Tuesday, April 22, 2008

animal instincts, gut reaction

George Monbiot is not just a seriously important journalist, but the best political journalist I've ever read (and I say that as someone who keeps George Orwell's Collected Essays Letters and Journalism by the bed).

The sheer range of subjects he tackles, his ability to fathom obscure and technical reports, his daring to tell the truth irrespective of who it upsets (he was attacking biofuels at a time when many greens were fervently in favour, and it lost him friends), his inability to be intimidated by power, and his consistent wit make for utterly compelling reading.

Given the praise he's had - prizes dished out by Mandela and stuff - he should have a head as big as Birkenhead. Instead, he continues to really listen and think, to move away from the circles of mainstream political machinery the better to attack them, and as a result he's stopped winning awards. And he doesn't care.

So it comes as a surprise when his rigorous approach and integrity fail him. He's just written a piece about the way increased consumption of animal products is exacerbating world hunger.

Basically, we're feeding a serious proportion of our food to animals who shit out most of the nutriment. We then eat the high-input low-output animals. So even though we're growing more food than ever, people are starving.

As the animal products are more profitable than the basic grains and pulses, the market is happy to see the poor starve.

Joachim von Braun, head of the International Food Policy Research Institute, said that the current rapid increase in world food prices is roughly 20% caused by the impact of climate change, about 30% by the impact of biofuels, and about 50% by increased affluence leading to more consumption of animal products.

Of course, those proportions are likely to shift as climate change will get a lot worse in the years to come, and biofuels - despite it now being clear that they're an environmental disaster as well as a humanitarian one - continue to grow. We're burning food while people starve.

But it's equally crazy to turn edible food to shit for no good reason, which is what the meat and dairy industries do. Even grass-fed animals get their winter feed from foodstuffs that could be fed to humans. In a two pronged attack, we exacerbate climate change by first chopping down the forests to grow soya for cows, who give it a second punch by turning that soya into shit and climate-assaulting methane.

The obvious thing is for us to eat less animal products. Monbiot concurs.

A vegan Britain could make a massive contribution to global food stocks.

and then immediately backtracks with

But I cannot advocate a diet I am incapable of following. I tried it for about 18 months, lost two stone, went as white as bone and felt that I was losing my mind. I know a few healthy-looking vegans and I admire them immensely. But after almost every talk I give, I am pestered by swarms of vegans demanding that I adopt their lifestyle. I cannot help noticing that in most cases their skin has turned a fascinating pearl grey.

Oh look, here's the emaciated and fascinatingly pearl grey Carl Lewis zooming through the air as he wins the Olympic gold medal for the long jump in 1992.

Carl Lewis, long jump, Barcelona Olympics 1992

At the same Olympics he got another gold medal for his running. A man capable of running 100 metres in under ten seconds and 200 metres in under twenty, one wonders how his vegan diet impaired his performance. Monbiot's year of veganism was dogged by his seemingly inevitable ill-health. How was yours, Carl?

my best year of track competition was the first year I ate a vegan diet

I went to see Prince last year. He's fifty, but with the energy, the verve, the effervescent pizzazz of someone less than half his age. Vegan with it.

I don't doubt Brother George's account of the impacts of a vegan diet on himself. But his implication that this is what most vegans are like is just bollocks. It's a cheapshot that is frankly unworthy of him. It's as daft as saying veganism will make us all into Carl Lewis, or that vegetarianism is bad because Hitler was one.

Certainly, there are some unhealthy vegans. But in the same way, you could report on someone grossly obese and say that's what anyone who eats meat is inevitably like.

Monbiot was clearly eating a poor vegan diet, and was seemingly anaemic. It's easily overcome though. A diet with plenty of fresh greens supplies huge amounts of iron and vitamin C (which helps you absorb the iron).

Can that be done all year round though without importing stuff? Just ask someone like, ooh, George Monbiot. A week before he published the vegan article, he published one that said

There are at least 20 kinds of vegetables and salads (mostly oriental varieties) that you can grow through the British winter. You should be able to eat fresh greens every day of the year.

