Citizen Tleilax

Is Your Position Intellectual or Emotional and Egotistical?

One of the fundamental aspects about an intellectual position is that it is always open to improvement and modification when new, relevant information comes along. It is never completely closed off because it inherently seeks to be constructed out of the most effective pieces of data available. A position may be strong and well-developed, but it would be difficult to ever consider it “complete” because it is unknown when previously unconsidered information may be presented.

When people take their positions personally, their attitude ceases to be intellectual and they become blocked off from learning when the opportunity presents itself to them. Because they have now invested emotional and egotistical energy into the position, they find it too difficult to face challenges without perceiving them like personal attacks on their own character. The position becomes too interwoven with their individual identity to continue viewing it objectively–thus the position is “complete”, because any modification to it would consequently cause emotional stress, and incoming challenges are thenceforth treated as negative and threatening. Under these circumstances, not only are challenges difficult to face without becoming heated, it becomes much more difficult for an individual to accept that they may hold an incorrect view on something. The occurrence of a view being incorrect is raised to the much more potent feeling that they as a person are incorrect. Thus they may reject relevant information, even when it is clearly presented to them–essentially they behave in a manner exactly opposite to the behavior involved in holding an intellectual position, and focus on limiting rather than improving themselves.

There is nothing bad about being incorrect at any given point, as long as one makes an authentic effort to hold correct views; therefore there should be no embarrassment in being effectively exposed as wrong. Being wrong and moving on is far superior to attempting to save face while attaching oneself to a lesser position in order to do so–not to mention this behavior is relatively easy to observe, so face is not saved regardless; it is in fact further damaged. One should be grateful for the opportunity to be shown exactly how one is incorrect, for it will help improve their understanding and increase the efficiency of their operations. Every flawed position that is corrected helps not only the individual, but by extension has a positive influence on everybody the individual interacts with from then on, since every interaction influenced by an improved position will be coming from a more advanced level of conceptual development. All this being the case, I encourage everyone to be honest with themselves about whether the positions they are holding are informed more by a desire to learn, or or an emotional resistance to being challenged and a fear of being proven incorrect. It is by nature the sort of difference that frequently cannot be hidden, as whether one reacts emotionally or intellectually to a legitimate challenge is often clear to all observers.

Mystery Plants and Identified Flora on the U-Vanu Trail off the Nancy Hoover Pohl Overlook in the Santa Monica Mountains

In the Santa Monica Mountains off Mulholland Drive just west of Laurel Canyon is the Nancy Hoover Pohl Overlook, one of my favorite places to hike. There are a couple different trails one can take from the overlook, one which connects to multiple other trail options in the area and one that is less than a mile long and dead-ends behind a neighborhood in the hills. The latter I believe is called the U-Vanu trail, but it’s hard to find an authoritative source for that–maps I’ve seen aren’t perfectly clear & the most confident sounding reference to it is from LAist here. Though the U-Vanu trail is short, it has a pretty diverse repertoire of flora to display, and I took all the following pictures in this lengthy post on the afternoon of February 20th, 2010. If you happen to download or post them anywhere, please credit to “D. Bene Tleilax” and a link back here would be nice. Thanks!

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Sometimes I’m not very good at distinguishing between species of a particular type of plant; I am also still very much an amateur with identification in general. If you see that I’ve made any errors please do me a favor and post your corrections!

First up are the mystery plants. Plants can be pretty difficult to search for when you don’t know their names and I haven’t had any success with these ones. Any tips would be appreciated.

mystery plant stalks
mystery plant stalk

This one has a somewhat similar growth habit to the Fuchsia Flowered Gooseberry (seen below) in the way its stalks protrude around its territory.


large mystery plant growth
large mystery plant

One of the most singularly prominent plants along the trail, there is only one of these creatures and it has staked out its claim on the steep hillside that descends into the canyon below. I am really curious about this particular plant. The leaves are very large and seem fuzzy, though I haven’t touched them since they are growing out the side of a cliff.


big leaves plant group

These leaves look really yummie to me, but I wouldn’t dare eat them without knowing what they are.


unknown herb

What is it?


purple flowers green berries
purple flower plant

The leaves look different in both of these pictures but I’m pretty sure they’re the same species of plant, the bottom just looks younger and less jumbled to me. In the bottom photo the leaves are shaped like hearts, much like sunflowers. Note the interesting and fairly large green berries in the top photo, which also sorta look like they could be flower buds except for how large some of them are.


spiky green plant leaves

These spiky leaves have a really nice light green color. They look really cool and I can’t wait to find out what this is.


white stalked herb

Another mysterious young spiny herb I’m quite fond of.


yellow & black flower group

These seem pretty clearly in the Asteraceae family but I’m not very familiar with flower species.


