Tag Archives: health

Naturally Imperfect

Usually, I try not to use social media to personally insult another commoner. Famous people, maybe–their name or promise becomes more than the person who wakes up in the middle of the night to use the toilet and finds out there’s no paper on the roll. But someone else like me, just grinding through their day, seems unnecessarily mean.

At the same time, some people are just so striking that it’s hard to want to do anything else but share them with the world. I think that’s the entire premise of People of Walmart, or more abstractedly, the long-running Rate My Poo.

And I thought that was going to be the case with the Le Baron Barbie. That’s why I went out of my way in the ggrocery store parking lot to take the photo.

Carrots_LeBaronBarbie

Was it planted, some kind of performance art in the Real Canadian Superstore parking lot? Or had Barbie skipped California or New Hampshire or wherever she’s from and was now holing up in Alberta? A woman on the lam would need groceries, too. In her forties now, divorced from Ken, possibly with custody of children and strapped for cash flow ever since Ken was busted for tax evasion and insider trading. Her Le Baron her lifeline, hauling groceries and bustling her to work, day care, the liquor store.

I never found the owner of the Le Baron Barbie. It was too cold to wait outside. It didn’t matter that much. I would’ve forgotten about the photo altogether (to be deleted en masse, with the other stupid throw-aways).

But inside the grocery store, right past the sliding doors, there was a display of carrots in yellow bags, huge and heaped. We didn’t need carrots. There were blueberries in the neighbouring display, and when I went to check them out, I saw the carrots were more than just bargain produce.

Carrots_NaturallyImperfect

President’s Choice first decided to introduce off-spec produce into their stores in 2015 (and recently expanded in July 2017). I was surprised to actually see it in our local store. And it was interesting to see it packaged as no name, the anonymous, no-frills branch of President’s Choice. The brand’s already somewhat imperfect. The chunky vegetable soup is acceptable, but it’s certainly not a perfect soup. With that said, they do routine things properly and inexpensively. (Full disclosure: my pantry has a fairly yellow palette.)

When I heard that PC was releasing cosmetically-unacceptable produce, I imagined it bagged in brown bags or in mesh and up-marketed to hipsters in Toronto and Vancouver. It was nice to see it offered invitingly under the no name Naturally Imperfect label. But it makes me wonder why they didn’t bridge the label gap with people already put off by the visual imperfection?

Most consumers aren’t told how their food gets to them. However, I think most people understand that bad produce is weeded out before it gets to the customer. The end user doesn’t have to sort through things that didn’t ripen or rotted or are potentially diseased. There has been the expectation set that what is in stores will be the best of the best.

This selection process also rejects products for cosmetic reasons. If a carrot doesn’t look like a carrot, or a cucumber looks like a squash, or lettuce doesn’t look like it could appear in a fast food advertisement, it might not end up in stores.

For anyone who gardens, imperfections are inherent with the outcome. Sometimes the tomatoes are too small. Sometimes the bell peppers mysteriously cross with the jalapeños and become spicy. I’ve been growing carrots for eight years, and usually about a third of my crop turn into octopuses.

Carrots_Homegrown

Every household can’t handle its own waste. But we have a bit of space and it wouldn’t make sense to me to do not use some of that area for our detritus. We compost most of our food waste. That goes into the garden. The garden produces food which we eat. Any waste goes back to become energy for the next round of food. It seems frivolous to yay-or-nay the outcome of that cycle because it looks a little different. There are enough real reasons why fruit & vegetables can be spoilt.

National Geographic featured food waste in America in their March 2016 issue (and previously reported in October 2014). (The National Resources Defense Council also has a decent overview that’s five years old but probably not all that outdated). It became easier to see why fresh food goes through so much selection. Consumers are fickle. Litigation always looms. Business are typically conservative, especially with the razor-thin profit margins of grocery stores.

But stores, restaurants, and chefs had been pushing against food waste. It has to be hard for someone peddling food to turn away food from their stores. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s all inventory, measurable merchandise to increase cash flow. I don’t know. I just eat the stuff because if I don’t, I’ll eventually die.

Back outside, I noticed Le Baron Barbie hadn’t moved. I had forgotten about her. Now I saw the little desperate corvette overlaid by the neon yellow and orange of the no name bag of twisted carrots.  And I wondered if I was any different than the countless people so removed from where their food comes from that they raise eyebrows at the sight of sinuous carrots. Maybe I’m so removed from where happiness comes from that I can’t even see how Le Baron Barbie is just looking for the root of her happiness in her own dirt pile, just a few parking stalls down from my own.

 

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The Plaza Paper (A True Story)

I found it half-hidden in the seam of a decorative pillar.

A standard white 8.5″ x 11″, filled with printed text on one-side. The font is size 11 Calibri, Microsoft Word’s most recent default. The first thing I can tell is that someone opened the program and started typing before firing it off to the printer. This was a passion plea.

2017-10-19 - IMG_3217

Olympic Plaza is Calgary’s inner-city monument to the 1988 winter games. It’s now well-lit, to keep away the junkies who found the grass and water fountain soothing. They go nine blocks west now, to Century Gardens. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter what the police do to them–their own dealers are serving up fentanyl/carfentanil-laced powders. That’s a different story than now. Or maybe not. I can’t really say, I guess.

There were two police vans parked on an open pedestrian cobblestone path. One van passed me slowly as I approached. I didn’t think anything of it.

I made a roundabout around the fountains, where a man asked me for a cigertte, then hounded me when I refused. He even dropped the hockey bag he was carrying and stomped towards me from behind. That might have been bravery, but I saw how shallow it was when I spun around and stomped toward shim one step. Mahatma Gandhi could beat me in a boxing match, but I know that most people are scared shitless when you call them on their bullshit.

