I spent two weeks in Wilmington, NC to work on an article from our Family and the Field Study with Michaela Howells. Our data look fascinating. It’s not so much remarkable as confirmatory and solid. We surveyed over 1000 anthropology graduate students and professionals about the influence of anthropology on their family planning and family dynamics on their anthropology careers. Given that we are both first-generation college students, I think we personally were a little stunned at the percent of our peers who come from educated families and were literally socialized for being academics. We will write a whole lot more about this in the future, but it makes clear why anthropology is so lacking in diversity despite being a discipline that studies diversity.
Our friend & colleague Carolyn Jost Robinson hooked us up with a writing retreat at her house near the beach while she was in Indiana on her own writing retreat.
In exchange, we gave her transgender cat antibiotic shots every day & intravenous saline every other day. (Photo by Michaela Howells)
I’m currently listening to Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, about his life growing up under apartheid, and he repeatedly makes a great point about the responsibility of privilege. It’s not enough to teach a person to fish, you must buy him/her a pole. It’s not charity because the person still has to do the work to fish. But knowledge without the resources to get started or support along the way isn’t enough.
Photo by Carolyn Jost Robinson
The other main purpose was to give an invited talk to promote my new book. I worked up a talk from my chapter on tattooing called “Tattoos, Taboo, and Tradition: Signals of Health and Commitment from Warriors to Wide Receivers.” The turnout was great. I met with the Anthropology Club for a Coffee Chat for a few hours. The talk was advertised on NPR that morning and was very well attended, with several students coming over from Cape Fear Community College. Afterward, I was treated to some mofongo at a local Puerto Rican restaurant by Michaela, Carolyn, and Bill Alexander.
I may or may not have stotted like a Thomsen’s gazelle. What does that have to do with tattooing? I am giving a version of this talk in a few weeks at Binghamton University–you will have to attend and find out. (Photo by Michaela Howells)
In between, Michaela and her husband James Loudon showed me a good time. We went to a fundraiser for Carolyn’s rowing club at a local bar.
James, me, Carolyn, Michaela at Waterline Brewery (Photo by Michaela Howells)
At the fundraiser, I won a prize for getting the baby in a slice of king cake. It was a massage from a local place that I gave to my hosts (though after lugging all my bags on this trip, my shoulders could use some professional kneading and beating).
I also won a cool Salvador Dali book in the raffle. The book was so big I had to leave it to be mailed. Go me.
Michaela gave a public talk at a vintage store in town about Suffragettes and fashion that was very cool.
Michaela giving talk “Fashion as Political Resistance: Defiant Fashion, Defiant Women” at Second Skin Vintage, 3/7/17.
Before her lecture, we went across the street to Beale Street Barber Shop, where I got a haircut, and Michaela treated me to an old-fashioned straight razor shave. I liked the pampering, and the barber-proprietor was very cool–he was an old NYC punk rock guy so we had a lot of common ground to chat about. However, the straight razor cut was like shaving with a dull blade and hurt like a mother by the 3rd go-around. Apparently, I have a tough beard, so he had to go over it several times.
And I tagged along with Michaela and James on their daily trips to the beach to walk with their dog Uli, as well as a spring break day trip to Myrtle Beach to take in gaudy trappings of that tourist hellhole. Apparently, during one of its socioeconomic lulls, there were stripper joints every few steps, but those were shut down and replaced by pancake houses. Yes, pancake houses. Ikr? So we went for some seriously decadent flapjacks at a place that may or may not have been a stripper joint. I have no idea. I had chicken and waffles, with a side of fried eggs and homemade corned beef hash.
The place advertised the hell out of having a chef who was trained at the Culinary Institute of America, which is in Poughkeepsie, where I used to live. I think CIA needs to monitor who uses its good name in vain like that. It wasn’t terrible, but it was not particularly innovative or anything. I was most impressed with the awareness raising about autism. Apparently the chef’s child has autism, according to our waitress. Waffles with a side of social consciousness? Autism and pancakes? Kinda weird but fitting.
There was also some serious cruising in what I was told are “lifted” cars. Lifted lowriders? I don’t know. I was taking tourist photos of the Starbucks frappacino-mobile for my WTF? file along with others, and they said the cars were “lifted.”
We had best intentions of going to Ripley’s Believe it or Not and playing mini-golf at one of the totally decked out theme places, but walked up and down the boardwalk, went to the Gay Dolphin to shop (shit hole with a bunch of junk, but I got a good magnet about Jesus that says Gay Dolphin, so there’s that), then got tired.
I’m wrapping up a 24 hour layover in Istanbul and on my way to Madagascar now. Turkish Airlines do things right, I have to say. Cramped flight but free movies and good food. They put me up in a hotel in Fatih, which is a historic quarter and came with free breakfast. So after a 10 hour flight to Istanbul, I ate enough to tide me over for 12 hours, slept for 6 hours, walked the streets looking at mosques for 3 hours, took another nap, got a shower, and caught up on messaging family.
Don’t read too much into this. I simply like this juxtaposition of feminity in the hotel lobby while I waited for the airport shuttle.
“Grand adventure calls and tugs on my heartstrings.”
I didn’t say this, but it’s a good start to this post. It’s what my friend Michaela depicted me as saying to my son Lux as he left the house this morning. I am leaving for a month-long trip that includes a few weeks in Madagascar and was sitting at the window watching his brothers at the bus stop and he was kissing me goodbye.
“Do you watch us get on the bus every day?” he asked me.
I don’t, but I wish I watched them more. I also wish I’d got a photo of them getting on the bus today to alleviate my anxiety and the tugging on my heartstrings. You’d think I’d never traveled or been away from my family before, but for some reason this trip has me more anxious about being away from the kids than usual. The world is a mess, and anxieties are looking for anchorage on things I can’t control (or, in Malinowski-ish, I am leaving the lagoon to fish in the open sea)?