Many people find that if they suddenly take something out of their diet their health suffers, usually because they're eating the same old stuff but with something missing. Carl Lewis was smart enough to look into the nutritional aspect before he changed.

But even if you don't do that first, it doesn't take much work to find balanced, tasty, easy food that's vegan. You're a couple of clicks away from hundreds of sites that can help you, and there are at least as many books too.

Veggies and vegans tend to eat a lot better than omnivores; as they have to really think about their food, they become better cooks and eat a greater variety of ingredients.

I've been vegan for most of my life. In the 1980s it was a bit more work, but these days there is absolutely no truth in the 'it's too much effort to be vegan and healthy' thing. It's a lazy cop-out by those who haven't got the self-discipline to obey their conscience.

That said, any reduction in the amount of animal produce you consume is positive. There's this common idea that people have to be absolutist, as if it's a religion and any sinful behaviour will see them damned. But someone who is basically vegan but eats animal stuff once or twice a week is clearly having less of a detrimental effect than someone who is an ongoing omnivore because they don't feel they could be unwaveringly veggie.

The sneering idea that 'oh, you had some milk chocolate so you're not really vegan' gets bandied around, as if it undoes all the good you do by not eating animals the rest of the time. I note that it tends to come from people who eat meat, essentially as a desperate attempt to gag their own conscience.

By the same token, we could ridicule anyone advocating a reduction in carbon emissions if they ever use any fossil fuels, and tell ourselves that therefore it's OK for us all to drive SUVs and have patio heaters.

As Robin Fishwick observes, the only way not to be a hypocrite is to be an amoral twat

we have a social climate where it is impossible to embrace any moral position without fear of being branded as 'loony' if you cling doggedly to the position, or 'hypocritical' if you fall short of it. The result is that we are left with a cynics jamboree and a tendency towards moral paralysis.

In a perfect world, moral paralysis would not be a problem, but a perfect world it is not, and as soon as you so much as express concern the snipers are out. It is much safer to abdicate all moral responsibility than step into the danger zone - and the danger zone is huge. If you fall short of the ideal you espouse, you are a hypocrite.

It follows, therefore, that in order never to be a hypocrite, it is safest not to espouse any ideals you may have any difficulty living up to - result; said cynicism and moral paralysis.

Better to be a hypocrite than a bastard. If you don't fall short of your own standards once in a while then you probably haven't set them high enough.

It's common for people who are kicking a habit to have a relapse, and if people want to indulge as they shift their habits, if that's what makes it work for them in the longer term, fine. Most ex-meaties I know who give in to temptation are repulsed by the heavy dense unfoodlike feeling of meat in their gut, and it helps them leave it behind.

It is very clear that the consumption of animal products has a severe climate impact. As with the other reasons for abstaining from animal products - compassion for the animals, personal health, concern at the amount of land used and its impact on wild land going under the plough, or straightforward cheapness - it makes more sense to be vegan than vegetarian. And in our lands of plenty, it's not difficult. As George Monbiot's lame attempt shows, there really is no good reason.

Friday, April 18, 2008

evening standard are lying scum: official

During last Summer's Camp for Climate Action at Heathrow, London daily paper the Evening Standard ran two stories about how campers were planning to storm the airport, plant hoax bombs, and probably eat live babies on the way.

Expecting it to be just a load of hippies in a field, they were shocked when a complaint was logged by the Camp with the Press Complaints Commission.

With the brilliant legal response to BAA's attempted injunction the climate movement had already shown it wasn't going to take slurs and lies, that it could readily give as good as it got.

The Campers tenaciously followed through with their complaint. The PCC finally ruled on it recently. They upheld it in the strongest terms, finding that the Standard's stories were a 'serious breach' of the code of standards regarding accuracy, calling the allegations 'materially misleading'.

The Standard were obliged to report this, but they were canny enough to wait until the day the PCC's judgement on the Madeleine McCann thing came out. That ensured that every media correspondent in the land was looking the other way.

