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All natural Sunday morning readings

3 January 2010

Things go better with coca…

Otto and BoRev indulged in dueling snark over “Coca Colla” (“Colla” is Bolivian slang for one indigenous group, which has traditionally grown coca, and has been looking for alternative internal markets).  Sabina, at Hollow Hill, reviews the non-recreational uses of the popular Andean crop:

Coca in its natural state is not enough to give a mosquito a buzz, either. There is so little alkaloid in fresh or dried unprocessed coca that tonnes of it are needed to make just a kilo of cocaine. And believe me, you don’t want to know just how much, and how many, polluting nasty chemicals go into the making of that stuff. (How about a snootful of chlorine, acid and kerosene–sounds appealing, eh?)

The sacred leaf is, however, an effective suppressant of hunger, thirst and exhaustion. And whether chewed plain, or with a small pinch of powdered lime made from burnt, crushed seashells, or brewed as tea, it’s the only remedy that really works for high-altitude sickness. You can see why the indigenous peoples of the Andes, from Colombia right down to Chile, have used it for as far back as any of their histories go. It makes farming at higher altitudes possible–something it would not have been if not for coca. Use of lime makes coca work better, which may be one reason why the indigenous peoples of Bolivia remain hopeful that one day, their country will again have access to the sea–a ready source of that helpful coca-boosting mineral.

But again, this is not about being stoned all the time. At altitude, coca leaf enables people to live and work normally. Without it, they’d all have whanging headaches and be in a constant state of exhaustion. Is that much human suffering really worth the approval of the ignorant moralists of the northern global elite?

And speaking of all-natural products…

Sarah Menkedik (Posa Tigres) on growing up a “normal” blond in Ohio, and becoming a güera in Oaxaca:

…Ohio’s often a stand-in for American “normality,” the bland singular personality of flag-waving middle ‘merica. Obviously you could shake Ohio around for awhile like a piggybank and all sorts of normality-defying truths would fall out, and same goes with the monolithic notion of “middle class” or “white.” But still, these categories – Ohio, middle class, white – seem to be commonly accepted as normality defaults.

But blonde? I didn’t think to question it at all as a function of the standard normality myth until I was walking down the street a few days ago and somebody shouted, for the upteenth time, “RUBIA!” in yet another act of Macho-Stating-The-Obvious-In-A-Mildly-Threatening-And-Self-Congratulatory-Way. It’s always one of two things with me: guërita or rubia. Little whitie or blondie. The two are interchangeable. Blondeness is whiteness and foreignness. It makes me so much more of a female object, confirms and reinforces a stereotypical gringa-ness that makes it OK to treat me like a small plastic doll that can be picked up and played with.

But, more interestingly, it feeds into, shapes and reaffirms my definition of what it is to be a “normal” American and acts on my sense of identity. It makes blondness a part of me in a way it wasn’t before – makes it that thing that separates me from them, that thing that says this is me and I’m from here and these are my roots in the way that the indigenous costuming of Oaxaca’s artists says this is me and I’m from here. That cultural street always goes both ways- the way other people see you in another place reflects their given prejudices and their worldview, and simultaneously alters, contradicts, and/or compliments your perception of your own identity.

Natural sceptics

I didn’t see this until last week, but Rajeev Syal, in the Observer, finds British bankers a tad reluctant to accept the theory that people put money into banks:

Gangs are now believed to make most of their profits from the drugs trade and are estimated to be worth £352bn, the UN says. They have traditionally kept proceeds in cash or moved it offshore to hide it from the authorities. It is understood that evidence that drug money has flowed into banks came from officials in Britain, Switzerland, Italy and the US.

British bankers would want to see any evidence that Costa has to back his claims. A British Bankers’ Association spokesman said: “We have not been party to any regulatory dialogue that would support a theory of this kind. There was clearly a lack of liquidity in the system and to a large degree this was filled by the intervention of central banks.”

Back to nature

The late Lady Bird Johnson fought long and hard to have advertising billboards (“hoardings” to some of you) removed from federal roadways.  In Mexico City, Edna Alcantara (Latin American Herald-Tribune [Caracas] reports, it’s a case of “if you can’t fight ’em, join em”:

A dozen vertical gardens featuring a broad selection of different plants will decorate the sides of Mexico City’s main thoroughfares beginning next year, adding a touch of green to this notoriously polluted city of 19 million inhabitants, organizers of the project said.

More than 15 fern species and an ample variety of plants and flowers are to be placed on some signs and billboards situated alongside highways and atop buildings.

The goal is to create environmental awareness and promote sustainable development, according to the heads of the groups sponsoring the initiative – the environmentalist organization VERDF and the Grupo Rentable company, which rents outdoor advertising space.

Crimes against nature?

Mexico City health worker, Natanya Robinowitz, on restricting abortions in Veracruz and other states (reprinted in Counterpunch from CIP Americas’ Program):

The reforms to the Veracruz State Constitution include a last-minute stipulation by the National Action Party (PAN) that women who illegally obtain abortions can avoid jail time by accepting medical and psychological treatment. This change, they say, will “defend the right to life and protect women.” Margarita Guillaumín, of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), retorted, “Now women who feel driven to abort are ill, crazy, unhinged, perturbed—and they are going to rehabilitate them. Hallelujah!”

The debate in Veracruz, fueled by passion and anger, is characteristic of the larger fight throughout Mexico on the issue of abortion that spans the personal and the political. The abortion wars in Mexico involve political issues, such as the direct intervention of the Catholic Church in a secular state, and health issues deriving from the high incidence of complications from clandestine abortions.

On a personal level, the abortion debate forces the society and politicians to examine the hidden implications of stringent abortion policies and clandestine abortions on the health and lives of Mexican women.

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