Tuesday, September 28, 2010

More victims of farm fires - 1,200 to be exact

Another fire burned down a farm in Ontario - this one in the the small town of Arkona. This time, 1,200 pigs perished in the flames. By the time the firefighters from Arkona and Thedford arrived, most of the barns had burned to the ground. Fire crews were able to save about 500 pigs. Thankfully, no one in the family of four that lived on the farm was hurt. As Arkona's fire chief, Jim Sisler, noted: "One was a 100-year-old, two-storey barn with straw up above. [The fire] got up above in the straw and spread quickly." (Source.)

These kinds of fires have been an ongoing problem in Canada. If you get a chance, have a look at my column from The Waterloo Region Record on factory farm fires. These kinds of blazes have destroyed tens of thousands animals - by now, more than 100,000 in 2010 alone - across Canada. These poor souls die horrific deaths in these fires. This Blog Entry is not intended to condemn the poor family that suffered this tragic loss. It is, rather, intended to highlight an acute problem in this country that has claimed the lives of countless animals in one of the most painful and ghastly ways you can possibly imagine. This is what happens when animals are reduced to commodities, when they're turned into goods, to be bought, sold and slaughtered, without any regard for their feelings, without any concern for the pain and suffering they feel. Expect these kinds of fires to continue, even on farms where animals are treated decently. These fires represent one of many possible tragic outcomes when pigs are turned into products - things - measured on profit and loss statements.

Monday, September 27, 2010

A few thoughts on Bill Clinton going (mostly) vegan...

The Blogosphere lit up like a pinball machine at news that Bill Clinton went vegan, and I think most of my Facebook vegan friends did a happy dance. It is good news. I salute Clinton for his dietary choices. It's a wise move for so many reasons. Health-wise, Clinton is making the right decision. This is a man, remember, who has a long history of heart problems, including his 2004 quadruple-bypass surgery, not to mention having two coronary stents (tubes that keep arteries open) implanted. Clinton explained his reason for moving toward a vegetable-based diet to CNN's Wolf Blitzer:

Since 1986, several hundred people who have tried essentially a plant-based diet--not ingesting any cholesterol from any source--have seen their bodies start to heal themselves--break up the arterial blockage, break up the calcium deposits around the heart. Eighty-two percent of the people who have done this have had that result, so I want to see if I can be one of them. (Source)

Hopefully, veganism will eventually mean more to Clinton than a means of improving his health. Maybe while Clinton is a vegan, he can educate himself about the horrible treatment of animals - whether it's in the factory farm system, the fur racket, the fishing industry, and pretty much every other sector of the economy that makes products out of animals. Bill Clinton's shift to veganism is, without question, a real victory for the vegan community as far as outreach goes. But a vegan diet doesn't necessarily guarantee weight loss. For example, when I switched from being an omnivore to being a vegan, I initially lost about the same amount of weight - 24 pounds - as Clinton, but a big part of that weight loss came from exercise. Over the summer, my exercise routine slackened and, as a result, I put on a big chunk of my old weight, and I've been 100 percent dedicated to a vegan diet.

We need to challenge the myth that veganism automatically results in weight loss. I fear that if people jump on the "Go Vegan, Lose Weight" bandwagon, as soon as they figure out that not all vegans see the pounds and inches drop dramatically, they'll jump back off the wagon again. It's not easy being a vegan and if you're going to become vegan, it is crucial to know precisely why you want to be one. If veganism were solely about weight loss, I would have ditched it months ago. But it's about far more than that. It is an act of solidarity with nonhuman animals. It is a vital way to live compassionately. And we're not talking about the fake "compassion" of the "happy meat" movement. We're talking about the real compassion of acting according to our consciences, as part of a global movement to liberate nonhuman animals.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Odds & Ends: A Thought-Provoking Column, a Bumbling Agency

Poorva Joshipura (right), director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Europe, wrote an interesting response in The Guardian to George Monbiot, the author/activist and ex-vegan who very recently declared his support for eating meat in the same newspaper. I mentioned Monbiot in my Blog Entry the other day. In her column, Joshipura argues in support of what she sees as the most important reasons for going vegan. Most of her arguments have to do with the environment and refuting Monbiot's assertion that if everybody went vegan, it would take a huge toll on the earth. She also insists that going vegan is healthier than eating meat. At one point, Joshipura writes:

Monbiot also fails to consider the disastrous effects that animal-centred diets have on human health. Animal products, high in saturated fat and cholesterol, are linked to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, strokes and many types of cancer. Plant-based foods, on the other hand, are cholesterol-free and high in fibre and can provide us with all essential nutrients.

