Friday, December 9, 2016


This crazed insistence on screaming about things like "moral baselines" in a world of record per-capita consumption of animals seems to be to be a deliberate attempt to distract any potentially interested person from actually considering the animals' plight. To repeat a previous post:

"Why I hate vegans"

Stanford University has some of the richest, most well-connected students in the entire country – students who will go on to be hugely influential in the future.

Earlier this week, two highly successful and well-spoken individuals were scheduled to explain to these Stanford students why eating meat is unethical. The event had created a great deal of buzz and gotten a fair amount of press.

What happened? “Protesters” came in and shouted and chanted.

You might think it is horrible that anyone would try to prevent the animals' message from being presented to this important audience. However, it is even worse than that. The protesters made sure that the audience was left with a terrible impression of vegans and animal advocates. As the Stanford newspaper reported, the audience booed the screamers.

Under the guidance of Occam's Razor, which says that the simplest explanation is probably correct, what is most likely going on here is that the meat industry is much more sophisticated than we ever imagined. What a coup for them – not only trying to keep an important audience from hearing the thoughtful case for living ethically, but actually poisoning their minds against vegans and animal advocates!

As much as I loathe the meat industry for their utter callous brutality, I have to hand it to them – this is truly a brilliant strategy to protect your exploitative business.

Think this is sarcasm, or far-fetched? Think again.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Future is Here, Just Unevenly distributed

As discussed here, it will be advances in food technology that drives dietary change for most people.

This article at Vox shows this happening in real time. I just wish Nick had tried Tofurky slices and strips. They are simply incredible! Now we just have to drive demand in a realistic and sustainable way!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Effective Advocacy: Stealing from the Corporate Playbook

by Bruce Friedrich, co-author of The Animal Activist's Handbook


Over the years, I’ve found that those of us who are concerned about a better world are often so overwhelmed by the enormity of suffering that we work so hard that we never stop to ponder our effectiveness or the bigger picture. But if we want to have the greatest impact possible, I believe that we have a moral obligation to stop, step back, and think strategically about the most effective ways to lessen suffering.

It is always good to think back to the basics of our goal. The animal rights movement strives to apply the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” to all animals. In more direct terms, then, we are trying to answer the question, “If you were the hen crammed into a cage, unable to ever spread one wing, if you were the mother pig in the gestation crate, cooped up in your own waste, never able to take a step in any direction, if you were one of the billions and billions of animals who are denied every desire and just horribly abused, what would you want animal rights activists to do? How would you want them to behave?” I have been inside these factory farms, and I’ve been in the slaughterhouses; the level of abuse, the despondency in the animals’ eyes … I can’t describe it. It breaks my heart. I don’t believe that any of us can truly empathize with their level of suffering and pain, but we owe it to them to try.

However, empathy isn’t enough. And neither is arbitrary action. We have to always be aware that every time we choose to do something, we’re choosing not to do something else. So it’s crucial that we strive to use our time as effectively as possible. One of the most common reasons why we go wrong is that even if we are working extremely hard and even if we are dedicated to animals and making our activism for them a priority, few of us are working to become more effective.

We need to work as hard—and, more importantly, as smart—as the people on Wall Street work to sell stocks and advertisers work to sell the latest SUV. Although our goals are different, the mechanisms of reaching other people and selling the message (in our case, of animal liberation) are well established.

The point of this essay, “Stealing from the Corporate Playbook,” is to discuss ways of becoming more effective. There are two “playbooks” that nearly every successful businessperson has read—The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey and How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

If these two books can be used to make money and sell products, they can be used to help animals. I highly recommend that every animal rights activist take the time to read them both. We must take our animal advocacy as seriously as corporate America takes making money. In the meantime, I’ll go ahead and relate the parts that I find most useful.

The Essential Covey: Prioritization

What I thought was most valuable in Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is a concept that he calls “the tyranny of the urgent.” Basically, Covey suggests that most of us are so busy with the endless deluge of whatever comes up next—email on your screen, the phone ringing with this or that emergency, and so on—that we don’t have time to focus on actually accomplishing something. How often have you thought, “I accomplished nothing!” at the end of the day? Covey gives us the tools to focus on making sure that those days are as few and infrequent as possible by helping us to focus on prioritizing what is necessary, effective, and goal-oriented, rather than whatever happens to be immediately in front of us. Things like taking classes, improving your advocacy skills, organizing your life, and, of course, the actual work of doing what is necessary to reach as many people as possible—these are the areas where we should focus our energies in order to be as effective as possible.

All this seems obvious, but the fact is that most of us do not view the world this way. Especially for those of us who are working to make the world a kinder place, the suffering, the misery, and the issues that we are up against are so pressing and omnipresent that we often work very, very hard but not as effectively as we could—we do what comes along, whatever is most immediate, rather than what will be most helpful. We read every article about animals and respond to every email message that comes with a headline all in caps. But most articles don’t help our activism, and if we replied to every urgent email alert, we could end up doing nothing else.