After that mess, I stopped at the commemorative larger-than-life sculptures of Canada’s Famous Five–suffragists who helped Canada realize that woman were in fact persons in 1919.

I was even reading each of the pillars. The French side first, for practice.

At the third pillar from the left, I saw the thin hint of a paper.

2017-10-19 - IMG_3216
A recreation of the original discovery. I wasn’t seff-conscious enough to take a pic before I unfolded the letter.

I’m a writer. I check out edges of pages like frat boys lose themselves in cleavage. When I saw the full block of text I felt a flutter in my chest.

My first guess was that it was one of those Artificial Intelligence experiments. You know, random computer-generated words strung together through iterative algorithms. Some kid thought it would be brilliant if some unknowing idiot picked it up.

I read the first line. Then I remembered the police vans. I stashed the letter in my coat pocket and started for my hotel room.

Before I even undressed, I pulled up a chair under a lamp, rested my elbows on my knees, and read everything through before moving:

[Verbatim & sic. Some private contact information has been obfuscated with Xs.]

Sep17th2017.Csis in Calgary are hounding me24-7,Zerzetsen,Zersetsung,Gang stalking/mi6 and csis stops my mail calls emails to my family in Plymouth England since I was deported to Canada by mi6 in 2002/Auntie Pamela X Abbotsbury way lowerham Plymouth Devon pl22hs. Tel XXX5X-5XX5XX/csis had Richard Kovac try to frame me up ask lee walklin about the hand guns ,csis blackmailed kovac to do this as he had sunk his boat in Vancouver Bc for the insurance, lees a witness-X Patna place north road west Plymouth Devon pl15ay uk-telXXXX-66X6XX,lee was fooled by kovac/csis try to break your will so you comply to them as a slave would to his master pure torture (Sound device) covertly done and hard to prove but not the hand guns, Brain numb, poor vision, slurred speech,headaches,teeth,penis,lungs hard to breath,ears,skin,feet,joints,eyes,Ass,hard too walk,spine lower back all painful, sleep deprivation for years here in the (TRUE NORTH).People who know what csis is doing help csis cover this up-David Eby was Bc civil liberties shouted at me while I had no sleep for days at his office and refused to help me which is my right as a Canadian citizen, he is a MLA now in Vancouver ask him 6XX-66XXXXX/Gail Davidson Human rights lawyer lied to me on her doorstep for csis, she told me she only helped People in war she works for lawyers watch ask her XXX-XXX-XXXX,just before I talked with her 2 female Agents walked past me and said hello to me one was British/Don Wright of Amnesty international lied to me ,he told me he had phoned my Auntie Pamela McCormac and spoke with her which is Bullshit when I returned to talk with him at his new office he told me he would get the police on to me if I returned, he knows that I know he lied to me for csis/ Wally oppal helped csis, wally told me that he had not got a note from me that I had handed him at a bookstore in Vancouver so I gave him another note and csis were standing right beside him snarling at me ,again I had no sleep for days, ask him TEL 6XX-6XX-6XXX – XXXXXXXX@XXXXXXXXLAW.COM I ALSO WENT TO HIS OFFICE/Kent hehr MP lied to me and put on a good act for csis and told me he was sorry which he will be when this goes to court, he has 4 notes that I handed him in persion-4XX-X44-XXXX/Joan crockat MP lie to me at her office on 17th Ave Calgary, she told me csis had more important things to do then hound me and did nothing/Mayor of Calgary Naheed Nanshi has a Note that I handed him in person at the library Ask Naheed -XXX-XXX-XXXX- if he can help me or csis .office of Mayor City of Calgary PO Box 2100 station M Calgary,AB T2P2M5/Csis had RCMP in Vancouver coerced me sign blank forms for a mock crime while I had no sleep for days and had me go to the police station for finger printing yet I was witness ?(2018- Bent Female cop)more Bent csis cops 5329-2511-who have used their power for csis/RCMP here in Calgary have helped csis they covered their numbers they would wake me up 2 AM when I lived outside in the snow and say hello Sammy are you cold or Turn on their lamp into my eyes or tell me to get going/Peoples commission network–csis watch–know about csis but not me Emails stopped and mail/Csis had Retard agent offer me $200-000 Bucks to work for them and a house and even a girlfriend, I told the Dumbass to stick it where the sun never shines/At first csis befriends you then they frame you up to blackmail you to be a (human labrat)/I have come across others like me one in a food line years ago in Vancouver he did not know his mates were csis till I told him so which pissed csis off, more torture (SOUND LOW FREQUENCY)/BRAIN LOCKS ON/Agent bumps into me for a week to piss me off then just walks past me the next day hoping i will attack, there is a camera above my head recording if I do the police have Evidence/Agent dressed like me in every way walks about shouting at people on the street, police are called they stop me/Remanded for attacking Agent who I never attacked, KIM ROSS my so called lawyer said he would not talk about my penis in court nor did he talk about csis either case thrown out Agent did not turn up at court ask Kim XXX-XXXXXXX,he talked to csis/ please contact Journalist to go to address( NOT YOUR OWN COMPUTER OK –TRACE )csis will not let me leave Canada to go home I stay at the DI staff helps csis, Agents live at DI.ME SAMMYMCLOUGHLIN,SINS–NE505944B-725514236.thank you. Stops me working, no welfare.

When I was finished, the phone in the hotel room rang. I didn’t answer it. I copied the letter before tearing it into tiny pieces and tossing it out the suicide-proof window. The pieces fluttered down like confetti onto the rail tracks the downtown hotel backed onto.

