Monday, August 30, 2010

Five (Wait, Make That 10) Things The Feds Don't Want You To Know About Marijuana.

"First, take care of head!"

The first five, which were presented in a piece on Alternet last year (2009) by Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and is the co-author of the book Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink ?(2009, Chelsea Green), are these:
1. Marijuana Use Is Not Associated With a Rise in Incidences of Schizophrenia
2. Marijuana Smoke Doesn't Damage the Lungs Like Tobacco
3. Cannabis Use Potentially Protects, Rather Than Harms, the Brain
4. Marijuana Is a Terminus, Not a 'Gateway,' to Hard Drug Use
5. Government's Anti-Pot Ads Encourage, Rather Than Discourage, Marijuana Use
Qouth Armentano: "“[N]ews outlets continue to, at best, underreport the publication of scientific studies that undermine the federal government's longstanding pot propaganda and, at worst, ignore them all together.”
Now comes another five things the Gummint and the CorpoRats don't want you to know:
1. Long-term marijuana use is associated with lower risks of certain cancers, including head and neck cancer.
2. Most Americans acknowledge that pot is safer than booze.
3. The enforcement of marijuana laws is racially discriminatory.
4. Marijuana may be helpful, not harmful, to people with schizophrenia.
5. Workplace drug testing programs don’t identify impaired employees or reduce on-the-job accidents.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

"First, Make A Simple Beer

My old pal in Ol' Blighty, Susan Jordan, posted this on FB today:
The science and art of whisky making
Andy Connelly describes how base beer is transformed into golden whisky – the drink of angels and hairy Scotsmen
"... drinking whisky is never about just drinking whisky; we're social creatures and we tend to drink in a social context... Even if we resort to drinking alone, we drink with memories and ghosts."~~ Iain Banks
If you are lucky enough to be reading this with a glass of whisky in your hand then take a second to regard the contents of your glass. Is it a pale golden or dark ruby colour? Does it greet your nose with memories of heather moorland or salty coastlines? Is your mouth filled with a honey sweetness or a dark acrid smokiness? All of these and many more are possible from the most multifaceted of spirits known variously as whisk(e)y, liquid sunshine, and the water of life.

Whisky is the liquid gold that emerges from the distillation of base beer. It is "the separation of the gross from the subtle and the subtle from the gross ... to make the spiritual lighter by its subtlety" (Hieronymus Brunschwig, 15th century doctor and distiller). Almost all spirits are produced by distillation: a liquid with a low alcohol content such as wine or beer can be taken and from it a spirit produced. Alchemists believed that through repeated distillation they could extract the essence or spirit of a material and that from wine they could extract the aqua vītae or water of life. The word itself, whisky, is an Anglicised version of the Gaelic for water of life: uisge beatha or usquebaugh is what Irish and Scots monks called their distilled barley beer.

Scotland's mild, maritime climates, with long hours of daylight in summer, was ideal for growing barley for making beer. Thus, the Scots distilled beer not wine, and so made whisky not brandy. The first evidence of whisky production in Scotland comes from an entry in the Exchequer Rolls for 1494: malt is sent " ... to Friar John Cor, by order of the King, wherewith to make aqua vitae". Since then whisky has been as intimately associated with Scotland as the kilt and Tunnock's caramel. However, it is not thought to be a Scottish invention. Whisky making is most likely to have developed in Ireland and have been carried across to Scotland by monks some time between 1100 and 1300.

The processes that go into making whisky appear simple but they can produce an infinitely complex and subtle drink. Whisky can be made from many different grains but a Scottish single malt can only be made from malted barley. Scottish single malt is what we will concentrate on here as there are many more whisky distilleries in Scotland than anywhere else in the world.

Step 1: Make a simple beer

Like most processes based on fermentation, beer making is the conversion of sugars into alcohol, using yeast. In wine making these sugars come from grapes, in beer making they come (in the majority) from malted barley.

Malting, carried out by maltsters, is the process of extracting the sugars from barley. It begins by soaking the barley in water to allow the barley seeds to germinate. During germination enzymes turn the starch within the barley into soluble sugars. After two or three days the germination is stopped by drying. This drying process is critical to the taste of the beer, and so the whisky. In many parts of Scotland, especially on the Scottish islands, drying was traditionally done using the local fuel peat to fire the kilns. Phenolic compounds transferred from the peat giving the malt, and so the whisky, its signature smoky peaty flavour. The greater the amount of peat used, the more peaty and smoky the whisky.

