The Danger of Animal Rights

I just finished reading the science fiction novella, “The Vital Abyss”, by James S.A. Corey, which takes place in their “Expanse” milieu1. The story revolves around the fate of some scientists who engaged in the most horrific act of scientific malpractice in history, sacrificing millions of men, women, and children to an experiment.

At one point in the story, we see the main character, a scientists, as he undergoes intake processing for the project and through some kind of biological manipulation has his sense of morality removed. Essentially he and all the scientists are turned into psychopaths. The recruiter tries to explain to the protagonist through the lens of whether animal testing is okay:

“The idea that animal suffering is less important that human suffering is a religious one. It assumes a special creation, and that we—you and I—are different in kind than other animals. We are morally separate from rats or horses or chimps, not based on any particular physical difference between us, but just because we claim that we’re sacred by our nature and have dominion over them. It’s a story we tell that lets us do what we do. Consider the question without that filter, and it looks very different.

“You said there’s an ethical obligation to avoid unnecessary suffering. I agree. That’s why getting good data is our primary responsibility. Good experimental design, deep datasets, parallel studies whenever they don’t interfere. Bad data is just another way of saying needless suffering. And torturing rats to see how humans would respond? It’s terrible data because rats aren’t humans any more than pigeons are horses.”

“Wait, so you’re… are you saying that skipping animal testing entirely and going straight to human trials is… is more ethical?” “We are the animal we’re trying to build a protocol for. It’s where we’d get the best data. And better data means less suffering in the long run. More human suffering, maybe, but less suffering overall. And we wouldn’t have to labor under the hypocrisy of understanding evolution and also pretending there’s some kind of firewall between us and other mammals. That sounds restful, don’t you think?”

I realized as I read this that here is what’s fundamentally wrong with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and all the other animal rights groups out there.

What they all miss is that when you erase the distinction between humans and animals, you aren’t elevating animals so they can be treated like humans.

What would inevitably happen if the distinction between human and animal was erased is that humans would be treated like animals. Again. Like too often in history.

  1. Which has been made into a hit TV series on SyFy.

Rotisserie v. Home-cooked Chicken

There are several rules for smart shopping at the grocery store, but one is to pay attention to the price per pound. Consumers are often tricked into thinking they’re getting a deal when they’re comparing two items that seem the same, but are actually different.

That’s the case with those rotisserie chickens at the supermarket. They look like a good deal, the same price as the raw whole chickens, but pre-cooked. But are you really getting the same thing?

Though it may not seem that way to the consumer’s eye, rotisserie chickens tend to the small side—maybe two to two and a half pounds. The broiler chickens that sell for the same price are more like four and a half pounds. Even after they’ve been cooked—a process that, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reduces their weight by a little more than 20%—broiler chickens are still much bigger.

After buying rotisserie and uncooked chickens at a bunch of national chains and then comparing the per-pound cooked cost, except for Costco and Smart & Final, the savings from home cooking could be substantial.

On the other hand, as a takeout meal, it’s a better deal than a lot of fast food places and potentially healthier too.

Why does Apple inflict Split View on us?

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Every time I use Apple’s split-screen multitasking on my iPad or iPhone I ask why would they do this to us? I don’t mean letting us use two apps side-by-side, especially on an iPad. That’s wonderful and long overdue. No, I mean why did they only half-bake it?

The user interface for choosing the second app is so bad it’s almost incomprehensible. It’s like no one in Apple ever tested it. As soon as you open the special app picker for the second app, you get a scrolling list of apps that support split view.

Except it’s in no discernible order, whether alphabetical or where it’s installed on the iPad or anything. And there’s no search so you can just type in the name of the app you want. No, you have to scroll and scroll and scroll, looking for the app, hoping you don’t blink as it goes by. I think this could only be worse if the picker scrolled itself at high speed and you had to tap on the app as it went by.

Apple is supposed to be the “every little detail” company, but once in a while you get glitches like this and wonder how it got through.

Bedside Manner

Does kindness in healthcare matter? Figuring out whether it makes a measurable difference in medical outcomes is difficult, but more than four decades of exposure to the healthcare system, including five surgical childbirths and a miscarriage for Melanie, leaves me with the indelible impression that the system is weighted toward treating patients like objects with a problem to be solved, rather than individual persons to empathize with.

