Archive for October, 2009

Gene Logsdon: Is Farming Supposed to Make Money?

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

Gene Logsdon farms in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, and is one of the clearest and most original voices of rural America. In fact, Wendell Berry calls him “the most experienced and best observer of agriculture we have.” And according to Logsdon, it just may be that farming isn’t supposed to be about money.

From his blog, The Contrary Farmer:

Talk about heresy. What if food production should not be part of either a capitalistic or a socialistic economy. The first commandment of agriculture states that you must put back into the soil the fertility you take out of it. That being so, the only real profit from food production is how good the food  tastes and how well it sustains health and well-being. Any actual money profit beyond that might simply be a sign that the farming is flawed. Failed civilization on top of failed civilization suggests that idea, but every new civilization that flourishes for awhile believes it can beat the system.

Farming has to be subsidized in modern economies because nature  can’t compete with money interest. An ear of corn, even the record-shattering 15-inch ear I found in my field yesterday,  has never heard of six percent interest. An ear of corn grows at its own sweet pace, come recession or inflation, which is the modern version of hell or high water. Every attempt to make it grow at a pace that matches the way we can manipulate paper money growth, results in some downside. (Eventually it happens with money too.) GMO scientists crow about their new seeds but there is little significant increase in yield from them, in fact in some cases, documented decreases. When an increase does occur it usually comes from lack of weed competition not an actual genetic increase in yield. Most above average increases in crop yields  come from  good weather. Monsanto and Dupont are trying to take the credit for the big corn crop this year when their very same seeds that produce a good crop on one farm result in only half a crop  two miles down the road where timely rains did not fall.

Read the entire article here.

Naomi Wolf: “Friending” Binyam Mohamed

Friday, October 30th, 2009

Naomi Wolf‘s ongoing investigation into torture abuses perpetrated by US military personnel against detainees continues. She had the opportunity to speak directly to one of these former detainees, Binyam Mohamed, whose alleged treatment was shocking and shameful.

From The Huffington Post:

For four years now, I have been following the fates of the hundreds of men who have been — and the 200 plus men who still are — being held at Guantánamo Bay, and, the record is now clear, most of whom have been tortured. But until this week I had never actually heard such a single man’s actual voice.

When I went to the prison in June of this year, we journalists were brought to view the prisoners from afar — exactly as if they were dangerous animals in a cage. They called to us, anguishedly, in a voice that still haunts me. “Can I talk to them?” I asked. Many of them speak English. No; no, no, was the answer. No one is permitted to talk to them. Prisoners in the US have many rights to speak, even from prison; but silencing the Guantánamo detainees has been a key to maintaining a working injustice, as well as a key to manipulating US popular opinion. Bill Kristol and Dick Cheney’s daughter Liz Cheney have started a new organization to spin the torture at Guantánamo and elsewhere: ‘Keep America Safe.’ (Or: ‘Keep Daddy Out of Prison.’) But if the perpetrators are to continue to spin America, the prisoners’ voices have to continue to be silenced.

Even those who empathize with the detainees tend to speak ‘for’ them — casting them as faceless, voiceless victims, just as the opposite ‘side’ casts them as faceless, voiceless monsters.

Recently I have been in touch with Binyam Mohamed, who is the UK resident who was released from Guantánamo in February — after seven years’ captivity without charges — and who last Friday won a major victory when a British court ruled that the US and the UK could not continue to conceal from the public seven paragraphs in documents that describe the horrific torture of Mr Mohamed in ‘black sites’ and at Guantánamo. He is also suing Boeing for its part in rendering him to ‘black sites.’

The UK government is appealing the ruling, so we still can’t know what happened to him; but officials have told reporters that one action that the paragraphs describe is the cutting of genitals with a razor; waterboarding, this official said dryly, is well down on the list of atrocities Mr. Mohamed suffered.

President Obama has sought to keep these seven paragraphs under seal. Hillary Clinton has also. Joe Lieberman drafted an amendment to a bill to conceal photographs relating to this abuse.

Read the whole article here.


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WATCH: The Author Speaks: Mat Stein Interviewed by Project Camelot

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

I would love to see Mat Stein in a reality show where he’s plunked down in the middle of the Amazon rainforest with nothing but a butterfly knife and the clothes on his back. When-Technology-Fails Man (WTF Man for short).