The malt is then ground and hot water is added to extract more fermentable sugars. The liquid that is drained off after this process is called the wort. Yeast is added to the wort which is allowed to ferment giving a rough beer called wash (7-10% alcohol).

Just as different grape varieties are used in wine production, there are a number of different barley varieties that can be used for the distillation of Scottish single malt whisky. If any other type of grain is used (such as maize, buckwheat, rye, corn, etc.) the result cannot be called single malt whisky.

Step 2: Distillation of the beer

Distillation works because different liquids boil (evaporate) at different temperatures. The boiling point of alcohol is 65-80 °C, depending on the type of alcohol, substantially below water's 100 °C. This means that as a mixture of water and alcohol is heated, more of the alcohol than the water will be released as vapour. These vapours are collected or condensed on a cold surface, similar to the water droplets on a pan lid when you boil water. In fact, the word distil comes from the Latin destillare, "to drip".

Scottish whisky is generally distilled twice. The first still is called the "wash still", and is used to separate alcohol from the wash. The wash still produces a spirit called low wines (21-28% alcohol). These low wines are then transferred to the "spirit still", which separates out the drinkable alcohol.

During heating, the condensed vapour is separated into three parts or cuts. The first cut is called the heads or foreshots and contains a high proportion of toxic methanol and acetone and other low boiling point liquids. As the temperature increases, the next cut is called the 'heart of the run': this is the spirit that will evolve into whisky. With more time and temperature the vapour decreases in alcohol and increases in water content. This third cut is called the tails or feints, and includes a host of aromatic compounds that give desirable flavours. However, some are only in small quantities, such as fusel oil.

Fusel oils are longer chain (higher) alcohols than ethanol. They are mildly toxic and in high concentrations have a strong disagreeable smell and taste (fusel being German for "bad liquor"). In small concentrations, however, they give the whisky flavour and body.

The craft of the stillman is to know at what point to draw the boundaries between these cuts; each distillery will take a slightly different fraction so each spirit is chemically different before it even gets into the cask to mature.

The "new make spirit" produced at this point is about 70% alcohol. It is what would have been drunk in the early days of whisky, straight from the still, like vodka. It was only discovered in the 16th century that over time whisky kept in oak casks would evolve and mellow becoming something greater and more complex. But what is this evolution and why does it happen?

Step 3: Storage and maturation in oak casks

When alcoholic liquids are stored in new oak casks several things occur. First, the liquid extracts soluble materials from the wood that contribute colour and flavour, including tannins, oak lactones (a coconut flavour), clove and vanilla aromas. These flavours, particularly vanilla (vanillin in oak, the same compound found in vanilla pods), can be very strong in new barrels, hence second hand casks are desirable for Scottish whisky as they give milder flavours.

The inner surface of the casks is generally carbonised by burning. This acts like an activated charcoal absorbent, removing some materials from the whisky and accelerating chemical interactions between wood and whisky. The browning-reaction products of burning and smoky volatiles formed are also extracted by the whisky, giving flavour and colour.

Every cask "breathes" while it matures. Gaps and pores in the wood allow the liquid to absorb limited amounts of oxygen which leads to oxidation of alcohols and aldehydes. Acids also react with ethanol to form esters, some of the most aromatic and often fruity of whisky's flavour compounds.

The wood of the casks expands during the heat of summer and contracts during the cold of winter. As a result of evaporation the whisky will annually lose up to 2.5% alcohol while it matures. The part of the maturing whisky that vanishes between casking and bottling is called the angels' share.

The first whisky casks would have been old oak sherry casks from Spain which arrived in the British Isles for bottling. Sherry was very popular in the 16th century and so the casks could be bought relatively cheaply. Now ex-American bourbon casks are generally used as they are cheaper than old sherry or wine casks, although some whiskies are still matured or "finished" in sherry or wine casks.

The size of the cask, the position in the warehouse, the type and previous life of the oak, the temperature and humidity, and many other difficult-to-define variables contribute to the final whisky flavour. This multitude of variables means the age for optimum flavour development changes drastically from distillery to distillery, or even from cask to cask. Some whiskies are best after eight years while others are best after 16; there are no rules, just tasting. This is why the process of "blending" is so important, even in single malt whiskies.

