Anthro in the news 2/3/14

  • World Bank’s development plan for Myanmar

Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank and trained medical anthropologist and medical doctor, published an article in The Huffington Post describing the World Bank’s three pillars of its new $2 billion multi-year public and private sector investment program in Myanmar. Noting that 70 percent of Myanmar’s people lack access to electricity, especially in rural areas, he asserts that: “We share the Government’s commitment to expanding reliable, affordable access to electricity, especially to rural areas. That’s why, over the next five years, we’re seeking to invest $1 billion dollars in Myanmar’s power sector…” [Blogger’s notes: So electricity development gets half of the total. Further, the article doesn’t specify how the electricity will be generated, but likely through constructing large hydroelectric dams.]

He then discusses the importance of investing in health, endorsing the government’s goal of “universal health coverage by 2030.” He then turns briefly to agriculture.

[Blogger’s note: Kim was in Myanmar for two days, and I have never been there. But anyone who knows anything about large-scale hydroelectric development has to know that it inevitably displaces thousands of people in rural areas, ruining their small-scale farming opportunities, reducing their food access, damaging their health in many ways, and damaging the ecology.

The World Bank has “accountability” mechanisms in place that supposedly involve close consultation with local communities. So, let’s see how it goes in Myanmar as the Bank and other external players push for economic growth through investing in the energy sector. It goes without saying that the Bank and businesses are profit-seekers: they are not charities. Let’s see if there will be sufficient attention to social justice, including truly informed consent among those displaced and fair compensation for loss of land, water/fishing rights, and other livelihood factors. No matter what, they will never see a proportional return to them from future profits that the energy sector will undoubtedly reap in the future.]

  • Hospitals defining the time to die

Cultural anthropologist Sharon Kaufman published an article in The Huffington Post on, “Defining Death: Four Decades of Ambivalence”. She discusses several cases in the U.S. in which a person was near death, hospitalized and whether they were allowed to die.

She asks what can we learn from these stories and how can we develop a clearer understanding and acceptance of death? Some first steps: “…Families need to comprehend both what the medical ventilator can do and what its limitations are. Doctors need to talk with families, to continue to provide them with compassionate care during and, perhaps most importantly, following the death of such a patient. And because a ventilator-tethered patient looks so alive, a simple declaration of death is no longer enough. Finally, medical schools need to give higher priority to teaching the communication skills that doctors will increasingly need as they confront the vortex created by unexpected death, complex technology, and the threat of litigation.”

Kaufman is professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. She has conducted research for 25 years on medicine, the end of life, and the social impacts of advanced medical technologies in an aging society. She is the author of the book, …And a Time to Die: How American Hospitals Shape the End of Life.

  • Ailments from the sky in the Canadian Arctic

The Globe and Mail launched a new series, The North, a Globe investigation of unprecedented change to the climate, culture and politics of Canada’s northern region. This article presents the views of The Globe’s Arctic Circle panel of experts and leaders in response to five questions about Northern issues. Their responses and conversations appear on Globe Debate. One of the experts is cultural anthropologist and activist, Wade Davis, professor in the Anthropology Department at the University of British Columbia. Among other insights, Davis offers this story:

“Nearly fifteen years ago I sat on the shore of Baffin Island with an Inuk elder, Ipeelie Koonoo, and watched as he carefully cleaned the carburetor of his Ski-doo engine with the feather of an ivory gull. He spoke no English, and I did not know Inuktitut. But with a friend translating, Ipeelie told me then that the weather throughout the Arctic had become wilder, the sun hotter each year, and that for the first time Inuit were suffering from skin ailments, as he put it, caused by the sky.” You can join the conversation with #GlobeNorth.

  • Anthropologist who studies Maoists accused of “links” with Maoists

The Times of India reported on an anthropology professor at Delhi University, Nandini Sundar, who has been accused of Maoist “links.” A member of the Congress party told the media that he arranged meetings between Sundar and Maoists and that she had formed a committee at their behest to oppose rail and mining projects.

Sundar is the author of Subalterns and Sovereigns: An Anthropological History of Bastar. She has been doing research for 24 years in the Bastar region of India’s eastern state of Chhatisgarh. She says police have been targeting her for a long time without verifying their claims.

