Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Go Back to Where You Came From - starting tonight

Update: If you missed it, you can now watch it online.

Starting tonight at 8:30pm, SBS will be showing season two of Go Back to Where You Came From.

To any of you who aren't Australian, sorry, this probably isn't particularly relevant to you, and will not be particularly easy to obtain. For everyone else, please watch!

The first series took 6 ordinary Australians, with varying perspectives on immigration, on a reverse "illegal immigration" journey. This time, they are doing the same thing with 6 moderately famous Australians.
Over three episodes, the six Australians will face mortal danger on the streets of the world’s deadliest cities - from the sweltering, war torn capital of Somalia, Mogadishu, to the riotous streets of Kabul, freezing amidst the mountains of Afghanistan. They will travel directly into the eye of a storm - inside the walls of Christmas Island Detention Centre. It’s intense, shocking, and one of the most challenging experiences of their lives.
No matter where you stand on the issue of boat arrivals, it's important not to forget that refugees are people very much like us. Watch, think, and be prepared to reconsider what you believe.

Edit: Trailer after jump to stop it auto-playing

Monday, August 27, 2012

A trip to the Old Melbourne Gaol

A few weeks ago, my husband and I did the touristy thing in Melbourne, and ended up at the Old Melbourne Gaol and City Watch House.

I've never been in a modern watch house or gaol. I have no idea how (in)humane they are, but the now closed watch house and gaol both looked barbaric. The scary thing is that the watch house wasn't closed until the early 90s, after I was born. The cells in the watch house were large and meant to hold about a dozen people. Some had benches, some (for the drunks) had just bare concrete floors. Except for those at risk of self-harm, who were put in a padded cell, there was no separation of inmates based on class of offence; being locked up was dangerous. Things like this make me realise that we're nowhere near as removed from the barbaric past as I would like to think.

The watch house was a bit of a shock, but the gaol was depressing. Really depressing. Throughout the cells there were displays and stories of the people who had been incarcerated, and the more I looked the more depressed I became. Sure, there had been violent criminals and murderers, but the primary crime seemed to have been poverty. There were a lot of women imprisoned for failing to provide for their children, while clearly having been unable to provide for themselves either. No men were imprisoned for that crime. One story that really got to me was of two sisters, in their early teens, thrown into gaol over Christmas. Their crime? Vagrancy. Their mother was dead, their father had pissed off to the gold-fields without them, and so they were left with nowhere to live, and no source of income. This was a criminal offence, and granted them a stay in a room like this. This was in the gaol, not in the watch house. They weren't put away for the night for their own protection, they had a trial and sentencing, and were found guilty of the crime of vagrancy. They should have been given help, not a criminal record.

The only way to not be utterly depressed by the experience was to reflect on the fact that our legal system has improved. Problems? Definitely. But we have a better support structure in place to catch people in poverty, and homosexuality is no longer a crime.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Unclement cycling weather

Cycling isn't always the wonderful experience I've made it out to be.

Rain isn't all that terrible. Even though it's winter, the rain isn't dreadfully cold, and once I let go of the "I'm getting wet" issue, it really isn't that unpleasant, especially if I got to where I was going dry, and I'm on the way home when the rain starts.

Today though, I had an "exciting" new experience. One that in a year in Japan of cycling everywhere, I didn't get the pleasure of: hail. My first thought was, "Oh no! hail!", then as I kept riding, I decided it wasn't too bad. I had a helmet on, and my jeans and jacket protected most of my body. All I was getting was a little sting on my hands. A few minutes later though, as the squall intensified, I changed my mind. Hail, especially while travelling at moderate speed, really hurts!

I ended up pulling into an industrial-looking shed and seeking asylum, thankfully granted.

I'm warm and dry now, and I still love my bike.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Skeptical Harry Potter

