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Friday, August 29, 2008

Today's theme: Housing

The effects of global climate change are real for one village in Africa. They have had to move their village three or more times because of rising ocean levels.

Some cool ideas about "organic" housing, or as I like to think about it a real tree house.

Archaeologists in the Amazon have found old urbanization patterns.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

In the good ol' days...

When I was your age, grandkids, we lived in caves, and we walked everywhere in the snow, uphill, both ways. Why, back in my day, Neolithic women had fashion sense (study from 2007), not like today. Neanderthals created tools just as good as the cro magnon's. Okay, maybe they weren't as creative in their tools, but good work, they did.

Ah, *spit* you kids these days are all weak, you don't get enough "dangerous" exercise, like chasing saber tooth cats around. Boy, those were the days.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Personal note: work-life balance

This is not my typical post; this is a post about the need for a work/life balance in order to remain a complex, healthy human being, and yet how this idea seems to be having a back lash in the late 2000's.

These days there seems to be a mocking tone around the phrase “work/life balance.” It’s become trite, the buzz-word that’s lost its zing, like “self-esteem” was in the 1980s and has now become the bane of every elementary school teacher’s existence. But what is so wrong about

This attitude against the balancing act seems to come especially from people talking about “Generation Y” or “Millenials” or whatever other buzz name is going to stick. The career and gender-gap-in-the-workplace all describe the Millenials as “prioritizing a work/life balance.” Unfortunately, most people who are not Millenials read that and translate it as, “lazy and don’t take work seriously.”

As a millennial, I can staunchly say this is not true. We’re the first generation where “multi-tasking” (another buzz word in its day) is the expected norm, and we do it well. We also find nothing wrong with listening to some vintage Dead Kennedys on our ipods as we sit in front of a computer for eight hours going through tedious emails and menial clerical work that, except for the CEO of Facebook, is about all we can get hired to do so far. Sure we expected more instant job satisfaction after getting out of college (who wouldn’t after getting ribbons their entire life just for participating?), and sure it’s going to make us yearn for our days back in college when our “work/life balance” involved sleeping in and being mentally stimulated and challenged for a living. Does that mean we’re wrong?

Even beyond the slacker Millenials, “work/life balance” also seems to have become a code word for “mother who puts her children before her job.” Is that a bad thing? Apparently so, according to a lot of studies that find women who take time off in their careers to have children, even as brief as a year, have a hard time find jobs again and don’t make as much money as women in the same positions who didn’t take time off. Yet women are still expected to be the primary care-providers for their kids, and if they aren’t super-moms who can stay home with their child and make an organic, meatless, gluten free, protein-filled dinner as their children practice their Baby Mozart and take infant soccer camp, all with a killer bod three months after giving birth, then these women are obviously stunting their child’s development. At the same time, they are also expected to work full time at an office (working from home is still considered suspect). If they miss a day at the office because the kid broke his foot on his infant soccer ball, then they’re not reliable employees.

Unfortunately, many people who are scoffing at this whole “work/life balance” trend are the people who need it the most. For many people who do decide to give up their lives to job and country, “work/life balance” basically means finding time to have a drink with a client and getting (maybe) four hours of sleep. No wonder Starbucks is so popular. In this day and age of blackberries, emails, cell phones, video conferencing, and fairly inexpensive four-hour plane rides across continents now seeming like a long, tedious commute, people are working literally 24/7, not taking time for themselves, wearing down their bodies in the process (obesity epidemic, anyone?), and are expected to give more.

Of course every organization – work, family, church, little league – wants to be the top priority in a person’s life, they will fight tooth and nail to become that. The problem is when we buy into it, or try to prioritize it all.

Especially in American society, competitiveness, standing out, overachieving, and going all the way are appreciated, nay, expected of us all. Students are rewarded for straight A’s; an athlete gets attention only if they score the most points or win first prize; the person who works extra hard on a project gets promoted; being overworked and underslept is are considered bragging rights.

So I say put down your coffee, or at least linger at the office coffee station a little bit longer; hit that snooze button one more time, turn off your cell phone, go out and play catch with your dog (he’s been waiting ever so long). Since the Industrial Revolution, we’ve been working to make our lives better and more efficient, simpler. I say it’s time to take advantage of all that hard work and actually live simply, efficiently, and better. For starters, I’m going to take a nap.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The outer limits...of humans

I've been collecting some weird stuff that doesn't necessarily correlate directly to humans and culture, but they all do in a roundabout, sideways, too-cool-to-not-mention sort of way.

For starters, some researchers have found evidence that humans have taste buds for calcium. I wonder if there is a difference between cultures who practically live off milk compared to those who don't.

Also, there is a cool YouTube video about parasitic worms that can actually recreate or at least mimic the genes of their host insect to the extent that they can send messages to the insect's "brain" and make the insects do what they want, including commit suicide by jumping into a body of water so the worm can escape, essentially turning the bug into a zombie. As the researcher mentions in the video, this has implications for human parasitic diseases (which I can't remember right now but if you watch the video he will explain it better).

