Around the Web

The World’s Smallest Violin Plays for the Rich

  • The NYT reports that the rich are walking away from their mortgages “at a rate that greatly exceeds the rest of the population.” I guess all that hard work and talent that won them their high stations in our meritocracy just wasn’t enough. It’s so unfair!

Academia in the MSM

  • Also in the NYT, does this story seem familiar to you? Across the U.S. college and university budgets for administration and recreation are growing while the budgets for instruction are shrinking. Call it the resortification of academia. We may be teaching our courses with TA’s and adjuncts, but we’ve got a awesome new rock climbing wall!
  • Another story that hits close to home, WaPo reports that it’s tough as hell to be a mother and get tenure. Does this sound like you, or your significant other? “Working mothers who devote day and evening hours to parenting duties end up repaying the time at night and on weekends, feeling somewhat like perpetual graduate students.” Here’s a link to the AAUP findings that prompted the news report.

Australopithecus Afarensis

  • In case you missed it, here’s Yohannes Haile-Selassie on NPR’s Science Friday talking about the new partial Afarensis skeleton, Kadanuumuu. The news story from Science is here. This guy must keep pretty busy. Wasn’t he just lead author on that Ardipithecus article?

Heads Up from the AAA

  • The U.S. State Department is raising the fees on American passports by 35%. Don’t forget if you’re going to the AAA’s in Montreal that you’ll need a passport. I’m saving my pennies already and apparently I’ll need a few more, mine expired last month.

Differences of Degree, or Kind?

  • ran a thoughtful post, ‘Do animals keep pets?’ The thought experiment began with a piece in Psychology Today, not a journal, I know, but still an intriguing question. The crux seems to lie in the PT author’s definition of pet as an animal without utilitarian value to its keeper. You don’t need to be Donna Haraway to see the problem with this, mandating a distinction between work and play is a central value to Western cultures. Perhaps the PT author has fallen into the classic trap of naive realism. I see no reason why there should not be a very broad, inclusive definition of pets that subsumes some non-human interspecies relationships.

Bringing Knowledge to the People

  • Here’s some good news, a mall in Dallas, TX, now has its own public library branch. I love my public library, I’m there every week, but its walking distance for me. By making the printed word more accessible (CD’s and DVD’s too, I know) public libraries keep themselves relevant and at the forefront of voters’ minds. And as the parent of small children I know that I seldom go to the mall to shop, usually I’m there because the weather is bad and I’m looking for something to do with my kids. This sounds like a big win and I hope it catches on.


  • Who is WEIRD? People from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic societies are WEIRD. The International Culture and Cognition blog has the abstract of a recent study that claims that the lack of cross-cultural research study participants has skewed behavioral science. Neuroanthropology has a article summary and extensive commentary.

Timewaster: For this week’s web video, a pre-industrial Estonian Simpson’s parody. Enjoy!

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Matt Thompson

Matt Thompson is Project Cataloger at The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia, and currently working on a CLIR ‘hidden collections’ grant to describe the museum’s collection of early 20th Century photography. He has a doctorate in anthropology from the University of North Carolina and a Masters in information science from the University of Tennessee.

4 thoughts on “Around the Web

  1. To me the most striking paragraph in the NYT piece is the following,

    Though it is hard to prove, the CoreLogic data suggest that many of the well-to-do are purposely dumping their financially draining properties, just as they would any sour investment.

    The comment that “The rich are more ruthless” sounds particularly idiotic coming from an economist. One would think he had something to say about the difference between the rich man’s equity which accounts for a relatively small fraction of assets and the middle class consumer’s giving up what may be most of a life’s savings.

  2. On the issue of whether animals keep pets… I found this to be a fascinating topic and not too distantly related to issues regarding what makes humans different then other primates or animals for that matter. At the core of this issue is, for example, whether or not a primatologist should apply anthropormorphic descriptions of primate behavior and whether or not primates have the same (or very similar) human emotions. While I am not a primatologist, having taken graduate level courses in primatology, I was fascinated by this argument and the very “humanistic” approach taken by the Japanese school of primatology. Even with “lower” animals such as cats and dogs I am shocked that “educated” people still believe that animals do not have similar emotions to humans. Coming back to the topic, I for sure certain that my cat views me as his “pet human”. There is no question that I am not in charge of this feral cat who moved into my house. If I try to force him to do something he just bites me. Otherwise he demands for me to pet him, feed him, and rub his belly…or else he nips at me. Am I the only one who has ever been a cat or dog’s pet human?

    Aside from this example, there certainly has been many examples of cross-species friendship behavior found both in domesticated animals (dogs and cats) as well as wild animals (chimps and baboons). In such behavior there certainly isn’t any utilitarian value and so I think that research into such areas is quite valuable in understanding the evolutionary roots of human behavior that go farther back then early primates and much deeper into our evolutionary history as mammals.

  3. Re: Chris,

    It makes sense from an evolutionary perspective that, as we were exerting selective influence on our “neighbour” species, like pre-cats and pre-dogs, they would have been exerting it on us, too!

    Even if you’re limiting your view to a kind of “utilitarianism” in species relations, it’s interesting to consider us a form of canine technology — large domesticated animals that help feed and protect their young, thus improving their chances. Those humanesques who got along better with the caninesques would gain the advantage of utility companions as well as FUZZY SNOOGUMS GOGGIES! uh, sorry, had a bit of an episode there.

    And what if the coevolution of human/dog and human/other sociality also had feedback on shaping the kind of social ties we develop with eachother? Are there mutually “pet-like” relationships between humans whose pedigree comes from the experience of protecting and living with companion animals as well as other human(esque)s? ^_^

  4. Those interested in this topic might find it interesting to peruse Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-eye View of the World. Consider the human being as a mechanism for spreading the apple or potato.

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