About Erin O'Rourke

Anarcha-feminist-socialist pinko commie red something or other.... I'll get back to you.

The most wonderful podcasting time of year.

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Every fall I search for and hoard the newest spooky, creepy podcasts being made in anticipation of Halloween. And then I try to ration them until the following year. The requirements: they be spooky and true but not gory or gross. One of the scariest podcasts I’ve heard yet is Hot Water, which was first featured on Snap Judgement and then on the show’s Halloween season counterpart, Spooked, which is one of the very best in fulfilling my desire to be consistently spooked.

Others:
Oscar Mendoza - These stories break my “no gory and gross” rule at times, but listening to what Mendoza has to say, especially his stories of Mexico, just blow my mind.
Haunted

And we thought last year was bad! Podcasts to keep you afloat.

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For the past few days I’d been desperately filling every moment of silence with news podcasts on the Kavanaugh hearings. I don’t know why, but keeping the flow of information going felt like a life raft. But truly, I needed a break. And maybe you do, too.

I found both of these utterly engrossing, and so closely related that I need to send them as a set. Use them to stay afloat when the whirlpool of the past few weeks threatens to drag you down. They’re funny, touching, and sad. They made me love people, despite it all – and that’s important.

The Mayor of Mitchell Gardens
Danny Lobell finds laughter and heartbreak on the job in a Long Island nursing home.

Shabbat Dinner at Wendy’s
This week on the show, Dan travels to Palm Desert, California, to join these seniors for Shabbat dinner at Wendy’s. The group tells Dan why this ritual is so important to them, how they’re evolving it, and how they like their fries.

Chicon: Gazing Towards an Endless Horizon

The promotional video for the Chicon trek:

One of the things I’ve come to love most about my life in Urubamba is its dual quality. I live in a small, insular community and yet I learn and see new things everyday. I feel rooted here but have the opportunity to extend outward all the time. I am constantly reminded just how big the world is.

And nothing gave me as intense a feeling as arriving at Chicon’s peak. The decision to go wasn’t made with grace, but rather with ambivalent grumbling. In the two years I’ve been here my lungs have never quite settled in given the altitude, which can make hiking quite difficult. But when I realized that the 2 year anniversary of my arrival in Peru fell on the dates we would be climbing Chicon, I resolved to go whether my lungs liked it or not. I focused, and did my best to prepare, convinced it was for naught.

And as we climbed that first day, I studied the internal landscape as much as the harsh one we scaled. That in the time I had been here and the challenges I had faced, I really have learned a lot of things. That little by little I seem to be gaining patience and the ability to take things step by step instead of expecting a complete outcome. That to focus on the goal and how to accomplish it was much more productive than pondering can or can’t. To take each ridge as it comes, never taking for granted that it will be the last.

And yet, even being able to see these things in myself and the changes my time in Peru had wrought, it wasn’t the most profound experience of the trek. During my time here a common topic is the environmental changes in the valley – the receding snow on the mountains surrounding us. To me, this has been something to ponder in the abstract. Though distressing, I’ve not witnessed the changes myself. And even on the second day, when our guides pointed out where the snow had been the last time they had come to Chicon, 3 hours or so below our final destination, it didn’t really click. We climbed on, scaling the last portion – peaks, valleys and cliff faces of loose rocks. And still, to touch snow we needed to scale the rocks around the mountain lake the glacier towered above.

And there, the glacier was melting. Torrents of water were coming down at an alarming rate. It was more for me than seeing hundreds of news articles over the years about climate change or any Inconvenient Truth could have done. It is one thing to learn about something that seems so huge as to be unfathomable and it is quite another to witness a direct result. Elated to have made it, my emotions were tempered by the weight of how big and beyond me the world can be – a sobering realization of the profound, perhaps irreversible changes taking place as we speak. There was awe and a feeling of privilege that I was seeing something that others may never get to see again.

Urubamba’s water supply comes from the very peaks we climbed that day and it is not uncommon for the water to run out on dry season days. It’s an important reminder that despite the seemingly unending flow from the tap in developed countries, the supply is finite. The question posed as we gazed at the glacier, the “heart of Chicon” just above it, was “What will happen to Urubamba when the snow is gone for good?”

Our mini-documentary about the trek!!

