The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

July 18, 2011

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 18 Jul 2011 00:36:10
From: Portside Moderator <moderator@PORTSIDE.ORG>
Subject: Questioning the Inca Paradox

Questioning the Inca Paradox
Did the civilization behind Machu Picchu really fail
to develop a written language?
By Mark Adams
July 12, 2011

Historic Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, PeruWhen the Yale
University history lecturer Hiram Bingham III
encountered the ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru 100 years
ago, on July 24, 1911, archaeologists and explorers
around the world (including Bingham himself) were
stunned, having never come across a written reference to
the imperial stone city. Of course, the absence of such
historical records was in itself no great surprise. The
Inca, a technologically sophisticated culture that
assembled the largest empire in the Western Hemisphere,
have long been considered the only major Bronze Age
civilization that failed to develop a system of writing-
a puzzling shortcoming that nowadays is called the "Inca

The Incas never developed the arch, either-another
common hallmark of civilization-yet the temples of Machu
Picchu, built on a rainy mountain ridge atop two fault
lines, still stand after more than 500 years while the
nearby city of Cusco has been leveled twice by
earthquakes. The Inca equivalent of the arch was a
trapezoidal shape tailored to meet the engineering needs
of their seismically unstable homeland. Likewise, the
Incas developed a unique way to record information, a
system of knotted cords called khipus (sometimes spelled
quipus). In recent years, the question of whether these
khipus were actually a method of three-dimensional
writing that met the Incas' specific needs has become
one of the great unsolved mysteries of the Andes.

No one disputes that the Incas were great collectors of
information. When a battalion of Spanish conquistadors,
led by the ruthless Francisco Pizarro, arrived in 1532,
the invaders were awed by the Inca state's organization.
Years' worth of food and textiles were carefully
stockpiled in storehouses. To keep track of all this
stuff, the empire employed khipucamayocs, a specially
trained caste of khipu readers. The great 16th-century
Spanish chronicler Pedro Cieza de Le??n recalled that
these men were so skilled that "not even a pair of
sandals" escaped their annual tallies. The Spaniards,
who were no slouches themselves in the bureaucracy
department-Pizarro's landing party included 12 notaries-
observed that the Incas were remarkably skilled with
numbers. For many years during the 16th century, says
Frank Salomon, a professor of anthropology at the
University of Wisconsin, Inca khipucamayocs and Spanish
accountants would square off in court during lawsuits,
with the khipu numbers usually deemed more accurate.

Detail of an Inca-era khipu Individual khipus seem to
have varied widely in color and complexity; most of the
surviving examples generally consist of a pencil-thick
primary cord, from which hang multiple "pendant" cords.
From those pendants hang ancillary cords called
"subsidiaries." One khipu has more than a thousand
subsidiary cords. Sixteenth-century eyewitness accounts
describe khipucamayocs studying their khipus intensely
to access whatever details had been recorded on them.
According to Spanish chronicles of the 1560s and 1570s,
some khipus appeared to contain information of the sort
that other cultures have typically preserved in writing,
such as genealogies and songs that praised the king. One
Jesuit missionary told of a woman who brought him a
khipu on which she had "written a confession of her
whole life."

The Spaniards' institutional response to this singular
accounting system, originally benign, shifted in 1583,
when Peru's nascent Roman Catholic church decreed that
khipus were the devil's work and ordered the destruction
of every khipu in the former Inca empire. (This was the
heyday of the Spanish Inquisition, and the church was
making a major push to convert natives from their
pantheistic state religion.) By the middle of the 17th
century, Spanish accounts, the only historical sources
available from that time, began to cast doubt on the
idea that the khipus had ever been "read" like texts.
Instead, the knots on khipus came to be viewed as
mnemonic prompts analogous to the beads on Catholic
rosaries, cues that supposedly had helped the
khipucamayocs recall information that they had already
memorized. Some scholars argued that a khipu could have
only been understood by the same khipucamayoc who'd made
it. Andean cultures secretly continued to use knotted
cords to record information well into the 20th century,
but the links between modern cords and Inca khipus
aren't clear. What's certain is that no one in recent
history has been able to fully interpret an Inca khipu.

The conquerors' mnemonic theory held sway for three
centuries, and was buttressed in 1923, when the
anthropologist L. Leland Locke analyzed 42 khipus at the
American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
Locke demonstrated how the knots represented the results
of tabulations. These figures were grounded in the
base-10 decimal system (tens, hundreds, thousands), and
so were analogous to the beads on an abacus. Despite the
evidence from 16th-century eyewitness accounts, the
academic community accepted the hypothesis that the
Inca, who had built the world's largest highway system
and eradicated hunger in an empire of more than 10
million people, never managed to express their thoughts
in written form.

