Category: Education

Freedom matters, even for animals.

So many of us take it for granted that we can hardly imagine what it’s like for our animals not to have freedom.

Mary Jo retells an account of rescuing a number of dogs from a terrible situation. I won’t get in the way of her story.

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Why the 5 freedoms of animal welfare matter

Hoarding and neglect cases hit us hard because we can’t imagine people who don’t take care of their animals.

By MARY JO DILONARDO
January 19, 2019.

A mama doodle and her week-old baby decompress after being rescued from a hoarding situation. (Photo: Mary Jo DiLonardo)

I was supposed to be on a break. I fostered eight puppies back to back last year with the last one leaving right after Christmas. No doe-eyed dog was going to tug on my heartstrings.

But then I heard about a hoarding and neglect case where some 30 doodles were found living outdoors, perched on piles of hard clay and mounds of feces. A local rescue, Releash Atlanta, waded into the mess and scooped up seven of these dogs, putting out a plea for fosters to help. I kept looking at the face of a mama dog curled up with her newborn pup.

What break? The frightened mom and her itty-bitty baby are now decompressing in my basement until their permanent foster takes over next week. They’re learning that people aren’t terrible, and mama has found that chicken tastes great.

There’s something about cases like these that hit animal lovers — heck, most people — with a sickening blow. We can’t wrap our heads around the idea of animals, especially pets, living in such deplorable conditions.

The 5 freedoms of animal welfare

Former rescue dog Stanna now lives a great life with the best food, shelter and toys. (Photo: Lucy Bell)

Look at the lives of most of the pets you know. They eat quality food, go to the vet regularly, stay cool in summer and warm in winter and want for very little.

These life basics seem like common sense to most of us, but more than 50 years ago the U.K. government wanted to put them in writing. In 1965, the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (which later became the Farm Animal Welfare Council) defined the specific conditions that must be met for animals being cared for by humans. They called them the “Five Freedoms,” which cover an animal’s physical and mental state. The freedoms were later updated but the gist is basically the same.

These conditions of humane treatment have been adopted by veterinarians and animal-welfare groups including the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

The Five Freedoms are:

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst, by ready access to water and a diet to maintain health and vigor
  • Freedom from discomfort, by providing an appropriate environment
  • Freedom from pain, injury and disease, by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
  • Freedom to express normal behavior, by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and appropriate company of the animal’s own kind
  • Freedom from fear and distress, by ensuring conditions and treatment, which avoid mental suffering

Taking things for granted

More than 300 German shepherds were rescued from filthy breeding operations in Georgia. (Photo: Guardians of Rescue)

These freedoms seem so incredibly basic and that’s likely why when an animal neglect case makes headlines, we’re all so horrified.

This happened in early January, when hundreds of German shepherds were found living in unimaginably squalid conditions from a suspected puppy mill in two locations in Montgomery and Candler counties in Georgia. Led by New York’s Guardians of Rescue, dozens of rescue groups immediately stepped up to help, rescuing more than 300 of the mostly purebred dogs. They found that in addition to being housed in filthy, crowded pens, some of the dogs had sores and had been living like that for at least five years.

“We know that a lot lost their lives fighting simply because they fought for dominance. It was a recipe for disaster every single day,” Mike Lawson, an investigator for Guardians, tells MNN. “They didn’t get out, they didn’t go for walks and they had to share the same soil covered with their own feces and urine. There was no protection from the cold and no shelter from the sun on a hot day. Obviously we are grateful they are no longer there.”

The German shepherds were living in cramped, filthy pens. (Photo: Guardians of Rescue)

People from around the country and even in other parts of the world followed the drama on Facebook as all the dogs were removed from the property. Many people donated to the various rescue groups and offered to help foster or otherwise give support to these hundreds of dogs.

While Guardians also is involved with typical, everyday rescues, the group is often called in for these complicated cases.

“When people feel there’s no more hope, that’s when we jump into action,” says Lawson, who’s a retired FBI agent, like many of the group’s investigators.

“There’s the sheer number of animals and generally it’s the same typical M.O. in all these hoarding cases: It’s cramped areas, the hygiene is at an 11 on a scale of 1 to 10, and generally the health of the animals is not taken into consideration,” Lawson says. “Regardless of how it started, nobody should be keeping so many dogs on any property.”

