Anthro in the news 1/23/12

• Ships crashing in the day
Canada’s Globe and Mail carried an article on what big cruise ship crashes mean for the industry: “The crash of the Costa Concordia cruise ship [...like that of the Titanic] a century ago, is more about the overriding ambiguity of the image — the mismatch between the insulated adventure we’re buying and the rocks and icebergs that still can get in the way.” The article quotes Erve Chambers, professor of anthropology at the University of Maryland: “With both disasters, the same delusion is at work…These ships are so big and so powerful that they are seen to prevail over nature.” [Blogger's note: these comments remind me of how delusion is a key factor in "modern life," along with denial -- consider Tea Party beliefs and values].

• Our babies our politics: Republican presidential candidates big on babies

John Huntsman and his family


An article in the New York Times pointed to the high fertility level of several of the Republican presidential candidates. Both Rick Santorum and (dropout) Jon M. Huntsman Jr. each have seven children. Mitt Romney is the father of five as is Ron Paul. But Newt Gingrich and (dropout) Rick Perry have only two children each. The article quotes Jenell Paris, who teaches anthropology at Messiah College in Pennsylvania:  “For evangelicals, an anticontraception position is not seen as exclusively Roman Catholic, as it would have been in the past.” She pointed to several developments in evangelical culture to explain this shift toward an anticontraception position.

• Teenagers talking online

Danah Boyd


The New York Times Sunday style section carried a major article about Danah Boyd as someone who has gained fame as an anthropologist of youth online communication. Boyd is senior researcher at Microsoft, an assistant professor at New York University, and a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. She publishes in academic outlets, she speaks in important public venues, she teaches, and she tweets. The article describes her support for teens’ access to the online world as a supportive space: “The Internet was my saving grace…I would spend my teenage nights talking to strangers online, realizing there were other smart kids out there.” Her views and insights offer a tempering perspective to parents and others who worry about the dangers that lurk online.

• Binge drinking

Prevalence of binge drinking among adults surveyed by landline telephone, by state. Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, United States, 2009


The Atlantic carried an article critiquing the recent CDC definition of binge drinking. The author writes: “To describe drinking solely in terms of statistical correlation to problem behaviors may undermine the complexity of what it means to drink and even to drink a lot. Anthropology may offer a more nuanced view than the CDC’s focus on epidemiologic and economic risk factors. If, as the CDC suggests, alcohol causes problem behavior, other cultures should have the same lack of moral inhibition when they drink.” The author, a craft bartender in Washington, DC, cites the work of cultural anthropologist Dwight Heath: “…perhaps the foremost expert on drinking and culture — and a professor of anthropology at Brown University — describes drinking as a bio-pyscho-social experience in his International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture. Heath describes cultures that, despite drinking almost lethal amounts of alcohol, sit peacefully while imbibing, with no instances of violence, crime, or suicide. Many examples of peaceful, safe drinking exist (even within our culture) and show that, while the act of drinking alcohol engenders certain physical effects, our cultural interpretation and psychological state determine what those effects mean.” The author concludes: “The last thing I wish to do is minimize these problems or even suggest that alcohol is without sin, but there’s no way to understand the true impact of alcohol within society without understanding how culture shapes its use. If I’m a binge drinker, then so be it. I’m a binge drinker. But this only obscures real problem uses of alcohol since, as a binge drinker, I seem to be doing just fine.” [Blogger's note: I am thrilled to report that an M.A. student taking my medical anthropology seminar contributed research for the article in the Atlantic: congratulations to Clare Kelley].

• UC Berkeley professors as protestors
The Oakland Tribute picked up on protest activities by UC Berkeley faculty members who prevented a police crackdown of Occupy Cal protesters who took over the anthropology library Thursday evening. The protesters took over the anthropology library, camping there for the night, after its hours were cut about 50 percent after winter break. “We are here to stand between you and the administration who might do things that would be unwise,” Anthropology Department Chairman Terry Deacon told about 80 Occupy Cal members gathered in the library. Deacon said when he heard about the planned occupation of the library, he made a deal with UC Berkeley Executive Vice Chancellor George Breslauer to keep police away from the occupation with the understanding that he and other faculty members would stay the night with the occupiers. The deal is good only through Friday morning, he said: “I negotiated with the administration to prevent police action because dragging students out of here would be detrimental to this space.” Anthropology Professor Stefania Pandolfo, who addressed a meeting of the occupiers, said she was speaking to clarify the role of the faculty in the protest: “We are here as participants in the occupation.”

• Depicting racism and prompting thinking
Canada’s Globe and Mail reviewed an exhibition at Paris’s Musée du quai Branly that examines racism and “otherness” with more than 600 artifacts and striking visual displays exploring depictions that attracted a millions of spectators. The exhibit is called Human Zoos: The Invention of the Savage. Anthropologist Nanette Jacomijn Snoep is one of the exhibit’s curators. The author of the article asks her, “To revisit these displays raises an obvious challenge: Even in a culturally sanctioned setting, aren’t visitors experiencing an ‘us’-versus-’them’ relationship all over again?” Snoep acknowledges as much: “It gave me nightmares for two years. I was afraid…Then I asked myself, ‘What is a savage? What is construction of savageness?’ To take their names away, their lives away…So if you give their names back and give historical context, then you don’t exhibit the same way as a century ago.”

