14 July 2014

The Roots of a New Idea

OK.... so.... on a lighter note than I've been using lately...

I'm thirsty.  Like, all the time thirsty.  I've had diabetics watch me chugging water, and tell me to slow down.  For the record, I'm not diabetic.  I'm just the thirstiest person I've ever met.

Water is great.  Cleaner water is better, of course.  Still, who wants to drink just water?  It's unhealthy to drink more than a gallon or two of plain water per day.  I used to do that, when I distilled water for a living, but it flushed nutrients out of my body and caused issues.

Enter the juices.  Variety is the spice of life, as it were.  So when I go to the grocery store, I look at various flavored drinks, mostly aimed at children, distilled and spring water, and fruit juice.

The trick with fruit juice is that many of them are loaded with extra sugar, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), extra acids (citric is a huge one), and other additives.  I'm not afraid of some additives, but most of the things added to fruit juice destroy the taste.  Ignoring the health implications of various additives, particularly HFCS, fruit juice that has added sugars just doesn't taste right.  And the additional acids?  Orange juice is already highly acidic.  Why add more acid?  Some brands of orange juice literally burn when I drink them.  So I don't.  And apple juice... whose bright idea was it to add two kinds of acid to apple juice?  And whose idea was it to then label it as "100% pure apple juice"?  Seriously?

So I read the ingredients list.  One thing I've found that I want to share is a brand called Simply Orange.  They make the purest, yummiest orange juice that I've found.  They also make other juices and juice mixtures (like orange and banana, if you can believe such a thing).  Another brand I've found that's pretty good is Mott's Apple Juice.

Note: I'm not being paid by either of these manufacturers.  I simply want to share them with everyone.  Added sugars and other ingredients are a significant factor in the health crisis that goes largely unreported in this country, mostly affecting young people.  When I find something this good, I want to get the word out there.

Anyway, dietary considerations aside, let's get on to my idea, which has nothing to do with nutrition.

In searching for juices that were consumable in large quantities, I found a brand I didn't know (Mott's), and it was being sold in small child-sized bottles.  I saw an opportunity to try it without having to buy a whole gallon, and found the small bottles to be convenient, in addition to the juice being better than most other brands.

As I stared at a bottle I as about to throw away, I was hit with an idea.  See if you can see where my thinking was headed:

This was the empty bottle.  It's made of plastic.  I've been thinking about "green" things lately, like alternative energy, rooftop gardens, and reusing packing materials.  It occurred to me... I could cut off the top of the bottle and use it for a teensy planting pot.

I've also been thinking about growing baby plants.

So I cut off the top just above where the label is, and I removed the label just for aesthetics.  I washed out the bottle because I didn't want anything growing on the residue of the juice.  Then, I purchased a small bag of potting soil.  A little soil in the bottle, followed by two seeds from an apple, and I had myself a cute and obviously homemade potted plant.  Or what WILL be a pottled plant once the seeds sprout.

Of course, I'll need to wait a while before the seeds turn into anything beyond the barest of plants.  Longer still until they need to be transplanted.  Still, that gives me time.  I hope to move soon, and to have more room for the plants with which I wish to surround myself.  Apple trees are often bearing fruit during their first decade, so I might get some fresh apples from these guys.  I also hope to plant some orange seeds, but those are trickier.  I'm not sure how well they'll do in the climate where I live.

But even if I raise them as indoor trees, keeping their size small and using "grow bulbs" to provide the sunlight they might not always get, they'll be plants, and the benefits are numerous.

For one thing, there's the aforementioned fruit.  If your trees bear edible fruit, then planting them is worth the effort.  Also, they provide oxygen.  Not a lot, individually, but if you surround yourself with enough plants, the slight elevation in oxygen levels might be beneficial.

Other benefits are less direct.  For example, if you're surrounded by plants, you'll need to provide sunlight for them.  While direct UV can be harmful in large quantities, it's a simple fact that for people who don't have certain rare conditions, more sunlight has benefits.  We didn't evolve in air conditioned interiors with window shades  We evolved in the open.  As our ancestors left the more heavily wooded areas, we also lost the ability to produce certain vitamins without sunlight.  Also, more exposure to sunlight can sometimes help with conditions such as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), a form of depression that affects many people.  Also, for many people, being surrounded by plants offers some emotional boosts simply because they're surrounded by plants.

I'm looking at you, Druids.  And Buddhists.  And Celts, and Native Americans, and hippies, and children, and Cajuns, and botanists, and librarians, and farmers, and the list goes on.

So this little pot of "gold" holds what I hope to be my future - a future wherein I'm surrounded by plants, some of them feeding me, some of them looking pretty, but all of them green and alive and happy (to the extent that plants can be said to be happy).  And if that small bottle holds my future apple trees, what should I do with this?

