anthro in the news 7/16/18

Coca-Cola, Mexican death sentence [left]. Credit: Wikimedia Commons. Infant formula as a death threat [right]. Credit: Photo-shopped from the original image on Wikimedia Commons by Jack Heaton

corporate greed: let them drink Coke

The New York Times reported on the dire situation in a city in southern Mexico created by the presence of Coca-Cola production there. Local sources of clean drinking water have been destroyed, people are now hooked on drinking Coke, and they have high rates of diabetes. Mexico in general is among the world’s top consumers of sugary drinks. Residents of San Cristóbal in Chiapas drink on average more than two liters, or more than half a gallon, of soda a day. The article quotes sociocultural anthropologist Laura Mebert, assistant professor of liberal studies at Kettering University in Michigan, who says Coca-Cola pays a disproportionately small amount for its water privileges: “Coca-Cola pays this money to the federal government, not the local government…while the infrastructure that serves the residents of San Cristóbal is literally crumbling.”

corporate greed: let them drink formula

The Chicago Sun Times, among other media, reported on the ongoing battle against breast milk being waged by corporate interests in promoting the sale of infant formula, a battle supported by the Trump presidency. In response to claims that women in low-income countries are physically unable to breastfeed their infants because of malnutrition, the article quotes Sera Young, professor of anthropology and global health at Northwestern University:  “You have to be basically starving to not produce enough breast milk because of under-nutrition.” Formula poses the greatest risks to the poor because of risks related to water contamination and other factors: “It’s worse not to breastfeed when you’re living in a low-income country.”

letter to the editor

The Santa Fe New Mexican published a letter to the editor from
Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Chancellor’s Professor Emerita of medical anthropology at UC-Berkeley on DNA matching: “Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar has called for volunteers to help in DNA matching of migrant children separated from their parents in detention. Many people volunteered to which Azar exclaimed ‘Wow!’ Sadly, this latest scientific intervention in the chaotic mishandling of 3,000 traumatized children crying and wetting their beds, refusing to speak to their government-supplied caretakers, brings to mind the use of DNA in another context. Following the so-called Argentine Dirty War (1976-1983), some 500 infants and children were confiscated from their parents who were ‘disappeared’ and killed as ‘subversives’ by the military dictatorship. Their children were ‘transferred’ to right wing military families and their friends. When democracy returned to the country in 1984, the biological grandmothers, led by the famous Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, sought the help of Professor Mary-Clare King, a University of California geneticist, to set up an index of grandparents and applied DNA matching to reunite them with their grandchildren.”

nuclear orientalism

An article in The Tehran Times mentioned nuclear orientalism, a concept coined by Hugh Gusterson, professor of anthropology and international affairs at George Washington University. The piece was an interview with Nitasha Kaul, a Kashmiri economist and writer, who teaches politics and international relations at the University of Westminster, London. She is quoted as saying: “Nuclear weapons are threats to world peace and yet, rather than working toward denuclearization of the entire world, we are witnessing what an IR scholar Hugh Gusterson calls ‘nuclear orientalism’. U.S. is the only country that has actually used atomic weapons and killed hundreds of thousands and yet it is seen as the custodian of international community. Now, Israel, India and Pakistan have been involved in multiple wars and their nuclear weapons are taken for granted even though they are not signatories of the NPT. All this shows that the real issue is that ‘world peace’ has become a convenient label countries evoke and discard depending on what their interests are.”

more on Bullshit Jobs

An article in Quartz about job trends said this: “Perhaps the contemporary quest for future unemployment stems from the fact that many jobs seem meaningless and unfulfilling. According to anthropologist David Graeber, author of the recently published book Bullshit Jobs, much work today features a lot of unnecessary busywork. Society didn’t consciously design work this way, Graeber argues, but it’s preventing people from making a ‘meaningful contribution to the world.’” Also, The Times (London) Sunday edition listed Bullshit Jobs as recommended nonfiction summer reading.

date push-back for early humans out of Africa

One of the 2.1 million-year-old artifacts [right], recovered from a gully in western China [left], suggest that hominins may have left Africa far earlier than previously believed. Credit: Zhaoyu Zhu

The New York Times reported on findings by geologists and paleoanthropologists from new research at a previously known site in western China. They have found the oldest stone tools outside Africa. The tools, used by hominins who were ancient members of the human lineage,   are estimated to be as much as 2.1 million years old. Thus, some hominins left Africa far earlier than once believed in order to reach a place 8,000 miles from their place of origin. The age of the Chinese tools suggests that the hominins who made them were neither tall nor big-brained. Instead, they may have been small bipedal apes, with brains about the size of a chimpanzee’s. The researchers have made a thorough search of the site which is a gully: “Working up and down it can be hair-raising at times,” said Robin Dennell, a paleoanthropologist and honorary professor at the University of Exeter who joined the Chinese team in 2010. The researchers have found over a hundred stone tools embedded in 17 geologic layers of the gully. The work was painstakingly slow because the researchers wanted to make a compelling case that these really were tools made by hominins: “We wanted to make it watertight and bombproof,” said Dennell. “The implications of all this are large,” said paleoanthropologist Michael Petraglia, professor of human evolution and prehistory at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, who was not involved in the study. He added, “We must re-evaluate our understanding of human prehistory in Eurasia.” Findings are published in the journal Nature.


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