Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Keeping us safe...

So Edward Snowden revealed the vast nature of domestic spying through leaks of classified documents in the Guardian newspaper. I appreciate your efforts, Mr. Snowden. President Obama says that this domestic spying is necessary to keep us safe - bullshit, but further I believe that it isn't even meant to keep us safe. The real purpose is to keep tabs on dissent and to keep the corporatocracy safe from anyone who might oppose it. President Obama represents the corporatocracy and all of its tentacles - big banks, multi-national corporations, the military-industrial-security-complex, industrial agriculture, medicine for profit, etc. In fact, he is probably one of the finest supporters of the corporatocracy ever, mainly because he pretends that he isn't (and a lot of people believe him). By dividing what little opposition to corporate rule remaining he is doing a better job than his Republican rivals in promoting the existing power structure. I told many people this before the last election but most thought I was crazy.

Firstly, I'm not counting on the government to keep me safe. There was a period of time when the government made some modest efforts to regulate toxic chemicals in our foods, drugs and consumer products, safety in workplaces etc. but the whole regulatory framework has been taken over by corporate minions and underfunded to nonfunctionality. Presidents don't try to keep us out of wars either, in fact they actively work to get us into them. This is why the founders put the ability to declare war in the hands of the congress - Presidents have found many ways around this little detail though and we have been on a permanent war footing as long as any of us can remember. Terrorism is the new thing to scare us into keeping the purse strings open for the military but I don't expect that the government will protect me from terrorism either. In the twisted logic of the way our system now works, acts of terrorism further the goals of the military-industrial-security-complex by promoting fear even if any single citizen has a much greater risk of being struck by lightening. I have more fear of being labeled a domestic terrorist for resisting the corporatocracy than I have of harm from the kinds of terrorists I'm supposed to be afraid of. Overall, I'm far more worried about my own government (police overreach, domestic spying, etc.) than any supposed threat from abroad.

Just to be perfectly clear, I think it's fine for the feds to obtain warrants and gather information when there is evidence of criminal activity. This isn't about the ability of the government to fight crime or even terrorism - it's about the ability of the government to keep tabs on dissent. This desire and in fact this practice is not at all new. The government has been keeping tabs on dissenters for over a century and probably longer (as long as we have pursued an empire, I guess). What's new is that the technology now allows for massive dragnets that collect and store an incredible amount of data on virtually everyone. So much so that enormous new data centers are being built to cope with the flood of personal data that's being intercepted. Algorithms look for keywords and associations and highlight individuals for further scrutiny. Of course it never ends with merely keeping tabs on dissenters, they are targeted for retaliation in many forms - up to and including arrest and assassination - check out what happened to Michael Hastings.

Government informants join groups of dissenters to report back, disrupt and sometimes even plan and execute protests in such a way as to allow for easy prosecution. Agent provocateur's instigate or commit acts of violence in order to have a pretext for police intervention. People can be blacklisted, held back from promotion or denied employment with no knowledge and certainly no recourse. Chris Hedges gives a good history of this kind of government retaliation in his book "Death of the Liberal Class", which I highly recommend. Even if there were no overt targeting of dissenters, the very fact that the government is listening in on our conversations has a chilling effect on speech.  None of this history is taught in school so young people are far more likely to accept pervasive government spying because they're unaware of how the government has used and abused information about dissenters in the past.

Anyway, I figure I'll save the hard-working government agents a little time and trouble and state right here that I'm opposed to the corporatocracy (if they haven't figured it out already...).

I oppose overseas wars, the bloated Pentagon budget, CIA interference in other countries, the so-called global war on terror, domestic spying without a clear indication of criminal activity, private prisons, the war on drugs, the militarization of domestic law enforcement and the war on whistleblowers.

I oppose the desperate attempts to extract the last remaining fossil fuels using environmentally damaging methods - including drilling in the Arctic, tar sands and hydraulic fracturing or fracking.

I oppose the profit driven health care system and the private insurance companies which have been protected by Obamacare. I oppose Monsanto and the corporate domination of our food supply.

I oppose the too-big-to-fail banks and the casino-capitalism of Wall Street.

I oppose corporate personhood and everything that it implies, especially corporate participation in elections.

A better world is possible - free of corporate domination, based on renewable energy, local agriculture, equality of opportunity, sustainability and true justice through the rule of law - where the laws are written to protect people, not the wealthy elites. I fear it's too late but my conscience dictates that I speak out anyway.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

My new blog home

I have decided to ditch my old blog platform and blog here on my Google account. I also have a photography blog on my Zenfolio page. I will try and migrate some of my old content to this site but there doesn't seem to be an easy way to do this. I will probably just put up some of the more popular posts.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

20 years gone...

It's hard to believe it but my father passed away 20 years ago. He was 79 years old, which is pretty good for someone who had cancer in his youth and many other health challenges along the way. This year is the centenary of his birth. Vincent (Vincenzo and sometimes Jimmy) Collura was born August 21st 1913 in Pittston PA the oldest son of Onofrio and Maria (Alba) Collura.