Instead, I got a photo of this, which was on my door after taking Gallifrey for the last walk I’ll be giving him for a month.
Nothing like starting off a month away from home and traveling abroad like a notice from the sheriff about a civil matter. Oh, student loan debt (gulp, I hope?), thank you for that reminder that I still haven’t escaped you, despite feeling like I’m living my anthropological dream.
Before that, however, and after mooning over my children and weirding them out, I slipped back into the perennial dilemma of which of these items that I don’t need could fit in the last remaining crevice of my new suitcase, purchased specifically for this trip since the last one was about to burst and which is now in jeopardy of following its predecessor to rupturing on the luggage carousel.
I couldn’t decide which pair of shoes to leave behind, and I needed to find a spot for this giant fuzzy dog pillow. (Note: Using the expand zipper option on your new suitcase to stuff a husky in will put you over the luggage weight limit. You’ll have to pay an extra $100 or remove one husky or two sports coats or pairs of jeans. Damn. However, Gallifrey apparently is on a group text with these friends, who are waiting for me on the other side, courtesy their humans, Michaela Howells, James Loudon, and Carolyn Jost Robinson.)
Logistic support is also important. Part of what has me so anxious is lining everything up for my family at home while lining everything up for me for a 2-stage trip. As banal as it is, getting to the airport in Birmingham from Tuscaloosa has been a giant pain in the ass for the entire 7 years we’ve been here until now. We finally have a dependable and affordable shuttle service. Scuttleshuttle.com apparently started last August, but I just found out about them in February when I was juggling pickups for 1700 people for the SEEPS 2017 conference. This is no small thing. They have a good website for booking that is easy to use. Their vans are conveniently located with free park and ride. The vans are nice and new and have free wifi! The drivers are drug and alcohol tested (which I wasn’t really thinking about, but OK) and well paid, so they’re not allowed to accept tips. I chatted up a storm and the time flew by instead of stressing if I was going to have enough time to get the shuttle from the cheap Ramada lot to my plane in time. Booking on the shuttle also forced me onto their schedule, leaving earlier, so I don’t put myself in the position of running late. Of course there is now this 2 hours of sitting in the airport…
So, anyway, DAY ONE: First stop, University of North Carolina Wilmington to get some writing done with Michaela on our “Family and the Field Study,” an invited lecture about tattooing and evolution at UNCW, then off to Madagascar to meet with the director, teachers, and students at Eagles Wings Montessori School and talk about our collaborative program potential.
EvoS Consortium to become subsidiary of This View of Life!
In an effort to optimize forces in our work designed to advance evolution’s place in the modern world, the EvoS Consortium is formally joining forces with – and becoming a subsidiary of – This View of Life (TVOL). TVOL, which is currently engaged in a massive fundraising effort (you can help the cause HERE!), has been a widely successful online initiative, largely designed by David Sloan Wilson, to advance our understanding of the world within an evolution-based framework.
The EvoS Consortium and TVOL have heretofore run as parallel entities. We are excited to announce this intellectual merger which we believe will strongly advance the goals of both entities. Note that a formal letter from David Sloan Wilson and Glenn Geher, demarcating the rationale for this change and the nature of what we can expect, is found here.
We hope that members and followers of EvoS will take advantage of this improvement in our offerings and will continue to work collaboratively as we work to advance an evolutionarily informed understanding of the world and of our place in it.
Contrary to the sense of things at the end with the triumph of he-who-shall-not-be-named and the demise of so many beloved friends and celebrities, 2016 was actually a banner friggin’ year for some of us personally, as I began addressing in Part 1 of this post.
Then I joined Michaela Howells in American Samoa to conduct research on Zika and prenatal care access and utilization. I wrote about parts of it in recent blog posts for Anthropology News and a longer version on the Bama Anthro Blog Network. American Samoa is gorgeous and fascinating, and I took many many photos, scenic in some cases and interesting only to us in others. I posted some of the more generally notable ones in a Flickr album here and shared a few highlight below.
Oldest church in American Samoa (obviously renovated), which is in the village of Leone.
Michaela lived in American Samoa for 2 years while collecting data for her dissertation and knows Tutuila well. We were casing the western extreme for villages to potentially include in future research, and she was showing me the sights, including the oldest church in American Samoa, located in Leone.
Watching the sun set in the village of Taputima, American Samoa, July 2016.
On the way back, we stopped in Taputima, where she first lived during her two years there, to watch the sunset.
A surf board peeking over a wall near the village of Lauli’i, American Samoa, July 2016.
Another weekend, we went toward the eastern end.
Michaela Howells conducting interviews in the Office of Historic Preservation, American Samoa.
We spent the weekdays collecting data in the Department of Health and worked closely with anthropologist David Herdrich, Director of the American Samoa Historic Preservation Office, but on the weekends we made the most of being in the South Pacific.
Michaela Howells and David Herdrich, viewed from inside a pillbox next to Pago Pago International Airport.
We went with David to snorkel the coral next to Pago Pago International Airport.
View from atop Mount Alava, Tutuila, American Samoa.
And hiked up Mount Alava in the mist (and walked back in the dark).
August is a celebration of Lynn. My birthday is August 6th (I would like an Apple watch), my boys are the 8th, and my wife Loretta is the 19th. I “surprised” my wife Loretta with a gathering at Grace Aberdean Habitat Alchemy. I actually had to tell her about it for logistic reasons, but then she pretended she didn’t know to preserve the experience.
Loretta in her new cowboy boots at her “surprise” birthday gathering at Grace Aberdean Habitat Alchemy, August 2016.
In the meantime, I was pounding out grant proposals. This is tenure. I work even harder. Go figure.
