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In Praise of Hemp
Hemp use predates the Agrarian Age, as hemp fibers have been found in pottery in China and Taiwan dating to 7,000 years ago. The classical Greek historian Herodotus (ca. 480 BC) reported that the inhabitants of Scythia would often inhale the vapours of hemp smoke, both as ritual and for their own pleasurable recreation. So presumably the Scythians were the first recorded stoners.
In Europe, hemp growing and production became quite popular during the Medieval Age, having disseminated in that direction along with much of the technology of the Arabic Golden Age in Northern Africa. In Europe hemp seeds were used for food and oils, the leaves for teas and the stalks for fibres, including rope, clothes, sails and paper. Estimates put the number of Europeans actively involved in hemp growing and production in the 15th and 16th century at well over 50%.
Hemp has a strong historical influence on every continent, with varied cultural and religious traditions. Many African spiritual practices involve consuming hemp smoke to enhance awareness and generate visions like the Dagga ‘cults’.
The Spaniards brought hemp to the Western Hemisphere and cultivated it in Chile starting about 1545. However, in May 1607, “hempe” was among the crops Gabriel Archer observed being cultivated by the natives at the main Powhatanvillage, where Richmond, Virginia is now situated; and in 1613,
Samuell Argall reported wild hemp “better than that in England” growing along the shores of the upper Potomac. As early as 1619, the first Virginia House of Burgessespassed an Act requiring all planters in Virginia to sow “both English and Indian” hemp on their plantations. The Puritansare first known to have cultivated hemp in New England in 1645.
In more modern times, hemp was a popular crop in antibellum Kentucky and other southern states. It was commonly used for a variety of products, most notably the paper on which the U.S. Constitution was written. Several of our founding fathers were hemp farmers.
All this changed with William Randoph Hearst, who began demonizing hemp in order to leverage his great tracks of forest for paper production instead of needing to buy hemp from other farmers. His effort to demonize the plant was also instigated by his racism, as many hispanics and blacks used hemp for recreation. The word, marijuana, is the hispanic term for that form of hemp which has psychoactive ingredients.
There are several varieties of hemp, most of which have very little THC [tetra-hydro-cannabanoid], the mind-effecting component. For most of U.S. history, the distinction was well-understood and laws reflected that awareness. Like so many with the power of media, however, Mr. Hearst did his best to cloud that distinction, as he was against hemp in any form. Indeed, industrial hemp was referred to as ‘ditchweed’, while hemp for medicinal or recreations purposes has come to be known as marijuana.
An analogy would be poppies, where you have the breadseed poppy seeds that can be found on bread or rolls, in contrast to the opium poppies grown to create morphine and heroin.
As reference, the timber and lumber industries, textile and petro-chemical industries are the most influential in keeping hemp illegal. As usual, we can follow the money. Then for pot there’s the pharmaceutical industry, the alcohol lobby and all those anti-drug agencies with self-preservation interests. We learn much from understanding these connections.
With this background, let’s consider how hemp might again play a pivotal role in our culture.
much more from Jim Prues at Dissident Voice
The companies that have created the most new value in the last decade, are Internet companies like Facebook, Google, etc. They've created hundreds of billions in value. Good for them, but bad for us.
Why? IF these companies represent the most valuable new industry of the early 21st Century, where are the jobs that will provide prosperity for millions today, and potentially tens of millions in the future? They don't exist. These companies create few real jobs.
The distressing part is that in reality these companies actually employ hundreds of millions of people, particularly young and otherwise un or underemployed superusers. People that work for them day in and day out for free: finding, sifting, sorting, connecting, building, etc.
Let's take Facebook as an example. Currently it's valued at ~$25 billion by the market. However, it could be argued that ~100,000 superusers out of 500 million part time users, are the reason that Facebook is valuable. They generate the core network that is the backbone of the tool. Their devoted use, high levels of connectivity, and loyalty forms the engine that grows Facebook, year in and year out. They are the materials, labor, and product of Facebook's assembly line. Yet they aren't paid for their effort. They aren't generating wealth for themselves or their families.
