Thursday, August 30, 2007

King Tut Exhibit Prompts Debate on His Skin Color

Egyptian frescoes all show a clear color distinction between Egyptians and the Nubians ("Africans") to their south. There is no reason to think that the Egyptians had anything but the off-white skin color still normally found among Mediterranean people -- including other North African people in modern Libya, Algeria, etc. North Africa has always been racially different from the rest of Africa

The King Tut exhibition has drawn millions of visitors to museums across the country since it opened two years ago. But some African-American scholars believe the exhibition makes King Tut look too white. The debate over Tut's race led the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia, where the show is on display, to sponsor a conference on the subject.

The show, Tutankhamen and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs has drawn a steady stream of protesters since it opened in Los Angeles. But nowhere have they been as persistent or vocal as in Philadelphia. More than 500 people showed up to hear scholars discuss Tut's race at the Franklin Institute. The auditorium couldn't hold them all, so the museum had to set up big-screen TVs in the lobby. The three speakers said the exhibition on display upstairs gives the false impression that King Tut was white. And worse, says Temple University professor Molefi Asante, it implies that Egypt is not a part of Africa. "We asked the students as they were coming out of the museum, you've seen the exhibition of King Tut, 'Where is he from?'" Asante said. "You would discover that people can see the exhibition of Tutankhamen, and come out and not know that they have seen Africa."

A forensic reconstruction of Tut's head and shoulders at the Franklin Institute exhibit is remarkably lifelike, until you get right up close to it. On the side of the glass case, there is a disclaimer that reads, "The features of [Tutankhamen's] face are based on scientific data. But the exact color of his skin and the size and shape of many facial details cannot be determined with full certainty." "Our best guess is that he was neither lily white nor ebony black. He was probably somewhere in between," said Nina Jablonski, author of Skin: A Natural History.

Jablonski teaches anthropology at Penn State University. She also served as an advisor to the team from the National Geographic Society that produced the forensic reconstruction of King Tut that's currently on display. Jablonski points out that it's only a working hypothesis. Scientists have not been able to retrieve much DNA evidence from Tut or other mummies. But they do have a good idea of who lived in Egypt 3,000 years ago - and she says they probably looked a lot like Egyptians today. "Modern Egyptians are a very heterogeneous group," Jablonski said. "Some of them have very Arabic features. Others of them have very African or so-called Nubian features. This is because the Nile River itself was a tremendous byway for movement of people in the past and present."

Jablonski says Tut's skin probably looked like a mixture of those people, only lighter, because the Boy King would have spent most of his time inside, protected from the sun. The speakers at the Franklin Institute rejected that hypothesis. In fact, they seemed to enjoy making fun of it. "Okay, now let's look what this really is about. This is shocking. See if you recognize the person on the right," said activist Maulana Karenga, who remain best known as the founder of Kwanzaa. He got a big laugh by comparing the reconstructed image of King Tut with a picture of a young Barbara Streisand.

The panelists believe the Egyptians of Tut's time had, for the most part, very dark skin, like people from sub-Saharan Africa. Charles Finch is the director of International Health at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. "Whenever ancient writers, Hebrew or Greek, make any reference to ancient Egyptians' color, it's always black," Finch said. "There was no issue back then. There was no discussion. There was no debate. It only became a debate in the last 200 years." For example, Greek historian Herodotus wrote in the fifth century BC that the Egyptians were "dark-skinned and woolly-haired."

But as anthropologist Nina Jablonski points out, it's hard to say exactly what ancient historians meant when they described the skin they saw as "dark." And she says much of the archeological evidence points to a different conclusion. "When we look at the representation of the Egyptian royalty on the walls of tombs, we see a range of sort of moderate, tan-colored skin on the royalty," Jablonski said. "This probably is a fairly close approximation of what skin color these people actually had." Jablonski speaks with the patience of someone who has answered this question many times before, and expects to keep answering it until more definitive evidence comes along. That's why she hopes the King Tut exhibition will inspire students to become interested in reconstructing the past. That could let the students, Jablonski says, "make a better stab at this in 20 or 25 years' time." Until then, we'll have to make do with an educated guess.