Submitted TWO NSF proposals today (one w/ Michaela Howells–yes, we rock), got Gdog microchipped, & now off to get my broken replacement for a broken phone replaced. Whew! #fullfreakingday
No luck with the Greece proposal, but we are still awaiting word on the Samoa project. Fingers crossed!
HBERG was amazing this semester. We had more students than ever before & we super productive. In August, Greg Batchelder visited from the field. (Photo by Greg Batchelder)
HBERG was great this past fall. I had more students than ever before, including grad students Max Stein, Nick Roy, Monika Wanis, Greg Batchelder, Ashley Stewart, Juliann Friel, and Diana Simpson. I’m really thankful for the assistance they all provide to keep everything running smoothly and make us all look good. Max, Nick, and Monika ran things in HBERG, Greg provided inspiration and visited from Costa Rica, Ashley ran the “Anthropology is Elemental” service-learning course and outreach, and Juliann and Diana did a great job TAing “Introduction to Biological Anthropology” for me.
I emceed the annual Anthropology Department potlatch wearing my ie fataga & an Alabama Hawaiian shirt. Juliann Friel gifted my new grad student Nick Roy a framed photo of me to stare awkwardly at him throughout the year. Photo by Loretta Lynn.
I emceed the annual Anthropology Department potlatch for the second time. I was really excited to get a chance to wear my ie fataga and kukui beads from Samoa and to score an Alabama Hawaiian shirt from my friend Shelly Rosenzweig (I swear I plan to bring it back to you, Shelly. It’s hanging in my dining room waiting to be returned, but I like it so much, I keep “forgetting”). My 2nd year master’s student Juliann Friel introduced a ritual item for my students to circulate by giving Nick Roy a framed photo of me to stare at him all year. We’ll see if it makes it to next year or if Nick breaks and burns it in effigy!
In September, Michaela came to UA and gave a guest lecture for my primatology class, an Extemporaneous Talk for the UA Department of Anthropology.
Michaela tells my class the classic story of a macaque biting her in the ass, whereupon her asswound had to be appraised by Agustin Fuentes & future husband James Loudon.
Then we drove to Atlanta to meet with some colleagues at Emory and the CDC to consult on our Samoa research.
We stopped to hamsteak it up outside the Waffle House Museum in Atlanta. Yes, a Waffle House Museum. No, I don’t know why.
In October, Katie Smith, who is another member of our virtual writing group, came up from Southern Miss to give a guest lecture for my primatology class on zoo primatology.
I went to the Mid-Atlantic Bioanthropology Interest Group (MABIG) in Richmond, VA for the first time this year. It’s run by my new good friend Amy Rector, who I met via Michaela at SEEPS. As with any good conference, I walked away working on a new collaboration. Amy and I are working on a paper with Mandy Guitar about the benefits and approach to hosting conferences about evolution.
Amy Rector (blurred because of her frenetic energy) with her students (standing) and Michaela Howells at MABIG 2016, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, October 2016.
I’d started taking the free ballroom dance lessons through the Crimson Tide Ballroom Dancers in Tuscaloosa, so, while we were in Richmond, Michaela introduced me to swing dancing after MABIG by taking me to Jammin’ on the James. Below is a video segment clip of a “Jick and Jall” competition (“Jack and Jill” but gender blended) that took place while we were there. You can see us sitting off to the side on the right watching. I loved it so much, I promptly came back in time for the CTBD swing lesson then practiced my triple-step so much I ended up with extensor tendonitis. I’m still trying to heal up.
The next week, I took my biological anthropology and primatology students on our regular field trip to Birmingham Zoo.
Students from “Introduction to Biological Anthropology” and “Non-Human Primates” in front of the gibbon enclosure at Birmingham Zoo, October 2016.
This field trip is usually a highlight of the classes. Students have often not been to a zoo since they were a little kids and never had the opportunity to appreciate it with the perspective of someone educated about what they seeing.
This langur reminded me of something…I couldnt quite put my finger on it…
My favorite holiday is also in October. I wish Halloween had a longer season, like Christmas. I love decorating the house. Halloween decorations should not be purchased. We go totally Southern gothic with whatever junk we find in the garage.
Our front porch for Halloween, October 2016.
And good costumes take time. But, in all fairness, we were pretty busy. The weekend before Bailey performed as part of the 2016 Honors String Festival for the Alabama String Teachers Association. We took him to Birmingham for three days to work with a guest conductor, learn several pieces, then perform on Sunday. I really enjoyed driving him up there with the other kids, seeing them apply these amazing skills they’ve developed, and do this elaborate, sophisticated, culture thing. I am so proud.
Bailey playing standup bass at the 2016 ASTA Honors Strings Festival in Birmingham, AL.
This year Halloween was a bit of bummer because we didn’t have time to get our costumes together until the last minute and just winged stuff at the costume store for the most part. I pulled mine together from my closet in 15 minutes. It turned out okay since we didn’t have any parties to go to, but any occasion to wear a costume is one to be savored.
Halloween 2016: me, Lor, Jagger, Bailey, Lux, and friends Gus and Ry.
HBERGers Monika Wanis, Isabella Rivera, and Ciarra Van Wagenen collecting saliva samples for our BREST study.
For the past year, we’ve been trying to get our Belongingness and Religious Ecology Study Tuscaloosa (BREST) off the ground. The hold-up has been time to follow through with the bureaucracy. I’ll save the details for another blog post, but it’s a study I’m really excited about and moves our research in a seriously groundbreaking direction. At least I think so. And I love cool research that breaks ground and gets us lots of press. I am a media whore. No denying it.
Speaking of which, I was super-stoked that the print version of the American Journal of Human Biology with our article from March came out because they put a photo of mine on the cover!
