Sunday, 21 February 2010


This from David: "The information commissioner's office has served the labour party with an enforcement notice, after an investigation revealed that they had used automated marketing phone messages to contact people without their consent." I can't help but wonder if the nature of politcal campaigning today makes robots the best canvassers - after all, unlike humans, they can be easily programmed to stay 'on-message' (pun totally intended) and not embarass the party leadership by letting slip anything untoward such as doubts regarding certain wars.

Maybe the next big thing will be the Stepford MP:

Orwell clearly lives...

Courtesy of my friend Aaron, who I'm not sure wants his blog linked to so I won't, comes this story of a US school district giving each student a laptop to help with their homework. What, you may ask, is wrong with that? Well, the kicker is that each computer had a webcam. So far so normal in newer computers - even I have one, although have so far resisted the temptation to do any real camwhoring on this blog for some reason. These webcams, however, were fixed to be constantly on and streaming images back to the school district. This was discovered when a boy was called into the principals office and bollocked for 'inappropriate behaviour at home', which apparently entailed eating sweets that could - to the uninitiated (and dare I say it paranoid) on a crappy webcam connection - be mistaken for certain illegal or prescription-only substances. Now, fair enough, schools have always had some level of monitoring on pupils' behaviour outside, but until now that has been limited to extreme cases or actions in public in school uniform. Aaron raises the issue of what would happen if a child was caught on camera changing clothes or masturbating, and this is a valid point - does anyone consistently remember to shut the computer off while changing their top? Personally I leave mine to boot up while dressing in the morning on a weekday. (with the webcam switched to OFF as the default) If the boy had been wanking, would he have been called in over that? What if there was some healthy eating kick that meant eating sweets at home could qualify as a real offence? I can't see any redeeming features with this idea.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Pain and death!

Since Ben has hat-tipped me on this, it would be remiss of me not to end my blogging hibernation to post about it! The general idea, for the link-phobic, is that someone has decided that genetically manipulating animals to feel pain might be the solution to the omnivore's dilemma.

Now, from the most basic animal welfare position - by the way, a pretty good rundown of the 'rights' and 'welfare' arguments can be found here - this sounds like a pretty appealing idea. If your vegetarianism is purely based on the idea that animals feel physical pain while being slaughtered or through less-than-great farming methods, then by this rationale you could technically eat meat from animals who did not feel pain.

However, even from the welfare position I can see a few problems with the idea. Firstly, is the no-pain thing supposed to rule out the need to do away with some of the crueller farming practices that exist today? Is the abuse that often occurs at the time of slaughter - either delibarate or incidental to proceedings - more acceptable if animals are not feeling pain? In other words, I would be concerned at the potential for this development to turn the clock back in terms of the improvements in welfare that have been achieved over the past decade or so, and act as an argument against any that might be proposed in the future. Secondly, the focus is very much on physical pain, implying that this is the only problem. No suggestion is made to breed animals who don't feel boredom, loneliness, fear, frustration with confined conditions, sadness at having their young taken away, distress at seing other creatures killed - all of which should be taken into account as much as actual pain when discussing animal welfare.

On a related note, I can guarantee that research into this 'solution' will require large numbers of animal experiments - surely something welfarists, even those who are not ultimately opposed to all animal experimentation in principle, wouldn't be lining up to applaud?

Then, of course, there is the animal rights position. This is somewhat different from the welfare argument - and closer to my own beliefs on the subject in many ways - and takes the line that humans have no right to use animals for our own ends and should cease to do so. The issue is not merely that animals feel pain - although this can be considered as a possible baseline to seperate animals from plants - but that they are beings in their own right rather than tools for human use. According to this line of argument, scientific interference with a farmed species for the sake of making it easier to justify the exploitation of said species not only misses the point but can be said to make the situation worse by introducing a new level of exploitation. (The first step to breeding an animal who wants to be eaten?)

What aggravates me is the level of effort that seems to be put into scientific developments to make it apparently more justifiable to eat animal tissue. The lab-grown meat I can to an extent cope with - it involves a limited number of animal cells, at least at first, but were it to take off it would reduce the numbers of animals slaughtered; on the other hand it has the potential to create the same level of ecological disaster as the current meat industry is managing as we speak. This development is more ambitious, and involves a greater number of live animals, hence I have more intrinsic objections to it. But I wonder, really, why people spend so much time and energy attempting to make it more ethical to eat meat, up to and including trying to get around basic issues such as pain and death - surely going vegetarian would just be easier?

(Original hat tip Ecorazzi on twitter)

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

By the way

I haven't had much energy to make the sort of posts I want to make here, hence the silence this week - I have however posted a few recipes at Increasing Veganicity! I've had to keep costs down a lot this month so have started posting a series based on the meals I've been eating. If nothing else I want to challenge the idea that being a vegan has to be expensive!

