Saturday, August 29, 2009

Drawing a Bead on Ancient Symbolic Behavior

Why was there such a long gap between when humans started looking anatomically modern--as early as 200,000 years ago--and when they started acting behaviorally modern, which some researchers still think was not until after 50,000 years ago when a so-called "creative explosion" in Europe supposedly took place?

As I have written numerous times in articles for Science, the gap might not be as wide as once thought, as earlier evidence for symbolic behavior continues to come to light. On Science's Origins blog, I discuss a new paper on this topic, which reports the discovery of personal ornaments--a signature of modernism--at four sites in Morocco dated up to 85,000 years ago.

Photo: Ancient beads from Morocco/D'Errico and Vanhaeren

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Evening in Cappadocia

The peak on the right is Hasan Dağ, a volcano once important to the prehistoric peoples who lived in Central Anatolia for its high-quality obsidian. This shot is from the dig house of an excavation that I will not name now, as I plan to write about it soon--and don't want to give the game away. More on that soon, meanwhile enjoy the view.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Interlude in Istanbul

Greetings from Istanbul, on my way to visit the 9500 year old Neolithic (early farming) site of Çatalhöyük, which was the subject of my book "The Goddess and the Bull" (note among these photos a shop window in an Istanbul book store featuring it; four years after publication of the hardback edition it is still going strong in Turkey if not other places.)

This is my 11th trip to Turkey since the early 1990s, but my first since 2005. I had forgotten just a little what a fabulous, exciting and colorful city Istanbul is--if you have not been here, make plans now. Turkey really should be in the European Union, all they need to do is stop pulling the finger nails out of Kurdish separatists and make the taxi drivers install working seat belts in the back seats.

More soon...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Lies about National Health Service rile Brits

I've just returned from two weeks in England, and I can report that the British press is full of stories about the amazing lies being told in the United States about their health care system. The Guardian had a good piece on this subject a few days ago. A few excerpts:

As myths and half-truths circulate, British diplomats in the US are treading a delicate line in correcting falsehoods while trying to stay out of a vicious domestic dogfight over the future of American health policy.

Slickly produced television advertisements trumpet the alleged failures of the NHS's 61-year tradition of tax-funded healthcare. To the dismay of British healthcare professionals, US critics have accused the service of putting an "Orwellian" financial cap on the value on human life, of allowing elderly people to die untreated and, in one case, for driving a despairing dental patient to mend his teeth with superglue.


Last week, the most senior Republican on the Senate finance committee, Chuck Grassley, took NHS-baiting to a newly emotive level by claiming that his ailing Democratic colleague, Edward Kennedy, would be left to die untreated from a brain tumour in Britain on the grounds that he would be considered too old to deserve treatment.

"I don't know for sure," said Grassley. "But I've heard several senators say that Ted Kennedy with a brain tumour, being 77 years old as opposed to being 37 years old, if he were in England, would not be treated for his disease, because end of life – when you get to be 77, your life is considered less valuable under those systems."

The degree of misinformation is causing dismay in NHS circles. Andrew Dillon, chief executive of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), pointed out that it was utterly false that Kennedy would be left untreated in Britain: "It is neither true nor is it anything you could extrapolate from anything we've ever recommended to the NHS."

Finally, the bottom line:

Defenders of Britain's system point out that the UK spends less per head on healthcare but has a higher life expectancy than the US. The World Health Organisation ranks Britain's healthcare as 18th in the world, while the US is in 37th place. The British Medical Association said a majority of Britain's doctors have consistently supported public provision of healthcare. A spokeswoman said the association's 140,000 members were sceptical about the US approach to medicine: "Doctors and the public here are appalled that there are so many people on the US who don't have proper access to healthcare. It's something we would find very, very shocking."

The British would be the first to tell you that their health care system is not perfect, but they will also tell you that they wouldn't be without it. Unfortunately, right-wing boosters of the profit-driven U.S. health care system can often rely on the painful ignorance so many Americans show about what goes on in the rest of the world.

More on this subject. An update of the above story.

Still more. The Obama administration is increasingly showing its lack of backbone, the climb down on the public option being a particularly depressing and entirely unnecessary capitulation on something that the majority of Americans until just a matter of weeks ago when an onslaught of lies confused the more gullible amongst them. Whatever happened to fighting for something you believe in? Okay, I guess that's not for this administration, but it doesn't stop health care reform advocates from getting into high gear and organizing for what we all need.

What Obama should do--but will he? Words of wisdom on the health care situation from fellow journalist-blogger Marc Cooper. Bottom line: Get tough, not weak.

More allegations of Israeli war crimes. From Human Rights Watch, a report on the killing of unarmed Gaza civilians carrying white flags. And a rebuttal of Israeli attempts to discredit the report.

Friday, August 7, 2009

New York Times forgets the U.S. is a democracy

The Times reports today that Carolyn Maloney has decided not to challenge Kirsten Gillibrand in the Democratic primary for Hillary Clinton's former Senate seat, and goes on to declare:

Mrs. Maloney’s decision potentially clears the path for Ms. Gillibrand, who Gov. David A. Paterson picked to fill Hillary Clinton’s vacant seat in January, for the Democratic party’s nomination in the race for United States Senate next year.

"Potentially" is right, because my old friend and colleague Jonathan Tasini has already declared that his hat is also in the ring. This is not the first time that the Times has failed to mention Tasini's candidacy, and I am sure it will not be the last. Jonathan Tasini is not some sort of fringe candidate, but a Democrat with the same right to run in this primary as any other. He just happens to be a very progressive Democrat, which obviously means that his name is not fit to print.

Photo: The forgotten man, Jonathan Tasini.

Who's behind the attacks on health care reform? A roundup of the major players by the excellent McClatchy Newspapers.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A sunny day in the Lake District

The view from Brantwood House, John Ruskin's home for 28 years, looking out over Coniston Water in the English Lake District.

Photo: Michael Balter (reuse permitted only with full photographer credit.)

On a less idyllic note: Robert Scheer reprises his Truthdig post from two years ago this month, reminding us that despite all of the debating and bloviating over the past 60+ years about the morality of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, these acts were war crimes deliberately targetting civilians and would be universally recognized as such if they were repeated today.

Suppression of free expression in Venezuela. Many of my fellow leftists are ready to turn a blind eye at the laws being proposed by the Chavez government that would create a new category of "media crimes"--in other words, old-fashioned censorship and suppression of critics. Have we not all seen this kind of thing before? Human Rights Watch gives the details and calls for the repeal of these efforts.

Lies about health care reform. Washington Post business columnist Steven Pearlstein takes on the dishonest campaign against reform by right-wing activists, including, unfortunately, the claim that the government plans to put the private health insurance industry out of business. Would that it be true, because ultimately it is the only solution.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Why chimps don't have language--maybe.

On Science's Origins blog, I write about a new study that might shed new light on the differences between chimp and human brains in a region closely associated with language, Broca's area. But the jury is still out on the study's true significance. Read it at the link.

Credit: Patrick Hof.

Anger has its place. An important column in today's New York Times by Bob Herbert, who takes vehement issue with attempts to smooth over the racism that was behind the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr.