Anthro in the news 11/08/10

• UN troops as the source of cholera in Haiti?
Paul Farmer, medical anthropologist at Harvard University and co-founder of Partners in Health, told the Washington Post that it is important to find out what caused the recent outbreak of cholera in Haiti. His comment is in response to a statement from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that it is not possible to pinpoint the source and further investigations detract from fighting the disease. Farmer said, “That sounds like politics to me, not science.”

• Anthro of suicide bombers
A book review in The Sunday Times (London) discusses Scott Atran’s book, Talking to the Enemy: Violent Extremism, Sacred Values, and What It Means to Be Human. Atran, a cultural anthropologist, is Director of Research, ARTIS Research and Risk Modeling, and Research Director in Anthropology at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris. He is also Visiting Professor of Psychology and Public Policy at the University of Michigan and Residential Scholar in Sociology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York City. Atran’s book is based on research carried out around the world. One of his arguments is that the power of commitment to one’s buddies spurs suicide bombers rather than religious fanaticism. According to the review, the book also “tells us that we are not winning and why.”

• Organized crime and government in Mexico
The Christian Science Monitor carried an article on the links between organized drug criminals and politics. It quotes Alberto Aziz Nassif, a specialist in democracy and civil society at the Center for Research and Higher Education in Social Anthropology in Mexico City: “Organized crime has not just penetrated police bodies but [also] government space at all levels…It is one of the biggest problems complicating the fight against drug trafficking…There are no clear boundaries. The boundaries have been erased by corruption and impunity.”

• It’s my thong and I’ll wear it if I want to
Baseball rituals may include wearing a thong. In an article on baseball players’ seemingly bizarre behavior, The Montreal Gazette interviewed cultural anthropologist George Gmelch, professor of anthropology at the University of California at San Francisco, former first-baseman for the Detroit Tigers, and author of a classic article called “Baseball Magic” which discusses players’ fetishes and magical practices. Back to the thong: it’s about San Francisco Giants first-baseman Aubrey Huff and his habit of wearing a red thong under his uniform. Gmelch says, “It may appear wacky to the fans, but it serves a basic human need for stability in uncertain circumstances.” In his article, Gmelch argues that baseball players who are positions involving the most uncertainty are the most likely to use magical practices.

• She’s got elevator eyes
New York City blogger Krystal D’Costa, who has an MA in anthropology from the New School for Social Research, published a guest post on the Scientific American blog on elevator etiquette. She offers insights about the history of elevators, elevator phobia and elevator behaviors including whether or not to talk, and the general pattern of social avoidance on elevators due, perhaps, to “an uneasy meeting of mechanical invention and society.”

• Conference in Indonesia to honor cultural anthropologist Ann Dunham
President Obama’s trip to Indonesia will coincide with a conference being held in Yogyakarta at which his mother, Ann Dunham, will be recognized for her anthropological research.

• Don’t axe me
Archaeologists debate the two likely factors that prompted or allowed early human ancestors to make sophisticated stone tools: increasing manual dexterity or smarter brains. A new experimental study by researcher Aldo Faisal of Imperial College London found that making simple and complex stone tools requires the same amount of manual dexterity. It doesn’t look good for the dexterity supporters.

• Early Australians at the cutting edge
The oldest ground-edge tool in the world has been found in Arnhem Land, Australia. It is a basalt axe, 4 centimeters in length, and radiocarbon dated at 35,000 years ago. Findings will be published next month in Australian Archaeology.

• Another anthro career line
Archaeologist Jill Weber teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, travels to the Middle East for her research, and also just opened the Jet Wine Bar in Philadelphia. Blogger’s note: wine was invented in the Middle East, so this career twist makes a lot of sense.

• In memoriam
Alton “Barry” Chevanne, Jamaica anthropologist, died at the age of 70 years. He was a professor of social anthropology and former dean of social sciences at the University of the West Indies. His death occurred shortly after he delivered the closing address at the Rastafari Studies Conference he helped organize at the University of the West Indies (Mona) campus. Throughout his career he published extensively on the Rasta movement and helped dispel misconceptions about it. He was also a member of the Peace Movement Initiative, served on a government-appointed committee that examined the pros and cons of ganja, was chairman of the Jamaican Justice System Reform Task Force, and co-chair of CARICOM’s Commission on Youth Development.

Sohn bo-gi, Korean archaeologist and longtime professor at Yonsei University, died at the age of 88 years. His excavations at the site of Seokjang-ri in South Chungcheong Province established the existence of pre-Paleolithic to middle Paleolithic settlements there.

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