Saturday, May 29, 2010

People Making a Difference: Rockin' for the Animals!

I knew there was a reason why I loved the rock band The Pretenders - other than their fantastic music. Lead singer Chrissie Hynde has long been an advocate for animals. I think it is safe to say that Hynde kicks ass. She's a vegan. She's a Rock 'n' Roll Hall-of-Famer. And she's one of the greatest singers in the world (in my humble opinion).

Tonight (May 29), Chrissie is performing a sold-out benefit concert for Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in New York, one of the biggest sanctuaries for abused, abandoned and neglected farm animals in the United States.

Hynde also appeared in Philadelphia earlier this week to support locals who are protesting McDonalds fast food restaurants as part of the McCruelty Campaign. Protesters in the campaign are demanding that McDonalds improves its slaughter standards. In an ideal world, McDonalds would be 100% vegan. But it's not ideal, and therefore better standards are an important step in the right direction.

Chrissie Hynde is pictured above protesting with other activists at a Philadelphia McDonalds. Not only has this woman given us some of the best rock 'n' roll of the past thirty years, she is also leading the way for better treatment for animals.

She truly is a person making a difference - a big difference.

A Few Thoughts on the Power of the Image

The reaction in the United States to the violent treatment of cows and calves at Conklin Dairy Farms in Ohio has been surprisingly strong. It is an indication that Americans are sick and tired of seeing animals being abused. None of this would've been possible - and those poor animals would likely still be victims of abuse and violence - without the trump card of hidden video.

The power of the image - both still and moving - cannot be underestimated. Images have transformed history. Ask any veteran of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States and she or he will tell you that photographs and film footage were the some of the movement's greatest resources.

Little has changed in the last fifty years. Today, hidden video is one of the most powerful - if not the most powerful - weapons in the arsenal of animal rights activists and vegans. Films and images have helped convert countless men and women to the cause. Speaking from personal experience, I converted to veganism after watching HBO's Death on a Factory Farm, a film about the appalling conditions in an Ohio pig farm. The scene of the pig hanging from a forklift (above) was particularly powerful. The film still haunts me to this day, especially the image of one of the workers (the son of the man who owns the facility) picking up a piglet by its back legs and slamming her head against a wall. He dumps the piglet into a garbage can, where the poor creature is captured on film quivering.

Since then, I've watched countless animal abuse videos. I keep telling myself, "You're a convert. You're firmly in the vegan camp. You don't stray. Why torture yourself?" But I keep subjecting myself to these images. And they always haunt. Images of dogs and cats who have suffered violent beatings; of skinned animals still alive; of female ducklings being gassed in a garbage bag at a facility that breeds ducks for foie gras (only male ducks are used, so females are put to death - but many are thrown into garbage cans still alive); of farm animals being slaughtered while still conscious; of a worker at a pet supply place filling a garbage bag with hamsters and slamming them against a table.

Believe me, I've seen some unbelievably violent film footage. And it always leaves me shaken and upset.

So why keep watching it? A lot of sensitive souls - omnivores, vegetarians and vegans alike - cannot bring themselves to watch these images. A friend on Facebook remarked that she couldn't bear to watch the terrible beatings of the cows and calves at the Conklin Dairy Farm.

Sometimes, I must admit, these films leave me feeling powerless and demoralized. They force me to take a hard look at the worst - the most depraved - side of humanity. That's why I take time out each day to search the Internet for the men and women who are fighting the good fight. There are plenty of them out there. They deserve our support.

These videos are vital because they tear down the wall of denial that we build around ourselves. The wall that surrounded me was high when I was an omnivore, but, like the Berlin Wall, the power of truth turned it to rubble.

And the reason I could no longer keep that wall in place was a powerful made-for-HBO documentary. It was troubling, hard to watch, and gave me nightmares. It also slapped me into awareness. As depressing and hopeless and brutal as it was, the film proved to be an instrument of hope. It won me over. It has undoubtedly won others over, too.

So it turns out that poor little piglet, dying the loneliest death imaginable in a garbage can, kicking her legs and quivering in her last moments of agony, did not die in vain.

My Latest Column on Factory Farm Fires in Canada

I write a regular column for the Waterloo Region Record and this week's column is on a rash of disturbing factory farm fires here in Canada. Click here to read the article. In it, I discuss the sizable number of animals who have died the most horrific deaths imaginable in barn blazes. Borrowing figures from the wonderful folks at Canadians for the Ethical Treatment of Food Animals (CETFA), I point out that just since January of this year, 78,466 animals have died in Canadian barn fires.