Recently, a friend told me that I had to read Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. I've never been a fan-fiction reader, but I've spent rather a lot of the past few days reading this. It's set in an alternative universe where Harry's Aunt Petunia convinces Lily to use magic to make her pretty, and as a result, marries a professor instead of Vernon Dursley. As a result, everything is different. Harry has been raised by a hard-core sceptic, rationalist and scientist, and therefore struggles a little more than the original Harry with the discovery of the world of magic:
Professor McGonagall seemed highly amused. “Would you like a further demonstration, Mr. Potter?”
“You don’t have to,” Harry said. “We’ve performed a definitive experiment. But...” Harry hesitated. He couldn’t help himself. Actually, under the circumstances, he shouldn’t be helping himself. It was right and proper to be curious. “What else can you do?”
McGonagall turned into a cat.
Harry scrambled back unthinkingly, backpedaling so fast that he tripped over a stray stack of books and landed hard on his bottom with a thwack. His hands came down to catch himself without quite reaching properly, and there was a warning twinge in his shoulder as the weight came down unbraced.
At once the small tabby cat morphed back up into a robed woman. “I’m sorry, Mr. Potter,” McGonagall said, sounding sincere, though her lips were twitching toward a smile. “I should have warned you.”
Harry was breathing in short pants. His voice came out choked. “You can’t DO that!”
“It’s only a Transfiguration,” said McGonagall. “An Animagus transformation, to be exact.”
“You turned into a cat! A SMALL cat! You violated Conservation of Energy! That’s not just an arbitrary rule, it’s implied by the form of the quantum Hamiltonian! Rejecting it destroys unitarity and then you get FTL  signaling! And cats are COMPLICATED! A human mind can’t just visualize a whole cat’s anatomy and, and all the cat biochemistry, and what about the neurology? How can you go on thinking using a cat-sized brain?”
McGonagall’s lips were twitching harder now. “Magic.”
“Magic isn’t enough to do that! You’d have to be a god!”
McGonagall blinked. “That’s the first time I’ve ever been called that.”
A blur was coming over Harry’s vision. Three thousand years, more or less, that was how long humanity had been investigating the natural world. In the beginning the ancient Greeks had thought that there were different rules in different places, a law for the heavens and a different law for the Earth. For hundreds of years the march of Reason had progressed steadily away from that starting point. Humanity had descended beneath the surface of the world, finding tissues beneath bodies, cells beneath tissues, chemistry beneath cells, quarks beneath atoms. The simple things, the eternally stable and unvarying things, the things of pure causality and math, beneath the world of surface appearances forever in flux. The laws of gravity that Newton had laid down, that seemed in retrospect to have governed every piece of the solar system since forever; and even when the orbital precession of Mercury had been discovered, an exception to Newton’s laws, Einstein had come along and discovered the new theory, the new universal, the new rule that was revealed to have always governed since the beginning. The true rules were the same everywhere and every when for every part of the universe, you didn’t have special cases for different surface appearances and exceptions whenever it was convenient, that was what humanity had learned over the last three thousand years, not to mention that the mind was the brain and the brain was made of neurons and if you damaged the brain the mind lost the corresponding ability, destroy the hippocampus and the person lost the ability to form new memories, a brain was what a person was—
And then a woman turned into a cat, so much for all that.

I'm loving it. If you haven't already read Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (or have read it, but haven't checked back recently for updates), and enjoyed the original Harry Potter books, give it a try!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Fail! Arguments against vegetarianism

I want to address a few arguments against vegetarianism. These arguments are not sophisticated, but nor are they a strawmen - they are all arguments that I have been presented with.

The argument from nature (this one I hear from Dad over and over again) 
Humans evolved as hunter-gatherers. Our bodies are adapted to an omnivorous diet, look, we have canines. It is natural for us to eat meat.

Yes we have evolved to eat meat. However, biology is not destiny. If you have ever used a form of contraception to allow you to have sex without the risk of bringing a child into the world, this shouldn't be news to you.

The assumption that what can be found in nature is good and right is common but misplaced. The naturalness of something should not determine if it is ethical. It is natural for the strong to take from the weak, for the elderly and those with disabilities to be left to die, for men to take women by force if they can't get them by other means. Unless you are prepared to argue that natural = good in all cases (in which case you are a psychopath and I don't want to talk to you), don't use it at all.

As for the canines, we also have an appendix. It is not unusual to be left with an evolutionary relic that is no longer needed, and certainly our canines are no longer needed; even for meat eaters, ripping and tearing uncooked flesh is something of an oddity.

The argument from religion - Genesis 9:3 - Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.
First of all, I consider the Bible to be a authored by man rather than God, so I reject the premise of this argument. However, if you are inclined to take it at face value, consider the following. The Bible endorses or condones many things that most people today consider repellent. To list just a small sample, they include slavery, genocide, the marring a rape victim to her rapist, and the stoning of disobedient sons. Many Christians are vegetarian, and find Genesis 9:3 or other passages insufficient justification for the eating of meat

The argument from nutrition - It's not possible/very difficult to get sufficient nutrients without eating meat. You can't get enough protein. Vegetarians always look sickly.
There have been a number of vegetarian/vegan Olympic gold medallists, some Australians include Lauren Burns (vegetarian, Taekwondo, 2000) and Murray Rose (vegan, swimming 1956 and 1960). Perhaps they were better off for their diets, perhaps they would have been even stronger with a bit of meat. It's impossible to know for sure. However, they managed to reach the pinnacle of human athletic achievement without meat consumption, so one could hardly call them "sickly".

Yes, it is true that some vegetarians have poor nutrition. Plenty of people have poor eating habits, vegetarians and omnivores alike. However, when an omnivore has poor nutrition, but this is not blamed on the omnivorous diet. There are plenty of studies that show that vegetarians are actually healthier than the average population. I'm not going to give them a huge amount of weight, since they are mostly observational rather than experimental: vegetarians may be more healthy on average because many people become vegetarian for health reasons, and are therefore more conscious of what they eat than the average person. However, to use some blanket statement of "vegetarians aren't healthy" or "vegetarians always look underfed" or "vegetarians can't possibly get enough nutrition" is just being ignorant.

