Thursday, June 28, 2012

Bullfighting, a tradition of torture

Any sport that involves using animals, whether they are killed or not, is best avoided. It is, once again, our arrogant side, our side that doesn’t really care for or respect other animals, that makes us feel that since we are able to make them participate in sporting events for our pleasure, we should. Bullfighting and other blood sports which involve animals being hurt or killed are highly unethical activities that should be relegated to the past.

Defenders of this tradition give many reasons why it is acceptable. Some believe that we are humanizing the bull too much, that it’s just an animal and that we, as humans, have the right to impose our will on animals. This is an archaic belief, based on a lack of compassion for the evident suffering that an animal feels in situations such as this. The fact that an animal is not as intelligent as we are does not give us the right to exploit and abuse it. We should strive to be caregivers of animals such as these, not their executioners. A bull is a sentient being, one that feels pain and suffering. Acknowledging and respecting this is the correct approach.

Another reason that defenders give is that bullfighting represents a fair fight between the bull and the matador. The matador has as much of a chance to win as the bull. This is not true. The “contest” is organized according to our rules, in our arenas, with humans controlling all the elements of the fight. The bulls are often drugged, parts of their horns are sawed or chiseled off, and other modifications to their bodies are made in order to make them less dangerous. Thus, the fight is far from fair. Supporters of bullfighting often say that if it were not for the sport, the beautiful bulls used in bullfighting, the “toros de lidia”, would die off. Ethically speaking, this logic is obviously flawed. If one truly respects and admires an animal, one does not encourage its torture and killing in the name of sport. This is just common sense. The bull in question exists in greater numbers because of the existence of bullfighting, true, but the majority of these bulls face the prospect of being slowly tortured to death in the arenas of Spain, France, and parts of Latin America. There is no reason for these animals to “die off completely” without bullfighting. The only thing that would die off is the prospect of torture and death. When bullfighting is relegated to the past, as it has been in several places around the world, the beautiful creatures can be raised in controlled areas, on a much smaller scale, and can truly be admired for the majestic animals that they are.

Bullfighting is a long-standing tradition in many parts of the world. In Spain, southern France, and some other countries, one of the main arguments in favor of bullfighting is that it is an important part of the local culture and that, subsequently, getting rid of it would mean losing a big part of this culture. Bullfighting is, indeed, a big part of Spanish culture, and, on a lesser scale, a part of other cultures as well. The important thing to remember here is that a tradition that’s based on cruelty is not a tradition worth keeping, no matter how long it has been around. Historically speaking, there have been many traditions that have encouraged violence, suffering, and death, that are no longer with us because the culture where they occurred progressed to a level where it was no longer seen as acceptable. It’s time that countries like Spain recognize that the cruel violence present in bullfighting has no place in our modern times, and take steps to ban this blood sport. Besides, the countries where bullfighting occurs have so many other strong, cruelty-free traditions on which to focus (football, anyone?), that it wouldn’t be missed.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The complicated side of helping

It isn’t always clear when we should actively reach out to help an animal, and when we should leave an animal (or a group of animals) alone. Even people with the best intentions sometimes choose a course of action that has the opposite effect to what they expected. On one side, we, as humans, as an intellectually advanced species, should use our intellect to help animals, to improve their lives, to be caregivers whenever the situation calls for it. We should also be aware of certain situations that might not be completely clear, situations in which it is best to leave an animal alone, or one in which it is debatable whether or not we are, indeed, helping, or whether we are interfering and, in some cases, actually causing more harm than good. If we’re walking through a forest, or any other place where a natural ecosystem exists, we should avoid interfering, even if we don’t like what we see. Sometimes nature can be cruel, but this is its way of balancing out population levels. In most cases such as this, we will cause more harm than good, and by "helping", we might be actually disrupting the balance, something that could eventually lead to even more suffering and death. Having said that, it is important to remember that this is a guideline, not a hard-set rule. For example, if you see an injured bird while taking a hike in the woods, you shouldn’t just leave it. Helping that animal (if possible) would be a positive thing.

