Recycled Minds in 2012

by Lana Lynne on December 31, 2012
Keep taking the road less traveled...
photo by douglas reeser
The changing of the calendar year always compels reflection of the past and prediction of the future. This seemingly universal response to a new year is something that the contributors to Recycled Minds like to do year-round – reflect, interpret, and possibly offer new ways of thinking about the world. What we like to do is tell stories, one of the most powerful tools in humankind’s handbag for preserving and encouraging knowledge. As a culture, we have become accustomed to hearing a single story – one that hopes to leave us complacent and taciturn. Our storytelling intentionally seeks out a different narrative with many perspectives, and we’d like to thank our readers for contributing to this collection of ideas.

Following is a short reflection on some of our stories from 2012.

Since douglas spent most of the year in the field for his dissertation research, many articles he wrote for his “Views from the ANThill” column centered on his experience as a field researcher. Among other things, he wrote about  knowledge and trust among his research participants, how language affects research and fieldwork, applied anthropology at work with the development of language classes, going through research slumps, and the positive experience of working with a local research assistant.

Similarly, the Maya and other indigenous people of Belize were a frequent topic of conversation, given doog’s research interests, including a fun video of Maya Day 2012; a not-so-fun look at the creation of a new Belizean ministry that lumps together Forestry, Fisheries, Sustainable Development and Indigenous People; and how the decline of the ancient Maya compares to today’s environmental destruction and concentration of wealth.

The “Consumption Junction” column continued to examine consumption in its various manifestations, including an article on agency and panopticism in a digital world, pursuing meaning instead of money, and the state of literature in our self-centered “culture of me.”

Creating a Socialist Social Network

~ Sunshine Skyway ~
an Instagram photo by douglas reeser.
by douglas reeser on December 29, 2012
In slightly old news now, Instagram recently drew the ire of many of its more vocal users when it attempted to update its Terms of Service (TOS) Agreement and declared that the company could sell usernames, images and more without notice or compensation. The new TOS read:
"Some or all of the Service may be supported by advertising revenue. To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you."
After the uproar from users and fairly widespread media coverage, Instagram backtracked and went back to the old TOS. Co-founder Kevin Systrom released a statement apologizing and attempting to explain the change:
"Our intention in updating the terms was to communicate that we'd like to experiment with innovative advertising that feels appropriate on Instagram. Instead it was interpreted by many that we were going to sell your photos to others without any compensation. This is not true and it is our mistake that this language is confusing. To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos." 
The backtracking worked, and it appears that millions of Instagram users have happily continued using the platform to share their pictures of the holiday season. Lost in the public relations nightmare, however, is that Instagram may have been on to something with the idea of selling users' photos. It's just that they didn't take the idea far enough.

Recycled Minds Picture Show Highlights from 2012

Some highlights from the 2012 Recycled Minds First Friday Picture Shows.
We've chosen some of our favorite works from the 2012 First Friday Picture Shows - one from each month. A special thanks to our contributors for sharing their amazing photographs and art. The Picture Shows have become one of our most successful additions to Recycled Minds, and we couldn't do it without the artists! Thanks also to our readers, who make this work so rewarding.

A New Day and a New Year: Happy 14 B'aqtun!

A recreation of a Maya ritual at the ruins of Lubaantun
in southern Belize. Photo by douglas reeser.
by douglas reeser on 12-21-12
Well, here I am, sitting at my desk on the Winter Solstice in 2012. It's sunny and nice, although the storms that came through last night had me a bit concerned. For many, this day has been anticipated with excitement, wonder, and fear for at least a few years now. Much has been made of the supposed ending of the Mayan Long Count Calendar, with some seeing it as the end of the world as we know it, others debunking that popularized belief, and still others seeing it as a transition to a new era. On one extreme, so called "Doomsday Preppers" have reportedly gone into hiding in anticipation of something - anything - happening that might cause mass chaos. On the other, more common extreme, are the majority of people going about their daily lives as if this day has no significance, as if nothing is happening, and nothing is changing. In my mind, both extremes have their faults.

The anthropology magazine Savage Minds has had a recent series on this Mayan Apocalypse, and in the third piece of the series, Clare Sammells describes two aspects of this day that the popular press has picked up on:
One is scientific proof that the apocalypse will not happen, such as astronomical data that Earth is not on a collision course with another planet, Mayan epigraphy that shows the Long Count does not really end, and ethnography that suggests most Maya themselves are not worried about any of this. The other scholarly theme the press circulates is the long history of apocalyptic beliefs in the west. In the logic of the metanarrative of western progress, this connects contemporary Apocalypse believers to the past, nonmodernity and “otherness.” 
In the strange world of the mass media, the idea seems to be at once to discredit the possibility of a "Doomsday" and even marginalize such beliefs, while at the same time, promoting them for their entertainment value as seen in the various television shows currently being aired on the topic.

