, they secured their place in the hearts and minds of the English people.  Just as it's common for shooter video games today to paint Nazis or zombies as the great common enemy, Shakespeare created a monster in Richard III.  

Tony Rust and Kate Preston in a 1987 performance of Richard III.
Shakespeare did not act alone, though. Prior to the Tudors' win in the Bosworth battlefield, Richard was considered a "good Lord" (Rous Roll). He was a young king who funded the construction of churches, as well as gave money to charity and schools. Once Henry won the battle and throne, though, historians under the Tudors recorded the dead Yorkist king as a "bloody tyrant" (Vergil's Anglica Historia, 1534). 

After the King was killed, there was no great funeral.  Most records indicate he was buried in a church yard, but the church was eventually demolished.  Later accounts mention a stone in a garden marking the location of his remains, and his coffin being used as a horse trough at a local tavern, but even these are now lost and forgotten. How the mighty had fallen, thanks to History.
Picture from Corbis depicting Richard III rushing into the midst of his enemies.
Recently, though, archaeologists uncovered what are probably Richard III's remains (DNA tests pending).  The last King of England to die gloriously in battle for his country rests in an unmarked grave under a parking lot.

Parking lot in Leicester where the King is probably buried.

Perhaps soon history will be corrected, and Richard III will be given a state funeral befitting a fallen warrior.  This may be the impetus for new research and a more accurate representation of the King, instead of reliance upon biased sources.

Reenactors in Leicester at archaeological dig
Truly, to find truth in History, we must dig deeper.

Location where archaeologists found remains wrapped in a shroud.   

18 April 2012

NAGPRA and Why You Should Care:

It is most unpleasant work to steal bones from a grave, but what is the use, someone has to do it.
Franz Boas, (1858 - 1942) Anthropologist

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) is a controversial piece of legislation.  Commonly held is the belief that Amerindians were overjoyed when this act passed; however, several natives felt that the government still was not doing enough to repair the damages that years of theft and science had dealt to the tribes.  The museum curators and archaeologists felt that the passage of NAGPRA was a free pass to angry Amerindians to spitefully take back valuable museum collections and "destroy" them. 
Some uninformed people out there are reading this thinking, "but why should I care about this stupid act?"  Do you visit museums?  Did you know that Amerindians can legally take objects from museums so that you cant see them, and did you know they can dictate how they can be displayed to you?  Do you talk on the cell phone?  Did you know that NAGPRA regulates where cell towers can be located?  Okay, now that you're 40 percent less stupid, you may read on:

The Facts:

President George H. W. Bush signed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) into being in 1990.  Many consider this piece of legislation to be landmark, meant to ameliorate the animosity between Amerindians and the scientific community; however, several preservation acts and ordinances came into being before NAGPRA.  What sets NAGPRA apart from all previous acts of related legislation in the United States, such as the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, is that NAGPRA is the first act to deal specifically with Amerindian graves, sacred objects and funerary objects.
Americans encounter NAGPRA in many different fields, from archaeology to urban developing, and the act even affects where cellular monopoles may be constructed.  While all applications of the legislation are important, the museum community is at the forefront of this sometimes controversial piece of legislation as it is the main point of contact between sacred native artifacts and the public. 
Museums were specifically mentioned as being repositories of human remains, and were ordered to make a complete inventory of all remains, funerary objects and objects of cultural significance within five years.  This may at first appear to be a fair time line, but the law does not take into account the vast collections, the objects that have been on loan to other museums or learning institutions for decades, or the fact that many museums do not have the financial resources to hire project managers for this daunting task.  Even sixteen years later, well after the five year deadline, approximately 118,000 sets of Amerindian remains have yet to be returned to tribes.
Many problems may be encountered in just the first stage of repatriation.  In addition to inventorying collections, museum personnel have to decide to which tribes the bones, or other remains, belong.  Several culturally related tribes may attempt to claim the same remains.  In some instances, an osteologist or forensic anthropologist is required to determine probable tribal affiliation.  Because human remains have been collected in the United States for over one hundred years, there are cases where bones belong to a tribe that no longer exists.  

