Deep History

October 6, 2019

A quick review of  David W. Anthony’s extraordinarily fine 2007 volume:  The Horse, the Wheel and Language“.

It has a sub-title that I am sure came from the publisher’s marketing department rather than from the author — “How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World.”  However, this is not a text that is aimed at the popular market. It is a thoroughly documented 500-page academic essay on the development of culture and the birth of various language families within the period from about 9,000 years ago to roughly 4,000 years ago in the area stretching from south-east Europe through the central Asian steppes.

That probably doesn’t sound particularly exciting to most people. But for the minority of us who try to keep up with research on the period between the last glaciation (say, 20,000 years ago) and the birth of “modern” society (5,000 to 8,000 years ago), who are fascinated by the origin and development of languages, and who are interested in the beginnings of certain cultural forms (hierarchy, for example) and technologies, this is a work of seminal importance.

Anthony brings together his own archaeological work and the previously unavailable texts of the most recent generation of Russian and East European scholars and creates a highly refined synthesis that argues, convincingly to me, at least, that horses were first domesticated in the grasslands of the central Eurasian steppes, and that horse-riding played a significant role in the expansion of what would become the Indo-European languages (including, much later, the dominant English language).  Along the way, he examines the beginnings of Indo-European myths, the establishment of the guest-host relationship, leadership functions, funeral practices, the purpose of feasting, the origin of wagons and chariots, and a wide range of other topics that, in their modern manifestation, dominate our lives today.

Anthony writes very well but it cannot be denied that, for the general reader without some background in these subjects, there are some difficult sections.  They are well worth the effort, though, for the understanding that this research brings with it.  I cannot recommend this too highly to anyone interested in this stuff.


For International Women’s Day

March 8, 2019

To me, it is a no-brainer that women should be — and should be treated as — equal to men in all respects.  Arguments against this thesis — whether by religionists (of any faith), GOPers, Tories, and other misogynists — do not rise above the thinking of Neanderthals.  For anyone with a whit of common sense and a whiff of humanity it should be obvious, I would have thought. Unfortunately, that is not the case in many parts of the world.

In 2015, Pew Research conducted a Global Attitudes survey in 38 countries that revealed significant differences of opinion. I doubt the figures have changed much since then.

[select image for a better view]

Even in countries, like Canada, the US, and the UK, which appear to score well in this survey, women are still not treated as equals when it comes to pay and opportunities in management, the professions, and science.  The 2016 US Presidential election revealed a continuing deep distrust (at best) regarding the possibility of a woman taking the top job.

There are structural gender issues that have to be fixed in all societies but that doesn’t mean to say we should leave the fix for politicians to deal with.  Far from it. If, as individuals, we all are careful to treat every other individual as a human being rather than as a member of some group or other, then we can solve this unhappy situation far quicker and more completely than any legislation.


Leisure Time

February 26, 2019

A new analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data by Pew Research is illuminating changes in time usage by North American teenagers.

The Pew research notes:

“Teens now enjoy more than five and a half hours of leisure a day (5 hours, 44 minutes). The biggest chunk of teens’ daily leisure time is spent on screens: 3 hours and 4 minutes on average. This figure, which can include time spent gaming, surfing the web, watching videos and watching TV, has held steady over the past decade. On weekends, screen time increases to almost four hours a day (3 hours, 53 minutes), and on weekdays teens are spending 2 hours and 44 minutes on screens …

Over the past decade, the time spent socializing – including attending parties, extracurriculars, sporting or other entertainment events as well as spending time with others in person or on the phone – has dropped by 16 minutes, to 1 hour and 13 minutes a day.”