What I’ve Been Up to….

As I haven’t had much time, the blog has been silent for awhile. To make a long story short, last year I got in touch with MicroAid International about building a house for flood victims in Peru as they were looking to begin a project here. Things progressed from there and when I’m not teaching I work at the construction site. Here is some more information about the project and my role in it:

MicroAid International Peru House Project: Erin

At the construction site with Angela, one of the children of the family. I adore this little girl! She, her mother and older brother all have eye problems with varying degrees of severity. We will be taking them to a nonprofit clinic in Cusco. I’m hoping they can head off the children’s problems before they become irreversible.

Windows 8 Cache Corruption Issue – Samsung Support Center

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From the numerous requests for support, cache corruption seems to be a pretty common issue. Only after searching for the problem and doing testing did I realize this was the issue I was having with my new computer. It’s somewhat of a relief, as it can be fixed easily, but at the same time if it keeps occurring again and again it can also be pretty hair pulling.

So, what’s cache corruption? If you go to a web site once, everything loads just fine. Go to it the second or third time and all of a sudden everything is broken – links are plain blue, everything loads straight down the page rather than in typical positions and images either fail to load or copy themselves endlessly. Cache corruption is when the files your computer saves for faster loading times become corrupted, and upon re-accessing them everything goes haywire. If you clear your cache, everything goes back to normal but at its worst I was having to clear my cache at minimum ten times a day (there is also ctrl-F5, reloading and bypassing the cache, but it still wasn’t a fix). At first it was happening with just Steam and Facebook. Then it began happening with Amazon, Paperbackswap, the Daily Beast. Sometimes gmail would hang at loading. Basically, any site you visit regularly and heavy on the CSS (i.e. super fancy and complex).

At first I thought it was a Chrome issue. Well, all right – I’ll switch to Firefox. Then the problem began on Firefox. Forgetting why I had switched to Firefox, I went back to Chrome. Realizing both browsers were having the issue I began to look past the browsers and experimented with all types of anti-virus configurations – uninstalling and reinstalling the programs I was thinking of using, turning the web shields off thinking they were flagging the CSS as a problem, going without virus protection for short periods of time to see if that helped. Scanned for malware. Made a new profile in Firefox. Considered downgrading Firefox. Reinstalled Chrome. Set cache limit to 50 mb. Set cache limit to 0 mb.

The frustrating thing is that the only solution browsers offer is to clear one’s cache and cookies. Yes, it works, if you want to do it over… and over… and over. Depending on your problem, a new profile may help for the long term. But then I found a forum thread dedicated to Samsung users during my search and wondered if my issue could be system related. Searching brought up one thread in which someone says to uninstall Samsung Support Center.

I tried it a week ago. My cache corruption problems, as well as intermittent issues such as no videos loading anywhere on the internet and Readability refusing to register changes are gone. I was lucky that I came across the information because it’s scarce and I suspect most people are not aware that it’s an issue specific to a program that comes with their system. I’m ridiculously relieved it’s been solved – I was about to bring the computer to the Geek Squad and beg for some Valium.

So, TL;DR version: If you can’t load a number of websites properly on a Samsung computer running Windows 8, try uninstalling Samsung Support Center.

Apparently, the human brain is delicious

Anthropology, without a doubt, was my first love. Learning about other places and people was never work to me. I’ve always remembered vividly an anecdote a professor told us in my first anthro class when I was 18 – almost 12 years ago now. Anthropologists began studying a population on an island where the women and children were contracting a neurological disease. It was discovered that protein was scarce – the primary source was pigs, which were only eaten by men. On the other hand, women and children were responsible for mortuary practices. This led to the consumption of the dead as a way for the women and children to have enough protein in their diets.

I’ve searched often over the years since to try and find more about the story and read up on it. I’d never been able to and began to wonder if it was true after all. That was until today, when I came across an article, The Last Laughing Death on Longform, one of my favorite sources for things to read. It is about a prion disease called kuru, in Papua New Guinea. While it mentions nothing of pigs, it describes the cultural practices of the Fore people and that the disease afflicted women and children in particular:

In each case, it is believed the victim had incubated the disease for an astonishing 50 years or more, having been exposed to infection as a child when participating in mortuary feasts that were an intrinsic part of Fore culture: that is, the cooking and consumption of the dead, every last piece of them, in order to hasten the journey of the departed loved-ones to the land of the ancestors.