Towards an age of abundance

Ignore the critics of economic growth who claim that prosperity makes us unhappy. We need to win the war against scarcity once and for all, so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of longer, healthier and wealthier lives

Imagine an egalitarian world in which all food is organic and local, the air is free of industrial pollution, and vigorous physical exertion is guaranteed. Sound idyllic? But hold on. Life expectancy is 30 at most; many children die at or soon after birth; life is constantly lived on the edge of starvation; there are no doctors or dentists or modern toilets. If it is egalitarian it is because everyone is dirt poor, and there is no industrial pollution because there are no factories. Food is organic because there are no pesticides or high technology farming methods. As a result, producing food means long hours of back-breaking physical work which may end up yielding little.

There is - or at least was - such a place. It is called the past. And few of us, it seems, recognise the enormous benefits to humanity of escaping from it. On the contrary, there is a pervasive culture of complaint about the perils of affluence and a common tendency to romanticise the simple life.

From the 1790s onwards, in the aftermath of the French Revolution, the prospect of a world without scarcity seemed like a realistic possibility (1). Humans strove for a day when they could have a guaranteed food supply at all times. It should be remembered that the famous clause in Christianity's Lord's Prayer - `give us this day our daily bread' - was meant literally. Our ancestors struggled for a world where we could take abundant food, clean water and adequate shelter for granted. Not only have we achieved these goals, at least in the developed world, but modern technology and economic organisation have improved our lives hugely.

Yet in the midst of contemporary abundance, there are vocal criticisms. The gains of modernity are under attack. Cheap food, one of the great achievements of humanity, is frequently derided as a curse rather than a blessing. Our houses are said to be too large. Cars and aeroplanes are seen as both destroying the planet and wrecking communities. Although we travel more than ever before, the local is being exalted at the expense of wider horizons.

Of course most people get on with their lives and enjoy the benefits of affluence. They eat plentiful food, travel abroad for their holidays and go to the doctor if they become ill. But the pervasive cynicism towards popular prosperity still has a negative effect. It makes it harder to enjoy or make the most of what we have got. It is also a barrier against making things better still. In this context, it is important to remember that there are still many billions of people in the world who live in poor countries. And yet the prospect of everyone having access to the best the world has to offer is commonly seen as an environmental nightmare rather than a worthwhile goal.

Attacking prosperity

Deep Economy is one of the most articulate recent assaults on popular prosperity. Bill McKibben, an environmental writer and campaigner based in the American state of Vermont, follows a pattern typical of such works. He grudgingly admits that mass affluence has advantages. For example, he concedes that we are richer and healthier than a few hundred years ago. Then he introduces numerous caveats to call the benefits of prosperity into question. This is an outlook I have previously described as `growth scepticism', as it represents an indirect attack on growth rather than an overt rejection of its benefits (2). ....

McKibben's arguments on happiness draw heavily on the work of Richard Layard, a professor of economics at the London School of Economics. Layard has observed, like others before him, that beyond a certain threshold, economic growth does not seem to generate more happiness (5). McKibben also emphasises Layard's arguments on how economic growth can destroy communities. Deep Economy places great importance on the need to promote local communities for everything from food to entertainment.

There are numerous reasons to object to the happiness agenda. For a start, economic growth should be advocated for its objective benefits. It has given us the ability to lead longer and more prosperous lives. It gives us more leisure time. It is a key factor in the development of science and culture. The question of individual happiness is a separate one.

It is also questionable that, as Layard has advocated, happiness should be a goal of public policy. There are plenty of things that are worthwhile but do not necessarily make people happy: bringing up a family, learning a foreign language, excelling at sport or producing great art, to name a few. Although those involved in such activities may experience brief moments of elation, these are far from guaranteed. And for much of the time, what they experience is likely to be hard work and sometimes even misery or physical pain. But this does not mean that such goals are not worth striving to achieve. On the contrary, the contemporary obsession with individual happiness has a narcissistic edge.

Perhaps worst of all is McKibben's emphasis on local communities. Although this is presented as somehow humanistic, it is the very opposite. It means downgrading our common humanity in favour of privileging those who happen to live close by. In practice it seems to mean favouring such things as farmers' markets and community radio stations over supermarkets and the global media. It also means condemning Wal-Mart for exporting `American jobs' abroad (6). McKibben's vision of a healthy community is primarily one that consumes goods and services that are produced locally. It is a depressingly parochial vision for the twenty-first century.

