Introducing my newly educated friend, Doctor Pete Larson

I wasn’t able to get away from work and attend in person, but my good friend, and former bandmate, Pete Larson, who often leaves comments on this site, was awarded his PhD on Friday afternoon. I am incredibly proud of him. A lot of people that I know bemoan how shitty their lives are, but very few have the follow-though to actually do something about it. To see Pete, over the course of the past dozen years or so, go from working a job that he said was killing him, to become an authority on the prevention of infectious diseases in Africa, has been an incredibly inspiring thing to see unfold. And I could not possibly be any happier for him.

As for Pete’s PhD defense, he’s lucky that I wasn’t able to attend, as my intention was to blast the following once the papers had been signed and everything had been made official.

That’s Pete singing, for those of you who didn’t already surmise as much. The piece is called “Alright,” and, if I’m not mistaken, it’s one of the first songs that he and I wrote in the basement of 502 Catherine Street, along with Dan Richardson and Matt Krizowsky, as Prehensile Monkeytailed Skink.

As I’ve never seen anyone get their PhD, I don’t know exactly how it happens, but I imagine that it’s something like that scene at the end of The Wizard of Oz, where Oz the Great and Powerful hands the Scarecrow a diploma, pronounces him a Doctor of Thinkology, and explains to him that it’s receiving the credential that makes one educated. (I have this wonderful image in my mind of Pete being handed his diploma and suddenly putting his extended index finger to his temple and reeling off all kinds of technical jargon as though it’s just come to him in a flash.)

At any rate, I thought that I should mention this recent change which Pete’s undergone, as his comments on the site from now on are likely to be exponentially more brilliant and insightful than they have been in the past.

One more thing… I don’t know if Pete will pursue it, but he and I have been kicking around an idea which we think may cut down on the spread of malaria in Africa. The idea arose out of a conversation that we had over lunch a few weeks ago, upon his return form doing field research in Kenya on the use of insecticide treated bed nets. During the course of our conversation, Pete mentioned that, according to his research, a surprisingly large percentage of people don’t use bed nets because they feel as though malaria is spread by way of witchcraft, rather than by mosquito. Well, upon hearing that, it occurred to me that, if you could convince people that bed nets actually served as barriers to witchcraft, that the end result could be increased usage, and decreased instances of malaria. As I scientist, I don’t know that he so much liked the idea of playing upon superstitions, and marketing something as “witch-proof,” but he conceded that it might be a test worth running. And, from there, we began talking about other possibilities, such as imprinting the nets, which are given away freely by a number of non-profits doing work in the country, with images of famous football players, revered spiritual figures, and musicians like Bob Marley, who, according to Pete, still has quite the following in Africa. At any rate, Pete and I pitched the idea on Friday night, over coffee, to a the director of a Japanese research group doing work in Africa. I suspect it’s highly unlikely that we’ll get any traction with it, but, as I very much like the idea, I thought that it was worth mentioning here… just in case anyone from the Gates Foundation might be reading.

Those interested in getting to know Doctor Larson better are encouraged to check out his website, which, among other things, contains some great information on African heavy metal. And, if you still want more, a video interview that I did with him not too long ago can be found here. And, if it’s the music that you want more of, here are links to two more of the songs we recorded back in ’92 or so: Anarchy is Stupid, Face Like A Piranha. Both, I think you’ll agree, are classics.

Good work, Pete.

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18 Comments

  1. Posted March 24, 2013 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    I’m so proud of our boy. He’s all grown up. (Seriously, congratulations! I would still like to throw you a party or at least treat you to beer :))

  2. anonymous
    Posted March 24, 2013 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

    You should have all been given PhDs for your work in Skink.

  3. anonymous
    Posted March 24, 2013 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

    And this, by the way, is the first image that comes up when you Google “African witch”.

    http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/wp-content/blogs.dir/472/files/2012/04/i-7b9f07b8f2ede4f5f9a1fb08b658da21-African_witch_doctor_poster.jpg

  4. Posted March 25, 2013 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Mark, this is really kind. I must admit that I am in open competition with all of the members of Prehensile Monkeytailed Skink, except for Matt, who is the clear winner.

