February 17, 2011

Bones - Season 6, Episode 14 (Review)

The Bikini in the Soup

Episode Summary

A dead body is found in a tanning bed, and the team is called in to investigate. There are no signs of a break-in, and Dr. Saroyan hopes it was an accident rather than murder. Brennan thinks that the individual was female based on the mastoid process and rounded frontal bone. A sternal rib end suggests she was in her 30s. As the team is surveying the body, an eyeball rolls backward then collapses, oozing vitreous humor down the face.

At the Jeffersonian, Brennan says that, based on the state of decomposition, which was accelerated by the heat and UV radiation, the woman has been dead 32 to 38 hours. Dr. Edison notes a fracture to the zygomatic arch and a mandibular fracture at the symphysis, but Brennan notices that those fractures are remodelled and thus a few years old. Dr. Saroyan found alcohol and traces of Diazepam in the victim's tox screen, making her think that the victim popped a pill, had a drink, and fell asleep in the tanning bed. Dr. Edison then finds sharp force trauma to the fourth and fifth ribs as well as superficial nicks to the corresponding thoracic vertebrae. The victim had been stabbed through the heart, so she was indeed murdered. Hodgins finds what looks like a butterfly wing in the victim's hair, and Brennan further notes that the victim's index finger was broken around the time of death.

The victim is identified as Wendy Bovitz, a wedding planner. Booth and Sweets talk to Darren, Wendy's assistant. He suggests that Wendy was overwhelmed by the Erickson wedding because Warren Erickson was demanding and had threatened Wendy when she went over budget on his daughter's wedding. Angela brings Booth Wendy's laptop and shows him a file labeled "in case of death." The file is a photograph of Wendy with bruises on her face and the caption, "If anything happens to me, it was my husband." Booth tracks down Greg Bovitz, who is driving a horse-drawn carriage to a wedding. The Bovitzes were temporarily separated, and Greg suggests that Wendy's file referred to her first husband, Tom Berry, who had a history of abusing her but who was subsequently killed in a bar fight. Greg also suggests Booth talk to Warren Erickson because of a screaming fight they had.

Booth and Brennan head over to the wedding of Erickson's daughter, Raina. Erickson is angry about the wedding details and Raina is upset that she isn't getting everything she wanted. Brennan gets a call from the Jeffersonian team that the victim's finger was dislocated at the articular capsule and that Saroyan found epithelial cells underneath one fingernail. Brennan asks Erickson for a DNA sample, which he refuses to give. Fortunately, his son is a convicted criminal and his DNA is on record with CODIS, which should give them enough information to tell if the skin cells are a match. Based on his psychological profile of Erickson, Sweets thinks that he could well have snapped and killed Wendy.

Back at the Jeffersonian, Hodgins has identified the errant object in the victim's hair. It was not a moth or butterfly wing, as those would have membranes. The rigid, polarized walls indicate it was vegetation, and Hodgins runs a capillary electrophoresis. He determines that it was Oncidium, an orchid blossom. Wendy was either wearing an orchid in her hair or was smacked on the head with an orchid. Edison and Saroyan discuss the DNA results from the epithelial cells under the victim's nails. There is a 65% match with the brother in prison, suggesting that one of his relatives left DNA on the victim. Edison immediately assumes it was the father, but Saroyan points out a segment of DNA that indicates it came from a woman. Booth and Brennan quiz Raina on her whereabouts at the time of the murder. Raina admits to having gone to Wendy's house and fighting with her. But they made up after their brief quarrel and fight.

Edison sets to work on figuring out the murder weapon. Based on a reconstruction of the ribs, he enlists Angela's help to recreate the shape of the weapon. It was vaguely star-shaped and cylindrical, likely tapering to a point. Hodgins somehow determines that the murder weapon was cast iron, probably hand-forged. Angela finds out from the victim's computer that she had recently transferred 50% ownership to Darren and that she had left the entire business to him in the event of her death. This fact leads Booth and Brennan to question Darren again, suspecting that was a motive for murder. He denies it, but they notice him putting bride and groom cake toppers into Raina's wedding cake. The shape of the post that anchors the figure in the cake matches Edison's reconstruction of the murder weapon.

However, Angela finds out that Greg Bovitz used Wendy's computer to check his email not too long before the murder. He must have found that she'd given away her business to Darren, Brennan reasons, and killed her. Brennan reports to Booth that they found the murder weapon with traces of the victim's blood on it as well as horse hoof oil. The evidence is circumstantial but all points to Greg Bovitz as the killer. Booth and Brennan interrogate Bovitz and, by comparing him to Wuthering Heights' Heathcliff, Brennan gets Bovitz to confess to having killed his estranged wife.

The episode ends with the various characters getting their Valentine's Day presents. Dr. Saroyan gets a limo with flowers in it; Edison dresses as Cupid and makes double entendres for Nora; Hodgins splices rose DNA with a slime mold that he names Angelicis montenegris; and Brennan steals what I think were tommy guns from the Roaring 20s exhibit at the Jeffersonian and brings them to the shooting range for Booth.

