Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Elizabeth Warren, the chief watchdog of Wall Street, has warned us that the biggest banks are now even bigger than when they caused the financial collapse of 2008. The four largest have grown 30% larger and the five largest banks represent over half the market. That brings the word antitrust to my mind, but that is about as likely as world peace at this point. No, the current crop of US politicians in both major parties are far too business friendly to go for the ‘nuclear option’ of pursuing an antitrust suit against a major corporate bank. It will take some new blood to pursue new options, Elizabeth Warren being but one example.

If this November’s elections can be read as a sign of anything it is that people are fed up with austerity and they want politicians who will work for the working class. One tangible example being the election of the socialist Kshama Sawant to the Seattle city council, in a state who just legalized recreational cannabis. Washington is definitely moving in the right direction, but we will have to see how things go in a few months to really know how well the cannabis legalization is going. Another major progressive win was  the 73% landslide that road Bill de Blasio to victory as the new mayor of New York, dethroning the former king mayor Bloomberg. While we have more progressives winning in local elections we lack true progressives in the federal government. There is Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, that’s about it. There are also rumors about Elizabeth Warren running for President in 2016, which would probably the only ticket the Democrats can put forward that I’d vote for. Which is still better than the no chance the Republicans have for my vote. This may be the first Presidential race I sit out on due to a lack of interest in all candidates…it is still two years from the election though and two years is a long time.

President Obama may have been progressive in 2004 when he advocated for cannabis decriminalization and a single payer option for health care, but a decade changes a man and he is as much an establishment Democrat as Nancy Pelosi now. This can be seen best in his devolution on the issue of cannabis. Where he was once firmly in support of legalization, even being the leader of a drug gang, his support is now so weak he is willing to call commuting the sentences of drug war 8 prisoners a win for human rights. We’re talking about a man with a secret ‘kill list’, that is not the kind of progress I want our progressive movement to embrace, that is Orwellian at best and Stalinist at worst. I support much of what President Obama has done, but I oppose at least that many of his actions too. Like President George W. Bush before him Obama is a mixed bag; he wins a Nobel peace prize yet keeps a secret kill list, oversees more paramilitary raids of cannabis dispensaries than Bush and gave the go-ahead to a spy game so massive it makes Watergate look like child’s play.

You might now be asking yourself, “what should a progressive movement look like in America?” Here is what I envision it to look like and what I hope its priorities will be. I imagine it will look much like the 73% majority  that rode Bill de Blasio to victory in New York, inclusive of nearly all races, religions, and demographics conceivable. This new progressive movement will not be bound by race or religion like past political movements; it will progress beyond race to be a movement focused on results, such as raising the minimum wage federally improving the lives of millions of all races. That isn’t to say this new progressive movement will be colorblind, if anything it will be more sensitive to the factors that make us up than any former movement and it will fight for our right to be ourselves, whatever that self may be. This new progressive movement will work to progress gender equality and end de jure and de facto discrimination against gender non-conforming people. Tied in with gender equality is equality for all sexual expressions and sexes. Simply put, this new progressive movement should fight to advance the progress of as many people as possible, especially those  who are presently disadvantaged.

This movement is likely to include some uncommon alliances, like one we may now be seeing between the drug policy reform/drug legalization movements and gun rights advocates. There also is a clear synergy between the drug legalization/prison reform movement and the effort to provide more funding to our schools (here is a protest to save public education, here is one for drug policy reform, notice the similarities?). The reason for the natural alliance between education and prison reform is illustrated beautifully by this drawing.

School-to-Prison-Illustration

As schools are robbed of funding the quality of educational environment plummets, leading to more crime down the road when people resort to crime to pay the bills  their abysmal education cannot. This is a self-perpetuating downward spiral that can very easily be reversed with more people flooding into schools instead of prisons. This would also free up billions of dollars a year in federal and state budgets due to less policing of non-crimes like possession of cannabis.

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One of my friends that has been reading this blog has been badgering me to post some dating advice since I tend to be good with that. I wanted to start my dating advice with an important topic, a priori, that is STD testing. Getting yourself tested is where any pursuit of dating should begin.

I just went in for my tri-annual preventative STD screening, and like always got back my favorite results – across the board negatives. Three times a year may seem like a lot but I am generally a pretty sexually active person and I like being cautious. I am polyamorous, meaning I am romantically involved with and committed to more than one person at a time, and so are some of my partners. This certainly can open you up to more risk than a monogamous lifestyle if you don’t communicate well with your partners. No judgment on monogamous people, but apparently only polyamory is cool enough for its own website so you monogamous folks get a Wikipedia link (business idea for monogamy.com). Monogamy is great though, a totally valid sexual expression like being polyamorous, or being asexual. I’ll tell you one great thing about asexuality, there is a WAY lower chance of getting STDs though still a chance (blood transfusions, sharing a toothbrush with someone herpes positive, etc).

