Friday, February 20, 2009

Academic Earth: Have We All Seen This?

"Thousands of video lectures from the world's top scholars." All (except Anthropology. There isn't any) here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Oh Dear, Student Sues LA Community College

Anybody see the story which seems to have started at the O'Reilly Factor and made its way around any number of conservative advocacy blogs about the student who alleges he was discriminated against for his Christian beliefs? The student is suing his professor and a long list of administrators at Los Angeles Community College. I am reluctant to post many details since the story that is being endlessly repeated is based mostly on the student's versions of events and a handwritten document and one letter from the school's Dean. Here is the LA Times version of the story.

The lawyers (discussed below) of the student have placed their suit and the supporting documents online at their site here:

It is a large download but quite a read.

His lawyers are the Alliance Defense Fund which is an organization started by James Dobson of Focus on the Family fame. This is from their web site:

The Alliance Defense Fund is the only legal ministry in the United States that provides regular, extensive, and top-level training through an accredited academy program to help practicing attorneys successfully defend and reclaim religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, and marriage and the family.

If you make your way through the documents, you will notice they have sued everyone at the College even though the College was working its way through an investigation and disciplinary action. We still don't have the professor's testimony. I know our speech teachers deal with issues of students trying to give persuasive speeches for informative ones all the time. More than that I won't comment on without the full story.

I remember many years ago when I was teaching an upper level course on the Peoples of Africa. I had assigned a reaction paper on Conversations with Ogotemmeli. One of the students wrote a paper that argued that the piece was proof that "we all believe in the same God, praise Jesus". That is a quote. I crossed out the latter phrase and gave the student a "D" for not really addressing the assignment. He filed a grade appeal against me. Later, I got a note from the committee (yes, there was a faculty review committee--with no anthropologist on it) saying that while they had upheld my grade they thought my comments were a bit "harsh". I think I forced 6-7 colleagues to read those comments, I was so disturbed. Scary. Very scary.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Zimbabwe: Looking for good sources? Here is one.

One of the scariest things about Robert Mugabe, is the way that he slips with ease into the category known as Crazy African Despot. And this just serves to further reinforce every horrendous stereotype about Africans most students in America hold.

In reality, its difficult to sort out what is happening in Zimbabwe. Most mainstream press reports are controlled by the narrative supplied by the White Rhodesian Farmer Who Has Been Relieved of His Land and American and British corporate nationalistic concerns. After all, Mugabe has chosen to sell Zimbabwe's choicest resources to China for the past several years. And American and Great Britain have been levying a series of sanctions against him which have, at minimum, not helped with Zimbabwe's economic woes.

And then there is the whole forced IMF restructuring the country experienced. I saw first-hand how difficult the situation was in Tanzania when they were forced to comply with those directives in the 1980's.

Finally, and most disturbingly, there is the sneaky way that stories about "savage Africa" so easily make their way into Western consciousness. We are far too ready to believe the worst: irrationality and inhumanity.

How nice to stumble across a blog, entitled Zimbabwe Review, that helps us contextualize reports in the popular press. The blog author is a Zimbabwean journalist and agricultural consultant who is, apparently, now based in Dakar but at one time ran an agricultural business in his home country of Zimbabwe. He has a long list of articles about Africa which are linked here.

He has a nice piece calling for an objective view of the Zimbabwe situation and expressing his own frustrations with the Western narrative about Africans that makes "us" easily misrepresent the situation in Zimbabwe. here. This article could be used in class as a powerful corrective to many student's assumptions.

You can check out his most recent post: Zimbabwe’s continuing land contestation and the symbolisms of ex-farmer Roy Bennett’s legal troubles for a thorough and rational discussion of the latest news out of Zimbabwe.

Basketball IQ: A New Sports Metaphor for America, Decision-making, Politics, and, well...Life

I guess we all learned something about Balinese Cock-Fighting from Clifford Geertz. We have probably all spun a story in our classes of the meaning of football to Americans--that old claiming of territory, fighting for turf, Manifest Destiny, three chances and then the punt and we try again another day. Not quite like cricket, certainly not like Trobriand Cricket.

Or do you mention Baseball? That great metaphor for the American life cycle and sex: first, base, second base, home run, score. Perhaps, you, like me, pontificated on the comparison with Japanese baseball--having at some time in the past read You Gotta Have Wa. Carefully delineating the differences between the two became an exercise in watching all that rehearsed lecture and properly tested for "need for cultural relativism" concept crumble away as students incredulously responded, "That's just wrong". (Proof, I might add that there is a difference in knowing and "knowing". And a good moment to reinforce my belief in small classes and discussion-oriented teaching with the Powerpoints off and the Wikis down. Hello. Teachable Moment. Commercial over. Back to our regular programming.)