Worse, the Evening Standard published the ruling under the headline 'PCC ruling on Heathrow protest by the Camp for Climate Action'.

This in itself is a breach of the PCC's code concerning accuracy of reporting. The ruling was not on the Heathrow camp, but on the Standard's coverage. There is nothing in the headline indicating anything to do with the one newspaper's coverage, let alone the independent finding that the Standard are a bunch of lying scumpigs and sewer rats (I may be paraphrasing slightly).

The full story of the fabrication is extraordinary reading.

During the course of the complaint the Standard changed its story a number of times. My favourite detail concerns the claim that 'two man teams' had been seen checking out the security fence around the airport. It was, from the outset, obviously nonsense, as the fence was a kilometre from the camp.

But the more they tried to explain it, the more ludicrous the Standard made their claim look.

They said the journalist had seen two people he recognised from the camp whilst going to a nearby petrol station. Except that the only petrol station was separated from the fence by a dual carriageway and a line of buildings, way too far from the fence to let anyone be recognisable.

The two people were, depending on which version the Standard told, standing next to the fence, or one was scaling it while another kept watch, or both were scaling it.

If they'd seen any of this, why didn't they take any photos? 'Because it was pitch black' said the Standard. Yet it was supposedly light enough for the journalist to see from four lanes of traffic and a car park away.

And, of course, two people does not constitute 'two man teams' in the plural. But if they use the plural it gives clear connotations of strategy and thus defames the camp.

The back and forth between the two sides and the PCC is online here, with the main submission - including pictures of the fence from the petrol station showing what a load of arse the Standard were talking - in this pdf.

Having been given such a pasting by the Camp we can expect the Standard to honourably admit its fabrication and report more responsibly in future. That, or feel slighted and bear an ongoing grudge that sees them make up a load of bollocky old lies about climate activists but be careful not to name the people they're lying about. The word 'anarchists' is a nice scary catch-all that evades libel.

Expect more when the Camp for Climate Action returns to the London area this summer.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

glastonbury: sack the designer

Glastonbury tickets didn't sell out in a a day this year.

Press musings have suggested it's due to the mud (always mentioned in articles by people who've never fucking been).

Other theories are that it's lost its young audience because of the ticket-buying facilities favouring those with high speed internet connections and it's only the middle aged people going now. Or announcing Jay-Z as the headliner put off the middle aged people and only the young people are coming.

That twat of an NME editor weighed in, proving he's never been beyond the Babylonian parts of the festival by saying 'the coverage is so comprehensive that people can watch the festival at home on telly'. Munting around Lost Vagueness ripped to the tits on all kinds at 4am, at home on the telly? Yeah right.

Others posit the far more plausible point that there are loads more festivals now and their tickets went on sale earlier.

Still, there could be other factors helping the downturn. Who the hell can have been encouraged by this advert in The Guardian? It strikes me as a ruse to discourage punters and so ease the squeeze on the tickets. What other reason could there be?

Glastonbury advert from The Guardian

What designer said 'I know, a radiating pyramid' and had a colleague look rapt and encouraging instead of slamming their face into the desk?

That quote; who believes in the literal Holy Grail or an actual individual historical figure of King Arthur? From that small band, who believes in them both? From them, what proportion think they're both buried at Glastonbury? It's just a random jumble of new-age gobbledegook from someone you've never heard of.

Beyond that, it clearly refers to Glastonbury the place, whereas the festival's a few miles down the road, closer to Shepton Mallet. Mind you, if they can confuse Glastonbury with Jerusalem then their sense of geography is fucked already.

But really though, consider how many people have had how much of an astonishing time at Glastonbury down the years. If you can't find a decent quote about Glastonbury Festival then you just haven't looked. Nobody could have done an advert this shit unless they were trying to.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

di leo da liar

Kickass anti-aviation activists Plane Stupid uncovered an infiltrator at their meetings. Having fed him false information and watched airport security personnel respond and the Evening Standard report it, they knew he was a mole.

