March 29, 2013

Presenting Anthropology - Weeks 9&10 (Video Projects)

Last week in class, we discussed video media and anthropology.  Mostly, we shared videos that we liked and disliked.  But we also talked about which anthropological subfields work best on video -- the consensus was that all of them work, but that linguistic anthropology is probably the most difficult to translate to video.  Then again, none of the students is a linguistic anthropologist, so this could be class bias.  We all also liked videos that practiced "edutainment" -- informing us about a topic in a visually interesting manner -- and agreed that anthropology can easily be communicated this way.  But there is a limit to edutainment, and that limit is definitely drawn before American Diggers.  Yeesh.  We even talked a bit about what "accuracy" and "truth" mean in storytelling through video, but I definitely think I was more interested in exploring that topic than the students were.



At any rate, here are the winning submissions this week:

Second Runners-Up - The team of Becca Booker and Jayne Godfrey used Xtranormal to animate their short explanation of what "cyborg anthropology" is.

video


First Runners-Up - Gregg Harding and Tristan Harrenstein teamed up to make a public outreach video for the Archaeology Lab at the Florida Public Archaeology Network headquarters in town.  Specifically, their aim is to encourage more people to volunteer their time sorting and washing artifacts.  It's a great video, especially the titles and FPAN logos, but they could have used some better steady-cam work in several scenes.



And the Winners of the Video Challenge - Zach Harris and Andy Derlikowski created this awesome video using iMovie about Andy's thesis project, finding the shipwreck City of Tampa.  It's visually interesting, the addition of background sounds enhances the viewing experience, and Andy provides loads of good information in his narrative voiceover.  Andy plans to make additional videos as his thesis progresses.





Thanks for watching!  Join us over the next two weeks for our Kids' Challenge, to see what kind of kid-related anthropology communication the grad students come up with.

March 25, 2013

Bones - Season 8, Episode 20 (Review)

The Blood from the Stones
Episode Summary
A body is found in a car in an abandoned parking lot on federal land, necessitating the FBI and the Jeffersonian to investigate.  Based on the state of desiccated tissue, Saroyan puts time of death at 5 to 7 days ago.  Brennan notes that the body decomposed in two different ways, owing to microclimates in the car.  (At the lab, Hodgins notes the presence of Necrobia rufipes from cool, dry climates and cheese skippers from hot, humid climates. The microclimates are never mentioned again.)  Booth discovers a sawed-off shotgun in the trunk of the car.  The victim was shot at least twice; bullets shattered the right fifth and sixth ribs, but the slugs were gouged out of the car upholstery so they couldn't be traced.

"Did you notice, Mr. Jursic, that the pelvis on this
skeleton is completely upside down? I didn't, but
then again, I'm only the best forensic anthropologist
in the world."
At the Jeffersonian, Saroyan introduces Andrew Jursic, a documentary film maker who is shooting a promotional video for the Jeffersonian.  Saroyan instructs everyone to let him film anything he wants, because that's totally ok to do with ongoing forensic investigations.  She starts dissecting the stomach tissue and finds a balloon full of diamonds inside, which Hodgins estimates as being worth $200,000.  In order to get a facial reconstruction from the partially decomposed tissue, Saroyan attempts to rehydrate it with diluted maceration fluid and radiant heat.  This magically makes the tissue remodel like a shrinky-dink in reverse.

Angela creates a facial reconstruction from the reconstructed face and gets a hit - Quentin Coles, a security guard for Oscar Schultz diamonds.  When Booth investigates, he realizes that Coles was actually undercover cop Detective Ruben Martin, working under DC Metro cop Commander Joe Dinco.  Martin was closing in on a two-person crew that was hitting up ATMs around town, and had already made out with $1.5 million.  Dinco assumed that the ATM thieves were laundering the cash by buying diamonds.