    And Patti, I’ll have to take you up on that.

    Now, all I need is a job!

  5. Elliott
    Posted March 25, 2013 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    Was I the only one disappointed by Dr. Larson’s comment? I was expecting his first post-PhD comment to be heavily footnoted, mostly in German, and including several references to obscure academic proceedings.

  6. K2
    Posted March 25, 2013 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    Usually, when you’re confronted by a Soundcloud track, you can see some variation in the volume/intensity. This track, however, is just a solid block of grey. Should I be afraid to listen? Is it just one long, protracted scream? Do I need to leave my office and listen in the parking lot?

  7. Hmmm
    Posted March 25, 2013 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    You know who else had a PhD from Michigan?

  8. Eel
    Posted March 25, 2013 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    I would totally watch a reality show shot in Africa called “Dr. Peter Larson – Witch Hunter.”

  9. Mr. X
    Posted March 25, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Clearly a Skink tour of Africa is called for.

  10. Facebook Stalker
    Posted March 25, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Word is that people will be gathering at 8:30 tonight at Old Town to grill the good Doctor on his research.

  11. Meta
    Posted March 25, 2013 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    Could you also infuse your bed net with technology that would prevent penis theft? If so, you might really be on to something.

    Elaborate greetings are the norm, I’ve found, when one enters a Central African village. So it was a surprise when I noticed that many people weren’t shaking hands the morning I arrived in Tiringoulou, a town of about 2,000 people in one of the remotest corners of the Central African Republic, in March 2010. I soon found out the reason: the day before, a traveler passing through town on a Sudanese merchant truck had, with a simple handshake, removed two men’s penises.

    As best I could reconstruct from witness accounts, the stranger had stopped to purchase a cup of tea at the market. After handing over his money, he clasped the vendor’s hand. The tea seller felt an electric tingling course through his body and immediately sensed that his penis had shrunk to a size smaller than that of a baby’s. His yells quickly drew a crowd. Somehow in the fray a second man fell victim as well.

    Hearing all this, I was less shocked than intrigued. As an anthropologist who studies the region, I was familiar with the problem of penis snatching. What surprised me was that the phenomenon—or, depending on your perspective, the rumor—had made it as far as Tiringoulou.

    Reports of genital theft have spread like an epidemic across West and Central Africa over the past two decades, in tandem with what appears to be a general resurgence of witchcraft on the continent. Anthropologists have explained this rise as a response to an increasingly mystifying and capricious global economy. Which is to say that when the workings of capital are as genuinely obscure as they are in today’s Africa, proceeding behind a veil of complexity and corruption, rumors of “occult economies”—often involving a trade in human organs—offer a less mystifying explanation for the radical disparities in wealth on display.

    That said, genital theft is neither new nor confined to Africa. Similar panics afflicted Central Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. (Malleus Maleficarum, a book-length jeremiad against the dangers of witchcraft from 1486, includes a discussion of sorceresses who “take away male members” and keep them in birds’ nests.) And in 1967, an outbreak of koro—the belief that the penis is retracting into the body—overwhelmed hospitals in Singapore.

    In Africa today, scholars who study penis snatching understand it mainly as an urban phenomenon—an extreme expression of the anxieties that pervade a city when villagers become urbanites en masse, living among throngs of unfamiliar people. That’s because most cases have been reported in crowded spots like Lagos, in Nigeria, and Douala, in Cameroon. But here I was in Tiringoulou—a dusty, peanut-growing hamlet so small and poor it barely has a market. If penis snatching had previously been a city dweller’s fear, now it seemed that not even the remotest places would be spared.

    But spared from what, exactly?

    It’s fair to say there are victims on both sides of the penis-snatching equation.