Much later, Alpers, who had always felt discomforted by the term cannibalism — “you don’t like to call your friends cannibals” — would invent a new term for the Fore ritual: “transumption”. It borrowed from the lexicon of Catholic doctrine around the Eucharistic transubstantiation of bread into the body and blood of Christ. He defined the Fore custom as “incorporation of the body of the dead person into the bodies of living relatives, thus helping to free the spirit of the dead”. It was a final act of love by the grief-stricken. Yes, as anthropologists had insisted, there was a gastronomic element: people had given ready testimony that humans were delicious, especially their brains. But this was a perk, not a driver, of the practice, Alpers insisted, in papers citing the secrets shared with him and others over decades.

and…

The Fore’s complex eschatology declared that each individual had five souls; that after death they travelled the land on a kind of farewell tour from which ultimately — assuming various rituals over a period of years were honoured — they would be reunited in the land of the ancestors. The most efficient path to this hereafter was for the body to be eaten.
As Alpers, with Jerome Whitfield and other colleagues summarised in a recent paper: “If the body was buried it was eaten by worms; if it was placed on a platform it was eaten by maggots; the Fore believed it was much better that the body was eaten by people who loved the deceased than by worms and insects. By eating their dead, they were able to show their love and express their grief.”

It was the women’s responsibility to eat the dead, grinding the bones and cooking the flesh, indulging their children along the way with the tastiest bits. Particular body parts were given to particular female kin. Although small boys joined in the feasting, they were generally excluded after about age 10.

I know this can seem rather gruesome (can’t say the story of Jeffrey Dahmer didn’t make me cringe uncontrollably), but I never found it anything other than fascinating – especially the possibility that it was actually protein scarcity that had such an impact on cultural practices. It’s an incredible illustration of the interplay between culture and environment and one of the most fascinating articles I’ve read recently. In addition, there is a more anthropological and just as fascinating source on the topic available at google books: The Anthropology of Health and Healing, in which is revealed an ironic twist:

For women, kuru victims were the most desired source of protein: “the layer of fat on those who died rapidly [heightened] the resemblance of human flesh to pork, the most favored protein” (1979:20).

The research chronicled on kuru has had implications for more familiar diseases to us, Mad Cow Disease and Alzheimer’s. Without a doubt, a highly recommended read.

Gallos de Pelea, AKA, Cockfighting

Fantasma

Fantasma (Ghost), gallo de pelea

There’ve been times when I feel like I’m witnessing something straight out of my cultural anthropology classes. I’ll never forget an ethnography we read about cockfights in Indonesia; particularly the spurs they place on the feet of the roosters that are so dangerous they have been known to disembowel their keepers if the roosters kick out. Failing in the “don’t judge, just observe” maxim of anthropology, the practice didn’t sit right with me at all.

Awhile back I was surprised to learn that cockfighting is somewhat popular here and I became ambivalent about my earlier views. Having the opportunity to visit the fights today, I tried to go with an open mind. I was warned there would be blood and death and blahblahblah, but I was interested in the experience more than anything else; to see yet another thing I had read about, albeit in a much different setting.

Baiting to Fight

A man baits two roosters into fighting to show off their ability at a place that breeds and sells roosters for cockfights.

Above all, I’m glad I went and if I have the opportunity I’ll go again. They dropped the roosters to the ground for the first fight I witnessed, and we all sat watching them for almost five minutes as they scratched at the ground, crowed, flapped their feathers and wandered around the ring. I watched the crowd, trying to get a sense of whether this was normal or not and couldn’t gauge either way at all. Finally, one noticed the other and the fight was on. It turns out that this is generally the way fights go and that the roosters usually take time to engage. But at first it was quite comical to think that these two roosters who had been set up to fight one another were just moseying about doing the exact opposite.

Fight

A man baits two roosters into fighting to show off their ability at a place that breeds and sells roosters for cockfights.

