Around the Web

Obama’s Kenyan behavior

  • What’s it called when you ascribe a person’s thoughts and behavior to biological origins? Oh yeah, that’s scientific racism and the Boasians debunked it like 100 years ago. Mayhaps Newt Gingrich is a little slow on the uptake as he was quoted saying, “What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?” Got that? Obama’s difference, his otherness if you will, is best explained by the fact that he’s part Kenyan (biology) and not because of the way he was raised by his white grandparents in Kansas (culture).
  • Gingrich is championing a recent Forbes piece by Dinesh D’Souza who holds that Obama Jr got his “anti-colonial ideology” from the father he met only once.

Anthropology Rocks:

  • My favorite lecture to give in General Anthropology is the Upper Paleolithic because (1) the sudden burst of human creativity in the archaeological record is mysterious which grabs students’ attention and (2) the cave art makes for a great Power Point presentation which students seem to crave from professors, but which I seldom do. You can be sure I’ll be sharing these two links:
  • “Inside Lascaux” is a Time-Life produced slide show of rare and previously unpublished cave art images from that famous cave.
  • The Sydney Morning Herald provides a web video about Aboriginal rock art in northwestern Arnhem Land that documents native encounters with colonizers.

The culture of “Cultural Policy”

  • The blog Cultural Property writes in hopes of altering the way those in power conceive of so-called traditional culture or folklore. Here folklorist Dorry Noyes wrestles with key assumptions she terms “too simple.” In their place she offers “better” evidence based treatments though they are less tidy than the common sense she seeks to critique. For example replacing: “Cultural diversity is a scarce resource, so all traditional culture should be preserved,” with “Cultural invention and differentiation are ongoing, and forgetting is as necessary as remembering for life to go forward… AND the poor lack the freedom of choice possessed by the rich as to maintaining their traditions. This is a problem of inequality, not of cultural difference.”

Amazon Basin shows signs of life

  • Various archaeologists, who do not appear to be working in concert, are developing complementary historical reconstructions of a pre-Columbian Amazonia that features complex societies with massive cities and agriculture. I was not aware that these amount to “controversial” claims, but then I am not an archaeologist. This beautifully written piece comes from Juan Forero, who covers Columbia and Venezuela for the Washington Post.

Virtual girlfriends, real vacations

  • Developing romantic relationships with video-game girlfriends is a popular past time in Japan. Now the software developer behind the best selling sim-dating game is offering gamers a chance to stay immersed in that fantasy world at a vacation resort outside of Tokyo. Simply scan a bar code with your smart phone at select attractions and you can have a bystander take you and your girlfriend’s picture “together.”

“Learning styles”: Threat or menace?

  • A much circulated NYT article about improving study habits reports findings that debunk many popular education theories such as the importance of teaching styles or whether a student is a “visual learner” or “left brained,” etc. Recommendations include alternating study environments rather than always studying in the same place, mixing content rather than focusing on one thing, spacing study sessions, and self-testing.
  • Neuroanthropology has an appreciation for the piece.
  • Just the other day I spent the evening helping my 2nd graders through a homework assignment: writing a letter to George Washington. It took forever! Mostly I think they are rusty, coming off summer vacation they haven’t switched into school mode just yet. However, a significant part of the problem seemed to lie in the fact that they don’t really know what a “letter” is.

The American middle-class — it was fun while it lasted

  • The Great Divergence is a investigative series on and actually quite grounded in scholarly economics. It seeks to uncover the cause to growing income inequality in the U.S. Timothy Noah surveys a diverse field of economic experts and finds, “few of these experts have much idea how to reverse the trend. That’s because almost no one can agree about what’s causing it.” The attached slide show gives a broad overview of piece, making the case for the existence of growing inequality and the explanatory insufficiency of the “usual suspects” such as race and gender inequalities or the political party in power and the tax policies they set. Part Six on the decline of organized labor gives a sense of where Noah is taking this argument.
  • Celebrity liberal Michael Moore wishes everyone “Happy Fuckin’ Labor Day”, especially Rahm Emanuel. “Did you know that back when I was a kid if you had a parent making a union wage, only one parent had to work?! And they were home by 3 or 4pm, 5:30 at the latest! We had dinner together!” Uhm… now that you mention it, that sounds pretty good actually…
  • Timewaster: The Onion usually sticks to parody, but occasionally they serve up satire worthy of Swift. Enjoy!

Garbage In = Garbage Out

  • If I had more time at the moment (it being the start of the semester and all) I would devote an entire blog post to deconstructing this highly amusing yet deeply flawed “statistical” study about personal preferences broken down by race and gender using self-reported data from 526,000 users of a popular online dating service. The results, which are occasionally hilarious and provocative, went viral last week so apologies if you’ve already seen it. I’ll have to be content to let SM readers blast this piece and find the best jokes themselves.

