anthro in the news 10/5/15


The Vatican, source: Creative Commons

An anthropologist meets the Pope

The Huffington Post published an article by Nancy Scheper-Hughes, medical anthropologist at the University of California Berkeley, describing her visit to the Vatican in April at the invitation of Pope Francis. The Pope convened an international meeting of experts to discuss human trafficking and modern slavery.  Scheper-Hughes writes:  “…he is an incredibly happy man, a man at peace with himself and with the world. He seems comfortable in his skin. But most of all, he is fearless. Although he still ends most encounters with the petition, “Pray for me,” he is smiling and radiant. In accepting the heavy cargo that is the papacy, with all of its entanglements, intrigues, risks and dangers, and its daily uncertainties, Pope Francis is calm and reassuring.”


A 481-foot drug tunnel in Nogales discovered in 2014. source: USA Today

Smugglers’ tunnels give U.S. Border Patrol and Homeland Security a bad name

Nogales International (Arizona) reported on the situation in Nogales, a city in Arizona that accounts for most of the 183 cross-border tunnels between Mexico and the U.S. that have been discovered  since the mid-1990s. The article draws on commentary from cultural anthropologist Howard Campbell of the University of Texas-El Paso who has studied drug trafficking in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. He said that tunnel trafficking is just a small part of the overall drug smuggling picture: “Although it’s very colorful and exciting, it’s not really important for the overall volume, except for short periods of time…” He added that other researchers have found that the “majority of drugs, in terms of value…actually cross through ports of entry.” Campbell suggested the Border Patrol’s interest in rooting out tunnels has less to do with how many loads pass through them than with their symbolic value. With the Department of Homeland Security spending billions of dollars annually on agents and technology, smugglers outwitting their efforts with shovels and pickaxes doesn’t look good: “The tunnels really give the Border Patrol and Homeland Security a bad name.”


Try this: Adult coloring books for stress relief

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle (U.S.) reported on a new approach to addressing adult stress: coloring books. Marketed to anxious, overworked grown-ups, the books have taglines promising to inspire creativity, bring balance and restore inner peace. The books range from simple, quick patterns to highly intricate mandalas and other designs that could take days to finish. The article quotes Melanie Medeiros, a cultural anthropologist teaching at SUNY Geneseo: “I think people are looking for more mindfulness practices in their lives.” She noticed adult coloring books at a friend’s house while doing research in Brazil over the summer.


Not dead yet

The Straits Times (Singapore) reported on research conducted by consulting cultural anthropologist Vivienne Wee in the community of Pulau Ubin. She learned that it is not the dead town that people have assumed it to be. Its population has decreased from 4,000 to 38 over the decades,   each resident is connected to vast social networks with ties to mainland Singapore. Wee also found a small but thriving local economy within the island. She was hired by the National Heritage Board (NHB) to map out the island’s multi-faceted layers of social history.


Fukushima mothers’ dilemma

The Japan Times carried an article detailing the dilemma that mothers in the Fukushima area face in terms of fulfilling their expected role as a good wife and wise mother protecting the health and well-being of their children. The basic question is: to stay or to leave? Neither response is satisfactory. Those who remain there live in constant fear for their children’s health. But choosing to flee opened them to accusations of being bad wives who abandoned their relatives, community and husbands tied to jobs. While mothers who live in Fukushima fear for their children’s health and dread health checkups because of the risk of getting a bad diagnosis, those who evacuated to Tokyo are contemplating a move back. Some mothers worry that their children need a father figure in their lives. Moreover, balancing two households, in Fukushima and Tokyo, is financially and emotionally difficult. And their relatives in Fukushima pressure them to return. The article quotes David Slater, professor of anthropology at Sophia University:  “A disaster such as Fukushima is not a single event, but a period of struggle that continues to change over time…And women often carry the heaviest burden, working behind the scenes.”

Human rights activist…

The Hindu (India) reported on the repatriation to China of Chinese national, Guan Liang, who was arrested in Arunachal Pradesh in eastern India in 2010 on suspicion of being an intelligence operative. His supporters says he was an internationally connected Chinese dissident and human rights activist seeking support from India. According to documents with The Hindu, Guan’s activism was the result of studying with American anthropologist and human rights activist, Lily Hope Chumley, and many Chinese dissidents who operate from Beijing’s art district. The article quotes Chumley:  “He was very bright and committed. I used to worry about the intensity of his commitment.” Chumley is assistant professor in the department of anthropology at New York University.


Take that anthro degree and…

…become a singer, songwriter, and social activist.  Lila Downs is a Mexican-American musical performance artist and social activist. She has a B.A. in cultural anthropology from the University of Minnesota with a concentration on the symbolism of textiles, a topic tied to her indigenous roots. Once she completed college, Downs followed her mother’s heritage home to Tlaxiaco, Mexico. Ofrenda, her independent debut album, blended traditional Oaxacan and Mexican songs with self-written tracks in the Spanish, Mixtec, and Zapotec languages. The variety of languages was part of Downs’ approach from the beginning: “Singing in native languages is also important to demonstrate that these languages are very much alive and an important part of Native American life in many places in the Americas.” Outside of preserving languages through lyrics and motivating people through music, Downs raises funds for student scholarships, particularly for those of indigenous descent, in her home state of Oaxaca. “Right now we are working with Voto Latino to register voters at our shows this fall and encouraging people to be engaged in the process of choosing who leads our communities and the country.”

