Dancing on John Wayne’s Head

A really interesting short documentary (18 minutes) exploring the connections between Africans and New World Native Americans. It includes interviews with a number of interesting people from groups as diverse as the North American Havasupai to "black indian" cocoa farmers in Bolivia. I found it on International Cry, which also included a short commentary on John Wayne himself along with a description of the film and recommendations on similar films and books.

Mushrooms can Save the Planet! Paul Stamets on TED

I've been interested in Paul Stamets since my younger more experimental days. I lived for a time in the country and would often collect wild mushrooms, attempt to identify them, examine their spores and even take an occasional taste. In those days I discovered Stamets, arguably the world expert on fungi. I just found out about this extraordinary talk he gave for TED, and just had to share it. TED has a short description of Stamets:

Entrepreneurial mycologist Paul Stamets seeks to rescue the study of mushrooms from forest gourmets and psychedelic warlords. The focus of Stamets' research is the Northwest's native fungal genome, mycelium, but along the way he has filed 22 patents for mushroom-related technologies, including pesticidal fungi that trick insects into eating them, and mushrooms that can break down the neurotoxins used in nerve gas.

There are cosmic implications as well. Stamets believes we could terraform other worlds in our galaxy by sowing a mix of fungal spores and other seeds to create an ecological footprint on a new planet.

Take a listen and discover what mushrooms can do for the planet besides feed people! Find out why Stamets claims the preservation of old growth forests is a matter of national security. It's a fascinating 17 minute listen that offers a history of fungi as well as a number of key possiblities, including cleaning the soil, treating small pox and the flu, creating natural insecticides, and more...

Also check out Fungi Perfecti, founded by Stamets >>>

The Increasing Power of the Placebo Effect

by douglas reeser on 8.25.2009

The placebo effect. You think you're taking some medicine, and after a few days of treatment, you begin to recover from your illness. Low and behold, that medicine you were taking was really just a sugar-pill. Pharmaceutical companies rely on double-blind tests wherein one group of subjects receives a new medicine, and the other group receives a sugar pill. Neither the subject or the scientist know who receives what pill until after the test is complete (hence the double-blind label). This has been a time tested procedure to figure out the efficacy of a new medication - an anti-depressant for example. What has baffled science for decades is the fact that there is always a percentage of test subjects who receive the sugar pill and still experience the results expected from the actual medicine - the placebo effect.
My interest in the placebo effect stems from the claim that the effectiveness of many traditional healers is really just the placebo-effect. Science has been unable (or unwilling) to explain many traditional healing practices that often combines spiritual healing with body healing (through herbal remedies). Researchers often claim that patients of traditional healers hold such strong beliefs about the effectiveness of their healer's treatment that the belief alone is what brings about healing - the placebo effect.

Well, to underscore that the placebo effect remains poorly understood, and that it may actually play a bigger role in western biomedical practice than is openly admitted, check out this article from Wired magazine about recent experiences with the phenomenon. The article offers examples from a Merck study of a new drug to treat depression:
"Many test subjects treated with the medication felt their hopelessness and anxiety lift. But so did nearly the same number who took a placebo, a look-alike pill made of milk sugar or another inert substance given to groups of volunteers in clinical trials to gauge how much more effective the real drug is by comparison. The fact that taking a faux drug can powerfully improve some people's health—the so-called placebo effect—has long been considered an embarrassment to the serious practice of pharmacology."
The article goes on to say that scientists think the placebo effect is somehow getting stronger, and this poorly understood aspect of health and healing are beginning to put pharmaceutical companies into a crisis.
The reasons are only just beginning to be understood. A network of independent researchers is doggedly uncovering the inner workings—and potential therapeutic applications—of the placebo effect. At the same time, drugmakers are realizing they need to fully understand the mechanisms behind it so they can design trials that differentiate more clearly between the beneficial effects of their products and the body's innate ability to heal itself. A special task force of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health is seeking to stem the crisis by quietly undertaking one of the most ambitious data-sharing efforts in the history of the drug industry. After decades in the jungles of fringe science, the placebo effect has become the elephant in the boardroom.
An interesting history of the placebo effect follows, along with a number of examples of how new medications are being thwarted by failing to be more effective than the placebo effect, and how this is affecting the industry.

