Anthro in the news 5/7/2012

• The Occupy movement
May 1st is International Workers Day. This year it was also an occasion for the Occupy Wall Street movement to demonstrate and expand support for the movement. According to coverage by Voice of America, demonstrators in New York City started “banging drums early despite rainy skies.” According to one Occupy activist, “If the NYPD [New York Police Department] can’t stop us, Mother Nature can’t stop us…You can’t stop the truth.” VOA quoted David Harvey, an anthropology professor at the City University of New York: “We’ve got this situation where we don’t have the money power…The only power we have is people…”. The New York Times had the carried an article called, “Academics Enthralled by Occupy” in its Arts section where it quoted Jeffrey Juris, associate professor of anthropology at Northeastern University, who is studying the movement, as commenting the connections between research on the movement and being an activist: “Everybody I know doing this is an activist of some sort.” [Blogger’s note: other articles in the Arts section covered ballad singing, theater, and television. So what is serious research on a major political movement doing in the Arts section and being referred to as enthrallment? I guess the best response from the anthros is to say that coverage in the NYT Arts section is better than no coverage in the NYT].

• Nepali youth drug addiction in Hong Kong
The South China Morning Post reported on drug use problems among Nepali youth in Hong Kong. Researchers at Chinese University have found that Nepalis have a bigger problem with drug abuse than do members of any other ethnic minority in the city. While drug abuse in Hong Kong has fallen in recent years, the number of Nepali addicts has risen. Most started taking drugs between 10 and 19, with more than 90 per cent of them hooked on heroin, according to a study led by anthropology professor Maria Tam Siumi: “The government’s anti-drug campaigns also don’t really reach them because of the language barrier…Their community is small and isolated, so there isn’t a way out for young people. They also do not have equal opportunities in education, employment or social and medical services.”

• Debt, social inequality, and politics in the U.S.
The Huffington Post published an article by Richard H. Robbins, Distinguished Teaching Professor in Anthropology at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, on debt as an issue in the U.S. presidential election: “What will likely be absent in the debate, however, is any consideration of the relationship of debt to the requirement for perpetual economic growth and its role in the dramatic increase in economic inequality in the United States and the rest of the world.” Robbins asks, “How did we get into this dilemma?”

• Rethinking marriage in the U.S.
The Huffington Post carried a piece by Richard Feinberg, professor of anthropology at Kent State University in which he places current political debates in the U.S. about same-sex marriage in the context of anthropology’s cross-cultural findings about the institution of marriage: “After years of argument a half-dozen states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage. Several more, including my own, are considering it. Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidates, right-wing columnists and talk show hosts, evangelical pastors, and recently even Pope Benedict have called upon Americans to halt the spread of ‘immorality.’ Family values, we are told, require us to defend marriage as ‘traditionally defined.’ As an anthropologist I find this whole discussion rather odd.”

• Where is the language gene
NPR covered Dan Everett’s anti-Chomsky perspective that there is no innate language organ or module in the human brain dedicated to the production of grammatical language: “So goes the argument in Language: The Cultural Tool, the new book I’m reading by Daniel Everett. Next week, I’ll have more to say about the book itself; this week, I want to explore how Everett’s years of living among the Pirahã Indians of Amazonian Brazil helped shape his conclusions — and why those conclusions matter.”

• Social science research center in India includes anthropology
The Hindu carried an article noting that the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata, which functions under the control of the Indian Council for Social Science Research and is financed primarily by the council and matching grants from the Government of West Bengal, includes faculty in the disciplines of economics, history, political science, sociology, social anthropology, geography, and cultural studies. The center sees substantial collaboration among its different disciplines in contrast to the traditional department-based academic approach. The center focuses on problems of the eastern region of India.

• Human sacrifice in ancient Mexico confirmed
This announcement was the media hit (in anthropology) of the week. Many media outlets reported that researchers in Mexico found blood cells and fragments of muscle, tendon, skin and hair on 2,000-year-old stone knives, calling it the first conclusive evidence from a large number of stone implements pointing to their use in human sacrifice. Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History said the finding clearly corroborates accounts from later cultures about the use of sharp obsidian knives in sacrificing humans. Other physical evidence such as cut marks on the bones of ancient human skeletons had previously offered indirect proof of the practice.

• What big eyes you have and how fast you run!
According to a report in Science Daily, Chris Kirk, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin, has found that maximum running speed is the most important variable influencing mammalian eye size. “If you can think of mammals that are fast like a cheetah or horse, you can almost guarantee they’ve got really big eyes,” says Kirk. “This gives them better vision to avoid colliding with obstacles in their environment when they’re moving very quickly.” Kirk and doctoral student Amber Heard-Booth have written a paper that is forthcoming in the journal Anatomical Record. Heard-Booth presented the findings at the 2011 American Association of Physical Anthropology Meeting, where she was awarded the Mildred Trotter Prize for exceptional graduate research in evolutionary morphology.

• Kudos
The University of Alaska Anchorage is awarding Rosita Worl, President of the Sealaska Heritage Institute, with an honorary doctor of sciences degree at the university’s 2012 commencement ceremony. Worl said, “I am honored to receive this award from an Alaska institution I hold in such high esteem.” She served as an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Alaska Southeast for many years. Worl is an Eagle from the Shangukeidí Clan and the House Lowered from the Sun in Klukwan. She is the grandchild of the Lukaax.ádi. She holds a doctoral degree in anthropology from Harvard University and received the 2008 Solon T. Kimball Award from the American Anthropological Association for her pioneering work in Applied Anthropology. Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private, nonprofit organization founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.

Steven Leigh, an associate dean at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign whose research focuses on human and primate evolution, will be the next dean of the University of Colorado’s College of Arts and Sciences. Leigh’s appointment is effective July 1.

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