People step up

Rescues and animal shelters save animals every day. They always need donations, fosters and other kinds of support. But when these unimaginable neglect stories surface, they know they can count on people to help.

“We see an outpouring of support from the community for a few reasons,” says Kristin Sarkar, founder of Releash Atlanta. “The first is, usually it’s a big undertaking that requires a lot of donations, whether financial or just items needed to begin the process of transferring the dogs to safety and it’s something everyone can help with, such as donating blankets, crates or leashes and collars.”

Sarkar posted the heart-wrenching video above of the doodle dogs being rescued with photos of the petrified pups as they were taken from their filthy pens. Immediately, people started asking how they could help.

“There’s also a visual that makes it hard to ignore. We can tell a story all we want, but when you actually see the story, it has a much greater effect. We’ve passed 100 car accidents, yet we will still slow down to look at the next one,” she says. “Lastly, a lot of times with cases like this, for the most part, people are good, and they want to help, and what better time to want to help than when the need is so great? Such is the case with these recent hoarding situations.”

I’ve learned this kindness firsthand.

My scared little foster dog was covered with mats and not trusting enough to really be handled yet. I asked a trainer friend of mine for advice and she called her assistant trainer who is also a groomer. He immediately came over on his day off and spent time calmly talking to this frightened pup as he trimmed off these horrible clumps of nastiness. People are amazing.

I fostered one other hoarding dog, Pax. He was petrified when he arrived and had heartworms, so he had a long road to recovery. People donated toys, treats and medical care while he was with me and were very kindly invested in his background and rescue, as well as his transformation. It took five months for him to come around and realize that people can be good.

The doodles and the German shepherds have a long road ahead of them. Thanks to rescues, fosters and the people who are donating for their care, they will now have access to the Five Freedoms. They’ll be free from hunger and pain, discomfort and fear, and will be in a safe, loving environment.

It will take a lot of work, but the good news is that eventually there will be happy endings.

“So many people have to invest time, energy, love and money into these dogs to fix them,” Lawson says. “These dogs have never been inside a home. They have never taken a car ride. Never been on a leash. Never have had a collar. To put these dogs into wonderful homes, everybody who has taken these dogs will have to put a lot into them. I’m sure, before you know it, you will start seeing some wonderful before-and-after photos of these dogs placed in homes.”

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Words fail me when it comes to the appalling cruelty as described above.

So thank goodness for those wonderful people who truly understand what it means for a dog to be loved and cared for.

A good news story!

We welcome with open arms this change in the law!

From the BBC.

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Californian law change means pet shops can sell only rescued animals

December 30th, 2018.

It is hoped the law will encourage pet adoptions.

California is set to become the first state in the US to ban the sale of non-rescue animals in pet shops.

The new law, known as AB 485, takes effect on 1 January. Any businesses violating it face a $500 (£400) fine.

The change means cats, dogs and rabbits sold by retailers cannot be sourced from breeders, only from animal shelters.

Animal rights groups have heralded it as a step forward against so-called “kitten factories” and “puppy mills”.

They say the current “high-volume” industries, where pets are bred for profit, can lead to inhumane treatment and long-term emotional and physical health problems in some animals.

The new state-wide law, approved in late 2017, will now require shops to maintain sufficient records of where they sourced each animal, for periodic checks by authorities.

It does not, however, affect sales from private breeders or owner-to-owner sales.

Some Californian shop owners have raised concern the law could put them out of business. The measure has also seen resistance from the American Kennel Club, which said it limits pet owners.

According to American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) estimates, more than 6.5 million pets enter shelters across the country every year, of which about 1.5 million are put down.

It is estimated that more than than 860,000 cats are euthanised in the US every year

The California assembly member who introduced the legislation, Patrick O’Donnell, has insisted the legislation is not just “a big win” for “four-legged friends”, but for California taxpayers too, as they spend hundreds of millions on sheltering animals across the state.

A couple hoping to adopt a cat from a San Diego shelter on Friday, told NBC News the move was a step forward for the state.

“It takes the emphasis off the profit of animals and puts the emphasis back on caring for and getting these cats and dogs a good home,” prospective owner Mitch Kentdotson said.

