May - July, 2006

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May 24. Pot smoking doesn't cause lung cancer. If you think that's strange, tobacco didn't used to cause lung cancer. Lung cancer was super-rare until around 1930, even though people have been smoking tobacco for hundreds of years. Exclusionists will say it just wasn't being diagnosed, but they haven't exhumed any 19th century corpses to confirm that theory -- they're just telling a story so they don't have to change their thinking. So where does the cancer come from? It could be the additives, or Patricia points out that it could be from the filters or the bleached paper. Mike reports the theory of raw food guru Gabriel Cousens, that the carcinogens come from a fungus that grows when the tobacco is cured. My favorite theory is that it comes from radioactive polonium from phosphate fertilizers. Here's another link, Radioactive Tobacco.

May 30. Suburban family with no car!

To transport the baby, Kent found a metal shopping cart, pulled off the wheels, fashioned it with bike tires, and secured it to Christine's bike. He strapped the baby's car seat in the metal cart and bundled him up like a starfish. "We rode like this in the snow," Christine said, laughing. "So when people say now, 'You're so lucky you don't have to pay for gas,' I tell them it's not something that happened overnight. You make your choices and you figure out what you have to do."

June 1. You know that story about the frog that will boil to death if the water temperature is increased slowly enough? It's not true! Now the question is, is it still metaphorically true for humans?

The 'critical thermal maxima' of many species of frogs have been determined by several investigators. In this procedure, the water in which a frog is submerged is heated gradually at about 2 degrees Fahrenheit per minute. As the temperature of the water is gradually increased, the frog will eventually become more and more active in attempts to escape the heated water. If the container size and opening allow the frog to jump out, it will do so.

June 14. Last night I watched Grizzly Man, Werner Herzog's documentary about Timothy Treadwell, and one bit really stuck out. It was when a summer drought lowered the water so much that the fish couldn't swim up to the bears, and the bears were starving, and Treadwell tried to make a path for the fish to get up. Herzog couldn't help editorializing that Treadwell was "interfering with nature," and with that comment, the cynical film director revealed that he romanticizes nature more than a guy who lived with deadly giant bears.

Westerners think nature is some kind of magical other world that needs to be completely left alone, and if you can't leave it alone, you might as well just make parking lots and office buildings. In the book Keeping it Living, Nancy Turner looks at the journal entries of the first European visitors to the Pacific Northwest, and how they missed the overwhelming evidence that the natives were actively building natural abundance, because their culture didn't contain that concept. Civilized humans know only two ways of relating to anything: absolute control, or absolute detachment.

In fact, nature is all about "interference." One of the principles of permaculture is that everything gardens. Every creature tweaks the environment for its own interests. The key question, the difference between participation and exploitation, is whether you respect other creatures. If humans can learn to relate to other life respectfully, on equal terms, we can use our giant brains and opposable thumbs to make the biosphere ten times as good as it would be without us.

June 20. In Tim Boucher's review of The Politics of Experience, he comments that R.D. Laing thought mental illness "was not really even illness at all, but a natural healing process." I'm starting to see this idea everywhere. For example, some parts of my land are covered with bull thistle. The dominant culture says to exterminate it, but I think it's part of the healing process of the land. Specifically (thanks Fairlight) it's correcting magnesium depletion by pulling it up with its deep roots and leaving it on top of the soil when it dies. Then the soil will be ready for other things to grow.

Or consider sewer rats. If a lab rat went straight to the sewers, it would get very sick. It's sterile system would first be colonized by the nasty "weedy" germs, and then if it survived, it would develop a balanced diversity of microfauna that kept it healthy.

So, here we are in sterile, controlled Empire culture, and when we begin to move outside it, unpleasant things happen. Stop poisoning your lawn and weeds grow; switch from dead to living foods and you feel sick; take time off work and you feel a little insane. If you push it too fast, you might have to go back, or crash so hard you never recover. But if you are patient and persistent, you'll eventually get through the "sickness" and feel better than ever.