Those numbers are appalling. And each one represents a living, breathing, sentient being - a pig, a chicken, a cow, sometimes other farm animals - who died in the most horrifying way imaginable, burning alive. The image I use above on this Blog Entry is of sows who burned to death in gestation crates in a factory farm fire. This is an issue that should be causing outrage. Hopefully, it will also prompt some Canadians - and other people - to reconsider their omnivore diets. Eating animals simply is not worth the devastating toll and the excruciating pain it causes these beautiful creatures. A vegan diet is much more consistent with a nonviolent political philosophy.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Some Thoughts on Compromise versus Militancy

I have several vegan and animal rights friends on Facebook and I read their posts every day.

One of my friends is very outspoken and militant and, well, he can be harsh at times toward omnivores and other people with whom he disagrees. He often has mean words for ominivores, calling them (among other things) "corpse munchers," and insisting that those who drink milk were just as guilty of abusing the cows and calves as the workers at the Conklin Dairy Farms in Ohio (see my post on that situation below). This friend loves controversy. He even posted a picture of Jesus Christ flipping the middle finger with the inscription "Dear Corpse-muncher" on it. Not surprisingly, that image triggered a heated debate.

Lots of the posts on this friend's page, in fact, involve debates that often turn downright nasty - and some even involve vegans ripping into other vegans.

The more militant veganistas and animal rights activists not only lambaste the omnivores; they occasionally go after the non-confrontational vegan moderates who don't necessarily enjoy trashing omnivores. The moderates, too, are sometimes guilty of fanning the flames by focusing too much on the tactics of militants instead of those institutions and ways of thinking that result in rampant animal abuse.

I have to admit, I am probably what one would call one of the "nice" people. I have lived a lifetime committed to nonviolence, and remain a firm believer in the power of nonviolent action as the only method of resistance in democratic society. I don't refer to my foes as "motherf---ers." When I come across a heated posting debate on Facebook that deteriorate into a heavy-duty trashing session, I feel incredibly uneasy.

Those of us who read a lot of history know that what I'm seeing on Facebook is actually a common trait of mass protest movements throughout history. All movements contain overzealous types who can be hardcore, harsh and even hateful at times. One can understand the level of animosity. A lot of animal rights activists are mindful of the thousands and thousands of animals who are being slaughtered every minute of every day.

Also, there have been times in the past when fanaticism has been effective. Look at abolitionist John Brown. Most historians agree that his utopian raid on Harpers Ferry in the summer of 1859, even though it had zero chance of liberating slaves (which was its purpose), was one of the key events that led to the coming of the Civil War.

Movements need moderates and militants. Moderates are needed to keep the discussion going; militants are needed to pull the pendulum leftward.

But speaking strictly personally, I feel far more comfortable with people who embrace Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s attitude of hating the sin, not the sinner.

It is, I think, profoundly unrealistic to say, "Hate the sin, love the sinner." Those sadists who kicked and beat innocent cows and calves do not seem like the kind of guys I can "love" (even though I like to hope that maybe the best among them can try to redeem himself). But don't ask me to love them. Not the way I deeply love those in my personal life, like my children or my companion and her children or members of my family. That's asking too much. We don't want to turn saintliness into a form of insanity. And let's not make a mockery or cliche' of the word "love."

But it is also important to remember that bad ways of thinking and harmful institutions are the real enemies, more so than individual people.

In addition, I think vegans need to try to reach out to omnivores. I know some omnivores can be frustrating. I like a lot of what Michael Pollan has to say about the food industry, but when he starts talking about animal rights or veganism, I often disagree fiercely with what he says. But I am grateful that he speaks his mind. Free speech should be celebrated. Dogmatism and rigidity should be rejected.

That doesn't mean we should become "flexible" vegans, or even adopt an "I'm OK, you're OK" attitude. We owe it to the animals who live in the worst conditions imaginable, and who are being murdered by the thousands as you read this post, to be decisive and vigorous in our fight for them.

But we should also recognize that most of us were omnivores at one point or another. And omnivores who are having doubts are potential comrades in the struggle for the liberation of animals and steering the human race toward a plant-based diet.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Yet Another Reason to Just Say No to Dairy

I am a veteran of watching these animal abuse videos, but even this one is hard to take. The video consists of hidden camera shots of workers in Conklin Dairy Farms in Plain City, Ohio, brutalizing the cows in the facility. The images are deeply troubling. Workers punch calves in the face and kick them in the head. Pitchforks are used to jab various parts of cows. Cows in too much pain to stand (from the savage beating they've endured at the hands of these thugs) are kicked repeatedly. Workers whack cows with crowbars, snap their tails, and they joke about their ability to beat the shit out of (and sometimes kill) innocent, defenseless calves.