In this video interview, Mat Stein talks about how he became the go-to guy for sustainable survival and green living in a world that may just be on the brink of collapse.

Read the whole article here.


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WATCH: The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder Now a Movie

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

George W. Bush took this country to war in Iraq under false pretenses. Thousands of people have died as a result: American armed forces, Iraqis, aid workers, and others.

After reading Vincent Bugliosi’s The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder, journalist-turned-lawyer Charlotte Dennett was moved to act. She ran for State Attorney General of Vermont, enlisting Bugliosi as her special prosecutor in the event that she won. She lost the race, but found a movement: the movement to hold Bush accountable for high crimes and misdemeanors.

Now, Bugliosi’s bestselling book is a movie. You can watch the 9-minute trailer below. (h/t

is based on the book “The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder”by Vincent
Bugliosi (Vanguard Press), a New York Times hardcover bestseller.

Mr. Bugliosi and GWB, LLC formed a production company to produce the
documentary of his book. The film is Directed by David J. Burke, Produced by
Kip and Kern Konwiser and Executive Produced by Peter Miller.


TODAY, NAFTC STUDIOS PRESENTS AN APPROX. 9 MINUTE EXTENDED TRAILER Please be kind enough to forward to friends &

In the spirit of grassroots political campaigns, THE PROSECUTION OF GEORGE W.
BUSH FOR MURDER team is starting this week on to raise
money from the public in small donations to help market this historic film.

The film is not only about the monumental crime committed by George W. Bush
and members of his administration in taking America to war in Iraq under false

pretenses (as Vince Bugliosi makes a strong case for in his book and the
movie). It is equally about deterring future Presidents and their
administrations from knowingly going to war on a lie, because a Bush
prosecution will tell them that the law will be enforced and there will be
legal consequences. No one is above the law.

Read the press release here.


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Why the Drug Czar Is Right about Marijuana “Legalization”

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

by Steve Fox

From the Chelsea Green community blog.

At the end of last week, Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske issued a public statement firmly declaring, “Marijuana legalization, for any purpose, remains a non-starter in the Obama Administration.” Earlier this year, he confessed to a certain lack of verbal acuity by admitting that the word “legalization” was not in his vocabulary.

Well, let me officially state here today – as the director of state campaigns for the Marijuana Policy Project, the nation’s largest organization dedicated to reforming our marijuana laws – that I agree with the Drug Czar. It is time for us to take marijuana “legalization” off the table.

Instead, we should join together in an effort to enact marijuana “regulation.”

“Legalization” is a term used by opponents of reform to overstate the goals of pro-reform organizations. It is intended to convey an image of wide open markets and widespread marijuana use by people of all ages.

People like me do not envision marijuana being “legalized” like pumpkins, which, as many of us observe this time of year, can be purchased from any farmer who tends to a patch and makes his pre-jack-o-lanterns available on his land before Halloween. Rather, we are fighting for a regulated market for marijuana, so that sellers and suppliers are licensed by the state and their product is subject to strict production and labeling requirements.

As my co-authors and I explain in the final chapter of Marijuana is Safer: So why are we driving people to drink?, a regulated marijuana market would limit where and when marijuana could be sold. And, of course, it would limit who could purchase the drug. Specifically, as with alcohol, there would be an age limit so that people under a certain age could not buy it.

Currently, none of these regulations exist. Anybody – including teens – can purchase marijuana whenever they want. In fact, it is probably easier for a teen to find and buy marijuana than an adult. And the strength and quality of the marijuana purchased is basically unknown. These are problems associated with an unregulated market – and it is what people like the Drug Czar are defending.

So in the spirit with which I have joined the Drug Czar in taking marijuana legalization off the table, I hope that he will join me in taking an unregulated marijuana market off the table.

The time to regulate marijuana is now. We should all be able to agree on that.

Steve Fox is the Director of State Campaigns for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the nation’s largest organization dedicated to reforming marijuana laws. From 2002–2005, he lobbied Congress as MPP’s Director of Government Relations. He cofounded Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER) in 2005 and has helped guide its operations since its inception. He is a graduate of Tufts University and Boston College Law School and currently lives in Maryland with his wife and two daughters.

Meet the Nearings: The Models for ‘Back to the Land’

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

An article written about Helen and Scott Nearing from 1971 is still one of Mother Earth News’ most popular Nature and Community pieces. That’s almost 40 years of sustainable newsworthiness! Do you want to know who these folks are and how they relate to the homesteading and small-scale farming movement? Read on. They’re the behind-the-scenes folks everyone should know about.