The article quotes Sundar: “I did meet Gawde, but once, and that for an interview. My opinions on Maoists, the Constitution and democracy are pretty clear. So what crime have I committed?” She said that she was not in any way “spearheading” a movement in the area. “As researchers, we need liberty to visit difficult areas and we should have freedom from police and the underground. What is wrong if we meet Maoists to interview?” [Blogger’s note: for a recent statement from Sundar, see her blog post]

  • Property, wealth, and environment in Macau

The Macau Daily Times carried an interview with Peter Zabielskis, a cultural anthropologist and professor in the sociology department at the University of Macau. It covered topics related to urban development and Macau’s future. Zabielskis commented that the philosophy that “you must be green otherwise you won’t survive” will most likely be spearheaded by Beijing with Macau and Hong Kong following that lead. In terms of urban development in Macau, he stated that the government should be just as concerned to preserve current properties as it is with building new ones.

  • Take that anthro degree and…

…become a doctor focusing on public health. Alicia Agnoli of Edgartown, Massachusetts, is in her second year of a three-year medical residency in an innovative family practice clinic in Malden. She works with a caseload of about 500 patients of all ages, ethnicities, and walks of life. She plans to eventually add a public health component to her work as a physician. Her plan to become a physician working in public health, and her interest in social justice, emerged when she was a student at Princeton University, where she took pre-med courses and earned a degree in anthropology.

…become a librarian focused on historic collections. Laura Warren said she feels like her job is finally starting after going full time last fall at the new Fondulac District Library in East Peoria, Illinois. Warren, who has worked at the library since 2011, is in charge of the history collection. Books in the collection address topics such as the Illinois River Valley, Abraham Lincoln, and the history of Peoria. The collection also includes East Peoria Community High School yearbooks starting in 1943; Polk City Directories from 1927 to present; local marriage and cemetery records; East Peoria history scrapbooks and pictures; local census records, plat books and atlases; Illinois Historical Society newsletters; and personal histories. Warren has a master’s degree in anthropology and museum studies.

  • Retelling the story of the demise of the Rapa Nui
Photo from The Independent.

The Independent (London) carried a positive review of a documentary on the Rapa Nui people of Easter Island by archaeologist Jugo Cooper. The new view, presented in the 90-minute film, overturns the old view of a society that self-destructed through its unsustainable environmental practices and local warfare. Cooper turns his lens instead on the arrival of the Dutch in 1722 and the onset of smallpox, slave trading, and land grabs. By 1877, the original contact population of around 15,000 was down to 111. The reviewer indicates that the documentary offers a positive note: if the residents of Rapa Nui were doing okay before the aliens arrived, maybe there is hope for the future in knowing how they managed to do – “Provided those aliens don’t schedule a return visit, of course.”

  • Politics, partying, and ancient heritage in Pakistan: Politics wins

Pakistani politician Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of assassinated Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, organized the 15-day Sindh Cultural Festival that started Saturday. It is being held at Mohenjo-Daro, an archaeological site of one of the world’s first urban societies, the Indus Valley civilization. Zardari’s mother was killed in a 2007 gun and bomb attack, and he has made peace, especially opposition to militancy, a pillar of his platform.

According to many articles in the media including one in The Washington Post, the lead-up to the festival drew substantial opposition from archaeologists who feared the stage and other event infrastructure could damage the delicate ruins. The Times of India quotes archaeologist Asma Ibrahim, a member of the Management Board for Antiquities and Physical Heritage of the Sindh government who said the stage and sound and light show could damage walls: “It is nothing but insanity.” Organizers say there is no risk to the ruins. [Blogger’s note: As of this writing. Samaa television provided the latest coverage of the kick-off event.]

  • Very old fire control

The Tottenham News picked up on a study showing that humans have been controlling fire for at least 300,000 years. The findings, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, report about a newly discovered hearth in Qesem Cave in Israel.

“These findings help us to fix an important turning point in the development of human culture — that in which humans first began to regularly use fire both for cooking meat and as a focal point — a sort of campfire — for social gatherings,” noted lead archaeologist Ruth Shahack-Gross of the Kimmel Center for Archaeological Research. And, “They also tell us something about the impressive levels of social and cognitive development of humans living some 300,000 years ago.”

  • Kudos
    Photo: Provided by Indianapolis Prize

USA Today reported on the six finalists for the Indianapolis Prize for outstanding work in animal conservation. The prize comes with the Lilly Medal and a $250,000 award. One of the finalists is an anthropologist: Patricia Wright, a primatologist and faculty member at Stony Brook University.  The USA Today article quotes her as saying:  “I don’t think there is any other prize like this. … It really is the ultimate conservationist prize in the world.” The winner will be announced in May and the prize awarded at a gala event in September. Each finalist receives $10,000.


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