Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

July 28, 2011

Blues of the Moment

Filed under: music — Tags: , — paragardener @ 5:00 pm

I’m currently learning Goin’ Fishin’ by Taj Mahal and Back Door Man by Willie Dixon (written for Howlin’ Wolf).

Goin’ Fishin’ is in drop-D tuning and uses the chords D, G and A with a few decorations. The part that’s killing me is the weird timing of the vocal.

The eldest Backdoor Man is in the key of E. Willie Dixon wrote it for Chester Burnett, aka Howlin’ Wolf, to sing. The song seems to lend itself to some type of musical chaos, eh?

Willie Dixon was the quiet genius behind Back Door Man and quite a few other hits in the Chess Records family: Hoochie Coochie Man, I Just Want to Make Love to You, Spoonful… Here is a 1970 recording of Back Door Man with Dixon singing and probably playing bass. And there is Dixon singing “Nervous,” though his bass playing betrays rock-solid confidence:

I sentimentally enjoy The Doors’ Back Door Man, but man, they botched it. You can find plenty of Doors B.D.M.’s in the infosphere, but check out T-Model Ford jamming with two honky compatriots, Bill Abel & Bert Deivert (2 guitars and a mandolin playing in T-Model’s driveway).


“The blues is like the devil it comes on you like a spell

It will leave your heart full of trouble and your poor mind full of hell.” — Lonnie Johnson


“You guys, having some satanic guitar pick isn’t gonna make your rock any better… because Satan’s not in a guitar pick, he’s inside all of us… in your hearts. He’s what makes us not want to go to work, or exercise, or tell the truth. He’s what makes us want to party and have sex with each other all night long. He’s that little voice in your mind that says ‘fuck you’ to the people you don’t like.” ~open mic host, Pick of Destiny


July 25, 2011

Curse you, von Liebig!

Filed under: science — Tags: , , , — paragardener @ 1:02 am

Sometimes artificial substitutes fall short of their natural inspiration. Infants fed formula are a little less vital than infants fed breast milk, despite new supplements being stuck in the formula every few years. Fields injected with chemical fertilizers lose fertility after 30 or 40 years, whereas fields that get manured, fallowed, and otherwise traditionally managed sometimes last for thousands of years. Sodium benzoate is an artificial antioxidant, which actually contributes to cancer. Many people get the general feeling that the more “natural” or unprocessed something is, the better. So why are we living in such a heavily synthetic world?

Many times, the artificial substitute product has money and prestige supporting it. Big names and marketing cash can make a bigger difference than a product’s actual value to living human beings. For instance: in 1867, Justus von Liebig introduced Liebig’s Soluble Food for Babies to European markets. Liebig was a massive intellect, known as a great chemistry teacher, and he’d created the formula to help out moms with no milk and babies with no moms. Since he “knew” that humans relied on only four nutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrate and potassium), he was able to create infant formula practically “chemically identical” with mothers’ milk: wheat and malt flours, cow milk, and potassium bicarbonate. The formula probably actually did what it was supposed to, and improved the odds for babies who couldn’t get human milk.

Soon other manufacturers were in the game, and doctors were being paid to issue statements about the greatness of infant formula. Over time, nutritional scientists added more and more nutrients to the mix, so that every few years the formula became “more complete.” By 1950, over half of American babies were grown on artificial formulas, regardless of need, because it seemed more modern and clean and doctors and scientists were telling moms to do it that way. The result was a lot of unnecessary infections, allergies, asthma, metabolic syndrome and SIDS — due to missing nutrients and antibodies. Curse you, von Liebig!

Another “breakthrough” of von Liebig’s was to identify the fact that plants take from the soil only water, ammonia, phosphate, silica, and alkali (any of potassium, calcium, sodium or magnesium). Not only was his formula about 12 elements short, but it downplays factors such as soil structure and any role humic acids or symbiotic organisms might play. When you believe that anything can be explained in terms of its chemical parts, that’s a viewpoint called “reductionism” and it is questionable because things can be intricate and work together in ways you wouldn’t expect. When you live in the 1800’s and you believe that everything can be explained in terms of its chemistry, that’s called “extraordinary overconfidence.”

By and large, agricultural suppliers have enthusiastically adopted Liebig’s viewpoint that “a rational system of Agriculture cannot be formed without the application of scientific principles, for such a system must be based on an exact acquaintance with the [chemical] means of nutrition of vegetables.” They’ve even stuck to his rationally obsolete fertilizer formula of nitrogen – phosphate – potassium. Due to narrow-minded chemical management, I daily witness absurdities such as neighbors putting out bags of yard waste for the city to haul off, and then paying men in a white truck to spray fertilizer – herbicide combination all over their lawns to replace the minerals they just threw out! Excess phosphate in the fertilizer ends up contaminating our Great Lakes, and these same people wonder why some of the beaches are gross (you’re feeding the algae, people). In our food, we experience chronic mineral deficiencies because we aren’t replacing micronutrients in the soils — cobalt, zinc, selenium… — we just take these things out of the soil and literally flush them away. We imagine that science and industry have replaced the need for the natural recycling of shit. Curse you, von Liebig!