From Mother Earth News:

Helen and Scott Nearing have been living today’s counterculture for better than a generation. Almost four decades ago (in 1932), the couple “dropped out” to a rockscrabble mountain farm in Vermont’s Green Mountains where they spent the next 20 years rebuilding the soil, constructing solid homestead buildings from native stone; growing their own food, heating with wood they cut by hand and co–authoring numerous books and magazine articles. Tick off any of the present’s most “in” passions—women’s lib, equal rights, organic gardening, vegetarianism, radicalism, homesteading, subsistence farming, ecology—and you’ll find that the Nearings have been doing instead of talking for 40 years.

In 1952, when “developers” began despoiling the slopes around them for a ski resort, the Nearings sold their Vermont farm, moved to a remote Maine cape and began all over again . . . clearing brush, building honest stone structures, planting vigorous gardens and—in general—making their place in the world on a soul-satisfying, sweat-of-the-brow basis.

Helen and Scott Nearing—then—are hard-working, proud people who pay their dues, think for themselves and stand on their own two feet . . . exactly the kind of folks that “made this country great. ” Salt of the earth. Rugged individuals. People who stand up for what’s right. The Great American Dream Couple. Folks who would be honored in every corner of this nation.

Well, yes and no. The Nearings most certainly have paid their dues and taken stand after lonely stand for their vision of right . . . only to find that truth, justice, honor, decency—even simple rational thought—can be a highly suspicious commodity here in The Land of The Free and The Home of The Brave.

A pacifist, Scott was tried for sedition by the Government for opposing U.S. entry into WWI. Acquitted by a jury, he was then blacklisted by the academic world for—among other things—his stand against child labor. His textbooks were even taken from the schools and he became a prophet without honor in his own country.

Of course, the U.S. Government and this country’s academic circles have no monopoly on stupidity. Scott once joined the Communist Party . . . only to be expelled for writing a book that took exception to Lenin’s theories on imperialism. Nobody loves a freethinker. [...]

Read the entire article here.

Check out books by the Nearings:

Wise Words for the Good Life by Helen Nearing

Loving and Leaving the Good Life by Helen Nearing

The Maple Sugar Book by Scott and Helen Nearing

Simple Food For the Good Life by Helen Nearing

Tools of Disconnection: A Review of Time’s Up!

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Why is humanity intent on pulling the plug on our life support machine? Is it because we’re too busy? Busy being consumers, customers, and spectators? Too busy to put the brakes on a destructive, unsustainable way of life? What’s holding us back? And what can we do about it?

Keith Farnish, author of Time’s Up! An Uncivilized Solution to a Global Crisis, shows us how to recognize the systems that are disconnecting us from each other, from other life forms, and from the Earth. In this review, Carolyn Baker takes a look at Keith’s book and finds hope in hopelessness.

I live in Boulder, Colorado where the buzz among eco-activists who attended a recent lecture by Vandana Shiva is her chilling statement that if the human species continues on its present destructive trajectory, it has no more than 100 years of life on this planet. At about the same time this bomb was dropped on Shiva’s audience, Keith Farnish’s amazing book Time’s Up: An Uncivilized Solution To A Global Crisis arrived in my mailbox for review which was about the same time that Keith reviewed my book, Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse. I visit my local movie theater and see trailers for the next series of post-apocalyptic movies such as “2012” and “The Road”. Five years ago the notion of “endings” was not reverberating in the collective unconscious with the fever pitch we’re witnessing today. What’s up? Quite simply: Time is up.

I would say that the real crux of Time’s Up is the challenge of how to keep the human race from continuing to commit suicide. The first 82 pages of the book are devoted to a painstaking explanation of the inextricable connection between humans and all other life forms. The fundamental reality of the connection is that “nothing is so dependent upon other forms of life as humans, the ultimate consumers.” Likewise, “everything we do has the potential to disrupt something, knock if off balance as we negotiate the finest of lines; yet that line we are repeatedly stepping over.”

Anyone who argues that humans have nothing to do with climate change needs to read these 82 pages because they unequivocally silence that illusion.

Central to Farnish’s book is the premise that everything hinges on connection—the human species’ connection with everything else. Unfortunately, it is something we must be taught—something that must be explained in words, but something that indigenous peoples know instinctively and need not spend years thinking about.

