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.

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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.

June 10, 2012

Ozone Alert: Your neighbors’ lawnmowers are killing you today.

I went to NOAA.gov this morning to check the weather. There was a little note with a hyperlink stuck to my local forecast: “Hazardous Weather Conditions: Ozone Alert.”

THE MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY HAS
DECLARED SUNDAY...JUNE 10TH...TO BE AN ACTION DAY FOR
ELEVATED LEVELS OF OZONE. POLLUTANTS ARE EXPECTED TO BE IN THE
UNHEALTHY FOR SENSITIVE GROUPS RANGE.

THE ACTION DAY IS IN EFFECT FOR THE FOLLOWING MICHIGAN COUNTIES...

GENESEE...LAPEER...LENAWEE...LIVINGSTON...MACOMB...MONROE...
OAKLAND...SHIAWASSEE...ST CLAIR...WASHTENAW...AND WAYNE COUNTIES.

PEOPLE AND BUSINESSES ARE URGED TO AVOID ACTIVITIES WHICH LEAD
TO OZONE FORMATION. THESE ACTIVITIES INCLUDE...REFUELING VEHICLES
OR TOPPING OFF WHEN REFUELING...USING GASOLINE POWERED LAWN
EQUIPMENT...AND USING CHARCOAL LIGHTER FLUID. POSITIVE ACTIVITIES
INCLUDE...CAR POOLING...BIKING TO WORK...DELAYING OR COMBINING
ERRANDS AND USING WATER BASED PAINTS.

IT IS RECOMMENDED THAT ACTIVE CHILDREN AND ADULTS...AND PERSONS
WITH RESPIRATORY DISEASES SUCH AS ASTHMA...LIMIT PROLONGED
OUTDOOR EXERTION.

It’s remarkable that the Department of Environmental Quality is not blaming this toxic cloud on industry’s Satanic mills. This pollution is being done neighbor-to-neighbor, through cars, lawnmowers, paint, and grills. Somebody with asthma has to stay inside today for someone else to live the suburban dream of mowing the lawn, driving to the store and barbequing.

For my part, it never occurred to me that lighter fluid was a serious pollutant. I’ll be only too happy to switch to a chimney-style charcoal starter.

Someone gifted me their old gas-powered lawn mower last Fall, and I treated it like crap and it died after about three mowings. To replace it, I got a hand-powered reel mower — American innovation, Chinese manufacture, bought through Amazon.com.

Reel mower with a grass catcher.I can’t wait for the grass to grow! Oh, I shall dance the dance of Green Consumer Superiority the day I get to mow with this! It’s quieter and it doesn’t smell bad, besides requiring no gas and generating no pollutants of any type.

Well, I’m happy to change one practice at a time towards sustainability / not poisoning my neighbors. It’s a long road out of mutually-imposed suburban Hell, but making the trip is better than living and dying this way.

May 24, 2012

Great Pacific Garbage Patch, My Ass!

Filed under: gardening, Soapbox — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 3:13 am

Lost and thrown away plastic is said to be accumulating in the middles of the big ocean gyres. Bottles, bags, nylon ropes and fishing nets, party cups and sundries are carried by winds, rivers, currents and boaters into the sea and swirl out towards the center. Some of the plastic gets tangled in nylon ropes or fishing nets to form little trash islands. Most of it is broken down by the sun, leaching toxic plastic additives and leaving lots of tiny fragments hanging around to choke marine animals.

Yes, this does seem to be a fact, but how about my backyard garbage patch? Back in a quiet corner, where I do my composting, plastic fragments seem to blow in from all over the neighborhood.

Plastic strewn over ground.

As a consequence of plastic coming to rest here, the soil is full of plastic bits and the compost I dug out to fill my vegetable box is full of plastic bits, too.

Similar plastic fragments

Plastic debris makes Bella sad.

Capris Sun packet buried under a weed.

When I moved into this house several years ago, I picked up a slew of trash from this area. Yet, I continue to unearth it. I wonder how long the neighborhood gyre has been dumping on that spot?

A root with numerous plastic hangers-on

Yes, I feel bad for the strangled sea birds, but also for my earthworms and viny creepers. Paper and cardboard debris would be destroyed here within a couple of years, and feed those roots and weird bugs.

I don’t see everyone around me about to become super-aware of this problem and avoid all plastic packaging and junk. And even if they all stop littering, little pieces of plastic tend to blow away (I’m even finding my own plastic label stakes from past years’ gardens). Could we please ban the use of plastic disposables? The problem with plastic is pretty clear, and it deserves some kind of response…

Did we really need to see the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to figure something’s gone awry?

September 26, 2011

It’s a Circle of Cheap Plastic Crap

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — paragardener @ 4:58 pm

I came across some film documenting “planned obsolescence,” a scheme to keep us buying products by having them break quickly and be impossible to fix. Buying a new microwave every five years means employing the people who make microwaves, not to mention profits for the investors… and so the cheaper the plastic crap is, the more it grows the economy! Waste is wealth, as George Orwell might say.

For some reason, this documentary wasn’t easy to navigate on Youtube, so here are links to the four parts in order:
(It’s about an hour long, altogether)

1

2

3

4

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