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.”


sex, HIV, and shame


Thomas Strong, lecturer in the anthropology department at the University of Monmouth, Ireland, published an op-ed in The Irish Times addressing enduring links between sexuality, HIV, and shame: “The divisions that should haunt the epidemic today are not those of ‘guilty’ and ‘innocent’. Everyone everywhere, from rural Papua New Guinea to rural Nebraska, wants to create a life of meaning, purpose, and vitality. But where doing so creates risks, some are more exposed than others. Inequality is the problem that should confront those of us battling the epidemic, not a moribund moralism.”

Gambian presidential election

The Mail and Guardian Africa reported on the aftermath of the presidential election in Gambia in which the incumbent was defeated. It includes commentary by Marloes Janson, reader in West African anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. She points out that “the political opposition was particularly strong and it had much support from Gambian youth…In a country where the average age is around 20, Gambia’s youth could not be persuaded to vote for Jammeh. They decided: ‘Enough is enough.’ We should also not forget the role of the new media in raising support for the opposition coalition.”

equal opportunity swearing: good or bad news?

Anthropologist Gillian Tett, writer for The Financial Times, discusses research conducted by Barbara LeMaster, a linguistic anthropologist at California State University, presented at the American Anthropological Association meeting in November. LeMaster examined the patterns of swearing among American men and women during the past century, drawing on survey data, historical records, and published texts. She noticed a striking gender difference in earlier times: men who were angry employed words linked to sex, excrement and religion while women used terms such as “oh goodness” or “my gracious.”  More recently, the gap has narrowed, with women adopting swear words like those of men.

Tett is ambivalent about the change: “…the fact that swearing is now an equal-opportunity practice is cheering in some ways. Winning the right to shout ‘f**k you!’ without needing to apologise (too much) was never a feminist ideal; and it is utterly trivial compared with the infinitely more serious issues that women are grappling with today. But the only thing worse than a world where people shout obscenities is a place where this is only culturally permitted for men. Language, like much else, should be gender blind. So maybe it is time for men to start copying old-fashioned female speech, and for all of us to limit ourselves to saying ‘goodness’ or ‘darn’. That might sound peculiarly mild or mealy-mouthed. It might even leave us fuming in these volatile times. But now, more than ever, a little extra civility, respect and graciousness could go a long way — for women and men. It might even help to create a more equal world.”

take that anthro degree and…

…become a news reporter.  Miranda Bennett is a freelance reporter for WMRA based in Charlottesville, Virginia. After earning an M.A. in anthropology and economics from the London School of Economics, she wanted to share her study of systemic economic inequality with a wider audience. She became interested in storytelling as a way to connect people who see themselves as part of different social and economic tribes. In 2013 she returned to her hometown of Charlottesville to make radio, first as a producer for WTJU’s news program Soundboard, and then as an intern with the public radio program With Good Reason.

…work in public service. Bonnie Teaford, director of public works in Burbank, California, is retiring this month. Engineering was not the career she intended to enter when she went to college, graduating with a B.A. in cultural anthropology at the University of California Santa Cruz. As an anthropology major, she understood the cultural values a water well has on a community. After graduation, she could not stop thinking about potable water systems and decided to take a few engineering classes at California State University Sacramento. “Before you take an engineering class, first you have to take calculus, physics, chemistry and statistics,” she said. “All of a sudden, by the time I figured out how to pump water, I was halfway through a civil engineering degree.” She decided to stick with engineering, earning another bachelor’s degree at Sacramento. She worked for private companies, became a consultant and eventually worked for the Burbank Public Works Department.

…work in public service. Michael Hornes is the new assistant city manager of Palestine, Texas, and was former deputy director for its public works department. He has a B.A. in anthropology and an M.A. in public administration from Texas Tech University in Lubbock. He notes that his education gave him a “framework to understand your profession, and you take that knowledge with you to the job.”

…become director of a forensics research center. Benjamin Figura, a forensic anthropologist, is the new director of the West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center where the Shelby County Medical Examiner’s Office performs autopsies and death investigations. He was formerly deputy director of forensic investigations for the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, identifying victims of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Figura has a B.A. in anthropology from Michigan State University, an M.A. in anthropology from California State University Chico, and a Ph.D. in anthropology from Binghamton University in New York State. Figura said he is a scientist, but he also tries to focus on the people that the center serves — the families of the deceased: “Particularly from an identification standpoint…being able to identify somebody who has been missing for a number of years and have their remains returned to their loved ones, it’s a very satisfying experience.”

reading prehistoric art

boyd_6677_compArchaeologist Carolyn Boyd’s second book, The White Shaman Mural, published this week, describes her analysis of the graphic vocabulary of the White Shaman mural through the lens of Mesoamerican mythology generally, and especially that of Mexico’s indigenous, surviving Huichol and Nahua peoples. Boyd found dozens of striking parallels between the graphic and schematic language of the White Shaman mural and the belief systems of the Huichol and Nahua, including a sacred eastern mountain where the sun was born, self-sacrifice as the engine of creation, and the duality of opposites as the organizing principle of the universe. Boyd is an adjunct professor in the anthropology department at Texas State and executive director of the SHUMLA School, a nonprofit organization promoting the study of the human use of materials, land, and art.

c-sections affecting human evolution?

CBS News and other media reported on theoretical research exploring whether the increasing use of caesarian section births may have effects on human evolution over time. The hypothesis is that c-section births mean that women with narrow pelvises survive birth, as do their babies, whereas in earlier times they would likely have died, thus removing individuals with more narrow pelvises from the gene pool,  Biological anthropologist Wanda Trevathan, professor emerita at New Mexico State University, is quoted in the article as saying: “Labor contractions are probably painful for most mammals…But, I think it’s safe to say that the long labor required to birth a human baby is more painful and difficult than the apparently shorter labors of other mammals, including apes.” 

regular, moderate exercise may be best

The New York Times described findings from a study published in the American Journal of Human Biology by researchers from Yale University, the University of Arizona, and other institutions, based on fieldwork with Hadza foragers living in Tanzania. They asked some of the people if they would wear heart-rate monitors around their chests as they went about their normal activities. Results show that they rarely ran or were otherwise vigorously active, says Brian Wood, an assistant professor of anthropology at Yale and co-author of the study. They remained active into old age, with people in their 70s moving as much as or even more than the young. According to David Raichlen, an anthropologist and exercise scientist at the University of Arizona who led the study, “human bodies likely evolved to need and respond to the kind of physiological demands” that the Hadza  undergo on most days. Our bodies, and in particular our hearts, want to be worked, at least moderately, he says.

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