“It is nothing great and mysterious”, says Farnish, “it is simply the necessary instinct that ensures we do not damage the ability of the natural environment to keep us alive. Failure to connect is the reason humanity is pulling the plug on its life-support machine.”

Unlike the indigenous person, “the majority of people in the industrial West who identify most strongly with a hyper-consuming way of life, learning how to reconnect out of necessity is a struggle: most of us have never experienced anything but the disconnected lives we inhabit.” However, Farnish reassures us, “we have always been connected, we just need to recognize how natural and comfortable it is to be this way.”

Farnish reassuringly holds our hand while he helps us take baby steps toward understanding the essence of connection. He leads us into some very personal experiential, contemplative exercises that engage the right brain and allow us to feel connection rather than simply thinking about it.

Civilization, Farnish says, has put us in a “constant state of sensory deprivation; kept in that state in order that we can be willing participants of Industrial Civilization. If we connect with the real world permanently, then the spell will be broken: we will no longer be ‘viewers’, ‘customers’, ‘consumers’, ‘voters’, ‘citizens’; we will just be us.”

Read the whole article here.


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Marijuana’s Steve Fox on FDL Book Salon

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Why is marijuana illegal while alcohol, which many argue is a more dangerous substance, remains legal?

That’s the gist of the question Steve Fox, co-author of Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? attempted to answer during a recent appearance on FireDogLake’s book salon.

Short answer: times are changing, attitudes are changing, and the pro-legalization movement has gained steam and entered the mainstream. For the longer answer, read on…

Marijuana has become mainstream. Breathless stories about it in TIME, Newsweek, and all major media outlets proclaim that it is either a potential savior of the economy, the scourge of teen development, or just a plant that happens to have a bad rap.

Regardless of the angle, weed has grown into the light of day and the public has become more conscious of it than ever, often finding that the current drug war set against it is cruel and unfair. A recent Gallup poll found that 44% of the US population wants marijuana to be legalized, the highest ever. Combine that with the explosion of the medical marijuana marketplace harming Mexican drug cartels, as well as the Obama administration offering a directive to stop prosecuting legally recognized marijuana dispensaries, and there is the potential for a dramatic sea change in the way the United States, indeed the world, deals with the green stuff.

Part and parcel of this new paradigm is getting people information. Enter Marijuana is Safer by Steve Fox, Paul Armentano, and Mason Tvert; each one an integral member of a drug policy reform organization, and their creds show. Part social examination, history lesson, and reform presentation, Marijuana is Safer makes the case for how different a world could be without the $60 billion a year drug war, most of which goes to eradicating marijuana from our society.


 John Holowach October 25th, 2009 at 2:01 pm


Hey Steve, thanks for being here!

To start off, why did you and your fellow co-authors decide that this was the right time for a book like this? And also, what kind of impact do you think/hope it will have?


 Steve Fox October 25th, 2009 at 2:10 pm


In response to John Holowach @ 2

With respect to the timing and our hopes about the impact, let me start by saying I think we really lucked out in terms of the timing. When Chelsea Green (our published) decided to go ahead with the book, there was not the wave of attention given to marijuana policy we see today. So it turns out that the timing was right, but we didn’t plan it that way.

This is actually a book more than five years in the making — at least from my perspective. I have been working on marijuana policy reform for seven years now and determined in about 2004 that we needed to educate the public about the relative harms of marijuana and alcohol if we hoped to change our laws. I will go into that in more detail over the next two hours, but that is a quick intro.

Read the whole article here.


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Your night table will never look the same after this…

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Ever looked at your bedside table and thought–what can I rest on there? What can I read before bed that won’t give me nightmares, but may potentially arouse my intellect, twang on my heartstrings, or initiate some kind of pillow talk with my loved one that isn’t about who dropped a kleenex in the laundry machine? Perhaps you’re a science professor, or a lover of all things quirky…

Either way, you’re probably interested in death and sex. Right?

The following is an excerpt from Death & Sex by Tyler Volk and Dorion Sagan. It has been adapted for the Web.

