Archive for July, 2013

Teasel Time

23 July 2013

This article includes quotes from my favorite wildflower book, Michigan Wildflowers by Helen V. Smith with illustrations by Ruth Powell Brede, first published in 1961.

It’s “teasel time” on the Palouse; the teasels are blooming!


Teasels growing in a gravelly area.

Teasel is in the Valerian Family. Valerian was a Roman emperor, notorious for being forced by others to persecute the Christians. The “valerian” herb is considered a rather potent medicine. Teasels are not native to the Americas.


“Teasel is a troublesome weed, but one species, Dipsacus fullonum L. (originally named by Linnaeus), was formerly grown commercially because the ripe inflorescences (flower heads) were used by textile mills for raising the nap on cloth.”

These flower heads are quite noticeable when blooming, particularly up close.

The flowers are very small, but numerous, and bloom in rings around the head, which gives an unusual and distinct appearance.

This of course is also the time when many other summer flowers bloom. I photographed a few notable examples in a nearby field. Next we see a teasel growing alongside a Mullein plant. Also known as “Flannel Plant,” its leaves are unusually fuzzy.

Mullein is in the Figwort family. This family also includes Foxglove.
It is plentiful here, but it is one of many weeds introduced from Europe. In this area its flower heads are commonly attacked by insects. I know from other sources that its leaves and flowers have been used for centuries for their medicinal properties. One fascinating aspect of studying wildflowers is to find out how many were used for medicine in past times.


St. John’s-wort is showy when it first blooms because of all the flowers. When not blooming it is rarely noticed, but grows practically everywhere. Its small leaves are peculiar in that they are speckled with numerous translucent dots. The common species (Hypericum perforatum L.) was introduced from Europe. It was known there as an herbal medicine and the plant does indeed produce at least two biochemically active compounds.

I have yet to positively identify these striking blue-flowering plants, though they seem to be very similar to the Star-thistle.

This large Umbellifer (flowers in umbrella-shaped clusters), is probably Cow Parsnip. The family includes carrots, celery, parsley, anise, chervil, dill and fennel, as well as Poison Hemlock. Smith says of Cow Parsnip:

“The Indians used this species for medicine and food. The young stalks were roasted over hot coals. The leaf stalks were peeled and eaten raw like celery. The young roots when cooked taste like rutabaga.”

Of course the Palouse is covered with grasses. I am not a grasses expert, so can’t tell you which one these are.

I should not ignore the fruit trees. They are growing produce that will turn ripe a bit later in the season.

It is calming to walk among these growing things and see them surviving, persevering, quietly and without complaint. Is it not part of our work here to look after them?

What’s so special about Democracy?

11 July 2013

I don’t have time tonight for a fully cogent article on the subject of governments and control systems. But I wanted to put some ideas out there.

The Problem

In the late 1700s in America, what problem were the colonists trying to solve?

In the streets of Cairo, Istanbul, Sao Paulo, and so many others, what problems are the protestors trying to solve?

Were the Founding Fathers really worried about Democracy? Are this summer’s protesters really worried about Democracy?

They weren’t, and they aren’t.

The problem both groups were / are trying to solve is that the control system isn’t working.

I’m an electronics guy. And I know a bit about computers, too. And I know how to fix a control system that isn’t working: You replace the parts that aren’t doing the job they are supposed to be doing. The Founding Fathers needed to replace the British government because it wasn’t working for them any longer. The protestors / army in Egypt needed to replace the elected President there because he wasn’t doing what they thought he should be doing. They weren’t thinking about democracy. They were thinking about workability.

Should a family be run as a democracy? Should an army be run as a democracy? Should a business be run as a democracy? Should a country be run as a democracy?

Only if it seems to be the most workable solution available!

Let’s cancel ideologies and start talking about workability.

Ideal Scenes

To come up with a workable control structure for a system, it is necessary to come to some agreement on what that system should be doing. That is the system’s ideal scene. This is actually what most people are arguing about when they throw around their various “-ologies” and “-isms.” What do we want the system to DO?

We have, as a possible baseline when it comes to government on planet earth, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations on 10 December, 1948. This a list of 30 points that could be considered basic human rights. But why did it take the form of a list of rights? Because somebody was always trying to violate them!

What is the real problem humanity has been trying all these years to solve?


Or said in another way, the tendency of some humans to ignore the rights of others in the pursuit of their personal goals. This ties into democracy because criminals have always been a minority. If the majority ruled, then presumably a non-criminal society would result. Yet we have seen even “democracies” subverted by criminal personalities, and dishonest, deviant scoundrels rise to positions of power and prestige in business, government and even entertainment and sports.

People have an “Achilles Heel” when it comes to criminality: They will tend to agree to suppressive (criminal) measures if their very lives seem to depend on that agreement. In other words, criminals can use various forms of terrorism to cow (subdue, make subservient) the masses. They always have, and if we don’t find a more workable solution to the problem of criminality, they always will!