Thursday, 28 April 2016

Spinning the web

The current wave of outrage about Ken Livingstone’s defence of fellow UK Labour MP Naz Shah is a media beat up of epic proportions.  The target isn't Shah - who has even been forgiven by some in the rightwing press because she has confessed her sins and issued a ‘heartfelt’ apology -  the target is Jeremy Corbyn and the left of the Labour Party. The media and rightwing politicos are directing yet another artillery barrage at Livingstone in the hope that it will also wipe out Corbyn.

Livingstone is a hostage to fortune on the Israeli-Palestinian issue in part because he refuses to condemn as anti-semitic (among other things) the often controversial and contradictory Muslim Cleric, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradwi.  In light of the high probability that he would be attacked and anything he said taken out of context and used against him in the court of popular opinion, Livingstone would have been wise to have kept out of the debate. Had he done so we might have been spared the awful sight and sound of John Mann charging up to loudly claim the moral high ground. 

Livingstone also stated in his media interviews that Hitler had once been supportive of a Zionist plan to relocate German Jews to Palestine. In the line with current standards of media accuracy and impartiality, he was promptly accused of saying Hitler had been a Zionist. 

The overall tone of the rightwing media response is exemplified by this comment from The Independent: "A Labour MP has stepped down as an aide to John McDonnell after it emerged that she once backed a plan to relocate the state of Israel to North America".  

Since when has an obviously ironic and amateurish meme on Facebook constituted a 'plan'?  Only a rightwing journo, nose down in the dirt, in hot pursuit of an anti-Corbyn story could produce such arrant nonsense.   

As for the foolish man who is Communications Director for the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism who claimed that Shah's action was evidence of 'gross and brazen anti-semitism' and an "expression of extreme prejudice towards Jewish people" - may I suggest a regime of cold baths and deep breaths. 

I suspect there are few people who are more alert to, or critical of anti-semitism than me. I know how deep and widespread its roots are and how easily it can spring back into destructive life even when people think it has been killed off. I've been vociferously anti-anti-semitism for as long as I've been vociferously pro-Palestinian rights - ie for many decades. 

If I’d seen the meme - which was unearthed from Shah's Facebook page by right-wing blogger and Sun columnist Paul Staines (Guido Fawkes) - I may not have shared it because it has spelling mistakes and I am a pedant - but it is clearly meant to be ironic.  There is nothing in it to suggest it is anti-Jewish. It is a piece of anti-Israel and anti-American agitprop but however hard the right-wing contorts itself, there is simply no basis for arguing that being critical of the actions of the Israeli state automatically constitutes anti-semitism.  

Another charge against Shah is that she posted a link to an article which draws parallels between al Qaida and Zionism. I'm not sure if it was this one by Catherine Shakdam but if it was, it's worth reading. 

Rightwing Zionism and rightwing Islamism definitely have one thing in common - and that's a hatred of the political left. Israel and the US and their allies were totally opposed to and actively undermined the moderate leftwing Palestinian leadership.  As stated in Shakdam''s piece and elsewhere, there is evidence pointing towards the US and Israel having fomented extremist Islam as part of a wider move to 'Balkanise' the greater Levant region as part of Israeli expansionism. It's surely worthy of note that the extremists of Al Qaida and ISIL have not directly attacked Israel or Israeli interests - in fact most of their victims are other Muslims and it is Muslim countries which have suffered most from the unrest in the Middle East. 

The Israeli government and its supporters cynically and persistently use the accusation of anti-semitism to deflect and defuse criticism of Israeli actions.  In so doing, they are busy stripping anti-semitism of its political and historical meaning and significance.

The actions of the Israeli state with regard to Palestinians are indefensible. The irony and the tragedy is that that they are reminiscent of how Nazi Germany and all its collaborating states and peoples acted towards Jews in the 1930s. 

I've talked to young Israelis travelling in NZ after the end of their military service and been appalled at the unthinking racism some of them display towards Palestinians. It's an almost word for word replication of the bigoted supremacist ideology trotted out by white racists:  Palestinians are stupid and uneducable, they are incapable of running their own affairs, they are aggressive and untrustworthy and innately predisposed towards being thugs and terrorists. 

Those young Israelis didn't arrive at those ideas by themselves, such notions don't pop up out of a social vacuum - they are fed to the young through educational and religious institutions and military service. 