How much wealth? If we awarded 4/5 ths of the value of Facebook (and the same exercise could be done with Google at a couple of million superusers) to its superusers, leaving the tool managers $5 billion in value, each superuser would now be worth $200,000 from their contributions to this tool alone. But they aren't. They haven't earned a penny for their effort.
One way to look at this is that we are truly in trouble. If the industries of the future are based on cognitive slavery, we all lose. However, as an entrepreneur, an optimist (believe it or not), and a believer in the potential for social/economic improvement, I think this can be corrected. I believe it's possible to build tools and the companies that manage them, in a way that actually rewards the people that do most of the work. All we need to do is make it possible.from the always thought-provoking John Robb
The Meaning of Property
Owning property provides an incentive for innovation. Society benefits from inventions. People can get rich, but society gets richer. It’s innovation that raises the standard of living in a society. That’s the story of the rise of the west. Then there’s a contrasting story. When you don’t get to keep what you create, the incentive to create is lost.
— Austin J. Jaffe, Ph.D.
There will come a time in the not too distant future when these words or words like these will be read with the same disbelief and horror that we feel when perusing an account of Aztec attitudes toward the ‘obvious necessity’ of human sacrifice: ‘for the rain to fall, for the kingdom to sustain and thrive, living hearts must be cut from living bodies.’
That Professor Jaffe’s and similar views are taken as an unquestioned and unquestionable good is the underlying basis of our present, and long developing, difficulties. No biological system can function with unregulated growth; in fact, biological systems seldom actually grow, they repair and replace; innovation is slow, invention is far more often harmful than beneficial. No biological system can function with the parts that create keeping what they create, yet no part of a biological system can take what it does not create without compensating in effective kind.
Humans are animals, biological entities living in ecosystem relationships with the rest of life on the earth – even as we do violence to the relationships, we are still in them. We have an adaptation that, because of its newness and power, 1 distorts both our relationships with the rest of life and our understandings of those relationships.
And we have reached the end of the line for those distorted relationships. The thin biospheric space, sufficiently stable to support life, is about ready to ratchet back a notch or two to a somewhat simpler order – this is what it does when severely stressed. And our maniacal obsession with our independence from the rest of life will be shown to be the dangerous illusion that it is. Even a small loss of environmental ‘free’ services will cut through human civilization like a reaper’s scythe.
more from James Keye at Dissident Voice
very clever marketing from a German medical imaging company, as they put together a full calendar composed of similarly amusing images!
view more at the excellent French blog pour15minutesdamour
Bruce Alexander's remarkable 'rat park' experiment
Bruce Alexander is best known - though deserves to be much better known - for the 'Rat Park' experiments he conducted in 1981. As an addiction psychologist, much of the data with which he worked was drawn from laboratory trials with rats and monkeys: the 'addictiveness' of drugs such as opiates and cocaine was established by observing how frequently caged animals would push levers to obtain doses. But Alexander's observations of addicts at the clinic where he worked in Vancouver suggested powerfully to him that the root cause of addiction was not so much the pharmacology of these particular drugs as the environmental stressors with which his addicts were trying to cope.
To test his hunch he designed Rat Park, an alternative laboratory environment constructed around the need of the subjects rather than the experimenters. A colony of rats, who are naturally gregarious, were allowed to roam together in a large vivarium enriched with wheels, balls and other playthings, on a deep bed of aromatic cedar shavings and with plenty of space for breeding and private interactions. Pleasant woodland vistas were even painted on the surrounding walls. In this situation, the rats' responses to drugs such as opiates were transformed. They no longer showed interest in pressing levers for rewards of morphine: even if forcibly addicted, they would suffer withdrawals rather than maintaining their dependence. Even a sugar solution could not tempt them to the morphine water (though they would choose this if naloxone was added to block the opiate effects). It seemed that the standard experiments were measuring not the addictiveness of opiates but the cruelty of the stresses inflicted on lab rats caged in solitary confinement, shaved, catheterised and with probes inserted into their median forebrain bundles.