Conditions in dairy facilities often leave a lot to be desired, but the ones in Conklin Dairy Farms are particularly brutal. Dr. Bernard Rollin, distinguished professor of animal science at Colorado State University, had a difficult time watching the video and was horrified by what he saw. "This is probably the most gratuitous, sadistic, sustained animal abuse I have ever seen," he said. "The video depicts calculated, deliberate cruelty based not on momentary rage but on taking pleasure through causing pain to cows and calves who are defenseless." (Source.)

Dairy is as brutal as meat. This video shows the day-to-day violence of the factory farm system at its most extreme. In all likelihood, the workers who abused the cows and calves at Conklin are family men - loving husbands and fathers - who aren't earning much money and walking the tightrope to make ends meet. My purpose here is not to dehumanize them. No, my purpose is to show how the factory farm system dehumanizes good people. And make no mistake: It is a system that asks us, the consumers, to look the other way at the shocking treatment of animals.

Even in dairy facilities where workers do not abuse the cows and calves, these poor animals live lives in cold, sterile and unnatural conditions. And when they can no longer give milk, they're not handed a gold watch and allowed to go off and enjoy the sun in some lovely pasture. They meet the same end as all animals in the factory farm system.

So it's not just a matter of ending the abuse at Conklin Dairy Farms in Ohio, although that's a good start. The real goal is to bring a halt to the factory farm system and recognize that we human beings do not have the right to do what we are doing to farm animals.

Going vegan - thereby reducing demand - is a good place to start.

Monday, May 24, 2010

An Uplifting Photograph is Worth a Thousand Words

I love this photograph from The Los Angeles Times of a happy Yorkshire pig named Lisa, chilling out with human friend Sansa Collins, who is the resident manager at Sanctuary One, one of countless animal sanctuaries across North America dedicated to giving abused, neglected and homeless domesticated animals a loving home. Sanctuary One is located in Applegate Valley, Oregon. This picture is from May 17. This is how human beings and animals were meant to be - friends, living side by side in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

What they say is right: A wonderful photograph truly is worth a thousand words.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The King Kong of Cruel Food Production: Foie Gras, Canadian Style

You might not have the stomach to watch this video about the production of Foie Gras. Foie Gras means "fatty liver" - it is a "delicacy" made of the liver of a duck or goose that has been forcefully fattened just for this occasion. It is known as a rich and buttery food and is on the menu at many upscale restaurants.

And the making of Foie Gras is as violent, cruel and inhumane as food production gets.

Please watch this video of the making of Foie Gras in Canada.

It is one of the most painful documentaries on animal abuse that I've viewed, and I have watched a lot of these types of videos.

Good people have been resisting the production of Foie Gras for years. This includes a number of celebrities, including former 007 James Bond star Roger Moore. Recently, Academy Award-winning actress Kate Winslet has joined in on the anti-Foie Gras Movement.

This video shows - very explicitly - just how cruel the production of Foie Gras is. Female ducklings are thrown into garbage bags and then gassed with carbon monoxide, but many of them survive (as this video shows). Male ducks are force fed and the small ones are picked out and brutally murdered. This is pure heartlessness at its worst.

Human rights without animal rights is utterly meaningless. Either you stand for the rights of all sentient beings or none at all. This video is the greatest argument for going vegan. It is also a warning bell calling on all decent people to demand a halt to the production of Foie Gras.

People Making a Difference: You Don't Need to Look Too Hard to Find the Saints

Sometimes, I have to look on the bright side. Otherwise, I get too pessimistic.

And there is a bright side. The bright side being the countless decent men and women and even children who fight for the rights and well being of animals.

I'd like to take a moment to single out Yang Xiaoyun, age 60, from Tianjin in northeastern China. This woman is a true heroine who has gone into debt, risked angering family members, and works every day from sunup to sundown.

Why? To take care of countless stray cats and dogs. In fact, her shelter houses some 300 abandoned cats and dogs. Many of them had histories of being abused and mutilated before arriving at her shelter. She calls them "my children."