Forensic Comments
  • The forensics this week seemed pretty good to me, overall.
  • Brennan always seems to go for the cranium in estimating sex. There was a pelvis with a sufficiently exposed pubis for estimating sex through primary traits; why go for the secondary characteristics on the skull? At least the secondary characteristics were valid.
  • Edison finds nicks to the anterior bodies of a couple thoracic vertebrae; but the bodies shown appeared to be lumbar. They were far too thick to be T4-5.
  • Anyone know if capillary electrophoresis would be a reasonable thing to do? And whether it would pinpoint a genus?
  • Are cake toppers generally made out of cast iron? I guess the idea was that these particular cake toppers were hand-made for Raina and her husband, and that one of those specific cake toppers was the murder weapon. Otherwise, I don't understand how Brennan found the actual murder weapon with traces of the victim's blood on it.
  • The victim still had Raina's cells under her fingernails from their altercation when her estranged husband killed her? Did she not wash her hands in between? I guess we don't always wash under our fingernails, so some time could have elapsed.
  • Would Brennan's tricked confession from Greg Bovitz stand up in a court of law?
  • Another week, another hybrid slime mold! At least the writers didn't call it a phylogenetic mold this time.
  • Brennan can just borrow historical guns from the Jeffersonian? And take them off premises? And shoot them? Also, if anyone knows what specific kind of guns they were, I'm now curious.
  • Oh, and as usual, the fibulae are placed medially when they should be lateral in a skeleton laid out in anatomical position.

Fact Checking Brennan's Trivia: Wikipedia tells me that Coco Chanel did indeed return from a cruise in 1923 with a tan and started a new trend. Various things happened on February 14 in history: James Polk was the first president to have his photo taken (although it may have been 1848, not 1849 as Brennan says), Oregon was admitted as the 33rd state in 1859, and Alexander Graham Bell applied for a telephone patent in 1876. It was also, of course, the date of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

This Week's Literary Quotation: "I am not to speak to you, I am to think of you / when I sit alone or wake at night, alone / I am to wait, I do not doubt I am to meet you again / I am to see to it that I do not lose you." - To a Stranger (1900), Walt Whitman (in Leaves of Grass)

Eerie Similarity to My Life: The victim had a photograph on her computer with the caption, "If anything happens to me, my husband did it." This actually gave me pause because I was an assistant on a forensic case in which a very similar thing was said: by a husband, about his wife, to his elementary school-aged son shortly before he (the father) doused himself in gasoline and set his car on fire. It's something I'll likely never forget, particularly because it's so horrible to put such a doubt in your kid's mind about his mother when he's just lost his father.


Forensic Mystery - A-. Pretty good this week, although the victim's identity was found quite early on. I definitely prefer the episodes where the team has to pull from their bag of tricks to figure out the ID. There were plenty of people who had access to the victim's house and who were upset with her, so there was a good amount of redirection and false confidence in who the murderer was. Even without any real amount of back story on the victim, I was interested in her life and death.

Forensic Solution - B+. Also pretty good forensic work. Age and sex seemed reasonably determined, and the fracture patterning suggested old injuries, perimortem injuries, and the actual cause of death. Still not clear on how they found the murder weapon, how there was still blood on it, or how they tied that weapon to the murderer. The end of the episode seemed a bit sloppy at tying up all the loose ends so that everyone could be shown doing their V-Day thing.

Drama - B. There were no big revelations this week, which was fine by me. A few hints at the Brennan-Booth pairing, and some very lame Valentine's Day related anxiety for Edison, Hodgins, and Saroyan. Tonight's episode is also number 14 - coincidence?!? Yeah, I think so.

Peeling Back the Layers of Palaeoanthropology

I took my first graduate-level human origins class a decade ago. Advances in DNA technology and the subsequent leap in our understanding of our hominin past in the last ten years mean that, as someone whose research focuses on anatomically modern humans, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the pace at which palaeoanthropology is barreling forward.

For example, I last taught General Anthropology in the spring of 2009. Looking through my notes, I found that Neandertals and humans did not interbreed, based on research done by Richard Green at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology. But in May 2010, Ed Green and colleagues at UC Santa Cruz reported that DNA analysis between the supposedly different species did indeed show commonalities - of at least 4%. This wasn't terribly surprising to me, as the morphological evidence, as championed by researchers such as Erik Trinkaus, has suggested that there might have been interbreeding between Neandertals and modern Homo sapiens. It was easy enough to incorporate this new finding into a lecture on hominin evolution.

But between December and February, suddenly a bunch of reports have arisen that call into question our understanding of modern human origins. First, there were news reports of Svante Paabo's genetic research on the so-called Denisovans, who shared genes with the Neandertals and ancestors of modern humans, specifically Melanesians. My understanding is that the Denisovans and Neandertals split off from a common ancestor and then evolved separately, and the Denisovans may represent a distinct wave of migration out of Africa. It was a bit difficult to explain to Gen Anth students the importance of the Denisova finds and even more difficult to explain just how much we don't know, or rather, just how many more questions the find raises.