Brennan and Edison, who is brought in by Jursic to make the forensic anthropology department seem more likeable, further examine the remains.  Martin had extensive remodeled, antemortem fractures that occurred between two and five years ago.  The injuries to the ribs and the ulna, however, are perimortem.  Directionality of the bone splinters suggests that Martin was hit twice in his torso and one in his ulna; the latter is a glancing blow and was made with a small caliber bullet, whereas the former were made with a large-caliber bullet.  Particulates from the glancing blow lead Booth and Brennan to the Benjamin Banneker Memorial Bridge, where peregrine falcons roost, whose feces were found in Martin's ulna wound.  Brennan finds a severed foot.  From the distal fibula and a histological analysis of the osteons, she thinks that the foot belonged to a Caucasian female in her early 20s.  The level of decay places time of dismemberment at about 6 days ago.  Foreign bodies in the foot suggest buckshot from Martin's shotgun.  Booth, meanwhile, talks to Lauren Martin, Ruben's wife, and she insists that Dinco is at fault -- he always got raises, Martin never did.

Angela pulls footage from the ATM robberies to attempt to find the suspects, which she does in a matter of minutes (and which the FBI couldn't do in days' worth of work).  The robbers remotely hacked the ATMs to spit out cash when a certain card was inserted.  Angela traces the card's root code to a server at Carlisle University, and to Paula Byrne and Marcos Herrera, cyber-criminology majors there.  Brennan and Booth head to the house they shared, and they find Paula confined to bed, with gangrene taking over her leg owing to lack of medical attention for her dismembered foot.  Booth tortures information out of Paula, who claims they were meeting the diamond fence under the bridge.  The fence held them up with a shotgun, but Marcos freaked out and shot the guy, who in return shot Paula in the foot and left.  

Edison finds out that the striations on the injuries to Martin's ribs suggest the shots were fired by a .38-caliber bullet, the kind fired by weapons issued by the DC police force.  Martin was shot at close range, by someone sitting next to him, someone he didn't have a reason to fear.  Booth's APB gets him information on the whereabouts of Marcos Herrera, and when he arrives at the scene, he finds Dinco threatening Herrera, telling him not to talk.  Booth questions Dinco, who lawyers up.  He also questions Herrera, who admits to robbing the ATMs but corroborates Paula's story about the fence shooting her.

Gunpowder and other particulates found in the rib fractures are further analyzed by Hodgins.  He also finds leather particulates and aerosolized alcohol mixed with jasmine.  Martin didn't have any leather on his clothing or in his car.  Booth gets a warrant to search Martin's house and finds his DC police-issued gun and a huge wad of money in his home safe.  He realizes that Lauren Martin shot her husband with his own gun, through the leather of her purse.  The bullet broke her bottle of perfume along the way.  Martin stole the diamonds for his wife, which she wanted, but she didn't want her husband anymore, so she admits to having killed him.

Comments
  • Forensic
    • Sooo, there wasn't that much forensic work in this episode.  I mean, why deprive me of the joy of making fun of the age/sex/height/ancestry assessment?
    • I don't buy that Saroyan's method would work.  I guess she's making the tissue more pliable, but at the same time, drying it out again, to reshape it?  Yeah, still no.
    • But hey, both innominates were upside down on the Jeffersonian's lab table for the entire episode.  I didn't bother to look more closely at the rest of the bones since the upside-down pelvis annoyed me enough.
    • Histological analysis can certainly give Brennan the age of the person whose severed foot they found, but sex and ancestry too?  Not buying that part.
    • Finally, would aerosolized alcohol stay in a decomposing body for a week?  Wouldn't it evaporate pretty quickly?  The leather particulates I get, but not the perfume.
  • Plot
    • Yeah, so filming an active, ongoing forensic case is rarely cool.  Not entirely sure who would need to give permission for this, since the victim's wife was the killer, but I suspect some sort of legal agreement needs to be in place for this case to be filmed.
    • Why would there be a hit in a forensic database for the fictional Quentin Coles?  Is that standard procedure for undercover cops, to plant facial reconstructions and other quasi-identifying information?
    • Once again, Angela does in five minutes with a computer what dozens of FBI agents and a couple undercover cops couldn't do in weeks' worth of work.  Because she's a l33t hax0r.
    • Why does Dinco tell Herrera not to talk to anyone?  I didn't really get that.  There was also no resolution with Booth; I mean, he did accuse Dinco of murdering his employee and fellow cop, after all.  A simple "oops, my bad" might have been nice.
    • So why did Martin swallow the balloon of diamonds?  And when did he do that?  Before he went to rob the students?  After, but before he told his wife?  (Then he would have been out of danger, though.)
    • Caroline and Andrew, sittin' in a tree... K-I-S-S-oh who'm I kidding, I don't really care about this plot line.
  • Dialogue
    • I've got nothing this week, except repeated expressions from Brennan of disbelief about sarcasm.  Has she always been confused by sarcasm?


