Wednesday, August 20, 2014

"We must demand no less from ourselves"

Ellen's latest Science of Fandom has like a million hits or something ridiculous. Anne recently reminded us this (from 2+ years ago) was the most popular post ever on her blog:

Ellen's Speech

My daughter, Ellen Green, wasn't selected to give this speech at her high school graduation ceremony, so I decided to give her an audience here. Because I'm the mom.

Tonight, we go into the wider world. In many ways, we are the most fortunate generation to do so, benefiting from the efforts of past generations. It is thanks to their ingenuity and determination that our phones have more computing power than the room-sized computers of our parents’ generation, with access to more information than anyone imagined just a few years ago.

Many of us here, too, have personal opportunities because of the dedication and the drive of past abolitionists, suffragettes, and other heroes who refused to accept the status quo. Through their efforts, we have dramatically expanded the circle of compassion and rights. Interracial marriage was illegal in our state until 1962. 1962! - within many of our parents’ lifetimes. These incredible changes have only come about because of the efforts of countless dedicated individuals, striving to bend their piece of the arc of history towards justice.

Yet the world is far from perfect. Our nation is still tottering back to its feet from economic collapse, the product of unfettered greed. We have grown up in a polarized nation. My right to control my body continues to be attacked, and fellow women continue to be subject to the wage gap and underrepresented in key areas of influence. Those of us who don’t fit the status quo of sexuality and gender remain unprotected from discrimination on a range of fronts. American citizens continue to die in the longest war in our history. And we continue to drive global warming with no regard for future generations.

In the face of these crises, we cannot afford to move unquestioningly through the world. We must get informed. One of the greatest opportunities given to us by past generations is the incredible availability of information. Let’s not take it for granted. We cannot afford to take political dogma as gospel, or let TV's corporate talking heads do our thinking for us. Let’s examine the evidence, question our politicians, fact check our news. It is easier than ever, if we choose to pull off the blinders of apathy and ideology.

We cannot afford to ignore facts. We must get informed.

We must get informed, and we must get active. After graduation, it would be easy to let ourselves be sucked into the endless pursuit of ‘more’ - more money, more cars, more stuff. But no one ever dies happy that they got the latest BMW. No one is ever remembered for that last bonus they received.

We can all seek something better than that, something larger than ourselves. We can be the next links in the chain of heroes who have bent the arc of history towards justice. We can be part of the chain that has included Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Harvey Milk. The arc of history will not continue to bend without our efforts. We must refuse to let it stagnate or retreat. History has not been kind to those who clung to fear and prejudice. Let us never forget that.

As we sit here tonight, we face this challenge, this enormous opportunity to lead a meaningful life and change the world for the better. History demands nothing less. Future generations demand nothing less. And we must demand no less of ourselves. Thank you.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Understanding the World

This is perhaps the best primer on understanding conditional probability I've ever seen. You don't have to read far to get a good "aha" moment.

Eliezer Yudkowsky's site is filled with fascinating -- and well-explained -- writing.

I love the internets!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Catching Up On Links

An estimated 12 percent of millennials say they are "faithful vegetarians," compared with 4 percent of Gen X'ers and 1 percent of baby boomers.....

The ever-insightful Ginny on Restrictive Eating and Ex-Vegans

The poultry industry continued to feed DES to chickens for years after it was shown to cause human vaginal cancer.

The great Marla on the Sadness and Power of Knowing.

Better use of world’s existing cropland could feed 3 billion more people

And for dessert: Desserts!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Some Pics

My first Tiger Rattlesnake. Click on any for larger.

Gila Monster from earlier in the same hike.
For more from me, see this (specifically, this):
for more on the desert, see 

Another double rainbow, from our front porch.

One of the few days the Rillito River is running.
(Was running much more in the morning.)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

How the World Will Change

As I've noted many many times over the years, the vegan future is dependent on our use of capitalism to free up people to act from their better angels.

Josh Tetrick makes the case brilliantly in the Huffington Post. Please share widely!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Paul Shapiro's Introduction to The Accidental Activist

Thanks so much to Paul for his contribution to The Accidental Activist!