Yet despite (or perhaps because of) their radical implications for the data that underpin addiction psychology, the Rat Park experiments attracted little attention. Alexander's paper was rejected by major journals including Science and Nature, and eventually published only in the respectable but minor Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior. Although the experiments have subsequently been replicated and extended, they still inform the science of addiction only at its margins. The Globalisation of Addiction is Alexander's attempt to draw out their full implications for our understanding of addiction, and to chart a course towards forms of treatment that can transform their findings into practice.
His analysis begins with a radical reconception of addiction itself. Throughout the 20th century, as the science and treatment of addiction have developed into vast academic and professional industries, its underlying nature has stubbornly refused to coalesce into any sort of consensus. Is it a physiological condition marked by metabolic responses such as tolerance and withdrawal, a condition produced simply by exposure to 'addictive' drugs? Or is it a psychological affliction, the product of an 'addictive personality' - or, alternatively, a moral weakness, a failure of willpower and abrogation of social responsibilities? And how do these clinical views of addiction relate to the ever-expanding meanings of the term in the wider culture?
For Alexander, all these seemingly disparate accounts are united by their focus on the individual addict; but even a cursory historical and cultural survey reveals that the incidence of addiction is essentially a social phenomenon. Many historical and indigenous cultures have lacked even the concept of addiction - but many of these same cultures, once their traditional structures have been disrupted by conquest or colonisation, have been destroyed by it. All across the Americas, the Pacific and Australia, hundreds of 'demoralised' cultures have descended into vicious spirals of addiction, usually to alcohol, in many tragic cases wiping themselves out entirely. The root causes of addiction, then, must run deeper than any individual pathology: they must be sought in a larger story of cultural malaise and 'poverty of the spirit' that forces individuals, often en masse, into desperate and dysfunctional coping strategies.
Once addiction is recognised as a consequence of broader social currents, it becomes clear that the problem is far more widespread than the professional focus on drugs allows. Uncontrolled and chaotic appetites are extensively diagnosed across our culture not merely for illicit drugs, alcohol and nicotine but for other substances (food), other consumer activities (shopping, gambling), and other sources of emotional support such as romantic love. 'Addictive' is a slogan of enticement used to sell online gaming, exercise programmes and women's magazines. Even successful and high-functioning individuals can often be accurately described as addicted to money, power or status. Throughout the 20th century, these extensions of the concept of addiction were typically marginalised on the grounds that, unlike illicit drugs, these were mainstream activities that generated dysfunctional behaviour only in a minority of subjects. But alcohol has always been both mainstream and addictive, and it is increasingly clear that illicit drugs are used widely without necessarily generating addiction. Any attempt to get to the root of the problem must recognise that addiction is rampant not merely among a subculture of problem drug users but across society at large.
much more at the Transform Drug Policy Foundation site
Drug firms hiding negative research
This week the drug company AstraZeneca paid out £125m to settle a class action. More than 17,500 patients claim the company withheld information showing that schizophrenia drug quetiapine (tradename Seroquel) can cause diabetes. So why do companies pay out money before cases get to court?
An interesting feature of litigation is that various documents enter the public domain. This is how we know about the tobacco industry's evil plans to target children, the fake academic journal that Elsevier created for Merck's marketing department, and so on.
One of the most revealing documents ever to come out of a drug company emerged from an earlier quetiapine case: an email from John Tumas, publications manager at AstraZeneca. In it, he helpfully admits that they do everything I say drug companies do.
"Please allow me to join the fray," Tumas begins, in response to a colleague. "There has been a precedent set regarding 'cherry picking' of data." Cherry picking is where you report only flattering data, and ignore or bury data you don't like. The ears of lawyers prick up at any use of the word "bury" in relation to drug company data, as it implies something deliberate, and luckily John uses this word himself. The precedent, he explains, is "the recent … presentations of cognitive function data from trial 15 (one of the buried trials)".
In trial 15, commissioned by AstraZeneca, patients with schizophrenia who were in remission were randomly assigned to receive either AstraZeneca's quetiapine, or a cheap, old-fashioned drug called haloperidol. After a year, the patients on Seroquel were doing worse: they had more relapses and worse ratings on various symptom scales. These negative findings were left unpublished: to use Tumas's word, they were "buried".
