Uncategorized

Beauty is only city-deep

From MSNBC (with a few edits because I can’t help myself):

Women’s magazines often spread the same message: Money may not buy you happiness, but beauty certainly will. A new study has actually proven that the women’s magazines were right — so long as you live in the city. But if you’re a country girl, it’s more of a case of “pretty is as pretty does.”
Researchers have found that happiness for city women is quite dependent upon physical appearance. But in the country, looks don’t count for much in terms of overall life satisfaction and happiness, according to a new study in the journal Personal Relationships.
 
“City women who were the most attractive got a lot of bang for their appearance buck,” says the study’s lead author, Victoria Plaut, a visiting assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, and an assistant professor at the University of Georgia. “And if you were even slightly below average, you were very clearly worse off.”
When it came to women living in the country, there was no connection between physical appearance and happiness. Even more interesting — there was a slight trend in the data for women in the country to be happier if they were chubbier, Plaut says.
For the new study, Plaut and her colleagues interviewed 257 women who lived in the city and 330 from the country. The women were asked to rate their satisfaction with life, their connectedness with friends and community, and their general level of happiness. For a measure of satisfaction, they were asked to rate their lives on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “worst possible life you can imagine” and 10 listed as the “best possible life you can imagine.”
To get a sense of the women’s attractiveness, researchers asked for waist and hip measurements. Other studies have shown that the ratio of waist to hips is a reliable indicator of attractiveness, Plaut explains. The lower the ratio, the slimmer the waist — and the more attractive a woman is considered to be.
The new findings fall in line with other research, says Michael Cunningham, a psychologist and professor in the department of communications at the University of Louisville, Ky. “In competitive and individualistic cultures you have to compete for limited social attention,” Cunningham says. “Physical attractiveness is one of the variables that gets you social attention and other positive outcomes. But in communal cultures and rural areas, family reputation and other longer-term variables have a bigger impact on your well-being. As a consequence, physical attractiveness doesn’t have as big an impact.” 
I’m not sure yet if I buy Cunningham’s reasoning why this is true; I think it’s more complicated than competition for attention. But I’d love to hear what other people think.
education

Gay Manimals

What do you think about teaching about sexuality, homo or hetero, in school? Here’s one guy’s opinion (Actually a fairly knowledgeable guy who has his own blog “Primate Diaries” on Science Blogs):

By now everyone has heard of the high school English honors teacher, Dan DeLong, who was suspended for offering students the Seed magazine article “The Gay Animal Kingdom” by Jonah Lehrer as an optional extra credit assignment.

According to the Alton, IL based Telegraph newspaper, DeLong has now been reinstated at Southwestern High School after several hundred students and parents attended a six-hour long disciplinary hearing:

At Monday night’s meeting, more than 200 people lined the stairs, sidewalk and office space at the district’s small unit office at 884 Piasa Road in the Macoupin County village of Piasa. Many of DeLong’s supporters had handmade posters and banners stating: “Mr. DeLong Inspires Us,” and chanting, “Broadening minds is not a crime.”

Unfortunately, what it looks like is that DeLong entered a plea deal with the Board of Education where he would admit that the article was “inappropriate” in exchange for going back to work. In a statement that DeLong read, on behalf of both himself and the School Board, this agreement was that:

[T]he Board of Education and administrator’s concern was never about sexual preference or homophobic condemnation. Rather, the issue of concern was the age appropriateness of the material. . . I agree with the board that the material in my class was not age appropriate for my sophomores and for that I apologize. I understand the board has decided that I shall receive a Notice of Remedial Warning.

This is wrong on several levels. First off, this is absolutely about homophobic condemnation. No one would have had any problems with a science article that described the evolution of heterosexual monogamy in voles or gibbons. Such an article would have naturalized a belief that many people hold as the only legitimate kind of relationship for our society today. However, by showing that same-sex pairs exist in the natural world (and that gender is a much more fluid concept than people may have realized) it challenges people’s assumptions about what “natural” actually is. Because they were threatened by this idea, the Board is confessing that ANY discussion that homosexuality could be natural is therefore inappropriate. It’s homophobia, pure and simple.

