Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Even the Oil Companies Need Bailouts?

At least in Russia, where it seems that Gazprom is on the skids. It's interesting to ponder a bit. With oil prices at record lows and with companies not seeing it worthwhile to explore for new fields, is it so hard to believe that oil companies in say the US might eventually ask for handouts? Late night speculation brought to you courtesy of a post-Xmas party homemade cookie sugar high? Maybe not.

According to this LA Times article about oil shale:

In recent weeks, the industry was included in the $700-billion government bailout package with investment and tax incentives to help oil shale producers build refineries and other expensive infrastructure.
Is there any big business at this point without its hand in the pot?

Friday, December 26, 2008

La Strada


In a heated anti-vegetarian discussion on some forum in the world wide interwebs, someone brought up the term "vegaquarian" as the latest trendy label for someone who eats fish, but doesn't eat mammals. The person in question referred to himself as a vegetarian who eats fish and added that he likes the label "vegaquarian", which is purportedly becoming more commonplace. It's already in the Urban Dictionary. So what does that make an antiquarian, I wonder?

Cat Got Your Wallet?

Here's a half hour long documentary that appeared on CBC about how your vet's taking you to the cleaners with 100-450% mark-ups on medications you purchase in Canada. I'm guessing that it's the same old, same old in the United States. A friend over who blogs over yonder stumbled upon it. According to the documentary, in the UK, vets are required to post what they're actually charged for common medications in their lobbies. They're also required to tell companion animal caregivers that these caregivers can obtain the very same medications at their pharmacy with a prescription from the vet (which is something you can do in Canada, as well, although good luck finding a vet who'll let you deal directly with a pharmacy and lose out on the price mark-up).

Sharon Astyk's Depletion and Abundance

I recently treated myself (all self-Santa like) to a copy of Sharon Astyk's recently published book Depletion and Abundance. I've been following her blog for over a year now and had been looking forward to getting my paws on a copy. I was wondering if anyone reading this has either read the Astyk book or (better!) is in the middle of reading it? If so, I'd be interested in discussing some of it over the next few weeks. I'm only 30 pages in, at this point, but am already liking what she has to say about the devaluation of work that's been deemed part of the private sphere -- work that until very recently was defined as "women's work" that was completed in and around the home, and that mostly revolved around one's family. I hope to get through the rest of it over the next week and a half while on vacation.

I'd picked up an additional copy of it for an old-fashioned doomer friend, hoping to be able to discuss it with him, but he's discounted the relevance of a woman's voice in the Peak Oil awareness / preparation movement, asserting that the Trinity of Heinberg, Ruppert and Savinar hold all of the answers that he -- or anyone -- should need.

(Listening to: Charles Mingus' Self-Portrait in Three Colors)

On Being Sussed Out

“When a man thinks he is reading the character of another, he is often unconsciously betraying his own; and this is especially the case with those persons whose knowledge of the world is of such sort that it results in extreme distrust of men.”

--Joseph Farrell

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Locked Out of Indoor Cage, Two Baboons Die at Moncton, NB Zoo

Just in time for Xmas:

Tragedy has hit the Magnetic Hill Zoo in Moncton after two baboons died of hypothermia when they were accidentally locked out of their indoor home.

Bruce Dougan, the zoo's general manager, said an experienced zookeeper forgot to allow the animals back into their home after it was cleaned and new food was spread out on Monday night.

"And for some reason she forgot to let them back in, she forgot to open the door to let them back in," Dougan said.

Dougan said the animals spent the night outside and died of hypothermia.

"The female had already perished and the male was in dire straits. We called the vet in right away and unfortunately he died shortly thereafter," Dougan said.

Staff at the zoo are "very distraught" over the accident, he said, but none more so than the zookeeper involved.

Environment Canada data shows the temperature ranged from –9.1 C at 8 p.m. Monday to –2 at 8 a.m. At 2 a.m., the wind chill, in heavy, blowing snow, made it feel like –16.

Dougan said the two olive baboons were medium-sized primates, weighing roughly 10 kilograms. Although these animals are used to spending their days outside, Dougan said the night that they spent outdoors was just too cold for them to survive.

"That night was very, very cold," he said.

"Baboons are hearty animals. They spend all their days outside in the winter — they enjoyed being outside in the winter."

Dougan said nothing like this has ever happened before at the zoo.

Read the rest here on CBC's website. Here's the Magnetic Hill Zoo's website.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Tradition of Pretending Animals Are Rewards

I've been avoiding writing about this whole "new dog in the White House" thing, but figured that enough was enough.

