Can the UN preserve intangible cultural assets?

As food goes globalized, UNESCO has started thinking about preserving cuisine as a cultural artifact, the same way it might preserve an ancient city. Japanese food got the nod last week.

Ancient Aliens, modern obsessions

I'm really enjoying Jason Colavito's reviews of The History Channel's hilarious/infuriating hit show Ancient Aliens. What makes them better than the average blog? Colavito is an author who has written extensively about the anthropology of pseudoscience, and the connections between pseudoscience, religion, and science fiction. So his recaps are less about debunking the claims made on Ancient Aliens (because, really, that's just too damn easy) and more about exploring where those claims come from, pop-culturally, and what makes them so appealing, to begin with. Fascinating stuff.

The last Jew in Afghanistan


Zabulon Simintov, an Afghan Jew, prepares for prayers at his residence in Kabul

Reuters has an absolutely fascinating profile of Zabulon Simintov, the last known Jewish person living in the entire country of Afghanistan. There were several thousand Jewish people in Afghanistan at the turn of the 20th century, but most of them (including Simintov's wife and daughters) eventually moved to Israel.

Behind the particles: The Guardian goes inside CERN and the Large Hadron Collider

What's it like to live and work in the world's most famous physics mecca? Suzanne Moore went to Geneva, Switzerland to meet the scientists who study particle physics at CERN, home of the Large Hadron Collider and the Higgs Boson — and also home to a multinational population that can reach 10,000 at different times of year. There's a kindergarten at CERN. And Halloween parties. And, of course, the much-noted tendency toward Comic Sans Powerpoints. In other words, CERN has a culture. This is its story.

The science of "new baby smell"

TIL: There are studies that suggest new babies really do smell different, and seem to trigger special brain chemical pathways in women. But, simultaneously, the smells we more consciously associate with "new baby" — i.e., the new baby smell used in baby products and baby-fresh scents — varies widely by culture. Make of this what you will.

The story of the rapist's wife

The rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student last December drew worldwide attention to India's struggles with tradition, women's rights, and street harassment. In a piece for the Wall Street Journal, Krishna Pokharel and Aditi Malhotra add another layer to that onion, following the story of Punita Devi, the wife of one of the convicted rapists. She, too, is suffering from the fallout of her husband's choices — and in ways that come back to those issues of tradition and equality. Living in a rural area where widows lose both their honor and any viable means of financial support, Devi is facing a future where she expects to be turned out of her in-laws' home, cannot return to her parents, and is judged and punished ... not for being the wife of a rapist, but for being nobody's wife.

The voices in your head are culturally specific

I'm utterly fascinated by the way culture affects the outcomes of mental illness — whether that's in terms of prevalence of specific disorders, how we interpret and treat those disorders, or even how seemingly innate symptoms express themselves in wildly different ways. Case in point: The voices that schizophrenics hear. In the US, those voices seem to talk a lot about violence — what a person should to do themselves, or to others. In Chennai, India, on the other hand, schizophrenic patients report that voices most commonly command them to do household chores. The disturbing content comes in the form of sexual comments or directions to drink from the toilet.

Today's schizophrenics hallucinate different things than those of your grandparents' time

Thanks to that whole "mental" part, mental illnesses are often heavily influenced by the cultures and societies in which people live. Case in point: The way people with schizophrenia interpret their own hallucinations has changed over the course of the 20th century, keeping pace with changes in technology. Where people once believed that demons were speaking to them, they came to think of those voices as emanating from secret phonographs. Today, people with schizophrenia are likely to imagine hidden cameras taping them for a reality show. The paranoid delusions are always there, but the context changes.

Ramadan through camera phones around the world

New York-based filmmaker Bassam Tariq shares the most beautiful images from his story project, 30Days/Ramadan, where photos from the Muslim holy month of Ramadan reveal that media stereotypes of Muslims aren’t nearly as colorful or interesting as snapshots from within the community.

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The 30 Days Ramadan Photo project

Since 2009, New York City-based twentysomething comedian Aman Ali and photographer Bassam Tariq have spent the Islamic holy month of Ramadan visiting mosques around America and documenting Muslim culture in the US. They've also guest-blogged individually and together for Boing Boing in the past. Bassam today sends word that with this year's incarnation of the project, they're trying to "curate some of the best and most powerful user uploaded photos during Ramadan from the world." Check it out: 30daysramadan.com.

When that thing you just heard about is suddenly everywhere

"Baader-Meinhof phenomenon": That's the colloquial name for a funny thing that happens when your brain collides with popular culture. You know how sometimes you'll hear about something for the first time — a new ukelele duo, perhaps, or a scientist whose work you weren't previously familiar with, or some obscure underground subculture ... Boing Boing is full of opportunities for the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon to kick in — and then, suddenly, that new-to-you thing seems to be everywhere? That's what we're talking about. Scientists call it the frequency illusion and Pacific Standard magazine helpfully explains how it works.

Just having a college savings account can increase chances of a kid going to college

And that's true even if the savings account doesn't have enough money in it to cover a full degree — or even a semester. A study from Washington University in St. Louis has attributed this effect to aspirations. A kid who grows up knowing that their parents and others expect high education — and who grows up thinking about higher ed as an option for them — is more likely to go. That makes sense to me. Anecdotally, my grandparents sold a cow when I was born and put the money into a savings bond college fund. It wasn't much when I turned 18. But it was part of creating a family culture that made college something I planned on doing. The catch to this idea, of course, is the rising cost of college. I was lucky enough to attend school in a time and place (1999, Kansas) where my freshman year only cost me about $2000 a semester.

Comic-Con 2013 in pictures: chaos, costumes and culture


The crowds at San Diego Comic-Con, with more than 100,000 attendees, represent only a portion of those who would attend if they could: tickets were sold out in an hour or two in 2012, and within minutes in 2013.

Founded in 1970, San Diego Comic-Con has since exploded into an astounding pop culture festival, attracting more than 130,000 visitors and the attention of Hollywood studios, publishers and retailers alike, all eager to cater to their most dedicated fans.

"Comic-Con is an incredibly fantastic melting pot and passionate center for people who love cult pop movies and pop culture experience," Hobbit and Lord of the Rings star Andy Serkis told Reuters. "There isn't another place in the world that tops it."

Following is a selection of photos (taken by Heather Beschizza and myself, where not otherwise indicated), which offer just a tiny slice of the costumed revelry--and sheer chaos--that fills the show floor's million-square feet.

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Why Oklahomans don't have basements

Seriously now. Why don't people in central Oklahoma have basements to protect them from tornadoes? The answer, according to the engineers and geologists I spoke with for a column at Ensia magazine, is almost entirely cultural. In fact, people who study disasters say that all natural disasters are really cultural ones — created when environmental forces run headlong into complex human social systems. And that presents an interesting question: How do you protect people from tornadoes in a state where most people don't want a basement?

The science of pink and blue

At The Conversation, neuroscientist Melissa Hines talks about what little biological basis there is behind the idea of heavily gender-coded toys for children. It's true that male and female fetuses are exposed to different hormones before birth and that might affect what kinds of toys they're interested in later. But it's also true that there is natural variability in both hormone levels and interests within the sexes and (intriguingly) human babies all prefer reds and pinks, regardless of their sex. (Meanwhile, human adults prefer blue colors, regardless of sex.)