Dark horse

October 19, 2019

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source: ABC (https://ab.co/35R72OW)

This week we learned of the many Australian race horses every year being slaughtered for pet food, supplied as food for greyhound racing industry dogs, or exported overseas for human consumption.

The ABC 7:30 Report’s 45 minute story is heartbreaking to watch. Some scenes are reminiscent of documentaries such as Dominion or Earthlings.

Undercover video aired by ABC combined with branding on the horses and access to official databases provides damning evidence of a system out of control.

However, the language used by racing officials to describe the horses as property provides an insight into the mindset that gives rise to this behaviour.

As I sit here in a food court, a television screen shows a horse race underway…

…and the Melbourne Cup is only a couple of weeks away.

How many animals will be injured and euthanised trackside or considered no longer useful to punters and sold off to be discarded via an abattoir, despite years of training and thousands of dollars of winnings?

But it’s not only elite horses that deserve a better end.

Untold numbers of ordinary, gentle creatures not only meet an early end in abattoirs but often live their short lives in confined squalor.

That’s speciesism in action.

African Swine Fever: with a whimper…

October 15, 2019

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.

(T.S. Elliot)

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source: https://ab.co/2IQVbpS

ABC News today reports that a woman has been deported back to Vietnam for trying to bring 4.6 kg of uncooked pork into Australia via Sydney airport.

Sigh. Apparently some people don’t read the news. Or just don’t care…

The Australian Pork Chief Executive Margo Andrae is quoted as saying:

“I’m outraged that someone thinks they can bring 10 kilos [sic] of pork products in their suitcases and not declare it and risk our entire $5.3-billion industry.”

Sure. Outraged, yes.

But again, the talk is all about risk to the industry, not about the consequences for the millions of gentle creatures who may be exterminated in the process.

Imagine if we treated the human carriers of infectious diseases the way we treat livestock who may not even yet have been infected, let alone those who have.

That’s speciesism in action.

African Swine Fever: two little things…

October 10, 2019
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source: https://ab.co/339veJU (ABC)

In most commentary about the current African Swine Flu outbreaks in 50 countries, we tend to hear is this kind of thing:

  • it has been reported in around 50 countries;
  • it has a high (80% to100%) mortality rate in pigs but does not affect humans;
  • there is currently no vaccine;
  • it’s expected that 25% of the world’s pigs will be wiped out by the end of 2019;
  • it’s currently several hundred km from Australian shores in Timor Leste;
  • pork prices are increasing;
  • farmers would be compensated if they had to kill all their pigs in the event of an outbreak.

From ABC News:

African swine fever is spread when pigs come into contact with contaminated pigs, pork products, feed, ticks, and infected material such as syringes.

The disease can be found in pork products even if they’ve been cooked or frozen.

It can also be transmitted via humans wearing contaminated clothing and boots into an area where uninfected pigs are kept, resulting in infection.

and

“There’s no vaccine, there’s no cure, if my farm was to get it, all my pigs would be destroyed”

What’s interesting is what is we don’t hear much about.

We don’t hear much talk about the likelihood of the disease mutating in pig populations such that it crosses over into our species. Perhaps swift pig population destruction is a reason not to worry about mutation. Perhaps the virus genome is just too stable. But is it wise to be complacent?

Such is our hubris.

We also don’t hear much about the tragedy of the pigs who are “culled” or “destroyed”.

That’s a sign of our speciesism.

Why do we want so badly to know whether there is life elsewhere in the Universe when we treat so much (human and non-human) life on Earth with such disdain?

Wombat stoning and other insults

October 7, 2019
11572152-3x2-940x627source: https://ab.co/2LQ8ysw (ABC)

A South Australian Aboriginal elder recently defended the killing of wombats by throwing rocks at them until they die (aka stoning) as a “cultural practice” used to obtain food…

…in the 21st century…

He was cited by the ABC as saying that:

This has been part of our culture and the way we’ve gone about it for thousands of years.

Hmm…

Stoning is an ancient tradition for adultery in Judaeo-Christian cultures, and still is in some Muslim majority countries…

…and how many of us in western democracies (whatever they are now) consider that to be a Good Thing?

