Tag Archives: animal rights

Kvick Tänkare

It’s been awhile so I thought I’d revisit the point behind Kvick Tänkare posts.  From the Swedish it translates roughly as ‘Quick Thinking’.  My intent is to provide a hodge podge (perhaps a smorgasbord?) of ideas from a range of sources and fields in one place.  I’ve always believed that exposure to disparate pieces of information helps make new connections and creates the opportunities to view old subjects in new ways.

Or, you could just look at is as a blogging miscellaneous drawer…

1) After 9/11 the CIA built a program to recruit people to be spies with ‘non-official cover’ (agents who couldn’t pose as embassy staff and instead appeared to be students, business people, etc.).  Well, ten years and $3 billion later and what’s the verdict?

“It was a colossal flop,” a former senior CIA official said in sentiments echoed by a dozen former colleagues, most of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a classified program.

According to the story, some of the reason behind the failure was the lack of skills but it was also good old fashioned bureaucratic inertia.
“There was just a great unwillingness to put NOCs in really, really dangerous places,” said another former case officer. “If you’re a high-grade agency manager, are you going to sign off on a memo that puts Joe Schmuckatelli in Pyongyang? Whether you are a careerist or not, that is a hard decision for anybody to make.”
So, here’s to you Joe Schmuckatelli.
Of course, if you want to get your paranoia on, you could say this was all just a clever planted story so foreign intelligence services and terrorist groups (and foreign businesses perhaps?) would lower their guard.  I’m not sure the CIA has demonstrated that sort of skill in the past but it’s possible.
2) An interesting article by Dilbert creator Scott Adams about when we should simplify in order to get a task done and when we should focus on perfecting a process.  Too often it seems we simplify as a way to get the undesirable stuff done quickly and focus on the stuff that we find interesting but it’s not clear that results in the best outcomes.  Probably would have been useful to think about Healthcare.gov in these terms over the past couple of years.

3. About a year ago, Tell Tale Games put together a small game based on the TV Series/Comic Book The Walking Dead.  It was brilliant…in fact, probably better than both the TV series and the comic book.  Calling it a game, which technically correct, is a bit misleading since it was primarily a story in which the reader (or player if you must) could make some decisions.  In essence a ‘choose your own adventure’ story.  The trick was putting together a story which conveyed real depth and more character development than I’ve seen in the original products.  I was totally invested in the game.

So, it comes as a pleasant surprise to hear that the same company is making games based on the Game of Thrones book/TV series and the Borderlands game.  If they can keep up the high standards of plotting and writing this could be great.  Beyond simple gameplay I wonder if there isn’t a broader audience for something like this where the audience can directly influence the flow of the story.

4.  In New York state, a lawsuit was recently filed to grant chimpanzees the status of ‘personhood’.  The lawsuit is being brought by the Nonhuman Rights Project, led by Steven Wise (who I wrote about several years ago).  Before you get all wound up about chimps getting social security or voting, they aren’t talking about that.  In light of ever more compelling research about animal cognition and consciousness, Wise recommends essentially a sliding scale of rights to a wide range of creatures.  In our current legal system, animals are considered property (insert awkward comparison to slavery here)  yet that no longer seems tenable both in terms of our culture and the existing science.  Given that chimps are the closest to us physically and in evolutionary status they’re starting with them.
5. Prostitution in Nashville during the Civil War.  10% of Union troops had some sort of VD.  That’s pretty significant and the reason why the Union tried to banish and then regulate all the prostitutes from the town.

Red is the new Red

I just finished Will Potter‘s ‘Green is the New Red‘ which purports to show the ways in which the government, in conjunction with industry, have targeted eco and animal rights activists with through anti-terrorism initiatives since 9/11. There just isn’t much literature out there on the movement and its intersection with state and corporate interests so the work is a valuable, even if not authoritative, contribution to the field. Where the work really shines is in demonstrating, through Potter’s own angst about what his role should be, some of the contradictions and challenges the movement faces and will have to address if it wants to continue.

Potter writes his book from two perspectives: As a journalist and as an activist. As you read Green is the New Red you can feel those two perspectives battling it out for control of the narrative. Will’s journalistic voice is strongest when describing the evolution of anti-activist policy among various government agencies and industries. His activist voice comes to the fore when describing the trials (literally) and tribulations of activists he’s met over the past few years.

