Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

August 6, 2013

Water Quality still Medieval

Filed under: science, Soapbox, Vinting — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 8:57 pm

Batch after batch of mead and brown-sugar based herbal beer was coming out tasting like band-aids. I moved my fermentation to the most temperature-stable spot in the house (under my desk, right next to the thermostat), switched from dish soap to hand soap to rinsing with water and sanitizing with hydrogen peroxide only, threw out my old bottles, and scratched my head.

Then, in Michael Pollan’s newish book “Cooked,” I came across a reference to band-aid flavored beer. A local brewer told Pollan that the flavor is caused by the chemical chlorophenol, and that lowering the fermentation temperature would eliminate it. Since I had lowered the temperature to the minimum my A.C. and cold-prone body could take, I knew that that particular solution would not work in my case. However, I did learn a highly specific tag for my problem, “chlorophenol.”

I used the search term in a homebrewing forum, and found my solution right away. It turns out that yeast make some phenols for their own metabolic purposes, and if there is chlorine in their environment, the yeast will incorporate chlorine atoms into their phenols. The chlorophenol products are typical of what the chemical industry provides for Lysol disinfectant and the microbial inhibitors in medical supplies.

Many of my beer and wine recipes call for boiling up some wort, but then topping up the fermenting jug with water from the tap. This is totally inappropriate — even the top-up water needs to be boiled to drive off the chlorine.

The water out of my Detroit tap is great by municipal water standards — not too hard, not too soft, nor too polluted — but it is chlorinated and tastes and smells kind of like a swimming pool. Now that the idea of chlorine in the water is linked in my head to the ruinous batches, mouthfuls of band-aid, I really don’t like the taste of my tap water.

I need to boil the water before I imbibe it — it’s no longer potable out of the tap in my view. Now wasn’t the point of chlorinating the municipal water supply to clean it up so that you wouldn’t have to filter or boil out the nasty things water can carry? Boiling won’t even remove the fluoride, which most Americans are overexposed to, which causes the softening of tooth enamel and potentially more serious problems (41% of 12-15 year olds suffer from dental fluorosis, caused by overexposure to fluoride through toothpaste and drinking water. Fluoride is also known to soften bone, cause diabetes and other endocrine problems, and decrease IQ, although this is not proven to happen with exposures typical for Americans.)

The more things change, the more they stay the same. I have to treat my water with the precautions as a medieval living in a horse-manure-filled, no-sewage-treatment-plant, cholera-infested city. As for the fluoride, that requires more sophisticated interventions (maybe the filter Alex Jones hawks on his radio show. Or mounting a political campaign, tilting against the dental establishment and the industries which sell their fluoridated industrial waste to the water department.)

Okay, it’s better than people dying of dysentery, and I don’t know of a better solution than chlorination. I’m just saying, boil all of your brewing water, and don’t take too much pride from the idea that you might be living better than a peasant living in the superstitious, technologically simple Dark Ages.

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 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.

 

February 8, 2013

Revolutionaries who Keep Revolting

Thomas Jefferson once blazed revolution and a humane, slavery-rejecting philosophy with his pen, only to retire to a 5,000 acre plantation where he liked to walk on the balcony and oversee a cute, dollhouse-like slave society he had built there, largely self-sufficient with its own little mills and shops, and populated largely by his own enslaved offspring.

Ethan Allen was a man I sometimes like to imagine I was named after. During the Revolutionary War, he captured Fort Ticonderoga for the Patriots without bloodshed, by overwhelming the sentry just before dawn, sneaking 83 soldiers into the fort, and surprising the fort’s commander in bed, like he was fucking-A Batman. After the revolutionary war, Allen returned to Vermont and fought for its statehood, even negotiating with the British to lay a back-up plan for establishing Vermont as a province of Canada if New York would not let the territory go. Then, when Vermont was safely established as a state, he retired to a giant property in the woods and wrote Reason, the Only Oracle of Man, advising people that Christianity was laden with all kinds of oppressive bullshit and that God was expressed through Creation. Think about this until you get it: “the eternal and infinite display of divine power forecloses any subsequent exertion of it miraculously.”

I much prefer the sort of revolutionary who keeps agitating to the one who fades away or fossilizes into a power junkie.