Ratings
Forensic Mystery - C-.  There was no real forensic work needed to ID the victim.  The work with the gunshots was pretty decent, though.

Forensic Solution - C+.  Again, not much forensic anthropology in this episode.  But the gunshot wounds themselves helped solve the case.

Drama - C.  When the height of drama in the episode is a new relationship between Miss Julian and Dave Thomas, it's a pretty boring episode of television.

March 19, 2013

Bones - Season 8, Episode 19 (Review)

The Doom in the Gloom
Episode Summary
A woman wakes up, groggy from having been injured in the back of her neck.  She grabs her gun and heads for the door.  When she opens it, a fireball engulfs her, mostly destroying her body.

Booth doesn't like the "crispy" ones.
The Jeffersonian team and the FBI are called out to the scene.  Judging by the oval shape of the obturator foramen, the victim was female, and the granular appearance of her pubic face suggests she was in her mid-30s.  Her head is found nearby in a toilet, as she was decapitated when thrown against a shelf by the blast.

After taking the body to the Jeffersonian, the team examines it and finds a bolo bullet in the victim's chest cavity.  Her distal phalanges were burned beyond recovery, and her radius, ulna, thorax, and anterior aspect of her lower extremities are all calcined from the fire.  Her back, shoulders, and buttocks are less burned, as indicated by the difference in color.  The house and land were owned by Deanna Barbieri, a single, ex-Marine who was a part of a survivalist group.  Medical records from the VA include a chest xray, and the size, shape, and position of the transverse processes of the vertebrae match the remains at the Jeffersonian, giving them a positive ID.  From the angle of the entry wound of the gunshot, the slugs would have transected the inferior vena cava, killing her; also at play is the decapitation, although it's unclear if that was prior to or after death.  Deanna had a history of misconduct with the military, and was most recently kicked out for fighting with fellow Marine Carlene Blaney, who was her ex-lover.

Hodgins swabs the chest wound and finds remnants of phosphorous and magnesium, which could have been used to make dragon's breath, a 50-foot flame that lasts for three seconds.  The shot that killed her also started the fire.  Meanwhile, Daisy finds evidence on the distal femur of a remodelled injury with striations from splintering.  Brennan diagnoses it as a cannonball injury; Angela's statistical modelling and Hodgins' reconstruction confirm that that weapon could indeed have caused the injury to Deanna's leg.  Brennan and Daisy also note pitting to the maxilla, which laughably Brennan calls caries sicca, resulting from gummatous lesions of tertiary syphilis, even though it looks nothing like caries sicca.  They diagnose Deanna with a venereal disease, when the bones instead suggest nothing more impressive than scurvy, which a survivalist could easily have gotten without proper food for an extended period of time.  Anyway...

Booth and Sweets track down Dr. Apocalypse, a trained medical doctor who quit to lead a group of survivalists.  He has a YouTube video showing people how to make their own ammo, including a Civil War-style cannonball maker, and has a deed on land in Wise County, Virginia, on which he's built a bunker.  Booth and the FBI team blast open the bunker, revealing a goat, a chicken, and four people -- Dr. Apocalypse, his wife Dolores, mechanical engineer Milo Mills, and retired minister Dennis Bukovac.  Dr. Apocalypse admits that Deanna was part of their group and that he treated her for the cannonball injury, which was accidental, in a bit to ensure they were able to survive basic trauma on their own.  He also gave himself a shot for syphilis, as he was sleeping with Deanna.

At the Jeffersonian, Angela digitally reconstructs objects that burned in the fire.  This leads Hodgins to realize that, based on the melting points of the elements in a screwdriver and a shell casing, the fire must have started at 8:30, not 7, which means that no one in the bunker could have killed Deanna.  However, Daisy notes a puncture wound to Deanna's clavicle, and Saroyan finds the likely cause: a 12-gauge needle, the kind used by vets, filled with benzodiazepine.  Hodgins and Angela think that one of the survivalists must have worked out a way to sneak out of and into the bunker, but all their models fail to support this hypothesis.

