Tuesday, August 30, 2016

On the Very-Natural Right to Die

There's a very hot-button local case that was actually brought to my attention through national coverage, in which a 14 year old girl named Jerika Bolen has chosen to go off life support after a long battle with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, or SMA.  This story got national attention because Jerika decided she wanted one more summer before she died, the climax of which was a prom party in which she was named prom queen.  This request rapidly got thousands of dollars in GoFundMe donations from around the world as well as a lot of controversy.

Soon after this case was brought to my attention, I was barraged with another dose of anxiety from disability advocates I follow, many of whom are against assisted suicide due to some very reasonable social problems:
  1. Our healthcare in the United States is run by insurance companies who may view assisted suicide as a more cost-effective alternative to actually giving people medical care (in other words, they may cover assisted suicide but not painkillers or surgeries to treat the ailment).
  2. People view disabled people as a burden that should be put out of their misery, which may lead to familial and other social pressure to choose this option.
  3. It's been documented that in cases where assisted suicide is legal, some groups of people (namely women) are more likely to have that option accepted, as if women are more worthy of death.
  4. Assisted suicide may be chosen because somebody has little social support rather than an inability to handle the actual ailment.
I didn't actually understand these perspectives that intimately until somebody decided to make this choice due to one of my own conditions:  He was granted the right of assisted suicide in Belgium because he was transgender.  I actually felt personally slighted at the time.  There was somebody who not only asked to be killed, but was granted the legal right because he was like me?  It was admittedly a big mind fuck.

I eventually snapped out of it.  Why?  Because Nathan Verhelst was not "like me."  He and I shared a medical diagnosis, and that's about it.  I have a supportive family, he had an abusive one.  He had dysphoria to the point where surgery was necessary, I am fine with my body without it.  His body was rejecting his surgeries, I have no surgeries for my body to reject.  And even if I had these same characteristics, there is no guarantee we're going through the same thing.  Shortly after he was granted the right, Nathan died.

This is not a common debate among trans people, so I make no claims that I somehow know what the disabled community is feeling when something like this happens.  What I can say, though, is that I recognize that they have good personal reasons for disagreeing with me when I say I do still support peoples' right to die.

Jerika's story is close to me because she is a punk, queer, disabled woman of color, the kind of person I'm likely to read zines by or follow on Twitter, when I see pictures of her I'm brought back to my college days and seeing people she reminds me of at conferences where we'd talk philosophy and activism.  If she did choose to keep going on, I've no doubt that she would have the potential to produce wonderful things for her community as well as others.  All the news coverage makes a big deal out of the fact that Jerika, if kept on life support, will eventually be unable to even smile, but being unable to smile does not make somebody non-productive.  There are plenty of productive people out there who can barely move at all, and that's just if we consider production to be what makes a person worthy of life (it's not).

But that brings me to a different question, here:  Why should she be obligated to be everyone else's inspiration and example?

Jerika's SMA is not the same SMA that people lamenting her decision have.  By her own self-definition, she is in chronic pain that she cannot bear any longer, she cannot handle any more surgeries, she is being damaged by her pain medication, and most importantly, she does not want to live like this anymore.  To say that she should keep fighting because one day she may write wonderful zines would be ludicrous of me, but it's just a particularly ridiculous example of what everyone else wants.  They want somebody else to nonconsensually be proof that they themselves can be productive members of society.  That's emotional and physical labor Jerika Bolen is not obligated to provide.  Peoples' worthiness of life is not based on their ability to provide any sort of labor, including emotional.

This is something that goes both ways, of course.  I worked with somebody in a home once whose parents--because he was nonverbal--were able to secure a do-not-resuscitate order for him at 30 years old.  These were people who never actually visited him and had no clue as to his condition, but were able to get a doctor to sign him up.  It was ostensibly because he was "always sick" (he was not), but all of us working there knew it was because they believed him to be a financial and emotional burden they would be better off without.  Although he would also have the right to this--were it his choice--it is something he does not know about, and for those of us who were with him day in and day out, we know it is not a choice he would have made for himself.

