December 01, 2007

The power of a signature

November 28, 2007

The Capitalist Gene?

Now Social Darwinism can apparently even explain why the Industrial Revolution occurred in Britain instead of China: In Britain it was a game of the survival of the richest according to Gregory Clark, an economist at the University of California, Davis. As the poor died off, it was the entrepreneuring capitalists who sired the new generation (just like Montezuma who was "said to to have kept 4,000 concubines") that forged ahead and created the industrial revolution.

The Smithsonian Magazine reports:
"Blame the Rich"

January 23, 2007

Going quantitative?

I keep receiving emails the NSF (the US National Science Foundation) about their methods courses for anthropologists. But on closer examination the methods they promise to be teaching seem quite far from what I understand as anthropological methods: instead of participant observation, interviewing techiques and gaining rapport, the NSF offers anthropologists SPSS and social network analysis. Now, I have no problem in incorporating quantitative methods into an anthropological study, but the fact that this is the only kind of methods training the NSF seems to be offering does have me wonder whether they hope anthropologists might still be coaxed into becoming more scientificcy and just pragmatically useful, instead of the at-first-glance clearly not particularly efficient and inherently vague hanging around our fieldwork tends to primarily constitute of. But then again they may just be worried about providing anthropologists skills that would help them find a job, also outside of academia. Not an easy task, as I am coming to realize after talking with friends I studied anthropology with in undergrad.

Still I do wonder what a quantitative anthropology would look like. Probably not anything like this hilarious "the root of all eval" equation a friend of mine just indulged me with. But how can you quantify social values??

October 21, 2006

Appealing to public sentiment through billboards

I was just reading the news on the Indymedia site, and found an interesting news article on it about how Aracruz, a multinational cellulose company, has resorted to different forms of media to get locals on their side against attempts to designate an 11 thousand area of land indigenous lands.

What caught my eye was the billboard Aracruz has put up, in which they contrast themselves as conveyors of progress, with FUNAI, the Brazilian federal agency for indigenous rights, who according to Aracruz is giving away the land in question Espirito Santo to a group of people whose claims to indigenous identity aren't even justified. Reminds me of James Clifford's analysis of the Mashpee case here in the US. Indeed, what are the defining characteristics of an ethnic identity? What is that makes someone a representative of a particular group? And who gets to decide it? But, also, what I think is really interesting about this case is how corporate interests and indigenous rights issues come to be fought in such media as billboards that tend to be used for either political campaigns or advertising in Brazil. Aracruz is, however, not your traditional political actor. Nor is it advertising its final product, paper, in the billboards, but instead the "advantages" locals should see the company to have brought to them.

Here's the billboard:

As the Indymedia reporter continues, billboards of course are but one of the multiple means used by Aracruz to maintain their control of the area:
"Besides the billboards, Aracruz has used local media to criminalise the indigenous movement. An example of that is the note written by the “entrepreneur and writer” Carlos Lindenberg Filho, one of the directors of Gazeta Television, a subsidiary of Globo TV in Espírito Santo. The multinational also gained the support from its workers through indirect threats of losing their jobs and the support of the local population in Aracruz County, where the people now react with fear of the supposed threats and violence from indigenous groups."

For the full article and links to people you can write and protest Aracruz's campaign:
"Aracruz uses media and billboards to get people against indigenous"

August 30, 2006

Back in Chicago

I'm back in Chicago again. Time to switch my mind back into English-language mode and move house. Acabaram as ferias e e hora de voltar a rotina... On Monday it's back to the grind again. I have a paper to write on my summer fieldwork by Sept. 15th already before classes start so Regenstein library, I'm back!

August 18, 2006

Yet a new kind of Nigerian scam?

Today when I opened my email I found the following email. I've been receiving so many different variations of the nigerian scam emails in the past two months that maybe I'm starting to see them even in emails that are not part of the scheme. But I dont know, this one does seem suspicious. It could be a well-executed attempt to attract a completely different audience. Instead of being directed at people that can be lured in with promises of easy money and appearances of the stupidity of their African partners, this email seems to target a perhaps even more gullible audience young kids with a strong social consciousness wanting to make the world a better place. What do you think?

Dear Friend,

My name is Maurin Kinsey, female, working with (WORLD YOUTH ORGANIZATION FOR HUMAN WELFARE) California, U.S.A. We are organizing a global youths combined conferences taking place from October 4th-6th 2006 at California in the United States and in ,Dakar Senegal from October 11th-13th 2006 .In our request to invite people from various countries around the world, I went in search of e-mails on the web site as a means of contacting youths and organizations .As a result, I picked your e-mail from an N.G.O`s website.

If you are interested to participate and want to represent your country, you may contact the secretariat of the organizing committee for details and information. You should also inform them that you were invited to participate by a friend of yours (Maurin Kinsey ), who is a member of the American Youths 4 Peace and a staff of (WORLD YOUTH ORGANIZATION FOR HUMAN WELFARE).

I believe that we may have the opportunity to meet if you may be willing to participate in this event. You can also inform youths & NGOs in your country about these conferences. The benevolent donors of the Organizing Committee will provide round trip air tickets and accommodation for the period of participants? stay in the U.S., to all registered participants.