Immediately after the lecture in which I incorporated this new discovery, on the day I was lecturing about when humans left Africa, a new study was published by Hans-Peter Uerpmann using evidence of tool manufacture to push back the date that anatomically modern humans left Africa by tens of thousands of years. Before I even delivered my lecture, some of the information in it was out of date. I tried to convey the excitement surrounding this new discovery but also talk about the potential drawbacks to using material evidence rather than anatomical evidence - or, better yet, both material and fossil evidence together - to make a claim for an earlier exodus from Africa.

This week has brought controversy over a paper published in Nature by Bernard Wood and Terry Harrison that suggests Ardipithecus may not be in a direct evolutionary line to Homo sapiens. Certain anatomical features that are often used to illustrate the unique anatomical and behavioral adaptations of hominins - centrally-placed foramen magnum and smaller canines - they argue could have been useful in other primates. Wood and Harrison suggest human evolution was more like a bush than a tree with distinct branches, which actually is not a new suggestion. Tim White takes issue with what Wood and Harrison's ideas mean for his Ardipithecus, namely that Ardi could have arisen through convergent evolution and isn't our direct ancestor. The news section at Nature has an interesting blog post about the controversy, including some choice words by White critiquing Wood and Harrison's ideas. Without the (current) possibility of using aDNA analysis to try to tease out evolutionary relationships this far back in time, palaeoanthropologists have to rely on what morphological features can tell us about our past. Just surveying the impact of DNA analysis on our understanding of Neandertals over the last two years, it's impossible to know when or even if the place of various hominin fossils in an evolutionary schema will ever be settled. Since I've moved on to archaeology in my four-field approach to teaching General Anthropology, I'm not going to revisit hominins and explain this newest issue to my students. They did get an earful already about the lumper/splitter debate, which I hope sunk in.

Today's palaeoanthropological news, though, did make me happy: Anthropologists Trace Human Origins Back to One Large Goat. The stalwart source for all fake news, The Onion, reports on their front page:
The landmark study culminates in this week's release of a 270-page report explaining the structure of prehistoric humans' short, upturned woolly tails and identifying the roots of early Indo-European† language in goat bleating, which, Ochs stated, "maybe [they] should have double-checked real quick" before the paper went to publication. [...] "Maybe we should have listened to Cliff [Geertz] back at the beginning when he kept emphasizing that humans don't look like goats," Hubbard-Price added.

As their colleagues huddled together and whispered behind them, researchers from Australia and Japan explained how one 6-foot-tall goat with a hominid skeletal structure spawned numerous goat-human hybrids over a period of 1.8 million years. In a series of PowerPoint slides, they then showed that our ancestors used their prehensile upper lips to perform basic agricultural tasks and stomped out crude pottery with their cloven feet, theories that team members stopped reading aloud to the assembled audience almost immediately after reaching the words "cloven feet."

"Okay, so I'm reading this now, and it says, 'After trotting out of Africa nearly 2 million years ago, our earliest ancestors used their strong hooves and hindquarters to climb up steep mountain slopes in search of delicious moss,'" said British anthropologist Oliver Cranmore, reading from the report and shaking his head. "The thing is, I think I actually wrote that part. And I remember feeling very confident and excited about it at the time. This is weird."
The Onion piece couldn't be more timely in its lampooning of our understanding of hominins. It's always dangerous to extrapolate from one fossil tooth or even a whole skeleton, but that's often as much as is available in the fossil record. I love learning about our origins as a species, and I try to keep up on the literature in spite of the pace at which research is moving ahead and in spite of the fact that it's not my particular research area.

I can only imagine how frustrating it is for students who want an introduction to human evolution to be confronted with ever-changing paradigms of development. The best I can do is what all teachers do - synthesize and integrate new research as it comes out - and to let my students know that, yes, the single-goat origin hypothesis will be on the midterm.

February 15, 2011

Resistance and Resilience in Archaeology

My news feed has been abuzz in the last week with reports about the stolen antiquities from the Egyptian National Museum and the protests against the newly-appointed minister of antiquities, Zahi Hawass. While the Egyptian people have been effecting their own revolution and trying to reclaim both their past and their future, I've been coming across archaeological reports of resistance and resilience in different forms in the archaeological record of 18th-19th century America.

In the early 1800s, a French family emigrated from Haiti and settled in Maryland. The Vincendieres set up a 300-hectare plantation called L'Hermitage that included nearly 100 slaves, an extraordinary amount for the time. The Vincendieres practiced a more brutal form of slavery than was typical in the U.S. at the time, according to historical records. Archaeologists so far haven't found much evidence of the daily lives of the slaves - except for an excess of buttons, which they think may have been cut off when clothes were reused as quilts [Voice of America News, 2/15/11]. An earlier article appeared in the Washington Post (8/26/10) and details the historical information known about the Vincendiere family. Many speculated that the fact they had such large numbers of slaves meant they were selling, trading, or renting them out, and others think that the family was trying to recreate the form of slavery practiced in Haiti at the time, when large numbers of slaves conferred status. The two articles together paint an intriguing picture of an emigrant family that acculturated to their new life in a French colony so much that they brought those practices to their next destination in the American South. As Catholics and French, the Vincendieres were likely looked down upon by their Protestant, German-descended neighbors. The immigrant family may have attempted to cling to some semblance of the social status they formerly had, yet they resisted the "kinder" form of slavery practiced in Maryland. Many of the slaves were sold off or freed within the 30 years the plantation was in operation. The slaves' story so far is one of resilience, of survival in spite of massive odds against them. Further excavations will hopefully help archaeologists find out more about the daily lives of the slaves at L'Hermitage.

