anthro in the news 1/17/17

Friday the 13th fears

The Apopka Voice (Florida) carried an article about the roots of fear surrounding the date of Friday the 13th. The article includes commentary from Phillips Stevens Jr., associate professor of anthropology at Buffalo University:  “Most buildings don’t have a 13th floor, you won’t find 13 people seated a table and some airlines don’t have a 13th row…The taboo comes directly from Biblical stories.” The main story is that of the Last Supper.

source: The Telegraph

silencing sanctuary

Sanctuary sites in the U.S., January 2016. source: Center for Immigration Studies

The Centre Daily (Pennsylvania) reported on a teach-in on immigrants’ rights held at Penn State University and organized by its Immigrants’ Rights Clinic. One speaker, Linda Rabben, associate research professor of anthropology at the University of Maryland and author of Sanctuary and Asylum: A Social and Political History, said universities are often directed by their lawyers not to use the term “sanctuary.” She referenced a letter signed in December by Penn State President Eric Barron, and more than 400 other university presidents in support of DACA (the policy on deferred action for childhood arrivals), noting that nowhere in the letter was “sanctuary” mentioned. “But just because it isn’t mentioned, doesn’t mean people aren’t going to seek it,” Rabben said.

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why we throw coins in fountains: a cultural explanation

by Peter Wogan

Why do so many of us get pleasant, uncanny sensations when we throw a coin in a fountain and see it resting in the water below? What’s the cultural psychology here? What do such coins have to do, for example, with rock concerts and the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”?

source: Kevin Krejci

It’s best to start by reviewing the shift in perspective that occurs when the coin moves out of our hands and into the fountain (or pond…but fountains make better pictures). When we grip that penny or other coin in our hands, we’re totally in control. The coin is literally “in the palm of our hands.” It’s also intimately connected with us through what anthropologists call “contagious magic,” the principle that physical contact creates a bond between people and objects, a principle that’s affirmed every time someone pays thousands of dollars for a piece of clothing worn by Jackie Robinson or John Lennon, or avoids the chair recently used by someone they don’t like. The same principle applies at the edge of the fountain. We’ve kept our coins close to our bodies in our pockets and purses, and now we’re holding them in our hands. Through physical contact, these coins have become an extension of ourselves—a light-hearted, personal avatar.penny-in-fingers

Then we throw the coin in the water and the whole picture changes. We lose control. We let go of our avatar, and suddenly it looks tiny in the water, much smaller than it did in our fingers a second ago. Often we can’t even be sure which coin is ours, lying there among all the others. Our individual coin is now just one of many. What do you call this reversal in perspective?

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anthro in the news 1/11/17

Toman Sasaki, a genderless danshi, at a Japanese shopping mall where he performed with his band, XOX. source: Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

gender blending in Japan

The New York Times carried an article describing how some young Japanese men are bending fashion gender norms, coloring their hair, wearing colored contacts, and applying brightly colored lipstick. The small but growing group of “genderless danshi” (danshi means young men in Japanese) are developing a public identity and sometimes a career out of a new androgynous style. The article quotes Jennifer Robertson, professor of anthropology and the history of art at the University of Michigan: “It’s about blurring the boundaries that have defined pink and blue masculinity and femininity…They are trying to increase the scope of what someone with male anatomy can wear.”

Monsanto as the “big bad” of GMOs

An article in World Finance on GMOs spotlights Monsanto as the “big bad” of GMO manufacturers and distributors. The article quotes Glenn Davis Stone, professor of anthropology and environmental studies at Washington University in St. Louis:

“Herbicide tolerance is by far the most widely planted GM trait. Its advantage is not in yield – it actually tends to have a yield drag – but because it makes the use of cheap herbicide convenient.”

source: Slate

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anthro in the news 1/2/17

Source: Google Images
Source: Google Images

too much complexity

The Guardian carried an op-ed arguing that greatly increased social complexity and global connections are recipes for disaster: “…the endless marketisation and contracting-out that now define policies across the planet have only made things worse.” The author includes a quotation from social anthropologist David Graeber, professor at the London School of Economics, defining his “iron law of liberalism”: “Any market reform, any government initiative intended to reduce red tape and promote market forces will have the ultimate effect of increasing the total number of … regulations, the total amount of paperwork, and the total number of bureaucrats the government employs.” 

politics and policies in Nepal

Earthquake destruction in a village. Source: Practical Action
Earthquake destruction in a village. Source: Practical Action

Catch News (India) published a piece describing the political and policy failures of Nepal following the 2015 earthquake. It points to the focus on getting a constitution approved instead of placing a priority on disaster relief and reconstruction. The related growth in state power did little to help improve people’s lives. The article includes insights from cultural anthropologist Sara Shneiderman of the University of British Columbia which she offered at the second annual conference of the Central Department of Anthropology of Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu. In the Dolakha region, where she has done research for several years, in order to receive paltry grants or soft loans from commercial banks, a survivor has to strictly adhere to guidelines set by government agencies. Compliance with the conditions of assistance is checked before releasing every tranche of the loan.