On the flip side, killing animals without first stunning them is yet another tradition in some religious cultures…

…and in case you were wondering: no, I don’t think throwing rocks would count as a method of stunning.

Generally, when I hear “tradition”, I translate it in my head as “the way we’ve always done things around here” or simply, “just because we want to”.

Tradition can be harmless and even fun.

But, when your “tradition” is combined with careless treatment of sentient animals or the environment, other than making me angry, you should also imagine me sticking my fingers in my ears and uttering:

la la la la la la la la la la…

When you’re ready for a civilised conversation, let me know. Maybe then you can join the United Federation of Planets, er, People.

Until then, don’t bother me with your “it’s tradition” nonsense.

And please, please, please don’t expect me to respect your harmful tradition.

Postscript: Since I first wrote this, another aboriginal elder has spoken out to condemn the action and a 10 daily article claims that this “…has sparked a national debate on what’s culture and what’s cruelty.” While debate is always healthy, is there really anything much to debate here?

“Divine” Hitch

September 30, 2019

There are often moments when I desire inspiration from Christopher Hitchens, one of the most eloquent public intellectuals of our time.

I watched this interview tonight, recorded after his diagnosis with oesophageal cancer. It came from a slightly surprising (at least to me) source, but I found it to be rewarding and classically Hitch:

Catholic tradition and other insanity

August 17, 2019

This week, Melbourne’s Catholic Archbishop Peter Comensoli said he would rather go to jail than report admissions of child sexual abuse given in the confessional.

After everything that’s happened… The Royal Commission, the outpouring of emotion, the reliving of events by victims, the conviction of George Pell…

…isn’t it a tad irresponsible and insensitive for a leader of the Catholic church say this?

During a recent Q&A discussion of the Israel Folau incident Penny Wong said:

There is a distinction between a right to belief and the assertion that that belief should lead to you being treated differently before the law.

A related point is that just because a “sacred” tradition has existed for hundreds or thousands of years, that doesn’t make it magical or special.

To one who stands outside the Christian faith it is utterly astonishing how ordinary a book can be and still be thought the product of omniscience.

(Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation)

What I just can’t comprehend is why anyone could take the catholic church seriously anymore. Quite apart from the abuse of children, it has done so much harm in other ways, including declaring it to be a sin for its adherents to exercise birth control.

This is especially problematic in the poorest countries, for those who can least afford it.

In this way, the church has made a significant contribution to the unchecked human population that threatens all life on earth.

And yet, so many otherwise rational people continue to trust the catholic church with their children, their childrens’ education, their collective future, and act as if the church still has anything of worth to say in the twenty-first century.

My concern with religion is that it allows us by the millions to believe what only lunatics or idiots could believe on their own.

(Sam Harris)

I guess I should be happy that a high-profile public catholic figure is making his church seem irrelevant, but for many devout catholics, such comments by a prominent leader of their church will gently wash over them and they will wonder what all the fuss was about.

Such is the irrationality of our species. Aren’t there other more important issues for us to worry about, such as climate change and our relationship with the other species of earth? Religion is so yesterday.

One of the greatest challenges facing civilisation in the 21st century is for human beings to learn to speak about their deepest personal concerns, about ethics, spiritual experience, and the inevitability of human suffering, in ways that are not flagrantly irrational.

We desperately need a public discourse that encourages critical thinking and intellectual honesty. Nothing stands in the way of this project more than the respect we accord religious faith.

(Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation)

In support of a non-theistic world view #1

July 26, 2019
atheism-symbol
source: https://tinyurl.com/y4hls8bx
Here’s a subset of quotes I’ve collected over some time in support of a non-theistic world view. I was prompted to write this after reading this post on Archon’s Den.

Sam Harris

In fact, “atheism” is a term that should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a “non-astrologer” or a “non-alchemist.”… Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.

To one who stands outside the Christian faith it is utterly astonishing how ordinary a book can be and still be thought the product of omniscience.