The report also illustrates differences between girls and boys:

Perhaps more important than the actual time differences are differences in attitude:

” the way boys and girls feel about their day also differs in some key ways. A new survey by Pew Research Center of teens ages 13 to 17 finds that 36% of girls say they feel tense or nervous about their day every or almost every day; 23% of boys say the same. At the same time, girls are more likely than boys to say they get excited daily or almost daily by something they study in school (33% vs. 21%). And while similar shares of boys and girls say they feel a lot of pressure to get good grades, be involved in extracurricular activities or fit in socially, girls are more likely than boys to say they face a lot of pressure to look good (35% vs. 23%).”

A useful study, I think.


Cultural Impact

February 23, 2019

A recent study has analysed the demographics of the artists included in 18 major museums in the US, a sample that included more than 40,000 artworks.  It will probably not be an amazing surprise to learn:

“[t]hey estimate that 85 percent of artists represented in these collections are white and 87 percent are men. (This is significantly out of step with the US population at large, which is 61 percent white and 50.2 percent male, according to census data.) ” [emphasis added]

While the article makes clear there are efforts afoot in the museum world to confront this diversity gap, I have to wonder how much of this gap was caused by a general sexist/racist bias in society as a whole, and how much in turn the gap in cultural collections feed and perpetuate that same white patriarchal mythology.

Which is cause and which is feedback?

 


Looking For Love With The Oxford Comma

February 22, 2019

Image: from Reddit

I have always used the Oxford comma. Because of it, I have been abused by grammar “purists”, marked down in school, and “corrected” by copy editors all my life it seems, but still I am happy to cheer lead for it. The battle for and against the Oxford comma is deeply divisive but limited, or so I thought, to those who write a lot. No more, according to an article in GQ:

“Recently, the Oxford comma has found a spot on the Bingo card of online-dating profiles, alongside mainstays like “no hookups,” “no drama,” and “420 friendly.” Whether you’re mindlessly grazing on Tinder or Bumble, OkCupid or Match.com, you’re now as likely to learn someone’s thoughts on the Oxford comma as you are their job title or their penchant for tacos. On the Tinder subreddit, which has 1.8 million subscribers, one user lamented that the Oxford comma features in “like a quarter of bios ’round my parts.” Another said, “It’s everywhere.” Even a journal entry on Tinder’s own blog mentions it: “Honestly, I’m not sure how compatible I can be with someone who is anti-the Oxford comma.”

I sympathize with that final cri de coeur.  However, is it really so important that it can affect your love life?  According to GQ, it is a reliable class signifier:

“The blue-blood punctuation mark, named after the Oxford University Press, acts as a social signifier, a sieve for the bookish and studious (and, perhaps, pretentious). It suggests personality traits that extend far beyond punctuation preferences …  I think it suggests care. It suggests somebody who’s structured and disciplined and not a slob … Somebody who’s into detail, who likes precision. Somebody who has standards.”

Gosh. Who knew?


The Ages Of The World

February 15, 2019

I found this fascinating map at the always reliable VisualCapitalist.com:

 

The difference in the age of populations between Africa and anywhere else in the world is striking.

Select image for a closer look.   There is a lot more data in the article.

 


Reason #236 NOT To Use Facebook

February 3, 2019

From TechCrunch:

“Facebook  has been secretly paying people to install a “Facebook Research” VPN that lets the company suck in all of a user’s phone and web activity, similar to Facebook’s Onavo Protect app that Apple banned in June and that was removed in August. Facebook sidesteps the App Store and rewards teenagers and adults to download the Research app and give it root access to network traffic in what may be a violation of Apple policy so the social network can decrypt and analyze their phone activity, a TechCrunch investigation confirms …

Since 2016, Facebook has been paying users ages 13 to 35 up to $20 per month plus referral fees to sell their privacy by installing the iOS or Android “Facebook Research” app … The program is administered through beta testing services Applause, BetaBound and uTest to cloak Facebook’s involvement ,,, For kids short on cash, the payments could coerce them to sell their privacy to Facebook.”

Seven hours after this story was published, Facebook told TechCrunch it would shut down the iOS version of its Research app in the wake of the report.

 

 

Previous Reasons NOT To Use Facebook.