grass with seeds

I’m not up on my grasses either…


seashell leaves

These leaves look like seashells to me. The lighter green ones in the middle were actually that color even though it looks like it’s a lighting thing.


maybe toyon

The way the leaves all reach to the sky makes me think this is toyon (heteromeles arbutifolia), though this is a relatively new species to me and I could be mistaken.


maybe oak

This seems like some sort of oak, though I’m not sure.


maybe coast live oak (quercus agrifolia)

I think this might be a coast live oak (quercus agrifolia) based on the way the leaves all curve down, but it’s really hard for me to distinguish oaks right now since I haven’t studied them much and many of them seem quite similar.


young milk thistle (silybum marianum)

This appears to be a fresh patch of young milk thistle (silybum marianum) which hasn’t yet put up any stalks.


sugar bush group
sugar bush flowers (rhus ovata)

At first I thought this was laurel sumac (malosma laurina) since it has leaves very obviously shaped like taco shells. Then when flipping through a library copy of Flowering Plants of the Santa Monica Mountains I happened across sugar bush (rhus ovata) and saw that the flower style is significantly different from laurel sumac, and indeed that is actually what I had found.


ubiquitous black sage (salvia mellifera)

coastal sagebrush (artemisia californica)

The top is black sage (salvia mellifera), the bottom coastal sagebrush (artemisia californica), both ubiquitous shrubs in this area. Before I knew what sagebrush was I called it the “bubblegum plant” because of its strong gum-like scent. It’s one of my favorites. It’s also one of the plants I like to smoke when I roll herbal cigarettes from plants I harvest myself (mixed with mugwort, which can also be found along this trail though I didn’t take any pictures of it).


tree tobacco flowers
young tree tobacco plant

Speaking of smoking, this is tree tobacco (nicotiana glauca), the bottom being a handsome youngster. I’ve never actually tried smoking this even though I would like to, because I can’t find enough reliable information on it being safe to do so. I’ve seen references to it being smoked normally, but also seen references to it making your head feel like it’s going to explode. It’s tempting, but the fact that it has definitely killed people who ingested it in other ways gives me pause.


poisonous castor bean plant (ricinus communis)

The castor bean plant (ricinus communis) knows a bit about killing people, as its seeds are highly poisonous. As the genus name suggests, it contains the toxin known as “ricin”. It kinda looks like a wicked plant, doesn’t it? I think it looks really cool, and before I knew what it was it always stood out to me since it looks so strange and unique.


wild cucumber (marah macrocarpus)
wild cucumber tendril

Another deadly but neat looking plant, the wild cucumber (marah macrocarpus) has large spiky green seed pods containing seeds that were once used by the Chumash in a tea to peacefully euthanize those who wouldn’t be able to recover from some sort of accident that had befallen them, according to medicine woman Cecilia Garcia. The bottom picture displays a blurry and curly tendril grasping onto the branch of another plant, an easy way to spot this common vine.


canyon sunflower (venegasia carpesioides)

I’m usually more into weeds, herbs, and other plants which have definite practical usages than wildflowers, but ultimately I’m interested in learning all of the plants which grow around me. The canyon sunflower (venegasia carpesioides) is a pretty looking native and I love its large, healthy looking leaves.


buck brush shrub (ceanothus cuneatus)

Another new one for me, which I believe is the buck brush shrub (ceanothus cuneatus). It has taken me a while to see the differences between all the shrubs of the chaparral plant community; at first glance they all appear somewhat similar and non-distinct. Once I really started paying attention and focusing on their individual traits, they each became much more distinguished.


chamise (adenostoma fasciculatum)

This is chamise (adenostoma fasciculatum).


fuchsia flowered gooseberry (ribes speciosum)
close up of gooseberry flowers

The magnificent fuchsia flowered gooseberry (ribes speciosum). I love the way the stalks all protrude from the center, it looks very spidery and tentacled in a way. This really is a beautiful plant. The hanging flowers, dark, glossy leaves, and bright red or pink thorns make it quite unique and one of my favorite discoveries. Not to mention the berries that develop are edible.


horehound (marrubium vulgare)

Horehound (marrubium vulgare). There is lots of this weed along the trail. I like it.


sweet fennel (foeniculum vulgare)
sweet fennel

Finally we have sweet fennel (foeniculum vulgare), another common weed of the area. A long time ago I ordered fennel seeds in bulk for culinary usage, and it was a while before I discovered that they came from this plant (or one of its relatives). You can break off stalks of this plant and chew them right then and there, and it will fill your mouth with a licorice taste. Careful though, as it is said to look very similar to poison hemlock, which will fill your mouth with a death taste right then and there, or at least within about 15 minutes of horrid suffering. I’ve seen poison hemlock many times and to me it looks pretty different, but I suppose similar enough for everyone to always warn about it when talking about fennel. By the way, that dead stalk in the bottom picture is from a past generation of the plant–they can get pretty thick and tall.


