Tuesday, May 31, 2005


Rex, who is now the king, was the prince in this picture. Posted by Hello

Grrr

Freakin' wireless connection. You were going to get a post about how atlantic salmon is bad for you, but my connection died. Instead you'll get some filler - a picture, perhaps.

Saturday, May 28, 2005


One of the kids in my calculus class sent me this photo. Posted by Hello

Friday, May 27, 2005

Logan - UPDATE

Looks like they were rescued... bunch of clowns....

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Three climbers are trapped in a storm high on Mt. Logan, the highest point in Canada. It's not looking good for them, though. They've been stuck at 5,500 metres for a while now.

It's been a personal (but far-fetched) dream of mine to summit Mt. Logan. My wife is terrified of the idea, and this news doesn't reassure her.





If we ever made an attempt, we'd go by the standard King Trench route

War crimes, dictators, ignorance

Neither Jason nor the guy from Bright Eyes is gonna like this.

Amnesty International has a bone to pick, and that bone is US human rights policy.

The organization is not too happy with Sudan, the Congo, Zimbabwe, Haiti, and most of all, the US. They say that crimes against prisoners in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay have set a poor example to the world, and left the door open for dictators in other countries to abuse their people.

They're also not to happy that the US bullied smaller countries - countries that receive aid from the US - into signing an agreement that exempts US persons from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. It seems that when some of these countries didn't want to sign the agreement, the US pulled our military aid and was threatening the withdrawal of economic aid. That's what you like to see in a benevolent nation. Extortion.

So what do we do about it? Nothing, of course.

Ignorance is bliss.

Given the complacence and comfort of the North American lifestyle, it's easy to be blind to the injustices of this world.

My wife's mom likes to say that we all need to step out of our comfort zone, to challenge ourselves and see who we really are. And to find out what we really believe.

If only that happened more often.

"Permanent good can never be the outcome of untruth and violence."
--Mahatma Gandhi

Thursday, May 26, 2005

A cow at my table

Last night, Mark and I went to a free screening of a movie called A Cow At My Table, created by Jennifer Abbott.

During the shooting of the film, Abbott snuck under a fence at a feedlot and filmed an abused and dying cow - suffering conditions that the Canadian beef industry swears never occurrs to its animals. Abbott was arrested, but the charges were dropped. A shame that they were, because Abbott would have gotten a lot of media attention if she had to stand trial.

Today, I was going to blog on the movie.

I was going to blog on the language used by the farming industry.

Orwellian in nature, it is designed to desensitize the consumers to the reality of their choices - "hamburgers" are better than "dead cow patties," "production units" are less offensive than "pigs," and "productivity" is a less harsh term for "how much milk we can force out of the cow." The language the industry uses against animal rights' advocates is also denigrating; it is meant to marginalize and trivialize the ideology, because if the ideology is marginalized and characterized by "vegan freaks" then people don't have to take it seriously.

I was also going to blog on a quote that really sruck me, a quote by author Tom Regan. He said (to the best of my memory):

"I would never eat my dog or my cat. I love my dog and cat. So I wondered, 'why would I eat a pig?' Then I realized, it was because I had never bothered to wonder what it would be like to know the pig."

We never bother to wonder what it would be like to know a farm animal - to us, they are just "hamburger steaks" or "bacon strips" or "nuggets."

So I was going to blog on those two topics, but in my search for Regan's book, I came across a review of a book by Charles Patterson, which compares animal suffering to the Jewish holocaust. It is a beautiful and moving piece of writing - I'll reproduce it here. If you are kind of heart and appreciate sensitive writing, please take a minute to read it:

On June 28, 2002, Robert Cohen writes:

One year ago I read an author's manuscript. Today, that book is in print, and you should add this one to your summer reading list: ETERNAL TREBLINKA by Charles Patterson. I have just been informed by Mr. Patterson that his Eternal Treblinka has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. After reading Eternal Treblinka, I wrote this:

The flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Portland Oregon lasted six hours. On the plane, I read the rough draft version of "Eternal Treblinka," an extraordinary book written by Charles Patterson that equates the real life and death experiences of ten billion farm animals raised each year for human consumption to the same Nazi atrocities suffered by six million Jews who became Hitler's "Final Solution."

This is one of the best written, best researched animal rights books that I've ever had the pleasure to preview. Fresh from the memory of having read about Jews stuffed into cattle cars as they were being transported to the slaughterhouses of Aushwitz and Dachau, I myself became witness to the twenty-first century's foremost example of man's inhumanity to other living creatures. Our tortured kin. The animal holocaust.

Last Thursday morning, I drove from Portland to Mount St. Helens in Washington State. I had been attending the Raw Foods Festival in Portland, and found a few hours in between my talks to visit the scene of America's greatest natural volcanic disaster. On this hot summer day, I drove across a bridge spanning the cascading Columbia River, separating Portland from Vancouver. There next to my car was a 40-foot long silver van with holes large enough to see through.

Inside of the truck were dairy cows. They were packed tightly together-with no room to lie down. The cows had served man's purpose. Each individual lived her short lifetime of stress, first birthing a child who would be immediately taken from her, then injected with hormones that would painfully stretch her udder, depleting calcium from her own bones so that she would generate enough milk to fill 100 half-pint containers for school children to drink each day. Her ancestors naturally produced enough milk to have filled just four of those same containers.

The cow whose eyes I look into for just one moment would be made to suffer through hours or days of driving hundreds or thousands of miles to what was to become a dairyman's final solution.

Yesterday she died a violent death shared by 10,000 of her sisters.

Today she will share that same fate with 10,000 other Guernsey and Holstein cows on Route 80 or Route 66 or I-95, in Kansas, New Jersey, or Florida, on highways and neighborhoods where your children and mine sleep comfortably unaware of the predestined doom for living beings who have done nothing to merit such treatment.

Tomorrow the same, and the day after that. Eternal death. Eternal slaughter. Eternal Treblinka.

