Blinded by perspective

Tibetan woman from the Epic of Everest

Tibetan woman from the Epic of Everest

Ninety years ago John Noel joined a group of determined mountaineers to capture on film their adventures climbing Mount Everest.

Noel’s 1924 silent film has been refreshed and recently celebrated a North West premiere to a packed house.

And while the press coverage of the film will undoubtedly center on the lives that were lost (climbers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, and porters Manbahadur and Shamsherpun), the celluloid story also offers up images of the Tibetan people eating, praying, working and lounging.

Like the documentary Nanook of the North, recorded in the same time period–and essential viewing for film students everywhere–The Epic of Everest assumes the perspective of the outsider’s gaze. Continue reading

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Do ancestors deserve respect?

Members of the 1924 expedition to Everest.

Members of the 1924 expedition to Everest

I didn’t expect to find a full house Friday night for an hour-long, black-and-white, silent movie from the 1920s.

But Portlanders came in droves to see the West Coast premiere of a newly restored, colorized version of John Noel’s hand-cranked motion picture of the 1924 climb on Mt. Everest.

The Epic of Everest features a clutch of British mountaineers, including George Mallory and Andrew Irvine—who would perish on the trek—and the indigenous souls who guided them.

Two porters also died—Manbahadur, a cobbler from Darjeeling, and Shamsherpun, a Gurkha Lance Corporal—yet their names are missing in the film.

What drew me to the event is the story of George Mallory. Continue reading

Posted in american indian, authenticity, epic of everest, everest, framing, george mallory, Indian, Kennewick Man, native american, Native Science, science, science communication, writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Missing truths

Originally posted on Cynthia-Lou Coleman Emery's Blog:

Lithograph of Junipera Serra and subjects Lithograph of Junipera Serra and subjects
As a kid growing up in Southern California (we moved overseas when I was 10) we visited missions that dot the west, built by Spanish priests centuries ago.

I remember the missions reverently: made of adobe and tile that cooled the warm air, surrounded by olive and eucalyptus and madrone trees.

When I read this week that one of the mission’s founders is being considered for sainthood, I recalled the cool missions we visited, smelling the fragrance of the shrubs.

Turns out the stories we heard as kids missed a chunk of truth.

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When is a person not a person?


There’s a Buddhist story where the sage tells her pupils about a master craftsman who creates artisan carriages.

She describes the carriages in detail, from the quality of the polished wood to the smoothness of the wheels.

But what happens, she asks, when you remove the seat? Unhinge the sides? Hide the wheels? Look at what remains: is it still a carriage?
The lesson is designed to raise questions about what constitutes the whole. What is the function of the separate parts? What makes a carriage whole?
When is the carriage not a carriage?
The questions are intended to be provocative rather than answerable, and I wondered, when is a person not a person?
The query arises as I consider my step-father, who died this week.
Physicians in the 19th Century considered a person “dead” when the heart ceases beating. Is a person no longer a person when the heart stops?
In our current century an individual’s heart can stop beating while machines pump blood, keeping him vital: the heart can be removed and replaced. And the individual is considered alive.
Today we look to the mind as the keeper of the person’s flame.
If neurons cease firing an individual might be classified as “brain dead,” for which there is likely no recovery, in terms of mindfulness.
When is a person still a person?
When we consider the carriage, now a hunk of wood–a carriage stripped of its pieces–we no longer consider the item a vehicle. It no longer looks like a carriage and no longer serves the function of a carriage.
But at what point does the carriage not constitute a carriage? When there’s only one wheel? When the carriage can no longer carry us?
Some folks–including members of my family and friends–believe that, although a person might lose the function of a heart or brain, he continues to be a person.
Some cultures, including many American Indian communities, believe the “dead” person continues to be present, even in her buried state, and that the remains should never be removed.
My training as a social scientist invites me to reduce the carriage and person to its functioning bits: wheels and hearts. This allows the researcher to examine each part, separated from the whole.
My upbringing as a member of a family and a community urges me to consider the whole entity, regardless of the missing parts.
That’s because we can imagine the whole–remember the person–who continues to live in our memories, long after the ashes have blown away.
Posted in authenticity, communication, Indian, Indian remains, native american, native press, Native Science, repatriation, science communication, writing | Tagged | 3 Comments

Crazy Horse’s Law

A shirt experts think was worn by Crazy Horse is inspected at the National Museum of the American Indian during my 2010 fellowship

A shirt experts think was worn by Crazy Horse is inspected at the National Museum of the American Indian during my 2010 fellowship

Maybe we should call it Crazy Horse’s Law.

Mainstream North American culture brings some truths that we all acknowledge but rarely question.

Take Murphy’s Law.

The suspicious part of our shared-American cultural nature presumes that no matter how much we prepare for life’s challenges, things will go wrong.

What can go wrong, will go wrong.

We call it Murphy’s Law—according it an undeserved status as a law, although it is neither legally nor empirically sound.

The origin of Murphy’s Law is unknown—at least, according to Wikipedia.

There is a scientific side to Murphy’s Law, in the sense that if you test something over and over, you are bound to get a false positive result.

What that means is, even if you are not pregnant, the test will say you are pregnant. The test is wrong: a false positive.

As a social scientist, I acknowledge that 5 percent of the time my assumptions may be—well, wrong.

We give ourselves a 5 percent margin of being wrong.

But the way we use Murphy’s Law in everyday discourse is more a reflection of our sometimes-pessimistic temperaments.

I wonder how much of this temperament is formed by a personal history of “things going wrong.” Continue reading

Posted in american indian, authenticity, crazy horse, Indian, Indian remains, murphys law, native american, native press, Native Science, science, science communication | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Take Viagra with your politics

Images from today's Washington Post story include Senator Tom Cotton and a Viagra ad. Photo credit Danny Johnston, Associated Press

Images from today’s Washington Post story include Senator Tom Cotton and a Viagra ad. Photo credit Danny Johnston, Associated Press

How fitting.

Today’s breaking news story about a clutch of Republicans who defied reason and protocol by sending a letter to Iran’s leaders without Congress, the Senate, or the President’s sanction is accompanied by an ad for Viagra.

When I opened my tablet computer this morning the Washington Post had a photo of Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican Senator–one of the 47 who signed the letter–flanked by the American flag and an ad for Viagra.

Look into Viagra, the blonde model says. Viagra helps guys with ED get and keep an erection. Continue reading

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Beware the sales pitch


We can learn a lot from used-car sales folks.

Noted psychologist Robert Cialdini urges his students to study the techniques used that entice you to buy.

Go to a used-car lot and see how the seller pitches the product, Cialdini advises.

He calls them Weapons of Influence: reciprocity, commitment, social proof, liking, authority and scarcity. Continue reading

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