Archive for January, 2013



And this pic doesn’t do it justice.


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Reading an interesting book whose title caught my attention in the liberry:  The Creation of Inequality.  The authors, Jane Marcus and Kent Flannery, are archeologists and curators at U Michigan’s Museum of Anthropology.  They based their book on a wide-ranging study of pre-modern human remains as well as in situ studies of so-called “primitive tribes,” undertaken for the most part late in early 19th- or early 20th-centuries before said tribes came into too much contact with “more developed” civilizations.

Their argument seems to be this:   Social equality prevailed among archaic humans.  We know this because some of the smaller tribes that have been studied practiced social equality, and  archeologists have found evidence that small groups of archaic humans, including Neanderthals, do not appear to have murdered one another.  Most of the studied groups were small because they lived in difficult or downright hostile environments such as the Artic or African deserts.  In fact, they were small enough that most were related to one another, and so our authors can claim that family groups, whether patriarchal or matriarchal, don’t need social inequality  to function.

Once groups become large enough to form clans, though, every thing changes.  Anthropologists apparently use the term “clan” (borrowed from Scottish groups renowned for violent in-group fighting) to describe groups wherein not everyone is related.  Archeological evidence for such groups emerges around 15,000 years ago which is, coincidently or not, the same period in which evidence for the so-called “modern mind” appears–meaning evidence of symbolic behavior such as art-making, jewelry-wearing, and grave-decorating.  And these folks did murder one another, as well as members of rival groups, perhaps even with abandon.  In other words, social inequality emerges as a means of controlling larger groups of people.

Okay:  that’s Marcus and Flannery’s thesis in the first two chapters.  I may not have done it justice, perhaps because I’m skeptical whenever an argument veers close to cultural determinism, and this one teeters precariously on the brink on occasion.  But I’ll suspend judgement until I read more.

I’m posting now, though, because of a very interesting thing that happens in Chapter 2 of The Creation of Social Inequality.  Reviewing early studies of the Inuit, our authors claim that social inequality was not practiced in these groups.  Discipline was imposed on miscreants by sarcasm, satire, or shunning.  Sounds good, eh.  Better than firing squads, anyhow.

Except . . . on the very same page Marcus and Flannery mention that in this culture the men are hunters and the women prepare food.  Now feminists teach that gendered job distinctions do not necessarily imply different status or treatment.   One can imagine, after all, that it’s just as useful and important to the group’s survival and contentment to render and haul whale carcasses for miles across ice floes as it is to kill the whales in the first place.

But on the page after that, as our authors are reviewing marriage practices that suggest social equality between genders, they mention that unusual arrangements sometimes have to be made (two husbands, one wife, for example) because there are not enough women to go around.  And why is that, you ask?  Well, because this group practices infanticide when they can’t support another baby.  And which gender is most often left out on the ice to die?  You guessed it.

Equality, my ass.  And the disturbing thing is that our archeologists don’t even realize that they’ve undermined their own thesis.  Meh.

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Eye of the Beholder

Myrlie Evers-WilliamsMyrlie Evers is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen.

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High (on) Finance

us-money-billsI spent a couple of mornings this week talking with my financial adviser.  (This is a fancy name for someone who figures out how to protect people’s money from investment companies and the IRS.)  I did this because I will soon turn seventy.  When I am 70 and a half years old (who makes these rules?) the IRS expects me to begin withdrawing a certain percentage of my savings from any tax-sheltered accounts I own so they can finally get their taxing hands on it.  Every year this percentage will grow until I kick the bucket.

Now philosophically speaking I’m not against paying my fair share of taxes.  I am a liberal, after all, and I understand that citizens have to pay for roads and schools and libraries and so on.  I don’t like paying for wars, though, especially unjust wars like Iraq and Vietnam.  Indeed, back in the day my spouse and I refused to pay a small telephone tax that was mandated by LBJ to pay for B-52s to carpet-bomb the Vietnamese jungles.  We never heard a word of protest from anyone–the phone company or the IRS.  Indeed the tax eventually proved so unpopular that Congress quietly withdrew it.

