Saturday, November 30, 2013

Honduras election reports and commentary - a compilation

Trustworthy international sources* are reporting evidence of electoral fraud in Honduras, supporting the claims of the LIBRE and Anti-Corruption parties (who are not accepting the results), students, and numerous other groups and organizations within the country. They strongly criticize some of the official reports and media coverage, and call for a thorough investigation. Here’s a compilation of relevant reports:

• The National Lawyers Guild questions the validity of the elections and “takes issue with the United States government’s characterization of the electoral process as transparent, given the country's recent and pervasive human rights violations.” Azadeh Shahshahani, NLG president, has co-authored a highly informative op ed in Al Jazeera, “Honduras’ presidential election demands an investigation.” It concludes:
[I]n this election, the Obama administration has two stark choices: to affirm its commitment to human rights, democracy and the rule of law and insist on a full investigation into allegations of a disputed electoral process and pervasive repression, or endorse the findings of the TSE and ignore alarming signs that the will of the Honduran people is being trampled once again.
• Leo Gabriel, a member of the EU observation delegation, contests its preliminary report, which,
[d]espite demonstrating ‘serious signs of trafficking in [election worker] credentials and other irregularities’ in addition to a ‘clear imbalance in the visibility of different [political] parties in the media’ and ‘a lack of transparency in electoral campaign financing’,...gave high marks ‘in terms of voting transparency as well respect for the will of voters in the tabulation’.
confirmed that ‘the system used for the transmission of official tally sheets guaranteed all political parties a trustworthy mechanism for the verification of the results published by the TSE (Supreme Electoral Tribunal)’, and congratulated electoral authorities for having achieved ‘greater transparency’ than in previous elections.
Gabriel stated that
I can attest to countless inconsistencies in the electoral process. There were people who could not vote because they showed up as being dead, and there were dead people who voted. It was also clear that there was a huge mess at the voting stations, where the hidden alliance between the small parties and the National Party led to the buying and selling of votes and [electoral worker] credentials [note: by law each party has the right to have an election worker at each mesa electoral or voting station, but as Gabriel notes, in many voting stations, the smaller parties sold their rights to the National Party].

During the transmission of the results there was no possibility to find out where the tallies where being sent and we received reliable information that at least 20% of the original tally sheets were being diverted to an illegal server that they kept hidden.

To speak of transparency after everything that happened last Sunday is a joke and I believe that, first and foremost, we observers have to be honest and portray what we have really seen.
He argues that
In the general evaluation meeting, the majority of my colleagues who observed the elections ‘on site’, on the ground, were in agreement about the irregularities I just laid out. No one defended the content of the report or the idea that there had been transparency in the process, and that brought us up against the intransigence of the EU-EOM team leaders, who did not want to cede even one millimeter. We argued for a serious discussion of the topic, taking into account what we had witnessed and suggesting changes to the text, but they firmly refused.
Gabriel believes that the announced results were predetermined and charges that most of those who pushed through the EU report were politically motivated:
Some of them really believe what the TSE says, but in general there is a deeper political and economic reason. The 2009 Coup d’État harmed the image of Honduras around the world, slowing down progress on the Association Agreement signed by the European Union and the Central American region (EU-CA AA). Presenting [an image of] a clean and transparent electoral process helps the European Union to clean up Honduras’s image around the world and set this commercial project into motion.
• The SOA Watch delegation
observed numerous irregularities and problems during the elections and vote counting process that cause us not to trust the electoral results released by Honduras' Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE). In additon to what we directly observed, the control of the TSE by the ruling parties provided opportunity for significant manipulation of the results and fraud after the polls closed and information was transmitted to the TSE.
• The Honduras Solidarity Network’s preliminary report, based on their observation of at least 100 voting tables (MER) in the north of the country, says that they witnessed “a grand number of Hondurans going to the polls and participating in good faith in the electoral process” and the good work of many electoral workers. They state that while
[i]t was reassuring to witness the level of commitment to the election as an expression of the popular will,… this heartening manifestation of Honduras’s possibilities was overshadowed by violence, intimidation and outright fraud, all of which went almost completely unreported in the Honduran and international media. Despite the public availability of this information early on Election Day, we are left baffled by the deafening silence of international observer groups and also the U.S. Embassy regarding the following events and their obvious and explicit impacts upon the electoral results.
The report concludes:
Given the extensive list of threats and violence before and during the election, and given the hourly revelations of discrepancies in the data on the vote tallies (Acts), and considering the fact that 20% of the votes are held by the TSE, the Honduras Solidarity Network cannot and will not in good conscience join in the rubber stamp endorsement of the results as they have been announced by the TSE.
• Peter Hart at FAIR refers to the National Lawyers Guild’s preliminary report in his piece about slanted, inaccurate coverage at the Washington Post.

• The Real News Network covered allegations of harassment, intimidation, and fraud.

They interview Ana Lucia Perez of the Women’s Human Rights Observatory:
We have the assassination of two members of the Libre Party in the Francisco Morazan Department on the night of Saturday November 23rd…we have also seen the intimidation of international observers from El Salvador who were staying at a hotel in Tegucigalpa where they were approached by armed immigration officials and were demanded to show their papers and interrogated as to why they were in the country in a violent and intimidating manner, we have also received complaints of forms of voter extortion in certain election centers where the National Party offered voters discount cards for local supermarkets in exchange for their vote…

…We also witnessed irregularities at voting centers where certain voter lists turned up missing, or where people would be listed as deceased although they were living, or where the deceased were presented as living eligible voters, some people arrived to vote and were told that they had already voted, someone else had used their identity to vote…we also saw in some areas the military did not let the public view the vote count in spite of the fact that the electoral law states that all people may attend the vote count.
Vía Campesina’s observation report listed irregularities observed. They continue:
At this point we also want to highlight to the irresponsible attitude of major traditional media in publishing data, surveys and other biased comments, both during the campaign and a few hours after the closure of the election polls, and even worse, that without having reliable and definitive data on the total count of the vote.

As delegation of observers of the elections, we want to show our concern about the insufficient attention of the public institutions (Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE), the Public Ministry, the National Police) as well as the funding of the political parties and the use of public resources for campaign purposes before the elections.

Our conclusion is that the electoral process has not been transparent enough. On the contrary we consider the elections an ‘institutional fraud’, which position the country in a very worrying situation.

We are also surprised about the attitude of the European Union and the OAS that despite the many irregularities identified, were quick to support both the (preliminary) results and the process, which according to their Delegation of Observation has passed ‘normally’.
It’s astonishing that anyone would expect that the National Party wouldn’t resort to widespread intimidation and fraud. After a coup, rampant human rights abuses, attempts to silence media, threats to and murders of journalists, threats to and murders of activists, threats to and murders of candidates, a history of lies and propaganda,…why would we expect that the National Party, the military, and the oligarchy would hold such free, fair, and transparent elections that their results could be uncritically accepted? What’s transparent is the self-interested dishonesty of those who rushed to declare the announced results credible prior to any investigation or recount.

Meanwhile, Honduras Culture and Politics reports on the “new political landscape” created by the announced results of the congressional elections.

* As opposed to US ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske, US government representatives more generally, and the corporate English-language media. These are not to be trusted on any matters related to Latin America and the Caribbean, as they have a shameful documented history of spin and outright lying.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

VFA: "If I had been born a turkey..."

Marla Rose at Vegan Feminist Agitator has a great post about what her life would be if she'd been born a turkey. From the conclusion:
The beauty of living today is that we can stop. We can not only opt out of violence but opt into abundance and the joy that comes from living in harmony with our core values. What an amazing gift. I will not trade this exquisite opportunity for an ingrained custom or fleeting pleasure; I wouldn’t trade it for anything. When we can help people understand that the profound gratification that comes from self-alignment is far more delicious, tantalizing and worthwhile than anything that can be consumed, digested and forgotten, we will be there.

