More Positive Press for Anthropology at the Dawn of the Cold War

Another positive review of Anthropology at the Dawn of the Cold War has appeared, this time in the Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford (JASO). The reviewer, Iain Perdue, sees the book’s discussion of Cold War McCarthyism and militarism as a timely intervention in today’s debates, writing:

The issues of ethics and the ramifications of anthropologists performing government work are being revived in a renewed and vigorous debate in the American Anthropological Association on this very subject. The debate arises from social and political circumstances extremely similar to those presented in this book, and this does not go unremarked by its contributors.

Perdue also notes that the book’s “solid contribution” towards addressing the deficit in the current historiography of Cold War American anthropology. The full review section from the journal can be downloaded in PDF format here; my review starts on the third-from-last page of the file.

As an aside, this review coming out a mere 18 months after the book’s U.K. publication is considered “timely” for an academic review. I’ve had reviews of books that were over a year old when they were assigned to me take over two years to appear in print — after the six months I was given to write the review! This review marks the first critical response to the book in an academic journal, which gives me hope that more academic response can be expected in the months ahead.

An academic book is a lot of things, but one of the most important things it is is an entry in an ongoing conversation about one’s discipline. Waiting two, three, or more years to hear back from your colleagues is almost unbearable (though, I suspect, not as unbearable as waiting forever and never getting a response…) so it’s nice to see that the ice is finally starting to thaw a bit.

Cadillac Ranch

I recently drove cross-country, passing through the Texas panhandle, which gave me the opportunity to have a look at Cadillac Ranch outside of Amarillo. Plopped down in the middle of a field just south of I-40, Cadillac Ranch was commissioned by eccentric rich guy Stanley Marsh III and built by artist/architect collective Ant Farm. The sculpture consists of 10 50s-era Cadillacs half-buried nose-down, and covered with a riotously-colored palimpsest of graffiti, which is encouraged.

Cadillac Ranch

Cadillac Ranch is considered the inspiration for Nebraska’s Carhenge, whose virtues I’ve extolled here before. God bless our American wackos!

New Review of “Anthropology at the Dawn of the Cold War”

The academic publishing world moves slowly, oh-so-slowly. After almost a year in print, Anthropology at the Dawn of the Cold War has received its second review, a thoughtful response by Robert Lawless at the Anthropology Review Database. Lawless focuses heavily on one of the big undercurrents in the book, the similarity between how anthropology articulated with US interests during the Cold War years and the way it does today. I take exception with one point Lawless raises — he says I treat these the Army’s Human Terrain System and its anthropological champion Montgomery McFate too gently; in my defense, HTS was just a proposal when I discussed it, and McFate just a military anthropologist who had written a couple of articles. Today, we know how poorly planned and executed HTS turned out to be, and we know McFate primarily as the anthropological voice behind the Army’s new counterinsurgency manual — I doubt I’d be so “gentle” with her and her legacy today.

That aside, it’s a very positive review, of the sort of review I like best: those that engage deeply with the text and look to add to the topic, rather than simply assess the book. Lawless’ conclusion:

Required reading for those interested in the history of the discipline, this book joins other important works, such as Price’s Threatening Anthropology, on the deleterious effects of the Cold War on anthropology.

New Review of “Don’t Be Stupid”

Alexandra Levit has given my e-book for college students, Don’t Be Stupid a 5-star review in her column at Get the Job. Levit is the author of several career guides, including Success for Hire, They Don’t Teach Corporate in College, and How’d You Score that Gig?. Her blog Water Cooler Wisdom offers all sorts of great career information. It’s truly an honor to have been rated so highly by such a formidable figure!

My Advice for Students at Lindsey Pollak’s Blog

In honor of my book, Don’t Be Stupid, Lindsey Pollak (author of Getting from College to Career: 90 Things to Do Before You Join the Real World) asked me to write a guest post on her blog, listing some of my best tips for students. Take a look at my post and the rest of the great advice at her site — or pass it on to a deserving student in your life!

New Book Announcement: Don’t Be Stupid

Today I’m releasing my e-book Don’t Be Stupid: A Guide to Learning, Studying, and Succeeding at College. A paperback version will be available soon.

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And get the MOST out of college! For only $14.00 (Readers of get a special discount — click here to see!)

For more information and to order your copy, check out the Don’t Be Stupid page on this site.

If you have a website, be sure to look at the affiliate program — I’ll give 20% of the sale price to anyone who sells a copy of the e-book using their affiliate link.

If You’re Ever in Nebraska

In Alliance, NE, stands the most strange and wonderful thing you can imagine: Carhenge.