That's a one-gallon bottle that previously held spring water.  I had saved them for various reasons, and then a roommate threw most of them away.  I kept one that I had dried out and was using to store coins that are older than I am.  (Apparently, my age is the marker some of my friends use to define "antique").  I kept another for storing pennies to use to decorate a kitchen floor or something similar.  Perhaps a desk top.  In this case, though, I think it will make a nice pot for a plant that's too large for a hand-held bottle.

I'll post more such ideas as I come up with them.

04 July 2014

The White Cloaks under the Black Robes

It occurs to me that the recent Hobby Lobby decision isn't sexist... it's racist.

First, I need to take a moment to apologize for my previous blog.  I had intended to marvel at the wonder of the scientific process, and how it's less a method of obtaining new technologies than it is a new way of thinking, and one that can lead to yet more way of thinking.  Instead, I slipped into a rant on politics, and that was not my intention.  I apologize.  Perhaps one day soon I can fix that and do the post I had intended.

Anyway.... where was I?  Racist!  Right....

I've concluded that the whole thing was racist, not sexist.

Wait, hear me out.

It's true that the ruling itself was a blow against women.  Some people are trying to argue that it's not serious.

"It only applies to birth control."
"It only applies to certain types of businesses."
"They can just use a condom."

Some people are making the whole thing out to be a minor issue with little impact.  I could just tell them to tell that to the women who work for stores like Hobby Lobby.  (I wasn't able to find statistics on how many women work for Hobby Lobby, but they have about 21,000 employees, so I'm going to guess.... a lot.)  But I don't even need to go with that argument.  Instead, I can argue consequences.

Insert philosophy police here.

This is one of the few cases I've seen where the "Slippery Slope" argument is applicable, rather than being a logical fallacy.  It goes back to the first argument above.

The problem with a "Slippery Slope" argument is that, often, it's used to complain that event A will lead to event B, where event A and event B contain some fundamental difference that makes them actually two separate issues.  As an example, idiots complain that legalizing same-sex marriage will lead to legal pedophilia.  The key difference here is that same-sex marriage, like all marriages, is between two consenting adults, whereas pedophilia involves at least one party who legally can't give consent.  (For the purposes of this article, I'm going to avoid the pedophilia vs. child molestation dichotomy.)

On the other hand, the "Slippery Slope" argument accurately applies to the Hobby Lobby decision thusly: The US Supreme Court ruled that certain corporations have religious rights that trump the religious rights of employees.  I referenced the first argument above, and here's how this one argument demonstrates the slope in question. To repeat: the argument is:

"It only applies to birth control."

Now, at first, the argument was:

"It only applies to certain forms of birth control which the owners of Hobby Lobby inaccurately conflate with abortion."

It was widely argued that only four methods of birth control were restricted, although they were really good methods.  A couple of days later, the aforementioned Supreme Court had to point out to the country that no, this didn't apply to just certain forms of birth control... The ruling applies to all forms of birth control.  Already, in one aspect of the ruling, we have two different points, and a line drawn through those points leads in a bad direction.

Here's the slope in general: It started with Corporate Personhood.  The idea there is, simply, that a corporation is legally a "person", having the same rights as a human person (or Natural Person).  This Legal Fiction allows corporations to enter into contracts with other parties, sue or be sued, and a host of other things that make doing business easier (to an extent).  The problem is that the origin of legal Corporate Personhood in the US was to allow corporations to have political influence as of they were humans.  The Legal Fiction that equates money with speech allows Corporate Persons to exercise their right to free speech to purchase the laws they want from politicians.

That's the top of the slope.  Corporate Personhood.  At that point, for some purposes, a corporation was considered a person.  Then, with the more recent Supreme Court ruling, it was determined that some of those Persons have religious freedom, and that those corporations can exert their religious views over the lives of their employees (who may or may not hold the same religious views) with respect to birth control.  That's an important detail, seemingly... The Court stated in the ruling that this only applies to birth control.

Said the majority opinion,  "... under the standard that [Religious Freedom Reformation Act] prescribes, the HHS contraceptive mandate is unlawful."  Essentially, The Corporate Person has First Amendment rights that are protected under the RFRA.  And those rights take precedence over the First Amendment rights of the employees.

Now, it's true that the Court stated that this opinion only applies to birth control.  This exemption was previously held for non-profit and religious organizations (which are considered non-profit no matter how many millions they make), but it has now been extended to "closely-held for-profit corporations".  Another slope.  Bear in mind that this same court previously ruled that the entire Affordable Care Act was constitutional.  Now, they're declaring that one part of this act is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment rights of Corporate Persons.  This clearly indicates that the Supreme Court might later revisit this limitation and decide that other objections that a corporation has on religious grounds are also protected.

