Anthro in the news 11/18/13

Tropical Cyclone Bingiza
Tropical Cyclone Bingiza, Feb. 13, 2011. Flickr/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

• Cyclone in Somalia: Does anybody really care?

A report from AllAfrica about the devastating cyclone in Somalia, which has left hundreds dead and many thousands in need of aid, said that the government of Puntland appealed for help from the international community, but response was not strong. This does not surprise Markus Höhne from the Institute of Anthropology at the University of Leipzig, who is doing research on Somalia. He said “Somalia is generally seen as a hopeless case that doesn’t affect us any more … The fate of the people who have been hit by disasters, natural or manmade, attracts little attention.” Instead, topics such as the terrorism and piracy that originate in Somalia sparks international interest.

• China newspaper says anthropologist’s opinion piece is “vile”

A Chinese government-backed newspaper criticized CNN for publishing an opinion piece disputing the Communist Party’s claims that Muslim Uighur extremists were behind the recent attack on Tiananmen: “CNN is way out of line this time,” the Global Times‘ editorial read, referring to the American news organization’s piece titled, “Tiananmen crash: Terrorism or cry of desperation?” written by Sean R. Roberts, a professor at George Washington University who specializes in the Turkic Uighur ethnic group. “It is of a vile nature to present such a view at the mainstream media,” the Global Times stated.

• Can’t buy my love: But China is trying with ethnic minorities

Sean R. Roberts
Sean R. Roberts/GW

Not to be daunted by accusations about the “vile nature” of his writing, Roberts published an article in Foreign Policy arguing that the Chinese government’s attempts to thwart unrest among ethnic minorities by raising their incomes cannot buy loyalty.

Roberts refers specifically to the Uighurs who view the XUAR as their homeland, an assertion that has long fueled tensions between them and the Chinese state. Roberts states that China’s most controversial integration measures suppress the Uighur culture and violate the group’s human rights. He cites the Chinese government’s gigantic economic development plan for the XUAR and the attempts to get rural Uighurs to partake in education and industrial work projects at institutions and factories in China’s interior.

These “softer” efforts to integrate Uighurs have not only failed to ease tensions between Uighurs and the state, says Roberts, but appear to have exacerbated them.

• Melinda Gates and Paul Farmer on the future of global health

Wired magazine carried an article about the views of Melinda Gates and Paul Farmer on the future of global health. Each responded to questions such as: What innovation do you think is changing the most lives in the developing world? What is happening in practice? What is the role of cell phones and other communication technology? The gist of the conversation was to link technological innovations with global health.

• The devil you know…

In an article about the survivorship of corrupt politicians in Romania, The New Statesman offers commentary from Vintila Mihailescu, an anthropology professor in Bucharest. He says Romanians still form their sympathies on an ad hoc basis, siding with local mayors and opposing the state.

Romania map Wikipedia
Romania map/Wikipedia

Many Romanians feel an instinctive sympathy for a local mayor who has attracted the attention of prosecutors. Support for the individual official in corruption cases reflects a distrust of institutions that dates back to communist times.

The Ceausescu dictatorship was brutal and essentially dysfunctional. To circumvent the state, Romanians cultivated personal relationships with bureaucrats.

For the citizen seeking medical care or employment, a nod and a wink from a friendly functionary meant more than any official guarantee. “If I do not trust the institutions in general, I also cannot trust them to decide what is correct and what is corrupt,” Mihailescu says, articulating how many think. “So I’ll place my trust in those whom I consider worthy.”

• Was Little Red Riding Hood wearing a burka?

Several mainstream media picked up on a new study of 58 variants of the Little Red Riding Hood story that traces the story’s origins to the Middle East. The variants include the version published by the Brothers Grimm 200 years ago.

Little Red Riding Hood
Little Red Riding Hood/Wikipedia

A similar tale, known as “The Wolf and the Kids,” is told in parts of Europe and the Middle East. Still other versions are told i Japan, Korea and China, including the story of “The Tiger Grandmother.” In Africa, there’s “Motikatika and the Ogre.” Did all these stories spring from a common source?