One thing I now do is end each day with a list of things I will accomplish the next day. I will turn off my email and not answer my phone for significant chunks of every day, so that I can finish a book edit or a project analysis or review new undercover videos or prepare a memo for long-term strategy. These sorts of things are not urgent, they could wait, but they are very important. I turn off the onslaught of “urgent” stuff that really doesn’t need my immediate attention, and I accomplish something.

The Essential Carnegie: Truths That Our Parents Told Us

Another book that offers some very useful tips for effective advocacy is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, which could easily be retitled, The Basics of Human Nature. Some of the anecdotes are amusingly outdated, but mostly, it’s a book about being mindful and understanding in our interactions with others.

• Carnegie Principle 1: Dress for Success

The first principle from Carnegie that I want to cover is that we should look presentable so that our appearance does not distract from our message: the suffering of animals.

For years in the early ’90s, I had a full beard and shoulder-length hair, wore only clothes that I figured no one else would want, and refused to bathe more than once per week. I guarantee that since I began sporting a conservative appearance, I’ve persuaded many more people to become vegans.

Ask yourself, if you were the chicken on the factory farm, drugged and bred so that you couldn’t even stand up, or the pig in the slaughterhouse, drowning in boiling water, how would you want your advocates to look? I don’t believe our personal desire to reject society’s norms is nearly so important as advocating effectively for animals.

If our goal is to be as effective as we possibly can be in behalf of animals, it is absolutely essential that we put our personal desires second to animals’ singular desire to have us be effective advocates.

Obviously, there are forums where green hair, body piercings, and ripped-up clothing are perfectly acceptable, but in most situations, when we reject society’s standards, we are limiting our capacity to help animals.

This argument applies to health as well. I am consistently amazed by advocates who ignore their own health. The fact is that if you look sickly or seem lethargic, you’ll be less effective as an advocate. If you are frequently sick, drop dead from a heart attack, or end up in the chemotherapy ward, you’re making veganism look bad and you’re no longer helping animals! Also, if your diet consists of junk food, other potential vegans will think that’s all that vegans can eat, and they’ll be less likely to want to be a part of it.

• Carnegie Principle 2: Be Respectful

The second principle is to always be respectful, even if the other person seems not to warrant it. Being discourteous or saying something nasty is never effective.

I try to go to the streets to pass out booklets and talk with people at least once a week. Sometimes people say something unkind. In the past, I insulted them right back. This usually made me feel good. Ha! I told them! But my reaction hurt animals.

First, responding in kind doesn’t influence the person you’re speaking with. You might think that certain people just aren’t reachable, but I can tell you from experience that some of the people who seem the least receptive are actually the ones who are really challenged and on the verge of changing their behavior. That’s why they react so defensively. We must always strive to respond with respect and kindness. It can’t hurt and it might turn those people around.

Reacting with anger or sarcasm also hurts animals because anyone else who happened to hear the exchange would think I was humorless or mean. At that moment, I would not be doing animals any favors.

Now I say something like, “Have a nice day, sir,” or if it’s a slow leafleting session, I might say, “Would you like to talk about that?” Not only am I taking the moral high ground in the eyes of others, I’m consistently surprised by how often I’m able to have excellent conversations with seemingly obnoxious people!

The same analysis applies to your nasty brother-in-law or coworker at the office party. No matter how right you are, the question we must ask ourselves in every situation is “What’s in the best interests of animals?” Please allow me to repeat: It is never in animals’ interests for you to say something disrespectful to someone in a discussion of animal rights or veganism.

More on touchy dinner conversation in a moment, but first …

• Carnegie Principle 3: Instigate—Don’t Castigate

The third vital Carnegie principle is the art of convincing people through dialogue. Try not to make your vegan advocacy a monologue—and especially not a ranting one.

This is the one that I had the most problems with when I first became a vegan. The weight of all the animals’ suffering on factory farms and in slaughterhouses enraged me. Consequently, I wanted to beat everyone into becoming a vegetarian or a vegan, to force them to share my horror and outrage. I am now convinced that this is not the most effective way to convince people to change their behavior.

When someone says, “Plants feel pain!” or, “Animals eat other animals!” there are, of course, many possible responses that would shoot the other person down. But honestly, people really do believe the things they say; they just haven’t spent much time thinking about it. You have, so you might think the question is stupid, but if they said it, they don’t think it’s stupid. So if you respond as though you think they are, you will not convince them that you’re right—instead, they’ll feel too put off by you to listen to you. A wonderful way to begin your answer to a question that you think is stupid is, “That’s a question I get a lot, but if you look at it this other way …,” or, “I used to ask that same question, but now I see that …” These sorts of segues validate the other person, make you look good to anyone listening in, and continue the discussion in a way that will be far more effective than any other method that I’m aware of.

