Monday, July 27, 2015

The truth about Kennewick Man leaves behind a ship of scientific fools

Scientists with “revolutionary” or “revisionist” theories sometimes get carried away with their own arrogance. Take for example Richard Jantz, a professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Jantz has this “thing” about head size and its relation to “intelligence,” and it should come as no surprise that at a socially conservative institution (I know—I was there), that he would target the liberal philosophy of the most influential modern anthropologist, Franz Boas. Boas championed “cultural relativism,” believing that the “evolutionary” view of human development was nothing more than a rationalization for racism, and that the concept of race was itself a cultural construct. His view was that anthropological beliefs must not be assumed, but that anthropologists must take a “holistic” view of peoples and cultures and their relationship with their environment over time, rather than merely making judgments based on empirical observation and static numbers that fail to explain a creature as complex as man. 

Jantz and his co-conspirator, Corey Sparks, published a study intended to debunk Boas’ research on cranial plasticity. Boas examined over 17,000 subjects in the U.S. to determine if a change in environment affected the cranial size of children of immigrants from Europe, specifically those born ten years before immigrating to the U.S., and those born ten years after their parents immigrated. Boas’ research suggested that environment did create such a change. Jantz and Sparks denied that this was the case, arguing that any differences were too minor to be used as evidence to support Boas’ findings. 

But other scientists repudiated Jantz’s conclusions, arguing that he deliberately misread his own data, which implied support for Boas’ findings. These scientists implied that Jantz was guilty of intellectual misconduct by misrepresenting the nature of Boas’ research; in keeping with his holistic view of anthropology, Boas’ intent was to determine the effects of a changed physical environment and the quality of nutrition had on prenatal development; Jantz and Sparks ignored this, merely making superficial determinations based on length of residency in the U.S. Jantz totally discounted how undernourished mothers and other physical and environmental factors affect the development of  unborn children—and in turn their development into adulthood.  

Jantz, perhaps not surprisingly, joined Smithsonian Institute anthropologist Doug Owsley in publishing a book that argued that the fabled “Kennewick Man” was not Amerindian, but something else. Originally, Jim Chatter’s erroneous claim that the skull found in the Columbia River valley in 1996 had "Caucasian” features had the giddy media all aflutter, and crackpots who believed that Ancient European Ones were responsible for the construction of Mayan and Aztec structures came out of the woodwork—with theories no more credible than those who also insist that space aliens actually built them. Long-bearded Norse cultural types were particularly fanatical in insisting that Kennewick Man was one of their own. Local Amerindian tribes also claimed him as one of their “ancient ones,” but in order to justify ignoring the law on the treatment of Native American remains, it had to be suggested that the bones were not of Amerindian origin. 

Because the Smithsonian Institute is the “official” arbiter of all things Americana, the federal courts gave in to Owsley’s demand that his hand-picked team of researchers with their own political agenda conduct an examination of the bones. Owsley’s team, which had initially sided with the European origin theory, essentially conducted their study in isolation, and revealing no data for or against potential findings for peer review. Eventually Owsley announced to the world the bizarre claim that while Kennewick Man was apparently not European in origin, he “most closely” resembled the Ainu peoples of Japan. This “finding,” unsubstantiated by DNA testing and based on the subjective view of a single specimen, was quickly eaten-up by the media, with the primary story line being that Kennewick Man was not Amerindian—although that itself was a subjective assessment. 

Since Owsley’s findings were clearly subjective and no data to justify his conclusion was made available at the time, there was some scholarly doubts (particularly by Europeans-were-here-first types), and in late 2012 he was forced by the Army Corps of Engineers to release his supporting data, since local Amerindians tribes were hounding it to release the bones (currently in the custody of the University of Washington’s Burke Museum) for reburial. In the subsequent book in which Jantz co-edited, a slew of European “ancient one” theorists, cranks and ecentrics were permitted to submit their two-bit about how Kennewick Man with his narrower skull must surely be that of an “ancient seafarer” who happened to get lost at sea and somehow wound up in Pacific Northwest. Of course, there is no evidence that the Ainu peoples 10,000 years ago—or any peoples, for that matter—had the seafaring technology to cross an ocean. I’m sure these claimants would cry “foul,” but that is essentially what their claims amount to, and they are simply not credible. 
In the meantime, “diffusionist” theories have gained coinage. These theories claim that certain ancient artifacts, art and constructions found in the Americas suggest European origin—a “vanished race” idea that dates back to the mid-19th century—or at least a view that Amerindians were too “barbaric” or stupid to be their creators. Claims that Solutrean spear points found in France resemble that of the Clovis points found in the Americas suggest an ancient race of white people residing here before the Amerindians forgets two uncomfortable facts: The Solutrean spear-point period ended 6,000 years before the first dated Clovis points, and it is absurd to suggest that it is impossible for such simple tools to be created independently by two different cultures.