Read the entire Wired article here >>>

From Desert to Farm: Food Self-Sufficiency in Detroit

Back in May, we did a post about the economics of poverty and restricted access to resources in urban areas. A recent article on a similar topic -- food deserts or food insecurity -- can be found at Guernica magazine. "Food Among the Ruins," by investigative historian Mark Dowie, looks into the access to healthy food in Detroit, a place that may well turn out to be the first "food desert" on such a large scale -- a place where healthy food is twice as far away as unhealthy food from any given point.

What's great about Dowie's discussion is his optimism about Detroit claiming another "first" as well: being the first 100% food self-sufficient city.

From the article:
There are more visionaries in Detroit than in most Rust-Belt cities, and thus more visions of a community rising from the ashes of a moribund industry to become, if not an urban paradise, something close to it. The most intriguing visionaries in Detroit, at least the ones who drew me to the city, were those who imagine growing food among the ruins—chard and tomatoes on vacant lots (there are over 103,000 in the city, sixty thousand owned by the city), orchards on former school grounds, mushrooms in open basements, fish in abandoned factories, hydroponics in bankrupt department stores, livestock grazing on former golf courses, high-rise farms in old hotels, vermiculture, permaculture, hydroponics, aquaponics, waving wheat where cars were once test-driven, and winter greens sprouting inside the frames of single-story bungalows stripped of their skin and re-sided with Plexiglas—a homemade greenhouse. Those are just a few of the agricultural technologies envisioned for the urban prairie Detroit has become.
The idea has some foundation in efforts already being put forth by local activists and organizations. In the 1980s, the "Gardening Angels," a network of older, African-American, Southern migrants, brought their farming skills to the city, "and set out to reconnect their descendants, children of asphalt, to the Earth, and teach them that useful work doesn’t necessarily mean getting a job in a factory." More recently, the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network has been working with soil remediation: getting rid of abandoned house foundations and removing toxic debris from empty industrial sites. Among other local efforts, an international organization, Urban Farming, has set up their headquarters there, aiming to triple the amount of farmed land in the city, all the while giving away the food to poverty-stricken Detroiters.

Read the entire article here.
Image: Farming in Detroit from the Memphis Flyer

Green Energy Technology: An Indigenous Approach

Over the years we have posted numerous times on the value of indigenous knowledge and traditional ways of being, knowing and doing. As an anthropologist, one of my core interests lies in bridging the gap that exists between indigenous knowledge and western modes of thought in search of alternative ways of approaching problems. This very approach is occurring in Colorado on the lands of the Southern Ute. A recent NY Times article details a venture between Solix Biofuels and the tribe that aims to create biofuel from algae, all the while maintaining a distinctly indigenous approach.
"For example, any project that would displace land used for growing food was tossed out for philosophical reasons: the Southern Utes’ belief that energy and food should not compete in a world where people still starve. That eliminated discussion of corn-based ethanol." And further, the Ute's unique outlook translates in a business sense as well: "The Utes have a very long economic view. They’re making decisions now for future generations as opposed to the next quarter, and that is just fundamentally different.”

Read the entire NY Times article here>>>

Insert Your Headline Here

by lana lynne on 8-13-09
Will newspapers survive the economic downturn? This question has plagued the industry for awhile now -- the consensus seems to be that if they quit relying on an outdated business model, there is still hope. Two alternatives that have surfaced are requiring payment for online content or going non-profit -- the former hasn't worked so well yet, and it would be safe to assume the corporations that own the papers wouldn't be happy with the latter. Nonetheless, the industry clearly needs to change with the times.

One problem with the newspaper business model is its reliance on advertising. Without ads, newspapers have no revenue. After begging, pleading, offering ad space for 1/4 of last year's price, or auctioning ad space with starting bids of 99 cents, do they expect to return to the rates that made the model viable a few years ago, once the economy turns?

An article on good.is, "Conspicuous, but not Consuming," argues that American society has reached a crucial turning point away from conspicuous consumption to conspicuous expressionism. Interesting to think how newspapers could benefit from acknowledging this shift. If people are responding less and less to ads that play off of conspicuous consumerism, perhaps accommodating their readers' desire to conspicuously express will save them in the long run.