As Yang pointed out in a recent interview:
None of my friends or family members support my work. I had two properties. One was a wedding gift for my son for when he gets married. I sold his place in 2000. He was very angry at me and ran away from home for three years. He couldn't take it anymore. (Source)

Luckily, Yang's son returned to help her. But she was forced to move numerous times due to complaints from neighbors. Each month, Yang faces $2,000 (US) in monthly expenses. She has managed to get by thanks to the donations of kind people around the world.

Yang has an interesting story: Years ago, after her husband died in the 1990s, she grew despondent. She felt like her life had lost meaning and she was contemplating suicide when she found an abandoned kitten in a ditch. She found something else, too: Her calling.

But it's not easy. It's a thankless job. It takes her nine hours a day to prepare food - which typically consists of cooked leftovers mixed with meat - for all of the animals in her shelter.

Yang has a Blog, but it's in Chinese. Like so many wonderful people taking care of animals, she is looking for donations. More information on donating can be found here.

Yang is the kind of person who helps restore my faith in humanity. She is doing great work. She is making a difference. The animals in her shelter are loved and well cared for, many for the first time in their lives.

Yang's struggle is daunting, yet her compassion is yet another source of inspiration for those of us who refuse to give up the good fight for our animal friends.

I have posted a video on Yang and her shelter below. Have a look if you get a chance.

God bless you, Yang Xiaoyun.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Great Punishment for BP Oil Execs

BP execs have lied and lied and lied about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. They've lied so much that they're now spreading lies on top of lies on top of yet more lies. Their lies are so thick, one wonders whether these slick corporate officers are even capable of telling the truth. Do they even know what the truth is?

Let's wrestle with the Truth for a moment: This spill is now the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. This spill has already taken a devastating toll on wildlife, with dead sea turtles and fish washing up on the Gulf Coast every day. The oil is now invading the marshlands of the Mississippi Delta and threatens to spread around Florida. The oil might even make its way up the Atlantic Coast. Wildlife is threatened. Aquatic life is threatened. The entire ecosystem of the East Coast of the United States is in jeopardy.

Dollar amount? We don't know and we probably won't know the final amount for years. The toll on the environment and living creatures? Impossible to estimate.

And these Fat Cats with BP - whoops, sorry, I shouldn't use the term cats in such a horrible context... those of you who read this Blog know I love cats. Start over: These fuckers at BP (sorry - sometimes that is the ONLY word one can use) are so full of lies and bullshit that it's oozing out of the little holes in their head called ears. What a transparently sinister collection of amoral, ruling class leeches. And all they care about is the bottom line. Profits. $$$. Don't let them fool you into thinking that they give a rat's ass about the Gulf of Mexico, because they absolutely do not.

Sorry, but I just can't contain my rage anymore, as I'm sure is evident in this Blog Post. At this point, I think it is appropriate to recall the immortal words of the late, great activist and Berkeley Free Speech Movement leader Mario Savio (1942 - 1996):

There comes a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part, you can't even passively take part; and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop, And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, the people who own it, that unless you're free the machine will be prevented from working at all.
But BP continues to insist, borrowing from Orwellian Double Speak, that the oil spill really isn't that bad (even though they have admitted to initially downplaying the severity of it).

Note the steady stream of lies:

"We are containing the spill." - BP Chief Tony Hayward (Source)

"... and very little of the oil is getting to the shoreline." - BP Chief Tony Hayward (Source)

BP's response has been "extraordinarily successful." - yep, you guessed it, BP Chief Tony Hayward (Source)

Extraordinarily successful???

OK, so if it's extraordinarily successful, here's my advice about a proper form of punishment for these greedy assholes: Make these execs disrobe down to their skivvies and force them to take a dip in the oiliest locations of the Gulf of Mexico. Then maybe they will be able to feel the excruciating pain that animals feel who are forced to swim in this sea of chemicals.

The oil leads to a slow death as it is absorbed into the skin and makes its way into the bloodstream, the lungs, the digestive system, until so much of this poison sludge is in one's body that it is impossible to go on functioning.

So enjoy your swim, BP execs.

Because, as we all now, justice will out and the wrongdoers will pay. Right?