Haves and have-nots

Although McKibben pays little attention to the discussion of inequality, it is the main focus of Falling Behind. Robert H Frank, a professor of economics at Cornell University in New York state, has developed a sophisticated attack on economic growth in relation to inequality. Frank's argument is built on the distinction between positional goods and non-positional goods first made by Fred Hirsch, a British economist, in the 1970s (7). Positional goods are ones whose consumption strongly signal someone's rank in the wealth hierarchy - for example, the size of their house, the quality of their suits or the fanciness of their wristwatches. Non-positional goods are those that are weakly associated with social rank, such as time spent on vacation.

"Frank proposes a consumption tax to deter individuals from spending too much money"

The drive for economic growth, in Frank's view, unleashes an unhealthy Darwinian battle for positional goods. There are `positional arms races' in which people strive for ever-larger houses, ever-more expensive suits and ever-fancier watches. Not only does such competition yield little or any benefit, it also diverts resources from non-positional goods. People work longer hours and get into debt so that they can afford luxury items they do not really need. The effect of such positional arms races is made even worse by the steadily rising inequality in American society.

There are two main ways to respond to Frank's arguments. One is to show, empirically, that despite a trend towards widening inequality, Americans are generally getting better off as a result of economic growth. For example, Stephen Rose, a respected labour economist, has argued that most Americans have benefited from productivity growth in recent years (8). And Brink Lindsey (who will be discussed later in this review) has argued that even poor Americans are in many respects better off than the average American in 1971 (9). There are also debates to be had about whether American working hours have increased in recent years, and whether household debt levels really are excessive.

A more fundamental objection to Frank is to the character of his reaction to inequality. It is clear that, to a greater or lesser extent, capitalist societies tend to be unequal. But the response to that quandary should surely be to demand more rather than less. Everyone should have the resources to have a large house and, if they so wish, expensive suits and elaborate watches.

Indeed, for all of Frank's apparently intricate theory, his proposed solutions are strikingly mundane. He proposes a consumption tax to deter individuals from spending too much of their income on positional goods. And he favours voluntary simplicity in which people forsake some luxury goods for the sake of an emotionally richer life....

Towards the `realm of freedom'

The Age of Abundance is by far the most interesting of this crop of books on the growth-sceptic theme. Brink Lindsey, vice president for research at the Cato Institute think tank in Washington DC, is broadly in favour of affluence. His aim is to examine how what he sees as the advent of a post-scarcity society in America since the 1950s has affected politics and culture.

Lindsey's starting point, with deliberate irony, is Karl Marx's distinction between the `realm of necessity' and the `realm of freedom'. In the first, humanity lives under the tyranny of scarcity, while the second refers to a post-scarcity society. Although the terms were seldom used by Marx, he was certainly an ardent believer in the need for humanity to overcome scarcity (11).

Lindsey argues that America became a post-scarcity society in the 1950s. Only it achieved this objective not through socialist revolution, as Marx had predicted, but through capitalist development. As a result, says Lindsey, the class struggle is over. For Lindsey the historic victory over scarcity unleashed tremendous changes in American society, which he sees as, on balance, positive. Whether Lindsey is right to characterise America as `post-scarcity' is debatable. But it has certainly achieved levels of prosperity that previous generations would have found hard to imagine.

In the political sphere, The Age of Abundance argues that the newfound prosperity unleashed the civil rights movement, the sexual revolution, environmentalism, feminism and gay rights. The victory over scarcity made it easier for people to focus on these issues rather than everyday survival. Lindsey broadly favours this shift in values, although he argues it sometimes goes too far in undermining necessary restraints. If taken to an excessive extent, he argues, it can undermine families, encourage crime, promote drug-use and create welfare dependence. However, he also opposes the evangelical right, which he sees as too zealous in its opposition to libertarian freedoms.

In the economic sphere he welcomes the rise of market economics. He sees the demise in the 1970s of the cosy relationship between big government, big labour and big business as a triumph. Lindsey welcomes America's deregulated, globalised and computerised economy.

"Marx was an ardent believer in the need for humanity to overcome scarcity"

Overall, Lindsey sees himself as close to the mainstream of middle America. He rejects the excesses of those involved in the `Culture Wars' and welcomes the new tolerance of freedom and of the market. For him the gains are in large part the result of the transition from a scarcity society to an age of abundance. The most valuable element of Lindsey's argument is his reminder that the shift away from scarcity has a substantial impact on society. His characterisation of an `age of abundance' may be an exaggeration, but it is true that few Americans live on the edge of existence. Under such circumstances, it is hardly surprising that many human preoccupations are different from those in the past. Yet many social commentators, with their bleak view of the present and romantic view of the past, miss this simple fact.

