Sunday, May 29, 2011

The La Jolla Skeletons & Kennewick Man

A recent essay at Wired (here) highlights the current character of American Archaeology—it is a profession that has lost control of its purpose and its database.  Archaeology has been appropriated by non-archaeologists for purposes far beyond the pursuit of science or knowledge; it has become a commodity for sale to the highest bidder with its authority trampled in the dust.  Welcome to Post Modern Romanticism where populist and egalitarian impulses drive the process.

The story in Wired is about the La Jolla skeletons that are in the midst of controversy.  Bone Girl provides additional background (here) with references.  University administrators want to repatriate the bones under NAGPRA to a local tribe that has made a claim; scientists want to do further studies on a database first excavated in the 1970s.  The tribe has lots of money and has become a local power player.  The bones are between 9000 and 9600 years old and they are good candidates for interesting DNA studies.  This is a good example of how advances in technology can be used to re-analyze old data, and potentially discover important new insights.  To date, the request to do additional studies has been blocked.

The scientists are said to hope for collaborative discussions and efforts.  What I didn’t get out of the story was any sense that the scientists had seriously approached the tribe or administrators for such collaboration.  I hope they have because, otherwise, they appear to be on the defensive side of the issue.  They wrote letters to science magazines and stated their position in that venue, which comes across as whining and pandering to the scientific community.

In the Wired essay there is a comment that this La Jolla case is ‘Kennewick Man II’, a reference to an earlier case (here) were scientists and Native Americans fought bitterly over the ability to analyze ancient remains.  In that case, scientists eventually were successful at doing the research.  The Kennewick Man case was hard fought, taking about eight years (1996-2004) in the courts.  It also divided scientists with some defending their scientism and others the rights of Native Americans.

The ultimate outcome of the Kennewick case is that modernist scientists lost power and authority and the tribes gained both.  Those scientists defending old modernist ideals of scientism and meritocracy are now the marginal ones playing defense; the tribes have taken a mainstream stance and represent the values of Dionysian America—express yourself and respect the values of others.  Many post-modern scientists will support them.  In the Kennewick Man case, scientists won the battle but lost the PR campaign.  They came across as pompous arrogant intellectuals pursuing “irrelevant” goals and questions.

In recent years, public archaeology has been redefined.  It is now archaeology “by the people for the people” (here & here).  This contrasts with the old public archaeology (here) that basically stated that archaeology was done by archaeologists for the good of the people; if the public wanted to be involved then they would have to follow the lead of scientists.  Both versions are still out there in use today, but the latter is fading.  Today, ‘relevance’ is defined by many factions, not just the scientists, and, the interests of science often are trumped by the interests of nonscientists.

I hope the La Jolla case doesn't escalate into another Kennewick Man issue.  It would be more salt poured on open wounds--of the tribes and scientists.  Collaboration is the answer.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The World Monetary Unit

Wax On, wax off.

Krugman today rambles on about a “Trilemma” in which “you can’t simultaneously have free movement of capital, a stable exchange rate and independent monetary policy”.  I suggest he has once again misdirected the issue.  For example, he states “And this [trilemma] creates a problem for emerging markets.  They don’t want their currencies to rise sharply; Brazil, for example, is not at all happy about this.  But not letting a currency rise would be inflationary - that is, Brazil doesn’t want to give up on its independent monetary policy.”

Now, I generally assume that Krugman is a shill for the neoliberal agenda.  He has long backed the general assumptions of the FED and his buddy Bernanke.  He misdirects the discussion through the statement about independent monetary policy.

Since when does Brazil, or any other country that is seriously engaged with international trade, have any independence?  The world is global and trade benefits the masters of the neoliberal agenda.  I’d agree if he mentioned North Korea that has independent policy due to its isolationist policies.

