Savage Minds Around the Web

Anthropology for Ambivalent Times: Dahr Jamail at wrote a really good polemic about the fate of HTS under the Obama administration.  Jamail raises the usual points about the ethical impossibilities of protecting anthropological subjects while working for the U.S. military.  In addition, Jamail’s report warns that the Obama administration’s new pro-science, pro-diplomacy, pro-development policy could turn HTS into a less controversial but all the more dangerous program that uses neocolonial soft power to accomplish its ends.  [Many thanks to Wilhelm Scream for emailing me the link to this article.]

Semiotically Tested, State Approved:  Material World posted a photoessay by Kseniya Makarenko  Janet Borgerson on the use of marketing, nostalgia and state regulation in the packaging of CCCP (USSR) brand ice cream.  The branding of the ice cream references emblems of the Soviet-era (like sputnik and the state symbol of quality products) to evoke a complicated relationship towards prestige and consumption.  

Reality Check:  A television network in Spain is being criticized for mistreatment of several indigenous Namibians during their participation in a reality show titled “Lost in Tribe.”  The show follows three middle-class Spanish families as they integrate themselves with different Namibian tribes.  A South African news source has criticized the misrepresentation of various ethnic groups.  One family was told that the women in a certain tribe do not have the right to bathe, but members of the tribe bathe less because of local water scarcity.  A more disturbing report by American Free Press (carried on google news) alleges that some of the Namibian children were prohibited from going to school during production and that participants were woefully under compensated. 

Double Reality Check:  The Wall Street Journal reviewed a new book by social anthropology PhD and financial journalist Gillian Tett. Tett’s new book, Fool’s Gold: How the Dream of a  Small Tribe at J.P. Morgan was Corrupted by Wall Street Greed and Unleashed a Catastrophe, explores the culture of meritocracy among a small group of financial analysts, who were encouraged to find innovative solutions to classic financial problems and would end up creating derivatives.  Tett argues that it was the substitution of this original spirit of innovation for one of exploitation that caused the abuse of derivatives and instability in the U.S. market.  Agree or disagree, but it is a nice break from the simple explanation that the pure self-interest of traders and bankers run amok is to blame for the financial crisis.

Academic Makeover: Uwire carried an article from the Harvard Crimson on the restructuring of the liberal arts and sciences in light of a $220-million dollar deficit expected over the next two years.  Attached to the warning of major restructuring (or cutbacks) was an announcement of the new department of Human Evolutionary Biology that would take over the bio-anthro wing of the anthropology department.  

Out of Time and Place:  Stephen Chrisomalis at Glossographia relates this story about being the only anthropologist at a medievalist studies conference.  Upon reflection, Chrisomalis wonders what kind of disciplinary crossover and collaborations are possible. 

No Peaking in the City:  [Carried from Visual Anthropology of Japan].  Google has agreed to reshoot its street view (the 360 degree photograph mode on google maps) in Japan after several complaints that the shots captured images from inside private residences.

4 thoughts on “Savage Minds Around the Web

  1. The Dahr Jamail piece questioning anthropologists and Human Terrain and counterinsurgency development projects raises new questions about what the hell we are trying to do in Afghanistan. I hadn’t made the connection between Obama’s mama and HTS in this way: “I am left to wonder how anthropologist Ann Dunham, Barack Obama’s mother, would have reacted to her son’s reliance on such clearly unethical anthropological means to achieve political ends so aligned with neocolonialist goals of occupation and subjugation?”

  2. James: It’s an interesting question. The problem facing Obama may well be political — HTS has been very effectively framed by the Army (with articles in the NYTimes, appearances by Petraeus on the night show circuit, etc.) as a way of reducing violence and saving lives. That the lives saved are ostensibly people that we would kill but might not if counterinsurgency works is obscured. The point is, to pull back from counterinsurgency the way it is currently framed would be easily spun as condoning the killing of civilians — a tough spot for a president who is popular only among citizens and not so much among the power apparatus he relies on to get anything done.

    I’m not saying Obama wants to but can’t; I’m saying that there’s little reason to suppose that he wouldn’t buy into the promise of counterinsurgency as easily as anyone else, especially when it’s in his political interest to do so.

  3. What Dustin says sounds right to me, only if, however, we assume that HTS is a problem for Obama in the first place. Given what the man has on his plate, HTS is, I suggest, unlikely to be a high-priority issue for him.

    Start with the realization that since Obama the candidate made a point of arguing (1) that he was not against all wars and (2) that the previous administration was fighting the wrong war. Then, and this may have been a mistake, however politically effective, he focused attention on Afghanistan as the place where the right war should be fought. So now he is stuck with a war in a geopolitically important place where, historically, wars have been very hard for outsiders to win. It might be wise to simply walk away, but given everything else he has to deal with, the economy, energy, education, healthcare, a new Supreme Court Justice, bailing and taking the hit for turning out to be just another wimpy liberal is not on. And Pakistan really does have nuclear weapons and really is very close to being a failed state.

    So what does this imply? I see Obama as confronting a situation much like the one that Lincoln faced in the early years of the Civil War. I expect to see several generals tried out and then replaced. I expect to see all sorts of experimentation. Best case scenario, some nation-building scheme works out; but that seems unlikely. I expect to see lots of failure and lots of grief until Obama finds his Grant and Sherman, when things will get really bloody.

    I hate this possible outcome and it could, of course, be nothing more than dark fantasy. But even in the best case, the notion that HTS is a burning issue for Obama strikes me as more than a little far-fetched.

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