This is no sacrifice. This is no hardship. This is joy. We can decide today to not intentionally harm them or any other beings. This Thanksgiving and every day of the year, I am grateful for that. I was born a person who can decide for myself and I have decided to celebrate the spirit of Thanksgiving every day without harming another. I give sincere thanks for this.

Rebel Reporting on repression in Honduras

These journalist-bloggers are on the ground in Honduras and providing thorough reports of events there.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Repression of student protests in Honduras

Mientras tanto, en otras de las calles de la ciudad, [teleSUR correspondent Adriana] Sívori indicó que los estudiantes han dicho que ‘la única manera en que seamos escuchados es mantenernos en las calles’.

‘Los estudiantes reiteran que la única manera que existe para detener las protestas es que se realice un reconteo de votos, incluso con la presencia de observadores internacionales’, informó la periodista.
There are numerous reports of the repression of student protests at the Universidad Autónoma in Honduras over electoral fraud. teleSUR reports that the students, supporters of LIBRE and the Partido Anticorrupción, have been hit with tear gas and force, and five people have been arrested. The movement in the streets demanding a full and transparent recount of the votes and investigation of the process, they report, also includes healthcare workers.

Keep following

“The dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose”: Pope says No to capitalism in new broadside

Today, the Vatican published an “apostolic exhortation” by Pope Francis called Evangelii Gaudium - The Joy of the Gospel. It contains a section on the “crisis of communal commitment,” with its own subsection “Some Challenges of Today’s World,” which in turn contains the subsections “No to an economy of exclusion,” “No to the new idolatry of money,” “No to a financial system which rules rather than serves,” and “No to the inequality which spawns violence.” As these headings suggest, as have some of Francis’ previous public statements, this pope is not going to serve as a mouthpiece for capitalism. From “Some Challenges”:
…In our time humanity is experiencing a turning-point in its history, as we can see from the advances being made in so many fields. We can only praise the steps being taken to improve people’s welfare in areas such as health care, education and communications. At the same time we have to remember that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences. A number of diseases are spreading. The hearts of many people are gripped by fear and desperation, even in the so-called rich countries. The joy of living frequently fades, lack of respect for others and violence are on the rise, and inequality is increasingly evident. It is a struggle to live and, often, to live with precious little dignity. This epochal change has been set in motion by the enormous qualitative, quantitative, rapid and cumulative advances occuring in the sciences and in technology, and by their instant application in different areas of nature and of life. We are in an age of knowledge and information, which has led to new and often anonymous kinds of power.

…Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

…Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “disposable” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.

…In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.

…While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.

…Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God. Ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision. It is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative. It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person. In effect, ethics leads to a God who calls for a committed response which is outside of the categories of the marketplace. When these latter are absolutized, God can only be seen as uncontrollable, unmanageable, even dangerous, since he calls human beings to their full realization and to freedom from all forms of enslavement. Ethics – a non-ideological ethics – would make it possible to bring about balance and a more humane social order. With this in mind, I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs”.

…Today in many places we hear a call for greater security. But until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples is reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence. The poor and the poorer peoples are accused of violence, yet without equal opportunities the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode. When a society – whether local, national or global – is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programmes or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility. This is not the case simply because inequality provokes a violent reaction from those excluded from the system, but because the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root. Just as goodness tends to spread, the toleration of evil, which is injustice, tends to expand its baneful influence and quietly to undermine any political and social system, no matter how solid it may appear. If every action has its consequences, an evil embedded in the structures of a society has a constant potential for disintegration and death. It is evil crystallized in unjust social structures, which cannot be the basis of hope for a better future. We are far from the so-called “end of history”, since the conditions for a sustainable and peaceful development have not yet been adequately articulated and realized.

…Today’s economic mechanisms promote inordinate consumption, yet it is evident that unbridled consumerism combined with inequality proves doubly damaging to the social fabric. Inequality eventually engenders a violence which recourse to arms cannot and never will be able to resolve. This serves only to offer false hopes to those clamouring for heightened security, even though nowadays we know that weapons and violence, rather than providing solutions, create new and more serious conflicts. Some simply content themselves with blaming the poor and the poorer countries themselves for their troubles; indulging in unwarranted generalizations, they claim that the solution is an “education” that would tranquilize them, making them tame and harmless. All this becomes even more exasperating for the marginalized in the light of the widespread and deeply rooted corruption found in many countries – in their governments, businesses and institutions – whatever the political ideology of their leaders.
I haven’t read the entirety of the work, but from what I understand there’s plenty of specific nonsense in it to dislike – in addition, of course, to its basic faithiness. Even in this section, the references to science and technology and social Darwinism are bothersome, as is the conflation of ethics with a god. However, this section on political economy, even if not especially original, is remarkable and most welcome.

A Beautiful Mind: A case study in why paternalistic lying isn't generally a good idea

Mad in America recently posted a video of John Nash, the subject of A Beautiful Mind (2001), discussing some of the movie’s inaccuracies.

In particular, he describes the suggestion made in the film – but, significantly, not in the book by Sylvia Nasar on which it was based – that his recovery was made possible by psychiatric drugs. Coincidentally, a couple of weeks earlier I’d posted a link at Dispatches from the Culture Wars to this article by Bruce Levine, in reply to a comment joking about “the famed Princeton School of Medicine. Located in the basement of Fine Hall, and overseen by John Nash (before the medication started to work).”

Levine describes the film’s falsehood:
The shame is that [director Ron] Howard, perhaps afraid of upsetting the mental health establishment, gave Russell Crowe's Nash a line which the real John Nash never said, a line which was untrue, a line which was unnecessary to move the story along, but a line which was completely necessary for the pharmaceutical industry and the institutions it financially supports -- including the American Psychiatric Association, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and the drug-advertisement addicted media.

The line? In Howard's A Beautiful Mind, John Nash, when informed that he was being considered for the 1994 Nobel Prize, mentions, ‘I take the newer medications’. However, as the documentary A Brilliant Madness (broadcast on PBS’s “American Experience” in 2002) reported, ‘Nash had stopped taking medication in 1970’.
This is confirmed by Nash in the interview (beginning at around 3:45). He says that the line, which did not appear in the book and does not reflect reality, was included by the screenwriter, Akiva Goldsman. Goldsman is the son of child psychologists (not of a psychiatrist, as Nash suggests), and this milieu may have influenced his presentation of the matter. In any case, he felt it necessary to include this fateful line despite its falsehood. The reasoning behind doing so can be imagined: “If people think they can recover without them, they’ll be unlikely to start taking the drugs and might want to go off of them. These are necessary medications, and I don’t want my work to turn people away from them.” It’s the sort of condescending argument that leads some psychiatrists to knowingly lie to people about chemical imbalances so that they’ll take and believe in drugs.

The effects of the addition of this line can’t be overestimated. As the comment at Dispatches to which I was responding suggests, the film powerfully shaped people’s ideas about “mental illness” in favor of the brain disease-drug model. As Levine argues, “Howard's ‘newer medications’ line served, in effect, as a product placement not for a single company but for an entire drug-dependent mental health industry that would show its appreciation.”

As I’ve discussed extensively here on this blog, in the years since the film was made, the scientific evidence – Harrow, Wunderink, Moncrieff, Andreasen,… - has continued to show that the use of drugs long term is not only not necessary but ineffective and harmful.* More and more stories of suffering, illness, and death caused by the drugs appear,** as do more and more accounts, like Nash’s, of recovery without them. In this context, the consequences of including that line in A Beautiful Mind, well intended though it probably was, have been more suffering and death and the lost hope of recovery for millions of people.

I have to wonder if it ever occurred to Goldsman or Howard that Nash’s recovery itself might have indicated that the model was flawed. Regardless, this case speaks strongly to the responsibility of artists and intellectuals to tell the truth. At a minimum, it points to the serious problem with artistic falsehoods. It isn’t the writer’s or filmmaker’s job to tell the public what he or she thinks is best for them to hear. It’s their job to speak the truth and to expose lies.

