Feb 222014
 

DER SPIEGEL has a good overview of some of the results published recently regarding the DNA analysis of a body found in Montana on private land. Its location means it is one of the only sets of remains which have been permitted to be tested:

The characteristic fluting of the stone weapons serve as archaeological evidence that the boy, who died some 12,600 years ago, came from the Clovis culture. It was one of the earliest New World groups, disappearing mysteriously a few centuries after the child’s burial in present day Montana. …Now a team of scientists led by the Danish geneticist Eske Willerslev has analyzed the boy’s origins and discovered that he descends from a Siberian tribe with roots tracing back to Europe. Some of the boy’s ancestors are likely even to have lived in present-day Germany. Their findings go even further: More than 80 percent of all native peoples in the Americas — from the Alaska’s Aleuts to the Maya of Yucatan to the Aymaras along the Andes — are descended from Montana boy’s lineage.

The article also touches on some of the concerns in the native community around DNA testing – there is no appetite for being linked to Europe populations, and very real concerns that DNA testing could be used in tribal disputes over who shares in the economic bounty from casinos that operate on the sovereign reservations.

Jun 082013
 

It has been interesting to watch the ongoing strife and turmoil that has been shaking Turkey. We were there for two weeks in March & April and had a chance to speak with a number of people in different locations. To a certain extent it has been hard to reconcile the strength of reaction given our conversations and the views shared, though some of the seeds of the reaction were easily visible.  Our time in Turkey was marked by three main themes when we spoke with people:

Ongoing tensions between secular & traditional Turks – Due to reforms driven by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turkey has a modern history of being open to different forms of religious worship, or no worship at all compared to the rest of the region.  The majority of the people we spoke with (bias of English speakers) identified as Muslim, but not devout and in many cases, non-practicing.  They had plenty of scorn for the clerics and traditionalists and dismissed their political power as buy-outs & giveaways to segments of the population. They felt that their options & lifestyles were under threat to a certain extent.

The Turkish economy is (or was) great – We saw a lot of new development and construction as we navigated the country.  In general all of the folks that we spoke with said things were good and life was getting better for everyone.  Despite Turkey’s run of growth there is increasing worry that the economic growth and stability in Turkey has been fueled unsustainable by outside lending. Sound familiar?

Turks are happy to be separate from the Euro – Without prompting people would mention how proud they were that they were doing better than the Euro zone, and that they were very happy to have not joined the Euro.  The financial crisis appears to have given confidence to going it alone.  Perhaps the growth experienced in the last five years was amplified by the troubles in Europe and investors looking for (and paying more for) opportunities in Turkey.

Time will tell how far the current unrest will last, both sides don’t appear to be backing down and are further instigating the other.  I wouldn’t give up hope soon – Even now it is very common to see Atatürk bumper stickers and tributes.  Turks are proud of their country and consider it unique and a model for other countries to follow.

Jan 242012
 

Wired has a great story on Urban eXperiment in Paris titled The New French Hacker-Artist Underground. I’ve heard little bits about Untergunther through other stories via Urban Exploration, but Jon Lackman gives a fresh narrative to the information.

UX’s most sensational caper (to be revealed so far, at least) was completed in 2006. A cadre spent months infiltrating the Pantheon, the grand structure in Paris that houses the remains of France’s most cherished citizens. Eight restorers built their own secret workshop in a storeroom, which they wired for electricity and Internet access and outfitted with armchairs, tools, a fridge, and a hot plate. During the course of a year, they painstakingly restored the Pantheon’s 19th- century clock, which had not chimed since the 1960s. Those in the neighborhood must have been shocked to hear the clock sound for the first time in decades: the hour, the half hour, the quarter hour.

It reminded me how shocking it is to learn the reactions to much of their work, and how it parallels work and reactions by others. Instead of being celebrated for their good deeds, they are villainized. In the case of the clock, it ends up almost being a case of spite:

… the administration later decided to sue UX, at one point seeking up to a year of jail time and 48,300 euros in damages. Jeannot’s then-deputy, Pascal Monnet, is now the Pantheon’s director, and he has gone so far as to hire a clockmaker to restore the clock to its previous condition by resabotaging it. But the clockmaker refused to do more than disengage a part—the escape wheel, the very part that had been sabotaged the first time. UX slipped in shortly thereafter to take the wheel into its own possession, for safekeeping, in the hope that someday a more enlightened administration will welcome its return.

Reading the article one gets the sense that a lot of the flak they take is because they are exposing incompetence, but I wonder if there is also an element of mistrust for altruism. Either way, it means much of their work goes on in secret.

Feb 132010
 

The Atlantic has a an interesting article posted called How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America. Don Peck has taken an in depth look at the mental and cultural changes that are likely for those coming of age in this time or particularly hard hit areas. We all know that economic times leave their imprint on your personality – the depression era generation for example – but it is quite disturbing to see how harshly this recession will hit many men’s minds and stay with them for decades.

Dec 292008
 

During my chores today I finally caught up with This American Life podcasts. I just finished listening to episode 304: Heretics. I come from a bit of a charismatic background, so the story had a big impact on me. I highly recommend giving it a listen:

Carlton Pearson’s church, Higher Dimensions, was once one of the biggest in the city, drawing crowds of 5,000 people every Sunday. But several years ago, scandal engulfed the reverend. He didn’t have an affair. He didn’t embezzle lots of money. His sin was something that to a lot of people is far worse: He stopped believing in Hell.

Nov 112008
 

Though I’ve lived in the US for 7 years, it feels a little odd to be working today. Today is Remembrance Day in the Commonwealth (Veterans Day in the US). Many in Canada attend ceremonies today to see or place wreaths laid to honour the fallen. It is common to wear a red poppy on your lapel and the day tends to be reserved and respectful. I miss it here. That’s a funny thing with traditions and I – easily adopt new ones, but hate to drop old ones.

Nov 162007
 

I somehow ended up talking about the hedonic treadmill with a friend last night. Shortly after that I ended up reading Pursuing Happiness from Heifer’s World Ark:

Could it be that our biggest social problems today—failing public schools, skyrocketing health costs, widening wealth inequalities, collapsing infrastructure—are related to the fact that, in the midst of plenty, so many Americans still feel they don’t have enough? Could this explain, at least partially, why, as a nation, we have disinvested from so many public goods that don’t yield short-term returns? Happy, trusting, optimistic people almost always want others to prosper, too, and they think about the future. It is only when we get stuck in a mindset of scarcity that we cling to what we have and wall ourselves off from others, especially the have-nots.

Now one of the top linked stories online is this Newsweek article, Why Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness:

If money doesn’t buy happiness, what does? Grandma was right when she told you to value health and friends, not money and stuff. Or as Diener and Seligman put it, once your basic needs are met “differences in well-being are less frequently due to income, and are more frequently due to factors such as social relationships and enjoyment at work.” Other researchers add fulfillment, a sense that life has meaning, belonging to civic and other groups, and living in a democracy that respects individual rights and the rule of law. If a nation wants to increase its population’s sense of well-being, says Veenhoven, it should make “less investment in economic growth and more in policies that promote good governance, liberties, democracy, trust and public safety.”

Happiness is a good thing to dwell on every once and a while.