Despite all of that, it only cemented and strengthened my earlier views – I just don’t think it’s right, and it seems downright cruel. Of course my understanding of cockfighting is limited given my command of Spanish isn’t 100%. I asked a lot of questions during the fights, and what I learned just frustrated me about the whole process given how senseless it all seems. They use spurs here as well which is what causes all the blood and death. A lot of whether a rooster is good or not also seems to be based on bloodlines and breeding, and I haven’t gotten a handle on what any of that means. One rooster looks like any other to me. You can ‘train’ your rooster, but I wonder how much that really helps. This concentrates on their physical prowess, which still seems more about chance to me. I mean, what if your rooster is having an OFF day?! In addition, they seem like very dim animals in general.

Another pair

Yet another pair duke it out.

In every fight, at least one rooster must die for the other to win, and the winning rooster may have injuries grave enough that it also dies. That means the next match will be fought with another rooster of the owner’s. I had wrongly assumed that one rooster would fight its way through to the end of the tournament, therefore demonstrating it’s ‘the best’, but witnessing the injuries of some of the winners made me realize just how silly that is.

Cages

Cages and cages and cages…. tiny… dark… dirty.

It can be gruesome to see the roosters vomiting blood in their death throes. Luckily, they get a quick death after they’re carried from the ring. The winners aren’t so lucky. They don’t get medical attention, whatever their injuries, which again is senseless and cruel to me. It seems to me that this is really just a revolving door of slaughter, and I wonder how much the odds favor someone who has a huge amount of roosters given quality seems to count for so little (even though the countless conversations I’ve heard about rooster and hen bloodlines should tell me otherwise). Why would one allow the injuries of the winner to go untreated if not?!

Caption contest

This picture needs a caption contest. Pssst…. Fernando, when do we go for the killing blow?

I also wonder about the dynamics of ownership when you’re grooming an animal for something that could result in its death within minutes. The many fighting roosters I’ve seen are kept in small, dark cages. I’ve heard the argument that it’s “natural”, and sure, if two roosters come across each other in a field they will fight. On the other hand, it’s not natural to tie spurs to their feet so that when they kick out at each other they inflict grave injuries. It’s not natural to set this scenario up and ensure that they continue to fight to the death when they seem to lose interest or have had enough (in a few of the fights the roosters were repositioned when they stopped fighting).

Snack Time

It’s “give the roosters a special drink and talk about their condition” time.

I wish I could say I’ve gotten a handle on the cultural dynamics of such a thing in all the conversations I’ve witnessed concerning rooster fighting. Obviously there’s something beyond the brutality of the practice. It’s important to note that the region I am living in is agrarian and animals are often used for utilitarian purposes. They provide food (While this might seem obvious, I think this connection is lost to most of us in the shrink-wrapped, sterilized world of the supermarket.) in the form of meat, plowing the fields, and fertilizer. Not even pets are treated in the often doting manner of pet owners in the states. While I think there’s a limit to animal rights (I always think people should go first.) I wonder at what seems like obvious cruelty to me – is it the difference in viewpoints between those from agrarian and industrial societies? (Factory farming muddies the argument though I think few people would deny that it is cruel and there’s definitely an element of out of sight, out of mind.)

In the meantime, I’ve been marveling at all the anthropologists who have gone to live in cultures different from their own where they cannot speak the language, only to be able to piece together how they work and analyze what is going on around them. Either that, or there are a lot of tomes of bullshit on the shelves. I often feel utterly lost given the language barrier, and when making an effort to draw conclusions tend to second guess everything I think (count the use of the word ‘seems’ in this post). I suppose I can console myself with the idea that if I had the time to note everything I saw and heard given it was my intent, maybe I could synthesize it into something coherent. In addition, I can feel proud of myself that I’ve achieved something I used to daydream about in those anthro classes – going off to a foreign place to live in and learn about it.

Mummy

A mummy with future breeding hens/fighting roosters.

Efficiency be damned

Status

You know you’ve really arrived in Peru when you opt to handwash your clothing instead of bringing it to the Lavanderia once a month for 10s (3 dollars). I am staunchly NOT thinking about opportunity costs like time vs. money or amount of work accomplished vs. amount of clothing washed. Because then I wouldn’t be doing this. A lot of things should be coming down the pike, but that’s been the case for awhile and I just haven’t had the time. Perhaps when I find my way out of this pile of dirty clothing.