A holocaust occurs while meat eaters turn the other way, denying that such horrors could possibly exist. Were the German and Polish people who knew the fate of those trucked to Buchenwald and Treblinka any less moral or guilty than those who comprehend the truth about what really happens to farm animals?

I followed the truck for a bit until it veered off to the left, and I continued my drive in another direction. I took the high road, and she took the low road, and her look will forever haunt me. Her body will produce 2,000 quarter-pounders for one of many fast food franchises.

Her anus and cheeks, arms and legs, back and udder will be served so that others can have it their way. Today's slaughter will feed 20,000,000 people, and the year's tally of Elsie and her sisters will add up to seven billion kids meals served.

I feel the slaughterhouse. I hear the screams and know their fear. I smell the sweat and blood and suffer their pain. I internalize the agony and distress of transported animals. I envision the once green fields in which these animals grazed and the cold metallic ramp and smell of warm sticky blood that flows on the slaughterhouse floor and stains the psyche of us all.

I imagine the stun gun bolt to the head. The upside-down hoisting and the sliced neck artery. The animal who chokes on her blood, and the man who slices off her legs as she kicks in fear from the ensuing pain of butchery. The last fifteen seconds of a death that no creature deserves. The arrogance of a man who eats the flesh and dares not consider the origin of each bite.

Nobel Prize-winning author Isaac Bashevis Singer once wrote about a man's love for his departed pet mouse:

"What do they know-all these scholars, all these philosophers, all the leaders of the world - about such as you? They have convinced themselves that man, the worst transgressor of all the species, is the crown of creation. All other creatures were created merely to provide him with food, pelts, to be tormented, exterminated. In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka."

I ceased eating meat four years ago. I now look at my pet dog, whom my daughters rescued from a shelter one day before she was due to be injected with man's final solution. I have come to love her.

Her name is Tykee, the goddess of fortune. Is she unlike the baby lamb or calf who is separated from her mother and shipped to the exterminator? I reflect on the Amazon parrot who recognizes me and sings "hello" when I visit my parents.

Does the bird with green feathers differ significantly from the chicken with white plumage? Do they not feel pain and deserve the right to live? I cannot eat them. I can no longer be then cause for their pain, although I once was a part of their genocide. I once denied responsibility for the acts of terror that occurred outside of my vision...outside of my consciousness. Their bodies were cut into smaller pieces and were broiled, baked, and fried.

Oh, that same crime of arrogance to which I now plead guilty! My penitence? Community service. I explain the act to meat eaters, and some turn their backs on me. Close their eyes. Shut their ears. Who wishes to deal with the truth and reality of death?

Arriving at Mount St. Helens, I carefully read one plaque after another, taking note of performances both heroic and ironic. I consider the day that once silenced the birds and boiled to death fish in the streams. A blink in the eye of geological time that stripped the landscape of the color green, divested pine trees of their needles and scattered whole trees like matchsticks across barren mountain tops.

I examined the original seismographs and warnings from hundreds of scientists to the residents to evacuate their homes and come to terms with an absolute truth. I became dumfounded by the arrogance of one man, Harry R. Truman, who lived alone in a cabin aside the lake below a mountain that would soon explode with the magnitude and power equivalent to 27,000 Hiroshima-type blasts.

A man who declined to leave that mountain. A man who denied a truth shared by others. An arrogant man who looked death in the face and refused to respect man's destiny. I try to imagine his final moment of sensibility. At the same time, in my own mind's eye I call upon the face of a cow in a truck on a bridge.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The cost of recycling

I've got some stuff in the works with Vic for a long post about The Passion (of the christ), but between now and then, this:

An interesting article from The Toronto Star about recycling - from what happens when you put your stuff in the blue bin to the actual cost of recycling the items.

The thing I found most interesting is that Toronto (and Ontario) are enfprcing a levee on plastics manufacturers: if a company is going to make a container, it must be blue-bin compatible, and the company has to pay 50% of the cost of its recycling.

Brings me back to a conversation I had with old friend Duane. He went to a talk by a progressive environmentalist who proposed the idea of paying a direct tax on every item - that tax would cover the cost of either recycling the item or disposing of it properly. The example he used was a tube of toothpaste - maybe it costs $0.25 to strip down the tube and extract the aluminum from it. As such, consumers would pay a 25 cent disposal tax. Interesting.

Since we've gotten a dog, I can't imagine the number of plastic grocery bags (due to the poop) we've consigned to a landfill. Gotta cut down on that.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The Passion

I just saw Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion of The Christ.... two years late, I know, but I finally got around to it.

Let me start by saying that loved it, fully and absolutely. Awesome. One of those rare films, like JFK, Contact, or Schindler's List, that everyone should see. I wanted to watch it not because I'm christian (far from it), but that the man featured in the film has done more to shape our lives than perhaps any man to have ever lived. And I love a good martyr story - Jesus was the ultimate martyr.

Here are my first and briefly researched impressions on the film:

- The term "passion" apparently refers to "suffering and death" and is a legacy of middle ages "passion plays," where Jesus' death was portrayed on stage. During those times, one of the purposes of these plays was to incite hatred against Jews. Which brings me to my next point....

- After watching this movie, an objective an uneducated viewer (which I think I was) would have to conclude that Mel Gibson placed the murder of Jesus squarely on shoulders of the Jews. If you've seen the film, you'll remember that the Romans washed their hands (literally and figuratively) of his death, and Herod (I think) was too drunk to decide what to do with Jesus.

Early in the movie, the Jewish elders state that it is unlawful for them to condem any man to death. Later in the flick, however, the same elders are calling out for the Roman governor to crucify him. This is the most obvious and telling example of Gibson's view, but there are others. Simply, you could not watch the film without feeling that the Jews were responsible for Jesus' death.

From the Anti-Defamation League:

"Because much of Christian Scriptures were written in polemical style that often portrayed Jews and Jesus--and therefore Judaism and Christianity--as adversaries, a common interpretation of the crucifixion was that the Jewish people were responsible for killing Jesus. According to this interpretation, both the Jews at the time of Jesus and the Jewish people for all time bear a divine curse for the sin of deicide. "

And if this is a popular or accurately historical interpretation of the crucifiction, then it's easy to see why there is still christian-based anti-semetism still in the world. (Although Jesus forgave the Jews, and if christians are trying to follow the way of Jesus, they should forgive the Jews, too). Which brings me to my next point...