Communication is key to any functional relationship, be it romantic, monogamous, polyamorous, a friendship, or anything else. Communication is especially key in poly relationships, such as clearly discussing rules and boundaries, ones needs and desires. One established rule in my relationship is you can only be involved with people who have been recently tested and are clean; if in doubt ask to see paperwork. This may all seem like too much effort to you, if that is so then you aren’t paying attention, STD/STIs are far more common than ever and beginning to mutate into new forms. It’s only your life, you only get one and real life has no save points, no extra lives; it isn’t a game and you only get once chance at it. Though life isn’t a game live it like it is, be serious but have fun doing it. I play every chance I get through parkour, singing, dancing, or whatever else strikes me.

What’s great about getting STD tested over other tools in our sex-positive tool box is that medical testing doesn’t violate anyone’s religion. The pope has no qualms with you keeping your partner disease free. That means you should go get tested regardless of your faith, regardless of your sexual preference, and regardless of whether you are monogamous or polyamorous. Even if you’re not having regular sex with different partners, if you are planning to hetero-till-death-do-us-part marry someone you should get tested first. STD’s are for life, coincidentally like marriage, though also like marriage some can be treated and do not last forever.

Now that we have established why everyone should be tested, including asexual people (for their friend’s benefit if nothing else), let’s move on to the where and the how. Getting an STD test is a fairly painless process, about as painful as getting blood drawn. I am honestly needle/syringe phobic, even in movies they freak me out and cause a physical reaction; despite this I still go ‘under the gun’ three times a year because this matters far more than a little pinprick pain.

Where to go is a different matter and depends largely on where you live and whether or not you have insurance. Even though I have insurance I still prefer to go to Planned Parenthood because they are cheaper, friendlier, and best of all my money goes to a good cause instead of asshole Blueshield insurance. If you live in California, like me, breath a sigh of. While most states are limiting abortion access, our legislature just passed a new law expanding access to deal with the fact that 52% of counties in CA don’t have abortion access.

The how of STD testing seems pretty intuitive, go get tested, but there are many steps and potential pitfalls along the way. You can go through your insurance for what they will cover and use your primary care doctor; my insurance is rather limited which is one reason why I prefer Planned Parenthood. If you at LGBTQ, namely trans or gender queer, PP is wonderful for respecting your gender expression and asking your preferred gender pronoun; they offer a very safe space. For some things you don’t even need a doctor anymore, we’ve reached an age were HIV can even be tested for at home. Still, some areas of testing are severely lacking, such as HPV where we have no way to test men.

My hope in this post is to cause as many of you readers as possible who have not gotten tested to go out and get tested. My hope is to debunk myths about the pull-out method being just as good as condoms (for preventing pregnancy maybe, but enjoy your STDs). My hope is that with one blog post I can prevent the spread of HIV/AIDs, but I know it isn’t that simple, it takes more than hope. It takes you going out there and practicing safe sexual practices everyday. That is how you manage to be both sexually active and STD free for life; communication, regular testing, and condom use go a long way. Failing all that there is the Immunity Project who is working on a vaccine for HIV/AIDs which they plan to give to the world. Check out their work and see if you can help them out; I cannot think of a worthier cause.

Hey readers, forgive the week or so off from posting, it was my birthday and life happened. I’m back now with more posts and some big news.

Uruguay is one step away from being the first country in the world to legalize cannabis. They’re just waiting for the President to sign it into law, which he is expected to do. Once he does Uruguay will be the first country in the world where cannabis is legal and regulated by the government. Unexpectedly, only 26% of Uruguayans actually supported the bill in a poll done after it was first introduced in the summer. I say it is unexpected given the context of struggle I am used to in the US, constantly fighting to gain an inch in the war to legalize cannabis. I imagine the situation in largely Catholic Uruguay to be rather different and perhaps that reflects the seemingly un-Democratic passage of the bill.

You may be thinking, “this isn’t news, pot is legal in Amsterdam and Portugal decriminalized all drugs.” First off, cannabis and ‘recreational mushrooms’ are 100% illegal in Amsterdam but tolerated through an official policy of decriminalization. Second, decriminalization is totally different than legalization. If a compound is legal there are laws on the books supporting the right to legally use it, usually in the form of regulations on its use or distribution. Cigarettes, alcohol, morphine, Oxycontin, Xanax, methamphetamine, St. John’s Wart, and fish oil are all legal; there are laws governing their creation, safety, sale, usage, and more. This allows even potentially dangerous compounds like methamphetamine to be used in relative safety to achieve therapeutic effects but not abusive highs. It also allows for taxation to take place, like with alcohol and cigarettes; this is impossible without full legalization as one cannot tax a grey or black market.