I hope this collection of plants I’ve spotted along the trail is useful for anyone who may be trying to identify plants they’ve seen, though of course it is by no means comprehensive and I am no expert. The reason I made this post is mainly because nobody else has done something like this for that particular trail or portion of the mountains. I wish somebody had, because it makes learning about the plants you see on hikes much easier if you can look up pictures someone has taken from that exact location and match them to what you saw when you were there. Perhaps I will do more of this in the future.

Pseudovegan Freeganism, Pescetarianism, and Flexitarianism – Linguistic Accuracy and the Appropriate Usage of Dietary Terms

What I call “pseudovegan freeganism” is when a supposed “vegan” eats i.e. a dairy product because they received it for free, but someone else purchased it and any generally reasonable non-vegan would just as readily have consumed it were it given to them instead. One cannot, for example, have a friend buy a cheese pizza and then receive slices from it for free if one is authentically freegan or vegan. The product and industry were economically supported, therefore making this sort of freegan not actually a full vegan, and instead a person who either misunderstands or simply likes the title but does not follow the logic all the way through. If one is freegan, one does not eat non-vegan items unless they come from or are absolutely destined for the trash.

I feel that clear definition and usage of terms is important for linguistic accuracy and understanding each other better. Similarly, people should call themselves “pescetarians” instead of “vegetarians” if the only meat they eat is fish, and “flexitarians” if they occasionally eat other meat. These words exist for this purpose (and are actually pretty cool sounding), so they should be used accordingly. I believe that those who know the differences between these words but still prefer to call themselves vegan or vegetarian despite their diet being in another category are being dishonest because they think it is “cool” to be vegan & veggie, but don’t want to make the commitment that actually makes it cool. It is a manipulative act to control how other people view oneself by purposefully using incorrect terms.

Each of our choices are our own responsibility and we should accept them authentically. If you would like to be vegetarian or vegan, then you should make the commitment to what those terms refer to, or be honest about where you currently stand. It’s ok to not be there yet if that’s the case, and if you don’t ever want to be there that’s up to you alone to decide–either way it’s much better to not be fake about it.

Adventures in Living… Ethical Homelessness for the Sake of Personal Creativity and Philosophical Authenticity

At first, the implications of the title may sound strange. Homelessness for the sake of creativity? That certainly isn’t how we’re used to thinking. Society is very thorough about implanting the idea that we have to have a “place to live”, such as an apartment or room. Don’t we need something like that to work on our projects and move towards our goals? And thus don’t we have to work for somebody else to pay for it? The answer is no, at least not always. In fact, not worrying about paying rent bestows an amazing freedom that most people never get to experience as adults. That alone frees up a massive amount of time and energy for the pursuit of creative goals, provided one possesses or has access to the basic tools and/or social network required to maintain what I consider to be one’s real work.

And what do I mean by “ethical homelessness”? This simply refers to the fact that homelessness may be a more ethical option for those who cannot secure income from a source that is at least predominantly aligned with their philosophical ideals. It is an inherent contradiction to hold any sort of advanced views of how society should operate while working for a company that is simultaneously working against those views and using your labor to accomplish it. I personally feel like it damages my very existence and suppresses my personal power to follow that path.

It was a powerful realization to me that I could actually accomplish this type of lifestyle switch-up and essentially remove my enslavement to society’s traditional work/rent exchange (which I believe only exists due to an intentionally exploitative structure, but that’s another topic). Thus, after years of feeling repressed and oppressed by a rigid, life-sucking schedule, I decided that I was no longer willing to sacrifice my time, soul, and energy to things which I am not directly interested in pursuing. If a job cannot educate me extensively in ways I want for my own personal reasons, significantly further goals in the directions I am naturally drawn toward, or deploy my creativity in the exact way I want to do it myself, then I don’t want to be involved. Though I’ve found that it is possible for me to tolerate such utter submission, I have grown tired of it.

I would feel similarly even if an otherwise ethical job was taking too much energy and focus away from following my own drive. I feel like it’s important for me to do my own work since I have the compulsion to do so, even though it may not currently be financially productive enough to retain a home. But that is less of an ethical matter and more a personal commitment to what I myself want to spend my time doing. To be certain, if I could make enough money from my music, writing, art, or whatever else I want to do then I would prefer to have a home. It’s convenient, comfortable, private, and very useful for storage. But it is a luxury, and the exchange of comforts and convenience for freedom is worth it to me.

A question has been posed to me–isn’t that what going to college is for, so you can get a degree and pursue a career doing what you like? This question reveals a very innocent view of higher education, one which tends to dispel itself quickly as you age and begin seeing how the job market works. I do, incidentally, have a college degree: a Bachelor’s in philosophy, the only formal program I found I could tolerate at the universities I had the option to attend. To me, the degree is useless. And of course it goes without saying that many people with degrees in all fields end up in various sorts of tedious jobs anyway.