Vincent as a boy

Recently, my cousin sent me links to some wonderful old family photos. Here is my father with his mom and siblings taken in the mid 1930s - his father died in a coal mine accident about 10 years before this photo was taken:

Collura family

This photo was taken in the same location as one I had restored a while ago. Vincent is on his uncle Jimmy Alba's shoulders.

Jimmy & Vincent

My dad spent a fair amount of time exercising and trying to keep healthy.

Vincent standing

He met my mother in the 1940's. Here is an early photo of them together with my Aunt Teresa:

Teresa, Vincent & Muriel

They were married in 1945:

Wedding Vincent & Muriel

Vincent worked in the coal mines in Pennsylvania when he was young but later became a barber. Here he is in his barber shop in South Fallsburg NY:

Barber shop

Here he is with the heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano:

With Rocky

Here he is towards the end of his life with me:

With me

I guess I will always miss my dad - after 20 years I still think about him a lot. He touched many lives in that barber shop, telling people about healthy eating or selling them vitamins. I hope to post more about my dad as his centenary year continues. Cheers!

Monday, January 21, 2013

I don't toe the line OR why I'm no longer calling myself a vegan

I have gradually come to the realization that I no longer wish to be associated with veganism in its current incarnation. I no longer wish to call myself a vegan, promote veganism or be identified with the vegan movement. As divorces go, this one is pretty much a mutual decision. You see, all I have to do is have a pint of Guinness or eat some bread that contains honey and I'm automatically kicked out of the vegan cult, I mean club, anyway.
I have been a vegetarian my entire life, I stopped eating eggs and dairy products in the 1970s when my mom became active in the vegetarian movement and I will continue to eat a plant-based diet but the word vegan will only be wielded for clarity when ordering food. My decision is mainly due to the attitudes of (some, well many) vegans I have encountered during my vegetarian advocacy. Veganism isn't just about food or buying shoes, it carries with it a whole suite of beliefs and ideas which I do not subscribe to. These include the idea that "speciesism" is an evil on par with racism and sexism, a belief that any kind of animal welfare legislation is counterproductive and an insistence on purity which borders on an obsessive-compulsive disorder.
I don't think vegans have any idea just how ridiculous they sound when they throw out the word speciesist. You don't have to be a biologist to realize that real differences exist in the animal kingdom. The idea that you should ignore these differences doesn't make a lot of sense to most people.
What, really, is the meaning of speciesism? If it means that humans are in any and all cases to be given consideration while non-humans are not than I'm not a speciesist. On the other hand, I do differentiate between species and in this sense I am a speciesist. I can tell the difference between a puppy and a child and between a chicken and a hookworm. I believe that those differences mean that we should treat these animals somewhat differently. Call me crazy, but I don't believe that mosquitos should ever have rights. There is a nice discussion of speciesism here: http://www.carpevegan.com/?p=3449
Not that most people think consistently about their relations with animals - it always amazes me how people can show so much love and affection towards a pet and yet eat animals that are just as intelligent and capable of suffering and feeling pain. But when ethnic hatreds are stirred up people can turn on and kill long-time neighbors so I guess this is just one of the unfortunate aspects of human nature that we have to accept and try to deal with.
A good part of this also has to do with the concept of so-called "abolitionist animal-rights" as espoused by Gary L. Francione and others - http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/. These folks are opposed to any kind of animal welfare legislation saying that the "welfarist approach" has failed and making animal agriculture less cruel will only prolong its use. Using this twisted "logic", abolitionist AR advocates are OK with cruel treatment of farm animals because it advances their ultimate cause. Perhaps it's even useful to have cruel treatment of farm animals alive today to *potentially* have a future where all animal use is abolished. I can't agree with this line of thinking because suffering is what I'm opposed to and why I'm a vegetarian. And how exactly has the abolitionist approach succeeded? Like it or not, Temple Grandin has reduced animal suffering more than any abolitionist vegan and she works for the meat industry!
I have come to believe that differences between individuals who would all love to see a future free of animal cruelty and exploitation comes down less to a difference of tactics and more to differences in personality. It drives me nuts that abolitionist vegans will say things like "it's not about purity" when it so clearly is. However, the idea that you can completely remove any traces of animal products and animal exploitation from your lifestyle is quite frankly wrong. Furthermore, your personal purity, in eating, lifestyle and ideology will turn off many more people than it will inspire.
Veganism has evolved into somewhat of a cult, you are vegan if you follow the rules that are agreed to within the vegan community about what constitutes acceptable foods, purchases etc. If you stray from this ideal people within the community will be offended if you call yourself vegan. Questioning the particular choices which are acceptable and not acceptable is generally frowned upon. It's nice to see that a recent VegNews has done an article about palm oil - a vegan alternative that is very damaging to the environment. I'm sorry but the world is just a lot more complex than the vegan = good and non-vegan = bad worldview tries to encapsulate.
I will continue to think for myself, eat and promote a mainly plant-based diet but I won't be calling myself a vegan.