- Now, I'm no biblical scholar, but this movie struck me as Mel Gibson's attempt at an accurate historical portrayal of the Jesus' death. The Passion struck me as not an interpretation or a personal view, but simply as a retelling of the story. This could be because Gibson's bias was carefully hidden behind the awesome power of the film's style, but I tend to think this film was accurate (as accurate as can be based on sketchy, 2000 year old history).

What I absolutely loved about the film was that there was no event in the film (until the very end) that could be construed as anything other than historical fact: there were no miracles in the movie, no divine intervention, no messages from god, no angels flying down from the heavens. During the scenes where Jesus remembers back to happier times, Gibson resisted the temptation to portray any sort of miracle or divination. Even the appearance of Satan could be viewed as simply Judas' (or Jesus') own little schizophrenic delusion due to the stress he was under.

I thought this stylistic choice really added to the power of the film.

- The actors were absolutey brilliant. I'm sure there are linguists out there who criticized the accents used in the film, but to shoot the whole in Aramaic (I assume) was awesome.

- Yep, the film was graphic in its violence. It had to be done this way, though. Hey, if you're going to make a movie about how much Jesus suffered, then how can you not actually portray the suffering? I guess a lot of christians didn't like how explicit it was - then what do you think your messiah went through, people? If he can martyr himself for you, then the least you can do is watch what happened to him.


As I said, I'm no biblical scholar, and I've got a bunch of questions about the film. I'll be emailling my favourite internet buddy, Vic, soon so that he can clear up some of my confusion. I completely disagree with Vic on everything, but he's the most bible-smart person I (virtually) know, so I need his help.

In the mean time, if you've seen the Passion, post a comment and let me know what you thought about it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

More time-wasting devices

Good friend Nancy sent me an apple-cart full of interesting links, but since I have the mind of a child, I went right for the fun stuff first.

From McSweeney's Internet Tendency, a series of Open Letters. They are brilliant!

Here's two of my favourites:

An Open Letter to Centripetal Force

An Open Letter to Chris Robinson, Lead Singer of the Black Crowes

Belinda Stronach - hot or not?

This might not be enough to save the Liberals and prevent an election, but it looks like Belinda Stronach (not to be confused with Belinda Carlisle... I like "Leave a Light on For Me" but Jenny's favourite is "Heaven is a Place on Earth") has made a smart move and left the party she almost led.

Now all the Liberals need to do is get 1 of 2 remaining independent MPs to stand in favour during next week's budget vote.

This is good, people. We don't need another election (or hero) right now.

Hey Mark, is Belinda Stronach hot?

If you jumble around "sith," you get....

I'll be ranting on something bible or politics or environment-related tomorrow, but for the time being...

If you are into the release of the latest Star Wars movie (and I am), two things:

This is an interesting article about the parallels of the Star Wars plot and the current state of world politics. And this is a straight-up angry viewpoint - but it's entertaining none-the-less. Not that I go to George Lucas for my political commentary (Mark), but it's still thoughtful.

And, if you read movie reviews, the New Yorker published a hilarious review that completely ripped up the movie. It's funny and well-written, though, so give it 5 of your minutes.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Counter-Enviro

I used to have a subscription to Outside magazine. When I subscribed, it was a magazine that featured articles on environmental issues, outdoor adventure, travel, and the occasional piece mens' health.

Over the past couple years, the magazine has sort of re-branded itself to be much more of an big-strong-triathlete-men-so-get-in-shape magazine, so I let my subscription expire.

I still get their online edition, though, and there's a fascinating article in this month's version.

It's all about the counter-environmental movement, and who is leading the way. The article profiles 20 people who are the key folks in environmental regress in the United States.

And you might be surprised at a few names on the list.

Get the article here:

Outside Online - The Counter-Enviro Power List

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Without flags or doctrine

A coupla days ago, Newsweek reported that US soldiers at Guantanamo Bay desecrated the quran by flushing it down the toilet.

The islamic community worldwide went furious at the allegations, and some groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan even considered calling for a(nother) holy war against the US.

Now, it appears that Newsweek was wrong, and that the desecration didn't happen.

Two things that struck me by this little story:

1) Is it possible that, due to real fears by top US security officials and due to real holes in US security, that Newsweek was pressured into retracting the story? It isn't too far-fetched. If the militant islamic folks wanted to really screw the US, they could. And flushing a book down the toilet is a good way to piss them off. Maybe Newsweek was forced to retract to try to head off a possible catastrophe waiting to happen.

2) Imagine the reaction within the US if the bible or (and this would be much worse) if the US flag clogged up some toilet somewhere... mass outrage, that's what. Maybe not a holy war, but something close.

I often wonder what the world would be like without flags and "holy" books. It says here that a flag or a religious belief seems to divide more than unite. But hell, what do I know? Nothin', that's what.

Still, I think it'd be cool to flush all the bibles and qurans and torahs and every other religious book down the toilet. Then we could burn all sorts of flags, too. That'd be cool.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Shiba 500

We have a dog, and her name is Ellie. Actually, her name is Electron, but we call her Ellie. She's a Shiba Inu.

Since she's still a pup - 10 months old - she spazzes out from time to time. Right now, she's running all around the living room. When she does this, Jenny and I call it the Shiba 500, or sometimes the Ellie 500. It's not an accurate name, because she never takes the same route twice, but it's good fun to watch. She's a demon.

To see a picture of young Ellie, scroll down. (I gotta get some newer pictures)

To read all about how Shibas are the best breed, go here.

in this picture, Ellie was but 8 weeks old Posted by Hello

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Halifax Herald, Geothermal Energy

Since returning to my home town of Halifax, I've been stuck with the local paper, the Halifax Herald. This paper is no NY Times or Toronto Star, but I've been slowly warming up to it (eventual pun intended).