That approach works well as the latter voice is the one, I imagine, that will resonate with the activist crowd and those looking to confirm their existing beliefs. The former (journalist) voice is a more accessible one to those who might be approaching this subject fresh or from even a more skeptical position.

Perhaps because I also have experience in the government field as an analyst or maybe just because of my personality type, however, I found these two voices alternately repelling and attracting me from the activist community. As Potter explained the evolution of government policy and industry lobbying to get an ever-increasing list of activity labeled ‘terrorism’ and subject to the same penalties as al-Qaida members I found myself agreeing with his description of governmental overreach and erosion of constitutionally protected behavior.

And while that didn’t change with his profiles of activists facing years behind bars, the standard bearers he presented did not seem particularly worthy of sympathy. For the record, I’m rarely persuaded by appeals to emotion in cases like this but given my sympathies for animal and environmental causes anyway I was surprised at how turned off by these activists I was. I actually began to suspect that Potter was intentionally putting in unsympathetic characters to make a point about how everyone deserves first constitutional protections but fear his characters may actually represent the most sympathetic of the bunch. The activists Potter portrays are immature, petulant, small-minded thinkers, with either martyr and/or messiah complexes. While some were able to conceive of rather interesting and complex tactical operations (like SHAC) they appear almost uniformly unable to think strategically through a problem or understand the environment in which they operate.

And that is very frustrating to watch.

Two examples:

First, while the SHAC campaign was underway, the organizers set up a website and published accounts, tips, recommendations for action, etc. One such document was titled ‘Top 20 Terror Tactics’ and even though it was written by a pro-industry group (allegedly showing what sort of tactics were favored by British activists), the fact that is was printed, along with a snarky disclaimer AND public statements by SHAC organizers that illegal activity shouldn’t be condemned basically begs a prosecutor to connect the dots for a jury.

Second is the case of Dr. Vlasak. This knucklehead is an animal rights advocate that believes that violence in furtherance of the cause is completely justified. His desire for notoriety means there’s no venue in which he thinks silence is a good course of action and has even testified in front of Congress about how he thinks killing in the name of animal rights is a good idea. You would be hard pressed to think of someone who could do more damage to the movement than Vlasak, even if they were paid agents of a hostile government or industry. Yet, publicly, you don’t see any sort of public condemnation of Vlasak by the activists portrayed in Potter’s book. They don’t support violence but seem reluctant to condemn its use by others. Instead, they save their ire for ‘mainstream’ activist groups (like the Humane Society of the United States) for their public rejection of illegal methods or rolling over on anti-activist legislation.

And here, I’d make a few suggestions.

1) Take some advice from Ronald Reagan who had a line that went something like ‘If you agree with 80% of what I do, I’m going to consider you a friend and ally.’ There is a HUGE demographic out there that is potentially sympathetic to the eco/animal rights cause and there’s been some big successes when they’ve been enlisted. Just realize what it takes to get them on your side and how far you can push them. In short, go for the big tent. Regardless of what your goals are (saving a tract of land, preventing animal experimentation, etc.) these changes are going to butt up against not just economic interests but, in some cases, generations (if not millenia) of cultural and religious beliefs. You have to lay the groundwork and build allies to do so.

2) There’s an old cliché about African-Americans that says they have to be twice as good to get recognized half as much. That applies just as much to the direct action crowd when it comes to violence. It’s no longer going to be enough to put up some throw away line somewhere in the small print of a web page that says ‘we don’t condone violence’.

Even though there hasn’t been a case of anyone being harmed by animal/eco rights activists it doesn’t matter. Perception is reality and the direct action crowd isn’t winning this battle.

That means clear, unambiguous statements and actions condemning violence and calls for violence. The Occupy movement got it right when those idiots started agitating for violent actions and got kicked to the curb. Eco/Animal rights activists need to follow the same course. Anyone advocating violence needs to not only be denounced in the clearest and loudest possible way but made unwelcome in the community. This is the only exception to suggestion #1 above.

3) Non-violence does not mean no illegality. Civil disobedience has illegal activity inherent to it and Potter does a good job explaining how activists are increasingly boxed into silence (or irrelevance) if they follow the law to the letter. There is quite a bit of room for doing smarter actions, however. Again, the Occupy movement provides some interesting examples of effectiveness. It’s not clear how much sabotage is really effective over the long-term but undercover work, exposing abuse and cruelty, will likely be quite effective in the future. Given that a number of states have instituted or are considering ‘ag-gag’ laws which essentially make investigative journalism illegal, activists have an opportunity to ally with the press on 1st amendment issues and the animal loving public on anti-cruelty issues. In short…think through your campaign. 1 Don’t even consider conducting an illegal direct action if you aren’t totally prepared to spend time behind bars. If you are willing to spend years in a jail cell make sure it’s for a reason people will understand. Nelson Mandela, people understand. Forming a pagan prayer circle in front of the court-house is going to freak people out and convince everyone you’re a drug using kook who probably is better off locked far, far away. Quit helping your foes.