In 1981, however, the husband-and-wife, archeologist-
and-mathematician team of Robert and Marcia Ascher put
the Inca Paradox into doubt. By closely analyzing the
position, size, and color of the knots in 200 khipus,
they demonstrated that about 20 percent of them showed
"non-arithmetical" properties. These cords, the Aschers
argued, seemed to have been encoded with numbers that
might also represent other information-possibly some
form of narrative.

A khipu maker's work box, Inca eraThe question that Inca
scholars have grappled with since is whether or not the
khipus constitute what linguists call a glottographic or
"true writing" system. In true writing, a set of signs
(for example, the letters C-A-T) matches the sound of
speech (the spoken word "cat.") These signs must be
easily decoded not just by the person who writes them,
but by anyone who possesses the ability to read in that
language. No such link has yet been found between a
khipu and a single syllable of Quechua, the native
language of the Peruvian Andes.

But what if the khipus don't fit neatly into the precise
criteria established for true writing? It's possible,
says Wisconsin's Salomon, that khipus were actually
examples of semasiography, a system of representative
symbols-such as numerals or musical notation-that
conveys information but isn't tied to the speech sounds
of a single language, in this instance Quechua. (By
contrast, logographic languages such as Chinese and
Japanese are phonetic as well as character-based.) The
Incas conquered a huge number of neighboring peoples in
a short time span, between 1438 and 1532; each of these
groups had its own language or dialect, and the Incas
wanted to integrate those new territories into their
hyperefficient organizational network quickly. "It makes
sense that they'd use a system that could transcend
languages," Salomon says.

If khipus are examples of semasiography, the obvious
next step is to break their code. Nearly a decade ago,
Gary Urton, a professor of pre-Columbian studies at
Harvard, began the Khipu Database project (KDB), a
digitized repository of 520 khipus. (831 khipus are
known to exist worldwide.) Urton has argued that khipus
contain vastly more information than once believed-a
rich trove of data encoded in each cord's colors,
materials, and type of knot. The KDB may have already
decoded the first word from a khipu-the name of a
village, Puruchuco, which Urton believes was represented
by a three-number sequence much like an Inca ZIP code.
If he's correct, the system employed to encode
information in the khipus is the only known example of a
complex language recorded in a 3-D system. Khipus may
turn out to be something like bar codes that could be
"scanned" by anyone with the proper training.

The easiest way to know for certain if the khipus were a
form of writing would be to find the Inca equivalent of
the Rosetta Stone: a khipu paired with its written
Spanish translation. Because of the limited number of
khipus-only a fraction of the amount of material
available to the researchers who decoded the Egyptian
and Maya hieroglyphs-this has long been thought
improbable. It's not impossible, though. A couple of
decades ago, a 1568 real-estate document turned up in a
Cusco archive that showed that Machu Picchu had once
been a royal estate belonging to Pachacutec, the
greatest Inca emperor. In the 1990s an Italian
noblewoman claimed to have discovered a khipu with its
translation among her family papers in Naples. Thus far,
these controversial "Naples documents," initially a hot
topic of speculation among historians, have turned out
to be a dead end.

Then just last year, what may prove to be the most
important evidence yet turned up in a tiny mountain
village in Peru. Sabine Hyland, a professor of
anthropology at St. Norbert College, found a "khipu
board," a device Mercederian missionaries used to keep
track of information such as attendance of natives at
mass. The board, which dates from the 19th century,
lists 282 names. Next to 177 of them is a hole with a
corresponding khipu cord. While the board was created
centuries after the Spanish conquest, its cords' various
color patterns are similar to those found in khipus from
the Inca period. Hyland has since located a second khipu
board and plans to study both in depth later this year.

This is probably not an Inca Rosetta Stone. Hyland's
early guess is that the strings don't represent the
names exactly, but instead record mundane details like
which residents of the village played a role in a
holiday pageant or donated a sheep to the local fiesta.
But if they do resemble 16th-century khipus as closely
as she thinks they might, their decoding could at the
very least be proof that the Incas used a semasiographic
system. Such a breakthrough could begin to rewrite the
narrative of a civilization whose history has been told
almost entirely by the very conquerors who set out to
erase it. It would also serve as a reminder to future
researchers: Don't mistake your own lack of imagination
for deficiencies in the cultures you study.


