Anthro in the news 1/13/14

UN Headquarters Haiti after 2010 Earthquake. UN Photo. Wikicommons.
  • Where did the money for Haiti go?

A Montreal group is blasting Ottawa’s earthquake relief in Haiti for its lack of transparency and poor results. The Coalition for Haiti, citing a report by Paul Cliche, an anthropologist and researcher on development issues with the Université de Montréal, notes that conditions remain dire in Haiti following the devastating earthquake on January 12, 2010. In addition to the lack of transparency, Cliché concludes in his study that Canada’s approach to humanitarian aid in Haiti is flawed on several fronts. For example,  too much Canadian aid money has been spent on Band-Aid-type fixes, including offering rental subsidies to persuade Haitians to move from emergency camps to substandard temporary housing rather than building permanent homes or repairing damaged homes. Cliche says that it is impossible to determine who received over two thirds of the $554.8 million reconstruction money Canada sent to Haiti.

  • Four years later: Too bitter, too little, too late

The Haitian Times published an article by cultural anthropologist and professor at Northern Illinois University, Mark Schuller, in which he comments on the situation in Port-au-Prince four years after the earthquake:

“On the surface, things are calm. Port-au-Prince appears to be in security. Kidnapping stats are way down from the end of the year. Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe presented a list of accomplishments four years on, which include the construction of 5,000 houses. The protests that engulfed the streets almost daily in November and early December, including thousands recently for an increase in Haiti’s minimum wage to 500 gourdes a day (about $11.35, or $1.42 per hour), have dissipated for the holiday season.”

Schuller then describes a fire in one of the camps that destroyed the entire camp. And, “Today a large march is scheduled to advocate for housing rights. Word is that other larger, more politically motivated, protests will resume in the week.”

  • Link between U.S. soldiers’ suicide and toxic leaders

Forbes Magazine carried an article about a National Public Radio news investigation aired this week covering the topic of toxic leadership in the military. It focuses on research by David Matsuda, an anthropology professor, who was working with the U.S. army in Iraq to help understand local cultures. While there, a general asked him to investigate the high suicide rate among U.S. soldiers, which prompted Matsuda to study the culture of the Army. The standard investigation of a suicide in the Army is to ask what was wrong with the individual soldier, such as a history of mental illness or a marital breakup. Matsuda pursued a different angle and discovered that soldiers who took their own lives usually did have personal problems, but they also had leaders who were pushing them over the edge by making their lives a living hell. The NPR link provides access to the audio.

  • No demonstrated need for lethal force by U.S. Border Patrol

The Detroit Free Press quoted cultural anthropology professor, Josiah Heyman of the University of Texas-El Paso, in an article about practices of the U.S. Border Patrol working to prevent illegal immigration along the border with Mexico. Recent data do not support the argument by Customs and Border Patrol officials that their agents need to have the latitude to use lethal force given the high risk involved in their work.

According to Heyman: “Border Patrol agents do operate in remote areas and face some real risks…But a fair number of incidents are in urban areas where agents have a lot of options for self-protection…The question, in individual cases and the broader patterns, is whether the force used has a reasonable relationship to the risk.” Heyman also pointed out that it is difficult to obtain data on occasions when lethal force was used in order to assess the risks to the agents involved in various cases.

  • Fiction echoes the economy

Can the emotional connotations of words in literature be a kind of lagging economic indicator? According to an article in The New York Times, researchers who analyzed a century’s worth of writing believe they might. After using big-data techniques to document the frequency of sad and happy words in millions of books, the researchers concluded that the emotional mood of literature reflects the mood of the economy over the previous 10 years. The study’s lead author, R. Alexander Bentley, is an anthropologist at University of Bristol. He and his team in Britain sifted three million digitized English-language books through a statistical sieve and created a “literary misery index” — calculated by an equation that subtracts the frequency of words associated with joy from words associated with sadness. They then matched that against a well-known indicator called the “economic misery index” — the sum of inflation rates and unemployment rates — and found that literary misery in a given year correlated with the average of the previous decade’s economic misery index numbers. The 10-year time frame was a better match than the average over the previous 30 years or the previous four years. Bentley explained, “One of the biggest peaks in literary misery is after the Great Depression”. Acknowledging that some people would dismiss these results he said, “To me it confirms that we do have a collective memory that conditions the way we write, and that economics is a very important driver of that.”

  • Take that anthro degree…

…and start a business that sells eco-friendly products. Saving the world one person at a time” is how a friend and employee describes Heidi Bertino-Daum, a Naperville, Illinois, resident and business owner, according to the Naperville Sun. She is the owner of Go Green Baby, an eco-friendly store that features everything from cloth diapers and toys painted with water-based paints to organic bath-and-body products and re-usable lunch containers. Bertino-Daum attended Penn State and earned a bachelor’s degree in special education and anthropology, followed by a master’s degree in special education.

  • The Story of the Human Body: In review

The Washington Post carried a review of a new book by biological anthropologist Daniel Lieberman, chair of Harvard University’s Department of Human Evolutionary Biology. Entitled, The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease, the book argues that many health problems today arise from an evolutionary mismatch that plays out in back problems, problems with jaws and teeth, and obesity.

  • In memoriam

Gerald D. Berreman, an emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley, died at the age of 83 years. He was a specialist on social inequality in India and was also known for opposing the Vietnam War and his involvement in covert Cold War endeavors. He joined the anthropology department as an assistant professor in 1962 and retired in 2001. For 40 years, he conducted a longitudinal study of caste, gender, class and environment in their historical context in and around the Indian village of Sirkanda, and in urban Dehradun. His webpage highlights some of his other work, including helping deconstruct a popular hoax in the 1970s and 1980s about the discovery of a Stone Age tribe called the Tasaday in Mindinao, Philippines. Berreman helped draft the American Anthropological Association’s first ethics code to clarify that an anthropologist’s primary responsibility is to the people being studied and to prohibit undercover research. In another pioneering direction, in a 1985 campus news release, Berreman said anthropologists could best help the vulnerable groups they study by presenting accurate and sympathetic accounts of their ways of life, an approach he described as “human interest anthropology.”

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