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Hello, my name is Lise and I am AGAINST the death penalty

You may wonder why I feel the need to assert that, given that I live in the UK and was born nearly two decades after the death penalty was abolished here. Here are some reasons:
  • The idea of the death penalty as a deterrent is bullshit. I seriously doubt London and Birmingham have less of a murder problem than certain US cities where capital punishment is deployed.
  • If the state can kill you, that's a very high level of control...
  • Killing someone because killing is wrong? Er...
  • The death penalty is still used by too many countries, including the US and China - still used = worth being against it in my fairly considered opinion.
  • You think it's irrelevant here? When I was young bringing back hanging was voted on reglarly in the House of Commons. The reason it hasn't been raised there for a while is down to an EU ban. I don't trust Eurosceptics not to gain sufficient power to resist it.
  • And let's not ignore that 'bring back hanging' is can be heard Every. Damn. Time. there is a high-profile murder.
  • Regardless of whether you agree with the death penalty in cases where guilt can be proven, the fact remains that it has been wrongly deployed in too many cases. Scratch that - one such case would be too many!
See the truly ace Reprieve for more information.

Albert Pierrepoint, the last executioner in Great Britain, turned against the death penalty later in life:

Friday, 5 February 2010

Woman in black

No, I am not in mourning for the world, although it is tempting to feel that way sometimes. I like to be able to keep my laundry to one load per week. Also, my hands get spazzy when I'm tired or nervous or sometimes for no reason I can discern, and these are also the conditions under which I like to drink coffee. (Including the last one.) White trousers would be a bad idea, black trousers are a good idea. After today I am also tempted to renew the waterproofing in my watch.

Steal this...

I'm currently gearing up to write a chapter on culture and its importance to the conceptual landscape of horizontal politics, and part of the background reading I've been doing is Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book. I may make more comment when I've digested it a bit. However, my first impressions are:
-If it is bourgeois not to adopt the ideas in this book wholeheartedly, I guess I am bourgeois and past it. I prefer to think Hoffman is engaging in hyperbole though.
-I'm amazed at how much you could get away with in those days in terms of publishing stuff about guns (ok it was America...) and homemade explosives. Two people at my university were arrested a year and a half ago merely for downloading a terrorist group's ideological document from the State Department website for research purposes. And Hoffman was printing this stuff under his own name, either he was very brave or very stupid.
-And was also mildly shocked at the open references to violence - use of guns, pipe bombs etc - going beyond the unarmed/primitively armed (sticks, stones etc) defensive context or property damage.
-Beyond that, so much of it could have been written at any point in time, evidently the Yippies have had a fair bit of influence.
-The Yippies were unequivocally a political movement, rather than say an artistic one, making it a bit odd that they get less attention this side of the pond than the Situationists.
-In today's context it feels like a bit of a jarring note whenever animals are mentioned - discussion of how to get free meat from an abbatoir, inclusion of pets under 'how to get free stuff' - clearly there was a limit to the examination of types of oppression!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Gordon Brown is a wanker...

This video combines two of my favourite things - politics and mucky songs. It is really not suitable for the easily offended or those who are liable to get nauseous at the idea of Gordon Brown entertaining himself with a badger on public transport.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Hitchhiking through animal ethics

For reasons that may become clearer, I've been taking an interest lately in Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy, and in particular The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

This book contains what is now a popular thought experiment, relating to an animal that wants to be eaten and can clearly express that desire. You could say it goes against the popular animal rights slogan 'animals can't speak for themselves'. This is a bit dubious, we'll get to that in a minute though. The interesting thing for now is the humans' (loose sense of the word - humanoids?) reaction. Arthur, the hero of the story, is horrified that a talking animal is offering 'its'* own body parts for consumption. It is, he says, 'heartless' to eat an animal that asks to be eaten. At which point Zaphod raises the question of whether it is worse than eating an animal that does not want to be eaten. Thinking about it, this is a very strange response and one which doesn't come up often - Arthur is not a vegetarian that I know of, he didn't object during his 'normal' life on Earth to eating animals and there is no indication that he questioned farming practices. It is almost like the consent acts as a provocation to him to think about these issues for the first time, with a suicidal bovine at the table and the destruction of the universe as a backdrop.

This is strange, as I have tended to encounter the thought experiment in question as something pushed at me by meat-eaters who wish to know if I would a) compromise on my vegetarianism (actually veganism but that isn't the question here) if I were not forcing death on an animal or b) respect an animal's 'right' to be killed and eaten. The answer being, no I wouldn't. I don't have to dirty my hands (well, mouth) to respect a desire I don't agree with.

Of course the waters are muddied when the creature lets slip that s/he has been specially bred to a) want to be eaten and b) be able to express that clearly. Is it really a desire, or even consent, if it has been conditioned? I'd be inclined to see this as a more insidious form of exploitation than standard animal farming practices - and argue, tongue almost in cheek, that maybe it would be better to breed humans with no desire to eat animals!

*I prefer not to call animals 'it'. This is the designation given in the story. I'm repeating it to save guessing about gender.