The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Monday, April 30, 2012

So, These Things Happen...

One of the local counties wants to build some structures near a neighborhood in a mostly agricultural area in the San Joaquin Valley.  This was subject to CEQA* review, and so I was sent out to have a look and see what was what.

I drove for about an hour, got to the site, and discovered that it was nestled amongst a group of dilapidated, abandoned homes, and a few rather nice currently occupied houses.  I got out of the car, and began walking the lots, looking for evidence of archaeological materials, when I heard someone call out "Hey, what are you up to?"

I looked up, and saw a middle-aged Latino man walking towards me.  He stopped about ten feet from me, looked at my shirt (I was wearing a UC Santa Cruz T-Shirt), nodded approvingly, and then walked towards me and we introduced ourselves to each other and shook hands.  He owned one of the neighboring houses, and seeing me nosing around, figured that he should find out who I am.  This is perfectly normal, and it is rare that I have a bad interaction with someone who comes out to see what I am up to.

I explained that I was doing the environmental review for this particular project, with which he was familiar, and was just looking at the ground.  He then began telling me about problems his brother had had with getting building permits with the county, and abruptly changed the conversation over to a discussion (or rather a spewing rant from him) about how the county of Fresno, CalOSHA, the local hospital, and the Sheriff's department are all part of a massive conspiracy to deny him workers comp coverage, and to kill off workers in local canneries.  Oh, and he also told of how he went to court, represented himself, but channeled questions from THE LORD GOD ALMIGHTY and used these questions to defeat his opponents in court, only to have the corrupt judge decide against him anyway (Note:  The is why the Tea Party people are so worked up over "activist judges" - apparently judges can over-turn the decisions of the almighty creator of the universe).

I politely listened for a few minutes, and then told him that I needed to get back to work.  He proceeded to follow me around for the next 30 minutes or so, repeating most of his story during that time, while also asking me what I thought of various points, and then cutting me off before I got more than 1.5 syllables into a response.  Finally, he stopped ranting, and said:  "So, I see that you went to college, so you're smart.  What do you think that I should do?"

Two things surprised me: 1) usually, these days, when people find out that I went to college, unless the themselves did as well, they immediately assume that I am shiftless, lazy and arrogant, and that I need them to tell me about "the real world".  So, I was a bit surprised to have someone assume that I was more intelligent than them.  Mind you, I'm not sure that I am more intelligent than this guy, but I do suspect that I have a firmer grasp on reality and mental health; 2) I told this guy that I was an archaeologist, not a county employee, not a lawyer, not a media figure, so why the hell did he think that I could help him at all?

It was very strange.

So, after trying to dodge the question for a bit, I finally told him to contact the media.  I figured that, on the off-chance that there was any truth to his story (I really doubt it, but corruption is not unknown in Fresno County government) then it would expose it, but, more likely, the media people would see him as a crank and blow him off.  He responded that he had called the local TV stations but "they wouldn't touch it, they're afraid!" 

Yeah...sure buddy.

So, I told him to contact national media (even higher chance of a crank brush-off, but at least he wouldn't be my problem, and I could get back to work).  He thought about it, decided that this was a good idea, and asked "So, who do I call?"

I explained, again, that I don't work in the media, and didn't know.  But that he could get email addresses and phone numbers and find out pretty easily.

His response - "well, yeah, but you know people who work for like CNN or the New York Times, or something, right?"

I had to explain to him multiple times that no, I do not know any such people, before he'd finally believe.

In the end, I had to get in my car and drive around the block, and then walk back to the project area in order to lose the guy.  So it goes...

*California Environmental Quality Act

Friday, April 27, 2012

SAA Memphis Part 3 - Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

This here is Part 3, you dig?  Part 2 is here, and Part 1 is here.

So, that night I got to bed, fell asleep quickly, and, due to exhaustion, managed to sleep solidly the full night despite the immature pilots of Boeing 747s buzzing my hotel all night long*.  This also despite the fact that the hotel began to fill up with the rather rowdy attendees of a party for 15-year-clean members of Cocaine Anonymous**.

The next morning, I took the shuttle over to the convention center again, knowing that I would only have a partial day in which to see what I could at the conference, as well as to take a quick look around Memphis in the daylight.

So, I started by going to the poster session at the conference.  Posters, for those unaware, are a way for researchers to present their work without getting up and giving a talk.  Although some posters could easily be turned into a 15 or 20 minute talk, most are not quite sufficient material for such a talk, and as a result are better served by the static display of the poster.  A great advantage of posters is that the person who did the research is free to talk about it in a way that the people giving papers are not.  As a result, the poster presenters are often quite busy discussing results and answering questions with the other conference attendees.

Several of the posters were quite good, but two in particular struck me.  The first was from a  graduate student at the University of Washington who was presenting on her work at Dutch colonies in the Spice Islands.  Her work was interesting in its own right, but struck me especially because her findings (roughly - the Dutch were more acculturated by the people that they forced to work on their plantations than the people of the plantations were enculturated by the Dutch, and there was little effort to eliminate or alter the culture of the workers) held some interesting contrasts and parallels to the history of Spanish and later Mexican colonization of California.

The second noteworthy poster was from a young man whose institution I don't remember, but he was presenting on the work he is doing with sling stones.  Sling stones are precisely what they sound like - rocks used in a sling (think of the weapon with which David is said to have killed Goliath).  Slings were used throughout North America, but are rarely discussed by archaeologists, who generally focus on other projectile weapons - mostly arrows, darts, and spears.  What struck me is that one of the sling stones that the presenter had made looked suspiciously like a common bi-conical stone found in Californian sites usually thought to have been a religious item and called a charm stone.  Now, I am not saying that all, or even most, of these items were sling stones, but it is worth noting the similarities, and considering whether or not we may be routinely mistaking one artifact type for another.

After a bit, I went out to wander Memphis just a little bit more.  I wandered over to Beale Street, where I found myself in the middle of a Corvette enthusiast gathering.  It was quite a site to see, but my time was short, and I couldn't dawdle.

I then moved on to get some photographs of the Mississippi River, which is, it must be said, one hell of a river.   It was interesting, it must be said, to look across a river and know that I was seeing Arkansas - there are few places in my home state of California where you can know where one state ends and another begins just by looking at a natural boundary.

Finally, though, I headed back to the shuttle's stop, and got back to the hotel.  I found myself Sitting in the shuttle with the wonderfully named Professor Paine. If only my friend Myrtle shock (aka Dr. Shock, on account of her Ph.D.) were there to meet him.  Once at the hotel, I collected my belongings, and boarded another shuttle for the airport.  However, as I boarded the shuttle back to the airport, I was happy to see that one of the Cocaine Anonymous folks was a dead ringer for Liam Neeson, were Liam Neeson a bearded, long-haired redneck.

