As a child, I ran a bit hot and cold on the whole Curious George issue. I loved him when I was 5 and devoured all the books in short order (I was a precocious reader). In the first grade, much to the chagrin of our school librarian, I found the situation of a monkey in an urban environment problematic. Which was odd considering I lived in a weird place that – in addition to the wide-range of eccentrics, roadside attractions, and sanctuaries, was the winter home of the circus – and didn’t give much thought to the variety of exotic animals all over town.

In the present, discussions erupt now and again in the MeanLouise Lair about whether George is a monkey or an ape. Sometimes other people are involved in these debates, other times I’m just talking to myself.

I think we can retire the subject once and for all because bioanthropology blogging heart-throb Kristina Killgrove has written a truly fab post on her blog, Powered by Osteons, that explores the question, “Is Curious George a Monkey or an Ape?” in fascinating detail.

I bet the Fabulous Miss P. and Heather will both find the post interesting, if not for the science than for the cultural context of those books.

precious. precocious. one of those. my proofreader failed me today ;-)

Peter Cluckey
[embedded photo: Peter Cluckey by meanlouise,on Flickr]

Long long ago, when I was a spry and healthy college student, I spent a semester as an intern/volunteer at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, then part of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology at Walter Reed. When I went to the museum, I always stopped in the exhibit hall to say hi to Peter Cluckey (pictured, above) before going back to the collections area to meet with my supervisor.

Why Peter and not the live leeches or the trichobezoar or the skeleton of Ham the Space Chimp or any of the other interesting objects on display? I find it difficult to explain, but I think you’d understand if you met him.

I always thought it charming and noble that Peter chose to donate his bones to science even though science hadn’t exactly come through for him. The guy spent half his life sitting in a wooden chair (or laying down in the same position), you’d think he wouldn’t want to spend eternity that way. There’s an admirable optimism in his bequest, if you think about it. Plus, he had fascinating skeletal pathology. He didn’t foretell the future to me or anything like that. He was a Spanish American War veteran. He was kinda old when he died and he had an obscure disease, after all.

Despite a variety of treatments over the next 20 years, his condition worsened to the point where every joint in his body became fused together. Cluckey was moved into a sitting position so he could be placed in a chair or on his side in bed to sleep. Four front teeth were removed in 1921 so that he could be fed soft foods. He lived out the last 15 years of his life at the United States Soldiers Home in Washington, D.C.

Cluckey died on Sept. 10, 1925 at the age of 43. He was so impressed with the significance of his disease and the inability of the medical doctors of the time to comprehend the disease and cope with it, that he gave his body to the Army Medical Museum (the progenitor of today’s National Museum of Health and Medicine) for study. Doctors determined during the autopsy that Cluckey had suffered from chronic progressive ankylosing rheumatoid arthritis and spondylitis severe enough to render him completely helpless.

I didn’t visit Peter for years. After September 11 it became inconvenient to gain entry to the museum because it was in the middle of a military installation. Then there was the BRAC, which led to the closure of Walter Reed and the creation of a fancy new museum in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Last week, Husband and I were headed to Philadelphia to visit the Mutter Museum, the oldest medical history museum and research center in the U.S. After about 45 minutes in the car it became apparent to me that a road trip was not in the cards.

Ironically, it was my aching arthritic back and neck that led us to Peter’s door. We decided to visit the new NMHM since we were practically in the neighborhood. According to google maps, anyway. Applemaps probably would have sent us to one of those spooky cornfields the USDA has out in Greenbelt. If we were lucky…

The new museum is smaller and more focused than the old one. Suffice to say that many of the items that were on display in the larger facility are now in storage. I was happy to reach the end of an exhibit and encounter Peter sitting in his chair, as if watching the world go by. I was a bit disturbed to realize I’m not far from Peter’s age now, but I decided not to dwell on that. You should find time to visit the museum.

Remember to stop and say hi to Peter when you’re there and do give him my regards.

[embedded photo: Peter Cluckey]
A trichobezoar is a human hairball. I figured if I gave you that link in the post you’d click it and never come back.

I was going to write an epic post about how the Maya never predicted an apocalypse for December 21, 2012, but, ironically, I was too busy writing my final paper for my graduate archaeological theory seminar to write an anthropology post. Had to take a little time out for reading and writing to celebrate Husband’s birthday.

His birthday was December 12. December 12, 2012. 12/12/12. Or, as I called it, National Soundcheck Day. (1-2-1-2-1-2).


Let me make that Maya thing up to you, at least a little bit.

First of all, despite the fact that the Hobbit is a wild disappointment, New Zealanders are in the thick of December 21 and report that the world has not ended.

Also, I’m sure a chunk of the 6 million people of Mayan descent on the planet think anyone freaking out about a a poor interpretation of an ancient calendar used by priests and astronomers is an idiot. Or for thinking that the Maya are extinct.

Or for not knowing where they live.

Or for thinking that Maya Rudolph and/or Maya Angelou are harbingers of doom.

Wait, no, I’m the one who thinks you’re an idiot for that last one.

Back to the Maya and the crazy influx of tourists who are confusing the hell out of a lot of people who are just trying to survive and feed themselves and their families.

This article from Reuters hits the highlights. Mexico’s ethnic Maya unmoved by 2012 ‘Armageddon’ hysteria – End of a 5,125-year cycle in Maya Long Calendar, Majority of today’s Maya people are Roman Catholic

Thousands of mystics, New Age dreamers and fans of pre-Hispanic culture have been drawn to Mexico in hopes of witnessing great things when the day in an old Maya calendar dubbed “the end of the world” dawns on Friday.

