The Amazing Paul Farmer

I just finishd a book for my Health Psychology class called Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. Inside I was introduced to Paul Farmer, a doctor and a medical anthropologist. He had a very interesting childhood, including living in a bus that was a converted TB clinic and then a boat; he had a very transient lifestyle. He got a full scholarship to Duke and then attended Harvard where he earned a M.D. and a Ph.D. He found his passion and ‘home’ in Haiti. There he treats patients and works on world health care. 

The desperate need Paul Farmer saw in central Haiti as a young man inspired him and four friends to create Partners in Health. They raised money and built what’s become the largest hospital in central Haiti.
What began as a small, understaffed and ill-equipped clinic in 1985, today has 100 inpatient beds, an array of specialists, and three operating rooms. They have nearly two million patient visits a year. And the medical care at the clinic is free. For Farmer, healthcare is a human right. He wants to show the world that children for example don’t have to die of treatable illnesses like tuberculosis or malaria, diseases which they treat every day.

It is pretty amazing and inspiring to hear Paul’s story.  Hopefully there will be more people like Paul Farmer.


World’s Oldest Marijuana Stash Totally Busted

Happy 420! In the Gobi Desert, archaeologists unearthed the grave of a 2,700 year old man who had 2 pounds of still-green marijuana buried with him.

2,700 year old marijuana found in grave in Gobi Desert

2,700 year old marijuana found in grave in Gobi Desert

The researchers believe the individual was a shaman from the Gushi people, who spoke a now-extinct language called Tocharian that was similar to Celtic.

Scientists originally thought the plant material in the grave was coriander, but microscopic botanical analysis of the bowl contents, along with genetic testing, revealed that it was cannabis.

The analysis of the cannabis from 2.700 years ago showed that it was psychoactive, not only used as hemp for making clothes and ropes. There is still a lot of debate today about the legalization of marijuana. Federally, it is still against the law, but many states have legalized posession of a small personal amount or the growing of a certain number of plants for personal use.  Comparitively, if a shaman 2,700 years ago smoked marijuana, and died with riches, why is there still such a debate about marijuana. There are many cultures who don’t think it should be illegal, and some, the Rastafarian, use it as a part of their religious ideology.

The Queen Anne’s Deception

When I went to school at the University of West Florida at Pensacola, FL in the Fall of 2007, one of the classes I took there was a Shipwreck Archaeology class. My professor, a fairly young guy, had worked on some fairly significant projects, including a massive effort made in the early 1990s to excavate the La Belle in the Gulf, below the nearby mouth of the Mississippi River. We talked a lot about that particular dig in class, as well as projects pertinent to Florida – some right in Pensacola Bay (which we never left the classroom to check out; can you guess why I left?) and some further south in the Florida Keys, particularly wrecks popularized by the infamous Mel Fisher. One of the other most significant wrecks in the south is the supposed wreck of Blackbeard’s (real name: Edward Teach_last ship, The Queen Anne’s Revenge. The wreck is supposed to be near the coast of Beaufort, North Carolina, and is quite a contentious site among archaeologists. This piece from National Geographic’s website (it’s not really an article, to be honest) talks a little bit about some new artifacts that have been recently discovered and at least partially conserved/restored by the nautical archaeologists working for the NC Dept. of Cultural Resources. Because it’s such a high-profile wreck if it actually is Blackbeard’s Queen Anne, there is a lot riding on this for the state of North Carolina, especially in potential tourist and investment dollars.
Unfortunately, this National Geographic piece does not bother to mention the fact that there is not a whole lot of physical evidence that has been found thus far to support the idea that the wreck these archaeologists are working on actually is Blackbeard’s Queen Anne. While it’s true that it was his last ship (a former French ship by the name of Le Concorde he captured in 1717) and that he had ground when he was ‘caught’ by Lieutenant Robert Maynard of off NC’s coast in 1718 and killed, it is not as though Blackbeard’s Queen Anne was the only ship to meet her demise in those waters. While a ship’s bell (one of the best sources for validation of a ship’s name and age for archaeologists) was found shortly after excavation began in 1997, the bell was well worn by its time spent in the salty coastal waters and the dates on the bell are unclear. The best potential reading of the ship’s bell’s date actually puts the date of the bell years after The Queen Anne’s Revenge was long gone. Other than a few items, such as this new apothecary’s weight, that have been found that contain French markings (fleur-de-lis), there is almost no evidence to support the origin or ownership of this ship. What’s more, even French markings on items are not particularly solid evidence since trade for items such as these would have been commonplace during this period.
I chose to write about this because archaeology is particularly susceptible to sensationalism, and this (as well as Mel Fisher – can I just tell you that Mel Fisher is a bad man? He is. He’s a low-down, dirty, greedy treasure hunter) is a perfect example of how a lot of pomp and excitement are generated not over facts and honest archaeological work, but in order to raise more tourist and investment dollars.

In Dirt and Secret

I tend to pick up most of the articles I post on here via, since they post a few of the most interesting archaeology/anthropology related links each day, and this article about “Hush-hush Archaeology” is another winner. I’m sure most people can recall the hullabaloo over the new fence at the Mexican-American border, and perhaps even the monumental distaste for the RealID Act (everyone would be required to have a federal-issue ID, very different from something like a passport, in lieu of or in addition to a state ID). I do not personally recall that part of the RealID Act allowed the Homeland Security Secretary (at the time, Michael Chertoff) to waive both federal and state laws dealing with environmental and archaeological protections – even to waive mere surveys, much less excavations – in order to put the new border fence in place. While the article tends to focus more on the coming together of archaeologists, Native American tribes in that area, as well as some government agencies in order to not prevent the building of the fence but prevent the decimation of prehistory, the ability to waive all of these hard-fought protection laws is incredibly important and terrifying to boot. These groups worked together in order to survey, assess, excavate, and document as much of the area (which is right outside of San Diego, CA) that was scheduled to be built upon as possible.

