Tuesday, November 25, 2014


 After being away last week, I went to the Penny University discussion group Monday evening and was happy to see that there was a young man visiting and sharing his understanding of biodynamic gardening.  I'm not a gardener, although I have on occasion planted a small plot of vegetables. But I have a long history with the subject that Joe was speaking of, as during my college days, I knew several people actively involved with the farm and garden project at UCSC, which was the direct result of the appearance of Alan Chadwick there, an eccentric genius from England who not only taught students the virtues of biodynamic gardening, but also inducted them into a rather wider and deeper and  more esoteric world than that which most young Californians were experiencing. And I say that even though this was the seventies, when the Summer of Love was not a distant memory, at least not quite yet.

Chadwick's antecedent was Rudolf Steiner, who, I learned last night only gave one lecture on his biodynamic vision, though there are many books which elucidate other parts of his philosphy. Steiner himself harkened back to Goethe. One thing I liked about the evening was seeing Paul Lee, who has held the banner for so much of this stuff despite many travails, finding a young student who himself is teaching still younger students in the lore of this path. Although my head was spinning after so many people chiming in on all this last night, and though I am the kind of person who zaps a quick lunch in the microwave, that doesn't mean that the significance of such moments are lost on me.

One of the points that was being made last night was about how the care of the soil and the living organisms residing in it contributes to the well-being of people who eat this food and basically live this life cycle. The idea of farming in this view is a closed system, where the animals that are nurtured by the soil contribute to it through their waste, so an endless fertile loop is in place. Somehow, nematodes came up.

Do you know about nematodes? I'd heard the word, I suppose. But it's quite strange that I know so little about what this website terms "the most numerous multicellular animals on earth". Also according to the same website, nematode is a combination of the Greek words "nematos" or thread and "eidos", or form. They also tell us that "tube-within-a-tube" is a convenient way to think about their body structure. This is reminding me that our guest told us that sometimes the only way to distinguish between nematodes is by the structure of their mouths.

The discussion immediately turned to destructive nematodes, as some of them are parasitic. But in this case our speaker was talking about beneficial nematodes, which aid in breaking things down and benefiting the soil.

I probably did not need to know about the nematode that commonly resides in the placenta of the sperm whale. Placentonema gigantissimum: eight feet long and as thick as a garden hose. They get inside us too. In fact, they get everywhere. But luckily for us, most nematodes are microscopic.

Friday, November 21, 2014

(Un)Civil Asset Forfeiture

You know my rule here, right? One instance of ignorance maybe rises to the surface of my attention, but when a couple of sightings or citings come along in a row, I usually feel compelled to pursue the matter. That's the case here. Thanks to Slate, I saw this informative and entertaining piece by comedian John Oliver a few weeks ago.

Now I knew and didn't know this. I had heard that the powers that be have seized a tremendous number of assets in the drug bust game, but until I watched this segment, I had no idea that the police could seize assets simply on the assumption of criminal activity, and actual conviction isn't a requirement. For some reason, they can simply keep some of the money and property they seize.

Sounds pretty bad, right? But a week or so ago, I learned of another kind of assets seizure that in some ways seems even worse. This is the way that law enforcement habitually treats the property of the homeless, which is sometimes taken away when left even briefly unattended and often not given back. As of August of this year, the destruction of that property is illegal in California without giving the homeless person a  fair chance to reclaim it. As an activist lawyer came to our weekly discussion group on his way to a homeless teach-in, it became clear that the law is not always adhered to yet.

Some people might think that the small amount of belongings that a homeless person manages to carry around with them through their day is not very worthwhile, but in my view, taking away every worldly possession someone has is a lot worse than seizing, say, a yacht.

According to SF Gate, here's what the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had to say about it:

"The government may not take property like a thief in the night; rather, it must announce its intentions and give the property owner a chance to argue against the taking."

Here's an article from McClatchyDC on how the homeless people in Sacramento filed claims for the return of their property. It was a tactic described to us by our activist/lawyer visitor, although he did tell us that people don't usually get their property back but some form of compensation, as seems to be the case in the Sacramento scenario. And while we're at it, here is his blog, called Living My Story, which is a lot about what's going on in Baldwin Park, California. He goes by the moniker PC there.

Thursday, November 6, 2014


Somehow I seem to have gotten on to a theme of gadgets. I was watching something on the local PBS station and as is customary when a show ends a bit before the hour mark, there was a short clip. This time it was one from a series called the History Quiz, where people are given strange objects from the past and try to figure out what they were used for. Here's what they were asked to look at in this episode.

So a densiometer measures the shade coverage by the leaves of trees above. It's not to be confused with a densitometer, which Google continually wants to steer me to and which has a variety of meanings, but which seems to mainly have to do with optical density, or how much light passes through or is absorbed by  an object. Yeah, let's not go too far down that road right now.

As the little clip shows, the densiometer, by measuring shade, can tell various things about an ecosystem, including its health. The one in the clip is pretty fancy. But guess what, kids? You can make your own with stuff you have at home. It won't look like this:

 But it still looks pretty fun.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Maps of Word Origins

While a little busy to write a longer post at the moment, I just randomly stumbled on this article. It's from Trove, picked up by T.J. DeGroat, in an article by Michael B. Kelley and originally from a Reddit user called sp07. (Never mind where words come from, where do blog posts come from?)

Anyway, there are several maps showing the spread of  several common words, mostly food and drink.
Here's one on something near and dear to my heart:

 You can find more of these interesting maps and a little analysis HERE