Monday, August 13, 2012

Vaccination Rant

In my Microbiology class a couple weeks ago, we were discussing vaccinations. A vaccination is basically a weakened strand of bacteria or protozoa that we inject in to our bodies so that our immune systems can easily destroy it and hopefully recognize any future infections by this bacteria and destroy them as well. As far as modern medicine goes, vaccines are probably the greatest discovery and most effective life saving invention of the past century. This being acknowledged I must say that this is just a broad concept of what you might encounter at your doctor's office. Big time pharmaceutical companies have embraced a business-profit structure that borders on some of the most evil philosophies ever known to man. If you knew that you had a more than 50% chance of dying before old age if you did not buy something, chances are you will buy it. This fact has generated mind blowing profits based on human desires for self preservation. In order to generate more profits and fulfill more sales strategies, pharmaceutical companies have been designing their vaccine cocktails with shelf life in mind, as opposed to human health. Mercury and other harmful substances have been put in various vaccines so that they will not have to dispose of expired product as often as normal life-span of weakened microorganisms should require. A vaccine may prevent you from becoming infected with measles, but it may also contribute towards potentially toxic levels of chemicals building up in your kidneys and brain. Generally the levels of these chemicals in vaccines is not fatal or really that harmful to the human system, but when combined with atmospheric, dietary, water reservoir and cleaning products which all contain these chemicals as well, we run the risk of doing long term damage to our bodies. There is also this fact to consider: a vaccine is an act of purposely infecting someone. In a lot of cases, people's immune systems are not strong enough to fight off the microbes in the vaccine and this results in a full blown disease that was not there before. As a nursing student and future health care worker, I am not dumb enough to suggest that I will not vaccinate myself before working in a hospital with numerous amounts of diseases floating around. However, my main qualm is when politicians (which are funded by pharmaceutical lobbyists) enact laws mandating that myself or my future children take these substances. This is not a new topic of discussion, but one of my classmates made an argument that I just can not stop thinking about. She argued that all children should be required to have the full spectrum of vaccinations in order to attend school, and if their parents did not want to expose them to the risks, the parents should send their children to a private school. Now this sounds a little backwards to me. In America we are supposed to be living in the "land of the free". Government telling me that I have to buy something, believe something or teach my children something is fundamentally against the principles that millions have fought and died for. If you want the "benefit" of having your child in an all vaccinated environment, YOU are the one who should start a private school for your children. Do not tell me what I have to do with mine.

(full disclosure: I do not have any children, but I have nieces and nephews)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Making Mead

Having a do-it-yourself attitude has served me well. I prefer to cook for myself, grow my own garden, work on my bicycle, fix things around the home and pretty much every other hobby-istic task that modern society is leaning towards forgetting how to do. I also enjoy drinking alcohol socially and with dinner. My particular poison of choice is Irish or Scotch whiskey with wine coming in close second. Unfortunately distilling hard alcohol is illegal in Southern California. However, we are allowed to make up to 200 gallons of beer or wine for personal consumption. Mead is a wine made with honey as its primary base. There might be other fruits and spices added to accent the flavors, but the main ingredient is honey. I started my latest batch about 4 weeks ago, and I suspect it will take another 4 weeks to finish fermenting, and then 4 more weeks of aging. I am having a hard time waiting. If you decide that you want to make some for yourself, or you already make your own, a great resource for all things mead is the forum I recently wrote a process analysis paper for my English 340 class. This is it:

How to Make Mead
In America, it is legal to make up to 200 gallons of wine or beer at home for personal use. It is a wide-spread hobby that people from all walks of life take part in. Whether one cannot find a wine or beer suiting their particular taste, or one just wants a hobby to occupy their free time, home-brewing of wine and beer can be a rewarding, fun, and tasty pursuit. One of my favorite drinks to make is honey wine, which is also known as mead. In this paper I will discuss the materials necessary, the proper steps to take, and what mistakes to watch out for when making mead in the home.
                One will need to gather some essential materials first before the process is started. The following items will yield 1 gallon of mead:  1 gallon of distilled water in a plastic jug (room temperature), 1 gallon glass jug, 3 pounds of preferred honey, 1 bag of balloons that are big enough to stretch over the mouth of the plastic jug, one small sewing needle, 1 package of baking yeast, 1 box of raisins and 1 whole orange peel. The yeast that I have found to work best that is readily available at most grocery stores is Fleishmann’s yeast. For those that are not familiar with what yeast is, it is a fungus that feeds on sugars and converts them to alcohol. Once all of the supplies have been gathered, the process is ready to begin.
                The number one consideration to take in to account from the beginning is cleanliness. Since this process involves the use of microorganisms (the yeast), an environment will be created in which other harmful microbes can flourish as well. First make sure to sanitize the working space by washing it with a non-toxic cleanser like Simple Green. It helps to place the honey bottles in a warm water bath so the honey will pour easily and mix readily with the water. While the honey is warming in the bath, this time can be used to activate your yeast. Since the yeast comes in a dormant form, introducing it to the distilled water and a tablespoon of honey will wake it up and activate it. To do this, warm up a cup of distilled water to about 98 degrees Fahrenheit and add a tablespoon of honey. Make sure the water is not too hot, or it will kill off the yeast. Once the optimum temperature is achieved, add one tablespoon of yeast. This should be done in a separate bowl or measuring cup.
                Now it is time to prepare the must (the mixture of honey, water and nutrients). Although the yeast will eat the sugar in the honey, it still needs some more nutrients to operate at full capacity. This is where the raisins and orange peel come in. Make sure to pour out about a quarter of the distilled water jug. After the honey in the warm water bath has equalized temperatures with the water, pour the 3 pounds of honey in to the water jug. Next add 1/8 cup of raisins to the jug. Make sure as much of the white part of the orange peel as possible is removed and add it to the jug as well. The must is now ready to accept the yeast.
                The yeast has been activated while the must was being prepared. The next step is to carefully add the yeast to the must. Yeast functions semi-aerobically, which means it needs a small amount of oxygen to digest the sugars in the must. This can be achieved by aeration of the yeast/must mixture by capping and shaking the jug. The final step is to seal the jug. As the yeast converts the sugar to alcohol, the byproduct is a gas called carbon dioxide. The objective when sealing the jug is to allow the carbon dioxide to escape but not let any outside contaminants back in to the jug. Take a needle and poke a few holes in the top of one of the balloons. Then remove the cap and seal the jug by fitting the balloon over the opening. The tiny holes in the balloon will open to release the carbon dioxide and close enough after to keep contaminants out. Place the jug in a dark and dry place. Check on it daily and record your observations. After about 2 months, or when the gas is no longer being produced, it will be ready for consumption. Filter out the dead yeast and nutrients and place in the 1 gallon glass jug. A way to improve the taste is let the mead age for an additional month or so, but this is not necessary.
                Once all the steps have been completed correctly, the mead will look clear and smell like sweet alcohol. If the mead looks cloudy, or smells sour or moldy, it is possible that it has been contaminated with other microorganisms. This is a cheap way to produce a beverage that is hard to find in normal stores. Mead-making can be a fun hobby and is a tradition within many cultures. It is legal to produce as long as it is not sold without a license from the government. It is always important to remember to enjoy alcohol responsibly and never, under any circumstances, drink mead and drive.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Picky Pagan Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

First off, I must admit that I am a HUGE fan of the Batman movie franchise. Excluding the cheesy (albeit somewhat entertaining) Adam West versions, I can say that the Batman movies and Batman: The Animated Series had a profound effect on my life and my judgement of superhero films. This being said, the only way that I can describe the latest installment is: disappointing. My primary qualm with this movie was the depressing plotline, that plays out twice in the movie. It involves a weak and self absorbed batman going out and getting his ass kicked, back broken and close friends and family leaving him. Batman is a detective, yet throughout this movie, he employs almost zero intelligence and deductive reasoning. Everything is handed to him. Anne Hathaway's performance as Catwoman was atrocious. If anyone had any doubt to her acting ability, this movie will confirm everything. She takes on a stereotypical, stunt double, green screen and CGI-enhanced action movie heroine role and with all of today's modern technology, and even still she manages to fumble through simplistic acrobatics and fight scenes. Bottom line she is not convincing physically or emotionally. She has a great smile, but that is about it. Another one of my peeves in the movie is the vocal effect on Bane's voice. Extreme filters coupled with an abstract British-styled accent make about 15% of his dialogue hard to understand and about 5% completely unintelligible. One small light in the abyss of disappointment is Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance. All I can say is he has come a long way since Third Rock from the Sun. Michael Caine and Gary Oldman will perform in any role you put them in, so no complaint there. However, the Alfred story arch is  somewhat lame and uncharacteristic of the Alfred archetype, but that is Christopher Nolan and the writer's fault, not Mr. Caine's. (I don't live in a monarchy therefor I don't acknowledge another country's feudal elite structure, so don't give me guff for not calling him "Sir".)

