Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

April 30, 2013

Safety Poem

Filed under: Soapbox — Tags: , , , — paragardener @ 5:08 pm

Let’s make the world safe

Let’s make ourselves safe from drugs

lock up the nutmeg and cinnamon

and classify naughty books

and ban dangerous speech

and make the world safe from weapons

register every box-cutter

license every gas pump attendant

what do you really need a sledgehammer for, anyways?

and make the world safe for children

a chip in every buttock

a stent in every neck

under constant armed guard

those people can keep their music and quaint cuisine

but

we can’t afford them the luxury

of their irrational beliefs

and

let’s burn everything written before 1800

then we’ll make the world safe from bad choices

all dates set up by E-Harmony

unannounced home inspections

denim jackets and hair grease banned

make the world safe from cancer

half of all known chemicals are carcinogens

let’s push them outside the membrane

of our glassed-in freedom dome

let’s make the world safe from bad poetr

April 27, 2013

When Presidents Fail (Obama and the Flying Saucer)

“Contrary to the rumors, I was not born in a manger. I was actually born on the Krypton, and sent by my father Jorel to save Planet Earth.” — Barack Obama

President Obama is notable for the length of his list of broken promises, and his continuation of pretty much every one of the hated Bush policies. Nice going on ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and installing a brewery at the White House, but you came into office with all of the executive privileges exercised by W. Bush, with a Democrat-controlled Congress, and yet…

  • you didn’t close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center
  • your universal health care is not universal health care (in a country with universal health care, even tourists get free care and there is no question about having an insurance card.)
  • you took no steps to preserve abortion rights (indeed, you just watched as the states eroded them.)
  • you nominated lobbyists into key positions
  • you dropped your promise to allow importation of prescription drugs
  • you continue to deny the very existence of drone missile attacks (transparency?)
  • your foreclosure prevention fund was a dismal failure
  • you did not push the Employee Free Choice Act (protecting unions) while you enjoyed Democratic control of both House and Senate, so it became a dead letter
  • you did not introduce a comprehensive immigration reform bill in your first year of office
  • you did not investigate Bush Administration war crimes
  • you allowed bankrupt companies to rob their creditors by paying outsize bonuses to their own executives
  • you did not create a $60 billion infrastructure repair fund
  • you did not lower taxes on low-to-middlin’ income senior citizens
  • you did not begin withdrawing from Afghanistan by July 2011
  • you did not increase the minimum wage
  • you expanded the war against medical cannabis providers
  • you raised taxes on those making less than $250,000 / year, via cigarettes, tanning beds, and the penalty on those who cannot afford their own healthcare.
  • you did not move terrorism suspects from military commissions into the civilian courts
  • you did not increase capital gains taxes
  • you did not tax oil company windfall profits
  • you did not achieve an agreement peacefully establishing a Palestinian state (and why on Earth would you claim to be able to accomplish such a thing?)
  • through the morally decrepit stooge Carl Levin, you introduced language into a defense spending bill allowing for the indefinite military detention of Americans, after you said that we weren’t that kind of country

Actually, there are at least 50 promises you broke, Mr. Obama. Your presidency has been a near-total failure, except from the standpoint of bankers, health insurance companies, neoconservative war-mongers, and weapons manufacturers. I can understand Obama voters who were simply more frightened of Mitt Romney, but… why did people show up to Obama’s second inauguration with jersies with”smiling pictures of the president sewn on like Girl Scout badges, and ‘THE ONE’ written where an athlete’s name would be?” Where was the change we were supposed to believe in?

There are instances where a total disappointment that totally disconfirms one’s beliefs is turned around into a strengthened belief. This was famously explored by social psychologist Leon Festinger and colleagues through the case of the “Seekers” UFO cult. The cultists believed that the world would end in a flood on Dec. 21, 1954, but the Seekers would be whisked away in a flying saucer to Planet Clarion. Festinger and friends were curious as to what would happen when/if the world didn’t end, so they joined the cult to watch the emotional ride first-hand.

When the saucer did not land at midnight, Dec. 21, the cultists got a little worried that they might be left behind. There was some crying and hugging. Fortunately, around 4:00 am, they received a new telepathic message from Clarion, informing them that the God of Earth had relented from his fury, moved by the love of the little circle of believers, and there would be no flood or saucer landing. The cult switched from a policy of secrecy, to one of enthusiastic proselytization.