Students in “Non-Human Primates” must come up with activities to help us remember their lessons, and I like to set a good example and participate. This one was about gorillas, knuckle-walking, and, apparently, carrying carrots in my mouth. (Photo by Sierra Lawson)
During the last week of class, students in my primatology class did their last “Primate Biographies” on gorillas. It was really excellent, and I always like to set a good example by being the first to participate and loosen everyone up. Here I am knuckle-walking and carrying food to my friends.
In December, classes ended, and my sabbatical officially started. That doesn’t mean I stopped working, just no more teaching until next fall. Indeed, I submitted a grant proposal as soon as I finished grading, then finished the spring 2016 Anthropology Department newsletter, then finished the 2015-16 Department assessment (these latter two I was a little late on). Then I blogged about my sabbatical plans. http://evostudies.org/2016/12/sabbatical-is-here/
I started one more blog post for the end of the year but didn’t get very far. I realize I sometimes think in blog posts. As I Christmas shopped for my family, I took photos of things I wanted to blog about and was composing in my mind. Needless to say, that’s as far as it got. So I will suffice with a few parting photos for the year.
Inspired by Cara Ocobock, I made this awesome Yule log cake. (Photo by Donna Eis)
I went to Midnight Mass at Mount Carmel with Uncle Ernie, 12/25/16.
As Jessica Muzzo points out, this is the most hipster score for Christmas. So psyched to play with it! (Photo by Loretta Lynn)
Mark Eis & I went on our annual winter hike. This year to Illinois Mountain in Highland, NY.
We went on our annual ice skating excursion at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center on New Year’s Eve. (Photo by Loretta Lynn)
And then, of course, the Tide rolled over another team to put themselves in the championship game.
It was a wonderful year in which only one (really really) bad thing happened. It does seem to have wiped out many good things, but I refuse to give it that much power. Consistent with that, I anticipate 2017 to be fucking amazing.
Though the end of 2016 was miserable, most of the year was awesome, and it’s important that we have a little perspective. At my house, we have a dinner ritual called “Good Thing/Bad Thing” or GTBT. We each take turns saying one good thing that happened during the day and one bad thing. Each person only gets one of each at each turn, no one can comment on anyone else’s GTBT, and a bad thing can’t be directed at complaining about someone else at the table. It’s allowed to have good things without bad things but not vice versa. The point of the activity is to avoid the family trap of just bitching about people and things. So I’m going to make sure I end the year by highlighting stuff that happened and that I have at least as many good things to report as bad things. Frankly, I think more good stuff happened. Most of the bad stuff is piddly, embarrassing, and nothing I really want to be sharing with you people. No offense.
What the heck happened in January? I’m drawing a total blank. I went almost a year between blog posts this year, so I’ve lost track of many things. Fortunately, I started using Google Photos to back up photos from all my devices around then, so I can relive the year through photos.
Actually, I’ll start in December. The ALLELE series hosted my good friend and co-author Dr. Becky Burch for a talk on “The Chemistry of Semen.” Becky and I came out of the same lab at the University of Albany, and her research on semen is amazing. In particular, I like the feminist perspective she brings to the research to give it, in my opinion, credibility within the very fraught field of evolutionary psychology.
Me my good friend writing group partner Cara Ocobock at AAPA.
And newer friends who I see almost every week online (in the Human Biology Writing Group we started after an HBA meeting in 2012) but only a few times a year in person. My friend Cara was cagey around my UAlbany friends and adviser because she was up for a job there and later got hired. She’s now right next door to Larry, and her lab is right across the hall for my old TA office.
At the AAPA meeting in Atlanta with Twitter (& now real life) friends (clockwise from front-center) Caitlin Schrein, Alexander Georgiev, Marc Kissel, Austin Lawrence, me, Julienne Rutherford. (Photo by Caitlin Schrein)
And friends I initially met blogging and on Twitter but who I now look forward to reconnecting with in person at the meetings.
Lee Berger gifts Alabama Natural History Museum Bill Bomar a Homo naledi cast at his ALLELE/ANHM co-sponsored talk.
Since we knew world famous paleoanthropologist Lee Berger was in country to give a big series of talks at the AAPA meeting, we invited him to UA to give a special extra ALLELE lecture organized and hosted by the Alabama Natural History Museum. And when I say “we,” I mean Bill Bomar, Museum Director, who was in the anthropology club at Georgia Southern as an undergrad! I keep telling students to get involved and the connections they make now will pay off down the road. Mm hmm.
One of my favorite class activities in “Evolution for Everyone” is when friend artist Charlotte Wegryznowski gives a guest lecture teachers naturalist drawing.
Since I’m on sabbatical this spring, I won’t be teaching “Evolution for Everyone” for a few years. But for the past few years, I’ve had Charlotte Wegryznowski teach a lecture on naturalist drawing, which is the highlight for me. I love and miss drawing regularly.
I was so busy doing other writing that 2016 was my worst blogging year in a while. That was a shame because it was also my most active year, personally and professionally. At the end of the spring semester, we did some family things, like go to the African Village in America. It’s a self-styled museum, created by an eccentric in Birmingham in his yard and other properties that he owns on his street. We weren’t able to go in, but we walked around the amazing property and talked to neighbors. They weren’t so stoked on it. It’s quite the roadside attraction.
For Mothers Day, we visited the eccentric African Village in America In Birmingham, AL.
In May, I spent an amazing week in Thessaloniki, Greece with the Alabama-Greece Initiative. This was really the beginning of living the anthropology career I’ve dreamed about.
Great memories from Thessaloniki — with Tatiana Summers, Associate Dean Luoheng Han, Vaia Touna and Dean Robert Olin in Thessaloníki, Greece. (Photo by Luoheng Han).