Kennewick Man
But should some bones, particularly the very ancient, be repatriated at all?
The NAGPRA, while conceived in good intentions, is somewhat problematic and at times ambiguous.  In its own words, it is an act to provide for the protection of Native American graves, and for other purposes.  The phrases other purposes is at best vague, and at worst a point of contention between some scientists and some tribes.  Joe Watkins, of the Department of Anthropology of the University of New Mexico, points out other problems with NAGPRA, such as how it "does not extend to protect human remains on private land," and its "inability to protect culturally unidentifiable human remains."  Many times, during the course of construction, when unmarked native graves are uncovered, they are unceremoniously removed from the location and re-interned elsewhere.  The tribes, if the tribe is still extant, may have no say in whether or not their ancestors can remain in the ground which has held them for so long.

The term cultural affiliation is the main difficulty that scientists and museums are having with NAGPRA.  In the words of the legislation, cultural affiliation means that there is a relationship of "shared group identity which can be reasonably traced historically or prehistorically between a present day Indian tribe and an identifiable earlier group."  A certain time period is never mentioned, nor how the earlier group can be identified; i.e., is the earlier group identified by scientists or by tribal oral history?  This language seemed acceptable to lawmakers, who may have mistakenly thought that Amerindian tribes were the first and only peoples in the Americas before Europeans, and that they never migrated from place to place.  To assume that the tribes in an area have not moved, modified their religion or morays, or changed at all in nearly 10,000 years is to assume that Amerindian culture is stagnant, thus doing a disservice to all tribes.  Plus, there may have been other peoples here along side or before Amerindians. 
Discussing the dilemma of proving affiliation in extremely old remains, Pat Barker, an archaeologist for the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada says, "The evidence collapses as you go back in time.  The first 500 years is pretty solid, by 1,000 its getting dicey, and by 10,000 most of that stuff you just can’t get at."  Court cases have already arisen from this lack of specificity, most notably the case involving Kennewick Man titled Bonnichsen et al. v. United States of America

Kennewick Man, from the Seattle Times.

Are scientific study, museum display, and repatriation mutually exclusive?  Amerindians would argue that the objects and remains were taken without their permission, and naturally they want them back.  The museum community feels that the heritage has not been stolen; rather, it has been preserved for the present and future. However, not all tribes are adamantly against museums and the scientists.   Some tribes do not want remains or cultural objects repatriated without first letting a scientist study them.  In this way, there is no doubt that the collections are going back to the correct tribe.  

In 2000, the Bureau of Land Management declared that "Spirit Cave Man" (above) can not be culturally linked to the Fallon-Paiute Shoshone tribe.  Bones are over 8,000 yrs old.

The Eastern Shoshone in Wyoming do not want human remains returned because they question the accuracy of museum records.  Other tribes, such as the Zuni, have turned down repatriation, feeling that the museum is a safe location for their history.  The Hopi tribe of the American Southwest is highly involved with projects involving ground disturbance in their region. The Hopi consider all ancestors in their area to be the Hisatsinom, and always requests respectful handling of the remains.  Currently the tribe is discussing repatriation and reburial of approximately six hundred sets of remains from the Arizona State Museum and the University of Arizona.  Some scientists would view this as destruction of a resource, but the Hopi are amenable to scientific testing before re-internment.  Such information about genetic affinity and prehistoric migration patterns is interesting to the Hopi.  More importantly though, the scientists can tell whether or not the remains belong to the tribe or to enemies of the tribe. 
Too often, tribes want the remains back because they feel that their ideas and beliefs are ignored during exhibition planning and the storage of certain sacred objects.  The tribes should be consulted regarding preferred display practices.  Archaeologists and curators should publish pertinent findings not only academically, but also publish them in a way that is user-friendly, and applicable to the tribe. 

My Opinion:

An experience of the Pawnee tribe summarizes what many institutions have done wrong, and why many native groups remain wary of museums despite legislation:  After decades of watching researchers plunder its burial grounds for bodies and artifacts, the [Pawnee] tribe finally forced Nebraska researchers and museums to return the items in 1989.  Once the treasures were back in hand, the Pawnees asked the scientists what they had learned.  "You ate corn," they answered.

NAGPRA is necessary.  Some museum curators may not like their collections being taken away from them, but they were taken from someone else in the first place.  The items belonging to the Amerindians are not always so removed as Kennewick Man.  Sometimes it hits as close to home as someones grandma residing in a forgotten drawer in a dusty basement.  If the remains haven't been studied in 50 or more years, is science really being hurt by taking the bones back?    But if the recent remains were so important, they would have been studied years ago.  However, extremely old skeletons/mummies such as Kennewick Man and Spirit Cave Man are so old, they do not fall under NAGPRA.  Scientists should get to study them.  

