Anthro in the news 3/26/12

• “Surprise” nomination for World Bank President
Surprise, surprise! Not a financial player, not an economist, not a white male. The White House on Friday named Jim Yong Kim, the president of Dartmouth College and a global health expert, as its nominee to lead the World Bank.

The nomination received widespread international coverage, including an article in the Independent by British-born economist and Dartmouth professor  David Blanchflower. He writes: “There always the sense in the Dartmouth community that he was not going to be with us for long as he was headed for a big international job. I do have a sense that his appointment to the World Bank is a better match given his global interests. Assuming Jim Kim is appointed, which seems likely, although he is not an economist, he will be the first leader of the World Bank with any development experience. He also has the advantage that he is non-white, non-Wasp and he’s not Larry Summers.” ”

An article in the Washington Post quoted economist Nancy Birdsall, director of the Center for Global Development, DC think tank, as saying “This nomination suggests, on the face of it, a vision of the bank that is narrower than might be ideal.” She said that Kim has experience with individual programs in very poor countries, but it is not clear how he will tackle transnational issues such as climate change and corruption. [Blogger’s note: a “double doc” physician, anthropologist, and hand-son development practitioner is defined as “narrow” compared to previous World Bank presidents who have rarely stepped outside a limo and a 5-star hotel in a poor country?].

• Burning down the forests in Paraguay
It’s about beef and the rising demand for it. Paraguay’s Chaco forest, a vast area about the size of Poland, is still occupied by many foraging peoples. But probably not for long, given the international demand for beef and the massive deforestation to establish ranches. According to an article in the New York Times, huge tracts of the Chaco are being razed in a scramble by cattle ranchers from Brazil and German-speaking Mennonites who are descendants of colonists who arrived a century ago and work as farmers and ranchers. The article quotes Lucas Bessire, an American anthropologist who works in Paraguay: “So much land is being bulldozed and so many trees are being burned that the sky sometimes turns ‘twilight gray’ at daytime…One wakes with the taste of ashes and a thin film of white on the tongue.”

• Chechnya update: recovery at what price?
An article in the Christian Science Monitor considers the recent transformation of Chechnya, …the part of Europe most thoroughly wrecked and ravaged by war in the past six decades, Chechnya, has undergone a stunning transformation from ruin to rebirth in the space of a few short years.” Now, thanks to billions of dollars in Kremlin aid, downtown Grozny features broad avenues – including one named after Russian leader Vladimir Putin – lined with luxury boutiques and new glass-fronted skyscrapers. Grozny’s airport is totally refurbished and hosts daily flights to Moscow and other Russian cities. The marble-lined Akhmad Haji Kadyrov mosque, reputedly the largest mosque in Europe, towers over the landscape. Experts say that this progress has come at a high price: “the Kremlin has turned Chechnya over to President Ramzan Kadyrov, who runs the mountainous republic of about 1.3 million people as if it were his private fiefdom.” The article quotes Sergei Arutyunov, a Caucasus expert at the official Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology in Moscow: “Chechnya is now a nearly sovereign state within the Russian state; what goes on there would be impossible in any other part of Russia…It’s extraordinary that Kadyrov is able to be absolutely independent in his decisionmaking, while he is simultaneously completely dependent on the Kremlin for his funding. Chechnya survives thanks to vast subsidies from Moscow, yet Russian authority scarcely exists there.”

• Interview with Daniel Everett
The Observer (England) carried an interview with Daniel Everett, linguist and cultural anthropologist, known for his studies of the language of the Piraha people of the Amazon region. His new book, Language: The Cultural Tool, explores his theory that language is not innate but is something that people develop.

• Woman is smarter (and richer)?
The Globe and Mail (Canada) carried a review of a book by Magdalena Hinajosa called The Richer Sex. It’s about changing employment patterns in which many women, especially in rich developed countries,  now earn more than their husbands. In discussing the reasons for this change, education comes up, and the article quotes biological anthropologist Helen Fisher: “College is built for the female brain…You sit. You read. You write and you talk.” [Blogger’s note: if you don’t know the song,  Woman is Smarter, it’s time to check it out! ]

• Take that anthro degreee and….
…become a chocolatier.  Chocolatier Nathaniel Mich was a contestant on the Food Networks’ Sweet Genius last week. Mich works at Hedonist Artisan Chocolates in Rochester, New York, and is the creative force behind the South Wedge chocolate shop’s Spring Chocolate Collection, coming out this month. He studied culinary anthropology and the history of food at Oberlin College, where he graduated with a triple major in anthropology, geology and archeology in 2010.