Even with all of my qualms, I still somewhat enjoyed this movie on the principle that it is Batman. It is also the conclusion to the series involving Christian Bale as Batman. It is a disappointing conclusion, but I still would recommend watching it to gain closure. 

Rating: 2 out of 5 Broomsticks

Might have made the move a little better, just saying...

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Picky Pagan Store Review: Dragon Marsh

A while ago I was searching for a candle and herb shop in the Inland Empire. I came across Dragon Marsh's website on Google. Located in downtown Riverside, it is pretty easily accessible. I was not sure of what to expect when I first pulled up and parked outside. It is on the corner of a large building with a Mexican restaurant right next to it. It looks somewhat small from the outside, but do not let the appearance fool you. They have a relatively small selection of books for sale, but everything thing else witchy is in abundance. The most impressive part of this store is their selection of herbs, oils and perfumes. There is a professional herbalist on staff that is very knowledgeable about various medical and spiritual uses of everything available. They have an entire room devoted to this subject with hundreds of herbs and oils available, most of which are made by the proprietors themselves. They also have a large supply of any tools you might need for your rituals. Another cool aspect of this shop is that they have many fabrics and items that any ren-faire attendee would be happy to stumble upon. The few times that I have been inside, the staff has been extremely helpful and friendly. You will not encounter any pushy sales tactics or items offered that have nothing to do with what you are looking for. Overall I think this probably the best candle and herb shop that I have been to in southern California. I highly recommend stopping by here if you are looking for something or just want to browse for fun.

Rating: 4.5 broomsticks out of 5

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dian Cecht

Pronounced "Dye-in-ket", he is a Celtic god of healers and physicians. Dian Cecht was known to have been at several famous battles, presiding over the Tuatha De Danann. His approaches were surgical in nature. One story tells of him fitting a prosthetic silver arm for the King Nuada (his brother) after having had it chopped off in battle. He has several children, one of which was Miach, who was also a healer but focused more on herbs and direct-touch healing. Miach was in rivalry with Dian Cecht. After Dian Cecht had attached the silver arm, Miach used herbs to restore Nuada real hand. Legend has it that Dian Cecht stuck Miach on the head with his sword three times, and each time Miach was able to heal himself. On the fourth strike Dian Cecht cleaved Miach's head in two and killed him. I find this story particularly interesting as a possible metaphor for modern time's struggle between allopathic medicine and naturopathic medicine. Dian Cecht is a god of healing, medicine, regeneration, magic and silver-working. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Danu - Celtic Mother Godess

Danu is the mother of the tribe of beings known as Tuatha De Nanann, that reside in the realm of Tir Na nOg. Danu's Consort was Bile (the god of death), and their child was Dagda, who became the Chief of the Tuatha De Nanann. There are many different names and pronunciations of Danu depending on which part of the British Isles you refer to and Irish mythology knows Danu as Anu and BilĂ© as Belenos. Danu is revered as a Gaia-type figure and is often associated with water. The Danube river is reported to be named for her. Being the mother-goddess figure of the Celtic people, she is worshiped by them as a protector, fertility figure, and provider of abundance, wind and wisdom.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Summer in California

New classes, new subjects, old friends, warm weather and a great Litha celebration have put me in good spirits lately. I am readying a ritual for a good friend of mine who is about to enter a new phase in his professional career. He is not necessarily a pagan, but appeals to me when he needs help or is uncertain about the outcome of a future decision. It makes me happy that my spiritual practice can help those around me.

I recently made a trip up to the Humboldt National and State Forests. The rhododendron were in bloom and everything seemed to pop with life. I had been to the Sequoia National Forest as a child, and that was my first experience with redwood giants. I can tell you that I truly had no recollection of how awesome they are. These are the largest trees in the world, and their canopy blocks out most of the sun so there is not much undergrowth, which makes it easy to walk around. The forest floor is blanketed with clovers and there are patches of fern littered throughout the surroundings. Strange mushrooms grow on gigantic fallen trees and form wonderful patterns. I felt as if there were faeries behind every corner, just out of sight. Each thousand-year-old giant seemed to have its own personality. It is no wonder why the scientists that study these trees name them. Every time I stopped and closed my eyes, I could feel an ancient overpowering calm come over me. It was as if the trees seemed to say, "You are not the first we've seen, and you won't be the last, but we are glad you are here to share this beauty with us." It is truly a magical experience and I highly recommend going if you ever have the chance to travel to Northern California.