I have to thank my Dean and Associate Deans of Arts and Sciences for the support they give our programs and opportunities they create.
The nearby market during a week in Thessoloniki, Greece with the UA-Greece Initiative, May 2016.
The Greece Initiative is a collaboration with Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTh), where we got a fantastic tour of the Greek statuary archives in the Anthropology Department.
A great statuette of Athena from the teaching archives of the Anthropology Department in the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece.
AUTh also has some amazing hominid skulls found in the region that we were shown in the Geology Department. The Petralona Skull is a 160-200,000 year old that has been classified variously as Homo heidelbergensis, Homo erectus, and Homo sapiens neanderthalensis.
We got to see the real Petralona skull (160-200kyo) in the Geology Dept in Aristotle University.
Yellowstone Park, Mount Rushmore, Badlands, Little Bighorn
My parents took us on an amazing family vacation in June. We packed up into a van together (7 people, 2 chihuahuas, 1 husky) and went to the Badlands, Little Bighorn, Mount Rushmore, Bozeman, and Yellowstone Park. I stuck a bunch of photos in this Flickr album but below are a few highlights.
Why do they call them The Badlands, you ask? Behold. Yet majestic.
U.S. soldier grave markers pepper Little Bighorn National Monument.
Jagger and I at Mount Rushmore.
We spent a few days in Bozeman, MT, which is just lovely. Very arty, lovely, and, um, well, white. And I don’t mean all the snow, since it was summer, which makes it a little painful to like. But there you have it.
Gallifrey surveying the dog park in Bozeman, MT.
The dog park was so big I couldn’t let poor Gallifrey off the leash anyway (have you ever tried to catch a husky who doesn’t want to be caught? he thinks you’re just playing rough).
The dinosaur fossils at Museum of the Rockies are an evolutionist (& kid) dream.
In this cage we have the cerebral paleontologist in an enriched habitat — at Museum of the Rockies.
My parents rented a cabin in Pray, MT, from which we ventured out to go fly fishing and into Yellowstone Park.
View from our cabin in Pray, MT.
Yellowstone Park is truly spectacular. It blew my mind. Now I understand why it was the world’s first national park and why the U.S. government saw fit to preserves thousands of acres in an era characterized by manifest destiny, settlement, and development.
Being out of the car having a big guy look right at is definitely a little intimidating.
It is, as expected, the most touristy park I’ve ever been in—has its own towns!—and simultaneously the wildest. And we barely scratched the surface. We definitely need to go back for more.
2016 was so action-packed that I can’t fit it all in one pithy blog post. 2016 did not suck. Some aspects of it were awful. Truly awful. But others were wonderful.
Happy New Year to everyone. Buck up. Time to rock 2017. After I finish “Part 2.”
Have I started relaxing yet? Everyone asks me this. Do y’all not know me? We just arrived at my in-laws for the holiday, & I’m already thinking about how to fill my days. I don’t relax well. But I am excited.
TATTOOING AND IMMUNE RESPONSE IN AMERICAN SAMOA Abstract: The proposed study tests the hypothesis that tattooing may provide an inoculation effect, priming the immune system and preparing it for pathogenic exposures. I propose to test this inoculation hypothesis of tattooing in American Samoa, which has an extensive tattooing history and high infectious but low immune-related disease rates. Tattooing has been practiced across the world as a rite of passage that supposedly protects the body. However, there are few studies of the mechanisms by which this may work. The proposed study is important in exploring how a cultural practice that seems counterintuitive to promoting health may be protective and has implications for prevention and treatment of autoimmune disease.
We’d like to get down to Tisa’s Tattoo Festival to collect data when people are getting traditional tattoos by master tattooists like this:
After submitting the grant proposal, I jumped in the van and drove the family up to the Hudson Valley, where my EvoS career began, for our annual visit to my in-laws. Speaking of which, a few years ago I came back and gave this talk, which is the subject of the book I’ll be writing on this sabbatical:
In March, I’m hoping to “swing thru the U.K.” (because that’s what you do on sabbatical—swing thru foreign countries, #likeaboss) and look into setting up an EvoS study abroad program in affiliation with the UA in Oxford program. Check out the course on Charles Darwin and Jack the Ripper our very own Erik Peterson (who is heading up our “Evolution for Everyone” course this coming spring) is teaching next summer!
Either before leaving or upon returning, I hope to be giving a few talks at UNCW to promote the new Evolution Education in the American South book. Then Michaela Howells and I hope to be giving a talk at Georgia Southern about our study of the influence of Zika on prenatal care access and utilization in American Samoa (thanks to Jessica Carew Kraft for writing “Cultural Factors Complicate Zika Prevention in American Samoa” for NBCNews.com about our work there). In late March or early April, I’ll also be going to my alma mater, the University at Albany, and to UConn and Binghamton University to give talks on the Evolution Education in the American South volume.
In April, I’m involved with several presentations at the Human Biology Association and American Association of Physical Anthropologists annual conferences in NOLA. Michaela and I will present on the Zika study at the HBA, then (cross-fingers, because these are as yet unconfirmed) I hope to be giving a talk on religious commitment signaling for an Invited Joint AAPA/HBA session on signaling theory organized by Michael Muehlenbein. We should have a host of HBERGers representin’ with talks and posters as well!
HBERGers collecting their own saliva samples to learn the protocol for our BREST study.
Afterward, if my wife has not divorced me yet for doing so much traveling while she takes care of the kids, I’ll head down to Costa Rica to visit my PhD student Greg Batchelder in the field, give him some support, check out his life with the Bribri (which Greg has been blogging about a lot here), and try to set up another wing of our Anthropology is Elemental outreach.
Finally, though it’s technically after sabbatical, I plan to get back to American Samoa with Michaela in July to collect data for our tattoo and Zika/prenatal care projects.