Under the rule of George W. Bush, my liberal friends and I were terrified of the rise of TSA, assassinations by drone-based-missile, the suspension of habeas corpus, the dungeons at Guantanamo Bay and black sites, and the torture that happened there… “Dude, Where’s My Country?” asked Michael Moore. We took solace in the Daily Show and Colbert Report, laughing together at the insanity of the fascist US government. I painted signs and stood around in cold, rainy conditions demanding an end to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as part of a leftist peace movement.

Under the rule of Barack Obama, my liberal friends mainly ignored the TSA,  assassinations by drone-based-missile, the suspension of habeas corpus, the dungeons at Guantanamo Bay and black sites, and the torture that happened there, preferring to criticize the President’s conservative detractors. The President coordinated the crackdown on pro-democracy Occupy protesters, and then Michael Moore endorsed the President’s run for reelection. I feel that my own involvement in the peace movement only served a partisan cause, seeing as my outlets for organized protest dried up under Democrat rule, despite expanding abuses against the Constitution and humanity. I resent having been used to partisan purpose by people who came to me as moral authorities advancing urgent, principled demands for peace and democracy. Organizations such as Code Pink and Veterans for Peace will never receive my support in the future, because they took energies activists invested for peace and democracy and turned them into passive support for Obama, a President who repeats, extends and multiplies the abuses of George W. Bush, precisely what we were supposedly working to end. People actually asked me to stop criticizing Obama, believing that Mitt Romney was a worse threat to the Union than the shredding of the Constitution. Where had all of my allies gone?

Dissent from Republicans is patriotic! End this pointless Republican bloodshed and give us a Democrat for commander-in-chief!

At some point, it became easier to locate conservative or rightist allies against rising fascism than leftist or liberal ones. While Michigan’s Democratic Senator Levin was crafting the 2012 NDAA to allow for the Federal government to kidnap Americans and throw them down into oubliettes forever, our Libertarian US Senate candidate, Scotty Boman, was promoting the nonaggression principle and an end to the War on Drugs. Ron Paul was the only major party Presidential candidate of 2012 to oppose creeping totalitarianism, with no Democrats opposing the hit-list wielding President Obama. Editorially friendly to Ron Paul and the 2nd Amendment, the Oathkeepers organized the military to prepare to resist orders to slay or oppress American citizens. While discovering right-wing resistance to fascism was eye-opening, it hardly made me feel like part of a tribe, speaking a common language, united with common purpose.

A few leftists have rejected the placebo of a Democrat President who embraces Wall Street and the military/intelligence shadow government, and continue to fight for peace and liberty. They have distinguished themselves as having rare intelligence and integrity, as most leftists have indicated a willingness to be shipped off to Guantanamo Bay to be raped and tortured if they only can get some health coverage that includes contraception.

Naomi Wolf is an author and journalist perhaps best known for “The Beauty Myth,” an exposé of the unrealistic standard of beauty promoted by cosmetics manufacturers. “The End of America” chronicled the march to a “closed society” or dictatorship under W. Bush. Wolf took a minute to support Obama in 2008, for, like myself, she had not analyzed Obama’s Senate votes with enough suspicion (and Obama did promise to reverse many of Bush’s evil policies). However, she could not ignore that Obama failed to halt any of Bush’s scandalous policies and she continues to report on the slide into fascism to this day.

Here is a snippet of Wolf’s analysis that I think sums up the difficulties of trying to win back US democracy through the ballot and partisan politics: “It’s hard to know how much power any American president has at this point in time. We’re much more like many Latin-American ‘democracies’ in which there is a nominal head of state who cannot really take on the military-industrial complex. But he could certainly have tried harder than he has.” (source)

Chris Hedges is another author/journalist with a background in war reporting, perhaps best known for “War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning.” Hedges is the lead plaintiff in a suit against the US government, alleging that the 2012 NDAA provision which authorizes the authorities to toss Americans into oubliettes violates the terms of our Constitution. Such authority is used in dictatorships to eliminate pesky journalists, activists, union and church leaders, and it clearly violates both the Constitution and the spirit of the American experiment. Hedges and his co-plaintiffs all continued fighting for democracy after Obama took on Bush’s mantle: the heroes of this story include Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, Noam Chomsky, public intellectual, Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a not-particularly-leftist Icelandic MP whose government advised her not to travel to the barbaric United States, Tangerine Bolen, journalist, Kai Wargalla, Occupy organizer, and Alexa O’Brien, an IT maven who helped organize Occupy Wall Street but was accused of being a high-level cyber terrorist in cahoots with Al Qaeda. Many of these people worked on Wikileaks or support Bradley Manning. So far, they have won an injunction forbidding the government to kidnap Americans, which the government protested and is taking to appeal.

