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At least smoke them in designated areas
June 7, 2010 4:50 AM   Subscribe

I really have to ask, I don't mean to be rude, but would you gamblers please stop smoking vulture brains?. I mean, I know you think it brings you luck, but you're killing them, you know?
posted by twoleftfeet (66 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks for the first of many "humans are stupid" moments of today.
posted by photoslob at 4:52 AM on June 7, 2010


What
posted by Michael Roberts at 5:08 AM on June 7, 2010


Just the fact that this is a problem is proof of so, so many other problems.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:09 AM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Some people believe that inhaling the smoke from the burning vulture brain will give them insight into the future, which will help them place wiser bets. And, with increased gambling around the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, environmentalist groups fear that the practice may be on the rise."

Where did journalism go? There is no story here.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:10 AM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


The people who are doing this need to be smoked.
posted by fusinski at 5:13 AM on June 7, 2010


Reads just the URL: http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/wilderness-resources/stories/vultures-being-killed-for-their-brains

Flashes on the classic comedian (can't remember who) rant about stopping tuna fishing because it's killing dolphins. "It's also killing the tuna!"

Wonders how "vultures-killed-for-their-brains" could be transformed into something "normal". Oh right, "cows-being-killed-for-their-virility-inducing-muscle-fibers".
posted by DU at 5:14 AM on June 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


So when a vulture is lying there dead in the desert, there's people circling above? Whoa, dude.
posted by jonmc at 5:18 AM on June 7, 2010 [11 favorites]


Why Vulture brains? Is it considered inherently lucky to be a scavenging bird who shit on yourself to cool down?

What a random choice. I shall now eat some kitten paws to retain my youthfulness!
posted by Silentgoldfish at 5:20 AM on June 7, 2010


You know who this is really bad news for? Vulture zombies.
posted by PlusDistance at 5:26 AM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Does it work?
posted by Lord_Pall at 5:41 AM on June 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Eh, it's not news, really. Generalised, it reads: "[Group of people] believe that ingesting [exotic animal part/ plant/ other people] grants [incredible power]". That's really common.

Animals are frequently driven near extinction because a particular body part is in demand by some people who believe that eating it will grant them something they can't otherwise get. You've got tiger penises being eaten for virility, monkey brains eaten for intelligence, and cannibalism. (Cannibalism, in the belief that eating your enemies and/or ancestors allows you to absorb their strength, seems quite common.)

So if some gamblers think eating vulture brains will give them amazing powers of prediction, I can't say it's terribly strange or surprising.
posted by WalterMitty at 5:49 AM on June 7, 2010


The thing about smoking vulture brains is that it doesn't make a person lucky enough to not have to smoke vulture brains for luck.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:49 AM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Eh - I meant smoking them vulture brains. Same thing, though, it's still the consumption of something (or someone) else.
posted by WalterMitty at 5:50 AM on June 7, 2010


I took a 4 day boat in the Peruvian Amazon earlier this year. At one point we stopped mid-river and a smaller boat pulled up alongside and passed about 15 turtles onto our boat. The next day I was talking to a fellow passenger who said that the turtles were for sale on the lower deck and that she had bought one. I asked her why, and she told me that she was going to eat it. You see, turtles live a long time, so eating it is healthy, and helps you live a long time.

Humans depress me.
posted by jontyjago at 5:52 AM on June 7, 2010


Psst. Mosquitoes. I'm telling you. I used to have a limp, useless dick but now I'm doing 6 or 7 girls a night. It's mosquitoes, I swear. You just eat a couple of thousand mosquitoes for morning and lunch and....boooooooing...SUPERDICK.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:53 AM on June 7, 2010


if some gamblers think [smoking] vulture brains will give them amazing powers of prediction, I can't say it's terribly strange or surprising.


Well, when your baseline is monkey brain eating...
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:54 AM on June 7, 2010


I saw this in "Related Items" when I read the posted article. Maybe if this guy would have smoked some vulture brains he would have foreseen this before it happened and saved himself some humiliating trouble. I'll have to scan old AskMe posts to see if he asked for ideas to extricate himself before going to the hospital.
posted by Daddy-O at 5:55 AM on June 7, 2010


Well, when your baseline is monkey brain eating...