The point is, all this talk about productivity and worthiness of life is meaningless.  Everybody is worthy of life, but the choice of whether or not they want life is a basic personal liberties issue, not a reflection on disability as a whole.

Finally, the idea that our goal as humans should live as long as possible without any concern for the quality of that life is absurd.  Certainly there is no moral fault in attempting to increase your health to live longer, but our cultural inclination toward life extension at all costs and treating death like an unnatural thing has led to people suffering terribly for extra years--perhaps even suffering more than if they'd done nothing at all as they cycle through painful therapies for illness--trying to avoid it.  And again, if this is worth it to you, I fault you absolutely zero percent for that, but we also shouldn't act like it's terrible to let go, and that's at any age.

Happy Trails,
-- Setkheni-itw

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Anti-Capitalism and the Anti-Ecocidal Activist

I don't very often like writing direct critiques of other blogs.  It's a risky endeavor as somebody who is shy and easily filled with extreme anxiety (the reason I don't allow blog comments).  But sometimes I find something that's not only baffling in its argument, but is so in such a way that I think a point by point takedown of certain problems is valuable.

This one concerns permaculture and capitalism, particularly an article on a permaculture blog arguing that capital is "essential to the very concept of permaculture."  At the beginning, the author states that he is "upset" when other people living a green lifestyle are anti-capitalists, and then spends the rest of the article trying to parse out why he is upset by it.

Unfortunately there's a lot he gets wrong.

First, the biggest incorrect assumption made in this article:  That anti-capitalist activists are only against the worst effects of capitalism.  From the article:
When people say they are anti-capitalism they are talking about their fear that mega-corporations control the planet purely for profit. Their marketing plans are designed to shred our bank accounts by beguiling us with the desire to buy things we don’t really need.
This suggests to me that Graham hasn't actually met any serious anti-capitalists, because that's not the heart of what we believe.  It's actually a very mainstream belief.  Seriously, how many people do you think, when asked "Should mega-corporations control the planet purely for profit?" would actually say "yes?"  Even if you are somebody who stands to gain from such a system, saying it certainly wouldn't win you any friends.

I don't know if Graham actually believes that this is what anti-capitalism is, but the entire article seems to make this into a base assumption, like this defines anti-capitalism.  It doesn't.  What defines anti-capitalism is the belief that the people (or workers) should collectively own the means of production rather than somebody else owning the means of production and purchasing their labor, with the fruits of that labor being produced by those based on ability to go to those based on need.

This is not limited to mega-corporations, either.  Anti-capitalists vary in their opinions about what makes a business "bad," but in my own worldview any business where there is an owner who is profiting disproportionately off the sold labor of employees--even if it's small, local, tries its damnedest to be environmentally and socially friendly, and even tries to be a great place to work--is still exploiting those employees.  Some are better than others, and it's not feasible for most people to opt out of buying things from them, but they're still exploitative enterprises.

Next, there's the idea that the author's idea of "Real Capital" is somehow relevant to an anti-capitalist being anti-capitalist.  First of all, it's a super hippie-dippie-wannabe way of looking at capital, as if critiques of capitalism are somehow against making human connections and growing food.  This is not what anti-capitalists are talking about and the author cannot possibly not know that.  His argument is like saying somebody who is against Democrats must inherently be against democracy.  Capitalism within Marxist, Socialist, Communist, and Anarchist discourse has a goddamn meaning that you can't just scrap when you don't like the way the kids are talking nowadays.  It's grating to me, like those people who hound anti-capitalist activists for having to work for wages and buy things to survive.  Graham here is clearly for some reason invested in capitalism looking good (To continue to feel good about selling education?  I don't know that many anti-capitalists who would blame somebody for doing such a thing in a capitalist society, so I don't even know), so he's using a red herring that makes capitalism look all fluffy and wonderful instead of the sociopathic agent of ecocide it is.

And yes:  Capitalism is a serious agent of ecocide.  And it's not that earlier generations have been environmental angels (we'd certainly been getting worse for the planet since taking up agriculture, and the communist experiments thus far share the blame for environmental havoc), but the rapidness of ecocide nowadays is directly linked to the fact that people view natural resources as ways to gain personal profit and can't see beyond that.

