Anthro in the news 1/5/15

Source: Francisco Leong/Agence France-Presse. Getty Images
  • Paul Farmer in the news

Farmer zings M.S.F.: The New York Times quoted Paul Farmer, medical anthropologist and professor at Harvard University, in an article about controversy over the use of IV therapy for Ebola victims in West Africa. Two of the most admired medical charities are divided over the issue. Partners in Health, which has worked in Haiti and Rwanda but is just beginning to treat Ebola patients in West Africa, supports the aggressive treatment. Its officials say the more measured approach taken by Doctors Without Borders is overly cautious.

Farmer, one of the founders of Partners in Health, using the French initials for Doctors Without Borders (MSF), is quoted as saying: “M.S.F. is not doing enough…What if the fatality rate isn’t the virulence of disease but the mediocrity of the medical delivery?”

Farmer joins the movie stars: The Huffington Post reported on an effort by The Hunger Games movie stars to keep pressure on efforts to stamp out Ebola. They created a YouTube video which includes luminaries Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Jeffrey Wright, Mahershala Ali and Julianne Moore….and Paul Farmer.

Farmer was right: Ross Douthat, a regular columnist for The New York Times, reflected on three errors he had made in 2014, one of which was to assume that the Ebola crisis would arrive in the U.S. Therefore, he supported travel restrictions. But now, he writes, “Two months later, there has been no wider outbreak, most of the cases treated domestically have resulted in a cure, and the president and his appointees can reasonably claim vindication (as can Dr. Paul Farmer who argued in an October essay that with Western standards of medical treatment, Ebola victims could have a 90 percent survival rate).

Farmer on well-being labels for countries: A blog post on National Public Radio ponders the validity of the terms First World, Third World, “developing country” and “developed country” and turns to insight from Paul Farmer. He says: “…it’s not like the First World is the best world in every way. It has pockets of deep urban and rural poverty…That’s the Fourth World,” referring to parts of the United States and other wealthy nations where health problems loom large. In the end, the blog reverts to sticking with “developed” and “developing countries.”

[Blogger’s note: I recently went through this thought process and have decided to follow the World Bank usage which, as you might imagine, prioritizes income; thus countries are “low income”, “middle income”, and “high income”.]

  • Make health care infrastructure in Ebola countries a top priority

An article in Aljazeera America highlighted the need for stronger health care measures to be put in place in Ebola-stricken countries to prevent future outbreaks and spread with a focus on Liberia: “The country’s health care system in particular will require major attention. At least 174 Liberian nurses and doctors have succumbed to Ebola in the nation, according to the World Health Organization. The total breakdown of medical services was one of the worst side effects of Ebola.” For Liberians, the collapse of health services was a reminder that, despite billions of dollars in foreign aid, Liberia is still struggling to provide basic services to its population. As anthropologist Sharon Alane Abramowitz wrote in a recent op-ed for Cultural Anthropology, Liberia’s pre-Ebola health care infrastructure was “fragmented, underfunded and understaffed.” Building effective health systems must now become one of Liberia’s top priorities, pitting health care spending against the dominant security spending.

  • Exhibits trace African inspiration of Haitian art

The Miami Herald carried a piece on two new exhibits in Coral Gables, Florida: “Transformative Visions: Works by Haitian Artists from the Permanent Collection” and “Art in Real Life: Traditional African Art from the Lowe Art Museum”. Both shows draw on the Lowe Art Museum’s 19,000-piece collection. “Transformative Visions” was guest curated by University of Miami history professor, Kate Ramsay, and anthropology professor, Louis Herns Marcelin. They plumbed the Lowe’s collection, visited artists’ studios to select works for the exhibition, and urged the museum to make new purchases, including the first works by Haitian women artists.

  • Exemplary anthropology student and activist

The Globe and Mail (Vancouver) is running a series introducing the next generation of innovators. It is asking prominent British Columbians to nominate people they are watching. Cultural anthropologist and explorer Wade Davis, professor at the University of British Columbia, was asked for his nomination, and he nominated Ashli Akins, the founder and executive director of the charity Mosqoy and a Ph.D. student in anthropology at the University of British Columbia. Mosqoy is an international charitable organization that works with remote communities of the Peruvian Andes to provide economic opportunities while nurturing their threatened indigenous culture. She founded Mosqoy when she was 21 years old and has since dedicated her life to it.