What Brazil and many other countries want is to get out from underneath what they view is the tyranny of the US dollar.  They want status quo change; all Krugman does is defend the status quo.  Brazil and several other nations are seeking a new currency, one in which they have more say in the world.  They want a redistribution of power.  Why can’t Krugman just say this?  I assume he knows it.

We are in the midst of a currency war.  The actions of the FED are debasing the US$ in some convoluted effort to protect the oligarik class.  In the end, they will fail because these people really don’t care about America.  They think they are above and apart from it and other nations; they think they are the puppet masters pulling the strings, if you will.  It is an illusion that someday will be revealed for the silliness that it is, just like the Wizard of Oz.

In the end we will have a new world currency.  One that is tied to precious metals, although I think some base metals should also be included.  Iron needs more love.

The new currency name could be the “World Monetary Unit” or WU.  I briefly considered WMD and the word ‘dollar’ but I suspect that that word will be despised when this all comes about.  The irony about mass destruction, as in the destruction of many currencies, is also all too clear. 

Risk on, risk off.

Disclosure:  long silver

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Misc Inflation--Laundromats

I have been using laundromats since 2006.  Typically, I can get by going once every two weeks.  I do two or three loads when I’m there, just my clothes and linens.  Machines only take quarters and I use the smaller machines (usually top load washers and wall mounted front load dryers).

In 2006 a laundry visit in southern Monterey County CA would cost between $5 (using two washers & two dryers) and $7.50 (three each).  The washers were $1.50 and the dryers were 25c/8 min, and it typically takes 32 minutes to dry a load.  When I moved to northern Monterey County in June 2009 the prices were $1.75 for washers and no change for the dryers.

I moved to Island County WA in June 2010.  The city I live in has two laundromats and they both were at the same rates then as N Monterey County.

I recently noticed that prices have gone up.  Washers now cost $2 a load and some dryers have been reset at 6 minute patterns (for a 30 or 36 cycle) or a 6,6,6,8 pattern (6 min each for three quarters then 8 min for the fourth).  So, two loads may cost $7, if 30 mins of drying gets it done.

Comparing three loads, it used to cost me $7.50.  Now, it may cost $10.50, a 40% increase over 5 years.

Laundromats I use have also started switching machines to more eco-friendly ones.  The small washers are being replaced by water efficient top loaders, row by row.  These all come with increased rates, about $2.50/load.  But it is hard to compare as they also have different volumes.  When I have had to use them, I still do two loads but not three.  As these new machines get installed I suspect my visits will cost between $12 and $15.  They also offer owners more flexibility as they are digital.  I expect they can be reset for different rates and cycles.  Heck, soon, they will be taking debit cards.

These costs are not that bad for me, I easily afford them.  Eventually the quantitative changes will force a qualitative change.  I may be tasked soon with doing a cost benefit analysis on owning/not owning a set of machines.  I prefer to own things that I can move by myself so I’ll hesitate at getting machines.

I do feel bad for those families that do 7 or 8 loads a week in laundromats.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Anthropology's Rotten Egg

A while back I commented on the book Reversed Gaze:  An African Ethnography of American Anthropology by Mwenda Ntarangwi (here).  It is time to follow up on a problem he identifies.

As he introduces the book and his motivations for doing it, Ntarangwi writes (2010: vii)

 It is also a story hemmed within a specific discourse and views about anthropology that can be best represented by remarks from fellow graduate students who wondered what I was doing in a “racist” discipline…I became quite disturbed by the “racist” label placed on anthropology by fellow graduate students in other disciplines, particularly those in sociology and political science.

Later, I discover that this is not a rare problem.  Hawaiian native Ty Tengan (2005: 247) writes:

When I entered the anthropology graduate program at the University of Hawai‘i at
Ma¯noa (UHM) in 1998, I was dismayed to find that I was forced to justify my
positionality as both an ‘O¯iwi (Indigenous Hawaiian) and an anthropologist...Those I met were shocked that I was in anthropology and told me that it was ‘an evil white discipline’ that was ‘racist towards Hawaiians’.

