Posts Tagged ‘animal rights’

TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY MARTINE PAUWELS (FILES) A group of minks take shelter in a hole in the ground after they and more than 10,000 others were released from a breeding facility in the eastern German town of Grabow by unknown persons on October 26, 2007. The Netherlands are the third largest producer in the world, and Dutch MPs will examine a draft in parliament prohibiting the breeding of mink on May 19, 2009,  in the Netherlands on moral grounds, triggering an uproar by the Dutch mink farmers.                                AFP  PHOTO   DDP FILES JENS  SCHLUETER**GERMANY OUT** (Photo credit should read JENS SCHLUETER/AFP/Getty Images)

Racist mass murderer Dylann Roof murders black people in cold blood to start a race war and terrorize African Americans, and he ISN”T charged with terrorism.

But the federal government, the dystopian kakistocracy that it is, sees fit to charge animal rights activists with “terrorism” for setting minks free.

The US government is a corrupt protection racket for business and a threat to the world.

2 Activists Accused of Freeing Animals are Charged as Terrorists

The FBI arrested two animal rights activists today for allegedly freeing mink and other animals from fur farms, and vandalizing the property of animal-abusing businesses.

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Dog Food (short)

Posted: October 31, 2014 in -
Tags: , , ,

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Fascistic ag-gag laws are criminalizing photography. The corruption stinks as bad as these waste pools the factory farms fill.

 

FREEBIRDS
UP WITH TURKEYS! “Free Birds” and Animal Rights

“The only message in it is all the holidays are about pressing pause in your life and getting together with the people that you love and appreciating them.”

Jimmy Hayward, writer-director of Free Birds

BY JENNIFER EPPS

It may be true that Jimmy Hayward had no political or social agenda when he co-wrote the animated adventure-comedy Free Birds, a time travel romp which sends a pair of turkeys back to 1621 to interfere with the pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving feast and try to “take turkeys off the menu.” Filmmakers frequently disavow any ulterior motive when they make films that could be controversial, but maybe he really thought it was just a good story. Frankly, his intentions are his own business. We vegetarians don’t get much entertainment of our own, and a Thanksgiving fantasy in which a turkey pardoned by the President and a commando from the Turkey Freedom Front go on a mission “not just to save 10 turkeys or 100 turkeys, but all turkeys for all time” is pretty mind-blowing. Of course we’re likely to be reminded almost as soon as we leave the cinema that the slaughter continues, but you can’t change the future if you can’t imagine how different it could be. Free Birds works the way The Yes Men’s fantasy newspaper headlines did in their prank New York Times issues,  or the way John Lennon’s lyrics in “Imagine” do. They affirm that you can, in fact, imagine a Thanksgiving tradition in which the pilgrims ate boxed pizza. It’s easy if you try.

The movie doesn’t advocate a totally plant-based diet, so I’m afraid vegans might not be fully satisfied. And in one shot a pizza even has anchovies! But Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the stacks of pizzas delivered via time machine do seem to be just cheese pizzas with tomato sauce — no meat is in evidence. Moreover, the fact that Woody Harrelson’s voice is in this movie is a significant part of its delights. Not only does his deft vocal performance have beautiful comic timing as a self-important, barrel-chested turkey warrior for the cause, but the presence of this premier vegan in a growing list of celebrity herbivores (which includes not only Bill Clinton but now Al Gore), speaks to the positive spirit of the film. To have Harrelson playing Jake, the most motivated, most activist turkey of them all, is a clever in-joke.

Like Chicken Run, irrepressible Aardman Animations’ take on another species of fowl who would rather live than be eaten, the plight of the characters in Free Birds is grim, but much less in a PETA spy-cam kind of way than in a boisterous, storybook adventure way. The Thanksgiving tradition may loom over the eponymous turkeys, but the specific villain is a scowling, Cockney military officer determined to hunt down the wild turkeys in the woods near the Puritans’ settlement, and most of the movie is about the wild birds’ attempts to stay safe in a vast underground colony while also carrying out guerrilla ambushes.

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There’s just enough context to provoke thought – should the viewer so choose. The movie launches off with a powerful contrast between the Norman Rockwell glow that Thanksgiving brings to humans feasting on a succulent golden-brown bird and the horror felt in the breast of a member of that species – realizing for the first time the truth behind his kind’s coexistence with humans. The president’s public pardoning of one turkey also shows some of the hypocritical tension that lurks behind our eating habits: he makes a speech (voiced by Hayward himself) as he proudly rescues the lone turkey, excoriating the “terrible, but delicious” fate this one fortunate fowl has escaped.

