Monday, July 30, 2012

Paris, je t'aime (or something like that)

10 photos of my trip to Paris. I got to know the city a bit better this time around and got to like it quite a bit as well.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Caged hunting

Caged hunting is the practice of hunting wild animals in a controlled environment, where the number of killed animals is controlled by the organizers/owners of the park. People who support caged hunting claim that it is a sustainable activity, and defend it by saying that, paradoxically, it allows the survival of certain species, which may have otherwise been fully eliminated by uncontrolled hunting.

There are several reasons to avoid engaging in activities such as caged hunting. First off, as far as ethically reprehensible behavior goes, hunting animals for sport is pretty high on the scale. While we promote vegetarianism, there is, at least, an argument to be made for consuming the flesh of living beings in that it provides humans with sustenance. Caged hunting is simply a cruel sport which causes animals to suffer and die for the benefit of a trophy, or the simple "thrill of the kill".

Detractors will say that there is nothing wrong with hunting other animals, and that other animals hunt each other all the time. Our response to this is that other animals hunt because they have no choice. This is the way they are programmed to function, to go on instinct. The reason we were given the power of choice is to be able to choose between good/ethical behavior and bad/unethical behavior. We should use this to choose an ethical, compassionate path. Hunting animals is unethical because it causes unnecessary death and suffering. While death and suffering are an integral part of life, the conscious decision to partake in activities which encourage more death and suffering is unequivocally a step in the wrong direction.

The arguments in support of caged hunting are ultimately flawed, if only because they strive to defend an activity which consciously creates a vicious cycle of death. Even if a certain percentage of the animals are set aside (not killed) in order to maintain the "sustainability" of the activity, the fact remains that most of the animals are raised to be hunted and killed. In this context, the word "sustainability" is laughable, as it is simply used to justify the endless killing cycle. If the owners/supporters honestly cared about these animals, they would fight, like many do in Africa, Asia, and other parts of the world, to set up (and police) animal refuges and nature reserves, which would be as controlled as the caged hunting parks, but without the needless murder. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that the supporters of caged hunting don’t care about the lives of these animals, and just want to mask their clients’ blood lust (and their own lust for money, since hunting wild animals is an expensive activity) with pretty words and excuses.

The Comforts of Home - Time After Time (Cyndi Lauper cover)

The good old days? Yeah, I suppose so. I still think that apart from the Miles Davis version, this is the best cover of Cyndi Lauper's 'Time after Time'. And not only because I was in the band.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Do we love animals more than humans?

A friend of a friend recently told me that he doesn't trust vegetarians and vegans because, in his words, "they like animals more than humans". I'm not sure what the exact statistics would be for this type of thing, but I agree that there are some vegetarians, vegans, and animal rights activists who do view humanity rather bleakly. This phenomenon often occurs in those who have woken up to animal suffering (a very positive thing) but have not yet realized the negative weight that violence, hate, and anger carry.

First off, it is important to realize how unfair our current treatment of other animals is. Some people understand this from a theoretical point of view, while others really begin to empathize with the suffering of animals. In the latter case, the more one begins to empathize with the suffering, the more painful it becomes to witness it. The pain often turns to anger, - anger at the people who are too cruel, too uncaring, and too ignorant to stop killing animals and making them suffer. This is an understandable reaction. Most of us, when we see a bully beating up on a weaker child will do something to stop the bully. No one likes bullies. No one likes tyrants. No one likes those who impose their will on the weak and the innocent. This is how people who have reached a higher level of empathy feel about the animals that are being abused in the world today. Many people, due to their belief that we somehow have a right to use and abuse other animals, will not understand this, and will view this type of empathy as "extreme". The truth of the matter is that there is nothing extreme about empathizing with the needless suffering of innocent beings, and nothing strange about becoming disillusioned with humanity after being exposed to case upon case upon case of cruelty and abuse of animals by humans.

Having said all that, while I understand the above-mentioned phenomenon, I always remind people not to go down the path of hatred and violence. I believe in cause and effect, and that negative actions (and emotions) will have negative consequences. Hatred is a negative emotion, so whenever we spew out hatred, there will be negative consequences. It is important to act to affect change, but to do this in the most positive way possible, - to help animals without creating more negativity. I believe in animal rights, but I also believe that by improving how we interact with animals, we improve our own lives as well. By helping animals, we are also helping ourselves. After all, by not causing, encouraging, or partaking in the suffering of animals (this includes eating meat), we minimize the negative consequences of this suffering, thereby creating a better world for all of us.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The animals of North-east Germany

Here are some of the animals that I came across during my four day tour of North-east Germany. Some were living in the wild, others - being raised to be slaughtered so that some of us can feed our addiction to meat. Even though animals are raised in much better conditions on small farms, there really is no need to kill them for food, especially in countries like Germany where there are plenty of vegetarian/vegan options in stores.

Lots of horses and ponies of all kinds

The little calf ran back to his mother every time I tried to come close to him.

Lots of bird life

Although you can't really tell from this photo, this was HUGE, almost like a small boar. Right before this I saw what I'm sure was a black fox, but I didn't have time to take a photo.