* Much of this was known at the time, and was even included in Nasar’s book, which is quoted in Levine’s article:
Nash’s refusal take the antipsychotic drugs after 1970, and indeed during most of the periods when he wasn’t in the hospital in the 1960s, may have been fortuitous. Taken regularly, such drugs, in a high percentage of cases, produce horrible, persistent, symptom like tardive dyskinesia. . . and a mental fog, all of which would have made his gentle reentry into the world of mathematics a near impossibility.
** Regarding Zyprexa alone, Peter Gøtzsche estimates that “with that drug Eli Lilly has killed around 200,000 people.”

Monday, November 25, 2013

Amy Goodman interviews Adrienne Pine and Edwin Espinal on Honduran elections

Does the Spanish government know something about the Honduran elections the rest of us don't?

They've congratulated Juan Orlando Hernández on his victory before a winner has been announced.

CCR statement about Honduran elections

The latest post at the CEPR liveblog (links in original removed):
12:01 P.M. EST: Last night, just before 1 A.M. and soon after the Honduras electoral authority (TSE) announced preliminary results, U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, Lisa Kubiske, spoke to press, declaring that the electoral process was “transparent.” According to the Honduras press, Kubiske added, “I recognize the announced results and what our observers saw during the process.” Kubiske also called on all parties to wait for final results to be announced.

In its latest announcement, early Monday morning, the TSE reported that Juan Orlando Hernandez of the National Party was leading with 54 percent of the votes counted. Xiomara Castro, trailing in preliminary results by 5.6 percentage points, has not recognized the results. Despite both candidates declaring themselves as victorious, the TSE president, David Matamoros told the press that “The preliminary results we have given so far do not show any tendency or declare any winner.” Never the less, much of the Honduran press is reporting that Hernandez was declared the winner.

This morning, the Center for Constitutional Rights released a statement, which said, in part:
Yesterday’s election in Honduras and subsequent statements by the U.S. Ambassador characterizing the election as “transparent” and accompanied by only few acts of violence are reminiscent of the 2009 election, where the U.S. rushed to validate and help push forward a process as it was being contested by Honduran civil society. There must be an opportunity to do a full and accurate count and fully investigate reports of irregularities and intimidation and threats by authorities.

Given the context of widespread opposition to the post-coup government and its violent repression of civil society, CCR urges the international community to do everything possible to ensure respect for and protection of Hondurans’ right to free expression, freedom of the press, and peaceful assembly in the coming days.
The CCR statement can be found here.

“Uncover your face, then you can join the discussion.”

“Dear Muslima…LOL.” Rarely are the contemptuous bigotry toward Muslims, fake concern about Muslim women, and outright misogyny of many who claim to oppose Islamism partly in the name of women’s rights as evident as when Muslim women in “Western” countries speak about anti-Islamic bigotry.

Last week, some researchers issued a report – “Maybe We Are Hated” - about British Muslim women’s experiences of harassment and discrimination. One of the authors, Chris Allen, posted about it at HuffPo UK, including some quotes from the women interviewed describing how people had treated them and how it made them feel. He explains:
The research was deliberately small-scale and low-level. It didn't set out to make any outlandish claims, to be in any way sensationalist or even begin to tell politicians, policymakers or indeed anyone else what they ought to be doing.

Instead, it set out to give voice to those women whose experiences and stories were all too routinely being overlooked or dismissed not least because they just weren't being heard. By doing so, we hoped that the findings might prompt a different debate about Muslim women, one that spoke to and was inclusive of them rather than merely spoke about or even worse, just for them.

… Instead of talking about or for Muslim women, our research puts the voices of Muslim women front and centre: to give voice to their silent and overlooked stories of discrimination, bigotry and hate, stories that for many are far too real aspects of their everyday lives.
In response…
• “LOL...How about asking Egyptian women who are the most sexually harrassed women in the world. Around 90 percent of them have been harrassed and since most muslims think that it is a cultural habit originating from the Middle East, do they think it is necessary to wear a niqab in Europe? On top of that, women in the Middle East have been to accompanied by a relative (so they say), otherwise they will be deemed as east.”

• (In response to: “Must we demonise every woman in a headscarf or hijab because of the bad eggs who claim to be practicing Islam, yet commit acts of terrorism?”) “Dear Lady Elle, the background to thus issue is long and complex and whilst two ‘bad eggs; has not helped, this is not the reason that many people find the wearing of it offensive. We need to be honest, wearing it, rightly or wrongly is seen as a political statement not a religious one, by many people in the UK and elsewhere. In France they have actually it banned altogether. Women are now complaining that they feel intimidated for wearing it. Why the issue? Politicians' have short memories. Prior to and during the war in Afghanistan, it was politicians, newspapers and the internet's condemnation of the wearing of it that led to it becoming synonymous with the will of the Taliban. Then women in Europe started to wear it and all of a sudden it became racist not to like it.”

• “The countenance, the face is the passport of the human being.It is the recognition of a smile of approval or the glare of disapproval.It is how we meet and know each other,friend or foe.To hide that countenance is to render that person a non person”*

• “What is it with the Muslim faith? All other religions appears to muddle along together in this country apart from Islam. Europe lived through the age of enlightenment and cast off all the suspicions and worst excesses of religious dogma and repression, So what did our politicians do to consolidate our progress? Welcomed in millions of people who are as backward thinking as we were three hundred years ago. Is it any surprise there is a clash of cultures.”

• “I have chatted regularly with women in headscarfs/hijab. Some may even have been Muslim - who knows?

I have never had a casual, passing chat with anyone in a burqa or niqab - how do you strike up a conversation with a non-face ... a mask? Are your overtures welcome - or not? Where do you even start?”

• “I think you'll find most of us were perfectly happy about Muslims until we started being bombed and murdered in the streets. This country is hugely tolerant but that is being abused - and you would wonder that we don't like that?”

• “I've now read this piece twice, and for the life of me, I can't find any of the words: honour, beatings, killings, adultery, stonings, forced, child, marriage, acid, attacks etc.

For balance I'll have to read it again, I must have missed them.”

• “I don't think those women understand, or care about how them covering their faces makes everyone else feel. I don't think they understand or care about our culture, history, traditions, etc. Uncover your face, then you can join the discussion.”*

• “That's exactly the problem - it's OK to make us feel threatened or concerned, but not a minority. I find face coverings extremely unpleasant - it represent threat, secrecy and subjugation of women. Bu then I'm white anglo saxon so it doesn't matter what example it sets my children or how offensive I find it does it?”

• “A very simple solution to this would be to ban the full veil. It represents all that is foul in islam and is why it is rejected so vehemently by a portion of the population. It goes against everything English people are brought up to respect. Its an affront to our culture, has no place in our culture and is alien to our culture.”

• “All around the World women are denied the right by law to do the things that men can do, in some countries they are arrested if they don't cover up, in others they are shot and nobody in the West is allowed to complain as it is deemed racist to do so.”

• “If I was a Muslim women I would be asking myself why my religion wasn't flavour of the month.”

• “The century.”

• “As my wife just said, if you want to feel intimidated, threatened & completely disrespected try being a white woman, in acceptable (not tarty) clothes, and walk through a predominently Muslim area like Sparkhill & Sparkbrook in B'ham. I suggest that Dr Chris Allen gets his wife or daughter to do this one evening & then report back to him !!”

• “it is specius to see racism in this fanciful dress that has been taken over by some Mulsim women. I suspect Chris Allen likes nurses uniforms and school girl outfits too. ;-) kno wha ah meen, innit”

• “It is far more likely that most intelligent Muslim women are concerning themselves with more important thing than fancy dress. There is much to be done across the Muslim world, east or west, north or south, UK included, with regard to attitudes to females. Here in the UK alone, such woman are campaigning to rid this country of FGM, forced and child marriage, and ‘honour’ killings, which are practiced and justified in the name of Islam in our so called modern liberal democracy! These issues are human rights issues and far more important than standing up for those who wish to indulge in a fanciful mode of dress not required by the hedith or the koran.”