So, those past few paragraphs probably give you a taste of the frustration I felt reading Potter’s account of these dedicated kids (they were almost all people in their early 20s) piss away their opportunities for change because they were just as wrapped up in a flawed world view as the investigators and prosecutors that opposed them. I suppose that’s what it means to be young but their mistakes and foolishness practically leap off the page.

While Potter puts together a strong narrative about the evolution of anti-activist legislation and actions he comes up a bit short on two points.

  1. There are a lot of apples to oranges comparisons here that run along the lines of ‘Can you believe the government is going after these guys when X is happening.’ Potter is better than that line of argument as the fact that the U.S. government is not intellectually consistent in all its policies can hardly be news to anyone [3 And, let’s face it, any government is going to have such inconsistencies…it’s inherent in their nature]. It also ends up watering down his apples to apples comparisons, like when he talks about homeland security priorities (animal rights activists vs. right-wing extremists).
  2. Potter’s grasp on the working of the homeland security industrial complex is adequate but not perfect. He does repeatedly use the line that animal/eco rights extremists are the ‘top domestic terrorist threat’ in the U.S. and while the FBI director did say that, the quote was years ago and I think you’d be hard pressed to find a government official or agency to stand by that comment today. The homeland security field has shifted its focus pretty rapidly over the past decade and while I’d like to say that those shifts have been in response to threats I can’t. More often those shifts are knee jerk reactions to unsubstantiated threats and Hollywood scenarios or in response to pet projects and availability to federal dollars to support specific programs.

While Potter’s central argument is that the Eco/Animal rights movement has replaced communism as the bogey man du jour I think that events of the past year really show that ‘Red is the new Red’. The Occupy movement caused a collective freak out among the law enforcement/homeland security community and I suspect a big part of that was because you had all these people questioning (and challenging) the status quo. The Occupy movement, like the eco/animal rights movement was seen as ‘left wing’ (with some justification) and garnered the same sort of suspicion among (small ‘c’) conservative 2 law enforcement and homeland security agencies. Such agencies just don’t get as worked up about right-wing activity (Remember when all those Tea Party people showed up at rallies with firearms? One wonders what the reaction would have been if the Occupy people had done that.) either of the legal or illegal variety. There are a lot of reasons for that (and this post is long enough so I won’t go into them here) but that’s how it is. Activist movements that have their origins on the left side of the political spectrum will garner more suspicion and distrust from ‘the man’ than those originating from the right.

There’s plenty to chew over in Potters book (all vegan, I promise!) and it’s well worth your time.


So, it’s been roughly two weeks since I wrote the above and I didn’t publish it right away because I wanted to think about what frustrated me about the subjects of Potter’s book when I felt that I should have been predisposed to support them.  The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to revolve around Potter’s observation (correct, I believe) that the punk cultural roots of  the ‘radical’ eco-animal rights movement  continue to dominate. So, achieving goals isn’t enough for these activists…they need to achieve their goals while antagonizing a whole lot of people (maybe everyone) outside of their social circle.

And this is where the comparisons to the civil rights movement breaks down.  The Freedom Riders and pioneers of civil rights were arguing for inclusion into the American system.  The freedom to live, vote, work, travel and be educated regardless of color or religion.  Their argument, simplified, was ‘Look, we’re just like you in every way except the color of our skin. We want the same things that you want. Let us in.’

The ‘radical’ eco-animal rights movement, on the other hand, says ‘We reject virtually everything you stand for.  We aren’t interested in engaging you or trying to convince you. Now, let us in.’

And this, finally, leads us to the world of ‘should’ versus ‘is’.  Yes, a totally fair and just society should treat everyone equally and protect all.  But we know that often doesn’t happen.  Very few are skilled enough to take on multiple huge social issues simultaneously and have even the slightest hope of success.  Yet, Potter’s subjects seem determined to do just that and then act surprised when the hand of the state comes down hard upon them.