To resolve that question, Jamshid Tehrani, a linguistic anthropologist at Durham University, took 58 variants of the X-eats-Y tale and classified them based on 72 plot variables: For example, are the protagonists human children or animals, male or female, what kind of creature plays the villain, and did the protagonists escape, and if so, how?

Tehrani’s analysis indicates that the earliest version of the story is from the Middle East. Findings are published in PLOS ONE.

• 50 years ago in the Chancay Valley

Science Daily reported on the discovery of 50-year-old ethnographic records about a rural Peruvian village before significant outside contact and “modernization” (such as television) had occurred.

The records now offer the possibility of looking at a “baseline” study through the efforts of Juan Javier Rivera Andía, a Peruvian anthropologist who found the 50-year-old records. He rediscovered the long-lost records of a fellow anthropologist and edited them for publication while during a research stay at the University of Bonn’s Institute for Archeology and Cultural Anthropology: “The Department of Anthropology of the Americas there has always had a significant reputation regarding Andean cultures research.”

The rediscovered records were from the Peruvian anthropologist and musician Alejandro Vivanco Guerra (1910-1991). They tell about everyday customs and music, myths and legends, and the cultural and religious life of rural culture in the Chancay valley.

• Take that anthro degree and…

…become a “hot talent” author writing in English and Spanish. In 2010 the novelist Daniel Alarcón was included on The New York Times‘ “20 Under 40” list of promising young American writers. Three years earlier his name had appeared on a similar list of Latin American novelists, the “Bogotá 39,” as a Peruvian.

“I think both are totally true,” he said during an interview at his home here recently. Though born in Lima, Alarcón grew up outside Birmingham, Alabama, where his parents, both physicians, sent him to a progressive private high school. Spanish was spoken at home and summers were often spent in Peru. For college, Alarcón headed to New York City, where he received an anthropology degree at Columbia.

He spent a year as a social worker at the Washington Houses in East Harlem and a second teaching sophomore English at the Bread and Roses Integrated Arts High School in Harlem. He then won a Fulbright scholarship that allowed him to return to Lima. Eventually, he made his way to the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop where he found his bearings. His novel, At Night We Walk in Circles, was published in October 2013.

…become an author who writes about buying cars. Although cars are widely regarded as a guy thing, Kristen Hall-Geisler, writes about cars for publications including The New York Times and websites like How Stuff Works and Mental Floss. She just published her first book, a do-it-yourself car buying guide for women, Take the Wheel: A Woman’s Guide to Buying a Car Her Own Damn Self.

Take the Wheel: A Woman's Guide to Buying a Car Her Own Damn Self
Book cover/

She says the inspiration came from numerous conversations with both men and women about car buying. “It’s tougher for women to pull this off sometimes since cars have been a ‘guy thing’ for about a hundred years. They start off kind of agreeing with the salesperson that they’re inadequate, when it’s just not true,” she says.

Hall-Geisler attended Florida State University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. After moving to Oregon with her husband, she landed a job as a proofreader at Sports Car Market magazine, a Portland publication that covers specialty car auctions. Her responsibilities at the magazine increased until she became the managing editor.

Hall-Geisler moved on to become a freelance writer specializing in cars. She now spends much of her time on test drives, interviewing engineers and factory representatives, and visiting auto shows. She wrote the Guide to Exotic Cars blog for for several years and became a frequent contributor to The New York Times. She also edits nonfiction books for Indigo, a local six-person firm, and volunteers at the Oregon Humane Society walking and training dogs.

• Where did our dogs come from?

Debates and discussion about the origins of domesticated dogs continue. A new study using DAN evidence, published in the journal Science, argues that the domestication of dogs happened between 18,800 and 32,100 years ago in Europe, long before humans developed agriculture.

This study goes up against other claim that dog domestication was linked to agriculture and first happened in the Middle East or East Asia. Olaf Thalmann, researcher at Finland’s University of Turku, who led the study expressed surprise about the finding of the European origin of dog domestication. Criticisms of the new study are trotting in: it did not include ancient samples from the Middle East or China and included fewer wolf samples from the Middle East and East Asia than other areas.

[Blogger’s note: tracing the origins of our best friend appears to be more like trying to herd cats].

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