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Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” – Luke 2:10-12 (NIV)

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Best abstract ever

There’s just no way to improve on this one.

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Free books!

How come nobody told me about this before now? Science fiction publisher Baen has adopted an innovative strategy to fight online piracy: they’re giving away books in electronic format. The participating authors are essentially giving out free samples of their work, in the (undoubtedly correct) belief that in the long run it will increase sales. It’s not really any different than having books available in free public libraries, and I’ve heard very few authors complain about that.

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Question for 9/11 “truthers”

If you really believe, as you claim, that your own government, or elements within your own government, secretly murdered 3,000 innocent people in order to advance some political agenda, shouldn’t you be a little more careful what you say in public? Aren’t you even a little bit concerned about what those same people are likely to do if you become an embarrassment to them? And for those of you who have been talking about this for the past ten years, excuse my bluntness but why aren’t you dead yet?

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Thought for the day

When it comes to discussions of American history, many on the left like to point out that the United States has a long, sordid history of brutal oppression, slavery, and genocide. Many on the right meanwhile claim claim that no other nation on Earth has done more than the United States has to protect human rights and human dignity. The tragic truth is that both sides are correct.

 

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On this day

October 12, 1492, Cristóbol Colón (whose birth name was Christoforo Colombo) sighted land somewhere in the Bahamas. Although Colón’s first voyage unquestionable led to a world changed beyond recognition, as a man he deserves neither the hagiographies later bestowed upon him, nor the demonization he has often received in the past few decades.

Colón never sighted the mainland of North American. And although he did eventually see bits of South and Central America, he went to his deathbed still convinced that he had discovered, not a new world, but a route to Asia. Colón was a skilled sailor, but an incompetent administrator of the colonies he established. He very clearly possessed one trait vital to any great explorer, scientist, or other investigator, past or present – the ability to convince people with money to fund his work. He was not, however, responsible for the brutality that some of those who followed his route brought upon the native populations. And, obviously, neither Colón nor anybody else of his era could have forseen the holocaust that would be wreaked by European diseases; nothing even remotely resembling our modern understanding of infection existed anywhere in the world at that time.

If Colón had never crossed the Atlantic, Europeans would still eventually have come to the Americas. The advantage of finding a route to India and China that bypassed the Genoese and Turkish, who exacted heavy tolls upon goods coming from Asia, was simply too great not to take a chance on a Western route. Colón’s singular achievement was to persuade the Spanish monarchs to fund such a trip years, perhaps even decades earlier than it might otherwise have been made. On the other hand, if the successors to the Yongle Emperor had not sided with the bureaucratic faction that opposed continuing to fund Zheng He’s treasure fleet, it is conceivable that a Chinese ship might have reached the Americas decades before Colón did. It would have been extremely unlikely, however, that any of the Ming emperors would have wanted to establish a colony in the Americas, even had they been aware of its existence.

As an archaeologist, I’m much more interested in understanding the impact that European contact had on American Indian cultures, and vice versa, than I am in either praising or condemning Cristóbol Colón. Each of the societies involved in the exchange was altered, many of them in extremely complex ways. Many cultural groups became extinct (although biologically the people who made up those groups may very well have surviving descendents that joined other groups), but many others survived and continue to evolve today. Unraveling those complex changes is a part of understanding who we are and where we came from, and might even help us to better understand how different cultures encounter each other in the modern world.

 

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Columbus Day

I have been thinking for some time that I didn’t want to let this day go by without saying something, but I’m still not sure exactly what I want to say. So I’ll wait until the actual anniversary of his arrival (October 12), and instead just say Happy Thanksgiving to any Canadians reading this.

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Dinosaur feathers

Found preserved in amber in Canada. I’m old enough to remember when dinosaurs were slow moving, cold blooded, and scaly. And their tails all dragged on the ground. At the ripe old age of six I took a book on dinosaurs to school and was annoyed to discover that my teacher could not pronounce the names properly. (Looking back, the lesson that teachers don’t know everything, and that I needed to research things myself may have been the most important thing I ever learned in school.)

Anyway, this finding is very cool.

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Advice for heroines

Especially in action or horror genres. When you’ve managed to clobber the serial killer/rapist/monster/whatever over the head and he’s laying stretched out on the floor, DO NOT SIMPLY RUN AWAY AND LEAVE HIM FOR DEAD! It only takes a moment to grab something sharp and slash his carotid artery, thus avoiding enormous difficulties later in the story. (You do carry at least a pen knife, right? A responsible adult should no more leave the house without a knife than they would without their keys.)

I’m just saying.

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Slow blog week

I’ve mostly been spending my free time catching up on my reading, both fiction and non-fiction. In the latter category, I’m being slowed by the fact that every time I finish a chapter in the Handbook of North American Indians, I want to go back and read the more detailed ethnographic sources cited therein. Fortunately (or possibly unfortunately) many of them are available online. As a result, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the company of A.L. Kroeber, Anna Gayton, Edward Gifford, and even Stephen Powers.

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