What happened there? You’d think that people would throw up their hands, admit to having been wrong, and go home and start thinking about what to do with the rest of their lives. Festinger and team theorized that the discomfort of being so utterly wrong was unbearably great, so that people threw the whole force of their being into denying the truth and keeping the faith against all evidence. Converting new believers helped believers to feel more reasonable, with more social support for their ridiculously-held belief.

In their write-up, “When Prophecy Fails,” the researchers named some conditions that would support the redoubling of a disproven belief:

  • A belief must be held with deep conviction and it must have some relevance to action, that is, to what the believer does or how he behaves.
  • The person holding the belief must have committed himself to it; that is, for the sake of his belief, he must have taken some important action that is difficult to undo. In general, the more important such actions are, and the more difficult they are to undo, the greater is the individual’s commitment to the belief.
  • The belief must be sufficiently specific and sufficiently concerned with the real world so that events may unequivocally refute the belief.
  • Such undeniable disconfirmatory evidence must occur and must be recognized by the individual holding the belief.
  • The individual believer must have social support. It is unlikely that one isolated believer could withstand the kind of disconfirming evidence that has been specified. If, however, the believer is a member of a group of convinced persons who can support one another, the belief may be maintained and the believers may attempt to proselytize or persuade nonmembers that the belief is correct.

Of course, Obama’s active supporters were linked via e-mail lists, social media, house parties and so on, “groups of convinced persons who can support one another.” They took actions to be known as Obama supporters, from lawn signs to bumper stickers and so on, publicly declaring their loyalty, which cannot be undone. They watched on the news as their beliefs were unequivocally and undeniably refuted by Obama’s actual actions as President.

Hopefully more understanding can lead to more compassion for Obama’s lost followers.

April 18, 2013

Sasha Shulgin on Animal Research

Filed under: science, Soapbox — Tags: , , , , , , — paragardener @ 5:18 pm

From “PiKHAL, a chemical love story:”

This (MME) is one of the very few compounds with which I actually risked (and took) the lives of experimental animals. I was still impressed by the scientific myth that pharmacological research wasn’t really acceptable without animal support data. And I had access to an experimental mouse colony at the University. I injected one mouse with a dose of 300 mg/Kg., i.p. That sounds pretty scientific. But what it really means is that I picked up a mouse by the scruff of the back with my left hand, then turned my hand over so that the mouse was belly-up. I put the ring finger over a hind leg to keep things relatively immobile. Usually at this point there is a little urine evident where there had been none before. And I took a syringe equipped with a very fine needle and containing about 8 milligrams of MME in a fraction of a mL of a water solution and pushed that needle into the mouse at about where the navel would be if one could see the mouse’s navel, and then I pulled the needle back just a little so that there should be nothing at the business end but the loose folds of the peritoneum. Then I pushed the syringe plunger home, effectively squirting the water solution into the area that surrounds the intestines. I dropped the mouse back into his cage, and watched. In this case, the mouse went into a twitching series of convulsions (known as clonic in the trade) and in five minutes he was dead.

Fired with the lust for killing, I grabbed another mouse, and nailed him with 175 mg/Kg. Dead in 6 minutes. Another one at 107 mg/Kg. Dead in 5 minutes. Another at 75 mg/Kg. Well, he looked pretty sick there for a while, and had some shakes, and then he seemed to be pretty much OK. One final orgy of murder. I injected 5 mice at 100 mg/Kg i.p., and watched four of them die within 20 minutes. I took in my hands the sole survivor, and I went outside the laboratory and let him loose on the hillside. He scampered away and I never saw him again.

And what did I learn, at the cost of seven precious lives which I can never replace? Not a damned thing. Maybe there is an LD-50 [the dose lethal to 50% of the animals] somewhere around 60 or 80 mg/Kg. This is for mice, not for men. I was intending to take an initial trial dose of 300 micrograms of this completely untested compound, and it would have made no difference to me if the LD-50 had been 600 mg/Kg or 6 mg/Kg.  I still took my trial dose, and had absolutely no effects, and I never killed another mouse again. No, that is simply out-and-out dishonest. I had an invasion of field mice last winter coming up through a hole in the floor behind the garbage holder under the kitchen sink, and I blocked the hole, but I also set some mouse traps. And I caught a couple. But never again for the simple and stupid reasons of being able to say that “This compound has an LD-50 in the mouse of 70 mg/Kg.” Who cares? Why kill?

If you believe in something you are creating, there should be no problem in trying it out for yourself first. Shulgin’s usual protocol for trying new drugs is to start with perhaps 1/500 of the expected active dose, and then taste again next week with double or 1.5 times as much. If there are signs of activity, whether amusing or toxic, the next dose will only be a small increment more.