In cities and in other places where we share a common habitat with other animals, it is more acceptable (and often necessary) to help them, because they depend on us for help. Stray dogs or cats, for example, while able to survive on the streets, often have miserable lives filled with fear, pain, and hunger. Adopting such an animal and giving him a loving home is, in most cases, a good thing. That said, too much of a good thing can sometimes be a bad thing. Someone who takes in 10 such animals, and lives in a one room apartment, for example, might have a hard time dealing with certain issues of hygiene and health (both the animals’ and their own), not to mention financial issues, such as not being able to afford pet food, vet bills, etc. The harder it becomes to keep the above-mentioned elements under control, the worse the quality of life for the animals, which may lead some (if not many) of them to become ill and die. Thus it becomes obvious that there comes a point when one’s idea of helping can indeed become hurting. Once again, there are no clear-cut rules as to when that happens, but you should always make sure you aren't overextending yourself when trying to help. Always make sure that the animals under your care are well fed, healthy, have enough room to live in, and receive the proper amount of attention before taking in any more pets.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you should avoid helping one type of animal at the expense of another. You may, for example, love birds and take steps to ensure a healthy, safe environment for them, but you shouldn’t poison the neighborhood cats in order to make this happen. This would more than negate the good that you’re doing for the birds. In this particular case, if you feel that the cats should be prevented from attacking the birds, the "preventative measures" you take should be to ensure that the cats don't have access to the birds by building barriers, etc., not by hurting the cats.

What about killing fleas, ticks, and other insects? Isn’t that helping one type of animal at the expense of another? Yes and no. The thing to remember here is that fleas, ticks, and other such creatures are parasites, and the nature of their existence is to live off other creatures, often weakening them, - if not eliminated, their presence on your dog or cat may very well lead your animal becoming ill and dying. Infestation can be dangerous, and sometimes these cases can only be dealt with by killing the parasites. If faced with such a case, you should ask yourself whether or not there is a real threat to your or your animals' health (or home). You should also do your best to find out if you can first resolve the problem without killing before pursuing that course of action.

Two other issues relating to whether or not we should let the "natural way of things" prevail deal with the sterilization and euthanasia of animals, especially pets. Despite some critics calling the method unnatural, spaying and neutering our cats and dogs is the way to go. This is one of those things where, in fact, humans do know best, and should not allow our pets’ instincts to prevail. Apart from being healthier for our pets both physically and mentally, sterilization ensures that there are less unwanted pregnancies, less overpopulation, less strays on the street, and hence less suffering and death. When it comes to euthanasia, it should be done as a last resort, to ensure that a sick animal does not suffer. This is a very difficult decision, especially for someone who loves a particular animal, but sometimes it is a better option than allowing that animal to suffer. Euthanasia should never be used as a method of population control, or a method of keeping numbers in shelters down. While this is common practice in some parts of the world, shelters where animals are killed should be replaced with no-kill shelters, where healthy animals are allowed to live out their lives if they are not adopted.

These are just some of the complicated issues dealing with helping animals. There are many more, involving countless hypothetical scenarios that may or may not be easy to deal with. It’s not always easy to tell if we’re doing the right thing, and we all end up making mistakes sometimes. If you’re truly committed to helping animals and your heart is in the right place, dealing with most issues in an intuitive way will be fairly easy. Still, by being mindful of whether or not we’re actually helping or whether we’re interfering in a harmful way, we might avoid some of the pitfalls described above.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Friday, June 15, 2012

We need (to avoid) meat

One of the main reasons that people give for not becoming vegetarian is that we, as humans, "need meat". According to this argument, the sheer act of negating our bodies meat is unnatural, and even if it is sad that so many animals have to die for this, this is the way things have to be.

My response to this type of argument has two parts. The first part of the response is a basic disagreement with the premise itself. I believe that eating meat is more of an addiction than a requirement for survival. It is as natural as smoking cigarettes seems natural to a smoker, or drinking alcohol seems to an alcoholic. Of course, because eating meat provides us with sustenance, it is not frowned upon by society, as the other two above-mentioned activities often are, but, in my opinion, the addiction is the same. Detractors will argue that anything that our body needs can be called an "addiction". According to my reasoning, they’ll say, water should not be drunk because we are "addicted" to it. This attempt at a refutation misses the point in that we cannot survive without water, but we can survive without meat. The millions of vegetarians and vegans out there are living proof of that. I am living proof of that. Children who are raised without meat are proof of that. Most vegans (myself included) will tell you that even if you can’t imagine living without meat, eggs, or dairy, and that you regularly have cravings for certain types of food that you just can’t control, it is indeed possible to live without all this. I used to eat a lot of meat, probably more than most people. Right now, I don’t know how much you’d have to pay me to eat it again. I have absolutely no cravings for most kinds of meat. Once in a blue moon I have a minor craving when I smell someone frying chicken, because I used to like eating chicken. I view this as more of a sentimental craving, as my varied vegetarian diet makes up for any nutritional value that the chicken would provide.