Amusingly, when the turkey hero Reggie (Owen Wilson) warns his peers on the farm of the vast plot against them, none of them will believe him. They’re blissfully oblivious of the danger  – and that’s because, Reggie’s voice-over tells us, turkeys are stupid. I like the implicit argument (which let me repeat is completely implicit) that even an unintelligent life form might want and deserve better than becoming our dinner. (A hierarchical Chain of Being is usually part of carnivores’ defenses of meat eating, even though it is a very vulnerable argument.) The complacency of the unsuspecting turkeys works as social satire as well: when the flock finally realizes that the intellectual Reggie, who they’ve been ostracizing, is right about why the farmer’s been fattening them up, they turn against him even more: because “he’s anti-corn.”

However, when Reggie ends up, through convoluted steps (and a time machine that’s an experiment of the U.S. military!), back in 1621, the wild turkeys he meets turn out to be completely different. They’re self-sufficient, alert, and much more pro-active; it’s apparently the domestication and dependency that dumbed the turkeys down. In case we might think this is only true for farm animals, there are also scenes of Reggie enjoying life as a remote-flipping, pizza-munching, couch potato addicted to Telenovelas. And when he’s in that mode, he doesn’t think as clearly as the more active turkeys. Sounds familiar.

The 17th century wild American turkeys have been forced further and further back off their land by the white Europeans – and since this mimics what happened to the Native Americans, it’s fitting that many of these turkeys paint their faces with war paint like in some indigeneous tribes. The head of the wild flock is also presented very much like an Indian chief, and finds himself a victim of a similar march of progress. In the climax, the turkeys face off against the Europeans on the battlefield: the turkeys have only wooden spears and flaming pumpkins and are vastly outmatched by the settlers’ arsenal. It’s too bad that when a couple of real Native Americans do finally show up, there isn’t more thought given to their characters.

But for those who care about animal rights, it should be very significant that the movie has a scene set in a factory farm. “I didn’t grow up on a nice free-range farm,” Jake tells Reggie, jealous of the pastoral life the more passive turkey has led. Instead, Jake explains in a flashback to a severe, black, industrial, prison-like CAFO, he grew up “in a cold factory.” The spirits of all these turkeys imprisoned in a sunless grey wasteland are clearly broken. Rows upon rows of glum turkeys in shadowy metal cages set their hopes on Jake breaking out and starting a new, freer flock, but he is no match for the humans in lab coats and their oppressive technology. And this original trauma works even better as political commentary because it is woven into the core of Jake’s character development – and into the time travel plot.

Now, factory farms are actually much worse than how they are depicted in the movie – since in real life factory farmed fowl are crowded into these cages and often unable to turn around or stretch – but the fact that an escapist piece of mainstream entertainment intended for family viewing is painting one as dungeon-like is damn amazing, and credit should be given where due.

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The main flaw of the picture, like that of so many movies but particularly animated ones, is that the ratio of male characters to female characters is about 90 to 1. These movies seem to think they’re feminist because they have a gutsy heroine – the chief’s daughter, voiced very well by Amy Poehler, has plenty of dialogue and is smart, resourceful, confident, a good leader, and all the rest of the attributes common these days among princessly heroines – but she’s the only female character in an entire turkey civilization who speaks more than a single sentence. In this respect the turkeys echo the humans in the settlement, where only the males are individualized. As per usual, the male characters cover a wide range of types – old, young, plump, wiry, brave, cowardly, brilliant, foolish, and so on – just as people do in real life. But the females are the Other, and since they are seen from the perspective of the male protagonists, they can only be  Love Interests. (This was particularly egregious in Barnyard, a 2006 animated feature about a herd of male cows.) In Free Birds, even when a nursery of turkey chicks becomes part of the narrative, there seem to be no significant female turkeys anywhere in sight besides Poehler. The boy turkeys get to hog not only the allegedly male functions of driving the plot, having adventures, and solving problems, but here they even try on the traditional female functions of parenting the chicks!

Hayward is co-writer, director, and also voice actor for a handful of roles in the picture – in other words, he is pulling a Brad Bird. Unfortunately, he hasn’t delivered a finished product that sparkles as much as it seems to want to do. The references cater more to the adults in the audience than to the kids, and the schtick gets in the way of the story sometimes because it goes on so long and is so tangential. Also, a fair number of the one-liners and gags don’t quite land, partly because the rhythm, as is so often the case in animated features, is relentlessly hyperactive.  Now, if it had been one of the inventive Aardman Animations films it probably would have gotten more and more richly entangled at the climax – as it is, there’s a build and build and then a  very quick and sudden resolution.  But all in all, the story works. The premise is not only an animal liberationist’s dream, it’s also clever and spirited.

