Anthro in the news 10/14/13

Gregale cliffs lampedusa
North-Eastern cliffs of Lampedusa, photo by Arnold Sciberras/Wikipedia

• We need a bigger boat

The Wall Street Journal and other mainstream media reported on the second incident of a capsized boat near Lampedusa, in the Mediterranean.

The article quotes Maurizio Albahari, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, who says that the sinking on October 3 hasn’t deterred smugglers from bringing refugees into Europe from the Libyan coast:

“And it cannot possibly deter migrants who have gone through countless stages of peril and exploitation in their own country, especially in Syria and the Horn of Africa.”

• On U.S.-Afghan relations

In an article analyzing current U.S.-Afghan relations and the troop draw-down, Global Post referred to the work of cultural anthropologist Thomas Barfield of Boston University.

Barfield notes that Karzai faces a political conundrum, that: an Afghan ruler, “to be successful … will need to convince Afghans that he will not be beholden to foreigners even as he convinces these same foreigners to fund his state and its military.”

And, pondering the future stability of the country, Barfield is quoted as saying: “In the absence of [a strong leader] and the departure of foreign forces, Afghanistan will not survive as a unitary state. The most likely event in that case would be a sundering of the country along regional lines.”
Continue reading “Anthro in the news 10/14/13”

Anthro in the news 10/7/13

Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai
Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai in May 2012. Flickr/isafmedia

• Another run for Afghanistan presidency

Al Jazeera carried an interview with Ashraf Ghani Aamadzai (known more in the U.S. as simply Ashraf Ghani) about the Afghanistan presidential race. The article introduces him by saying: “On paper Columbia-educated cultural anthropologist Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai is an ideal candidate to be Afghanistan’s president. Ghani has worked at the World Bank and United Nations, and has written a book on failed states. In Afghanistan, however, his 2009 bid for the highest political office was dogged by criticism that his 24 years abroad meant Ghani had become a virtual stranger to the Afghan people.”

Ghani speaks about engaging youth and fighting corruption. On the latter, he comments:

There are 100 countries that are extremely corrupt. There are 20-25 countries that came out of corruption and succeeded. The United States still has major corruption, particularly at the municipal level. England invented corruption. Dealing with corruption is a multi-pronged agenda.

Ghani also ran in the last election and garnered only 3 percent of the vote. This time around, he may be running against a brother of his.

• Freedom’s just another word…

According to an article in The Globe and Mail (Toronto), “we” are overly comfortable with debt. The article mentions LSE cultural anthropologist, David Graeber, author of the book Debt: The First 5,000 Years. According to Graeber, the English word “freedom” was originally associated with freedom from debt. It translated into “return to mother” because when debtors fell into arrears badly enough, their children were taken away from them.
Continue reading “Anthro in the news 10/7/13”

Anthro in the news 4/29/13

• On Russian distrust of U.S. missile plan

Press TV interviewed William Beeman, a professor of cultural and linguistic anthropology at the University of Minnesota, about U.S.-Russia relations especially in terms of Washington and NATO’s new plans to build an anti-missile system around Western Europe.

NATO missiles
U.S. and NATO Patriot missile deployment to Turkey. Flickr/Staff Sgt. Daniel Owen

In response to a question about American plans to strengthen military bases in Alaska, Beeman replied, “This is an old, old story. The United States tried to establish missiles in Eastern Europe, supposedly in the Czech Republic, I believe, in order to defend against the attacks, as they said, from Iran. Now we are talking about North Korea.

“So the difficulty of course for Russia is that Russia wants to make sure that these missiles would not ever be deployed against Russia, and I can tell you that Russia borders both on Iran and on North Korea. So it is very hard for the United States to guarantee the Russians in any satisfactory way that these missiles would never be used against Russian territories, and I can really understand the Russians’ trepidation about this.”

• Christian belief, practice, and mental health

When God Talks Back by T.M. Luhrmann
Credit: Random House

The Deseret News of Salt Lake City carried an opinion piece in response to a recent New York Times column by Stanford anthropologist T.M. Luhrmann, where she says that the reason is not entirely clear why church attendance “boosts the immune system and decreases blood pressure. It may add as much as two to three years to your life.”

She speculates that it is the social support of a congregation and the healthy habits of churchgoers. In clinical terms, she explains how someone can experience a God they can’t see and she observes, “those who were able to experience a loving God vividly were healthier — at least, as judged by a standardized psychiatric scale.”

Luhrmann is a professor of cultural anthropology at Stanford University and the author of When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God.

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 4/29/13”

Anthro in the news 2/25/13

• Human Terrain System update

According to an article in USA Today, a $250 million U.S. Army program designed to aid troops in Iraq and Afghanistan has been riddled by serious problems that include payroll padding, sexual harassment and racism. The article cites Hugh Gusterson, an anthropology professor at George Mason University who has studied the program.