There isn't much in her column on the animals themselves, although she does mention "the intense and prolonged suffering endured by animals who are raised and killed for food." She goes on to write that "PETA has long and publicly advocated that as long as animals continue to be raised and killed for food, they must be treated as humanely as possible." Fair enough. The factory farm system is a harsh reality out there. We can talk all we want about the inviolable rights of animals, but that doesn't get rid of factory farms or even reduce their production one iota. And if animals are going to be slaughtered, it is better that they not be kicked and punched and abused like they were at the Conklin Farms in Ohio earlier this year.

But this column would have been an ideal moment for Joshipura to say, "The bottom line is: We do not have the right to consume animals. They are sentient beings with rights and murdering them on a mass scale is not only immoral, it ought to be illegal." She missed that opportunity, even though I applaud her for calling on others to go vegan. And while her arguments are more persuasive than Monbiot's defense of meat eating, in the end it was Monbiot - and the defenders of the factory farm system - who set the boundaries of the debate. It is time that defenders of animals insist that more important the environment, more important than health issues, is the fact that we do not have the right to be doing what we are doing to animals. That is the single most compelling reason to go vegan, in my view.

On a related note: A report released yesterday by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice showed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted intense surveillance of Greenpeace, PETA and various antiwar groups. These investigations absorbed a lot of time, labor and money, and lasted between 2001 and 2006. Inspector General Glenn Fine concluded that the extensive surveillance was "unreasonable and inconsistent with FBI policy." (Source.) If you're wondering why the United States is losing the War on Terror, look no further than this absurd surveillance campaign. But this should come as no surprise. The FBI has been engaged in this sort of nonsense since World War I. And you can bet that even though the Inspector General insists the surveillance ended in 2006, the feds are still watching activists and keeping files on them. One wonders if they really - in their hearts of hearts - want to capture Osama Bin Laden. They seem much more intent on doing what they've done best for decades: Spying on legitimate, nonviolent dissenters, and treating them as enemies of the state.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Now that's my kind of kitty! Drinking Water 101

This video shows a beautiful cat with an innovative way of drinking water. Check it out. You'll love it! I thought about turning on the kitchen sink and giving it a try. It looks refreshing. I think this kitty has the right idea.

(Thank you to my friend Danny VeganBatman Nichols for bringing this video to my attention!)

Of cheatatarians & turncoats...

(Above: Angelina Jolie, "ex-vegan"...)

There's a new word in the English language (as if we need any more of them): cheatatarian.

Recently, AOLNews contributor Katie Drummond defined the word: "At home, they're an avid devourer of rubbed kale salads and scrambled tofu. To friends and family, they're known as the resident vegan or vegetarian. But behind closed doors, or maybe even after one too many drinks at a cocktail party, they're shoveling down bacon-wrapped scallops." (Source.)

The newly coined word "cheatatarian" appeared on a recent Blog entry on the Website TreeHugger.com. As the author of the post, Sami Grover, noted:
Ultimately there's no easy term for such a habit, and it's no easy concept to discuss. Whether "cheatatarianism" is just an amusing manifestation of our search for ethical eating, and the moral ambiguity of what those ethics are, or whether it is an absolute abomination will depend on the people in question. Some vegans and vegetarians will no doubt be disgusted at the concept of their partner eating meat—and if they've been open about it from the start, then sneaking around is just plain wrong. Others, most likely, would just rather not think about it, see it, or know about it. And then there are those who came to veganism/vegetarianism after the relationship started—in which case, can we really expect our partners to follow suit? (Source.)
Not surprisingly, the word "cheatatarian" is catching on at a time when we're hearing about various famous people and celebrities abandoning veganism and vegeterianism. Maybe some of you heard about Angelina Jolie (pictured above) declaring that she was giving up on veganism. "I was a vegan for a long time and it nearly killed me," she said. "I found I was not getting enough nutrition." (Source.) Jolie, who never made much of a public issue of her veganism before (you gotta wonder how dedicated she really was...), received a lot of publicity when she fell off the vegan wagon and said the secret of her beauty is a "juicy steak."

Over the summer, the press reported that actress Zooey Deschanel ditched veganism. "I gave it a good try," she said, "but sometimes you just need a little something, a little meat." (Source.) Deschanel cannot eat soy or wheat products, so her diet was limited. She said she needed meat to give her more nutritional variety.

A less famous ship jumper was British author, Guardian columnist and activist George Monbiot. The headline of his September 6 column said it all: "I was wrong about veganism. Let them eat meat - but farm it properly." Monbiot writes:
In the Guardian in 2002 I discussed the sharp rise in the number of the world's livestock, and the connection between their consumption of grain and human malnutrition. After reviewing the figures, I concluded that veganism "is the only ethical response to what is arguably the world's most urgent social justice issue". I still believe that the diversion of ever wider tracts of arable land from feeding people to feeding livestock is iniquitous and grotesque.... I no longer believe that the only ethical response is to stop eating meat. (Source.)
These aren't the first high-profile people to abandon veganism and they won't be the last. Expect other ex-vegans to milk their conversions for all they're worth. They'll fall back on the old litany of excuses: A plant-based diet depletes the land. Veganism is not healthy or nutritious. Human beings are omnivores. You can't get vitamin B12 by being a vegan. You can't get enough protein by being a vegan. Vegans cheat anyway (hence, the term "cheatatarian"), so why bother? There are even those dim-witted souls who argue that "plants have feelings, too," therefore it's fine to eat meat.

