Is the Term “People of Color” Acceptable in This Day and Age?


So in the United States in 2016 our language still reflects the continuing racialization hierarchy—with white at the top. The use of “people of color” may be less offensive to some than, say, specifying one’s country of origin (Mexican-American, African-American, and so on). Some people that I have asked say they prefer the use of country-of-origin terms because they provide a connection between one’s ancestral country and where they live now. So a question from me is, if we replaced “white” with “European-American” or “Iranian-American,” for example, could we then do away with the word “white” as well?

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Yolanda Moses — Sapiens

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What Did Ancient Romans Do Without Toilet Paper?


Just plain old curiosity.

In the same way that we use an American-style toilet, a Roman user would sit down, take care of business, and watch number two float blissfully away down the sewer system. But instead of reaching for a roll of toilet paper, an ancient Roman would often grab a tersorium (or, in my technical terms, a “toilet brush for your butt”). A tersorium is an ingenious little device made by attaching a natural sponge (from the Mediterranean Sea, of course) to the end of a stick. Our ancient Roman would simply wipe him- or herself, rinse the tersorium in whatever was available (running water and/or a bucket of vinegar or salt water), and leave it for the next person to use. That’s right, it was a shared butt cleaner. (And of course, there were other means of wiping as well, such as the use of abrasive ceramic discs called pessoi.)

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Stephen E. Nash — Sapiens

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Unraveling an Ancient Code Written In Strings


You might remember the alien language in the movie ‘Arrival’. One of our ancient cultures might have used code written in strings which has not yet been deciphered.

This raises a host of questions. Were these logosyllabic khipus a local phenomenon influenced by contact with Spanish writing, or do they have far-reaching roots in the pre-Columbian Andean past? Do the other types of khipus that were used in the central Andes until the 20th century, such as those for accounting, share features with phonetic khipus? What are the implications of a three-dimensional writing system, in which the sense of touch plays as important a role as sight, and how does this expand our understanding of what “writing” is?

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Sabine Hyland — Sapiens

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Why Humans Are So Smart—And So Stressed Out


The header says it all. The good and the bad of having a large brain.

Groups of 150 are about what we would expect when comparing the size of human brains to those of our relatives. Community size in primates is linked to the size of the neocortex region of the brain, where all social cognitive processing occurs. Other primates, with smaller brains, live in smaller groups. Species, such as the baboon-like mandrill of Central Africa, that do gather in larger numbers only contain females and children in their “horde,” so these are not true mixed-sex social groups. If one extrapolates the relation between brain and group size in other primates, then humans with their very large neocortex extend the graph to a community size of 150.

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Mark Maslin — Sapiens

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The Mysterious Power of Arrogance


In our society, we favor a certain compliance to the existing norms. But having said that, you might have come across many arrogant people who are also very successful. Today’s needull looks at a remote society in Papua New Guinea and tries to draw an analogy to the election of Trump as president.

A certain kind of rugged, me-and-mine-first individualism has long been a value in the United States, but it has competed with other values that are concerned with openness, tolerance, and the common good. People usually balance these, compromising on all of them in order to realize a little bit of each. But perhaps because the value of individualism has become harder for most people to realize, even partially, in their current economic circumstances, many Americans recently proved captivated by someone with little interest in values other than individualistic self-promotion. They were joined to a candidate—who went on to become President Donald Trump—by a bond anchored in his ability to express this one value of theirs very fully.

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Joel Robbins — Sapiens

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