Also, like certain snidely ironical bloggers, von Liebig held opinions about such a great many things that he was bound to be simply bone-headedly wrong about some of them. History mainly forgets dead-end ideas such as “Yeast produces fermentation in consequence of the progressive decomposition which it suffers from the action of air and water.”

If you look at von Liebig’s Wikipedia page (today, anyway), you will find him presented as a one-dimensional hero of chemistry and industry. He did many wonderful things, such as inventing beef bouillon and predicting that “…the production of all organic substances no longer belongs just to the organism. It must be viewed as not only probable but as certain that we shall produce them in our laboratories. Sugar, salicin [aspirin], and morphine will be artificially produced.” In this bland story, von Liebig’s inventions are never problematic and the man is never wrong.

Unfortunately, the organic chemistry von Liebig fostered has not proven to be a panacea. For instance, while synthetic drugs have saved many a life, it appears that a decent diet is still more important than swallowing vitamin pills.

Establishment voices (and I include Wikipedia) seem to be held in the thrall of myths similar to von Liebig’s beliefs:

It is not every one who is called by his situation in life to assist in extending the bounds of science but all mankind have a claim to the blessings and benefits which accrue from its earnest cultivation. The foundation of scientific institutions is an acknowledgment of these benefits and this acknowledgment proceeding from whole nations may be considered as the triumph of mind over empiricism.

Innumerable are the aids afforded to the means of life to manufactures and to commerce by the truths which assiduous and active inquirers have discovered and rendered capable of practical application. But it is not the mere practical utility of these truths which is of importance. Their influence upon mental culture is most beneficial…

This naive view was excusable when von Liebig held it in 1847. It’s now time to recognize that science takes wrong turns and is warped by egos, nationalism and marketing hype, and it’s not pure blessing and benefit. I suggest that faith in the institutions of science be supplemented with shrewd judgment, a passing knowledge of traditional ways of life, and a personal spirit of exploration.

When I started writing this, I was angry at von Liebig for the things he got away with. He largely set us on a path of unnecessarily replacing nature with laboratory creations. Now I am angry at the people who write up his life as a series of accomplishments, and in so doing whitewash away Justus von Liebig’s humanity.

If you want to get to know the accursed guy, the best way is to read his actual words. I enjoyed flitting around Organic Chemistry and Its Application to Agriculture and Physiology, which is written in obsolete chemicalese but which should be decipherable to the patient reader.

July 23, 2011

Starting a fermentation journal

Filed under: Vinting — Tags: — paragardener @ 12:39 am

I’ve turned out some fermented beverages which, in my opinion, were pretty tasty. I learned some things, such as: if you require clarity in your wine, use very clean conditions, wine yeast from an envelope, and start that yeast growing in body-temp water or O.J. before you add it to the jug. Wild microorganisms or bread yeast are going to have you sipping something with texture, though it may be delicious once you drop your preconceptions. Campden tablets don’t seem to be necessary either way.

Now I’m looking to remember more of what I’ve done and try some recipes which require keeping track of dates, so it’s time I start a fermentation journal. The journal will always be accessible up in the sidebar. Right now it has notes on just two projects, the maple and mulberry wines fermenting for me right now.

July 16, 2011

Everyone belongs in jail

Filed under: Soapbox — Tags: , — paragardener @ 3:32 pm

I saw a sign posted over the bottle return at Kroger’s, informing me that it is a crime 1) to return an out-of-state returnable and 2) to throw any returnable in the trash. So if I had an out-of-state bottle, I’d have to carry it with me through the whole store and find a way to recycle it afterward (ok, I happen to have curb-side pickup, but for people in other areas it could be a real pain in the ass). If I lazed out and returned my New York can, I’d face a $100 fine. A second violation can lead to 93 days in jail — for ripping off the state to the tune of $0.20.

Many towns impose a general penalty of up to 90 or 93 days in jail, plus fines, for violating their ordinances. Some crimes for which Michiganders can serve three months’ time: growing any “unsuitable” plant anywhere on your property in Oak Park; dropping a fast-food cup on someone’s lawn in Mount Clemens; being found in a house where lewdness is allowed or encouraged in Mount Clemens (like a house where people have a dirty sense of humor?); fraternizing with the patrons of your bar in Rochester; idling, loafing, or eating food in the Rochester cemetery; providing “harbourage” for snakes in Sault St. Marie; and storing building materials without a building permit in Walled Lake (nails and screws count).