Super-soft fur and slippery skin. Or is that lickable nipples and arguable kin? Or fun-filled frolicking in the name of sin? Whatever we call it, however high it flies on the rarefied notes of an aesthetic sensibility or low it sinks in the aftermath of familial responsibilities and limited options, the urge to merge—the lustful morass of feelings, emotions, and relationships around which mammalian sexuality swirls—begins and ends with bodies. To understand it, we must do a little time traveling. Fortunately, time travel itself is, so far, impossible. Fortunately because, if you were to go back and fall in lust with a fur-clad cave hunk or hottie, you might sire or give birth to a boy who grows to a man who kills your own ancestors. That would not only be a science-fiction paradox but also deprive you of the pleasure of reading this book.

But if we can’t go turn the clock back, or depend on evolutionists’ just-so stories, how can we find out what our ancestors were up to?

A powerful tool in reconstructing probable ancestral sex lives—less “just-so” than “might-be-so” stories—is comparative anatomy. By looking at now-living related organisms, we can see what traits they share and backtrack to determine probable features of an ancestor. The same can be done by comparing behavior, mating systems, and DNA sequences. There will be false leads, but, like the weight of circumstantial evidence carefully employed to re-create a crime scene, we can come up with a plausible picture. And unlike the prosecuting attorney, a scientist does not have to prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt. The continuum stretches not between crime and punishment, but between curiosity and discovery. New evidence will not get anyone out of prison, but it may release us from the subtler incarceration of received opinion.

In the 1980s, and although in the center of a full house near the front row, I walked out of a lecture by a creationist who was trying to make fun of evolutionists during the course of his slide show. “Evolutionists want you to believe,” he said, flashing a crude cartoon of a cow by the seashore, “that this”— and then our intrepid advocate flashed forward to a picture of a great whale in the water—“turned into this.”

Ovid, in his Metamorphoses, recounts some startling transformations. But a cow turning into a whale is not one of them, any more than it is for evolutionists. Caricatures and straw men do not an argument make. It is true that the ancestors of whales, dolphins, walruses, and seals were likely land mammals—more like goats than cows but in truth neither. Embryonic humans resemble embryonic mice and chickens— all three in utero look literally fishy: We have gill slits and tails before we come out of our mothers. Why would a creator give us gill slits in the womb, unless he used evolution to create, or was a prankster?

Anatomical similarities often reveal shared evolutionary roots. The evidence of common lineage is not limited to embryos. It is literally in our bones. The foreleg of a horse, the wing of a bat, the flipper of a whale, and the arm of a Moulin Rouge dancer all share a similar skeletal infrastructure.

Even the more honest creationist tactic of finding God in the gaps in the fossil record—emphasizing missing links— misses the point: What is remarkable is not what separates, but what connects us. Like a giant jigsaw all scientists are working on concurrently, missing pieces continue to be found. And they are profound. The 1850 Berlin discovery of the winged reptile Archaeopteryx would have delighted Darwin, in whose time the jigsaw puzzle, mostly due to the dearth of paleontological piece finders, had just begin. Today a slew of new fossils of feathered dinosaurs have been unearthed in China. Indeed, paleontologists now classify birds as dinosaurs: They lay eggs, have scales on their feet, and are technically reptiles. Paleontologist Jack Horner (an inspiration for the book/film Jurassic Park) even claims to be able to produce a modern-day mini dinosaur by interfering with embryonic development of a chicken, a small featherless dinosaur with teeth.

We are backboned animals with anatomical and sexual characteristics similar to other organisms that share our ancestry. The coccyx, the little tailbone at the bottom of our spine, serves no purpose for us now but it did when our simian ancestors swung from the trees. A grasping tail is an excellent tool if you are used to clinging to a branch as you call out for a furry friend. The great and lesser apes and Old World (African and Asian) monkeys all lack grasping tails. Some of the smaller New World (North and South American) monkeys, the smallest of which is the pygmy marmoset, a paltry lightweight at five ounces, have grasping tails. Unlike bigger Old World monkeys, the New World simians rarely come down to the ground, except for the occasional nut or cricket, preferring to scamper about from branch to branch (some, such as the marmosets, feeding directly on tree sap with special bark-piercing teeth) in the tropical forests in southern Mexico, Central and South America. Although it’s impossible for landlubbers to keep full account of the sixty-odd species of New World monkeys, their sexual and social relationships vary, with, for example, male tamarins and marmosets (whose females typically give birth to twins) carrying the infants most of the time, whereas daddy capuchins (the famous organ grinder monkeys) do not tend to take care of their offspring; some New World monkey species have harems with one male and several female consorts, while others, such as the callicebus monkeys (titis), tend to form long-term monogamous relationships. A similar variety marks the apes and Old World monkeys, who are more closely related to us.