American Samoa is a hard place to work, but we endure.
This holiday season I’m putting a concerted into being more social. I spend a fair amount of time thinking about the irony of teaching about the human social imperative and the struggle many of us have to be social. I know a lot of other anthropologists who have similar issues, in which we are seen as being very socially inclined but must practice it as an art, indeed, one that we spend our careers studying. Socializing generally makes me feel better about myself and overall lighter and more fulfilled, yet my perpetual tendency is to withdraw. Sometimes withdrawing is a relief, when I need to gather myself, but it also often feel like hiding a rotting. The winter holidays are a particularly difficult time, which I used to attribute to the weather, though I’m not sure that is valid anymore, since it’s generally fairly warm in the South, where I live now.
My cousin Chelsa and her family stopped by my sister’s house for a visit and some Thanksgiving dinner, 11/24/16.
Validating my effort, I feel really good about the time I got to spend with family and friends over the Thanksgiving holiday. We drove to Indiana the day before Thanksgiving, in time for my kids to make pies with my mom. I was pleased we made it there in plenty of time for that. My sister and mother did great jobs on Thanksgiving dinner, and my sister impressed us again by toughing it through cooking and serving with a medical malady that had her in for emergency dental surgery the day after (last year was a kidney stone in the ER in the middle of the night but back home in time to finish the turkey). And it was great to to see my cousin Chelsa and her family for a few hours on Thanksgiving day as they made the family rounds.
With my cousin, Chelsa Lynn-Echols, visiting Granny Sue in the nursing home, Knightsville, IN, 11/25/16.
On Friday, we went to see my grandmother in the nursing home down near Brazil, IN. Chelsa rode down in the car with me, my wife, and kids. Chelsa is 12 years younger than me, and, until her father died a few years ago, I hadn’t seen much of her in many many years. It has been good to reconnect with her these past few Thanksgivings, but this was the longest conversation we had ever had. We talked about our fathers (who were brothers) and the different perspectives we had on many of the same stories of our childhoods. It was really really great, and I’m so pleased to have had the opportunity to learn how much I like my cousin and enjoy hanging out with her. Our grandmother has Alzheimer’s, and we have very different relationships with her, which was also interesting and something I had never spent any time thinking about.
Chelsa hitting the bag at SRG Boxing N Personal Training, 11/26/16.
Chelsa is a personal trainer, so I invited myself along to her workout on Saturday, which was near my parents’ house, then got her to show me some workouts I could do to rehab my body after my foot surgery last year threw my gait off.
Chelsa and the badass women she works out with at SRG, 11/26/16.
I just like this photo a lot. SRG, 11/26/16.
I spent the afternoon watching the Ohio State v. Michigan game, then the first half of the Iron Bowl with my dad before heading over to see my friend, Elizabeth Rowe. Of course, Alabama scored both winning touchdowns in the 3rd quarter while I was in the car, so I effectively missed the best part of the stupid game. But it was great to see Elizabeth and meet her boyfriend John. Elizabeth is one of the original members of the Human Biology Writing Group I am part of (started as well with Michaela Howells and Hannah Wilson and currently comprising me, Michaela, Cara Ocobock, Marc Kissel, and Katie Smith). We met at a workshop for early career scientists to improve our writing productivity at a Human Biology Association in 2012 in Knoxville, TN. Elizabeth has been living in my hometown for a few years, but this is the first holiday I’ve managed to get together with her, and I’m so happy I did. John made some yummy pizza, and we sat in the kitchen eating and talking and, before I knew it, 3 or 4 hours had passed. I can’t wait to do it again and bring them to my parents house or go out on the town with our whole families.
With Elizabeth Rowe and John Herbert in their kitchen, Brownsburg, IN, 11/26/16.
Holiday socializing, mission accomplished. And satisfying that biological imperative does feel better. Huh.
Socializing with this guy comes easy. He’s weird at my parents though and doesn’t like to come in from the garage. He finally came in though and sat tentatively here by the couch, looking cute. He has fuzzy kitty paws, doesn’t he? (Gallifrey, 11/23/16)
A few years ago, I’d all but decided I wasn’t going to go to the American Anthropological Association main conference anymore. This was the year it was in San Francisco (111th Annual Meeting, 2012). Ironically, that was a memorable conference. I had several good meals in the Vietnamese neighborhood nearby (it was hosted in the Tenderloin—mm, bahn mis), was part of a great neuroanthropology session convened by Daniel Lende and Greg Downey (and out of which, ultimately, a publication about my lab’s teaching model came out in Anthropology Now), met Sonya Pritzker, who we ultimately wooed to Alabama to become a faculty member in my department, and spent at least two whole days walking around and exploring San Francisco with Max Stein and my best friend from graduate school, Courtney Kurlanska (Courtney likes to remind me about how it appeared that I was courteously pulling her out of the rain when in fact I was pulling her into a spot where I could see the a football game across a street through a sports bar window in which a bizarre set of losses actually led to Alabama getting back into the BCS Championship game to beat LSU).
Among the joys of anthropology, traveling, & conferencing is food, natch. Dinner at The Bachelor Farmer, Mpls, MN. Photo by Michaela Howells.
My main complaint was that there were not enough biocultural anthropology talks or sessions or things where I obviously felt like I fit in. What I failed to recognize was that I was already doing the things these conferences are really for—building my network. But then the next year in Chicago, there were several big biocultural sessions that I felt spoke to me, and Katie MacKinnon, Julienne Rutherford, Robin Nelson, and others reached out to me as a fellow Tweeter and blogger and made me feel welcome. I realized I’d found my people, and things clicked. I’m now going the other direction and trying to get MORE involved in the organization to promote the need for the AAA to better represent four-fieldness, and I feel like part of a cohort of others doing the same.
