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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Gene Expression's take on Diamond vs. the Cultural Anthropologists

I'm not sure why this argument has flared up again, but both popular anthropology blogs Gene Expression and Savage Minds are talking about Jared Diamond's book Guns, Germs, and Steel, and some cultural anthropologists' reaction to it. I say some, because while I agree with a lot of Gene Expression's post and what they have to say, I feel they over-generalize what "cultural anthropologists" think, feel, and say about the book and their philosophy and approach to the sciences in general. Or maybe I just live in a bubble where everyone uses the scientific method and can deal with messy or generalized answers. Probably the latter, from the feedback I've heard from others.

I hope the answer lies somewhere in the middle; that while there are many vocal cultural anthropologists that are completely relativist, there are others who are objective and don't balk at information that doesn't fit into their schema. Or maybe that's just me and I'm in the wrong graduate program.

Journalism vs. Anthropology

A friend asked me the other day why I was changing my career goals from being a journalist to an anthropologist. I couldn’t give her a good answer at the time. I mumbled something about low pay and a competitive drive that I just seemed to lack when it came to the written word.

But it got me wondering and really looking at my reasons why I was switching gears, and now even though the moment is passed, I’d like to answer her question in full:

Being a good journalist and a good anthropologist are actually very similar. You have to find a good question and try to answer it. You must do hours of background research and familiarize yourself with the subject. You must figure out who to ask and what questions to ask them. Then there are more hours of research and compiling your information into one cohesive picture. When you finally think you have enough information to give your readers the right message, you must write it all up in a readable, thought-provoking way, and even then only if you’re lucky will your work be published—unless you’ve been asked by your boss to do this work in which case there’s probably a ridiculously short deadline and it’s not something you particularly care about and you just slap something together and call it a day.

My Journalism teacher in college had his doctorate in Anthropology, and he was one of the best journalists I met, if however also one of the most jaded. Anthropology is the perfect accessory to an aware, mindful journalist, just as journalism and writing are essential skills for an anthropologist who wants to get their findings across to their audience.

Where the line is drawn for me, however, is somewhere among the details. The depth with which you explore the subject matter. The reasons behind why this research is being done. The pace and attitude behind the work. With Anthropology, you are (in theory) painstakingly recording people’s minute behavior and details about their situations. With Journalism you must sum up an entire world event in 1200 words or less (this is a skill, by the way, which is being taught more and more often by social science teachers). Anthropology is more interactive; you have to get to know the people you’re researching. In Journalism you are expected to keep your objective distance and not get involved in your story. To even acknowledge in the story that you were there is considered a bit tacky.

Anthropology seems to emphasize the journey, whereas Journalism emphasizes the destination. For me, an MA in Anthropology offers me the chance to study different topics I love in greater detail, and to apply them to different areas of life, not just in print or other forms of media. An MA in Journalism would have given me a better idea on how to hunt, capture, and skin the story, and not much else. For some, that’s enough. For me, the academic side of me won over the practical side and decided to give the whole researcher gig a shot.

That to me is the final kicker. I remember so often sitting at my computer, typing up all the wonderful stories I’d heard from researchers and scientists into an abbreviated article, and how I kept thinking to myself that I would much rather be the one out there doing the research and being interviewed about it than the other way around. That was why I made the leap. To get out there into the world and see what I could do, not just sit back and write about it.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Chinese Authorities Execute 10 Million...Toys

Not really, just an awesome story from the Onion (what? It's cultural commentary!)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Communities and Brains

This was interesting article about how living in larger households, or in this specific study living as a couple versus living separately after a divorce, consumes less resources overall and is better for the environment. Communes for the environment!

Speaking of groups, I found this an interesting use of group loyalty and playing with America's usual perceptions of two supposedly polar opposite institutions, or just a cheap way for the military to get some publicity: Miss Utah, who is also an active member of the military, will be competing for the title of Miss America. What's interesting is the military is actually paying for her training and travel to the competition.

On to brains.

One study has found that a high fever ( > 100.4) reduces symptoms of autism in children. Apparently the fever connects or stimulates nerve cells in the child's brain. I'm curious why they only studied children (2-18) and not grown-ups. Perhaps because grown-ups don't go to the hospital when they have a high fever.

And finally, 5-year-old chimps have better short term memories than college students, according to one study series done by researchers at Kyoto University. What was amazing to me was that the chimps were memorizing things in less than 3/10 of a second sometimes. That seems a) impossible for a human brain, and b) an adaptation to living in a setting of constant potential predation (baby chimps are tasty!). However, and even the researchers admit this, the real test would be to see how the young chimps fare against human kids.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

My teddy bear was named Meano

I am curious to see how other people feel about the controversy surrounding the woman in Sudan who allowed her students to vote for the name "Muhammed" for the class teddy bear. People were calling for her execution, and frankly she was lucky to make it out of Sudan.

First off, I agree that it was culturally insensitive to name the teddy bear, an animal and an icon, after the prophet. However, I think the Sudanese people's reaction to this has been completely overblown and should not have escalated as far as it did. It reminds me a lot of the Netherlands cartoon fiasco that happened a little over a year ago.

Just a random thought here, but what I find interesting is that the students didn't seem to think naming the bear Muhammed was all that offensive. Is it possible that they did not see the teddy bear as an animal or a simple icon but as something a little more real? Kids have the amazing ability to have a gray area of reality/pretend where teddy bears can have feelings, the child is a super-hero, there really is a dragon they have to kill everyday on the way home from school, etc. This aspect of childhood is one we cherish looking back on as grown-ups, and yet at the same time scold children for "pretending" and not seeing things "as they are," and then there are events like this that take something very innocent and playful and - pardon my impartiality here - completely trash it! It's just sad that childhood has become so charged with grown-up problems. Don't even get me started on the poor kids who can't play outside for fear of being shot.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Forced symbolism

Just a little, small, teeny, tiny observation: maybe I haven't read enough interpretivist anthropologists' essays to really get a true feeling of the genre here, but it irks me to no end when such an author takes a fairly large and dominant symbol -- the body, the devil (Douglas, Limon) -- and proposes to show how the culture(s) they're studying use and embody it, then go off on other completely different tangents and every once in a while throw in sentences like "the devil comes in many forms." "It is common for such cults to dance." That is too vague to be of much use. It is an almost painful treasure hunt going through their text picking out where they explicitly examine the symbolism and metaphors.
I suspect because they are not positivists they lay their findings out for the readers and expect the reader to come to the same conclusions they did, but just to be "sure" they'll throw in a little hint now and then: "you might say it's...evil? *Dr. Evil pinky*."
Call me simple, but if an author is going to examine symbols so deeply embedded in our culture, in ourselves, they need to be a little more demonstrative in their writing and analysis of their examples.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Who cares

This thought process originally started with me feeling sorry for myself, but then it lead to a really interesting question:

I'm fascinated with the things I've been learning and studying lately about play and all the different tendrils it has in other elements of human life, otherwise I wouldn't be pursuing it. And obviously somebody cared enough to study it and write about it, and somebody at a publishing company thought it was worth publishing. But who really cares about this stuff?