One courageous woman, two men convicted for their beliefs

  • Kudos to the Lebanese editor of an Arab language erotica journal for continuing to publish in the face of death threats and for articulating a congruence between the subjugation of women in Christianity and Islam.
  • Amnesty International calls for the King of Saudi Arabia to commute the death sentences of two men accused of “sorcery”.

Evolution of religion/ Religion as selective pressure

  • Here’s an NPR story on how religion may have been evolutionarily advantageous for the human species. I think this is a valuable undertaking though I’ll admit to being prejudiced against evolutionary psychology, I don’t trust it any farther than I could throw it. Behavioral ecology is one thing, but I’m simply not convinced that “belief” can be reduced to “behavior”. Neither do I see them as equivalent to tacit and explicit culture, nor do I follow any neat relationship between religion and altruism. The role of evolution in contemporary human behavior is a field where anthropology ought to be a leader but it seems psychology carries more of a public voice.
  • Less contentious (for science anyway) is religion as a means by which humans interact with their natural environment. In this report, evolutionary ecologists conducting research in southern Mexico documented a indigenous ritual where locals use a root toxin to stun cave fish for harvest. The ecologists then showed that the population in the cave where the ritual took place were more resistant to the toxin than the same species in caves where the ritual is not practiced.


  • NYT Video presents this short piece on the Malagasy funerary rite, Famadihana, wherein crypts are opened and the corpses of ancestors are carefully lifted out for dancing and celebration.

In memoriam

  • Allen Dale June, 91, was one of the original developers of the Navajo Code Talkers. A much celebrated system of communication that was subsequently used by several hundred Navajos to send thousands of messages in the Pacific Theater during the Second World War.

Seen something around the web that you’d like to share with the Savage Minds community? Email me at mdthomps AT

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.

8 thoughts on “Around the Web

  1. You are grossly misunderestimating The Forbes piece. It states in its conclusion that Obama is the last person on earth to care about colonialism. Endless rolls of laughter.

  2. Editorial note: Obama was not raised by his white grandparents in Kansas. His white grandparents were from Kansas, but they had moved to Hawaii before his birth and lived there the rest of their lives. I suspect that the Hawaii culture he was raised in was more influential than the Kansas culture his grandparents brought was them.

  3. Concerning the NPR story on ethical behavior and religion, which I heard in the car the other day, I think part of the problem is the uncritical way that religion is being defined. In the story religion is defined as a belief in someone or something watching you, i.e., deism.

    This disregards the wide variety of religious beliefs and behaviors found among humans over historical time. Rather than different forms of deism, I thin Rappaport had it right when he said that social behavior was all about trust (something also pointed out in the story), and that belief was tied to unquestioned principles. These principles were reaffirmed socially through ritual behavior. This is also a major aspect of Turner’s work, which ties the profane to the ineffable through ritual behavior and symbols.

  4. Why, what would the Founding Fathers think of such an anti-colonial attitude? *loyal British crown subject of Canada lol* 😉

  5. As a regular reader of SM, now based in Cairo where I’m doing my dissertation fieldwork, I was interested to see the link above to the BBC piece on Joumana Haddad’s magazine Jasad and her new (English language) book “I Killed Scheherazade: Confessions of an Angry Arab Woman.”

    However, I’d like to add, if I may, a little extra context. Haddad’s book was discussed in the Guardian, where it received a glowing review which included an interview with/profile of the author:
    It also was covered in the Independent:

    This press in the Western media elicited responses and reactions within the Arab media/blogsphere as well, ranging from the critical:

    to the more constructive:

    The latter link is an open letter from the editor of the queer arab magazine (a magazine that is arguably much more controversial than Haddad’s).

    Without dismissing Haddad’s courage, commitment, or the importance of her work, I think that a forum like SM is also a space where articles like the BBC or Guardian ones could (and should) be critiqued.

    Haddad is certainly not the only Arab woman to be writing about controversial issues around sex and oppression, or challenging gender norms and expectations in the region. It seems worth considering how, and perhaps why, she has become a media darling in the West, celebrated in profiles that, without fail, mention her physical appearance–not only as unveiled but more specifically as wearing an “electric blue mini-dress, neon pink nails, aggressive heels, vivid makeup and cascading hair” (from the Guardian piece), while other people, doing similar work, are not always so celebrated, especially if they do not have the kind of linguistic access or photogenic appeal that Ms. Haddad has.

    But that being said, I look forward to reading her book, and appreciate the link, I just was hoping for a slightly more nuanced approach to the issues at stake here from SM.

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