Some people say things just to be offensive on purpose, but I can tell you from experience that even many of these people are reachable. We must first refuse to lower ourselves to that level and instead come up with a response that allows them to save a bit of face and continue the conversation. If someone is clearly antagonistic, you can even say, “The things you are saying strike me as mean and disrespectful.”

If you react in this manner, you’ll be giving them a moment to embrace their better nature, and you will often find that they will soon be saying something like, “I have a sister who is a vegetarian.” I have to tell you, I’m consistently amazed at how someone can behave so nastily at the beginning of a conversation, yet come around by the end. But they won’t come around if we act aggressively, defensively, or condescendingly.

I know that there are situations—far too common—where you don’t even open your mouth and people are on the defensive; they feel judged simply because you are a vegan. Don’t let their anger make you angry. Practice staying calm and good-natured. If they bring it up first, try to laugh and say, “Hey, you brought it up. I’m happy to talk about it, but you seem kind of angry right now. Let me offer you this vegetarian starter kit and maybe we can talk about it later.”

Everyone wants to be liked. Everyone thinks of themselves as a decent person. If we grant people the opportunity to be heard—even if they don’t seem to deserve it—we can be far more effective in our interactions. Certainly, everyone witnessing the conversation will come away with a good impression of us and, thus, of animal rights activists in general.

• Carnegie Principle 4: Be Optimistic

The last Carnegie principle I want to address here is that we should be optimistic, upbeat, and positive. In the face of so much suffering, it can be difficult to be optimistic. Believe me, I know. It is so hard knowing about the horrific suffering of animals without being constantly down about it. But again, we have to ask ourselves: What will be most effective in helping animals? Depression and anger, however understandable, clearly will not be as effective for animals as a good-natured attitude. Think of the people who are the most popular. They are the ones who are smiling, upbeat, laughing out loud, and having a good time. We have to strive to be like that.

In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell analyzes the people who turn fads into trends. He has found that in every case, they are friendly, optimistic, and interested in others. They express a genuine interest in others, and that is returned by the people they’re talking with. Gladwell also offers a slew of interesting anecdotes that show that how things are said is at least as crucial as what is said—people, whether they admit it or not, are deeply influenced by body language and tone of voice. And of course, a positive tone and upbeat demeanor are far better at influencing people than the reverse.

To put this into practice, just before doing TV interviews or going out leafleting, I smile into a mirror and laugh out loud (ha ha ha ha ha). It sounds odd—but don’t dismiss it until you’ve tried it. It can really turn your mood around. It helps put you into a frame of mind in which you’re upbeat even if the interviewer or the person on the street seems intent on bringing you down.

Learning From Our Mistakes: Five Things We Do Wrong

Besides our tendency to be understandably depressed or angry, I’d like to discuss a few other things that many of us do that ultimately hurt animals.

• Personal Purity vs. Effective Advocacy

The number one thing that we do wrong—and I am speaking from many years of doing this myself—is that we place personal purity ahead of being as effective as possible for animals. We lose sight of the fact that veganism is not an end in and of itself but rather a means of ending cruelty to animals. Being vegan is not about being perfect and causing no cruelty at all—it’s about decreasing suffering as effectively as possible.

We all know this, but it bears repeating: At some level, everything we consume harms some animals. Every non-organic thing we eat involves pesticides that kill birds and other small animals. Organic foods use animal fertilizer. Harvesting vegan foods kills and displaces animals. Bike tires and even “vegan” shoes contain some small amount of animal product. We could all go out into the woods and live on nuts and berries as “level 10 vegans,” but ultimately, that would be far less effective than living where we could influence others to adopt a vegan diet as well.

Animals don’t need your purity, or else it would make sense to go live in a cabin in the woods, causing as little harm as possible. What the animals need is your advocacy—and they need for it to be as effective and influential as possible. Ultimately, veganism can’t just be about us, or it will become just one more narcissistic cultural fad. Veganism must be about helping animals.

So the issue of personal purity becomes one of basic math: Adopting a vegan diet means you’re not supporting the torment and slaughter of dozens of animals every single year. Helping just one more person to go vegan will save twice as many animals. But the reverse is also true: If you do something that prevents another person from adopting a vegan diet, if your example puts up a barrier where you might have built a bridge, that hurts animals—so then it becomes anti-vegan, if vegan means helping animals.

We all know that the number one reason why people don’t go vegan is that they don’t think it’s convenient enough, and we all know people whose reason for not going vegan is that they “can’t” give up cheese or ice cream.

