Snakebit in Brazil – A Village’s Beliefs and Practices about “Offensive Snakes”


Fita DS, Costa Neto EM, Schiavetti A. ‘Offensive’ snakes: cultural beliefs and practices related to snakebites in a Brazilian rural settlement. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2010 Mar 26;6:13. PubMed PMID: 20346120; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2853519 [free full text]

Investigators at Universidade Estadual de Feira de Santana undertook fieldwork in a Brazilian rural settlement in 2006, totaling 53 days of living in the village and a followup stay of 15 days in 2007. They recorded a total of 23 types of ‘snakes’, based on their local names. Four of them, belonging to the family Viperidae were considered the most dangerous to humans, and causing more aversion and fear in the population.

From the conclusion:

“Ethnozoological information on the injuries caused by snakes and other potentially dangerous animals must be available to the community as didactic-scientific texts, written in a clear language and accompanied by illustrations. It is understood that the ethnozoological knowledge, customs and popular practices of the Serra da Jibóia inhabitants result in a valuable cultural resource which should be considered in every discussion regarding public health, sanitation and practices of traditional medicine, as well as in faunistic studies and conservation strategies for local biological diversity.”

Important note: The information on my blog is not intended as a substitute for medical professional help or advice but is to be used only as an aid in understanding current medical knowledge. A physician should always be consulted for any health problem or medical condition.

Breast Cancer as an Infectious Disease?


Lawson JS, Glenn WK, Whitaker NJ. Breast cancer as an infectious disease. Womens Health (Lond Engl). 2010 Jan;6(1):5-8. PubMed PMID: 20088725 [free full text]

Researchers at the University of New South Wales review evidence for a role of human papillomavirus (HPV) in the etiology of at least some forms of breast cancer, complemented by their laboratory work to identify HPV sequences from breast tumors.

Identifying low viral load as a possible explanation for failure to detect HPV in previous studies of breast tumors, the authors employed repeated PCR analyses using SYBR Green for greater sensitivity, and were able to detect HPV in nearly half the tumors tested.

From the conclusion:

“When considered in the context of previously published evidence related to HPV and breast cancer, these recent findings strongly suggest a causal role for HPVs in some breast cancers. However, we must wait for the development of further evidence before this relationship can be stated definitively.

“The immediate importance of this work is that it brings with it the possibility, for the first time, that primary preventative measures for some breast cancers are likely to be immediately available. This is because the high-risk HPV types that we and many others have identified in breast tumors (principally HPV types 16 and 18) are the same types for which the new HPV vaccines are most effective. These vaccines are already available and are being used on a worldwide basis.”

Important note: The information on my blog is not intended as a substitute for medical professional help or advice but is to be used only as an aid in understanding current medical knowledge. A physician should always be consulted for any health problem or medical condition.

A Second Green Revolution – One Man, One Cow, One Planet


Across India, farmers are rejecting chemical agriculture and turning to sustainable organic practices.

On one side, an American multinational, Monsanto, which sells genetically modified seeds and chemical fertilizers and pesticides. On the other, Indian farmers and an ally from New Zealand, who work together to grow crops independently.

By all means, question the science behind biodynamic farming. But look at the results. And apply the same skepticism to the science behind Monsanto’s selling of chemical agriculture and genetically modified crops.

Start here:

Film website

Shah Jo Raag Fakirs Freed from Homeland Security


I was privileged to hear Shah Jo Raag Fakirs last night at Asia Society, but not after they spent several hours in custody at JKF. Ridiculous, since Pakistani Sufis are fighting the good fight for the soul of Islam (and for all of us), and are suffering for it. Fortunately Homeland Security listened to reason, in the form of a phone call from Rachel Cooper, director of Cultural Programs and Performing Arts.

From the program:

“Shah Jo Raag belongs to the family of musicians who sing at the shrine of Shah Lateef in Bhit Shah in the traditional manner that was created by the Shah himself about four hundred years ago. Shah Jo Raag is a direct descendant of Shah Jamal who was very close to Shah Lateef and his family has been the keeper of tradition. Every Thursday the session of singing begins after the esha (night) prayers and lasts the entire night. During the annual Urs celebration the singing goes on nonstop for the three days of the event. The Wai singers dress themselves in black and chant, strumming the dhamboor, the instrument created by Shah himself, and sing “Wai” the kalaam of the Shah by turns. Shah Jo Raag has been singing at the shrine for the last thirty years. His group has won awards in Paris, the Lateef Award and Rafi Peer Award in Pakistan.”