To create the sort of soldier-medic who can shoot a helpless young man in the head with as little thought or compunction as he might step on a bug, or the sort of crazed religious fanatics that can burn a family alive  - the 'other' has to be turned into a faceless, soulless, non-human being. The trouble is that the only way people can come to see the 'other' as faceless, soulless and non-human is to become those things themselves.

That is the horror of fascism.  

I abhor Muslim fascists as much as I do Jewish or Christian or Hindu or Buddhist ones. In fact I abhor any ideology that is founded on and perpetuates ignorance, irrationality and bigotry. And I abhor all people of violence - most of all those who dispense their violence from the safe distance and comfort of conference and board rooms. 

There are people - including a few who claim to be of the left - whose support of Palestinian rights owes a great deal to a hatred of Jews.  The political rightwing - the traditional home of anti-semitism - currently fears and hates Muslims more than it hates and fears Jews, except of course for those Muslims who happen to be part of the ruling elites of the likes of Saudi Arabia who are granted a temporary exemption.  Such people support Israel because, for the moment, they hate and fear people of another religion more.  Why and how much they hate and fear Muslims varies of course. For most it's ignorance, they have swallowed the toxic ideologies and political spin pumped out by the rightwing media, but for others it's a calculated and calculating strategy at the heart of which is the principle of divide in order to continue to rule.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

My feminism in a series of tweets

#myfeminism is the product of a deep & unshakeable belief in simple principles of natural justice

#myfeminism understands that humans as a species are inherently social, adaptable, creative & curious

#myfeminism wants a world in which people are able to be social, adaptable, creative & curious

#myfeminism is striving for equality for all by fighting for a social system that’s capable of delivering & maintaining it

#myfeminism seeks to explore and build on what unites people and undermine what divides & separates them

#myfeminism understands the might & the implacable viciousness of the forces that stand in opposition to it

#myfeminism recognises that humanity as a whole is facing a social & environmental crisis of unprecedented magnitude

#myfeminism understands that the overdeveloped world is sucking the life blood from the planet to fuel its toxic way of life

#myfeminism knows that the affluent's right to choose rests on structural realities that deny/constrain the choices of most people

#myfeminism recognises we are not helpless prisoners of our biology but we are the products of it

#myfeminism recognises the harm in being ignorant of and alienated from our biological self

#myfeminism understands there’s a biological binary but much else in reproduction is socially conditioned & flexible

#myfeminism knows that for the vast majority of women in the world, reproduction remains a defining reality

#myfeminism knows that women are capable of being cruel, competitive & self interested

#myfeminism knows that men are capable of being kind, cooperative and altruistic

#myfeminism means I will feel more solidarity with some men than I do with some women

#myfeminism doesn’t demand poor women/women of colour put affluent/white women before their menfolk as proof of sisterhood

#myfeminism recognises that some women are fully & consciously complicit in the maintenance of the phallocracy

#myfeminism deplores media fabrications that perpetuate a shallow & toxic notion of womanhood

#myfeminism recognises the burqa & the bikini are both products of the phallocracy

#myfeminism asks that you ask why governments that hammer the poor are prepared to yield to demands for gender equality

#myfeminism loves to laugh, finds joy in living and doesn't fear death   

#myfeminism knows it can't be adequately represented in a series of tweets but decided to try anyway

Farming Part One : The Pigs

The HUHANZ animal shelter used a Facebook page   to call for action to draw attention to the latest of three fires at a Waikato controlled environment pig farm.  A total of 750 or so pigs have died in these fires; the first fire in 2005 under previous ownership killed 300, a fire 8 months ago under the current owners killed 400, and the latest fire killed 50 sows in farrowing crates.

Farrowing crates were developed by the pig industry because, as a result of selective breeding, sows are very heavy and cumbersome and made more so by a lifestyle that denies them adequate movement, and they have very large litters. The sow’s bulk and lack of fitness, combined with enormous litters, the stresses of confinement and the frustration of the instincts to separate and nest build as farrowing is imminent, can lead to high piglet mortality. 

Hence the crates, in which sows are imprisoned prior to giving birth and for up to 4 weeks afterwards.  The crate does not allow the sow to turn around and it forces her to lie down which allows the piglets to suckle and decreases the risk of them being crushed, smothered or savaged by their over-stressed mother.