The phone rang again. I waited until it was clear it wasn’t an accident. Then I answered it.

“Mr. Caseros?”

“Hmm.”

“Your pizza is in the lobby.”

It occurred to me that I had gone for the walk to wait out the forty-five minute pizza delivery. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. I told the front desk I would be down shortly.

I put on my sweater, coat & toque before I left the room. The delivery guy met me in the lobby, and didn’t know what to do when I followed him out.

From the hotel, it was only a couple blocks back to Olympic Plaza. I roamed around with my pizza. After long enough that I could feel the warmth from the box fading, I found a group of men with long beards. They had big backpacks and carried bags of empties. They were settling down for a smoke in the shadows beyond the well-lit fountain.

 

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“There is a river flowing beneath us”

 

With pizza box under my arm, I strolled up to them–straight-on and with a smile–and when they saw me I held out the pizza and asked if they were hungry.

Of course they were, they told me. I sat down and cracked open the box.

“Alright…”  I said as they rested back on their elbows eating folded slices of pizza. “Tell me, what do you guys know about Sammy McCloughlin?”

Autumnal Equinox (Freewriting S.A.D)

Although I have a hard time identifying with any belief system, one’s actions can sometimes categorize one’s self into certain identities. With that said, I guess I’m fairly pagan–as wonderfully nebulous as that is.

I celebrate the solstices and equinoxes. They designate important time periods in my part of the world, and are particularly important as mile posts for the waxing & waning of the unfortunate side effect of northern latitudes: seasonal affective disorder.

That’s not a blanket side effect for everyone on the forehead of the planet. But it sure fucks with me. After floundering for too many years, I have found that observing the points where the sunlight increases or decreases is one small way to acknowledge the cycle.

That way, no surprises. The merry-go-round is there for all to see.

Unfortunately, I was born with a ticket and can’t get off. The freewriting piece below is awkward & unsettling & dizzying, kind of like a merry-go-round. It’s an older piece, but from the same period to come, between the fall equinox and the winter solstice. I don’t think it offers much hope, which is why I felt the need for this preamble.

 

~~~

—And can’t you go for a week without? Look at what you’re doing to yourself—

<<Doing? That’s exactly it, hun. I’m doing>>

—You’re doing nothing—

<<You’re doing nothing>>

—That’s exactly it, hun. I’m doing—

<<What are we doing here?>>

—We’re here again. You ever wonder if it has anything to do with a gain?—

<<It sounds more like a loss. To be anywhere again is only retracing your steps>>

—Unless you took a new way. What are we doing here again?—

<<I wish I knew. You’re no help>>

—No help is right. Look at what we’re doing to ourselves—

<<This is confusing>>

—That’s right. I’m doing—

<<You’re doing it again. We’re here>>

—And can’t you go a week without reminding me? Listen to yourself—

<<I feel it all over again. We’re here again>>

—God fuck it. Krishna suck it. Devil may share. Damn us all to earth for a thousand lifetimes—