Large scale this means people have no problem continuing to extract and burn resources that are pivotal to ecosystems as well as the overall health of the planet if it means some people can make a lot of money from it, usually with some garbage excuse about jobs and the economy.  Arguments in favor of the North Dakota Pipeline, which threatens the livelihoods of Native Americans as well as everyone else, have included an increase in available jobs, which makes every ignorant bastard cream themselves... and they're not even fucking good jobs, they're temporary jobs.  Things like this would not be necessary in a culture where people got their needs met without enforced capitalist work or where the economy was not judged by infinite growth and spending.

All systems have the potential to be ecocidal... capitalism is inherently so.

Finally, there's an issue nagging at me within this article and others, in that it assumes the natural state of the world is as a commodity.  Again, this isn't limited to capitalism and there are differing opinions among anti-capitalists as well, but the endgame of capitalism is to take every square inch of land, every service, and every living thing and make it a commodity that can be bought and sold.  Given the trend among smaller-scale food producers such as ourselves to engage in creepy homesteader fantasies (homesteading's history is in kicking indigenous people off of land and turning it into private property, after all), this isn't that shocking to me, but it is demoralizing.

Capitalism demands all things eventually be commodified in this way, with things that should be collectively possessed--the means to produce things that we need to survive (food, water, medicine, etc.), knowledge, human connections, and most of the stuff Graham defines as "Real Capital"--being bought and sold for profit instead or being relegated to "charity" which folks like this seem to love (even though it means rich people get to decide who or what is worthy of life, death, public use, destruction).

To use a good example, as a deer hunter I harvest food from public land.  Scott Walker and other professional shitheads would rather public land not exist, meaning my only options would be to pay somebody for the use of their land or buy my own land or just hope some other rich asshole is kind enough to give me use of that land as a charitable cause (which he may revoke at any time upon learning that I'm queer, trans, Pagan, or anything else he chooses).  A capitalist is comfortable with this because he sees land as a commodity and does not see public anything as a human right at all, even if somebody's life and livelihood depend on it, and many poor Wisconsinites depend on hunting.  And whose to say how much of that land would even be kept natural?  I mean, recently there was a local Cabelas (a business which stands to gain from keeping wild spaces wild!) that decided to build a location in a sensitive marsh area.  So I don't take this bullshit that commodifying anything--which is exactly what this author is suggesting as a good part of capitalism, even if he doesn't see the end result--is a good thing.

The same can be said for our health care system, the rest of our food supply, our water, etc.  It doesn't matter if you slap a Nestle label on it or not, as if the problem is mere consumerist branding, it's still exploiting both the earth and the humans living on it.

But to clarify, I'm reading a lot into Graham's writing here.  I'm sure he would disagree that a lot of what I write is his intent at all, but intent isn't magic.  And it doesn't change the fact that he starts with the faulty premise that anti-capitalists just don't know what capitalism is, which is fucking ridiculous.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Dilly Beans of Many Flavors

I love fermenting things.  In addition to making good-for-you foods even better for you, I have such a love of the process, which is both scientifically fascinating and spiritually fulfilling for me.  Like many people I tend to go on "kicks" where I'll ferment a bunch of stuff at once, which makes sense because right now green beans and wax beans are fairly inexpensive.

Beans are one of the few things I'm really, really good at fermenting, up there with yogurt and sauerkraut.  I try again and again to ferment cucumbers, but it's a crap shoot whether or not I'm successful.  Mead I wind up either doing super great at or super horribly.  I've never successfully fermented a soda.  But beans I have a very high success rate with.

Yesterday I went on one of said pickling sprees, making probably twelve quart jars of pickled beans and cucumbers (as well as a small jar of fermented whole leaf basil, some sauerkraut, and some baby carrots).  I also went kind of wild with my flavors, including a super-hot one involving a fresh cayenne pepper and several chilis japonés, one with loads of garlic and pepper, and one that's mostly chunks of fresh ginger, garlic, and turmeric that only has green beans to help the fermentation process along.

