December 17, 2008

9 down, 51 to go

Last week, a few more of my Sr samples got run on the SEM. Fortunately, all 9 of them worked perfectly. Maybe centrifuging the samples was indeed the key that caused about two-thirds of my samples to fail in October. My Sr graph is now getting more and more populated, and thus harder and harder to interpret. I still have strong evidence of several immigrants from different phases and contexts, but there is a vast grey area of people who could be immigrants or could be locals. There's no Sr baseline for Rome, only geological maps that indicate an approximate range that the city should be and my two pig samples. Adding more people also means the demographics of the migrants are changing: after yesterday's results, two of the clearest immigrants are a 15-year-old and a 50-60-year-old male. Both of these are interesting in light of historical demographers' insistence that migrants were largely 20-30-year-old males in the military. Both have signatures in the low .707s, but I don't know yet which geographical area this maps to, other than that it was likely south of Rome. I also have a bit of unpublishable data (I'm rerunning the sample) indicating at least one person was from a .713 region, likely pretty far north of Rome.

So unless any samples fail, I am done with creating little tiny dots of Sr and am just waiting for the SEM to be back on its feet to run the remaining 50 people. Then, I have to figure out how to use my remaining $3k in grant money. Do I test the third molars of the immigrants with Sr to find out if they moved more than once? Do I add oxygen isotope analyses to see if I can identify individuals' homelands further? Do I just buy a bunch of books and a new pair of jeans and write it all off as research expenses?

December 16, 2008

That's how you know you're fresh

Patrick and I were in the checkout line at Kroger the other day. The bagger looked at me and said, "I like your color scheme." I was wearing a dark green coat and peach scarf over a plum sweater, jeans, and red shoes. He continued, "That's how you know you're fresh. You wear all sorts of colors, and they still match!"

December 11, 2008


Grading papers and exams sucks. I always have high expectations for the work that will come out of undergraduates in a 400-level class. I don't expect them to write publishable papers or even come up with a new or original way of looking at a skeleton. But I do expect them to write in complete sentences, to check their paper for typos (particularly of anatomical terms), complete all aspects of the assignment, and, most importantly, fully cite their work and include a bibliography. Do undergraduate classes no longer require in-text citations? Only one student out of 15 cited things properly in her final paper for me: author, year, page number (if relevant). I gather that some of them are being taught a weird style, like APA, but honestly, I don't care about style as much as I care that they don't seem to know when it's appropriate or necessary to include a citation. They don't include them when they first mention a methodology they're using (e.g., the Phenice method for sexing the os coxae); they don't include them when they paraphrase a sentence from a published work (and, yes, it's easy to tell when this occurs); but most egregiously, some of them don't include them when they use quotation marks. These are juniors and seniors. Mostly anthropology majors. In a class that's geared towards senior majors and graduate students.

Maybe it's because I came out of an undergraduate program in classics that I learned quite quickly in my first year how to write a proper college paper, with appropriate citations and bibliography. I learned how to track down references in the days before fully online card catalogues and Google Scholar. I learned that quality work is rewarded not only by a good grade but by a sense of accomplishment at a job well done. But I went to college to enrich myself, not merely to get a B.A. Maybe in today's world where everyone needs a bachelor's degree to get a decent job, professors aren't holding students to as high a standard as I was. Maybe it's only classicists and other pedants who insist on papers free of typos, who won't stand for a simplistic comparative essay, who value a student's ability to make an argument rather than regurgitate what the textbook says.

But after reading 15 papers in which not even one student looked to a source outside of their primary textbooks (and did not even look to any of the books listed on the syllabus, which were on reserve in the library), I have lost much of my faith in undergraduate students' ability to write even the simplest paper. I will continue to hold them to the high standards I was taught (and yeah, I still have papers from my freshman year of college - they're far more rigorous than anything I've seen in years from my students). My hope is that they will take away from my class not only the ability to age and sex a skeleton but the ability to think critically about the methods they use to do so - and to be able to write coherently about their reasoning. But if they're not even being taught the basics of paper writing before they get to me, is it really my responsibility to teach them that or, worse, to condescend to grade them on what they know rather than what I think they should know?

December 9, 2008

Why I love zoos

We went to the San Diego Zoo on Sunday because, well, we're in San Diego. (And the very concept of Sea World scares the crap out of me. But that's another story entirely.) Per my request, we spent a large portion of our time staring at apes and monkeys. Their little opposable hands are both cool and freaky at the same time. Every time I think a zoo is going to be rather boring, the animals remind me why I like going to see them, especially the ape children.

In one habitat were the orangutans. The male, hunched over and looking like a particularly sad Snuffleuppagus, was whining for food. A female was sitting at the glass that separated us from them, fascinated with a girl who was similarly sitting on the ground taking notes and especially interested in the girl's water bottle and compact mirror.