~~~

<<And you would still just come back here>>

—Probably. I can’t go a week without—

<<What does it taste like?>>

—It tastes like we’re here again. I feel it in every nerve—

<<Must be close>>

—Must be doing nothing—

<<Unless you took a new way>>

—Naw, fuck it. You know it. There is no other way—

<<Did you just feel that?>>

—I think that’s the point—

<<No, it wasn’t sharp. It was full-bodied>>

—Why don’t we forget about it all and get a bottle of Malbec? —

<<Why don’t we just enjoy the tilt of the earth for once?>>

—You know there is no other way—

<<There must be another way around it>>

—Oh sure, we can circle it all day, but we’re just going to up here—

<<Here? Again?>>

—You’re doing it again—

<<That’s exactly it, hun. I’m doing>>

~~~

Jim Carrey Just Dropped Eternal Yogic Wisdom on the Most Unprepared People

“It’s a weird little semantic jump, and it’s not that far, but it’s a universe apart from where most people are.”

Jim Carrey, 2017

 

 

You are not earth, water, fire or air.

Nor are you empty space.

Liberation is to know yourself

as Awareness alone—

the Witness of these.

Ashtavakra Gita, 1.3

First & foremost, I don’t intend to validate “celebrity news” with this post. On the site where I most often encounter agglomerated news stories, the Celebrity section is laid out ahead of Finance. Since I’ve become old enough to want to read about commodity prices & shit Warren Buffet says, I have to scroll past thumbnail pictures of people who look so perfect I wonder if they even belong to my same species.

When I saw Jim Carrey’s uplifting smile in one of those thumbnails, I swooned. I clicked. I wanted to know whatever vacuous thing this celebrity columnist thought I needed to know about people I don’t really know.

It really helped that the headline said he gave an “emotionally heavy talk about ‘giving up hope’ during [a] rare public appearance”. As Robin Williams’ suicide reminded me, these slapstick comedians aren’t as one-dimensional as their typecasting made us think. (It also made their later films like One Hour Photo or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind so jarring that you could forget it was Aladdin’s Genie or Ace Ventura on the screen.)

The NY Daily News article went on to explain that Carrey spoke on a Broadway stage with Michael Moore. They got real. After quizzing Carrey about how he was coping with Donald Trumps’ presidency, Carrey went into his “emotionally heavy” stuff that apparently made people uncomfortable.

“Give up! Surrender to the idea that things are bad and yet still, from 3,000 feet up, we don’t matter,” Carrey continued. “Things are happening and we’re going to happen along with them whether we like it or not. But we don’t matter. … Once you lose yourself, you’re pretty okay. Just get you out of the way.”

Jim Carrey, 2017

wqoxq

That quote was the gem that made me realize Carrey was tapping into some classic wisdom that modern society has since tar-papered over as ‘nihilism’ and clinicalized as ‘depression’. Had he said this in an ashram, people would have swarmed the stage to touch his feet or place garlands around his neck. But he said it on Broadway, in a country where at least 1 in 6 people are on a psychiatric drug.

The emotional red flag was vindicated this week, when Carrey appeared at New York Fashion Week. This time, the reporter was baffled and defensive about Carrey’s attitude in the midst of the grand event celebrating fashion icons. Carrey never missed a beat, his delivery so perfectly casual:

“Celebrating icons? Oh boy, that is just the lowest aiming possibility that we could come up with. Icons. Do you believe in icons? I believe in personalities. I don’t believe that you exist but there is a wonderful fragrance in the air.”

Jim Carrey, 2017

That last line was a straight-up Zen koan dropped on this unsuspecting fashionista. How else could E! approach that, besides by dwelling on how ‘strange’ it was?

“Why is the monkey not dancing when I ask it to dance?” they wonder.

Because the monkey has found a way out of the cage. But the good zookeepers at E!,  Entertainment Tonight and TMZ like to come out with their cattle prods to make sure the monkey gets back behind its bars for our entertainment.

There is the classic yogic aphorism that when you are ready, your guru will appear. Basically, you have to be in a certain state of preparation in order to receive the grace of the guru. Carrey is not a guru per se, but I think the principle applies here loosely—if you’re not ready to be enlightened, you will never find the means to achieve enlightenment.

Carrey even went so far as to explain himself in a follow-up interview, quite clearly and coherently:

“As an actor you play characters, and then if you go deep enough into those characters, you realize that your own character is pretty thin to begin with,” he said. “You suddenly have this separation and go: ‘Who’s Jim Carrey? Oh, he doesn’t exist actually.’ There’s just a relative manifestation of consciousness appearing, and then somebody gave him a bunch of ideas — they gave him a name, and a religion, and a nationality, and he clustered those together into something that’s supposed to be a personality, and it doesn’t actually exist. None of that stuff, if you drill down, is real.”

Jim Carrey, 2017

Holy wow! Rich white people pay tens of thousands of dollars to sit with enrobed wisemen who tell them the same thing. We get the fucking thing for free and can’t even appreciate it.

Yoga is a great exploration of identity. In fact, the system of yoga as described by Patanjali is entirely based upon stilling the modifications of the mind and going beyond false identities. Right off the top of his Yoga Sutras, Patanjali states:

At other times, when one is not in Self-realization, the Seer appears to take on the form of the modifications of the mind field, taking on the identity of those thought patterns.

(Yoga Sutras, 1.4)

The Self’s confused identification leads to suffering in its many forms. Modern day mystic Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev expands on this sutra in his discussion about identity and prejudice:

“The moment you are identified with something that you are not, your intelligence is freaked. It will go in cycles around that. Whatever you are identified with your intelligence functions only around that. […] A prejudiced mind cannot see; a prejudiced mind cannot reveal the reality of life, that’s all it is. When I say prejudiced, it’s on many different levels. ‘No, no, I am very broad minded, I am not prejudiced.’ Well, you have a broad prejudice, you know. Your mind is functioning with a certain identity. Once there is an identity it is prejudiced.”

Sadhguru

Sadhguru oftens speaks about finding the separation between the seer and the seen. Patanjali reminds us that confusing the two is the essence of egoism and a major stumbling block to achieving self-realization.

Finding that space is not easy. Carrey explained his method for overcoming his suffering: “The fact is, going down the river of sorrow and suffering is the way to freedom.” Likewise, Sadhguru argues that darkness is a far greater possibility than light. Even more fundamentally, zero is the only infinite possibility:

The science of yoga is the technology to make ourselves into a zero because zero is not a simple thing. Zero is infinite, it is the very beginning of everything.