But in among all these important negative findings, on a few measures of "cognitive functioning" – an attention task, a verbal memory test – Seroquel did better. This finding alone was published in a research paper in 2002. AstraZeneca kept quiet about the fact that patients on Seroquel had worse outcomes for schizophrenia. The research paper went on to become a highly influential piece of work, cited by more than 100 academic research papers. Many researchers can only dream of publishing such a well cited piece of work.
read more on this disgusting, and seemingly status quo behavior of drug companies in The Guradian (U.K.)
Porfirio Rubirosa: Playboy Extraordinaire
Much has been written, speculated and whispered about the man, Porfirio Rubirosa. One thing is for sure, he led a life that few can imagine, let alone rival. Truth is always stranger and more interesting than fiction, especially in this case– the infamous and always dapper diplomat, skilled sportsman and legendary lothario. Pass the (eh-hem) pepper grinder, please.
continue to read this excellent and lively recounting (also chock full of photos) of a remarkable life at The Selvedge Yard
The State of Journalism in the U.S.
If life were fair and the gods of journalism just, I would be able to report to you that when John Conroy was laid off by the Chicago Reader nearly three years ago, his bosses quickly came to their senses and rehired him, and he has continued with his award-winning, life-saving investigative reporting ever since. I’d be able to tell you that after almost single-handedly exposing a torture ring of rogue officers inside the Chicago Police Department—a reign of terror that may have sent scores of wrongfully convicted poor black men to prison, and, in some cases, to death row—Conroy covered what could be the last chapter of the decades-long scandal this spring without having to go around town knocking on doors to find an editor willing to pay him more than what he was making in 1975. Finally, I wouldn’t have to report that Conroy now is “sometimes given to despair’’ and is seriously thinking about quitting journalism, even though in these perilous times journalism needs his kind more than ever.
Since this is not a fairy tale, but a nonfiction dispatch from the frontlines of twenty-first century American journalism, I have to tell you instead that Conroy, who recently turned fifty-nine, hasn’t had a full-time job since he was laid off in December 2007 by the Reader, Chicago’s free weekly alternative newspaper that used to come in four sections, choked with ads and listings, but now comes in only one. “For years a lot of journalists in town just didn’t take us seriously,’’ says Mike Lenehan, a former editor and part-owner of the Reader before it was sold in 2007. “We were just the free paper. In those days, ‘free paper’ was a stigma. John’s work changed that.’’
Since it was founded in 1971, Conroy did more, perhaps, than anyone in the paper’s fine lineup of writers to put the Reader on the map of serious journalism. There’s no question that Conroy did more than anyone else in all of journalism to expose police torture in Chicago. Conroy and the Reader kept the story alive for years until reinforcements arrived from the downtown dailies and a group of Northwestern University journalism students and their professor. Eventually, the efforts of Conroy and other journalists—especially Maurice Possley, Steve Mills, and Ken Armstrong from the Chicago Tribune, who broadened the story to include prosecutorial misconduct—defense lawyers, anti-death-penalty advocates, and a citizens’ police watchdog group convinced then-Illinois Governor George Ryan that the system was broken. In 2003, Governor Ryan emptied death row, sparing the lives of more than 160 condemned men and women, several of whom said their confessions were false and had been extracted through torture by a police commander named Jon Burge and his detectives inside a police station that came to be known, in some circles, as “the house of screams.’’
Jo Ann Patterson’s son Aaron, a gang member, was “interrogated’’ inside that station house before being convicted of double homicide. She has no doubt that her son would be dead today, executed for a crime he did not commit, if not for the long, lonely crusade of John Conroy. “John’s articles helped save Aaron’s life and showed how the system can really get you caught up,’’ she says. “But Aaron wasn’t the only one John saved. A lot of people owe him their thanks.’’