Booth looks over the evidence from Deanna's house and finds the elements necessary to have booby-trapped her door, thereby ensuring the killer had time to escape and maintain an alibi.  Milo, the mechanical engineer, would have the skill necessary to pull this off, but he had taught Dolores how to create traps like this, and she had taught him how to deal with animals.  Booth hauls Dolores into the FBI for questioning; per Milo, she doesn't ever wash, so they might find residue from the firebomb on her hands.  Brennan fails to find this and wants to take clippings of her fingernails, for which they don't have a warrant.  Instead, she strikes a flint near Dolores' fingernails, and they catch on fire, indicating the presence of phosphorous.  Dolores confesses; she didn't like Deanna, who was aggressive, overbearing, and dishonest, and didn't want to spend the rest of her life with her.  Angela reconstructs one last item from the fire at Deanna's -- a letter she wrote to Carlene, which gives her peace.

Comments

  • Forensic
    • Everything was going along so well until the whole syphilis thing... but first...
    • As usual, the characteristics Brennan uses to estimate sex and age-at-death are right, but using just one method each for ID'ing a skeleton is poor forensic practice.
    • Speaking of an ID, if she was ex-military, they would certainly have dental records on her, and those are a much better way of getting a positive ID than chest xrays.  The military is fairly good at recording soldiers' bodies (and now DNA) so that they can be identified later.
    • But getting back to the syphilis... So here's what caries sicca looks like.  It doesn't look like simple pitting on the maxilla.  It looks like giant, gross, cavitating lesions on the skull vault.  And those gummatous lesions Brennan was talking about?  Yeah, they look like this -- big, open, oozing wounds.  With contemporary medical treatment, even on-again-off-again penicillan use, it isn't likely that Deanna would get to the tertiary stage of syphilis, which generally takes years of disease progression to reach.  Sure, being a survivalist without great access to medicine could mean that her syphilis would flare up and recur if it was not treated properly in the first place; but it's really unlikely to result in gummatous lesions and caries sicca without anyone noticing.  It's not like the actress playing Deanna in the opening scene had oozing wounds on her face.  So yeah.  No evidence of syphilis on her face, nor on her bones.  I call shenanigans.  (And would much more easily believe a diagnosis of scurvy from the bones and plot presented in this episode.  But scurvy is hardly as romantic as the curse of Venus...)
  • Plot
    • I didn't really understand the whole booby-trap mechanism.  How did it involve a gun (that was never found?) with a bolo bullet in it?  Is a bolo bullet really a thing?  I couldn't find anything in my two minutes of web-surfing.  I feel like I missed something.
    • If the neighbor saw smoke at 7am and flames at 8:30am, but the blast didn't happen until 8:30am... what was the smoke earlier?
  • Dialogue
    • All I wrote down this week is, "Turdus migratorius is the scientific name for the robin."
Ratings
Forensic Mystery - B.  This was a perfectly reasonable mystery, albeit mostly focused on the whodunit side, than the whoisit side.

Forensic Solution - B-.  Oh, loads of points off for the ridiculous diagnosis of syphilis and the lack of consultation of dental records.

Drama - C.  No one was in particular danger.  Sweets got a new place (with roommates predictably named Chrissy and Janet).  Daisy and Carlene got closure.  Hodgins swooned over Angela's skills to encourage her because she's... planning to leave the Jeffersonian? Wait, what ever happened with that plot line?

Maybe next week will be more interesting.  And less fake-VD-y.

March 17, 2013

Presenting Anthropology - Weeks 9&10 (Readings)