Anyway, I got the the airport, and realized that I had not yet purchased a gift for Kaylia, so I got promptly on that, settling on a box of Moon Pies (I have always found them nasty, but Kaylia likes marshmallow more than I do).  While doing this, I encountered a man who kept inadvertently knocking things off of shelves with his backpack.  He and I got to talking, and it turned out that he was a film distributor from San Francisco who had been traveling the country to attend meetings with possible outlets for a film on the history of Timbuktu that had fallen into his company's hands.  He had been in Memphis meeting with people in no way related to archaeology, when he heard that the SAA was there.  However, he had no knowledge of how to reach anyone...and then he ran into an SAA member who also had no idea how to reach anyone at the SAA, so there's irony for you.

One pulled prok sandwich later, I had to move to get onto my plane.  I was delighted to discover that there were only two people in my row - myself, and a fellow who looked for all of the world like John McCain.  As the plane was loading, the honorable senator from Arizona pulled out a large, hardcover sex advice book, and began reading intently, which he continued doing until we touched down in Atlanta (our layover stop).  Unlike the flight out, this one was uneventful, and I was able to finish reading my own book (Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley - I highly recommend it). 

After we landed, and as we disembarked, it became clear that the former Republican nominee for president had to literally run to catch his connecting flight (perhaps to Wasilla Alaska?).  And so he closed up his sex book and took off running as soon as we were off the plane (it was quite a sight to see, I assure you).  I strolled at a leisurely towards my plane.

On my way to the plane, I was passed by a family of three - a mother and her two children (a boy of about ten years, and a girl in her early teens).  The mother, a very attractive woman with an accent that I have to admit I found quite pleasant, said, rather loudly "well, all of this walking around is making my skirt ride up just ever so much!"  Prompting the teenage daughter to say "Ma!  What have I told you about too much information!"  The son just giggled, whether because he thought it was funny, or out of embarrassment, I could not tell.

You know, it's a shame that sexy John McCain had to take off...I could have introduced the mother to him.

As I kept towards my plane's gate, I also saw a rather corpulent middle-aged white woman being pushed in a wheelchair by a young African American man.  The young man had a bored look on his face, as the woman lectured on about how it is necessary to know your place in order to fit in and be happy.  While the conversation may very well have had nothing to do with race, I must admit that the scene as I saw it seemed to conform to stereotypes.  This, in turn, led me to wonder how often visitors to California see scenes that are not quite what they at first appear, and yet seem to conform to existing stereotypes.

Upon reaching my gate, I realized that I had an hour to kill before boarding.  I was not yet hungry, but I realized that I had a four-to-five hour flight ahead of me, and therefore should probably eat.  I made my way towards a nearby airport sandwich shop, and found myself at a table next to one filled by a group of female undergrad archaeology students, whose conversation was mostly gossip about who was dating who in their department, peppered with talk of good come-on lines for archaeologists. My favorite line: 'I have a recreated Navajo bow for projectile experimentation,would you like to come shoot it?'"

I am ashamed to admit that it took me about an hour before I realized the true potential for "bow job" jokes.

Finally, I got on my plane, and was on my way to San Francisco.  Unlike my previous flights, I had little to report on this one.  I was the only person in my row until the last hour or so of the flight, when a Peruvian archaeologist came over in order to work without being harassed by the person in the seat next to her.  I finally arrived in San Francisco around 11:30, and got easily to my car, and then off to a friend's place for the night, heading back to Fresno in the morning.

And there ended what is likely my last SAA trip for quite a long time.

*It's like they're just 13-year-olds with jet engines.

**No, I'm not making this up.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

SAA Memphis Part 2 - It's Gettin' Real at the Convention Center

See Part 1 for the "story up to now..."

Okay, so there I was in Memphis, walking out of the hotel, trying to find the shuttle, only to be informed that the shuttle already left, a little bit early, already full.  Three other archaeologists were already standing there - an older woman, a young professor, and an Albanian graduate student* (sounds like the setup to a joke, I know).  So, the four of us decide to get a taxi.  This worked out well enough, but the cab ride was considerably pricier than any of us expected (topping $30).  Luckily, the professor had an expense account and so he covered it for all of us, which we all very much appreciated.

I got checked in to the conference, and high-tailed it over to my session just before it began.  On the way, I ran into an old friend, Dave Robinson (the fellow for whom I have been doing faunal analysis), and we had a bit of a chat on the way in, and in between papers.  Dave is quite brilliant, and I have always enjoyed talking shop with him.

Anyway, my session began, and, as the other speakers are presenting, I suddenly realize that there are a number of things that need to be changed about my paper.  So, out comes my red pen (yes, I do typically carry one), and I begin re-writing sections on the print-out that I have.  I am becoming increasingly nervous as I go, and realizing that the Powerpoint presentation that I had created and sent to the symposium organizer bears only a vague similarity to the paper as it now exists.  Earlier than I had been scheduled, the organizer announces that one of the papers had been cancelled, and as such I am now up.

I am horribly nervous, panicked, and not wanting to go up.  I look around the room, and it has a number of brilliant archaeologists, almost every colleague who I hold in high esteem: Lynne Gamble, Terry Joslin, Dave Robinson, Jennifer Perry, Amy Gusick, Bill Hildebrandt (who also runs one of my company's main competitors), John Johnson, and my mentor, Michael Glassow.


Well, there was nothing else for it.  I began talking.  As I was in the middle of modifying the damn paper when I was called up, I had to fudge a few sections, explaining the concepts and data without having a good script from which to work.  I was able to ease things along by cracking a few jokes about the microscopically small font size on some of my Powerpoint slides, and I was able to make the Powerpoint presentation work with what I had.  I was very unhappy with the paper when I gave it, but I managed to at least get through the presentation without hyperventillating.  As always when I do these talks, I sat down believing that I had blown my credibility with everyone in the room.  I was feeling pretty terrible.

I was the last speaker, so I fully expected to slink out unnoticed.  But then one of the more senior archaeologists accosted me.  He came towards me, and instead of the upbraiding that I was expecting, he enthused "that was great!  Some of what you were talking about is stuff that always bothered me, and I am glad to see that someone else also saw it...and the approach you took was pretty cool!  Here, take my card, I want you to email a copy of that paper to me!"

I was a bit confused, but played along.

John Johnson then spoke with me, and described the research that he would like to do on the subject, while complimenting what I had said.  Now, John is probably the absolute nicest guy in Anthropology (he is at least in the running along with Michael Jochim), so I half-way suspect that he was just being polite, but still, he seemed enthusiastic.

Dave also was enthusiastic, which helped. 

And then I ran into someone who was now with Harvard's Peabody Museum, but who, 30 years ago, had worked in the same region where I did my Masters thesis research.  He told me that he had come to the session because he had read the paper I had published recently, and really wanted to hear what I had to say about this other topic.  So, that was pretty damn cool.  Anyway, he and I spoke about our mutual research interests for a little while.  And then I realized that my boss, who knew the fellow from Harvard, had been in the room during the presentation.  However, she was enthusiastic and seemed to feel that I had done quite well.   

So, all in all, I am going to call this a win. 

I then headed out, and ran into a friend from graduate school who I had also worked with at my first full-time CRM job.  He and I headed out to lunch, and spent some time talking business, research, and about the academic job market.  It was nice, but we were both eager, after lunch, to get back to the conference.  He went to attend a paper, and I went to attend another session, but was stopped on the way by another old friend who now worked for the Forest Service.  Being as how part of how my company justifies sending us out to these conferences is business networking, and I really just wanted to talk with my friend, I allowed myself to get distracted, and we both made sure to mingle business talk with our catching-up.  We parted company, and I headed up to the book room, where I ran into more old friends, and a couple of former coworkers. 