• “If you are over 18 you should be able to wear what you want, providing it is your own choice and if it is a concealment garment it is accepted that in certain circumstances, banks, hospitals, airports, public buildings etcetera, then it should not be worn.”
Their suffering and fear are uninteresting and unimportant. The women brought it on themselves as representatives of Islam, wearing those Islamic clothes. They and others are stupid and petty to be concerned about their experiences in British society and should focus instead (because we can assume they don’t care at all) on how Muslim women are treated in other countries (we can assume they never lived in those countries) and how “white” women in “acceptable (not tarty)” clothes are hypothetically treated in Muslim areas.

In responding to interview questions about being harassed, ridiculed, and threatened, in wearing headscarves, they’re aligning themselves with the Islamist enemy; they’re now partly responsible for terrorism and the harassment of women and should be demeaned accordingly. Their insistence on presenting themselves openly as Muslim women – in “fancy dress” and “concealment garments” - is an offensive political statement and an act of hostility toward non-Muslims, so hostility toward them is fair and not racist. (This insistence is always their choice, as opposed to the situation in other countries, where it’s never a woman’s choice.) They are choosing to make themselves non-persons, and disqualifying themselves from the public discussion, even when it concerns them. And the solution to the problem of bigotry toward Muslim women is obviously to ban the full veil. You see, it’s about protecting women.

*Comments made, ironically, on the internet.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Watch live coverage of historic Honduran elections

If you understand Spanish, you can follow teleSUR's live feed.

UPDATE: CEPR is live blogging the election (in English).

UPDATE: You can also listen to Radio Globo (in Spanish) online.

You can also follow the election observers (in English) on their site, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Here are an interview with Adrienne Pine and an article from Al Jazeera explaining what's at stake.

I'll have something to say about the execrable coverage by Elisabeth Malkin at the New York Times later.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

“She Unnames Them”

I was intrigued by the discussion of this (very) short story by Ursula Le Guin in a chapter on women’s fiction about nonhuman animals in Animals & Women. Happily, it’s available online.

I’ve also just read “Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight” in the collection The Unreal and the Real:

Entrancing stories. They bite and sting.

Science and radical critique

It was good to watch the Gøtzsche video: someone with probably as much credibility as it’s possible to have in science-based medicine is unreservedly naming the actions of the pharmaceutical industry organized crime, attaching moral responsibility, and calling for radical change. He doesn’t hesitate to single out psychiatry as especially egregious, to call their lies what they are, and to lay out their death count. Whatever errors might exist in his book (which, again, I can’t afford to buy and so haven’t yet read), his passion and plain speaking are refreshing and necessary.

I had a similar response to Amy Goodman’s interview with climate scientists Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows-Larkin at the UN climate meetings in Poland.

Here’s the key segment:
KEVIN ANDERSON: I think we—I think the scientific community has for too long really let the policymakers, and indeed the wider public, down, that we haven’t been as vociferous as we should have been about what our science is telling us. So, our science is telling us, and has told us, to be honest, for 10 to 15 years at least, that—you know, explain the situation that we’re in and that we need these radical levels of change. But we have not—we have not translated that in a language that indicates how important that is. We have used language which is more acceptable to the policymakers. It’s more politically palatable. So we’ve converted, you know, "impossible within the current economic framework" to "a little bit challenging." Now, that’s not a fair reflection of what our analysis is showing us. So I think, to some extent, though there’s some excellent work that’s been done by the scientists just to show how severe this problem is, the actual language that we’ve used isn’t one that’s demonstrated that severity to the policymakers.

And that’s really evident here. If you sit in to the big plenary sessions, what you hear are these ministers with sort of platitudes and "We must do something about it"—all motherhood and apple pie, and, oh, we can have green—we can have everything; we have our cake, and we can eat it. The science is showing this is completely misguided. But I don’t think we, as scientists, are that vociferous, that vocal in saying, "Hang on, you’re not talking about the issue as we’re understanding it from our own analysis." So I think we need to be much more engaged. And it is—as James Hansen points out, this is now a moral question. It is not a question that can be resolved with technical solutions. It is now a question that—which is much more embedded in what we do as civil society, in our political structures, in our economic structures, in our attitude towards wealth and well-being of other people in the world, as well as within our own countries. This is now a moral question, not just a scientific question.
(As Goodman mentions, the two are also featured in a recent article by Naomi Klein, “How Science Is Telling Us All to Revolt.”)

Peter Gøtzsche, author of Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime

Mad in America has posted video of an interview with Peter Gøtzsche, Cochrane Collaboration cofounder and author of the new book Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime: How Big Pharma Has Corrupted Health Care.

In the video, he discusses psychiatric drugs in particular:

The title alone hints that he’s not going to soft-pedal the harms caused by the pharmaceutical industry. Indeed, he calls for prescriptions for psychotropic drugs to cease entirely.

Howard Brody observes that Deadly Medicines
features Forewords by two heavy hitters, Richard Smith, former editor of BMJ, and Drummond Rennie, long-time deputy editor of JAMA. If you read between the lines, the two editors both convey more or less the same message—this guy comes across as a raving lunatic, but it would be a shame if you were put off by that tone, because he actually has something important to say.
Here’s Gøtzsche talking about what led him to write the book. If, like me, you can’t afford it, you can at least read the chapter on psychiatry here.

“If they want to watch, let’s give them something to watch.”

Will Potter wrote last week at Mother Jones about MIT doctoral student Ryan Shapiro:
According to the Justice Department, this tattooed activist-turned-academic is the FBI's ‘most prolific’ Freedom of Information Act requester—filing, during one period in 2011, upward of two documents requests a day. In the course of his doctoral work, which examines how the FBI monitors and investigates protesters, Shapiro has developed a novel, legal, and highly effective approach to mining the agency's records. Which is why the government is petitioning the United States District Court in Washington, DC, to prevent the release of 350,000 pages of documents he's after.
It’s a fascinating article, which also links to a short video of an appearance by Shapiro at the Animal Rights National Conference last year.

He talks about some of the documents he’s obtained revealing the FBI’s operations at that very event. I’ve transcribed what follows (with a few ellipses), both because I think it’s inspiring and because his analysis is solid. In response to the FBI’s spying and attempts to disrupt the movement, he advises,
at this conference, we should be as open and as welcoming as possible. It’s important to remember that the FBI wants us divided. It wants us to be suspicious of each other… The FBI is explicitly interested in spreading false rumors about good activists being agents, so that we don’t trust them, about newcomers being snitches, so that we don’t let them in the movement. So that we’re divided. So that we can’t grow as a movement.

So yes, if the FBI shows up at your doorstep, shut your mouth.* But at this conference we should have open arms for everyone. And honestly, if the FBI wants to hear about the horrors of factory farming, let them hear. If the FBI wants to read vegan literature, let them read. And if the FBI wants Josh Balk’s new business card to find out where he’s working now, he’s more than happy to give it to them. I spoke to him last night.

So, if suspicion isn’t the lesson that we should draw from these documents, what is? I’d suggest that what these documents speak to is the true historical significance of this conference in particular and of the animal rights movement more broadly. Clearly, the FBI believes so. Along these lines, as a quick aside, in my FOIA lawsuit against the FBI, the FBI just this week asked the court for a seven year delay in processing any of my Freedom of Information Act requests because, they argue, my academic research itself constitutes a threat to national security. Yes, just asking questions now about the FBI’s understanding and handling of the animal rights movement is now understood as a security threat. Clearly, they are taking this movement seriously. And even more illuminative is the fact that the FBI is here at this conference, every year, year after year, wasting their time, wasting their money,** going through our trash. I mean, it really just speaks to how seriously they take us, how truly significant we are.