Step 4: Blending and bottling

A single malt whisky is a 100% malted barley whisky from one distillery, blended or mixed from many casks to give the desired colour and flavour; the age on the bottle indicates the youngest whisky in that blend. The process of blending a single malt is complex and highly skilled; if distilling is a science then blending is definitely an art.

Once the whisky is blended it is usually diluted to the final bottle concentration. The source of the water used at this point is considered of great importance and whisky distilleries will guard their water source carefully. Caramel is sometimes added at this point to adjust the colour of the whisky.

The whisky is generally diluted to a bottling strength of between 40% and 46%. Occasionally distillers will release a "cask strength" edition, which is either undiluted or diluted only a little and will usually have an alcohol content of around 60%.

The dilution of whisky is more complex than just the addition of water. Some chemicals within whisky (particularly fusel oils and fatty acids) have limited solubility in water. When whisky is diluted with water to 40% alcohol these oils can give the whisky a cloudy appearance, and so for improved shelf appearance they are generally removed by cold filtering.

Step 5: Drinking and appreciation

No matter how many years a whisky has been maturing, whatever the idyllic Scottish island from which it came, and whatever the long history, whisky is there to be drunk. Hopefully drunk as a pleasurable experience, savoured and appreciated. So if you have the chance, spend some time with your glass of whisky as you might with a good wine. Try using a wine or a brandy style glass instead of a tumbler for an enhanced experience.

The colour of the whisky is the first thing you see in your glass. The colour can give a clue to the type of cask used. Single malts that were matured in bourbon casks, for example, are usually a golden-yellow/honey colour; whiskies finished in sherry casks are usually darker and more amber in colour.

The next sensory experience is the smell. Put your nose to the glass and take a gentle sniff. What do you find? Is there a hint of that peated malt? Or a little of that vanilla from the oak cask?

The chemicals that are reaching your nose are a complex mixture, the culmination of distillation and years maturation. But they are not a fixed set, you can still alter and change the bouquet that greets your nose and so the flavour of the whisky simply by adding water. Adding water to whisky changes the concentration of alcohol and so increases the volatility of alcohol-soluble hydrophobic or long-chain compounds such as the fruity esters, increasing the fruity aspects of the whisky's flavour.

In contrast, smoky phenolics and roasted nut and cereal-flavoured nitrogen-containing compounds are water-soluble, and the volatility of these is reduced with water addition and so the smoky aspect of the whisky's flavour is reduced. However, the addition of ice reduces the temperature of the whisky and hence reduces the volatility of all the compounds, leading to a reduced aroma and a diminished taste.

Good whisky needs time, both during maturation and in the glass. Sip the malt slowly. As you roll it around your tongue let the flavours take over your mouth and savour the warmth rolling down your throat. Hold up your whisky against the light, ponder the centuries of history, discovery and chemistry behind the golden liquid. Drink deep, drink to make your spirit lighter and remember that you drink where angels have been before you; angels and hairy Scotsmen.

Andy Connelly is a cookery writer and former researcher in glass science at the University of Sheffield. He is training to become a science teacher

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ach! 'Tis TERRIBLE News! (And It's Bluiddy "Whisky," NOT "Whiskey," Ye Soddin' Cretins!)

Don’t drink and drive, but feel free to let your car party all it wants! After two years and $400,000, researchers at Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland have successfully turned whiskey into fuel.
The researchers were provided with the general products needed to make whiskey as well as the byproducts that typically result from production of the alcohol.
(Ach, well, this is better~~W) They found they were able to make a form of biobutanol — which is 30% more efficient than ethanol — with two whiskey byproducts – pot ale and draff. Finally, a discovery worthy of a toast!

Read more: Scottish Researchers Turn Whiskey into Fuel

An' tis whisky in the CAR, then?

Monday, August 16, 2010

85-Year-Old Grandpa Arrested For Bringing Marijuana To Prison

No, really!
Via TokeOfTheTown dot com:
An 85-year-old grandfather faces seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine for allegedly bringing marijuana into the Warren County Correctional Institute in Ohio.

Richard J. Heritz of West Chester, Ohio, faces a felony charge for trying to bring drugs onto the grounds of the facility and possessing "criminal tools," reports WKRC Cincinnati.

Officers claimed they got a tip that Heritz would be trying to bring cannabis to his grandson, an inmate at Warren Correctional Institute, during a scheduled visit on Friday.