This piece, The No-Stats All-Star, just up at the New York Times, discusses what may be the new model for a new America. Contained with in it? The possibility of a discussion about the baseball message of group success tied with individual success, contrasting with basketball a sport where the dynamic tension between group and individual is a negotiated terrain. Seems basketball lies mid-way between American baseball and Japanese baseball. Go even further and we are faced with a new road map of thinking about thinking. You work the process and the stats (all new, non-individualized stats, well, perhaps I should say, more inter-meshed stats; no more stand-alone stats) as long as you can--the "weak force" of Battier impinges upon the "strong force" that is Kobe Bryant (to borrow some physics metaphors) as much as it can--and, at some point, randomness takes over.

Could I just pause and say that this article was the about the best thing I have read this year. Seriously, it is tremendous fun, tremendously interesting, and just really tremendous--in a non-saving the world kind of way. (But I am biased, having devoted many hours in the pursuit of basketball knowledge at U-Hall, screaming, myself hoarse while an uber-gangly Ralph Samson struggled with knobbly knees)

And because as the author argues, basketball is the sport that is "most like life". We need to keep going. Because in the world of "weak forces" the metaphor is spreading. For even though, POTUS Obama is a devoted White Sox fan, he is a player of basketball. So, in this mornings Sunday morning press round-up we get nothing less than 5 former NBA All-Stars gathered around John King of CNN analyzing his game. Verdict--America, welcome to the world our left-handed point guard with the ability to read the floor. (The video of this bit of political theater isn't up yet.) Edited: the video is up at this link but the embed function isn't working.

My 403(b) account prays that this is so. Of one thing I am sure, if Rush Limbaugh is standing in for Shane Battier, his IQ won't allow him to pull it off, cause he is one weak, weak force.

As the NYTimes piece concludes: "The process had gone just as he hoped. The outcome he never could control."

Edited to add a link to the NYTimes review of You Gotta Have Wa which was published quite some time ago.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Things your cool students are into

I am using this Flight of the Conchords bit on "The Issues" as an intro to my HIV/AIDS discussion this semester. Its long but hang in there for the diseases from monkeys bit. Its well worth it.

Oh, and, Stop Touching Those Monkeys.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Best Blogs on Africa

From African Politics Portal, two links to two lists.

My individual perspective on the group....

I was reading one of those pieces in the New York Times that all educated people are supposed to read so that you can say to your colleagues, yes, I saw that.....or maybe even you don't ever have say you read it but you have to be ready to say you read it, just in case.......

This was the one about Darwin. Anthropologists have to read all stories about Darwin. Just like all historians have to read all stories about Lincoln. It just works that way. Its an example of something. I think.

Anyway, back to Darwin. I, actually, found something relevant for the blog--which is about teaching anthropology, in case you forgot. This is the part that worked me up (snipped out of context):

“More and more I’m beginning to think about individualism as our own cultural bias that more or less explains why group selection was rejected so forcefully and why it is still so controversial,” says David Sloan Wilson, a biologist at Binghamton University.

Okay, I am not commenting on the group selection issue. A woman has to know her limitations and that would be mine. But the cultural bias of our individualism is something I deal with every, single day in class. It is so very, very difficult to get most students away from their default thinking of individual first. So few have much of a concept of "the group". Without a doubt, we have raised up a group of reductionist thinkers. Psych enrollments are three to four times Soc ones at our institution and nationwide.

I have got to the point where I just chant group level, group level, periodically during lecture because I know they are almost always putting themselves in individual shoes and "feeling" not analyzing from that wider perspective. Everybody into the pool.

Better go head on over to Neuroanthropology to see if they have something about what I was supposed to learn from that article. See you there.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire 101

I have been watching this story play out and making the decision on when to comment. I think we have, finally, hit the right moment--at least for me.

I saw the movie with friends over the Superbowl weekend and in various ways, I have been collecting thoughts since then.

It is, of course, an American movie. Made by a British Director and based on a story, originally, penned by an Indian author but still an American tale, owing far more to Hollywood than Bollywood. And that has sparked a wave of Indian protests. The Wikipedia entry is a good place to start if you aren't familiar with the details of the film. Someone has been working hard to collect the big picture on that big picture.

Matthew Schneeberger points the way to our first Teachable Moment in his reaction to the Indian criticism of the film: "Say an Indian director travelled to New Orleans for a few months to film a movie about Jamal Martin, an impoverished African American who lost his home in Hurricane Katrina, who once had a promising basketball career, but who -- following a drive-by shooting -- now walks with a permanent limp, whose father is in jail for selling drugs, whose mother is addicted to crack cocaine, whose younger sister was killed by gang-violence, whose brother was arrested by corrupt cops, whose first born child has sickle cell anaemia, and so on. The movie would be widely panned and laughed out of theatres." I am not sure I agree with that, given the appearance of the movie Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire.. But, his point is well-taken.

