“You don’t like to call your friends cannibals”

The Global Mail has a profile of Professor Michael Alpers, a medical professional who investigated kuru among the Fore for almost three decades.

Professor Michael Alpers, photo by Tony Ashby

There have only been eight deaths attributed to kuru in this century and it’s thought that those were the result of incubation periods near fifty years in length.  That extended incubation period is worrisome far beyond New Guinea, as kuru is closely related to the “mad cow” outbreak of the 1990s. So little is known about the disease that people who may have been exposed to Creutzfeldt-Jakob during that period cannot donate blood via the American Red Cross (that includes me, as I was on a US military base that may have used tainted beef).

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Can two people share a mind?

This article is mind-blowing: there’s no hard proof, but a lot of intriguing evidence that two little girls are in some way sharing each other’s consciousness.

Born with an extremely rare (the rarest- there are no other cases in medical history) form of conjunction at the head (craniopagus), Krista and Tatiana Hogan seem to share mental and physical experience through a thalamic bridge.  Their neurosurgeon hypothesizes that when either of the girl’s bodies experiences sensory input, the signal passes to both brains.

It’s hard not to speculate on the big questions this medical anomaly engenders: on the nature of the self, and on the nature of consciousness.  And these big philosophical questions are ones that Krista and Tatiana have to negotiate continually at a very practical level: what pronoun should the girls use to refer to themselves, and what does it mean?  What if their connectivity extends beyond basic sensory input, to higher-order thoughts and preferences?  There are some good links in the article to philosophers and neurobiologists who had been thinking about these kinds of problems before the extraordinary case of Krista and Tatiana.

BiDil and racialized medicine

Remember that fascinating piece we read by Jonathan Kahn last semester about the story of BiDil, the first drug with a race-specific indication on its label?  Kahn has a new book out about Bidil and it looks great- amazing sleuthing to uncover the commercial interests and legal manipulation that “produce” race as a viable marketing niche even when our current genomic understanding makes the category absurd.

The homeless guy in the apartment next door

by Jonathan Bartlett for LA Weekly

William had been homeless for about 20 years when he received a $200,000 legal settlement. One of his first actions was to do what many would applaud: he got off the streets and out of the broken-down hotels of Los Angeles and rented an apartment.  What he did not do was bathe, wash his hair, change his clothing, wear shoes, or alter his lifestyle of keeping all of his possessions in shopping bags.

The very day he moved in, the leasing agent left soap, shampoo, towels, and a change of clothing in his apartment.  William was insulted and disgusted that his home had been “contaminated.”  By the next week, neighbors were making complaints about the foul odor they said was seeping from his unit.  A veritable battlefield of potpourri and deodorizers was laid out between his door and the next and eviction threats began.

Read the full story on the LA Weekly site: The Man Who Smelled Too Much

I couldn’t help think of a piece by Bourgeois (From Jibaro to Crack Dealer: Confronting the Restructuring of Capitalism in El Barrio) that we read in Anthropology Theory this week.  The “common sense” of the other residents of the nice apartment building is foreign to William.  If the problem is the odor leaving his home, then fine: he squirts some peppermint soap under the door and calls it good.  His neighbors, the building management, and the eventual jury he faces can’t comprehend why he doesn’t simply bathe, put on shoes, and change his clothes.  The foreman is baffled why William won’t cut his hair, since “it grows back.”  There is some victim-blaming going on, but what about the rights of his neighbors?  The comments on the article make for an interesting read, as well.