I don't mean that as a sarcastic or rhetoric question. I mean, who else in the world is interested in how humans play with each other and how it effects their lives, how they work, how they love, how they are seen by society and how play lets them try on other roles and grow skills. What about how humans play with themselves (and I don't mean that in a dirty way), and what kind of learning do we do while playing versus while studying or memorizing.

This of course leads to the more general question of what is worth studying, and why? Why are certain seemingly insignificant things given millions of dollars for research while other equally insignificant things aren't? How and why do we place value on knowledge? What is the process? And the difference between what's considered important knowledge by the public versus the government or the military or academics.

All of this is a bit existential, but my point is there is reasoning behind why we value knowledge, and which bits of knowledge, and certain types of knowledge. Even if it doesn't seem like it. And while I'm certainly not going to try and tackle that particular question, and it's important to me to ask about the knowledge I'm going after and what its applications are in the bigger scheme of things, i.e. would other people even care.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Old is the new new

Older articles, but still interesting.

This is an older post (like a week) on how the internet is changing how people listen to, watch, and more specifically tell stories. I was a bit disappointed he focused solely on YouTube essentially, but still worth reading.

This came out awhile ago as well; a couple of scientists have found new evidence to indicate that there were red-headed Neanderthals.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

RIP Washoe

Washoe, "the first non-human to learn American Sign Language," passed away last night, October 30 2007, at the age of 42. A long life for chimpanzees, and an interesting one for sure.
I just recently read Roger Fouts's book Next of Kin, the primatologist who worked with Washoe from the time she was a year old, and it is amazing what Washoe and Fouts accomplished together. It is always also sad to discover someone so inspiring only to have them die shortly afterward, or to learn that they just died.
I hope Washoe's family is doing okay with the loss of their matriarch. This only inspires me more to make the drive out to Ellensburg and visit the rest of the chimpanzees before they all pass away. I'm fascinated to see how much of their play is verbal vs. signing vs. physical. Maybe for my birthday (they just closed for the season). Rest in Peace, Washoe.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Play Anthropology

Rafe and I attended a very interesting meeting this weekend, and I hope he will put his thoughts down on this experience as well.
It was essentially a pitch for a new business and the audience was supposed to provide feedback on the idea. The meeting, however, was a little different because it was focused on Play. Yes, the fine art and discipline of play.
Frank Forencich, the guy pitching the idea, has been making a living writing books and giving classes on his philosophy of how humans don't move enough and Americans need to start living like Exuberant Animals, and now wants to develop a camp/home base for his classes. All the people who had been invited to hear Frank's pitch for the Exuberant Animal Retreat (the current working name for his idea) - physical therapists, physicians, primatologists, traceurs, trainers, students, artists, yogis, outdoor trip leaders, and a budding anthropologist (me) - were all interested in how people play and how to get people to play more and incorporate it into their lives, and for some had made it their job. The best example of this was Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play (technically it's his "retirement" job, but it's not much of a retirement).
This idea, this concept, of studying how people play, why people play, what they get out of it, and the fact that all those things should be obvious to people and yet it's not, is a really intriguing idea to me. The idea of studying play for a living and helping to promote play has been distracting me since last Wednesday, and it's only getting worse. I only half-joked to Rafe that I should base my master's thesis on watching puppies play with each other.
It was so inspiring to talk to this group of people because it showed me that I could get paid to study play, or at least parts of play. A lot of work is with corporations or doing studies on education, which is fine with me. I would be more than happy to do a study that shows, once again, that kids learn better in school if they have recess, hence taking recess away is NOT going to help them do better on standardized tests! I don't know how that study would qualify as anthropology, since I'm not really looking at any culture per say, but it could fall under human behavior and processing the world; that's close enough. If anybody knows someone who's looking for a play anthropologist, let me know.
What really got me starting to think about this in a cohesive way, almost serendipitously, was an assigned essay on anthropologist Victor Witter Turner. While Turner was known mostly for his work on symbolism and study of religious ritual, his theories of liminality, structure and anti-structure, everyday ritual, and play in general really struck a chord with me. He's one of the first theorists I've come across who have even looked at play and ritual and pretend and considered it as important as I certainly think it is. I'm actually having a hard time with my paper and simply writing an overview of all of Turner's work and not just talking about his ideas on play and how according to Turner play, pretend, and cutting loose is an essential part of being human and functioning in society. I'm seriously considering a paper on that particular subject for one of the anthropological conferences coming up in the Spring.
So, even though I am still stressed and sleep-deprived, even though I feel ragged and worn, the whole experience of the past week has re-instilled a purpose in me. It has reminded me why I'm putting myself through hell to go to grad school, why I fell in love with Anthropology in the first place, and where I can be useful, where I want to put my energy into the world.
"Play" is a perfect category to describe everything I'm interested in: how do people learn, the behavior and ritual in sports, performance of all types (dancing, art, story-telling), identity, photography, people adapting to new environments and technologies, and of course looking at biology and culture combined. All of these have aspects of play, or just straight up are play. Turner's ideas can be applied to all of these cultural actions as well, and can be used to look at and dissect the meaning, the purpose, the reason why we do them.
The only sad thing is, because play is "just play" the subject probably won't be taken seriously by many. Even I have moments of feeling silly about wanting to study the seriousness of play. But it's not silly, it's vital, and knowing that there are other people out there who feel the same way - Rafe, Frank, Stuart, Deborah the primatologist, the traceurs, the yogis and physical trainers - gives me strength in going forward and going after something so passionately.
Thank you!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Interesting cultural media tid-bits

First, this article is an interesting follow-up to my previous mother/father post. This woman looks at why her toddler has bonded more to her husband than to herself, and specifically at the idea that culture tells her it should be the other way around. I know, it sounds like I'm making an "it's all culture" argument, but the author is merely looking at forms of bonding and what our culture says "should" happen.

Then, a recent This American Life broadcast looks at the topic of mapping. The first two acts are also REALLY impressive and interesting sociological and psychological studies; one mapping cultural behavior of a neighborhood, the other looking at modern electronics and how their constant humming and buzzing, each with its own melodic tone, affects our mood.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Malinowski: a forgotten proponent of biological anthropology?