Shulgin’s intent is purely to make new compounds for exploring the mind, which generally fall near the psychedelic category. Not very much is known about the possible health effects of most of the (over 200) new compounds he’s synthesized.

Yet, I feel a lot better with the idea of taking an exploratory compound cooked up by an eccentric and earnest scientist, than buying shampoo at the store that was rubbed into bunny eyes as a Cover Your Ass move, but which was actually created by people whose only interest lay in making money. Monsanto represents an ultimate in ugly innovation, removing GMO items from their own cafeterias because their employees don’t want to eat what they are growing.

If corporate scientists don’t want to test their new creations on themselves, I understand why. They are just working on orders from above, acting as competent technicians. I am all in favor of testing on the people in charge: the Board of Directors, the CEO and management team, and the major shareholders.

April 14, 2013

On the belief in spirits in disease

Filed under: magic, science — Tags: , , , , , — paragardener @ 8:18 pm

Recently, I have read much of an ignorant superstition regarding disease: this, the concept of diseases being caused by malevolent spirits. These spirits are invisible creatures, which live in the air and seek to wreak mayhem on any human animal they come into contact with. They will attach themselves to a person, and even spread from person to person, or linger in the victim’s home. It is believed by the ignorant, that the home of the afflicted may be “cleansed” with herbs and smoke such as sage and wormwood, to drive the spirits out; for, these dark-minded individuals believe that the spirits of plants may be called upon to battle the evil spirits of disease. (Thus, the fools deny themselves the true and helpful medicines known to our doctors of today, such as preparations of arsenic and mercury.)

This belief in invisible agents of disease is known to be false by all Men of science, who know disease to be caused by an imbalance of the four humours (phlegm, black bile, yellow bile, and blood.) Thus, the barefoot primitive and the superstitious peasant will rely on the magical qualities of the witch-doctor’s plants, such as ephedra or belladonna, to treat asthma, to their great detriment, instead of looking to a medicine with the empirically-validated phlegm-drying virtues of “warmth” and “dryness,” such as Indian tobacco.

As one cannot argue with the willfully ignorant, I can only pray that our Legislators take decisive action for the licensing of doctors and pharmacists, and to punish swiftly and surely the selling of false and deleterious medicines.

[Disease really is spread by invisible organisms. Sage and wormwood are antiseptic. Arsenic and mercury were really put into medicines. Ephedra dilates bronchioles and belladonna reduces inflammations and spasms. And, tobacco was used to treat asthma under the Four Humours system of medicine, with rather limited success.]

April 9, 2013

Animist on Atheism

Animism is the belief that the world is full of spirits. Atheism is the rejection of belief in gods. These beliefs are not opposed according to their bare definitions, but I know of no atheists who really get excited about the spirit world.

Atheism in the West is heavily shaped by Christianity, or more precisely, by rejecting Christianity. An ultra-brief history of Christian thought could begin with the Gnostics, part of the cultish religious soup in and around the ancient Holy Land, who saw their world as a miserable material prison to be escaped through ecstatic travels. The medieval Church kept the idea of this world as a material prison, but dropped the possibility of escaping through ecstasy. It urged followers to believe in a spirit world that could not be seen, except by the dead and resurrected or a few chosen prophets. People had to listen to their priest and trust in received wisdom, or actually risk being tortured and burned as a heretic. Early moves towards skepticism included demanding to be allowed to read the Bible for oneself, cutting out a major priestly privilege!

Atheists (and Deists, their close intellectual cousins) said: “Enough of this crap! We won’t believe in the Invisible Man in the Sky who watches us all the time anymore! It’s very manipulative and we call ‘shenanigans’ upon thee!” So, freethinkers shifted their attention to the world of things they could find out for themselves — reason, history, and especially science. Any hint of the spirit world was regarded as the same sort of superstition as Churchly lies. The spiritual practices of “savages” were beneath contempt, of more interest to edgy bohemians than serious scientists or philosophers, and were not seriously looked at in the West for a few hundred more years.

So, in animism, the spirit world is present right here in nature. In mainstream Christianity, the spirit world has been ripped away from the present world and hidden behind a veil, as for the priests to communicate to the helpless peasants. And in atheism, the spirit world has been denied existence entirely.

The atheist denial of natural spirits is based on an error, the belief that the spirit world is basically a lie communicated to the people by priests. For most people over most of human time, the spirit world was much more directly accessible.

