First The Good News, Or The Bad News?

Ah Italy. Behind the times in so many ways. While you may be in the forefront when it comes to high-end fashion, the cultural fashions that sweep the privileged world are always late in arriving to your shores. You might think that, given the tardiness you would be more inclined to look them over and sort out the good ones from the bad, but sadly they all eventually seem to make it over.

In this case, I am referring to the anti-vaccination fad that has been spreading, and killing, ever since the notorious Andrew Wakefield paper linking autism to the MMR vaccine. While there were anti-vaxxers before then, that was when the idea really got put on (organic and gluten-free, I’m sure) steroids. That was 1998, but it has only been in the past few years that the movement really started to gain traction in Italy as well.

Italian culture is a very hypochondriac one, so the issue of people not getting their kids vaccinated was never really raised until now. Some vaccines are obligatory by law, others are “highly recommended” but can be obligatory in some schools, though no one really knew the difference or made a fuss about it. When my mother moved here she was not told which were absolutely obligatory and which she could get away with not giving me, she was simply told that kids in Italy had to get all their vaccinations and that’s that.

But as I said fads, even the dangerous ones, eventually make it over here as well. So, the bad news, or the good news first?

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Ouch

This parody commercial is the whole package, in my opinion. Funny, scathing, a little uncomfortable, and yet you can’t fault it, because it’s right on the money.

 

A large portion of the privileged world just got rushed to the burn unit.

Anthropocentrism Strikes Again

I’ve posted before about the dangers of anthropocentrism, and the need to be aware of it when making decisions regarding animals. In my previous post, I was referring specifically to the pet trade. However, this time I am talking directly to the subset of animal rights activists who break into facilities, and don’t know what the fuck they’re doing.

The other day, two young activists broke into a South African marine park, stole a penguin, and released him into the wild. As the penguin in question was born in captivity, their actions have almost certainly condemned the penguin to a slow death due to starvation, as well as greatly injured his two chicks and female partner who relied on his presence to help look after their young. One of them has already died. Not great news, for one of the few breeding pairs of African penguin trying to do their part in keeping their endangered species afloat.

These kinds of stories infuriate me. While I am sure that the penguin thieves in question thought they were helping, their ignorance and stupidity actually did far more harm than good.

I remember a few years back when animal rights activists broke into a research facility in Milan and wrecked the place, mixed up the mice, and even opened a few of the cages. This, of course, cost the facility untold amounts of money, set back their research into psychiatric diseases by years if not decades, and led to the euthanizing of pretty much all of the mice that were fiddled with.

Now let me tell you something, as someone who works in this field. If wild mice had any idea how good lab mice had it, they would line up outside the doors and beg to be chosen. The regulations as to the comfort and well-being of laboratory mice is intense. Their cages are especially designed for their comfort. Any experiment done with mice has to pass an ethics committee, who decides whether or not the mice will suffer any kind of pain, or distress, if the research is important enough to warrant the sacrifice of mice and if the minimum number possible is being used. You are not allowed to freak them out, torture them before you kill them, starve them, let them be cold, be alone, or any of the things that wild mice face on a regular basis. They lead cushy lives, and their lives are used to give us important, lifesaving insights into all manners of human diseases, from cancer to schizophrenia.

That does not mean that you can’t push for a reduction in the use of lab mice. No one will be on your side more than the researchers themselves, if for no other reason than mouse work is very expensive and the permits to conduct it can take over a year to approve. The problem is, it’s the best we have so far.

Don’t like zoos? Push for legislation to get them shut down. Don’t like animal research? Work on an alternative model system that makes the use of mice obsolete. I can get behind many animal rights ideals, but I cannot abide people being stupid, reckless and irresponsible with their lofty goals.

Mice are not people. Penguins are not people. That doesn’t mean you can’t care about their lives, but it does mean that what is good for a person is not necessarily good for an animal. If they had asked Buddy the penguin if he would rather be ripped from his family and starve to death or stay where he was, I think the answer would have been quite obvious.