I've been taking an anthropological theory class this quarter, and with all the instrumental and influential theorists we've looked at so far, I was amazed by one theorist' take on human society and wondered why I didn't hear about this stuff in the undergrad theory classes.
He is a strong proponent of the idea of man as an individual and biological creature, and promotes the idea that culture is a construct defined by his biological needs, and in turn man can only be shaped to a certain degree by his culture. This was a a somewhat left-field stance for his time, and it would be considered practically sacreligious to the same cultural anthropologists who swear by his methods (or at least the ones I'm being instructed by this quarter) The theorist: Bronislaw Malinowski.
I was assigned Malinowski as my theorist to present on for the class. He is well known as a landmark ethnographer, and for advocating participant research. He is also considered a leading founder, if not the founder, of functionalism and cultural determinism theories.
Functionalism is pretty much how it sounds: the idea that culture is a social system developed to fill in the biological needs of the individual (these days it refers more to social constructs that fill social needs).
Cultural determinism, however, has come to stand for the "nature" half of the, at least in my opinion, ridiculous argument of nature vs. nurture; the idea that culture solely defines who one is.
Malinowski, however, if you actually read his work, does not go to this extreme. He definitely believes that culture shapes a human, and if you take someone out of their culture they will flounder (Malinowski, 1943:649). But he did not believe that humans were empty jars that culture simply filled up.
“Culture, however, primitive and developed alike, is subject to the laws of physics since human bodies are first and foremost lumps of matter. Hence culture is also largely determined by the biological process within the human body and by the organic needs of man.” (Malinowski 1942:1293)
"We see, thus, that the actual concrete organization of human activities does not follow slavishly or exclusively the functional principles of type activities." (Malinowski, 1939:946-947).
I think this aspect of Malinowski's theories has been lost over time, and it is something which should be recognized. Yes, his main point in all of his papers and books and monographs and reviews was that culture shapes humans. Absolutely. But he also acknowledged that humans are humans and will act on their own accord with their own biological will, and even chided Durkheim for recording humans as automatons (Malinowski 1926:4), and Freud for thinking that humans are purely influenced by their culture (Malinowski, 1927:viii).
Hopefully this will make it into my official essay, but if not I at least felt it should get out there.

B. Malinowski, Crime and Custom in Savage Society, Rowman & Littlefield, London (1926).
B. Malinowski, Sex and Repression in Savage Society, Routledge, London (1927).
B. Malinowski, "The Group and the Individual in Functional Analysis," The American Journal of Sociology. Vol. 44, No. 6 p. 938 (May, 1939).
Bronislaw Malinowski, "A New Instrument for the Interpretation of Law. Especially Primitive," The Yale Law Journal, Vol. 51, No. 8, p. 1237 (Jun., 1942).
B. Malinowski, "The Pan-African Problem of Culture Contact," American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 48, No. 6, p. 649 (1943).

Friday, October 5, 2007

Modern Views on Parenting

Granted I’ve learned you can’t taking anything too seriously in grocery store magazines (just look at how TIME handled parkour), but Newsweek came out today with two editorials that are actually quite good at analyzing how men and women’s roles in parenting have evolved over the course of a generation or two and what expectations are compared to real life, and I found myself agreeing with both perspectives.

A mom's perspective: When I read this my first thought was, “dear god, this is my future.”
A dad's perspective: The third paragraph summarizes his whole point.

Of course this is all totally a modern Western view. So many other groups would think the parents are making too big a deal of their own situations, and from all scemas. Too much energy spent on the kids, not enough energy, etc. However, being a modern Western woman who plans on having kids someday, I am personally pleased that my culture is still talking and thinking about this and things are moving in this direction. Not just for my own sanity, but for the well being of my future children. I found the statistic in the dad’s article about dads in the 60's only spending a couple hours a week with their kids really sad. Both dads and kids missed out on a lot of possible knowledge and skill sharing.

Anyway, interesting stuff.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Why complex Interplay(on human nature in brief)

When Beth and I decided to start this blog it was to create a forum to share some of the thoughts we had on human nature and news on the types of things that interested us. Beth and I both are fascinated by both Human nature and Nature in general one the things that makes Human nature so fascinating is the complex interplay of biological and cultural influences. Both of us are fascinated by this but we come have different perspectives due both to different educational backgrounds and just different personalities. Beth tends to see cultural influences were I see biological influence and vice versa but the important point we agree upon is that both influences are valid ways of looking at human behavior and what matter is determining the true origins of behavior not adhering strictly to one ideological bent be it cultural or biological determinism.

I find it important to defend the influence of biological factors in human behavior because I think far to many people dismiss them out of hand for no more reason then they find the idea political repugnant. They associate any argument for a biological base to human behavior with sexism and racism. The idea being that if we are in fact different one sex to another or one race to another it indicates that one group must be superior and another inferior. The tendency to reject valid data and valuable insights on human nature simply because they maybe political incorrect is both saddening and frustrating to me. I believe strongly in the equality of all human beings in the sense that we each deserve the same, rights, and opportunities. I call this philosophy egalitarianism. I believe that the case of true egalitarianism is threatened as much by well meaning rejections of a biological human nature as by racist or sexist assertions of genetic determinism.

To make an example take the issue of womens equality in the work place, with in the last 50 years we have seen a huge change in patterns of male and female employment within the western world. Women have left the traditional roles of mother and housewife for the corporate world to the point they have almost reached numerical equality with males in the work place. However this equality in numerical strength has not been equaled by equality in economic strength, women still earn lower wages for the same work, are less likely to be promoted and are much less likely to be attain executive positions. Now if you assume this is caused sole by cultural factors you approach to dealing with this will be different then if you seek also to understand if their are any biological factors at play. A cultural determinism perspective is likely to see the cause primarily as sexism and differences between men and women's cultural taught social norms. So if we can train or force people not to be sexist and train men and women to have the same social norms when it comes to work then we should be able to achieve equality in the workplace. However if there do exist underlying biological differences in men and womens behavior then this training may fail or even backfire. If for instance men or women are biological inclined to communicate a different way, then the two sexes may fail to understand and appreciate the contributions made by other sex through no other prejudice then ignorance. Since the institutions of the modern work place were predominately designed by men and the positions of power are primarily filled by men the fallout from this misunderstanding is most likely to fall on women. In this case trying to bridge the male female gap through affirmative action or trying to train people who are already not sexist to not be sexist may result in resentment and anger fueling sexism itself as some studies have in fact shown such policies to do.