This week, the Herald has featured alternative sources of energy, particularly renewable sources. Tuesday's feature was wind power, and Wednesday's was solar power. Today's feature is on the potential of geothermal energy in Nova Scotia, and the companies tapping in to it (pun intended).

Interestingly, the Herald also has an editorial in today's edition about how much longer we can burn oil and gas, and the timeline isn't looking good.

On a somewhat related note, I found a site that breaks down the basics of Iceland's incredible use of geothermal energy (and it is hosted in Nova Scotia, too, in an odd coincidence).

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Much more on the cormorants

Last week, I posted an article fromThe Toronto Star about a culling (mass killing) of cormorants on the north shores of Lake Ontario. That article quoted a man from the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) named Robery Pye. I wrote Mr. Pye an email, and the exchange is as follows:

Andrew wrote:

Mr. Pye, I read an article today in the Toronto Star regarding the culling of 5,500 double-crested cormorants in Presqu'ile Provincial Park. You can find that article on their website: www.thestar.com.

In the article, you mentioned that this sort of culling is necessary for "proper wildlife management." If you wouldn't mind, I would appreciate an explanation of how this culling is necessary for "proper wildlife management."

I await your response,
Andrew Woods

Robert wrote:

Andrew:

In the case of over-population of cormorants at Presqui'le, I have referred to culling as "proper wildlife management" -- but only as the last option wildlife managers have to restore balance to that ecosystem.

If the government had acted sooner on developing a seasonal cormorant management program, as the O.F.A.H. has been advocating for years, a cull of5,500 cormorants may not have been required; and miles of shoreline habitat could have been saved.

However, now that we have a cormorant crisis of over450,000 in the Great Lakes Basin alone (250-times historic population records), a cormorant cull is biologically necessary. Plenty of deliberation and good science supports the cull.

In this case, a cull is within the best interest of proper wildlife management.

Hope this information helps.

Andrew wrote:

Robert, thanks for the information. I have a couple more questions, if you wouldn't mind:

1) do we have an understanding of why or how the cormorant population has boomed?

2) what would be the consequences if the cull were not carried through?

Robert wrote:

Hi Andrew:

1.) A ban of DDT has provided better reproduction of cormorant eggs. Also,invading species such as zebra mussels have increased water clarity, making it easy for these birds to hunt for food in our great lakes and inland waters.

"By the early 1970s, DDT and similar pesticides virtually wiped out the cormorant population. A ban on DDT, a decline in phosphorous and persistent toxic chemicals and the presence of non-native Alewives, Round Gobies and Rainbow Smelt contributed to the cormorant’s recovery." -- as reported in the Trentonian.

2.) As the population increases (with no bust in population in sight) these birds will continue to damage shoreline habitat, and decimate our fisheries. In Ontario, the net effect is over 42 million pounds of fish consumed by cormorants each year. The cormorant eats its weight in fish a day -- in other words, it takes about 3 avg. size perch to feed its daily appetite.

If you take a drive along Lake Ontario shorelines, particularly near Brighton, you'll discover the skeletons of mature shoreline trees that may never recover. The damage is caused by cormorant droppings that are highly acidic.There is no other predator for the cormorant.

The OFAH is not advocating cormorant eradication, rather cormorant control. Culling is a necessary evil because the government didn't act quickly enough when the science community, the OFAH and other environmentalists warned about the consequences of cormorant over-population. Culling is not a long term solution... its merely an immediate step to designed to save special places like Presquile and help restore balance to our fisheries as well as safeguard bird and fish habitat. Culls need to be followed through with cormorant management programs (I'm sure you can appreciate the role wildlife managers and conservationists have played in helping to manage a host of other successful species, particularly waterfowl, deer, coyotes, bears, etc) An independent scientific review committee has already recommended cormorant management for Presquile. Yes, we could wait and hope for a bust in cormorant populations. Unfortunately, while we do this, Presquile and other unique ecosystems will continue to be damaged or eliminated permanently.

Hope this information helps.

Andrew wrote:

Robert, I very much appreciate you answering me. I have a few final questions, if you still have the time and you don't mind:

1) Do you have any idea of the historical cormorant population - before the use of DDT began?

2) Are zebra mussels natural to Ontario? If so, what caused their population boom? If not, how did they get here?

3) Have anglers had a hard time catching fish these past few years? And do they think it's a result of the cormorant boom?

Robert wrote:

Andrew:

1.) Before the ban of DDT in the 1970's --- it's believed cormorants in Ontario saw their peak in abundance at about 50 to 100 nesting pairs (in the1950's) in the whole G. Lakes basin. That's a far cry from the thousands of cormorants that are now nesting along the shores of Brighton alone. In 1982, the MNR counted only one cormorant nest, but in 2002 they counted over 12,000.

2.) Zebra mussels are an invading species --- believed to have been carried over from Russia and dumped from the ballast tanks of ocean going ships into the St. Lawrence River. No other organization is doing as much to combat invading species than the OFAH. Invading species are wreaking havoc on Great Lakes food webs. Invading species are considered the second greatest threat to biodiversity -- next only to habitat loss.

see www.invadingspecies.com

3.) We know the massive amounts of bait fish and sport fish they take from our lakes -- over 42 million pounds in Ontario. However, there are many factors for anglers success rates --- or lack there of, including the arrival of invading species such as round goby, zebra mussels, rudd, spiny water flee, etc. Angler success rates are a complex puzzle of various issues, specific from year to year, region to region and lake to lake.

I'll stress again that the cormorant crisis is not a just a "fishing"issue -- it's an issue that anyone who enjoys and cares about our natural resources should be aware of.

Robert



Interesting. Robert was a good sport in answering all my questions.

Throughout history, species populations have fluctuated, and some species have even been eliminated.

However, never has a species been so active in affecting other species as has humans on just about everything else, and particularly in the last 300 years, give or take.

This could be the result of callous negligence and lack of foresight, as in the case of the zebra mussels that Robert Pye mentioned, or as a result of greed and sickening inhumanity, as in the cases of industrialized farming or the seal hunt.