Sadhguru

Although I don’t think dipping into the river of sorrow & suffering is a viable method for many people, we have to acknowledge that there are many paths to the same place. Reducing Carrey’s method to depression or some other mental illness is infuriating. If Katy Perry can try to find her heaven in a mind-eraser Friday night, why can’t Jim Carrey find his heaven by facing his suffering in an honest and vulnerable way?

I don’t know the man, so I can’t say for sure if he’s coming from a place of self-harm or self-help. But on the face of it, in my unqualified opinion, between Carrey and the people reporting on him, there is zero doubt in my mind who truly deserves the ‘mentally ill’ stamp.

I leave you with one last quote from Jim Carrey. It ends happily, or at least peacefully. I compliment it with another Patanjali sutra to chew over.

While the activities of the emergent mind fields may be diverse, the one mind is the director of the many.

(Yoga Sutras, 4.5)

 

“Know that no matter what happens, this is not who you are,” Carrey said, according to People. “You choose the part you want to play in this life. I want to be a good guy. I want to do good things. I want to make people happy and I want to help out when I can. So you do what you need to do.”

Jim Carrey, 2017

 

Cosmetic Dissonance (Parabens, Nuclear Bombs, and Alarm Fatigue)

I’m no psychologist or sociologist…but as a human being who pays attention to their body, mind, and emotions, I think it’s fairly obvious that there has to be some kind of fatigue associated with all the menacing shit we hear on the news.

After waking up panicked about whatever new horror looms, numbing would develop…an emotional callous. It’s the phenomenon of alarm fatiguea yawn in the face of a warning—a desensitization to the constant demand.

How many nuclear warheads and riots and stormageddons should a single individual endure in a lifetime? Based on the very few moments I happen to catch televised news in a coffee room at work, the answer is about 1 – 3 per day.

So it’s with some reluctance that I dare toll a bell.

A few months ago, I wrote about widespread environmental contamination, and how this poses a bigger threat than the headline-grabbing climate change.

In that short time, narratives about latent nuclear and race wars have moreso dominated the headlines (at least, here in North America)—and on the face of it, my argument about contamination affecting our ability to adapt to climate change is moot when faced with a nuclear winter.

IMG_1589

It’s a good counterpoint. If we can’t get along, it won’t matter how adaptable we are. Our ancestors probably knew the reality of this better than we could, and they still set out with war paint.

Sometimes humans can’t get along, and being the kind of species that can’t go alone, that means divisions and derision. In a tragic and nihilistic way, inflicting suffering on another—on anything outside of the limits of the sense-bound body—seems inevitable. We can’t feel “the other”. We can’t feel our hair and fingernails either, and look at what we do with them.

 2013-03-30 IMG_0070 

What do we do with our hair and nails? We tend to them, to try to get along with each other. We keep our nails short so that when wipe our children’s tears we don’t rip out their eyes. We keep hair out of our eyes so we can see danger/opportunity, to protect/enhance ourselves and our loved ones. Then perhaps a discarded shell, placed properly on a combed hairline for the perfect aesthetic effect.

Around 6,000 years ago the Egyptians (and arguably others for thousands of years before) added pigments to their skin and styled their hair into ritualistic art. In the last 50 years or so, cosmetics have grown beyond naturally-occurring rust to become industrial chemical processes that we happily slather on our lips, hair, and armpits

For many of those last 50 years, companies were able to use experimental chemicals on sensitive body parts, on the basis that no research showed acute effects, and that no research had shown long-term effects (because ‘long-term’ hadn’t happened yet).

Now that a generation of guinea pigs have marched towards their elder years with the benefit of other cool medical advances, we are finding a little bit of the ugliness beneath the pursuit of all that externalized beauty.

Whereas you might be absolutely (and rightfully so) terrified of a nuclear bomb, most of us wouldn’t even wince at the thought of lathering up with body wash in the shower, putting on make-up in the mirror, or putting on a cooling face mask before bed.

 

ninjajournalist
Apparently Marilyn went to obsessive lengths to maintain her looks, applying a “thick hormone cream to her face multiple times a day.” It caused peach fuzz facial hair to grow (Ninja Journalist, 2017)

 

But within (most of) these products, we wage a tiny nuclear war with ourselves. Parabens, for example, were just recently reported to be linked with poor semen quality, and were previously known to have estrogenic characteristics.

Keep in mind, these are also chemicals we knowingly add into products to suppress bacterial growth. It’s a process safety bonus, but essentially, the additive suppresses a life-form by disrupting membrane transportation or inhibiting DNA/RNA synthesis. It can’t be all that surprising that these have some detrimental effect, especially when their use is so widespread that it’s “[…] found in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, pesticides, plastics, detergents, food, toys, and flame retardents,” according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Not that I’m trying to worry you. Or trying to advocate for a ban or anything drastic. There are products which feature alternatives—grapefruit seed oil, for example. The oft-cited European Union ban was mainly based on preventing skin irritation in children, not on endocrine disruption or carcinogenicity. Research is indeed lacking.

It’s the dissonance of it that gets me, I guess. The tools we use to beautify ourselves also hobble us. Research may reveal that parabens are  like high heels, but invisible. They help aesthetically, but do nothing to enhance the system by their own mode of action, and in fact, may cause more harm than we have understood to date.

DA_ 0089
The Index (David Altmedj)

 

And then the poetry of the thing gets me. We quake at the rare thought of nuclear fall-out, but eagerly put out our hands if a friend asks if we want to try their new hand cream.

 Maybeand only just maybeand probably not evenbut just maybe, if we didn’t willingly subject ourselves to death by a thousand cuts for relatively minor comfort & convenience, we wouldn’t try to blow the whole fucking thing up.

But then again. This is just another alarm. It’s late. North Korea is talking shit and Trump is tweeting before sunrise again. On & on & over again. Let’s wash our hands clean of this thing and not worry about getting parabent out of shape.

Burn It Down Slow: On Canadian Cannabis Legalization

Today, millions of cannabis users light up in solidarity around the world. In Canada, it is an especially interesting day, given that last week the Liberal government proposed the Cannabis Act, to de-schedule and heavily regulate cannabis in Canada. While imperfect, the bill is yet another nail pulled from the coffin in which prudes and other social conservatives had tried to bury cannabis alive.