The Wonders of Carhenge

This is what I wrote about Carhenge five years ago:

Carhenge. The product of Jim Reinder’s strange and wonderful imagination. Constructed of vintage automobiles sunk into the ground or welded in place, Carhenge was intended as a memorial to Reinder’s father and constructed with the help of 35 relatives on the fifth anniversary of the elder Reinder’s death. A number of other pieces have sprung up around Carhenge, by Reinders and others, creating the Car Art Preserve, a testimony to both the sacred place the car holds in our American culture and to the strange attraction of “elsewhere” that have drawn people to and through the West since the time of Lewis and Clark. Another sculpture–a mid-70s station wagon with arced ribs welded on reminiscent of the ribs of a Conestoga wagon–drives this point home more forcefully: we Americans, for better and for worse (ask the nearest Indian how s/he feels about the whole thing) are a moving people.

The Meaning of Food

Seth Godin wanted to know:

What’s the deal with brown rice? How do people become so attached to the social implications of food that they are willing to starve or suffer from malnutrition rather than take a step backward? The price of rice has soared, yet it seems like people are still demanding white rice, instead of the more nutritious (and almost certainly cheaper) brown rice. How high does the price have to go before people make a different choice?

This is what I emailed him, which seemed to do the trick for him:

I can’t speak specifically to the brown rice vs. white rice, but I can speak to the larger issue. You seem to be saying that people should make food choices in a rational, best-option sort of way, according to best price, availability, nutritional value, etc — but that’s not how cultures view food at all. Along with sex, food is one of the most meaning-laden parts of any culture. Every culture makes a selection from the potentially edible “stuff” in its environment as to what is and what is not “food”, and those foods are further categorized according to factors ranging from class and status to regional and ethnic identity.

Consider this, for example: I live in Las Vegas. We have a lot of hungry people in Las Vegas. A few years ago, there was a locust swarm for several weeks in the summer. Now, locusts are nutritious and, according to many cultures, delicious — they’re a special treat in the Bible, if you recall. Imagine the uproar, though, if Mayor Goodman or then-Governor Guinn arranged a press conference and stepped up to the mike saying “Our hunger problems are solved! Teams of food procurement specialists are right now gathering locusts for distribution to our soup kitchens, food pantries, and Meals on Wheels centers. For the next few weeks, our poor eat like Biblical kings!”

Yeah, right. Locusts aren’t food in our culture — like dogs, horses, and parrots (and, I can’t help but mentioning, people).

Then there’s the question of status and meaning — what does the food you eat say about who you are? In a film I use in my classes, _People Like Us_, there’s a scene in a food pantry where the manager asks a shopper if she’d like to try some of the organic sourdough that the food pantry gets by the case and can’t get rid of. The look on her face is priceless — he might have asked her if she’d like to sell her womb to raise money to provide hearing aids to the rich. Remember, everything at the food pantry is *free* — but the organic sourdough is “fancy” food, too crusty, too non-pre-sliced, too hoity-toity for this woman to take home to her hungry family.

I don’t know where the breaking point is. At some point in the starvation chain, of course, people will eat whatever’s put in front of them. Bugs, live rodents, even, yes, human flesh. But war, famine, environmental disaster, and other cataclysmic events have rarely been enough to cause anything more than a short, non-systemic turn to substitutes, even when a long-term switch might be better in dozens of ways. After all, we humans eat so that we can make meaning, not the other way around.

I’m not entirely happy with that last line; what I mean is that humans are meaning-making creatures, and eating sustains us so we can do more meaning-making. In any case, Godin quoted the last paragraph in his post and added:

To which I add: If people near starvation are willing to make choices based on self-esteem, I wonder what that says about those customers you think are focused only on the lowest price?

I’m not sure I agree with that, actually — it’s not just self-esteem at play, here. There are things that we simply don’t consider as food, no matter how high or low our self-esteem is. The meaning that we make of and with food is far more complex than simply an individual’s self-esteem!

The Guardian UK on Anthropology and Counter-Insurgency

In the wake of the death of one of the HTS anthropologists last week in Afghanistan, The Guardian covers some of the controversy around the use of anthropology by the military. The article discusses the “Anthropology and Global Counter-Insurgency” conference I presented at last month, and features quotes from and mentions of several of the participants, including John Kelly, Marshall Sahlins, David Price, Hugh Gusterson, Brian Selmanski, and Kerry Frosh — the latter two representing the Air Force and Marines, respectively.

Though the article notes that HTS advocates denied the invitation to take part, there was an HTS recruiter in the audience for at least part of the conference; several people talked with him, and he left his card quite freely, so it’s not like it was a secret or anything.

Of course, how telling is it that the only mainstream mention of the conference comes from a UK paper? You’d think, after the big PR push by the US Army last year — I mean come on, The Daily Show? — there would be some attention paid to the “native” response from anthropologists. We are, after all, supposed to be the secret sauce that’s going to win this war.

As if.

Build Your Virtual Office: Ten Great Online Tools for Writers (ByLine Magazine)

2008. “Build Your Virtual Office: Ten Great Online Tools for Writers”. Byline Magazine #320 (April 2008): 8-10.

Describes the various kinds of online web applications that writers might find useful, and gives recommendations of the best one or two in each category. Cover story.