Having spent most of my summer reading books rather than blog posts, I’ve been slacking on the news-at-large in the anthropology world and it seems that really, I haven’t missed much. I came across this post from Living Anthropologically about a recent sit-down at The Edge to basically deify Napoleon Chagnon and champion his greatness. This isn’t my hyperbole, the nearly three hours of video and transcript basically do just that. Also, The Edge has this air of a old boy’s drinking club where people go to pat each other on the back, I need to be in this club, sounds great. Anyway.

Jason from L.A. makes great points about the discussion, Chagnon, and his place in the pantheon of anthropology but the best parts are the links he’s gathered to different discussions of the roundtable at The Edge. But the ones I liked the best were the comments at BoingBoing apparently written by mostly sane people who can look past their noses to see through the sycophantic chitchat at The Edge and Cris Campbell’s take on the whole thing. Like Campbell, I too got to spend basically an entire semester knee-deep in Chagnon’s monograph and then a scant amount of time thinking about the ensuing controversies surrounding it and his work over the last 30 years. Cris, I have bad news for you: even though your studies of Chagnon and mine are separated by many years, anthropology students are still forced to read this book and stake out our claims on the controversies.

Here I am on the side of Daniel Everett in which he says that “Chagnon is controversial, but he ought not to be” (from The Edge) because the truth is, he shouldn’t be at all. His monograph was excellently written from an ethnographical and technical perspective, hands-down the most detailed and in-depth one I’ve read on a single society, contained in a single volume. While I found a lot of the writing to be repetitive and at times, flat out boring, he went to extraordinary lengths to describe bottom-to-top the Yanomami culture. Out of the few dozen ethnographies I’ve read, not a single one comes to matching the depth of information of Chagnon’s and that should be the biggest take away from the book. The rest of the controversy of the 30+ years? I could care less. Part of that is the fact that I, as a student, am so far divorced from the issues that they do not directly affect me or my studies (or, apparently, my professor’s ideas on the subject and she’s an older anthropologist much closer to this than myself) but also because they’re just distractions from the content of the work and the point of an ethnography. The monograph was an excellent exposition into a far-flung secluded world of an amazingly resilient people whose society isn’t really that different from modern Western society despite being typically characterized as “primitive” or “stone-aged”. Really? Their intra-tribal wars are mostly about the same things ours are: economic resources. All of the fights Chagnon describes are typically over a natural resource encroachment or theft (or attempted theft) of another economic resource: women. Sure, their methods and reasoning are very different from ours but at a macro level, the two do not drift far apart.

And this is where Campbell and Antrosio, and many other researchers, end up, they valuate this information academically and on the merit of the work itself, discarding all the chaff. But there are so many people out there who want to deify Chagnon for “bravely” facing these seemingly unsurmountable controversies that seek to make Swiss cheese of his legacy, even though all the available information on the issues clearly show that he is complicit in causing these issues to even have come to the fore in the first place. Dawkins, the atheist’s best friend and one of the most vocal people in all of science, is practically tripping over himself to shower Chagnon in compliments at The Edge, presumably because he feels that the two are kindred spirits in their firebrandism — oh and because of the whole Darwin connection of Chagnon’s work, but mostly the first bit. I have immense respect for Dawkins’ scientific work and for a long time, respect as an atheist but let’s be honest, his public discussions are a one-trick pony of sticking a finger in the eye of opposition as hard as possible while trying to remain erudite. And that’s how he comes off in the discussion at The Edge: the great sycophantic defender of Chagnon for standing up to The Man. He’s drumming up an (almost dead) controversy in the grandest way possible to laud Chagnon and in part, himself. Much of the talk wasn’t about the academic merit of the work but about the problems, finger-pointing, and vitriol over the last few decades.

This is the point where anthropologists just need to stand up and in unison say “Enough is enough, we get it” because we do. There are bigger things to debate these days, so when can we start debating them? Like the need for public anthropology or how polarizing HTS is.

With all the craziness with school this semester, I forgot to write up race reports for my last two races but luckily, both are very easy and short.

2013 Ga Spartan Sprint. Lots of fun, they changed the course around a little bit this year — we actually ran half of last year’s course in reverse. But all of that is irrelevant and this is why.

2013 Ga Spartan Sprint finish line

2013 Ga Spartan Sprint finish line

My mother, who will be 69 years old this year, completed the 4.6 mile course. Freezing temperatures and her fake hip aside, she was balls out determined. Time was irrelevant, obstacles were irrelevant — though, she climbed every wall, hit every mud pit, crawled the full 100+ yard barbed wire mud crawl, everything — all she wanted to do was finish! The worst part? Now she’s got the OCR bug! She’s waiting for me to plan her next race down here in FL this year, oh boy! Anyway, it was a ton of fun and we’re doing it again next year.