Oh, I'm also getting some new dirt-based probiotics soon.  Out of curiosity what I'm going to do when I get them is take them regularly for a week along with lots of cultured foods and a stricter diet before taking another gut microbiome test to see what it all changes, if it goes in the right direction.  On a related note, uBiome actually changed the information they give on their test results so it's actually readable, which is sweet.  I may go into more detail once the last test comes back.

I have a Saturday off soon and hope to get lots of veggies at that point.  I was supposed to go to Pagan Pride Day, but as this was cancelled I'm just going to the farmer's market instead and looking for interesting things to pickle and stock away.

Some other things I'm considering doing in a short period of time... I want to try making sausage.  I'm looking into a grinder right now, will probably just buy one at the sporting goods store.  I learned how to use current equipment to smoke small amounts of meat, although I'll probably look into whether or not my relatives have an unused smoker (they probably do, knowing them).  I should really make some jerky, too!  I haven't made it in a really long time.

Also want to try making soap, but (as I've probably pointed out multiple times by this point) I'm kind of afraid to.  I may--since I'm planning on using the whole deer if I get one hunting--try making deer tallow soap, as I strongly dislike the taste of deer tallow.  Speaking of soap!  I was looking for a way to stop having to use antiseptic hand washes while out and about.  The idea of taking a bar of soap in a plastic container was not appealing to me... but today I found out about something they make in Japan called Soap Tablets.  These are basically tiny, single-use bars of soap.  I'm not interested in buying any, but I could certainly make some by cutting up a bar of my own soap (homemade or storebought) into feasible chunks.  I've already taken away one of the few wasteful vices at work and took a small towel on a ring my roommate got as a promo gift after buying like one thing from 4Imprint (I have a lot of 4Imprint stuff from that mistake).  So now I at least don't have to use paper towels.

Alright, that's enough musing for now.  Happy trails!
-- Setkheni-itw

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Bone Broth, Purslane, and Still More Back Pain

Some fun personal updates from my life, and a quick recipe (it's not formatted like a recipe, though).

I have some bone broth being made right now including garden herbs, vegetables I happened to have around, and the bones of both cow and chicken.


I've been making it slow cooker style, keeping it on a low heat while everything in it slowly cooks down.  It's gotten to the point where the chicken bones are crumbling, although I doubt I'll let the beef bones hit that point.  To make it, just put some animal bones (I used beef soup bones from the store along with the bones from a cooked chicken carcass), vegetables (I used onions, carrots, and cabbage), and herbs and spices (I loaded it with herbs and spices including sage, tarragon, rosemary, thyme, parsley, black pepper, cardamom, mustard seed, pepper, juniper berries, and of course salt).  Cover with good water and turn the slow cooker on; I start it on high for an hour or so and then turn it down to low for a couple of nights until the bones succumb and release their nutrient matrix to the liquid.

Like usual I'm trying to get more wild food in my diet.  I found a great bunch of purslane I found on my walk to work that I've been munching on.  Purslane is probably my favorite wild edible plant; it's a succulent so it has a fascinating texture with kind of a gel-like consistency while it's chewed.  While I was eating it that bowl filled with seeds that I'll be putting in a purslane-friendly area on the property to see if I can successfully grow some.


I made a soup using the broth and purslane for dinner tonight, which was delectable.  The purslane wasn't prominently flavored in the soup like it would be in say a salad, but it was still a welcome addition.  The broth wound up spicy (from a couple chilis japonés I put in there) with a sweet-spicy overtone from several pods cardamom.  I added chicken and because I felt guilty throwing it away I also added the beef that had fallen off the bone during the broth-making process.  I also added zucchini from the garden.



My back is still being an asshole.  I've been dealing with it using posture, some over the counter meds, mild yoga, and topical menthol.  It doesn't actually hurt so much as it's ridiculously stiff.  The yoga really helps with that, although I'm trying very hard not to overdo it and I haven't been doing it after taking meds (I suspect that was the original problem, stretching on painkillers).
That's about it as far as current updates.  Happy trails!
-- Setkheni-itw

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Root Beer Syrup, Hot Sauce, and Coming Out Dermatillomaniac

In this post I'd like to give a couple simple recipes I was dealing with today as well as a bit of a coming out and a little about one of my least favorite ailments.