Okay, no argument, anthropology, a profession found in many countries, is tainted with racism.  Among others, Hsu (1973; 1979), a Chinese born scholar, pointed it out years ago.

In a land full of racism such as America, you must assume that people born and raised here will likely bring their cultural baggage with them as they enter anthropology.  So, American anthropology is tainted with racism, although many anthropologists are not racists, and many are trying to lessen the problem.

The point here is that anthropology has an image problem within the American academy.  The issue above was found at universities in Illinois and Hawaii.  Apparently, graduate students in other disciplines don’t worry about the racist label, and, they are happy to sling it at anthropology.  Thus, Anthropology students do have to worry about it.  Anthropology seems like a scapegoat.

When and why has this stinky image cast its pall over anthropology within the American academy?  When did anthropology become the poster child of scientific racism and colonialism?

It’s hard to imagine that political science, economics, sociology, or any other discipline, had no part in the expansion of American capitalism and imperialism after World War II.  And, if they exist on American soil, they too will be tainted with racism.  Have you ever seen a black economist or a Native American sociologist?  I suppose there are a few but they are not common.

American anthropologists have to fix this image and identity problem.  Third party intervention is needed using savvy marketing consultants.  No amount of Anthropology of Anthropology can fix it.  Navel gazing is not the answer.  The brand of anthropology needs to be re-invented.

I know the racist discussion has been out there ever since Boas fought the issue at the beginning of the 20th century.  However, as a graduate student in the 1980s I don’t ever remember anything like this, especially since I did an ethnography of anthropology in those years.

Was it the political correctness of the late 1980s and 1990s that led to this image?  Was it the self flagellation of the culture critique crowd that led to it?  Did so many people inside anthropology piss on the discipline  such that other professions noticed the stink and took advantage of it?  Maybe so, maybe the fears of Herbert Lewis (1999: 716) about Misrepresentation and its Consequences have come to fruition:

This article deals with several of the most common charges leveled at anthropology, notably that it has regularly and necessarily exoticized "Others," has been ahistorical, and has treated each culture as if it were an isolate, unconnected to any other. It demonstrates how inaccurate and easily falsifiable such claims are and recommends a critical reevaluation of these unexamined and destructive clich├ęs…[emphasis added]

Maybe anthropologists painted “racist” on their foreheads in their never ending desire for self destruction.  I don’t know.

I do know that no graduate student in any discipline should ever have to worry about such a label.

References cited:

Hsu, Francis L. K.
1973  Prejudice and Its Intellectual Effect in American Anthropology:  An Ethnographic Report.  American Anthropologist 75(1):  1-19.
1979  The Cultural Problem of the Cultural Anthropologist.  American Anthropologist 81(3):  517-532.

Lewis, Herbert S.
1999  The Misrepresentation of Anthropology and Its Consequences.  American Anthropologist 100(3):  716-731.

Ntarangwi, Mwenda
2010  Reversed Gaze:  An African Ethnography of American Anthropology.  Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Tengan, Ty P. Kawika
2005  Unsettling Ethnography:  Tales of an ‘Oiwi in the Anthropological Slot.  Anthropological Forum 15(3):  247–256.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

ZSL Fail

The other day I was going to rant about the security ZSL that is a double short silver ETF.  The rant died because Blogger was not available for inputs (you could read my page but I couldn’t post anything on my end due to their maintenance work).  Thus, the energy to rant faded.  But, the moral is still there so I will discuss it. 

I made a lot of money this year playing the rise in silver using several ETFs, especially PSLV and AGQ.  I was feeling good too since it had been a while that I had a run of such good luck in the markets.  I sold out and went to cash at the top and watched the carnage in silver as it dropped the week of May 2nd.  See the SLV chart.

