Monday, March 26, 2007

Soylent Green is Kitties

Like most pet owners, I recently received the same apology letter and pet food recall list from Petsmart regarding the recall of certain types of dog and cat food, tainted with rat poison no less. What does create the undercurrent of astonishment is the range of the ‘brands’ involved. How could all of the different brands all get contaminated the same way? Of course we know the answer – the contamination happened all at one plant operated by Menu Foods, which is an outsourced provider for all of the food made by these different companies.

Of course, that’s not entirely true. This event reveals a rather unsavory secret in the industry, which is that despite the incredible proliferation of pet food options for those worried about getting the food ‘just right’ for their precious little furry ones, there is no difference between what’s in the different brands. Because all of the brands are just the creation of fevered minds in marketing departments.

It’s fun to troll the web and see the debates between those who prefer Iams over Eukenuba and vice versa, but they are actually owned by one company (Iams), who treats those two brands differently (they have two separate websites, etc). But of course that is only a small part of the story. For Iams is not a company itself, but is instead a division of Procter and Gamble. Science Diet is ‘owned’ by Hills. But ‘Hills’ is a division of Colgate-Palmolive. Pedigree and Royal Canin are owned by Mars. And of course Purina owns half of what else is out there. Except Purina is owned by Nestle. There are almost no ‘mom and pop’ healthy pet food companies. And those that do exist end up within a few years being part of the big machine. And yet another ‘brand’ is created, owned by one of 4 companies who either originally made chocolate or household chemicals.

So it's hardly a surprise to find out that half the pet food brands in existence all have the same contamination. When we pick Iams over Science Diet, all that we're doing is picking a favorite color or type font. The manufacturing process that Procter and Gamble uses to make their pet food and their shaving cream is going to be the same, whether or not we are paying any extra for a brand with 'nutro-' or 'orgo-' or 'healthy-' in the title.

Of course much the same is true about what people eat. All of those healthy drinks and stuff make for fun reading. Tropicana, SoBe, Quaker, Aquafina, Lipton… all owned by Pepsi. Dasani, Dannon, Earth and Sky, Eight O’Clock, Fruitopia, Five Alive, Hi-C, Minute-Maid, Mutivita, Nestea, Nature’s Own, Odwalla, Powerade, Schweppes, Sobo, Vital, Viva and Vegitabeta…all owned by Coca Cola.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Mona Lisa Smile

Today it’s raining, but overall this week it’s been quite beautiful, especially after the icy snow storm this past weekend that dumped 10 inches of slop onto our streets. And with the new lovely weather comes our bulbs in the front yard, which are now starting to poke their heads out and bloom. In a week or so I will try to get some pictures posted, once they’re more photogenic.

In the neck of the woods around my office the warmer weather has allowed for another blossoming of sorts. The sidewalk con artists are out in force again, after a long cold spell. Tuesday brought two of them. The first is the old tried and true ‘I’m locked out of my apartment’ scam. This guy, complete with crutches no less, was quite pathetic looking, but before he got too much into his long sad story asking me for 40 dollars for the locksmith, I had to gently remind him that he had tried that one on me only last year, and while I was sorry to see him on crutches this time, he plainly had to work out a better system of storing his keys. Upon which he quickly trotted off, carrying his crutches. Oddly enough this is the fourth time someone has tried that scam on me in this town, each time twice by the same person.

The more interesting one, which I ran into not two minutes later, is a long con, not really aimed at the quick buck. The sidewalk artist scam is more popular in Europe, where there is more of a sidewalk artist tradition, but here in New York it occasionally pops up. In Europe, it is aimed more at tourists, where a guys tapes down a painting (classically of the Mona Lisa) to the sidewalk, lovingly adds to it a bit at a time, and hopes to collect some money from gullible tourists, who want to be bohemian and support the arts.

In New York the scam goes after the locals, not the tourists. Instead the focus is to have some local think that he has discovered a major unrecognized talent. If all goes well, the rube will make arrangements to have the ‘artist’ do a mural or some such large project in his home, give the guy a 50% retainer, and oddly enough the artist vanishes. The sidewalk artist will hang out in the same spot for a day or two, hopefully collecting as much as he can, and then he bolts town. Sometimes he can net over 10 grand.

The guy I ran into was painting the buildings across the street from my office, although oddly enough the skyline didn’t look anything at all like what was there. This begs the question – where do these (non-painter) ‘artists’ get their pictures? The answer, of course, is the same as where we get everything else – from China. China graduates 10,000 fine artists from their universities every year. All of those starving artist ‘sofa-sized’ wall paintings for sale at convention centers? From China.

I’ve always been interested in cons, mainly because of their insight into what motivates people. I actually have respect for con artists who use the greed of their target as the motivation. In a certain way they are charging for important life lessons. But these guys that I ran into are just thugs, preying on the willingness of people to want to help others, whether it be a poor schmuck locked out of his apartment, or an artist left behind in a culture that values only money. Hopefully as the weather keeps warming up, the three-card monte players will return to their usual spot across the street, in front of the empty store.

La vérité est dehors là

Perhaps it has something to do with the upcoming elections there, but the French Space Agency has just made France the first nation to open up all of its secret U.F.O. files to the general public. The website they created is here, but I would bookmark the link and visit in a week or two, because the traffic is so intense that the server constantly crashes.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Bush Pilot

Both Glenn Greenwald and Digby at Hullabaloo have excellent posts on the role of gender in the marketing of the modern conservative movement. Atrios bats them home with this recollection of the fawning media coverage of the pinnacle of the conservative movement: The President's Carrier Landing.