    Shortly after the disturbance in the Tiringoulou market, members of the armed rebel group that governs the town arrested the traveler and subjected him to a harsh interrogation—for his own protection, they told me later. Had they left him to the mob, the town’s women would have torn the stranger limb from limb, they reasoned. But the protection, such as it was, did not last long: the supposed thief was executed by gunshot later that day. (Aware that international law frowns on summary execution, the rebel commander who oversaw the execution relayed a different version of events: he said the thief had mysteriously vanished from his holding cell.)

    As for the men whose penises were stolen, several eyewitnesses assured me that the appendages did indeed shrink dramatically. I can’t offer such an intimate eyewitness account myself, but I did visit one of the men at his home, and he clearly seemed to be suffering. He lay propped on one elbow, slack and listless in loose sweatpants, on a woven mat in the shade outside his house. A handful of friends kept him company. Over cups of sweet tea, I asked them about how they understood the recent events.

    Penis snatching, they said, was a means of supplying an illicit and lucrative trade in organs. Cameroonians and Nigerians—people from places “where they have multistory buildings”—were seen as particularly well versed in the business. “You see how advanced Cameroon is?” someone said. “It’s because they are so strong in commerce of all kinds, including in genitals and scalps.” The stolen organs, my companions said, are sold to occult healers for use in ceremonies, or else they are quickly fenced back to victims of penis snatching for a price. But the real money was to be made in Europe. One man who had spent some time living in Cameroon said he had heard of a woman there who was nabbed by airport security while trying to smuggle several penises to the Continent inside a baguette.

    Read more:
    http://www.psmag.com/magazines/march-april-2013/genital-theft-africa-central-african-republic-53341

  12. double anonymous
    Posted March 25, 2013 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    “Kapooya!”

    Congratulations, Peter!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLX2tAPy0jU

  13. double anonymous
    Posted March 25, 2013 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    And, whatever you do, don’t shake Peter’s hand at Old Town tonight. Your penis will shirk.

  14. Oliva
    Posted March 26, 2013 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    Congratulations, Dr. Larson!

  15. AA
    Posted March 26, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    It’s not just penises that shrink around Peter Larson. It’s been my experience that lady bits shrink as well.

    This, however, takes nothing away from his awesome accomplishment.

    Congratulations, Peter.

  16. Mr. Y
    Posted March 26, 2013 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Coincidentally, Pete’s old bandmate Jim Magas (Couch) likewise just went though a transformation. He called a press conference in Chicago to let the world know that he he was embarking on a new direction.

    Apparently, according to him, audiences no longer wanted to hear his voice.

    http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-02-28/entertainment/ct-ott-0301-magas-local-sounds-20130228_1_electronic-music-instrumental-music-songs

  17. Posted March 26, 2013 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, everyone.

    Magas is the new Madonna.

  18. Posted December 25, 2014 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    I saw the address 502 Catherine in your blog, and I did a quick doubletake. My very first apartment ever was a summer sublet at 602 Catherine back in the summer of 1992, right before my junior year at U of M. What year did you live at 502? (I spent a second realizing that our Catherine St. in Ypsilanti does not have addresses in the 500’s, so you were definitely talking about the Deuce).

    …And it was cool to find this blog as I have been enjoying Peter’s comments for a little while now and didn’t know ya’ll are old skool friends. :-)

    Mark, you deserve an honorary doctorate in “Shootin’ the Shit.” lol Thx for all the great blogs. AT first i didn’t read your page cuz i thought you might be one of those pretentious, wanna-be yuppie republicans in sheep’s clothing trying to take over the town, but now i c u r the antithesis of that. :-)

    Check out these YouTube Channels for gr8 info (i am not affilitated in any way with): TheLifeRegenerator, OKraw, FullyRawKristina, DurianRider, FreeleeTheBananaGirl, TannyRaw, HappyHealthyVegan, & VegetablePolice. Peace!

4 Trackbacks

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