(Pictured above: A dead sea turtle, another victim of offshore oil drilling...)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

People Making a Difference: Fighting the Good Fight in Australia Against Live Animal Exports

Australian animal rights activists are fighting a vital and urgent struggle against the export of live animals to foreign countries. Each year, Australia - the largest exporter of live animals in the world - sends millions of animals, mainly sheep and cattle, overseas. As the outstanding website Animals Australia notes:

Australia exports millions of cattle, sheep, goats, buffalo, deer and camels around the world for slaughter and (to a lesser extent) breeding. The vast majority go by sea in journeys that last up to 3 weeks. These long haul journeys cause stress, injuries, illnesses and disease, and tens of thousands of animals (mainly sheep) die each year. After the stress of transportation, all the surviving animals face death on foreign soil, most in countries which have no animal welfare laws or, at best, inadequate laws. They will almost all be killed without pre-stunning and often without adequate restraint facilities. The result is inherent and on-going suffering. (Source)

Animals Australia is leading the struggle against this inhumane and barbaric treatment of animals. An Australian friend of mine on Facebook was kind enough to post photos of animals being exported alive and believe me, these images are absolutely heartbreaking. In 2008 alone, 35,000 sheep died en route to foreign countries. Those who live to reach their destinations often encounter the worst, most miserable conditions imaginable in countries throughout Asia and the Middle East. These countries have no laws to safeguard the animals from cruelty and horrible conditions.

Our Australian brothers and sisters in the global animal rights struggle are fighting to change this. They are circulating online petitions, engaged in letter-writing campaigns, meeting with MPs to register their disapproval, and staging demonstrations against companies that export animals.

Half of the struggle is making people aware of this barbarism. As I've said so many times in this Blog of mine, the human capacity for denial is our worst enemy. If the world sees these horrifying images, there might be some hope of bringing about change. Australians need our support in their brave efforts to stop this ghastly practice. I have posted a video (below) about the exporting of animals to the Middle East, including the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain, where the animals are treated in the worst ways imaginable. Please watch it if you get a chance, although I warn you: It is difficult to watch.

The live exporting of animals is yet another manifestation of the deplorable treatment of animals by human beings. I can't imagine a nobler crusade than the fight to end this massive crime against beings that feel so many of the same feelings that we humans feel.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hallelujah! Decent Vegan Ice "Cream" Has Arrived!

Did you hear the latest on the vegan food front? There is a new vegan ice cream store in Los Angeles called Kind Cream. (Source) Apparently, they have a great selection of dairy-free vegan ice creams. An L.A. vegan Blogger reports: "I had the Mint Chocolate Chip with hot fudge and it was pretty yummy." Some vegans are up in arms because a few of the Kind Cream flavours are made with honey. Which prompted the aforementioned vegan Blogger to lament that "the vegan world is full of just as many whiney assholes as every other facet of society." That's neither here nor there as far as I'm concerned. I'm just thrilled to hear that there's a decent kind of vegan ice cream out there. Most of the non-dairy ice creams I've tasted up till now suck. We can only hope that Kind Cream spreads across North America like wildfire.

The Hidden Toll of Euthanasia

I've used this Blog to comment countless times on euthanasia at animal shelters. I have also written a newspaper column in the Waterloo Region Record about the subject. It is a complex topic and I've celebrated the men and women who euthanize the animals as genuinely humane people who are doing the difficult work that much of the rest of society prefers to ignore.

These debates are raging at the Toronto Humane Society, where a shake-up of the leadership last year led to the ouster of the organization's president because of his steadfast resistance to euthanasia (as well as some financial problems that plagued the Toronto Humane Society under his leadership). Please read my column above if you wish to understand the controversy.

Recently, the Ontario SPCA quietly moved to euthanize about 350 animals - mostly dogs and cats. They euthanized about 99 before triggering heated anti-euthanasia protests. (Source) I almost always support nonviolent protests for animal rights, which the protests in Toronto have been. But on the issue of euthanasia and animals, it is also important to hold the public's feet to the fire. Too often, the public is let off the hook. We never want to castigate ordinary men and women; we prefer to look to higher places for sources of our social problems.

But much of the blame for the current crisis - and it isn't just in Toronto... animal euthanasia is a big issue in cities across North America - rests with mass public irresponsibility. Toronto Sun columnist Rachel Sa wrote an excellent column last week titled "People are the reason so many animals are in need." Check it out, if you get a chance. She says just what I'm saying.

Sa points out that people are doing a poor job of making sure their dogs and cats are properly spayed and neutered. And because we live in a throw-away society, too many people abandon their pets at local animal shelters with a "Somebody else will take care of the problem" attitude.

It doesn't help matters that most people are content to ignore the suffering in animal shelters that creates an Assembly Line Euthanasia situation. Just like most people don't want to know what goes on inside of a factory farm. They just want their pork, beef, chicken, etc., without knowing a single thing about the animals who undergo trauma, pain and ultimately violent death to furnish that meat. Just give us the meat - End of Story.

