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Mass Extinction and the Confederate Flag

earth_crosshairs-062515I'm as horrified as anyone else at the terrorist attack that left nine people dead at a historic South Carolina church. And I'm disgusted by the culture that so clearly influenced the murderer.

It's not that this isn't important. But right now we have a bigger problem. Much bigger. Bigger than anything we can even imagine. And every week the news media and the political establishment manage to grab our attention with the latest terrorist attack or mass murder, or sports scandal – anything to divert our attention from the catastrophe that's gradually engulfing us.

This week, we learned that our fellow animals are going extinct at a rate that's up to 114 times faster than if we humans were not impacting their lives and their homes.

"We can confidently conclude," the authors of this new study write, "that modern extinction rates are exceptionally high, that they are increasing, and that they suggest a mass extinction under way."

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Pope Francis and Mother Earth

pope-francis-shutterstock_185212376-061815Those who say that the Pope shouldn't get involved in the issue of what's happening to Planet Earth and all its inhabitants are either very stupid or very afraid. Or, in the case of the political establishment, both.

They have good reason to be afraid. Francis's encyclical, Laudato Si, is much more than a commentary on climate change; it's a sweeping indictment of the entire global capitalist system that's wrecking the planet.

Not that the Pope is a Marxist, as some of his critics like to label him. Far from it. The whole miserable Soviet system that promised a "paradise" to the working people of the world collapsed of its own dead weight in the early 1990s, leaving the field to its great competitor. But 25 years later, one can only conclude that globalized capitalism is no paradise either. It's turned out to be every bit as much a monster, leaving us in the early stages of an unfolding catastrophe.

"Mother Earth," the letter begins, "burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she 'groans in travail' (Romans 8:22).

"We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth; our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters."

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Pigs Are Smart – and Machiavellian

shutterstock_pig-1-061115-145318498Winston Churchill famously said: "A dog looks up to you; a cat looks down on you; only a pig treats you as an equal."

But that, of course, is hardly how we treat them in return. Pigs are typically viewed as things to be born in cages and kept in cages until they're ready to be processed into pork chops and sausages.

Two scientists have now concluded that pigs are indeed extraordinarily complex animals, and that they share many of the characteristics we admire in, for example, dogs, chimpanzees, dolphins and humans.

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Chimps Cooking … and Starving

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How do you put together these three items in the latest news about chimpanzees?

  • For the first time ever, a judge in the United States orders a research facility into court in New York City to explain what legal right it has, if any, to be holding a pair of chimpanzees in captivity and conducting medical experiments on them.
  • At the same time, just a few blocks uptown, the New York Blood Center, which has been using 66 captive chimpanzees in a laboratory in Liberia for biomedical research, decides to stop paying for their care. The chimps now face starvation.
  • And scientists at Harvard and Yale publish a paper demonstrating that chimpanzees understand the concept of cooking and will even hold back on eating a piece of raw food in order to cook it first.

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Hercules & Leo Hearing Wrap-Up

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Here's a round-up of news reports about the court hearing yesterday regarding chimpanzees Hercules and Leo, who are being imprisoned at Stony Brook University for use in a locomotion research project.

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Chimpanzees v. New York State

Jude -JB-savethechimps-by-Jo-Anne McArthur smThis week, the Nonhuman Rights Project goes to court to argue before a judge that Hercules and Leo, two chimpanzees being held captive for locomotion experiments at a research lab at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, have the legal right not to be imprisoned and that they should be set free and sent to a sanctuary.

New York's Attorney General will be defending the right of the university to keep them imprisoned. The A.G.'s office calls the suit a "radical attempt" that could lead to the undermining of the factory farm industry in that it "could set a precedent for the release of other animals ... housed at a zoo, in an educational institution, on a farm, or owned as a domesticated pet, and enmesh New York courts in continuing litigation."

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Walmart and Welfarism

pig-052615-shutterstock_44946667Animal welfare groups are jumping for joy over Walmart's latest animal welfare announcement. But it's hard understand why.

The company is asking its suppliers "to engage in improved reporting standards and transparency measures regarding the treatment of farm animals" and to adopt animal welfare standards that include sufficient space and easy access to food and water.

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Almost Toast

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You might reasonably assume that the red line in this diagram illustrates what happens if humankind takes no action at all on climate change. But no, what the red line actually shows is what happens if we simply continue with all the plans and policies that we've put in place or are already planning.

In other words, if we do everything we already intend to do to mitigate climate change, we're still on course to see global warming go through the ceiling, and then through the roof, and then through the sky, before the end of this century.

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Humane Certified Salmonella

Foster-farms-aha-051515Foster Farms, a factory farm outfit that's responsible for the worst salmonella outbreak on record, was the subject of a major investigative report by PBS's Frontline this week.

Frontline did a sterling job of showing how public health officials have been dealing with outbreaks at Foster Farms for ten years. But the one thing the show didn't mention was that this chicken factory carries the seal of approval of the American Humane Association, which calls the company "the most trusted brand of poultry in the Western United States."

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Gov. Christie at the Pig Trough

christie-051315Remember last November when Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would ban the use of gestation crates for mother pigs at factory farms in New Jersey?

The general public is overwhelmingly against the use of these crates, and the state legislature gave it overwhelming bipartisan support.

Christie, however, saw a big red light, since one of the states with the most factory farms for pigs is Iowa, and the Governor was planning a presidential campaign.

This week, we learned the specifics of Christie's veto. So, was he just trying to suck up to Iowans in general? Or was he sucking up to a big donor?

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Is Princess Charlotte an Animal?