And in this context, I think it’s important to remember that the FBI first became especially interested in investigating this conference based on information provided by the animal industry groups – AMP, FBR,... These groups know better than anyone just how important we truly are. These groups know better than anyone what kind of a threat we truly pose. A threat to their bottom lines, to their abilities to do business as usual, their ability to continue torturing animals for profit. These groups are running scared, and they’re running to the FBI. That’s what the FBI is doing here.

So, if there’s a lesson to be learned from these documents, I think it’s this: Let’s live up to how important the FBI and the animal abuse industries believe us to be. Let’s live up to how threatening they fear we can become. Not in terms of some animal rights terrorist bogeyman that they’ve concocted, but as a powerful social movement advocating for justice, compassion, and liberation for all sentient beings. If there’s a lesson to be gained from these documents, it’s that we need to be as united, dedicated, and effective as our opponents dread. Let’s use the presence here of the FBI as a reminder to get out there and truly kick ass for animals. Because, honestly, if they want to watch, let’s give them something to watch.
It’s often said that these agencies are wasting resources pursuing and harassing the animal rights and other justice movements instead of the truly violent and terroristic people and groups who genuinely pose a threat to people’s lives and freedoms. And this is true to the extent that threats of this sort are their concern. At the same time, though, they are concerned – consciously or not – with the perpetuation of the status quo: of white male supremacy, religious privilege, and corporate power. Their targeting of civil rights, gay rights, women’s rights, indigenous rights, nonhuman animal rights, workers’ rights, migrants’ rights, consumers’ rights, electronic freedom and privacy, anti-imperial, environmental, peace, and other activists and movements; trade-deal protesters; whistleblowers; lawyers; scientists; writers; journalists; artists;… hasn't been a silly diversion from their “real mission.” It’s part of the fabric of their operations, and reflects a recognition of the real threat these people pose to the powerful. Not, as Shapiro notes, the threat of the “terrorist bogeyman,” but the promise of change - from a society based on violence, exploitation, and greed to one founded on democracy, respect, and the fulfillment of needs.

* I feel compelled to supply this tag and this post in particular as a PSA.

** It’s not actually their money, but public money.

Honduras election observers

Adrienne Pine at Quotha has links for observers of the Honduran election, which is tomorrow.
For the best & most complete info on election observation over the coming days keep focused on:

1. Website:

2. Facebook:

3. Twitter:

4. Youtube Channel:

5. Email:
(There are already efforts to intimidate some election observers.)

She also shared this video of a short teleSUR documentary, “Los votantes golpeados” [in Spanish]:

Especially impressive are the LIBRE candidates and social movement leaders, whose message is clearly that the resistance and struggle are ongoing, encompassing but also transcending this (and any) election.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Hope in Honduras

Adrienne Pine writes from Honduras of the atmosphere of hope in these days before the election:
Among all the black humor and terror, there is an incredible amount of hope right now in Tegucigalpa. It's palpable, in the central park, in cafés, on the streets, in my classrooms. It feels to me like there are equal amounts of hope and terror, with one gaining as the other loses ground, and then reversing direction. But my interlocutors tell me I'm wrong. They tell me it's all hope (though they then often fall back into talking about their perfectly legitimate fears). Whoever came up with the LIBRE party name after Andrés Pavon stole the previous one for himself really was a genius. Because when people I know come up to me to exclaim that on Sunday they are finally going to be LIBRE/libre (as several did today), they are talking about so much more than the party.
It reminded me of a quote from Erich Fromm I posted a while back, and which seems worthwhile to feature again here:
To believe in power that exists is identical with disbelief in the growth of potentialities which are as yet unrealized. It is a prediction of the future based solely on the manifest present; but it turns out to be a grave miscalculation, profoundly irrational in its oversight of the human potentialities and human growth. There is no rational faith in power. There is submission to it or, on the part of those who have it, the wish to keep it. While to many power seems to be the most real of all things, the history of man has proved it to be the most unstable of all human achievements.

“The American standard” – arrogance and contempt in the CRPD ratification debate

Yesterday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held hearings on ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 138 parties have ratified, but the US refused to do so again last year. There’s a major push right now for ratification from a broad spectrum of groups. This is largely heartening, but the arguments with which ratification is being promoted in the US reflect an arrogance and contempt that will undoubtedly undermine it if it does happen.

I was first alerted to this framing by a post by Tina Minkowitz at Mad in America. (I’ve been writing about her reports from the UN for a while now.) Minkowitz, one of the drafters of the CRPD and who supports full ratification of the convention, pointed out recently that many of those urging ratification are using rhetoric and promoting measures (such as reservations, understandings, or declarations, or RUDs) that basically entail the homeopathization of the treaty in the US. They’re also employing a false and damaging narrative about how ratification, while having no effect on domestic practices, will provide an opportunity for the US to export its so-called gold standard of disability policies to other countries. To make matters worse, advocacy communities – those who are being listened to, at any event – are going along with this narrative:
All the proponents of CRPD ratification who are allowed a voice in these discussions are in agreement that the US ratification is aimed ONLY at giving the US greater influence over other countries and over the development of customary international law, and NOT at improving the enjoyment of human rights by persons with disabilities in the US itself. This is astounding. It is hard to imagine any self-respecting group of people that would work so hard for a treaty about their own rights, and yet argue that it won’t apply to themselves but instead is only meant to help their government promote the national ‘brand’ (as per Former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge).
Minkowitz’s post describes some of the arrogant and contemptuous arguments from the politicians involved. Sadly, you see these arguments discussed uncritically and even supportively in “progressive” media outlets. This series of remarks from an article yesterday at ThinkProgress, for example:
• “The CRPD’s failure on the Senate floor then was a ‘rough day for a lot of us who support the treaty’, Kerry said during his testimony, noting that he heard regret afterwards — even from those who had voted against the treaty — about the message it sent to the disabled around the world.”

• “The executive branch, Kerry promised, is ‘100 percent prepared, as we have been’ to work with Congress on various proposed reservations, understandings, and declarations (RUDs) that could be added onto the treaty.

Kerry’s promise was in response to the concerns Ranking Member Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) put forward in his opening remarks. ‘I think the ratification of this treaty really rests solely on the administration’s willingness to ensure that this treaty has no effect on domestic law’, Corker said.”

• “‘I am still convinced that we give up nothing, but get everything in return’, Kerry said. ‘Our ratification does not require a single change in American law and isn’t going to add a penny to our budget’. Instead, he said, it would provide leverage to get other countries to raise themselves to the standards the United States set forward in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which the CRPD is based on.

• “‘There are countries where children with disabilities are warehoused from birth, denied even birth certificates, treated as second class citizens every day of their lives’, Kerry said, adding, ‘Moments like this clarify for me the work we must do to export our gold standard – the American standard. I hate seeing us squander our credibility on this issue around the world’.”

• “A slew of officials have been making the rounds in recent weeks, each insisting on the need for the treaty to help raise other countries to the standards the United States prides itself on when it comes to supporting people with disabilities.”

• “‘You know, if the ADA and the protections afforded to persons here were extended internationally, then these disabled vets or other Americans with disabilities would have, again, the same horizon, unlimited horizon, that their able-bodied American counterparts would have’, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power told Politico on Wednesday. ‘So there’s a real core interest here for our people’.” [I have no idea how this is supposed to make sense – SC]

• “Advocates disagree with the notion that the CRPD strips any measure of sovereignty from the United States. ‘This treaty is empowering people with disabilities around the world, and asserts that the family is the central unit of society, and that it’s in the best interest of children with disabilities that society protect and support families’, Morrissey told ThinkProgress. ‘So I think this treaty actually advances our sovereignty by bringing U.S. leadership to the world table. We’ve done so much on disability in this country and we really can be a world leader.’”