June 23-30. Air-conditioning: Our Cross to Bear and America's Air-Conditioned Nightmare, a two-part article with the kind of deep analysis of a particular technology that you seldom see outside old Ivan Illich books. Here's an additional comment posted on Life After the Oil Crash:

My old pre A/C house, situated in an old pre A/C neighborhood, has a porch. It has beautiful old pecan trees around it for shade. The neighborhood has sidewalks. People used to use those sidewalks to walk to the store, the park, the library, passing residents fanning themselves on their porches, stopping to chat just so they could enjoy the respite of a shady spot.

Newer, post A/C neighborhoods in my town are devoid of porches and sidewalks. Each resident lives in their own tightly sealed bubble of privacy, emerging just long enough to scurry to their tightly sealed mobile bubble of privacy which they then navigate to yet another tightly sealed bubble, usually of commerce. There is no chance to build community when each person is so preoccupied with their separate concerns (most of which seem to revolve around earning enough money to pay for all these bubbles!)

Also, Gore Vidal once wrote, "I date the end of the old republic and the birth of the empire to the invention, in the late thirties, of air conditioning," because it enabled the elite human hosts of the empire to work through the hot Washington summer.

June 26. Creepy article on immortality. I've already written (in this essay) that immortality would have to be reserved for the elite, and to leave space for them, the non-elite would be prevented from having kids. And I've pointed out that our culture would stagnate without being constantly renewed by death and birth. Immortality means young George Lucas gets snuffed so old George Lucas can keep making shitty films for a thousand years.

But this guy raises another great issue and then fails to think it through: if we could die only from accidents, we would become insanely cautious! Life would be a thousand years of hell, living in terror of pricking your finger or falling down stairs. We wouldn't even have anything as fun and dangerous as stairs! Here's what I wrote back in Superweed 1:

What if, two hundred years from now, this world seems like a paradise because there are still wild trees and people still routinely go outside, and touch each other with their actual skin, and pavements are so primitive that grass still comes up through cracks. People still do exciting dangerous things like drive in those old rumbling metal "cars," and you can still get sick or wounded, and how your kids turn out is a total surprise. There are still old empty houses and secret places and open windows and broken things and different countries and kings and outlaws and tribes of pygmies and wild horses and freight trains and bee stings and thunderstorms and power failures and open fires and dirt roads and isolated beaches where the waves have not been harnessed for energy but crash wastefully on the shore. People still spit and bleed and throw up and have sex and give birth and eat actual plants and animals. You can still get lost in the woods, or caught in the rain, or lose everything.

July 12. Are corporate box stores the business-ecology equivalent of invasive weeds? I think they're not at all like weeds, which can thrive anywhere, but like monoculture crops, which need a very specific managed environment. In this case: a culture of consumption, air conditioning, a corporate-socialist government, an overvalued dollar, somewhat cheap energy, and cheap labor in China. Take away any of those and Wal-Mart is in trouble.

July 20-21. So there's a new war in Southwest Asia. It's interesting to watch as people who have no obvious stake in the outcome still passionately take one side or the other. It's almost like there are two demons, Proisrael and Antiisrael, possessing us.

This issue reminds me of something a reader sent me a couple months back, the final chapter of Stanislav Grof's book Beyond the Brain, in which he identifies two mental states that humans can get into, which he calls BPM II and BPM III. He writes, "Both are closely related to the theme of horror, agony, and death and both are typically associated with the imagery of war and concentration camps." But in BPM II you identify with the victims: "The general atmosphere of these scenes is that of desolation, despair, anguish, hopelessness, and the absurdity of human existence." And in BPM III you identify with the aggressors: "The predominant emotional atmosphere is that of wild instinctual arousal involving aggression, anxiety, sexual excitement, a strange fascination, a peculiar mixture of pain and pleasure, and a scatological component."

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