Is that what we ate? *urp*
posted by DU at 5:56 AM on June 7, 2010


It's interesting that some people are totally revolted by this concept and others just want to know how they can try it.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:01 AM on June 7, 2010


jontyjago, turtle eggs are thought to have qualities as an aphrodisiac.
posted by Daddy-O at 6:03 AM on June 7, 2010


I have a nasty feeling this is only in the news because it can't be blamed on those weird foreign people, and it's can't be attributed to a diet fad.

Seriously, "[animal] faces extinction because [race] believes it cures [sexual problem]" isn't news any more. "[a-list celeb] uses [odd object] to [lose weight|stay young]" is the same thing.

That said, what sort of sick fuck smells burning vulture brains and thinks anything other than "ack, burning flesh"?

(I assume burning brains smell like burning flesh. I have no desire to prove or disprove this fact.)
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 6:03 AM on June 7, 2010


Just a heads up with regards to the comments concerning the lack of news and journalistic quality in this story, Metro is a free newspaper that gets handed out at stations in London. What's more, it's owned by the Daily Mail.
posted by jontyjago at 6:11 AM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I eat vulture brains because of their anti-inflammatory action.
posted by atrazine at 6:21 AM on June 7, 2010


some people will do anything to get high and still pass a drug test.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 6:31 AM on June 7, 2010


the "muti" man's clinic, urban township, ZA
posted by infini at 6:31 AM on June 7, 2010


Being at the top of the food chain is awesome.
posted by GilloD at 6:43 AM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sometimes I weep for my species.
posted by kinnakeet at 6:45 AM on June 7, 2010


Stuff like this reminds you that humans haven't really evolved that much as a species.
posted by Liquidwolf at 6:46 AM on June 7, 2010


Yeah, traditional African medicine is so incredibly stupid, isn't it? Good thing we Westerners are so much more intelligent and morally superior. What would these savages do without us around to set them straight?

... I mean, look. I don't have a problem with trying to save the vultures, if this stuff is threatening the survival of the species. But it seems like we ought to be able to tackle problems like that without denigrating traditional medicine as stupid and evil, right?

(After all, Western medicine is also capable of posing a risk to the environment.)
posted by magnificent frigatebird at 6:53 AM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


(I should point out that I don't believe smoking vulture brains allows anybody to predict the future. The efficacy of the practice or not has no bearing on whether or not it's appropriate to denigrate the practitioners.)
posted by magnificent frigatebird at 6:55 AM on June 7, 2010


Braaaiiins!
posted by klausman at 7:05 AM on June 7, 2010


The efficacy of the practice or not has no bearing on whether or not it's appropriate to denigrate the practitioners.

Why is that, again?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:06 AM on June 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


But it seems like we ought to be able to tackle problems like that without denigrating traditional medicine as stupid and evil, right?


Yeah yeah of course. I don't think all traditional medicine is stupid, on the contrary it's often based on something. But when it comes to smoking brains and consuming animals to gain their powers I don't feel the need to use any relativism to justify it.
posted by Liquidwolf at 7:06 AM on June 7, 2010


Not being able to predict the future is not a medical condition.
posted by Elmore at 7:06 AM on June 7, 2010


This reminds me of the time I ate some General Tso's chicken I left on the counter for two days and achieved total consciousness, just like a chicken.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:11 AM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Not being able to predict the future is not a medical condition.

It will be.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:14 AM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


You can have my smoked vulture brains when you pry them from my cold, dead hands.
posted by Mister_A at 7:16 AM on June 7, 2010


But it seems like we ought to be able to tackle problems like that without denigrating traditional medicine as stupid and evil, right?


Stupid and evil is as stupid and evil does.
posted by norm at 7:25 AM on June 7, 2010


frigatebird Yeah, traditional African medicine is so incredibly stupid, isn't it? Good thing we Westerners are so much more intelligent and morally superior.

Oh dear. Accepting something just because it's "traditional" is indeed incredibly stupid in my books. And I don't care whether that tradition is "African", "Western", or Martian: just like patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, so are tradition and custom the last refuge of the criminally clueless, invoked as a last resort to defend the indefensible. While some "traditional knowledge" may have some grounding in fact, more often than not it is but stupidity with a pedigree. In Africa just as much as in Europe or in any other continent.