Journalist Alexander Cockburn kept up his criticism of the Obama Administration until he died in 2012, much to the shock of his fans, who had not known he was sick. His magazine Counterpunch publishes both fearful, we-must-support-Obama articles and articles after Cockburn’s own heart.

There are a lot of leftists still fighting the good fight, but you have to hunt for them. And so, friends, the left limps on with a sorrily tame and pro-establishment Daily Show, grousing impotently about the multiple-Sandy-Hooks-scale crime of the drone assassination program, but mainly focused on the stupidity of conservative Christians who don’t appreciate what Obama is trying to do. Leftists truly opposed to dictatorship and war have distinguished themselves as a principled minority, especially such people as I just named, who have remained active (not so much like myself). I guess for every Ethan Allen who was cheering Jon Stewart against W. Bush, there were about nineteen Thomas Jeffersons who talked the talk and then stepped back to a more comfortable place once the true enemy (the GOP) was safely in check.

If you see one leftist standing on the corner with a protest sign, you know that that person is 100% committed like a Christian martyr. If you see ten leftists there, you know that you are dealing with a generally dedicated group of people. If you see 100,000 leftists in the square, most of them are just tourists caught up in the group spirit, and you won’t be able to find them tomorrow. The best tribe you could ever be a part of, is no tribe.

January 7, 2013

Anarchist, be kind to the new lamb.

Filed under: Soapbox — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 4:31 am

After 10+ years of calling myself an anarchist, I am sure that that is what I am and what I will die being. I promise that this has relevance to all people with strong beliefs…

I believe in human freedom and self-determination, noncoercion, and voluntary association. Now, most people only come halfway to this philosophy: they figure that it sounds nice, but in fact we need forceful government (aka “the State”) to a) take money from the wealthy for the feeding of poor folks, b) keep guns away from our mentally ill halfwit neighbors, c) protect us from the Russians and Chinese, or d), e), f) or g).

When I started down the anarchy path, I still supported FDA. Sure, FDA had neglected herbal medicine, practically causing it to fade from the nation, and they approved dangerous and/or useless Big Pharma drugs and suspicious food additives… but, we need FDA to keep Big Pharma from blatantly poisoning us! Look at all the shady pills Big Pharma is pushing! (The Zoloft and Ritalin I feared back then sound nice and mellow compared to the statin drugs and atypical antipsychotics of today.)

Today I hold Big Pharma and FDA in equal contempt: they are one and the same. Big Pharma is Big Pharma because FDA leases them a concession to fulfill that role. The mist has fallen from my eyes, and I have more consistent anarchist views.

In conversation with anarchists online, someone might raise the point, for instance, that taxation is equivalent to theft. A less faithful anarchist replies, “but taxes support food stamps and winter heating programs. Do you want to freeze and starve people?” Now, ideally, according to our group beliefs, we would look for ways to muster the power to feed and warm everybody through voluntary means. We could have all kinds of conversations about how to accomplish that.

Instead, the anarchist masses turn on the pro-tax anarchist with the charge: “You aren’t a real anarchist! You don’t know anything about anarchy!” They are trying to turn away the young me, to make sure he develops into a Democrat or something equally drab. Because, if you still believe in taxes or FDA, you can’t be an anarchist. According to other people, if you aren’t a vegan, or if you wear suits, you can’t be an anarchist. Coming from a group of people known for questioning the rules, such behavior is particularly lame.

I imagine that this is a universal group behavior: “She can’t be a Christian, she smokes meth / has premarital sex / does something fun” or “He’s not a real patriot, he only owns one gun” or “She’s no Marxist, look at the size of her house.”

Well, guess what. If you know some people who are even close to being on the same page as you, you are pretty lucky. Appreciate them. Welcome them in. Speak to them as if you think they know what they are talking about.

If your ways are just and right and worthy of spreading like Good News over the face of the Earth… you are going to have to bring people into the fold from where they really are, right now. Calling someone a hypocrite for only coming halfway over is the best way to exclude people from a shrinking circle.