This brings us to the second part of the response. Why even fight the cravings? Why fight the so-called addiction, you might ask, if it provides us with sustenance? The reason to not eat meat, the reason to fight the cravings that you have, is to minimize the suffering and death of other living beings on the planet. While there are tons of other good reasons, - health, environmental, etc., - I believe that meat, eggs, and dairy should be avoided primarily because it is simply immoral to have other sentient beings suffer and die to provide sustenance for us when it IS possible to get this sustenance from non-animal based products. So, it becomes a moral issue, and, if you think about it, life is full of these. There are so many things that we do not do, even if we want to, because we know that they are morally wrong. We know that if we do them, others will suffer and die. Many of us have violent tendencies, some stronger, some less so, yet we (hopefully) realize that for the good of the world around us, it is best to keep these tendencies in check. I suggest that we adopt the same approach when we think about eating meat. While it is something that we have been taught is all right, - by our parents, by society, by the media, - it is not all right. It is based on the suffering and death of innocent beings, and this should not be seen as acceptable. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Nutritionally speaking, you can get pretty much everything from a vegetarian/vegan diet than you can from a diet that includes meat.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The killing of stray dogs in Ukraine

As a person who feels empathy for all animals, I sometimes forget that many people out there feel almost no empathy. I recently stumbled across a forum where people were discussing the stray dog problem in Ukraine, and recent reports that thousands of stray dogs were killed in that country in preparation for the Euro 2012 soccer championship. To my surprise, most in the forum supported the killing of the stray dogs, stating, like many apologists do, that these dogs were no more than vermin, feral (and therefore dangerous) creatures that threaten people's health and safety. Many on the forum seemed to have more of a problem with the cruel methods used in killing these animals, and not that they were killed per se. Most posted that although sad, killing these dogs was a necessary thing to do.

Yes, the methods used to kill these dogs were draconian and cruel. Though far from being a "given", many will agree to that. But methods aside, the killing of these dogs, in and of itself, is wrong. First and foremost, from a moral point of view, stray dogs, feral or not, want to live as much as we do, - they are intelligent, innocent, sentient beings. They feel joy, they suffer, they feel pain. The simple fact that someone fails to recognize this shows a disturbing lack of respect for the lives of these dogs. Moreover, the lack of compassion evident in some of the posts is the same lack of compassion responsible for many of the dogs' being on the street in the first place. If people empathized more with these creatures, they would not have abandoned them, and the problem would have been much easier to control. Unfortunately, as is often the case, bad habits led to other bad habits – creating an extremely negative situation. To think that by killing thousands of stray dogs, the problem will go away forever is extremely naive. If people in a certain area are used to abandoning their dogs, and no programs exist to sterilize stray animals, the problem will reappear again shortly. The way to end the cycle is to educate people to not abandon their pets, to create and enforce laws that will punish people for abandoning their pets, and to start sterilization programs that will gradually lower the numbers of street animals. For feral animals, there should be special shelters set up where we can try to retrain these animals.

Some people think that the methods that I described are too extreme, too difficult to implement, or too expensive. First, I believe that an extreme point of view is one that justifies violence and killing, not one that attempts to minimize it. Although often accepted, the opinion that it’s all right to just kill thousands of animals is something that all true animal lovers should view as "extreme". Second, I believe that good deeds should not be put off just because they're "hard to do". You shouldn't do the wrong thing just because it's easier than doing the right thing. Something is either morally acceptable or morally unacceptable. If something is morally unacceptable, such as the cruel methods of killing the dogs in Ukraine, it doesn't matter how "easy" it is, it is simply not to be done. Third, I believe that economic reasons should not be used to justify such killing. The lives of these creatures are worth more than a saving of a couple thousand dollars, Euros, or in this case, hryvnias. Some would say that what I suggest here is simply economically impossible to do. If one examines the economics of the situation in Ukraine, one begins to see the holes in that argument. There is money in Ukraine to build new stadiums, new infrastructure, and even incinerators (!) for dogs, but there is no money to build humane shelters and start sterilization programs? This is a clear case of twisted priorities and a clear case of society as a whole not being advanced enough to deal with this problem in a compassionate way.