Paul Shapiro
Vice President, Animal Protection
The Humane Society of the United States

I have a confession. As with most confessions, it’s one I’m not proud of. And, perhaps unlike most things an animal advocate would confess, it harmed animals.
Before I get there, let me tell you a little about myself. I became vegan in 1993 and have devoted much of my time since then to trying to give animals a voice and reducing their suffering. I founded an animal protection club in high school, called Compassion Over Killing, which later became a national organization. After ten years of running that organization, I left to work at the world’s largest animal protection organization, The Humane Society of the United States, where I now serve as vice president of farm animal protection.
During these past two decades, I’ve been a part of dozens of campaigns: political campaigns, corporate campaigns, outreach and awareness campaigns, and more. The driving question in my life is a simple one: How can I most effectively be an ambassador for animals and therefore reduce the greatest amount of suffering?
But it wasn’t always that way. It wasn’t always the case that effectiveness came first in my mind. You see, when I first became involved in animal protection, I suffered from what some people jokingly call “newveganitis.” As a young teen, I was sometimes more focused on what made me feel good, what made me feel right, what made me feel “pure” when it came to these serious issues. Effectiveness, I’m ashamed to admit, sometimes sat lonely in the back seat.
So here’s my confession: I believe that much of what I did in the first several years of my life as an animal advocate didn’t do that much to help animals. In fact, the real confession is that some of it was actually counter-productive, meaning I believe it harmed animals.
Fortunately for me, and even more fortunately for animals, reading one of Matt Ball’s essays (a precursor to “A Meaningful Life”) changed so many of my views on animal advocacy.
I wasn’t short on desire to help animals. I wasn’t short on repulsion at animal cruelty. I wasn’t short on willingness to make sacrifices to try to advance animals’ interests. What I was short on was the type of strategic pragmatism that Matt opened me up to.
Matt made it clear that the bottom line in animal advocacy is how much suffering we can reduce (and, of course, creating happiness is also very important). Everything else, as they say, is just commentary.
My appearance was once one that was, let’s just say, countercultural. At one time, multiple earrings adorned my lobes, dreadlocks fell from my scalp, and a long wallet chain hung from my very oversized jeans. I was the type of person who would implore myself and my fellow animal advocates to be willing to do almost anything for animals, which of course makes sense, considering the unfathomable misery our species inflicts upon them.
I remember imploring other advocates to shout our lungs out for animals, to argue with people and try to “beat them” in those arguments, and so on. It was even common back then just to expect as an a priori assumption that “true” animal advocates would be willing to go to jail without question “for the animals.”
The painful questions I wasn’t asking included: Was I willing to get a haircut for animals? Was I willing to put on a button-down shirt for animals? More broadly, was I willing to actually try to be effective for animals?
Rather than being interested in winning arguments and being right, I needed to be more interested in winning people over and being effective. For animals, it’s not enough for us to be right. We need to be both right and effective.
Matt’s essay caused me to rethink my focus on animal advocacy: to concentrate primarily on farm animals since they represent the vast majority of all the animals we exploit; to modify my own appearance so it would no longer be a stumbling block for others to dismiss compassionate living; to recognize that we tend to accomplish more with a friendly, welcoming message than one which simply accuses and condemns.
I recall stupidly thinking when I was a new vegan that in advocating dietary change, it was all or nothing. Of course, I now recognize that countless people care about animals and want to help them, but may not be ready to become vegan. We should be welcoming to everyone who wants to help animals, no matter where they are on their journey. That’s not to say we shouldn’t always encourage continuous improvement for everyone—myself certainly included—but it is to say that there shouldn’t be an orthodoxy or litmus test for people wanting to do something helpful for animals.
In many ways, it boils down to this question: Do we want a social club, or do we want a social movement? If we want a social movement, we need to open our arms and have a big tent.
To be a big tent, it’s imperative that we continually ask ourselves: Are we so insular as a movement that we demand purity rather than progress? Are we so orthodox that we don’t applaud people for taking the first step, but rather punish them for not taking the last step?
By adopting a mentality that welcomes people where they are, applauds them for taking the steps they’ve taken, and reminding ourselves in a friendly way that we should continually strive for uninterrupted improvement in that parts of the advocacy that matter most, our movement—and therefore animals—will be much better off.
I don’t profess to have all, or even most, of the answers on how to be an effective animal advocate, and certainly neither does Matt. But I do know that I wish his essays had been around when I first became part of the animal protection movement. Perhaps I’d have a bit less to confess today had I been able to read them back then.
You don’t have that excuse. You now have the benefit of reading Matt’s essays right here, and then thinking critically about how they may help you become a more pragmatic protector of animals. I’m certain they’ll give you a lot to think about, and more importantly, to act on.