• Bowing to the golden calf (not always): A review of Graeber’s Debt
The Vancouver Courier carried a review of David Graeber’s much lauded book, Debt: “Economists tell us human social organization is ultimately based on “exchange relations.” In other words, the market came prior to everything else. The golden calf-or bronze bull if you prefer-demands constant sacrifice…University of London anthropologist David Graeber’s book Debt: The First 5000 Years, turns this received wisdom on its head. For centuries, there were institutions that put social controls on debt, in recognition of its potential harm to society. Whether it was Mesopotamian sacred kingship, Mosaic jubilees, Canon Law or Islamic Sharia, the leaders of society reigned in the debtors. No longer, observes the author. We are now witnessing the rise of the first planetary administrative system designed to protect the interests of creditors over the social contract. The banksters and beancounters rule the world.” [Blogger's note: go to the link and read on -- there's more].

• Forensic anthropologist identifies pedophile
According to the Times (London), a forensic anthropologist has identified a paedophile who raped a 14-month-old girl and distributed images of the abuse on the internet. The accused has been sentenced to a lifelong restriction order and sent to jail. Police enlisted the expertise of Sue Black, professor of anatomy and forensic anthropology at the University of Dundee. She was able to link an image to the convicted man because of the pattern of the veins on his hand.

• Wanted but not cherished: Foreign brides in Korea
The Korea Herald published a review of a new book, Voices of Foreign Brides: The Roots and Development of Multiculturalism in Korea, by Kim Choong-soon. The book explores shared problems that the women encounter in Korea, including racial and cultural discrimination, domestic violence, poverty, illegal international matchmaking and suicide, while arguing that the government is “ill-prepared” to deal with these problems. Korea has received a warning from the U.N. Commission on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that it must develop measures to protect the women and their children against discrimination and mistreatment. Kim, who currently serves as the president of the Cyber University of Korea, was formerly a university faculty scholar and professor of anthropology at the University of Tennessee at Martin.

• “This isn’t stuff”
The Washington Post carried an article about a recent U.S. regulation addressing the disposition of remains that cannot be positively traced to the ancestors of modern-day tribes. Museums and agencies must notify tribes whose current or ancestral lands harbored the remains, then the tribe is entitled to have them back. Tribes say the rule will help close a long and painful chapter that saw native peoples’ bones stolen by grave robbers, boxed up in dusty storerooms and disrespected by researchers: “This isn’t stuff. You don’t do this to people,” said Louis Guassac, a member of the Kumeyaay Cultural Repatriation Committee. “I don’t care how long they’ve been there. You respect them.” Some anthropologists say that the regulation will limit important studies of the health, migration and other habits of ancient people and will not guarantee that the remains go to their true descendants. “The public and scientific interest in [the remains] no longer have any weight,” said Keith Kintigh, associate director of the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University.

• National Anthropological Archives acquisition
According to an article in the Atlantic, the National Anthropological Archives has acquired the papers of Sydel Silverman, a cultural anthropologist known for her work as a researcher, writer, academic administrator, and foundation executive. After receiving her Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1963, she taught at Queens College in New York, was executive officer of the CUNY Ph.D. program in anthropology, and served as president of the Wenner-Gren Foundation from 1987 to 1999.

• New anthropology course in Mindanao
The Ateneo de Davao University (AdDU) will start an anthropology degree course in summer 2012 and will continue expand its course offerings in anthropology. The University president, Fr. Joel E. Tabora, said the course will be offered in the undergraduate and graduate schools. Tabora noted that AdDU will be the first educational institution in Mindanao to offer such course, and further, “Although there is no money in Anthropology, this course is in response to the demand of the community.”

• Very old kiln in Mexico
Mexican archaeologists have discovered a kiln used by the Zapotecs to make ceramics more than 1,300 years ago, according to the National Anthropology and History Institute. It is one of the best preserved ceramic kilns ever found in the Zapotec area. Archaeologist Jaime Vera, head of the excavation, said the kiln “is thought to date back to the first years of the pre-Columbian settlement of the area.”

• Possum teeth could unlock origins of Maori human remains
New technology tested on possum teeth enamel may help Waikato University researchers to pinpoint the regional provenance of Maori human remains. Te Papa Museum in Wellington has been responsible for the country’s international repatriation efforts since 2003. It holds hundreds of bone fragments, and has recovered about 85 toi moko (preserved heads) from foreign institutions. The records of some colonial collectors make it possible for some pieces to be reburied, but in many other cases geographical identification is difficult. Waikato University researcher Nicky Cameron collected possum teeth from trappers and farmers. Enamel on teeth is laid down in the first few years of life for most mammals, then stays mostly unchanged. Many pre-European Maori and Moriori lived all their lives in one area and ate only local food, as possums do now, so she investigated if comparable minerals in the enamel could be matched to geological records. Research findings by Cameron and colleagues are published in the Journal of Pacific Archaeology.

• In memoriam
Sayyid A. Khatami died in New York City on January 13, 2012, at the age of approximately 84 years (his date of birth, in Iran, is around 1918). He graduated from the University of Tehran, served in the Iranian army, and then emigrated to the United States. He completed an M.A. degree at Columbia University’s Asia Institute and then  pursued doctoral studies in anthropology at the University of Chicago. He returned to New York City and taught anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History, working with Margaret Mead.

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