So what about the packs of roaming, aggressive dogs that threaten the safety of the citizens (many of whom, like I stated above, are responsible for the dogs being there in the first place)? This problem does exist in some countries, but I have travelled extensively in Romania, Ukraine, Mexico, and other countries with large populations of stray dogs, and have seen very little aggression in these animals. In a way it’s understandable that the apologists for mass killing use this argument. By making these strays out to be crazed, rabid creatures, it makes it easier to morally justify their extermination. Like I said though, for the most part these are not aggressive animals, but lost and suffering dogs that roam cities looking for scraps to eat, cities whose inhabitants often treat them with disdain and hate. Until there is a new way of perceiving the problem, there will be no progress. Until a more positive, empathetic approach is adopted, using the steps I’ve outlined above, the cycle of death and suffering in these types of societies will continue.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Marzahn, an eastern face of Berlin

Sick of all the hipsters in Berlin? Go to Marzahn (or any other neighborhood in the far eastern part of the city), where you can still sense a bit of DDR in the air.

One of several cool communist-era murals

Is it just me or is this slightly disturbing?

Typical former East Berlin architecture, with typical surreal sculptures

Not a hipster in sight

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Bad advertising, Euro 2012 style

While there are some good ads related to the Euro 2012 football/soccer tournament, I can't help but notice the gawd awful ones. All photos were taken in Warsaw, Poland.

The girl in the background isn't that bad, but the humpty dumpty guy? C'mon...

No comment...

Zammuto - Yay

The musical interpretation of how I perceive happiness (ps. don't get too excited, I'm referring more to the fragmentation of the vocals)

Monday, June 4, 2012

EURO 2012 in Poland: Worst mascot ever

Euro 2012: Najgorsza maskotka wszechczasów

A tourist guide to (cool) bars in Warsaw, Poland (Updated December 2017)

Pawilony na tyłach Nowego Światu, foto: (fot. Szymon Kubiak/Facebook) I thought I would take the opportunity to provide a list of 16 cool bars in Warsaw. These are mostly hip, laid-back, "slacker chic" type places where young-ish and somewhat older folks drink and (generally) coexist together in harmony. A pint of local beer should set you back anywhere from 8 to 10 zloty.

Pawilony (Polish for "pavillions") is actually a collection of 25 (!) small bars (hence the name), located in two passageways, off Nowy Świat, about a half block from Rondo De Gaulle'a (De Gaulle roundabout). Each bar has a distinct layout and theme. This collection of hip bars draws an eclectic mix of people, with students, artists, white collar workers, expats, and tourists all in the mix. The atmosphere is relaxed, and there is outdoor seating for most of the bars in the summer. There is a constant threat that the complex will close, sooner or later, due to residents' noise complaints, but so far this hasn't happened.

Plan B/Charlotte:
Plan B is a pretty popular place right on Plac Zbawiciela. A good mix of people, but definitely on the young and hip side. Charlotte, downstairs from Plan B is a bit more fancy, for the wine and baguette crowd.

Around the corner from the currently (2017) popular Poznanska Street, in the southern part of the center of the city, this relatively new place draws a diverse crowd, and offers "Polish tapas" on the menu, creatively named shots/mixed drinks, and djs/events once in a while.

Drawing a slightly older (yet somewhat bohemian) crowd, Regeneracja, located in Warsaw's Mokotów neighborhood, has a good summer patio, - one that gets very crowded very fast when the weather is nice. They have a pretty good food menu as well, and occasional live music and DJ sets (especially on weekends). As of 2017, they've gone all veggie/vegan with the menu.

A new place located right off the Plac Teatralny, on the north-west corner from the National Theater (near the Ratusz Arsenał metro stop), this is another of Warsaw's growing legion of hip, laid-back establishments, sometimes (though not always), attracting a fairly young crowd.

Riverside bars (summer only):
A string of riverside bars that give Varsovians a chance to chill out with a beer or cocktail, while listening to live DJs, and/or just watching the river flow by. Definitely a warm-weather-only type deal, the complex of outdoor bars (of which the onese worth mentioning include "Cud nad Wisla", "BarKa", and "Pomost 511") is located along Bulwar Flotylii Wislanej, and you can get there by going to the "Most Poniatowskiego" tram stop, and just walking down the stairs towards the river.

Kufle i Kapsle:
Another of Warsaw's new(er) bars, Kufle i Kapsle is a good place to try craft beer from all over Poland. Their selection of said beers is quite extensive, though the place can get really busy with its somewhat generic beer-guzzling crowd.

Mały Wojtek Bistro:
Not really a bistro, as they don't serve food, this laid-back bar, located in the same courtyard as the now defunct Hustawaka, is a good place for a drink before going out.

Cafe Kulturalna:
Located in the Pałac Kultury i Nauki (the huge 50s style skyscraper that you can't miss), this bar has a relaxed vibe most of the time, unless there's a special event going on (usually DJs/theme nights), in which case it can get pretty rowdy.