According to Davis: “In her vision, intellectual passion, intense focus and ambition, not to mention her deep commitment to social justice and the rights of indigenous peoples, Ashli personifies the values and qualities that anthropology needs to celebrate and support, both for the sake of the discipline and more importantly for the well-being of humanity.”

  • Take that anthro degree and…

… become CEO and co-founder of a tech start-up company based in Philadelphia that promotes sustainable lifestyles. Morgan Berman was formally recognized by the United Nations Foundation on its global “Top 10 Women to Watch” list for an app that helps users make eco-friendly choices in everyday life. After earning a B.A. in women’s studies and anthropology from The College of William and Mary in Virginia, she worked for Planned Parenthood. She then went on to earn a master’s degree at Philadelphia University in sustainable design. She used her master’s thesis to help develop her company, Milkcrate. Given her history of advocacy for women’s health, Berman sees a clear connection between reproductive care and sustainable living. She says: “On a human sustainability scale, a woman’s choice to control her reproductive health and life is so essential to her own abilities to have the kind of work, education and quality of life that she wants.”

…become a performing arts curator in a cabaret. Scott Artley seeks to bring participatory elements to the shows at Patrick’s Cabaret in the Twin Cities, Minnesota. He hopes Twin Cities theatergoers will see the performing arts venue as a place where the term “cabaret” is synonymous with “surprise me.” Artley has degrees in cultural anthropology and comparative literature from the University of Minnesota. Artley said: “Participatory elements in performing arts really interest me…The first show I created at Patrick’s was all around using the human voice. One of the things I was fascinated by was this participatory form called shape-note singing, and I had this vision of everyone in the audience running on stage. I don’t like barriers between audiences and performers. I want it to be really fluid and permeable.”

…work for a non-profit that helps small-scale coffee farmers through a cooperative in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Beth Ann Caspersen studied anthropology at Wheaton College, Massachusetts. She works for the West Braintree-based Equal Exchange which supports the work of small-scale coffee farmers and the Panzi Hospital.

  • Historical archaeology of built stone “caves” in Kansas
Source: Rich Sugg/The Kansas City Star

The Kansas City Star carried an article about an exhibit by photographer Tom Parrish of stone cellars that were built in several counties in Kansas between 1850 and 1890 by immigrants from Czechoslovakia, Germany, Sweden, and Ireland. Four counties appear to contain the highest concentration of such structures in the world. The article draws on commentary from Jack Hoffman, an anthropology professor at the University of Kansas, who stumbled upon similar structures while excavating a pre-1800s Pawnee Indian village. Hoffman became fascinated with the cellars. He comments that the arched stone cellars represent a perfect confluence of geology, terrain and migrants: Stone was plentiful, there were no trees to provide lumber for wooden roofs or scaffolds, and the settlers came from stone-building cultures.

Most of the existing stone caves are on private land. A map on Tom Parish’s website, FlintHillShelters.com, is intentionally vague about the exact locations because it is illegal to hike on private property even if no one is living there. The exhibit, “Take Shelter”, runs through January at The Box Gallery, 1000 Walnut St. in the Commerce Bank Building, Kansas City.

  • Multiple threats to Peru’s archaeological sites

As authorities threaten to prosecute Greenpeace activists for damaging Peru’s ancient Nazca Lines, archaeologists say the government neglects to adequately protect Peru’s cultural heritage.

In Nazca, the two government archaeologists in charge of protecting the lines work in a small office with a paper sign taped to the front door. They don’t have a vehicle, so to reach a site they take a bus. Rubén García, the government’s director of cultural heritage in Ica state, where the Nazca Lines are located, said the archaeological budget for Nazca is insufficient to protect such a vast area.

Some archaeological and cultural experts say the problem runs deeper than that. They point out that the government put commercial interests ahead of cultural ones by allowing off-road vehicles during the annual Dakar Race to tear up part of the Nazca designs.

Other threats include economic development; highways and suburbs are disturbing ruins and illegal mining is damaging delicate archaeological sites, including geoglyphs in the Nazca area. The article quotes Ann Peters, an archaeologist from the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology: “What Greenpeace did was very minor compared to these other types of destruction, but it was very public and therefore got a lot of attention.”

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