Archive: May 2009

The History Channel makes the case for VHEMT.

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009 by

Crossposted from V for Vegan.

The History Channel - Life After People

Last January, The History Channel aired Life After People, a one-part documentary that imagined what a world suddenly absent humans might look like:

In the program, scientists and other experts speculate about how the Earth, animal life, and plant life might be like if, suddenly, humanity no longer existed, as well as the effect humanity’s disappearance might have on the artificial aspects of civilization. Speculation is based upon documented results of the sudden removal of humans from a geographical area and the possible results that would occur if humanity discontinues its maintenance of buildings and urban infrastructure.

The documentary features the gradual and post-apocalyptic disintegration of urban civilization in a time span of 10,000 years after humanity suddenly vanished. The hypotheses are depicted using CGI dramatizations of the possible fate of iconic structures and landmarks (i.e. the Empire State Building, the Sears Tower, the Space Needle, the Eiffel Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Hoover Dam).

Having just received Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us for FSMas, I was super-psyched about the documentary (which aired as part of a block of similar programming, such as Last Days on Earth) – and Life After People did not disappoint. The graphics were amazing, and the time projections – from 1 to 10 days after our disappearance, to 1 to 10,000 years post-h. sapiens – were quite impressive. Perhaps most importantly, and much like The World Without Us, Life After People gave me great hope for the future – or rather, for a future without us. Many of humanity’s so-called “greatest achievements” will prove a small match for the forces of nature, particularly once we’re no longer around to beat nature back. Those species which we haven’t yet driven to extinction will be given a second chance, and the earth will regenerate, reclaiming the land and resources we’ve stolen from it.

As I wrote in a review of The World Without Us,

Environmentalists – indeed, any person [with a] modicum of decency – will be happy to know that much of what we’ve done to the Earth, can be quickly undone. With the exception of those species we’ve already managed to eradicate, many endangered and threatened animal species do stand a fighting chance in a world without us. Many of our “greatest accomplishments,” from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Hoover Dam, will eventually crumble without humans around to maintain them. Forests, grasslands, and jungles will recover lost ground, though native species will be forced into competition with exotic ones introduced by humans. Global warming will slow and the ozone layer will regain molecular equilibrium. Our most enduring legacies will be our most unnatural creations: nuclear waste, plastics, and petrochemicals. Hopefully a world without us will evolve microbes to digest the more than one billion pounds of plastic we’ve dumped into the environment since the late ‘50s. […]

Whether it happens tomorrow or in 900 million years – when our Sun enters a red giant phase and begins to expand and contract, thus heating the Earth and evaporating our surface water – we will disappear. In this regard, we’re no better than the great megafauna of the Holocene epoch – or the lowly cockroaches and rodents that congregate in our fragile urban areas. It’s not a question of if we will vanish, but when; perhaps we should make our exit a graceful one, taking no more of our fellow earthlings to the grave than we already have.

Call me a hopeless cynic if you’d like, but it’s worth noting that Life After People was the History Channel’s most-watched program ever, with an estimated 5.4 million viewers. Something resonated.

Anyhow, while flipping around the teevee this morning, I was happily surprised to stumble upon Episode 2 of Life After People: The Series. Apparently last year’s documentary proved so popular that the History Channel commissioned a 10-part mini-series:

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The Colbert Bump (Now with Tofurky!)

Monday, May 25th, 2009 by

Crossposted from V for Vegan.

At the risk of making this blog a shrine to Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, DFA, allow me to follow up yesterday’s otherworldly thought experiment with yet another clip from The Colbert Report.

Last month, Colbert interviewed Kanishk Tharoor, son of “Friend of the Show” Shashi Tharoor, who was at the time running for an MP spot in India’s General Elections.

Stephen endorsed Tharoor the elder thusly:

Colbert: Now, your dad, Friend of the Show Shashi Tharoor, is running for position as an MP in Kerala, correct? OK, let’s move his numbers right now. I can’t endorse in this country, but I can in India. I hereby endorse Shashi Tharoor. He will put a chicken in every pot. Or – at least – at least – a chicken in every tandoor.

Tharoor: I’m afraid he’s not going to do anything of the sort. He – like me – is a vegetarian. So it’s not very likely that he’s going to do anything like that.

Colbert: Then he’ll put a vegetable korma in…whatever you wish to eat it out of.

At the time, I noted:

What’s so beautiful about this brief exchange is how Tharoor so casually dismantles Colbert’s preconceptions about Indian dietary preferences. Like most Americans, probably, Colbert “naturally” assumes that people the world over do things the American way – or aspire to, anyway – including slaughtering sentient beings by the billions for no reason other than convenience and selfishness. Even though, at +/- 30%, India has “the highest rate of vegetarians for any country worldwide,” Colbert just assumes that Indians want nothing more than plates filled to overflowing with animal corpses. As Tharoor points out, not so much. Colbert normally strikes me as someone who does his research (or has his writers and interns do his research), which makes this particular flub all the more interesting.

A few readers noted that “a chicken in every tandoor” is a play on the political slogan “a chicken in every pot,” a point not lost on me (though I suppose I could have conveyed it better in the post). Even so, I argued, since Stephen was spinning the phrase in order to make it more relevant to Indian culture, he could have spun it further: instead of “a chicken in every tandoor,” “a pound of tofu in every tandoor.” Given India’s high rate of vegetarianism, ‘twould be the odd politician who promises to put animal flesh on the plate of every Indian, methinks.

