The plight of pigs

A recent article in the Times outlines the unfortunate plight of the modern pig. According to cattle-rancher Nicole Niman (Aside: in trying to find out whether she's associated with Niman Ranch, Wikipedia directed me to this utterly bizarre article on lightsaber combat. Somewhat relevant to the criticism of Wikipedia that it's heavy on the information that white, tech-savvy males might know and light on other important issues), pigs are kept in metallic cages so tight that they are unable to even turn around. Their tails are cut off without anesthetic. They are not allowed to roam outside of their cages - not even to handle basic functions. Eating, sleeping, urinating and defecating all happen in the same place (the waste drops into a pit just a few feet below their cages). In order to keep the pigs free from sickness, 10 million pounds of antibiotics are added to their feed, three times the total amount used to treat humans.

There's a wide array of thought about animal rights out there. Peter Singer, one of the largest philosophical proponents for animal rights, argues that the right to minimization of suffering is dependent on the ability to suffer. Pigs, which have intelligence comparable to a dog or small child, are certainly smart enough to know that they are unhappy. Niman points out that many of the crated pigs "exhibit behavior characteristic of humans with severe depression or mental illness." Judge Richard Posner, on the other hand, finds that moral intuition says that "it is wrong to give as much weight to a dog's pain as to an infant's pain."

While there is a substantial portion of the population that thinks Singer is on crack (especially in regard to his views on abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia), I think that we may naturally support his view when faced with the reality of what we are doing. While it is easy to rationalize and say that these animals are simply meat to be put on our plates, I think that that ease has less to do with the fact that they are animals and has more to do with the fact that few, if any, of us ever sees how these animals actually live. We don't have to see the pigs living in a warehouse filled with the stench of their own feces. We don't really think about the fact that millions of male chicks are thrown away upon birth, or that their female counterparts have their beaks cut off with a hot knife and are then thrust into cages so overcrowded that corpses routinely remain unobserved. And because we don't have to deal with that, we're shielded from the visceral consequences of what we do. It's the same sort of shielding that lets people write incredibly nasty messages/e-mails/flames that they would never be able to deliver in person.

I don't consider myself to be an animal rights advocate. Certainly, on the list of global problems that I would fix, it's nowhere even close to the top. And as a mostly carnivorous omnivore, I'm certainly very complicit in the very activity that I'm drawing attention to right now.
However, I do think that if I were to create a bucket of "right" and "wrong," with the former consisting of feeding starving children and the latter of kicking puppies, this would definitely go into the "wrong" bucket.

Shout out to my friends

After college, some of us do things that don't readily lend themselves to conversation. For instance, were any of you to ask me what I'm up to these days, I would tell you that I've been hanging out at the office until around 10 or 11 each day, trying to forecast profits for financial product X, the workings of which would surely be of little interest to any of you. I could certainly talk the job up a lot - from a bird's eye view, it's actually sounds kind of interesting - but that wouldn't tell you anything about what's actually going on in my life.

My friend AKA Media System does not seem to have that problem. Several months ago, he dropped his job in New York and shipped out to Boston. Now, he's "questionably leading" a team at Ambient Devices. More importantly, he's doing his own stuff on his own time and is getting crazy-looking pictures put up in blogs.

If you don't follow the link, it basically discusses how he took a pair of giant green Hulk hands (i.e. big-ass gloves that make threatening Hulk noises when you punch something), soldered a bunch of wires and got them to work as inputs for his drum machines (I've doubtlessly mangled the description, but you get the idea). Other things that he's re-wired include a Boo-bah (which unfortunately had its head ripped off in the process) and a toy cake.

Anyway, my point is this. He's doing something that he enjoys on his own time. I'm envious.


You've got to hand it to conservatives. They really know how to take initiative when people don't agree with them. These initiatives, depending on your perspective, can either be revelatory or completely hysterical.

The latest and greatest comes in the form of the Conservapedia, the conservative response to the "increasingly anti-Christian and anti-American" bias of Wikipedia - which is apparently "six times more liberal than the American public." I am incredibly curious as to how you quantify liberalism.

In order to justify its existence, Conservapedia cites a "growing list of examples" that purport to show Wikipedia's clear liberal bias. These include the following:

4. Wikipedia's entry on abortion reads like a brochure for the abortion industry.
5. Initially a Wikipedia admin named "Nearly Headless Nick" deleted, without explaining his decision, an entry about Conservapedia... Wikipedia's entry is filled with obvious bias, numerous errors, out-of-date citations, and self-serving false statements.
9. Wikipedia often uses foreign spelling of words, even though most English-speaking users are American. Within entries British spellings appear in the silliest of places, even when the topic is American. Conservapedia favors American spellings of words.
15. Wikipedia claims about 1.5 million articles, but what it does not say is that a large number of those articles have zero educational value. For example, Wikipedia has 1075 separate articles about "Moby" and "song". Many hundreds of thousands of Wikipedia articles -- perhaps over half its website -- are about music, Hollywood, and other topics beneath a regular encyclopedia. This reflects a bias towards popular gossip rather than helpful or enlightening information.