Video Challenge

We anthropologists are, quite honestly, not the most fashion-forward academics, tending to prefer jeans or flowy, tribal-print dresses to other disciplines' sharp professionalism. And we don't tend to seek out opportunities to be on camera, to perform for an audience, preferring to sit back and take an etic approach to watching other humans enact culture. There has always been interest in anthropology from the mainstream television media, though, in the form of documentaries (and "documentaries") about past and present societies. It is therefore a good idea to feel comfortable both talking to a television camera and creating videos about your research and interlocutors. In these two weeks, we will take a look at (mostly short) anthropological videos and discuss how those videos differ depending on the audience and the video-creator's goals. We will also discuss the role of video in reporting anthropological finds and research - the phenomena of "research by documentary" and "publication by journalism" - which can be problematic for the academic anthropologist.
Anthro Major Fox on PBS' Idea Channel
  • Assignment 1: Find a good/bad example of video covering an anthropological topic. Searching YouTube is a great place to start.
  • Assignment 2: Alone or in a group, create something based wholly or in large part on video - ideas include a live-action video, a TED-style talk, a video compilation or clips or slides, an interactive game, or an iPad/Android app. Be prepared to present it, justify your design decisions and audience, and take criticisms and critiques.
Reading
  • Anderson, R., ed. 2012. Anthropologies Issue 10 - Beyond Words (the Visual Issue). Read entire issue.
  • Armelagos, G.J., M.K. Zuckerman, K.N. Harper. 2012. The science behind pre-Columbian evidence of syphilis in Europe: research by documentary. Evolutionary Anthropology 21:50-57.
  • Dornfeld, B. 2002. Putting American public television documentary in its place. In: Media Worlds: Anthropology on New Terrain, F. Ginsburg et al. eds., Ch. 12, pp. 247-263.
  • Finn, C. 2001. Mixed messages: archaeology and the media. Public Archaeology 4:261-268. 
  • Kulik, K. 2006. Archaeology and British television. Public Archaeology 2:75-90.
  • Piccini, A. 2007. Faking it: why the truth is so important for TV archaeology. In: Archaeology and the Media, T. Clack and M. Brittain, eds., Ch. 11, pp. 221-236. Left Coast Press.
  • Pitts, M. & D. Klat. 2012. American Digger and archaeology. Anthropology Today 28(3):1-2.
  • Taylor, T. 2007. Screening biases: Archaeology, television, and the banal. In: Archaeology and the Media, T. Clack and M. Brittain, eds., Ch. 9, pp. 187-200. Left Coast Press.
  • VanDyke, R. 2006. Seeing the past: visual media in archaeology. American Anthropologist 108(2):370-375.
Links
(As always, follow our livetweets using #shareanthro on Mondays from 1-4pm central time.)

March 11, 2013

Roman Diet Media Coverage

On March 1, my article, "Food for Rome," came out in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.  It's gotten some media attention, so here's a collection of relevant links if you want to know more and don't want to read the article:
  • Polit.ru, March 5, "The Main Food of the Ancient Romans Was Millet" (title translated by google from the Russian).  I like this coverage because it means I finally learned how to transliterate my name into the language of my maternal ancestors.
  • Quirks & Quarks, CBC radio program, March 9, "The Ancient Roman Diet."  I talked to Bob McDonald, host of this Canadian science talk show, about isotopes, food, and Romans.  (I confess I still haven't listened to it, since I hate hearing myself talk...)

March 5, 2013

Presenting Anthropology - Weeks 7&8 (Audio Projects)

Last week in class, we discussed audio media and anthropology -- how anthropologists are (or, generally, are not) employing audio to communicate their findings or interesting tidbits about the field.

To start, I asked the students to talk about how, when, and why they listen to the radio and podcasts.  Most everyone had experience listening to NPR in their cars, as well as audiobooks.  There was a surprising lack of people who routinely listened to podcasts, but I wondered if that is related to the nature of commuting here in Pensacola.  When I was a grad student at UNC, I couldn't park on campus; this meant it took me 30-45 minutes each day to walk to the bus stop, ride the bus, and then walk from the drop-off to wherever on campus I needed to go.  I listened to a lot of podcasts.  Here at UWF, there is ample parking and poor public transportation, so students tend to drive to school, listening to their radios along the way.

Dr. Judy Bense, president of UWF, recording Unearthing
Florida 
radio program at WUWF, our campus NPR station
Based on their experiences, we came up with a list of likes and dislikes for audio programming.  No one was particularly in favor of call-in shows (such as NPR's Science Friday, which can be painful to listen to) or hosts with monotones.  Most students liked "noises" in the background; not distracting noises, but sounds that related to the content of the programming.  This contributed to a feel of storytelling that they appreciated, and we discussed why, if that's primarily what anthropology is, we are not employing audio more in our research or presentations.  (In Pensacola, though, we do have a regular audio series, Unearthing Florida, hosted by archaeologist and UWF president Judy Bense.)

