Posts Tagged ‘vivisection’

The Men Who Stare At Hug Goats

Monday, January 4th, 2010 by

null

Crossposted from V for Vegan.

Caution: Major spoilers ahead.

While The Men Who Stare at Goats is by no means an animal rights or overtly anti-vivisection movie, it does (happily!) have a few animal-friendly moments.

Based on a 2004 book of the same name by journalist Jon Ronson, the film is a dramatized account of Ronson’s investigation into “psychic” warfare experiments conducted by the U.S. military in the ’70s and ’80s. Ostensibly a story for the skeptic set (indeed, that’s why the husband and I saw it in the theater), the film also at turns sentimentalizes the “free love,” hippie sensibilities and mysticism of the ’60s and ’70s. (Indeed, it concludes on a disappointingly “anything is possible if you believe” note.)

Anyhow, along with all the “flower power” comes not a little tree- and animal-hugging. Goat-hugging, to be more specific: because the army’s more “practical” experiments involve trauma training carried out on live animals, the medical school’s in-house goats also play a role in the aforementioned psychic experimentation – the purposes of which isn’t nearly as sadistic as the trailers let on.

Lest I get ahead of myself, here’s a brief synopsis, via Wiki:

The film follows Ann Arbor Daily Telegram reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), who one day interviews Gus Lacey, a man who claims to have psychic abilities. Bob shrugs Lacey off as crazy. Soon after, Bob’s wife leaves him for his one-armed editor. Bob, out of anger, flies to Kuwait to investigate the Iraq War. However, he stumbles onto the story of a lifetime when he meets Special Forces operator, Lyn Cassady (George Clooney). Lyn reveals that he was part of an American army unit training psychic spies (or “Jedi Warriors”), trained to develop a range of parapsychological skills including invisibility, remote viewing, cloud bursting, walking through walls, and intuition.

The founder of this unit, Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), traveled across America in the 1970s for six years exploring a range of New Age movements (including the Human potential movement), because of a vision he received after getting shot during the Vietnam War, and used these experiences to found the New Earth Army. In the 1980s, two of Django’s best recruits were Lyn Cassady and Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey), who developed a lifelong rivalry because of their opposing views of how to implement the New Earth Army philosophy; Lyn wanted to emphasize the positive side of the teachings, whereas Larry was more interested in the dark side of the philosophy.

In the early 2000s Bob and Lyn embark on a new mission in Iraq, where they are kidnapped by a criminal gang. They escape with fellow kidnapping victim Mahmud Daash (Waleed Zuaiter) and get rescued by a private security firm led by Todd Nixon (Robert Patrick), but get caught up in a firefight between Todd’s security firm and a rival security firm; this would later be known as the “Battle of Ramadi.” Mahmud, Bob and Lyn escape from the firefight and go to Mahmud’s house, which has been shot up by soldiers. From there Bob and Lyn leave to continue on Lyn’s vague mission involving a vision he had of Bill Django.

Here it’s worth noting that Cassady recounts the story of Django and the New Earth Army as his Iraqi adventure with Wilton unfolds in parallel. Both tales begin on a light, humorous note, eventually taking turns for the worse. While the trailers and media interviews done in promotion of the movie tend to emphasize the New Earth Army’s more nefarious projects, Django began the program with the best of intentions: namely, achieving world peace through love and understanding. A laudable goal, to be sure – even if its implementation proved somewhat ridiculous.

However, Hooper eventually betrays Django, assuming control of the New Earth Army in order to corrupt it. (Think of Django as Obi-Wan Kenobi to Cassady’s Luke Sywalker and Hooper’s Darth Vader.) The peace, love and understanding of Django’s ’60s and ’70s give way to the greed, militarization and subjugation of – what? The Reagen ’80s? The Clinton ’90s? The Bush ’00s? All of the above? Take your pick! (The Men Who Stare at Goats is, if not anti-war, at least anti-torture.)

(More…)

Bob Woodruff on boiling humans.

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009 by

Crossposted from V for Vegan.

Journalist Bob Woodruff made an appearance on The Daily Show last night in order to promote his latest project, Earth 2100:
 

 

I find it interesting that Stewart and Woodruff open the discussion with a clip of Earth 2100 that invokes the anecdote of the frog submerged in a pot of boiling water: namely, if you put a frog in a pot of water that’s already boiling, she’ll jump right out, having sensed the heat and danger. But if you place her in a pot of cold or lukewarm water and gradually raise the temperature, she’s none the wiser, and will remain in the deathtrap until she becomes frog soup. In this metaphor, humans are the frogs, and the pot is earth.