YouTube Preview Image
  1. Oh…and if you’re going to engage in direct actions of the legal or illegal kind, find better co-conspirators. That means nobody who’s got a heroin addict for a room-mate, is convinced your action really is going to change the whole world overnight, or can’t be trusted with responsibility. Do yourself a favor and read the criminal complaints in terrorism cases that have come out over the past ten years. They are filled with the ranks of social misfits, mentally unbalanced, thrill seekers and those with limited cognitive ability.)

    4) Given the small size of the direct action community I would recommend avoiding prison like the plague (there just aren’t enough people to waste like that considering your opponents resources) unless you have a clear message such a sentence would deliver to your audience. The examples in Potter’s book (specifically Nathan Block and Joyanna Zacher but most of the others as well) are examples of how NOT to do it. [2. Concerns about scoring bullshit points during trial to make the judge or prosecutors look foolish might provide some immediate sense of satisfaction but believe me, nobody is going to remember that six months in the future while your cooling your heels in a jail cell.

  2. and, let’s be honest, usually big ‘C’ as well.

Kvick Tänkare

Really interesting views of ‘animal overpasses‘ or “structures that have been built over roads to allow wildlife to cross safely to the other side of the road.”

Interesting description of a medical research labs final days in the chimp testing business.  There’s a lot here to motivate you if you’re an animal rights activist and demonstrates the effectiveness of joint action by activists across the spectrum of legality.

I’m not an obituary reader but this one deserves a read, it’s brilliant (h/t to BoingBoing)

I AM the guy who stole the safe from the Motor View Drive Inn back in June, 1971. I could have left that unsaid, but I wanted to get it off my chest. Also, I really am NOT a PhD. What happened was that the day I went to pay off my college student loan at the U of U, the girl working there put my receipt into the wrong stack, and two weeks later, a PhD diploma came in the mail. I didn’t even graduate, I only had about 3 years of college credit….Now to that really mean Park Ranger; after all, it was me that rolled those rocks into your geyser and ruined it. I did notice a few years later that you did get Old Faithful working again. To Disneyland – you can now throw away that “Banned for Life” file you have on me, I’m not a problem anymore – and SeaWorld San Diego, too, if you read this.

Well, Shiloh is no longer with us but this picture would surely have driven him to apoplexy. This dog is about to have his membership in the canine race revoked. A deer AND a cat mere feet away and he’s laying about? That dog should be in full chase mode. Outrageous.

My poor Parwan…Well, it’s not really ‘mine’ of course but it was where I was stationed and I find it hard to reconcile this with the (relatively) peaceful province of 2003. The Taliban in Parwan…how much ground we’ve lost…

China – better living through mass extinctions

Maybe I’ve just got a case of imperial sour grapes because the Chinese are the new kids on the block and we Americans are feeling the pressure but I seem to get particularly angry over stories about Chinese environmental negligence.
The Yangtze Finless Porpoise is on the brink of extinction. Another freshwater mammal, the ‘Whitefin dolphin’ was declared extinct back in 2007.

Scientific American has a superb long article on the transition of poaching in Africa from being a subsistence activity to one for profits. It is grim but it’s also an important read.

“Having largely emptied its own jungles of furry, scaly, and feathery creatures, Asia’s thirst for exotic blood, bile, and bones has turned to the African continent.”

China is not only destroying it’s own environment but it’s at the forefront of leading a frenzy of extinction and animal abuse that is really quite staggering. I’m no fan of the Western industrialization of animal consumption but at least (!) we can say that we’re using domesticated animals that are in no fear of extinction. And while the amounts of meat we eat are excessive for good health and inefficient uses of resources we aren’t slaughtering animals in the hopes it’ll cure our cancers or give us better hard-ons.

And what, if anything can be done? Well, we’re unlikely to see much in the way of effort as we hear the cries of “At times like these we can’t afford to be sentimental! We need jobs.” And when times are good and we’re living large? “At times like these we can’t afford to be sentimental! We might lose these jobs and plunge into recession!”

Intentionally or not, China is ushering in a new era of colonialism.

…it’s not about poverty and a source of income for poor rural people living next to wild areas.

Unlike other organized criminal activity with big profit margins (like narcotics or arms smuggling) enforcement and penalties are weak across the board but especially in the areas where it drives the market (like China). Many countries in Africa (beholden to their new Chinese overlords) give foreign animal smugglers a pass knowing they’ll skip the country and continue their activities.