…become a participant services team leader. Val Ahumada has been promoted to participant services team leader at Discovery Benefits in Fargo, North Dakota. She started working at Discovery Benefits in 2011 as a participant services specialist. She graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead with a B.A. degree in cultural anthropology and mass communications.

…become a licensed psychologist, researcher, and professor of community health. Gregory Beehler is the acting associate director for research and a clinical research psychologist at the VA Center for Integrated Healthcare in Buffalo, N.Y. He is also an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior, the Graduate School of Education, and the School of Nursing at the University at Buffalo. Beehler is a licensed psychologist with an M.A. in medical anthropology from SUNY Buffalo and a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from SUNY Geneseo. His research focuses on advancing the implementation of primary care – mental health Integration, developing brief interventions for chronic pain, and promoting wellness among cancer survivors. He is particularly interested the use of qualitative and mixed methods. He is also the consulting psychologist for the Buffalo VA oncology clinic and supervises pre-doctoral psychology interns at the Center.

…become a cultural heritage preservation officer. Chris Sockalexis, Penobscot, is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Penobscot Nation, and he has served on the Abbe Museum Native Advisory Council since 2012 and is now a trustee on the board of directors. He has a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Maine with his primary focus being on Maine Archaeology. He is currently conducting research for his Masters of Science degree at the University of Maine Climate Change Institute. Sockalexis is also a flintkapper with knowledge of the ancient art and technique of stone and bone tool production, and an avid canoe/kayak paddler.

…become a nature writer artist. Julie Zickefoose is a nature artist and writer living in Ohio. She spent several years as a field biologist with the Nature Conservancy’s Connecticut Chapter before returning to drawing. Zickefoose has been a writer and illustrator of the Marietta-based Bird Watcher’s Digest for almost 30 years. Additionally, she was a commentator for NPR’s afternoon news show, All Things Considered, for five years. She recently published The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds which was Oprah’s Book of the Week in April 2012. She also keeps a popular natural history blog on Blogspot. She has a B.A. in biological anthropology from Harvard University.

…become a store owner. Crissy Burgstaler is the owner of How Sweet It Was, a vintage clothing shop in Tucson, Arizona. She worked at the store for 12 years before owning it for the past two years. Burgstaler has a B.A. in anthropology from the University of Arizona. She said her time studying anthropology wasn’t really all that important regarding her current job. “Uh, yeah, I do not use my degree at all—I didn’t need a degree to get where I am.” Nevertheless, her degree did take her to Japan where she taught English for a year. “And when I was there, I was like, Ah, I don’t think I’ll come back to Tucson. I don’t know where I want to move…After a year of being really lonely, I thought I just [wanted] to go somewhere where I know people. So I got my job back and the opportunity was presented and I decided I would stay in Tucson. I didn’t think that was my fate, but I like Tucson and everything worked out.” Burgstaler says she has learned a lot about business.


Trail of Tears

The Missourian carried an article about the discovery of human remains at Trail of Tears State Park which are likely to be American Indian. About two weeks ago a family found what appeared to be a jaw bone while hiking along the Sheppard Point Trail. Other bones have been found since then. The trail is closed until further notice. Jennifer Bengtson, an assistant professor of anthropology at Southeast Missouri State University, who was called in to study the remains declined to comment to the media because of the cultural sensitivity associated with American Indian resting places: “Native American tribes have a deep concern for the protection of their heritage, and as a professional archaeologist, I share their concerns,” she wrote in an email to the Southeast Missourian.


And now there is…just us

The BBC provided a round-up about early human ancestors with this lead in:  “Our own species appeared around 200,000 years ago, at a time when several others existed. Yet today, only we remain. Why did we manage to survive when all of our closest relatives have died out?”  Here are some snippets from the article, most of which focuses on the Neanderthals. The first comment looks further back. Biological anthropologist John Shea of Stony Brook University in New York commented that several million years ago, when a great many hominin species lived side-by-side, the diet was mainly plants: “There is no evidence they were systematically preying on large animals.”

Regarding the Neanderthals, the archaeological evidence suggests that they lost out to modern humans, says Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. The Neanderthals were displaced very soon after modern humans encroached on their habitat, which Hublin says can’t be a coincidence. The temperature was not the main issue, says John Stewart of Bournemouth University in England. Instead, the colder climate changed the landscape they lived in, and they did not adapt their hunting style to suit it.  Chiming in, Nicholas Conard at the University of Tübingen in Germany: “When modern humans hit the ground [in Europe], their populations went up quickly.” As numbers swelled, they began living in much more complex social units and needed more sophisticated ways to communicate. [Blogger’s note: even taking the earliest reasonable date for the emergence of modern humans, there is no reason to be over-confident about the longevity of our species as we haven’t even hit the half million year mark yet].


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