While I applaud the intentions of groups like Mr Pye's, I disagree that a cull should ever be a) necessary or b) within the dominion of humans to carry out.

And the eternal skeptic in me questions the motives of the OFAH - if it weren't so hard to catch fish or if the trees weren't so unsightly, would the OFAH really care about the cormorant population? Would the OFAH even have gotten involved? I wonder about that.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

On the topic of animals, this story is pretty cool.

Monday, May 09, 2005

A response to Jason

Jason wrote me:

Please consider these serious questions.

1. If everyone in the world became vegetarians, what do you think would happen to animal populations? Rise? Stay the same? Or Decrease?

2. What effect would this have on a countries economy?

3. Why don't humans have the right to eat meat, morally speaking?

4. Cutting out meat would be a huge cut in the food supply. Considering the world became vegetarian. Is there enough sources of other foods to feed billions of people everyday for the rest of time?

5. If you had a friend who ate meat, who has listened to your views regarding vegetarianism and why it should be practiced, and he still decided to eat meat. Would you lose respect for him and consider him a lesser person for it? Or would you respect his decision and his views?

6. When you are a vegetarian, are you losing out on nutrients from meat that you can't get from another sources?

7. Are humans Carnivores? Omnivores? Or Herbivores?

I have my own opinion of what I think the answers are and why. But I am interested in hearing your answers. Mostly because you know more about the topic than I do, and you've probably come across similar questions/comments before.

Jason, I will consider your questions as serious and answer them accordingly.

1. If everyone in the world became vegetarians, then there would be far fewer farm animals on earth - in fact, practically none. Since the whole human population isn't going to go veggie overnight, gradually fewer of these animals would be bred and therefore slaughtered. If the whole population did switch at once, well, I guess we'd all get to eat steak one last time. The question that you are perhaps asking is, "would that mean we'd have to kill off all the animals - or let them roam free?" I don't know exactly what would happen, but I do know that even if we slaughtered every farm animal today, at least billions more wouldn't have to be raised and tortured tomorrow.

In my opinion, the "life" these animals live isn't a life at all, and so therefore is not worth living - moreover, a farm animal's life is so completely unnatural it might be insulting to even call it a "life." Think of breeding and growing humans in a little cell for your amusement and pleasure. Are these humans actually living?

2. This is a bigger question than I can answer, but as I've said before, I believe that economic issues should take a backseat to (in my opinion, the more important) issues of peace and ecology. Canada is a net exporter of both meat and grain, where the US is a net importer of those items. Most developing nations are net exporters of grains (due to global economic structures). Accompanying a global vegetarian movement would be, I suspect, an ideological shift toward eating locally and eating organic. Therefore, massive changes in global economics might occur. But most countries on earth have enough arable land to feed their own populations on a vegetarian diet, as you will see in answer 4.

3. One of the moral defenses of vegetarianism is the concept of animal rights, so let me first quote peta.org:

Animal rights means that animals deserve certain kinds of consideration—consideration of what is in their own best interests regardless of whether they are cute, useful to humans, or an endangered species and regardless of whether any human cares about them at all (just as a mentally-challenged human has rights even if he or she is not cute or useful or even if everyone dislikes him or her). It means recognizing that animals are not ours to use—for food, clothing, entertainment, or experimentation.

Animal rights means that animals, like humans, have interests that cannot be sacrificed or traded away just because it might benefit others. However, the rights position does not hold that rights are absolute; an animal’s rights, just like those of humans, must be limited, and rights can certainly conflict.

Animals (should) have the right to equal consideration of their interests. For instance, a dog most certainly has an interest in not having pain inflicted on him or her unnecessarily. We therefore are obliged to take that interest into consideration and respect the dog’s right not to have pain unnecessarily inflicted upon him or her. However, animals don’t always have the same rights as humans, because their interests are not always the same as ours and some rights would be irrelevant to animals’ lives. For instance, a dog doesn’t have an interest in voting and therefore doesn’t have the right to vote, since that right would be as meaningless to a dog as it is to a child.

The renowned humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, who accomplished so much for both humans and animals in his lifetime, would take time to stoop and move a worm from hot pavement to cool earth. Aware of the problems and responsibilities an expanded ethic brings with it, he said, "A man is really ethical only when he obeys the constraint laid on him to aid all life which he is able to help…He does not ask how far this or that life deserves sympathy…nor how far it is capable of feeling." (Animals, Nature and Albert Schweitzer by Ann Cottrell Free, p28.)

We can’t stop all suffering, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop any. In today’s world of virtually unlimited choices, there are usually "kinder, gentler" ways for most of us to feed, clothe, entertain, and educate ourselves than by killing animals.

That’s PETA’s position, and I agree with it, but let me extend it a bit. We know that the dog doesn’t want his tail stepped on because he cries out and runs away. This same understanding of animals’ emotions is the reason that the cow never sees the killing floor until the second he is murdered (that’s why the ramps to the slaughterhouses always go up). If the cow saw what was coming, he would try and act in his own best interest and run away. Hence, we are forcing these animals into positions of our own interest only, while ignoring and oppressing the cow’s. If you wouldn’t step on a dog’s tail, why would you force an animal into rotating blades?

There is the "issue" of whether animals actually feel pain. I laugh at this line of reasoning, because it seems pretty obvious that if you beat the cat, the cat quickly learns to stay away from you. This is classic pain response conditioning. Recent studies with elephants have shown that animals are far more capable of feeling emotions than we ever suspected, as portrayed in this book.

Some people, in (my opinion here) their attempts to appease their conscience, accuse animal rights folks of anthropomorphism – that is, projecting human characteristics and capabilities upon animals in an attempt to understand them better. They say that animals have no awareness, suffer no real pain, have no real emotions. I say, as does anyone who has ever spent time around animals, that these creatures do have emotions and awareness. We aren’t projecting "human" capabilities upon animals; we humans are animals and share many of the same capabilities as other animals.