But instead of making it easier for them to help animals, we often make it more difficult. Instead of encouraging them to stop eating all other animal products besides cheese or ice cream, we preach to them about the oppression of dairy cows. Then we go on about how we don’t eat sugar or a veggie burger because of the bun, even though a tiny bit of butter flavor in a bun supports significantly less suffering than eating any non-organic fruit or vegetable, or using a plastic bottle, or about 100 other things that most of us do. Our fanatical obsession with ingredients not only obscures the animals’ suffering—which was virtually non-existent for that tiny modicum of ingredient—but nearly guarantees that those around us are not going to make any change at all. So, we’ve preserved our personal purity, but we’ve hurt animals—and that’s anti-vegan.

Always, always, always remember: Veganism isn’t a dogma. Veganism is about stopping suffering. Let me say that again, as a 17-year vegan: Veganism is not a list of ingredients or a set of rules. Being vegan is about doing our best to help animals. So it requires thought, not a checklist.

So if you’re at a holiday party with meat-eaters and you’re talking about how you can’t eat the bread because you don’t know what’s in it, or you’re at a restaurant and there’s a veggie burger on the menu but you give the server the third degree about the ingredients or about how it was cooked, you are forgetting the essence of being vegan. You’ve just made veganism seem difficult, throwing up barriers to the others at the table who might have otherwise considered the plight of animals. In this situation, others are unlikely to want to ask about your diet, and they’re even less likely to think of it as something they might consider. Look at the big picture and you’ll see that your pursuit of purity in that instance does significantly more harm to animals than consuming that tiny bit of animal product! Remember that if just one of those people follows your example, you can save hundreds of animals! And if just one of them might have but decides not to because of your example, the reverse is true: You are hurting animals.

If you’re worried about what you’re going to eat in a restaurant, call ahead and figure out what meets your standards, and then order it with gusto. If you’re worried about what you’re going to eat at the office party, get on the catering committee or just bring along some great vegan food. But please, never, never make it seem like being concerned about animal suffering is a chore, because, of course, it’s not.

• Eating With Meat-Eaters

In the same vein, I went years refusing to eat with meat-eaters. Please be aware that many meat-eaters read your non-attendance as either deprivation, self-righteousness, or both, and that’s the sort of club nobody wants to join. “You can’t even go to parties, can’t go out to eat, whatever. Who wants to live like that?”

Another advantage of taking part in gatherings is that people are likely to ask you about what you’re eating, especially if they know you’re a vegetarian. This is your perfect chance to get a bit of information into their heads and maybe even into their hands. As previously discussed, you need to do it in an upbeat way, and you need to gauge the situation so that you don’t alienate everyone, but you should be able to present the basic moral argument without being aggressive.

What I do in these sorts of situations is to try to get a feel for the level of interest; often, you can have a good conversation even at a meal where meat is being served, as long as you’re upbeat and speak mostly about your personal beliefs in kindness and against cruelty. But if it seems like vegetarianism is the very last thing most of the people would want to discuss, I say something like this:

You know, this is an issue that is really important to me. I believe that if you saw how animals are suffering on factory farms and in slaughterhouses, you would be horrified and you wouldn’t want to support it. But I’ve found that having this discussion with a table full of people is often unpleasant for some of the people and I don’t want to monopolize the entire conversation. I do have some literature and some videos, and I’d love to talk with you about this later. Can I get your email address?

Boom! You’ve raised the moral issue AND you come across as the nicest person at the table. Everyone who, when that person asked, “Why are you a vegetarian?” hunkered down to listen to your long moral monologue will be singing your praises. But you will have raised the ethical issue, which is crucially important.

One last thing to say about eating with meat-eaters: If you’re going to a function where taking food is appropriate, please take along some tasty dishes; when one person substitutes your recipe for theirs, that’s a little victory. Few things convert people like delicious vegan food!

• Marginalizing Ourselves

If you agree with me that the animal rights movement is the moral imperative of our time, then I hope that you will also agree that animal rights must be our focus. So we must accept people where they are and not argue with them about other issues, even if they try to distract us. Often, people will feel more comfortable discussing an issue that they’ve thought a lot about, so in response to your vegetarianism, they’ll ask you about abortion, God, or politics.

If we make veganism and animal rights a package deal that includes other issues, it will be easier for others to dismiss us. Someone who might have otherwise considered veganism might write you off because of your position on the death penalty or abortion. And really, there’s also the “Why bother?” factor since, for example, you are far more likely to awaken a conservative to the animal issues they may not have considered than to sway them to reject their political philosophies. In fact, some of the best advocates for animals are not progressives, including George W. Bush’s vegan senior speechwriter, Matthew Scully, as well as former Congressional members Bob Smith and Bob Dornan. Bob Dole was much better on animal issues than Bill Clinton, and right-wing ideologues like G. Gordon Liddy and Oliver North are quite sympathetic to animal issues, while political liberals like Bill Press and Michael Moore are dismissive at best.

Also, if we’re advocating a certain type of vegan diet, such as macrobiotic or raw foods, that could harm animals because it’s far harder to follow these diets than a vegan one. And remember, most meat-eaters are already worried about what they’re going to eat if they give up meat. Our message must be the animals’ suffering, not our personal dietary preferences where those preferences don’t actually help animals.

