Anthro in the news 4/14/14

• Health equity, smart aid, and “stupid deaths”

KPBS radio (San Diego) interviewed medical anthropologist and health activist Paul Farmer about how to improve health care around the world.

Farmer talked about how to ensure equal access to health care through smart aid and the need to avoid what he calls “stupid deaths.” He comments on the “equity approach” in responding to a question about the aftermath of the Rwanda genocide.

He also addresses tough questions about HIV/AIDs and how to help the poorest people.

• Jim Kim: On leadership and cholera

The Washington Post carried a brief interview (embedded below) with Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank and a medical anthropologist and physician.

Kim discusses leadership and the need to develop a thick skin, in some areas, and openness in others.

During the April 12 meetings of the World Bank, Kim called for a renewed sense of urgency and more coordination from the international community to help Haiti eliminate cholera, which has killed thousands of Haitians since its outbreak in October 2010.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/posttv/c/embed/b4e9c246-c0ee-11e3-9ee7-02c1e10a03f0

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 4/14/14”

Anthro in the news 11/25/13

Paul Farmer, Bill Clinton
Paul Farmer, Michele Montas, and former President Bill Clinton. Flickr/UN Photo

• Paul Farmer lauds Bill Clinton

Medical anthropologist and doctor Paul Farmer has credentials that require their own paragraph. He is Kolokotrones University professor and chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at the Harvard Medical School; chief of the Division of Global Health Equity, Brigham and Women’s Hospital; and co-founder of Partners In Health.

Farmer published an article in The Huffington Post celebrating President Bill Clinton who, nearly 13 years after leaving office, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. Farmer writes, “While his accomplishments as the 42nd President of the United States were extraordinary, the work he’s done since then as a private citizen has had as profound an impact on millions more around the world.”

[Blogger’s note: this may be a first – when an anthropologist gets to pat a former president on the back?]

• Japan on the verge

A review in The Japan Times of Anne Allison’s new book, Precarious Japan, praised it as “a forward-thinking commentary on the current state of Japan, detailing a progressive history from the economic collapse in 1991 to how the country functions today in a modern, post-earthquake society.”

Precarious Japan
Book cover

Allison, Robert O. Keohane professor of cultural anthropology and women’s studies at Duke University, explores how Japanese society is on the cusp of a new transition. Prior to the country’s economic decline, gender and societal roles were firmly secured in Japan: Men were full-time workers, typically loyal to a single company for most of their lives; woman were housewives, dedicating their lives to the caretaking of their households and families.

Allison explores how this paradigm is rapidly shifting — despite the lag in society’s perceptions of gender roles. The review also comments that “Allison gives an eye-opening view into the darker aspects of modern Japanese society, and how such instability is effecting both individuals and the country at large … Despite being an academic book, readers in Japan will likely feel connected to the events and conditions that Allison describes … For those wondering just how precarious Japan’s future really is, this book is a good place to start.”

A review of Allison’s book in The Atlantic focused on her description of Japan’s highly competitive school system and its cautionary implications for the U.S. For more insights about the book and Anne Allison’s perspectives, NPR provides a wide-ranging audio interview with the author.

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 11/25/13”

Anthro in the news 8/26/13

• Beware the poison in the gift

The Washington Post carried an opinion piece by cultural anthropologist Hugh Gusterson, professor at George Mason University.

Gifts but do they come with strings attached
Gifts, but do they come with strings attached? Flickr/FutUndBeidl

Gusterson asks: what is the difference between a gift and a bribe, and provides some cultural anthropology insights: “Gifts are given in all cultures, and to remarkably similar effect … gifts by their nature create social ties and a sense of reciprocal obligation. To give a gift is to expect something in return, though it undermines the power and mystique of the gift to spell out too clearly what that something is … The failure to give something in response can end a friendship … Anthropologists have found that gifts create two kinds of relationships: those between equals and those that establish subordination.”

Gusterson goes on to discuss whether a federal grand jury will indict Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell: “…we know that McDonnell and his family accepted gifts including a $6,500 Rolex watch, a $10,000 engagement gift, $15,000 in wedding catering and a $15,000 Bergdorf Goodman shopping spree, not to mention $120,000 in loans, from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., chief executive of the Henrico-based company Star Scientific. If prosecutors determine that McDonnell made specific promises to promote Star Scientific’s dietary supplement Anatabloc in exchange for these favors, the governor could soon be spending a lot of time in court … For prosecutors, the key question is whether there was a clearly articulated ‘quid pro quo.’ If so, the gifts were bribes. If not, they were gifts. To me, as an anthropologist, this largely misses the point.”

[Blogger’s note: assuming I am on target here — a gift requires a return, unless it falls into the extremely rare and hard-to-document category of a “pure gift” for which the giver has absolutely no thought whatsoever of any kind of return].

• Benefits of postpartum placentaphagy to moms?

According to reporting in the Monterey Herald, a survey of 189 women who had consumed their babies’ placentas — raw, cooked or in capsule form — revealed that 95 percent reported their experience was either positive or very positive, and 98 percent said they would repeat the experience.

Placenta Capsules
Placenta capsules. Flickr/latisha

The article quotes Daniel Benyshek, co-author of the study and associate professor in the department of anthropology at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas: “Of course, we don’t know if those are placebo effects and their positive results are based on their expectations.”

The survey results were published in the journal, Ecology of Food and Nutrition. The report disclosed that the first author, Jodi Selander, is the founder of Placenta Benefits, an online information source that also offers training for placenta encapsulators. Benyshek is planning a double-blind pilot study that would compare the effects of placenta capsules and a placebo on women’s postpartum experiences.

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 8/26/13”

The World Cup's bittersweet draught

Nelson Mandela worked hard to bring the World Cup to South Africa. But he didn’t attend the opening game, as was highly anticipated. Instead, he stayed at home mourning the death of his granddaughter, Zenani, who was killed by a car allegedly driven by a drunken driver on the eve of the opening game.


Jets fly over the opening ceremony of the 2010 FIFA World Cup at Soccer City in Johannesburg. It was a happy occasion, to be sure, but not for one South African icon. Creative commons licensed photo by Flickr user Shine 2010 – 2010 World Cup good news.

Heavy drinking and certain sports seem inextricably linked around the world. In my home town of Washington, D.C., the local government agreed to let bars open at 7 a.m. for early games, though you can’t get a drink until 8 a.m. weekdays and Saturdays, and 10 a.m. Sundays. Curious, I asked the college-age assistants in my office: “Is it essential to drink while watching the World Cup?” The chorus of replies was, “Yes, essential.”

As the World Cup games proceed, bars around the world, not just South Africa’s bars and shebeens, will be far busier than usual. And there will be far more drunk drivers on the roads. Sports rivalry and risk-taking seem to go hand in hand: risky games, risky drinking, risky driving, risky sex and who knows what else.

The thrill of it all. For many. But not for everyone.