Expect to hear more from "cheatatarians," the "ex-vegans," the people who fall of the wagon or experience an "epiphany" about the evils of a plant-based diet. They'll pop up all over the place. They'll admit they were "wrong," "misguided," maybe even "foolish." And they'll undoubtedly express happiness about seeing the light.

What they won't discuss - what will be curiously absent from their turncoat commentaries - is any sort of discussion about the mass murder of animals. They won't mention anything about animals being sentient beings, with feelings. They won't grapple with the fact that we, as a human race, have no right whatsoever to exploit, kill, experiment on or abuse - in any way, shape or form - animals.

Animals will be absent from their "awakenings." It's all about me. Me, me, me, me, me. My nutrition. My diet. My realization. My well-being.

On this Blog, I often say that denial is our main adversary. But there are others. Narcissism is another. The ex-vegans will either take animals out of the equation or - worse - reduce them to unfeeling commodities, who deserve to be on our dinner plates.

Don't believe a word of it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The unfortunate toll that violence takes on good people

I received an invitation to join a new Facebook group called "Animal Revenge Movement." The poorly worded description on the group's page reads: "With 156 billion animals being killed world wide [sic] every year just for what animal eating humans call food? Animal Revenge Movement is for people that believe it's okay to kill humans to help and save animals."

The group's Facebook page is a gathering place to celebrate the maiming, mutilation and death of human beings by animals (and, presumably, by animal rights advocates who have the proper credentials to tell us who deserves to live and who deserves to die). The page includes unsettling pictures of animals harming human beings. The group's profile picture is of a person whose face is concealed by a bandana, wearing a black T-shirt with white lettering that says, "IT'S OK TO KILL HUMANS TO SAVE ANIMALS." And on their Facebook wall, malcontents post messages praising animals that inflict pain and death on human beings.

It's a grim, sad spectacle. It's depressing as hell to see. This group's page is brimming with nastiness. What do you expect from a place on Facebook where people assemble to fantasize about inflicting violence on "corpse munchers" (as one caustic poster calls omnivores)?

Needless to say, I'm not about to hit this hateful group's "Like" button.

The most unfortunate thing about this grim page - and all of the other spots on the Internet where infantile misanthropes gather to wish ill upon the human race - is that it shows the violence of the system rubbing off on people of good conscience. You can find this ugliness in other places on the Internet. The website of the North American Animal Liberation Press Office includes a page called Payback that tragically celebrates acts of animal violence carried out against human beings. The following is fairly typical of the tragedies listed on the NAALPO's Payback page:

28 June 2009
Longmont, CO

A 12-year-old boy was killed Sunday when stomped on by a bull that threw him while he was competing in a rodeo in Colorado, authorities said. Boulder County Sheriff's Deputy Cathy Bryarly said the youth was tossed from the bull's back before he completed the 6-second ride and the animal's rear legs came down on his lower abdomen, missing a protective vest he was wearing, the Longmont Times-Call reported. The accident occurred about 11:20 a.m. during the Little Britches Rodeo at the Boulder County Fairgrounds. The boy, whose name wasn't released, was conscious when rushed to Longmont United Hospital, where he died, Bryarly said. "Although youth rodeo events use animals that are age-appropriate in size and demeanor, there is always an inherent risk to rodeo participants when dealing with these animals," Sgt. Mike Dimond of the sheriff's office said in a statement. Dimond later told the newspaper such accidents tend to be rare. "It could happen any time," he said. "I'm just surprised it doesn't."

It is unsettling to see this type of story celebrated, even though I completely understand the frustration that drives animal rights activists to cheer on such acts of violence. I often share that frustration, that sense of despair, that feeling that everything is hopeless. How many entries have there been on this blog where I've lamented the collective callousness, ignorance and violence of the human race? How many times have I felt a deep sense of despair about the billions of animals murdered each year by human beings? More than I care to count.

And yet there is something profoundly tragic about embracing the violence that forms the very foundation of the global animal killing machine. The factory farm system, the fur coat industry, the foie gras racket - these are all things that should have been done away with long ago. These institutions are eating away at the human race like cancer. Do not be surprised when those who resist these ultra-violent systems become tainted by the violence, eventually embrace it and take great satisfaction from acts of brutality, degradation and, yes, even death.