…become a cookbook writer. Cooking is a form of storytelling according to the authors of “Armenian Cuisine,” a new cookbook that captures Armenian cooking traditions and a slice of Armenian history through home recipes and personal accounts. “As always the kitchen is the place where stories come out,” says Barbara Drieskens, co-author of “Armenian Cuisine” and an anthropologist who teamed up with the co-owner of the restaurant Mayrig, Aline Kamakian, to help Kamakian achieve her dream of publishing her mother’s recipes.

• TV shows shouldn’t dig it
An article in the New York Times discussed the conflict between a television show extolling amateur digging and archaeologists deep concerns: “Ric Savage is accustomed to wrestling, but for most of his career it was against guys named the Junkyard Dog and Skull Von Krush. Now he’s facing opponents like Susan Gillespie, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Florida who is on the board of the American Anthropological Association.” Savage, known as Heavy Metal in his pro wrestling days, is star of a new show that has its premiere on the cable channel Spike: ”American Digger.” The series features Savage and his team traveling the country, digging up people’s lawns in search of artifacts. Archaeologists and anthropologists have sent a letter to Spike, saying they are ”deeply concerned” by the show. Professor Gillespie, who helped draft the letter to Spike, said in a telephone interview: ”Our main issue is that these shows promote the destruction and selling of artifacts which are part of our cultural heritage and patrimony.”

• Satellites spot ancient settlements
Jason Ur, an associate professor of anthropology at Harvard University and Bjoern Menze, a researcher in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, are using satellite images to spot thousands of ancient settlements in northeastern Syria. Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the study’s abstract, they write: “We propose a remote sensing approach for comprehensively mapping the pattern of human settlement at large scale and establish the largest archaeological record for a landscape in Mesopotamia, mapping about 14,000 settlement sites—spanning eight millennia—at 15-m resolution in a 23,000-km2 area in northeastern Syria.”

• Paleo treasures found in Montana basement
Anthropology students are showing off a million-year-old discovery after ancient artifacts from Kenya turn up in an Montana State University basement. The hand axes were made by early human ancestors and are examples of some of the oldest tool types. They used to belong to paleoanthropologist Louis S.B. Leakey.  Leakey sent the artifacts to Montana back in the fifties for special stone dating. Professor Nancy Mahoney, who brought the tools to her classes, has developed an exhibit.

• Walking on our own two feet
It’s one of the key questions of human evolution: why did human ancestors become bipedal — walking upright on two legs? The latest explanation says that bipedal locomotion importantly allowed for the use of hands to carry food away, thus boosting their chance of survival. Anthropologists studying chimpanzees found that the great apes, who usually walk on all fours, walk upright and free their hands for carrying when they need to monopolize hard-to-find resources by swiping more at a single attempt in the face of fierce competition. The research team from the University of Cambridge and Kyoto University  believe the benefit of “first come, first served” and getting a bigger share of scarce food supplies could, over a long period of time, have led some of our early ancestors to evolve into bipedal primates.  Professor William McGrew, from Cambridge’s department of archaeology and anthropology, said: “Bipedality as the key human adaptation may be an evolutionary product of this strategy persisting over time. Ultimately, it set our ancestors on a separate evolutionary path.” Human ancestors changed how they moved at a time of climate upheaval which reduced the forested areas in which they lived and forced them out into the open more. Findings are published in the journal Current Biology.

• In memoriam
Robert Hall, former chair of the anthropology department at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was considered by colleagues one of the world’s leading authorities on Native American culture. Hall published  An Archaeology of the Soul: North American Indian Belief and Ritual.

Neil Whitehead, professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was known for his studies of the Amazon basin and the Caribbean, especially his research on violence, warfare and what he called “dark shamanism.”

John Wacher, professor of archaeology at the University of Leicester, was a leading authority on Roman Britain. He directed extensive and revealing excavations in Leicester and Catterick. He was particularly interested in the development of towns in Roman Britain and published several works on the subject.

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