Also in Maryland, archaeologists have uncovered evidence of a mikveh dating to 1845. Mikvehs are small, ritual baths. In the Jewish tradition, particularly the Orthodox tradition in which a mikveh is necessary before a synagogue can be founded, men would be purified before prayer and women following their menstrual cycles. Until 1828, Jewish congregations were not allowed to incorporate or own property, meaning that, rather than meeting in synagogues, Jews would meet in private homes, where the landowner had built a mikveh in the basement. In east Baltimore, archaeologists recently excavated portions of a 5-foot-deep tub connected to a cistern that was connected to a heart, presumably used to warm the water. Dating to the mid-19th century, this mikveh is the earliest known from the United States. They believe that this primarily German community brought the practice of purification and the design of the mikveh as a "cultural template" from their homeland [2/13/11 Baltimore Sun article]. The community that built this mikveh seems to have continued a particular religious tradition that was popular in their homeland but not as commonly practiced in their new home. Despite boasting a "melting pot" approach to immigration that valued cultural assimilation in the 19th and 20th centuries, the U.S. has always been more like a "salad bowl" - various elements mixed together but maintaining a degree of separateness. Still, it speaks to the importance of this Jewish tradition that the community continued a practice that had to be kept underground - literally and figuratively. Maintaining one's cultural traditions and religious practices that seem foreign, scary, or threatening to the established, predominant social group can be difficult, and this finding shows that the Jewish community in east Baltimore resisted religious assimilation and found a way to practice their culture in the face of difficult legal circumstances.

Also in Maryland, Mark Leone and his team have been excavating at the Wye House "orangery," a greenhouse that boasted lemon and orange production in the late 18th century. The team found two very important indications of maintenance of West African religious traditions. In between the bricks of a furnace, archaeologists found a six-inch-long smooth stone that had been walled in, presumably by the slave who built it. Leone interprets this as a talisman, the practice parallel to what is known from West Africa: found stones (particularly those in the shape of axes) represent the lightning strikes of a fortune deity called Eshu-Elegba. They also found in the slave quarters two projectile points and a coin purposefully buried outside the threshold, also interpreted as protective talismans. They may also have found evidence of exotic plants, but there is no additional information in the article about what kind or how the slaves would have obtained them [2/14/11 Washington Post article]. This work at the orangery is uncovering solid evidence of a syncretic religious tradition among the slaves there, blending West African and North American practices. I find Leone's work in general quite compelling, although I know other archaeologists who strongly dislike his approach because of these sorts of interpretations of cultural resilience and passive resistance to the elite. Some may argue that Leone and others of his ilk find resistance where there is none, but if we don't look for resistance in the archaeological record, we likely won't ever find it, like we didn't find evidence of women or children until archaeologists started asking new questions. Although I haven't found evidence of resistance to Rome in my own research, it is still an important question to ask, particularly in terms of the way foreigners and slaves reacted to their new home in the Imperial capital.

The uproar and shock over the missing Egyptian antiquities - gilded statues of the famous King Tut among them - are justified. These items should be in a museum rather than in the hands of fencers and collectors. But in focusing on the loss of Egyptian cultural patrimony, specifically the loss of representations of an ancient elite, we may miss the larger issues: the role that the people have taken in the revolution in Egypt and the ways that they interact with these so-called treasures that to them may be manifestations of three decades of oligarchy rather than a millennia-old culture. And in focusing on the missing Egyptian antiquities, we may lose sight of these important archaeological reports of small-scale finds, our only information about the daily lives of the unknown, socially and religiously oppressed groups of the past: the buttons of the Vincendiere slaves, the mikveh of the Baltimore Jewish community, and the talismans of the Wye House slaves. By highlighting acts of resistance and cultural resilience in the past and the present, we can better understand the human capacity for dealing with change.

February 10, 2011

Bones - Season 6, Episode 13 (Review)

The Daredevil in the Mold

Episode Summary

The team is on site on top of a building at the Navy shipyard. A skeleton lies on the ground, covered in a mustard-colored mold that Hodgins notes is aggressive and pathogenic. Brennan determines that the decedent is male, in his early 20s. There are large dents in the roof as well as drag marks, indicating the body had been moved. The stairs are only accessible from the inside, so the question is, how did the body (and, presumably, the killer) get up there?