Many of the gorillas were sitting or sleeping against the glass separating them from us. A gorilla child was being quite spazzy, jumping all over his father, the silverback, and generally wreaking havoc. The best part, though, was when he picked up a stick and started spinning in circles for the heck of it. It was quite cute - and then he bonked his head into the glass. As Patrick noted, he also kept trying to imitate his dad by beating his tiny little gorilla chest. Adorable.

The bonobos weren't as interesting as I'd hoped they would be. They were eating a lunch of oranges when we showed up, just munching and staring at the people behind the glass. One female was quite active and kept swinging all over the place, doing somersaults and flips from the ropes. And there was a bonobo child who plopped himself down facing the spectators and proceeded to pick his nose and eat it. I guess it's a primate thing.

In another habitat, I was straining to get a better look at a colobus monkey and her 1-week-old baby (a rather ugly and helpless little thing). A couple other high-school-aged girls were standing next to me, directly across from part of the chain-link colobus cage wall. A male skittered across the wall and tried to get some lettuce from the top of the cage. But perhaps he wanted our attention, which was directed sideways trying to get a good look at the baby, because he plastered his ventral side against the cage and started urinating. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw this stream of water nearly hit the girl next to me - it was only inches from splashing her.

I expected strange things from the apes and monkeys, but one giraffe took the prize for animals doing weird things. A large male giraffe kept following others around, trying to sniff their nether regions. He persisted when a female giraffe walked into a corner of the habitat to poop. A minute later, another female walked to the same corner and started peeing - and the male stuck out his long black tongue to catch a few drops. I don't think Patrick believes me, but it totally happened.

Those were the zoo highlights. Patrick has all sorts of pictures of the animals he has yet to cull and post, but since his camera doesn't take video, I felt it necessary to report on the slightly odd animal behavior.

December 8, 2008

Editing Funnies: Tortured Metaphor Edition!

And now for some odd metaphors from the novella I'm editing... Don't worry, I fixed them all. Well, except for maybe the last one. 'cause I have no idea what it means.
  • “We know about the first shoe of possible trade secret litigation, but the dirty trick second and third shoes have yet to be seen.”
  • “Go ahead. You’re singing to the choir.”
  • “What’s with all this clock and dagger routine?” (Fine, probably just a typo.)
  • “You as the investor and me as the Wall Street guy should be as arm’s lengthy away from this as possible.”
  • “They will fight to the teeth to discredit you and your work.”
  • “Marty and Joe are the super above-board Mssrs. Clean of the group.” (Sure, it’s correct, but who uses that abbreviation anymore?)
  • This confirmed for me that Dunlap was one shrewd and connected apple! (Those bananas are pretty stupid and out of touch.)

December 5, 2008

Anthropology fail

My google alerts told me about an online article I might want to read called, "The Greeks: an Anthropological Study." So it's not a real news piece, and it was written by something called the Australian Macedonian Advisory Council, probably a group made up of people of Greek ancestry living Down Under. It seems to be a reaction or opinion piece claiming (as the Greeks and Italians are wont to do) that they are an autochthonous people, which is a mildly quaint notion to us Americans.

While I have no problem with people using the historical and even the archaeological record of ancient Greece to support their ancestry claims, this piece demonstrates that, even in the 21st century, there are people who believe that the cranial/cephalic index is scientific and a good way to trace descent based on the ancient skeletal record. Just one excerpt from the piece:

"The skeletal record can, in part, supplement the evidence of reconstructed history. Six skulls from Hagias Kosmas near Athens represent the period of amalgamation of Neolithic Mediterranean, Danubian, and Cycladic elements, between 2500 and 2200 B.C. Three are dolichocephalic, one mesocephalic, and two brachycephalic. The faces of all are narrow, the noses leptorrhine, the orbits high. One may conclude that a Cretan type of Mediterranean and the Cypriote Dinaric form were both present. Twenty-five Mid-Helladic crania represent the period after the arrival of the Corded or "Kurgan" folk from the north, and during the seizure of power by the Minoan conquerors from Crete. Of these, twenty-three come from Asine, and two from Mycenae. Needless to say, the population of this time was very mixed. Only two skulls are brachycephalic; they are both male, and both associated with very short stature. One is of medium size, high-vaulted, and narrow-nosed and narrow-faced; the other extremely broad-faced and chamaerrhine. They seem to represent two different broad-headed types, both of which can probably be found in Greece today."

It's really unfortunate that the lay public thinks this is what anthropology is about: recording merely the length and width of a cranium, and using those measurements from a couple dozen people to re-create the entire "racial" history of ancient Greece. The piece goes on to talk about hair form and skin color, all of which have been re-created based on art (which we all know is an exact reflection of real life). But really it's just curious that the readers of this piece would understand all the terminology used, brachycephalic versus mesocephalic, leptorrhine versus chamaerrhine, and would be convinced by the argument.