December 2013

Sunday, August 10, 2014

I Welcome Our Robot Overlords

The consequences of when machine intelligence exceeds our own has been the fodder for fiction, from Terminator to Robopocalypse. But maybe it will play out like the ending of the recent Spike Jonze movie, Her. (Spoilers in the "Plot" section of the Wikipedia entry.) Or maybe the fun WWW Trilogy.

MIRI is one of the groups doing insightful work in preparing for the coming rise of machine intelligence. If you are interested in their work, they are having a summer matching challenge for a few more days.

PS -- if you know a Wikipedia editor, let me know. Thanks!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Consequences, not Dogma

I've long believed people can accomplish more by being practical and consequentialist in their attitudes and decisions, rather than being dogmatic.

For this reason, I love this post by my good friend Ari Nessel, who has had an amazing impact on the world -- far beyond almost everyone else I know. He doesn't let anyone else's opinion or judgment (or concerns about popularity) get in the way of his singular pursuit of the bottom line: a better world for all.

Veganism is, in my thinking, more aspiration then a position. As humans we cause harm just by being alive. However, we can always try to cause less and less harm by being more mindful of how our choices impact other sentient beings and then aligning our actions. I don't fit cleanly in the vegan box. When my family eats pizza (they are vegetarian not vegan), I will eat their left overs rather than let is be thrown away (which would benefit no animals). Our family has adopted a number of chickens that were rescued from a factory farm. I will eat baked goods that are made using their eggs. I eat oysters (and have recently tried mussels) after doing some research and coming to the conclusion that their capacity to feel pain is likely not so different from some of the more advanced plants, and that their farming has few negative impacts on our oceans. 

Am I vegan by its formal definition? Definitely not. However, am I living a life that is in alignment with the intentions of veganism? I believe so. I share this because I want people to know that they can live the aspiration of veganism and be "imperfect". More precisely, they can embody this practice of kind consideration for all life in a way that is entirely unique to them, and in ways that allow space for them to deepen (e.g. also eating organic, reducing processes foods, removing palm oil...).

If you are a fellow animal rights advocate and find these comments hurtful, please forgive me for any angst or disappointment I may have caused you. However, I honestly believe that seeing ahimsa, or a life of non-harming, in shades of grey rather then in black in white will encourage more people to join this courageous and compassionate movement of animal rights. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Reviews of The Accidental Activist

Thanks to everyone who has put up a review of The Accidental Activist at Amazon! (And everyone who blurbed the manuscript.)

Some of my favorite lines from the Amazon reviews:

If you care about and want to reduce animal suffering, this wonderful collection of essays by Matt Ball, eloquent and beloved cofounder of Vegan Outreach is for you!

In the animal protection movement, it is common to say that anything one does to help animals is good. Matt and Anne were brave enough to point out that helping more animals is better than helping less animals. My confidence in their leadership was bolstered by their integrity and honesty, they spoke hard truths and faced losses because of it.

Matt's reasoned, eloquent focus on having the biggest possible impact with the greatest possible efficiency has resonated with tens of thousands of individuals, and created fundamental, pragmatic change on every level of the movement.

All activists share a common goal: to reduce suffering. But how can we become inspired to get active and even then, how can we reach our greatest potential in reducing suffering? The answers are in this book!

Matt Ball is an insightful thinker and pragmatic doer when it comes to animal protection work. He doesn't pretend to have all the answers, and readily admits mistakes he made in his early years as an animal activist. Fortunately, today's animal advocates have the benefit of learning from those mistakes and ensuring that we don't repeat them, since he and Anne Green have compiled them into this very useful book.

This is one of those magical books that get us to contemplate and examine our activism and then get moving to bring the vegan revolution to full fruition, and help as many as possible adopt the beautiful life, and reduce as much horrific suffering as possible. Matt Ball's writing has had a big impact on me and I'm sure his writing will on you as well!

In a showing of humility rare amongst thought leaders, particularly in animal protection, Matt shares mistakes made in his past efforts for animals and demonstrates a rare ability to pay attention to the negative data, the uncomfortable misfires most of us in animal protection would rather ignore than learn from. A courageous and honest analyst, Matt delves into unintended consequences of well intended efforts, always keeping the focus on the goal of advocacy of maximal impact.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Carl Sagan on Truth

How can we recognize the truth? There are a few simple rules.

The truth ought to be logically consistent. It should not contradict itself. It ought to be consistent with what else we know. We know a great many things -- a tiny fraction, to be sure. But nevertheless some things we know with quite high reliability.

We should also pay attention to how badly we want to believe a given contention. The more badly we want to believe it, the more skeptical we have to be.

From The Varieties of Scientific Experience