While a perfect solution might not be in the cards, significant improvement really isn’t that difficult. Imposition and enforcement of laws on the books in Asia (and really, are we to believe that China couldn’t turn it’s powerful police state apparatus to this if it was determined to be important?), training of personnel in Africa (training, equipping and fighting corruption in African courts would have to be some of the best money you could spend).  Of course, those are all top down approaches.  While not sexy, public awareness campaigns would be just as important in getting people to realize that jaguar bladder isn’t going to make you the neighborhood stud, no matter how much you shove up your nose.

The EIA (of which I am a fanboy), has a related piece out about the (lack of) success in the regulated sale of ivory stockpiles to stem the illicit demand for the stuff. I recommend this not only because it’s related to the issue at hand and provides some insight into the weak regulatory (and enforcement) environment surrounding the trade in ivory but it’s also an example of a strong, concise product designed to elicit action from a decision maker. EIA does both traditional advocacy work like many NGOs but it also does a lot of its own investigative and analytical work. The quality of their work should be an example that government agencies in the US consider following rather than the tired, color by numbers work that has been the standard for years, particularly in the homeland security and law enforcement arenas.

In which I give the FBI a (tentative) thumbs up

I think Will Potter over at Green is the New Red has gone a bit overboard on his latest post.  He describes an encounter between an animal rights activist and the FBI.  The FBI show up and…no threats, no pepper spray, no allegations of terrorism.

They just ask if the activists get information about abuses to pass along the information.

Potter and the activist immediately jump to the idea of informants and talk COINTELPRO.

I’ve advocated for quite some time that law enforcement should conduct outreach to activists of all stripes in an effort to clarify what they are and aren’t interested in and how to avoid conflict.  How about efforts to build trust?  Sure, it’s going to take time and progress will only come through tiny, baby steps but you’ve got to start somewhere.

Now, I don’t know anything about the FBI effort (assuming the encounter is accurately recounted) but this response is not helpful at all.

So is this emphasis on “liaisons” a reflection of a kinder, gentler FBI?

Not likely.

If the response is an automatic “Get out of here!” you have NO chance of improving relations. They didn’t ask for lists of names or for the activist to hide the fact the conversation took place.  Why couldn’t she act (openly) as a conduit between the FBI and the activist community?

Prejudice and narrow-mindedness is not the exclusive domain of the authorities.

So, my question in light of this story is assuming you’re one of these activists and there is a law enforcement agency that is honestly attempting to conduct outreach in order to clarify what actions are legal/illegal and asking for assistance in identifying violent, criminal activity, how would that look different from what was described in this post?  What steps would you want/expect to see?

And let’s remember to be realistic.  It’s not in the power of law enforcement to unilaterally overturn federal law.  Any initiative is likely to face as much suspicion, resistance and criticism within the agency as it would with a group of animal rights activists.  So, assuming you actually want to improve things, what would you expect?

So, kudos for the FBI apparently trying to reach out to the activist community and nertz to the bunker mentality of the Animal Rights Coalition for refusing to speak to them and at least see if the agents acted in good faith.

The fight over animal welfare

There have been a number of (apparently) unrelated stories recently about animal rights and welfare that I can’t help feeling reflect a more general shift in the battle lines between those on either side of the debate.

First, the pressuring by activists of secondary or tertiary targets (not those directly involved with animal testing and exploitation but rather those industries that service the primary industries) is not particularly new.* But here’s a slightly new twist on the idea.

Via Kings of War, animal rights advocacy groups have been pressuring companies that import rabbits for testing in the UK from doing so.  And they’re having some success.  From the Telegraph:

Stena Line has reportedly followed DFDS Seaways and P&O Ferries in halting the carriage of test animals, closing the last sea route for medical researchers.

The Channel Tunnel has long refused the trade while no UK-based airline, including British Airways, would carry laboratory animals, according to The Times.

As a demonstration of just how close business and government interests are, consider this proposal which has been floated by the British science minister:

He said: “It would be a pity if we ended up saying that this process of transporting animals had to be nationalised and taken over by the military.

See KoW for an interesting discussion on that particular aspect of the problem.

Up to now, the response has been to characterize this sort of activity as ‘unfair’.  That tactic had two (short term, I believe) advantages.  First, it appealed to our belief that there were some sort of ground rules in how we conduct business and politics.  While that may be true in our daily lives on an inter-personal level, I’m not sure it holds in the business, political or military spheres in the same way.**  Secondly, it was able to ratchet up the fear factor.  After all, maybe you’d be next on the target list if your company did business with one of these laboratories.  Maybe they’d kill your children and drink their blood!