Though I would never want to generalize my personal experiences to cover an entire group of people, such as the attendees of CPAC, every single person I have ever met in my life who has presented themselves in a hyper-masculine way turned out to be homosexual.

Without exception.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Someone's Stoned, My Lord, Kum Ba Yah...

Following up on an earlier post on the role of tobacco in the Bible, I became curious about the next obvious leap - the role of marijuana. After all, there are no proscriptions against tobacco use in the Bible as tobacco is a new world plant, and wasn't in the old world until the time of Columbus. However, marijuana is an old world plant, assumed to originate in Central Asia, and hemp was widely known about and used in the ancient world in a multiple of ways - clothing, paper, rope, etc. So presumably its intoxicating effects were known, and one would assume that, like alcohol, it's use would be frowned upon in scripture.

Once again, one would be wrong. The word 'hemp' is not mentioned in the Bible, although I am only able to do word searches through specific translations. The lack of any mention in scripture, like with tobacco, is not a hindrance for those who would take a stand on marijuana use. With tobacco, however, there are only people who try to interpret scripture to condemn it's use: no one uses the Bible to support tobacco use. In the case of marijuana, though, both sides use scripture to support their position.

Those opposed to marijuana use generally refer to the same scripture used to proscribe tobacco use. And the arguments are obviously the same as well, since those verses are only subject to interpretation and aren't specific. The true fun comes from those who use the Bible to support marijuana use.

I've gone to a number of websites that do so, and they are all identical, down to the same wording, so they are copying each other's arguments word for word. Someone wrote it originally, but I have no idea who. For the purposes of this post, I will refer to this article, not because I think it the original source (though I suppose it could be), but only because it is the least graphically offensive. Gotta make choices somehow.

Most of the scriptural basis is interpretive (as the word 'hemp' is not mentioned) but there is one mention in the book of Exodus that is regarded by the pro-marijuana group as a mention, that of the recipe for 'Holy Anointing Oil' in Exodus 30:22-29:

'Then the LORD said to Moses, "Take the following fine spices: 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much (that is, 250 shekels) of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of fragrant cane, 500 shekels of cassia—all according to the sanctuary shekel—and a hin of olive oil. Make these into a sacred anointing oil, a fragrant blend, the work of a perfumer. It will be the sacred anointing oil. Then use it to anoint the Tent of Meeting, the ark of the Testimony, the table and all its articles, the lampstand and its accessories, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the basin with its stand. You shall consecrate them so they will be most holy, and whatever touches them will be holy.'

For reference, 500 shekels is about twelve and a half pounds. The key issue is the words 'fragrant cane' which has been argued to be marijuana. And at six and a quarter pounds of bud, that would be a holy oil with some punch. Some of the evidence is essentially circumstantial, but the linguistic argument is interesting. The basic problem is that the original Hebrew word is 'kaneh-bosm' (say it out loud and compare it to the word 'cannabis'). The word is untranslatable, as it is an ancient word whose specific source is unknown. What is known is that it refers to some sort of herb.

Another pro-marijuana website which aims at scholarly accuracy, but ultimately succumbs to the Q.E.D. problem, at least has a long series of footnotes for its arguments. This is the summary of the etymological argument:

'...But, what are the etymological arguments? Many ancient languages had 'kan' as a root word that had a double meaning: hemp or reed. In Hebrew, it is 'kaneh.' References to 'kaneh shirt' in Hebrew texts supports the hemp translation since shirts used to be made from hemp (cannabis). While the basic etymological argument (minus my medical argument) was made decades ago by etymologist Sula Benet, hardly anyone has attempted to counter it. I was able to find only one counterargument and that was from Ernest Abel, author of 'Marijuana- The First Twelve Thousand Years.' His two objections rest on the assumptions that marijuana would not be called a 'spice' as required by Exodus 30:23 and that marijuana would not be described as 'sweet-tasting' as potentially (depends on which translation is correct) required by Isaiah 43:24. Both these assumptions are incorrect since depending on the type of marijuana, it can be spicy and sweet...'

And of course pot can be both spicy and sweet. so if true then the argument by Ernest Abel is easily refuted. Of course, in the end it may yet be another biblical curiosity that is ultimately unresolvable. Nonetheless, the use of hallucinogens in religious ceremonies has a proud and ancient history, so the idea that marijuana is the active hallucinatory ingredient in an ancient sacred Jewish ointment hardly requires a stretch of imagination.

The same article refers to uses of the same holy oil in New Testament times, but as I mentioned, the rather unprofessional tone of the article makes me somewhat suspect, and I am unfamiliar with the sources mentioned (such as the reference in the Didascalia Apostolorum - how are we to know that the holy oil mentioned is of the same recipe found in Exodus?)

Ultimately I am intrigued but remain unfortunately unconvinced, despite the obvious enticements of the arguments, and the seductiveness of what it would all mean. That is an unfortunate by-product of the complexities and contradictions of ancient holy books.

But in the end there is one fun fruit to my research into this. I came across some articles about former Attorney General John Ashcroft when searching for references to 'Holy Anointing Oil.' It turns out that Mr. Ashcroft has a fetish for the stuff:

'..."'The act of anointing,' he wrote in his largely autobiographical book [Lessons From a Father to His Son], replicated the practice of 'the ancient kings of Israel, David and Saul,' who Ashcroft said 'were anointed as they undertook their administrative duties."...'

Ashcroft anointed himself before both terms as Missouri Governor. Of course he was unable to acquire 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, let alone the other ingredients, including the 'fragrant cane.' So he used the next best thing.

He covered himself in Crisco Oil.