I then headed out to the lobby, and  had my only bad interaction with another archaeologist at this conference.  I should explain that it is not uncommon for academic archaeologists to look down on CRM.  This is less common than it used to be, as an increasing number of academic archaeologists have become involved in CRM work, but it is still not rare.  This particular fellow told me that he was on the faculty of a university-not-to-be-named, and then looked at my name badge (our name badges bore the names of our employers), sniffed, and said, "oh, well...I see that you're still doing CRM" with a tone that seemed to say "you phony archaeologists are so adorable, but you'll never be in the same league as us grown-ups."  He made a few minor disparaging comments, and I pushed back a bit by asking him questions about how long he'd been unemployed before finally getting his current position, asking about the vicious politics of tenure, asking about the family that I was well aware he both wanted and didn't have because of the way his career had been going, and then brought up my retirement plan.  Yeah, it was petty, I was being an ass, but I have long since grown tired of this attitude.

After that, I headed over towards another talk, only to be waylaid by a former boss who is also tied into a couple of my company's current projects.  I always liked this guy, and I had a good business reason for sitting and talking with him for a bit (in fact, it arguably would have been irresponsible for me to not sit and talk with him), so I did so.  We talked shop a little bit (I was very cautious to avoid saying anything or inquiring about anything above my pay grade, and to not say anything that would have been considered in any way inappropriate by my current boss, so as not to create any trouble for my boss).  We also talked a bit about why I left.  When I left, I had told him that it was for family reasons, and because I was constantly being required to work untenably long hours and be away from home far too often, which was true to an extent.  However, a big part of the reason is that a person had been put in charge of a huge project, about whom the best that I can say is that I would not weep had I discovered that the CIA kidnapped him and used him for experiments involving weaponized ebola.

My former boss then told me that I wasn't alone.  Apparently a number of people jumped ship when this guy was there.  Finally, though, the guy did enough damage, and my former boss had enough.  He put one of the former subordinates in the place of the now ex-project manager, and she has been running the project quite successfully, and from what I have heard, the employees under her have developed alot of respect for her and are quite happy with her as their new supervisor. 

It was oddly satisfying to hear that. 

By the time we finished up, the day's papers were over.  Normally, I would have gone to find some people to have dinner with.  But I was only going to be in Memphis for this night, so I decided to grab my camera and go wandering about. 

Of course, it started raining.  I bought an umbrella, and proceeded to wander Memphis, seeing what I could see.  Yeah, it was cold, yeah, I was wet, yeah, I couldn't use my camera without pulling it out of the case and getting it soaked.  But I didn't care.  I was out, exploring a new city in a new region, and I was having fun. 

I realized around 9:00 that I hadn't yet had dinner, and most of the non-pricey places had closed up, so I ended up going to a fast food chicken place that I had not previously heard of, got some chicken, fried okra (I don't care what anyone else says, I enjoy fried okra, and have ever since my grandmother introduce me to it when I was a kid), and a biscuit, and had my dinner while I waited for the shuttle back to my hotel. 

As I sat at the shuttle stop waiting, I fell into conversation with a very grizzled fellow who, as it turned out, was the State Historic Preservation Officer for Guam (despite being a territory and not a state, Guam's guy is still called a STATE Historic Preservation Officer...go figure).  He and I talked shop for a while, and while it wasn't the most enjoyable conversation I have ever had (he was a remarkably frustrated man, though it sounded as if he had cause to be), it was interesting.

Finally, the shuttle arrived, we got to the hotel, I trundled up to my room, got the malfunctioning door handle to work after a couple of tries, and then went to bed.  I was so astoundingly exhausted that I slept solidly despite the 747s passing overhead causing the building to shake.

*I suddenly felt very awkward, as if this guy would somehow know that whenever I need to pull up some random nationality for a fictional character or an absurdist joke involving cab drivers (as overly-specific as it may sound, I crack these jokes quite often), I always choose "Albanian."  Well, regardless, I ran into him a few more times, and found that I enjoyed his company, so there you go.

Monday, April 23, 2012

SAA Memphis, Part 1 - Getting there is Half the Fun?

As I write this, on Saturday night, I am cramped into an awkward position on a Boeing 727 on my way back to the San Francisco Airport.  I have attended what is likely to be my last meeting for a while of the Society for American Archaeology.  As much as I would love to go again, a combination of changes in my life (impending fatherhood, and supporting my fiance financially) puts me into a position where there are other things that I wish to do with my money, while my career path removes much of the motivation (being a CRM archaeologist rather than an academic archaeologist means that I get significantly more out of my regional conference - the Society for California Archaeology annual meeting - than I do out of the SAA's meetings, and for this reason I have only attended two SAA meetings in the last seven years.  I wouldn't have gone this year were it not for two factors: 1) my employer fotted the bill, which they had not compelling reason to do, but my company's owners being basically good people who care about their employees, they were willing to; and 2) I was presenting a paper, and while I could have sent it to be read by someone else, I very much wanted to be the one to do so, and for reasons that will become clear later, I am very glad that I did.

The trip started off poorly.  I slept poorly the night before due to some unexpected (and unexpectedly late) company, so things were off to a great start.  In order to save my employer money (they were good enough to pay my way, I figured that I should be decent enough to use their money with some discretion), I flew out of San Francisco, rather than Fresno.  This meant that I had to drive 3 1/2 hours to San Francisco, which on a weekday during mid-morning and early afternoon would normally have been a long, but easy, drive.  South of Modesto, a collision earlier in the day had closed off a lane of traffic, and though the vehicle had been cleared and the occupants taken for medical care, the Highway Patrol still had the lane closed down.  So, I was concerned about my ability to get to the airport in time.  And then I hit a toll bridge that I wasn't expecting, and therefore didn't have the toll for, meaning that I now owe the state $30 to be payed in a few weeks rather than $5 paid then.  Argh.

I did, however, manage to arrive only a few minutes behind schedule.  However, I quickly discovered that the long term parking lot was completely full.  I discovered this not through signage, or anyone standing at the gate to let me know (there were airport parking employees standing at the gate, but they seemed content to allow cars to enter the lot without warning), but when I had traveled all throughout the parking lot and found not a single space available.  As I was trying to find my way out of the parking lot - which is in many respects rather maze-like in it's traffic design - I was trailed for a time by an airport buss, which after a bit honked it's horn at me.  I stopped, and a middle-aged Asian man with a thick accent left the driver's seat, walked over to me and shouted "The parking lot is full!"

I looked at him, and said the only thing I could think of: "Yes, I had noticed that."

"The parking lot is full!" he shouted at me.

"Yes, we've established this.  I am not trying to argue with you."

He looked at me as if I were some sort of half-wit child that he had been burdened with by unkind relatives.  "The parking lot is full!  You have to leave!"

