February 19, 2006

How I came to be a vegetarian

In 1999, the Makah tribe in Washington State, USA, got legal approval to hunt whales in the tradition of their ancestors. After they successfully hunted and killed a gray whale, I was pretty conflicted about the issue. On one hand, I support of the rights of Native Americans under the treaties that the US government has agreed to. On the other hand, I love sea mammals. I used to have incredibly peaceful and joyful dreams of swimming with whales and dolphins. I had an intuitive sense that the Makahs were on the wrong side of this issue, morally if not legally. But I couldn't justify it in my own mind.

Is all hunting wrong? I don't think so. I imagine that if I were a Makah living without agriculture in the fifteenth century I would join the hunt proudly, and join with my tribe in gratitude to the whale for giving up its life to keep the tribe alive.

But I couldn't shake the idea that this killing was wrong, because none of the Makah in today's society would suffer, even a little, if they didn't kill this whale. And that led me to look at myself. What's the difference between a cow and a whale? I imagine the whale is probably quite a bit smarter, but how exactly do you measure that? And is our intelligence the only thing that makes us valuable as living beings? How do I justify the killing that's done on my behalf?

So I became a vegetarian, as an experiment to see if I could do it and stay healthy. Agriculture provides us with plenty of nutritious food. I have been vegetarian for almost seven years now, without any dietary modifications besides giving up meat. I get plenty of protein from beans, grains, and dairy products, and I'm in great health. And I'm happier with my eating habits.

I love dogs

These are my pooches. The one on the left is Sasha, a female German Shepherd, and the one on the right is Lucky, a Shepherd/Labrador mix. They're both about seven years old. They love being outside, eating, running, napping, chasing toys and each other, all the simple pleasures. I think we can learn a lot from dogs.

February 13, 2006

Why We Fight

OK, I promised I'd review Why We Fight after I saw it, so here's the scoop. Overall, I liked it, but I can't recommend it unreservedly because it's definitely a propaganda flick. It's propaganda in support of my own opinions, pointing out real, serious problems that I think need to be dealt with. But I don't much care for propaganda in general.

The movie basically starts off with the contents of the theatrical trailer, which you can see if you click the "Why We Fight" link above. It's got some great footage of Eisenhower's farewell speech, warning us of the dangers of accumulating power in the military-industrial complex, and an interview with Senator John McCain. The power of companies like Halliburton is way, way out of hand when they can basically dictate their terms to the government without even completing a competitive bid process. Add to that the fact that some of their employees are also working for Washington think tanks and consulting with the Pentagon, and involved with "massaging" intelligence information that's used to decide foreign policy. The first third of the movie is awesome, makes a lot of good points, and was really thought-provoking.

It really turned me off when they started discussing the accuracy of satellite-guided bombs. They suggested that about 80% of casualties in the initial bombing of Baghdad were civilians, and talked about how inaccurate those bombs really are. I don't know how true that is. I imagine it's very possible that a high percentage of initial casualties were civilians. Saddam probably had all his guys in hiding by then. I don't know. But just because there was a high civilian casualty rate doesn't necessarily mean the bombs missed their targets. Then they started talking about how inherently unreliable computers are, and how so many people have lost data on their home computers due to software crashes. What does that have to do with anything? If you think computers are inherently unreliable, you should probably avoid flying in modern airliners. And try Linux sometime.

Then they put something like this on the screen: "of fifty precision bombs dropped on Baghdad in May 2003, not one hit its target." That's not an exact quote, the date range is probably inaccurate for one thing, I'm just going from memory. But it was just misleading, plain and simple. If the "target" was Saddam, and he wasn't in the building they were aiming at, that's a flaw in the intelligence, not in the technology. That led me to doubt a lot of the other information presented in the film.

The movie is trying to make the point that even "smart bombs" are really bad. Well, yeah, they're bombs. They are made for killing and destroying, and it's almost impossible to really know exactly what's inside the building a particular bomb is being aimed at. I don't like government propaganda which suggests that precision munitions are really good and only kill bad guys, 'cause that's not true either. But precision munitions are a hell of a lot better than carpet bombing, and generally the technology is pretty amazing, almost always hitting the target. And the technology protects our pilots too, they can fly really high and in cloudy conditions, avoiding anti-aircraft weapons. All bombing is horrible, but precision guidance technology is a good thing, because the alternative is even more horrible. Exaggerating the facts only hurts your credibility.

So... if you're against the war, and you want some propaganda to reinforce your rightous anti-war feelings, you'll enjoy this film. If you're not against the war, there's a lot of good information in this film that might change your mind. But check the facts - there's a little exaggeration, and a lot of emotional appeals reminding you that war is bad. In case you had forgotten or something.

I would have liked to see more facts, more details, more evidence supporting the assertions, especially given the spin factor. Or better yet, eliminate the spin and present the information in as straightforward, unbiased a manner as possible. I think the filmmakers mostly tried to do this, but fell a little short of the mark. It was a lot, lot better than Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. But that's not saying much.

February 09, 2006


Going to see a movie this Saturday: Why We Fight. Looks interesting. Might just be a reinforcement of my cynical perspectives of the current US administration's priorities. But it looks well made and it should be informative. I'll post a review after I see it.

Another movie that looks interesting is One, which is an independant film put together by a group of guys who basically woke up one morning and decided to make a film of themselves asking people on the street questions about the meaning of life. According to one review, they are actually reading the camera's manual while filming the movie. Apparently, after a few of these interviews and then had the idea that they might ask some well-known people as well as the average person on the street. For example, Robert Thurman (Uma's dad), Deepak Chopra, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Ram Dass. A friend of mine recommended it. I'll have to wait 'till it comes out on DVD though, if it does, 'cause I've missed the theater run in my area, and my wife isn't really interested in seeing it anyway.

Hopefully "One" will be a lot better than "What the bleep do we know," which I thought was just a bunch of dumb warm fuzzy new age ideas duct-taped onto some of the wildest (but interesting) guesses in recent theoretical physics.