Of course, the most recent literature cited dates to 1934. That should tell the author something. Although a 1934 treatise on a mosaic could still be relevant, anthropology has progressed through leaps and bounds in the past 75 years, as all good sciences do, and we have this magical technique called multivariate statistics so that we don't have to rely on a simplistic two-measurement index. Then again, even though Franz Boas discredited the cephalic index and Giuseppe Sergi questioned the racial typologies generated by it in Italy all in the 1910s, I've seen it used in Greek archaeology publications as recently as the 1990s. As Greek bioarchaeology in general is opening up to outsiders in much the same way as Italian bioarchaeology is, I hope the influence of primarily American and British research will once and for all make the cephalic index a thing of the past. At least, I can do my part to help.

December 4, 2008

Editing: scary things in print

Fortunately, this novella is only being printed for a small audience, mostly the author's friends and family. Or I'd really question his usage of a lot of things, particularly slang that was likely offensive in 1945 and is definitely offensive today...
  • Joe has a bit of a gay/kike stigma, but nothing overwhelming.
  • "Got the drift, goombah?"
  • Most of Mr. Carroll's income went to the "Irish virus": booze.
  • "Talk slowly so this guinea can capiche."
From a linguistic standpoint, these slurs are kind of interesting. I didn't know that "kike" came from the Hebrew word for circle. Jews who emigrated through Ellis Island and who couldn't write English used a circle to sign their names rather than an X, as X is the sign of the cross. I also didn't know that "guinea" is apparently the worst thing you can call an Italian-American person, as it indicates they're non-white (as the southerners and particularly Sicilians were accused of being, especially as compared to light-skinned immigrants from Ireland and Germany). I did, however, know that "goombah" was a bastardization of an Italian dialect word for "friend."

Since this novel is more or less a period piece, I guess I'll leave these terms in. But wow, I don't think I've ever seen these terms in print - just explained to me in hushed tones by my New Jersey grandmother.

December 3, 2008

Lenovo is trying to kill me

I got a new lappy battery in the mail today. It came with one tiny piece of paper in three languages (English, French, and German, for those who care), and it says:

Battery Instruction Manual for Lenovo Battery Module

DANGER: If the rechargeable battery pack is incorrectly replaced, there is danger of an explosion.
DANGER: Fire or chemical burn hazard if mistreated.
DANGER: Keep battery pack away from fire.
DANGER: Do not attempt to disassemble it.
DANGER: Keep away from children.
DANGER: Do not taunt happy fun ball.

So I made the last one up. But this "battery instruction manual" does not come with any installation instructions. Or really anything beyond dire warnings about how I will die if I install it incorrectly. Thanks, Lenovo! Even though I'm fully capable of plugging in a new lappy battery, I think I'll wait for Patrick to get home so he can negotiate the 'splosion.

More editing...

And yet more strange turns of phrase...
  • "Let me tell you the morning line, and keep your trap shut." (Anyone know what the "morning line" is or who says that?)
  • I had written all the answers on toilet paper and hidden them in my uniform jumper blouse. (He uses "blouse" several more times to describe his uniform shirt. Did blouse really used to mean a man's shirt too? Nevermind, wikipedia says yes, it means a uniform jacket.)
  • "At least you've kept your puss out of the papers for now." (When's the last time you heard anyone but your oldest relative use "puss" to mean "face"?)
  • "Trust me, Vinnie, your gunsels don't know what tough is." (Gunsel? Not in the online dictionaries, but I found it in wiktionary.)
  • "You'll win on the square, or almost on the square." (Is that like "on the nose"? Where do these phrases come from, other than 1945?)
  • Vinnie was a hunk of clay ready to be honed. (Love the mixed metaphors!)
More tomorrow... if I can stand to read any more. At least I'm over 1/4 done at this point.

December 2, 2008

Editing Amusement

Here's why I agree to edit novellas... for the laughter. This one is a largely autobiographical story, it seems, about how this guy grew up during the Depression and joined the Navy. Today's choice bits:
  • After a while, sleep came, and so did revelry, at 5:45 am, with the sound of a bugle.
  • The daily audio wakeup call was, "Grab your socks, let go of your cocks."
  • I had been corresponding with Vinnie by mail, but it was kind of sterile, and I couldn't wait to see him in a more touchy and feely sense.
  • Every day included lectures on Navel lore.
  • "What the fuck do you think me and the rest of the class are doing? We don't have weegie boards to consult."
And that's only in the first 10 pages. Weegie board really got to me (as Patrick can attest to).

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