Which is all fine and good, except according to Snopes, this is a folk tale:

Like a fable, the “boiled frog” anecdote serves its purpose whether or not it’s based upon something that is literally true. But it is literally true? Not according to Dr. Victor Hutchison, a Research Professor Emeritus from the University of Oklahoma’s Department of Zoology, whose research interests include “the physiological ecology of thermal relations of amphibians and reptiles to include determinations of the factors which influence lethal temperatures, critical thermal maxima and minima, thermal selection, and thermoregulatory behavior”:

“The legend is entirely incorrect! The ‘critical thermal maxima’ of many species of frogs have been determined by several investigators. In this procedure, the water in which a frog is submerged is heated gradually at about 2 degrees Fahrenheit per minute. As the temperature of the water is gradually increased, the frog will eventually become more and more active in attempts to escape the heated water. If the container size and opening allow the frog to jump out, it will do so.”

The “boiled frog” legend is a ubiquitous one – one that, given its falsehood, is both speciesist and completely inappropriate for what I assume is supposed to be a scientific documentary. The latter point is a given, but allow me to explain the former: central to the anecdote’s premise is the idea that a frog is so utterly stupid that, given subtle but entirely discernible cues, “it” would remain oblivious to the increasing danger and allow “itself” to be boiled alive. “Let’s not be like those lesser animals!” the tale cautions. Except. In denying climate change and poo-pooing slight increases in average global temperatures as “insignificant,” the human species is actually exhibiting less sense than Dog gave a frog. The frog isn’t earth’s complacent village idiot – we are.

Also of note: Jon alludes to the presumed vivisection which led to the “discovery” that frogs might allow themselves to be boiled alive, given the right circumstances. Both Stewart and Woodruff appear to think that such gruesome experiments probably took place years ago, in the distant past. Except.

“The legend is entirely incorrect! The ‘critical thermal maxima’ of many species of frogs have been determined by several investigators. In this procedure, the water in which a frog is submerged is heated gradually at about 2 degrees Fahrenheit per minute. As the temperature of the water is gradually increased, the frog will eventually become more and more active in attempts to escape the heated water. If the container size and opening allow the frog to jump out, it will do so.”

While I can’t locate citations for these experiments, Wiki suggests that they’re more recent debunkings of “research” performed in the late 1800s (“research” on which the legend is apparently based).

So, yeah, we boil frogs alive – or attempt to, anyway. And that’s not even the worst of it.

Anyhow, back to Earth 2100.

(More…)

From animal liberator to animal hunter: Life and death in the Dollhouse.

Friday, April 10th, 2009 by

Crossposted from V for Vegan.

null

Caution: Spoilers ahead! (More specifically, after the blockquote.)

Firstly, I’m extremely happy to report that, as promised by Ms. Dushku, Dollhouse has improved by leaps and bounds since last I blogged about it. Not only have we gotten to know Echo – our hero – a bit better, but more importantly, the show has addressed “the consent issue” head-on.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For those who haven’t seen the show, here’s a brief summary via Wiki:

Eliza Dushku plays a young woman called Echo, a member of a group of people known as “Actives” or “Dolls”. The Dolls have had their personalities wiped clean so they can be imprinted with any number of new personas, including memory, muscle memory, skills, and language, for different assignments (referred to as engagements). The new persona is not an original creation, however, but an amalgam of different, existing personalities. The end result incorporates some of the flaws, not just the strengths, of the people used as templates. The Actives are then hired out for particular jobs – crimes, fantasies, and the occasional good deed. On engagements, Actives are monitored internally (and remotely) by Handlers. In between tasks, they are mind-wiped into a child-like state and live in a futuristic dormitory/laboratory, a hidden facility nicknamed “The Dollhouse”. The story follows Echo, who begins, in her mind-wiped state, to become self-aware.

As I noted before, the Dolls’ lack of agency in both their “wiped” and “programmed” states makes it impossible for them to give meaningful consent – for any of their actions, including sexual relations. When a doll “has sex,” she (or he) is actually being raped. Usually the rapist knows full well that he (or she) is “having sex” with a programmable “doll” – so it’s rape with intent. Occasionally, however, the “doll” is sent on a covert/undercover mission – for example, to seduce a certain FBI agent – and sex becomes a tool she (or he) uses to that end. Such cases still constitute rape, but…well, it’s hard to say who the rapist is when the “doll’s” partner believes that the encounter is consensual. The Rossum Corporation, perhaps?

(More…)

Veg*nism & Pop Culture: Animal Rights Terra-ists on The Mentalist

Saturday, December 20th, 2008 by

Crossposted from V for Vegan.

null

Proceed with caution: Spoilers galore!

Ten episodes in, and already The Mentalist has jumped on the animal rights terra-ism bandwagon.