If you are wondering about the educational value that you might find in a Conservapedia article, take a look at this discussion of the kangaroo's origins:

"According to the origins model used by creation scientists, modern kangaroos, like all modern animals, originated in the Middle East[1] and are the descendants of the two founding members of the modern kangaroo baramin that were taken aboard Noah's Ark prior to the Great Flood. It has not yet been determined by baraminologists whether kangaroos form a holobaramin with the wallaby, tree-kangaroo, wallaroo, pademelon and quokka, or if all these species are in fact apobaraminic or polybaraminic.

Also according to creation science, after the Flood, kangaroos bred from the Ark passengers migrated to Australia. There is debate whether this migration happened over land[2] -- as Australia was still for a time connected to the Middle East before the supercontinent of Pangea broke apart[3] -- or if they rafted on mats of vegetation torn up by the receding flood waters[2]. A recent theory is that the Kangaroos floated on corks rather than vegetation[2]. Evidence for this theory was produced in the late 18th century during early exploration of central Australia when a large cache of cork was found near modern day Woolumbinda in south western Queensland. The lack of oak trees, from where cork is obtained, throughout the entire continent further reinforces this theory. Early settlers and explorers alike quickly used the cork to create the fly proof hats associated with the area."

Their article on Fox News is also interesting:

"Fox News was started in 1996 in response to the other cable news channels which all had obvious liberal biases. Because of this, Rupert Murdoch decided to start a real new channel which would tell the truth. The success of Fox news over every other news channel is because it is fair and balanced. [1] It has many people on it who work to spread truth such as Sean Hannity who is a great American. [2]. Fox News is best because instead of just telling you what to think, they only report the news unbiased and then allow the viewer to decide. [3].

In 2005 the White House selected Tony Snow from Fox News to be the new White House press secretary which was a great honor for Fox because it showed how well it was presenting the real truth instead of the fake liberal version. [4]"

I could go on. But really, the best thing to do is to go over there and read a few articles for yourself.

For a good write-up of Conservapedia, check out jonswift.

[Link via arstechnica]

So, so sad

An editorial from the NYTimes tells me that today's kids are stupider than they were over a decade ago. Standardized testing apparently shows that only 35% of today's 12th graders are proficient at reading, 23% at math. I'm sure that these kids are proficient at a lot of other things that aren't being captured by these tests. But it doesn't matter! Because if you can't read or do math, then you're pretty much screwed going forward.

This actually has profound implications for our country. Supposing that future generations are all this stupid, than I'm going to have to seriously question their ability to accurately pick out a good Gubernatorial/Congressional/Presidential candidate. Instead, they're probably going to gravitate to the type of people that they would have picked to be high school class president. While those people were sometimes highly qualified, other times, they got the position just because they were popular.

Of course, this assumes that the current population is actually intelligent. Fox's new television show, "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?" provides strong (if anecdotal) evidence to the contrary. The name of the show is actually a bit misleading - as far as I can tell, the (fake) 5th graders are actually on the same team as the contestant. That said, everything else is about what you'd expect. It's a trivia show where they ask you questions that you should have learned sometime in grade school (some of it in middle school, depending on your school board).

I will readily admit that the show is not as straightforward as it seems. A lot of it is trivia that doesn't necessarily carry forward, e.g. "What constellation is the Big Dipper in?," and "What is the largest species of bear?" But many of the other questions are incredibly easy. Such questions include, "How many E's are there in the phrase, 'Pledge of allegiance?'" and "What country has the longest border along the United States?" Sadly enough, the contestant answering the first question (who went to college and got a GPA of 3.3) required multiple hints from the host. The contestant answering the second question said, "Mexico" because she'd heard a lot about that border.

The cynical, asshole-ish part of me wants to be in the audience, so I can mercilessly heckle these people. At first, I thought that this was an incredibly petty/snotty thing to want. But then I realized that the "5th graders" were actually thinking the same thing. In fact, if you watch footage of them, they are frequently laughing at the contestants, or blatantly rolling their eyes at their blatant stupidity.

The part of me that's not an asshole just wants to get on the show, so I can win a million dollars.


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