Anthro in the news 11/3/14

  • Ghosts are back!

Tanya Lurhmann, cultural anthropologist at Stanford University, published an op-ed in The New York Times about the changing role of ghosts, vampires, zombies, and the living dead in popular culture. She points to the Harry Potter books, the “Twilight” series, the television show “Grimm.” The Syfy network has produced 16 paranormal reality shows since 2004. A 2013 Harris Poll found that 42 percent of Americans believe in ghosts — but only 24 percent of respondents 68 and older. A trend among youth? She writes:

“Scholars sometimes talk about this supernaturalization as a kind of ‘re-enchantment’ of the world — as a growing awareness that the modern world is not stripped of the magical, as the German sociologist Max Weber and so many others once thought, but is in some ways more fascinated than ever with the idea that there is more than material reality around us. In part, I think, this is because skepticism has made the supernatural safe, even fun. It turns out that while many Americans may think that there are ghosts, they often don’t believe that ghosts can harm them.”

She moves on to connect the new supernaturalization in the U.S. to changes in Christianity as well as technology:  “Our world is animated in ways that can seem almost uncanny — lights that snap on as you approach, cars that fire into life without keys, websites that know what you like to read and suggest more books like those. The Internet is not material in the ordinary way. It feels somehow different. Maybe this, too, stokes our imagination.”

  • Turn Ebola around: The four S’s in good health care

Nina Pham, a nurse who was infected while treating an Ebola patient in Dallas. Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

An article in The New York Times described the stark difference in the care available to Ebola victims in West Africa and the United States and how it is reflected in the outcomes. In West Africa, 70 percent of people with Ebola are dying, while seven of the eight Ebola patients treated in the United States are now in good health. The “survival gap” is vast, but health experts agree that the single most important missing element is enough trained health workers in West Africa to provide intensive care. Doctors say the key to surviving Ebola, and what has saved the patients in the United States, has been a higher level of “supportive care” to treat deadly symptoms like severe fluid loss and organ failure.

The article quotes medical anthropologist Paul Farmer: “There is no reason we can’t turn this around,” said Farmer, a Harvard professor and co-founder of the aid group Partners in Health, which is setting up treatment centers in Liberia and Sierra Leone for 500 patients each. “You need the four S’s,” he said. “Staff, stuff, space, systems.”

  • Structural inequality in western Kentucky: Book in review

WKMS radio of Murraysville, Kentucky, carried an article about a book by Oberlin College’s Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, Jack Glazier. It offers a penetrating look at Hopkinsville and Christian County, which is part ethnography and part historical narrative, titled Been Coming through Some Hard Times – Race, History and Memory in Western Kentucky. Glazier met with Hopkinsville groups last year to discuss his conclusion: that structural inequality persists in the community. An audio interview with Glazier covers the origin of his interest in Hopkinsville, the historical significance of Kentucky granting marriage rights to African Americans and the failure of the Freedman’s Bureau in the city.

  • Letter to the editor: Let’s get it right

A letter to the editor of The Independent by cultural anthropologist Sean Carey corrected a frequent journalistic error about the appointment of Guy Scott as (temporary) president of Zambia:

“Like many other journalists reporting Guy Scott’s temporary appointment as Zambian president, Peter Popham (report, October 30) is wrong when he claims that Scott is the ‘first white man in ultimate authority in Africa since apartheid South Africa’s President FW de Klerk’. Scott may be the first [white] president since de Klerk but he is not the first [white] head of government of an African state. That honour belongs to Paul Berenger, someone of French heritage, who was prime minister of Mauritius from 2003 to 2005 after a powersharing agreement with his predecessor, Sir Anerood Jugnauth.”

  • Take that anthro degree and…

…become a renowned chef. Jody Adams was mentioned in an article in The Boston Globe about salaries and how they vary in the U.S. Adams is a James Beard Award winning chef and visionary behind two of Massachusetts’ most well-known restaurants: Rialto, in Harvard Square, and TRADE, in Boston’s Seaport District.  She has an anthropology degree from Brown University.

…become a farmer.  Kenny and Molly Baker sell the organic vegetables and flowers grown at Lonely Mountain Farm at a San Francisco farmers market. The leftovers go to the chickens, whose eggs add a little income, their waste, fertilizer for fields growing more vegetables and flowers. Kenny Baker graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in cultural anthropology. He made friends with farmers selling at the Santa Cruz farmers market, contacts who eventually connected him to work in agriculture.

  • Gladiator version of Irn-Bru

NPR and several other media reported on findings from a study of the remains of Roman gladiators.  After battles, gladiators may have consumed an energy drink made from the ashes of charred plants, a rich source of calcium, which is essential for building bones. The report is published in the journal PLOS One:
“Plant ashes were evidently consumed to fortify the body after physical exertion, and to promote better bone healing,” Fabian Kanz, a forensic anthropologist at the Medical University of Vienna who led the research.

Evidence for this ancient dietary supplement comes from a second-century cemetery for gladiators in what was once the great Roman city of Ephesus, in modern-day Turkey. Kanz and his colleagues have been studying the remains buried there to unravel how these athletes lived. To figure out what they ate, the researchers examined the remains of 22 gladiators using stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratio analysis.

NPR also quotes Kristina Killgrove, a biological anthropologist at the University of West Florida who studies imperial Rome through ancient bones: “This is strong evidence that the gladiators were consuming something high in calcium to replenish their calcium stores that other people weren’t and that didn’t show up in the isotopes.”

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