Another important point that the article brings up was the uncertainty of legal action that the archaeologists of the Native American tribes (or even the state of California) could take against the federal government to stop the total destruction of these sites in order to expedite the building of the fence. Would they be able to sue? Even though Chertoff had expressed “keeping with the spirit” of the laws and protections that he’d been given the ability to waive, “keeping with the spirit” is undefined and not nearly good enough when the knowledge of our human history is about to be obliterated. The disrespect and outright flouting of incredibly significant laws that protect not only our environment but our material history is disgusting and also unnecessary.

The article talks a little about how the groups worked under a “gag order” of sorts in order to keep media attention and subsequent protest or potpickers (thieves) away from the site. This was not only to preserve to efforts of the excavation but also so that the government could retain its ability to sell the border fence as a sterling measure of Homeland Security – there was enough bad press as it was. In spite of it all, it is truly inspiring that these archaeologists and Native American groups came together with the (at first, reluctant) help of the Army Corps of Engineers in order to excavate, document, and save as much of the archaeological information that this area of land held.

This article from the British publication The Guardian is about the discovery of an ancient Roman “joke book” by a Classical professor, Mary Beard, that dates back to sometime between the third and fourth centuries CE (Common Era). I thought that the article about this discovery makes several points worth considering, including the fact that our general opinion (or popular representations) of Romans tends to portray them as very austere, bloodthirsty, humorless people. The jokes present in this collection, entitled Philogelos (The Laughter Lover), paint a picture of the Romans as people who were willing to laugh at themselves, caricatures of themselves, or at other “foreign” groups whose practices or culture the Romans found laughable. The jokes, or at least their gist, are not entirely different than some of the jokes that we might use today and other jokes are still easily understandable; these jokes are not a type of humor that is frozen in its original context of time and place.
Another interesting point raised by the article is how there is a recurring theme of mistaken, lost, or lack of personal identity within many of the jokes. The Roman empire had recovered somewhat from the disastrous reigns of the likes of Caligula and Nero a few centuries before, but during this time period other major paradigm shifts would have been occurring, such as the recognition and validation of the Christian Church as well as the move of the Roman capital to Constantinople (in modern-day Turkey, and now known as Istanbul). Such incredible changes would have certainly made a substantial impact on nearly every aspect of Roman culture and society, including their self-perception and self-identity.
I particularly liked this article because humor is capable of bringing people together or helping different groups relate in ways that nothing else can. To have an ancient joke book allows us not only to gain a better understanding of an ancient culture and its people, but also to find some common ground with those who came before us.

Breastfeeding is not Obscene

Mark Belling is a talk show host on a Milwaukee radio station. He recently caused an uproar with his segment concerning a local breastfeeding bill in which he referred to breastfeeding mothers as “sows”. The radio website has since removed the segment in which he made the statement, but here is a quote from the radio show posted on a blog discussing the issue:

“Without regard to what you think about women who get off by behaving like sows by pulling out their you-know-what in front of everybody else in the world and letting their babies start sucking, whatever you think about that, you don’t have the express it so crudely, well why not? It’s a crude practice, given how adamant some of these sows are, that’s an appropriate term, isn’t it? It’’s what a pig does and it does it in public, right? I mean, I don’t, I – hehehehe…”

I was shocked by this statement. Breastfeeding is natural, and most likely how everyone was fed at one point. But, with the patriarchal nature of our society, men don’t want to see a body part that they view as sexual being de-sexualized.

Locally, we are dealing with a similar issue- although it was not so crudely addressed. The Augustus Brown Swimming pool recently banned breastfeeding in their lobby. Juneau is now proposing a breastfeeding bill that would require local businesses to allow an unpaid break for women to breastfeed or express milk in a sanitary and non-bathroom area.

Although breastfeeding is recommended by doctors as the best form of infant nutrition, breastfeeding is fairly discouraged by society. Businesses don’t allow breaks for mothers to breastfeed, or proper areas to do so. As with our local swimming pool, businesses post signs that ban breastfeeding. But why? Is breastfeeding obscene? How could the natural and best form of infant nutrition be obscene? A group of mothers on recently created a group protesting the removal of breastfeeding photos from the website. The pictures were removed because facebook deemed the content inappropriate. A quote on the page reads:

“Facebook, we expect more from you, and we expect you to realize that nursing moms everywhere have a right to show pictures of their babies eating, just like bottle-fed babies have a right to be seen. In an effort to appease the closed-minded, you are only serving to be detrimental to babies, women, and society.”

My mother is currently a lactation consultant at Bartlett Regional Hospital, and previously worked primarily in the OB department. Consequently I have grown up hearing the overwhelming benefits of breastfeeding. It is by far the most superior form of nutrition available to newborns, and it is recommended that infants are exclusively breastfed until at least the first six months. Unfortunately this recommendation is rarely followed.

Breastfeeding infants decreases the risk of chronic illnesses such as asthma, diabetes, and allergies. It lowers the occurrence of respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, ear infections, diarrhea, and other common illnesses. It also increases cognitive functioning, boosts the immune system, and provides all the required nutrients for infants. For mothers, it helps in losing pregnancy weight, and it is free!

Anthro in action

This article is one example of Anthropology in action in that it reveals one scenario that most people would consider totally weird. In fact, I located it in the “wierd  news” section on There are a number of cultrual traditions, rites of passage or events that may seem strange to many of us, however to those engaging in these acts, it is simply ordinary.