You know what is intrinsecally racist and patronising? To call evidence-based medicine "Western", as if the scientific method was the preserve of white people.

And besides, what does this have to do with medicine? The original post was about gamblers using animal body parts for luck. Not only there isn't anything medical at all about it, but it's just the same kind of irrational behaviour seen among gamblers all across the world. Ever heard of lucky rabbit legs?
posted by Skeptic at 7:32 AM on June 7, 2010 [18 favorites]


Why is that, again?

Because even if it doesn't work, it doesn't mean that people who believe it works are stupid. In fact, it doesn't even mean that people who believe it works are unjustified in believing that it works.

We people from industrialized cultures like to claim that we base our beliefs on science, but this isn't really true. We base our beliefs mostly on what we absorb through our cultural environment. These beliefs may often have originated through science, but that's just the entry point of the belief into the culture -- I, for one, have never performed a single biochemical experiment (except maybe when following directions off a piece of paper in AP Biology back in high school) but I generally trust the conclusions of medical science because everyone does. It's a foundation of the culture in which I was raised.

Questioning culturally-received behaviors and ideas is a good thing, but do you do it all the time? Obviously not. If you were to doubt every piece of information you hear, you wouldn't be able to function. A very very large percentage of my beliefs, your beliefs, and everyone else's beliefs are simply founded on hearsay, and it couldn't be any other way. Hearsay is an acceptable way to acquire knowledge; if it weren't, we'd all have very little knowledge indeed.

If you happen to be raised in a culture which believes smoking vulture brains brings good fortune to gamblers -- well, you'll probably believe in smoking vulture brains before placing a bet. As outsiders, it's easy for us to mock an idea like that. If a person raised in mainstream Western culture believed that, it would be ridiculous, because they'd have no reason to believe it.

But for these people from rural Africa, believing in the efficacy of muti is equivalent to an American or European believing in the efficacy of Western medicine. Nothing ridiculous about it.

In addition to a belief in the efficacy of Western medicine, many Westerners acquire from their culture a belief that non-Westerners are stupid, inferior, and worthy of derision. This idea has been popping up for centuries, and is apparently still hanging around, even though we like to think we know better by now.
posted by magnificent frigatebird at 7:41 AM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, traditional African medicine is so incredibly stupid, isn't it? Good thing we Westerners are so much more intelligent and morally superior. What would these savages do without us around to set them straight?

Nice straw man there.

I find that the "West = modern medicine, Africa = shamanism/vulture-brain smoking" dichotomy is unhelpful. For one, the West has plenty of irrationalism, superstition and quackery to go around (homeopathy, for example, or Scientology; and new strains of woo are undoubtedly being invented as we speaks). And claiming that medicine based on the scientific method is belongs to the White Man is disingenuous and does nobody any favours. Should the people of the Global South really proudly reject rationalism and scientific inquiry as colonialist oppression?
posted by acb at 7:43 AM on June 7, 2010


Oh dear. Accepting something just because it's "traditional" is indeed incredibly stupid in my books.

"Accepting" how? I don't practice it. My point is that people who practice it aren't stupid, and that it's unfair to direct insulting remarks at them. Whether or not it's a traditional practice is indeed relevant to this, because tradition is actually a pretty good basis for acquiring knowledge. If it wasn't, there would be no such thing as culture at all. And very little knowledge, too, as I said above.
posted by magnificent frigatebird at 7:50 AM on June 7, 2010


Vulture brains? Jesus...haven't these people heard of homeopathy?
posted by rocket88 at 7:51 AM on June 7, 2010


Why Vulture brains?

It's not as random as you think. Vultures have always been holy birds. Many early civilizations worshiped vulture gods; in some cultures whenever they were seen feasting on human corpses, such as after a battle, it was assumed that they helped the spirits of the dead cross over to the other side.
posted by hermitosis at 7:54 AM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, they're smoking the brain of a bird that didn't see it coming, in order to see something coming? Is that right?
posted by orme at 7:55 AM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]



It's not as random as you think. Vultures have always been holy birds.


Who's up for a Sky Burial!?
posted by Liquidwolf at 7:59 AM on June 7, 2010


You know what is intrinsecally racist and patronising? To call evidence-based medicine "Western", as if the scientific method was the preserve of white people.