At the Jeffersonian, Hodgins thinks that he's found a phylogenetic mold, possibly deuteromycota; it's something that definitely didn't originate on the roof. Fisher, the intern of the week, has x-rayed the bones while Hodgins figures out what the mold is and notes that nearly every bone has at least one fracture - many are healed, but some are fresh breaks. Brennan says that at least 120 different bones show evidence of breaks. She, of course, is most interested in the antemortem breaks which, if they can be correlated with medical records, would identify the victim. Hodgins runs some more tests and concludes that the remains were devoured by a myxomycete mold from the protista kingdom; namely, Hodgins finds that the victim was covered in dog vomit slime mold (Fuligo septica). Hodgins also discovers the exoskeleton of a chimney swift bedbug. Fisher suggests that they may be able to track the victim's whereabouts based on a bedbug outbreak app. Hodgins and Fisher discover that outbreaks of chimney swift bedbugs were reported in a series of hotels that also had outbreaks of mold. Before the Health Department could pick up the infested mattresses from the hotels, a group of BMX bikers stole them.

Armed with Angela's reconstruction of the victim (and Angela for some reason), Booth and Brennan head over to the local bike park. The bike park operator claims not to recognize the sketch, but Brennan stops Dorky Biker, who identifies the victim as D Rot, the nickname of Dustin Rotenberg. A second biker, a female mechanical engineering student at GWU, designed a ramp for Dustin to jump from rooftop to rooftop in the Navy shipyard. D Rot was trying to get sponsored and so was taping himself doing outrageous stunts on his bike. The bike, which was worth quite a bit of money, wasn't found at the scene. To recover the bike, Booth uses a tracker named Noel, who locates the bike in the possession of a kid named Orlando who sells fake IDs for cash. Orlando simply found the bike in the Navy shipyard, though.

Back at the Jeffersonian, Fisher has identified cause of death. After he separated the antemortem breaks from the perimortem breaks, he noticed anterior wedge fractures to the vertebrae below C4. The victim died from internal decapitation when a blunt force to his chin snapped his neck and killed him. Brennan asks Angela to perform a postmortem on the bicycle that Booth recovered. By looking at the non-oxidized scratches on the bike, Brennan thinks that Angela should be able to re-create what happened to the bike during the stunt. In all of Angela's reconstructions, she can account for all injuries except the internal decapitation. This injury was almost certainly caused by someone else, meaning D Rot was the victim of a homicide. Hodgins meanwhile finds a tooth while sifting the mold. Saroyan suggests that the discoloration to its enamel was the result of taking tetracycline. Fisher does a radiocarbon analysis of the tooth and finds that it comes from an individual 23 to 24 years old; the victim was 20, so it's not his.

Booth calls in for questioning the Dorky Biker, whom they talked to earlier, as his medical records indicate he was on tetracycline for his acne and he is missing a tooth. He laughs off the suggestion that he murdered D Rot, though. They were competitors, but they bonded when they each knocked out the other's tooth. D Rot had Dorky Biker's tooth, and vice versa.

At the Jeffersonian, Fisher examines the fracture to the mandibular condyle and finds a piece of glass thread in it. Hodgins finds identical slivers of glass in the mold scraped off the victim's body. Angela meanwhile goes back to the BMX park to talk to Female Mech Eng student. She finds out that D Rot didn't use a building-to-building ramp but rather a ramp that FME designed to launch him from the ground to the roof. In order to accomplish the jump, D Rot would have had to have been going 40 mph, which suggests he was towed by someone else. Hodgins guesses that the glass found in the victim's mandible and in the mold is actually fiberglass, the kind that is found in casts. Practically everyone at the bike park has a cast, but the force of the blow to the victim's mandible suggests he was kicked rather than punched in the face.

Booth hauls the bike park operator into the FBI and interrogates him. BPO was amped up about D Rot's jump but got upset when he didn't make it. BPO climbed up a rope ladder to the roof and tried to talk to D Rot about the stunt and his injuries. D Rot got mad and hit BPO, grabbing him by the balls. BPO lashed out with his foot and ended up kicking D Rot in the face and killing him.

Forensic Comments
  • As usual, age and sex were glossed over. Brennan is shown fondling the anterior maxillary teeth when she estimates the victim was early 20s and male. Unerupted or partially erupted posterior teeth (third molars/wisdom teeth) could place the individual in his early 20s, but she'd have to figure out sex from skeletal elements covered in layers of mold.
  • I don't think "phylogenetic" means what the writers think it means. But since deuteromycota seem to be a bit of a taxonomic question, perhaps the writers were trying to convey that their place in the traditional Linnaean (phenetic) system is confusing?
  • Tetracycline is a broad-spectrum antibiotic, so it's used for much more than just treating acne. I'm not a doctor by any means, but I thought that the enamel discoloration cause by tetracycline was when the teeth were growing, either in the womb (for the baby teeth) or during the first 12 years of life (for the permanent teeth). I doubt many kids start serious acne treatment before puberty, so it's unlikely that Dorky Biker (why don't we get any names in this episode?) had tetracycline discoloration on any of his teeth from acne treatment.
  • Fisher definitely says he does a "radiocarbon analysis" on the tooth. Is this something other than radiocarbon dating that I'm not familiar with? C14 dating is not going to give you such a precise age. It has a margin of error of, like, 100 years. There are, however, patterns of growth in dental enamel and patterns of occlusal wear that may be able to help narrow down an age.
  • The tooth that Dorky Biker hands Booth looks like a worn-down molar. There's no way a 20-year-old guy would have molars that worn.


