“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Sunday, March 26, 2006

whew is that pesky wabbit?

Sometimes, LI has to laugh at the NYT Magazine. We just loved this précis of the main article: “The Hunter-Gatherer: Seeking a better understanding of his place in nature and in the food chain, the author entered the woods of Northern California — with a gun.”

With a gun! Imagine that. And I thought hunting had been extinct for the last four thousand years!

No wonder the editors mistake Bush for a bold cowboy.

But enough of that. The article to go to on this leisurely Sunday is Nancy Scheper-Hughes piece in Nacla on the modern art of body (part) snatching. In anthropological circles, and even a bit outside of them, Scheper-Hughes is famous for her books on violence: Death without Weeping: the Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil and Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland . Her book on the illicit organ trade is coming out from Farrar Strauss – at least according to her site. If I were the editor of the NYT Mag, I would curse the fact that I’d let go the article in NACLA – it is perfect NYT Mag fare.

Here’s a graf to lure you into the piece:

“The Berkeley Organs Watch project had its origins in bizarre rumors of body snatching and organ theft that circulated wildly in the urban shantytowns of Brazil in the mid-1980s. The residents of Alto do Cruzeiro, site of my long-term anthropological research in Northeast Brazil, reported yellow vans scouring poor neighborhoods looking for street kids and other social marginals whose bodies would not be missed. The drivers were described as U.S. or Japanese medical agents working for large hospitals abroad. The abducted bodies, they said, would appear later on the sides of country roads or in hospital dumpsters missing vital parts, especially eyes, kidneys, hearts and livers. “You may think this is nonsense,” my ordinarily trustworthy field assistant Irene da Silva said, “but we have seen things with our own eyes in public hospitals and in police morgues, and we know better.” Irene’s neighbor, Beatrice, agreed: “In these days, when the rich look at us, they are eyeing us greedily as a reservoir of spare parts.” Edite Cosmos added: “So many of the rich are having transplants and plastic surgeries today we hardly know anymore to whose body we are talking. Where do you think they are getting all those body parts?” “

Come on – you have to admit, that it much catchier than: Elmer Fudd goes huntin’ in Northern California.

The trade Scheper-Hughes’ group uncovered is mostly, as of yet, about yanking the body parts out of the dead and selling them for a profit. But he who says profit says incentive, as anybody who has read those two Scots, Adam Smith and Robert Louis Stevenson would know.

“The director of an experimental research unit of a large public medical school in South Africa showed me official documents allowing the transfer of human heart valves taken without consent from the bodies of poor blacks in the local police mortuary and shipped for “handling costs” to medical centers in Germany and Austria. These allowable “handling” fees helped support the unit’s research program in the face of austerities and the downsizing of advanced medical research facilities in the new South Africa. Although one can understand the frustration of the cash-strapped South African research scientists, the leeway afforded to them contributed to widespread corruption in the country.

In 2002 I contacted the South African Ministry of Health to report a scheme originating at a national tissue bank involving the transfer of hundreds of Achilles tendons that were removed without consent from the bodies of the victims of township violence and shipped by the director of the tissues bank to a corrupt U.S. businessman who paid $200 for each tendon. The tendons, used in sports medicine procedures, were shipped to the United States via South Korea, arriving at the free trade zone of the Tampa international airport where the South African tissues were repackaged as U.S. products. The tendons were then sold internationally and domestically to private medical firms and biotech companies for $1,200 each, generating a tidy profit for every party concerned, except for the poor chaps and their families who were the unsuspecting donors.”

It is interesting that one of the great justifications for colonialist expansion was that the natives were cannibals. I’m reading a history of Texas at the moment that makes this point about various Indian tribes in Texas – supposedly putting a stick in the eye of the Politically correct. I don’t really see the stick in the eye – the Comanches roasted and ate their enemies, the settlers brought black manpower in chain and whipped them into their fields to work, and none of this addresses the fact that expansion was theft, clear and simple. However, LI finds the organ trade rather interesting, insofar as the notion of eating the dead and the notion of just recycling their organs seems to be put in different corners of the mind.

Anyway, so much for our suggestion of the day.

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