And claiming that medicine based on the scientific method is belongs to the White Man is disingenuous and does nobody any favours.

Good grief. You've also got a nice straw man going there, guys. I agree, maybe "Western medicine" isn't such a great term, but I'm open to other suggestions. My argument has nothing to do with scientific rationalism being the exclusive preserve of the West, and I'm not suggesting that anybody should accept or reject any particular system of belief.

And besides, what does this have to do with medicine?

"Medicine" is being used in two ways here. Muti is sometimes described as "traditional medicine," even though obviously it includes lots of stuff that does not correspond to what we consider medicine. And the set of practices and beliefs that it is convenient to label as "Western medicine" is a good exemplar for the useful products of science.
posted by magnificent frigatebird at 8:01 AM on June 7, 2010


We ridicule people for their crazy beliefs every day around here. Why should we have to stop when the crazies aren't white?
posted by rocket88 at 8:10 AM on June 7, 2010


The news in this is that
posted by filthy light thief at 8:10 AM on June 7, 2010


We ridicule people for their crazy beliefs every day around here. Why should we have to stop when the crazies aren't white?

It's not that they're not white, it's that they're not crazy. (Although the history of European attitudes towards Africa does make the ridicule more distasteful to me, true.)
posted by magnificent frigatebird at 8:13 AM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


... there is an increase in this use associated with an increase in poker playing. A possible US equivalent would be if Jackrabbit feet were prized for luck moreso than before, and wild rabbits were being hunted in increasing numbers.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:14 AM on June 7, 2010


See, if this was our culture, some powerful person would get a law passed saying he had exclusive ownership of the vultures and then he'd sell the brains at a huge mark-up. Then the government would give him a subsidy to enlarge and modernise the strategically important vulture-farming business. Competitors would come in and before long thousands of people would be working to generate a vulture mountain and virtually everything you ate would contain High Vulture Brain Ash.
posted by Phanx at 8:17 AM on June 7, 2010


jontyjago: "Just a heads up with regards to the comments concerning the lack of news and journalistic quality in this story, Metro is a free newspaper that gets handed out at stations in London. What's more, it's owned by the Daily Mail."

Oh, well, there's your problem.
posted by lysdexic at 8:19 AM on June 7, 2010


"Accepting" how? I don't practice it. My point is that people who practice it aren't stupid, and that it's unfair to direct insulting remarks at them.

The people who sell it are stupid at best, greedy and evil at worst. Those who buy it are at least ignorant, which is not their fault, but, at least in South Africa, one of apartheid's sorriest legacies.

And I'm equally dismissive of superstition and quackery and their practitioners and followers in allegedly advanced nations. If anything, I'm even more so: it's one thing for somebody who has been deprived of any proper education to fall for muti, but it's quite another thing for some privileged upper-class twit to pontificate about the benefits of "alternative medicines" (and I'm definitely looking at you, Charles Windsor).

Quackery, its practitioners and followers, starting with one Thabo Mbeki, have been partially responsible for millions of AIDS deaths in Africa. You're damn right I'm going to be insulting about that.
posted by Skeptic at 8:22 AM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


As weird or "crazy" as this seems, I think it's not that odd. So much of the food we consume is grounded in particular folk culture or tradition. We eat certain foods because we believe they will have certain health benefits. Is it too far a stretch for people to believe that eating a certain animal will give them a certain type of spiritual strength? Whether it's true or not is a separate issue all together. But this is not shocking to me.
posted by Fizz at 8:27 AM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's not that they're not white, it's that they're not crazy.

Yes, they are crazy, or at least deeply irrational. They're deeply irrational because they're slaughtering animals without any evidence that smoking the vulture brains actually has any effect on their luck or gambling prowess, despite the fact that this is easily testable.

But this should not be surprising: gambling is itself quite irrational. I suspect many people driven to do this are either gambling addicts or in such dire financial straits that they're desperate enough to try any bit of snake oil. The broader problem is the economic dysfunction and disparity that results in people desperate enough to smoke vulture brains to be better gamblers and ill-educated enough to think it might actually work.
posted by jedicus at 8:31 AM on June 7, 2010


Yes, they are crazy, or at least deeply irrational. They're deeply irrational because they're slaughtering animals without any evidence that smoking the vulture brains actually has any effect on their luck or gambling prowess, despite the fact that this is easily testable.