Those are just some crimes you can commit before you try to correctly pay your taxes or drive on the public streets.

Of course you say, “Ethan, that is absurd. No one is going to jail because of a garter snake burrow or a ‘disappeared’ returnable.” That’s mostly true. Governments use some discretion to avoid the rational consequences of their outrageous laws. But if you make an enemy in the local government, all bets are off. The law becomes a toolkit with which your enemies in government can harass you, lock you up, and/or seize your property.

Of course I’m thinking of Julie Bass, whose front-yard vegetable garden set off a fight with the City of Oak Park. When they realized that there was no law against having a vegetable garden in the front, cretins working for the City decided to charge Julie with dog license violations that had already been dealt with when Julie bought the licenses and paid late fees… it’s kind of like charging someone with possession of marijuana because you can prove that they smoked a joint sometime last year. Speaking of marijuana, that’s the tool of choice for going after “hippies” … the Nixon White House almost succeeded in deporting John Lennon due to an old pot charge. So these fights can involve the biggest movers of culture, or people who totally expected to go on about living their lives in quiet anonymity.

In the interest of fairness, I suggest that everyone be permanently sent to jail. I mean, consider every time when you couldn’t find a public trash can or you made an ass — a “public nuisance” — of yourself. You males have, each and every one of you, urinated in a public place (perverts!). Have you even bothered to read the law? You belong in jail! Plus, it will provide lots of jobs, building and maintaining and operating our gulag nation. Should any of us earn a release, the outside world will be pretty safe with all the criminals locked up. There won’t be any lewd houses or fraternizing barkeeps out there to mess up your moral compass.

There is one other possibility, but it’s pretty radical. We could trim the law down so that everyone isn’t constantly in violation. Then, we’d have reason to believe that a rule-breaker had actually done something wrong. But really, will governments ever cut back their own power to harass and neutralize “troublemakers”? I just can’t see that happening.


Special recognition to for providing me with some absurdities.

July 14, 2011

Outlaw gardens

Filed under: gardening, Soapbox — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 3:22 am

When I think of outlaw gardens, I usually think of the major medicinal plants: coca (cocaine, the prototype local anaesthetic), opium poppy (the prototype painkiller and cough suppressant), marijuana (still underutilized), or magical cacti and mushrooms. But a garden doesn’t require any mind-blowing substances to drive local bureaucrats into a psychotic abyss.

Julie Bass appears to be a Normal Suburban Mom, but she’s one bad motherfucker in the eyes of the City of Oak Park, Michigan. She crossed a line you see: in the Code of Ordinances, Appendix A, Article XVII, Section 1716.A.5, it clearly states: “All unpaved portions of [any] site shall be planted with grass ground cover, shrubbery, or other suitable live plant material.” But Julie planted a vegetable garden in the front, which at least one neighbor found unsuitable. The city told Julie to rip out her organic bounty and sow Chemlawn-perfect grass like a good suburbanite, but the bitch won’t back down!  She’s dragging the City into a jury trial, and facing up to 93 days in jail if she loses.

I like how City Planner Kevin Rulkowski bizarrely defines “suitable” as “common.” Were there some hallucinogenic morning glory seeds in his coffee, or is he intentionally making things up? Just who do these guys think they are to say which plants can go where? When the usual food imports are disrupted by declining oil production, climate change  or currency collapse, the city officials who now persecute Ms. Bass will be begging her for help to keep their citizens fed. For now, the officials float in a denial narcosis, believing that they can impose arbitrary concepts of normalcy on their little suburban bubble indefinitely into a Jetsons-inspired future.

Growing your own food and medicine is a basic human right — if you can’t do it for yourself, you must depend upon “the global economy” for everything you consume. In such a way everything you need to exist is a commercial transaction, and subject to controls like taxation, “safety” regulations and monopoly power — in other words, governments and corporate cartels decide what you can eat or medicate with. In fact, part of Ms. Bass’s motivation for gardening was to glean some organic food she otherwise couldn’t so easily afford.

Besides the issues of human rights or property rights, Ms. Bass’s case rattled my cage in the sense of: “Oh my Goddess! We’re living in a cage!” Julie consulted the city planner and was left believing she was a little bit free, to grow some vegetable boxes in the front lawn and share something a little bit different with the neighborhood kids. But when she used that freedom: POW!  She’s threatened with being taken from her kids for three months. You don’t know you’re living in a cell until you hear someone stumble into the bars.

It’s exhausting to ponder the degrees of unfreedom we live under. But, Julie Bass’s stand may open things up a crack. Check out her blog, Oak Park Hates Veggies. Take note of the Useful Links sidebar on the right, ’cause that is where you can take action to support this brave lady.

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