So, to keep up the years long tradition of each new US President having an official White House Critter, the Obamas promised their daughters a brand new puppy if Obama was elected. One of the Obama daughters is allergic to dogs, but that won't throw a wrench into the longstanding tradition -- instead, the Obamas have been searching for a hypoallergenic breed. In the interim, VP-elect Joe Biden's gotten himself a three-month-old purebred German Shepherd. I stumbled across a bloggish piece in the Christian Science Monitor that mentions it. In this piece, according to Biden's spokesperson Elizabeth Alexander "[h]e’s excited to bring it home when it gets a little older and has promised that his grandchildren can name it after the New Year".

"It" pretty much sums things up. The puppy is a thing. A gimmick. Worse, Biden went to a breeder to get a dog, when in the US alone, 4 million companion animals are killed each year because they've been abandoned or mistreated by people. Many of those are purebred dogs.

The CSM piece is titled "Biden gets new dog -- animal rights advocates not happy". What got my attention about is that the supposed animal rights advocates named in the article are the folks from HSUS and those from PETA, which are both clearly animal welfare organizations and not animal rights advocates. And this whole "Let's hope Obama does the right thing and gets a shelter dog" just misses the point altogether. You don't promise someone a dog the way you'd promise them a car on their 16th birthdays. There's no heavy symbolism in the Obamas' getting a shelter dog, unless that symbolism is that dogs are things to be given. Sure, I'd rather see President-elect Obama rescue a dog from a shelter rather than perpetuate the companion animal status quo by getting one from a breeder. Whatever he does, though, means little when you look at the bigger picture.

Or so I thought when I started reading the comments left by CSM readers:

"It’s a dog, who cares where it comes from."

"Why should the Bidens, or the Obamas, have to accept somebody else’s leftovers?"

"Bringing in an unknown dog from a shelter is risky especially when you are dealing with kids. Often no history about the cute dog is known. Perhaps it was abused, beaten, had a tough life or for whatever reason would like to snap and eat your child’s head off. [...] The positive is, he bought from a reputable breeder, some one who breeds dogs for the love of the breed."

"Don’t breeders have a right to do business or is PETA saying that all dogs should be gotten from the pound. I have a dog which is wonderful and was gotten through a no-kill humane society. But there is nothing wrong with getting a dog from a breeder and why should they have to join the ranks of the unemployed."

Ah, that old grey area that I can't for the life of me ignore. I keep forgetting the level of ignorance held by so many when it comes to animals species we deem worthy to welcome into our homes. As much as I hate this whole White House tradition and the message I can't help but feel it delivers, I guess that I can't help but hope, myself, that the Obamas -- if they have to go through with this act at all -- do choose to adopt from a shelter: If only to send the message out that just because you've been abandoned doesn't make you a bad dog; in some cases, it just means that there are bad caregivers.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sharon Astyk's Predictions for 2009

In 2007, Sharon Astyk figured that the economy would tank this year, as well as that the term "Peak Oil" would become commonly known and mainstream. She also asserted that Hillary Clinton would not be the next president of the United States. She was right. This year, what she foresees is bleak. It seems that the only light at the end of the tunnel involves our really making an effort to brace ourselves -- to learn skills, to prepare for shortages of supplies and services and for shortages of money in the face of rising unemployment.

Here's what she had to say about her predictions for 2008 (and how they turned out), as well as what she thinks we have in store for 2009. It isn't astrology, folks. And it doesn't have a happy Hollywood ending.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Thank You Amazon.ca!

Less than three business days after ordering them, my twin copies of a much-wanted book arrived today, Super Saver Shipping and all.

I usually order through my local bookstore, but a) they wouldn't have arrived in time for Xmas, and b) I would have paid 30% more.

I can't divulge the title yet, since tomorrow I'm sending the other copy of it out to a friend who sometimes reads this blog. After the holidays, though, once I've read it, I'll be posting a review.

On Getting McDonalded: Politics and Endangered Species

Huffington Post has an article on yet another blemish on what will be the Bush administration's legacy concerning non-human animals and the environment. It's kind of like dribbling a teaspoon of water into one of the Great Lakes at this point, isn't it? Anyway, it seems that a high-ranking Interior Department official exerted what's been deemed "improper political interference" in "nearly every decision made on the protection of endangered species over five years" to deny various endangered species increased protection.

Julie MacDonald, a former deputy assistant secretary overseeing the Fish and Wildlife Service, did pervasive harm to the department's morale and integrity and may have risked the well-being of species with her agenda, Interior Inspector General Earl Devaney said in his report out Monday.
Macdonald had no training in natural sciences whatsoever, and her interference was pervasive that Fish and Wildlife Service staff came to commonly refer to any political interference by senior management as "getting MacDonalded".

Read the rest of it here at Huffington Post.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Without Soy, Are We Really Just Left with Fritos?