Personally, I believe in freedom for all living things, and a return to a state where we are living in commune with nature, not in contempt for it. If we hold animals against their will and force them to do things they fear, then we are contradicting that ideology. Currently, we are not giving them any of their freedoms, while at the same time we are forcing them to live in conditions with are completely unnatural and, in fact, in contempt for their natural state of life.

People will sometimes say to me, "But what about all those people dying in wars (or starving in Africa or whatever), why don’t you care about them?" To those people I say: last time I checked, sympathy and caring weren’t finite quantities – I don’t have to choose one or the other. I don’t want evil to befall any living creature, but it just so happens that this cause (vegetarianism) is still "radical," and so I have to defend it.

And after all of this, I’m not sure we even need to establish a moral defence of vegetarianism. Why should you ever need to justify NOT killing something?

4. In fact, it could very easily be argued that eating meat contributes to global starvation, and here's why: farm animals eat grains (and recently, each other), so humans have to grow grains to feed to farm animals, which then are used as food.

Think of it as calories from grains to get calories from meat.

However, the energy in --> energy out process is vastly inefficient: to get 1 calorie out of a farm animal, you have to feed that animal 7 calories of grain. Put another way, we use 7 times the amount of food energy in raising farm animals than what the farm animals give us in return.

So the question is: why don't we just eat the grain in the first place? Good question.... why?

Thus, we can see that farmers in North America and around the world harvest grains and ship them here so that we can raise our cows and chickens; more bluntly, developing nations go hungry so that we can eat meat three times a day (it is a bit more complicated than this, but this is a factor).

And if you're wondering, "If we stopped eating meat then the world wouldn't have enough land to grow all this extra grain," remember, we wouldn't need extra grain, we'd actually need LESS grain, provided we stopped cycling it through animals.

This, I think, is one of the most compelling aspects of vegetarianism. So is the environmental aspect (which is huge), but you didn't ask me about that.

5. I think the argument for vegetarianism is air-tight. I believe that once someone knows the facts and figures, it doesn't make sense not to switch. And I also don't think "because it tastes good" is really a good enough reason to still eat meat: I used to eat more meat than anybody on earth, but I found that there is so much great food (better food, in fact) out there that doesn't contain animal products.

That said, I don't think the decision to go veggie should have anything to do with me; it is a life choice that should be made of its own merit. You should neither switch to veggie because I want you to nor resent me because I'm a vegetarian already.

6. When asking this question, you should also ask "what are the bad aspects of eating meat?" And there are plenty, as North American is finding out, with skyrocketing rates of obesity, cancer, osteoporosis, liver and kidney disease, etc.

This is an important concept - North Americans (and Europeans, and anybody with money) don't suffer from diseases of deficiency, they suffer from diseases of excess, like the ones I listed above.

When was the last time you saw anybody (included vegans) with scurvy, or protein deficiency (which isn't even a disease)? You never have - it is almost impossible to eat your 2500 daily calories and NOT get all the vitamins, nutrients, etc that you need.

So this is a stigma that needs to be washed away - vegetarians don't miss out on anything, no one in North America does. Jenny and I recently had our blood work done and we're perfect in every aspect.

Look at the Japanese - they were acclaimed as the healthiest people on earth until 20 years ago (when fast-food giants took over Japan), and their diet was vegetarian with a little fish thrown in.

The misconception is that vegetarians don't get enough protein, and that is simply false. The reality is that, if we eat low on the food chain (as health canada has been recommending for years), we get all the protein we need. In fact, the average North American gets about twice as much daily protein as he or she needs, and excess protein has strong links to cancer, digestive problems, osteoporosis, and kidney problems. Simply, humans aren't designed to metabolise protein. As far as protein for muscle building goes, Carl Lewis is a vegetarian, and so is Donovan Bailey (I think), and they don't seem to be lacking any muscle mass.

That said, if you are purely vegan, with no processed soy products at all, then the only thing you would need to worry about would be vitamin B12 and the amino acid Taurine. B12 stays in your system for years, as the body recycles it, and so if you were vegan for about 3 or 4 years you might need to start taking a monthly vitamin. Taurine is an amino acid that only comes from animal products, but it is not well understood at the present time. Some researchers think that the body has a way of manufacturing its own Taurine. In other animals, like dogs and cats, Taurine deficiency causes blindness. There is no known case of any life-long vegan ever suffering blindness due to lack of Taurine.

If you're wondering about calcium, other amino acids, iron, or whatever, I have the answer to all those, as well.

7. I strongly, strongly believe that humans are herbivores, and evolved that way. There are many physiological characteristics that indicate that we are not carnivores, and probably not even omnivores:

  • We cannot produce our own vitamin C, where carnivores can;
  • our bone and teeth density is far less than that of a carnivore's; our jaws are designed to move side-to-side to grind our food, where carnivores' aren't;
  • carnivores have a set of fangs for tearing meat and completely different rear teeth, where we have a tooth system congruent with that of a herbivore;
  • Our blood chemistry is similar to that of a herbivore's, and differs dramatically from a carnivores';
  • our intestinal tract is very long relative to our body size, which indicates we are herbivores - carnivores have relatively short intestines, which are designed to eject rotting meat quickly;
  • we have no effective way of dealing with cholesterol, where carnivores do (plants do not produce cholesterol, only animals do);
  • we have skin-surfaced sweat glands, which are possibly a cooling mechanism that evolved from the need to eject the heat generated from metabolising carbohydrates, carnivores (I think all carnivores) don't have sweat glands.
Simply put, if you lined us up next to a bunch of carnivores, omnivores, and herbivores, we'd look an awful lot like the herbivores and nothing at all like the carnivores.

Even one of the biggest, baddest, scariest animals on earth, the Grizzly Bear, is an omnivore, but he gets 90% of his calories from a vegetarian diet. This animal is almost vegetarian, and has a physiology dramatically different from us, and we consider it more of a carnivore than we are, yet we eat more meat that it does. Something's not right with this...