Is this any more irrational than drinking a glass of red wine each day or going on an all meat diet? The evidence for that is always couched in some remote study that says this is healthy only to be refuted by another study a year later contradicting it.

It's easy to judge these people as crazy gamblers. But there are many people who consume objects and food in the same ways as these individuals.
posted by Fizz at 8:38 AM on June 7, 2010


It's easy to judge these people as crazy gamblers. But there are many people who consume objects and food in the same ways as these individuals.

To the extent there is dubious evidence for it, then yes, those people are irrational too. What of it?
posted by jedicus at 8:41 AM on June 7, 2010


To the extent there is dubious evidence for it, then yes, those people are irrational too. What of it?

My point is that this story seems intentionally sensational. And while I agree that it is something that is a bit off the beaten path of how most people consume food. It's not surprising and so we shouldn't just too harshly. If enough people start eating a certain food in a certain way, it's no longer seen as bizarre or weird, it becomes an accepted cultural behaviour.
posted by Fizz at 8:44 AM on June 7, 2010



What's the difference between this and Wade Boggs's bucket o chicken?
What's the difference between this and the painting of the Notre Dame helmets, or the numerous teams that touch their hands to something before they go onto the field?
What's the difference between this and avoiding sidewalk cracks in regard for your mother's spinal health?
What's the difference between this and raising an eyebrow when you see the number 666?

I think it was Spinoza who said man is superstitious by nature, but it is not so much insanity, as it is a recognition that certain "superstitions" derive from healthy conditioning. For example, the recognition that if we hear something rustling in the bushes it is to our benefit to run away rather than to wait until we can figure out if it's a bear or a deer. If our logical faculties were always molding our actions, we would have been long dead from grizzly attacks centuries ago. This is just the bad we have to take with the good.

Now, when they start freebasing the brains, I have to object.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 8:59 AM on June 7, 2010


The people who sell it are stupid at best, greedy and evil at worst.

I can respect your criticism here, insofar as African folk medicine has become profit-motivated charlatanry. Pharmacies that stock muti remedies alongside treatments with more scientific evidence for their effectiveness are just as worthy of derision as pharmacies in America that peddle homeopathy. And, of course, I'm not in favor of ignoring the problems associated with muti -- AIDS deaths, murder and endangered vultures among them. But there seems to be a strong current of commentary here which equates folk medicine with charlatanry, and then moves on to questioning the intelligence and moral fiber of everyone who practices it; it's this attitude I'm taking issue with.

To the extent there is dubious evidence for it, then yes, those people are irrational too. What of it?

If there's dubious evidence that a glass of red wine a day is good for your heart, and no evidence that a glass of red wine a day has any particular deleterious effect, then giving it a shot isn't exactly irrational, is it?
posted by magnificent frigatebird at 9:00 AM on June 7, 2010


In happier vulture news: Sherlock the vulture, man's new best friend
posted by homunculus at 9:05 AM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


The charm of folk medicine and wisdom has all but vanished for me. I am so sick of these ignorant mother fuckers killing other living beings in hopes stealing their "mojo" so they can have incredible erections, long life, good luck... whatever stupid fantasy advantage they believe the poor unfortunate creature is harboring in their innards.
posted by chance at 9:22 AM on June 7, 2010


What's the difference between this and Wade Boggs's bucket o chicken?
What's the difference between this and the painting of the Notre Dame helmets, or the numerous teams that touch their hands to something before they go onto the field?
What's the difference between this and avoiding sidewalk cracks in regard for your mother's spinal health?
What's the difference between this and raising an eyebrow when you see the number 666?


None of those things have much effect on other people or, say, populations of entire species.
posted by rocket88 at 9:34 AM on June 7, 2010


In happier vulture news: Sherlock the vulture, man's new best friend
"They want to attach global positioning system (GPS) tracking devices to Sherlock and get him to find the corpses of people who have disappeared in remote areas."
Hooray!
posted by Sys Rq at 9:46 AM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't brains make the papers too soggy to roll and light?
posted by gomichild at 11:08 AM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


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