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Last week, when zoo officials in Japan named a baby monkey Charlotte in honor of the newborn British princess, they set off a storm of protest. Naming a monkey after a princess? How disrespectful can you get?

The Takasakiyama Natural Zoological Garden had invited people to send in their favorite name, and Charlotte was the winner, with 59 votes out of 853. (Runners-up were a tennis player and a Disney character.) Anxious not to cause any offence, the zoo sought advice from the British Embassy in Tokyo. The British Embassy, equally anxious not to offend the people of Japan, especially since the British royals are very popular there, said that no offence had been caused.

So the monkey and the princess will share their name after all. (And, as in all proper princess-and-monkey stories, both will hopefully live happily ever after.)

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The Sinkhole Swallowing Southern Utah

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The road to a planned development that's been scrapped because the water table is drying up and creating sinkholes.

Here in the beautiful red rock country of Southern Utah, we’re running out of water. The water table is being sucked so dry that the ground is collapsing in some parts, and a section of Interstate 15 is now in danger of rupturing into a sinkhole.

The sinkhole is developing a few miles north of St George, a once-small, sleepy town that could get most of the water it needed from the Virgin River as it flowed out of nearby Zion National Park.

But 10 years ago, St George became the second fastest-growing metropolitan area in the country, and it's now expected to quadruple in population over the next 40 years.

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Chickens with Flu and Pigs Who Dive

A few items from around the world of factory farming this week:

Bird Flu in the U.S.: As of Tuesday, May 5th, just under 26 million chickens and turkeys had been "affected" by the latest outbreak of bird flu – meaning that all or most of them have been "euthanized", as the factory farmers and government officials describe their demise.

(This is not the same as what happens to chickens who don't have bird flu and are, instead, "processed.")

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Update on Habeas Corpus Chimp Ruling

Justice Jaffe has amended the order she issued yesterday in a case brought by the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), regarding two chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo, who are being used for biomedical experimentation at Stony Brook University on Long Island, New York.

Yesterday it read “ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE & WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS”. This afternoon, Justice Jaffe struck out the words “& WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS” from the title of her Order.

The judge has not commented on her amendment. But the fact is we have entered unmapped legal territory, and we should expect a certain amount of confusion as these cases go forward, more back-and-forth, revisions and re-revisions, appeals and counter-appeals.

Yesterday's decision was a huge step forward. Today's amendment sets it back a small step. But the step forward is still huge, and the door is still open for the court to recognize that Hercules and Leo are legal persons with the fundamental right to bodily liberty.

Here's the NhRP's interpretation of the situation: Read more

In Historic Ruling, Court Recognizes Two Chimps as Legal Persons

For the first time in history, a judge has granted a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a nonhuman animal.

This afternoon, in a case brought by the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe issued the writ on behalf of two chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo, who are being used for biomedical experimentation at Stony Brook University on Long Island, New York.

Under the law of New York State, only a "legal person" may have a writ of habeas corpus issued in his or her behalf. The Court has therefore implicitly determined that Hercules and Leo are "persons".

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California’s Dark Drought Secret

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As usual when it comes to the topic of drought, there’s a giant elephant in the room that almost no one wants to talk about. In California, the elephant is a cow and the unmentionable subject is animal agriculture.

While everyone's talking about cutting personal use of water by 25 percent and that almonds cost three gallons of water per nut, what we're not being told is that a single quarter-pound hamburger costs 660 gallons of water.

Or that a single gallon of milk costs 1,000 gallons of water.

According to the Pacific Institute's Assessment of California's Water Footprint, no less than 47 percent of California's water is used for meat and dairy products: Read more

How SeaWorld Is Like Scientology

hargrove-040115If you've seen how SeaWorld is responding to John Hargrove's new book Beneath the Surface, it's hard to miss the similarities with Scientology's dirty tricks campaigns as portrayed in the HBO documentary Going Clear. SeaWorld is operating right out of the Scientology playbook.

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Utah to Chickens: "Screw You!"

Utah's Attorney General is concerned for poor people.

The new law in California that gives egg-laying chickens enough room to "lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around" is causing the price of an egg in Utah to go up about two cents.

This creates a burden that, according to the A.G., "disproportionately affects low-income families."

That's thoughtful of him, even though the burden is not exactly huge. After all, if you're a "disproportionately affected" person and you eat, say, four eggs a week, you could cover the extra $4.16 a year by cutting out one soda maybe every three or four months.

Still too much?

O.K., so since Utah clearly cares about its lower-income families, the rest of us who live in the state could perhaps chip in to help. This would work out roughly as follows:

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The Post-Human Future

Part Six in the series “I Am Not an Animal.” In previous posts, we looked at how our anxiety over our mortal, animal nature drives us to distance ourselves, psychologically and literally, from our fellow animals; at how ancient mythologies told of a “fall” from a time when we were in harmony with the other animals; and at how our belief in “human exceptionalism” has led us to treat them.

Now we ask: Where do we go from here, and is there any way out of our situation?

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The Right Music for Cats

cats-music-030515In a lighter vein than usual on this blog (!): What kind of music do cats prefer: Jazz? Classical? Bluegrass? New Age?

The answer: None of these. Cats, of course, prefer cat music.

But what exactly is cat music?

Check out this short clip from Spook's Ditty, a rollicking tune for fun-loving felines, by composer David Teie.

Teie explains that Spook's Ditty is "a lively song that includes musical representations of environmental sounds that are designed to arouse a cat's interest and curiosity."

Then again, if Fluffy is looking for something a little more restful after dinner, she might prefer this from Rusty's Ballad:

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