Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Irritable Heart: Increased Risk of Physical and Psychological Effects of Trauma in Civil War Veterans

The Irritable Heart: Increased Risk of Physical and Psychological Effects of Trauma in Civil War Veterans

The Irritable Heart is based on work that used American Civil War records to track mental and physical problems of veterans. Doctors of the time noticed that there was a problem experienced by veterans resulting from their traumatic experiences, they called it 'irritable heart'. Researchers led by Roxane Cohen Silver at Irvine used the federally-funded database called Early Indicators of Later Work Levels, Disease, and Death Project, which is free and available to anybody who wants to poke around in it.

This article came about because I'm trying to become a 'real' science writer. The article is based on a report in the Archives of General Psychiatry, and no I don't normally read that journal, but I do get announcements of papers to be published. That's part of being a 'science writer' (although I have to giggle nervously when I refer to myself as such, which is what I did when I said I was an 'archaeologist' so that's only fittin').

Anyway I got the announcement of this paper and wheedled Science magazine's Random Samples column editor into letting me write a piece for that, which was published last month. I ended up writing a much longer piece than was needed for Science, and wanted to publish it someplace. Of course, it's not really archaeology, so the psychology guide at About was kind enough to let me publish it on her site. And voila!

Sometimes I feel like the luckiest dame in the world.

The photograph is of wounded soldiers being tended in the field after the Battle of Chancellorsville near Fredericksburg, Va., May 2, 1863, negative number 111-B-349, and available with a raft of others at the National Archives website.

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Saturday, March 18, 2006 Books | Remembering Octavia Butler Books | Remembering Octavia Butler

Science fiction writer Karen Joy Fowler discusses Octavia Butler and her fiction in an article on Salon this week. Fowler describes several of her favorite Butler stories, and discusses what they meant to her. Part of her discussion implies (and the posted comments explicitly consider) how intimately you should know and think about the writer when reading a piece of fiction. I dunno; I'm sort of split on it. One of the reasons I bolted the study of literature as a career was because I felt there was too much emphasis on dissecting pieces of work using bits of the author's biography. In the 1970s when I was in school, we were supposed to use an author's bio to seek out meaningful references in the work--even if (maybe especially if) the author wasn't aware of the meanings. This kind of a one-upmanship of a hard-working writer creeped me out badly. So I bailed.

But on the other hand, one of the reasons I loved Octavia Butler is that she was a female African American science fiction writer (and a lesbian, although I wasn't aware of that until after her death). I thought Butler had some interesting things to say that the largely white male scifi establishment didn't (said with loving respect, however, to Arthur C. Clarke, Asimov, Bradbury and that stinker Harlan Ellison, among many others).

So, maybe there's a happy medium. We can take pleasure in an author's difference without dissecting his or her work. I vote for that; or at least I'm going to be doing that, thank you very much.

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Thursday, March 16, 2006



This is just for fun, nothing to do with archaeology whatsover, except in the broader, anthropology-linguistics, evolutionary sense of the word. Basically, it's a Flash-enabled way to play with the human face, and learn about muscle combinations.

Via Boing Boing
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Monday, March 13, 2006

The Viridian Design Movement

The Viridian Design Movement

This is the text of a very-recent speech by Bruce Sterling, science fiction writer and thoughtful kind of a guy. He introduced me (not personally, of course) to the concept of "dead media" and he always seems to have some insight into what the future might hold.

Snagged from Boing Boing.

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Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Master Plan: Himmler's Scholars and the Holocaust - a Book Review

The Master Plan: Himmler's Scholars and the Holocaust - a Book Review

I never understood the fascination with Adolph Hitler and the Holocaust. Oh sure, I've seen Schindler's List, and I've even been to a Holocaust museum or two in my time, but ... seriously, it seemed almost prurient to me to need to know what when on. But, I've read Heather Pringle's books before (she wrote The Mummy Congress), and I really admire her writing, so when her publisher wrote and asked if I wanted a review copy, I agreed. But my god! It was so hard to read this book. To have to face the fact that a segment of the scientific community in Germany was conducting research and experiments to support Hitler's gaga concept of Aryan supremacy was very hard for me. But I'm glad I did.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Death and Commemoration

This link goes to an article abstract and general yammer on a recent article in the Industrial Archaeology Review by Sarah Tarlow. Here's how my doing this came about. I have a stack of stuff to read; I'm (normally) a voracious reader, and visit my local university library once a quarter, to see what's in the journals, get some ideas for articles on my own website, and feel like I'm in the loop when it comes to archaeology around the world. Then I bring around 25 or 30 of them home, read 'em and file away all these tasty little bits of articles, mostly never to be seen again. This quarter has been rough, though; and three months later the stack is still sitting unread next to my desk. There are interesting things in there, but I get so caught up in other things to be done that I never get back. Well, fie on that! I've decided to combine both blogging and reading. And maybe somebody will benefit.

