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04 Jun 16:44

This tiny house uses mushrooms as insulation

by Sarah Laskow
stew

NICE.

mushroom-tiny-house-lead-2
Ecovative, via Inhabitat

Usually you do not want fungi in the walls of your home. But Ecovative is building a home in which having fungi in the walls is the entire point. The “Mushroom Tiny House” will use mycelium (the mass of threadlike “roots” that mushrooms use to take in nutrition) for insulation.

According to Inhabitat, this stuff is basically asbestos except that it’s not bad for the planet, won’t give you cancer, and is related to something you might put on a pizza:

Once it’s done growing, this mushroom insulation will continue to dry over the course of a month forming an airtight seal and excellent thermal protection. According to Ecovative, it will also be affordable, fire resistant and will have low or no VOCs. In addition to naturally-grown insulation, the house will also have ceiling tiles made of mushroom material.

So, basically the next best thing to being a Smurf and living in a toadstool.

Also, according to Inhabitat, you can eat the insulation. It will taste bad. But it won’t kill you. And really, all we’ve ever wanted is to live in a house you can theoretically eat.


Filed under: Living
23 May 14:10

Gut punch: Monsanto could be destroying your microbiome

by Tom Laskawy
man-barfing
blambca

First the bad news: The “safest” herbicide in the history of science may be harming us in ways we’re just beginning to understand. And now for the really bad news: Because too much is never enough, the Environmental Protection Agency just raised the allowable limits for how much of that chemical can remain on the food we eat, and the crops we feed to animals – many of which end up on our plates as well. If you haven’t guessed its identity yet, it’s Monsanto’s RoundUp, a powerful weed killer.

The EPA and Monsanto are apparently hoping that no one notices the recent rule change – or, if we do notice, that we respond with a collective shrug. But that, my friends, would be a mistake. While RoundUp may truly be the “safest” pesticide ever invented, that isn’t quite the same as “safe.” It just may be that RoundUp represents a hitherto unrecognized threat to our health — not because of what it does to our bodies, but because of what it does to our “internal ecology,” a.k.a. our “microbiome.”

As Michael Pollan deftly catalogued in his must-read cover story in the most recent New York Times Magazine, scientists are just beginning to explore the inner reaches of our bodies to understand how our microbiome affects our health. Nonetheless, there are some growing signs that RoundUp might be the last thing you want in there.

Monsanto would, of course, disagree. The common claim is that RoundUp’s active ingredient, glyphosate, is less toxic than aspirin. How can one of the most effective broad-spectrum herbicides in the history of humankind be less toxic than aspirin?

I’m glad you asked. For two reasons. First, because glyphosate isn’t well absorbed by our digestive tract: 98 percent of it passes right through us. And second, because its “mode of action” involves a biochemical process that is specific to plants. (For the budding chemists among you, it disrupts the metabolic process known as “the shikimate pathway,” which humans do not have.)

Now, the actual safety and environmental effects of RoundUp are the subject of some dispute. It gets into waterways and may affect aquatic plants. New research has implicated it in the catastrophic loss of amphibians. Even the U.S. Department of Agriculture has evidence, which it downplays, that RoundUp may damage soil through its impact on beneficial soil microbes and interfere with the growth of plants, including RoundUpReady varieties that have been genetically engineered to resist the herbicide. And there’s the controversial claim by a Purdue University plant pathologist that RoundUp has caused an increase in miscarriage and infertility in livestock.

There are studies that show glyphosate is toxic to human placental cells, but you’re unlikely to run into high enough concentrations to show those effects — unless you’re a farmworker. A study of Berlin residents meanwhile found glyphosate levels in human urine that exceeded Germany’s safe drinking water limits [PDF].

While it’s true that glyphosate the chemical has been the subject of much scientific analysis, it’s also true that farmers don’t use pure glyphosate. They use RoundUp on their fields — and RoundUp is a product with other “inactive” chemical ingredients. And there is increasing evidence that RoundUp as a product is far more toxic than glyphosate on its own because the ingredients interact in troubling ways.

All of which to say that there’s isn’t really a good health argument in favor of increasing Americans’ exposure to the chemical. There are, however, some pretty compelling reasons not to – and that’s where your microbiome comes into the picture. Even if we aren’t absorbing all the RoundUp that’s on the food we eat, we are certainly exposing the residents of our digestive tract to it. And here’s the funny thing. While we don’t have the metabolic process that RoundUp disrupts, many microbes do.

So, in short, we may be dousing our interior landscapes with a potent and effective intestinal flora herbicide. Oopsie.

Researchers are only now beginning to explore this idea. There is new research out of Germany that establishes that glyphosate kills many species of beneficial animal gut bacteria while not affecting more harmful gut bacteria, like E coli and the bacteria that causes botulism, which is apparently at epidemic levels in cattle. And it’s not a stretch to say that it likely has a similar effect on the versions of those bacteria that have colonized us.