A post-scarcity society?

Lindsey goes too far in attributing important social shifts to economic factors. For example, broader social forces were eroding the appeal of traditional conservative thought long before the counterculture of the 1960s. The experience of the Second World War, and the Holocaust in particular, discredited the politics of race and empire that was widespread until then (12). It became virtually impossible for conservatives to uphold a belief in racial superiority. The rise of several of the social movements that Lindsey refers to, such as environmentalism and feminism, should also be related to the demise of the left.

In contrast, the ideological victory of market economics came about in the late 1970s and 1980s. The defeat of the left and the subsequent end of the Cold War discredited socialist alternatives. It seemed that there was no alternative to the market - the only debate worth having was between different forms of market system. It is true that the unexpected resilience of capitalism played a role in the historic defeat of the left. But there were other factors involved in the battle between right and left. Certainly in America, to the extent that there was a `left', by the 1970s it had largely become identified with big government and discredited unions.

It is therefore insufficient to characterise America as a post-scarcity society. American politics is shaped by the defeat of the right on social issues and the defeat of the left on the economy. As a result, there is a peculiar amalgam among the mass of the population of broadly liberal social attitudes with a pro-market take on the economy.

It is a pity that Lindsey does not take the growth sceptics head on. The likes of Bill McKibben and Professor Robert Frank would probably accept the characterisation of America as a post-scarcity society. Only for them the erosion of scarcity has substantial costs as well as benefits. It is time to launch a counter-attack against the critics of popular prosperity. The forms that growth takes in a market economy may be far from perfect, but there are enormous advantages to prosperity. It has the potential to make our lives longer, healthier and more fulfilling. It can help promote the development of culture, science and technology. And it can allow us to overcome parochial divisions to make the world less local and more global. We should be looking forward to a true age of abundance rather than romanticising a world in which we felt we had to pray for our daily bread.


Why I'm fleeing South Africa

By Anne Paton (widow of Alan Paton)

I am leaving South Africa . I have lived here for 35 years, and I shall leave with anguish. My home and my friends are here, but I am terrified. I know I shall be in trouble for saying so, because I am the widow of Alan Paton. Fifty years ago he wrote Cry, The Beloved Country. He was an unknown schoolmaster and it was his first book, but it became a bestseller overnight. It was eventually translated into more than 20 languages and became a set book in schools all over the world. It has sold more than 15 million copies and still sells 100,000 copies a year. As a result of the startling success of this book, my husband became famous for his impassioned speeches and writings, which brought to the notice of the world the suffering of the black man under apartheid. He campaigned for Nelson Mandela's release from prison and he worked all his life for black majority rule. He was incredibly hopeful about the new South Africa that would follow the end of apartheid, but he died in 1988, aged 85. I was so sorry he did not witness the euphoria and love at the time of the election in 1994. But I am glad he is not alive now. He would have been so distressed to see what has happened to his beloved country.

I love this country with a passion, but I cannot live here any more. I can no longer live slung about with panic buttons and gear locks. I am tired of driving with my car windows closed and the doors locked, tired of being afraid of stopping at red lights. I am tired of being constantly on the alert, having that sudden frisson of fear at the sight of a shadow by the gate, of a group of youths approaching - although nine times out of 10 they are innocent of harmful intent. Such is the suspicion that dogs us all.

Among my friends and the friends of my friends, I know of nine people who have been murdered in the past four years. An old friend, an elderly lady, was raped and murdered by someone who broke into her home for no reason at all; another was shot at a garage. We have a saying, "Don't fire the gardener", because of the belief that it is so often an inside job - the gardener who comes back and does you in. All this may sound like paranoia, but it is not without reason. I have been hijacked, mugged and terrorised. A few years ago my car was taken from me at gunpoint. I was forced into the passenger seat. I sat there frozen. But just as one man jumped into the back and the other fumbled with the starter I opened the door and ran away. To this day I do not know how I did this. But I got away, still clutching my handbag.