My time is valuable, far more so than most jobs are worth. The creative contributions to society and culture that I am capable of deserve my attention. All bottom level jobs I’ve worked were simplistic, a waste of my talent and intellect, as they are for many people. Many “good” jobs are painfully dull or at the very least distracting, and I’m no longer willing to disrespect myself by participating in such wasteful activity. By leaving that world behind, I will be thrust further into learning many things that I want to learn, and I will fill the space left vacant with more work on my own projects. I’d rather live my life as an uncertain adventure than as a struggling worker drone, and I look forward to being immersed in the issues that such a lifestyle presents.

Purposefully operating without a secure home can be very difficult, uncomfortable, and even dangerous due to an increased state of vulnerability (to cops, thieves, and other shady characters), and I don’t want anyone to assume that I am an expert simply because I am writing about the topic. I’m still figuring it out and doing my best to strategize. But I am willing to make the necessary sacrifices to see how it works for me, and I am now immersed in what could be a long stretch of homelessness. To be clear, I am living in my car (not a van), so I do have a bit of private space and shelter which could technically be considered my “home”. It would be immensely more challenging to have no owned space whatsoever while still devoting consistent attention to one’s work, though still possible as long as the general location was strategic enough.

I plan to compile a list of basic practical tips which have helped me, once I’ve gotten my methods fairly established. By far the most difficult aspect of my experience thus far has been learning to let go of all the stuff I’ve accumulated over the years, since I no longer have the space to accommodate such possessions. While most of the things I’ve held onto had artistic or educational ends, they were in a sort of homeostasis until I found the opportunity to utilize them. Losing almost all personal space has emphasized how much of a luxury it is to maintain any possessions whatsoever outside of what’s immediately useful. Though it is difficult, it is liberating to cut down on these sorts of attachments.

To allay any potential misinterpretation, I want to clarify that when I refer above to a “social network” that does not mean people whose houses one can stay at all the time, nor people whose food can regularly be eaten, etc. It is very important to make sure one is not exploiting friends and acquaintances and taking advantage of their kindness. Success in this venture requires being as self-sufficient as possible, because repeatedly using the fruits of another person’s labor to support yourself is, rather obviously, actually less ethical than working yourself (it is analogous to the flawed logic and externalization of unethical activity at play in what I call “pseudovegan freeganism”). It’s fine to occasionally request a favor from someone who has offered their services, but it is essential to rely mainly upon your own means of support.

Finally, since I refer so frequently to myself in this essay, I want to specifically express that I don’t think myself superior in any way for taking this step (or any other, for that matter). Everybody is in their own unique circumstances and I think it is another flaw, a very common one, to expect others to do things that you feel are right for yourself. I think practicing elitism in any form is detrimental to the common social good. I am merely writing about my own personal reasons for the way I live my life, for informational and inspirational purposes. I hope that I can provide some interesting thoughts and directions to consider for those who may be in similar situations, fed up with a frustrating and restricting life. The 6th paragraph might even be read aloud to yourself as a personal affirmation of your own worth and power. Please feel free to let me know your thoughts, whatever they may be, as they help me develop my own.

And if you’re able and inclined, you can help me out by donating any amount to my general survival / productivity fund.

Third Parties are Critical for an Informed Public – Multiple Perspectives Should Be Considered When Making A Decision

In general, I value open discussion and the consideration of multiple perspectives when searching for solutions to particular issues. I feel that weighing what everyone has to say is a crucial process in formulating a stance on something, and whenever I neglect to do this I end up wishing that I had been more thorough. This is why it is very important to not limit our sources for information to only a few channels–if we do we tend to absorb the bias inherent in them. Naturally, it can be assumed that just about everything is biased at least to some extent, making it our duty to analyze multiple perspectives if we intend to have a logical and objective opinion. We must listen to as many sides of the story as possible.

When it comes to politics this multi-sided approach to issues is of the highest importance, because both public policy and public edification (not to mention the state of the world) is at stake. Essentially, each political party represents a perspective on any given issue, and as a society, America currently seems to believe that out of all of them only two are important–those of the Republican and Democrat parties (and it’s arguable those perspectives are in many instances quite similar in practice). There are obviously more ways of thinking about things than represented by just these two views, and other approaches are just as important to be aware of when trying to figure out what we should be collectively doing in the world of politics. Though there are people who exert the extensive effort required to educate themselves on an individual basis, as a whole Americans are not hearing all sides of the story and are thus making intrinsically uneducated decisions about who should be running things and how.