And, as Michael Pollan explains, our gut bacteria plays a core role in maintaining our health, although in ways that are not at all understood. The research is in its earliest days, but it’s possible that an unhealthy microbiome could contribute to obesity and other diseases, especially those caused by inflammation.

It’s all very speculative, but you can see where this is leading. While we’re just beginning to understand how our microbiome works and how it may prove essential to preventing all sorts of diseases, our governments are increasing the amounts of this anti-microbial herbicide Big Ag is allowed to leave on our food.

This is all happening at a time when we have almost no data on how much we’re exposed to this chemical in the first place. One reason that glyphosate has continued to fly under the mainstream toxic chemical radar is that it’s actually very difficult to test for. There are only a handful of labs that can do it and it’s an expensive process. In fact, the USDA’s pesticide monitoring program only tests a single crop, soybeans, for glyphosate residue. This is true even though it’s used on a huge variety of crops, both directly on the plants in the case of RoundUpReady and indirectly through spraying on fields before planting non-resistant crops.

So why would the EPA allow more of this stuff in our food? The agency didn’t decide to do this entirely on its own, of course. It did so because Monsanto asked.

Here’s the thing: As farmers adopted Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds in droves — the majority of corn, soy and cotton grown worldwide include the company’s RoundupReady trait — there has been an explosion in the use of the pesticide for which the trait is designed: You guessed it, RoundUp.

In the U.S. alone, it’s estimated that over 200 million pounds of the stuff are spread on fields and farms every year. That’s almost triple the amount used in 2001. (These numbers, by the way, are all estimates, since the USDA doesn’t precisely track glyphosate use because MONSANTO!)

There’s clearly more and more Roundup getting on our food. What else is Monsanto to do but get governments to bless this development? Both the E.U. and the U.S. have now complied. Stateside, the EPA has approved a significant increase on various grains, fruits, and vegetables, and upped the allowable limit on animal feed by a factor of 100.

Does that sound like a recipe for disaster to you? It probably should. It should also sound like yet another reason to buy organic food and either organic or pastured dairy and meat.

If it feels like Monsanto and its biotech brethren get to call the shots when it comes to toxic chemicals on our food, well, you’re right. On the other hand, the EPA is still accepting comments on these new glyphosate limits. Maybe if consumers make enough noise, the agency might reconsider.


Filed under: Food, Politics
04 Apr 23:03

Mixed news everyone: update, help search, report and pics.

stew

@Evan Bleiweiss--know anyone who might be interested? "3. We could really use some help on the Ruby on Rails front. If you have experience engineering medium-size websites, and you’d like to become a part of our small team, please, drop us a line to hello@theoldreader.com. If you have any other suggestions about how you can help us, feel free to email us as well. Or just spread the word, that’d be much appreciated.

We can’t pay you a huge pile of money, but we still have something interesting to offer."

Mixed news everyone!

1. First and the most important: thank you everybody for your donations. We now have enough to secure our servers for the next two months or so. You can donate using Flattr or using bitcoins: 1JMYDeTaJHvfL6stbvwNdbY8zVqWfEnucU.

2. We’ve got an incredible amount of emails during last three weeks. There’ve been several days when all three of us were busy mostly dealing with user requests. If you believe that The Old Reader is missing something (and it surely is), please go to our Uservoice page, browse the issues (most likely, someone has already created your suggestion), and vote for the ones you like. Also you can see what’s already planned there. And please, check our Status page or subscribe to our Twitter account — we are updating these two on current issues.

We only have that much time during the day to spare on this project, and we would prefer to spend it making The Old Reader more reliable or implementing new features, not removing duplicate feature requests or explaining how to create a folder.

We are focused on making everything work for the vast number of users and feeds, for now this is our top priority.

image(image by ProlificPen)

3. We could really use some help on the Ruby on Rails front. If you have experience engineering medium-size websites, and you’d like to become a part of our small team, please, drop us a line to hello@theoldreader.com. If you have any other suggestions about how you can help us, feel free to email us as well. Or just spread the word, that’d be much appreciated.

We can’t pay you a huge pile of money, but we still have something interesting to offer.

4. Cool graphs, no?
cool graphs

02 Apr 12:21

welcome to a world where the word "reputation" doesn't exist and everything is understood in terms of corporations

stew

so sassy.

archive - contact - sexy exciting merchandise - cute - search - about
← previous April 2nd, 2013 next

April 2nd, 2013: Did you know that I am writing a Galaga comic? If so, did you know it updated yesterday? HOPEFULLY THE ANSWER TO BOTH THESE QUESTION IS: yes!

– Ryan

18 Mar 12:30

This is what rape culture looks like

by bridieflynn
stew

A fierce, on-point reaction to the Steubenville rape case media coverage, from my awesome friend Bridie.

I am so fucking sick of rape apologists.