But many of today’s ethnic Maya cannot understand the fuss. Mostly Christian, they have looked on in wonder at the influx of foreign tourists to ancient cities in southern Mexico and Central America whose heyday passed hundreds of years ago.

For students of ancient Mesoamerican time-keeping, Dec. 21, 2012 marks the end of a 5,125-year cycle in the Maya Long Calendar, an event one leading U.S. scholar said in the 1960s could be interpreted as a kind of Armageddon for the Maya.

Academics and astronomers say too much weight was given to the words and have sought to allay fears the end is nigh.

[read the rest of the article at Reuters]

To be fair, those ancient temples are extremely cool.

If you still think the Maya are extinct, that the modern interpretations of the calendar are correct, or that the horribleness of the Hobbit may be bringing about the end of the world, this website can make you feel better about 2 out of the 3, at least:

The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian has a kick-ass page up about Mayan culture. There’s even a special section about the calendar, 2012: resetting the count.

At Scientific American, Daisy Yuhas has an excellent post up about what psychology reveals about the comforts of the apocalypse. Maybe that’s all you really need to know this week.

University of San Diego

The first day of the 7th World Congress of Mummy Science (being hosted here at the University of San Diego) was super-excellent. I’m also super-exhausted because I spent about 9 hours traveling to get here, dumped my stuff in my dorm room, and dashed over for the afternoon sessions, a plenary speech and a reception. I’m deliriously tired and actually slogged back to my room by 9. I wasn’t the only one since there are plenty of east coasters and plenty more participants from Europe.

I’m determined to stay up until 11 local time so I don’t wake up at 4 a.m. every day and then run out of steam before the parties start each night.

I chose to stay on campus because a) it’s crazy-cheap, b) the hall we’re all staying in is about 50 yards from the conference center, c) it’s crazy-cheap, d) I can sneak back to my room for (very necessary) naps and e) crazy-cheap.

The campus is beautiful, but with all this dark wood paneling and dark ornate furniture, this place would be my first-choice location if I ever decided to make a horror movie and set it on a college campus.

I My room is meant to be a triple, and has 2 big closets and a wardrobe. The closet doors like to slowly and ominously creep open, but I swear they stop moving if you look directly at them.

Haunted closet

Come to think of it, there are a lot of statues on this campus. I better not blink….

And on that note, it’s 11 PST. Stick a fork in my, I’m done.

In Lab Notes, Newsweek’s Sharon Begley has posted Hourglass Figures: We Take it All Back, a look at some of the flawed assumptions about body-shape, fertility and health that have been bandied about for years as scientific truth.

Can we please stop telling young women that if they don’t meet the hourglass ideal there is something wrong with them, that they are doomed to infertility and will never form a relationship? NEWSWEEK was complicit in that message a dozen years ago; it’s long past time to realize that it is wrong both empirically and in terms of evolutionary theory.

Interesting that the comments about posts like this always leap immediately to the conclusion that if women are not very thin they are automatically obese.

All summer long I’ve looked forward to the premier of the new FOX show Bones (and if the ratings are to be believed, so did 11 million other people). Forensic anthropology. David Boreanaz. How bad could it be?

It wasn’t bad. It certainly wasn’t capital B Bad. It was just plain awful.

Awful writing, no chemistry, lame plot, silly settings. Oh, how it hurt.

I kind of liked the lack of knowledge of DC. See the plane land at Dulles airport – which is on the Mall in front of the Capitol building! See the funeral at the cemetery – which is on the Mall in front of the Capitol building! See the ease with which you can drive around downtown DC, which, no matter where you are going lands you on the Mall in front of the Capitol building! Really, if you think about it cemeteries and airports are both rather poor uses of big plots of land. Why not combine the two functions? And why not combine them on that big ‘ole plot of land we call the Mall? It’s just sitting there – let it earn it’s keep.

I kind of liked the silly design of the Smithsonian Jeffersonian. Especially the lab and conservation areas/greenhouse. That’s what fragile objects really like, you know, lots and lots of sunlight. There was loads of bad science throughout the show and I’m looking forward to a chat about the show with my old forensic anthropology professor. I deleted the show out of the Tivo so I wouldn’t be tempted to waste time re-watching it to note examples, but a stellar example would be in the opening scene when our heroine transports a human skull in a duffel bag with no wrapping or packaging of any kind. Plus, she throws the bag around alot, drops it on the ground etc. Above and beyond the fact that this is a lousy way to handle evidence, it shows a profound lack of respect for human remains.

None of that bothered me as much as the gun thing. What disturbed me was the idea that scientists at the Smithsonian Jeffersonian carry concealed weapons. They even have their own firing range! (Which, incidentally, is a cavern of hard surfaces just waiting to ricochet bullets hither and yon – very safe).

Even if we ignored the fact that you can’t get a permit to carry a concealed weapon in DC there’s still the basic concept: guns + scientists. I know a lot of scientists, and many of them (possibly including myself) should be required to obtain a permit before operating a letter opener. Curatorial meetings are scary enough without firepower at the ready.

After Bones, Supernatural seemed darned good. At least it didn’t have gun-toting curators.

I’ve been talking with faculty in Anthropology and CompSci about developing a course in Digital Culture that I could possibly teach after I finish my Master’s Degree next year. I have to finish Comprehensive exams and complete two major projects between now and then, so I don’t want to get too excited yet….

If you were teaching (or taking) a class in cyberculture, what would you want to cover? Cyberpunk? the Digital Divide? Urban legends? Online fandoms? Gender? Privacy? What else?