When Heritz arrived for his visit, troopers confronted him. He voluntarily surrendered one "large package" containing about 22 grams of suspected marijuana, reports

Marijuana is estimated to be worth about $23 a gram in Ohio's correctional institutions, according to WKRC.

The 85-year-old is now behind bars at the Warren County Jail.
$23/gram? That's $650/oz; or $10,300 for a lb?
But that's the 'in jail' price, I guess.
Great mark-up, but the dangers of getting it INTO the joint (instead of just smoking a joint) are--as Gramps can attest--steep.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Everything You Need To Know About Being A Good Person..,.

You can learn from your dog!
If a dog were your teacher, you would learn stuff like:
When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.

Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.

Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.

When it’s in your best interest, practice obedience.

Let others know when they’ve invaded your territory.

Take naps and stretch before rising.

Run, romp, and play daily.

Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.

On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.

On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.

When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body.

No matter how often you’re scolded, don’t buy into the guilt thing and pout… run right back and make friends.

Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.

Eat with gusto and enthusiasm.

Stop when you have had enough.

Be loyal.

Never pretend to be something you’re not.

If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.

And MOST of all… When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by
and nuzzle them gently.

Author Unknown

Courtesy of

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Your "Awwww-some " Moment for the Day

Via LATimes:
We're suckers for animals that have a soft spot for babies.

So we were bound to love Karma, a pit bull described as a "bully ambassador" by owner nrc5878. "I am the proudest [pit bull] mom ever," nrc5878 wrote. With a gentle dog like Karma, we can see why!

Karma helps nrc5878 take care of foster animals like this kitten, who seems not to have heard any of the negative press about pit bulls.

Friday, August 6, 2010

"Down!"? of "Off!"? Or A Little Click?

Now, normally this is not my cuppa. I can tell you exactly what you should do when your dog gets all jumpy right when you walk in the door, but I’m deplorably deficient in follow-through when it comes to my own. This is an especially big problem when the dog you need to train has more training evasion tricks up her sleeve than you have skills.

In case you haven’t been following my posts recently, this entry is about Pinky, my pit bull foster dog who has an I-have-more-energy-than-you-know-what-to-do-with flair that goes beyond most dogs I’ve ever met (save my mother’s 12-year-old Jack Russell, who still gets up every day with a squirrel-obsessed glaze about her).

The thing with Pinky is that if I don’t manage a three to four mile run in the early morning hours, the Miami summer heat means no serious workout for her for the rest of the day. And I’m hard-pressed to manage that kind of a run more than twice a week.

So what’s a not-so-capable trainer to do? Here’s what I’ve done:

Keep up the energy expending exercises, even if it’s only ball playing in the front yard and vigorous (if indoor) inter-dog play.
Redirect the dog to the floor with treats every time the urge to jump seems imminent (as when releasing her from her crate or coming in from the exciting out-of-doors).
Use the clicker when she gets her treat to help connect the clicker to the reward for easier training on other fronts.
Invite a high quality trainer to dinner once every other week or so. (It helps that she’s fun to hang around.) Having someone who knows how to train ME means better care for all of my pets (not just the dogs).
When all else fails, hand your guests the spray bottle, since they’re the ones most likely to be set upon by the intense, gravity defying bunny-hops.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Anybody Who's Lived Among Ravens KNOWS How Smart They Are

One of those TED productions, which are always--ALWAYS--smart and entertaining because of it...
Hacker and writer Joshua Klein is fascinated by crows. (Notice the gleam of intelligence in their little black eyes?) After a long amateur study of corvid behavior, he's come up with an elegant machine that may form a new bond between animal and human. (2008)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Dog Training and the Myth of Alpha-Male Dominance

Via Time Mag, on-line:

Dogs are descended from wolves. Wolves live in hierarchical packs in which the aggressive alpha male rules over everyone else. Therefore, humans need to dominate their pet dogs to get them to behave.
This logic has dominated the canine-rearing conversation for more than five years, thanks mostly to National Geographic's award-winning show, Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan.

But many experts say Millan's philosophy is based on now-debunked animal studies and that some of his techniques — most famously the alpha roll, in which he pins a dog on its back and holds it by the throat — are downright cruel. Rival trainer Victoria Stilwell has launched a competitive assault on Dog Whisperer by starring on Animal Planet's It's Me or the Dog and by spreading her system of positive-reinforcement training virtually and with troops on the ground: this June she launched a podcast (available on and iTunes) and franchised her methods to a first batch of 20 dog trainers in the U.S., the U.K., Italy and Greece. She uses positivity as a counterpoint to dominance theory and reserves her aggression for the poorly behaving humans.