• “‘This treaty is not about changing America’, Kerry told the committee, summing up the administration’s pitch. ‘This treaty is about America changing the world’.”
Or this, from Ted Kaufman at HuffPo:
• “You don't have to listen to one Democratic voice to make the strongest possible case for ratification of CRPD. Former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last year, said, ‘Ratification is an opportunity to export to the world the very best we have to offer. This is a chance to use our rich national experience in disability rights -- which has gained us the respect of the world community -- to extend the principles embodied in the ADA to the hundreds of millions of people with disabilities worldwide who today have no domestic protection. We have everything to gain and nothing to lose by playing the role the world expects of us’.
These ideas are completely contrary to the purpose of international instruments, as Minkowitz argues in her statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:
The United States has been admired as a leader in the field of disability rights because of the ADA. However, the ADA is not the gold standard for comprehensive protection of human rights of persons with disabilities without discrimination in all aspects of life. That mantle belongs to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

…It is…disturbing to witness not only the numerous RUDs of unprecedented number and scope, but the intent of the RUDs as apparent from their content and from the statements of both Senators and witnesses in the Foreign Relations Committee hearings. It appears that the intent and effect of the RUDs taken as a whole is to preclude any necessity for action by the US to bring its own law into compliance with international standards that it would claim to ratify. Ratification on these terms violates the core principle of international law that domestic law does not excuse a government from complying with its international obligations1, and its corollary that states parties are expected to conform their domestic law to the requirements of a ratified treaty2. The United States cannot escape this obligation by declaring that its law fulfills or exceeds the requirements of the treaty.

…To reject this central obligation or seek loopholes to avoid it does a sad disservice to persons with disabilities, and is not in keeping with the purpose or principles of the CRPD.
It’s bad enough to refuse to ratify, but to “ratify” in this manner and with this obvious agenda is to display not just arrogance but contempt. (The cheering acquiescence of so many independent advocacy groups to this imperialistic rhetoric parallels that of some international human rights organizations responding to US foreign intervention.)

Reading about this debate brings to mind a recent article by Noam Chomsky, “Why the Rest of the World No Longer Wants to be Like U.S.” Chomsky describes:
In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, the leading establishment journal, David Kaye reviews one aspect of Washington's departure from the world: rejection of multilateral treaties ‘as if it were sport’.

He explains that some treaties are rejected outright, as when the U.S. Senate ‘voted against the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2012 and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1999’.

Others are dismissed by inaction, including ‘such subjects as labor, economic and cultural rights, endangered species, pollution, armed conflict, peacekeeping, nuclear weapons, the law of the sea, and discrimination against women’.

Rejection of international obligations ‘has grown so entrenched’, Kaye writes, ‘that foreign governments no longer expect Washington's ratification or its full participation in the institutions treaties create. The world is moving on; laws get made elsewhere, with limited (if any) American involvement’.

While not new, the practice has indeed become more entrenched in recent years, along with quiet acceptance at home of the doctrine that the U.S. has every right to act as a rogue state.

…Whatever the world may think, U.S. actions are legitimate because we say so. The principle was enunciated by the eminent statesman Dean Acheson in 1962, when he instructed the American Society of International Law that no legal issue arises when the United States responds to a challenge to its ‘power, position, and prestige’.
Mano Singham posted this morning about the possible effects of the Snowden revelations in impeding the US government’s ability to behave with this sort of hypocritical arrogance and contempt on the international stage.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

“without judgement, endorsement or agenda”

There’s a campaign by PETA to get the SeaWorld float removed from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. I haven’t written about it primarily because I didn’t think it had any chance of succeeding – a prediction which has since been confirmed. (I also don’t care for parades, so I tend not to take much interest in stories about them.)

There’s a new AP article about the controversy. PETA’s protest and petition are getting a lot of traction due to the release of Blackfish,* but there’s essentially zero chance that Macy’s will remove the hideous float from its lineup. They’d like to present this refusal as merely consistent with a general entertainment-focused, apolitical policy:
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade stands as a unique American event solely devoted to entertainment. The Parade has never taken on, promoted or otherwise engaged in social commentary, political debate, or other forms of advocacy, no matter how worthy. Its mission has always been about entertaining millions of families and spectators. While it is understandable that such a widely embraced event can sometimes feature elements or performances that some people may find disagreeable, Macy’s intention is to provide a range of entertaining elements without judgement, endorsement or agenda. While we cannot control external forces that wish to impose their own perceptions on the Parade, we will remain steadfast in following the guiding core of a decades old mission, celebration and entertainment for all.
This is of course bogus. The parade’s official partners are corporations and it’s long been a platform for corporate displays of good will – a celebration of the status quo and consumerism. This is endorsing an agenda. Their suggestion that SeaWorld is dedicated to entertainment is making a judgment: that the suffering and rights of animals are trivial. There’s nothing magical about entertainment that removes it from the spheres of morality or politics.

But the inconsistency stands out. The AP article describes how the SeaWorld float is one of two controversial issues related to this year’s parade. Singer, vegetarian, and animal rights activist Joan Jett had to leave the South Dakota state float (for another which I think is still undisclosed) after complaints from the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association. It appears Jett herself made the decision to leave the float in the face of this. But why didn’t Macy’s insist to these “external forces that wish to impose their own perceptions on the Parade” that they wish to proceed “without judgement, endorsement or agenda”? Why are they not stating publicly in response to a trade association that finds Jett's appearance “disagreeable” that their “goal is to entertain” and that this is Jett’s “goal as well”?

Regardless of the float outcome, the publicity will not be good for SeaWorld or the fearful “cattlemen.” So it’s a victory in that regard.

* Independent of what happens with the float, SeaWorld is feeling it. Their stock price has fallen, they’re resorting to gimmicks to draw people in, celebrities are speaking out,** and even their CEO has sold a chunk of stock. Additionally, PETA “has submitted a formal complaint urging Florida State Attorney Jeffrey L. Ashton to investigate the park and pursue felony charges for alleged violations of Florida’s anti-cruelty statute.” SeaWorld is plainly on the losing side of history; now it’s a matter of whether its decline will happen quickly or slowly.

** Fortunately, an actor named Jason Biggs was there to provide the obligatory violent misogyny.

What do I think of Ricky Gervais’ idea?

Amanda Just asks what people think of Ricky Gervais’ renaming hunters “cunters,” reminding us to “remember, he’s English. The word is used more frequently on that side of the pond.”

Of course, I think it’s witty and very helpful. Here in the US, I just don’t hear people called cunts often enough, so I appreciate this clever new deployment. It’s not at all harmful to women, and linking women to cowardice and murderousness doesn’t perpetuate misogyny in any way. And anyway, misogyny has nothing whatsoever to do with the oppression of animals, so we certainly don’t want to deny ourselves the opportunity to make tactical use of it.

In fact, I think we should expand on this brilliant idea and start using similar slurs for other exploiters and killers of animals: trappers could be Jappers, for example, and we could start referring to fagtory farming. It’s a totally fun and productive way to promote an ethic of compassion and care, and won’t put potential activists off of the animal liberation movement in the slightest.

I also think we should remain silent about, and join if possible, campaigns of threats and harassment against women who hunt. There’s really no danger there. Just good activism. I know King Juan Carlos was also threatened with rape and called a whore when his hunting pictures were made public, so it can’t be about women. Gervais’ “spot the typo” was original and super funny. The animal liberation movement can’t go getting all soft and sympathetic and PC.

I can’t wait to try this cheese.

I came across a link the other day to an article in Food & Wine about “the science and craft behind” Kite Hill’s artisanal vegan cheeses. They’ve been created by a team of culinary and scientific experts which includes biochemist and PLoS cofounder Patrick Brown, as part of his project of “trying to the maximum extent possible to eliminate animal farming on the planet Earth.”

Apparently, they're sold exclusively at Whole Foods, and for the time being only on or near the West coast (and one store in OK), but the site claims that they'll be available at Whole Foods nationwide within months. Can’t wait to try them.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

“There Is No Way I Am Taking My Children to Free Birds This Weekend.”