Even Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissent, "In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs."  Even a sitting justice in the Supreme Court agrees that this ruling is part of a Slippery Slope.

If the corporation can deny birth control to female employees because that corporation mistakenly believes that the Christian holy book opposes birth control, then that means that companies with other religious beliefs can force those beliefs onto the health care of other employees.  Blood transfusions, stem cell treatments, psychiatric care, pap smears, vasectomies, HIV medications, eyeglasses, and even medical care in general, can all be denied on religious grounds.

But wait, there's more!  Major religions also support slavery, racial discrimination, sexism, the stoning of infidels, and rape, while prohibiting homosexuality (not just the associated acts, but the condition itself), the eating of shellfish, wearing clothes containing mixed fabrics, planting multiple crops in a single field, working on "the Sabbath" (which can mean either Saturday or Sunday, depending), and the list goes on.  There are cases waiting on the court's decision regarding whether a company can opt out of other laws (such as non-discrimination laws) based on religious beliefs.

The Hobby Lobby decision clearly indicates that the current US Supreme Court is willing to allow exemptions from existing laws, even laws it has already deemed to be constitutional, based entirely on what one claims to sincerely believe.  "Claims" is an important word, I think.  After all, how does one prove a "sincerely held religious belief"?  Let's take another look at Hobby Lobby.

Hobby Lobby, lime many companies, offers a 401(k) plan.  In this plan, they have invested millions of dollars into companies that produce birth control.  One method is the Plan B ("Morning After") pill, which Hobby Lobby's lawyers call "abortion".  Other forms of birth control which Hobby Lobby wants to deny to its employees are also produced by companies that receive investments under Hobby Lobby's 401(k) plan.  And the owners of Hobby Lobby know this.  So, why would someone who is opposed to the use of these drugs contribute to their manufacture?  It must be part of a larger picture.

On a side note, Hobby Lobby owners have also been working to get Bible classes into public schools.  But that's another subject.

In trying to understand Hobby Lobby's position, I thought about the Koch Brothers.  David and Charles Koch are two billionaire brothers whose father became incredibly wealthy by dealing illegally with Russia during the Cold War.  They make an unreasonably large fortune mainly in oil, natural gas, and coal.  I don't actually have a problem with this... I wouldn't mind being wealthy, myself, and I don't blame children for the crimes of their parents.  What I have to wonder about is this: The Koch brothers have invested millions in funding opposition to the Affordable Care Act.  At first, I had to wonder why they would be opposed to poor people getting health care.

Well, as it turns out, the Kochs are opposed to the ACA because they are opposed to Barack Obama.  The ACA was his signature act in office, his crowning accomplishment, if you will.  The Kochs are attacking the ACA because they want to discredit the President.  This isn't a secret.

So, back to Hobby Lobby... Why would a company that doesn't actually oppose birth control fight so hard to earn exemption from the birth control part of the ACA, opening the door to a situation where religious extremists can impose their dogma on others?  To work toward discrediting the President.

How is this racist, you ask?  Good question.

Barack Obama isn't the first Democrat to be elected President.  In fact, his skin color is the only demographic fact to separate him from previous Demographic Presidents.  Let's review the facts.

No other President has ever been required to provide his birth certificate after entering office.  Obama was asked to provide his, provided it, then asked for a bigger one, provided it, and then they still denied that he was born in the US.

Rick Santorum called the President a "nigger" during a speech.  It was on television and everything.  He tried to cover it up, but failed.

Barack Obama is, according to the Secret Service, the "most threatened President in history".  He receives over thirty death threats a day.  Some of them have been made publicly, such as when Ted Nugent, an alcoholic sociopath who fancies himself a musician, stated that if Obama was re-elected, "I will either be dead or in jail."  He later reiterated, indicating that he was "serious as a heart attack" and called for his audience to "ride into that battlefield and chop [Democrats] heads off in November."

Barack Obama was the first President in history to be denied the opportunity to speak to a joint session of Congress.

Benghazi.  IRS.  Bowe Bergdahl.  Need I say more?

The list goes on.  It's no secret that much of the opposition to what Barack Obama tries to accomplish is because Republicans are racist.  This is the reason that the Koch brothers lobby against the ACA.  This is the reason that so many people who had never heard of Obama and were self-described liberals were opposed to his running for office even before he was elected President.

And this is why Hobby Lobby is opposed to allowing their female employee to have bodily autonomy.  It's not about birth control.  It's about racism.

Addendum: Don't get me wrong.  It's also sexist.  Just not in its roots.