Such concepts have muddled public (not to mention scientific) perceptions; pop science journals like Scientific American, and “serious” TV programming found on the History Channel and National Geographic portray America’s first inhabitants as having clearly Caucasian features, not even an Asian in sight. The racial—and racist—underpinnings of these portrayals would deny Amerindians of not just their history, but even their right to be recognized as the original inhabitants of the Americas. America was “white” all the time. That various “discoveries” of mainly “Norse” origin (particularly those found in the central regions of the U.S.) that have turned out to be frauds and forgeries have not extinguished the “quest” to find the “real” original inhabitants of the Americas.  

That is until now, or one may conclude so. Researchers at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark were allowed to extract a DNA sample from Kennewick Man using the latest technology; previously it had been suggested the bones were too damaged to supply any usable DNA. It is presumed that this study was permitted so that an entirely “independent” team of scientists without a personal agenda could uncover the truth of the origins of Kennewick Man. 

When Owsley made his very unscientific announcement in 2012, the UK’s Daily Mail published this headline:

9,300-year-old Kennewick Man skeleton found in Washington 'was NOT a Native American but more likely Polynesian'

Now, 30 months later, the Daily Mail published this headline based on the Copenhagen researchers’ very scientific findings:

Kennewick Man WAS a Native American: DNA from 8,500 year old skeleton reignites debate over who controls remains

Geneticist Eske Willerslev found that while some people have claimed that Kennewick Man “has Caucus traits, so he could be related to Europeans,” the truth was that he was genetically closer to Amerindians than any other population group—including “Polynesians” or the Ainu. While the researchers could not isolate any current Amerindian tribe as the direct “ancestor” of Kennewick Man, there was no denying that his closest present “relatives” genetically are Amerindians, perhaps diverging from a “common ancestor” shortly before his life ended on the banks of the Columbia River.

The independent researchers also sought to answer the question as to why Owsley’s team could have been so mistaken in their own findings. It was concluded that it was absurd to take a single individual of such ancient origin and associate it to a current population group without proper research. Doing proper research was the error that Jantz made in rebutting Boas’ cranial study. Of course, Owsley defends himself from looking like a fool by claiming that the new findings only lead to more “questions”—although only ones he would prefer not to answer.

But the most obvious answer to the question is that deep within the mind of white supremacists (or the like-minded who claim not to be racists), there is still this self-conscious desire to rid oneself of all notion of guilt. This land once belonged to Amerindians. Europeans had their own land, and they came over here and literally stole what belonged to someone else, in the sense that they didn’t pay the original owners anything for it, just “took” it. Now they desperately seek to “prove” it belonged to whites all along, and don’t need to be “burdened” with the idea that they have and are now ravishing a land that was never theirs to begin with—and are today attempting to deny it to other descendants of this hemisphere’s original inhabitants who have greater claim to it than Euro-Americans.

Race politics, wishful thinking and Sanchez-hating the order of the day in Geno love-fest

The NFL season is fast coming upon us, and the soap opera that is the “education” of Geno Smith reality show been renewed for a third season—although by the sounds of it, it seems that it is a little short on the “reality” part, just people playing stupid for the cameras. ESPN’s poll of coaches and NFL insiders have for the second year running ranked Geno last among starting quarterbacks. According to one coach, "Geno is a 5, and that is it. He cannot process fast enough. He is not a natural guy, sliding in the pocket and knowing when to run it. He has some legs to run, but no, he is trying to prove he is a pocket passer. Let's do something at the position before we start limiting ourselves for image."