It is easy to imagine the case of a seemingly enlightened male boss who would love to promote his female employees but failing to understand they way the communicate and express leadership simple misses the signs that they deserve promotion.

Studies have shown that men and women do tend to communicate and express leadership differently and most of these traits are cross cultural consistent indicating a biological component to their expression. I will not state absolutely such differences are biological or the reverse my point is simply that by choosing not to look at one set of data we limit our ability to approach a problem effectively.

I think it is absolutely vital to understand that the belief that people deserve the same rights is not dependent on the belief that people are all the same. To take an extreme example look at someone with genetic condition like downs syndrome its quite obvious that cultural influences aside their mental and physical capacities are not the same as people without that genetic condition. Can we not still recognize the same essential humanity and with it the grant them the same rights.

With that stated, I believe that the evidence for both biological and cultural influences on human behavior are in fact indisputable both from personal experience and from taking an interest in studies of human behavior. Studies in cognitive science, neurobiology, and evolutionary psychology have indicated biological influence on behavioral differences between individuals and in between the sexes and possible in between various population groups.

On a more personal note I work with children and get the chance to observe their behavior regularly its astonishing to me that any who works with children could ignore the biological influences on behavior. The differences between boys and girls behavioral are extremely striking and very consistent and seem to be very independent of the behavioral expectations of their parents.

Lets look at just one trait one that has been extensively studied and shown a strong cross cultural consistent difference between boys and girls. Aggressive play. The boys in my gymnastics classes are constantly pushing, shoving, wrestling, punching, and kicking each other to my constant annoyance and despite my constant admonishments to save that type of play for a different context. A few of my more enthusiastic students have actually tackled me. This behavior does occur amongst the girls as well but at a several degree's of magnitude lower rate. Furthermore I reward my students regularly with rough and tumble games at the end of class, the boys almost invariable jump straight into these games with no hesitation and never seem to tire of them, were the girls often need some convincing to play(though the usual enjoy the games to) and are much more likely to grow board with the game and request a different game.

Of course one could postulate that the boys this difference is cultural conditioned, but just from anecdotal experience this does not make sense to me. If levels of aggressive play was primarily cultural determined one would expect that minimal variation within each sex, or that the child nurture environment would determine there interest in aggressive play. My observations unscientific as the maybe are not consistent with this prediction, their is good deal of individual variance in aggressive play and the most aggressive females overlap with least aggressive males, the reactions of the parents to this play seems to have very little effect on the childs likelihood to engage in it and from what I an observe of the parents behaviors this does not seem to be that predicative either.

However biological factors do seem likely to me to have an effect, the most agressive boys are usually the more muscular heavy boned and generally more masculine boys, the least aggressive boys are often slender and more androgynous, likewise for the girls the more muscular lean strongly featured girls tend to express this type of play more and the slender or softer girls tend to express it less. Of course this is also consistent with studies on the effects of testosterone in behavior from species to species. Female Hyenas are extremely agressive and physical dominant the are also slightly bigger then males and have genitalia that mimic those of the males of their species, they also have circulating testosterone levels that are the same as the males in their species. Testosterone has specific effects, you can see this studying comparing boys to boys, boys to girls, cross cultural and looking at other species. It simple makes no sense to think that this would be entirely cultural mediated.

Humans are subject to the same biochemical processes as other animals, the fact we have developed the most complex cultural complexes of any species yet does not mean that our biological nature simply disappeared at some point. For instance one cultural determinist perspective that has always baffled me is the idea that our sex drive is entirely cultural derived. If our biological nature was successful in getting us to bread going back to the dawn of sexual reproduction I don't see any reason why it would be evolutionarily abandoned when culture came along. Or even how such a process would happen. According to most cultural determinist human culture in it modern form is only 35,000-75,000 years old a mere eye blink of evolutionary time.

On the flip side it is also clear we are not biological automatons. While all human culture engage in sex, in acquiring and consuming food, raising children etc, the ways in which we go about this can be markedly different in a variety of ways and this is were we come to our cultural nature. Biology is entirely insufficient explanation for the differences in social mores concerning say sexual behavior between the USA and say the middle east.

Were human nature gets interesting to me is in those areas were the influence of culture and biology are inextricable linked were you can't easily point to a one or the other as the primary causal influence. Our behavior is so fascinating and my opinion so variable precisely because it is effected by such a wide range of influences, genetic, cultural and environmental. That is the particular interest of this web log.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Women's cultural role in physical exursion

A woman tried to invade a sumo ring in Japan today, which if she had succeeded according to custom would have made the ring unclean. In the article it says Japanese women were also once not allowed to climb mountains or enter mines. Maybe it's just because I had just read this blog about the Masai people (where women really get the short end of the stick), but it just makes me sad how women are considered unclean, tainted, not as good as men, in so many cultures, and how that is reflected in what chores are traditionally assigned to them in different cultures.
Most women were banned across the board from sports until recently, but it was expected of them to do back breaking labor in the fields, or with livestock, or simply building shelter for their families. They have to do all the hard, boring stuff, but men get to have all the fun activities. It is still an issue in some places to allow women to join the country's military (see my earlier post).
Yes, traditionally men go out and hunt for women and children. They go to war. They put their lives on the line for their families. But that shouldn't make women automatically second-class citizens, especially in a culture where food is provided primarily by agriculture and/or livestock (something both genders can do equally well), and war is no longer a common problem.
For the Masai this is not the case. Even though they are technically pastoralists, the men still go on cattle raids regularly and are gone from home a lot risking their lives. But in contrast, even though the Japanese (and the U.S.) have been in major wars in the past 60 years, they've moved beyond their traditional gender roles in so many other ways one would think they'd be able to move past restriction of women in certain arenas or activities as well, and especially using the "cleanliness" of a person's gender as the main criteria.
At the same time, I believe in upholding and preserving traditions and customs. It's also true Japan had very strict gender roles until much more recently that the U.S. or U.K., and really in the end the act of excluding women from the Sumo wrestling ring isn't a huge deal. It's just the overarching trend of looking at women as second-rate when it comes to physical abilities or activities that irks me.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Interesting tidbit about how the internet is taking the place of gossiping - or rather forming strong social bonds - around the campfire.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Attachment and detachment

There have been a lot of studies in the news lately about how humans make connections, with humans and the outside world.
First is an interesting study about how there is a correlation between moms' mental states and what side of their bodies they hold their kids on. What was really interesting to me is according to the study the mom's dominant side (left-handed vs. right-handed), didn't matter.
Speaking of kids, another study showed that kids are able to think abstractly, or "use their imaginations" as the study put it, by age 2, which is earlier than originally thought.
Another study found that college age guys surveyed say they will choose romantic partners over career goals. This survey is actually horribly done, as author of the article points out, because it doesn't specify whether the college age dudes thought of "partner" as a hook-up or as a long-term partner. As also stated in the article, men usually work for prestige and career goals so they can have high status in society and have better luck with chicks; however, if they can skip all that and get a chick anyway, most would. Interestingly, most college-aged women surveyed chose career and education over romantic partner. Smart women.