I often use Elliot Wave ideas to plan my moves.  So, I figured the move down had to be done in three or five waves. Thinking that there should be a dead cat bounce I traded the first bounce up in May with success.  Then I went short thinking that there was more downside in silver.  That’s where I fell into a bear trap.

I bought ZSL, a double short silver ETF, on May 12.  It popped up early and I waited for that first nice v shaped dip, and bought it.  It then bounced a little and then dropped like a rock.  I was down 10 % in a few heart beats and was stopped out.   At that time I also noted that Yahoo Finance data was wacky.  ZSL and AGQ (the double long silver) were down at the same time.  WTF was this?  That relationship was clearly shown on charts that day but now you see that Yahoo shows it a little different. The May 13th chart shows it again briefly in the 12 pm hour.  Also, note that AGQ ends the week down about 18% and ZSL is flat instead of being up 18%. (That's the ZSL bear trap I got into).  Why would they be that far apart?

Both ZSL and AGQ are advertised as being the mirror images of each other. One is double short the silver index, the other is double long.  A close look at the weekly comparison shows that they don’t really mirror one another all that well.  ZSL has more quirkiness about it, often being 5 or 6 % out of sync from the other funds that are tied to the ‘same’ index.
And that is the moral.  Index ETFs are just as likely to be autonomous securities; they don’t always do what they are supposed to do.  It is well known that they have price slippage and don’t track the indexes as closely as one would ‘expect’.  More importantly, they can become wild cards, trading independent of their stated purpose.   I suspect this last week ZSL was a rogue fund for the days May 11 through the 13th.  It traded tens of millions of shares a day when AGQ was four or five times less.

I suspect that the great conspiracy theory about banks controlling the silver markets could be brought into this discussion.  For what ever reason, it sure seemed as if someone didn’t want silver to get below 33.30/oz.  Or, was this just an opportunity to unload large short positions?

All I know is that a little guy like me got played.  If pushing silver prices up will hurt the big banks I’m all for it.

Update: Here is a discussion of ETF manipulation for AGQ/ZSL on May 13th

Friday, May 6, 2011

Customer Service as Post Modernism

I recently attended a training series put on by my government organization.  It seems that many in our department did not understand the bigger picture, the roles that people played, etc.  The intent was to describe what each department does and how we all work together.  I know it may seem unusual but I found it quite helpful since I am relatively new there.  It was a seven hour class done in 7 one hour installments, over seven weeks. 

In one session the speaker reminded us that we are all “customers” and that customer service is really important.  The comment took me back to my days as a sales manager at a mutual funds company.  I used to train sales reps in the idea that since our core funds were much the same as any other company’s funds what set our company apart was our customer service.  It wasn’t my idea but was management’s perspective.

“Customer service is a series of activities designed to enhance the level of customer satisfaction – that is, the feeling that a product or service has met the customer expectation."  From here.

Along with many others,  I feel that customer service these days is generally bad.  I remember when gas stations had attendants who pumped the gas for you, checked the oil, and cleaned windows.  That was service.  (Oregon  requires an attendant to pump gas; must be a min wage jobs program).  Today, good service has to be bought.  So, why do we talk about it so much?  I also thought, when did this focus on customer service take hold?  So, I did the usual and charted an Ngram of it.

Figure 1:  Chart of “customer service”, 1800-2008 (Google Ngrams, here).  Click on it to see bigger image.

Again, like much of what I discuss on this blog, we see in Figure 1 that the growth in usage begins in the early 1980s, with seeds planted a little earlier.  Thus, we had best consider that it is a postmodern idea.  See my earlier discussion on Ngrams and postmodernism, here.

Postmodernism is a very social perspective.  One of its basic characteristics is the emphasis on social over mental endeavors, the social interactive over the abstract.

Next, I wondered what had preceded the concept. What was the modernist concept that customer service replaced?   It would have to be something more abstract and maybe product or company focused.  I cannot come up with another word or phrase that seems to have fallen in use.   Is customer service a new idea?

Please let me know.