• We Apologize or Minimalize

Another way that we limit ourselves is by apologizing or minimalizing. I have heard it said that it’s acceptable if someone asks why you are a vegetarian to say that it’s a “personal decision and I don’t want to talk about it.” How does that help animals? How would anyone, hearing that answer, ever come to realize that this is a moral issue? They won’t—they’ll think it’s just your own personal quirk.

Also, never say that your diet is just about your health, and never say it’s just about the environment. You can raise those issues, in addition, of course. But always, always, always talk about the effect on animals. We’ll never get to animal liberation if the only people adopting a vegetarian diet are doing so for selfish reasons.

• We Don’t Prepare or Practice

Another thing we do wrong—and this is fundamental to this entire talk—is that we often don’t prepare and we don’t practice what it is that we want to say. We’ve all heard arguments like “What about abortion?” and “Don’t plants feel pain?” a million times, so there is no excuse for any of us to “wing it” in responding to these questions. We should be ready to give the best answer in a friendly and engaging manner.

We owe it to animals to have a thoughtful and constructive, yet simple and focused reply ready for every question. If we are nervous or uncomfortable about public speaking or potentially argumentative interactions, we should enroll in Toastmasters or a public-speaking course, and we should practice with friends until we’re comfortable having these discussions. It can also be an embarrassing but amazingly useful exercise to do video role play with this discussion. It’s funny and a bit mortifying, but you can bet that once you’re done, you’ll be able to offer the argument in any situation!

• We Neglect the Little Things

Finally, we have to remember the little things like wearing buttons and T-shirts and putting bumper stickers on our cars and laptop computers. Everyone with a car or a laptop computer should have “Proud Vegetarian” bumper stickers on them. Animals never get a rest; it’s the least we can do to put a bumper sticker on our car and laptop. If you don’t want a permanent bumper sticker, you can get a sheet magnet at Kinkos, put your bumper stickers on it, and cut them out. I have magnetic bumper stickers that I take with me when I travel to put on my rental car, which I love, because they’re nice, new cars, and they become a mobile billboard for animal rights.

Beyond that, when we go out, we should generally have a button or a T-shirt and some literature. You can be sure that if I have my backpack—which I usually do—I have a stack of booklets.

Various groups offer “Ask me why I’m vegetarian” t-shirts and booklets that every activist should have in their bag at all times.

Remember, you convert one person to veganism and you’ve saved thousands of animals. People see the bumper sticker or your “Ask me why I’m vegetarian” T-shirt, and you’ve got the pamphlet and can hand it to them and talk to them about that issue. Every time a new person thinks about animal rights or thinks, “Hey, they look pretty normal and they advocate animal rights,” that’s a victory for animals. If you currently walk around in Boston Red Sox or Metallica T-shirts, replace them with “Ask me why I’m vegetarian” T-shirts and be an animal advocate each time you step outside the door.

Whatever their record, the Sox don’t need your help nearly as much as animals do.

Tips for Getting to the Discussion

It’s important to get positive conversations about animals started, so here are a few tips on getting discussions going. These are a few of my favorites.

• Have Non-Animal Interests

One thing to do is to have non-animal interests. You could join a book club, work out in the gym in your animal rights T-shirt, join a running, biking, or hiking club, or do whatever activity is important to you. Get involved in some organizations and become the animals’ voice in those organizations.

• Don’t Neglect the Small Stuff

Although already discussed, probably the best way to do the most good for almost no expenditure of your time is to prioritize the little things like wearing T-shirts, putting bumper stickers on your car and laptop, and carrying literature with you. The importance of displaying buttons and T-shirts and bumper stickers can’t be overstated: people will see those things, especially if your button invites them to talk to you. For instance, I have six “Ask me why I’m vegetarian” T-shirts. I wear them everywhere, and people really do ask, spurring conversation after conversation on planes, in the metro, and everywhere else. And even for people who don’t ask, they have to think about whether they want to ask, which is also good, as they will think about why they’re not vegan and why you might be vegan. Each time someone who would not otherwise have thought about this issue thinks about it, that’s a little victory for animals.

• Pass Out Booklets

It takes a bit more effort, but spending time passing out booklets is both fun and an amazing way to advocate for animals. Just think about it: The average person in the U.S. eats dozens of chickens, pigs, turkeys, fish, and other animals in a year. Even if only one person becomes a vegetarian after an evening of your leafleting, that is an enormous victory for animals—hundreds of animals saved from horrific suffering in just an hour or two!

But I can tell you from our surveys that every time you go out to leaflet, you affect more than just one person. Also, many of those who don’t immediately become vegan or vegetarian will likely be more receptive to the idea the next time around.