“The patriarchal perspective views ethics as a means of social control, and animal liberation as a matter of taming our ‘naturally’ exploitative dispositions toward animals. This view ignores the taming of compassion and outrage that proceeds every day as part of the business of exploiting animals. In this society people are domesticated, trained through external rewards and punishments, through myths and lies, through instilled fear and ignorance, to disconnect from animals, especially from those animals designated ‘game’, ‘livestock’, or ‘guinea pigs’.

So animal liberation is not so much a taming of ourselves as it is a refusal to be tamed into supporting anthropocentrism….”
– Brian Luke
Part of this weekend’s Our Hen House podcast was a discussion of the movie Free Birds (I wrote about an evangelical review of it earlier). The hosts of the OHH podcast – who, unlike me, have seen the film – have an intelligent exchange about the negatives (inaccurate history, a missed opportunity to expose children to veganism combined with apparent product placement, confusing storylines) and potential positives of the movie. They talk about how its potential to provide a moral learning experience* probably depends on the context in which it’s viewed. If children see it with others who will listen to their concerns and can inform them about ethical alternatives, it’s possible that it could be an awakening. If they see it with people who treat it solely as light entertainment and mock or dismiss concerns about turkeys, that’s much less likely.

They also discuss an article in Slate by Dan Kois: “There Is No Way I Am Taking My Children to Free Birds This Weekend.” Kois recognizes the movie’s potential to lead people to rethink the morality of eating turkeys (and possibly other animals), to consider “that the things they eat have lives and dignity, and maybe you should consider eating plants instead.” Precisely because of this recognition, he’s determined – even as “a parent trying to raise ethical children,” as someone who recognizes that “there are way more great reasons to be a vegetarian than there are to be a meat-eater” and who would support his children if they became vegetarians – to keep them from seeing it:
[T]here’s another, darker part of me that can only think of how much I do not want Thanksgiving to culminate in my children’s realization that I am serving them the hero of the movie they just watched—a movie that is about that hero’s quest to stop his species from being killed and eaten by humans. Nor do I want Thanksgiving dinner to be a litany of tears as my children watch their parents slice up lovable Reggie (voice of Owen Wilson) with an electric carving knife, place his flesh upon a platter, and devour it with gravy and stuffing.

…Now, I love Thanksgiving! But there are a lot of people to please and a lot of food to cook, and two loudly protesting children do not easily fit into that. Should I take them to Free Birds, I fear my older daughter is likely to steal the turkey and throw it into the woods, and her sister will sit bravely at the table, sad tears streaming down her face as she forces herself to eat a single bite of poor Reggie. I’ll be forced to face my own hypocrisy, which is no one’s idea of a fun Thanksgiving. It’s already tough enough to explain why we watch enormous men give each other concussions on the TV!

Forget it, Hollywood. Make a children’s movie extolling vegetarianism in May, featuring cows, or in August, packed with a cast of adorable Pacific salmon. Heck, make Chicken Run 2: Attack on Tweedy’s Farm. But don’t blow up our Thanksgiving. It’s complicated enough as it is.
Coincidentally, just before reading these articles about Free Birds, I’d read Brian Luke’s excellent chapter** in Animals & Women (1995), “Taming Ourselves or Going Feral? Toward a Nonpatriarchal Metaethic of Animal Liberation.” Luke suggests that traditional animal rights approaches are premised on the assumption that humans’ inherent, “natural” tendencies toward other animals are callous, hostile, and violent, or at least that our emotional connections to animals are inconstant and undependable. So those who promote these approaches (he’s discussing chiefly Peter Singer and Tom Regan) tend to think of a positive ethics toward other animals as one that tames those natural “uncaring dispositions” and base instincts*** through rational rules that form the basis for projects of social control.

Luke argues, in contrast, and quite correctly in my view, that “the supposition of human antisociality toward animals is very dubious.” Our acceptance of the oppression, exploitation, and killing of nonhuman animals is not a natural inclination but is produced through our ongoing socialization into the system. In fact, he rightly suggests, the existence of such gargantuan and expensive efforts at concealment and indoctrination attests to our caring about other animals. If we truly lacked sympathy, this elaborate factory of compliance wouldn’t be necessary. “Suppose,” he asks,
as do James Serpell and Andrée Collard, that compassion for animals is a natural, normal, and healthy part of human life. We would then expect institutions of animal exploitation to protect themselves from compassionate human opposition through an array of unnatural, abnormal, and unhealthy mechanisms. This is exactly what we find. [citations removed]
Luke describes “highly developed mechanisms for forestalling the development of sympathies for exploited animals as well as powerful mechanisms for overriding (i.e., preventing us from acting on) any sympathies that might remain.” Ag gag laws are currently the most vivid political incarnation of “an industrywide effort to dim our awareness of the suffering behind animal farming,” which also includes euphemistic language, manipulation via advertising and public relations, and “educational” efforts to convince people that the consumption of animals and their secretions is necessary for human health.

Mechanisms to subvert or override our compassion and moral agency, both rewards and punishments, abound in the culture. Socializing children so they’ll consent to the system is extremely important, and this happens at all levels, including in families themselves. Parents offer ideological rationalizations for consuming animals in the form of religious myths or other false claims about animals. They ridicule children who conscientiously choose not to eat animals, treating them as selfish and disruptive. They force their children to eat meat. (It’s noteworthy that atheists who strongly object to the religious indoctrination of children are generally quiet about their socialization to participate in the system of animal exploitation.) They tell other parents, as A. Breeze Harper recently described, that exposing children to the truth about the suffering involved in animal exploitation is unnecessarily “traumatizing” them.****

All of this political and cultural work “shows that human resistance is always a potential threat to the continuation of the animal exploitation industries…. In fact, sympathies are so dependable that every institution of animal exploitation develops some means of undercutting them.” (Of course, these techniques for subverting our sympathies have effects that bleed over – sometimes literally – into our relationships with other humans.)

Animal liberation, then, isn’t a matter of “using reason to override some innate indifference to animals” but of “overcoming institutionalized barriers to the expression of our deep connections with animals.” It’s an act of dissent, in which we develop as moral agents through the “freeing of caring agency” from the bounds of social programming. In allowing our relationships with other animals to be guided by “knowledge, integrity, and moral self-determination” rather than accepting the habits and myths of the culture of exploitation, we reclaim our autonomous moral agency. Animal liberation is human liberation: rebellious, self-determining, and expansive.

It’s interesting to read Kois’ article - presented to the readers of Slate presumably in an attempt to garner understanding and support from others in the dominant culture (which it has) – in this light. His decision and rationalization offer a great illustration of how difficult it is, even for parents who recognize the indefensibility of eating animals and are concerned with their children’s moral development, to break free of the patterns that perpetuate the system.

I believe that Kois does want his children to become autonomous moral beings – he suggests he would be proud if they did become vegetarians, and there are hints of pride also in his description of their hypothetical responses to seeing the movie. But when it comes down to it, he regards their moral awakening and hypothetical acts of resistance as unacceptably disruptive, to the point that he thinks it necessary to avoid their even being faced with the knowledge that could potentially lead to such choices. His story sadly illustrates Luke’s point: that our sympathy for other animals is by and large the default condition, that this is recognized and feared by those who benefit from the system of animal exploitation, and that the system can only be sustained through the deployment of diverse mechanisms to interfere with the development of our autonomous “caring agency.”

We often play our roles in maintaining oppression unconsciously. Because Kois is so thoughtful and honest about his motives, he calls attention to all of the many ways we obstruct children’s moral and political growth and movements to end oppression. I hope Kois continues to think about and question his choices, and changes his mind about denying his children this possible realization. If nothing else, I hope his making his concerns public leads some others to reconsider similar decisions.