Now I was getting irritated, and so, getting a bit testy, " said through gritted teeth "Yeah, I know that the damn lot is full, stop shouting that!   Where am I supposed to go?"

He glared at me angrily, and shouted "Why didn't you get a flyer from the people at the exit!"

"Because I didn't know that the people from the exit had flyers!"

"Well they do!  You have to go get one, now!"  He was getting louder and angrier.

Now, I began shouting back "I'll go get a fucking flyer!  But maybe you should actually, you know, let people know before YOU start screaming at them!"

He backed towards his van, and shouted "You get the flyer, and go where it tells you to!"

"Yeah, I'm fucking leaving!"

And with that, I headed to the exit, which is right next to the entrance, where the guy standing there who ignored me as I drove in handed me a flyer explaining that I had to go to the alternative lot for parking.  I got the the alternative lot, where a very pleasant, calm man explained where the open spaces were.  I proceeded to park, get on a shuttle, and get to the terminal.

At the terminal, I quickly discovered that my flight had been delayed.  This would not have been a problem, except that to get to my final destination (Memphis, Tennessee), I had to catch a connecting flight in Atlanta, Georgia.  The delay meant that I would not catch my connecting flight, and the Airtran, the airline for which I had my tickets, had no further flights from Atlanta to Memphis until the following morning, meaning that (assuming no further delays) I would not only have to pay for a hotel in Atlanta (Airtran made it clear that they weren't going to help), AND I wouldn't arrive in Memphis until 10 AM the next day.  The problem is that I was scheduled to speak at 10:45, and it was unlikely in the extreme that I would make it to the conference center on time. 

My only option was to buy a ticket on another airline to get where I was headed.  But, as described in the first paragraph, I could not afford to buy another airline ticket without taking a financial hit that would hurt me and/or my fiance.

I called one of the owners of my company, explained the situation, and said that I couldn't afford the ticket.  To my surprise, his response was "get yourself there, let me worry about the money."

Seriously, I couldn't love my current job any more if it began slipping me ecstasy in the coffee.  These are great people to work for.

So, I got online, and quickly discovered that all flights to Memphis, even indirect ones with layovers were sold out.  And then, the data on my computer screen shifted, and one was available on US Airways.  Someone had cancelled...and the ticket had re-posted.

Things were looking up.

I ran to the US Airways counter - which, it turned out, was about twenty feet from where I was sitting, and I bought the ticket.  It was even an emergency exit row, meaning that even my gangly long legs would have sufficient room. 

Hell yeah, things were looking very much up.

I got through security (which, incidentally, is getting creepier every time I fly), and got to the gate just a few minutes before boarding began. 

On the next plane, the three largest men on the flight were all put together at the exit.  On the one hand, this meant we all had plenty of leg room, but it also meant that we were bashing each other with our elbows and shoulders every time that we moved.  At first, the biggest of us, a large man from Virginia, made his displeasure at having to share space with other big guys clear.  He then put in his headphones and did his best to ignore me and the other guy.  The other fellow, who lives in Washington (though his accent marked him as a native New Yorker) and I talked for a bit, and he was quite pleasant.  He then used the in-flight Wi-fi to listen to a hockey game on his earphones.  I took out my paper and computer, and began making revisions (actually, I substantially re-structured and re-wrote the paper).  After I had finished this, the Virginian took out his earphones and asked what I had been working on, so I explained it to him, which led to more questions.  We talked on and off for the rest of the flight, but by the end, I had learned a good deal about his business (he is a software engineer who is engaged in work on cloud-based applications), and we had talked about mutual areas of scientific interests.  Despite my initial impression, he was a fantastically nice guy, and extremely intelligent and funny.

After we had been in the air for about an hour, we hit a pocket of turbulence.  Not too terribly unusual, and I have been through worse, but we were all asked to fasten our seat belts.  And then the turbulence got even worse, the worst I have, to date, ever been in.  And the flight crew strapped themselves in and announced over the speakers that we were no longer in normal turbulence.  This was, in fact, an emergency situation, and we should all remain in our seats and keep calm.

I have never been one to need a barf bag.  But on this flight, I was beginning to see the wisdom of them.  the emergency situation lasted for about an hour, though the worst of the turbulence was gone in about twenty minutes. 

Anyway, we eventually landed, the three of us exit row men shook hands and parted ways, and I had time to have dinner before getting onto my next plane. 

Boarding the next flight, I discovered that there were only two people in my row: myself, and a fellow wearing a t-shirt and shorts, and carrying a pamphlet of Bible verses.  After we were in the air, the crew came by with the drink cart, and I got my usual Diet Coke.  The fellow with the Bible pamphlet, however, got a can of Red Bull and several small bottles of Vodka.  The flight attendant wanted to stop him at two, but after he assured her that his girlfriend was going to pick him up, and that therefore he would not be driving drunk, he was able to negotiate his way into a few more bottles.  And so, on the flight, I worked on my paper further as the guy in the seat next to me proceeded to get hammered while reading Bible verses.  even after the bottles had been taken away, I could smell the vodka coming off of this guy as he read the words of Luke.

I can't make crap like this up.

We finally arrived in Memphis just before midnight local time.  By this point, I was tired and worn out from traveling, and stressed over the paper that I was increasingly worried about.  I called my hotel to find out if they had a shuttle or if I should hire a taxi.  I was assured that a shuttle would be there for me soon, but it took over half an hour (the hotel was a five-minute drive away).  I finally arrived at the hotel after midnight, and proceeded to try to check in.  The man at the desk, a preternaturally patient and professional Indian gentleman, politely informed me that my card had been denied when I tried ot pay for the room.

What the fuck?

I called my bank (thankfully they have 24 hour customer service), and spent most of the next hour on hold while the rep contacted fraud prevention to find out what was going on.  Turned out that my card was suspended when it was discovered that charges had been made in two different states on the same day.  This looked like either A) my card number had been stolen, or B) I was flying to different fucking airports like I had told my bank I would be doing to prevent this sort of nonsense.  Anyway, with that cleared up, I was able to check in to my hotel room.  The man at the desk had given me a key, and I proceeded towards the room that he had told me to head to.

Once I reached my door, I slid the key card in, the green light on the door handle shown, and I turned the handle only to discover that the room had been dead-bolted from inside.

I headed back to the elevator, stepped inside, pressed the button for the lobby, the doors closed and...nothing.  I hit "Door Open", and the doors opened, I stepped out, let the doors closed, pressed the button, the doors opened, I stepped inside, hit the button for the lobby again, the doors again closed, and...nothing.

I opened the doors again, and went looking for the stairs.  The hotel had a courtyard design, with a huge open central space, and the rooms along the sides.  The stars were in a shaft that had been designed to look like a support and not a shaft containing a staircase.  On the one hand, this gave the hotel a clear, open feeling.  On the other hand, it made the stairs difficult to locate for a sleep-deprived conference goer who was already having a frustrating day.  Still, I eventually found them went back to the front desk, and explained what had happened.  The man at the desk, clearly embarrassed, assigned me another room.  I went up to it, tried the key card, and the door wouldn't open.  The door wasn't dead-bolted, it felt different than that, but it wouldn't open.  I went back to the desk, and the fellow accompanied me back to the room, where we finally got the door open - turned out that the mechanism was getting worn out, and that if you didn't turn it in just the right way, you wouldn't get the door open.  Normally, I would have requested another room, but at this point I was simply grateful to be at a hotel room in Memphis, and I went right in.