When human remains are displayed in museums or historical societies, it is never the bones of white soldiers or the first European settlers that came to this continent that are lying in glass cases.  It is Indian remains.  The message that this sends to the rest of the world is that Indians are culturally and physically different and inferior to non-Indians.  By any definition, this is racism.
Daniel K. Inouye, United States Senator

Since we commonly proclaim that archaeological collections are unique and irreplaceable, how can we ever justify the conscious and acquiescent destruction of our data?
Clement Meighan, Archaeologist, University of California, Los Angeles

Jeff Benedict, No Bone Unturned:  The Adventures of a Top Smithsonian Forensic Scientist and the Legal Battle for Americans Oldest Skeletons, (Harper Collins Publishers:  NYC, NY), 2003.

Robson Bonnichsen and Alan L. Schneider, Battle of the Bones, Annual Editions:  Anthropology, 2003, 2004, Elvio Angeloni, Ed., (McGraw-Hill/Dushkin: Guilford, CN), 2003, 35-39.

Magistrate John Jelderks, Opinion, Bonnichsen V. United States, USDC CV No. 96-1481-JE, 1997. 

Jeffrey Kulger, Who Should Own the Bones? Time Magazine, 5 March 2006.

Charles C. Mann, 1491:  New Revelations of the Americans Before Columbus, (Alfred A Knopf:  NY), 2005.

Delbert J. McBride, The Ethics of Ethnic Collections, Western Museums Quarterly, 8 (1), 1971, 10 12.

Devon A Mihesuah, ed., Repatriation Reader:  Who Owns American Indian Remains?, (University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln, NE), 2000.

Joseph Powell and Jerome Rose, Chapter 2:  Report on the Osteological Assessment of the Kennewick Man Skeleton (CENWW.97.Kennewick), Report on the Nondestructive Examination, Description and Analysis of the Human Remains from Columbia Park, Kennewick, Washington, (Washington, DC: U.S.Department of the Interior), http://www.cr.nps.gov/aad/Kennewick/powell_rose.htm, Viewed 29 April 2006.

David Hurst Thomas, Archaeology, 3rd Edition, (Thomson Learning: United States), 1998.

Joe Watkins, Becoming American or Becoming Indian? Journal of Social Archaeology, (SAGE Publications) 2004, 60-77.

Joe Watkins, Indigenous Archaeology:  American Indian Values and Scientific Practice, (AltaMira Press: Walnut Creek, CA), 2000.

27 January 2012

Pocket Full of Posies: The Black Death in Art

There was not just one "black death," and it was not called the Black Death until the 1830s. Europeans simply knew it as the "pestilence."

It wiped out entire towns, and ended up killing around half the population of Europe. (We used to believe it killed 1/3, but the error of this number has been realized within the last decade.) The effect of such an event (or series of events) dramatically changed medieval society. True, Spanish Influenza actually killed more people; however, the main difference is that a larger portion of the population was affected in the 1340s than in 1918, and people in the 20th century had an idea of what was happening in that they were aware of "germs." In the 14th century, people fought over whether the disease(s) was caused by "bad air," wells poisoned by Jews, God's anger, one of the four horsemen, etc. These poor people must have been terrified to see their family and friends dropping swiftly around them,* with no idea as to why, or if they will be next. 

This sudden impact on population and psyche took its toll on religion, politics, social order and (lesser known) on Art.
The pestilence killed several contemporary artists, particularly in Italy. "...Ambrogio Lorenzetti and Pietro Lorenzetti died in the first out break of 1348. Later plague epidemics took the lives of Andrea del Sarto, Titian, Dosso Dossi, and the greatest Venetian genius of all time, Giorgione." [source] This alone impacted the thriving art world.

Those remaining artists altered their subject matter. Prior to this outbreak, Jesus was commonly depicted as a great King who came to save us. A golden halo usually surrounds his head, as well as the heads of the saints. 