These kinds of people are the reason why many people, including myself, shy away from the label “animal rights activist”. If these people really wanted to make a difference they would stop giving the movement a bad name, and maybe the entire concept would gain more traction and respect.

What War Does To A Country

Many people don’t know what Syria used to look like before this devastating war. Those brief images that flash by on the news show scenes of destruction that are familiar, and in that familiarity they blend together with images of other war-torn countries. People’s ignorance of many foreign countries until they’re bombed remains are shown on the news leads many to believe, consciously or not, that those countries kind of always looked like that. They are often led to think that we are talking about people who have lived on the streets their whole lives, or in slums, or in mud huts, and so those giant refugee tents filled with overlapping mats must seem like hotels to them, right? I mean, at least they have a bit of canvas over their heads for the first time in their lives!

I think that showing before and after images of these war-torn countries is a far more powerful message, not only because it truly emphasizes the devastation that these people seeking asylum in our countries have experienced, but also because it is better at sparking a necessary, communal empathy. It drives home the message: that could be us. That city was little different from the one I live in, and look at it now. It is terrifying, it is reminiscent of our own world wars, and it is a far more effective tool to educate the people as to what the consequences of war actually look like.

To that effect, here is one video which pieced together some images of Aleppo, before and after the war.

 

I know, I know, the guy who strung them together is David Wolfe. I’ll beat him up over his pseudoscientific drivel another time, but for now, these images should still be seen by as many people as possible.

How Many Banned Books Have You Read?

It is banned books week, as the ACLU has informed me, and of course the first thing I did was look at the list of banned books they have on their website. Not surprisingly, I’ve read a startling number of books on that list already. What does that say about me? Or rather, what does that say about the States who tried to ban them? Funnily enough, I’ve read 8 of the books on the list because they were part of my high school curriculum. Does that also say something about my high school? Whatever it says, I like it.

It never ceases to amaze me that modern books keep making the list. The US Constitution and the First Amendment are legendary and, while I know that the 50s saw a severe regression and full-fledged ignoring of the Bill of Rights, I was under the impression that the country had somewhat caught on since then. There might be discussions about new technologies, like the right to record cell phone footage, for example, but books? Come on, First Amendment people, no book can be banned.

And yet, 2015 got its own category in the ALCU’s list of banned books, looks like some parts of the States at least never really got the message.

So, in honor of Banned Books Week do tell, how many banned books have you read?

Personally, I’ve read 35 of the 99 books listed in the link above. That’s a start, but not good enough. I’ll just have to order a couple more this week, I’m thinking I Know Where The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, American Indian Myths and Legends, and Beyond Magenta: A Transgendered Teen Speaks Out sound interesting.

Of the ones that I have read, I highly recommend the Toni Morrison books, The Color Purple, The Invisible Man, The Kite Runner, and, obviously, the Harry Potter Series.

Fifty Shades of Grey and the Holy Bible, on the other hand? Meh, you can go ahead and skip those IMO. For similar reasons of creepy, actually. The Pervocracy’s take on Fifty Shades, on the other hand, are highly entertaining.

 

Never Hate On Hugs

At least, I wont.

There have been many “free hugs” videos posted over the years, but I’ve never seen one get quite as tense as this one.

 

At first, I was so relieved to see the police, decked in riot gear, not badger the man wearing the free hugs t-shirt, but rather stepping forward and claiming a couple of hugs of their own and thanking him for being there and being peaceful. Things started to get extremely tense, however, when someone else in the crowd spots the young man having the audacity to engage in a sympathetic way with a police officer.

I felt bad for the guy when he got insulted and ridiculed by certain people in the crowd, but he held his own very well. While I understand the frustration and the anger that people in a community harbor after years of police violence, I also think that it is a necessary part of growth to learn when, where and how to direct that anger. Personally, I don’ think that is towards the guy with the “free hugs” t-shirt on.