And finally, though this has nothing to do with the subject at hand, scientists have found a so-called "skinny gene."
What worries me about this is that many people immediately are jumping on the idea that now all we have to do is turn on that gene and it will make everyone skinny, forgetting that gene therapy is still in its infancy (like pre-natal), this gene is everywhere in the body so we don't know what other affects it has (as some clever scientist states in the article), and would be really expensive to do.
All the effort seems a lot harder than just exercising regularly and eating more vegetables. Yes, I know this study proves that some people have to work a lot harder than others at staying slim, but I'm sticking by my guns when I say that the American diet is extremely unhealthy (note the study about an increase of cancer in Chinese women who have adopted a western diet), and if we all just ate more fruits and veggies and less Doritos and Coca-Cola we'd be a lot better off.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hooray for remote sensing

British archaeologists have discovered an 8000-year-old settlement in the British Channel. The silt deposits have preserved wood and other organic matter:
This discovery just reminds me how maritime archaeology really has great potential here in the Pacific Northwest, either looking at shipwrecks or even hunting for similar stone-age civilizations, and it's a shame it hasn't really taken off yet. I am aware of a lot of cutting edge remote sensing technology and technicians at my current job, and I almost want to develop a match-making service for the archaeologists and the remote sensing scientists. They could make beautiful imagery together! Just look at what they found outside of Angkor:
Apparently the area covers over 1000 square kilometers, or 1000 square miles depending which article you read. The smaller estimate is like saying they found the ruins of the entire L.A. basin. And that's on land, where it's relatively easy to do sensing. What else is out there, people?
Another example of successful maritime archaeology and where remote sensing came in/could have come in handy: A city off the coast of ancient Alexandria was recently discovered:

There is also a load of anth and arch news I've missed out on, but I will try my best to give the top-of-the-hour news report:
There have been several tombs recently discovered all over the lower Americas:

In culture, plants known for having medicinal powers in Uganda are being destroyed by overuse by locals, and by a bid to cut down the rainforest and put in a sugar plantation:
U.S. men are experiencing a backlash of the "metrosexual" and are having operations done to look more manly and rugged:
Researchers in the U.K. are finding a correlation between invading marauders from the north and a rise in demon possessions, and not just a thousand years ago:

On the evolutionary front, speaking of the U.K., England is more genetically homogenous today than it was 1000 years ago, according to Rus Hoelzel:
An odd neanderthal skull is adding fuel to the cross-breeding fire:
And, some scientists are saying that teeth found in Asia show that Europeans came from there instead of Africa:
Plus, Rafe was supposed to write some commentary about the latest Leaky skull found, but in the meantime here's a quick article about it:
Just as a personal comment, I find it hilarious that for the 15 years or so before I was in college there was nothing going on in the field of physical anthropology, and now it seems like they can't stop finding bones.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Women want girly men?

Lynda Boothroyd came out with a study that finds that women think more feminine-featured men make better dads:

While this is nothing new, the conclusion that she makes, that women don't like macho men at all, is a bit overstated. She even goes on to say that we shouldn't look at masculinity as an indicator of genetic fitness. The article doesn't state whether a certain question was asked of the study participants, but it is an important question: Just because these people in the study think the more feminine-looking man would make a better father, which type of man are they more likely to want to have sex with? One is not exclusive to the other. It is entirely likely that women would want to mate with a masculine man but have a feminine man help raise the kid, if they could get away with it. There are cultures where women mate with their husbands but their brothers help raise the kids, so these women don't need to worry about whether their husband will be a good dad, they just have to make sure he's got strong swimmers (so to speak), and a powerful position in society.

I think that she needed to go deeper than she did and not frame her conclusions with such a Western frame of mind.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Genetic structure correlates with suicide risk

Fascinating study out of switzerland, showing yet another possible genetic influence on behavior

"There is convergent evidence from adoption, family, geographical, immigrant, molecular genetic, twin and, most recently, surname studies of suicide for genetic contributions to suicide risk. Surnames carry information about genetic relatedness or distance and, in patrilineal surname systems, are a close substitute for Y-chromosome markers and haplotypes, since surname transmission is similar to the transmission of the nonrecombining part of the Y chromosome. This study investigated whether differences in regional suicide rates correspond to the genetic structure of the Austrian population. METHODS: Differences in district-level standardized suicide rates 1988-94 between the five major surname regions identified for Austria were analyzed. The surname regions used in the analysis reflect the contemporary population structure and closely follow the natural borders found in the topography of Austria, less so its administrative division into nine states. RESULTS: Surname region accounted for a significant (P < 0.001) and substantial (38%) portion of the variance in district-level suicide rates. Adjusting the suicide rates for a set of five social and economic indicators that are established ecological correlates of suicide prevalence (income, and rates of the divorced, unemployed, elderly and Roman Catholics) left the results essentially unchanged. CONCLUSIONS: Regional differences in suicide rates within Austria correspond to the genetic structure of the population. The present evidence adds to related findings from geographical and surname studies of suicide that suggest a role for genetic risk factors for suicidal behavior. Genetic differences between subpopulations may partially account for the geography of suicide. Study limitations and directions for future research are discussed."

For the Orangutans, it's all a charade

Doctoral student Erica Cartmill found that Orangutans communicate with each other using gestures, and when their point isn't getting across, they'll adapt their gestures to try and better explain themselves:
Orangutans have been taught sign language before, but Cartmill showed that this is how Orangutans normally speak to each other, or at least to humans who have a tasty-looking banana. These Orangutans had not been taught sign language, and two separate case studies were done at different zoos, so this was really Orangutan improv.
My first thought upon reading this was, "this is is a great demonstration of ape intelligence and how they function together in ape culture."
My second thought was, "I would have loved to do this study if I wasn't so worried about getting my arm ripped off if I didn't give them the banana."