Both of those arguments seem to have lost weight for their own reasons.  Perhaps the general coarsening of our political discourse has eroded the ‘fairness’ position but maybe more important and directly related has the the flood of undercover documentation of abuse and misery in laboratories, feed lots and elsewhere.  The images were damaging enough that many more people were willing to reconsider what was ‘fair’ (proportional might be a better word) and the threshold for pressuring those secondary companies to sever ties with the alleged offender lowered.

Increasingly, the response on the part of the ‘animal-use’ community (I’m not sure how to categorize them) has been to demand more and more assistance from the security apparatus of the state, even in the absence of violent or destructive activity.

In addition to threatening to make the importation of animals a matter of national security and therefore protected by the military, there are other, equally troubling examples.

In Iowa and Utah it’s becoming illegal to do what otherwise would be called investigative journalism.  From the Atlantic:

Iowa became the first state in America to make it a crime to lie to get onto a farm to record images of animal abuse.

Expect this to continue…(update:  good news! such laws are dead in three states)

And these discussion came on the heels of some some discussion at the recent American Association for the Advancement of Science in which it was suggested that some animals (specifically whales and dolphins) should be granted some form of ‘personhood’.

Now, before you go all crazy on me with the eyerolling and questions about whether we’d need to pay Flipper unemployment benefits give me a second.

What we’re talking about here is ‘personhood’ and associated rights as opposed to human rights.  We do, after all, give corporations person status (heck, one of our presidential candidates said “Corporations are people!” I don’t think anyone is even talking about granting (some) animals as broad a list of rights that corporations have.  But, isn’t it a strange place to be in where a non-living entity (really just a construct of our legal and financial systems) has more protection and autonomy than living beings?

I expect this issue to get no real thoughtful airing as (if it gets noticed at all) it’ll collapse under the weight of late night jokes and mischaracterizations.

But I’ll leave you with this final thought.  I do believe that our industrialization of slaughter is bad for us as people.  On some level, I think the people who manage that system of food production know that and so have tried very hard over the years to separate the consumer from the origins or her food.  So, I recommend this article by Mark Bittman on the issue.  This is not a call for everyone to go vegan and stock up on the tofu.  Rather, it’s an argument to be more aware of where that stuff on our plates comes from and how much responsibility we should take for how it got there.

*It has, in fact, been widely cited by opponents as some sort of indicator of just how sinister animal rights activists are.  It works something like this:  Assume lab A is conducting experiments on animals and you want to stop them.  As a business the lab will probably not only have it’s own security but, more importantly, the support of the political/security community which will make most forms of direct activism difficult if not illegal.  Since attacking an opponent at their strongest point is a bit silly, activists then look for weaker links.  These may be tasks and functions essential to the operation of the lab but not under its direct control.  For example, maintenance, bookkeeping, etc.  Convince enough of those who provide these services to Lab A to stop doing business with them and you’ve ‘starve the beast’ (so to speak) and force it out of business.

This practice is not new and students of military affairs will see this as a classic insurgency gambit.  You certainly can’t take on your opponents security forces directly so you apply pressure elsewhere in the hopes that you’ll have a effect that way.

**After all, can you imagine one business considering a hostile takeover of another balking at the last minute because of the deep personal investment the current owner had in it?

Kvick Tänkare

Welcome to 2012!  We’ll kick off the New Year with some heavy reading.

Many cultures around the globe have developed the idea of the dragon…or the vampire…or some other monster.  How have such beasts arise over such disparate times and locations?  Paul Trout has some thoughts on that subject.

A different sort of horror, bioterrorism, has occupied the thoughts of many over the past decade.  Laurie Garret writes about how our desire to improve our resistance to natural or man-made viruses or bacterium may actually be putting us at greater risk.

Before the anthrax mailings terrorized America in 2001, there were only a handful of top security Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) labs in the world and a few dozen of the next-level BSL-3 facilities.