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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 18 Jul 2011 00:37:14
From: Portside Moderator <moderator@PORTSIDE.ORG>
Subject: Appalachia's Deepening Human Rights Crisis

Appalachia's Deepening Human Rights Crisis
By the numbers
Sue Sturgis
Institute for Southern Studies
July 14, 2011

Of every 100,000 babies born, number who suffer from
birth defects in areas of Appalachia where coal is mined
by mountaintop removal, in which ammonium nitrate fuel
oil explosives are used to expose coal seams: 235

In non-mining areas: 144

Percent higher risk of having a baby with a birth defect
for mothers who smoked during pregnancy compared to non-
smoking mothers: 17

Percent higher risk of having a baby with a birth defect
for mothers living in mountaintop removal areas compared
to mothers living in non-mining areas: 42

Percent that a mother's smoking increases the risk that
her baby will be born with defects of the circulatory or
respiratory system: 17

Percent that a mother's living in a mountaintop removal
mining area increases the risk of such defects: 181

Number of birth defects with rates significantly higher
near mountaintop removal mining sites: 6*

Additional number of unhealthy days per year experienced
by residents of mountaintop removal mining counties
compared to non-mining areas: 18

Number of years that amounts to over an average American
lifetime: almost 4

Date on which a law firm representing the National
Mining Association (NMA) posted an analysis faulting the
study looking at mountaintop removal and birth defects
for failing to account for "consanguinity" (i.e.,
inbreeding): 6/28/2011

Date on which the NMA released another critique of the
birth defects study based on the commissioned findings
of Exponent, a California-based consulting firm that
specializes in defending troubled corporations:

Percent of coal produced in the U.S. by mountaintop
removal: 5 to 8

Date on which Appalachian grassroots leaders launched a
petition calling for a moratorium on mountaintop removal
mining: 7/12/2011

Date on which mountaintop removal mining opponents held
an emergency press conference in Washington to draw
attention to a bill that would strip the Environmental
Protection Agency of the power to regulate the practice:

Amount in campaign contributions from mining interests
to Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), the sponsor of that bill:

Vote by which that legislation passed the House the same
day as the press conference: 239-184

* circulatory/respiratory, central nervous system,
musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, urogenital and


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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 18 Jul 2011 00:38:31
From: Portside Moderator <moderator@PORTSIDE.ORG>
Subject: Protests Grow in Solidarity with California Prisoners as Hunger Strikes
      Enter Third Week

Protests Grow in Solidarity with California Prisoners as
Hunger Strikes Enter Third Week
Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez
Democracy Now!
July 15, 2011

Thousands of inmates in at least 13 prisons across
California's troubled prison system have been on hunger
strike for almost two weeks. Many are protesting in
solidarity with inmates held in Pelican Bay State
Prison, California's first super-maximum security
prison, over what prisoners say are cruel and unusual
conditions in "Secure Housing Units." We play an audio
statement from one of the Pelican Bay prisoners and
speak to three guests: Dorsey Nunn, co-founder of "All
of Us or None" and executive director of Legal Services
for Prisoners with Children, and one of the mediators
between the prisoners on hunger strike and the
California Department of Corrections; Molly Porzig, a
member of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity
coalition and a spokesperson for Critical Resistance;
and Desiree Lozoya, the niece of an inmate participating
in the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike, who visited him last
weekend. [includes rush transcript]


Molly Porzig, a member of the Prisoner Hunger Strike
Solidarity coalition and a spokesperson for Critical

Dorsey Nunn, co-founder of "All of Us or None." He is
also the executive director of Legal Services for
Prisoners with Children. Nunn was incarcerated from 1971
to 1982 in San Quentin Prison in California. He is one
of the mediators between the prisoners on hunger strike
and the California Department of Corrections.

Desiree Lozoya, is the niece of an inmate participating
in the Pelican Bay hunger strike.

Rush Transcript This transcript is available free of
charge. However, donations help us provide closed
captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV
broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to California, where
thousands of inmates in at least 11 prisons across the
state's troubled prison system have been on hunger
strike for almost two weeks. Many are protesting in
solidarity with inmates held in Pelican Bay State
Prison, California's first super-maximum security

The hunger strike began on July 1st in the Pelican Bay's
Security Housing Unit, when inmates began refusing meals
to protest what they say is cruel and unusual
conditions. Prisoners in the units are kept in total
isolation for 22-and-a-half hours a day, a punishment
some mental health experts say can lead to insanity and
is tantamount to torture.