Instead of going to a movie on some Friday or Saturday night, grab a stack of booklets, go where there are a lot of people and pass them out. I live in Washington, D.C., so it’s particularly easy because there are constantly people flowing in and out of the Metro. Just a few of us can give away 300 or 400 booklets in an hour. When we go down to the bottom of the escalator, we see maybe a dozen thrown away—but the rest are being read, and many will be passed on or left on trains for others to read.

On public property, you can also set your laptop computer or tablet on top of a card table and show one of the many videos out there. Honestly, it is just stunning to see the number of people who will just stand in front of the TV and watch the entire thing, sometimes more than once! They see images and they get drawn in, often asking questions afterwards.

With these approaches and easy activities, you can make a big difference for animals every day!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Why Trump Will Be President

I think Kevin Drum's list is pretty good, but there are a few places where we diverge. Why Hillary lost, IMO:

  1. Obama. Barack Obama rode a complete economic collapse into office. He fancied himself a transformational president, and he was right. As party leader, he led the Democrats from control of the Presidency, House, and a super-majority in the Senate, to a country where the Republicans control everything from dog catcher and state houses to Congress, POTUS, and SCOTUS.

    Democrats love Obama, but Obama couldn't have cared less about the Democratic Party. He built a huge, energized organization in 2008 that he then let wither. He cared about short-term victories at the expense of the long-term health of the party. His legacy will be undone (and then some) by the unified Republican government he's leaving behind. Viewed in the long run, I don't know how anyone can rationally view him as a success.

    It pains me to say this, as I, too, am enamored with him.
  2. Democratic fickleness. Republicans fall in line, even with an indefensible cretin who brags about sexual assault and lies every time he opens his mouth. For Republicans, it is about winning and power.

    For Democrats, it is about passion and purity. We loved cool Bill Clinton, but were complacent and not "inspired" by wonky Gore. We loved cool Barack Obama, but were complacent and not "inspired" by hard-working real-world Hillary. So a lot of us just stayed home, dooming the poor, people of color, etc. We also stay home when not inspired by someone we love (e.g., midterms, local elections), leaving Republicans controlling everything.

  3. Related to that: Bernie. To quote Kevin Drum: "He started out fine, but after his campaign took off and he realized he could actually win this thing, he turned harshly negative. Over and over, his audience of passionate millennials heard him trash Clinton as a corrupt, warmongering, corporate shill. After he lost, he endorsed Clinton only slowly and grudgingly, and by the time he started campaigning for her with any enthusiasm, it was too late. I understand that Bernie fans want to deny this obvious reality, but honestly, is it any wonder that Clinton lost a big chunk of the millennial vote?" To this day, I still have Bernie Bros hollering at me that Hillary is "corrupt."
  4. James Comey. Yes, he was the straw that broke the camel's back. One person can make a difference.  😓
  5. The media. Comey only made a difference because the media had to keep the race close in order to get more eyeballs and more clicks. I've said for many elections that the media will do anything to make sure it is a horserace, and the media kept Donald Trump alive. The head of CBS, Les Moonves, spoke for the entirety of the media when he said that the Trump campaign "May Not be Good for America, but It’s Damn Good for CBS."
Facebook spreading actively false stories aside, you can see this in the obsession with Hillary's email server. This is, of course, a nothingburger. How do we know it is nothing? Because the media never covered it when Colin Powell or Condi Rice used private email servers. They basically never covered when the GWB White House "lost" millions of official emails. There are many other similar stories that were ignored (Romney, etc.), up to and including Mike Pence.
Did any of these "scandals" make it to the public's consciousness? No. But the media needed something to tear down Hillary to keep the race close (showing anything and everything Trump said wasn't enough), so they literally spent more time saying "emails!" than actually discussing issues. Meanwhile, women and people of color are being attacked, and a the Neo Nazis are opening celebrating

  1. The Electoral College (the real number one reason). Even after winning, Donald Trump knows the EC is horrible and undemocratic. Like much else our beloved founders did, it was put in place to protect slavery.

    In two of the last six elections, the person who got the most votes did not end up leading the country. This is simply, indefensibly undemocratic. Everyone's vote should count equally, regardless of their skin color, gender, religion, or location. Anything else is simple discrimination.

    National Popular Vote is really our only hope in this respect, but even though most support it, I'm not optimistic. Because of #2 above, Republicans control the vast majority of the states, and they know that as liberals continue to move to a handful of states (CA, MA, NY), their only chance to win the presidency going forward is continued voter suppression and the Electoral College.

A side note, pointed out by Bill Maher: This election proves, once and for all, that "evangelicals" and "Christian family values" voters are lying hypocrites, driven by hate.

Our only chance is to get real, get focused, and vote every goddamn opportunity we have.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Scenes from the Desert

I am, of course, thankful beyond measure for my family. I am also thankful for the opportunity I have had to live in the Sonoran Desert. Here are some images for those of you not as lucky (click any for larger).