But it's not the end of the story for animals. Far from it. And until this dominant attitude changes - and believe me, it is dominant - animals will continue to suffer. Not just by the thousands. Not just by the millions. By the billions.

Denial, along with throw-away consumer culture, is the worst enemy of animals. And the ability of human beings to live in a state of denial, no matter how awful things get out there in the larger world, is profoundly unsettling.

Those of us who embrace a solidly Pro-Life Philosophy owe it to our nonhuman animal friends to shatter the veil of denial wherever it rears its ugly head. Once again, humans are failing animals. Once again, animals deserve much, much better.

Addendum: After posting the above Blog Post, a reader was kind enough to clarify that it was the Ontario SPCA, not the Toronto Humane Society, that pushed for the rapid euthanasia of animals. The Toronto Humane Society backed the protests against the rapid euthanasia. That section of the Blog Entry has been changed for the sake of accuracy, with my apologies for misstating the case. But the essence of the Blog Post, I think, remains correct. We humans need to take more responsibility for our animal companions.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Was Honest Abe an Animal Rights Advocate? I Don't Have Any Quarrel with Wesley Smith

Wesley Smith, one of the most astute critics of the animal rights movement - a man I respect, even if I don't see eye to eye with him on a number of issues - had an interesting Blog Entry today on Abraham Lincoln. Smith mentions a widely cited Lincoln quote that is featured on Yours Truly's Blog (on the right-hand side): "I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of the whole human being."

Smith's conclusion? It is difficult - if not impossible - to find the quote in any of Lincoln's published speeches or correspondence.

I've seen the quote in numerous places, but I've never actually gone to the source to find it. Smith insists that Lincoln was not an animal rights advocate. His observations on Lincoln are worth quoting at length here:

Lincoln certainly had a soft heart for animals. He didn’t hunt big game and may not have hunted at all. He owned a dog named Fido in Springfield ... and a lapdog named Jip in the White House, as well as assorted cats. He saved a chick that had fallen out of its nest and once while riding with a friend, he doubled back to save a pig stuck in the mud, even though it meant he would be covered too. He gave what was probably the first presidential pardon to a turkey being fattened for Christmas dinner. But that wasn’t because he was worried about the life of the bird: His son Tad had named the turkey and made it his pet, and so Lincoln didn’t want to hurt his son.

But animal rights? No. He wore leather shoes and boots. He rode horses. He ate meat with relish. Besides, the core belief of “animal rights”–that humans and animals have equivalent moral worth–did not exist in the 19th Century in America, and indeed, would have been astounding and beyond the pale to Honest Abe–particularly given the difficulties of the time concerning the intrinsic equality of all humans.

I don't know of any trustworthy animal rights advocates who actually believe Lincoln was firmly in our camp. As a historian, I can vouch that Smith is right to point out that today's philosophy of animal rights - the insistence that nonhuman animal life deserves the same respect as human life - "did not exist in ... 19th Century America." In fact, the Animal Rights Movement as we know it today is largely a post-World War II phenomenon, even though it - like virtually all social movements - has historical antecedents.

We can point to pioneering animal rights activists and vegetarians (even borderline vegans) from earlier times in history - Leonardo da Vinci, Leo Tolstoy, George Bernard Shaw - who embraced the vegetarian lifestyle and were amazingly pro-animal rights for their times.

Lincoln, as Smith points out, felt tremendous compassion toward animals, even if he didn't think they had rights similar to humans. I've read enough Lincoln to know that he often spoke of the welfare and well-being of animals, and there is a wonderful story toward the end of Jonathan Safran Foer's brilliant book Eating Animals about Lincoln stopping what he was doing to help some baby birds in trouble. Safran Foer, who for my money is the most brilliant critic out there of the factory farm system and the barbaric treatment of animals, points out in his book that Lincoln saw the birds needed help and could not ignore them.

I do not think - and never have thought - that Lincoln was an animal rights advocate, but I still incorporate his profound wisdom into my animal rights philosophy. As long as we're talking about people being the products of their times, Thomas Jefferson was not an advocate for racial equality, but no other political thinker has had a greater influence on me and his enlightenment humanism has helped me develop a position in support of racial equality. And Eleanor Roosevelt's views on human rights were sometimes narrow in scope and often shaped by the times in which she lived, but my love of human rights has always been directly inspired by her living example.