I am 110% for cannabis legalization (that is 10% more support than I have for legalizing all psychoactive substances). I know the proposed legislation isn’t ideal, but for me, it is a sigh of relief. I am surely not alone, whether in Canada or around the world.

I Have a Name

Marijuana, as with many monikers for cannabis—weed, pot, dope, reefer, chronic, devil’s grass—and euphemisms for intoxication—stoned, baked, fried, twisted, blitzed—all carry negative implications. These names betray the demonization which the plant, and the people who have been custodians to this plant, have garnered ever since the U.S. government was threatened by highly-productive-but-high Mexican labourers in the 1930’s, and then industrialized a military to pass on their gospel.

It is a good choice to frame the newly proposed legislation as The Cannabis Act. There are so many beautiful names for the plant, and maybe something that preceded the Scythian‘s word cannabis, which Dr. Linnaeus adopted to taxonomically classify the species. To date, Canada has been particular about using marijuana. But of course, calling it marijuana would have ousted the government’s uneasy hand on the whole matter.

For 15 years, I have used cannabis recreationally, spiritually, and medicinally. Apparently, I continue the relationship people have kept with the plant for millennia. Terrence McKenna would even go so far to propose the Stoned Ape Theory, which postulated that psychedelics substances (primarily psilocybin mushrooms) were the catalysts for evolution from apes to Homo erectus.

Sometime between getting lifted for the first time in the Cradle of Civilization and now, humanity has come a long way. That relationship with the plant has become strained in many parts of the world. Within the last century (or so), a global effort has been spent criminalizing an autonomous plant, and punishing those people who get involved with the plant.

More than that, prohibition also criminalizes a state of consciousness. In the realist world view, being high is the North Korea of the mind.

(Ironically enough, North Korea has a very liberal approach to cannabis. There is absolutely nothing otherwise enviable about North Korea).

North Korea comes to Canadaupon Parliamentary and Senate approvalon or before Canada Day, 2018. The complete bill can be viewed here, but CBC has a good summary, which didn’t vary much from the leaks earlier this week.

It isn’t legalization in its idealist sense, but it is workable…although equally vague and questionable. But regulatory changes happen slowlyunless they happen bloodily, in which case, enough people have to be willing to pay that price. I don’t think that would be a sustained hurrah from cannabisseurs (cannabissoirs? cannabians??).

If I have this many questions as a 110%er, I can understand how those against this idea are ready to chant it down

and I was going to get into (700 words of) thoughtful and nuanced questions on each piece of the bill. The Cannabis Act is not ideal. It shows a profound misunderstanding of the plant, its uses, and its users. But I get to burn in my backyard without risking my job, my family, or my freedom. That is a concession I will take with caveats.

“All I want to do is get high by the beach…” – Lana Del Rey

True, there are many parts of the proposed bill that are ridiculous. The proposed driving rules are harsh and seem emotional rather than factual. There should always be caution when operating a vehicle impairedbut assholes aren’t typically pulled over for the sole reason of being assholes (a.k.a. assholiphilia), although they are likewisely impaired. (Note: If you start making up words, you probably shouldn’t drive regardless of what’s in your saliva.)

When The Cannabis Act was released, purists raised their hard heads. Larsen, the Emery’s, and other respectable voices in the Canadian cannabis community, seemed appalled by a step in the right direction. It wasn’t ‘legalization-y’ enough. Larsen laid out some decent arguments, but it became apparent that Marc Emery was just as happy to get back to watching the Maple Leafs play hockey before he (possibly) goes to prison again.

It took me a while to remember that for any ’cause’, there will have been the activists who offered themselves up as martyrs and who want a stake in the freedom fries. That’s legiteven Che got to sign the Cuban currency.

Either way, there is no light switch that any legislation can enact that will win the hearts & minds of the general populaceand the whole world, who will be watching with intent as their own reformists become encouraged by Canada’s lead. It seems naive to hope that a flick of some bureaucratic pens will suddenly erase decades of psychological warfare. It will take sustained, destigmatized experience to exhibit cannabis users’ general responsibility. Popular opinion will eventually come to commonly understand the fear & loathing was exaggerated.

A Lame, But Revealing, Ending

All these herbalists and not a one remembers how A Clockwork Orange ends. Sure, an external force was able to soften Alex’s behaviour, but once they returned Alex to his regular state, it took a good dose of banality and a chance meeting with an evolved friend for Alex to realize he could—and would—change. The moral I am trying to draw? Self-transformation is the most powerful transformation. Let’s not make the same mistake every doe-eyed teenager makes—no forced, external revolution will ever change the world.

Cannabis has to prove itself in public view. People have to understand that for every loser (who arguably would be a loser regardless), there is a doctor, a lawyer, and a candlestick maker who smoke up, up, and away. That will not happen while the plant remains illegal.

The underground has not done cannabis justicethose who understand it and advocate it overstand, but it is still difficult to convince your family at Thanksgiving dinner that your daily joint doesn’t make you a scandalous fiend.

Anything besides prohibition gets the conversation started. Issues and benefits have the opportunity to become illuminated. So far, the government’s “educational” approach has included web advertisements that direct you to Health Canada’s cannabis page, or Reefer Madness 2: Selective Science Madness. Some of the acute risks of cannabis include stroke and heart attack. No mention of pre-existing condition or other substances that were consumed, because, of course, as Dr. Kellie Leitch knows and will fight for: marihuana is a dangherous drhug.

I think at this point in our history, it is clear that the “War on Drugs” has failed. Starting from failure, it is hard to do wrong. Like the free-climber who falls to break eighty bones in their body, success cannot be measured by reaching a treacherous summit—success can be making it up one single stair. We’re on that first step. Let’s not let our egos handicap us. Let’s not crumple on the floor like we will never get to the mountaintop again.

I have a method to get to a mountaintop. It starts in an unfertilized flower bud and ends with smoky curlicues. That’s what’s important here. The devil may be in the legislation’s details, but as any cannabis user knows, the devil is currently around every goddamn corner, just waiting for enough evidence to pull you into its bowels. Between the two, I think we stand a better chance parsing through grey regulations than facing black-and-white zero-tolerance.