That the young man spreading the message of peace and unity was also a man of color, I think, even further helps convey the message that this does not have to be a mutually exclusive, PoC vs. Cops battle, no matter how much outlets like Fox News want you to try to sell it as such. This is not a race war, this is about disadvantaged communities being railroaded by an out of control police system. That does not mean that there are not decent individual cops. That does not mean that the cops who shoot unarmed people are individual bad apples. It means that the system which trains the police, protects them from prosecution and victimizes these communities is deeply broken, and needs to be rebuilt. That does not decrease the humanity of any one person who finds themselves in this horrible mess, and I applaud this man for trying to make everyone understand that, on either side of the divide.

Sunday Cooking With Crys: Diet Tip Of The Week

This last paper and overworking has, once again, pushed me into the “my clothes don’t fit me anymore” zone, so I am back on a diet. I use the word “diet” quite loosely, in that I’m not one for extreme fads, zero carb zero fat paleo never eat such-and-such ever again kinds of diets. Rather, I overlay my knowledge of healthy eating and nutrition over a Weight Watcher’s skeleton, and in such find a way for even my pathetic-metabolismed self to return to my fighting weight without shutting myself up in my apartment, killing my social life and crying over the cakes that once were.

This means that I will not stop making my once a week complicated dish, but I also cook a lot of healthy, low-calorie things to keep me going through the week. I have had to watch what I eat for as long as I can remember, and so over the years I have picked up quite a few tricks. So, I thought, I’d split my Sunday Cooking With Crys segments into two: one with the fun, complicated dish, and the other featuring one of the many tricks up my sleeve for eating healthier.

For this week, I’d like to introduce cauliflower rice.

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Sunday Cooking With Crys: Cookies of Olive Oil and Wine

I admit that I am a couple of days late in posting these, because despite my being between projects at the moment I have found myself surprisingly busy and utterly failed to budget my posting time accordingly. I still wanted to post this recipe though, because it is one of my favorites and also one that baffles many who are not Italian.

I was not being poetic in the title, these cookies are quite literally made with olive oil and wine. On the surface that sounds absolutely disgusting, but in reality this is one of those recipes in which, if done right, two seemingly incongruous flavors combine to make a unique third flavor which tastes like neither of its components, and you would never be able to tell that they are oil and wine cookies. This is usually why I have people taste them before I tell them what they are, so as to not prejudice themselves into thinking they’re going to hate them before they give them a go. This also means that the recipe leaves little room for tinkering with, as both olive oil and wine flavors might overpower the whole and taste nasty. However, I have found you readers to be quite adventurous in the food department up until now, so here goes.

These cookies also happen to be vegan, although that is entirely by accident. Still, it’s not bad to have a couple of decent vegan recipes in your back pocket, especially for sweets, given the ever increasing fashion of veganism currently gripping the privileged world.

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“Be Brave” Would Have Been More Accurate

The ACLU is, by definition, very invested in educating the American public as to their rights. To this end, they have released another informative video as to your First Amendment right to photograph or record video in public places, and that includes the police.

 

The video explains what to do in the face of a police officer who is unlawfully attempting to restrict your First Amendment right to photograph or record them in a public area, including being polite, informing them that you are aware that they are not allowed to see your recordings or force you to delete them, and asking if you can leave. The video ends with the common phrase: “know your rights”.

“Be incredibly brave” would have been a more accurate way to end that video. I understand their frustration, and the need for more people to stand up for their rights and not allow the police to walk all over them. If you politely comply with their request to see the pictures or video, and agree to delete it, you can’t then turn around and complain that they violated your rights, after all you also have the right to choose to show your pictures to whomever you want, and to delete them if you wish. However, I also understand the fear that many people, especially people of color, would feel in such a confrontation with police officers.