Even this brief encounter was unforgettable. Gratitude to the trio, who must have been exhausted after their journey and incarceration. Also to Asia Society and William Dalrymple, the author of Nine Lives – In Search of the Sacred in Modern South Asia.

Stillness in Motion: Selections from “American Movie Critics”


American Movie Critics: An Anthology from the Silents Until Now. Edited by Phillip Lopate. New York: Library of America, 2006. [Amazon]

A fascinating book. Wonderful for updating your Netflix list, and also for getting a sense of America’s love affair with the movies from the start.

Some quotes:

“The rhythm of the play is marked by unnatural rapidity. As the words are absent which, in the drama as in life, fill the gaps between the actions, the gestures and deeds themselves can follow one another much more quickly. Happenings which would fill an hour on stage can fill hardly more than twenty minutes on the screen. This heightens the feeling of vitality in the spectator. He feels as if he were passing through life with a sharper accent which stirs his personal energies.” – Hugo Munsterberg (b. 1863)

“First of all, reality (today anyway) is largely the invention of journalism and is based on the formulas of the neat, transmissible word-summary of action past. Visual media simply convert this formula into sight terms. In both fiction and so-called fact media, or a fusion of them, the same banal process always takes place: the technicians invent a plausible simulacrum of what is supposed to happen or have happened in life. A newsreel or documentary film is supposed (a) to represent accomplished fact or (b) typical and/or current and continuous fact. Each is an item, more or less edited, detached from the whole continuum of reality yet presumed to stand for reality-reality in an ontological sense, the “world,” and so on.” – Parker Tyler (b. 1904)

“The Astaire-Rogers dance films were romances, or rather, chapters in a single epic romance…. in those years dancing was transformed into a vehicle of serious emotion between a man and a woman. It never happened in movies again.” – Arlene Croce (b. 1934)

“…audiences who have been forced to wade through the thick middle-class padding of more expensively made movies to get to the action enjoy the nose-thumbing at “good taste” of cheap movies that stick to the raw materials. At some basic level, they like the pictures to be cheaply done, they enjoy the crudeness; it’s a breather, a vacation from proper behavior and good taste and required responses.” – Pauline Kael (b. 1919)

“People like me who champion pornography on the grounds that it is life-enhancing are constantly being told that it isn’t truly life-enhancing, because it is only a travesty of the real thing. The difficulty with that argument is knowing what the real thing is. Whenever I ask for a definition, my interlocutor begins to sputter; precisely as “everyone” knows that blue movies are boring, “everyone” knows what the real thing is. But I don’t. Or I do and I don’t. I live bathed in a continuous erotic glow, and I recognize pornography as among the thousand blessed things that heighten this glow. Like sunlight, like water, like the smell and taste of skin, it helps make me happy. I foresee that with every passing year it will become increasingly precious to me: a vade mecum when the adventure of old age begins.” – Brendan Gill (b. 1914)

“Film is stillness in motion. There is no such thing as a moving picture. All pictures are still pictures. The illusion of movement in film comes from passing a succession of perfectly frozen images before a lens so rapidly, with a convenient eyeblink between them, that we are deceived into thinking that stillness is action. Take the film out of the projector and look at any one frame – as you now must, if you wish to see it at all – and you will see what Keaton may have seen all his life: rigidity at the heart of things, rigidity as the very condition of apparent activity. Keaton may have taken his esthetic – even his attitude toward life – from the knowledge he derived every time he finished a strip of celluloid. What was printed on the celluloid was immobile, silent as the tomb, an extract and an abstract from the void. It was also, at the same time, part of a continuum, and when the continuum was seen whole – miracle of miracles that this should be possible – what had been indisputably dead leapt to unreal, yet mysteriously persuasive, life. Now Zero moves, has being, joins the tangible – without ceasing to be Zero. Whether he arrived at his identity consciously or not, Keaton became what film is.” Walter Kerr (b. 1913)

Films recommended by selected critics, not yet on Netflix:

Edgar Allan Poe (1909)
Man’s Genesis (1912)
Greed (1924)
Moana of the South Seas (1926)
Hog Wild (1930)
The Fatal Glass of Beer (1933)
The Devil Is a Woman (1935)
Ceiling Zero (1936)
Elephant Boy (1937)
God’s Stepchildren (1938)
Youth Runs Wild (1944)
Counter-Attack (1945)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
Saratoga Trunk (1945)
Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948)
Intruder in the Dust (1949)
The Tall Target (1951)
Banditi a Milano (1968)
High School (1968)
The Coming Thing (1970)
Law and Order (1969)
Hospital (1970)
The Gland Hotel (1975)
Welfare (1975)
Meat (1976)
Cheek to Cheek (1986)

