Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Boomers are Still in Charge

So, don’t expect too much to change in DC.  Obama may be a Gen X, and many Boomers are retiring from working life, but don’t start thinking that they don’t control much of American culture. They do.

Let’s take a quick look at the numbers.

Political leadership is still mostly held by Boomers.  The 111th congress was (source):
63.77 percent Boomer
19.66 percent Silent
15.91 percent Gen X
.85 percent GI

Don't have numbers on the 112th congress but no significant demographic change occurred.

I spent the afternoon today going through company profile pages for the SP400, just for fun.

Of the 381 companies currently in the index (AMEX: ^MID), the CEOs (or the person mostly likely to be in change) break down as:

297 Boomers
65 Gen X
18 Silent
1 crusty old GI (the Tootsie Roll Company).

So, of our American midcap companies, 78 percent are run by Boomers, and most were in their 50s.

Strauss and Howe dates for generations.
No concern for cuspers and there were plenty that could be cuspers.
Some companies didn’t have CEOs so I used the person most likely to be in charge; also, some cos have chairmen who seem to hang on but I used the CEO.
I used Yahoo Finance & assumed info was correct and up to date.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Crisis Escalates

Blogging has been slow due to my being under the weather and another professional writing obligation to finish.

I’ve been following the protests these last few weeks. Fascinating how fast change can come.  Yes, there is evidence for both gradual and punctuated evolutionary change.

First there was Tunisia.  It's Jasmine revolution is an Awakening.  The nation got its independence in 1957, and that started a cultural high. Now, we see the result of an awakening, where a grass roots rebellion overthrows a corrupt regime. I guess the next step in the analysis is to determine when the awakening began; the revolution is the end result.  They will now enter into an era of cultural conflict.

Today we have Egypt, Jordan and Albania.  The Arabic ones seem to be awakenings.  Next, maybe Syria and the Suez Canal

Meanwhile, our US capital markets are rebelling too, against the PPT (plunge protection team).

The crisis climax will be here sooner than you think.  Much food and water are needed.  Awakenings in North Africa will escalate the secular crises elsewhere.

Good luck.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Year of the Dragon II

For those of you who thought I was nuts about the US being the client in a patron-client relationship with PRC (here) see this little clip made in Taiwan.

Yes, even the Taiwanese know what is going on. Their video...

 And we are constantly being sucked into the Asian seduction.  Another Taiwanese video...

And when you visit Branson don't forget this wonderful show.  I've seen it 4 times--damn, they are good.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Haute Couture: Then and now

Fashion is generally thought of as glamorous. But it is also very time sensitive as it reveals the ethos of the times. Below are two videos demonstrating Modernism and our new Romanticism.  

The first is from 1955 and shows what passed as elegance in those Modernist days.  Note the male narrator (the interpretation of the gown is given to you; you are passively taking in the concepts), the orchestra giving an air of canned elevator music, the slow camera movements, the comments about "telescope" lines (linear imagery), and the imagery of having a "dinner to theater" evening event. The gowns tend to suggest Vs, triangles, and symmetry; bows are generally small.  Ladies hair is pulled back and controlled. The emphasis is on elegance and sophistication.  It is high culture in control of nature.

Here is a 2007 video.  There is no narrator (the interpretation of the gown is your own; you are an active interpreter), the music is pop culture, camera shots are fast and jerky, hair is scraggly and allowed to bounce, and the gowns are mixed, symmetrical and asymmetrical; bows are generally large.  The emphasis is on sassy and bold with more skin shown--raw opulence with a touch of wildness.

There are similarities of course--the stick figure models is the most obvious. And, not every dress is 100% Apollonian or Dionysian.  The 1950s had their bright colors and detailed designs; not every gown was simple and minimalist.  Likewise, our contemporary romantic fashion can play off the older styles. Not every dress was elaborate and flashy.  The difference is one of degree. In each era the dominant ethos is about 70%.

Romanticism, a video

It's hard to describe 21st century romanticism.  So, I decided that a video would help.  Take a look at the video at the Sartorialist.  The photographer, Scott Schumann, is a new Henry David Thoreau walking the streets.  Every day he gets "seduced" just a little bit by what he sees.  This is more than an artist talking; it is great Dionysian commentary.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Carling Malouf: Anthropologist with a Sociology Problem

Over on the Neuroanthropology blog  Shama zaidi asked this question in a comment :

“if an indian scholar [from India] were to try and do a study of the mating customs of middle america what would that be called?” 

I assume the middle class of America is the target here.   The answer is that in today’s climate the research could be called either Sociology or Anthropology.  Neither is currently distinguished all that well.  In today’s American social sciences the big difference is qualitative vs quantitative research, not Anthropology vs Sociology.  