Democracy Now! obtained a recording of an audio
statement that one of the Pelican Bay inmates, Ted
Ashker sic, made to his legal team in the secure
prison's Secure Housing Unit, which is referred to as
the SHU. You will need to listen closely as he explains
his reasons for joining the hunger strike.

     TODD ASHKER: The basis for this protest has come
     about after over 25 years-some of us, 30, some up to
     40 years-of being subjected to these conditions the
     last 21 years in Pelican Bay SHU, where every single
     day you have staff and administrators who feel it's
     their job to punish the worst of the worst, as
     they've put out propaganda for the last 21 years
     that we are the worst of the worst. And most of us
     have never been found guilty of ever committing an
     illegal gang-related act. But we're in SHU because
     of a label. And all of our 602 appeals, numerous
     court challenges, have gotten nowhere. Therefore,
     our backs are up against the wall.

     A lot of us are older now. We have serious medical
     issues coming on. And we believe that this is our
     only option of ever trying to make some kind of
     positive changes here, is through this peaceful
     protest of hunger strike. And there is a core group
     of us who are committed to taking this all the way
     to the death, if necessary. None of us want to do
     this, but we feel like we have no other option. And
     we're just hoping for the best.

JUAN GONZALEZ: That was Todd, not Ted, Todd Ashker, one
of the prisoners in Pelican Bay's Secure Housing Unit
who is on hunger strike. California's Department of
Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesperson, Terry
Thornton, responded to the hunger strike, saying, quote,
"This goes to show the power, influence and reach of
prison gangs." A prison guard told MSNBC that prisoners
are kept in the SHU for their own safety.

     PRISON GUARD: Inmates that were placed into the SHU
     housing unit were placed in here, for the most part,
     because of violence, and that violence could be
     against other inmates or against officers.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, activists who support the strikers
dismiss allegations of gang ties. They describe the
conditions inside the prison's highest-security special
isolation wing as inhumane.

In May, the federal Supreme Court ruled that California
must reduce its prison overcrowding to be able to
provide inmates with adequate healthcare. In a five-to-
four ruling, the court said conditions in California's
prison system are, quote, "incompatible with the concept
of human dignity, causing needless suffering and death."

Supporters of the hunger strikers protesting these
conditions say, as the prisoners continue to refuse
food, their health has deteriorated to critical levels.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we're joined by three guests. In
Oakland, California, we're joined by Dorsey Nunn, who is
co-founder of All of Us or None. He's also executive
director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.
Nunn was incarcerated from 1971 to '82 at San Quentin.
He's one of the mediators between the prisoners on
hunger strike and the California Department of

Also joining us from the University of California,
Berkeley, is Molly Porzig. She's a member of the
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition and a
spokesperson for Critical Resistance.

And in Arizona, we're joined by Desiree Lozoya. She is
the niece of a prisoner participating in the Pelican Bay
hunger strike. She went to the prison last weekend and
visited her uncle.

Desiree, let's start with you. Tell us what your uncle
explained to you, why he's on hunger strike, and what's
happening at Pelican Bay.

DESIREE LOZOYA: Well, basically, just as Todd had
explained in his video clip, they're just wanting to be
treated better. They're cold. They're losing weight. And
like he had explained, a lot of these prisoners are
trying to be-basically gang-labeled. However, there's
nothing to be labeling them for. For instance, my uncle
was an interstate transfer to Pelican Bay. He was
supposed to be transferred closer to home. However, he
was still transferred 17 hours away from us. And then,
as soon as they saw a tattoo on his hand, they labeled
him right away. Although he has had no write-ups, has
gotten into no trouble, they automatically put him in
the Ad-Seg, which is now called the new SHU. They are
now expanding that. And so, that's where he sits.

AMY GOODMAN: Because they said the tattoo indicates he's
a member of a gang?

DESIREE LOZOYA: Yes. And the tattoo, he ended up getting
when he was a teen. He was only 18 years old when he
received the tattoo. It was in no gang affiliation

JUAN GONZALEZ: And we're also joined by Molly Porzig.
She's a member of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity
coalition. Molly, talk about how this has spread to the
rest of the California prison system.

MOLLY PORZIG: Right. So, on the first day of the hunger
strike, thousands of prisoners across the state of
California, more than 6,600 prisoners that we know of
across at least 13 prisons, joined the hunger strike in
solidarity with the prisoners at the Pelican Bay SHU and
their demands. What's really significant about that is
that people are risking their own lives in joining this
action, while being in very similar, or even the same,
brutal conditions as the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay.
And that speaks to the fact that while this struggle
speaks to particular conditions at Pelican Bay and in
the SHU, it's also part of the larger system within
California, which was just mentioned that has been
condemned by the Supreme Court as inhumane and cruel,
due to severe medical neglect and overcrowding.

