Anthro in the news 3/23/15

  • But are you really Japanese?
Ariana Miamoto, Miss Japan Universe. Credit: Miss Universe Japan.

The Washington Post carried an article about Ariana Miamoto, the first biracial Miss Universe Japan.  Her mother is Japanese and her father is African American. The 20-year-old model is a Japanese citizen, a native of Nagasaki prefecture, fluent in Japanese, with an advanced mastery of the art of Japanese calligraphy. She is, in fact, Japanese, though what is termed a hafu, a person of mixed ancestry. So, some critics think she is not Japanese enough. Cultural anthropologist. Ted Bestor, professor of cultural anthropology and Japanese studies at Harvard University comments: “The Japanese like to think of their society and culture as having a unique identity that is ‘inaccessible to foreigners’….One of the ways in which Japanese think of their own society as ‘unique’ is to emphasize the homogeneity of Japanese society…”

  • Political upheaval in Mauritius

An article in Al Jazeera attempts to make sense of recent political events in Mauritius, including the change of government. It quotes Sean Carey, senior research fellow in social sciences at the University of Manchester and a frequent contributing author to anthropologyworks. He comments that part of the reason why there is so much social change is because of the rising stock of the meritocratic value in Mauritius.

  • On bullshit jobs, stupidifying bureaucracies, and the need for play

Anarchist anthropologist David Graeber spoke extensively, over dinner, with The Guardian on bullshit jobs, stupidifying bureaucracies and the need for play.

On bullshit jobs: “A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble. But it’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish.” Is his work meaningless? He replies: “There can be no objective measure of social value.”

On stupidifying bureaucracies: Graeber came face to face with stupidifying bureaucracies when he had to deal with finding care for his aging mother. “I like to think I’m actually a smart person. Most people seem to agree with that…OK, I was emotionally distraught, but I was doing things that were really dumb. How did I not notice that the signature was on the wrong line? There’s something about being in that bureaucratic situation that encourages you to behave foolishly.”

On play: “It’s about the play principle in nature. Usually, he argues, we project agency to nature insofar as there is some kind of economic interest. Hence, for instance, Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene. I begin to understand the idea better– it’s an anarchist theory of organisation starting with insects and animals and proceeding to humans. He is suggesting that, instead of being rule-following economic drones of capitalism, we are essentially playful. The most basic level of being is play rather than economics, fun rather than rules, goofing around rather than filling in forms.”

  • Take that anthro degree and…

…become director of a university program that offers courses complementing study abroad. Catarina Kranzcic, who has a PhD in anthropology, is director of the University of Virginia’s International Studies Office. In partnership with the Global Development Studies Program and the Department of Anthropology, her office hosts a seminar series titled Cultural Orientation, Reflection and Engagement. The program began in spring 2011 with two courses and has grown to include seven. It teaches about culture, cultural differences, and the importance of cross-cultural engagement.

…become the owner of family health care clinic. Susan Cahill launched her medical career after earning a medical anthropology degree from the University of Massachusetts and then a physician’s assistant degree from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. After working for many years at All Families Healthcare, her job is on hold since the health center was destroyed by a vandal in March 2014. All Families Health Care was the only clinic in Montana’s Flathead Valley that offered abortions, although that was a minor part of its services.

…become a museum director. HistoryMiami, a Smithsonian Affiliate and nationally accredited history museum in Miami, has named Jorge Zamanillo as museum director. He was previously deputy director at the museum. He has a BA in anthropology from Florida State University and an MA in museum studies.

…become owner of an artisanal bakery. Stefan Senders, co-founder of Wide Awake Bakery in Ithaca, New York, earned a PhD in anthropology from Cornell in 1999 but turned a passion for bread baking into a business. The bakery recently added handmade pasta to its offerings.

…become a public school teacher, a cosmetics executive, and founder of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. The late Evelyn Lauder went to Hunter College, part of the City University of New York, graduating in 1958 with a degree in anthropology. In addition to a career as a public-school teacher, she was an executive at Estée Lauder Cos., the cosmetics firm founded by her husband’s parents. In 1993, after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Evelyn Lauder founded the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, a New York-based group that is a national powerhouse for funding study of the disease.

  • Beyond the tool maker: Neanderthal the jewelry maker
Neanderthal jewelry reconstructed. Credit Luka Mjeda Zagreb.

NBC News and other media sources reported on research showing that Neanderthals crafted the world’s earliest jewelry from eagle talons 130,000 years ago, long before modern humans appeared in Europe. The talons were recovered long ago from the site of Krapina in what is now Croatia. But a fresh look shows cut marks and polished facets, an indication of human workmanship and the likelihood that the talons were mounted into jewelery. Yahoo News quotes Davorka Radovcic, a curator at Croatia’s Natural History Museum: “While reviewing eight, white-tailed eagle talons and an associated phalanx, on the latter I noticed numerous cut marks and a revelation just struck me — they were made by a human hand.”  She initiated the research which was conducted with two Croatian colleagues, Ankica Oros Srsen and Jakov Radovcic, and David Frayer, professor of emeritus of biological anthropology at the University of Kansas. Results are published in PLOS One.

  • Tsunami hit Mexico 1,000 years ago

The Japan Times reported on the discovery that a tsunami appears to have struck the Yucatán area of Mexico during the height of the ancient Maya civilization. A wall of debris stretching about 30 miles (50 km) may be the remnants of a natural disaster that struck Mexico’s Caribbean coast more than 1,000 years ago in an area where tourists now flock to beach resorts and ancient Maya ruins.  A huge tsunami is the likely culprit, propelling debris including boulders made of reef material ripped from the seafloor far inland

“Were it to occur today, there are about 1.4 million people who live along the Yucatan coast, which would be in its path,” said Larry Benson, an anthropology curator at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History.

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