Aside from that, I have dutifully paid my taxes ever since I was fifteen years old.  For the first ten years or so, and for short periods when I was in school, I didn’t itemize my income tax returns because I made so little money.  But once I started earning decent salaries, I knew I had to get advice because the whole world of finance was then, and still is, opaque to me.  Apparently I got pretty good advice over the years, because I’ve managed to accumulate a nice pot of money even though I’ve also been paying an ever-more-sizable tax bill.

My current adviser counseled that we should just roll my various accounts over into lifetime annuities, which would guarantee (a) that I would have a regular income for the rest of my days;  (b) my beneficiaries would get whatever I don’t spend;  (c) the IRS will remain content;  and (d)  my money will be safe even if the Republicans tank the economy.  So he and I gathered around his speaker phone one morning this week in order to call various companies to ask for the relevant paperwork.  I had expected this to take about an hour.

Not so.  Funders don’t like investors to withdraw their money, it seems.   For each company we talked to, there was a different sort of rigamarole to be gone through before I can get hold of my own money.  I began to panic because I’m guessing we have until about the middle of next month until the markets begin to react negatively to the Republicans’ failure to do their jobs.

My adviser, OTOH, was delirious with glee.  He loves this stuff.  While company reps are listing all the restrictions they impose on withdrawal he’s busy scribbling away on post-it notes, figuring out ways to turn all of these to my advantage.  I’ve never seen anyone get quite so jazzed over wheeling and dealing in which he had no financial stake.  He was like a detective hot on the trail of a perp.

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Today Jan 16

Sunny61°F    38°F    Sunny

And tomorrow, forecasters say, the temp may reach seventy!  That’s more like it!

You can take off one layer of socks now, Trep.

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Junior_Seau_2This is Junior Seau.  A few weeks ago Seau committed suicide.  He shot himself in the chest, rather than in the head, as is more common.  Authorities think he may have emulated the example of Dave Duerson of the Chicago Bears, who left instructions that his brain should be made available for study after his death by suicide.

Post-mortem examinations found that both players suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, which is caused by multiple hits to the head.  The symptoms of CTE are horrible:  dizziness, disorientation, speech impediments, forgetfulness, and violent reactions to events.  Shortly before his death, Seau may (or may not) have attacked his wife.  I speculate that this incident may have convinced him that suicide was the only way to insure he would not hurt anyone while literally out of his mind from pain and disorientation.  He was only 43 years old.

Seau played in the NFL for twenty years, an unusually long career–especially for a linebacker.  He made the Pro Bowl 12 times and won a horde of awards.  Apparently he was much loved by all who knew him.  And I sure enjoyed watching him play;   linebackers are among the most skilled players on the field.

But now, as evidence mounts that CTE is widespread among former players,  I have to rethink my love of football.

Some 2000 former NFL players have filed a class action suit against the league, arguing that the owners knew that the rules about hits to the head were too lenient long before they took steps to minimize the danger.  Recently, the NFL changed the rules (no direct hits to the head allowed) and improved the equipment.  A few players have opted for kevlar-lined helmets.  Retired Cardinals’ quarterback Kurt Warner has announced that he has forbidden his kids to play football (I’ll be that went over well in the Warner household).  No one knows if these measures will protect today’s players–we’ll have to wait until they are Seau’s age to see, I guess.

Which isn’t right.  I can’t get past that:  It just isn’t right.  Ta-Nahisi Coates says he stopped watching football a year ago.  He admits that he liked big hits, was in fact jazzed by them.  But he realized, eventually, that he was celebrating the glorification of violence, stylized and rulebound though it is.  This was never true for me (I hope).  I like the complexity and cleverness of the plays, and I especially like watching defensive players out-think their offensive counterparts.  But I’ve never liked watching players get hurt (I had to stop watching last week after RG3’s knee went out).

I’m not sure, though, that the right response is to stop watching.  (And as I type that, I wonder if I am rationalizing).  But boycotts only work if they are widespread, and I can’t imagine that most fans can be convinced to participate–especially if they share Ta-Nehisi’s former pleasure in watching athletes hit one another.  And in this case a boycott seems like a typical touchy-feeley liberal response to an immense problem.

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Day Jan 12

Partly Cloudy
Partly Cloudy



I know these temps are chickenfeed for you, Trep.  But it’s damned cold for down here.

Yesterday I talked with a couple from Vermont.  He declared:   “We’re  going back to Vermont if it doesn’t warm up here soon!”

Hope they enjoy the trip.

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