In a crate the sow is effectively reduced to a milk machine - a living version of the ‘calfeterias’ that dairy producers use to feed those offspring of dairy cows that are destined to be replacements for dairy herds or to be raised for beef.

Crating is horrible enough when you consider pigs’ intelligence and the frustration of basic instincts but it enters the realms of the horrific when there is a fire. The thought of any animal trapped in a cage in a fire appals most people and anyone it doesn’t appal is surely missing an essential element of their humanity.

The latest fire at the facility is thought to have been electrical and possibly due to damage to wiring caused by the numerous rats.  The owners, who sold a dairy farm to move into intensive pig farming, say they had had problems with equipment failure. Observers have pointed to the absence of an automatic sprinkler system and fire extinguishers.

When the news broke that this facility had had its third fire, HUHA members called for a vigil on the road outside it. It was a small scale affair, quiet and dignified and aimed at raising awareness of the lives and deaths of animals in intensive farming operations.

There was a lot of support for it on the HUHA Facebook page but also some opposition, some of it from people who claimed to be motivated by concern for the feelings of the farmers. One of the most active of the critics, on her own FB page, supported a petition to withdraw the charitable status of the animal rights group, SAFE which has been a thorn in the side of controlled environment and intensive dairy farming. 

Several of those who were critical of the vigil claimed that the sows would have died or been rendered unconscious by smoke and fumes before the fire reached them which means they would not have suffered.

The fact that people and companion animals often die of smoke/toxic gas inhalation in house fires does not mean that animals in shed or barn fires will die or lose consciousness from smoke inhalation before burning to death.  Whether the smoke and fumes render them insensible or kill them depends on the nature of the combustible material and how the building is constructed and ventilated. 

Most importantly, those who use this rather shabby argument ignore the fact that caged animals who smell and hear a fire will be in a state of utter terror for some time before they are overcome by fumes.   Even if the flames or the radiant heat did not burn the pigs alive, it would not have been a quick or an easy death. 

The critics also avoid the fact that, if the building had had very good smoke alarms and a sprinkler system or other effective means of quickly dousing a fire, and had the owners had plans for responding to a fire - even if the way the fire started was beyond any reasonable person’s ability to anticipate or prevent - the animals may well have been saved.

One of the critics even made the astonishing statement that, if animal rights people were so concerned about the fire risk, THEY should have installed sprinkler systems in the facility themselves after the last fire and, as they hadn’t, they were as culpable as the owners.

Another argument was that the appropriate course of action was to write to the MPI to call for improved fire safety standards and the vigil was highly insensitive to the feelings of the owners who were suffering as a result of the loss of their animals and property 

The argument is an odd one. The claim is that the vast majority of farmers, including these particular famers, are deeply concerned about the welfare of their animals and do everything they can to ensure their welfare, however, the only way that high health, welfare and safety standards on all farms can be guaranteed is by tighter government regulation.  So, if pigs burn to death it's because the standards are too low which means the government is to blame - not the farmer who chooses to operate at or below the bare industry minimum. 

As to the hurt feelings of the owners of the pig farm, it seems logical to ask, if they had the intention to run it in a safe and professional manner, why did they not do due diligence when buying the facility or, having realised after purchase that the buildings and equipment were sub-standard, why did they not make the necessary improvements immediately - and if necessary, take buildings out of commission until they were safe? 

I believe that if you make your living by locking animals in cage or inside a building and you:
fail to control rodents which might degrade electrical wiring;
do not to install a sprinkler system and/or have other fire fighting equipment appropriate for different types of fire;
do not install and maintain smoke alarms that can be heard from or are linked to the farm house or staff quarters; and,
do not have evacuation plans for the animals – then I am sorry but you cannot claim to care about animal welfare or expect the likes of me to feel sorry for you.  

I don’t care if it's poultry, pigs, cows or horses. If, for your convenience and/or your profit, you lock animals in a cage or a shed, leaving aside the wider welfare issues, you have the moral responsibility to do everything you can to prevent fire and to be able to fight it.  If the current law does not make you criminally liable for harm to animals occasioned by your failure to ensure health and safety, then the law is wrong and needs to be strengthened.

Or we could just ban all factory farming.

Edit: link to FB page hosted by HUHANZ