The argument from food production - Without meat, we wouldn't be able to feed the planet's growing population.
This argument fails on basic chemistry. It may be valid if one day we can grow meat in a laboratory (which I wouldn't object to), but as it stands, meat is an inefficient way of delivering protein to the body. Sure, it delivers a lot of protein in one small packet, but how much protein (wheat, soy etc) did that beast have to eat to mature? How many acres of grass did that beast need to graze on, and could that land have been used for human edible crops? In his book The Ethics of What We Eat (2006, p. 232), Peter Singer explains how it takes on average about 13kg of grain fed to a cow to produce 1kg of beef, 6:1 for pork, and about 3:1 for chickens. Even if you are inclined to doubt these figures (though these are figures generous to the meat industry), it is clearly obvious that an animal will require more food than it produces. There may be exceptions where the raising of animals for food could allow more food to be produced than otherwise (e.g. goats/cattle on hillsides too steep for cultivation), but certainly, if we are serious about feeding the world's growing population while limiting the clearing of land, less rather than more meat is the answer.

The argument from enjoyment - Meat tastes good, so there!
I happen to agree that meat tastes good, but is that has ceased to be sufficient justification for me. Let me illustrate. Would it feel good to have personal slaves looking after your every whim? If their enslavement didn't bother you, as it didn't bother people in many cultures throughout history, then yes, it would feel good. Does this make it ethically good, or at least ethically neutral? Something that feels good can only be justifiable if it either causes no harm to others, or if the harm to others can be dismissed as unimportant (only a woman, only a slave, only a nigger, only an animal). Masturbation causes no harm to others = ok. Factory farming causes incredible levels of animal suffering = not ok.

If you think I've missed something important, feel free to let me know in the comments.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

My first ever rally

Sometimes I wonder if me going back to uni is just an excuse to "do uni properly", to do the things uni students are supposed to do, except in Toowoomba, where they just get drunk but skip the activism. Well, I'm still not keen on the drunken partying, but yesterday I tried my hand at a bit of activism, and went to a Rally for Marriage Equality and Mass Illegal Wedding, organised by Equal Love.

A rainbow flag

Friday, August 10, 2012

Mr Deity and the marriage

Mr Deity explains his vision of a broader concept of marriage:

Monday, August 6, 2012

67 years since Hiroshima

Today, the 6th of August, marks the 67th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Thursday the 9th will be the anniversary of Nagasaki.

One year ago today, I stood among thousands of people from around the world in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park for the annual Peace Memorial Ceremony. Together, we showed our solidarity to the cause of a nuclear weapon free future. This year, the grandson of the then president Harry Truman attended the ceremony. However, no president of the United States has ever attended, and that lack is noted by the Japanese people.

It is argued that more people, both Japanese and American, would have died if the bombs had not been dropped, and that may be true. Nevertheless, it was a horrific act with long-reaching consequences to the lives of innocents. The Japanese people take their experience as the world's only nuclear weapon victims seriously. All Yr. 6 students go on a school trip to either Hiroshima or Nagasaki to learn about the bombings first hand. Hibakusha (survivors of the bombings) travel to schools recounting their experiences and emphasising the need for peace. The rest of the world needs to take their lesson seriously too. We must not let it happen again.

If you haven't previously read it, I recommend you read my post on the Hiroshima Peace Museum. Visiting there was incredibly upsetting and draining, but if I could, I would send all the older children or adolescents of the world there, or a place like it, to make them see the human cost of war.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Journey to ethical eating: an update

I think it's time for an update on my personal journey to eat more ethically. Between the last post and moving, I moved to mostly vegetarian cooking. Since moving to Melbourne, I have cooked one meal utilising free-range chicken, and one with ordinary minced beef diluted with beans. All other food that I have prepared (and that has been most meals), have been meat free. We do have a friend living with us temporarily, and she occasionally cooks non-vegetarian meals, and I am currently adopting a "grateful not to be cooking attitude" and don't make a fuss. Eating out I have ordered vegetarian meals (with a couple of exceptions, I needed my Japanese comfort food!), but had tastes of Hunter's food where it looks good. He also tastes mine. There is also a local free-range charcoal chicken, where we have eaten a couple times, providing me with low guilt greasy fatty goodness.

All in all, I have been having some meat, but very little, especially for someone who up until very recently had some form of meat at almost every lunch and dinner, with the occasional breakfast thrown in. At no stage have I really wanted meat (except maybe desperately wanting katsudon when I saw in in a Japanese restaurant window). When I've eaten meat, it's been more a case of not yet being prepared to make a fuss. I'm really surprised at just how little I miss it.

Starting this, I was apprehensive about future food prospects, but so far, it's been great. I have discovered amazing food options that I would never have come across before. Recently, in a rather expensive Greek restaurant in the CBD, I had the most amazing meal I have ever eaten, an absolutely exquisite dish of gnochi, mushroom stuffed vine leaves, seasoned mushroom puree and extra mushroom. Eating it was an experience of pure bliss. I savoured, drooled over, every bite, no dead animal flesh required.

Having said all the above, I think the most important thing in my journey has been flexibility. I have left myself the option of eating meat, just less frequently, For me, having that option has left me quite satisfied to not eat it, whereas if meat was forbidden, I would become resentful and crave it.