AAA 2016 Roomies: Marc Kissel, Michaela Howells, Chris Lynn. Photo by Michaela Howells.
This year, the meeting was held in Minneapolis, MN, and I attended Wednesday, 11/16 through Sunday, 11/20. I shared a room with Michaela Howells and Marc Kissel, who are on the executive committee for the Biological Anthropology Section (BAS) of the AAA. So I tagged along with them to as many events as possible and tried to insinuate myself. Agustin Fuentes has been chosen as chair of next year’s AAA meeting and determined the theme to be “Anthropology Matters” and hosted a get-together in his suite to gather ideas. I think anthropologists have often felt embattled, but for the past 8 years, we have had a U.S. president whose mother was an anthropologist (I shared a bit on this a few weeks ago). I felt the anthropological perspective was implicit in Obama’s worldview and approach to politics and leadership. However, that has changed dramatically (and painfully), and there is urgency to explicitly demonstrate our relevance. The world does need us, and we need to articulate why.
In the Anthropology Dept at the University of Alabama, Lynn Funkhouser and I have developed a fantastic elementary (and middle) school outreach program at Alabama that conveys why anthropology matters. The opportunity to convey an anthropological perspective and influence humans to think about and appreciate diversity is most salient when they are young, before they self-select (in part) for their post-secondary lives. We rarely reach these kids, so most anthropological perspective is taught to largely upper middle-class white kids who go to college and chose to take anthropology courses (and the same is true of evolution courses, since this blog is about evolution—though evolution is one of the foundational theories of anthropology, so when I talk about anthropology, I imply evolution as well). Lynn and I and our students and colleagues have developed a model for teaching anthropology to elementary school students that we administer through a service-learning course to a few local schools, which we’ve received Wenner Gren funding to expand and just published an article about in Annals of Anthropological Practice.
BASAA executive committee dinner that I was allowed to tag along to (thanks, Michaela!). Clockwise from left: Marc Kissel (not pictured—sorry, I couldn’t back up enough & clipped you), Rachel Caspari, Milford Wolfpoff, Cathy Willermet, Sang-Hee Lee, Jim McKenna, Andrea Eller, Joanne Mack, Melanie Beasley, Karen Rosenberg, Agustin Fuentes, Michaela Howells. Dinner at 102 Eatery.
I was pleased to be able to share our ideas for next year’s conference and to have them so well received. The next day, these ideas came up at an executive lunch and then again at the business meeting, which was open to all members. Agustin, Michaela, and Marc urged me to share our programs ideas in more detail with the entire BAS membership in attendance, which, again, was well received (and also includes the upcoming Kids Evolutionary Perspectives Society pre-conference!). I talked to BAS president Rachel Caspari and BAS web manager Andrea Eller about it in more detail during the reception and to others about coordinating an executive session (contact us if you’re interested or have ideas!). Afterward, I was lucky to be invited to join the executive committee for dinner afterward and discuss these things further, as well as catch up on shared interests and hear several fantastic war stories from Milford Wolfpoff, Jim McKenna, Karen Rosenberg, Agustin, Michaela, and others (Sang-Hee Lee took several good photos that she posted to the BASAA Facebook group, which I encourage y’all to join).
On Wednesday, between these events, was a humbling interjection by keynote Melissa Harris Perry. She is not an anthropologist, but I think that’s good, as we needed some outside voice to give us a shake, I think. Or me. I needed a shake. The message I took away was, ‘White liberals, stop acting so surprised about the election. If anyone had bothered to do a cross-tabulation of female voters in the U.S., you would know that white women vote Republican. Why would the revelation that Trump is a pussy-grabber cause them to change their minds? The only surprise was that Trump got caught on camera saying it. The reality is that almost every woman in the world has had her pussy grabbed and had to deal with it because it’s behavior we all ignore or perpetrate. Many women are married or related to pussy-grabbing men and protect them and apologize for or defend their behavior on a daily basis. We’ve probably all grabbed a pussy, ass, or boob without permission. What does our culture imply about this? That it’s OK. It’s not, but we’re all reacting instead of acting.’ Oof. But yeah.
On Thursday, I was supposed to have lunch with Sidney Greenfield, whose wonderful book Spirits with Scalpels is one of the best sources out there related to the neuroanthropological work I do. Unfortunately, he wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t attend the meetings at all, but he asked me to chair a session, show two short films, and read a paper for him for the Society for Senior Anthropologists. The session was on the work of Phil Singer and Greenfield and their efforts to document the process and thoughts of anthropologists who are over 80 years old about their impending death. Although it sounds rather heavy and macabre, it wasn’t. The overarching theme was that people don’t necessarily become preoccupied with thinking about or preparing for their own deaths—most of them seem to continue thinking about work and anthropology all the way till the end. Though a few of the interviewees had recently died, including Phil Singer, which added a sobering element to the session, the message overall was very validating and hopeful. I was glad I could be part of it.
A row of excellent mustaches and shoes . Photo courtesy Michaela Howells.
Courtney and I had our annual date (though I missed last year because my grandmother died and I was at her funeral), but we forgot to get a selfie together! We hung with some other UAlbany alumni, braved the yucky Mpls. snow (OK, it melted in a half hour, but I was only wearing canvas shoes) to go have dinner at a local Vietnamese place (with, apparently, everyone else attending the conference), then met up with Francois Dengah and Max Stein for a bit more hanging before calling it an evening. In the process, I realized what The Replacements song “Skyway” was about, after walking through it for several days. Perhaps two other people in attendance appreciated my revelation.
Over the course of Friday and Saturday there were three excellent biocultural sessions convened by Morgan Hoke, including one in which Michaela presented on our work this past summer in American Samoa. In the middle of that, Sonya and I convened a session on biocultural anthropology and linguistics with us, Daniel Lende, Avery McNeece, Mandy Guitar and Sabina Perrino with Jim Wilce and Carol Worthman as discussants.