U.S. soldiers pass out toys during a Human Terrain Team site survey mission in Iraq, 2009. (Photo: Spc. Benjamin Boren)
U.S. soldiers pass out toys on a Human Terrain Team mission in Iraq, 2009/Spc. Benjamin Boren

In an email to USA Today, he said: “It’s another example of a military program that makes money for a contractor while greatly exaggerating its military utility … The program recruited the human flotsam and jetsam of the discipline and pretended it was recruiting the best. Treating taxpayer money as if it were water, it paid under-qualified 20-something anthropologists more than even Harvard professors. And it treated our [AAA] ethics code as a nuisance to be ignored.”

In Afghanistan, the Human Terrain teams feed information to military intelligence centers called Stability Operations Information Centers. The reports are designed to help determine potential targets and adversaries. “We don’t know how that information is useful in identifying a group or individual,” said R. Brian Ferguson, a Rutgers University cultural anthropologist who has studied the program. USA Today has obtained a soon-to-be published report by the National Defense University, a Pentagon-affiliated think tank, noting that Human Terrain System efforts “collectively were unable to make a major contribution to the counterinsurgency effort.”

• Follow the vodka

An article in The Atlantic described the growing role of sociocultural anthropology in marketing studies. It highlights the work of Min Lieskovsky, a 31-year-old straight New Yorker who mingled freely and occasionally ducked into a bathroom to scribble notes about a lesbian party in Austin, Texas, that was heavily infused with vodka.

Absolut vodka
Absolut vodka/Wikipedia

Liekovsky had recently left a Ph.D. program in sociocultural anthropology at Yale University, impatient with academia but eager to use ethnographic research methods. The consulting firm she worked for, ReD Associates, is at the forefront of a movement to deploy social scientists on field research for corporate clients. The vodka giant Absolut contracted with ReD to infiltrate American drinking cultures and report on the elusive phenomenon known as the “home party.”

The corporate anthropology that ReD and a few others are pioneering is the most intense form of market research yet devised. ReD is one of a handful of consultancies that treat everyday life — and everyday consumerism — as a subject worthy of the scrutiny. According to the article, many of the consultants have trained at the graduate level in anthropology but have forsaken academia—and some of its ethical strictures—for work that frees them to do field research more or less full-time, with huge budgets. And agendas driven by corporate interests.

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 2/25/13”

War hurts

Arlington National Cemetery, U.S. Photo courtesy of National Park Service

Just published: findings on “Long-Term Impact of War on Healthcare Costs” from an eight-country comparative study. No surprises. War hurts and war costs. I think we can safely assume that the impact of war on healthcare costs also indicates long-term impact of war on people’s very health in the first place.

But that’s too simple a conclusion to need stating. Or maybe it isn’t so simple. Since in some cases, a “good” war that pre-empts mass murder and genocide, launched at the right time, could prevent death and suffering in the short-term and the long-term.

Source: PLOS ONE: Long-Term Impact of War on Healthcare Costs: An Eight-Country Study

Anthro in the news 1/28/13

• “Invisible cultural anthropologist” Jim Kim in the news

Anthro in the news picked up on two mentions of Jim Kim, medical anthropologist, physician, humanitarian development expert, and current president of the World Bank.

Jim Yong Kim, president of The World Bank
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim/Moritz Hager, Wikipedia

First, his op-ed, “Make Climate Change a Priority,” appeared in the Washington Post opinion section in which he wrote: “As economic leaders gathered in Davos this week for the World Economic Forum, much of the conversation was about finances. But climate change should also be at the top of our agendas, because global warming imperils all of the development gains we have made. If there is no action soon, the future will become bleak. The World Bank Group released a report in November that concluded that the world could warm by 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) by the end of this century if concerted action is not taken now.”

Second, an article in an economic/trade-focused forum discussed Kim’s visit to Tunisia to promote private sector development: “World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim today concluded a two-day visit to Tunisia during which the Group’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, announced a $48 million investment to support the growth of private entrepreneurs. Kim met the country’s leadership and civil society to discuss the reform agenda and Tunisia’s progress two years after its popular uprising. ‘We are here as strong supporters of the Tunisian revolution,’ said Kim. ‘[The people of Tunisia] went through some very difficult times, but in doing what you’ve done, you’ve inspired the entire world. [Now] we’ve got to make sure that Tunisia is successful in showing that Islam and democracy go together, that you can have economic development that includes everyone.'”

Kim emphasized ongoing World Bank Group support for Tunisia’s aspirations through programs that address improved governance and accountability, opportunities for women and youth, private sector job-creation and investments in interior regions.
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