AMY GOODMAN: I'm wondering, Dorsey Nunn, co-founder of
All of Us or None, if you could explain how this strike
has spread and how you are negotiating between the
prisoners and the prisons.

DORSEY NUNN: I think this strike has spread, just like
anybody else that supports injustice. So for them to
consider-I heard in your clip when he said the 6,000
people that's supporting this strike is-demonstrates the
influence of gang leaders. I think it demonstrates the
need for justice. Just as Martin marched and people
followed Martin, people followed Gandhi, people are
actually striking because they are being tortured. So I
think that this strike has spread because torture is a
threatening thing to anybody in the California
Department of Corrections.

People are being tortured. Some parts of what I know, as
a formerly incarcerated person who have did time within
the California Department of Corrections, that they are
guilty of torture. It's like being locked-it's not
"like." People are being locked up in the bathroom for
23, 24 and 30 years. It may not have been torture maybe
the first 30 days or the first 60 days, but when you
start getting into multiple decades, then we can call it

When you start extracting information in Pelican Bay or
Guant??namo Bay, the purpose is the same. You're
torturing people. And I think under international
standards, it can be referred to as that. I think the
thing that is troubling, that this thing is happening on
the shores of the United States. We never did have to
get into renditions if we were going to allow torture in
northern California.


DORSEY NUNN: So this thing is spreading.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Dorsey Nunn, what's been the response of
prison officials or government officials? Have they
attempted to negotiate or mediate through you or with
the inmates?

DORSEY NUNN: I think that we entered discussions. I
wouldn't necessarily call it "negotiating." We entered
discussions, you know. So I guess if I was in a cage
with a 600-pound gorilla, you couldn't necessarily call
it a dance.

AMY GOODMAN: And where do you-

DORSEY NUNN: You know, so I-you know, what you-

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead, Dorsey.

DORSEY NUNN: You know, what brings me into this studio
this morning at 5:00 in the morning is that I'm scared
people are going to start dying. You know, the only
model that these guys got left is the model of Bobby
Sands and the Irish strike. That's their model. So these

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean by that.

DORSEY NUNN: You know, somebody needs to think about
what would drive human beings-yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Dorsey, you're talking about-you're talking
about fasting to death, if you're talking about Bobby

DORSEY NUNN: Yeah, that's what they're talking about.
And that's what they've been like-that's what I'm
frightened of. So what brings me into your studio is, I
think they're betting on the compassion of people who
live in the state of California, people who live in the
United States. And what's frightening to me is that I
don't know if that compassion really exists.

MOLLY PORZIG: I mean, just to add to that, to back up to
the question of what has the response of officials been,
I mean, it's very, very clear that the CDCR is more than
willing, if not wanting, people to start dying. They
want this to go away quickly and quietly. They pride
itself on Pelican Bay being the end of the line, not
only for people in California, but to be a model for the
United States, and really the world, in terms of how to
repress political organizing and resistance and any sort
of defiance to any sort of establishment.

And I think that, you know, what the challenge is for
supporters outside of prison is that we need to be
tirelessly working at, in a very urgent way, taking the
risks that we can to match the courage of these hunger
strikers, because, like Dorsey is saying, people-it's
not just that we're afraid of in a few weeks people
dying. People are getting to that point now. And we need
to be acting more. You know, historically, people have
used civil disobedience to prevent mass death. And
that's exactly the moment that we're in right now.
That's exactly what these hunger strikers and thousands
and thousands of prisoners across the state of
California are doing. Some prisoners at Ohio State
Penitentiary are also joining this. You know, so this is
really, really huge.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there.

MOLLY PORZIG: And if people start dying, if it gets to
that point-OK.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there, but I thank you
so much, all, for being with us. We will certainly
follow this hunger strike. We've been joined by Dorsey
Nunn, co-founder of All of Us or None, by Molly Porzig
with Critical Resistance, and thank you to Desiree
Lozoya, who joined us from Arizona.


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and to change it.

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Big Failures of Identity!

How many avatars are there?
In the image? In the world?
How many things are they doing in the world?
Avatars drop like rain does from the clouds in the sky.
But like virga they disappear before they hit the ground.
"The mark of the blank is missing."
But what is equivalent here? I think maybe the pixels.
But aren't they addressable? Of course they are!
The avatars are another thing! Big failures of identity!

Generated by Mnemosyne 0.12.