The alternative to such destruction is Mahatma Gandhi's concept of ahimsa or nonviolent action. Ahima predates Gandhi by centuries, but he successfully wove the concept into his teachings. Gandhi, more than most people, understood the toll that violence takes, both on the recipient and the aggressor. If there is hope for humanity, it rests in our ability to completely jettison the cultures, customs and traditions of violence that we have consciously and subconsciously embraced over the years. Each one of us has it within us to become living, breathing examples of ahimsa, if only we rise above the brutality that engulfs us and promote a new and different way of living, one free of exploitation and bloodshed.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Never argue with an ibex... It makes a fool out of you and pisses off the ibex...

This video is positively hilarious! It shows a man arguing with an ibex - and the ibex doesn't like it one bit! The ibex keeps grunting angrily and spitting at the guy. This poor fellow doesn't want to give up and he keeps arguing, but he never seems to win the ibex over to his side. Right up until the end of the video, the ibex seems fed up, as if saying, "Get this clown outta my face!"

Have a look at it if you get a moment. You'll get a real hoot out of it. I hope the man eventually gave up on trying to convert the ibex to his side. He was fighting a losing battle, I'm afraid.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A wonderful series of interviews with Gary Francione

I love this multipart interview with Gary Francione, a distinguished professor of law and Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Scholar of Law and Philosophy at Rutgers School of Law - Newark, brought to you by the wonderful folks at the Vegan News. I am posting part one of the interview above, which is 9 minutes and 20 seconds long. If you visit the YouTube page with this video, you'll find the rest of the segments of this interview on the right-hand side of the page. I am also going to post part two of the interview below.

Francione is one of the most eloquent defenders of animal rights out there today. His arguments are persuasive. He is passionate without being over-the-top or shrill. He is an ideal spokesperson for the animal rights movement. I often listen to his brilliant podcasts on his website Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach. Visit his website if you get a chance. No other animal rights advocate has had as big an impact on me as Francione, and I agree 100 percent with his nonviolent approach to the issue.

Treat yourself to Francione's brilliant commentaries. You'll be glad you did.

Some thoughts on a meaty fashionista

I wasn't going to weigh in on Lady Gaga's now infamous meat outfit that she wore at the MTV Video Music Awards last Sunday. Images of the diva wearing a steak dress have appeared everywhere. Her controversial dress had the desired effect. PETA went nuts. The fashion community rallied to her defense. Journalists speculated about whether the steak dress was real. "Did Lady Gaga really wear slabs of meat as a dress?" asked a Globe and Mail headline. Lady Gaga herself defended her actions, saying she was trying to make a point. She told impassioned veganista talk show hostess Ellen DeGeneres: "Well, it is certainly no disrespect to anyone who is vegan or vegetarian.... If we don't stand up for what we believe in and if we don't fight for our rights, pretty soon we're going to have as much rights as the meat on our bones. And I am not a piece of meat." (Source.)

Huh? What???

For all her vague, rambling, incoherent commentary, Lady Gaga - who has been really wonderful in her support of gay and lesbian rights - might be onto something here. How is her meat outfit any different than leather? Yet leather never sparks such a brouhaha. It's widely accepted as normal. But if you throw a steak on your body - or the fur from a cute little animal - people go apeshit. How come one type of clothing triggers so much outrage while another - made of the same stuff - does not? Our old friend, Mr. Double Standard (first cousin of Denial), knows the answer to that question all too well.

Most people probably won't connect these dots, though. The average person, when she or he sees Lady Gaga dressed in steak, most likely won't engage in any soul searching. At the most, they'll probably say, "Ew" or "She's so crazy," and go on munching away on their steaks and hamburgers. Give it a little time. Lady Gaga will be back in the news for some other reason.

But I just couldn't resist the urge to comment. This is too much of a "moment" to ignore. This controversy tells us something about the general public across North America. There is a way of breaking down the denial and the double standards, and the key to doing so is making people see that what they eat is made of the meat and flesh and blood of sentient beings who feel fear and excruciating pain and live short lives in an ultra-violent system. Lady Gaga caught some flak for wearing pieces of those sentient beings. If we can figure out a way of teaching people that wearing meat is no different than eating it, we might be able to pluck one more brick out of the wall of denial and make people think twice before they sink their teeth into a porterhouse or a Quarter Pounder.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Finally! The justice system is actually punishing creeps like this one...

The justice system in the United States is finally cracking down on animal abusers. Wayne Brackett, age 22, was just sentenced to a four-year prison sentence in North Adams, Massachusetts. His crime? In June, Brackett - under the influence of drugs and alcohol - broke into a construction company and horribly murdered and mutilated five pet rabbits on the premises. As the Boston Herald noted:
Surveillance footage reportedly showed him ripping the ears off a rabbit, stabbing another one repeatedly, and stomping one baby bunny to death.
Now, this low-life will be spending four years in prison - plenty of time to reflect on his heinous crime. It's wonderful to see a thug who abuses animals finally being punished for such violence. This hasn't always happened. Twenty years ago - hell, ten years ago - a creep like this most likely would have gotten away with a slap on the wrist, maybe a little bit of community service.