It is telling that this aura of nobility extends only to those faiths that still have many subscribers. Anyone caught worshipping Poseidon, even at sea, will be thought insane. While believing strongly, without evidence, is considered a mark of madness or stupidity in any other area of our lives, faith in God still holds immense prestige in our society. Religion is the one area of our discourse where it is considered noble to pretend to be certain about things no human being could possibly be certain about.
How can inter-faith dialogue even at the highest level recognise world views that are fundamentally incompatible and in principle, immune to revision? The truth is it really matters what billions of human beings believe and why they believe it.
One of the greatest challenges facing civilisation in the 21st century is for human beings to learn to speak about their deepest personal concerns, about ethics, spiritual experience, and the inevitability of human suffering, in ways that are not flagrantly irrational. We desperately need a public discourse that encourages critical thinking and intellectual honesty. Nothing stands in the way of this project more than the respect we accord religious faith.
My concern with religion is that it allows us by the millions to believe what only lunatics or idiots could believe on their own.
Words like god and Allah must go the way of Apollo and Bal or they will unmake our world.

Christopher Hitchens

That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.
The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species.
Take the risk of thinking for yourself. Much more happiness, truth, beauty, and wisdom will come to you that way.

Dan Barker

We have suffered enough from the divisive malignancy of belief. Our planet needs a faith-ectomy.

Charles Darwin

I am not apt to follow blindly the lead of other men.

Yuval Noah Harari

Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?

Carl Sagan

Once you are open to questioning rituals and time-honoured practices, you find that one question leads to another.
To prefer the hard facts over our dearest illusions, that is the core of Science.
(commenting upon Johannes Kepler)

Steven Weinberg

Science does not make it impossible to believe in God. It just makes it possible to NOT believe in God.

Turing to be honoured on the 50 pound note

July 19, 2019

I wrote this about Alan Turing In 2012:

It would be an understatement to say that Turing achieved much in his 42 years. He contributed to a fundamental problem in mathematics, in the process becoming the father of computer science prior to the existence of general purpose computing machines. He played a pivotal role in the Second World War as a Bletchley Park cryptanalyst for which he was awarded an OBE, wrote a seminal paper on the modelling of biological growth, worked on pioneering computer projects, and founded the field of Artificial Intelligence.

But Turing tragically committed suicide at the age of 41 after appalling treatment resulting from the charge of “gross indecency” for the “crime” of being a gay man in mid-20th century Britain. I went on to say:

In response to an online petition in the lead-up to the centenary of Alan Turing’s birth, the British PM, Gordon Brown, said in 2009: “Turing was dealt with under the laws of the time, and we can’t put the clock back, his treatment was utterly unfair. On behalf of the British government and all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work, I am very proud to say: we’re sorry. You deserved so much better.”

It was recently announced that Alan Turing will be honoured by appearing on the 50 pound note starting in 2021.


Source: ABC (https://www.abc.net.au/news/image/11312384-4×3-940×705.jpg)

This Australian Computer Society article provides, among other things, details about the bank note design.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Alan Perlis, a recipient of the Association for Computing Machinery’s Turing Award, said this in 1966:

On what does and will the fame of Turing rest? That he proved a theorem showing that for a general computing device — later dubbed a “Turing Machine” — there existed functions which it could not compute? I doubt it. More likely it rests on the model he invented and employed: his formal mechanism. This model has captured the imagination and mobilized the thoughts of a generation of scientists.

Alan Turing played an unmistakable role in creating the world we all now take for granted. So too for my chosen profession.

It’s nice to see him being recognised in this way even if belatedly so.

Questionable church signs #3

July 19, 2019

I’ve heard it said that God (which god, you may reasonably ask…) is love.

When I first saw this local church sign, the slogan reminded me of 1984 and The Ministry of Truth…

War is peace

Slavery is freedom

GodIsLove

But if one, as the sign proclaims, wishes to uphold the Bible as the Word of God along with the notion that god is the epitome of love, it might be prudent to ask: How many times does “love” appear in the Bible?

Around one hundred and fifty, in each of the old and new testaments.

“Lord” and “God” on the other hand both appear a few thousand times (admittedly more in the old testament) suggestive more of narcissism than concern for others.

So, if we’re honest, the sentiment is simplistic at best, even if we confine ourselves to the god(s) of the Bible.

Vegan Haiku

July 15, 2019

A haiku distilling aspects of previous posts, suggesting documentaries that influenced my thinking:

Ghosts in our machine

Slave species Dominated

Our Cowspiracy