Image. Therein lies the rub. Geno’s incomprehensible level of support among Jets’ fans, teammates (especially black), most sports commentators and Mark Sanchez-haters are all tied-up in knots that they cannot untangle themselves for fear of looking like what they are—foolish. There is a lot of “hope” that this season Geno will “blossom” into a competent quarterback, now that he has what is being called a talented receiving core, including two head-cases, Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Marshall is perhaps a better receiving threat than Percy Harvin was, but he has been bouncing around the league (for a reason), and who knows long his “rapport” with Geno will last when his “touches” inevitably fall. And, lest we forget, Decker was there last season.

In the middle of all of this bovine scatology is the endless trashing of Mark Sanchez. The truth of the matter is that he didn't have a have a competent quarterback coach, and still won twice as many playoff games (all on the road) than any other Jets quarterback. Sanchez' playoff QB rating of 94.3 is in the top-10 all time. In 2010, Sanchez had 5 TDs to 1 interception in the playoffs, and it was the Jets defense’s failure to play “big” with the game on the line against Pittsburgh that  cost the team a Super Bowl berth. One apologist says that Sanchez’s numbers don't compare "favorably" to Geno’s, but that is loose talk—just as Darrelle Revis, protecting his "brother," insipidly derided Sanchez’s as not being a “real” quarterback. And Geno is? Does the fact that Sanchez is the only Hispanic quarterback in the league—play a part in all of this?

Back to reality. Every draft scout warned teams that Geno was a likely bust, and Jets fans and Smith's political apologists just can't face the fact. They have to believe that he is better than Sanchez, who proved last year that he was at least a competent quarterback in the right system, even completing 64 percent of his passes and throwing for an average of almost 270 yards per game. People forget just how horrible the Jets' offensive line was his last season (his backup was sacked a team record 11 times in one game). At best, Smith's ability to run can occasionally allow him a lucky big play catching defenses’ off-guard, but he is certainly no Russell Wilson in that regard. Jets fans better just forget about any "improvement" in his decision-making, because it just isn't part of his "game"; the only competent decision he is capable of is run like hell.

However, some local Jets commentators, like Steve Politi, are lamenting that the Jets new management and coaches have already essentially named Smith the starting quarterback, despite the presence of Ryan Fitzpatrick as the “backup.” The new offensive coordinator, Chan Gailey was adamant when asked last May if Smith was expected to actually “compete” for the starting position after two awful years. "No. Wasn't a thought…It's hard to have a quarterback competition going into a season." Gailey noted that Smith was able to make “good decisions” on “clean reads”—meaning making throws to designated receivers without pressure; the euphemisms he used could disguise that reality. Nor can belittling Sanchez make Smith look “better.”

I can’t wait for the season to begin. The NFL never fails to deliver fascinating story lines.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Returning "home" wasn't so bad, was it, Brett?

This past Saturday saw the induction into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame one Brett Favre. 67,000 fans packed Lambeau Field to take a look at and cheer their hero who had lost his way but was back to his football home. Looking back at all the drama, I have to admit that I was one of those who blamed the Packers’ management team of McCarthy-Thompson-Murphy of deliberately using Favre’s usual off-season “drill” of not coming right out and saying he’s too beat-up to participate in off-season drills as an excuse to force him out. After the 2007 season, they demanded that Favre make a “decision” of whether or not he was going to play in 2008. Favre, of course, waffled, because if he said “yes” he would be expected to show up for the OTAs. He had no intention to do so, but Packer management kept insisting, and Favre--probably in a state of pique—announced his “retirement.” I’m not entirely certain that it was not all a calculated risk on Favre’s part, in that he would “unretired” as soon as felt he was “ready” to go back to practice, and the Packers would naturally welcome him back. 

Favre played that card, and perhaps surprisingly to him, the recently installed Packers management team was not willing to play along, this time. It was apparent that they thought Favre’s best days were done, and his heir apparent, Aaron Rodgers, had spent enough time cooling his heals on the sidelines. It was his time now. A few days of “discussion” made it clear that Mike McCarthy wasn’t going to just let Favre walk in and take over; it would be an “open” competition for the starting quarterback position. Not surprisingly, Favre was offended by this, as well as he should have been since the 2007 season had at least started off as his best yet before his injury against Dallas, and had led the Packers to the NFC Championship game, only to lose to the Giants in overtime. 