There was a time when Anthropology and Sociology were clearly distinguished, as Shama states:  Anthropology studied the “undeveloped unwashed millions of the third world”  and similar “studies of people in the civilized developed world was called Sociology.” 

However, in America I suspect that that hard separation only lasted for a few years, circa 1945-1965.  Before WW2 there were a few Anthropological studies done on American culture.  The classic one is Mead’s And Keep Your Powder Dry: An Anthropologist Looks at America (1942).  That book was, of course, a war effort.

Over on Savage Minds Rex posted an Alfred Kroeber lecture from 1958 that discussed Anthropology and Sociology; the last paragraph was:

Now, maturity has stolen upon us… The times, and utilitarianism, have caught up with us, and we find ourselves classified and assigned to the social sciences. It is a dimmer atmosphere, with the smog of Jargon sometimes hanging heavy. Generalizations no longer suffice; we are taught to worship Abstraction; sharp sensory outlines have melted into vagueness.  As our daily bread, we invent hypotheses in order to test them, as we are told is the constant practice of the high tribe of physicists. If at times some of you, like myself, feel ill at ease in the house of social science, do not wonder; we are changelings therein; our true paternity lies elsewhere

Basically, Kroeber’s complaint was that Anthropology, to him a romantic natural history endeavor, was being forced into the pigeon hole of 20th century modernist hard line social science, and all the hard and fast categories associated with it.  Being one of the last 19th century romantics, of course he wouldn’t like it.

Into this mid century mind set change came Carling Malouf (1916-2006), an energetic researcher.  Malouf had gotten an MA in Anthropology from the U Utah around 1941.  He then went into the Army and worked in various military camps in the western US as an induction officer.  Near Turlock CA he was a “camp sociologist” studying the characteristics of soldiers who did not fit into the confines of military life.  Basically, the army had a concentration camp of misfits who did not conform to military life (see Santos here).  Malouf’s job was to study soldiers from a social science perspective; there was a psychologist doing research too.

After the war, maybe 1948, Malouf wrote a two volume report on American soldiers, based on his war experience and data, and submitted it to Columbia U for a PhD Dissertation in Anthropology.  The work was rejected, apparently by Mead, because it was Sociology, not Anthropology.  Malouf had to go back and do an archaeological study to get his PhD (which took several more years.)

Poor Malouf had stumbled into the heart of modernism where most everything was black and white.  Grey was not allowed, except by special permission.  To do Anthropology you had to study the Others; to do Sociology you had to study US or Europe.  Horace Minor’s satirical essay on the Nacerima (American spelled back words) was allowed only because it was satire. (At the time few took it seriously; it became the most popular essay ever published in American Anthropologist).

The hard and fast separation between Anthropology and Sociology only lasted in those weird  years, 1945-1965, when American culture was at its cultural “high” point, and also at its most culturally intolerant point.  If Malouf had submitted his work just a few years earlier, say 1939, or waited until the late 1960s, it likely would have been accepted as Anthropology.  Categories are not constant; they wax and wane in hardness or softness or bluriness.  Today, we live in a world of blured categories, and it will get stablized here for a few more years as Romanticism climaxes.  

Malouf was one of the last Boasians.  He used to say that he had published in all four fields of Anthropology.  No one can say that today.  Below you’ll see that he did, including a physical anthro study based on his WWII work. 

Malouf was an American Anthropologist.

Selected essays of Carling Malouf

Gosiute Peyotism , American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 44, No. 1 (Jan. - Mar., 1942), pp. 93-103.

Thoughts on Utah Archaeology , American Antiquity, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Jan., 1944), pp. 319-328.

Observations on the participation of Arizona's racial and cultural groups in World War II, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Volume 5, Issue 4, pages 491–496, December 1947.

Kutenai Calendar Records: A Study of Indian Record Keeping, by Carling Malouf &Thain White, The Montana Magazine of History, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Spring, 1953), pp. 34-39.

The cultural connections between the prehistoric inhabitants of the Upper Missouri and Columbia River systems. PhD Dissertation, Dept. of Anthropology, Columbia university, 1956.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Modern Period as Cultural Takeoff

 It seems that I am constantly revisiting my own past.  For this essay I am digging out an old paper from 1995 called “Studying the Modern Period” [1].  To understand postmodernism, or as I prefer to call it, 21st century romanticism, it is important to place it into a larger cultural context.  And that context is the Modern Period (MP).   Within the MP twentieth century modernism (ca 1890-1990) gets followed by postmodernism (ca 1960-present) with the overlap being the Awakening.

