Thoughts

The Harvard Coffee Study

From The Kitchn:

A Harvard study was broken into three parts over the course of 30 years, tracking the results of more than 208,000 men and women. When compared to non-coffee drinkers, moderate imbibers exhibited a “lower risk of death from type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, and suicide.”

Fantastic. Now I can justify the four cups of coffee I drink every day.

On the Rubio-Obama Comparison

I don’t know many fellow progressives/liberals who read conservative sites or publications, but I do occasionally. It’s always interesting to get a feel of the conservative zeitgeist as this reality-TV-show-like Republican primary continues.

Jonathan Last of The Weekly Standard had an interesting take on Jeb(!)’s frequent comparisons of Rubio to Obama. At the time of running, both of them are young first-term senators that straddle the divide between party elites and a more idealist electorate:

“One wonders how effective the comparisons of Rubio to Obama are. After all, Republicans might not like Obama’s accomplishments, but liberals are thrilled with them. Seen by liberal lights, Obama was spectacularly effective as president. If you offered most Republicans the chance to have a conservative version of the Obama years, I suspect they’d take that deal in a heartbeat.”

On the Poor Job Market for History Ph.D. Grads

Someone I know recently shared this report from Inside Higher Ed on the current job market for history Ph.D.s (emphasis mine):

“In history, the situation may be especially challenging for new Ph.D.s, because their numbers have continued to grow as the market has become so tight.

“Notably, for the first time in 41 years, the number of jobs advertised with the AHA fell below half the number of Ph.D.s conferred in the previous year. Approximately 1,183 new Ph.D.s were conferred in history in the 2013-14 academic year,” says the report on the jobs data, written by Robert B. Townsend, who oversees the Washington office of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Humanities Indicators Project, and Julia Brookins, special projects coordinator at the AHA.”

Okay, this was all very well and depressing, though I entered grad school with no illusions about the current challenging conditions of academic work. There was a glimmer of hope at the end, though:

“Areas where there are proportionately more jobs than are reflected in the new Ph.D. pool are Asian history (9 percent of listings and 6.6 percent of new Ph.D.s) and African history (4.4 percent of listings and 2.7 percent of new Ph.D.s).”

What I find amazing is that 55.9% of new history graduates study Euro-American history. For all the advances this field has made in inclusiveness and global-mindedness over the years, it’s still a pretty conservative field. I guess it was something I didn’t realize during my undergraduate years when I was still an East Asian Studies major.

On “Ancient China”

I was reading The Cambridge History of Ancient China yesterday for an independent reading seminar and stumbled upon this golden quote from Princeton’s own Robert Bagley (unfortunately, I did not get to take any classes with him while I was there):

“No student of fifth-century Athenian culture would be content to describe it as an early stage in the rise of Byzantine civilization, but this is exactly the sort of backward view that shapes the study of China before the Zhou period.”

There’s a pervasive preoccupation with defining what “ancient China” is; indeed, it’s a preoccupation that is arguably misleading. Perhaps we believe the Xia and Shang dynasties are the progenitors of “Chinese” civilization simply because Sima Qian said so. And given that he lived centuries after their putative existence, why should his determination be the final word on the matter?

The Most Disappointing Part of “The Force Awakens” For Me Was…

Is the fact that the director and producers did not hire and actual linguist and conlanger to create constructed languages for the alien cultures and peoples the main characters encounter. Over at Language Log, Ben Zimmer notes:

“But as I noted in the New York Times Magazine when “Avatar” was released, alien-speak in the “Star Wars” movies has, by contrast, “never amounted to more than a sonic pastiche” – a pastiche largely assembled by sound designer Ben Burtt using bits of exotic-sounding human languages.”

It’s a shame, really, because the efforts of Sara Forsberg are simply just not convincing at all. I imagine this problem will only compound as the sequels and those stand-alone films are released in the future. Linguistic inconsistency is going to flourish. (Another way the new trilogy harks back to the first, I suppose)

GRRM Interview

I quite enjoyed this recent interview with everyone’s favorite fantasy author George R. R. Martin. His ability to weave disparate historical elements into an overall cohesive narrative has always been my favorite part of A Song of Ice and Fire, though I would respectfully disagree with his assertion that “history is all about war.” It just happens to be the part that most people remember. The meetings and words at diplomatic meetings are much more boring than the clash of steel upon steel.

In the meantime, we all keep waiting for The Winds of Winter to be released.

Night gathers, and now our watch begins…

Malaysian Turtle Eggs

A few years ago, I went with my family to Pulau Tioman, a resort island off the coast of West Malaysia. It was an idyllic trip with lots of fish, coral, and pearly beaches, but there was this one incident that I still remember clearly to this day.

There was a small island where turtles frequently came to lay their eggs, and while we were exploring its beaches, we noticed our guide digging through the sand. He had found some turtle eggs, and proceeded to put them into a plastic bucket. On the boat, my sister and I confronted him and asked him what he was going to do with the eggs. “Oh, I’m just going to bring them to the hatchery,” he replied, and we having no evidence to the contrary, dropped the issue. But I always had my doubts and wondered if he had taken them for sale or his own consumption.

So when Sabahan Rural and Regional Development Minister **Ismail Sabri Yaakob** was photographed eating turtle eggs at a banquet, I was not surprised. Rather, my thoughts drifted back to that beach, and I pray that those eggs weren’t taken for someone’s dinner table.

Bourdieu is Unreadable

I’m in a culture contact anthropology seminar this quarter, and we’ve been reading a lot of Bourdieu. A lot. Thankfully, we’ve mostly been reading him through the lenses and papers of other eminent scholars in the field rather than reading his work directly. His work, in the words of our professor, “are almost unreadable.” I thought he was exaggerating until I came upon his “sentence” explaining habitus:

The structures constitutive of a particular type of environment (e.g., the material conditions of existence characteristic of a class condition) produce habitus, systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to serve as structuring structures, that is, as principles of the generation and structuring of practices and representations which can be objectively “regulated” and “regular” without in any way being the product of obedience to rules, objectively adapted to their goals without presupposing a conscious aiming at ends or an express mastery of the operations necessary to attain them and, being all this, collectively orchestrated without being the product of the orchestrating action of a conductor.

Seriously, this is all one sentence. Professor Steve Vaisey has come up with a good alternate translation that’s a lot more readable and isn’t a complete word salad.