Anthro in the news 4/16/12

• Miscommunication affects U.S.-Iran relations
William Beeman wrote in the Huffington Post that “The United States is about to enter into another round of negotiations with Iran. Previous attempts have been limited and unproductive. One major difficulty is that Iranians and Americans after 40 years of estrangement have forgotten how to talk to each other. Americans often miss subtleties of communication in dealing with other nations for two important reasons. First, we do not appreciate the importance of status differences. Second, we believe that contrition is honorable and a precondition of improving personal relations.” Beeman is a cultural/linguistic anthropologist and chair of the anthropology department at the University of Minnesota.

• Haiti’s message to the Tea Party
Mark Schuller wrote in the Huffington Post about the current situation in Haiti and how, among other things, more foreign aid should go to bolstering the government so that it can do good for its people: “Undoubtedly, NGOs can do good work. But NGOs’ work has limits, and they can never be expected, or attempt, to replace responsible governments. This said, foreign donors only sent 1 percent of emergency aid to the Haitian government.” Schuller is assistant professor of African American Studies and Anthropology at York College of the City University of New York. He edited a new volume of essays about post-earthquake Haiti called Tectonic Shifts.

• What some women in Afghanistan say
Melissa Kerr Chiovenda wrote in the Huffington Post about Afghan women, culture, and development. She explores the question of “how much progress has been made with respect to improving the lives of Afghan women?” She reports on her findings from interviews with women about how military operations are making women’s lives more difficult, at least in the short term. Chiovenda is a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of Connecticut.

• Blogging Mali
A cultural anthropologist has become a sought-after Internet blogger in the wake of the recent coup Mali. Bruce Whitehouse, a Fulbright scholar from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, offers in-depth analysis, historical background, links, and local reaction to events in Mali. A recent post on the “Bridges from Bamako” blog is titled, “Light at The End of the Tunnel?” It analyzes a recent statement by coup leaders on transferring power to civilian rule. Another popular post was about the coup leader’s wardrobe with pictures showing Captain Amadou Sanogo wearing a dyed shirt under his fatigues and carrying a stick. According to Whitehouse, “People were very interested in how this young army officer was presenting himself and how he appeared in public…they were commenting on the uniform and this garment that he was visibly wearing underneath his fatigues, and they were commenting on the fact he was carrying a stick around.” The shirt represents a hunter’s cloth and the stick represents power.

• Gun in hand makes a bigga man
A new study shows that holding a gun makes a man appear bigger and stronger than he actually is. Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, asked hundreds of people to guess the size and muscularity of four men by looking at photos of the men’s hands holding a number of easily recognizable objects: a caulking gun, an electric drill, a large saw, or a handgun. The study participants consistently estimated men holding guns to be taller and stronger than men holding the other objects. Daniel Fessler, associate professor of anthropology at UCLA, said “Danger really does loom large — in our minds.” The study, published in PLoS One, is part of a project funded by the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research to learn about how people make decisions in potentially violent situations.

• U.S. evangelical megachurches
An interview with Omri Elisha, assistant professor of anthropology at Queens College of the City University of New York, provides insights about his ethnography, Moral Ambition: Mobilization and Social Outreach in Evangelical Megachurches. Elisha explains that his goal was to study the interaction of two major U.S. trends: the proliferation of evangelical megachurches and the growing popularity of faith-based social ministries. The book is based on fieldwork in Knoxville, Tennessee.

• Death of “extreme runner”
A photography exhibit about a rugged ultra-marathon in the canyons of Mexico — and the native people who inspired it — has taken on new poignancy after the unexpected death of the race’s founder, extreme runner Micah True. The exhibit “Run! Super-Athletes of the Sierra Madre” is now dedicated to his memory. The installation at the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology opened March 31, the same day True’s body was found after a run in New Mexico. Much of the display focuses on the annual race started by True to promote the long-distance running culture of Mexico’s indigenous Tarahumara people.

• Lecture cancelled due to protest
A lecture on area Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape history at West Chester University was canceled following a threat of protests. Marshall Becker, professor emeritus in anthropology at West Chester University, would have delivered that lecture. According to Chief Mark “Quiet Hawk” Gould, Becker “…has made some very derogatory statements that don’t sit right with the Native American community.”

• Take that anthro degree and…
…get into the restaurant business. While a surprising number of anthropologists end up as top chefs and cookbook authors, few make their way into the restaurant business. John Wagner, the owner of Yogi Perogi in Columbus, Ohio, holds a doctorate in anthropology from the University of New Mexico. His studies were focused on human diets, and he says that many of the courses got him interested in food. After he moved to Columbus, he learned about pirogies and came up with the idea of creating a place like Yogi Perogi.”

…become an author and journalist. In an interview with Amitav Ghosh, he describes how his background in both anthropology and literature, which are both “about the world at large,” inspire his journalistic career and his other writings as well.

• Early learning systems
A new study shows that children as young as two years old are more likely to pick up a behavior if they see most other toddlers doing it. “I think few people would have expected to find that 2-year-olds are already influenced by the majority,” study author Daniel Haun, research group leader of the Comparative Cognitive Anthropology Group at the Max Planck Institutes for Evolutionary Anthropology and Psycholinguistics in Germany and the Netherlands. The study found that chimpanzees also tend to follow the crowd, but orangutans do not. Findings appear in the journal Current Biology.

• Loving Lucy in Portland
More than 100 people gathered in Portland, Oregon, for “an unusual cast party” in which the stars were the casts of skulls, bones, and teeth of important members of the human family. Paleoanthropologist John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, explained that he organized the session for the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists because many members have never even seen casts of important fossils, including Lucy, the 3.1-million-year-old ancestor. Hawks said that seeing the fossils is the best way to learn about human evolution. “There are people in this association who are responsible for teaching evolution in the U.S. who have not even seen a cast of Lucy.”

• The doggie is smarter
An article in the Australian Magazine takes us into the perilous territory of animal intelligence [Blogger’s note: the term animal intelligence is a gloss for appearing to think like humans do and relating to humans in ways that humans understand and appreciate]. Researchers at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology find that dogs are “smarter” than chimpanzees since they are better at interpreting human pointing gestures, retrieving objects, and recognizing different shapes and patterns. Using eye-tracking technology, researchers watched how 16 untrained dogs observed a movie of a woman addressing them. The dogs followed the woman’s gaze and understood her verbal cues but the chimpanzees did not. [Blogger’s note #2: I could have some fun with whether or not intelligence should be assessed on the basis of how well a woman is understood and followed, but I will listen to my inner cue to leave up further pondering to my readers].

• Some primate diets may prevent cancer
Gorillas and colobus monkeys both eat large quantities of plants containing chemicals, which can disrupt reproduction but have been shown to protect against some cancers. Phyto-oestrogens are plant chemicals that function like the female sex hormone. In foods like soy and red clover they may protect us from oestrogen-dependent cancers such as breast and colorectal cancers. Biological anthropologist Katharine Milton of the University of California, Berkeley, notes: “Oestrogens are potent chemicals; if you’re taking them in excessive amounts, this can interfere with your reproductive physiology.” Findings are published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

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