As Dr. Dre proselytizes: “We roll shit that burn slow as fucking molasses/probably won’t pass it, smoke until the last hit.” The value of a smooth, slow burn is known to any cannabissarian. It’s a sentiment that can be translated to anyone pursuing legalization. All the ugliness that has suppressed cannabis will burn away—responsible users will help burn it down—but it will burn down slowly…

…slower than a fat blunt of fresh Trainwreck buds.

Now light up the fatty, jump in my Caddy, pull your seat back—yup, I know you need that…” – Snoop Doggy Dogg

⇐ BOM BOM MAHADEV ⇒

Taking a Trip Through Love Canal: The Residuum

About 2.5 years ago, I heard Lois Gibbs speak. Her story, as a resident affected by the environmental disaster at Love Canal, NY, served as a touchstone for the work I do IRL—as an environmental scientist, a large part of what I do is contaminant remediation. As I mark five years of doing my best to reduce contamination and the risks it poses, I see Love Canal rise in the news again.

People often hear “environmental scientist” and automatically translate this to “environmentalist” (I need a whole other post to explain what’s wrong with that misnomer). Moreover, people usually think my main focus is climate change. To the wary public, I am the guy who wants ‘everyone to live as if we were in the stone age’.

I have very little defense to that, besides sighing quietly to myself.

I am not of the inclination to hold climate change as the biggest environmental threat to humanity. The dangers posed by climate change are largely out of our control. Perhaps how change is initiated is within our control (or so popular scientific opinion postulates)—but the outcomes, once change in the system is initiated, are outside of humanity’s grasp.

Realistically, we cannot stop a hurricane once it’s formed. We cannot guide tornadoes to gracefully sweep between rural communities. We cannot negotiate amounts of radiation the sun outputs.

In western society, we are increasingly overloaded with this guilt that we need to do something about everything. As I get older, I am starting to appreciate my small radius of influence. Many adverse environmental effects caused by the human hand are reasonably controllable. For what I can reasonably affect in my professional and personal roles, climate change doesn’t even hit my top five concerns.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s a valuable topic. But my concerns about climate change are not about what will happen to humanity. My concern is that humanity, in its current (generalized) state, has a questionable chance of being the kind of resilient species that spans eons of history.

Maybe you don’t believe in your body, but it is intimately connected to this earth. From what we understand about ecology, as long as there is an ecological function that a species can perform, that species will continue to find a place within its ecosystem.

We are an adaptive species—if it rains we try to remain dry, if it’s cold we try to stay warm, when it’s warm we try to keep cool. My study of yoga has further re-enforced my belief that as long as your system is maintained in a certain way, what’s happening externally is inconsequential. If your system is damaged in any way, your ability to flexibly adapt to a situation is going to be impinged upon.

Try this fun experiment.

Go to a summer music festival. Have a blast, but don’t take drugs or alcohol. Eat a balanced diet and drink plenty of water. Take regular, qualitative notes on your body temperature, sweat, and urine colour. Wake up the next morning and take some notes on how you physically feel.

Ask a friend to join in on your experiment. Ideally, this friend is similar to you in body shape and medical history. Tell them to a have a blast, but they get to drink as much alcohol as they desire. Ask them to eat only spicy, greasy food. Take matching qualitative notes on your friend’s body temperature, sweat, and urine colour. Ask them the next morning how they feel (if they don’t spend the night in the medic’s tent).

I think it’s obvious what the outcome of the experiment is. I don’t even have to be a pedantic asshole and ask leading questions. You and your friend are experiencing the same external conditions. The difference is in the physical condition of the body. By what has been put into the body, a dramatically different experience—and a different outcome—can be induced. You may wake up with ringing in your ears from loud music. Your friend may spend the next week recovering from dehydration or sun stroke.

Of course, the acute and chronic effects of alcohol are self-evident. It’s easy enough to say, “You knew drinking nothing but vodka all day was going to lead to. Smarten up.”

Fair enough. Humanity doesn’t have a great record on being kind to its self. We have been around on the planet long enough to have figured out that we can get away with recreationally harming ourselves. If a substance hits our brain’s reward centres, chances are, we will put up with a lot of damage to our systems before we stop.

In a similar vein, we quest for comfort, convenience, and compulsion. Since the late 18th century, this quest has been characterized by the Industrial Revolution. In the short period that this has begun, humanity has synthesized a number of chemicals and substances that we would never otherwise find in nature.

With the exception of the well-known tryptamines, phenylethylamines, and other psychoactive substances we have created (mostly within the last century), many of the new, synthesized substances are not the kind of chemicals hipsters ingest so that their peers acknowledge how cool they are.

I am talking about substances that have practical uses in our industrial processes (or are by-products of those processes)—the substances that help drive our comforts, conveniences, and compulsions. Here, I am talking about halogenated compounds, pesticides, plastics, and polymers.

And then there are the natural compounds that we use in high concentrations or expose ourselves to in a way we very rarely would otherwise: heavy metals, hydrocarbons, and minerals.

These contaminants are ubiquitous in our environment. And not a benign ubiquity, like up-talk. In Canada, we have had a real knack of picking interesting locations for our most intense industrial activities. Think Hamilton Harbor, Sarnia’s Chemical Valley, Edmonton’s Refinery Row, Montreal’s industrial hub, and Vancouver’s Dockside Green.

And if you don’t live in one of these centres, don’t think you are immune. Even some of our remotest outposts have long-lived residual contamination in soil and groundwater (e.g. Ontario’s Grassy Narrows First Nation). And even then, if you think you are far and free from the dirty crowd, there is that thing that keeps coming in and out of your lungs: the air.

Toxicology is a relatively new science, and environmental technology is newer yet. It was thalidomide in the late 1950’s that first brought attention to the teratogenic effects of drugs (Rachel Carson followed up in the early 1960’s and brought the effects of pesticides to light). And in all reality, the thalidomide connection was made because it was directly following the drug’s release in 1957 that thousands of babies were born with deformed limbs and other defects. It was the immediacy of the impact that made the effects apparent.