First, the recipes:

Root Beer Syrup

This is a recipe I have seen multiple places, notably at Rhonda's workshop at Pagan Spirit Gathering as well as in the book "Hunt Gather Cook."  Mine is different from theirs in that it has no burdock root, and it has sarsaparilla and liquorice root.

In a gallon of water, boil the following:
  • 1/3 cup sassafras bark root
  • 1/4 cup sarsaparilla root
  • 1 tablespoon liquorice root
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seed
  • 2 tablespoons blackstrap molasses
  • bunches and bunches of fresh mint (optional, I use this to get rid of my excess mint)
Once it starts boiling, reduce to a simmer and let it for an hour.  Take it off the heat and let it cool at least to a warm temperature (I've let it sit to room temperature and it's fine).

Take some jars and fill them half with sugar.  I use just regular white sugar, I've used coconut sugar as well although it tastes quite strange.  You can experiment with any sweetener you want, but be aware that white sugar will grant this a higher shelf life.  For me it rarely lasts that long, but it's up to you.

Fill the jar with the liquid from above, strained.  Stir it.  Once the sugar soaks up the mix, it might wind up with a lower level than before... just add more.  I wind up with about three and a half quarts of it this way.

To use, put it in seltzer water to taste.  The recipe says like one tablespoon for a pint of seltzer... it just depends on how sugary you want it.  I think it may also work to put it in plain kombucha or water kefir, seal it in a bottle for a couple of days so the sugar ferments and the liquid is carbonated... I haven't tried this, though, and have a bad history with sassafras killing scoby cultures.  I'll update this if I decide to ever try it.

Hot Pepper Sauce

I love this recipe and it lasts a long time, but unfortunately I broke my jar after I got it back from PSG!  So I had a downright mess of fermented jalapeño mix on my floor and no more sauce.

I just made a new batch, pictured right.  It's very fresh right now so it's bright green... once it's done it'll be more of a forest green.

And it's also really easy:  Just take a bunch of peppers and pulse them, seeds and all, into a paste.  For each pound and a half of peppers add two teaspoons of salt.  I also put a large clove of garlic in there.  This particular jar (it's an old salsa jar) has the pulsed contents of 9 jalapeño peppers, five habanero peppers, and a garlic clove.

After a while it'll cover with brine.  Keep the vegetable material under the brine to prevent mold, and let it sit in a cool dark place until it gets to your desired level of ferment (for me it's only about a week).

And now for the dermatillomania.

Warning: Dermatillomania is a self-harm disorder, so please use discretion before you read.

Ever since I was a child, I have had dermatillomania.  This is a disorder characterized by having an "itch" or urge to pick at your skin, pulling off scabs or gouging into non-scabbed skin until it becomes scabbed skin.  In my own case it represents itself as a serious inability to leave blemishes alone.  When I had chickenpox it meant my parents covered me up in bandages for weeks.  A skinned knee would turn into a scabbed up leg.  When I got teenage acne it meant my whole face was covered with sores.  I've pulled off moles, gouged out acne pimples, fussed about scar tissue.

As a transgender person, it makes the idea of surgery doubly risky for me.  I was all into having a mastectomy maybe five or six years ago, but the more I think about it the more I worry that the usual amount of scarring you see in transgender surgeries will be a dramatic understatement compared to what I will have.

What doesn't help is that my skin is genuinely very itchy, and I have been having a really hard time getting rid of that.  I also have acne (one of the reasons why, as I mentioned before, I'm planning on giving up hormones).

A homemade oil lotion helps a lot but getting it on my back is a huge pain, so I wind up not doing it out of sheer laziness.  I was using sulphur soap for a while hoping it would clear up my acne... it doesn't clear up acne, but it does clear up the itching.  The problem?  It smells terrible and I carry that smell with me.  And pharmaceutical acne treatments have a long record of making me feel excruciatingly ill.

Anyway, that's all for now.  Happy trails,
-- Setkheni-itw