As tired as I was, before going to bed, I had to check my email.  And it's a good thing that I did, because I had a notice informing me that, because I had not been on the outgoing Airtran flight, my return flight might be cancelled.  So, I had to call Expedia, through whom I had booked the flight, and spent the next 90 minutes on the phone with them.  I called four times - each of these times I was put on hold while the rep contacted their supervisor.  And each of the first three times, as I waited on hold, I was hung up on.  The fourth time I had to wait an extra long time to talk to a rep because, apparently, 3 am central time is the popular time to call Expedia's customer (dis)service line.  Finally, on the fourth call, I spoke with someone who was able to get the mess straightened out, and made sure that my return flight was confirmed. 

So, closing in on 4 am, I went to bed.  By this time, however, I was so astoundingly stressed out that I couldn't sleep.  So, I just lay there for a few hours, and then got up, showered, shaved, got dressed, went to print up my paper, and then went downstairs to head to the conference.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Talk is Over, on to the Next One

By the time this posts, I will have delivered a paper at one of the symposiums (symposia?) at the Society For American Archaeology's 2012 meeting in Memphis Tennessee.  Hopefully, at the time that this posts, I will be sitting in a barbecue place with a former boss of mine who is originally from Memphis enjoying some ribs.

I deeply, deeply loathe public speaking, and yet I keep agreeing to do it.  I am always concerned that I am going to come off sounding like an idiot, especially in a case like this, where my actual paper topic diverges from the symposium topic (for the record, I checked the topic with the symposium organizer before I wrote it, and she said it was fine).  The truth of the matter is that very few people will likely hear the paper (I am the last speaker in my symposium, and all of the big name speakers will already have come and gone by the point that I end up at the podium), and those who do will likely forget it after they leave - I am picking on a little-known subject in southern California archaeology, which doesn't tend to lend itself to being memorable for anyone who doesn't share my particular interests and irritants. 

So, now that I have spoken, and hopefully not made myself look too terribly foolish, I am hopefully enjoying a nice lunch, and tomorrow I catch a late flight back to California, and a 3.5 hour drive back to Fresno from the San Francisco Airport. 

And then I start on the next project.  I will be speaking to the Fresno County Archaeological Society [] on May 7th (anyone in the Fresno area should feel free to come see the talk).  I will discuss the history of research in the Santa Ynez Valley, in Santa Barbara County, California. 

And then?  Well, hopefully then I will have nothing pressing that needs be done for a while.  I have realized recently just how stressed-out and tired I have gotten lately, and I need some time to relax, especially considering that I am going to be a father come September and that I need to be able to devote my energies to that when the time comes. 

That being said, there are a few projects that I would very much like to do - some small writing projects, and a paper that I would like to publish on an abnormally old projectile point found in Yosemite.  But I think that I need to balance my research interests against my impending family life, my job, my non-research writing interests (such as this blog), and my non-archaeology interests, and the fact of the matter is that the research is probably the thing that can be most easily minimized without impacting the overall quality of my life. 

So, we'll see.  I'd like to publish more, but I may very well decide that it's not worth the effort when compared to other things that I could be doing with my time.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Pinhole Pictures

So, Kaylia gave me a pinhole camera kit for my birthday last year.  A pinhole camera, for the unaware, is a light-proof box in which you can put film, with a small (usually around 0.2 millimeter) hole (AKA, the pinhole) on the side opposite the film which can be opened and closed with a manual shutter.  The pinhole allows light in to expose the film, but the lack of a lens means that the images all have a "soft" quality - not simply unfocused, but unfocused in a particular way.  However, unlike a standard lens camera, where there is a finite field of focus (anything within that field is in focus, anything out of it is not), the pinhole camera has essentially an infinite field of focus, so everything might be fuzzy, but it is all equally fuzzy.

Anyway, these qualities make for some interesting images, and I have been having fun with it.  So, with that in mind, and seeing as how I don't have time this week to write anything more expansive, here's some examples of the photos that I have been taking.  You may notice the orange blotches in some of the outdoors photos - that's light leakage, places where the box is letting in too much light under certain circumstances, and I am trying to fix it.  Also, the fridge photo - the blur of light is due to the exposure taking half an hour, and people walking in and out opening and closing the fridge door - it's a neat effect, I just want to learn to control it better.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Talks, Conferences, and Downtime

So, this coming weekend, I will be in Memphis, TN attending the Society for American Archaeology annual meeting.  I have to finish a paper and presentation (the paper's written, I'm working out the details of the presentation), and as such I will be pretty busy this week.  I may post a few photograph blog entries, as I like posting photographs, and this requires minimal effort from me, but otherwise I am unlikely to post much this week. 

After I finish the conference, I will be preparing a talk for the Fresno County archaeological Society (to be delivered on May 7th, in case you are in the Fresno area), so I will remain a bit busy for a few weeks to come.

I am looking forward to being done with all of this, and not having big things that I have to do for a while.

Friday, April 13, 2012

New Age Energy vs. Anthropology and History

In a recent argument regarding Reiki, the person with whom I was arguing (who is fully convinced of the efficacy of Reiki*) made a number of supporting claims.  There were the usual citing of anecdotal claims and dubious readings of situations, and claims of big pharma cover-ups, of course, but in the middle of it there was the following claim (paraphrased by me, but close enough to the original that the claimant is unlikely to take any issue with it):

"All cultures have some form of energy healing, which makes the claims of Reiki practitioners credible!"

Really?  All cultures do, eh?

No.  Not really.

There are numerous problems with this claim - not the least of which is the notion that a commonly held belief is inherently true (AKA, the bandwagon fallacy).  Let's start with the first one - the imposition of the concept of energy onto the practices of cultures that would not have recognized the concept itself.  Most New Age beliefs tend to refer to mystical energies, but the problem here is that energy is well defined within physics (go here for a good explanation of what it is, or here for a good explanation coupled with how it is abused by New Agers), but not within the various New Age schools of thought.  In fact, my own experience has been that pursuing the New Age definitions of energy invariably results in either non-answer deflections ("well, you see, energy is vibrations!" "Huh?") or muddled nonsensical answers that collapse in upon their own weight. 

The problem, I suspect, is that because energy is not a physical object, but rather a potential for work/force, a property of physical objects (so, kinetic energy is the energy of an object in motion, electrical energy is the energy of electrons moving through an object, thermal energy is the heat generated by a chemical reaction within an object, etc.).  Because energy is physical in nature, but as a property does not manifest as an object itself, people tend to view it as a weird, ethereal thing, even though it is really a very simple concept that is quite clear once properly explained.  It is similar to quantum physics - a very real subject of scientific study the name of which is routinely employed by people who want to push their made-up crap.

So, the first problem with the claim that every culture has some form of energy healing is the fact that the term "energy healing" as used by New Agers reveals a deep ignorance of what the term energy means, and a replacement of its real definition with a hazy "mystical force" definition.