Since then, we have started to understand the acute effects of the usual suspects on the human body. Year after year, we are learning about the effects of more and more chemicals, both the ones we take willingly and the ones we are exposed to in our environment.

And it’s not just acute effects. The chronic effects are starting to become obvious. Now, common substances we liberally used in our homes—plastics, fabrics with flame retardants, household cleaning & garage products—are being considered straight-up toxic.

Canada (Chemicals Management Plan) and the U.S. (Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act) have poorly funded programs to investigate the many chemicals used in our countries. Apart from that, we rely on companies to willingly identify their chemicals as toxic, or wait for universities to publish research.

Here’s a fun example.

Ever have your clothes dry cleaned? Ever use Brakleen to degrease something in your garage? Ever handle refrigerants?

If so, you have very likely been exposed to tricholoroethylene (TCE). The EPA announced in 2016 that TCE is deemed as toxic (it was also recently added to Canada’s toxic substances list). The US EPA recognizes TCE as a carcinogen and teratogen, with a number of effects on the respiratory and central nervous systems. In Canada, it has been detected in ambient air, the air inside homes, drinking water, and surface water.

But don’t worry! You can still have full access to it. The EPA is just now in the process of proposing a ban on TCE in commercial vapor degreasing. That will not stop its use in a multitude of other industrial and residential uses.

As we start to understand the effects of a multitude of chemicals, we are starting to understand how we might have fucked ourselves over. I can’t put a quantitative value to it, but we have a shitload of our vast landscape that is effectively poisoned. We are also finding out places we didn’t think would be impacted indeed are.

Which brings me back to resiliency. Compare two men in their 50’s. One worked in a garage, exposed day in and day out to a degreaser with TCE. Another worked in an office, and for arguments sake, we will say he was never exposed to TCE (or at least to a significantly less amount). Let’s turn up the heat in the room they are sitting in together. Let’s change the composition of the air they are breathing. Let’s throw some disasters at them. All things being the same, who do you think would fare better?

This is why contamination, to me, is head and shoulders above climate change. Sure, we may not have a home if the climate changes. That’s no problem—we are gone, end of story. But we all know nature doesn’t work in black & white. If doom is on its way, it will happen periodically and incrementally. There will a long, hellish road for humans before this planet is human-free.

If we continue to expose ourselves to chemicals, and allow contaminated sites to remain unmitigated, it won’t matter much whether the climate changes or not.

Which brings me back to Love Canal. This month, residents of North Tonawanda, NY have filed notices of claim for $60 million apiece against the neighbouring Town of Wheatfield (totaling a nearly $1 billion claim). The town’s inactive landfill historically accepted the spectrum of hazardous wastes, including material from Love Canal.

Residents paid for an independent soil investigation. Results showed hazardous chemicals, including those from Love Canal, were present on their properties after having migrated from the boundaries of the landfill. Additionally, the landfill was so poorly managed that lack of fencing and supervision meant people used it to dirtbike or jog. The plaintiffs in the proceedings have all been affected by cancer, headaches, respiratory issues, and nervous system disorders.

This may appear to be an isolated incident, and it may be right now. But this is primarily how we handle our hazardous chemicals. We choose a sacrificial area, call it a landfill, and then rely on public or private companies to monitor and manage the waste into the undefined future. The private companies will do their jobs as long as there is money. Love Canal became the first SuperFund site because the Hooker Chemical Company left their liability behind. It’s not unheard of for owners of environmental liability to go bankrupt, dissolve, or disappear.

These sacrificial areas may not be so unrealistic. Even in the body, there are distinct areas suited for handling ‘waste’ for our physical systems. The liver is a vital organ because it is such a dirty place—if toxins were everywhere else in the system, we could be dead. But because toxins accumulate in the liver, we have a buffering capacity. A little bit of bad exposure won’t kill a healthy liver.

But overwhelm or inhibit maintenance of the liver, and the body falls into trouble. The Wheatfield Landfill is a liver with cirrhosis. It is very likely not the only one like it. Just like any other addict, we are damn good at hiding that we get blotto and our livers whimper through our daily hangover.

Love Canal contains waste dating back almost 100 years. We are still dealing with its devastating consequences. “Climate change” may be fighting words in some parts, and guaranteed to spark a strongly opinionated conversation anywhere else. Some of that is the perception of deniability. But there is no denying environmental contamination. There is no doubt that certain chemicals have a detrimental effect on our bodies. The argument comes down to risk of exposure, which is always nuanced but is unable to dismiss the inherent adverse effects of those chemicals.

Technologies available to actually denature contaminants, or manage them in a reliable, long-term manner, are rare and expensive. If the money that went into climate change research went into contaminant remediation research, we could be so much farther along in enjoying a healthy environment.

To me, belabouring over climate change as opposed to something like contamination is like the yoga enthusiast who reads that through samyama, you can control other peoples’ minds. Cool! So this yoga enthusiast makes this their highest ideal. But this eager yogi can’t even sit straight or touch their toes.

That’s where we are at. As a society, our bodies and minds are in such a poor condition that we cannot touch our proverbial toes—we cannot control ourselves, yet we want to control something outside of ourselves.

In the legend of Saint George, a malicious dragon holds a Libyan empire under its long-clawed thumb. It lives in the emperor’s lake and requires two sheep (or children) per day to appease it or else it will poison the countryside. Saint George tames the dragon and convinces the pagans he saved to convert to Christianity. In one heroic swoop, Saint George conquers the problem and also convinces everyone to think like he does. In a way, climate change advocates are attempting to re-create this narrative.

I can sympathize with climate warriors. I get it. It’s much more rewarding to go to war with the dragon. Victory is so much sweeter, and failure is forgivable because it was a dragon, after all.