Not any more. This prison sentence sends out a strong message: Animal abuse will not be tolerated. Brackett's case is especially disturbing. Peter Gollub, director of Law Enforcement for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, told a local television station:
The rabbits in this case suffered horrific and repeated acts of cruelty. We wish to express our gratitude to the courts for recognizing the gravity of the crimes by imposing appropriate sentences.... Regrettably, the savagery repeatedly inflicted upon the helpless rabbits exceeds any brutality I’ve seen in quite a while. (Source)
Nine other rabbits are missing and presumed dead. Good thing this creep is going to do serious jail time. There have been many studies that show that human beings who carry out such senseless acts of violence against animals often commit violent acts against other human beings as well. Who knows? By punishing this creep now, maybe the life of a person might be saved. And apart from that, what he did to those rabbits was so brutal, so vile and disgusting, he deserves to spend time in prison. He'll also have to do 100 hours of community service. I'm praying this jerk comes across a really big and really tough inmate who loves animals and detests animal abusers.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Food for Thought: A fascinating take on veganism from a respected spiritual leader...

Check out this video of Ben Ammi Ben-Israel, the respected spiritual leader of the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem. In this video, Ben Ammi explains why he became a vegan and ties it in with the origins of the human race as outlined in the Bible. It is a very compelling video and Ben Ammi manages - in a short time - to connect a whole lot of dots. Ben Ammi has a fascinating history. Born in Chicago in 1939 to a working-class family, he converted at age 22 to the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem. It's a wonderful group full of people who practice compassion on a daily basis and live in peaceful communities in Israel. As their Website explains:

The African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem are comprised of approximately 2,000 men, women and children residing in three development towns - Dimona, Arad and Mitzpe Ramon - in southern Israel. We maintain a vibrant culture which includes a communal lifestyle, a vegan diet, a system of preventive health care and high moral standards - a holistic approach to life based on righteousness. Our intent is to live according to the laws and prophecies of God.
Ben Ammi embraced the belief that African Americans are the descendants of one of the lost tribes of Biblical Israelites. Along with the other members of his religion, Ben Ammi has embraced nonviolence, social justice, communal living and - yep, you guessed it - veganism. They've been welcomed into Israel, where their communities thrive. In 2008, they were visited by Israeli president Shimon Peres, who began granting Israeli citizenship to the members. In fact, the followers of the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem were pioneering vegans. As their wonderful Website concludes:
After more than 40 years in the Holy Land, the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem have managed inarguable string of achievements: men who are capable, responsible and caring; women who are valued as equals and encouraged to achieve; children who are protected, nurtured and encouraged to grow and appreciate the Creation and respect their role in it; elders who are healthy, vital, revered for their wisdom and knowledge and expected to continue as integral, functioning parts of the community. These are the very tenants that once were the hallmarks of successful, progressive societies. Whatever might be said about the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem, above all, it must be recognized as a tangible, viable and more importantly, righteous, alternative for those who long to see peace, justice, mercy, truth, love. Selah
We would all profit by learning the ways of this wise and peaceful group of people.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Not all videos are created equal...

A very well-intentioned Facebook friend of mine who is an ardent animal rights supporter from Malaysia posted a disturbing video on Facebook. It showed a man, presumably in China (it looks like a crowded city in China, and there are what appears to be Chinese characters on the bottom of the screen) carrying a yelping puppy toward a wall. The video started to give me the jitters just a few seconds into it. "This can't end well," I told myself.

It doesn't, either. The man holds the puppy by the back legs and begins slamming the poor animal against a wall. A crowd is starting to gather and, while the puppy is still quivering, the man cuts the puppy's throat open. My animal rights friend begged people to please repost the video. "The video shows pure evilness and cruelty," she wrote on her wall post.

I am not reposting the video here, even though I do post a lot of videos on this Blog. Certain videos, though, I just won't post. For example, I didn't repost the video of the young Bosnian girl throwing puppies into a rushing river that caused a recent global uproar. And I didn't repost the video of the nasty British woman pitching a poor cat into a dumpster in August that provoked a similar outcry. (A scene from that video is posted above.)

If I post a video, I insist that it have some educational value. Videos that show the cruelty that factory farm animals endure are educational. Videos that show appalling conditions in facilities that manufacture fur coats and other fur products are educational. Videos that show animals being abused on a large scale and in a systematic fashion are educational. All of these videos serve the same purpose. They show us what is happening behind the walls of industries - or, in some cases, private individuals - that exploit animals.