Monday, July 30, 2007

Cultural barrier adds to women's lower pay

Studies by Linda C. Babcock, a professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University, show that not only do women not negotiate for better pay and better positions as often as men, but that women are often frowned upon and penalized if they do:
So basically a Catch 22, unless women don't mind being hated. :/ My problem with the article at least, since I didn't read the studies, was they didn't offer an answer to this dilemma, they just sort of said, "Yup, women are screwed, good luck with that." Maybe they think that just by becoming aware of the issue people will not judge women as harshly for asking for what they want, but that just seems unrealistic to me. To me this falls into the same category as actively promoting Math and the Sciences to girls and being more tolerant of different cultures in schools.

Speaking of math, science, school, and girls, there was also an interesting article on MSN about Danica McKellar's (yes, from The Wonder Years) book that tries to teach middle-school aged girls that Math is cool and ways that it is applicable in their lives, apparently with lots of lip gloss: Now, while I appreciate the effort, I question whether writing it in the style of a teen magazine is really the answer. McKellar acknowledges she wrote it with a specific audience in mind, but, not to sound crass, is that audience going to voluntarily read a book like this, even if it's written in the style of Seventeen? I have no idea, and I don't think anyone else does either, so it'd be interesting to me to see how this book sells.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

What she wore

The BBC reported an incident where a woman in South Africa had her pants stolen in public and her house burned down. Why? Because she was wearing pants instead of a skirt:

Okay, I'm not going to try and be a post-modern type and say "oh, it's all relative, we need to be accepting of other people's cultures." Bull. Burning down a woman's house and stripping her naked because she's wearing pants is horrible and I can't believe people don't get more pissed off about this sort of thing. Even the article's author has this attitude of, "oh, well, she was living in a men's neighborhood, she should have known better." No, no, no! That sort of behavior is inappropriate in any society.
I know this is an extreme case, but even in 1999 the Italian Supreme Court of appeals ruled that a woman's rape was excusable because she was wearing jeans:, so obviously it is still known to happen. This sort of "she/he was asking for it" mentality is just wrong regardless of gender, regardless of culture, regardless of religious beliefs. Period.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Grown-ups and their effect on kids

This is an article about an anthropologist that contends American parents don't need to spend as much one on one time as they do, and if anything it's pretty weird:

My reaction to his hypothesis, and he actually acknowledges this with his Inuit exception, is that Americans are really isolated and we don't have a lot of friends or other kids for our kids to play with, so they're not going to get the same interaction that a kid growing up on the Serengeti might get with others. As a personal opinion, I do feel the whole "Baby Einstein" syndrome thing has gotten WAAAY out of hand.

The second one is about an anthropologist in Finland who is looking at genealogy and birth, death, and marriage records and is finding some really interesting stuff. For example: the girl in a set of mixed-gender twins will have less kids overall.

What's nice is she acknowledges the combination of biology vs. culture, like with the farmland moms versus the "wilderness" moms. I would really like to see this kind of study done in other regions too.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

rules and regulations

A psych study found that women actually have dominant roles in marriage relationships when it comes to anything involving the family unit or couple, including vacations:
This of course flies in the face of a bunch of other studies, but as the article points out most other studies looked at how much money each couple made and used that as a main variable, whereas in this study they asked each couple who makes the decisions on what subjects and used that as their main criteria. I'd like to see this study repeated several times, but at the same time anecdotally it makes sense, or to quote a very amusing movie: "Yes, the man is the head of the house, but the woman is the neck. And the neck can turn the head anyway it wants." (Bonus points to whoever recognizes that quote).

An interesting commentary on how race is perceived in Brazil and how goverment regulations there might actually be reverting the national mentality back to the way it was in the 1880s:,,2124080,00.html

We all talk good

Okay, this took me forever to get to posting, but I still thought it was interesting. A collective study done showed that men and women actually use approximately the same amount of words:

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

News about cities' inhabitants

½ of humanity in will be living cities by next year:

The famous female pharoah Hatshepsut's mummy has been identified as officially her. It was found around the same time as King Tut, but nobody bothered to mess with her until now:

This is an article about how in the past five years Rome's tourists have gotten more drunk and rowdy:
I stayed in the neighborhood they highlight in the article, and as a young American tourist who lives in a college town and didn't stay out past 12:30 a.m., I didn’t think it was that bad. As a resident I could see how having an apartment that looks over the campo de fiori would be annoying if you're trying to get some sleep on a Saturday night, but my reaction was somewhat similar to the author's: it's technically a commercial area, so if you're a resident there then yes, there'll be some noise in the most popular squares. There is almost no noise on the side-streets or smaller squares. But the prude in me agrees that tourists shouldn't be allowed to get away with rude, obnoxious behavior in someone else's backyard.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Women for war, Men for babies

They have now agreed to allow Nepalese women to join the Gurkha army, a reportedly fierce group of warrior-types:

I never understood the whole "well, they want to fight, but we won't let them" thing. No women, no homosexuals, no flat-footed people. To sound completely callous, if someone wants to get themselves killed, let them in, train the crap out of them, give them a gun and let them have at it.

Basically a scientific rant about how men get physiologically ready to have kids too along with their partners:

It's funny because I knew about men having hormonal cycles just like women (just not as dramatically), and it's been proven before that women at least are affected hormonally by smell and being in proximity to other women, so it makes sense that men would be affected the same way, especially when a woman is putting off the amount of hormones that one tends to do during pregnancy, but the author makes a good point that no one really seems to give it much credit. Anecdotally, though, I've seen the effects they mention in men I know who become dads.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

First born sons statistically smarter, with PC spin

A Norwegian study came out recently that found a trend that men who are first in birth-order, either by being born first or having older siblings die young, tend to be a few IQ points smarter than men born second or third. The study's writers also mention a few similar studies done on women that find matching results. This is an interesting study to me on that fact alone.
What really interests me, though, is how this is being covered in the media. Some news outlets are so PC, they can't even report it w/o feeling conflicted about reporting it because it shows biased towards something.

Time is fairly unapologetic about oldest boys being smarter.,8599,1635910,00.html

The SF Chronicle spends two-thirds of the article trying to be PC about it and pointing out, anecdotally, about how it's not always true, and reports it as “first-born kids,” which is technically less accurate.

This is so amusing to me as a journalist and as an anthropologist the way media grabs onto things even slightly sensational make a big deal out of them, and then at the same time try to hedge their bets. Although with the SF Chronicle I think it's more that they know their audience is so liberal that if they didn't write it like that they'd get tons of hate mail.

Friday, May 25, 2007

culture halted and culture preserved

Comet over Canada killed Clovis? (ooh, alliteration):
Rafe has already debunked it.

