New Bones on the Block: I am a cultural anthropologist with an abiding love for evolution but as a non-specialist I often have to rely on the popular press to keep me up to speed on the latest fossil finds. That’s why it’s handy to have John Hawks’ Weblog around, check out this excellent rundown of the Australopithecus Sediba find in South Africa which links to beautiful National Geographic images of the bones. There has also been a discovery of a new species of Homo at Denisova Cave in Russia’s Altai mountains (that’s where Russia, China, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan come together). This fossil is dated at 40,000 years old, making it coeval with Neanderthal and Sapiens, but according to mitochondrial DNA evidence it is neither. Tuva-Online offers an insider’s perspective on the dig. Who knew that Tuva had an English language web presence? Richard Feynman would be proud.
No dinero in the desert: Everyone knows times are tough, especially at the state and local level where decreased revenue has led to drastic cuts in even ordinary governmental services. Now the state of Arizona is making good on its threat to shutter its state parks, but as NPR reports many fear that will put Hopi ruins at risk of looting. In the bad old days looters would ransack these and other historical sites for pottery and artifacts. I wonder if the budget crisis continues for long enough will the Arizona state government show willingness to recognize Hopi sovereignty over archaeological sites on public lands? Or perhaps seek to acquire operating funds by privatizing public lands and letting tribes have the option to buy? Where one state recedes another might expand.
No dinero in the academy, either: And while we’re on the subject of states’ budget crisis, the New York Times corroborates what everyone already knows — that across the nation salaries for professors are stagnating. Course if you’re lucky enough to have a job don’t let them catch you complaining about that 1.2% raise in the face of 2.7% inflation. And that paltry sum doesn’t even reflect the how inhospitable the economic climate is for adjuncts or the furloughs that many full-timers are experiencing. No doubt the defunding of higher education will pinch graduate students too, as the Chronicle of Higher Education reports that even the grading of essay assignments can now be outsourced to India. The Cranky Linguist shares the tale of a friend of his in Louisiana who taught a class and wasn’t paid, until he raised enough of a stink.
Dean Ex Machina: Elsewhere in Louisiana, a truly bizarre case of a dean removing a tenured professor mid-semester and raising all of the students’ grades. The justification for this radical action? Among the students enrolled in one class 90% were making a D or worse. I am wholly sympathetic towards the professor in question who has fallen victim to a complete breakdown in leadership on the part of the LSU administration. Like many academics I worry about the creeping consumer culture in higher ed where the professor merely delivers a product that the student has paid for. At the same time if it’s mid-semester and 90% of your kids are making a D or worse than you are not successfully communicating to your audience and need to make major adjustments in your methods.
Pretty pictures: Want to see some really small projectile points? Of course you do!
The work of visual anthropology in the age of digital reproduction: Periodically I receive junk mail in my campus mailbox promoting ethnographic documentaries that look interesting and while I enjoy flipping through the brochures they always wind up in the recycle bin. Two reasons for this: they are expensive to adopt and I would have to wait who knows how long just to preview them. Instead I rely on my library’s media collection and Netflix, which has programs like Nova but none of these anthropological features. I’ve been pondering John Jackson’s recent blog post on the influence of capitalist culture on ethnographic filmmaking and the hypermarketization of academia. Parenthetically he suggests we need to rethink distribution too, but he doesn’t run with the idea or flesh out how changes in distribution might affect content and form. What would he think of Michael Wesch’s now classic “An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube”, which as of this writing has more than 1,358,000 views? Seems like he’s getting his message across to a very broad audience and making it for cheap for the consumer. Milena Popova, an economist by training, complements this argument claiming that content is a public good. This is not to say that content must always be free, but I do think that we ought to rethink ethnography as something other than the production of commodities like books and films.
The Function of Farmville: First a disclaimer. I am not a Farmville player, okay? I will admit to wasting a ridiculous amount of time on Facebook, but I just do not enjoy playing SuperheroMafiaZoo or whatever. That said I am intrigued by the notion that all those Facebook games really “do” something for the people who are playing them. I’m not completely convinced by Tricia Wang’s argument (yet) that it helps to perpetuate less-meaningful social ties, but I do think she’s done some important ground clearing simply by identifying the issue. I mean, there are more people on Farmville than Twitter? Just, wow.
Timewaster: And finally, if you think the tragically ludicrous and the ludicrously tragic is more than just when a clown dies, check out Foreign Policy’s photo essay on the world’s ugliest monuments and memorials. I really like the 131-foot tall stainless steel statue of Genghis Khan.