I read over at the Vegan Freaks forum that The Atlantic's Megan McArdle, previously a mainstream media advocate of veganism, has officially thrown in the towel. Seems that after a year of veganism, she has a bum thyroid and that since her endocrinologist has told her that soy has to go, she's decided that she can no longer survive as a vegan. She labels her blog post "The End of an Era" (humble, no?) and waxes on defiantly about how cutting out soy is necessary for her condition, and, that by cutting it out, she feels she can no longer get sufficient protein with her busy schedule. She claims that there aren't any restaurants in DC that serve seitan, so therefore, by going soy-free, she's ended up getting sicker since she "was basically living on Fritos and peanut butter every time [she] left the house". So for want of seitan, one is left with Fritos and peanut butter??

That's sort of sad. If I leave the house for the day, it's usually with a packed lunch and a couple of fruit. I also carry almonds, sunflower seeds or trail mix with me, most of the time.
At my desk, I frequently keep organic brown rice cakes or a Luna bar. If I eat out in my tiny not-so-veg-friendly city, I hit a salad bar or opt for a veggie stirfry, veggie wrap, a hummus plate -- there's always something healthy to eat. And it seems that Washington, DC does indeed have tons of vegan-friendly restaurants. I'm actually envious at the choices McArdle has when eating out and am quite sure that at least a few of these places don't include soy in each and every single dish on their menus.

This whole thing is just laziness spooned over a whopping bowlful of misinformation. You don't need to substitute meat with something if you stop eating it. A varied diet of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains is all you need to be healthy. Some even argue that too much emphasis is placed on legumes and grains and that we get sufficient protein without those, never mind bothering to eat fake meats. And where is it written that vegans need soy or seitan, specifically, to fill that meat void? The Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) has a great piece on how ridiculously easy it is to obtain your daily requirements from non-animal sources. PCRM does too, in an article on "The Protein Myth". Some of the foods they list that are high in protein are soy-based, but most aren't.

McArdle basically posits that it has to be all or nothing. If she can't have soy, she can't be a vegan; if she can't be a vegan, she has to go back to meat eating, altogether. There's no grey area for her, so she's decided to return to eating what she calls "certified humane animal products" (i.e. that mythical "happy meat"), including dairy. And just to make her position clear in terms of any possible ethical reasons she had for being vegan for a year, she throws in that she's only a "moderate on animal rights" and that she believes "in animal testing". So I guess it's pointless to suggest to McArdle that just because she's chosen to go back to eating animals, that it doesn't mean that she has to go back to promoting their consumption.

It's one thing for McArdle to make decisions about her own diet that are based on misinformation. Unfortunately, by presenting her case the way she has, she's left herself looking, to those who know better, as if she's too attached to convenience to look for other options. Worse, to those who don't know better, she's left herself looking like a poster child for how veganism is too inconvenient, too complicated and just plain old too unhealthy. That's what irks me the most.

(Please note the accompanying photo of Ms. McArdle by David Shankbone that brings to mind an expression about babies and bathwater. Couldn't help myself.)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Raging Rudolph

Friday, December 12, 2008

GMOs in the US and Obama

Grist has another great article dealing with the Obama administration and food / agriculture in the United States, particulary with respect to the United States' legacy of agricultural deregulation and how it's led to the proliferation of GMOs within its borders.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I've been MIA

'Tis one of our busiest times of year at work (unrelated to the holidays, strangely enough), so I haven't had time to post. My stints online have mostly involved checking out Matt Savinar's site's Breaking News to read about just how badly the global economy is tanking. Good times, indeed.

I hope to catch up with a few things here over the next few days.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Faces of "Free-Range" Farming

For the full story about the rescued "free-range egg" laying chickens featured in this video clip, visit the Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary blog here.

The point is that there's no such thing as so-called compassionate meat-eating. There really isn't.

Gary Francione's VeganFreak Radio Interview

Bob and Jenna Torres host an amazing kinda-monthly podcast called Vegan Freak Radio. I've gushed over it here before. Bob's a sociology professor and both are animal abolitionists (i.e. they seek the eradication of the use of animals for human consumption). They're also authors of the book Vegan Freak: Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World, which is a witty and well-written book on how and why to be(come) vegan -- definitely worth checking out.

In June, they featured my favourite animal ethics philosopher Gary Francione in a two-part podcast where he discussed some of his works, explaining animal abolitionism and how it's a necessary reaction to the ethically problematic animal welfarism. He explains how his views differ tremendously from better-known animal ethics philosophers like Tom Regan and Peter Singer. He's actually responsible for having made me rethink my views on Singer's work (I was a utilitarianism geek in university) and has left me asking myself some important questions about why I'm vegan and how I can become a better advocate for non-human animals.