Over the years, the city has shelled out millions in legal fees and settlements, including nearly $20 million to Patterson’s son and three others arrested by Burge and his officers. In 2006, a special Cook County prosecutor’s investigation concluded that the commander and his men had obtained dozens of confessions through torture. “I can’t begin to tell you,’’ says Andrea D. Lyon, a criminal defense attorney and the author of Angel of Death Row, a memoir about her experience representing condemned prisoners, “what an enormous loss it is to not have someone like John doing the in-depth work he was doing.’’
read on in the Columbia Journalism Review
Pandora's Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization
During my work as a geneticist and anthropologist I’ve been lucky enough to work with people around the world, ranging from senior politicians and the heads of major corporations to hunter-gatherer tribesmen eking out a precarious existence in remote wilderness locations. What has struck me over and over again is the huge amount of change taking place in the world today, regardless of where one lives. Some of this change is good, such as the overall decrease in poverty during the course of my lifetime, or the drop in the birthrate in developing countries. Other things, though, like 9/11 and the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, have not been so welcome though.
Everywhere there is a feeling that the world is in flux, that we are on the brink of a historic transition, and that the world will be fundamentally changed somehow in the next few generations. The pace of technological change is accelerating, and we are all swept up in it. Think of all of the indispensable things in your daily life you have only learned to use in the past decade or so. Email, Google, instant messaging and mobile phones spring to mind immediately, but there’s also hybrid car technology, curbside recycling and social networking sites like Facebook. All have found widespread application only since the mid-1990s, and yet today we can’t imagine living without them. Trying to imagine what the world will be like at the close of the 21st century is nearly impossible.
With all of these amazing technological advances, though, has come a great deal of ancillary baggage. The unprecedented rise in chronic disease in westernized societies is perhaps the most obvious example. I say westernized, rather than western, because we are now well aware of the growing incidence of heart disease, diabetes and plain-old obesity in the developing world, particularly in places such as India and China. As they become more like us, they are taking on many of our worst attributes as well. Psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety are also on the rise, and drugs to treat these disorders are now the most widely prescribed in the United States. This seemingly inexorable march toward western unhealthiness made me wonder why it happened in the first place. Is there some sort of fatal mismatch between western culture and our biology that is making us ill? And if there is such a mismatch, how did our present culture come to dominate? Surely we are the masters of our own fate, and we created the culture that is best suited to us, rather than the other way around?
The answer to this was a long time in coming. It took me on a global quest to discover the similarities between what happened thousands of years ago and what is happening now, as we face what promises to be another turning apparent point in our evolution. During the course of researching of my first book, The Journey of Man, I was struck by the effects of the agricultural lifestyle on humans living 10,000 years ago in the Middle East. It turns out that early farmers were actually less healthy than the surrounding hunter-gatherer populations. So why did the farmers ‘win’ so resoundingly, to the extent that virtually no one on Earth today lives as a hunter-gatherer? The answer, like most insights into major historical events, is somewhat complicated, but reveals a simple pattern in human history that seems to repeat itself again and again: necessity is the mother of invention.
read the rest of Spencer Wells' piece in Seed Magazine
shaved asparagus pizza
Yum! more, including the recipe, at smittenkitchen.com
Eating to Starve Cancer
(click on image for full size)
How To Make a Superweed
Around 1870, a tiny Chinese insect turned up in farm fields around the city of San Jose, California. The creature would inject a syringe-like mouthpart into a plant and suck up the juices. It grew a plate-like shield that covered its entire body, out from which new insects would eventually emerge. The San Jose scale, as the insect came to be known, spread quickly through the United States and Canada, leaving ravaged orchards in its path. “There is perhaps no insect capable of causing greater damage to fruit interests in the United States, or perhaps the world, than the San Jose scale,” one entomologist declared.
Farmers searched for pesticides that could stop the San Jose scale. In the nineteenth century, they had a fearsome arsenal of poisons for killing weeds and insects. In the ancient empire of Sumer 4500 years ago, farmers put sulfur on their crops. The Romans used pitch and grease. Europeans learned to extract chemicals from plants. In 1807, chemists isolated pyrethrum from an Armenian daisy. To stop the San Jose scale, they tried whale oil. They tried kerosene and water. One of the best treatments they found was a mix of lime and sulfur. After a few weeks of spraying, the San Jose scale would disappear.