So, here is the first of the articles I went and retrieved the first of January (ack! it's nearly April), abstracted for your reading pleasure. The author Sarah Tarlow is a pal of mine, who writes some truly interesting archaeology, instilling human life into the field, which is, if you ask me, one of the real tricks in archaeology. Of course, I didn't ask her if publishing her abstract would be a good thing to do until after I'd posted, and I haven't heard from her yet, so I promise to report back here if she shrieks at me from across the big pond that segregates us.

Still. Lots of good stuff to come.

This photo, by the way, is from plumbum, and pretty cool image for a gravestone, if you ask me.

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Monday, March 06, 2006

The Geoglyphic Art of Chile's Atacama Desert

Atacama Giant, Chile, (c) 2006 Luis Briones

The Geoglyphic Art of Chile's Atacama Desert

This report with a few pictures of the geoglyphs (including the famous Atacama Giant seen in the picture) comes from an upcoming issue of Antiquity, one of my favorite journals. Antiquity is not afraid to be directed to the general public, even though its articles are primarily reports of investigations: I think that's very cool.

Anyway, Luis Briones' paper in Antiquity is a summary of thirty years of research on the geoglyphs in the Atacama Desert, some 800 kilometers south of the Nasca lines in Peru, and although the Chilean geoglyphs were started about 600 years later than Nasca, they cover a much larger area. Also unlike the Nasca lines, these glyphs are, according to Briones, part of a transportation network, sort of a combination set of sign posts and story telling for travellers in llama caravans between the big civilizations of Tiwanaku and Inca and their outlying colonies and food and commodity sources.

I'll tell ya the truth; this kind of paper is why I got into science reporting at all. It takes a (fairly) well known subject and puts a science spin on it. No need to futz with space aliens here, just a good interesting story that feeds into people's imaginations and reminds us of our humanity.

The photograph is the Atacama Giant, and comes from the article in Antiquity (c) 2006 Luis Briones and is used here with permission.

My report on Briones' paper, called The Geoglyphic Art of Chile's Atacama Desert is on my About Archaeology site.


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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Curious George and Archaeology

Curious George and Archaeology

I found this opinion piece in the Seattle Statesman complaining about the new Curious George movie, which I haven't seen (and in fact haven't read the book since I was six or so). At first my reaction was ... oh god, here we go again, somebody beating Hollywood up for going about its business and not considering the standpoint of the remarkably few and powerless (archaeologists are such an influential segment of society, don't ya know?). But, I have to admit, that if Nicgorski is right about the plot, it does seem a little off-putting that the friendly father-figure Ted is the modern equivalent of the big white hunter: a big white museum curator, maybe not into poaching animals but still acting as if the world is his playground. Not all museum curators are big white hunters of course, which is Nicgorski's point. But Hollywood takes it for granted, or seems to anyway, that that is the status quo.

Well, it's a point worth mulling anyway, that the West in general takes for granted about our ownership of the world's (cultural and natural) resources: and that such an attitude certainly gets us into a lot of trouble.


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Octavia Butler and Communication

Octavia Butler on Communication

More on Octavia Butler from MIT, where she "participated in a series of discussions on science fiction, media, and imagination". This site includes her terrific essay on why she writes (oh, dammit, wrote) science fiction, called "Devil Girl from Mars", and a discussion about science fiction among writers including Butler and Samuel R. Delany, the foremost African American male science fiction writer. The discussion is really about language or communication and what happens when language doesn't work the way we all already accept, which is a common theme in her books (and now that I think about it, one of the reasons I'm so crazy about them). What if, asks Butler, everybody could understand each other completely, via telepathy? What would really happen? and what if suddenly no one could read or write anything at all? What changes would those things wreak on society?

This site is wonderful, and just heightens the loss. I'm not sure I'll be able to go buy her latest book for a while, since it will also be her last.