The Platyrrhini, the ancestral stock that became the New World monkeys, may have arrived in South America on floating chunks of vegetation. They could have traveled on a natural raft like the floating mangrove forest islands that violent storms sometimes break off the coast of Africa. Geographic isolation—the separation of populations as the result of such events—was probably a major factor in the evolution of primates. A floating island, earthquake-separated patch of jungle, or primate tribe following fruit trees into a remote and distant valley and remaining there may separate members of a genetic stock. Physically separated, they no longer interbreed. Ultimately troops and tribes went their own way, evolving to the point that they could not form fertile offspring with members of the ancestral lineage even if they were still able and willing to mate with them. In this way new species, including our ancestors—who were mating long before there were humans—formed.

Genetic and fossil evidence suggests that the flat-nosed, branch-swinging New World monkeys split from the Old World monkeys—baboons, macaques, and many more— some forty million years ago. The island-hopping ancestors to the New World monkeys would have been aided in their journey on floating clumps of vegetation to the New World because Africa and South America were closer together thirtyseven million years ago in the Oligocene epoch.

The Old World monkeys, like us and apes, are catarrhines (Greek for “hook-nosed”) with downward-pointing nostrils. The biggest superficial difference among the three great primate groups closest to us—the Old World monkeys, the New World monkeys, and the African and Asian apes—is in the tails. The catarrhines, when they have tails, can’t hang, clutch, or hug with them as can the broad-nosed platyrrhines. Old World monkeys and the apes, like us, despite some vestiges here and there, have outgrown them. This could be because, unused, any changes that shortened tails had no material effect on survival, as our Old World ancestors gave up navigating the arboreal jungle gym for splendoring in the grass. Use it or lose it. But the true tale of the tail, as usual, is probably more complex. The coccyx, uterine tail, and occasional birth of children with tails indubitably suggest that our ancestors had tails and that, if we are made in God’s image and the devil an angel, they may also have been so endowed.

By looking more closely at the members of our evolutionary group, we can glean something of our shared ancestors’ sex lives—the erotic ape matrix of which human sex lives, despite their variety, are only a perhaps passing variation.

The evolutionary family Hominidae to which humans belong includes two species of chimp, the common and bonobo; three subspecies of gorilla, western and eastern lowland and mountain gorillas; and two species of orang, the Bornean and Sumatran. Immunological studies in the 1960s showed that the African apes are far more closely related to us than to Old World monkeys.

Although not directly answering the famous barb of Bishop Samuel Wilberforce in his 1860 debate with evolutionist Thomas Henry Huxley as to whether it was through his grandmother or his grandfather that he claimed descent from a monkey, a combination of fossil, immunological, and genetic evidence suggests the Old World monkeys split from the great ape lineage of which we are part some thirty million years ago. Various methodologies suggest that the orangutan line split off from the other great apes about fifteen million years ago, the gorillas about seven million years ago, and humans from common ancestors with chimps some five million years ago.

A recent genetic study that offers a clue about the fur gap between people and the other hominoids has to do with a protein. As shampoo ads sometimes mention, proteins are a major constituent of hair. In fact our bodies are mostly protein—blood, skin, organs, toenails, hair, and so on are all made of proteins. The main sort of proteins in hair are called keratins. The journal Human Genetics suggests that one of these proteins, human type I hair keratin, appears to be coded for by a gene that may have been inactivated some time after the divergence of Pan (chimps) and Homo (modern and extinct humans). This gene is one of the eighty that have been lost— thirty-six of which code for olfactory receptors allowing a better sense of smell. A disproportionate number of the other genes lost had to do with immune response, perhaps reflecting different pathogens in the primeval environments in which we and our soul-sister lineage evolved. But losing the type I hair keratin gene may have been the immediate cause of human body hair loss. The massive thinning and loss of our ancestors’ body hair is estimated to have occurred about 250,000 years ago, very recently in geological terms.

But behind the immediate genetic cause may well lie a deeper cause. Evolutionary biologists distinguish between ultimate and proximate cause. Proximate cause refers to immediate chemical or physical cause. Ultimate cause refers to evolutionary factors that can no longer be directly observed. One of the first to postulate an ultimate cause for human hair loss was the author Desmond Morris, who intriguingly suggested that sex was part of the story of why our ancestors lost their fur.