The next problem is that it's not at all clear that energy healing beliefs are all that common.  Many New Agers will refer to shamanic practices geared towards manipulating a person's energy to remove illness as a form of energy healing.  However, as described by ethnographers ranging from Claude Levi Strauss to Alfred Kroeber to J.P. Harrington and Franz Boas, these practices were geared towards removing illness-causing agents, not energies.  These agents might have been spirits, but they were at least as likely to be thought of as physical objects (for one example, Levi-Strauss documented cases where shamans claimed that bits of blood mixed with other objects were the causes of sickness).  Similarly, both anthropologists and journalists working in rural Asia have documented cases of local healers claiming to pull physical objects out of an individual in order to heal illness.  In other cases, shamans and healers fought to stave off illness caused by sorcery. 
So, many of the cases that get cited as "energy healing" are, in fact, viewed by the practitioners not as energy healing in the New Age sense, but as the removal of physical objects causing illness.  In those other cases, where spirits or sorcery are viewed as the cause, a reading of the actual anthropological literature demonstrates that the people who engage in these practices do not see spirits or magic as vague "bad vibes" in the way that so many New Age healers do, and that the claim of these being energy healing is a post-hoc rationalization and imposition to try to bring their beliefs into line with those of the New Age believers, and not an acceptance of the actual practice as viewed and experienced by the actual people doing it.

If we look into European history, we likewise see a mix of magic, spirit/demon beliefs, and physical causes for illness.  Folk beliefs often cited witchcraft as a cause of some illnesses, and depending on the tradition being examined, witchcraft might include anything from simple folk magic to attempted deals with spirits and demons, but, again, not some fuzzy, ill-defined "energy."  Early European medical doctors were often dependent on the concept of the "humors" - blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm.  While the concepts surrounding the humors often ranged into the mystical, they were, nonetheless, real physical things that could be manipulated by physical means (fr example, bleeding a patient), and not "energies." 

Even in east Asia, where so many New Agers get inspiration for claims about "healing energies", the notion that this was a common belief is a bit dubious.  Certainly, the notion of Chi (or ki, or qi) as currently used seems to meet it, but it is itself a term that has had many different definitions throughout history (read up on it here), and the notion that it was an "energy" as opposed to something else post-dates European contact, and historically it has even been thought of as a building-block of physical matter, rather like many similar concepts held by Greek philosophers.  Prana is a similar concept with a similar history.  So, even here, where we have the closest approximation to New Age energy, the history of the concept doesn't quite line up with what the Reiki practitioner with whom I was arguing claims. 

Are there cultures which do have beliefs that have rough similarities ot New Age "energy healing" practices?  Yes, there are.  But, again, they line up roughly, not precisely, and the New Age tendency is to tend to force the "energy healing" concept onto these beliefs and practices rather than take them as they are.  Moreover, while these types of concepts are not unheard of, they are FAR from universal, and someone who claims that every culture has them is someone who has demonstrated that they are disinterested in the practices of other cultures.  

*For the uninitiated, you lucky bastards, Reiki is the practice of waving one's hands over someone to manipulate their "energies" [in keeping with it's Asian origin, this is usually referred to as "ki", "qi", or "chi", and heal them*, with some people doing actual massage, which does have limited but real therapeutic value, and claiming to be doing Reiki simultaneously.  Though often claimed to be an "ancient healing art, Reiki is, in fact, quite modern, dating to the 1920s.  However, its adherents are usually very clear that it comes from Asia, which, as with so many culture-porn related things, seems to give it an aura of mysticism in their minds.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Yogurt, Science, and Lies

I was just listening to an episode of WNYC's Radiolab which focused on the digestive tract.  One of the issues that is discussed in the episode is research into the role that intestinal bacteria play in altering brain chemistry, and therefore, mood.  As goofy as this may sound, it makes a certain degree of sense when you look at the map of nerves within the body and the roles of the brain and the gut in making sure that we are nourished and surviving. 

One researcher being interviewed claims that the results that he has gotten from altering the gut bacteria via diet is comparable to many anti-depressant drugs.  These results have been published int he Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.  Specifically, the researcher used different types of yogurt.  Now, this is one researcher, and there is still a long, long way to go in figuring out if and how these findings could be adapted into meaningful treatments.  But, the research is interesting, and on-going, and does seem to show some promise.

I write about this not because it is interesting in and of itself, though it certainly is, but because this is precisely the sort of research that most people who subscribe to naturopathy claim isn't occurring, or claim is being suppressed by "big pharma" - and yet, here it is, occurring, being published in major journals, and being discussed in a national radio show.  In other words, people who claim that non-pharmaceutical interventions are never examined or considered by doctors, because they are in the thrall of their "big pharma" overlords, you can point to this and call the claimant on their bullshit. 

And this is hardly an isolated incident.  Research into the role of diet in preventing/causing disease, and of general preventative medicine (including diet, but also exercise, emotional well-being, etc.) is done constantly in  major labs around the world, and published in major journals.  In fact, it is a rare occasion that someone will tell me that some non-pharmaceutical or surgical intervention is "not being studied because of big pharma" and that I can not immediately go to PubMed and pull up studies proving that the person making the claim is wholly ignorant of what is actually being done.

There are legitimate concerns with private industry funding research (though, it should be said, there are also benefits to it - it's not all bad or all good), and these issues do get discussed and are actually routinely brought up in the very professional journals that the naturopaths falsely claim won't publish findings critical of industry.  However, there is a good deal of medical research funded via a number of different avenues with both public and private funds, and the research covers a wide range of subjects.  Whenever someone claims that a particular subject is not researched because "big pharma doesn't want it researched" or because "there's no money in it" or because "scientists are afraid it will overturn what they want you to believe", you are dealing with someone who is wholly and completely ignorant of science, of medicine, and who is likely to hypocritically accuse others of "being sheep" while uncritically swallowing nonsense themselves.

So, there you go, regular old yogurt studied by legitimate scientists as a stress and depression control therapy.  It's in it's early stages, but the research is on-going, and it's existence proves many of the popular claims regarding medical research oh so very wrong.  Keep that in mind the next time someone tries to make you believe that some miracle cure isn't being studied because of some massive corporate conspiracy.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Betting on Pascal's Wager

Every few months or so, I will find myself in conversation with someone who is religious, and will eventually bring up some variation of Pascal's Wager.  Sometimes it's very clearly articulated in it's classic form (follow the link above for an example), but most of the time it's done in a less formal way (likely not even intentionally referring to Pascal's idea, but nonetheless echoing it) by saying something along the lines: "but, aren't you afraid of Hell if you don't believe?" or, more common "but doesn't believing that death is the end just make you sad?"

I have described my view regarding death before, and see no reason to go into depth about it now.  Suffice to say, I have the same healthy respect for death that most adults do, but I don't think that I fear it overly-much.  So, no, the thought of death being the end doesn't make me sad, it makes me want to make my life better and make the world around me better.  And as I don't believe that there is any sort of torturous afterlife for the infidels, I don't fear that, either.