Films I Want to See in New York – 8 – Winter’s Bone


Watch This Film

Winter’s Bone
Debra Granik, USA
2010, 100 min

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence (Ree), John Hawkes (Teardrop), Kevin Breznahan (Little Arthur), Dale Dickey (Merab), Garret Dillahunt (Sheriff Baskin), Sheryl Lee (April), Lauren Sweetser (Gail), Tate Taylor (Satterfield)

Opening June 11, Angelika and Lincoln Plaza.

“It ain’t much, but it’s all we have.”

Winner of two independent juries’ prizes at this year’s Berlinale, Winter’s Bone is the unflinching telling of a Ozark Mountain girl’s desperate quest to keep her family intact by finding a father who vanished after posting their home as bond.

Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), the sole support of her younger brother and sister and mentally ill mother, is a classic film heroine who when up against impossible odds won’t take no for an answer. Dead or alive, she must find her meth-cooking father, defying a near-cultic criminal syndicate that manufactures, supplies, and supports crank culture in the Ozarks.

Based on a novel by David Woodrell and set on location in Christian and Taney counties in southwest Missouri, Winter’s Bone uses experienced actors in the lead roles and local actors and residents for most of the secondary parts. Dale Dickey is electric in the role of Merab, wife and gatekeeper to the local crime lord. John Hawkes shows unexpected tenderness and loyalty as Ree’s fearsome, addicted uncle. And Jennifer Lawrence inhabits the lead role with hardscrabble grit and enduring vulnerability as she tries to see her brother and sister through their own childhoods.

After several scouting trips to the area, and with help from local guides to one of the North America’s more exotic and dangerous locations, cinematographer Michael McDonough and production crew manage to skirt hillbilly cliche in settings of meth labs, run-down farms, and honky tonks.

In one expert nighttime composition, Ree waits in her uncle’s truck while he engages the opposition with some calculated violence, an American flag darkly reflected in windshield.

Update: US Distributor – Roadside Attractions (2010)

Films I Want to See in New York – 7 – Putty Hill


Putty Hill
Matthew Porterfield, USA
2010, 89 min

Cast: Sky Ferreira (Jenny), Zoe Vance (Zoe), James Siebor, Jr. (James), Dustin Ray (Dustin), Cody Ray (Cody), Charles “Spike” Sauers (Spike), Catherine Evans (Cathy), Virginia Heath (Virginia), Casey Weibust (Casey), Drew Harris (Geoff), Marina Siebor (Marina)

To be screened at BAMcinemaFEST, Sun, Jun 13 at 8:45pm

A junkie’s house, a boy’s death. Girls smoking in the woods. Cops on the hunt for a bank robber. Grandma is a good egg. Tagger – Rest in Peace, Cory.

A girl comes home to her estranged father’s tattoo party. A karaoke wake. Visiting a dead brother’s junkie lair at night. All he kept was his skateboard. The friendship of girls.

Putty Hill in the Northeast of Baltimore is both urban and bucolic. A filmmaker was working a coming-of-age tale about a group of metal-heads skirting the fringes of Baltimore. It was a timely script, but financing fell through. To rescue the work of everyone involved, he shot a new film in 12 days. Director Matt Porterfield:

“Putty Hill is not quite like anything I’ve ever seen. On a most basic level, it is an amalgam of traditional forms of documentary and narrative realism. But it is an approach to realism in opposition to the anthropological, lyrical, and romantic currents present in most of the genre. More importantly, though the structure of the film was plotted, the details of individual scenes were largely improvised, breathing life into the dialogue and bringing an enhanced degree of naturalism to the relationships between characters. I had already established firm bonds with my cast working with them on Metal Gods, so they trusted me enough to take risks and bring a level of emotional honesty to the material.”

A triumph of salvage. Not to be missed.

US Release: Feb 18, 2011 (Cinema Guild)

Films I Want to See in New York – 6 – Sawako Decides


Kawa no soko kara konnichi wa / Sawako Decides
Ishii Yuya, Japan
2009, 112 min

Cast: Mitsushima Hikari (Sawako), Endo Masashi (Kenichi), Aihara Kira (Kayoko), Shiga Kotaro (Sawakos Vater Tadao), Iwamatsu Ryo (Nobuo).