The Good (or at least The Amusing): Brennan made a hilarious classical reference in one of the opening scenes: "Pliny the Elder thought eating fried canaries would alleviate a hangover." Wikipedia tells me this is a True Fact (tm). Digging a bit, though, Wikipedia refers to a Forbes.com article, but I can't find an authority for this piece. I checked my go-to source for all things classical philological, Perseus, which has both English and Latin versions of Historia Naturalis, but there's nothing on canaries (just one reference to the Canary Islands) or owl eggs (which the Forbes.com article notes is another remedy). This is going to drive me crazy until I find out where Forbes (or others) got this idea. As one of my classically-minded friends commented, though, "My rule of thumb is that anything preceded by 'Pliny the Elder said that...' is a) hilarious and b) most likely really wrong." Another funny bit was when the team was discussing how the body got on the roof, they suggested a "fallen angel" and of course the camera lingered on David Boreanaz.

The Bad: Neither David Boreanaz nor John Francis Daley can apparently play drunk. The opening scene was just painful. And I can't even begin to say just how offensive the "Tiffany's" trip scene was. It's not like the writers were lampooning the saleswoman's insistence that the men buy the biggest engagement rings, because Booth goes ahead and does that (and Sweets decides to hold off because he can't afford it). Booth is called a "wonderful man" simply because he buys the biggest diamond ring he sees (without any consideration to what Hannah would want, in a bit of foreshadowing). Sweets says that if he's so hung up on the cost of an engagement ring, he's not ready for marriage. Because all every woman wants is for her man to be so reckless with money that he spends more than he can afford on a gaudy bauble. If he doesn't get the biggest, bestest ring to symbolize their incredibly special bond, he's clearly a chump. And Hannah. Oh, Hannah. She claims she didn't lead Booth on (into an expectation of marriage) and, even though Booth is a hopeless romantic and likely blind to her insistence she doesn't want to get married, I don't believe her. At least she's gone. Maybe.


Forensic Mystery - A-. I actually liked this episode (drama aside). The mystery was interesting, from the mold to the bedbug to the injuries to the cause of death and identity of the murderer. Could have used a bit of back story on the victim, though.

Forensic Solution - B+. Hodgins was on fire this week, identifying mold and bedbugs. Fisher was alright, but he didn't really have much to do but record fracture patterns. Brennan glossed over age and sex. Very little stood out this week as terribly poor forensics except for the fact that Fisher used C14 analysis to figure out the age of a tooth.

Drama - D. As I said last week, any episode that features Hannah has to get lower than a C for the drama grade. She's a terrible character and not a very good actress either. The proposal scene is painfully awkward and fraught, and Hannah handles it very poorly. Brennan's subsequent scene with Booth is similarly awkward and fraught, but it's unclear why. Booth's soliloquy at the end is weird: supposed to be drunken? Supposed to leave the door open for a relationship? And the Sweets-Daisy angle was dumb, particularly since Daisy wasn't actually present in the episode and we haven't seen her for many episodes.

I don't have high hopes for next week. Even though Hannah is gone, it's a very special Valentine's day episode.

February 5, 2011

World Surnames Map

My last name is quite unique: this means I often give a different name when making reservations but also means that someone can misspell my name pretty badly and still find me in a web search. There are only a handful of us in the world, and I even have a Big Book o' Killgroves made a couple decades ago by a distant relative interested in genealogy. Most of the other Killgroves are not very directly related to me, as my dad's brother never had children and my dad's sisters did not pass along the name to their kids. I've always been curious about our last name (which, in spite of having to spell it all the time, I love) and wish I had more time to dig into genealogy.

With the internet, it's a lot easier these days to trace the branches of the family; I even have a Google alert for "Killgrove," but it almost always returns news about me, as I seem to be the most internet-connected person with this surname. I discovered a new resource today: the World Names Public Profiler. It shows you the frequency of a surname around the world. Well, in some of the world; their coverage isn't great. It has the US and Canada, as well as most of Europe and Australia, but coverage of South America, Asia, and Africa is almost non-existent.

I put in my last name and got this map:

With such a unique name, I can actually pinpoint family members. Virginia represents my mother, who actually recently changed her last name when she remarried. Arizona is my brother. California includes my grandfather, who passed away last year, but also a bunch of people in other counties (one of whom is probably his cousin, the mathematician Raymond Killgrove). Washington state is probably my deceased uncle's wife. I'm not sure why I'm not on this map - I've lived in North Carolina for more than a decade, except for a stint in upstate New York. I don't know the family clustered in the midwest (my branch of the Killgroves are kind of loners), but my dad was born in Illinois, so perhaps his second cousins are there.

Based on the Public Profiler, the surname Killgrove doesn't exist anywhere other than the US. It was likely a newly-created Ellis Island name, and my best guess is that it's a form of Killigrew, a popular surname in Ireland. We really only have records of the Killgroves back to the Civil War era; before that, everything gets murky. But one bit of family lore has us coming to the US from Ireland; another bit blames our dark hair, dark complexions, and light eyes on a so-called "black Irish" heritage. Regardless of the origin of the surname, though, we're typical American mutts - we have plenty of English, Scandinavian, Russian, and Native American genes to go along with the Irish.