Secondly, does the Southwestern Board of Education even know what teenagers are exposed to these days? This is the generation that invented sexting and half of whom have had oral sex (according to the National Center for Health Statistics). Students today are fascinated by sexuality and are ardent consumers of information. They know full well that homosexuality exists and that there is currently a “debate” about whether or not all people should be granted human rights. Not only is the discussion of how humans define themselves useful in this regard, it should be required. Across the country we’re asking that people vote on the civil rights of people with other sexual orientations. Isn’t it a good idea to know something about the issues involved? Plus, Lehrer’s article was completely tame and had no explicit content (that is, unless the word “ejaculate” causes you to get the vapors). What this overreaction does is say far more about what makes some parents and school board officials uncomfortable than any need to “protect the children.”

The whole situation is a farce. If I was still teaching high school students (which I did for about two years) I would use this opportunity to make Lehrer’s article required reading and ask students to discuss whether or not they thought a teacher should be suspended for making it available. It would be a terrific lesson in civics. And if not this article, I would certainly make the issues of gay marriage, gay adoption, and gay service in the military part of any discussion on current affairs.

What’s ironic about the conservative outrage over gay rights is that the “homosexual agenda” is revealing itself to be an inherently conservative movement. Think about it. What other group is advocating for the right to get married, adopt children, and serve in the military? And conservatives have a problem with this? Perhaps a high school teacher somewhere should offer an article to students seeking to explain that strange phenomenon.

What do you guys think?

culture

Babies cry in their own language

From Newsweek and several other magazines:

There had already been provocative research on what sounds a fetus can hear in the womb and what effect that has right after birth, with several research teams finding that newborns prefer their mothers’ voices over those of other people, as in studies such as this and this. That makes sense, since Mom’s voice is what a baby heard most for nine months. Newborns also prefer their native tongue to other languages for the same reason.

Now an intrepid team of scientists, three from Germany and one from France, has gone an intriguing step further: they have found that newborns cry in their native language. “We have provided evidence that language begins with the very first cry melodies,” says Kathleen Wermke of the University of Würzburg, Germany, who led the research.

The idea was to extend the existing findings about what sounds babies can perceive—their native language, their mother’s voice—to test what sounds they can create. Once the researchers had their recordings (no babies were harmed in the course of this research! All crying was spontaneous, due to hunger or thirst or general unhappiness rather than pain, as from having blood drawn), they set to work analyzing the cries’ melodic qualities.

French babies tended to cry “with a rising melody contour,” they will report in the December issue of the journal Current Biology, posted online Thursday. The cries sounded French: the pitch changed from low to high, rising toward the end of words as well as phrases within a sentence (though the final sound of a sentence has a lower pitch). In contrast, the German babies’ cries had falling melodic contours. They sounded German: the pitch fell from high to low, which is consistent with the sound of German’s falling melody contour, from the accented high-pitch syllable at the start of a phrase or word to the lower pitch at the end of a phrase. A French child says “papa,” while a German one says “papa.” There is, in short, “a tendency for infants to utter melody contours similar to those perceived prenatally,” write the scientists.

“The dramatic finding of this study is that not only are [newborns] capable of producing different cry melodies, but they prefer to produce those melody patterns that are typical for the ambient language they have heard during their fetal life, within the last trimester,” said Wermke. “Contrary to orthodox interpretations, these data support the importance of human infants’ crying for seeding language development.”

Read the full article at Newsweek

Uncategorized

Rent a Friend

This just makes me sad: Japan, with one of the most dense populations, is also one of the most lonely and isolated. So lonely that Japanese people have started renting cats, dogs, drinking buddies, and even pretend family members.

Most Japanese people interviewed for the story say they rent family members because they wanted guidance on an issue but can’t talk to their own family members about it. Now in a way hiring someone to talk to is similar to people in the U.S. paying counselors to listen to and hash out their problems. And lots of Americans can’t have pets and so they volunteer at animal shelters or go play with their friends’ dogs, or just religiously visit cuteoverload.com. But the fact that Japanese people feel they have to pay to have companionship, even just to have a dog sit on the couch and watch T.V. with them, is just a sad statement of how far humans have gone from being the social, close-knit, small-tribe or village types we once were, and were for the majority of human history.