A decriminalized market is taxable in a situation like the Netherlands with storefronts selling a product, but Amsterdam is almost a de facto legalization. The main difference between decriminalized Amsterdam and a real legal market is a difference of opinion. Namely political opinion, which can shift spontaneously, and if it does it is a small matter to arrest those shop owners and their patrons; that could not happen nearly as easily in a fully legal market. Decriminalization, like what you have in the Netherlands, is not codified. There is no law on the books instructing police that a product is legal, merely a statement that the government will no longer arrest/fine people for the formerly prohibited conduct. Usually decriminalization focuses on personal possession only with no legal protection for growers and distributors. I fail to see how this semi-legal model can ever work as well as actual legalization, but Portugal found a way and managed to cut abuse rates in half. If a country were to pursue a policy of decriminalization it should be modeled on Portugal as the most functioning model.

Back to Uruguay and how that is big news. The UN and various other international regulatory bodies exist to enforce international law, including the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. This Convention is the precursor to America’s 1970 Controlled Substances Act and establishes a similar regulatory framework for all UN member nations. Like any system with power the UNODC and its affiliates do not want to lose their power and have already sent a strongly worded letter to the US about Washington and Colorado; I am curious how they will deal with Uruguay. It would seem they plan to address it the same as with Washington and Colorado, a strongly worded letter, but maybe in time the UN will do more. Maybe in time they will impose sanctions on Uruguay for their bold decision to lead the way into a better future.

I’m not talking about portabello mushrooms stopping world hunger. Nor am I talking about magic mushrooms making people hallucinate that they are saving the world. This post is about the myriad of fascinating solutions mushrooms, mycelium, and fungi offer to problems presented to mankind. While many of our problems are our own doing, mushrooms may be needed allies  to undo the damage.

You may be suffering from what mushroom researcher Paul Stamets refers to as mycophobia,  and now you may find yourself wondering, “how can mushrooms save anything? Get a job hippie.” This is regrettably a normal response for many when you begin a discussion with mushrooms can save the world. My love of mushrooms came from Paul’s amazing TED talk, go watch it then continue reading this blog.

You watched it now? Good.

Mushrooms have had more time to evolve than nearly anything else still living, they can do cool things like eat radiation and alter the weather, but that’s not all. Paul has six revolutionary ways mushrooms can save the world: cleaning up oil spills, cleaning up toxic waste, pest control,  biofuel manufacturing, and as a new generation of antibiotics. Most recently, it was shown that mushrooms form a natural Internet that all of the plants in the world are hooked into.

You may be thinking that a new generation of antibiotic drugs isn’t worth worrying about yet. If this is you, then you must have been living under a rock to not have heard about all the drug resistant bacteria running rampant and killing people uninhibited. If that doesn’t tickle you maybe a cure for small pox to help prevent biological warfare is more to your liking. Even if you aren’t worried about small pox everyone can do to be a bit healthier with better disease resistances, and it seems like the Reishi mushroom can do just that, maybe even cure cancer.

It is hypothesized that Jesus was a shaman, of sorts, who dolled out psychedelic mushrooms and mold to his followers to aid in his miracles. Clark Heinrich, the author of decade old book on Magic Mushrooms Religion and Alchemy, attests that Jesus used the fly agaric mushroom in conjunction with bread, like rye, who’s mold displayed ergotism. I first learned about rye bread and ergotism when I was 13 and ate a very special sandwich; that tuna sandwich remains my only LSD experience to this day (more truly LSA, a precursor to LSD). I do not recommend anyone trying to hallucinate in this manner as it is very risky and unpredictable if you will die or merely hallucinate. You’d be safer and better off eating psilocybin mushrooms.

Psilocybin has a lot more to offer than religious revelations, research shows that it can make you less depressed. The Multidisiplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (better known as MAPS) is at the forefront of research on psilocybin, MDMA, cannabis, and even more exotic things like ibogaine. Aside from helping relieve feelings of depression and other mental disorders, psilocybin also shows promise as a way to lower our socially imposed inhibitions allowing us to expand our consciousness. Perhaps that was Jesus’ greatest miracle and the real fruit of knowledge was actually a fungus.