I don’t know why I thought the Smithsonian would be immune to political pressure, especially when you’re just down the street from the White House…:

Six states in India ban sex-ed because it might be offensive to Indian culture. According to the article, India has the highest amount per capita of HIV.

THIS is what I would love to do as a living: help people preserve traditional culture like this woman is doing in her village
Pull quote: "Traditions were always meant to serve the present," she says. "We may not be fully nomadic, as we were in the past, but we still travel to visit family, or pay respects, or attend initiation ceremonies. Hunting is still hunting, even if our men use rifles and Land Cruisers. Our culture doesn't teach us to hide from new things, and in many ways modern life is easier and less violent than our old ways. But that doesn't mean the altyerre is any less important or sacred to us."
The native Australians and Maori seem to be the most successful at preserving and maintaining, just on what little I've read. It'd be fun to figure out what they're doing right and if it could be applied to U.S. (even if it's just nicer politicians).

Handling various tools

The Museum of Visual Materials opens in South Dakota:
Why this idea rocks: you can touch and play with stuff, and the building itself energy efficient (solar cells, uses roof runoff for irrigation, etc.)

An article discussing how "Women’s work" helped shape human social evolution (including farming, fishing):

Babies learn language WAY earlier than we first suspected:

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Training robots to develop culture

I guess if you break it down that way, what they're doing is in a sense culture, but it's an odd way to go about it. It seems like no more than a 3D computer simulation to me.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Chimps evolving faster than humans?

Preliminary evidence shows that chimps have evolved and mutated faster than humans, which isn't all that surprising considering their life and mating cycle is slightly shorter, but apparently it looks like their genes mutate more each generation:

More research will have to be done on this before anything clear comes out of this. For the moment, I'm not buying the big hoopla that people are trying to make out of this, that they're going to overtake us evolutionarily or something.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Chimps in caves

The same chimps who learned how to use tools now have been seen seeking out caves for shelter:
It won't be long until they start roasting hot dogs over a fire.

Monday, April 9, 2007

The human brain, old and new

Some dude says that the KNM-ER 1470 skull should be adjusted and that the brain therefore weren't as big as originally hypothesized:
Rafe's hero, John Hawks, and others had a great response (summation: No, you idiot!):

New research shows that art classes make you a better doctor:
So, now that they've cut all the art programs from schools, does that mean we'll have stupider doctors? :/

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Richard Dawkins interview on Fresh Air

I was driving home from the store tonight and totally by accident stumbled upon Terry Gross interviewing Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist and author of such books as "The Selfish Gene" and "The God Delusion." Knowing I was going to lose the reception, I raced home, turned on my computer, and downloaded the whole show off of NPR:

I am familiar with his work but have never finished a book of his, but I sat down with my dinner and listened to his interview. These were my first reactions:

First off, he is completely unapologetic about being an Atheist. In fact, half the time I was expecting him to start screaming into the microphone, "The science is right there, you idiots!" although that wouldn't be a very proper British thing to do. While I really admired his "passion for science" as he called it, I found that it made him blind to a couple of things.
One of those things was that most people don't think like him, they don't think like scientists. It's weird because he acknowledges this in the interview, and yet some of the arguments he makes as to why there is no God only make sense or seem logical if you are a very analytical atheist that has already accepted that we must have all evolved using the Darwinian model.
The best example of this was his designer argument:" if life on Earth came from a creator, then the creator has to have been more advanced than us, and must inevitably have evolved somewhere else," which he jokingly concludes means that either we all came from aliens or we had to have just plain evolved on our own. The thing is, he points out earlier in the interview why religious people aren't going to believe that, and he doesn't even realize it. He says that religion is the easy way, the easy answer, and that it takes a lifetime to learn even an iota of how the world really works and that it isn't in fact all magic. Most humans do not have time to study how even an iota of the world works. They have children, they are starving or diseased or at war, they have to get their jobs or get their kids to daycare. So if people don't have time to study why the world works, or even read a summary about how the world works, they'll take the easiest answer they can get, that they can understand.
I do think he has interesting ideas about why we accept what we learned as a youngster so readily: Whatever our parents told us usually kept us alive, so we evolved to listen to and believe our elders.
However, calling social and cross-species morality "a blessed mistake" I think is trying to uncomplicate the idea much too much, although again the family bands/reciprocity theory he mentions makes sense, but just to say that it accidentally carried over into larger society as a whole and to other species I think is generalizing it too much.
He also said that religion is responsible for most wars. I disagree with that. I'll conceed that religion often has an influence or is used as an excuse for wars, but it is not wholly responsible for wars. Maybe the Crusades or some of the jihadists today, but many more of the jihadists are doing it for political or economic reasons.
In the end, I really felt that while Dawkins had a lot of great theories and points and ideas, and a great passion for science and studying human evolution, he is not a great arguer as to why he believes in science over religion. "Because I've looked at the facts, so I know" (actual quote) isn't a strong enough argument as to why he's right and a bunch of religious people are wrong, and that's coming from an atheist who agrees with him. He's absolutely right that the argument "God must have created eyes because eyes are so complicated," isn't any sort of argument, but you can't just respond by going, "Nu-uh!"

Also, judging by the questions Terry Gross asked, I'd say she's either religious herself, or was simply playing devil's advocate the whole time.

symmetrical dancing

Just a quick update before the day starts to get crazy. Yes, technically the sun still isn't officially rising until well after 7:30 a.m. up here in the great white north. It makes me sad.

Anyway, I found this interesting study the other day about how human dancing really isn't all that different than male birds dancing, and we're all just looking for symmetry in our potential mates:,0,6232044.story?coll=sfla-news-science

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Northwest Anthropological Conference

I had such a good weekend: I presented my paper to a round of applause and great questions (which I actually knew all the answers to), I got to hear about some really awesome research going on in the Pacific Northwest, and was just really inspired overall. Eastern Washington reminded me a lot of central California and some places in CA that I grew up, although the trees were wrong (in CA they would have been oak, here they were some taller deciduous), and just the knowledge that is was four hours or more away from the ocean was freaking me out. I left really nice warm sunny weather on Saturday, however, to drive home into cold wet weather, but it still felt good to be coming home.

Friday, March 16, 2007

NWAC 2007 update

I'm at the conference. I'm about to present my paper. That is all.

Boy I'm nervous.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Moody teens and fighting humans and chimps

Recent research shows that there is a biological reason that adolescents are overly-emotional, as opposed to social or psychological reasons: My response: Great, but when do they grow out of it? I know some 21-year-olds who still aren't completely over that stage.