However, how I feel about death is, really, rather irrelevant.  I am, as far as I can determine, incapable of consciously making myself believe something that I know to be untrue.  So Pascal's wager simply doesn't work because I can't "wager that there is a god and heaven" because I can't force myself to believe in something without cause or evidence.

But there's another aspect of this that has always sort of bothered me.  It seems to me to be astoundingly sacrilegious and offensive to adopt the mantle of a faith for personal gain, as opposed to because of sincere belief.  The difference between joining a church in hope of eternal rewards and joining a church in hopes of some sort of material gain (say, for example, business contacts) is a difference of degree, not of type.  And it seems insulting to those who do sincerely believe that someone would join in hopes of avoiding punishment or gaining a reward, as opposed to joining because they honestly believe the tenets of the religion. 

As a result, whenever someone brings up Pascal's Wager in some form or another, I find myself wondering whether the person doing so is actually one of the faithful themselves, or if they are someone without severe doubts who professes a stronger belief than they actually possess out of a hope for reward or an avoidance of punishment, and is somehow seeking group absolution in trying to get others to join them.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Sore Legs, Sore Feet, Back on Survey

Although CRM archaeologists do field work throughout the year, the winter tends to be a relatively fallow period (though, as you will see if you go back through the December and January entries on this blog, I was pretty damn busy this year).  Regardless, it's a been a little while since I last surveyed, and oh do my legs know it.

We had a field project this week, a 450-acre survey in agricultural land in Madera County, in preparation for a major energy installation.  We walked straight a north-bound line, half a mile long, and at the end of the line, we shifted over so that we would walk over ground not yet covered, and headed south.  The ground was rolling, but not difficult terrain by any means.  The air was cool, but not cold, and ti was, on the hole, very good survey conditions.  We easily covered 60 acres per person each day that we were on the ground.

So why the hell are my legs and feet so damned sore?

The reason, I know, is that all of my field work for the last few months has been excavation, and survey works a different set of muscles.  While I routinely take long walks, I normally don't do so for eight hours straight, while carrying equipment.  Also, I have always had bad feet, and they are just bound to be sore. 

Still, it's good to get broken in again.  We have four more energy-related surveys coming up, and each of them will require that I be back in shape.  Better to start with the easy one.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Ignored Regions, and Irritating One's Professional Colleagues

I am taking part in a symposium at the Society for American Archaeology meeting in Memphis, Tennessee this month.  The symposium's theme is "Single Sites From Which Much has Been Learned," and most of the talks will focus on individual sites that have contributed a good deal of data relevant to our understanding of particular regions and periods of time.  I have chosen to discuss a Chumash cemetery in Los Angeles County that was occupied between AD 1500 and AD 1785.  The reason why I chose to discuss this site is that it is one of the relatively few inland sites discussed in the academic (as opposed to Cultural Resources Management) literature, and as such has had a huge influence on how researchers view the inland areas.

The problem is that there are many other inland sites that have been excavated, but which are rarely discussed in the academic literature*.  The result is that one site, which is unique in many ways, has often been taken as representative of not only a region (the inland  Los Angeles County portion of the Chumash culture area), but of multiple regions (the inland of the Chumash culture area in general, inclusive of multiple types of ecological areas spread over four counties). 

So, I'm going to talk both about why the site is important and the documents written by Linda King that describe the site are valuable, and why we shouldn't be relying on it.  I have no idea how well it will go over.

However, while I was in the middle of writing this paper, I heard this on the radio.  The long and the short of it is that the first archaeologists are returning to Iraq.  However, rather than excavating at the huge city sites, which had long been the main focus of  research, they are visiting a smaller site and finding that it is rather different, in terms of both artifacts and features, from what had been expected. 

Which is surprising at first - discovering that the models of a society built up over decades of archaeological research are either wrong or, at the very least, strangely incomplete - but it really shouldn't be.  Archaeology is always having to reconstruct the past based on what amounts to a set of intellectual puzzle pieces, knowing all the while that many pieces are missing.  Archaeologist, of course, are human, and as such we have a tendency to fixate on the pattern that we think is emerging, sometimes to the detriment to the pattern actually emerging.  This tends to correct itself over time - those who remember that certain types of sites have not been investigated, or certain regions outright ignored, will focus their attentions there (my graduate adviser, himself one of the big names in Californian archaeology, has both published on the generally ignored inland regions, and has encouraged his graduate students, myself included, to follow suit; meanwhile, my friend Professor David Robinson of the University of Central Lancashire, has focused his research on even less acknowledge interior sites), and over time these individuals accumulate enough weight that they can force the more entrenched individuals into the margins.  However, in the meantime, there is a tendency towards regional complacency amongst many researchers - in the Santa Barbara Channel, people have generally remained fixated to the point of myopia on the coast and Channel Islands; in Iraq, they focus on Ur to the exclusion of the equally important (if less spectacular) smaller sites.  And, as a result, we have a less-than-complete understanding of a region taken as great wisdom. 

Still, it is nice to hear that it is changing in Iraq, and to know that I have played a role in changing this in my own neck of the woods.

*There are several reasons for this.  One is that these sites are in areas that most of the big theorists workin in California are not particularly interested in for various non-archaeology-related reasons (though odd excuses regarding the state of preservation or the relative importance of sites never looked at are often made).  Another is that the work done on these sites has largely been done by archaeologists working in environmental consulting and preservation, such as myself, and there is something of a weird bias against our work on the part of many, though thankfully not all, academic archaeologists (and, it should be noted, that this bias has been steadily, if slowly, eroding for decades now).  A third reason is that the results of our work are usually buried in what is called the "grey literature" - documents that are written for legal compliance reasons and then deposited in information centers that are difficult to search as compared to a well-indexed university library, resulting in many academic researchers not wanting to spend their (admittedly limited) time going through these reports.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Friend Zone...Like the Twighlight Zone, but Less Real

I loathe the term "the Friend Zone."  It is one of those terms that seems to get thrown around without much thought, generally by men as an excuse for why they have had little success with dating and/or sex.  My dislike for this term comes from my often-stated dislike for sloppy thinking and irrational claims, and as such I am not going to get into a discussion of whether or not the idea of the Friend Zone is born out of issues pertaining to privilege or misogyny (besides, more articulate individuals than myself have already done so).  Instead I will explain that my dislike for the term and concept comes from the sheer idiocy of it.

First, a bit of background.  I used to believe in the Friend zone.  More, I thought that I was one of it's sad inhabitants.  Throughout my teens and much of my 20s, I made very little progress on the relationship front, often feeling bewildered by the social situations in which I found myself, finding that anytime a woman was interested in me as anything more than a friend, she lost interest relatively quickly, and I usually ended up feeling hurt.  Like many young men, I found myself looking at the poor treatment being dished out by some of the other young men, and figured that women were attracted to assholes.  Unlike some other young men, though, I at least was reflective enough to see that my own behaviors likely had something to do with me being alone.  Still, nonetheless, I believed that there was a "friend zone" from which one could not return once banished, and that it was populated with nice young men like myself.