Check out the World Names site. It also gives you information on the origin of the surname (when available) and the most common first names that go with it. Unsurprisingly, though, the most common first names are almost all male (as there is far less variation in first names for boys than for girls).

February 3, 2011

Bones - Season 6, Episode 12 (Review)

The Sin in the Sisterhood

Episode Summary

Booth and Brennan are traipsing through a massive corn field, attempting to find the rest of the team so they can investigate a possible homicide. Based on the state of decomposition and the height of the plants, Saroyan estimates that the person has been dead at least four weeks. Brennan estimates the individual as a male in his early 40s. She declares the case a homicide investigation as she notices a bullet wound to the sternum; specifically, it passes through the gladiolus and the true ribs. There is no bullet and no clear exit wound, but Saroyan thinks that the victim was shot at close range.

At the Jeffersonian, Wendell estimates based on the entry wound that they're looking for anything from a 9mm to a .38. Brennan finds a (presumably healed) clay-shoveller's fracture to the C7, indicating a life of hard labor. Anterior wedging of the mid-vertebrae (thoracic) indicates he spent a lot of time in a seated position; Wendell suggests he was a farmer who baled hay and drove a tractor. Muscle attachments indicate repetitive movements, and there are stress fractures at the radiocarpal joints. The victim frequently supported his weight on his upper limbs and engaged in a back-and-forth motion with his body; Brennan suggests that he had a lot of sex. Hodgins identifies some traces of Solanum tuberosum, the common potato, suggesting the murderer used a potato as a silencer. At some point, they get a possible ID on the victim: Ed Samuel, a farmer who lives in rural Virginia.

Booth and Brennan visit the victim's home and speak with his wife. Based on what Brennan sees in a photograph - three toddlers 18 months and younger in a family without a history of multiple births - she first suspects that the children are developmentally stunted but then realizes that the family's true secret is that Ed had three wives who were sisters: Marianne, Beth, and Carol. They talk over this development with Sweets, who notes that polygamy is only practiced today in the US by fundamentalist members of the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). Brennan suggests that polygamy makes a lot of sense anthropologically, particularly in response to adverse socioeconomic conditions, such as a skewed male-to-female ratio. Booth is predictably unswayed but makes the point that jealousy is a powerful feeling and thinks that the Samuels' home life may not have been very happy.

Booth goes to talk to the sisters' father, Dan Lambert, who is ok with his adult daughters' choice of lifestyle. He suggests Booth talk to Pete Mill, a pecan farmer who lives nearby. Pete did not approve of the Samuels' arrangement and even went so far as to scratch "plig" into Beth Samuel's car. Pete rants to Sweets about the sanctity of marriage and boasts about the arsenal of guns he owns.

Back at the Jeffersonian, the team cannot figure out what caused the abnormalities to Ed's mandible, but they were caused by neither cancer nor pesticides. Wendell finds a perimortem bruise on the frontal curve of the right iliac crest. The posterior aspect of the seventh rib is the likely exit wound, and Brennan and Wendell note that the particulates in the exit wound indicate the bullet struck a hard surface upon exiting the victim. Hodgins identifies the earlier particulates as the anthers of Carya illinoinensis, or the pecan tree, and the later particulates (from the blowback) as pecan that had gone through a unique digestive process that basically fossilized it. And Saroyan ran isotope tests on the mandible, which came back with a higher than normal level of radium.

Booth meanwhile learns that Marianne Samuel filed for divorce from Ed six weeks prior, citing irreconcilable differences. Ed was having an affair with a graduate student, Heather Lakefish, who worked in a lab that did research on pesticides and who was tutoring Ed's son Jasper in chemistry. The lab did have radium salts but Heather noticed the box of them was missing. Booth and Brennan head to the victim's house, where they find the missing tin of radium salts. Carol says that she took it. During interrogation, Carol admits to having given Ed some radium salt, but only a little bit and only on occasion. Since she was trained as a nurse, whenever Ed was sick he would stay with her. She poisoned him to get more time alone with him.

Hodgins does an experiment to see which of the locally produced livestock would create a pecan that seems to be fossilized. He feeds a variety of species pecans and then harvests their feces. The digested pecan particulates, he discovers, were the result of dehydration and compression from being passed through the gizzard of a turkey. Angela figures out that the victim was actually on the ground when he was shot, and Brennan deduces that the murderer was kneeling on the victim's groin and aiming a potato-silenced weapon. These pieces of evidence lead Booth to Ed's father-in-law, Dan Lambert, who runs a turkey farm. Hodgins sweeps the pen for metal and finds the bullet. The FBI finds the gun off-camera in Lambert's septic tank. Lambert admits to Booth that he killed Ed when he found out about his affair; he felt that his three daughters should have been enough for Ed.