They found his true identity - Toby Kendall, favourite film Top Gun - and his employer, a company called C2i International. They are a firm who specialise in, among other things, industrial counter-espionage, and work for the aerospace industry.

According to today's Guardian, airport operator BAA has been approached by C2i.

However, now that the incompetent spy - described by Plane Stupid as 'more Austin Powers than James Bond' - has had his cover blown, nobody will claim him, not even his (probably now ex-) employer.

C2i has also stated Kendall was operating on his own and his infiltration of Plane Stupid was not sanctioned.

Yeah right, he was just doing it for a laugh, solo work for the hell of it, nobody paying him.

The Guardian's list of arms-lengthers quotes Michelle Di Leo, director of aviation lobby group Flying Matters, saying infiltrating anti-aviation groups under false names is 'not the sort of thing we would do'.

But as the Independent reported last November, Airport Watch received an email from someone called Bella Ragazza, claiming to live in Italy and asking to be put on its email list.

The name is clearly fake, as it means simply 'beautiful girl' in Italian, the language of Ms Di Leo’s family.

The mystery was easily solved, though. It came from a Hotmail account, and the person had signed up for their MSN Passport under their real name. The 'From' field of the email was "Michelle Di Leo".

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

keep politics out of sport

The actions against the olympic torch in London and Paris were superb. This grand PR exercise for the Chinese government is blowing up in their faces.

And it's far from over. Who the hell thought San Francisco, with its long tradition of dissent for equality, was a good place to take the torch? The protests have started before the torch has arrived.

However, it's not the highly laudable actions that caught my interest but the response to them. Time and again, they have been described as 'violent'. The word 'violence' is pejorative, yet extremely ill-defined. Indeed, a protest gets called 'violent' by its opponents - and often journalists too - when it does anything other than go where the police tell it to and stand silent and motionless. Even then it can still be 'intimidating'.

But anyway, at the olympic thing that recurrent twist of thinking paled next to its sibling, the old 'keep politics out of sport' idea, as vociferously advocated by the crowd of pro-Chinese demonstrators in London.

If they believe in keeping politics out of sport, then that has to mean keeping politicians out of sport. So presumably they object to the Chinese ambassador carrying the torch, and also to it being taken to 10 Downing Street.

Beyond that, surely it means the olympic teams shouldn't be divided into teams based on the political entity of the nation state. And certainly, the Jewish athletes who boycotted the Nazi olympics of 1936 should have been compelled to take part.

In fact, yes, let's separate politics and sport - that would mean Tessa Jowell gets sacked and the billions of taxpayers pounds we're planning to blow on the 2012 games could be spent on something socially beneficial instead.

And those people in East London could have their allotments back

Alternatively, we could get politics and sport separated by insisting that Brown, Jowell and co all resign their political posts and enter in, say, the synchronised swimming event. They couldn't be worse at that than they are at their present jobs.

As if she wanted to cosy up to the sort of mindset that makes political statements like 'keep politics out of sport', Jowell embarked on her own doublethink excursion.

Olympics minister Tessa Jowell played down suggestions the games had been tainted by the response to the protests. "This has not been damaging to London. It is always important for perception not to overtake fact," she said.

To the best of my knowledge, there is no damage-ometer rigged up to London. There is no objective way to tell if it has been damaged. All thoughts expressed on the matter are, therefore, a matter of perception.

Jowell is either too philosophically challenged to use the language of thought, or else she's cleverly trying to undermine her own credibility so she gets sacked before she's tarnished by further olympics twaddle.

Either way, it looks like she's heading for the brightly coloured rubber cap, the fixed grin and the waterproof make-up.

synchronised swimmer
Tessa Jowell after this morning's training session

= = = = = = = = = = = = = =


In yesterday's Guardian Marina Hyde wrote a piece that has her characteristic insight and wit, also zoning in on Jowell's utter fucking incompetence

From the moment she spent that hour on a sofa with Ken Livingstone, and came up with a 2012 budget estimate of £2.3bn - since quadrupled - Jowell has displayed a preternatural inability to forecast anything within a hundred miles of accuracy. The mere fact of her making a prediction suggests its being proved wrong is a formality.

