Anthro in the news 7/5/11

• How much are the wars costing: guess again
President Obama recently cited a price tag of $1 trillion for America’s ongoing wars and one reason to bring troops home from Afghanistan. According to a study just released, is a gross underestimate and the total is more like $3.7-4.4 trillion, not to mention the human lives lost. The report, “Costs of War,” pulls together thinking of more than 20 academics convened by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies. Catherine Lutz, head of the anthropology department and co-director of the study, told Reuters news that many people want to know if it’s been worth the costs.

• Khmer Rouge leaders on trial
Four of the surviving top members of the Khmer Rouge’s ruling elite are about to face justice. The tribunal started in 2006. Its first defendant was Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch. Up to 16,000 people were tortured under Duch’s command and later taken away to be killed. Alex Hinton, professor of anthropology at Rutgers University and Director of the
Center for the Study of Genocide, Conflict Resolution, and Human Rights, is quoted in the New Zealand Herald. Hinton says that Duch’s case has “enormous symbolic value” because his role was so closely associated with the horrors of the Khmer Rouge, but the current case is even more significant because it will put the four most senior surviving Khmer Rouge leaders on trial for the first time: “We will learn much about their thinking, the way their regime worked, and, ultimately, how their programme of mass murder was enabled and unfolded.”

• Political change in rural Thailand
In an article about political change in rural Thailand, the New York Times quoted Charles Keyes, professor emeritus of cultural anthropology at the University of Washington. Keyes first studied village life in Thailand nearly five decades ago. Describing the contemporary transformation from ”peasants to cosmopolitan villagers,” he says ”…in Thai society…the social contract is being renegotiated.” He points out that the changes to village life and breakdown of a national political consensus are not just relevant to Thailand, but are a cautionary tale for other countries in Asia that are developing so rapidly: ”It’s definitely something the Chinese, for one, should be more aware of.”

• The cannibal war machine
Counterpunch published the text of a speech that Neil L. Whitehead gave at a conference on Sacred Empowerment at the University of Leeds, England, in June. Whitehead is a professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Wisconsin. He launched his talk by saying: “A critical anthropology then is not just telling alternative stories but also unveiling what the supermodern Cannibal War-Machine does not want to be shown…So the suggestion here will be that there is a deep historical and systemic relationship between the modern free-market, liberal democratic world order and the prosecution of war and other forms of military and police violence.”

• What is secularism?
The Guardian carried an essay entitled “what is secualarism” in which social anthropologist Chris Hann is quoted as saying that secularism is a “good idea.” Hann is director of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle, Germany.

• What a way to go
The Taipei Times discussed a new documentary about stripper funerals in Taiwan in an interview with the film’s producer, Marc L. Moskowitz. Moskowitz is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of South Carolina and an expert on Taiwan’s popular culture. Dancing for the Dead: Funeral Strippers in Taiwan is a 40-minute film based on fieldwork he conducted throughout Taiwan in 2008. These funerals, typically for men, involve female strippers dancing on moving cars. (Trailers can be viewed at:

• Forensic anthropology and U.S. war dead
The Los Angeles Times profiled the work of Air Force Lt. Col. Laura Regan, Ph.D., the U.S. military’s only active duty forensic anthropologist. She is also the only female forensic anthropologist in the military’s medical examiner system which includes about 30 civilian forensic anthropologists who work on missing service member cases from previous U.S. wars. Dr. Regan uses DNA, fingerprints, tissue analysis and observation to make identifications. One of her goals is to make sure that remains are returned to their survivors. Another is to be able to provide answers to the inevitable questions about how the death occurred.

• Dunbar’s number in the news again
Scientists at Indiana University, Bloomington, collected the conversations of 1.7 million Twitter users over six months, a total of 380 million Tweets. The research question is: How many real connections do Twitter users have, meaning a back-and-forth conversation. The finding? On average, 150. Robin Dunbar strikes again with his rule that primates, including humans, cannot manage more than 150 meaningful social relationships at a time.

• Captivity is not a good thing
The Huffington Post carried an article about new research compiled by the University of Kent’s School of Anthropology and Conservation which argues that “abnormal behaviors” such as repetitive rocking are likely to be seen more in zoos around the world. The research, conducted by Nicholas Newton-Fisher and Lucy Birkett, shows “serious behavioral abnormalities” among captive chimpanzees. The abnormal behavior was prevalent despite efforts by zoo keepers to create a social atmosphere. Findings are published in the online journal PloS One.

• Kudos
Patrick V. Kirch, professor of anthropology and integrative biology at the University of California at Berkeley and authority on the archaeology of the Pacific Islands, was awarded the 2011 Herbert E. Gregory Medal for Distinguished Service to Science in the Pacific Region. The Gregory Medal is awarded every four years by the Bernice P. Bishop Museum in Honolulu and is based on the recipient’s distinguished research contributions, leadership and vision in the Pacific region that promote understanding.

• In memoriam
Christiane Desroches Noblecourt, a pioneering Egyptologist who urged General Nasser to help salvage Nubia’s antiquities, died June 23 at the age of 97 years. She developed a passion for Egypt after reading about the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in the early 1920s. She later studied at the Louvre and the Sorbonne. She was the first woman to be put on a stipend with the Cairo-based French Institute of Oriental Archaeology, thus breaking into the male-dominated world of Egyptology. French President Nicolas Sarkozy paid tribute to Dr. Desroches Noblecourt as the “grande dame of the Nile” who blended scientific rigor with the qualities of “the most passionate of educators.”

Rachel Maxwell-Hyslop, one of the foremost scholars of western Asiatic art and archaeology, died at the age of 97 years. She wrote what is still the standard work on early Western Asian jewelry. It establishes what is characteristic about the jewelry, drawing on her knowledge of the region’s material culture, and relates it to the jewelry of Egypt and Greece. She also wrote extensively on the weaponry and agricultural tools of bronze-age Western Asia.

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