I strongly recommend listening to the two-part interview. You can listen to it here:

Part one - June 20
Part two - June 26

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Monsanto's Experimental Cotton Ends Up Fed To Cattle

WASHINGTON (AP) — An unauthorized strain of genetically modified cotton was accidentally mixed in with other harvested cotton in Texas last month, but government officials on Wednesday played down any safety concerns.

About a quarter ton of the experimental cotton seed engineered to contain a protein that produces a pesticide was combined with about 60 tons of commercial cotton growing nearby, said Eric Flamm, a senior adviser at the Food and Drug Administration.

The mixture, grown near Lamesa in West Texas, about 300 miles west of Fort Worth, was then stored along with 20,000 tons of commercial cotton seed in a warehouse. Nearly half the crop was processed into cottonseed oil and cotton meal to use as animal feed before officials at Monsanto Co., which grows the experimental cotton on a test plot, realized the mistake.


The FDA, Environmental Protection Agency and Agriculture Department are investigating to determine what enforcement action is warranted against Monsanto.

Monsanto spokesman Lee Quarles said the crop was mistakenly harvested on Oct. 31, and the company learned about it eight days later when field researchers went to check on it and discovered it was not there. It is grown in a research plot adjacent to other cotton and separated by border rows.


"This incident and a string of others that have come to light over the past two years show that the USDA is fundamentally incapable of protecting our food," said Karen Perry Stillerman, a food analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Meat Moves Over -- US Food Trends

Caterer Search, a hospitality industry website, has an article today about the steady rise in demand for meat-free options in eating establishments around the US. Unfortunately, many of the chefs quoted cite using oodles of cheese in their meat-free menu items, but not all of them. It's still quite interesting to read something like this on a trade website. The focus seems to be on the overall greater healthiness of meat-free options, as well as on the increasing diversity available as they're offered up on menus around the US. There are statistics on vegetarianism and references to the many reasons some people shun animal products, as well as the reasons some are now seeking to limit their consumption of them. It presents the trend in a completely positive light, which is good to see.

How to Make Your Own Almond Milk from Scratch

This is so incredibly simple.

See more vegan recipes and videos at Eat Drink or Die.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Learned Helplessness

A couple of days ago, I gathered some things into my backpack to get ready to hop on my bike to zip cross-town to a friend's place. We were meeting up for the afternoon with another friend to catch up on stuff. About two-thirds of the way there, I heard a loud "thunk!" and felt my chain go slack. Thankfully, I'd been riding slowly along a side street, having just let a guy and his dog cross in front of me. I hopped off the bike to assess what had happened -- it had just derailed.

I walked the bike the rest of the way and when I arrived, both my host and our friend stepped outside to see what had happened. I asked my host if she had any tools. (See, when I'd packed my bag, I'd taken my bike tool kit out to make room for junk -- a dumb, dumb, dumb thing to do.) She immediately offered to get the guy next door to come over with his tools. "To fix it for you," she added. I told her that I knew how to fix it myself and pointed out that the guy next door was probably enjoying a marathon session of World of Warcraft. She shrugged and fetched her tools and fussed as my other friend and I tinkered with the bike. I was avoiding the inevitable -- having to loosen the back wheel, which could have led to alignment problems and having to tweak and tweak and tweak.

Just as I was about to give in and loosen the wheel, a male friend of my host's came up the driveway. "Hey! Just what we need -- a man! Do you know anything about fixing bikes?" she asked him. My other friend and I exchanged looks and the token man replied "No". My host persisted and asked if he could give me a hand. At this point, I stood up and told my host (again) that not only did I know how to fix my own bike, but also that considering what I'd paid for it and how much I rely on it, the only other person -- male or female -- I'd let touch it with a wrench would be a professional bike mechanic.

The whole episode left me wondering about learned helplessness and why people would try to project it at others. I mean, in this case it seemed to be completely gender-based. An assumption was made by a woman that, as another woman, I needed a man to "fix" a mechanical problem -- even after I'd repeatedly assured her that I was more than able to look after it. I wonder how often people project their own learned helplessness on others in less obvious ways and without verbalizing it -- particularly, how many women are doing this to other women. And I worry about how many women are letting this behaviour hold them back from learning what they need to know to become more self-reliant.

Connecticut Company to Make Motor Oil from Animal Fat

Green Earth Technologies, Inc. claims that it can make an animal-derived product chemically identical to crude oil, and intends to use animal fat from slaughterhouses to make it. You can read about it here.

I don't even have the words to describe how disgusting this is to me on so many different levels.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Obama and the Biotech Boys

Wednesday, I posted about how a couple of top members of Obama's transition team have ties to Monsanto. Yesterday the Huffington Post featured an article on the same topic, throwing a few other names into the mix.