Perhaps management was trying to push Favre back into retirement, but after Roger Goodell gave his sanction to allow Favre out of his “retirement,” the Packers had no choice but to play him or trade him. Most Packer fans would have assumed that they would “play” him, but others thought that Favre had overplayed his hand this time, that he was being a diva for refusing to play the “game” that his teammates were expected to play. It wasn’t “fair” for Rodgers to practice with his teammates all spring and essentially be told that he was going to be the starter, and then Favre just strolls in (or flies in) off the street at the last second. 

Still, Favre had proven that he was capable of playing at a higher than average level, and certainly the franchise “owed” him a measure of recognition of his past services, which included being the most important piece in bringing the team back to prominence after 25 years. When Favre was traded to the New York Jets, my thoughts were that at least he had a chance to play, and it would be fascinating to see what he could accomplish in another uniform. I was a BIG Brett Favre fan, and at least he wouldn’t be playing against the Packers. After all, there were other numbers to pursue, like 10,000 pass attempts, 70,000 yards and 500 touchdown passes. Another Super Bowl championship would be nice—for him.

Favre obviously wasn’t comfortable with the Jets offensive scheme, and he didn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, although he did have his first 6-TD pass performance against the Arizona Cardinals. The Jets were playoff bound until Favre apparently injured his shoulder against Denver. The Jets finished the season losing four of their last five games, missing the playoffs. Favre often looked awful in those games, and it was just the excuse he needed to “retire,” and for the Jets to release him; but it was probably a back room agreement between the two parties. 

Why Favre wanted to play for Minnesota, who made their interest known early on and after the obligatory “vacation” Favre came out of “retirement” to sign with, I not certain. Part of the reason might be because Favre was friendly with some of the players, he thought the team had some good playmakers (like Adrian Peterson) and he had something to “prove” against the now “rival” Packers. Favre had statistically his best season ever in 2009, his first 100+ QB rating and the only season in which he was the starter that he threw single-digit interceptions (7). He beat the Packers twice and eventually made it to the NFC title game, only to be beaten  black and blue by the New Orleans Saints’ defense,  his swollen ankle preventing him from running for field goal range yardage in front of a wide-open field, instead throwing another soul-crushing interception that led to an overtime loss.

Favre’s ankle injury obviously affected his play in 2010, and a shoulder injury ended his record consecutive start streak. Favre did pass the 70,000 career yards and 500 TD pass mark, and even set a new personal high for passing yards in a single game (446). But he was clearly done, and he didn’t even bother to play the last game of the season, even though he could have. To add shame to embarrassment, Favre lost twice to his nemesis in Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers—who led the Packers to a Super Bowl championship that season. Thus Favre’s little excursion added to his final statistics and his pocketbook, but little else. Those of us who still supported him throughout his adventures (including the “sexting” allegation) could at least return to full allegiance with the Packers with the knowledge that Favre did little to “tarnish” what he accomplished in Green Bay.

The evidence that all is forgiven is  the heading on Favre’s official website, which dispenses with imagery of his brief stints with the Jets and Vikings, just Favre in  the green and gold, as it should be.  Favre knows where his enduring fame lies—not necessarily as one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, but as one of the greatest football players ever. This guy put everything on the field, for (more often) better or for worse. Sure, Favre threw all those interceptions, but that is what made life so “exciting” for Packer fans. Quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are machine-like, but Favre was the “gunslinger” and the “gambler.” And he won 160 regular season games in 16 seasons as the Packers’ quarterback, with only one losing season, and the Packers first NFL championship since Lombardi.

Favre expressed “surprise” that the tickets to Saturday’s induction ceremony sold-out within hours; even his daughter observed that Packer fans must “really like you.” I’m a bit surprised he actually doubted that. I grew-up in Wisconsin and have been a die-hard Packer fan for almost a half-century. I remember those bad old days, when the Packers’ best player was their kicker, Chester Marcol—and even he kind of sucked after three great seasons, two of which he led the NFL in scoring. Sure, quarterback Lynn Dickey and a platoon of outstanding receivers made things exciting for a few years before injury sidelined his promising career in the early Eighties, but otherwise Green Bay was a frozen wasteland that none of the best players wanted to be exiled to (especially black players). 