But videos that show individual human beings carrying out acts of random violence against animals feel more like exploitation. I have posted some videos of animal rescue workers finding large numbers of cats or dogs in appalling conditions, but these are also educational because they show us how far we need to go to take better care of our dog and cat populations.

Perhaps videos that show isolated acts of human cruelty are educational in some way. After all, it is helpful to know that there are insane people out there who harm human beings and animals. Oftentimes, though, my gut tells me these types of videos are exploitation and posting them on my Blog doesn't feel right. By exploitation, I mean sensationalist. Or videos that serve no other function than to shake up people or agitate or disturb them. When I was finished watching that awful Chinese puppy cruelty video, I can' t say I emerged from the experience enlightened. I simply felt shaken up and defeated. I don't know what happened to the heartless man in the video. Did he get punished? Did he walk away? Who the hell is he?

Some people might make the same argument about videos that show appalling conditions in factory farms or leather coat-making facilities or some other institutions that exploit and carry out violent acts against sentient nonhuman animals. What purpose do these videos serve? They're no good. Get rid of them. Quit posting them. That sort of thing.

And, as I said, there may even be those that insist that videos depicting isolated acts of human cruelty are educational. I guess it all boils down to one's own individual value system. Back in a 1964 Supreme Court case that had to do with pornography, Justice Potter Stewart - when pressed to define pornography, said, simply, "I know it when I see it."

In this instance, I'll fall back on Justice Stewart's simple definition. Please don't ask me to explain why one video feels more like exploitation than another. I just know it when I see it.

Monday, September 6, 2010

You will love this!!! I promise!!! :)

Watch this video. It's a minute long. IT IS AMAZINGLY FUNNY! It's a clip from The Tonight Show of a fantastic little dog busting a bunch of balloons. It truly is one of the funniest things I've ever seen. I'm so happy to post videos like this one from time to time. Believe it or not, I get really, really tired of blogging about depressing stuff. And this video cheered me right up!

The Growing Influence of Facebook, YouTube and the power of video

I am on Facebook and I'm friends with various vegans and animal rights activists. Recently, a Facebook group was formed to protest a young Bosnian woman who allegedly posted a video of herself on YouTube tossing several puppies into a fast-flowing river. The video shows her in a red hoodie, reaching into a white pail, picking up newborn pups and throwing them into a nearby flowing waters.

The world went apeshit. New groups popped up on Facebook overnight. One group, "We Hate the Puppy-Throwing Girl," gained 6,582 likers in a few days. Friends posted the video on Facebook. I watched it and it made me squeamish. I'm not going to post it here. I know, I know. I have posted some pretty damn grim stuff here. But posting a video about the appalling conditions that chickens endure on a daily basis, or footage of calves been butchered for veal, seems to have an educational value. The video of the girl in the red hoodie tossing puppies feels more like exploitation.

Miraculously, Bosnian authorities claim they've captured the girl. The woman has been identified (allegedly) as Katja Puschnik. Apparently, she even - again, allegedly - posted a video apology on YouTube that was yanked off the Website due to use violations. Who knows if it's true? Let's face it - the flow of news out of that part of the world leaves a great deal to be desired. The plot thickened, though, when the girl's grandmother - who allegedly ordered her granddaughter to get rid of the puppies in the first place - came forward and claimed she waded into the river and rescued the poor animals. But, like I said, the news coming out of Bosnia is sketchy and difficult to verify. Some sources have even suggested the video is a hoax. (Source)

What is not difficult to verify is the firestorm this video has caused in the West. The Web has lit up like a pinball machine, with Facebook being one of the most active mobilizing outlets. A number of organizations offered rewards for the girl's capture. Director Michael (Transformers) Bay put up a $50,000 reward for "information leading to the arrest and successful prosecution of the woman in the red sweatshirt who threw the puppies and the person who videotaped this act of cruelty." (Source) And a website called 4Chan has also been receiving a lot of attention for promoting "Internet Vigilantism" in promoting the search for the puppy-throwing girl.

The video of the so-called "puppy-throwing girl" comes on the heels of a controversial video of a British woman named Mary Bale, who was filmed in August putting her neighbour's cat, Lola, into a dumpster. Like the puppy-tossing video, the video of Lola being tossed in a dumpster (she was heard meowing 15 hours later by her owner, who posted the video of Mary's nasty act), sparked a global outrage.

It would be easy to rant and rave about double standards. Why is it that cruelty to dogs and cats sparks so much anger, while the harsh treatment of factory farm animals fails to stir most people? But I am actually heartened by the rage triggered by these videos. It shows that people are becoming more and more sensitive about the treatment of animals. If we can figure out how to channel that rage, and teach the public that all animals deserve to be treated with compassion and kindness, then there is some hope of gaining new adherents to the animal rights movement.