Two years ago, she declared of the 2012 aquatic centre: "We pledged that the centre would cost £75m and that is precisely what it will do." On Tuesday, figures released by the Olympic authorities confirmed the cost has already risen to £242m. The velodrome cost is now double what she said it would be.

Technically, there should be a point at which these chronic displays of incompetence are regarded as grounds for her removal from the post. But just as no escalation in the Games' costs has since appeared to be the magic number that triggers a rethink, so no display of that world-class lack of foresight seems sufficient to raise serious questions about her future.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

iraq is safe, except it's not

The war in Iraq is, as we all know, about liberating the country and making it safe for its people.

We're doing such a good job of it that the Home Office has decided that the country is now safe, and Iraqi refugees must return. If the refugees disagree, well, we take them by force from the prison 'detention centre' they've been held in and put them on a military flight.

Despite - once again - deciding that we can't withdraw troops after all because the country is so volatile, despite that perpetual background hum of stories halfway down the news that you don't pay attention to any more telling you that there's a 7/7 going off every day in Iraq, we are convinced it's safe to send them back.

Telling Iraqi refugees their country is safe has all the integrity, truth and commitment to the welfare of those being addressed as Bush's announcement to American troops - nearly five years ago - that 'major combat operations in Iraq have ended'.

The Home Office say it's safe now, but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's say

We advise against all travel to Baghdad and its surrounding area, the provinces of Basra, Maysan, Al Anbar, Salah Ad Din, Diyala, Wasit, Babil, Ninawa and At-Tamim (At-Tamim is often referred to as "Kirkuk Province"). We also advise against all but essential travel to the provinces of Al Qadisiyah, Muthanna, Najaf, Karbala, and Dhi Qar.

The security situation in Iraq remains highly dangerous with a continuing high threat of terrorism throughout Iraq, violence and kidnapping targeting foreign nationals, including individuals of non-western appearance.

I tend to believe the Foreign Office's opinion on this.

So does Solyman Rashid, an Iraqi asylum seeker we returned last year. Or at least I think he would do, had he not been killed by a car bomb in Kirkuk.

Coalition to Stop Deportations to Iraq

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

it's a snip

I was recently sent a link to this

which reminded me of an article I wrote a while back. A friend was putting together a zine about population issues and asked me to write summat about having a vasectomy.

It’s A Snip

Anyone who has heterosexual sex is prone to pregnancy scares. And sometimes the fears are founded.

When it comes to deciding about going ahead with the pregnancy, the man is put in a strange and unwinnable position. If he says what he thinks then he’s pressurising the woman; whose body is it anyway?

Yet if he assures the woman that he respects her autonomy and will support her whatever she decides, he’s abdicating his share of the responsibility and making the decision and any blame all hers.

When my lover was pregnant, we were fortunate that we were both 100% certain that we did not want to be parents. We were doubly fortunate that we knew early on and lived somewhere with good abortion provision. The experience was enough to make me actually do something about the idle thoughts I’d had about having a vasectomy.

I don’t want any woman to go through an unwanted pregnancy, and especially not a woman I like enough to ejaculate into. Scarier, what if she wanted to have a kid and I had to support her decision and lose this life I love to parenthood?

I’ve never really wanted children, and as I’ve got older the experience of seeing my contemporaries become parents had only convinced me all the more. I love many of the children I find myself around and relish the part I play in their upbringing and supporting parents. But that’s different to wanting to do it full time. I love curry but if you gave it to me every day for every meal I’d hate it within a month. I love my flat, but lock me in here with no chance of release for two decades and I’ll be insane within a week.

From a personal perspective, I treasure the freedom of my time, I treasure the ability to stay up late with friends or working, and having lie-ins. Parenthood takes those away, and for me it’s not worth it.