Znajomi znajomych:
Translated as "friends of friends", this is another hip bar with a nice interior that attracts a young-ish crowd with its food, drinks, and special events/parties.

So that's the list. I'm not saying it's a definitive list of bars in Warsaw. It's a list of bars that I've been to (sometimes many times) and I know fairly well. Hopefully it'll make your stay in Warsaw a bit more enjoyable. (PS: You can find me in the Pawilony on most weekends.)

Other animals eat meat, so why shouldn't we?

Detractors of a plant-based diet often use the following argument: Other animals kill each other and eat meat, so why shouldn't we do the same? Isn't it only natural for us, being at the top of the food chain, to eat the meat of other animals?

This is not completely wrong, since many animals do hunt and kill each other for food. The problem with this argument, however, is that it forgets one very important fact: Unlike other animals, who kill because they are instinctually programmed to do so, we have a choice. A lion does not have the ability to go to the supermarket and buy a meat alternative. A lion does not examine the ethics behind his decision to kill and eat a gazelle. A lion would not be able to survive without meat. We, on the other hand, not only can, but should. While we should respect the instincts of other animals, we should not strive to be like them. To say "let's be like the lion", pretending like we didn't have a choice, would be a mistake. The fact that we were given this ability to choose, while other animals were not, is very important. It is what makes being human very special. In the particular case of whether or not to eat meat, our choice should be not to do so, since eating meat is ultimately a negative act which increases the killing and suffering that the world is already so full of. The better, ethical choice is not to eat meat, as this decision minimizes this killing and suffering. We have the power to make this choice. This is something that the lion, or any other animal, cannot do. While we should strive to be the caretakers of other animals, helping them live in their natural habitats, and according to their instinctual nature, we should not negate our own intelligence and our ability to choose, but rather use these to make positive choices that minimize the suffering of all animals.

As for the "top of the food chain" argument, its premise is ultimately flawed. It assumes that we should use our intellectual superiority to exploit animals, instead of finding ways to help them. I do not believe in this argument for the simple reason that it goes against what I just wrote in the previous paragraph. It is a justification of bad habits, an acceptance of the status quo, and a way to make bad decisions seem necessary, when they really aren't. We should be wary of any arguments which encourage us to accept that the killing of so many animals is justified. The fact that types of arguments are quite prevalent in our society only encourages people to stay on the wrong path.

When I had this discussion with a friend of mine the other day, she brought up the idea that animals can be very cruel to each other, even when they're not just hunting for food. A cat, she reminded me, will play with a dying fly or mouse for hours, causing that poor creature to suffer needlessly. I told her that it didn't really matter whether or not animals did something for food, for fun, or for whatever other instinctual reasons – the main thing is that they are instinctual beings unable to make an ethical decision. We on the other hand not only can, but should always strive to make an ethical decision, to take the high road. To reiterate the point I made in the previous paragraph – we should use our higher intelligence to improve the way we interact with other animals, to adopt an approach based on compassion, empathy, and help. It doesn't matter that a cat can seem cruel; the important thing is to keep our own cruelty in check.

Some people will tell you that eating meat is not unethical, but I will tell you that it is. Eating meat means being part of a system in which millions of innocent animals suffer and die, when, with the availability of more and more meat alternatives, they really don't have to. As long as we accept this as being "necessary", as long as we partake in this cyclical death machine, we are continuing along a path of causing harm. Historically speaking, progress has come as a result of examining certain instincts and deciding that they were, in fact, more harmful than helpful. From slavery, to the exploitation of various groups in society, to even our former treatment of animals we now consider our beloved pets, we have set aside a lot of negative behavior to create a better, fairer, less violent society. It's about time we started to consider the current way we mistreat other animals as unfair, and took steps to start to remedy the situation.

Let's keep things in perspective. In some ways, we are like other animals, especially in our ability to feel happiness, pain, fear, even loneliness. All animals, including ourselves, want to live. This is what we should remember when growing our compassion and empathy. In other ways, we are very different from other animals. We have the ability to choose between right and wrong, to choose an ethical path, whereas other animals have no choice but to act upon their instincts. When it comes to eating meat, we also have a choice. Even our bodies are proof of this. We are built to be omnivorous, so, unlike many animals who would die if they didn't eat meat, we can survive perfectly well without it. Let’s get on the right path – one that says "no" to the meat industry's killing millions of animals around the world, and "yes" to progress.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Under the Bridge

I don't really listen to these guys anymore, but I do get a little melancholic about this song and video sometimes. So, for times like this...