Video is our greatest ally. Ten years ago, in the year 2000, these types of controversies were rare because there was no YouTube, no Facebook, and animal cruelty was difficult to verify. Now, thanks to the potent combination of improved video technology and the Internet, a new storm has been unleashed, one that is impossible to contain. The revolution is not very old (keep in mind, YouTube was started in February 2005, and at that point, not all computers could operate its Flash videos). We are still, in fact, in its infancy. This juggernaut will take us in interesting directions. It has already won many hearts and minds over to the cause of animal rights.

So as awful as these videos are (I cringed and looked away as the red-hoodied girl tossed those puppies), take heart. The truth will out.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Yeah... Even they feel pain...

The hardest meat for me to give up, believe it or not, was shrimp. What a delicacy! I used to buy the big shrimp rings, race home from the store, and dip them in that red cocktail sauce. I loved every succulent bite. Last fall, there was a period where I phased out meat but not fish. I reasoned that a cow or a pig or a chicken has more feelings, and more awareness, than the cod I was eating in my fish & chips, or the shrimps I was bringing home in my shrimp ring and dipping in the cocktail sauce.

But that state of affairs didn't last long. I'm one of those types who reads everything I can when it comes to subjects that interest me. And in that short window of time I became a pescetarian (someone who eats seafood but not other animals), I slowly began to realize that I had not yet made the transition to a compassionate diet. I read about fish. I learned about the pain and agony they suffer. Many die slow deaths. They live in agony in fish farms. And contrary to what some scientists such as James Rose, a fish neurobiology expert at the University of Wyoming say (Rose said, "the fish brain just hasn't got the hardware to experience pain..." source), fish do, in fact, feel pain.

Today, I stumbled across an article about a restaurant in Sacramento that has recently stopped serving "dancing prawns," much to the happiness of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). As the article explains:
After hearing from PETA that scientific studies show that prawns feel pain, Nishiki Sushi restaurant in Sacramento has informed PETA that it will no longer serve a cruel dish that's often called "dancing prawns." The dish's name is a reference to the writhing that the animals engage in when their protective shells are ripped off and acidic lemon juice is squeezed onto their raw flesh before they are eaten alive. PETA contacted the restaurant after receiving complaints from several patrons. "We [were] not aware that prawn[s] can feel pain," wrote Danny Leung, president of Nishiki Sushi Inc. "[W]e will no longer serve … prawn[s] alive. … Thank you for bringing this to our attention."

There have been numerous studies at universities around the world that clearly demonstrate that fish feel pain. Despite this, there are deniers who insist that the very notion that fish feel pain is pure idiocy. Last year, journalist and regular Slate.com contributor Michael Agger wrote an article reached the following verdict on the issue of fish pain:
What does my gut tell me about fish pain? Not happening. When I reel in a trout, I may be stressing the fish—making it expend precious energy—but it's not howling in agony.

Hard to say whether Agger believes this all the way through, because in the next paragraph, he wrote:
That's not to say that I think fish should be treated cavalierly. Back in the day, whenever I caught a sucker fish (i.e., a carp) in my home stream, I'd pick it up and hurl it onto the railroad tracks. (The justification being that carp are taking up space in the stream that could be used by trout.) I wouldn't do that now. I don't have a good reason why. It's just a vague, gut-level notion that fish should be treated with respect, just as you shouldn't speed up in your car to run over rabbits.

Usually, when pressed, people like Agger, who rationalize and justify - both publicly and in their own minds - inflicting pain on non-human animals, will sheepishly admit something along the lines of, "Welllllllllllll, maybe animals might feel something..." (e.g., stress, fear, momentary panic). But it is not pain. Human beings feel pain. Animals don't.

Tell that to the prawns who writhe in agony. Tell that to lobsters, who scream in boiling pots of water. Tell that to the rainbow trout, who flop and struggle and roll around in a desperate search for the water that is their natural habitat. Tell that to harpooned sharks and whales, who flail and twist and contort in bloody water.

That's not pain you're feeling. Just a little momentary anxiety. As my dentist used to say, "This won't hurt a bit."

My friends, don't buy it. The notion that the "seafood" we eat never felt any pain is but one small piece of a giant mosaic that makes up Fortress Denial. Already, more and more people are waking up to the truth. One year ago at this time, I was chowing down on shrimp, knocking off one of those big rings each night, never even giving a millisecond's thought to the pain that creature experienced. Now, I won't go near 'em. People do learn. People do change.

The change starts with you.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Walter Bond, jailed animal rights activist...