Next, we saw the movie "300" this weekend. It was bloody, but not too bloody, and overall an entertaining film. Rafe's two reactions were very similar to mine: 1) Great translation of what a comic book looks like onto the big screen, boobs included; and 2) "That is the best piece of pro-war, specifically Irag-war, propaganda I've seen!" It was indeed very good propaganda, and as another interesting statement: All the Greeks were played by white, British-looking actors, and all the Persians were played by either Black or Arab looking people (Xerxes was a Brazilian actor). Whites good, dark skin bad? Hmmm. Iranians (modern-day Persia) agree:

Finally, an interesting study for Rafe; one anthropologist has come out with the theory that hominids and our other ancestors evolutionarily kept their short legs for so long because it made them better fighters:
They already had a good reach with their arms, which many scientists assumed was for staying in trees, but this is an interesting take on why we kept our long arms and short legs: to beat each other up better. Woot!

I'm off to Eastern Washington tomorrow to present my paper. I'm not super-prepared, but I'm decently prepared, and have two more nights to practice my delivery.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Chimps use spears!

By popular demand:
Female and juvenile chimps in a certain troop have figured out how to hunt bush-babies with spears. They will shape a stick and sharpen it with their teeth, and then stab the stick into holes they know bush-babies live in. If the stick comes back bloody...score!
A)This is incredible!
B)Reseachers bring up the interesting point that it's females and juveniles, not typically hunters, that are doing this practice. One theory is because they weren't getting enough meat from the males, so they went out and got their own.
C)Ooh, ooh, I just thought of a horrible headline: Female Chimps Empower Themselves! Yay Chimp feminism!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Gettin' schooled

I stumbled upon THE exact/perfect Master's program that I want to/should have applied to, the only major problem being it's in London: But then, staying close to home is probably better for getting a job right out of school, which is important.

A study was released recently that says small schools are better for students than big schools, which is a total "DUH!" to me, but I'm glad some bigwigs are saying it too. Just think, I might be a bigwig someday too! The horror! ;)

Friday, February 9, 2007

Activists the world over

Activists in Washington State are trying to pass an initiative that would annul weddings in Washington after three years if no offspring had been produced (it is in reference to arguments made by the state supreme court):
They acknowledge it's silly, and even some gay activist groups have said they won't sign the petition, but even as a straight person who will probably someday get married and have kids, it's damned amusing.

Evangelical Churchies in Kenya are protesting against a skeleton uncovered by Richard Leakey in the 80's, who is claimed to be the most complete prehistoric skeleton ever found, and it's release to the public this month BECAUSE...they think it would disprove the church on creationism:

Jeez, these people are driving me CRAZY! "No, don't release hard science, because it'll hurt our poor little fragile egos that have to be constantly fluffed by all our adoring fans, um, I mean worshippers, um, I mean GOD's worshippers. It is God's will we close our ears and eyes to actually see how the earth is put together!" Argghhdsdlafj! I don't believe in God, but did it every occur to these people that, assuming there was a god, he might have made the earth a little bit differently than some pompous humans living 1000 years ago wrote it down? Or whenever the first written versions of the Bible came out.

*takes a few deep breaths to regain composure*

In other news, refugees are seeking asylum in Mauritania:
Last I heard Spain finally talked Mauritania into letting them dock. My first thought was: why in the world would you want to seek refuge in Mauritania? They say most of the refugees are from Pakistan or India, and unless they're Muslim it's going to get real awkward real fast. And after listening to Tarn's stories of the place, why aren't they going anywhere else on the West Coast of Africa? I mean, yes, they were trying to get to Europe first, but why would anyone pick Mauritania as their second choice?

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Love is in the air

For you "for-all-eternity" style romantics out there, archaeologists found a pair of 5000-year-old skeletons who had been buried together in a hug

And finally, in a "the love is gone" feeling, Snickers has pulled their superbowl ad because it was deemed homophobic (which it was), but GM has not pulled its suicidal robot ad, which I and others have dubbed in really, really bad taste, and really callous to people who have dealt with depression and suicidal thoughts, and just all around inappropriate.

Monday, February 5, 2007

First, researchers have discovered primate fossils in Yellowstone National Park that date back to way before the first undisputed primate (55 million years ago):

I was surprised that they found this in North America, but then I only know about human migrations, but honestly I have no idea where they’ve found other primate fossils, and they have done research that shows horses actually developed in North America and then moved into Europe and Asia, so migration among the continents seems common enough.

On to humans:
This article talks about how Indian women are “renting” their wombs to infertile couples who can get a better price in India (up to $5000, versus $10,000 in the U.S.):,,0,4100387.story?coll=la-home-headlines
These articles talk about the cultural implications, how it’s mostly lower-middle-class wives, are rich countries taking advantage of people in need, etc., which is all important, but my first thought was about the biology of it all.
More and more research is showing that the lifelong health and nutrition of the mother have a big effect on the fetus. I don’t mean to sound negative, but India is a poor country (hence why $5000 goes such a long way). The country doesn’t have a very good health care system, a lot of Indians probably don’t have very good nutrition, and living in a big Indian city like Mumbai or New Delhi is equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day! They said the majority of these women are living in Anand, which is India’s milk production capital according to Reuters, so the Anand women are possibly healthier overall because of easy access to the milk and they are possibly more prosperous than some other cities, but, bear with me here, I still think it fairly possible that by outsourcing fetus-growth services to a developing nation would result in a lesser-quality product (i.e. baby), as well as putting women at a greater risk for illness and death from the stress of carrying an extra child to term (all these surrogates already have at least one surviving child).
I have spent time in India, and have just spent months writing an article on entrepreneurship in India, and I know that in some ways India is ahead of the game, but in some ways they’re really far behind.
I could be delving into this way too much and I should also point out that so many U.S. women spend their lives drinking Coca-cola and eating McDonald’s, and their kids come out healthy (although they may not stay that way eating that crap), but it just made me stop and think.
Disclaimer: I am also not a mother, medical doctor, or even biological anthropologist, just your average cultural anthropologist who lives with an evolutionary biologist and in a community of hippies that talk about Chakras and don’t drink caffeine while pregnant (although doctors just recently decided a pregnant woman can drink up to three cups of coffee a day without potentially harming the fetus. Just shows that medicine isn’t exact).

Thursday, February 1, 2007

If only women here knew it was that easy

On Orango Island, Guinea-Bissau, the women propose marriage to the man by serving them fish, and the men are culturally bound to accept:

I know a couple of women who would have done this to their boyfriends (or now husbands) if that actually worked in the U.S. Lucky for Rafe I am not interested in getting married anytime soon, and red palm oil is hard to find around here. ;)