And yes, in broad terms, there is a fractal relation between the MP and its sub phases.  The MP is generally Apollonian, although some of the sub phases can be strongly Dionysian.

Inside the MP there are three important cultural cycles operating.  These are:
    1. The cycle of Apollonian, Awakening, and Dionysian phases.
    2. The cultural seasons cycle—Awakening, cultural high, culture wars/unraveling, and secular crisis. 
    3. The generations cycle—prophets, nomads, heroes, artists.

These are the rhythms of American culture.  I have previously discussed 1 and 2.  The generational model is still to come; it is based on Strauss and Howe.

I use the term period in the archaeological fashion.  It is a box bounded in time and space.  The time covered is roughly the mid 15th century to the present.  The space starts out being Europe, including Russia, and then rapidly spreads globally.  Today the influence of Western Civilization is found everywhere.  I’m not saying it is dominant everywhere but the influence is there.

This is not a Eurocentric perspective (culture warriors bite your tongue).  I am looking at cultural changes on a large scale and one cannot ignore the 800 pound gorilla during the period in question.  In North American archaeology there have been several cultural expansions that have been studied.  In the west there is the expansion of Uto-Aztecan speaking peoples out of Mexico into the US desert west and inter-mountain region, leading to a Numic Spread, concluding in the Shoshonean migration onto the plains, the last wave being the Comanche.  There are similar studies done on all the major Native American language families. 

Similarly, Alaska has long been a cross roads for expanding cultures.  In the late 1800s Americans from the lower continent went north into the gold fields and turned the land into an American territory.  Prior to that Russians had moved across Eurasia into N America in their pursuit of furs.  Prior to that Aleuts had come across from Asia. Prior to that Eskimos had come across and they got all the way to Iceland where they fought the Norse.  Prior to that Athabascans had come across and some moved south all the way to deep Texas to become the Lipan Apache.  And, of course, archaeologists debate the number of and timing of prior migrations.  The important idea is that these migrations changed the cultural landscape significantly.  They were transformative processes affecting certain regions.

Not all explorations or cultural encounters are transformative.  The Norse briefly had an outpost in Newfoundland (here) and the Polynesians appear to have hit the California coast and left a small bit of cultural “diffusion” upon the Chumash and Gabrielino (here & here).  But no one will claim these events to be transformative processes.  

The European expansions during the MP have been transformative in that wherever Europeans went they significantly changed the cultures that they encountered.  On some continents they completely overtook the native populations (N and S America, Australia) while in other areas they spread their influence but could not completely dominate (Afghanistan, China, Japan).   European languages (English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Dutch, German, and Russian) were spread all across the globe, and all that comes with it, religion, material culture, politics, etc.

The European expansion was a global process, not one confined to certain regions. There is no evidence that Neanderthals made it to N America or that the Mongols rode their ponies here.   Only the European expansion touches all corners of the world. Thus, it has to be viewed as the largest expansion in human history.

Moreover, the expansion was fueled by and still carries with it incredible cultural change.  From the perspective of cultural evolution, the transformation of the world in the last 500 years is equal to or greater than the domestication of plants and animals during the 4000 years of the Neolithic Revolution.  As I wrote in 1995:

The Modern Period is characterized by rapid cultural change.  In evolutionary terms the last five hundred years can be described as a period of "cultural takeoff” [2].   No other period in the human time line has the pace, scale and intensity of cultural development than does the Modern Period.  The world changed from consisting of fragmented local and regional economic, political, and social networks to being interconnected via international ones.  During this change, many new ideas and ways of life were created, to include:  progress, science, specialization, industrialization, humanism, professionalism, capitalism, communism, development, underdevelopment, advanced technology, the nation state, individualism, democracy, rationality, and modern medicine; just to name a few [pp. 119-120].

Rapid cultural change is the defining element of the MP, not capitalism, not science, not technology—those are fuel for the flame.   Within postmodernism there are those who call hyper-modernism progress thinking that they are continuing the tradition of modernity.  Others see it as being on a roller coaster ride that is impossible to exit.  The endless ups and downs stress the psyche and soul--it is a distortion of compressed time and that life  is no longer experienced at a human scale.  Not everyone enjoys it. 

At the macro level the postmodernism critic is like the break-man leaning hard on the break to slow down the express train, hoping to avoid a train wreck of humanity.  Arthur Versluis defines anti-modernism in this way:  It is…

the awareness of decline.  If the essence of “modernism” is progress, a belief that technological development means socio-economic improvement, the heart of antimodernism is a realization that “progress” has an underbelly—that technological industrial development has destructive consequences in three primary and intertwined areas:  nature, culture, and religion

The warnings of the antimodernists are often dire, but the best among them also affirm a vision of a better society—a more ethical way of life—and remind us of our spiritual purposes and responsibility.  Antimodernists, far from representing a purely negative or pessimistic current, advance a critique of the society in which we live in order to call us toward a better one. Our future quality of life, perhaps even our survival, may depend upon whether we begin to heed their warnings [3].