Vegetarians and animal rights activists ought to embrace this movie. Society cannot be changed just by sharing polemical documentaries with your circle (as terrific as Forks Over Knives and Harrelson’s own, Go Further, are).  Some of the work of reform has to come about through sheer silliness. Like when the turkeys in Free Birds make imaginary binoculars with their feathered fingers, yet are convinced they really do see better with them. Or like the layers of jokey time travel loops which complicate the climax. Or like when Jake goes into a reverie about The Great Turkey in the sky, and each time, he stops and stares into space. Even though I had to look up what a Turducken was, it’s worth waiting for the end of the credits to hear Jake’s horrified outrage about it.

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Blackfish: Putting the ‘Killer’ Back in ‘Killer Whale”

By Jennifer Epps

The non-fiction feature Blackfish currently in theaters is in many ways a sterling example of summer counterprogramming: a success at the Sundance Film Festival this past winter, it now provides a quiet voice of seriousness, an exposé on a serious subject, amidst the usual superheroes and monsters at the multiplex in the hot weather months. It begins, however, rather like a famous summer monster movie, with the mystery of a young woman’s gruesome, watery death, and like that blockbuster, proceeds to pile on clues of just how she died and how many others like her there might actually be. The template I’m referring to is the 1975 thriller Jaws, which together with Star Wars, launched the gargantuan juggernaut of costly, loud, franchise-heavy action pix which dominate the out-of-school season — so there is a poetic irony in a documentary cousin emerging from the depths to challenge that paradigm. The irony pales in comparison to the tragedy, however;  the genesis  for the making of Blackfish was an actual death, that of 20-something Dawn Brancheau, an accomplished swimmer and trainer at Sea World Orlando, who was mauled and dismembered in 2010.

The culprit in Blackfish is not a wild rogue shark but a tame orca or ‘killer whale’, a large male named Tilikum who Dawn knew very well. While much of the file footage in the documentary shows positive, intimate interactions between humans and these giant marine mammals, there is still a very ominous slow build of suspense and horror. Some of the segments feel (unintentionally, perhaps) like the July 4th beach scene in Spielberg’s movie — a sense of impending doom arises as documentarian Gabriela Cowperthwaite scrutinizes, in forensic detail, old footage of trainers’ key interactions with killer whales who’d been involved in violent incidents. We soon realize that it is not at all unusual for orcas to attack marine park staff, even with highly athletic trainers who follow protocol to the letter and who, in addition, adore the animals they train.

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Ultimately, Blackfish is about more than just one kind of monster. Like the resort-town business leaders in Jaws, there are irresponsible figures in Blackfish ignoring all the evidence of a serious problem   – and prioritizing profit over life itself. Only in this case, they’re not fictitious, but real, and not just a few bad apples, but an entire corporate structure with an institutionalized pattern of lying to their employees and to the public. The documentary shows that SeaWorld’s public statements after the death or injury of its trainers tended to blame the trainers themselves, while maintaining a culture of internal secrecy. For example, a former trainer complains that when she was hired, SeaWorld already knew there had been dozens of incidents of whales attacking trainers, yet this was not disclosed to her. Indeed, it would seem that if SeaWorld really believed their arguments of ‘trainer error’, then they’d go out of their way to show their staff the footage leading up to the ‘accidents’ — and to painstakingly review exactly what fatal errors their staff ought to take care to prevent. They did the opposite.

Much like the Robert Greenwald documentary Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, this documentary accumulates its accusations of carelessness, corner-cutting, and duplicity on the part of a big corporation until the evidence seems overwhelming. Cowperthwaite builds the case incrementally, conservatively — she consults marine mammal experts as well as a large number of former trainers, but stays away from potentially incendiary advocates like animal rights leaders. She interviews one apologist  for  SeaWorld as well. And in publicity for the film, she maintains that she tried very hard to obtain interviews with spokespeople from the company — however, they weren’t willing to participate in the documentary. They waited instead until it was about to open, then sent a letter   to film critics calling the documentary dishonest, misleading, and scientifically inaccurate.)

It is clear that SeaWorld was not doing its employees any favors sending them into the water with its orcas, but the movie also examines the effect of captivity and training to perform what are essentially circus tricks on the killer whales themselves. The film does not want to make us fear killer whales as a species, the way Jaws made us afraid of sharks, and it points out that there are no reported incidents of orcas attacking humans in the wild. It is more about how they got to be this way, how their misery grew so intense that they felt the need to be violent.