To be screened at Japan Cuts Festival of Contemporary Japanese Cinema (July 1 – 16, 2010)

After five years, five jobs, and five boyfriends, Sawako (Mitsushima Hikari) still has not fully arrived in Tokyo. Her favorite phrases are “can’t be helped” and “working class is why.”

Kenichi (Endo Masashi), a toy designer at the toy company, has determined to live an “eco lifestyle.” Sawako spends evenings with him and his daughter Kayoko (Ahira Kira), while he clumsily knits a sweater vest, baby blue like his own, intended for Sawako. Instead of a good-night kiss at her door, Kenichi asks Sawako for her empty cans to recycle.

In Sawako Decides (literal translation of the Japanese title is “Hello From the River Bed”), we learn the power of a “lower-middling woman” – chu no ge no on-na.

Yuya may have hit on the trope of the decade with his observation that “the image of small shellfish squirming in the riverbed also contains a hopeless gravity that was a perfect fit.” He says his influences are musical even more than cinematic, and I believe him; Sawako Decides is wonderfully paced. And Mitsushima Hikari is an expressive, physically precise comic genius.

Films I Want to See in New York – 5 – Double Tide


Double Tide
Sharon Lockhart, USA/Austria
2009, 99 min

For two weeks each year in South Bristol, Maine, low tide occurs twice within daylight hours—once at dawn and once at dusk. From the perspective of her stationary camera, filmmaker Sharon Lockhart documents the progress of a solitary clammer (Jen Casad) in these magic hours as she hauls her heavy skid out into the shallow cove and makes her way across the mudflat.

The clammer works for 45 minutes in the fog of dawn. Slowly, sunlight touches the landscape. Colors and features emerge, a Japanese landscape painting come to life. These are momentous events.

No words or music accompany the clammer at her centuries-old, physically demanding, solitary work. The intermittent buzz of an insect, the slap of boots in mud, a sharp sucking pop as she pulls clams from their nests, the dull thunk as they land in her bucket, a distant foghorn.

The screens breaks to black, then the 45-minute cycle repeats in the late afternoon, twilight sun, blue sky. A completely different picture – somehow the clammer seems much bigger, her world smaller.

Once she finds something that hurts – says “Oh!” and pulls back her hand. She tires, her hand seems to cramp. A cough. Nearby children’s voices as she finishes her work, washing heavy buckets of clams as darkness falls.

Double Tide is Lockhart’s fourth film about work (after (Nō, Lunch Break and Exit).

Update: US Release – Nov 12, 2010

Ethnopharmacology of the Horse Warriors – Medicinal Plants of the Tamang


Uprety Y, Asselin H, Boon EK, et al. Indigenous use and bio-efficacy of medicinal plants in the Rasuwa District, Central Nepal. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2010 Jan 26;6:3. PubMed PMID: 20102631

Ecologists at Vrije Universiteit Brussel interviewed plant collectors, medicinal plant cultivators, traditional healers, and traders among the ethnic Tamang people to document 60 medicinal formulations from 56 plant species.

From the background:

“The Rasuwa district presents some of the best examples of graded climatic conditions in Central Himalaya. Pronounced altitudinal gradients, coupled with complex topography and geology, have resulted in a rich biodiversity and unique vegetation patchwork. Therefore, the district harbours a rich diversity of medicinal plants. The Chilime VDC [Village Development Committee] lies in the northern part of the district, bordering the Tibetan part of China, and comprises temperate to alpine climates within 2000-4700 m altitude. The local inhabitants are part of the Tamang indigenous people, which comprises 98% of the total Chilime VDC population. People from the Tamang ethnic group have a rich culture and possess sound traditional knowledge. However, they are economically and socially marginalized and far from having their basic needs fulfilled.”

The Tamang people use medicinal plants to treat cuts and wounds, respiratory problems, gastrointestinal disorders, cough and cold, musculoskeletal problems, fever and headache, weakness and dizziness, menstrual disorders, dermatologic infections, ophthalmologic problems, and toothache, among other ailments.

The authors recommend phytochemical and pharmacological studies of the Tamang’s traditionally used medicinal plants, perhaps starting with potentially high-value species including Astilbe rivularis, Berberis asiatica, Hippophae salicifolia, Juniperus recurva, and Swertia multicaulis. They note that while medicinal plants provide huge opportunities for community development and livelihood improvement, local people are often deprived of the benefits. Proper management of medicinal plants could serve as a sustainable income source for the Tamang, which in turn could help generate incentives for biodiversity conservation.