But far more importantly, on a political level, the world already has too many western consumers. We all know there needs to be less. You don’t get less by making more.

My grandparents were born into a world of one billion people. I will die in a world of ten billion.

I look at a picture of my grandparents and imagine nine people stood behind my gran, another nine behind my grandad.

Then do the same for all their friends, family, neighbours, taking that multiplication right out across the entire globe. It’s no wonder we’re hastening into ecological crisis. No matter how much we reduce the consumption of individuals, we’re not going to make it all sustainable if there are too many of them.

If we accept the health care, sanitation and guaranteed food supply of modern life then we have to lay off the procreation. We understand this principle with pets whose puppies and kittens all get to live, and we neuter them. We somehow blind ourselves from making the same connections with humans.

I went to my doctor and slightly exaggerated (very long term stable quasi-marital relationship, never wanted children, blahblahblah) and he referred me to the clinic. I was slightly taken aback by the ease of a 31 year old unmarried non-parent getting the appointment. I asked him that if he wasn’t going to talk me out of it then did he think the clinic would. ‘Maybe ten or twenty years ago, but not these days,’ he replied.

The clinic sent a letter giving me the date of my consultation and saying ‘as you will be having the operation the same day, please ensure…’.

Wow, nobody was going to try to talk me out of it. I was lucky in that respect. A friend with similar circumstances had his doctor refuse to refer him until there was sperm indefinitely and expensively deposited in a sperm bank, in case he changed his mind.

Asking around before the operation whether I could be sure I was doing the right thing, that was the only serious question that came up, ‘what if you change your mind?’.

Of course, I could never be totally certain I wouldn’t change my mind. But I’d never had that deep emotional urge for procreation, and experience and political understanding had only hardened my opinion.

And what if someone did have children and then changed their mind? You can’t stuff them back up yourself.

At least if I were sterilised and changed my mind, it would only affect my life and not mine and an innocent unwanted child’s.

Plus, there are thousands of babies and children going for adoption and fostering who are destined for miserable, unloved and shitty lives if people keep having their own children instead. If I got turned down for adoption and fostering, I know several excellent men who’d donate sperm. An unforeseen change of heart wouldn’t be that big a deal.

So there I was, in a waiting room with four or five other men all looking slightly nervous. The professor called me in and gave me a whistlestop explanation of the procedure. It’s a local anaesthetic, they make an incision about 3mm long on each side of the scrotum, they cut out a section of tube and stitch up. After a few months, you bring in a semen sample, then a month later another one. Once you’ve had two blank ones in a row, you’re safely considered infertile.

After another loiter in the waiting room I was taken through. I am one squeamish bugger, but frankly if I had to go through this every month to be infertile it’d be worth it. It was, at its worst, a little uncomfortable feeling something shift in my abdomen. There was nothing I’d call pain, and it was all over within five minutes.

The surgeon was chatty. ‘So, how many children have you got then?’ he asked as he was working on the second tube. When I told him none, a serious and downward pitched ‘oh’ was the response. I hurriedly assured him that really, it was fine.

One of the great advantages of being a bloke is having your tackle on the outside. It might not seem an advantage when someone kicks you in the knackers, but when surgery’s required it makes it simple and swift. Sterilisation on women involves much more delving, and many women having hysterectomies had their clitoral nerve severed by doctors who didn’t realise how far back it goes. Lose your fertility and your sexual pleasure? What’s the point in that?

It was so easy. An excuse for a night in with some fuss, but really it was nothing. I was riding my bike the next day, no problem.

Once I was declared clear, I felt the weight lifted from me. It felt like I’d been purified. It was like I had been carrying this virus to which I was immune but which could infect women I cared about. But now my blood is clean and I am no longer contagious.

I’ve taken responsibility for the overpopulation of the planet, the overconsumption of our society, the life I love and the welfare of my lovers. No matter how drunk, deluded or unlucky I get in future, no more pregnancies from me.