Though other orcas are discussed, Blackfish focuses in particular on Tilikum’s story, as the most complete and the most horrific. Cowperthwaite has been able to unearth a fairly rich biography about Tilikum: from his childhood abduction on the ocean, through his apparent interest in learning and his joy at interacting with people, to his series of fatal assaults on humans. Blackfish becomes a study in the creation of orca psychopathology.

The grief that comes from orca families being ripped apart, the sensory deprivation they endure when shut up at night, and many other stresses are eloquently expressed. Experts weigh in on orcas’ advanced intelligence, complex social needs, and how different their normal behavior is in the wild from that seen in a tank; trainer testimony is provided attesting that in these marine parks the animals have been deprived of food or collectively punished if just one among them got a trick wrong; and visual evidence is supplied that whale-on-whale violence, a rare occurrence in the wild, is commonplace when these mammoth beasts are confined together in close quarters.  (One element of captivity that is overlooked, however, is how sonar bouncing back from the tank walls is a form of aural torture.)

Very intriguing scientific information is interwoven into the narrative. The discovery that orcas have an extra part of the brain that we don’t, a part that processes emotion, is fascinating. So is the description of killer whale cultures in the wild and how distinct they are from each other, even down to having completely different languages. Throwing animals from disparate families together, as is the norm in marine parks, is likened to throwing people from different nations together without interpreters. (You could also add that it’s like throwing them together in jail.)

Part of the documentary re-enacts  SeaWorld’s hearing at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) over violations of safety law. A federal judge rejected Sea World’s position that it should be exempt, and ruled that SeaWorld must separate its trainers from the animals at all times in order to protect its workers.

This would, however, put an end to a major component of SeaWorld’s activities and the entertainment that they’ve been marketing for years so they have fought against it strenuously. If the ban holds despite SeaWorld’s attempts to circumvent it,  perhaps fewer trainers will be injured. That in itself is hugely important. Unfortunately, it won’t mean that life for the many orcas SeaWorld owns around the world will improve. Blackfish doesn’t forget that.

One particularly striking revelation of the film is how SeaWorld spreads blatant disinformation about the animals it houses — despite the company’s pretences at fulfilling an educational function.  In order to make what they are doing look less terrible, SeaWorld lies to its staff about orca biology and sends them out in turn to lie to the public. This pertains to the most basic facts about orcas’ life expectancy (SeaWorld won’t admit that it’s less than half the length in captivity than it is in the wild) and about persistent signs of ill-health (because drooping dorsal fins are so common at the marine parks, the corporation promulgates the idea that it’s normal for dorsals to droop in the wild — though others interviewed in the film state categorically this is untrue.)

In short, Blackfish depicts how SeaWorld betrays orca whales by kidnapping them, holding them captive, and mistreating them in the name of entertainment; how they betray their staff by endangering and misleading them, while abjuring accountability; and how they even betray the public, systematically deceiving them about the animals for whom they are supposed to be ambassadors.

The young swimming champs the corporation hires are seen in Blackfish starting out full of energy and enthusiasm, genuinely excited to be working at what they believe to be a fun and noble job where they will get to bond with special creatures. The trainers Cowperthwaite interviewed believed what SeaWorld told them in the early days, believed that killer whales actually enjoyed being in the tanks and performing, believed that this work elevated the stature of the species in the public eye. Many of these trainers now sound as if they are heartbroken — and as if they came to that opinion in part by watching the orcas’ own broken hearts.

One of the saddest takeaways from a documentary full of lingering sadnesses is how SeaWorld exploits and abuses the positive feelings that many people have towards these impressive, mysterious leviathans. When I saw the film, a toddler sitting next to me had come to see it with his family and ecologist older sister. The little boy was obviously a fan of killer whales, clutching a stuffed orca toy in his arms the whole movie. His mother told me they had just been to SeaWorld two weeks before.  Obviously, it was hard for this small child to process all that cognitive dissonance. What he was a powerful symbol for, however, was another of SeaWorld’s offenses: that they take the fascination, awe and love for animals which children entrust them with and turn it all into dross.

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Hollywood Reporter:

Sam Simon, Terminally Ill ‘Simpsons’ Co-Creator Vows to Give Away Fortune

“Simon: I want medical experiments on animals stopped. They don’t do anything, and they don’t work. Veganism is an answer for almost every problem facing the world in terms of hunger and climate change. It helps people’s health. Meat is the biggest greenhouse gas producer. There’s also the cruelty and suffering aspect.”