Anyhow, Stephen offered an update on Thursday’s show; despite steep odds, Shashi Tharoor

defeated his nearest CPI rival P. Ramachandran Nair by a margin of around 100,000 votes when the results were announced on 16 May, 2009.

Tharoor’s victory, of course, being due in no small part to The Colbert Bump.
 

 
During the segment, Stephen replayed his endorsement of Tharoor:

I hereby endorse Shashi Tharoor. He will put a chicken in every pot. Or – at least – at least – a chicken in every tandoor.

which he interrupted thusly:

Of course, since many of his constituents are vegetarian, he could promise a Tofurky in every tandoorky.

I feel like a totally deranged egotist in saying this, but…could that possibly have been directed at me?! Does one of The Colbert Report writers frequent my humble blog?! ZOMG, could it be the Sonic guy?!

Nah, I don’t think so, either. Either way, I love it.

Bonus AR goodness:

[Stephen, on Tharoor’s candidacy:] I was so excited to have a horse in the Indian Parliamentary race. Especially since this one was so much better than my pick for the Preakness, “Headed for Alpo.”

Is it just me, or has there been an uptick in disparaging, anti-horse racing / horse meat jokes on tv as of late?

Videos included in this post

The Colbert Report – Thursday, May 21, 2009 – Naan-Partisan
Stephen calls Shashi Tharoor to congratulate him on getting the Colbert Bump. (04:01)

The “right” to guzzle gas.

Thursday, May 21st, 2009 by

Crossposted from V for Vegan.

Tom Coburn is fast becoming my pick for Douchebag of the Week.

See, for example, minute 2:30 of this Daily Show clip:
 

 
Coburn’s complaints re: CAFE standards: “What if you want to drive a gas hog? You don’t have the right any longer in this country to spend your money to drive a gas hog?”

Yes! And should I be struck with the desire to toss a barrel of arsenic in my pond, who is the government to tell me I can’t? It’s MY arsenic and MY pond, goddammit, and my grandfather fought and died in WWII so that AMERICA THE FREE would remain FREE from this sort of BIG GOVERNMENT FASCISM.

What’s better/worse, Coburn defends the “right” of individuals to pollute and consume to excess while also working to strip women of the right to bodily autonomy and privacy. He opposes abortion even in cases of rape and supports the death penalty for medical doctors who perform abortions. (Nor does he care to reduce the need for abortion by increasing the availability of and access to contraception.)

In Tom Coburn’s mind, a person has a greater “right” to decide what car to drive, than a person woman* has to decide whether or not she will lend her body and organs to another being – a potential being, which in its early stages exists as a tiny clump of cells – for nine months.

Car purchase > Bodily integrity

Seriously, what a douche.

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They’re made out of…meat.

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009 by

Crossposted from V for Vegan.

Mylène @ My Face Is On Fire recently wrote about scifi author Terry Bisson’s 1991 short story “They’re Made Out of Meat,” which she noted, “provides an interesting twist on how most humans view animals.”

Wiki’s entry is on the story is rather short (but then, so’s the story!) – and contains spoilers – so if you’d rather be surprised, skip right on down to the video and press play before reading further. The running time is 7 1/2 minutes, but it’s worth every second.

They’re Made Out of Meat is a Nebula Award-nominated short story by Terry Bisson. It was originally published in OMNI. It consists entirely of dialogue between two characters, and Bisson’s website hosts a theatrical adaptation. A film adaptation won the Grand Prize at the Seattle Science Fiction Museum’s 2006 film festival.

(The aforementioned award-winning short is what I’ve embedded below.)

The two characters are sentient beings capable of traveling faster than light, on a mission to “contact, welcome and log in any and all sentient races or multibeings in this quadrant of the Universe.” Bisson’s stage directions represent them as “two lights moving like fireflies among the stars” on a projection screen. They converse briefly on their bizarre discovery of carbon-based life, which they refer to incredulously as “thinking meat.” They agree to “erase the records and forget the whole thing,” marking the Solar System “unoccupied.”

Interestingly, the only link listed under “See also” is “Carbon chauvinism“:

Carbon chauvinism is a relatively new term meant to disparage the assumption that extraterrestrial life will resemble life on Earth. In particular, it would be applied to those who assume that the molecules responsible for the chemical processes of life must be constructed primarily from carbon. It suggests that, as carbon-based life forms who have never encountered any life that has evolved outside the earth’s environment, human beings may find it difficult to envision radically different biochemistries. The term was used as early as 1973, when Carl Sagan described it and other human chauvinisms that limit imagination of possible extraterrestrial life in his Cosmic Connection.

From there, you can go to “Anthropocentrism,” “Chauvinism,” “Chemical evolution,” “Carbon-based life,” and “They’re Made Out of Meat.”

I always found our humanoid conceptions of aliens life forms to be unreal and egotistical, but never considered it a form of prejudice. But yeah, “carbon chauvinism” (carbonism?) sounds about right. How fitting, then, that “anthropocentrism” (which links to “speciesism”) is referenced in the entry.

Anyhow, this short adaptation of “They’re Made Out of Meat” is really well done, and – if you’re so predisposed (read: intellectually honest) – the themes can equally be applied to our treatment of non-human animals.

See also: Damon Knight’s “To Serve Man.”
 


 
If you can’t view the video above – or, if you can but would like to read the story as well – it’s available in multiple places online; Google “They’re Made Out of Meat” or try this link, for starters.

Many thanks to Mylène for the video!