If it’s not a matter of life and death, you’re better off sharing beers with someone than driving them from the temple. Relax, tilt your glass again…

November 28, 2012

Patriotic Patriarchs Toss Aside the Wimpy Enemy

Filed under: Soapbox — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 7:00 pm
Lincoln beats a secession petitioner and steps back into a movie poster.

Lincoln beats a petitioner.

Ubermensch threatening a Jew

The powerful and the weak.

Strong arms versus wimps holding up papers.

Strong arms versus wimps holding up papers.

Knocking the little guy down

Knocking the little guy down

Is cartoonist Rob Tornoe looking to the wrong role models?

I’m not arguing that Lincoln is just like Hitler or that secessionists are persecuted like Jews or anything in that ballpark. I’m just pointing to the recycling of symbols and stories that should have been retired long ago.

November 24, 2012

“Happy Birthday” Copyright Protects Legacy of Plagiarism

I’ve been investigating some old folk tunes to see which ones are in the public domain. “Goodnight Irene” and “The Pines” still sound good after all these years, but is it lawful for me to self-publish my own covers of these tunes, or is a recording house going to sue me into a lifetime of poverty for such bold theft?

The Public Domain Information Project publishes a little list of public domain songs, which could helpfully confirm that a work is out of copyright. “Goodnight Irene,” unfortunately, is not on there. I was intrigued to discover “Good Morning Children,” a song that goes:

Good morning to you,
good morning to you,
good morning dear children,
good morning to all.

Well, I can only imagine that being sung to one particular tune. Wikipedia and Google were able to flesh out the picture for me, no problem.

The origins of “Happy Birthday” can be traced back all the way to 1859. Horace Waters, remembered mainly as a piano maker, published a little tune called “Happy Greeting to All.” Follow the link and press the “play” button to hear the tune.

Happy Greeting To You sheet music

The chorus is recognizable as being much like “Happy Birthday,” and its lyrics follow the same repeating, repetitious, redundant pattern. Waters went on to publish “Goodnight to You All,” and, in 1875, “Happy New Year to All.” What a creative dynamo!

An aside:

Waters ripping off himself probably didn’t look too odd at the time, when lots of music was written through the folk process. To write a song, you “stole” someone else’s song (or your own!), rewrote the lyrics, and adjusted the music to suit your own playing style and band setup. As copyright enforcement became stricter and the public domain receded into the past, folk songwriting has been effectively outlawed. Our moral sense of a song being “ripped off” has even adjusted to harmonize with the law.

Robert Johnson’s “Hellhound on my Trail” and “Travellin’ Riverside Blues” strike me as a couple of folk process tunes that no one would dare to call unoriginal, although “Hellhound” resembles Skip James’ “Devil Got My Woman” and “Riverside” is a version of “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” a song that “came out of the cotton fields.” You can easily find all of these songs on Youtube, if you’re inclined.

The modern songwriting process must treat each piece as original and unrelated to any other song, forged from the collision of beats, chords and melodic riffs in massive high-energy studio cyclotrons, and yet the result is only about as good as Britney Spears.

“Happy Greeting to All”or a variant was picked up by sisters Patty and Mildred Hill, who rewrote it as “Good Morning to All” for Mildred’s kindergarten class. The sisters published their song without the birthday lyrics in 1893. According to legend, the kids at school were so enthralled by the song that they in turn reworked it into “Happy Birthday” for singing at parties.  It saw print numerous times, and by 1924 the birthday lyrics were printed with it as an alternate verse. However, no one can name the person who wrote the birthday lyrics any more than we can know which cowboy first sang “Bury Me not on the Lone Prairie.”

In the early 1930’s, “Happy Birthday” was everywhere, being delivered by singing telegram and even sung on the Broadway stage. A third Hill sister, Jessica, decided that she’d had enough of people using her sisters’ song, and she was going to act to protect it. In 1935, the publisher of “Good Morning to All” copyrighted “Happy Birthday to You,” and even formed a new company specifically to enforce that copyright. The supposed composer of “Happy Birthday to You” was Preston Ware Orem, a piano-playing songwriter best known for weaving American Indian themes into orchestral music. Somehow the deal to protect the Hill sisters’ work included giving up their claim on authorship. Although everybody was stealing “Happy Birthday,” Orem looks to have crossed a line into plagiarism by actually taking credit for someone else’s song.