All of this is a way of saying that even important past figures whose political philosophies were shaped by the historical trends and dominant ways of thinking that existed during their lives can still be - and, in fact, often are - inspiring figures to those of us who are fighting the good fight today. To say Abraham Lincoln was not an animal rights advocate is to simply acknowledge the truth.

It is equally true to say that his integrity, goodness, homespun humor and unrelenting desire to do what was right, often against tremendous odds, remains a source of inspiration for those of us who are fighting for the rights of animals.

By the way, for what it's worth, I'm ordering Wesley Smith's A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy, a book highly critical of the animal rights movement, because I am a firm believer that we should know the arguments of those who disagree with us. This helps us avoid dogma, transcend polarization, and create a dialogue between people with differing points of view. These - not shouting and polemics - are the foundations of a healthy democracy.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Kill One Pig and It's a Tragedy; Kill Millions and You're a Factory Farm Owner

Did you hear the one about the psychotic asshole who stabbed 29 pigs?

Earlier this month, 23-year-old Minnesotan Curtis Lee Adams (right) went on a drunken rampage through a pig farm and stabbed 29 of the unfortunate animals. The damage was severe enough that all of the victims had to be euthanized.

The police hauled Adams, who reeked of pig manure and urine, to jail, where he faced numerous charges, including one count of third-degree burglary, one count of first-degree damage to property, one count of cruelty to animals, two counts of driving while intoxicated and one count of illegally transporting a firearm in a vehicle.

The euthanized pigs were valued at $8,000. (Source)

There is a quote (actually, there are many, many variations of the quote) that is often attributed to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin: "Kill one man and it's a tragedy; kill millions and it's a statistic." (I've also read it worded, "Kill one man and you're a murderer, kill millions and you're a conqueror.") I'm not sure which one Stalin actually said.

But when it comes to the treatment of pigs on factory farms, the sentiment certainly applies. Curtis Lee Adams will undoubtedly be hauled off for mental evaluations and no doubt the psychologists will wonder what horrors he is capable of if he could brutally stab 29 pigs.

Meantime, the factory farm owners will go on killing billions of animals per year, behind walls so the public can't see the horrors within. And the meat of these poor animals will be packaged in styrofoam and shrink wrap and sent to bright, sterile grocery stores that play easy listening music all the time.

Maybe one day Curtis Lee Adams will one day get his shit together and become a factory farm owner. He'd be good at it.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mandatory Reading: "What's a Dog Worth?" in Los Angeles magazine - investigative journalism at its best

The recent issue of Los Angeles Magazine featured one of the best articles on life for dogs and cats inside of animal shelters that I've ever read. The article, called "What's a Dog Worth?" by Jesse Katz, was an amazing piece of investigative reporting. Warning: It is not for the squeamish of faint of heart. That's because the article takes you right into the middle of the packed Los Angeles animal shelters. A quote freak at the start of the article sets the tone: "Los Angeles kills more animals in its shelters than any other metropolitan area in the United States. For that to change, we will have to figure out what to do with the pets none of us want."

This article should be mandatory reading for every adult in North America. It is uncompromising. It is beautifully written. It is profoundly tragic. The author, Jesse Katz, introduces us a brave and kind-hearted Latino euthanasiast named Javier Lopez, who comes from a working-class East L.A. household. Lopez is the true hero of this story - a man who loves animals so much that he is willing to lovingly administer the substance that will take the life out of their bodies.

Lopez has his work cut out for him. Author Katz gives us a sense early in the story of what Lopez is up against:
The animal control agencies of L.A., including those of the city, the county, and two dozen smaller municipalities, put to death 104,841 animals last year, more than any other metropolitan area in the United States. About 35,000 of them were dogs, 55,000 were cats, and the rest a miscellany of rabbits, roosters, snakes, and guinea pigs. That is the good news. For decades the number has been so outlandish—250,000 a year in the 1970s, 150,000 a year in the ’80s, 125,000 in the ’90s—that even a decline this monumental somehow feels hollow. In 35 years Los Angeles has exterminated more than 5 million animals. The toll is at once appalling and abstract. “I call it every community’s dirty little secret,” says Ed Boks, the new chief of the city’s animal shelters.

It is a heartbreaking story - long, yet gripping and ultimately full of despair. I almost stopped reading it, for the same reason I almost couldn't watch the documentary Death on a Factory Farm. It upset me. It shook me up. It left me sad and hopeless. But you know what? That's a good thing. Because it is only by being shaken up in such a fashion that we come to terms with the tragedy of what is happening around us and then maybe - just maybe - we find the courage within ourselves to do what little we can (and believe me, it ain't much) to change the system for the better.