The blame for this falls primarily upon the media and the political establishment represented by the big two parties (the “Titanic” parties), because these powerful organizations are, of course, concerned more with using their power to push their own viewpoints and achieve their own goals rather than letting others share the spotlight for the good of society. It’s an unfortunate reality that the establishment does not share my affinity for open discussion about a topic regardless of party affiliation, and that its agenda rarely seems to involve solving a problem effectively. The two-party system has a stranglehold on American politics, and it actively attempts to prevent the public from hearing critical perspectives that are necessary for understanding issues. Third parties (“independent” parties) such as the Green Party and Libertarian Party represent these wrongfully suppressed perspectives on issues, and when they are consistently excluded from the discussion, everybody loses.

I want to be very clear–I’m not talking about independent parties winning elections. I don’t necessarily think that’s an absolute requirement for improving our society, though certainly it would speed things up a bit in many cases and I’m quite supportive of it. For my purposes here it doesn’t matter who actually wins, but what they’re saying needs to be included in the debate–even if the Titanic parties keep winning, more stimulation and competition is absolutely necessary to keep them in line. By introducing important points into the arena, all candidates who are participating can still influence the platform and the expectations of the winner. I’ve seen this exact thing at work in local non-partisan elections. Even establishment candidates will adopt something they otherwise wouldn’t if they were faced with a wall of people who demanded it. People get smarter when they consider things from more angles–for example, they might take one thing a Green is saying and start asking all Democrats to adopt it because it makes sense. But if it’s never shown to them they may never think to take that step, and we collectively fail to progress.

Voters’ final choices should be made once they’ve incorporated information from every side of what’s going on, otherwise their decisions will be flawed*. When media outlets, organizations, Republicans, and Democrats try to keep independent party philosophies away from the American public, they are purposefully trying to create a herd of ignorant voters who they can easily take advantage of. They are giving a presentation that is far from comprehensive under the guise that they hold the only plausible options. When they pretend that independent parties don’t exist it should arouse suspicion about their true motives. Why do they want to hide information from the public eye? I think it’s generally safe to assume that when one group suppresses the voice of another group, they have something to lose should the other group’s message be publicized. I tend to think it’s because they are scared that people will recognize the faulty logic that’s been pushed on them once fresh perspectives are floating around. And people might actually do something about it, like evict the status quo.

Some may object that it is independent parties’ own fault that they do not receive coverage, claiming that they are not “getting themselves out there” enough, or that they are not presenting “viable” enough candidates with enough pre-existing public support to justify their inclusion in debates or articles. Independent parties actually try very hard to be included and are consistently blocked from the most far-reaching channels. The doors are not exactly standing open to anyone who comes, and anyone who claims they are is simply inexperienced or has other motives. And as regards the latter objection, it is fundamental that the logic of any given argument should be weighed for its own merits, regardless of how popular the person saying it is at the time–a lesson that frequently seems to be lost on those who consistently support philosophically inferior politicians simply because they come from a more established organization. In addition, I think the label of “viable” as used today to refer to candidates is purely a result of our current election system. If certain election reforms were enacted–such as public financing and instant runoff voting to name a couple–then there would be more “viable” candidates running because the system wouldn’t be so frontloaded towards Titanic candidates from the beginning.

In any case, these objections are beside the point. Ultimately it seems to me that the media should itself be at least to some extent institutionally responsible for including candidates who have qualified for the ballot in debates and public forums, regardless of how much popular support they currently have when compared to the Titanic parties. As the primary way that most people receive information, it is the media’s duty to report on things relating to the public interest, and an inclusive approach to all sides of the pinnacle of our supposed democracy–elections–would be among the highest ways of serving that interest. It’s not just a fair way of operating a democracy, it’s simply more intelligent and beneficial to society for all the reasons I’ve discussed here. We should therefore demand that independent parties be regularly included and each strive to pay more attention to them, instead of passively allowing ourselves and the rest of our communities to be strategically manipulated through the censorship of alternative viewpoints.


(* Voters’ decisions are also flawed when they vote for the “lesser of two evils” instead of what is actually the best choice. Doing so is adopting a loser mentality that perpetuates an inferior government and corrupts the very purpose of democratic voting in the first place, creating instead an indirect and crippled version of democracy based on a fear to risk expressing our true desires. I believe we should instead be authentic and vote for what we feel is best regardless of whether or not we think it will “win”. I find it a far more potent statement than voting for something I know is worse and don’t actually support. It’s a choice we’re given and I personally wouldn’t want to be on record saying I want something that I really don’t. Additionally, an efficient and totally necessary election reform called Instant Runoff Voting completely solves the “lesser evil” problem in the current voting system. Look it up!)


So because I believe that philosophy should lead to action, I wrote to Warner Chabot–head of the California League of Conservation Voters, a prominent environmental organization. The CLCV created a website for the 2010 California gubernatorial election called “GreenGov2010” and didn’t even deign to mention that there is a Green Party candidate in the race, while shamelessly using what obviously sounds like a Green Party website title. I find it absurd that an environmental organization would refuse to allow the Greens into the room to talk about being green, and plain deceptive to not even acknowledge that they exist. It is abundantly clear that something is fundamentally wrong when such a contradiction is presented without saying a single word, especially when they are well aware of what they’re doing. Ultimately, the CLCV damages its own mission when it ignores what the Green Party has to say about the issues.