I have been reading, with great interest, about the case of Walter Bond (right), an animal liberation activist now languishing in the Jefferson County Jail in Golden, Colorado. In July, Walter's brother cooperated with authorities to help arrest the militant anarchist vegan for his alleged participation in Animal Liberation Front actions under the nom de guerre "Lone Wolf." The "Lone Wolf," authorities allege, was involved in a series of arson fires in Denver and Salt Lake City, including the torching of the Sheepskin Factory (seller of furs and pelts), Tandy Leather Store and Tiburon, a restaurant with foie gras on its menu.

Those of you who read this blog know that even though I, too, can be filled with rage about the treatment of animals, I've always been extremely dedicated to my lifelong nonviolent principles. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, that in the struggles against injustice and oppression, nonviolence is the greatest tool for the people. Arson is not an acceptable means to change society. It should be condemned and avoided.

At the same time, it is important to keep the focus on the real terrorists out there - those who exploit and abuse animals. The factory farm system, the fur and leather industries, the foie gras racket, the list goes on and on - these are the institutions that murder animals by the billions. The fires that Walter Bond may or may not have set (he hasn't been found guilty of carrying out the "Lone Wolf" fires) only destroyed property. The countless fires in factory farms across North America due to unsafe conditions, many here in Canada, have destroyed untold numbers of animals in the most horrifying ways imaginable.

The authorities will always try to steer attention away from these gargantuan crimes in order to keep the focus on "terrorists." That's an age-old tactic. And, sadly, it sometimes works. Earlier this year, a Canadian member of parliament launched a one-man crusade to lump animal rights activists under the category of "terrorist" with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. It was an absurd effort, but he managed to get a lot of publicity as he pointed to animal rights radicals as dangerous perpetrators of violence. And even though I don't think he got very far with his attempts to link animal advocates to Osama Bin Laden, he at least steered the spotlight onto his little crusade. Actions like his help marginalize the militants, keeping the focus on resistance rather than injustice, and marginalizing the radicals under the category of "nuts."

American authorities are doing the same thing. They're cracking down on the militant segment of the animal rights movement. One can easily understand why the angry young radicals are driven to extremes. What is driving them? The horrific treatment of animals. When you are surrounded by violent images on a day-to-day basis - animals getting slaughtered on assembly lines, animals living in filth and neglect, animals as victims of human violence, animals being exploited and murdered by the billions - the inherent violence of the system naturally rubs off on those who are resisting it.

But make no mistake: The resisters, no matter how extreme they are, will never - ever - be as violent as the system they are resisting. However misguided you might happen to think Walter Bond may be, his alleged acts of resistance - driven by despair and urgency and anger - will never match the violence against animals carried out by the institutions he is resisting.

Still, I believe that an important part of any act of resistance - whether it is blogging, boycotting, marching, or even more militant examples of direct action - is to rise above the pervasive violence of our socio-economic-political system and embrace an entirely new way of living. Violence is not a natural human state of affairs, contrary to all the historical examples that say otherwise. It is a profoundly unnatural way to live. Through our very examples, we can show our fellow human beings there is another way to live, a different way for humans and non-human animals to interact.

I was deeply moved by Walter Bond's essay on why he became a vegan, which I am linking to here on my blog. If you get a chance, please read it. It includes the address where you can write to Walter and offer support. I do not agree with the tactic of arson, and I'm not sure that Walter actually burned down those businesses. But I do know one thing: He is motivated by the noblest of impulses. His essay on why he became a vegan is one of the most compelling I've read. See what he has to say. Decide for yourself. I think you will agree that whatever mistakes Bond has made, on balance, his acts of resistance are not as violent or pernicious as the day-to-day activities carried out by institutions that systematically harm, exploit and ultimately destroy animals by the billions, as if they are commodities and not sentient beings with feelings.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

On Animals, Carnism and Double Standards: Dr. Melanie Joy's Brilliant Contributions

Hi Blog Pals,

This is a terrific video by Dr. Melanie Joy on why human beings won't eat some animals (guinea pigs, dogs, cats, etc. etc.), yet they will eat others (pigs, cows, chickens, etc. etc.). I have seen so many videos on YouTube of well-meaning vegans ranting and raving about their beliefs, but rarely have I ever seen one handled this brilliantly. Joy is incredibly articulate and carefully explains her ideas about carnism, the belief among omnivores that certain animals exist to entertain or provide food for human beings. She is the author of the book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism (Conari Press, 2009). She discusses the ideas behind her book in this wonderful YouTube video. The video is about (not quite) seven minutes long. If you get a chance, please watch it. It truly is one of the best, most straightforward arguments about human double standards and denial when it comes to animals. I've always believed - as I've said over and over here - that destroying double standards that enable people to eat some animals and love others is a crucial first step on the road to real and meaningful animal liberation.

Have a look at this video. Listen carefully to what Dr. Joy says. I think you will agree with me that she is a force to be reckoned with, a voice of reason in a sea of double standards, denial and irrationality.