Thursday, March 28, 2013

Attraverso Review: Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes - The Yanomamö and the Anthropologists by Napoleon Chagnon

By Professor Jeffery Atik

Napoleon Chagnon's title promises a visit to two dangerous tribes: the Yanomamö and the Anthropologists. He provides a disjointed treatment. The larger part of the book takes the form of memoir, a return by Chagnon to the people he studied over the greater part of his career. The later chapters address the academic scandal surrounding Chagnon's work - and his place within the evolving discipline. Chagnon defends himself here - but he does not 'scientifically' study his anthropologist accusers: their violence (as opposed to that of the Yanomamö) is not explained.

Chagnon made the Yanomamö famous: his monograph (subtitled "The Fierce People') was widely studied (it was a highlight of the undergraduate Cultural Anthropology course I took). And of course the Yanomamö made Chagnon famous.Chagnon's work was always controversial. He presented the Yanomamö as among the world's few remaining "Stone Age" people, largely isolated in the regions dividing Venezuela and Brazil. From here they subsistence agriculture from ever shifting villages. The Yanomamö were hardly unaffected by encounters with the outside -- they grew plantains and other crops that had been introduced to South America and prefered modern tools (including the machete and shotgun). Chagnon depicted the Yanomamö as a violent society, characterized by treacherous killings, inter-village raids, and systematic abduction of females. The Yanomamö were not Rousseau's noble savages.

Chagnon's scientific work with the Yanomamö involved careful collection of data over a fairly long horizon -- tempered with some theorizing that gets him into hot water. Perhaps his most controversial claim was that Yanomamö competition (which is to say, violence) was directed at the acquisition of women -- and not of material resources. And violence is celebrated: men who have killed others (known as unokais) secure status and -- Chagnon documents -- have significantly more offspring than their more peaceable neighbors. Chagnon suggests that past human experience was much more brutish than we'd like to imagine. Still in his focus on violence from the perspective of competing (and cooperating) males, he overvalues male agency and neglects to inquire of the female Yanomamö: what is it that they seek?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Attraverso Review: Bull by the Horns: Trying to Save Main Street from Wall Street and Wall Street from Itself by Sheila Bair

By Professor Jeffery Atik

Bull by the Horns is part defense of past action, part call-to-action. Sheila Bair served as chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, one of the chief federal bank regulators, from 2006 through 2011 -- and thus rode the entire wave of the Financial Crisis. By her own account, she clashed with officials of both the Bush and Obama Administrations (in important cases, these were the same individuals). And throughout these times she was the most prominent woman in United States financial regulation.

Bair becomes the FDIC in this story -- she absorbs its mission and makes it her own. The FDIC has a peculiar mission -- and it has never been the only law in banking. Bair believes in deposit insurance but not bailouts. Deposit insurance is paid to depositors in the event of bank failure; bailouts are payouts to shareholders, bondholders and management in the same circumstances. There is a distinction here -- but perhaps not as self-evident a one as Bair imagines. Both deposit insurance and bailouts (under the Too Big to Fail doctrine or otherwise) create moral hazard. Bair though sees banking policy through the FDIC lens -- depositors (up to the FDIC limits) are to be given continuous access to their funds in the event of failure; shareholders and bondholders are to be wiped out and -- at least in most cases -- bank management is to be fired. All very by the book. Which is to say, Bair wants the bank resolution system to work as it is promised to work -- which of course is not at all what happened following the Financial Crisis.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Angelenos: United in Voter Apathy?

By Associate Clinical Professor Jessica A. Levinson

Mayoral candidates Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel are now in the final stretch of their campaign to become the next mayor of Los Angeles. Following the March 5 election, both candidates will seek to motivate voters to go to the polls. But what voters? According to preliminary numbers, only 16 percent, yes that's right, only one out of six voters went to the polls or mailed in ballots. In a city divided over so many issues, it seems elections have managed to unite 84 percent of eligible Angelenos in laziness, boredom, apathy, or all of the above.

In Los Angeles, the second most populous city in the nation, there are approximately 1.8 million eligible voters and 3.8 million residents. This means approximately 290,000 voters weighed in on decisions that will affect nearly four million people. Another way of thinking of this is that each voter voted for the interests of 12 people living in Los Angeles.

I cannot claim to have a comprehensive knowledge of the reasons behind this significantly depressed turnout, therefore I cannot seek to propose solutions to this problem. But I do know that by sitting out elections we are giving a few of our fellow Angelenos, those who cast ballots, a great deal of power over the face of our city government. In essence what we have is a city of residential representatives who chose our political representatives. But, of course, no one appointed or elected this first group -- they merely decided to take part in our democracy.

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Monday, March 4, 2013

DNA, crime fighting and the Fourth Amendment

By Associate Professor Kevin Lapp

On Feb. 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Maryland v. King, a case that Justice Alito called "the most important criminal procedure case this Court had had in decades." The case involves the constitutionality of warrantless, involuntarily DNA collection from individuals who have been arrested for a felony, but not yet charged or convicted. It is uncontested that DNA collection constitutes a search for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. This case asks whether compelling such searches in the absence of a warrant, and the absence of a criminal conviction, is reasonable.

Maryland, together with 27 other states and the federal government, has statutorily mandated law enforcement to collect a DNA sample from certain individuals upon arrest. The DNA extraction happens not because the state has any articulated suspicion whatsoever that the search will produce evidence of criminality. Were that so, the state could get a warrant to compel a DNA sample. Instead, the law requires arrestees to submit to DNA collection (typically by a buccal swab) based merely on the fact of the arrest. It is done so that law enforcement can analyze the DNA sample and compare it to the thousands of DNA profiles already in state and federal databases, in the hopes that the arrestee's DNA will match as-yet unidentified DNA evidence related to unsolved crimes.

Such "suspicionless" searches are generally unreasonable. Indeed, they are precisely the kinds of searches that the Fourth Amendment was intended to stamp out when the Founding Fathers made it part of the Bill of Rights. But the lure of an effective crime-fighting technology has proved irresistible to many courts asked to rule on the constitutionality of compelled, warrantless DNA collection from individuals upon arrest.