A typical village cat, feeding off field mice and what not

North-east Germany bike trip (day 4)

So today I came very close to losing my camera... again. Did about 80 km... again. And generally got to the point where I'm pretty tired of biking. All in all a good trip, though.

Nice bus stop illustration in Hochendorf. Well, the cows are nice.

The antique (looking) road signs on forest bike paths are really cool. This one was on the road from Buddenhagen to Lühmannsdorf.

I couldn't get any photos of real naked Germans, but here's an ad from the main street in Zinnowitz which gives you an idea of their general love of nakedness.

Castle/chateau in Wrangelsburg, somehow related to paper production

Ultra sheep

Monday, July 9, 2012

Greifswald (the Werewolf capital of Europe)

Unfortunately I'm just kidding about the werewolves. I was kind of hoping to see some. Or at least statues of some. With the city's history, who would have thought there wouldn't be a werewolf reference anywhere in sight? Greifswald reminded me a bit of Brugge (Bruges), Belgium.

Young werewolves masquerading as humans

Bikes galore

This is pretty much how I feel when I try to understand German. Or how people feel when I try to speak German to them.

The Greifswald Dom (cathedral)

The main square in Greifswald - historic, pretty.

North-east Germany bike trip (day 3)

Another 70 kilometer day from Züssow to Griefswald - The first stop was Lubmin, famous for its beach and (thankfully) defunct nuclear power plant...

The coast between Lubmin and Greifswald is good for wind and kite surfing. Though pretty in photos, the water is not too nice for swimming.

Magical forest near Loissin

Stork's nest atop a chapel in Ludwiksburg

The sky near Ludwiksburg

Sunday, July 8, 2012

North-east Germany bike trip (day 2)

A foggy morning in Züssow, Germany as I start my ride to Usedom island

Wolgast, Germany

A really, really crowded Sunday on the beach at Zinnowitz, Usedom - lots of men and women letting it all hang out

Typical Usedom landscape

View from the harbor in Krummin, Usedom

Saturday, July 7, 2012

North-east Germany bike trip (day 1)

After nearly leaving my camera on the train as I got off in Szczecin (Poland), admiring the poverty and potholes of that wonderful city, getting lost on the way to the German border, meeting a cool dude who showed me the way by biking with me through winding country roads all the way to the border, and generally cursing myself for not realizing how hilly the road from Szczecin to Pasewalk would be, I made it to my hotel in Zussow. Here are some photos from the first day:

The road to Pasewalk, somewhere around Löcknitz

Cool looking building in Pasewalk

Church in Groß Kiesow, about 8 km from where I'm staying

The old cemetery adjacent to the above church

What I do my 70-80 km per day on

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The case against hunting

Since I believe that one should avoid any activities which promote the suffering and death of other sentient beings, I am against hunting animals for sport. When it comes to hunting animals for food, I believe that this is best avoided as well, whenever possible. Hypothetically speaking, there might be situations when one has to kill another animal to survive, but chances are you will never truly be in that sort of situation, and can, instead, choose not to partake in this negative activity.

In the past several decades, defenders of hunting have begun to use more socially acceptable reasons to justify this activity. One of their favorite justifications is that hunting is necessary to correct certain imbalances of nature. We must kill off a certain percentage of deer, they say for example, in order to control their population, and to prevent overpopulation. This approach is both unethical and unnecessary; unethical because it promotes killing, and unnecessary because it ignores the fact that when left alone, an ecosystem controls population levels naturally. It is important to remember that it is we who are responsible for unnatural population levels through our destruction of natural habitats, our killing off of predators, and other intrusive behavior. Nature always finds a way to even things out. It requires no help from us. More killing is not the answer. Controlling population through the taking of lives is not the answer. If we truly want to maintain proper population levels in a certain ecosystem, there are several ways to do this: One way is to set up spay and neuter programs, which is what some communities are doing already with deer. Second, we can reintroduce species (such as wolves) into a habitat to naturally balance out population numbers. Third, we must work to ensure is that there are nature reserves that are large enough to naturally maintain correct population levels of species. This is not an easy thing to establish, especially considering the historical tendency to ignore natural habitats, to impose our will on other species, and to opt for the easy way out. It is, however, part of the ethical solution to the problem. We must also learn to better coexist with other species in our own areas, cities, and homes, instead of considering them nuisances. What we often believe to be "unbearable" circumstances that "need to be remedied", is nothing more than our inability to see beyond our selfishness, to the fact that other animals want to live as well.

Defenders of hunting often state that other animals hunt each other all the time, and that since we are animals as well, it is natural for us to do the same. The main thing to remember is that we, unlike other animals, have the ability to choose. The reason we have this ability, among other things, is to be able to choose between doing good and doing bad, between positive actions and negative actions. Causing harm and killing other innocent beings are negative actions. Animals don’t have this ability to choose, so they hunt each other. They don’t know any better. We do, or at least we should. Pretending that you don’t have a choice is simply a justification of a bad choice. We should use our brains, and say no to activities like hunting which promote the suffering and death of other animals. There are many sports out there which don’t involve animals. If you really want to shoot something, get together with a bunch of friends and play a game of paintball.