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anthro in the news 12/26/16


Roma in Poland
Roma in Poland, Source: The New Yorker

blaming Roma

Al Jazeera published an op-ed by Andrzej Mirga, anthropologist and chair of the Roma Education Fund, and a Roma from Poland. He argues that racism is the reason why Europeans fear refugees, not the failed integration of Roma into society. Muslims and Roma share the condition of being the most hated minorities in the region. A recent study by the Pew Research Center shows that 64 percent of Hungarians hold unfavorable views of Roma and 72 percent have a negative opinion of Muslims. Mirga writes, “In Poland, my home country, these figures are 47 percent and 66 percent respectively, even though both groups together total just 40,000 in a country of close to 40 million, mostly white Catholics.” According to a report by the Polish National Prosecutor’s Office, hate crimes increased by 13 percent in the first half of 2016 in Poland, affecting primarily Muslims, but also Roma, Jews, and blacks.

land conflict in Mexico

Source: Google Images
Source: Google Images

An article in Reuters described the conflict between ranchers and Huichol Indians in Mexico over the ranchers’ intensive grazing and planting. Deforestation, and use of chemicals. It includes commentary from Paul Liffman, a research associate professor of anthropology at Rice University in Texas and Huichol expert:  The conflict echoes the Standing Rock dispute in the U.S. state of North Dakota where Native American activists and supporters have demanded a halt to an oil pipeline project. He noted that indigenous groups have been making land claims more forcefully since a 1989 United Nations convention provided a legal framework.

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anthro in the news 12/19/16

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

beware the messenger

The Herald (Zimbabwe) published a piece about recent CIA reports on Russian hacking by social anthropologist David Price, professor at St. Martin’s University in Washington State. He argues that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is a tool of American hegemony, not an unbiased source of information: “I remain agnostic in these matters and highly recommend others do too. While we know nothing about the truth of these reports, we know a lot about the messenger delivering this news, and what we know should give us pause before accepting news of a Russian electoral coup here at home. As a scholar with two decades of academic research studying the CIA, I think many on the American left are letting their dire fear of the damage Trump will surely bring to not fully consider how the CIA is playing these events.  Many on the American left misunderstand what the CIA is and isn’t.  It isn’t some sort of right wing agency, it is an agency filled with bright people with beliefs across the mainstream political spectrum…” [Blogger’s note: The article previously appeared in CounterPunch Magazine].

where health is a human right

Health clinic in Cuba. Source: Eric Weaver
Health clinic in Cuba. Source: Eric Weaver

An article in The Atlantic describes the success of Cuba in ensuring the people’s health according to its constitution which says health is a fundamental human right:  Cuba has long had a nearly identical life expectancy to the United States, despite widespread poverty. The humanitarian-physician Paul Farmer notes in his book Pathologies of Power that there’s a saying in Cuba: ‘We live like poor people, but we die like rich people.’ Farmer also notes that the rate of infant mortality in Cuba has been lower than in the Boston neighborhood of his own prestigious hospital, Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s.”

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anthro in the news 12/12/16

Comet Ping Pong restaurant in DC, site of recent fake news about child trafficking prompting an armed man to “self-investigate” on December 4  Source: Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS
Comet Ping Pong restaurant in DC, site of recent fake news about child trafficking prompting an armed man to “self-investigate” on December 4
Source: Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS

sex panic and social media

The Montreal Gazette carried an op-ed by Roger Lancaster, professor of anthropology and cultural studies at George Mason University, and author of Sex Panic and the Punitive State. He comments on the rise of “fake news” and its circulation, especially as related to imputed sex-related crimes: “We have good reason to think that the role of fakery is expanding in the public sphere. Part of this expansion has to do with the speeding-up of communication, its dissemination through networks that lack protocols or fact-checking. This is part of the long story of modernity. Fear and confusion propagate faster through radio and television than by way of mass-produced broadsides or fliers; the Internet is a more efficient means of converting anecdote into evidence and rumour into “fact” than was the Hearst newspaper chain of yesteryear.”

big deal phone call

U.S. president-elect Donald Trump and Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen Source: Staff/AFP/Getty Images/Chicago Tribune
U.S. president-elect Donald Trump and Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen
Source: Staff/AFP/Getty Images/Chicago Tribune

In a guest column in The Orlando Sentinel, Robert Moore, professor emeritus of anthropology at Rollins College in Florida, comments on the recent phone call that president-elect Trump had with the president of Taiwan:  “The relationship between China and the U.S. is likely to be the world’s most significant vortex of diplomacy for at least the next few decades…Thanks to that phone call, we might do well to take a good look at Taiwan, one area in which America’s and Beijing’s interests do not perfectly coincide. Whether we view Taiwan as a province of China (which is what our One-China policy requires) or as an independent, self-governing entity (which, in reality, it is), we have to admire it for its robust, democratic institutions.”

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