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Two Calls, Three Parts, One Step

I still remember, very distinctly, when back in 2004, Paul Shapiro called. Wayne Pacelle had taken over HSUS, and wanted Paul and Josh Balk to move from Compassion Over Killing to HSUS and launch a Farm Animal division. I was floored. One of the first things that came to mind was, “If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.” I imagined Paul and Josh being stifled by a conservative, slow-moving bureaucracy, an old, huge organization unwilling to do anything really meaningful that might offend some donors. But still, I thought the utilitarian expected value was such that they couldn't really turn down the offer.

It was a time of significant change in the animal advocacy movement, when more dispassionate utilitarian calculations were being used to help determine how we could use our very limited time and resources to prevent the most suffering. This shift in the movement is documented in two recent articles: Slate's “Save the Chicken: A few decades ago, no one cared about chicken welfare. Now all our eggs are about to be cage-free. Why?” and Quartz's “How the vegan movement broke out of its echo chamber and finally started disrupting things.

And since then, their work at HSUS, along with the work of other groups like MFA and THL, has had huge impacts for animal welfare, as discussed in the two above articles.

It wasn't clear at the time, but our standard vegan advocacy and outreach was going nowhere fast. Indeed, for a few years during and after the financial crisis, consumption of chicken – and thus the total number of animals killed – declined. We poured millions of dollars and hours into vegan messages to convince people to go veg, but then, as soon as chicken prices fell, consumption went right back up, and is now at an all-time high. And despite all our efforts, the actual percentage of people who don't eat animals has basically not changed, even declining from 2012 to 2015. It is entirely clear that sadly, economics supersedes ethics.

This brings me to the next memorable call, when Josh called to tell me he and his friend Josh Tetrick were starting a company to produce cruelty-free options to animal products. The goal of Hampton Creek Foods wasn't to make life easier for vegans, but to undercut animal products in the marketplace – using what we know about economics to lessen suffering.

This move was one of the catalysts of a whole new push on the supply side of the equation. Company after company is being formed – again, not to serve the current veg community, but to actively undermine animal products in the marketplace. This work is being led in many new directions by Bruce Friedrich and The Good Food Institute.

There is, I believe, a third part to the newly pragmatic efforts to reduce suffering and eliminate the use of animals for food: harm-reduction advocacy. Instead of thinly-disguised (or simply naked) vegan advocacy, we can review all the numbers, studies, and lessons. To summarize very briefly what is discussed at greater length in the previous links:

  1. The vast majority of land animals who suffer in the United States today are birds.
  2. Almost every argument for vegetarianism or veganism applies much more to avoiding red meat than birds – environmental and health arguments especially.
  3. It takes over 200 chickens to provide the same number of meals as one cow.
  4. While beef consumption has fallen over the decades, chicken consumption has risen significantly. After a few years of decline, chicken consumption in the US is currently at an all-time high and continuing to move higher, despite all advocacy efforts.
  5. The vast majority of individuals (~80%) who go vegetarian or vegan go back to eating animals, becoming active advocates against a compassionate diet. In part because of this, the percentage of the population that is vegetarian hasn’t really changed in the US (actually declining from 2012 to 2015, but still within the margin of error), again despite all our advocacy efforts to date.

Then consider this key psychological insight, which won Herb Simon his Nobel Prize in Economics: People don’t make optimal or “perfect” decisions. Rather, almost everyone makes choices based on what is a bit “better” or “good enough.”

With all this, I believe a refined advocacy and outreach approach logically follows. It has two straightforward guiding principles:

  1. Avoid advocacy that has any possibility of leading individuals to replace red meat with chickens.
  2. Promote a simple, incremental message that is accessible, sustainable, and maximally impactful on the amount of suffering in the world.

These are the guiding principles for One Step for Animals.

If you see the logic to this and aren't a member, please join today! If you are a member already, please consider making a special donation so we can expand this work (all donations are always doubled, dollar-for-dollar).

Thanks so very much.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

(A Rambling) Profile in Cowardice

As anyone who has read this blog knows, I used to be a True Believer. Now, however, my view is that we shouldn't act or advocate based on ideology or purity, but on incrementalism and pragmatism. I believe we should avoid words and ideas that are viewed negatively by the general public, and we should honestly evaluate the numbers and studies and learn our lessons to help us determine the best way forward. With per-capita animal consumption at an all-time high, I think it is clear we need a new approach.

Thaddeus Stevens, played in "Lincoln"
by Tommy Lee Jones.
I understand that others think this attitude is entirely wrong-headed. I've accepted the attacks claiming “immoral,” and I expect more in the future.

But while I understand the desire for purity, and the elaborate and endless arguments for only demanding in full everything we want, my reading of history reveals that actual progress comes about in herky-jerky increments, led by compromising individuals.