I can also see you thinking, "but we were hunter-gatherers, back in the day." True, we were, but how much meat eating did we actually do, and was it natural? Humans aren't designed as predators, so the amount of meat we ate during prehistoric times is likely very, very small. However, we got lucky enough to have opposable thumbs and a big enough brain to figure out how to make weapons. Even then, we killed one animal and ate what we could, because calories were scarce (now, we harvest a planet full of them and eat whatever we want). It is far more likely that humans ate animals simply out of the necessity of the scenario - because food was never guaranteed, humans needed to eat anything that gave them some energy.


So there's some answers for you. I hope that you will honestly read this and think about it.
I'm also interested in hearing what you think about all this information, which is readily available here....

www.peta.org
www.vegansociety.com
Essay by Bruce Friedrich
The Vegetarian Way (book)
The Dr. McDougall Wellness Center (he's a vegan doctor, and so very smart)

Self-definition

This will be all about me, and for that I apologize.

Someone very close to me asked me if I define myself by my vegetarianism - that is, if I was making a "who is Andrew?" list, I would put vegetarian at the top. I'm proud to be a vegetarian, but that's not how I define myself.

I'm much more proud to have thought critically about the concept of what it means to be a meat-eater: when I eat meat, who suffers? Who gains? What does my diet choice do for me, for the animals, and for the environment? What is the truth behind my tasty steak?

I'm proud that I had the courage, however small it is, to change my eating habits.

I'm proud that I've researched the issue enough to feel that my choice is the right choice, and that even if it's somehow a poor choice, I am certain that I am still doing more good than harm in this world.

And I'm proud that I've educated some people about the issue, that I've even converted a few of them myself.

So how do I define myself?

I consider myself a life-long learner, one who isn't satisfied with his current knowledge, one who always seeks more.

I consider myself a critical thinker, one who isn't easily appeased by the party line, by the will of the masses.

I consider myself a person who desires to do right by the people and the planet who give him everything he has.

I consider myself a person who has courage enough to make some tough decisions, follow through with those decisions, and be ultimately happy about them.

I consider myself an educator of the values that will bring about a better, safer, more peaceful world.

And those are the ways I define myself - not as a vegetarian, but as a learner, critical thinker, a person of morals, a person of some courage, and an educator. My choice to be a vegetarian, as with my choices on a lot issues, is only the end result of all those other values.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

This is the motherlode

Some sweet biblical goodness, right here:

The Skeptic's Annotated Bible. Well organized, with lots of cross-referencing, and critical thought pointers.

And I also found this quiz, which one of my internet friends (Vic!) out there ought to take, just for fun.

Thou shalt not lie with mankind

More from the bible.

Something Mark wrote about Leviticus got me thinking about how christian fundamentalists treat homosexuality. So I sat down to read Leviticus myself.

First thing I did was grab the Good News Bible (Today's English Version), and here's what it said:

Lev 18:22 - No man is to have sexual relations with another man; God hates that
Lev 20:13 - If a man has sexual relations with another man, they have done a disgusting thing, and both shall be put to death. They are responsible for their own death.

And I thought, "whoa, god didn't talk like this, did he?" Then I realized that this interpretation of the text has been brought to me by the Canadian Bible Society. Thanks, guys!

So then I broke out a real copy of the bible and look what I found:

Lev 18:22 - Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination
Lev 20:13 - If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

Something different, to be sure. A lot of biblical scholars have debated these two lines.

A first issue is with the word "abomination," and what it actually means.

A second and more pertinent issue is the interpretation of the exact sin. Some scholars think that it isn't the homosexual act that is sinful in itself, but the fact that one man has taken the place of a woman - during the time of the writing of Leviticus, women were treated very poorly, and valued at little more than children or slaves. Some scholars think that the sin described in these statements is the sin of a man lowering himself to a woman's standards. Certainly, the failure to mention any woman-woman sexual encounters would support this theory.

Here is an awesome site that reviews, unbiasedly, the various interpretations:

Lev 18:22 http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_bibh.htm
Lev 20:13 http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_bibh3.htm

And here's a great essay (sermon, in fact) explaining the cultural significance of the statement:

http://www.trinitymcc.com/worship/sermon_God_gays3.htm

On the whole, I found Leviticus to be a pretty nasty chapter. God is really angry in this one. You can be put to death or cast out for a bunch of stuff, like getting a tatoo, eating three-day-old leftovers, or trimming your beard in a weird way.

The bible is fun

On a lark, I went searching for a good site that summarizes the most popular self-contradictions in the bible. There are plenty of sites out there, but here's a good one that just lists the quotes directly without any personal interpretation.

http://www.krysstal.com/contradi.html

Interesting stuff.

Don't despair, christians, because there are also plenty of websites that rationalize all the contradictions and really questionable quotes from god. Here's a good one:

http://www.carm.org/bible_difficulties.htm

That website even puts to rest the issue of whether you are allowed to own slaves or not:

http://www.carm.org/diff/Lev_25_44.htm

Although that site doesn't tell the whole story, as you would see if you perused the first link.

And for those christians who feel attacked, confused, or perhaps unable to defend their beliefs, here's a good site that provides christian answers:

http://www.christiananswers.net/menu-at1.html

This site is thorough! And loonie, as well: there is a whacky yet very detailed explanation of how a radical theory in continental drift explains how the continents were all together (as genesis apparently states) only a few thousand years ago:

http://www.christiananswers.net/q-aig/aig-c001.html

The bible is fun.

Pam Anderson

I'm not sure if this is news, but it is interesting, none the less.

John Bitove, who used to own the Toronto Raptors and is now in some way involved in restaurant chain KFC, wants to take Pam Anderson out to dinner.

She doesn't want to go, because she is protesting KFC's treatment of its chickens. She is also member of a group of Canadians who have filed an official complaint against the junk food giant for their inhumane (whatever that means) practices.

And so this article hits the papers (you'll need to register, but thestar.com is awesome and free).

What would have been much, much better is if instead of Pammy Lee as spokesperson, the group had sent David Suzuki of Farley Mowat instead. One of those two folks might have added a little more credibility to the issue.