Please, please read this story. I can't say you'll be "glad" you did. But you will be enlightened and you'll have a better grasp of what, exactly, is at stake. There is a lot of work to be done. The animals are worth it, though.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Now Mike Tyson is on our side! Don't mess with Vegans!

Mike Tyson is now a vegan. You heard right! The Mike Tyson. A headline on the Vegetarian Star website pretty much said it all: "Mike Tyson Vegan - Won't Bite Human or Animal Ears." (Of course, that's a joking reference to when Tyson bit Evander Holyfield's ear in an infamous boxing match on June 28, 1997.)

In addition to being a vegan, Tyson insists he has "no drama" in his life at the moment. Tyson stars in a "reality" series on Animal Planet in which he races pigeons (!). (Source) I've never actually seen it, but maybe working with the pigeons had an influence on the boxing legend. Who knows? Tyson insists his first ever fight was in defense of birds when he was a young boy. (Source) Good for him! It's refreshing to know that we vegan/animal rights types have such a tough guy on our side.

Welcome to our side, Mike! We can use all the support we can get!

Words of Wisdom from Joan Jett

"If there's anything I love more than rock and roll, it's animals. And when I learned how animals on factory farms are treated, I gave beef the boot and stopped eating pigs, chickens, and fish too. Cutting meat out of your diet is the best thing you can do for animals and your own health."

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Early Signs of the Devastation on the Gulf Coast

According to The Los Angeles Times, the carcasses of 23 sea turtles have been found along Mississippi's Gulf Coast. The heartbreaking picture on the right is one of those dead sea turtles.

The L.A. Times also cites an Associated Press report of dead turtles found along the beaches of Texas.

If there is a silver lining in this dark cloud, it is that the media are really doing their job. Some of the best investigative reporting I've seen in recent weeks has been coming from the Gulf Coast of the United States.

The right-wing blowhard Rush Limbaugh managed to piss of a lot of liberals when he suggested that environmentalists were behind this oil spill. (Source) It was dimwitted Limbaugh at his worst - or is it his best? Hard to say. His comments, as usual, are so inane that they defy any sane response. Best to let Nikki Gloudeman of one of my favorite websites,, have the last say:

He's been spouting anti-environment rhetoric for so long, the Environmental Defense Fund issued a report on errors in his eco-attacks back in 1994. More recently, he hyped coal and overconsumption on Earth Day and said he hoped New York Times environment reporter Andrew Revkin would "kill himself."

The question is: Do these attacks matter? Have they mattered?

In one way, it feels silly to turn Limbaugh's eco-outbursts into news. He says offensive things about different people all the time, so it's hardly shocking. But on a deeper level, his words reveal a sad truth about conservatism and environmentalism; that in some cases, the antagonistic relationship is reactionary rather than ideological.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Do Documentaries Violate the Privacy of Animals?

Dr. Brett Mills at the University of East Anglia in the UK makes an interesting argument. He insists that wildlife documentaries violate the privacy of animals. Mills, who is based in the university's Film and Television Department, believes that it is not "fair game" to film animals in their natural habitat. "We see it as unethical and wrong to secretly film people - we say it's not allowed," he says. The same rule, he thinks, should apply to animals. "The question constantly posed by wildlife documentaries is how animals should be filmed; they never ask whether animals should be filmed at all." (Source)

I have mixed feelings about Mills' position. I partially agree with him and partially don't. Animals should have the right to privacy, just as they should have a host of other rights that are systematically denied to them by human beings. He won't get much of an argument from me on that point. But wildlife documentaries serve an important function. To the degree that we empathize with animals, often it has to do with these wildlife films we've watched at various points in our lives that help us to understand the behavior and lives of animals. Moreover, with all the ghastly things being done to animals in the world today on a mass scale - within the walls of the factory farm system, by the fur and leather industries, by animal abusers, by large fish farming enterprises, etc. - the act of simply filming animals seems downright innocuous by comparison.

When the majority human beings reach a stage in their development that they empathize with all animals (not just dogs and cats) on a deeper level - or maybe I should say, if human beings reach that stage - then we can talk about whether we want to cease making these types of films and enact laws to protect the privacy of animals. But with all of the horrors being committed against animals in the world today, halting the filming of wildlife documentaries ought to be considered a low priority for animal advocates everywhere.