I am writing to express my disappointment with the site and its failure to include the Green Party candidate Laura Wells.  I can’t help but feel like you are playing party politics again.  The one thing that I’ve never liked about the CLCV is that one of the unstated “conservation” goals it seems to have is to maintain the status quo of the two party system and block valuable third party candidates from participating.

If we are to truly progress, people need to be aware of what everybody is saying about the issues.  I don’t understand why it seems like you’re so determined to keep your thought process directly inside the box when it comes to this type of thing.  The Green Party brings valuable, important insight to a wide variety of environmental issues, and can help to stimulate collective thought that will quicken our arrival at beneficial solutions.  Why line up with everyone else who thinks that Republicans or Democrats are the only people who should be allowed to have a voice in discussing important issues?

Your latest decision to exclude the Green Party and Laura Wells lowers your credibility and that of the organization you direct.  When an environmental organization stonewalls a political party that has been concerned with such issues for decades, I can’t help but feel that you’re far too biased to be trusted for real objectivity.  While the work you do is good, you are unfortunately stunting the progress of the very things you fight for by refusing to at least allow them into the discussion.

D. Bene Tleilax

Decorating Public Space with Non Profit Promotional Materials and Various Objects Which Might Otherwise be Thrown Away

I’ve donated money over the years to several non-profit organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center, Co-op America (now called “Green America”), FINCA, and many others. I feel very strongly about using the privilege I have been gifted with to try and improve our social and physical environment, and to aid those in significantly worse circumstances than I. While things may often seem bad for us middle-class types, various elements of our lives which we take for granted are still total luxury to a massive amount of people around the world. Thus, I don’t mind sacrificing a tiny amount of my own luxury to send a few dollars to serve the greater good. However, that is not the point of this post.

If you donate without requesting that the organization not share your information, many will give your name and address to a million other non-profits who then send you their own solicitations, describing what they’re all about and asking for donations. I have never minded this for the most part, because I like to know what kind of conscientious and helpful action is taking place about this or that issue.

Much of the time unique promotional materials are included, such as greeting cards, dream-catchers, pins, stickers, etc. Often there are photographs, with a little story on the back about the situation relating to what’s shown on the front. I’ve usually kept those, but without much purpose. Recently I thought of the best use for them–the decoration of public space.

Every once in a while I take a staple gun and walk around my area stapling them in visible places on trees or telephone poles. Sometimes I like to staple them to the very edge of a tree, so they will stick out and people on either side can see either the photo or the story. I figure they will garner at least a little attention from random pedestrians before being ripped down by apathetic kids (since there are multiple schools in the vicinity, there are lots of kids around all the time) or unimaginative adults. Hopefully some people will stop and really look at them, read what they’re about, and ideally even devote a little time into researching and possibly helping. That’s the kind of person I am, at least–I’m always interested in random things I see everywhere and I like to look into them more. I only hope that others share that sort of openness.

bear photograph on a telephone pole

Decorating public space is also a great idea for any sort of object that might otherwise be thrown away for want of practical use. Sometimes things aren’t appropriate for donating to a thrift store and have limited appeal for giving to someone you know. In these instances, it is fun to find a spot to install such an object where it can provide a bit of unusual and interesting augmentation to the public environment. I think it’s healthy for there to be unexpected elements in normally boring and predictable spaces, and the object may even find a new home in such a way.

A while back my girlfriend constructed some wearable fairy wings for a performance she participated in at the Hive Gallery in downtown Los Angeles. Recently they’ve been sitting around in limbo, too neat to throw away but not exactly desired anymore, by us or anyone. I suggested that we tie them to a fence or something, and we went out to find a spot. We spotted a suitable tree, and she climbed up and tied them around a branch–a strange little surprise for anybody observant enough to look up into the center of the tree.

fairy wings up in a tree

Now go and leave some of your unused stuff somewhere in public!

Complaint Letter to Malt-O-Meal about Hydrogenated Oils

I’ve written many complaint letters to food companies about the ingredients they put in their products, and one of the most common problems is the use of partially hydrogenated oils, also known as “trans-fats”. I recently wrote to Malt-o-Meal, a large cereal manufacturer:

Hello, I would like to express my concern that your company still finds it acceptable to utilize hydrogenated oils in your cereals. As many people are aware these days, the hydrogenation of oils has a very negative effect upon those who consume it, and there is a significant body of research which supports this. It bothers me that a company like yours which appears to be concerned about environmental impact and being a good corporate citizen finds nothing wrong with regularly using ingredients proven to be dangerous. I implore you to take the evolutionary step that many other cereal producers have, and cease this practice. Until you do, I cannot purchase your products.