Humanure: Shit Happens

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Let’s talk about poo.

In this article from Culture Change, author Keith Farnish (Time’s Up! An Uncivilized Solution to a Global Crisis) takes a look at the history of human excrement, its disposal and its use in agriculture, and finds that one man’s dung is another man’s night soil.

Where will you go when the sewers clog up? Where will you go when the porcelain finally cracks? Where will you go when the Toilet Duck quacks its last?

Let’s go back to the beginning…

We all eat and drink without exception; the food is partially broken down by acids in the stomach then transferred to the small intestine where the moisture, along with that from what we drink, is squeezed out to be cleaned by the kidneys and washed around the body to perform all of the vital functions that it is required for.

When returned to the kidneys it is expelled via the urethra to the outside world. Solid materials are also used, except that only the useful food matter is absorbed into the body: anything not used — excess fats, inert matter, fibers and a large weight of bacteria is passed through the gut and out of the body.

Piss and shit; that’s what it’s about. It has to go somewhere, and throughout the history of humanity, different cultures have found different ways to deal with it. This story is about our tribal nomadic and village past; our civilized present; our self-determined future. It is not quite the story of shit, but a salutary lesson in how we must learn to treat something so fundamental to what we are.

Before The Cities

Highlighting the hygiene aspects of shit (piss is pretty much sterile, containing a mixture of water, urea and salts, so is not so much of an issue) is very enlightening at this stage because, to be quite frank, non-civilized cultures had it pretty well sorted right from the start. This is not just a human thing: observe a field of cattle, and you will see one corner which is heavily used for defecation. Cows have toilets, as do most domesticated animals — and not for no good reason; our instinct of disgust is deeply rooted in what we understand to be unhealthy. A pile of rotting meat, writhing with maggots, or a steaming pile of fresh shit are immediately offensive to most of us, whatever culture we live in.

The phrase: “Don’t shit in your own back yard” (or variations upon) is sound advice, if your back yard is anywhere near where you grow, pick or prepare food; wash yourself and your things or, and probably most importantly, draw water for drinking. Some tribal cultures are still nomadic, barely settling in any one location, making the issue of waste disposal of little consequence: a Bedouin will dig a hole in the ground and cover it up with sand or stones when ready to move on. Village life, on the other hand requires more thought, unless you have a very large river nearby, such as the Amazon or the Zambezi, in which case all the little fishies get a regular meal, and the water stays pretty much the same along its course, as long as there is only the occasional village.

Away from the flowing river (and believe me, rivers really are among the best things to live near to from a survival point of view) there comes the issue of standing waste: unlike the “ocean drop” toilets used by the Kuna Indians of Panama, if you live near to a even a decent sized lake it doesn’t take long for your local wash area to become contaminated with enterococci and other faecal bacteria. You certainly don’t want to be drinking anything from a lake that is used for shitting in. In fact, what is most typical is for tribal persons to simply leave the village, have a crap in a convenient bit of undergrowth (with accompanying leaf moist-wipes), and return much lighter. Something for the beetles to feast upon.

In this context, it is just waste to be disposed of; but in more settled cultures, especially those that practice food cropping of any scale, the concept of “humanure” becomes relevant. Joseph Jenkins, author of The Humanure Handbook has the following to say about this most wonderful of substances:

“Human waste” is a term that has traditionally been used to refer to human excrements, particularly fecal material and urine, which are by-products of the human digestive system. When discarded, as they usually are, these materials are colloquially known as human waste, but when recycled for agricultural purposes, they’re known by various names, including night soil when applied raw to fields in Asia.

Humanure, unlike human waste, is not waste at all – it is an organic resource material rich in soil nutrients. Humanure originated from the soil and can be quite readily returned to the soil, especially if converted to humus through the composting process.

Anyone who grows vegetables on a regular basis will be comfortable with the idea of using horse manure as a soil conditioner, hence the old joke: “What do you put on your rhubarb?” “Horse shit.” “Really, I prefer custard.” It’s not that far a step from handling horse shit to handling human shit, albeit having given a bit more time for the bacteria and other micro-organisms to have done their work. Our cultural attitude to shit has played a significant part in shaping how we deal with it.

Read the whole article here.


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