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, however, the number of such laboratories has proliferated spectacularly, not only inside the United States, but all over the world. In 2001 the United States had five “centers of excellence,” as they were called, devoted to bioterrorism. By the end of 2002, more than 100 such centers were named, amid a record-breaking expansion in the numbers of laboratories and scientists studying anthrax, smallpox, Ebola, botulism, and every other germ somebody thought could be weaponized. After 9/11, the European Union saw the number of BSL-4 labs grow from six to 15. In the United States: from seven to 13. Canada built a BSL-4 complex in Winnipeg. Just as possession of rockets in the 1950s or nuclear power plants in the 1960s seemed the marks of a serious state power, so having BSL-3 and BSL-4 labs suddenly became a mark of national significance in the world — an achievement to which countries should aspire. This year India opened its first BSL-4 facility, and it is rumored that Pakistan is now building one.

Some footage from a Russian move about WWII.  I would most definitely not like to see these heading in my direction.

embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube Direkt

Scientific American posted an article about the origins of bullying.  The bad news is that bullying is universal among human cultures and it appears that its origins go way, way back in our evolutionary history.

Individuals whose behavior challenges, disrupts or are considered unusual are often the targets of aggression, and that aggression continues until those individuals change their behavior.

It also appears that while bullying may be so ingrained in our behavior we don’t have much hope of eliminating it, there are cultural triggers that can make it more common.

In the multi-national study…the most intensive bullying was found in countires where violence and social intolerance are the most commonplace.

Nature delves into the illegal trade in animal parts to support ‘traditional Chinese medicine’ (which is a misnomer since a lot of it isn’t traditional at all).  Those rhino horns and tiger bones aren’t going to some poor, superstitious grandmother in Nowhere, China either.  The quick growth of the Chinese middle class has meant that rare animal parts have become a status symbol.

I have to admit, I remain confused about how supposedly educated people will believe that Rhino horn will improve sexual performance or bear bile will cure cancer.  I’m mean, c’mon people.

I can only hope there’s a special place in hell (if the offenders believe in hell) or there’s an appropriate karmic reward for those who traffic in these animals.  Can a nation which tolerates such behavior be called civilized?

Of course, I’m not sure what moral highground we Americans have given our atitudes towards climate change, fossil fuels, etc.  After all, it was the land of Red, White and Blue (or the official pronouncement of its overlord) that said driving gas guzzling SUVs was essential to our way of life in response to a suggestion that Americans focus a bit more on fuel efficiency in the wake of 9/11.

But let’s go back to picking on China.  That’s more comfortable.

Foreign Policy has an article by Gordon Chang outlining some reasons why China may be headed for a big fall in the next few years.  I have to admit I find the China-hysteria that seems to intensify during election and budget cycles seems a bit non-sensical to me so maybe this is just good old confirmation bias on my part.  Chang points to three trends that bode poorly for China:

  1. the communist party’s turning away from Ding Xiaoping’s reforms with a renationalization of the economy
  2. China is more suseptible to ‘trade friction’ (declining demand, protectionism, currency manipulation, etc) and will likely be a loser from it’s recent unraveling
  3. Demographics.  The Chinese workforce is due to level off by 2014.  According to Chang:  “China, strangely enough, is running out of people to move to cities, work in factories, and power its economy.”

Good luck with all that.

The new al-Qaeda…keying a car near you.

The Op-Ed page of the Wall Street Journal had an interesting article on May 18th.  In the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden, the authors want to make sure we don’t get all complacent lest the future of animal testing come into question.


Yes.  Osama bin Laden…al Qaeda…blah…blah…blah…The real threat is extremists who want to kill grandma by not allowing animal testing to continue.

Where to begin with this article?

Let’s start with the big eye-catcher.  Animal rights activists being equal to al Qaeda.

Like al Qaeda, such extremism is committed to changing public policy by violence and terror.  University researchers in California have had their children followed, their cars fire bombed and their homes vandalized.

Ok.  I’m sorry.  Telling a child that daddy kills puppies every day is rude, socially unacceptable (and possibly illegal) bahavior but to equate it in any way with 9/11, Daniel Pearl or any of the hundreds of other atrocities of al Qaeda is insulting not only to the victims of that terrorist group but to the intellect of the readers.  As far as I’m aware there have been no deaths associated with animal rights activists and very few attacks which intend to actually cause physical harm.  Given that the animal rights movement has been around for more than 30 years in the U.S., that’s a pretty impressive record.

Next, consider the lumping of everyone who is opposed to animal testing in the same ‘dangerous as al Qaeda’ camp.