They responded, saying:

We use many different ingredients to achieve specific characteristics (flavor, aroma, texture, etc.) in our finished cereals. Unfortunately, not all of these ingredients work for each consumer’s diet.

Comments like yours regarding our products are carefully reviewed to keep us informed of consumer opinions and current issues. We understand your concern about hydrogenated oils and your feedback is being shared with our product managers.

Hydrogenation cannot work for any person’s diet, so I sent this reply:

I appreciate your quick response. In light of your reference to diet, I’d just like to further clarify that this ingredient is not like an allergen, where some can consume it and be fine while others must avoid it. Partial (and full) hydrogenation damages every human system that allows it access, and it is for this reason I hope you will remove it from your otherwise quality product.

Please do not Disturb the Weed Garden – Chickweed and an Inefficient Society

My companion and I have a small patch of space in the common area of our little apartment compound which we cleared with the intention of starting a garden. We haven’t exactly gotten around to planting anything yet, but we did some preparation and a sign that says “Please do not disturb the garden” now sits in the corner, directed at the over-zealous landscapers hired by our landlord. They have dutifully heeded the sign and left our space free of intervention, and recently it has blossomed with a bounty of vibrant weeds. Well, it’s mainly just one weed–chickweed (Stellaria media)–which also happens to be quite edible, nutritious and medicinally valuable. And it just grows there without provocation! Rather considerate of the cute little thing if you ask me; I have a strong affinity for those that get by without being too dependent on others to take care of them.

As I sit here munching on a bowl of fresh, raw chickweed (a nice, tasty green crunch) and drinking chickweed tea, I once again marvel at the ignorance and stupidity of our society when it comes to plants. If our sign hadn’t been there, the “gardeners” wouldn’t have hesitated to eradicate this plant, even though the slightest bit of research shows that it actually has a utility value for humans. For no real reason besides cultural conditioning, it appears “unsightly” to people who have pathetically limited notions of what is acceptable to grow and how plants should look. They may even know what type of plant it is, since it is a commonly hated weed!

This example (see another below) reflects a major systemic failure of modern society. Again and again, it refuses to acknowledge things which could easily benefit it. To me, some of the most omnipresent and “noxious” weeds are just plants trying to get our attention as a species. They pop up everywhere saying, “Hello, look at me! I can help you!” and they wait to be recognized for their positive attributes… but most people aren’t paying attention. It’s this type of cultural mistake that causes a horrendous inefficiency in the way we as a people operate, as countries, companies, or just individuals. Too much energy is wasted on doing things the hard way or wasted on goals that are just plain wrong, instead of looking at solutions that are right in front of our faces.

On top of it, this stubborn ignorance about weeds is regularly enforced through sanctions against those who don’t conform to rules dictated by the empty despot that is Appearance. Tragically, this means that even if some individuals occasionally recognize the value of a yard or field full of weeds, they may very well cave in and prevent their growth simply to avoid the social pressures that may result from doing something different from the herd.

Personally, I’ve long been acclimated to life outside the norm and relish my usual position as the “strange one” in a variety of respects. As is probably quite clear, I love “weeds” (I just think of them as plants) and am happy to have a weed garden. I’m also thankful that they’re so tenacious–it’s nice to know that I will be able to receive help from many of them almost anywhere I go.

Please do not Disturb the Weed Garden (chickweed)


*For another example, read Green Deane’s writing about how Florida failed to deal with a weed situation efficiently (scroll down to the bottom quarter of the page, the entry “14 March 2008: Attitude Makes The Difference”).

Bathroom Graffiti – An Exercise in Collaborative Folk Art

The scrawlings found in public restrooms are a strange exercise in collaborative folk art. While often mundane and inane, much like the YouTube comments which I also consider a natural folk art of sorts, they function in an interesting way. Written conversations develop from an original statement or question of some sort, via individuals who add a single part to what was there when they arrived, frequently pointing an arrow to what they are responding to. This often leads to rather lengthy arguments or speculations, yet each contributor likely never sees what else was added after they said their own piece.

Obviously the content of such “latrinalia” varies widely, but I find the phenomenon very attractive in general. I am particularly fond of bathrooms which are completely unregulated in terms of user-contributed decorations, veritable museums of the artform. There is something magical about a bathroom that has been completely covered in numerous layers of tags, art, stickers, and sentences–the depth and texture is astounding. Such a space appears to me like a secret lair within a deep and complex urban cave, a massive collision of culture and energy that would take years to fully dissect & uncover all the origins behind each ingredient in the mix.

I find such a space refreshing and comforting, because in addition to it frequently indicating the presence of potent creative spirit, it reflects the trappings of an autonomous zone. It is a space, limited as it may be, where freedom of visual expression is complete and uncensored, nothing removed or hidden aside from when other participants use their freedom to cover a part with their own contribution, whatever that may be. It truly is a social, community space in this way.