When a work is published, it is automatically copyrighted unless the author specifies a different license (such as the Creative Commons license, or simply releasing the work into the public domain.) Thus, the lyrics of “Happy Birthday” were copyrighted in 1924, not 1935, and the melody copyrighted 1893 at the latest. The publisher’s copyright and its extensions were not valid… not only because the company tried to copyright a song already copyrighted with a different composer’s name attached, but also because authorship of the lyrics is just plain unclear (neither of the songwriting Hills ever specifically claimed to have written the birthday verse.)

The phony 1935 copyright is now held by Warner Music Group, which collects about $2 million per year taxing the most-recognized song in the English language. Legal scholars view the copyright as invalid, yet artists are not exactly encouraged to challenge the music group and its Goliath parent.

And so “Happy Birthday to You” becomes a glaring example of how intellectual property law can be twisted to work against the interests of artists and instead promote the interests of those who already have some money. Copyright laws have also limited the techniques available to artists, from the folk writing process to sampling, and in their current form they constitute a real cultural attack. Joe Hill wouldn’t be framed for murder and executed today, they’d lock him up forever for copyright infringement. Eyes on the Prize, a documentary about the Civil Rights movement, was actually held back from going to video for several years, partly because of a scene which featured Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a birthday cake.

“Happy Birthday to You” is not under any legitimate copyright. It is rightfully part of the common heritage of all people.

November 17, 2012

Honor Russell Means by Seceding

Filed under: Soapbox — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 9:24 am

Russell MeansRussell Means was an Oglala Lakotah from the Black Hills of the land formerly known as South Dakota. He fought for his people, organizing the occupations of Alcatraz and Wounded Knee, running for the Libertarian presidential nomination in 1987 (he lost to Ron Paul by one vote), acting in Last of the Mohicans. His most exciting project was taken up in the last five years of his life: he led his people in seceding from the United States, with his group unilaterally withdrawing from all treaties.

The Republic of Lakotah of 60 million acres includes pieces of both Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana and Nebraska. It is completely sovereign from the United States, recognizing no claims. Means invited all people to come, who are ready to experience freedom and responsibility. The Republic is the Saudi Arabia of wind energy and a social experiment in stepping away from patriarchy towards the more organic matrilineal way of life. (It also includes very poor areas that require humanitarian relief.)

On October 22, Means died of cancer and is said to have returned to his ancestors like an arrow flying into the sun.

Means warned white people that we “don’t take freedom very seriously yet,” noting in 2009 that Posse Comitatus would be revoked under Obama (accomplished with 2012 NDAA.) “Welcome to the reservation,” said Means, referring to the entire United States becoming a sort of rambling concentration camp where people have no rights, wealth or opportunities. He just might have been pleased to see a movement in this country of people attempting to secede from the American Empire the on the State level.

Supposedly the petitions for secession are being circulated by bitter, anti-patriotic Obama-hating sore losers. The petition I signed quoted the Declaration of Independence, sort of the founding document of patriotism, and never mentioned Obama. It noted the right to overthrow a tyranny and informed the Federal government of Michigan’s peaceful withdrawal from said tyranny. I don’t see anything to object to there, unless perhaps you have some sort of faith-against-all-evidence that Uncle Sam is secretly not a tyrant.

The roads, fire and police departments, schools, 911 service, and most of the parks in Michigan are operated at the State or local level. At the Federal level, we support wars of aggression, a police state which spies on us constantly, a pretty good weather service, and some of our money is redistributed to pay for welfare projects in “Red” states. To withdraw support from the Federal government, with its insane doctrine that even what you put in your own mouth can be regulated as interstate commerce, with its stated right to rub people off the face of the Earth, is eminently sane and pacific.

If you don’t want any part in the murder of Pashtuns, Persians and Arabs, or if you just want to decide what you can put in your own mouth, welcome to the revolution, comrade. The White House accepts petitions here.

The white peoples’ traditions of kitchen gardening, pickling, booze-making, bad folk music, backyard burial, herbal medicine and lifelong monogamy are in danger quite as much as the Lakotah language. It would be nice if we would take our freedom seriously.

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