As far as "best practices," we listened to a lot of examples of anthropological topics on radio, mostly from sources like NPR's This American Life, and realized that most of us preferred short(ish) segments (say, 10 minutes or less) on topics that related to our lives (like local history, food, relationships, etc.).  I encouraged the students to take these ideas into consideration when they were creating their own audio projects: we may all thumb our noses at John Tesh's "Intelligence for Your Life," but millions of people hear those snippets and pay attention to the information in them because they're interesting and directly relate to their everyday lives.



Without further ado, here are the top three audio projects this week (sorry I can't embed them in Blogger; each link goes to an mp3 file in a new window):

Second Runners-Up - The team of Linda Hoang, Stella Simpsiridis, and Tina Estep created a series of under-2-minute audio programs called Anthropology: Did you know?  Four of the six below have very good production quality, and all have interesting information to communicate.  I like the idea of this series, which the students focused on little-known facts about well-known anthropologists, and the intro/outro music was created by Linda's husband, who also does the intro voiceover. They have a good mixture of subfields and nearly equal gender ratio.  It was a smartly done project.
First Runner-Up - Evan Springer, who came in third place in the print challenge, created an amusing anthropology-themed superhero in the vein of 50s radio broadcasting.
And the Winner of the Audio Challenge - Gregg Harding, who won the print challenge, made a mini-podcast about the archaeological outreach project he works on, a 19th century industrial brick site called the Scott Site.  The site, located in nearby Milton, FL, is being excavated with the help of high school students, so Gregg spoke with several students and their teacher about their hands-on learning experience.  Gregg has plans to do one or more additional podcasts throughout the semester, to see how students' perceptions of archaeology and the site change.  For more information, check out his blog, Building Heritage Education.

So far, none of the students has posted a transcript of their audio programs.  I have encouraged them to do so, however, so that people can skim the information without listening and so that they are more easily accessible for the hearing-impaired.  If they decide to create transcripts, you'll find them on their respective blogs.

Thanks for listening!  Next week is spring break, then we're back for a two-week video challenge.

March 4, 2013

Bones - Season 8, Episode 18 (Review)

The Survivor in the Soap
Episode Summary
Saroyan and Viziri are planning to knock off for a romantic dinner together when an FBI agent brings in a barrel found at a hazardous waste disposal facility.  When he cracks the lid, a skeletonized arm comes into view.  Booth and Brennan, who are at home having dinner and arguing about where to take a vacation, get the call and come in to work on the body in the barrel.

From the distance between the lunate and the third distal phalanx, Brennan guesses that the victim was male. Hodgins estimates from the state of the remains and the solid soap forming on the skeleton that time of death was at least 36 to 48 hours before.  Once the chunk of soap-skeleton is out of the barrel, Viziri examines the skull and finds a broad nasal aperture with rounded nasal sill in addition to a protruding mandible, which suggests African ancestry.  Brennan comments that the shape of the skull is more specifically West African.  Based on the lack of osteoarthritis osteophytes, Viziri and Brennan estimate the man's age at death between 20 and 30 years.  Unspecified lesions Viziri notices on xrays of the skull are diagnosed by Brennan as indicative of yaws, a treponemal infection common in sub-Saharan Africa.  From those brief descriptors, Angela gets a hit in the missing person's database, as Symchay Conteh was the only young West African man to go missing in the last few days.  He was reported missing by someone claiming to be Alvin James, who sounds like he was calling from a gas station.

Sweets and Booth visit Symchay's apartment, where the janitor, also from Sierra Leone, lets them in.  There are no photos of Symchay's life as a kid -- no pictures of parents, friends, or himself prior to age 18.  His bed is made, but the couch isn't.  Booth suspects he was letting someone stay on his couch, and there are taxi cab logs that confirm someone else was in the apartment.  Booth talks to Alex Radziwill from the State Department.  Alex tells him that Symchay migrated from Sierra Leone to Guinea and applied for refugee status there as a young teen.  Shortly thereafter, he immigrated to the US and applied for asylum at age 14.  He was granted it, and became a US citizen five years later.  Although Symchay had lots of part-time jobs, he worked regularly for Wilford Hamilton, an immigration lawyer, helping newly arrived refugees get on their feet and find jobs and apartments.  Hamilton puts them on the trail of Breema Cheloba, who was deported back to Sierra Leone two years prior for almost killing a man in a street fight.  Cheloba is back in the US illegally, but neither Hamilton nor Symchay turned him in.  Fingerprints at Symchay's apartment confirm that Cheloba was the one staying on the couch.