What began to turn my view around was a conversation with a friend in which she ranted at great length about how "all men are promiscuous, and don't care who they hurt!"  Being a man who has never been promiscuous, this assertion annoyed me, and when called on the basic sexism of her statement, my friend decided to back it up by pointing out the number of men who both she and her female friends had encountered who either cheated, or else were willing to manipulate women for sex, and then vanish. 

At the time, I had a housemate who, perhaps a couple of times a month, would go to the local bars and clubs looking for a one-night stand.  He was willing to say any line, make any empty promise, and play any game to get laid.  Needless to say, it was a rare night when he went out trolling for sex that he didn't bring someone home or end up at someone else's home.  Assuming that he managed to do this twice a month, which is a fair estimate based on what I saw, that means that 24 different women got to some degree involved with him per year.  By contrast, our other housemate was single part of the year, but tended to be more reserved, and not given to manipulation or lies, and while not necessarily averse to one-night-stands, was always honest about this and tended to pursue relationships.  As a result, he tended to end up in bed with fewer women over the course of the year, probably 2-3, and (based on conversations I had with a couple of them after they were no longer in contact with him) he never left them feeling confused, used, or manipulated.  As yet another contrast, due to my own general shyness and social incompetence, I spent that year celibate.

So, running the numbers, one man could easily convince 24 women that he's a cad, another man could convince another two or three that he's a decent guy, and one would simply be inoffensive.    Even though the men who were not assholes outnumbered the cad 2-to-1 (and probably by a much larger margin in the general population outside of my post-college apartment), the one who was willing to behave poorly impacted the views of a larger number of women, thus making his type seem far more common than he really is.  

What does this have to do with the "friend zone"?  Simple - most of the concept of the "friend zone" revolves around the notion that "women only date assholes" and/or "I'm a nice guy, and that's why women don't go for me".  So, I realized after I crunched the numbers, 24 women would "date an asshole" (more like have sex with one, but the terminology never seems to change), but, contrary to most of the rhetoric surrounding the "friend zone" they would not know that he was an asshole until after the fact because he was good at manipulating them. What's more, though, most women didn't fall for the manipulative jerk, but he would keep trying until someone did, which allowed specific cases to be cherry-picked by those who wished to find examples of "women always going for assholes", allowing them to convince themselves of the truth of this position while never engaging in the essential dishonesty of how they were building their case.   In other words, the women didn't go after an asshole so much as someone who was an asshole didn't have any problem engaging in manipulative and deceptive behavior (because he's an asshole) and messed with a particular sub-set of women.  So, in the process of calling out my friend's sexism, I ended up confronting the more complicated reality of the so-called asshole.  In doing this, I was forced to confront the fact that most women were not going after assholes, and that the problem really wasn't with women, it was with the deceptive behaviors of a small but active number of men.

The other, related, part of the "friend zone" concept is that women don't go for nice guys.  Yet, in looking at this, I had to realize that this was manifestly untrue.  Again, most women didn't fall for the lines, lies, and manipulations.  So, most women showed discretion most of the time.  Also, the other housemate was certainly not lacking for feminine company, and he treated everyone in his life, women and men alike, quite well, showing that women were perfectly willing to choose the company and companionship of someone who was decent.  I was alone in being alone, but just as the caddish housemate's active sex life was due to his poor behavior, my lack of one was also due to my behavior.

Now, a quick digression.  If you look up anything written by anyone who is critical of the "friend zone" concept, there is a tendency to insist that the "nice guys" who complain of being "banished to the friend zone" are really just misogynistic bastards who view women as sex objects and nothing more, and who think that they are owed something by the women in their lives, and who only associate with women in the hopes of getting their romantic or sexual attentions.  This is an over-simplification and over-generalization par excellence.  There are a number of them who are like this, to be certain - I have met many a self-proclaimed "nice guy" whose nice behaviors are simply them attempting to build up some sort of account that they hope or expect to someday be paid out in affection or sex, who are emotionally handicapped to the point that they are incapable of having genuine friendships with women.  However, this is not, in any way, a universal description of the men who believe themselves to be stranded in the "friend zone." 

For myself, I did do many things to help others, including women to whom I was attracted.  I would rescue people stranded by malfunctioning cars, be a shoulder to cry on when something had gone awry, and perform various friendly tasks for others.  I did not, however, do these things expecting to be paid back in some way, nor did I do them in the hopes of attracting a particular type of attention.  I never expected that either would be the case.  I did them because I genuinely wanted to help or please the people for whom I was doing them - that's it, no expectation of anything else.  And I didn't just do them for women to whom I was attracted, I did them for most of the people in my life.  Even today, when I am in a stable long-term relationship, I still do these things when time and resources allow, because I like doing them for people.

Likewise, I didn't engage in friendships with women simply out of the hopes that someday they would notice what a helluva' guy I was and decide to fall for me.  I did so because I liked them as people, and it is worth noting that I maintained these friendships for years after any attraction I felt had faded.

So, I wasn't just a self-proclaimed "nice guy" who does nice things in the hopes of some sort of payout, I was someone who genuinely liked being helpful and being friends without thought of some sort of future payout.  I think that, arguably, I really was a nice guy, as opposed to a "nice guy."

Okay, so back to the topic - in dispelling the notion that all, or even most, men are pigs, I had to confront the notion that a small sub-set of piggish men could cause a disproportionate amount of damage to the feelings and lives of others, thus making their sort look more common than they really are, and giving embittered individual a false feeling of certainty when they declared that "women only date assholes" despite the fact that this is manifestly untrue.  This, in turn, caused me to look at why I fared so poorly on the romance and sex front.  I was quickly forced to deal with a fact that I had long known, but chosen to ignore: nobody had banished me to the "friend zone" - my own shyness and lack of knowledge and skill at communicating my feelings and interests had made it impossible for any of the women I met to know if I was interested in something more than friendship, and so they assumed that I was not.  Nobody had banished me, I had unknowingly banished everyone else.

And this is, by and large, the truth of it.  I have yet to meet a man who claims to be stuck "in the friend zone" who has not their own behavior to blame.  The simple fact of the matter is that not every woman is interested in any given man, and there are those to whom you will never be anything but a friend.  This can be a nice position, most of my closest and most valued friends have been women, and I feel much the richer for having them in my life.  But if every woman you meet views you as "a good friend" as opposed to "a potential romantic partner", there is a near 100% chance that it is you, and not them, that is doing something wrong.  Perhaps, like me, you are shy and uncomfortable with social situations...that's still you're problem and not theirs, just as it was my problem and not anyone else's.  Perhaps you are the opposite, too forward and not able to behave appropriately under the right circumstances - again, you're problem, not someone else's.  The point is this - if you believe that you have been "banished", then it is not them, but you, who needs to look at your behavior and see what's going on.

either I nor anyone else is, or ever has been, owed relationships, sex, affection, etc.  And not everyone to whom you are attracted will return the interest, deal with it.  But if nobody ever does, then it's probably a mistake that you are making, not anyone else's failure to recognize what a catch you are.  This "friend zone" nonsense is the product of placing one's own shortcomings onto another.  It's a bad hypotheses based on sloppy thinking and a heaping dollop of confirmation bias, and as such, I rather loathe it.