Let me preface this by saying that I’m addicted to cop tv: The X-Files, CSI, NCIS, Law & Order, Criminal Intent, Life, NYPD Blue – I just love ’em. And my love runs extra-deep for the serialized cop drama/mystery/thrillers with a season/series-long story arc. Throw in a lead character who just so happens to be an atheist, and I’m hooked. Hello, The Mentalist!

That said, the latest installment (Season 1, Episode 10: Red Brick and Ivy) just wasn’t up to snuff.

The plot line is all too familiar: a scientist who experiments on non-human animals is murdered; the prerequisite, SHAC-like animal rights group which has been “terrorizing” said scientist (or said scientist’s university/lab/company/employer) for months is suspect numero uno. Cue the crazy!

In The Mentalist, the scientist in question is an up-and-coming neuroscientist who, along with his colleagues, has been conducting invasive research on animals (most notably, chimpanzees – unfortunately, a baby chimp does have a role in the episode) in order to locate the structures in the human brain which govern morality. The end goal? Finding a way to manipulate these structures and thus, magically, turn all of humanity into moral beings. Whatever that means.

(More…)

Veg*nism & Pop Culture: The Green Scare Comes to Life

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008 by

Crossposted from V for Vegan.

Major spoiler warning, people!

null

I’ve been meaning to blog about a recent episode of Life for weeks now. If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s a kind of cop drama, in which individual cases are presented against the backdrop of a conspiracy-theory story arc which spans the series. Think The X-Files, Alias, Lost or The Mentalist – if you enjoy any of these, you’ll probably *heart* Life, too.

Season 2, Episode 3 of Life, “The Business of Miracles,” involves the murder of a cancer researcher. The main suspects, naturally, are a group of SHAC-like animal rights activists of the anti-vivisection variety. It’s been a few weeks since I watched this ep, so rather than try to offer a plot summary, here’s TV Recap with their recap:

Dr. Auerbach was a scientist who was testing cancer drugs on animals. So his death naturally occurs in the lab and on the window is written, “animal testing is murder.” Something not so natural about his death: He was frozen to death because some one switched his oxygen tank with a liquid nitrogen tank. But who could have done it? Maybe it was the group, BAT [Ban Animal Torture], that has sent Dr. Auerbach death threats?

[The group’s moniker, “BAT,” was also graffitied on the wall of Hurback’s lab. About as subtle as leaving an ELF calling card at the scene of a torched, insured, unsold McMansion, no?]

According to the group’s leader, Betsy, they wouldn’t hurt any soul, even one like Dr. Auerbach’s. She seems sweet enough. She even tells the other member to be quiet when he says it’s good the doctor is dead. So if it wasn’t her, maybe it was the assistant who seems too concerned with the results of the test. Or maybe the janitor? Or the company’s owner? Hmm. I can’t decide, and neither can Crews [Damian Lewis] and Reese [Sarah Shahi] so they do a little more digging and come up with…Betsy, the leader of Ban and the good doctor’s former assistant who left because they were having an affair. Say what?

I know, it’s a crazy little twist but it turns out that Betsy’s real name is Deborah and she and Dr. Auerbach never stopped their affair. And while it seems she has the perfect motive of conflicted emotions, she also has a videotaped alibi. So then Crews and Reese move on to the janitor, who originally said he saw Betsy at the lab that day. Turns out the janitor is stealing pills from the study and selling them. Or so it looks when he gives the box of pills to a woman on a park bench in return for an envelope full of…pictures? When Crews and Reese dig a little deeper they find the janitor’s son has cancer and the pills have been working for him and the woman is his ex-wife. I guess he has a good motive, too. And more importantly, he confesses to the murder. But something isn’t right. Along with the dead doctor, there were lots of dead lab rats. The only dead rats, though, were rats with red tags so why would only those rats be dead and who would want to kill them?

With the help of then now cleared ex-assistant, Crews and Reese learn that the red tagged rats were the control rats and you would want those to be gone if you didn’t want other people to know the experiment was a failure. And who would want that? Yup, the new assistant. Turns out she knew the janitor was stealing pills and blackmailed him. But he wasn’t such a moron that he didn’t have evidence damning her. He had a formula she wrote computing how much liquid nitrogen it would take to kill a man the doctor’s size. So the dedicated assistant killed the doctor after all. She had spent seven years working with him and now her career would be over because the drug was a failure. It was only helping the janitor’s son because he had an extremely rare form of cancer. It wouldn’t work on the mainstream cases. Guess that liar is busted.

Unlike many other cop dramas (the Law & Order franchise, if I recall, has featured its fair share of guilty, stereotyped animal rights extremists), Life doesn’t simply pin the crime on the “obvious suspects” and move on. Rather than get swept up in the Green Scare, Detectives Crews and Reese follow the evidence…which leads them away from the “bad”/”misanthropic” animal rights activists and toward the “good”/”altruistic” cancer researchers.

(More…)