If you want to see what KFC does to its chickens (you'll need to be stout of heart), then go here.

And if you've watched the video and wonder, "yeah, but that's just few chickens," then it might help to know that 35 million (!) chickens are murdered in the US every day, so I think it's fair to assume that they aren't all getting humane treatment.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

An exchange of letters

The guy who fronts The National Anxiety Center (which I've already linked to, and once is enough) had a pleasant email exchange. Here it is:

I wrote:

"Alan,

You seem to be suffering from a lot of anxiety.

I've been reading your writing, and I must say that I disagree with all of it. But what are conflicting opinions between friends?

I just wonder how you feel about this (link to CNN report on NASA's study confirming global warming)?"

And Alan wrote:

"Dear Andrew:

CNN is unfortunately a corrupted news source since it consistently supports dubious science claims such as those about global warming. For decades now the claims put forth for this hoax have been consistently debunked by a large number of scientists. Go over to www.globalwarming.org for an alternative look at this topic.

Regards,
Alan Caruba "


So I went ovet to that site, and I sniffed around, and here's what I wrote back:

"Alan,

all news sources are "corrupt" or biased, depending on your perspective. If we're going to assume that pure science is the only unbiased information, then it might help to remind you that this wasn't a CNN report but a NASA report - one of the most respected science institutes in the world.

This "hoax," while "debunked" by a large number of scientists, is also affirmed by many more scientists, and the list of believers is growing.

And if you would like to make reference to corrupt news sources, take a look at the website you directed me to (www.globalwarming.org): it is operated by the Cooler Heads Coalition, a purported non-partisan group. But who are members of this coalition? Among others,

Americans for Tax Reform
Association of Concerned Taxpayers
Citizens for a Sound Economy
Competitive Enterprise Institute
Consumer Alert
Defenders of Property Rights
Frontiers of Freedom
Seniors Coalition
60 Plus Association
Small Business Survival Committee

Not exactly a non-partisan group, I think. Frankly, I'd rather trust real scientists doing real work, like NASA in your country and Environment Canada in mine.

I, for one, recognize that to slow the effects of human-induced climate change, there needs to be a change in the way humans live their lives. I'm not afraid of this, and I am prepared to make my sacrifices. I hope that you are prepared to make yours, too.

But if you're not prepared, I can safely say that after you have moved on, there will be people like me struggling to preserve - for your children - what is left of this planet.


Andrew"

Still awaiting a response from Alan Caruba.

Fair and Balanced

We report, you decide.

Those are the slogans for Fox News, the cable channel dedicated to bringing you honest journalism. If you are a Canadian and have a digital cable package, you can actually get Fox News and live the lies every day.

A few months ago, the CBC did a special on the media war taking place in the US - where everything is either black or white, and anything can be blamed on one political group or another.

A prime target for the CBC special was Fox News blowhard Bill O'Reilly, who you may have heard something about. The CBC did not portray him in a favourable light, even saying that he wasn't a real journalist because there was nothing "fair and balanced" about his stance.

After the show, I wrote him this letter:

"Mr O'Reilly,

I recently watched a documentary (entitled "Sticks and Stones") on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's The Fifth Estate. The subject of the program was to explore the media war taking place in the United States.

This particular program used segments of your Fox News show, and it portrayed you as an angry and biased television personality.

I was very disappointed that you did not take the opportunity to appear on The Fifth Estate yourself and offer your perspective. Perhaps next time the CBC asks you on a program, you will accept the CBC's offer."

No word yet from Mr. O'Reilly.

But if you're in the mood to be enraged, Media Matters has a special section on Bill's many, many transgressions. They also allow a "comments" section where (often) informed individuals comment on the issue at hand. It can be very informative, but, as I said, also enraging.

I tend to agree with the CBC's assessment that the US (and to a lesser extent, Canada) stand at a point of pivot with respect to media coverage and political values. Everything is being polarized: you're a conservative or a liberal, you're a man of faith or you're not, you're either with us or with the terrorists, you believe in god or you don't. US politicians have been running a campaign of divisions, the media had to fall in line (or become irrelevant and unpopular from either camp). This sort of divisive language is dangerous, frightening, and (although I wasn't alive then) harkens me back to the propaganda campaigns used during the 2nd world war. It's a dangerous road we're travelling down.

Media Matters is a group that reports on perceived right-wing bias in the US media, and it provides an interesting insight - but is it biased? For a personal viewpoint, I believe that there are biases in all media, but that a right-wing bias is much more likely to exist in the large US media outlets - because these media outlets are almost exclusively owned by some person or company that has right-wing leanings.

More people who freak me out

These folks, who I added to my list of crazies. These people, however, seem to be more eloquent and coherent.

The big thing for the Christian Coalition for America is that they are bringing god-people together to lobby for change in government and in school systems. In both Canada and the US, we have a system that is supposed to separate church and state (thankfully!). In Canada, our public school systems are non-denominational - so much so that we've even gotten rid of the christmas tree and the "christmas break" (it's now the winter break). In the US, I'm not sure what the principles of US schooling are supposed to be, but I do know that this particular item in their mission statement scares me:

"Passing Congressman Robert Aderholt's "10 Commandments Display Act,"H.R.2045. Congressman Aderholt's states' rights bill gives the individual States the power to decide whether or not to display the Ten Commandments on or within publicly owned buildings and the bill does not mandate that they be displayed. Christian Coalition will seek a vote on this bill during the 109th Congress. "

Imagine having your child go to school with a great big plaque of the 10 Commandments on it. Now imaging that you're not christian. Discriminatory or biased? I think so.

The most dangerous part of this group is that they are powerful and focussed. They seek to drag the US back (socially) into a place where old-school christian values ruled government and thought.

This group was founded by a dude named Pat Roberson, who also appears on mmfa.org a bunch of times.

This blog was designed as a disorganized forum for my thoughts on environmental issues, but it seems to be taking a decidedly political turn. Not sure if this is a good thing or not. Gotta get back to my roots. Gotta keep it real.