One thing is certain. The newspaper industry is unlikely to receive government help (although it's interesting to place their crisis next to those of the auto and credit industries). "Freedom of expression" is at stake, supposedly.

Lately, there have been a series of (unrelated) articles discussing "free press" -- and the role of government in media, the role of media in government, and how these two dynamics shape and control public opinion. Earlier this month, critics lambasted the announcement of a "media crimes law" introduced in Venezuela, denouncing it as "the most comprehensive assault on free speech in Venezuela since Chávez came to power." In this context, others compared the states of media in Venezuela to the U.S., arguing: "there is a much more oppositional media in Venezuela than in the US, and a much greater range of debate in the major media. This can be seen simply by looking at the most important media in both countries." (Check out the full page ad in the Columbia Journalism Review criticizing the Associated Press' treatment of Hugo Chavez.)

An interview with Roberto Hernandez Montoya, president of the Romulo Gallegos Foundation Center for Latin American Studies in Venezuela, likewise explored "freedom of expression" in what he terms "media totalitarianism." He defines the concept as: "Yesterday, there was an engaged press, on the right as on the left, and even religious. But it was not organized the way the big corporations are. That press had ideological and political tendencies, but it was not a global monolith in the sense that today, several media outlets - The Washington Post, Fox News, CNN - set the rhythm for the news and its contents."

While many of the newspapers on the brink of bankruptcy are the local press, many of them nevertheless are owned by one of a few large companies. It would be interesting to see if these smaller publications could break from these corporations, would they be able to attempt a different business model, and a more engaged and more engaging news model?

They'll Call Me Freedom: K'naan on "Democracy Now!"

For today's "Democracy Now!," Amy Goodman interviewed Somali-Canadian rapper K'naan, whose politically-conscious music explores the complicated landscape of war-torn Somalia. Today also marks Hillary Rodham Clinton's meeting with Somalia's new president, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, in which she confirmed the U.S.'s support of the new transitional government and condemned extremist militants in the country.

In Goodman's interview, K'naan talks politics: his relationship to Somalia, the current climate of his country, U.S. involvement in the region and Obama, and piracy. He talks about his life story: how he moved just before war broke out to New York, then Toronto, how he taught himself English, and how music played a role in his healing process. And he talks about how the two--the personal and the political--are intertwined through music: the potentiality in rap to remain relevant, his lyrics, and the meaning behind some of his songs.

In this excerpt, he talks about the relevance of rap, how it has and can be used as a medium for the marginalized:
I think that hip-hop’s strength has always been when it was kind of the journalism of a community that’s otherwise inaccessible to major—to mass media or mass culture. And so, I think that if it—when it continues to be that way, it will still be relevant. But for a long time, it’s been taken over by corporate interests, really, and so the hip-hop that you’ve been getting for a while has been more of—you know, employed, I think, for more production and more things, more—when it comes from the have-nots, I think, when it goes global, like with what I’m doing with it, I think it’ll continue to have its relevance in some way.

Be sure to check out this great interview, or read the transcript.

Also be sure to keep up on K'naan's tour dates!

Reimagining Society Project

I just came across this active project going on over on Zmag's site. A number of renowned scholars from around the globe have been asked to participate in the project through writings, dialogue and continued participation over time. The list of participants is quite impressive, and includes scholars, activists, journalists, filmmakers, artists and more. We haven't had a chance to read much of what's up at this point, but felt it was a really interesting project to share with our readers. Visit and explore from the homepage - and here's the introductory blurb from the purpose page:

The goals of the Reimagining Society Project are:

      • To explore ideas about long term vision and related long and short term strategy and program with the hope of reaching agreements and/or clarifying persisting differences

      • To develop a basis for working together

      • To facilitate joint projects and shared vision/strategy

      • To generate enough agreement to initiate continuing and/or enlarging group connections

      • To display all related essays, proposals, explorations, debates, etc., in ways aimed to incorporate ever wider circles of activists in the collective process of arriving at shared vision and strategy, and then acting on it.