Those are fine words.  However, 21st century romanticism has been a trickster.  Instead of giving us a break it has rushed us further into hyper-modernism and excessive greed.  It's Apollo on steroids. Western Civ is insolvent (here) and those who pay attention get only lies.  Instead of being wise and ethical Dionysus is on a rampage under the illusion of Rational Man. 

And yet, I’m hoping that the “best among them” shows up soon, in force, because we could sure use some ethics in today’s corrupt world.

1.  L. Moore, Studying the Modern Period: Expanding the Perspective of Historical Archaeology, Journal of Middle Atlantic Archaeology 11 (1995): 119-124.
2.  The term is generally attributed to Marvin Harris who uses it in many publications and in several ways.
3.  Arthur Verslius, Antimodernism, Telos 137 (2006): 96-130.  Quotes on pp. 98 and 130.

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Gala of Google Ngrams (updated)

OK, so I have been working on a couple essays about modernism, but as usual I got distracted.  The Google ngrams  (here too) caught my attention this week so I had to play with them.  Here are some of the cultural periods I have been discussing based on word searches [1].  Remember, these charts reflect how popular certain words were during the selected time frame. Click on a chart to get a bigger image.

Update 01/08/11: I redid all the charts using the word eat as a base line.  Also, I added a few more charts so the gala is now more a gaggle.

In the 17th century “age of faith” people liked the words faith, love, and heart. Certainly, a passionate era.


The 17th century was a soulful era too.  The 18th was not.

Was the 18th century an “age of reason"? Apparently not. But they liked thoughtReason was popular before and after the 18th century.  I guess that spike in the very late 18th century has to do with somebody writing a book called "the age of reason".

The discussion of the Enlightenment started circa 1825. The study of romanticism began in the late 19th century and then died down. Neither seem that important compared to the basic idea of eating.

Modernity and post modern are both, well, modern and post modern. Our culture war seems so irrelevant.

 A close up of the culture war. Note the change in scale from the above chart.


Intuition continues to slowly build like the Old Master that it is.  Meanwhile the upstart rationality has shot its wad as the young genius that it was. Now we can focus on really understanding our world, intuitively and deeply.  Yes the Age of Intuition has really begun.

But, will intuition ever overcome our basic need of eating the way science has done?

 And people wonder why the religious folks are angry at science.  Science the usurper.

All fun aside, I remain skeptical about the Ngrams tool.  I used a similar technique for my essay on reflexive archaeology [2]; there I did word counts using Google Scholar for the word reflexive.  You must understand that words change meaning and nuance, and that when they change meanings their popularity within a culture can change significantly.  Reflexive was a special linguistic and mathematical term, then the psychologists used it, and then it became quite common among educated people.  That change happened in the 1950s-1960s when the meaning expanded to cover all types of self referential and collateral relations.

Therefore, use the Ngram tool wisely and don't take the charts at face value; dig behind the numbers to really see how words, ideas, and cultures change.  Charting a few words is the beginning of a study not the end.

1. I have used the period 1500-2008 as a base line.  The corpus is English (both Brits and American), and the smoothing is 3; non capitalized words. See here.
2.  "Toward a Still and Quiet Conscience: A Study in Reflexive Archaeology," North American Archaeologist, 2001, 27(2): 149-174.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Science and Magic

With family in town we decided to go down to Seattle and visit the Pacific Science Center, where the Space Needle is.  The main attraction right now is the Harry Potter exhibit.  They have many of the costumes and props from the movies on display.

What does Harry Potter have to do with science?  Nothing. (And, I like the stories).
There was no effort at discussing the science used making the movies or the technology involved.  You know that there must be something scientific involved in making movies.  But no.  The display was about the movies--the characters and the story line.  The magic of Harry Potter is being used as a hook to attract people to the museum.  There was also a place to buy all your favorite Harry Potter souvenirs.  It worked because the place was packed.

Many years ago museums were all about the intellectual experience of seeing all the objects on display and reading all the information boards. Education was done through reading. Then it became more experiential, you could touch and feel objects.  Then it became more visceral and realistic.  And now, we need to bribe people into museums with attractions that have no direct connection to science.

Obviously to compete in this new romantic world, scientists need to become magicians.

Update 1/2/2011:
And suddenly even repug George Will seems to understand that science is needed, and, that we need to study the culture of innovation.  Jeez, maybe he should read some Anthropology, here & here.