The stories of shootings, beatings and unlawful detainment of US citizens pile up every week. There are so many that I wouldn’t even know where to begin in linking them. The recent shooting of a man whose car broke down, even though his hands were clearly above his head, for instance. Or the shooting of a therapist trying to calm down an autistic patient of his, even though he had clearly identified himself, what he was doing there, and also had his hands above his head. And those cases were not even people defying unlawful orders given to them by police. So many people rightfully fear the mere presence of police officers, let alone calmly and politely contradicting their orders and informing them of their rights. Many would, quite literally, be risking their bodily integrity, and their lives.

I can’t fault the ACLU for releasing these kinds of videos, for the more people who are educated about their rights the better. However, I also can’t fault those who are too afraid to follow their advice on how to deal with police in such a situation. It is sad that it has come to this point, but unfortunately it has. While I am sure that the ACLU is fully aware of the current situation, the video still gives the impression that the violation of citizen rights by the police is simply due to a polite misunderstanding, rather than a disturbing and violent trend. I’m not going to give simplistic advice as to how to resolve this situation, because I have none to give. All I’m going to do is suggest a slight modification to the ACLU’s message.

Know your rights, but know also that you need to behave in the way that you feel most safe. If you are willing to stand up for your rights in the face of danger, here is how to do so in the safest, most lawful way possible. We applaud those who lead, and fight, and stand up for those rights that we hold so dear, and we are here to help you in that fight. Together, let’s try to put a stop to the corruption and violence, and we do that by being united in the defense of our rights.

Education FTW

So many people I know crap on education. Not that they necessarily say that education is a bad thing, but rather they highly doubt that campaigning for wider access to information does much good, nor do they think that problems such as fundamentalism or anti-vaccination can be battled through education. These people I know seem to think that the “education is the solution” approach is elitist, arrogant and naive.

I would like to introduce those people to William Kamkwamba, whose existence I just discovered through this meme I came across on facebook.

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This man is clearly extremely intelligent. He now has a website and gave a TED talk, and I have managed to discover a bit more about him.

Apparently, Mr. Kamkwamba was forced to drop out of high school in his freshman year, because a famine in his area meant his family could not pay his annual school fees. Despite this, he was able to learn how to build one, then several windmills from books he borrowed from the library, powering first his home and then his village. After much dedication, hard work and fundraising, he was finally able to re-enroll in school and eventually even go to college.

Without access to a library, where would William Kamkwamba be now? Without access to information, would he have been able to do so much for his community? Probably not. He would not have been able to take full advantage of his potential and the world, and especially his community, would have been a little worse off because of it. How many William Kamkwambas are there out there who did not have that library, or the internet, or some way to educate themselves and realize their full potential? How many more solutions to local or global problems would we have right now, if all 7 billion of us were literate, and had access to the knowledge that we have accumulated over the centuries?

Call me elitist, arrogant and naive if you wish, but I think that education is a gem that should not be underestimated. I think it should be a right, not a privilege, to educate oneself. That does not mean that the entire world needs to aspire to be doctors, lawyers or bankers. It does not mean that high-paying, white collar jobs are the only ones that matter and the only ones to value. It means that I challenge this idea that people who work in construction, or as road workers, or as farmers are by default, or by definition, uneducated and unintelligent. I hate this societal divide, in which some fear to pursue higher education because a farmer without a high school degree is to be expected, but a farmer with a college education is a failure in life. We should do what we’re good at, and never mind the societal judgement that comes with it. Maybe that farmer, through his education, comes up with a novel and far more efficient method of irrigation, or of disease prevention for his crops. Maybe that educated construction worker realizes that the materials he wastes everyday can be re-appropriated for something else.

College is not for everyone, and that is OK too. I am also not saying that everyone on the planet should be required to hold a PhD. All I am saying is that, no matter what job you have or what path you’re on in life, no one should be discouraged or prevented from educating themselves to the degree and level that they wish. No one should have to choose between having literate children, or having fed ones. No one should worry that pursuing higher education might, paradoxically, restrict their job opportunities.

In my ideal world, William Kamkwamba would be exceptional because of his intelligence and ingenuity, and not because he had to overcome insurmountable odds to learn enough to demonstrate those capabilities.