On an everyday level, people were trained to rely on their instinct or “see with the heart.” Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, describes it thus: “I spent much of my childhood in a third-world, rural environment where we had to be in tune with Mother Nature for our very survival… To be instinctual means to be clearheaded, open, and aware of the signals we are getting from other people, animals, and our environment all the time. It means understanding our natural selves and the natural world, and acknowledging our interdependence with that world.” (from “Be the Pack Leader.”)

To a little child, the world is a colorful place imbued with meaning. This tree is sinister, that one is welcoming, still another is powerful and proud. I believe that these impressions are devalued by the education process, until the student a) comes to see trees as collections of cells and organs described by a Latin binomial, of interest as a sort of ongoing biochemical reaction or b) loses interest and stays inside watching football. The animist myths of trees as plant teachers and homes for forest spirits express the more important truths. Ignoring the truth about trees causes us to build ugly places — perhaps best embodied by Tolkein’s Mordor. (By the way — plenty of atheists appreciate and protect the trees, and plenty of ugly-minded deforesters call themselves Christian.) I happen to believe that the most powerful human-tree bond is on a level we truly experience as magical — an exchange of ill-defined “energy.” On what evidence should anyone reject that magical level of bonding? To what end?

 

A giant tree surrounded by fences.

Really ancient trees still inspire reverence from people of all beliefs. Mary and Angus Hogg [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A stubbly, muddy field stretches everywhere in sight.

Do the opencast miners need a more advanced science to explain to them where they went wrong? by Texas Radio and The Big Beat [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Opening up our senses to the magical seems like a wise move, if Sauron is not to win.

Since the middle of last century, the West has exploded with information about ecstatic technologies that permit direct experience of the spiritual world, often in full Technicolor. Albert Hoffman discovered LSD-25 in 1938, and it was soon being used in psychiatry to accelerate insight, healing and development in therapeutic clients. This very nearly coincided with Richard Shultes’ first trips to Mexico to identify the shamans’ magical plants and fungi (psilocybe mushrooms, morning glories and solanaceous trumpet flowers.) Shultes sent Hofmann morning glory samples for analysis, and Hofmann discovered LSD analogs in the seeds. They realized that indigenous shamanism had a lot in common with the cutting edge of psychiatric practice. Psychedelic drugs are not for everyone, and they are the subject of a mostly secular but authoritarian backlash, but they are not the only technology of ecstasy. Mind science imported from Buddhist and yogic traditions was popularized throughout the latter half of the twentieth century. Music took on longer forms to allow the listeners to “get into it,” and incorporated trippy light shows. You don’t have to listen to your priest interpret Ezekiel’s vision of a wheel for you any longer: people can experience the other world for themselves, the paths are known.

In rejecting a phony or insanely corrupted spiritual tradition, many freethinkers found themselves cast to philosophies like materialism and positivism. Many Christians box up their religion except for Sundays and live in the same soulectomied world. These philosophies are insufficient — they do not feed the instinctual side of human nature. We find ourselves a bunch of neurotics living in ugly places. But there was never any reason to stop developing knowledge of the magical worlds of our childhood. Use your reasoning capacity, but remember where we all started from.

 

April 3, 2013

Horrid Orange

Filed under: food — Tags: , , , , , , — paragardener @ 10:41 am

The other day, I held a beautiful fresh mandarin orange in my hand, purchased from CostCo. Tired of getting orange fibers under my fingernails, I decided to start opening the peel with my teeth. Big mistake! My mouth filled with a cloud of corrosive vapor, burning the back of my throat. I gobbled the orange just to wash my mouth out.

Earlier, I had attempted to shred some orange zest into a gallon of soon-to-be mead, failing on account of the grater not working with the orange. Had I succeeded, I would have destroyed the entire batch (apparently when I bought the oranges I was not paying for the rinds, as it was clearly assumed that no one would ever think to use them.)

Later on, I noticed that the dogs took no interest in the peels laying in the trash. These scavengers will eat orange and banana peels, used snot-rags, and disgusting things you’d never anticipate. Whatever chemical was on these oranges, it is rejected by insects, dogs, and humans alike, and by inference, there is likely no animal on the face of the Earth that would not recognize it as a noxious poison.

Even as much as I cultivate contempt for the government regulation of food and drugs, this event undermined the faith I thought I didn’t have. A simple law that stated “thou shall not poison food” would unambiguously protect from the horrid orange, since even the dogs recognize it as poisonous. Instead, we enjoy a structure of thousands of pages of regulation that somehow enshrine the horrid orange as acceptable food. Forgive me if the thought of hundreds of FDA scientists and bureaucrats working on my behalf does not fill me with warm feelings of security.

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