At the moment, the best answer to the kindness contrarian is: Even if the evidence in favor of the therapeutic benefits of empathy is weak, there is no evidence that refutes the idea that empathy improves care. And too many patients have stories of how unkindness or the sheer obliviousness of doctors can be devastating and indelible.

That said, my current doctor is great one-on-one, much better than my previous doctor, who got visibly annoyed when I asked questions.

Make Sure You’re Getting Real Olive Oil

The sad fact is that most imported olive oil sold in the US is fake, mostly because of the mob getting involved and peddling substandard oils in order to boost their illicit profits. This Mother Jones article points out that it’s not just consumer fraud, but it also keeps us from getting the health benefits from olive oil.

They give four tips for ensuring you get the real deal: Don’t trust the label, look for the stamp of approval, judge the country of origin, and buy in season and in the dark. Check out the article for the explanation.

What about Luke Skywalker?

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One year ago, Entertainment Weekly printed an interview with Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams four months ahead of the movies release, and asked him why he decided to make this film. Here’s my summary of what he said at the time:

One question was enough to overcome J.J. Abrams reluctance to do Star Wars: Who is Luke Skywalker? Who did he become? Was there more to him in the original trilogy than we saw?

Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote the script and wrote Empire and Jedi, said writing for these characters who’ve aged the same 30 years he has, revealed to him that age doesn’t bring wisdom necessarily, just experience.

This should be good.

”But those four words — Who is Luke Skywalker? — created a disturbance in the Force for Abrams. After all these years, we thought we knew him, but what if there was more to that Tatooine farmboy? Or… what if there was less? The answer could alter not just how audiences look at the original trilogy, but the arc of a planned universe that now tallies at least five more upcoming films.”

Having seen the film, we all know now that Luke was in it for a total of about 30 seconds at the very end and didn’t say a word. And we know that J.J. isn’t directing the next movie in the trilogy. So, in what way did The Force Awakens answer those questions?

Perhaps the answer comes in what TFA has set up for the next two movies and in the characters we meet for the first time: Rey, Finn, Poe, Kylo. Perhaps one or more of those characters have already begun to reveal the “more to that Tatooine farmboy”, a revelation that will become very obvious in the films to come.

Modernizing Marriage

Time magazine’s “gender and sexuality” columnist Stephanie Fairyington thinks it’s a shame how technology has simultaneously made it easier for unfaithful spouses to find opportunities to cheat while making it easier for the jilted spouse to find out about it.

Despite the frightening and ever-expanding ways to electronically snoop, in order to fully modernize marriage we need to resist the degrading urge to spy on our spouses and acknowledge, in radical opposition to our times, each individual’s right to privacy within matrimony, including the right to act in our own sexual and romantic self-interests independent of our partner’s knowledge or consent. (Bear with me.) (Emphasis and parenthetical in original)

Once you’ve deconstructed marriage, unmoored it from its foundations, and stripped it of its very meaning, what’s left to be faithful to? In the end, what will be the point of marriage at all, in this twisted world view?

Hacking the Front Door

I’ve been getting deeper into the Internet of Things or smarthome recently with connected lightbulbs and doorknobs and I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a connected door lock. The advantage is being able to get in the house if I leave my keys inside but have my phone (which I always do) or letting Melanie or the kids in if they lock themselves out.

But I think I’ll be waiting a bit longer before going that route.

Gadget makers love the Internet of Things. Just look at connected refrigerators, connected tampons, and connected pregnancy tests as some examples. As I’ve said before, and I’ll say again, the security of these devices is often inadequate. This week at DEF CON, two researchers, Anthony Rose and Ben Ramsey, emphasized this point by demonstrating how they easily compromised 12 different Bluetooth Low Energy smart locks using cheap hardware that cost around $200 altogether.

If a lightbulb gets hacked, that’s annoying, but not consequential. If my front door gets hacked, it can be devastating.1

  1. Although to be fair, there are a lot easier ways to break into a house than hacking the front door, like picking the lock, busting the lock, busting a window, etc.
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