Getting back into the traditional "Anthropology" stuff, German anthropologists have been able to genetically trace bones from the Bronze Age to a pair of men living in a village nearby the cave where the bones were found, making this the longest family tree in history.

As a cool example of the power of motherhood and how much dogs have evolved to be co-habitants of humans, a dog in Argentina rescued a newborn baby abandoned in the ghettos/favelas. The dog was a new mother herself, and after the dog's owner discovered the baby cuddled in with the pups, he alerted authorities and the baby's 14-year-old mother came forward. Unfortunately the media attention is actually freaking the dog out a bit, so leave her alone!

Also, for all you star gazers out there, a Top 10 of ancient astronomy observatories throughout the world (interestingly, the Mayan pyramids made it on there, the Egyptian pyramids did not).

Finally, for all you visual or historical anthropologists, a cool article on the history of the daguerrotype, and links to other articles about cool photographic inventions.

Monday, August 18, 2008

News highlights from last week

Scottish penguin knighted as part of 30-year service to Norwegian military. Technically it's the third penguin to serve as the Norwegian mascot, but still, well earned I'm sure (too bad it’s not an emperor penguin).

Cemetery remains of two different cultures separated by several thousand years found in the same spot in the Sahara Desert (apparently much greener once). One woman and her two kids were buried on a bed of flowers; how sweet is that? Awww...

Mayan portal to the world of the dead FOUND! No, really.

Roman empress’ head found too ( not the actual head, just the oversized marble carving of it).

Mothering style can turn on nurturing genes in female mice. First off, who knew there were genes for nurturing?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Women on pill choose mates too close to home

A study, which is supported by research in the 90s, finds that women on the birth control pill will choose mates that have a similar smell make-up to themselves, which evolutionarily is a bad thing; in a normal hormonal stage, women choose guys with contrasting smells (major histocompatibility complex (MHC) gene-produced odor to be more precise) because essentially it means that the woman is not procreating with a distant relative and her offspring is more genetically fit, and will also recognize more smells as familiar and be more open to people. Once women go off the pill, apparently they are more likely to leave or cheat on the similarly-smelling partner.

At first this totally blew my mind! I knew that smell played a MAJOR role in mate selection, but the fact that the pill can mess with one's sense of smell and ability to smell others to the point of evolutionary malfunction is amazing. Although upon further analysis it makes perfect sense, since the pill is a hormone replacement, and there is already plenty of evidence that a woman's hormonal cycle affects her sense of smell. Women have a hard time becoming sommeliers (wine tasters) because their sense of smell (and therefore taste) changes throughout her menstrual cycle so they are considered not as reliable tasters as men. Many women I know couldn't walk down the soap or seafood aisle at a grocery store when they were pregnant because their sense of smell was just too sensitive.

It makes me wonder what this means for women who have been on the pill from the time they were teenagers until they decide to have their first kid. Obviously this doesn't mean that every woman who meets her mate on the pill will dump him as soon as she's off (I've been with my guy for five terrific years), but the implications of this are fascinating.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Innate victory pose

Researchers compared congenitally blind athletes to seeing athletes and found both groups “puff up” or open themselves up when they win (outstretched arms and shoulders, big smile facing up and out), and cower and close inward when they lose, implying the behavior is an innate tendency of humans.
This study made me really curious about my husband's "bellowing," which he is actually known for internationally: when he accomplishes a large physical feat like scaling a wall or landing a jump, he cries a mighty bass-toned yawp... okay, it's more of a war bellow, like he has defeated an elk in hand to hoof combat. But this study has made me wonder if his mighty yawp is the same primal instinct as the "warrior pose." Jumping up and down and squealing, "I win, I win" isn't going to scare away many other predators or challengers: roaring like a grizzly bear on the other hand and making yourself big is going to make a lot of critters think twice about coming after you, including the grizzly bear.
This also leads me to wonder if dominant males (of any primate species) celebrate their victories more often or louder than less dominant males. Obviously behavior is going to be curtailed by social expectations (Japanese and Scottish Highland cultures very much discourage individualism and show-offiness, for example), but it seems plausible that a dominant male would (a) win hand to hoof combats more often and so have more opportunity for bellowing, and (b) be more vocal and more physical in his reaction to that victory. This in turn would intimidate a lot of non-dominant folks and would discourage any challengers. *feminist note*: I'm wondering mostly about dominant males and their victor display because females don't typically puff up or roar to show their dominance over others. They will yell, and are violent, but at least the wolf, chimp, and human studies I've seen point to quicker, more subtle expressions of dominance from females.

Friday, August 8, 2008

In honor of the Olympics

1900 year old chariot found in Bulgaria.

That's pretty much it. There's a lot of primate action going on, including the discovery of something like 125,000 lowland gorillas previously uncounted (Yippee!), but not much else has gotten me inspired to post.