13th century, Serbian Monestary Hilandar, Mt. Athos
After the plague, Jesus transformed into the suffering, dying Christ that we see in many European Churches. He wore a bloody crown of thorns and had a hemorrhaging, pierced side. 
Italian, mid-14th century, Met Museum Collections
The rest of the art world was not spared from the onslaught of Death. It permeated the paintings in the form of tortured people, skeletons, demons, the "danse macabre" [dance of death] and other unpleasant figures.
"Hellmouth," Simon Marmion, 1475    

Etching, ca. 1360

To these mediaeval people, it seemed no one was immune from God's wrath. Poor people died as well as those of noble blood, such as Princess Joan who died en route to marry the future King of Castille.
Royal Library of Belgium

Even the men of God were not spared. This frightened the populace for two reasons: 1) The people saw that God failed to save those supposedly most faithful to God; and 2) The religious folk at the time were also the doctors. If even the doctors couldn't save the people, and prayer failed, what could be done?
Monks with plague, late 14th century illuminated manuscript

Mattias Grunewald, Bridgeman Art Library

The fears of the people shook them to their core, and were reflected in their art (and even personal hygiene - people stopped taking baths for a few centuries, because they felt that bathing opened the pores and allowed in the bad air). For a glance at the Black Death's effect on religion, go here.

Why Are Today's Women Unhappy?

According to a recent study, women today are less happy than they were 40 years ago, and are less happy than men. 
Official Happiness Meter, courtesy of the Carebears.

This study by "economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers... indicates that across race, marriage status, economic bracket, and even country, women's subjective experience of being happy has declined both absolutely and in relation to men."

Putting aside the fact that economists decided this, and not someone who is actually trained in handling human emotion, this is sobering news.  With all our liberation and freedom, how can the happiness levels of women be less than in the 1960s?  

And what do men have to be so happy about?
Fair enough.

Religious folks will tell you that all this liberation has taken women away from our purpose in life, which is to care for the home and hearth while the man is at work.  We should have a couple of babies (more than a couple, if you're Catholic or Baptist), and work hard to raise them.  This is what Nature and God intended.  To deviate from this path is to bring about our own unhappiness.

In a New York Times editorial about this same study, the conclusion was a bit different.

"There's no necessary reason why feminists and cultural conservatives can't join forces -- in the same way that they made common cause during the pornography wars of the 1980s -- behind a social revolution that ostracizes serial baby-daddies and trophy-wife collectors as thoroughly as the 'fallen women' of a more patriarchal age."

He suggests that it is in fact the fault of Men that Women are so unhappy.  Think about it - men made out like bandits in this age of sexual liberation!  Want regular, socially acceptable sex?  Don't get married; just get your girlfriend to move in with you.  Bored with your 40 year old wife/mother of your children?  Trade her for two twenty-year-olds.  Knock a girl up?  Don't marry her, and don't worry about the baby's life complicating your own.  After all, the best form of birth control is not using your real name. 

Yet as much fun as it is to blame men for all female ills, I just can't agree in this instance.  Yes, there are men out there who are jerks.  To suggest that all women are less happy today because of a few bums is unfair to men.  This view is also unfair to women, as it implies that our happiness is dependent upon men (when my happiness is obviously dependent upon shoes).

Personally, I believe that our unhappiness is self-imposed. 

For the most part, American women tend to believe that they must do the following in order to be considered a complete and successful woman:

  • I HAVE to get married.
  • I HAVE to have a career.
  • I HAVE to have children.
  • I HAVE to look good while doing it (exercise, eat well, wear the right clothing, keep a nice house).

But it's more than merely what I think about myself.  If any woman is lacking in any of the aforementioned departments, then all the other hens sit in judgment. 

"Sally and her husband haven't had kids yet.  Do you think there's something wrong with her?"

"Omg, Julie has 3 little girls, and all she does is work.  What kind of mother leaves her kids at day care for someone else to raise?"

"Honey, you're almost 35 and you're still not married.  Are you at least seeing anyone? There's this nice man from church that I want you to meet..."

Supposedly, modern females in this country have "choices."  However, I noticed we tend to place limitations and expectations on each other without any help from men.  I can't tell you how many times I've been told how selfish I am because I don't want kids, or how I'll "change my mind in time."  I thought Woman's Rights and the Pill allowed me to have reproductive freedom.  
I guess not. 

What about women who actually want to be housewives? Some women are perfectly happy to care for the home and for their children while their husband works.  "Progressives" will say that those women live under a misogynistic husband, have been socialized to think this is their correct path, and are too weak to stand up for themselves. 

"Choice" to some feminists means "Choice as long as you do what I think you should do."  

Women are judged by other women for having children and keeping the career, for not having a career and staying home, for not having children.... the list goes on.

This is why we're unhappy.  It is our own fault.