The debate has its roots in 1940s studies of captive wolves gathered from various places that, when forced to live together, naturally competed for status. Acclaimed animal behaviorist Rudolph Schenkel dubbed the male and female who won out the alpha pair. As it turns out, this research was based on a faulty premise: wolves in the wild, says L. David Mech, founder of the Minnesota-based International Wolf Center, actually live in nuclear families, not randomly assembled units, in which the mother and father are the pack leaders and their offspring's status is based on birth order. Mech, who used to ascribe to alpha-wolf theory but has reversed course in recent years, says the pack's hierarchy does not involve anyone fighting to the top of the group, because just like in a human family, the youngsters naturally follow their parents' lead.

Says Bonnie Beaver, former president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA): "We are on record as opposing some of the things Cesar Millan does because they're wrong." Likewise, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) issued a position statement last year arguing against the aggressive-submissive dichotomy.

It is leadership by showing a good example, not dominance, that AVSAB says owners should strive for in relation to their dogs. The organization's statement, which does not explicitly name Millan but references his terminology and some of his controversial techniques, argues that dominant-submissive relationships that do occur in nature are a means to allocate resources — a problem that rarely exists between dogs and their owners. (Nor even, AVSAB notes, among feral dogs, which live in small, scavenging groups without alphas controlling access to food and mates.) House pets, on the contrary, bark too much, jump up on you, ignore your commands, growl and nip at you because they have been inadvertently rewarded for this behavior or because they have not been trained to act differently.

To be sure, Millan's approach to retraining is sometimes warm and fuzzy, and he has much common ground with positive-reinforcement trainers like Stilwell. Both trainers strive — as much as possible with a nonspeaking animal — to determine the psychological cause of a pup's misbehavior. Both encourage people to ignore dogs' annoying habits so as not to accidentally reward them with attention. Both agree that punishment is only effective during or within half a second after the offending behavior: yell at Butch for peeing in your kitchen after he's already walked away, and Butch will think he's in trouble for walking away. Both trainers obviously love animals.

But, AVSAB says, calling a dog's behavior aggressive, as Millan often does, should be reserved for the most violent animals, and some critics even dislike the quick smacks on the flank he gives to focus a dog's attention. "Discipline doesn't come in the form of screaming at your dog, hitting your dog or putting it into an alpha roll," says Stilwell. "When you do that, instinct tells the dog to shut down, which is mistaken for calming, but really you're making the dog more insecure."

Such insecurity can have unintended consequences. For one thing, rather than submit, your pets might lash out at you. "They may react with aggression, not because they are trying to be dominant but because the human threatening them makes them afraid," AVSAB says. For another, even if a dog looks subdued, you don't know what's going on inside. "Fear increases cortisol," says AVMA's Beaver, a professor at Texas A&M's College of Veterinary Medicine. "Long-term fear increases it significantly and can lead to long-term health problems associated with stress" — a point that Stilwell, in her melodious British accent, likes to point out to her clients on TV.
Take the example of Atlanta couple Louie Newman and Judy Griffin, who already had two Lhasa apsos when they adopted a rescue poodle named Manny. Not only did Manny pick fights with the other dogs, he also would attack Newman whenever he went near his wife or even tried to hand her the remote control. Newman and Griffin thought Manny wanted to control everyone, but Stilwell told them he was just trying to figure out his status in the household. "She said he was always tense. He didn't ever blink. I would've never thought to check if my dog blinked," says Newman, a recording executive in Nashville, who learned to relax when approaching Manny and to court him with treats. "He was really insecure. Who would have thought that? He acted like he owned the house."

Of course, letting Manny's whims rule the roost was one of the couple's big mistakes. The question is to what extent they, or any dog owner, should put him in his place. With Stilwell gearing up for her third American TV season and Millan in the middle of his sixth, the answer may be a lot simpler and less dramatic than producers would have us think. "All I have to be is one position higher than that dog," says Beaver. "I raise him to see me as a leader. Not an alpha, a leader."

Read more:,8599,2007250,00.html#ixzz0vS3YNOMy