Viziri tries to figure out cause of death, but the old injuries to Symchay's skeleton make that difficult.  Viziri finds at least eight healed antemortem injuries, such as fractures to the tibia, clavicle, and mandible dating to childhood.  Bone deformation in the knees, vertebrae, and feet suggests he had to carry heavy loads while barefoot.  Brennan notices asymmetry in the shoulder joint; in Darfur, she saw this injury in child soldiers forced to carry and shoot AK-47s.

A check Symchay received before his death leads Booth and Brennan to an art gallery, where Kimberly Singer is exhibiting photographs she took as a war photographer in Sierra Leone nearly two decades ago.  She met Symchay once, when she was hiring him to cater her gallery opening, as Symchay was trained as a chef.  He broke down upon seeing a photograph in the exhibit, though, and she didn't see him after that. Brennan notices a boy in a photo and, based on the shape of the skull, the anterior nasal spine, and the mandible, the child is Symchay himself.  Singer is astounded by this news. Although she has potassium hydroxide in her studio to develop photographs, she denies using it to attempt to cover up Symchay's murder.

Back at the Jeffersonian, Viziri has found cause of death: a linear cut to the right clavicle with adjacent fracturing on both the right and left sides of the cut.  Someone must have employed a stab-and-cut motion to kill Symchay, the kind you'd use with a bayonet.  Angela has compared the 911 missing person's call with taxi dispatch calls and finds a match: they think the driver of the cab and the called-in tip were both Breema Cheloba.  Booth tracks down Cheloba, who is using a friend's cab to make money because he is in the country illegally, but Cheloba insists that Symchay was his friend, and he called him in as missing because he was worried.  Cheloba talks about his amputated hand: he was asked to kill his teacher; when he refused, the rebels killed her, then cut off his hand to teach him a lesson.  Viziri realizes that Cheloba couldn't have killed Symchay because the motions necessary to create the bone injuries couldn't have been done by a one-handed man.  When Hodgins reports that the wound to Symchay's clavicle included chrome-plated steel and potassium chloride, commonly found on AK-47s, Viziri gets upset and accuses Hodgins of doing a bad job.  It's impossible to slice the clavicle with the barrel of an AK-47.  Saroyan reprimands Viziri, who later admits that, during the first Persian Gulf War, one of his cousins was forced to become a child soldier and was killed, so the case was hitting close to home for him.

After a late-night brainstorming session Chez Booth&Brennan, the two of them and Cheloba head back to Singer's gallery exhibit.  Cheloba hasn't seen the pictures, but Symchay had been aware of the photograph of himself; it was published a few years prior.  What Cheloba notices, however, is a photo of Joseph Embarga, who recruited thousands of child soldiers and was eventually indicted on dozens of war crimes.  Booth takes a closer look and realizes that Embarga is the janitor who let him into Symchay's apartment.  At the FBI, Booth questions Embarga, who insists he is Tony Dennis, in the US legally.  He was never fingerprinted, and any DNA evidence from Sierra Leone was destroyed in the revolution.  Embarga knows that Booth has no physical evidence on him.  But Booth keeps Embarga talking so that he can have Angela do a voice-match between a previous recording of Embarga and his FBI questioning, to prove it's him and to have him extradited to The Hague to stand trial for war crimes.

Viziri and Brennan finally find the missing piece of the puzzle: a second stab wound to the victim's atlas.  They think Symchay was stabbed with a double-pronged weapon made of chrome-plated steel.  Brennan realizes that Wilfred Hamilton has an African tribal mask on the wall of his office, likely made out of a reclaimed AK-47.  She, Booth, and Alex storm Hamilton's office, and a blacklight reveals blood on the mask, which Brennan suggests will prove to be Hamilton's and Symchay's; reflective infrared spectrosopy will verify that the blood was deposited at the same time.  In essence, Symchay realized that his janitor was a wanted war criminal.  Rather than confronting Embarga, he confided in Hamilton.  However, Hamilton killed Symchay and blackmailed Embarga so that he could afford to keep his refugee center up and running.