Below are a few old photographs I’ve taken of bathroom graffiti. They aren’t perfect examples of the types I was specifically referring to in this post, but interesting nonetheless.

Bathroom graffiti at Foufounes Electriques, Montreal
Foufounes Electriques, Montreal, December 2006

Bathroom graffiti at Chain Reaction, Anaheim
Chain Reaction, Anaheim, March 2003

Bathroom graffiti in southern California restroom
Unknown location, Southern California, February 2004

A Hiking Adventure on Local Trails

May 21st, 2009:

Two sunny days ago, my companion and I embarked upon our weekly ritual of traversing the various trails of our local mountain wilderness. We arrived at a location previously unexplored by ourselves, and of the few possible paths accessible to foot-travel, we decided to take the westernmost trail. The entrance to this trail lies subtly amongst the scrub brush behind a half-circle of stone which serves as a bench for those who ascended to this point merely to look out into the canyon, a view which is admittedly quite fine. Because the trailhead could be easily overlooked by most, it in fact stood out to me as one which ought to be explored with immediate haste.

The trail followed a rather sharp decline down a northern facing slope. After perhaps a mite more than 5 minutes of steady travel, the path flattened out for merely a couple of yards, largely beneath accommodating trees with horizontal branches perfect for resting upon for a spell if one were weary on his way back up. As indicated by the ancient, fading black spray paint which decorated nearly all of the trees’ surface area with now indecipherable text and the surrounding multitude of much younger bottles and cans once filled with cheap American beer, the spot had indeed been used as an out-of-the-way respite. One traveler had even left a zippable sweatshirt behind, perhaps as a gift to the tree in exchange for its temporary shelter.

At this point, my companion and I decided that the road to the canyon bottom was too steep to further descend without walking sticks. Using a black plastic bag from a liquor store conveniently left behind, we proceeded instead to gather all of the aluminum cans, as I am in the consistent habit of doing wherever I happen across significant quantities of them. Aluminum is one of my most favored metals, from a purely practical perspective. Its utility value is high, and when converted into appropriate forms of energy–a process executed with fair simplicity–it propels both my vehicle and myself with the fuel it provides.

After depositing our unexpected bounty of metal into the trunk of my motor carriage, we proceeded down the easternmost trail. Following this trail, we walked upon a path which was on one side an often precipitous drop to the canyon floor, and on the other a hill raising itself at various grades. Throughout the trail was a wide variety of herbaceous growth, most of which are common and considered weeds. Many of them I could not yet identify, having still much to learn in my studies, but I will provide a small list of those whose names I know: sweet fennel, milk thistle, mugwort, blessed thistle, sagebrush, horehound, tree tobacco, and castor oil plants.

The trail ended after less than a mile near a group of unoccupied houses, mostly obscured from view by the vine-covered growth on the close hillside. A shaded staircase made of half meter long dirt steps reinforced by wooden blocks steeply ascended into a backyard which featured a swimming pool completely greened by algae. We descended stairs on the opposite side of the pool and walked around to the front of the house which brought the others into view. A cursory glance noted that two had suffered severe structural damage, perhaps as the result of a previous earthquake or natural erosion. The two with damage were quite easily accessible, with no efforts made whatsoever to block entrance to their interiors. The more elevated of the two, however, looked as though it would be a significant physical risk to wander through. We therefore entered the less damaged one and began to walk through its rooms, examining the remains.

Magazines were strewn about each room, popular ones dealing with very surface-level fashion trends and sex advice. Drawers remained, empty and without dressers to plug into. In the kitchen, vines had covered the windows and let only a thin and greenly tinted light into the room–a very attractive effect which I would consider worthy of designing for on purpose. Many things had been left behind in the various cupboards and drawers. Among the objects we retrieved were an unused spool of white thread with needle attached, a tomato-shaped pincushion filled with pins, four cans of vegetarian-suitable baked beans, a new box of Earl Gray tea, a tin emblazoned with the British flag containing cigarette rolling papers, a ball of rope-like twine, and some fabric. There were more items worth taking, however we did not wish to burden ourselves too much for the hike back and so perhaps another visit shall be in order for the future.

Upon our return to my vehicle, I took a square of cardboard and a knife and, grasping with the cardboard in my left hand, proceeded to slice off one freshly tweening cladode from three different opuntia specimens in the area, distributing my harvest among them out of respect for their new growth. We then vacated the premises and retired to our abode. After despining and chopping the opuntia cladodes, called “nopales” in Mexican cuisine, I added them to a pot filled with the canned beans we had acquired from the deserted residence, wherein they served as a delicious and nutritious vegetable in this meal which was fully and freely provided to us by the day’s adventuring.