Despite all these benefits that can lead directly to more happiness, not everything is perfect with psilocybin; bad trips can happen. I feel like most bad trips are the result of not being properly prepared, with psilocybin this includes preparing for feelings of “ego death.” Having experienced people shrooming with you and a baby sitter can help immensely. There are also people working to provide MAPS to safety from bad trips. Reading that MAPS post reminds me of my own personal harm reduction story with mushrooms, which happened at my first Burning Man. It was about 2am and an Australian man wandered up to me from an art car and said he had just been given mushrooms and it was his first time. He went on to say that he wanted to wander off into the darkness of the open desert alone, with no lights and no water. Over the course of a cigarette I gave him a light, some water, and directed him back towards his camp and away from the dangers of being high in the dark alone (getting hit by a car, for one). We need more people at festivals and concerts making sure everyone is tripping safely and responsibly. As a bartender at festivals I often risk reprimand from my bosses for giving out water or ice; I personally view charging for water at music shows as criminal, or something that should be. Having gone to many raves and seen the effects of people overheating firsthand I understand better than most how water can save lives.

Mushrooms can also save lives, with their amazing antibiotic properties and unique abilities to make formerly uninhabitable lands inhabitable. Mushrooms are the reason life was ever able to come to land due to their processing of rocks into soil allowing for the first plants to grow, creating the oxygen rich atmosphere we have grown to depend on. Prototaxites was a prehistoric plant that most scientists agree was a giant fungus, but recently an alternate view has been proposed that it was a liverwort. Mushrooms may also hold the keys to purifying our soils and air through the projects that Paul Stamets was working on. Paul isn’t the only revolutionary TED Talk about mushrooms, check out this one by Jae Rhim Lee.

Her project, the Infinity Burial Project, is a unique new approach to death and the ceremony of death. Jae has created a suit laced with mycelium that she will be buried in that will consume her remains and process the myriad of toxins that build up in a human body in the course of a life. This is the alternate she proposes to cremation, which pours those toxins into the air, or burial which has many other issues associated with it. Jae’s idea still allows for open casket funerals too. My favorite part is that it forces people to think about their death before it happens, something many Westerners never do. I was raised as a Nichiren Buddhist and have since read much about Tibetan Dzogchen Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhists strive to live a life in harmony with death, rather than in fear of it like many of us in the West. This mushroom burial suit is one amazing tool to help cultivate a death consciousness in the West.

Being friends with a lot of politically conscious people means Columbus Day and Thanksgiving are both days where I am bombarded with reminders of the colonial traditions which gave birth to these holy days. If you didn’t know the word holiday comes from the old English word for a holy day; these two holidays also have a pronounced Christian lineage. While I have long know that Christopher Columbus was a Christian explorer who destroyed native civilizations, I wasn’t aware of Thanksgivings strong religious roots until this year. Honest Abe Lincoln started it all when he proclaimed that the last Thursday of November shall be, “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” But

Thanksgiving is a celebration of the victory of slave-trader smallpox over the indigenous people’s of America. The smallpox and slave traders preceded the Mayflower by nearly a century, wiping out up to 90% of native populations and leaving plenty of already-made cities with grain-houses full, and no signs of human life. Plymouth colony was founded in a native ghost town. The entire process, plague and all, was viewed as God’s will assisting the pilgrims.

You remember Squanto, the Indian who helped the pilgrims weather that first winter and thus gave birth to the entire Thanksgiving story? Yea, that was HIS village they were in. He had been abducted by slavers decades before, was taught English, shipbuilding, navigation, and all manner of things while crossing the Atlantic six times before returning home. Ponder this and wonder who it was more shocking for. Was it more startling for Squanto, coming home to his village from England, only to find more white people there and everyone he knows dead? Or was it more shocking to those largely uneducated white settlers who were used to natives as savages to meet one who was better educated than most of them and spoke fluent English?

Yep, that was Thanksgiving. We took this land from the indigenous Americans after the plague wiped them out, then locked them into square houses and took their power away (to paraphrase Black Elk, a famous Iroquis political-philosopher). We Americans are still taking the power away from indigenous Americans, with many growing up on reservations rife with alcoholism and poor nutrition. While the speed of genocide has slowed it still exists.

Now that you know the REAL story of the first Thanksgiving, and what the holy day is really celebrating (God, plague, and massacre), here is my Thanksgiving paradox. I’ve seen tons of my friends, often the same ones who mention the colonial roots of this holiday, arguing for a shopping boycott on Thanksgiving. The paradox is, how can you argue against the awful colonial history of the holiday and square that with your defense of it’s sacredness against the horrors of capitalism? So, how do you reconcile your dislike of capitalism’s encroachment on this holiday with this holiday’s barbaric roots?

I say the work around is morph the holiday into one of remembrance of those lost and a time to spend with those still alive; celebrate the children who are the future. My opposition to shopping and working on Thanksgiving is rooted in my desire to be with family and that others should spend the day with family. But we are a capitalist nation so if people want to work that is their call and who am I to stop them? I just won’t support the practice economically.