Scandals Under the Sun: McAfee, Indigenous Knowledge, and Corruption in Belize

An aerial view of Punta Gorda Town in southern Belize, where the
author is conducting research on health and health services.
Photo by douglas c reeser.
Views from the ANThill
by douglas c reeser on 12-19-12
Thanks in large part to the adventures of anti-virus software pioneer John McAfee, some of the world’s attention has recently been focused on the tiny nation of Belize. I won’t rehash the entire story here, but in short, McAfee has had some run-ins with various levels of the Belizean government, and is now wanted for questioning in the murder of his neighbor. Fearing a set-up, McAfee has gone underground and continues to elude authorities three weeks later. While on the run, McAfee has started a blog (the Hinterland) to get his side of the story out, which includes bringing attention to widespread corruption in Belize. The story has been picked up by major and minor news outlets around the world, and it’s fair to say the attention brought upon Belize is not the most positive.

My interest in this story has two aspects, both stemming from the fact that I have made Belize my home for the better part of the last year and a half while conducting fieldwork on health and health care. I never had the opportunity to meet Mr. McAfee, but our paths did indirectly cross in 2009. It was October, and I was with a colleague at the ruins of Tikal in neighboring Guatemala. We had accompanied a small group of Maya healers to the annual Maya Day Celebrations, a sort of anti-Columbus Day protest/solidarity gathering. My colleague, an ethnobotanist also working in Belize, had arranged to meet Dr. Allison Adonizio, a biologist that had just been hired by McAfee to start a lab in Belize to develop new plant-based anti-bacterial products.

The Bounds of Belief in Belize: Health, Belief, and Biomedicine in Rural Communities

Conference Flyer where this paper was presented
by douglas c reeser on 12.12.12
As an anthropologist, it is expected that I present my research to the public. One of the most accepted means of doing this is through national and international conferences. A big issue with conferences, however, is that they reach a very specific public. Conferences are often quite costly which limits who has access, many papers are presented to very small audiences, and the papers are rarely published or otherwise made available. So while I get "credit" in the eyes of colleagues and potential employers for presenting at a prestigious conference, chances are just 20 people ever get to see, hear, or read my paper. To me, that is a limited public.

I was lucky enough to have a paper accepted at the latest annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association. I was only able to attend because of a small travel grant that covered my airfare to San Francisco and my room for the week. Although well attended, the conference is quite pricey (almost $200 for student membership and registration), which limits attendees to primarily anthropologists. My paper was given on the first day of the conference when many people are still arriving, and the audience was quite small. So in an effort to make my research available to a wider public, I am sharing the paper here, for free.

Read the abstract and the entire paper after the jump:

First Friday Picture Show: Fall.Food.Fashion! by Tender Branson

A First Friday Picture Show, December, 2012
by Tender Branson
Tender Branson is the nom de plume of the innovative website Write.Click.Cook.Listen, where you can find original vegetarian recipes, great food photos, and music playlists to listen to while you're cooking. An elementary school teacher by day, a food-music genius by night, Tender's going big. This is his second contribution to our Picture Show, and we're always happy to have him on board - even if it does make our tummies rumble. Enjoy the show... 

~ Zucchini Bites ~
Photo by Tender Branson
These pictures feature fall fashions in the food world. With a new emphasis on buying from farmer's markets, I have really come to experience the foods that each season has to offer. This fall it has been a lot of comfort foods such as soup and pasta being meshed with harvest flavors like cranberry, squash, zucchini, pumpkin and hominy. The result has been meals that are rich in flavor and depth without the heaviness in the stomach that typically accompany fall menu items.

John McAfee is Screwing (up) my Dissertation

John McAfee and his girlfriend, Sam, made it to Guatemala. What's next?!
photo courtesy of TradeArabia
by douglas reeser on December 6, 2012
Frustration. I'm spending inordinate amounts of time sitting in front of my computer, trying to find the motivation and focus to start putting serious time into my dissertation. This has been going on for weeks. What else has been going on for weeks?

John McAfee.

Regular readers know that I've been in Belize for the better part of the last year and half working on my dissertation research. Belize also happens to be the adopted (former) home of John McAfee, the founder of the ubiquitous virus protection software company. McAfee has been on the run from the Belizean police for the last three weeks, wanted for questioning in the murder of his neighbor. Right there is at least a semi-interesting story, and I'm drawn into it because of the Belizean-connection. But that's like the needle on top of the iceberg in this story.