But then the Packers new GM, Ron Wolf arrived on the scene and had his eye set on Favre, even after Atlanta drafted him. New coach Mike Holmgren was at first less enthusiastic, but the aw-shucks Favre fit-in with any group, and good players wanted to play with him, because he was the kind of quarterback who made Pro Bowlers out of receivers who with another team might be just average (just look at Sidney Rice’s post-Favre stats). Favre stepped in as starter in game four in 1992, and never looked back. The Packers didn’t have a losing season until 2005, when most of Favre’s starting receiving corps spent all or most of the season on the injured list.

The fact is that Favre never really was out of favor with fans, just a little disappointment that he chose to play for a division rival. If anything, Packer fans were unhappy that it took so long for him to acknowledge that he was, after all, a Packer and not one of those other guys. To heck with Thompson and Murphy, we Packer fans knew what the score was, there was no need to draw out the drama, hurt feelings and all. Now we are all one happy “family” again, with the memory of many great years to be proud to number oneself as a Packer Backer. Time to move-on to another Super Bowl, Mr. Rodgers. It’s your neighborhood now.

Was Hillary’s absence from Netroots ambush “planned”?

The progressive grassroots organization Netroots recently staged a conference in Phoenix, Arizona—ground zero on the immigration debate—that was hijacked by a lesbian and “black lives matter” group, attempting to deny the two Democratic presidential candidates who showed up an opportunity to speak on the issues. They managed to successfully drown out former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, but less so Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose supporters were in sufficient numbers to outlast the rudeness. The “activists” claimed that they were being taken for “granted” by Democrats, and they wanted their “voices” heard, as if we haven’t been hearing it loud and clear for quite some time now, with extensive media support and even a U.S. Supreme Court decision affirming gay marriage.

“We’ve been silent for too long. We’ve been polite for too long. And our silence and our politeness is killing us,” a Ms. Peoples claimed to the New York Times. She and her cohorts are probably the only people who have that impression; at least they have been receiving “positive” press, more so than immigrants who are the targets of rationalized hate (even from them). According to the Times, “Ms. Peoples said that the group would have ceased chanting had they felt the candidates were giving substantive, authentic responses, rather than ‘cookie cutter generalities’” or at least that is how they rationalized their irrational behavior.

Actually, people who feel the way they do who are the ones “out of touch,” just like those who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. For the vast majority of people on the bottom of the economic ladder, race is an ancillary issue to the question of economic justice; but these people just use it to justify their single-issue agenda, just like pro-abortion activists. Sen. Sanders understands that everyone’s lives matter which is why his big issue is economic inequality—which should be everyone’s “big issue.” 

Sen. Sanders actually came off well despite the efforts to discredit him, although some in the audience only suggested that his “purpose” was to drive the candidate who was not there closer to the left; I doubt that was accomplished. So now who wouldn’t be there to face the wrath of the fringe groups? Why, Hillary Clinton. According to the Times, “Mrs. Clinton elected instead to speak at the Arkansas Democratic Party’s annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner on Saturday, after a brief swing through Iowa where she joined fellow Democrats seeking the nomination for a banquet put on by the state party in Cedar Rapids.”

One of the participants of the Netroots’ conference, Jenni Siri, a supporter of Sen. Sanders, was quoted “Her not being here almost looks like she’s thumbing her nose at the event. She’s acting like it’s not a big deal.”

No, she wasn’t “thumbing her nose” and the event, or believing that it wasn’t a “big deal.” It was a “big deal” for her. I suspect that Hillary was forewarned of the hi-jack by her supporters, and in fact those who caused the ruckus did so because they were  Hillary supporters who wanted to discredit her rivals. Conspiracy theory? Maybe, but Clinton has a history of fanatical supporters who will do anything for her—remember Harriet Christian of “inadequate black male” infamy, or feminist commentator Bonnie Erbe’s demand that Barack Obama give up the nomination he had already won because “whites will not vote for you”? 

The whole episode appears to me to be a deliberate effort to ambush those who would dare to challenge Clinton, who when it comes right down to it is little more than “image” than substance. For some people, the image is all that matters.