Polls by the Foundation for Biomedical Research [a pro industry lobbying group – the authors don’t mention that] show that only about half of Americans support the use of animals in health-related reseach, down from near-universal support 40 years ago.  This decrease has followed massive campaigns by organizations such as PETA and the Humane Society of the United States

Did you pick that up?  PETA and HSUS are supporters of terrorism!

Also, consider the logic of that quote.  You could replace terms like ‘the use of animals in health-related reseach’ with things like ‘segregation’, ‘morality laws’, etc. and get a coherent sentance.  In fact, that’s very much what you hear from the right side of the political spectrum today.  This is, essentially, a culture war arguement gussied up to look like a scientific one.  One sign of that is how they carefully compartmentalize the issue.  So, while the authors only want to talk about medical treatments like cancer cures they don’t talk about other uses of animal testing like cosmetics or, if we should stay in the medical field, other treatments that might fall into the less important range.  Sure, you might not have a problem killing a few hundred dogs or monkeys for a cancer cure but how many animals should die for erectile disfunction?  How many for a new version of an existing (and adequate) drug just so the manufacturer can take out a new patent and maintain its monopoly?  How much of this animal testing is about advancing science for real benefits to pubic health and how much is for vanity products or profits?  It’s be nice to see the author’s address that point.

The problem, we are told by the authors, is that the scientific community has ‘failed to explain that the federal government requires animal testing before drugs can be given to humans’ (because, of course, government rules can never be changed…now excuse me while I powder my wig).

The American public, you see, are a bunch of morons.  They can’t possibly understand all this science stuff.  The problem is that the scientific community are bad marketers.  It’s not the fact that every couple of months or so we get to see undercover footage from industries (whether the food, cosmetic or scientific communities) about how well they ‘self-regulate’ and maintain their high standards.

Fool me once…

Any thought that maybe cultural values are changing and the scientific community should at least make an effort to adapt?  Apparently not.

One of the huge fallacies of the whole article is the idea that an animal rights activist is the same everywhere.  If one kook sets a bomb up in California then every person who thinks we should consider alternatives to animal testing must be considered an imminent threat.  That’s nonsense and you’ll never see anyone make that arguement using facts because the data simply doesn’t support it.  And that’s why the authors, in making the case that animal rights activists are no different that al Qaeda, have only one example to point to.

If they think sloppy thinking like this is going to garner support for their cause they are sadly mistaken.

Kvick Tänkare

Paul Pillar talks about the new DHS terrorist warning system.

No amount of tinkering with the design can overcome the inherently self-negating element of any such warning system. If the authorities had detailed enough information to satisfy the public yearning for specificity, they probably would have detailed enough information to roll up the plot and preclude any warning at all.

Rumsfeld continues his pathetic attempt to shift blame for his part in the Iraq War bungling.

One big disappointment was that the Turkish Parliament prevented [U.S. Army] General [Tommy] Franks from bringing a division in from the north. And of course, the northern part of the country below the Kurdish area was heavily Sunni. That inability to bring military forces in from the north provided a haven for the Saddamists to avoid being captured or killed during the major combat operations — which I don’t doubt contributed to the insurgency.

Yeah, that’s why Iraq was a multi-year disaster (and, contrary to what people like to say it is far too early to say Iraq has turned out well and definitely too early to say we ‘won’ anything there).  The Turks didn’t allow the 4th ID to move south.

Will Potter talks about the consequences of all those undercover videos revealing inhumane (and often illegal) treatment of animals at factory farms.

Better treatment of animals?  Nah…prison terms for those who expose the abuses.

Andrea Kuszewski writes about the differences between ‘heroes’ and sociopaths.  Short version:  There aren’t many.  In fact, they are very similar with three exceptions.  The ‘hero’ (or X-Altruist as she calls it) has (and the sociopath lacks):

  • expression of empathy
  • Able to emotionally detach from situations temporarily when necessary, such as during a crisis; engages in Flexible Detachment
  • Very resilient ego, or able to repair quickly after damage or threats to identity (Ego Resilience)


A new McCarthyism

Will Potter from the web site Green is the New Red has a new book out of the same title.  I’ve really enjoyed Will’s work over the years in highlighting the tendency to lump social activism (notably environmental and animal rights) with terrorism.

I’ve always viewed such actions as a ridiculous (yet successful) attempt by agencies to cash in on the post 9/11 gravy train of funding by declaring everything as a form of terrorism.

Potter makes a case for a much more sinister motive and I look forward to reading his book.

And just to prove that we’re well into the 21st century, he even has a trailer for the book.