The two teens accused of sexually assaulting an incapacitated girl in Steubenville, Ohio were found guilty yesterday in a juvenile court. They were sentenced to one year and two years, respectively, in juvenile detention. CNN’s coverage of the event focused exclusively on how difficult this verdict was for those poor boys:

For those of you who don’t care to watch, the Raw Story provides quotes along with extremely justified disgust.

For those of you who don’t care to click on links, here’s a choice quote from CNN’s Paul Callan:

There’s always that moment of just — lives are destroyed,” Callan remarked. “But in terms of what happens now, the most severe thing with these young men is being labeled as registered sex offenders. That label is now placed on them by Ohio law.”

“That will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

[EDIT]: It was pointed out to me in the comments that Paul Callan’s actual quote from the video was: “There’s always that moment of just — lives are destroyed, and of course lives have already been destroyed by the crime, and we’ve seen that. But in terms of what happens now…” The Raw Story edited the quote to omit Paul Callan’s mention of the victim, which is not fair.

However, aside from one passing reference, there is still absolutely NO consideration of how BEING RAPED is going to affect their victim. She was barely mentioned at all.

When rape victims are mentioned in the media, it is almost always an accusatory edge – even when those victims are 11 years old. What was she wearing? Was she drunk? Had she flirted with, looked at, spoken to her alleged rapist before he raped her?

ABC News shows exactly this bullshit in a rape-apologist piece they ran five days ago called “The Steubenville Rape Case: The Story You Haven’t Heard.”

20/20 anchor Elizabeth Vargas discusses “incriminating statements” made by the victim’s best friends, including that “she had made a plan to meet up with one of the accused rapists – one of the football players accused of rape – later on in the evening and therefore had given prior consent, [and] that she might’ve even had a history of doing this kind of thing before.”

Because flirting constitutes consent, which is something you give once, that lasts forever, even when you’re too drunk to stand up or know where you are! Because if you’ve had sex before (assuming that is the “kind of thing” to which she refers so ominously), you are a slut and therefore unrapeable! Oh, and let’s not forget, they are not accused rapists – they are football players, accused of rape by some girl who should’ve known better than to get drunk around men.

In fact, this ABC article spends three introductory paragraphs waxing poetic about the glory of the Steubenville football team, and how important it is to the small “all-American” town. It then discusses, at length, how the “social media frenzy” is tearing this wholesome town apart.

And then they put “rape culture” in scare quotes. Because this article isn’t horrible, glaring proof that rape culture is thriving in the most influential sectors of our society.

In a bizarre yet heartening turn of events, Yahoo! Sports covered the verdict without apologizing for the rapists, and called out the culture that led to two young men raping an unconscious girl while 40 of their friends laughed and took pictures – although they call it arrogance, and depict the culture as limited to one small town, rather than a national epidemic.

Yes, this was extreme arrogance. The arrogance to not just joke and brag like the teenage boys they were, but to commit those jokes to text messages, to snap a photo of the girl being carried out like she was a casualty coming off a battle field. Even guys who weren’t there sat around a basement laughing about how “the dead girl” was “so raped.”

A quick tour of social media reveals hundreds of people (unsurprisingly) echoing the message of major media chains. Here’s a typical one (from a female twitter user):

I’m not saying what they did wasn’t wrong but it’s not rape. . . it’s the girl’s fault. #dontdrink

Rape culture teaches us that if a woman drinks, she is asking for it. If a woman wears a skirt, she is asking for it. If a woman flirts with a man, she is asking for it. Rape culture teaches us that men are entitled to womens’ bodies. Rape culture teaches us that rape is something evil, shadowy rapists do to strangers at gunpoint. Good boys, football players, can’t be rapists. Therefore, they can’t rape.

Those young men who got convicted? They probably still think that what they did wasn’t rape. All of their friends who watched them didn’t stop them, because they didn’t think what was happening was rape.

Rape culture is not just disgusting and horrifying and wrong. Rape culture causes rape. That young woman had her life blown apart by rape culture. So did those young men. So do countless people, every single day.

We need to call this shit out, right the fuck now.
Here is the link to contact ABC’s 20/20. Here is their twitter handle.

Here is the link to contact CNN. Here is their twitter handle.

Here’s what I’m writing:

Dear CNN/ABC:

I was disgusted and appalled by your coverage of the Steubenville rape case. Victim blaming, slut shaming, and rape apologizing are not okay. Your concern for the welfare of the perpetrators over that of the victim is clear indication of where you stand. You are perpetuating rape culture. And you should be fucking ashamed.

Feel free to use it, or write your own message (add or subtract profanity as you please!). But please – write one. Share this, or the original stories, on Facebook. Spread the outrage, mobilize your friends, tweet until your fingers bleed.

Because rape culture causes rapes. And major media outlets that perpetuate rape culture can not get away with this shit.