Monday, September 7, 2015

Today's intersection: religious freedoms and personal liberties

Bob Newland got me thinking again about how humans developed a technology to ingest the smoke of native plants.
From hallucinogenic mushrooms and cacti to alcohol-infused enemas and psychoactive dried toad skins, the array of consciousness-altering substances that people in the early Americas used was wider than thought, a new report suggests. At least 54 hallucinogenic mushrooms in the genus Psilocybe were used by pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures, and those mushroom species can still be found today in Mexico, according to the report. "Ritual use of peyote in the Americas dates back more than 5,000 years, to prehistoric times," the report said. Traces of the drug have been found in Mexico and in the Shumla Cave in Texas, according to the study. Reports by 16th-century historians say that the Maya added tobacco and the dried skins of a common toad in the Bufo genus to their alcoholic beverages to make the drinks more potent. [LiveScience]
DNA analysis has confirmed that quids made of yucca fibers bearing teeth marks and human saliva indicate that ancestral Puebloans chewed or sucked on small wads filled with tobacco according to a recent paper published in the Journal of Field Archaeology. Personal pleasure was cited as a reason to chew tobacco-filled quids but there other possibilities, including appetite suppression or treating intestinal parasites.
A new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences titled, “Ritual drinks in the pre-Hispanic U.S Southwest and Mexican Northwest,” scrutinizes how widely caffeine was used at different time periods. The caffeine was consumed in two types of drinks. One was a cacao-based chocolate drink. The other was made from a particular species of holly, used to make what Native Americans in the southeastern U.S. called black drink. The new research used sherds from jars, bowls, and pitchers found at archaeological sites throughout the Southwest. In all, 177 sherds were tested and caffeine was found in 40 of the samples. [University of New Mexico Newsroom]
The concept is simple enough: imagine seeing a horn or an antler smoking in a lightning-caused fire looking like a novel way to move fire from place to place.

Smoking mixtures came with humans as they passed through Beringia:
Prehistory: In 2010, tobacco was found that dates to the Pleistocene Era 2.5 million years ago. Paleontologists from the Meyer-Honninger Paleontology Museum discovered the small block of fossilised tobacco in the Maranon river basin in northeastern Peru. 
Prehistory: As far as human use of tobacco, although small amounts of nicotine may be found in some Old World plants, including belladonna and Nicotiana africana, and nicotine metabolites have been found in human remains and pipes in the Near East and Africa, there is no indication of habitual tobacco use in the Ancient world, on any continent save the Americas.
c. 6000 BCE: Experts believe the tobacco plant, as we know it today, begins growing in the Americas.
c.1 BCE: Experts believe American inhabitants have begun finding ways to use tobacco, including smoking (in a number of variations), chewing and in probably hallucinogenic enemas (by the Peruvian Aguaruna aboriginals).
c. 1 CE: Tobacco was "nearly everywhere" in the Americas. (American Heritage Book of Indians, p.41).
470-630 CE: Between 470 and 630 A.D. the Mayas began to scatter, some moving as far as the Mississippi Valley. The Toltecs, who created the mighty Aztec Empire, borrowed the smoking custom from the Mayas who remained behind. Two castes of smokers emerged among them. Those in the Court of Montezuma, who mingled tobacco with the resin of other leaves and smoked pipes with great ceremony after their evening meal; and the lesser Indians, who rolled tobacco leaves together to form a crude cigar. The Mayas who settled in the Mississippi Valley spread their custom to the neighboring tribes. The latter adapted tobacco smoking to their own religion, believing that their god, the almighty Manitou, revealed himself in the rising smoke. And, as in Central America, a complex system of religious and political rites was developed around tobacco.
600-1000 CE: UAXACTUN, GUATEMALA. First pictorial record of smoking: A pottery vessel found here dates from before the 11th century. On it a Maya is depicted smoking a roll of tobacco leaves tied with a string. The Mayan term for smoking was sik'ar
White Buffalo Calf Woman brought the pipe to the Plains cultures. Among the first pipes fashioned by the human hand depicted animal species important to tribes:
Today, state laws and legal precedents hold manufacturers more liable for the effects of their products. And the old legal defense of "contributing negligence" -- which prevented lawsuits by people with some measure of responsibility for their own condition -- is no longer viable in most jurisdictions. Instead, a defendant can be held partially liable and forced to pay a corresponding percentage of damages. Finally, the notion of "strict" liability has developed; this means a defendant can be found liable whether or not they are found negligent. If a product such as tobacco causes harm, the company that produced it can be held responsible, even if it wasn't aware of the potential danger.
Enforcing tax codes on tobacco is not about the money:
This media brouhaha is the result of a recent court decision out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, holding that Indian merchants selling cigarettes to non-Indians in Indian country have to collect sales tax for the State of New York. In its ruling, the Second Circuit purportedly weighed the state/tribal interests, finding that New York’s “valid interest in ensuring compliance with lawful taxes that might easily be evaded” outweighed the tribes’ interest in inherent sovereignty. In other words, the State would rather invade the sovereignty of tribal governments, in order to obtain less than one-tenth of the amount due to it, than to make efforts to enforce its own laws against its own citizens.
Big tobacco adds ingredients to its products that do not exist in most Native-produced brands. Now the health results of a century of corporate control over an essential part of indigenous culture has led to a crisis in hospital care throughout the US.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 prohibits the federal government from imposing substantial burdens on religious practices without a compelling reason.
The bipartisan measure was passed to counteract a 1990 Supreme Court ruling that allowed the government to penalize acts that were religious practices — such as American Indians’ ritual use of peyote — as long as it used neutrally worded laws that did not single out religions for punishment. [San Francisco Chronicle]
It should come as no surprise that the industrial tobacco companies are major campaign contributors to Republicans.

I converted to a pipe in 2003. Since then it has become obvious that smoking keeps flying insects at bay when i'm in the woods. Nicotine has long been used as an insecticide; my blood likely doesn't taste very good to mosquitoes. Birds react to my pipe. Predators and other animals in the woods know when i'm in their space.

Thomas Jefferson would not plant tobacco because he believed it to be bound to the capitalism he abhorred and chose cannabis as his crop of choice for its utilitarian applications. Jefferson invokes natural law in many of his letters: the best interpretations of his creed.

Citing freedom of expression protection, the Supreme Court upheld the rights of minors to use violent video games but adults still cannot smoke cannabis legally in most states yet a Kentucky homophobe appeals her jailing for not doing her fucking job.

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