Comments
  • Forensic
    • Distance between the wrist and finger I suppose could suggest male, since men tend to have larger hands than women, but there's a ton of overlap in this (as with, say, femoral head diameter).
    • At least the nasal aperture, nasal sill, and mandibular prognathism do suggest someone of African ancestry.  The "this skull looks West African" part was crap, though.  (Still wish forensics would stop using the rather offensive and historically-loaded terms Negroid and Mongoloid.  The rest of anthropology has done away with them, and there are better terms we can use in forenics.)
    • If Symchay was a child soldier, prone to carrying heavy loads, why wouldn't he have osteophytes suggestive of arthritis?  Too convenient a way to estimate age at death; and, with the skull definitely present, fusion of the sphenooccipital synchondrosis would be more useful.  Also, "osteoarthritis osteophytes" doesn't make much sense.  We do see osteophytes in osteoarthritis, but just the presence of osteophytes doesn't necessarily mean a diagnosis of osteoarthritis.
    • So, with yaws, about 10% of people suffer destructive bone lesions, but that's generally after having it for 5-10 years.  It's possible that Symchay had yaws that long, since it tends to be a chronic condition.  But the bone lesions from yaws are usually destructive joint lesions or destruction of the nasal aperture (similar to leprosy), as well as changes to the tibia.  It wasn't clear what Brennan was referring to on the skull xray, and it wasn't clear why she looked at the zygomatics to conclude evidence of yaws.
    • Brennan's looking at a photo of a 7-year-old and realizing it was 24-year-old Symchay as a kid was total BS.  There is no way she can age-progress a photograph in her head, much less come up with a specific person.
    • The IR spectroscopy idea seems plausible, but I don't know if it really works; anyone?
  • Plot
    • Places Brennan is considering for a vacation: Yangon (Rangoon, where my mother-in-law is actually visiting right now), Paris, and the Gulf of Thailand for, respectively, mass graves, catacombs, and mass graves.  Fun places to take your 1-year-old.  Definitely.  (I do have to admit to vacationing in Paris primarily to see the catacombs, though.  They are indeed impressive.  But I wouldn't take a toddler.)
    • Who's in charge of Christine when Brennan and Booth both bolt from dinner to check on the skeleton in the barrel?  Sweets?  (Hey, Sweets is still living with them.)
    • Seems kind of convenient that all the Sierra Leoneans we meet happen to be in Singer's pictures and happen to have been from the exact same part of Sierra Leone.
    • Speaking of... how did a war criminal get into the US?
  • Dialogue
    • "A 2002 London urology study showed no correlation between the size of a man's penis and the size of his feet." -- Brennan (It's true.  Here's the PubMed citation.)
    • "You're the intern.  I'm the one with 'doctor' in front of my name." -- Hodgins, being a dick
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Ratings
Forensic Mystery - A.  Even though the body was ID'ed quickly, the mystery of who killed Symchay and how was good; it was prolonged for almost the entire episode without feeling overly drawn out.  The team picked up on clues and followed them, arriving at the answer after a couple red herrings.

Forensic Solution - B+.  Generally good forensic work in this episode, but I didn't like the simplicity with which some of the analysis was handled (e.g., age-at-death, differentials for injuries).

Drama - A.  This was a good episode of television.  The forensic plot moved along nicely, the victim's back story was amazingly compelling, and Viziri was empathetic about the case.  I could quibble about how Viziri is always brought in to satisfy the writers' seeming need for an "ethnic" intern to react to a case, but I like Viziri as a character, and he's easy on the eyes to boot.

March 3, 2013

One woman's trash...

My mother-in-law is currently in Yangon, Burma (formerly known as Rangoon, Myanmar), travelling the world through UVa's Semester at Sea this spring.  She posted this picture of trash on the street:


Look a bit more closely, and you can see...


There are numerous sets of dental impressions.  Apparently she stumbled across the dental school's cast-offs.  (Get it, cast-offs?)

I hope she picked some up for me.  Curious as to the prevalence of shovel-shaped incisors in this population...

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