I've been a fan of Al Gore's since his first presidential run in 1988. Not to sound arrogant, but he reminded me of me — a somewhat awkward nerd who worked hard and cared a lot, but was not particularly popular or inspiring. It pained me to watch him lambasted with ridiculous made-up stories (Love Story, the Internet) while a bumbling fool got away with outright lies (“the vast majority of my tax cut goes to the people at the very bottom”). But what brought me actual agony was so many people who refused to vote to Gore, because he wasn't “pure,” because he wasn't “inspiring,” because he wasn't promising to deliver everything the Left wanted.

So we got a war that killed and maimed hundreds of thousands. Deregulation leading to economic collapse. And right wing justices on the Supreme Court who oppose equal rights and civil liberties.

And since we refused to learn from history, we were doomed to repeat it. Again, a hard-working, deeply-dedicated individual was slandered with made-up stories, while the son of a millionaire spouted nothing but insults, hatred, and lies. It hasn't even been a week, but the attacks and assaults are already well underway.

But while I am fine with standing up for incrementalism and pragmatism in terms of animal advocacy, I have been a coward in terms of politics.

In 2004, I had two tires slashed because of my anti-Bush bumper stickers. Since then, I've not had bumper stickers. I didn't wear political shirts or hats because of my fear of physical repercussions. I didn't stand up to slanderous attacks on Hillary, because I just couldn't bear the relentless onslaught from the Left and Right.

And the attacks — an intentional form “voter suppression” by her opponents — worked, with many millions of Obama voters not voting for the best candidate this time.

This is a long and rambling way to get to the link that prompted this post: “The Guilt and Pain of a Clinton Supporter.” I ask that you read the entire thing, but here is the passage most relevant to me:

“It’s my fault because during the long months of the primary and the general election I didn’t tell anyone how strongly I felt about Clinton. I didn’t put a sticker on my car, I didn’t put a sign in my yard, and I didn’t wear a T-shirt. ... It’s my fault because when I ran into people who were voting for Trump—at the grocery store, in the gym, in my neighborhood—I changed the subject because I didn’t want to get into an argument.

“And it’s also my fault because when I did support her, I did so in a provisional and caveated way. I said things like, “I realize she’s not a perfect candidate” and “I’m not arguing that she isn’t flawed.” And every time I said something like this I affirmed that there was a need to apologize, I singled her out as somehow different from other candidates (in both parties) who were worthy of unequivocal support, and I created the space for the impression that she was critically flawed. I did this nearly every time I spoke about her, and I saw this language in dozens of articles and editorials and statements of support. [But] I don’t remember seeing this type of language in the editorials written for any of the similarly flawed men who have run for president over the past twenty years. And this, I think, is the thing I regret the most.”

I know that my form of regret is shallow; as a straight white male, the brunt of the horrors won't fall on me. But I can promise you this: Knowing that doesn't make me feel any better. And I will regret this with every new horror that comes down the pike for all the years to come.

Friday, November 11, 2016

From Reannon

There is, of course, loads to say and much horror and grief to deal with. One quick reminder: More people voted for Hillary. In the past seven presidential elections, Democrats have gotten the most votes in six. No other party had ever done that before in the history of the U.S. Donald J Trump is absolutely right about the Electoral College.

Below is a post from my friend Reannon (shared with permission). The damage already done to this country, by validating and elevating hatred and prejudice and assault, is beyond measure. But we have to stand up. We have to.

"I've seen several of my left-leaning friends saying that they hope that Trump's presidency is a "success"; indeed, Hillary said the same thing yesterday. If by "success" you mean, "I hope he doesn't bring any more shame to our nation and the office of the President than he already has and doesn't completely jack things up," then I'm with you.

"But, I don't wish him political success. I don't wish him success in implementing any of his plans. I wish him nothing but trouble. I hope that he will continue to bleed staff and will never find his organizational footing -- just like he did during the campaign -- because he is an ineffective manager. I hope Congressional Republicans who he has insulted and demeaned for 18 months will stand in his way as much as possible. I hope that Congressional Democrats will filibuster and sit-in and protest every chance they can. I hope the ACLU sues him whenever he threatens our Constitution. I hope Americans continue to protest and push back and organize. I hope we give him nothing but heartburn and difficulty and stress.

"To hope for anything less is to want him to be successful in building a ridiculous wall that will bankrupt our nation; in deporting millions of hardworking immigrants who do the jobs that American citizens *refuse* to do and who need a path to citizenship; in implementing tired economic plans that were proven ineffective long ago; in gutting Obamacare and leaving millions of Americans without health insurance; in ignoring the dire threats of global warming; and in cultivating a culture of fear, racism, sexism, and violence against the "other." I hope he is the least successful president in the history of our republic."

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Can Our Choices Make a Difference? The Video

For those of you who won't be in Portland at the VegFest this weekend, here is the video of talk I'll be giving (updated and modified).

Thanks to everyone who has provided feedback; I'll be incorporating as much as I can this Saturday in Portland.