Forensic Comments
  • I usually do these comments in order, but I have to lead with... fractures of the wrist (nevermind we never get specific bones) indicate the victim had a lot of sex? Because he did it every single day in the same position (which, not to be indelicate, appears to have been doggy-style or, as Brennan more judiciously notes, primate-style)? This is beyond the realm of plausible.
  • Back to chronological order... OB boyfriend guy has a patient who is 6.5cm dilated and he tells Cam the baby will be coming "any minute now"? The Bones writers are apparently all childless. Full dilation is 10cm, and after that it can still take many, many hours for a baby to actually come out. The patient was in active labor but still not close to transition.
  • Booth asks if corn is a vegetable or a grain, and Brennan insists it's a grass. Well, yes, but cereals and grains are all grasses. So Booth was being more specific and Brennan more general.
  • I didn't know anyone called the corpus/body of the sternum the "gladiolus." But there it is on wikipedia.
  • Apparently archaeologists are also prone to clay-shoveller's fractures - those of us who use pickaxes, that is.
  • There were several instances of overly general anatomical terminology: the entry wound was to all the true ribs, or a specific one?; mush-mouth rather than specifically saying what was wrong with the mandible; mid-vertebrae rather than thoracic; muscle attachments, which we all have, rather than specifically anomalous ones; stress fractures at radiocarpal joints rather than the specific bones; frontal curve of the iliac crest rather than... well, I'm honestly not sure what that means, but there should be an anatomical point of reference better suited for this purpose than frontal curve.
  • As usual, in the layout of the skeleton on the lab table, the ulnae were both laterally positioned. Maybe if I email the show, someone will fix it? It's really starting to bug me.
  • Heather, the grad student having an affair with Ed, was tutoring his son in chemistry. Brennan noted that Ed had 11 children in 8 years. Can 8-year-olds learn chemistry? And before you say that the 11 kids in 8 years happened years ago, remember that Carol is currently pregnant. And that Ed and Marianne met in high school. But didn't apparently start having kids until 8 years ago, when they were in their 30s. Seriously, this chronology makes no sense.
  • Bonus points for using the word kinesiology.
  • Finding the bullet and the gun at Dan Lambert's farm doesn't exactly make an air-tight case against him. Presumably his daughters were at the farm often and had access to his guns and his turkey coop; there is reasonable doubt as to who committed the murder. Lambert was too quick to confess.
  • My first reaction to the news that the Samuels were Mormon was "in Virginia?" but then I remembered that on our frequent family trips from VA to NJ, my brother and I would vie to see who could spot the "Disneyland Castle" first.


Let's start with the good, shall we? When Booth and Bones are walking through the corn field, she is explaining nixtamalization, the Aztec method for preparing kernels of maize for consumption. I'd never heard this term, but the middle part clearly has the root word for "tamale." Polygamy is (was?) widespread in Papua, New Guinea, and Brennan notes this as a comparandum for what the Samuel family is doing. When Booth and Brennan are discussing polygamy and Ed Samuel in the car, Brennan notes that "human beings are more complex than anthropological tropes; what might work for one culture is an anathema to another." And the humanifying of Brennan continues until the end of the episode, when she notes that love is when your brain is "confused by chemical messages travelling through your limbic system."

And now for the bad dialogue. Booth tells Cam that she deserves someone great. So of course he advises that she should... stick it out with workaholic OB guy, because what she deserves is apparently to go out and get a guy who can't be bothered to pay attention to her. Great advice, Booth. I would have gone for DTMFA. In the car scene mentioned above, Booth wonders about a ding he hears from Brennan's car. Oh, it's the automagic cruise-control-disengage-you're-too-close sensor on her Prius. End scene, cut to... yup, a commercial for Prius. Barf. Also ridiculous was the end of that scene, where Booth gets Brennan to say things like "bonehead" and "doofus" and "asshat." Apparently you can say "asshat" on primetime television.


Forensic Mystery - C. There was apparently no mystery surrounding who the victim was. I honestly don't remember how they figured out who it was, but they certainly never confirmed it was Ed Samuel through dental records or DNA analysis. Good thing every episode of Bones ends before the case is tried in court. There also wasn't a mystery about how he died: it was a bullet to the chest. The question of who killed Ed Samuel was decent, though, as the angry farmer, the angry sister-wives, the angry mistress, and the angry father-in-law were all good candidates.

Forensic Solution - B. There wasn't too much for the team to do this week. Wendell did a good job with the little screen time he was given, and Hodgins shined at identifying particulates that did eventually led to the murderer. Angela and Saroyan did relatively little. I did like, though, that some of the tests seemed to take a long time: we didn't get results of the particulates or the isotope tests of the mandible until later in the episode, which felt a bit more real-time than normal.

Drama - C. I really can't give any episode without Hannah lower than a C. She brings the drama in every episode to a whole new level of suck, so I'm not looking forward to next week's very special Bones. At any rate, I didn't know Cam was still dating dumb OB guy, but the storyline was innocuous at best and sexist at worst. There were some will-they-won't-they hints between Booth and Brennan at the end of the episode. The drama about the forensic case, though, was alright. As noted, the murderer could have been anyone. But there was absolutely no sense of loss from any of the sister-wives, so it seemed like they didn't care that their husband had been killed, which was weird.

Next week: Booth proposes to Hannah? OMGwtf4realz???!?1?111?1?1

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