By 1900, however, the lime-sulfur cure was failing. Here and there, the San Jose scale returned to its former abundance. An entomologist named A. L. Melander found some San Jose scales living happily under a thick crust of dried lime-sulfur spray. So Melander embarked on a widespread experiment, testing out sulfur-lime on orchards across Washington State. He found that in some orchards, the pesticide wiped out the insects completely. In other orchards, as many as 13 percent of the scales survived. But those surviving scales could be killed off with kerosene.
Melander wondered why some populations of scales were becoming able to resist pesticides. Could the sulfur-lime spray trigger a change in their biology, the way manual labor triggers the growth of callouses on our hands? Melander doubted it. After all, ten generations of scales lived and died between sprayings. The resistance must be hereditary, he reasoned. He sometimes would find families of scales still alive amidst a crowd of dead insects.
This was a radical idea at the time. Biologists had only recently rediscovered Mendel’s laws of heredity. They talked about genes being passed down from one generation to the next, yet they didn’t know what genes were made of yet. But they did recognize that genes could spontaneously change–mutate–and in so doing alter traits permanently.
“The sporadic occurrence of naturally immune individual scales finds a parallel in recent work on heredity of protozoa and bacteria,” Melander declared in 1914. “Mutants less or not susceptible to certain toxins have been repeatedly found in cultures and from them have been produced immune strains.”
In the short term, Melander suggested that farmers switch to fuel oil to fight scales, but he warned that they would eventually become resistant to fuel oil as well. In fact, the best way to keep the scales from becoming entirely resistant to pesticides was, paradoxically, to do a bad job of applying those herbicides. By allowing some susceptible scales to survive, farmers would keep their susceptible genes in the scale population. “Thus we may make the strange assertion that the more faulty the spraying this year the easier it will be to control the scale the next year,” Melander predicted.
Melander is one of evolution’s unsung heroes.
much more from Carl Zimmer
Is Your Office Chair Killing You?
If you're reading this article sitting down—the position we all hold more than any other, for an average of 8.9 hours a day—stop and take stock of how your body feels. Is there an ache in your lower back? A light numbness in your rear and lower thigh? Are you feeling a little down?
These symptoms are all normal, and they're not good. They may well be caused by doing precisely what you're doing—sitting. New research in the diverse fields of epidemiology, molecular biology, biomechanics, and physiology is converging toward a startling conclusion: Sitting is a public-health risk. And exercising doesn't offset it. "People need to understand that the qualitative mechanisms of sitting are completely different from walking or exercising," says University of Missouri microbiologist Marc Hamilton. "Sitting too much is not the same as exercising too little. They do completely different things to the body."
In a 2005 article in Science magazine, James A. Levine, an obesity specialist at the Mayo Clinic, pinpointed why, despite similar diets, some people are fat and others aren't. "We found that people with obesity have a natural predisposition to be attracted to the chair, and that's true even after obese people lose weight," he says. "What fascinates me is that humans evolved over 1.5 million years entirely on the ability to walk and move. And literally 150 years ago, 90% of human endeavor was still agricultural. In a tiny speck of time we've become chair-sentenced," Levine says.
Hamilton, like many sitting researchers, doesn't own an office chair. "If you're standing around and puttering, you recruit specialized muscles designed for postural support that never tire," he says. "They're unique in that the nervous system recruits them for low-intensity activity and they're very rich in enzymes." One enzyme, lipoprotein lipase, grabs fat and cholesterol from the blood, burning the fat into energy while shifting the cholesterol from LDL (the bad kind) to HDL (the healthy kind). When you sit, the muscles are relaxed, and enzyme activity drops by 90% to 95%, leaving fat to camp out in the bloodstream. Within a couple hours of sitting, healthy cholesterol plummets by 20%.
The data back him up. Older people who move around have half the mortality rate of their peers. Frequent TV and Web surfers (sitters) have higher rates of hypertension, obesity, high blood triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, and high blood sugar, regardless of weight. Lean people, on average, stand for two hours longer than their counterparts.
read the rest at Businessweek.com
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pinter on politicians' language
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