On May I this year I was mugged in my home at three in the afternoon. I used to live in a community of big houses with big grounds in the countryside. It's s till beautiful and green, but the big houses have been knocked down and people have moved into fenced complexes like the one in which I now live. Mine is in the suburbs of Durban , but they're springing up everywhere. That afternoon I came home and omitted to close the security door. I went upstairs to lie down. After a while I thought I'd heard a noise, perhaps a bird or something. Without a qualm I got up and went to the landing; outside was a man. I screamed and two other men appeared. I was seized by the throat and almost throttled; I could feel myself losing consciousness. My mouth was bound with Sellotape and I was threatened with my own knife (Girl Guide issue from long ago) and told: "If you make a sound, you die." My hands were tied tightly behind my back and I was thrown into the guest room and the door was shut. They took all the electronic equipment they could find, except the computer. They also, of course, took the car. A few weeks later my new car was locked up in my fenced carport when I was woken by its alarm in the early hours of the morning. The thieves had removed the radio, having cut through the padlocks in order to bypass the electric control on the gates.

The last straw came a few weeks ago, shortly before my 71st birthday. I returned home in the middle of the afternoon and walked into my sitting room. Outside the window two men were breaking in. I retreated to the hall and pressed the panic alarm. This time I had shut the front door on entering. By now I had become more cautious. Yet one of the men ran around the house, jumped over the fence and tried to batter down the front door. Meanwhile, his accomplice was breaking my sitting-room window with a hammer. This took place while the sirens were shrieking, which was the frightening part. They kept coming, in broad daylight, while the alarm was going. They knew that there had to be a time lag of a few minutes before help arrived - enough time to dash off with the television and video recorder. In fact, the front-door assailant was caught and taken off to the cells.

Recently I telephoned to ask the magistrate when I would be called as a witness. She told me she had let him off for lack of evidence. She said that banging on my door was not an offence, and how could I prove that his intent was hostile? I have been careless in the past - razor wire and electric gates give one a feeling of security. Or at least, they did. But I am careless no longer. No fence - be it electric or not - no wall, no razor wire is really a deterrent to the determined intruder. Now my alarm is on all the time and my panic button hung round my neck. While some people say I have been unlucky, others say: "You are lucky not to have been raped or murdered." What kind of a society is this where one is considered "lucky" not to have been raped or murdered - yet?

A character in Cry, The Beloved Country says: "I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to loving they will find we are turned to hating." And so it has come to pass. There is now more racial tension in this country than I have ever known. But it is not just about black-on-white crime. It is about general lawlessness. Black people suffer more than the whites. They do not have access to private security firms, and there are no pol ice stations near them in the townships and rural areas. They are the victims of most of the hijackings, rapes and murders. They cannot run away like the whites, who are streaming out of this country in their thousands.

President Mandela has referred to us who leave as "cowards" and says the country can do without us. So be it. But it takes a great deal of courage to uproot and start again. We are leaving because crime is rampaging through the land. The evils that beset this country now are blamed on the legacy of apartheid. One of the worst legacies of that time is that of the Bantu Education Act, which deliberately gave black people an inferior education.

The situation is exacerbated by the fact that criminals know that their chances of being caught are negligible; and if they are caught they will be free almost at once. So what is t he answer? The government needs to get its priorities right. We need a powerful, well-trained and well-equipped police force.

Recently there was a robbery at a shopping centre in the afternoon. A call to the police station elicited the reply: "We have no transport." "Just walk then," said the caller; the police station is about a two-minute sprint from the shop in question. "We have no transport," came the reply again. Nobody arrived.

There is a quote from my husband's book: "Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a moun tain or a valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much." What has changed in half a century? A lot of people who were convinced that everything would be all right are disillusioned, though they don't want to admit it.

The government has many excellent schemes for improving the lot of the black man, who has been disadvantaged for so long. A great deal of money is spent in this direction. However, nothing can succeed while people live in such fear. Last week, about 10km from my home, an old couple were taken out and murdered in the garden. The wife had only one leg and was in a wheelchair. Yet they were stabbed and strangled - for very little money. They were the second old couple to be killed last week. It goes on and on, all the time; we have become a killing society. As I prepare to return to England , a young man asked me the other day, in all innocence, if things were more peaceful there. "You see," he said, "I know of no other way of life than this. I cannot imagine anything different." What a tragic statement on the beloved country today. "Because the white man has power, we too want power," says Msimangu.

"But when a black man gets power, when he gets money, he is a great man if he is not corrupted. I have seen it often. He seeks power and money to put right what is wrong, and when he gets them, why, he enjoys the power and the money. Now he can gratify his lusts, now he can arrange ways to get white man's liquor. I see only one hope for our country, and that is when white men and black men, desiring neither power nor money, but desiring only the good of their country, come together to work for it. I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to loving, they will find we are turned to hating."

Source. That was written in 1998! There has been no change for the better since


Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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