(As I was completing this post, I noticed that Vegan Feminist Agitator had also written about Kois’ article. I’ll close with her conclusion, aimed primarily at other parents but applicable to anyone:
When we raise our children to believe that their values are adorable and endearing but ultimately burdensome and naive, we impose upon them cynical notion that is as much a fallacy as it is profoundly unfair. We do the same thing to ourselves and each other when we are so frightened of change and the unknown that we limit ourselves and one another to these tiny little boxes. Why should it be like this? Compassionate living is expansive and empowering…. [W]e need to be modeling every day that we can live joyful, abundant lives as people guided by principles, that it is not at all a sacrifice, so we can help to empower those who are intimidated by the idea of change. Yes, there are growing pains when we venture outside of our comfort zone, but a life hemmed in for fear of expansion is one that is far more painful. We need to tell the world that there is nothing to be afraid of when we choose to live in alignment. Don’t settle for or encourage anything less.)
* This is true despite the fact that, as they note, the turkeys aren’t portrayed as turkeys but as little humans.

** As usual, I do have some criticisms, particularly related to some of the arguments about medicine.

*** I’ll have a good deal to say about this in the near future.

**** Related to this, artists depicting animal suffering are told that their works are too disturbing for a “PG-13 society.”

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Free Birds, reviewed by evangelicals

Feeling down after reading the “Twelve Reasons” post, I was relieved to stumble on this review of the new movie Free Birds by the Christian outfit MOVIEGUIDE.

I have no problem with sociopolitical film reviews as such (in fact, I’m quite fond of them). But what’s funny about MG’s is how earnestly literal they are. Movies shouldn’t be “the ax for the frozen sea within us,” encouraging compassion, moral questioning, and awareness of other perspectives. They're seen as purely didactic, and their messages either promote conservative Christian dogma or subvert it. So MG tots up the “Christian” elements, swearwords, and sexual acts to determine how well a movie performs as a celluloid sermon or, on the other hand, pollutes vulnerable minds.

Here’s their summary of Free Birds:
Light mixed pagan worldview with strong revisionist history regarding the pilgrims mixed with some biblical virtues that include sacrifice, hard work, the importance of standing for something bigger than oneself, and making peace, one pilgrim also says, “Thank God,” the turkeys perform a symbolic ritual over their dead chief where some loose leaves swarm together into the air, as if his soul is ascending heaven, there’s also a reference to “the great turkey” which in the end turns out isn’t a divine being, evolution is briefly suggested; no foul language but “shut up,” “buttocks,” and “son of a gun” are said; some light slapstick animated violence, such as the pilgrims try to shoot the turkeys, and they send their dogs on them, and there’s a tense scene that includes fire; no sexual content, but a light kiss between turkeys; no nudity; no alcohol use; no smoking or drug use; and, one character acts selfishly, but learns his lesson in the end.
I think it was the “light kiss between turkeys” that got me. (Could have been “mixed pagan worldview,” or the mention of a suggestive reference to evolution alongside “foul language,”* sex, drugs, and violence.**)

The very idea that turkeys might have a point of view, from which humans – Americans! – look like terrifying killers is anathema:
One of the main issues with FREE BIRDS is regarding its revisionist view of history. Though the movie does begin with a comical disclaimer stating its fictionalized version of the actual events, it still may confuse young children. The very fact that the movie sets up the pilgrims as the villains is not only wildly outlandish, but also disrespectful. To make mockery of the men, women, and children who starved, suffered and died to build this country shows poor taste in MOVIEGUIDE®’s opinion. The movie doesn’t portray all the pilgrims as evil, only the hunters, but the rest are only shown as spineless sheep who bend to the evil hunters’ every command. Though it’s likely the filmmakers only intention was to entertain children with a admittedly clever plot, it should never be at the expense of damaging a child’s education or perception of America’s heroes.
But here’s the part I liked best:
Also, for a movie about Thanksgiving Day, FREE BIRDS fails at conveying a message of thankfulness. Instead of being thankful for what we have and for what God has provided for us and our country past and present,*** the children seeing this movie might demand a vegetarian replacement of the traditional turkey meal. FREE BIRDS had many opportunities to teach positive lessons of gratitude, but it never did.
For primarily this reason, Free Birds “merits a caution for susceptible children” – those whose capacity to care about the suffering and deaths of others hasn’t been entirely deadened. The film is dangerous, in other words, in that children might be led to question the bogus Christian justifications for killing our fellow animals, see them sympathetically, and wish not to eat them. They might be inspired to act as moral agents who want to avoid causing suffering. How un-Christian.

I haven’t seen the movie, but I’m almost tempted to recommend it on the basis of this possibility alone. So much of our culture is dedicated to indoctrinating people to subdue or ignore their sympathy with other animals and to rationalize exploitation and killing. A work that has the potential to activate sympathy and encourage children to stand up for those who suffer and are killed has to have something worthwhile about it.

* I’ll resist the obvious pun.

** Calling the humans’ attempts to kill the birds “light slapstick…violence” is pretty much what I’d expect, as was the inability to appreciate any other violence (which appears in the trailer itself).

*** Incidentally, MOVIEGUIDE also awards the Kairos Prize for Spiritually Uplifting Screenplays (“The primary purpose of the prize is to further the influence of moral and spiritual values within the film and television industries. Seeking to promote a spiritually uplifting, redemptive worldview, the Kairos Prize was founded to inspire first-time and beginning screenwriters to produce compelling, entertaining, spiritually uplifting scripts that result in a greater increase in either man’s love or understanding of God”); the Epiphany Prizes for Inspiring Movies & TV (“for those popular, entertaining movies and television programs which are wholesome, uplifting, inspirational, redemptive, and moral…to encourage filmmakers and television producers to create movies and television shows that help increase man’s understanding and love of God”); and the Chronos Prizes for Inspiring Screenplays by Established Filmmakers (“designed to help established filmmakers who have made successful faith-friendly and faith-based movies and television programs and screenplays. It intends to reward successful established filmmakers who endeavor to create stories that are compelling, entertaining, inspiring, spiritually uplifting, and increase man’s love or understanding of God”).

These awards are all funded by the Templeton Foundation, who also think gratitude should be instilled in the masses, along with other important character traits.

Honoring turkeys

Ashley Capps at Free from Harm shares “12 Reasons You May Never Want to Eat Turkey Again.” It’s heartbreaking, but no one should turn away from it. Facing this reality squarely is something we owe to the turkeys and to ourselves.

I was struck hardest by her discussion of “humanely” raised and slaughtered turkeys (#10), which involves two videos from very different “humane” operations. Capps writes,
I don’t know what’s worse: the near pathological indifference to suffering displayed by the “humane” farmer in the previous video, or the sham piety displayed by this farmer, and the fabricated narrative of cosmic inevitability she imposes onto the turkey’s slaughter in order to feel okay about it: “They know — this is what they’re here for, is this amazing feast,” which is to say, Killing this turkey is something that had to be done, of course. Except, of course, that it didn’t. It bears repeating: decades of scientific evidence have irrefutably demonstrated that humans have no biological need to consume meat, milk or eggs. When we have plentiful access to plant-based foods, and a choice between sparing life or taking it — there is nothing remotely “humane” about inflicting violence and death on others just because we like the taste of their flesh and secretions. Notice, too, the disingenuous maternal rhetoric: “I love these turkeys…they’re good babies…I’ll miss them a lot.” This is humane-washing at its best, and willful self delusion at its worst. Watch the video, then answer me this: what kind of person would do that to any creature they truly cared for and loved?
Even before I became a vegetarian (and then vegan), I found this rhetoric about “thanking” the turkey for its alleged sacrifice and the like ridiculous. I don’t believe that anyone genuinely believes what they’re saying when they claim that the animals they’re killing know and accept that’s it’s their purpose to die so humans can eat them - that they’re collaborators in their victimization, offering themselves up to be killed. I don’t believe they really hold that killing and consuming someone is consistent with loving them. I don’t believe they honestly feel they’re honoring animals by cooking or serving them in a certain way or enjoying their consumption. It’s embarrassing that people actually say these things publicly. Such pitiful attempts at justifying violence are unworthy of reasonable and compassionate people. We love, respect, and honor others by refusing to participate in and fighting against their oppression and exploitation.