The extended and spot-on critique by Indian film makers and critics in the section entitled Reactions from India and Indian Diasporathat follows gives a far more realistic discussion of the film than is occurring in the American press. We want to love this film despite its shortcomings. Must be doing something important for us is all about us, after all. So, as usual, I began thinking about what it does for us--been mulling it all week.

As the Superbowl extravaganza rolled on before me the film was fresh in my mind and I was amused to see the theme of the movie roughly reiterated in the second highest rated fan favorite commercial according to the USA Today poll: ah, the power of mystic love, pure beauty and unexplored instant attraction and the special thread of human connection, as revealed by horses. Yes, our smitten Clydesdale in pursuit of Daisy the circus horse, what obstacles is he willing to overcome to get to her?

Does it sound to you like the clowns are speaking with a Hindi accent?

This morning's New York Times' columnist Frank Rich gives us our next Teachable Moment. Seems the real theme of the movie is the triumph of integrity and a call to populist arms. As Rich argues: This is why “Slumdog Millionaire,” which pits a hard-working young man in Mumbai against a corrupt nexus of money and privilege, has become America’s movie of the year. As Robert Reich, the former Clinton labor secretary, wrote after Daschle’s fall, Americans “resent people who appear to be living high off a system dominated by insiders with the right connections.”

Okay. Interesting. That really is all about us. Can't we find something that has something to do with India? At all? Just a little?

From the Wikipedia article, we get this critique of the film, 'Shyamal Sengupta, a professor of film studies at the Whistling Woods International Institute for Films, Media, Animationa and Media Arts in Mumbai, criticized the film for its stereotypical portrayals of Indians by calling it a "white man's imagined India. It's not quite snake charmers, but it's close. It's a poverty tour."'

The criticism is apt. But I find myself grateful that our white man's imagined tour has progressed a bit. India, at least, has passed the victimization model of the poverty tour. The people in that teeming squalor are evincing the message of self-determination and demand our respect. Check out the the theme pursued by Foreign Policy magazine in their photo essay on "India's Real-World Slumdogs"

Seems we are now faced with visions of slums which are "actually vibrant business centers filled with scrappy entrepreneurs".

Now, if only in the American hierarchy of views of "the Other", we could get past "the Other" of starving, passive Africans. Maybe then, we could stop trying to "save" them and see them as the "scrappy entrepreneurs" that mirror our own admired personality characteristics. Somali, "scrappy entrepreneurs", anyone?

Edited: I couldn't resist trying to play with the blog post format a bit and lead with the picture of our hero as a young boy looking toward the sun from his foul toilet and ending with him from on high looking out over the world which he now commands. From scrappy to happy, huh?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Babies? Anyone have any babies?

For those of you who have enjoyed my past Angelina Jolie rant: a moment of fun. Seems even SNL has realized that she jumped the shark:


Its a double post day! Two posts. Two videos. What more could you want?

Super Bowl Debriefing

According to the USA Today Super Bowl Ad Meter the fan favorite in the commercial competition (you didn't think the game was about football, did you?) was the "Free Doritos" commercial depicted above.

Teaching Anthropology in no way implies an endorsement of Doritos through the posting of the commercial on this blog. In fact, your blogger has a healthy fear of said, tasty chip. The father of her college roommate told her many years ago that, as a thoracic surgeon, he saw many patients who had insufficiently chewed their Doritos, thereby, causing scratches in their throat which then became infected and had to be operated on. This operation, alone, in one patient, was sufficient to pay his daughter's entire semester at school (state college tuition). That is what he told me. Honest. I have, however, no knowledge of the veracity of this statement. Although, she did drive a new Olds Delta 88 when the rest of us were holding open the butterfly choke of a 1973 Ford Torino and praying enough air would get sucked into the carburetor to start the sucker.

Anyway, other than the rather adolescent joys of fun with breaking glass and fun hitting the boss in the crotch with crystal balls--or better yet, the fun of the dumb guy in the office hitting the boss in the crotch with a ball, I became intrigued with the choice of object to be hurled.

Why a "crystal ball" (which, actually, looked a tad "snow-glob-by"). A statement of real, live force over mystical powers? Did we all secretly delight in seeing an object which channels "magical properties" showing us the future hurled into a machine? After all, the future is no longer looking so bright we gotta wear shades. Nor do things look quite so magical when our national dialogue seems to be centered on the issues of waking up to a cold reality after years of legerdemain and slights of hand?

Forgot to add: Please chew your Doritos, thoroughly.