Then there was The Challenge, which was billed as being a tough-as-nails race with “unheard of” obstacles and all sorts of things that aren’t in normal races. This will be a very short review, trust me. It was billed as a 5 mile race, turned out to be slightly over 3. Took me 2 hours 8 minutes to finish. Why? Because the “unheard of” obstacle was at the end which was nothing more than a giant jungle gym of obstacles crammed into one giant one — rope climb (~5ft), log crossing, rope swing, cargo net climb 2x, one water pit (where you stood for about 15 minutes), and that’s it. This was all in the space of about 300 feet. Now, it looked impressive but it was terrible. How terrible? So terrible I don’t actually have to comment at all about the race itself, their Facebook page full of complaints does it for me. Yep, it was that bad. And that was just the race! Parking and packet pick-up took about 2 hours as well, no joke. Seriously, just go read their Facebook page, I can’t do it justice how bad this race was.

So three months ago, I wrote a (sort of) takedown of the lack of anthropological data in many popular Paleo/Primal books and information in general. My view on this has not changed and I still will be looking into other data as I said I would, I just don’t have the time to write right now…I’m doing enough of that for school!

But recently in the last month or so, the whole paleosphere has basically blown up due to (thanks to?) the publication of Marlene Zuk’s new book entitled Paleofantasy… in which she basically says everything paleo is bunk, based on made-up garbage science, et cetera. So this sent pretty much everyone into a tizzy on both sides of the debate, something I’d frankly kept out of because I’ve been doing something more important than keeping up with a trend: reading books. Anyway, her book sent many people either into body-twisting shit fits or lots of finger pointing and sneering, depending on what side of the fence you’re on. I’ve read enough now to know that much of her book is written as a smear attempt, based on factually incorrect data that she, a evoltionary biologist, should have known better than to use. Kind of like Derek Freeman’s attempt to takedown Margaret Mead’s Samoan data by using his own heavily biased data, which was summarily ripped apart by the anthropological community. Zuk attempted a hit on the scene and she’ll sell a lot of books, convince a lot of people that eating meat and veggies (and other real foods) are a “fad”, but I don’t think she’ll be writing an update to the book in the future, her credibility will have suffered too much.

However, I did read a pair of great posts by Miki Ben-Dor of Tel Aviv and one by Paul Jaminet, author of the Perfect Health Diet (still the best Paleo diet book I’ve read to date) that go heads and shoulders above nearly everything else everyone has written. Not because they try very hard to maintain a neutral bias, but because they do one thing: stick to facts. Nikoley has a great post full of piss and vinegar, as anyone would expect, but it’s not something I would point someone to if I wanted to say “this will explain in detail why Zuk’s wrong”, whereas Ben-Dor and Jaminet nailed it on the head. One thing I read that I can really agree with is that Zuk’s book “should have been a blog post in 2012, not a book in 2013″ (Sisson, natch!). And he’s totally right. She mostly covered stuff that the community figured out about two years ago and summarily left behind.

All of this back-and-forth only proves one thing: paleo’s hit the mainstream and it’s having some real growing pains. Prominent TV talking heads have been talking about it for the last year or two, numerous news outlets have run articles on it (pro and con), and it’s even crept on to The Biggest Loser. This book will be both good and bad for the community as a whole, but it certainly will do little to stop its progress forward.

At the end of February, I ran in the 2013 FL Super Spartan Miami down in Oleta State Park, my second Super Spartan. After last year’s race, I wasn’t even sure if I was going to run this one because it kicked my ass pretty hard, despite the fact that I was in much better shape then! The RD and Spartan Race set up a slightly different, albeit slightly easier course this year, they didn’t take us through the entire bike trail with the 15 million switchbacks, which was a welcome change. I also ended up finishing 15 minutes faster this year over last year, even though I ended up walking about 5 or 6 miles in total this year due to shoe problems. I think the time difference was due to better wave timing and a whole lot less congestion at obstacles compared to last year, there was almost no waiting at anything except for wall climbs.

The worst part for me was the shoe issues with my Inov-8 Trailrock 235s. Not only did they constantly fill up with sand and grit, I ended up leaving out my insoles by mistake and came home with half a dozen blisters — my first ever in a race! — some of which were pretty gnarly blood blisters and took about two weeks to heal, which made limping around so much more fun :( . This was my second real race in the Inov-8s and I’ve determined that I can no longer wear them due to continued patellar issues. I’m not sure what it is about the shoes but anything over a mile or two and my right knee starts hurting like crazy and it only happens in these shoes. It never happened in my now retired VFF KomodoSport LS or Trail Gloves. This same thing happened at the Carolinas Spartan Beast but I thought it was due to the crazy ass terrain, but no, it’s the shoes. Which stinks because they’re great shoes but not so great when they’re causing so much pain. Time to look for replacements!

Overall, I thought this year’s race was much better than last year’s, even though they had to re-route the course mid-race because of a fire that accidentally got started…during a drought. Nope, not kidding, Miami Fire made them re-route a few obstacles and a leg of the course, crazy! Looking forward to next year when they also add another Spartan Sprint down here in South Florida!