(115th AAA Annual Meeting November ) LANGUAGE, CULTURE, AND THE BODY: DISCOVERING INTERSECTIONS BETWEEN BIOCULTUR… https://t.co/R2GD68HpBg
I thought it went great. Sonya says the editor of Ethos is interested in a special issue about the session. I met a few people with further interest in the work, including Josh Brahinsky, a postdoc in Tanya Luhrmann’s group. We talked after about future collaboration possibilities, which I find exciting. Then there was a BAS-sponsored networking workshop for students organized by Michaela (great photos of that event here) that I was supposed to participate in, but I went to the Zika Interest Group and Roundtables instead, to make sure Michaela and I could get involved with that for our work in American Samoa. Those were VERY helpful.
I also met with several publishers while there to pitch the book I’ll be writing while on sabbatical next semester. It was disheartening but not surprising to hear how much marketing considerations want us to narrow our focus and put us in boxes, while in the biocultural sessions there was explicit commentary on breaking down disciplinary boundaries. After working in music distribution and schlepping music to stores by appeal to genres, this is an obvious intersection of idealism and logistic practicality. However, I do feel that if the AAA wants to represent itself as four-field, the book editors’ narrow focus on cultural anthropology is a BIG problem.
Despite the issue with editors, I got some good books in the book room on the premise that I might someday teach a course that might someday use this or that book. On the other hand, Michaela got this excellent bib, modeled here by her anthro dog extraordinaire Uli, which she sent me when I asked her for relevant photos.
For us, the conference wrapped up with an unfortunately unpublicized and, thus, underattended talk by Frans de Waal. It was mostly the same talk I’ve seen previously, but he’s still one of the best ALLELE lectures we’ve ever had and does a great job articulating a clear message to educated lay audiences and selling a compelling idea about human empathy.
I wrote this post last fall but never got around to finishing & posting it. It’s dated but has a few valid points still worth putting out there.
I always tell my students that I get more out of our guest speakers than they do because I get so much exposure to them, but that doesn’t have to be the case. I think a lot of students don’t realize that we bring these speakers to campus not just for them to hear but for them to interact with. And it’s the interacting with that pays the biggest dividends. It’s not a magic formula, but there is a catch-22 in that I probably get more out of speakers because I have more general background to build upon than they do. But that’s a process, & I was once an undergrad & grad student fumbling along too. In fact, I’m still fumbling along, but here’s how to make the most of that fumbling when your department invites a speaker.
Google the Speaker
We’re all taught to beware of internet sources like Wikipedia, but what we really want you to do is be a critical reader. Wikipedia & other sources can give you a gloss. Not all speakers are gonna have the clout to have a Wikipedia page, but most will at least have a faculty page or something online that will tell you a little bit about who they are. Start there. Reading their academic work is well & good, which I will get to in a second, but read about THEM first & foremost. You’re going to be talking to them, & it’s much more interesting if you can get under the hood, so to speak. For instance, our guest speaker today is historian of science Ron Numbers. He is an eminent enough scholar in his field to be the no-brainer invite for anyone doing a lecture series on evolution that desires a historian. Never heard of him? Guess what? I hadn’t either. I’m not a historian & am not as well read outside of, uh, well, I’m not as well read as I would like to be. That’s why we have a committee to organize our series. Every single historian we’ve had on our committee has said, duh, invite Ron Numbers. So I Googled him. Wow. He grew up as a Seventh-Day Adventist! His father is a pastor. As he told me last night, his whole family are church bigwigs, he went to a Seventh-Day Adventist college, & by the time he reached the turning point in questioning his faith, he was essentially a bigtime officer in the church & an academic theologian teaching undergraduates.
Let’s pause right there. What do you know about Seventh-Day Adventists? If you’re like me, you may be thinking, ‘Not much.’ Is that important? Well, it just so happens that one of our GOP frontrunners right now is a Seventh-Day Adventist & neurosurgeon who claims Muslims are unfit for U.S. public office & that the Egyptians pyramids were really just grain silos.
So, back to Ron Numbers. Just Googling him gave me fodder for a good hour of interesting conversation at dinner last night. For instance, on this side of the evolution-Creationism debate, we often wonder, ‘the evidence is so clear, & not everyone over there is unaware of it…how can they seemingly just ignore it?’ The answer, according to Dr. Numbers, is very simply, some just CAN because it’s their agenda to ignore or explain it away. But many just need to keep their jobs. There are lots of theologians who are teaching in colleges who read & are critical thinkers, but it’s just like any of us who don’t quite agree with our bosses or institutional policies—‘Is that a windmill I really feel strongly enough to tilt or would I prefer to continue earning a salary & ensure I can feed my kids & pay the rent?’
Read Something by the Speaker
Don’t have time to sit down & read anything? Guess what. Nobody in academia does until they have tenure, then it’s just because we can get away with ignoring other things. Even now, I get around this by listening to things. Spend $5 on the vBookz app & listen to an article.
Volunteer to be a Driver or Go to Dinner
Make yourself memorable & indispensable but read the first few items here first because if you don’t have anything to talk about, this won’t work.
FINALLY, Go to the Lecture (if you can)
Sometimes, you just don’t have time, but you did all those other things. I ask my students if they made it to the ALLELE lectures & always scold them when they admit they didn’t. Honestly, honesty is overrated. If you did all of the above, what more will you learn at the lecture? Probably not much, but you will earn brownie points with your professor who put so much effort into hosting the damn thing. So go to the lecture & make sure you’re seen or have a good sack of bullshit at the ready to quell his or her ire when you tell the truth.