Uncategorized

Cultural preservation and empowerment programs/projects:

I was going through my old notes and found this. It’s not something I’m working on anymore, but is a really great collection of examples of groups working on cultural conservation/preservation, and resources to help with those sorts of projects.

I just copied and pasted, so it’s a little messy, but enjoy:

Cultural Survival: http://209.200.101.189/

Work done in American Samoa to preserve Samoan culture: http://crm.cr.nps.gov/archive/24-01/24-01-3.pdf

National Park Service Cultural Resource Training Initiative.

Article about influence of outside world on culture: http://coa.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/19/1/53

NGO for cultural preservation of indigenous peoples: http://www.nativeplanet.org/projects/projects.shtml

Tips on how to strengthen culture: http://www.scn.org/cmp/modules/emp-pre.htm

Founding regional tourism: http://oscar.virginia.edu/asp/PublicAward.asp?AwardID=97858

Native American-owned business plan for CP&E: http://strategicempowermententerprises.com/

Virtual museum?: http://www.archimuse.com/mw2001/papers/christal/christal.html

Igbo mask culture, changes and preservations: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0438/is_1_38/ai_n15341097

Projects at Evergreen College, Washington: http://www.evergreen.edu/nwindian/projects-cultural.html

Interesting Books/Authors:

Indigenous Education and Empowerment: International Perspectives
Series: Contemporary Native American Communities #17

Sustainable Community Development: Studies in Economic, Environmental, and Cultural Revitalization (Hardcover), by Marie Hoff

Cultural Revitalization, Participatory Nonformal Education, and Village Development in Sri Lanka: The Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement.

Authors:

Colletta, N.J.; And Others; Comparative Education Review, v26 n2 p271-86 Jun 1982

intergenerational relations, and human development (Joel Savishinsky,)

Paul Guggenheim is on the staff of the Chicago Field Museum focusing on conservation education with the population living in the buffer zone of a new national park in Peru.

family · language

Yelling’s not going to change anything (well, maybe)

This article discusses a study that finds oldest siblings really are disciplined the most sternly. Being an older sister, in some ways that makes me feel better, but not entirely.

This article is about a linguist at my university who has found close connections between indigenous languages here in the Pacific Northwest and indigenous languages in Asia. Language is awesome!

Uncategorized

Filing a complaint

I’m having the worst time getting things through bureaucratic tape and getting my complaints heard, so while these stories are a little dated, I figured I’d post these two about people making blatant statements about a particular culture with their complaints.

The first one is the story about how a 5th grader noticed something wrong on an exhibit at the Smithsonian. The sad thing is people working within the Smithsonian had noticed it too, but it took someone from outside the system to make them fix it. Hooray for bureaucracy!

This story is about two women who are divorcing the same man. They are working within their culture’s limitations to assert their rights. Since it technically has to be the man who initiates the divorce, they figured if they teamed up and asked for a divorce it’d be near impossible for him to turn them down. Strength in numbers!

Uncategorized

Gene Expression’s take on Diamond vs. the Cultural Anthropologists

I’m not sure why this argument has flared up again, but both popular anthropology blogs Gene Expression and Savage Minds are talking about Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs, and Steel, and some cultural anthropologists’ reaction to it. I say some, because while I agree with a lot of Gene Expression‘s post and what they have to say, I feel they over-generalize what “cultural anthropologists” think, feel, and say about the book and their philosophy and approach to the sciences in general. Or maybe I just live in a bubble where everyone uses the scientific method and can deal with messy or generalized answers. Probably the latter, from the feedback I’ve heard from others.

I hope the answer lies somewhere in the middle; that while there are many vocal cultural anthropologists that are completely relativist, there are others who are objective and don’t balk at information that doesn’t fit into their schema. Or maybe that’s just me and I’m in the wrong graduate program.