If you are a holder of passport that may require visa to enter the United States you may inform the conference secretariat at the time of registration, as the organizing committee is responsible for all visa arrangements and travel assistances. Below is the contact address of the conference secretariat:

By Tel/Fax: 1-425-671-3781 or by email:

Please reply me Via.
Maurin Kinsey


As for my flight to São Paulo, I guess I should have waited to celebrate only after having arrived in São Paulo. The day after I had my ticket changed I received a text message from Varig telling me that my flight had been canceled and that I should call their sales center. There I was answered by an already stressed-out woman who proceeded to angrily explain to me how not only did my flight not exist but neither did I?! and that basically there was nothing I could do about it.
After I hung up with her I called the airport here where the people I had talked with the previous day had been much more friendly and helpful, and was in turn reassured that my flight did indeed exist, and that yes, no matter what, they would fly me to Sao Paulo on the 25th, whether it was on a Varig plane or another company. Go figure...

August 15, 2006

The joys of flying...

... or perhaps rather the zen of dealing with the pragmatics of airtravel, ie tickets and schedules, airlines etc.

I’m starting to accept the fact that flying from one place to another is no easy matter, at least when it is me flying. It seems to me now that just about every single flight I have taken over the past couple of years has involved some kind of problem or other. The first time I flew back from Brazil to Finland on Christmas Eve in 2001 my flight from Rio to Europe got canceled – after quite a lot of shuffling around I ended up in London where I caught the last flight to Helsinki before a 2-day holiday break for all airtravel to the airport. Last year when leaving from Helsinki to Chicago, someone accidentally pinched my passport and tickets from the airport security conveyor belt – some talk, and quite a few desperate smiles, and I arrived in Chicago on schedule without any other travel documents except a faded photocopy of my passport. As for my trip here I have already told you about the extra 24 hours it ended up taking. So the fact that I have spent the last 2 days running around Salvador, from one travel agency to the airport and back and then to yet another agency and once more to the airport shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to me. Varig is still having significant problems with their flights, though they claim that things will be in order in just a few more days. But at least they are flying daily to Sao Paulo from Salvador again, which in the end saved me my ticket. Of course, typical of me, wanting to make things extra complicated I wasnt willing to take the alternative flight schedule on another airline offered to me by American Airlines with whom my ticket is registered. Instead I told them that since I would be needing to change flights anyway I would like to go to Sao Paulo 4 days earlier to see a friend. Apparently my ticket wasnt supposed to allow stop-overs at all. In the end though with a little jeitinho and many wonderful people (a total stranger even allowed me to use the internet in his office when I couldnt find an internet cafe by the travel agency), and plenty of sitting on the bus riding around Salvador (just to give you an idea the airport is 1,5 -2 hours busdrive from my house), I got my ticket! The orixas must be thinking kindly of me. So I’ll be flying into Sao Paulo on the 25th and then home to Chicago on the 28th, arriving there on the 29th just in time to move house before the end of the month. (Jeez! I dont even want to think about that yet.) And now I’m back home back to work on transcribing interviews and about to celebrate my ticket having worked out in the end with a piece of bolo de aipim, my favorite cake here made with manioc.

August 10, 2006

Shaming the aggressor

This Monday President Lula signed a new law for the “Enfrentimento da Violência Doméstica”. The news papers here hail the law as a significant step forward in the fight against domestic violence directed at women. Before a man caught beating his wife could walk away from the situation with minimal repercussions. Typically he would only be required to provide her with the cesta básica, an amount of rice, beans and other basic food stuffs defined by the Brazilian government as the minimum for a family. But now with the new law the aggressor is suspect to penalties of up to three years in prison. Interestingly the impact of this new law is considered not take effect so much through the length of the prison sentences but rather the shame it will put the men in amongst their friends. Apparently the previous legislation allowed these men to get away with domestic violence without anybody in their communities finding out about it, whereas the new law in sentencing them to prison would make the situation public. As Jacqueline Leite from the Centro Humanitário de Apoio à Mulher (Center for assistance for women) explained to A Tarde reporters: “Até então, o homen condenado pagava uma cesta básica e ninguém ficava sabendo. Agora eles podem ser até ridiculadas em frente aos amigos por causa da sua violência” [Until now the mand condemned for domestic violence paid a cesta basica and no-one would come to know about it. Now they may be even ridiculed in front of their friends because of their violence].

A similar view of a prison sentence in itself not being sufficient for stopping crime is central also to another campaign here. This year the local electricity company Coelba has taken the reduction of illegitimate use of electricity as one of its prime prerogatives. Ads on the penal consequences of fazer gato [plugging oneself into someone else’s power line] proliferate in the newspapers, tv and billboards. But like the ideology behind Jacqueline Leite’s comments, the final impetus of Coleba’s campaign is on the shame being imprisoned would bring to one’s family. Spending time in a Brazilian prison as people here are well-aware of does not constitute an enjoyable experience, but it seems to be the more indirect consequence of shame one would bring to one’s family if condemned to prison that at least is seen to function as more efficiently to impede crime.