anthro in the news 11/30/2015

ISIS recruits through friends and social media

An article in the New York Times on ISIS recruitment provides extensive commentary from cultural anthropologist Scott Atran, co-founder of the Center for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict and senior research fellow at Oxford University. He noted that research has found that radicalization rarely occurs in mosques and rarely through anonymous recruiters and strangers. At a meeting held on Foreign Terrorist Fighters organized by the U.N. Security Council’s counter-terrorism committee. Atran said: “it is the call to glory and adventure that moves these young people to join the Islamic State…jihad offers them a way to become heroes.” Atran, who has interviewed captured fighters from the Islamic State and the al-Qaida linked Nusra Front, added that Islamic State leaders “understand youth much better than the governments that are fighting against them.” They know how to speak to the rebelliousness and idealism of youth, and they are adept at using social media to target youth.


Weapon of mass destruction

Nuclear weapons test on Bikini Atoll of the Marshall Islands. 1946. source: Creative Commons

The Washington Post reported on the enduring effects of U.S. nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific where, from 1946 to 1958, the United States conducted 67 nuclear tests. If their combined explosive power was divided over that 12-year period, it would equal 1.6 Hiroshima-size explosions per day. The article quoted cultural anthropologist Glenn Alcalay who teaches at Montclair State University in New Jersey. “We have basically destroyed a culture…We’ve stolen their future. When you take the future from a people, you’ve destroyed them.”


Six steps to the Sustainable Development Goals

Cultural anthropologist Jason Hickel of the London School of Economics published an article in the Guardian in which he lays out six guidelines to attaining the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): 1) It’s very unlikely that all SDGs will be met, but we shouldn’t lose faith; 2) The SDGs need to be seen as a springboard, not an end in themselves; 3) We need to dramatically change the existing rules of our global economy; 4). Those working on economic development and human rights should work together; 5) Companies now face the challenge of contributing to the development agenda; and 6) The SDGs can be a driver of climate action. [Blogger’s note: the meaty points in my view are 3,4, and 5, which require drastic changes in the neoliberal economic regime but how such changes might happen is up in the air].


On not erasing colonialism and making reparations

Monument to slaves in Zanzibar. source: Brocken Inaglory, Creative Commons

Jason Hickel, cultural anthropologist at the London School of Economics, also published an article in the Guardian arguing for reparations to populations that suffered from European colonialism, especially slavery. He writes: [Colonialism is] …something you’re not supposed to discuss in polite company – at least not north of the Mediterranean. Most people feel uncomfortable about it, and would rather pretend it didn’t happen. In fact, that appears to be the official position. In the mainstream narrative of international development peddled by institutions from the World Bank to the UK’s Department of International Development, the history of colonialism is routinely erased. According to the official story, developing countries are poor because of their own internal problems, while western countries are rich because they worked hard, and upheld the right values and policies.” Hinkel argues that development aid is a paltry response to the massive harms colonialism did to developing countries and enslaved populations and that reparations are called for.


Juvenile sarcasm in the news

Forbes Magazine published an op-ed by a policy commentator who is sarcastically dismissive of Jason Hickel’s article in the Guardian about colonialism, world poverty, and the need for reparations. The author, who attended the LSE where he “learned [his] economics,” writes that he is surprised that Hickel, an anthropology professor at LSE, can even find Houghton Street which lies in the center of the campus.


Nepal rebuilding

WBEZ Radio (Chicago) reported on protests in Nepal’s southern region and carried an interview with Sienna Craig, professor of anthropology at Dartmouth College. Craig has recently been in Nepal working with local Tibetan doctors to help bring healthcare to rural communities hit by the earthquakes. She discussed the complexities of what has been happening in the country recently as well as Nepal-India relations [with audio].


Helping out in Greece

SFGate (San Francisco) carried an article about Americans going to Greece as volunteers to help with the massive influx of refugees. According to the New York Times, more than 300,000 refugees have arrived on the island of Lesbos this year, overwhelming its 86,000 residents. This influx shouldn’t be surprising for European leaders, but they have not developed a plan to handle the number of refugees, said Andria Timmer, an anthropology professor at Christopher Newport University in Virginia. She is quoted as saying: “What’s going on is that most of the work being done is by volunteers…It’s coming through individuals putting food in their car. These are the people on the ground doing aid.”


Bound to happen: 2015 reprises begin

An article in Forbes provides a reprise of a June 2015 event where Bill Clinton lauded medical anthropologist and health activist Paul Farmer as a great humanitarian for his work with Partners in Health which Farmer co-founded. Yes, Farmer was a great humanitarian in June and still now, deserving of a lifetime achievement award.  Almost 200 billionaires, “world-class philanthropists and social-entrepreneur game changers” convened in New York in June for the annual Forbes 400 Summit on Philanthropy.


Take that anthro degree and…

…become a medical doctor. Kayla Rudolph is currently an M.D. candidate at Rush Medical College and is expected to graduate in May 2016. She earned a B.A. in anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis.

…become an actor and musician. Tessa Creed, the star of Dear White People, has also played Jackie Cook on the film noir television series Veronica Mars, Nyla Adrose in the film For Colored Girls, civil rights activist Diane Nash in Selma, and starred as Bianca in Creed. She attended Santa Monica College where she studied cultural anthropology.

…be an administrative assistant. Nicole Burreson works for Soderholm Insurance Services in Alexandria, Minnesota, as an executive administrative assistant. She has a B.A, in anthropology from Luther College in Iowa.


Thanks to mastodons for squash

Just in time for Thanksgiving, CNN reported on a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences documenting the role that mastodons played in the squash we eat today. The authors studied seeds preserved in ancient animal dung. Daniel Sandweiss, professor of anthropology and climate studies at the University of Maine, who was not involved in the study, said he appreciated the study as a reminder of the impact even a tiny population like early ancestors in the Americas could have on food we eat now: “Humans have such a large and sometimes unexpected influence on economies and ecosystems…The squash we have today are remaining representatives of this genus of plant which otherwise would have been in trouble for survival because of the changing landscape…It’s fascinating to think what impact human intervention can have even through the depth of time.”

[Blogger’s note: I am having a hard time getting from seeds in mastodon dung to domesticated seeds and edible squash. Here’s the study article’s abstract:

“Squashes, pumpkins, and gourds belonging to the genus Cucurbita were domesticated on several occasions throughout the Americas, beginning around 10,000 years ago. The wild forms of these species are unpalatably bitter to humans and other extant mammals, but their seeds are present in mastodon dung deposits, demonstrating that they may have been dispersed by large-bodied herbivores undeterred by their bitterness. However, Cucurbita may have been poorly adapted to a landscape lacking these large dispersal partners. Our study proposes a link between the disappearance of megafaunal mammals from the landscape, the decline of wild Cucurbita populations, and, ultimately, the evolution of domesticated Cucurbita alongside human cultivators.”

I am happy, however, that we have many kinds of edible squash no matter what the trail from dung to soup, casserole, and dessert].


Being a terrorist is not hard-wired

An article in the Huffington Post on human violence, especially terrorism, mentions viewpoints of biological anthropologist Richard Wrangham of Harvard University, who favors hard-wired violence in what he calls “demonic males,” as well as primatologists Jane Goodall founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, and Frans de Waal of Emory University, who do not.

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