AB 485 is the first state-wide law of its kind, although other places have enacted similar regulations on pet sales on a local level.

Earlier this month, a similar ban on third-party puppy and kitten sales was confirmed in England.

Lucy’s law, named after a mistreated cavalier King Charles spaniel, also aims to combat low-welfare animal breeding.

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Slowly but surely we are recognising that these animals are more, much more, than ‘belongings‘.

And on we go.

A timely article, again from the Beeb.

On the back of yesterday’s article about dogs obtaining protein from eating soldier ants comes another piece from the BBC about fibre. It has much information some of which I hadn’t come across before.

So it’s another share with you.

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The lifesaving food 90% aren’t eating enough of.

By James Gallagher, Health and science correspondent, BBC News

January 11th, 2019.

Is there something in your cupboard that could extend your life?

If I offered you a superfood that would make you live longer, would you be interested?

Naturally it reduces the chances of debilitating heart attacks and strokes as well as life-long diseases such as type-2 diabetes.

And it helps keep your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels down.

I should mention it’s cheap and widely available in the supermarket.

What is it?

Fibre – it’s not the sexiest thing in the world but a major study has been investigating how much fibre we really need to be eating and found there are huge health benefits.

“The evidence is now overwhelming and this is a game-changer that people have to start doing something about it,” one of the researchers, Prof John Cummings, tells BBC News.

It’s well known for stopping constipation – but its health benefits are much broader than that.

How much fibre do we need?

The researchers, at the University of Otago, in New Zealand, and the University of Dundee say people should be eating a minimum of 25g of fibre per day.

But they call this an “adequate” amount for improving health and say there are benefits for pushing past 30g (1oz).

Is that all?

Well, a banana on its own weighs about 120g but that’s not pure fibre. Strip out everything else including all the natural sugars and water, and you’re left with only about 3g of fibre.

Most people around the world are eating less than 20g of fibre a day.

And in the UK, fewer than one in 10 adults eats 30g of fibre daily.

On average, women consume about 17g, and men 21g, a day.

Fibre is present in fruit, vegetables, wholegrain bread, pasta and lentils

What other foods have more fibre in them?

You find it in fruit and vegetables, some breakfast cereals, breads and pasta that use whole-grains, pulses such as beans, lentils and chickpeas, as well as nuts and seeds.

BBC Food: How carb-clever are you?

What does 30g look like?

Elaine Rush, a professor of nutrition at Auckland University of Technology, has put together this example for getting into the 25-30g camp:

  • half a cup of rolled oats – 9g fibre | two Weetabix – 3g fibre | a thick slice of brown bread – 2g fibre | a cup of cooked lentils – 4g fibre | a potato cooked with the skin on – 2g fibre | half a cup of chard (or silverbeet in New Zealand) – 1g fibre | a carrot – 3g fibre | an apple with the skin on – 4g fibre

But she says: “It is not easy to increase fibre in the diet.”

Prof Cummings agrees. “It’s a big change for people,” he says. “It’s quite a challenge.”

Graphic

Are there any quick and easy tips?

The UK’s National Health Service has a page full of them.

They include:

  • cooking potatoes with the skin on | swapping white bread, pasta and rice for wholemeal versions | choosing high-fibre breakfast cereals such as porridge oats | chucking some chickpeas, beans or lentils in a curry or over a salad| having nuts or fresh fruit for snacks or dessert | consuming at least five portions of fruit or vegetables each day

BBC Food: High fibre breakfasts

What will the benefit be?

Well, after analysing 185 studies and 58 clinical trials, the results are in and have been published in the Lancet medical journal.

It suggests if you shifted 1,000 people from a low fibre diet (less than 15g) to a high-fibre one (25-29g), then it would prevent 13 deaths and six cases of heart disease.

That’s during the course of these studies, which tended to follow people for one to two decades.

It also showed lower levels of type-2 diabetes and bowel cancer as well as lower weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

And the more fibre people ate, the better.

What is fibre doing in the body?

There used to be a view that fibre didn’t do much at all – that the human body could not digest it and it just sailed through.

But fibre makes us feel full and affects the way fat is absorbed in the small intestine – and things really become interesting in the large intestines, when your gut bacteria get to have their dinner.

The large intestines are home to billions of bacteria – and fibre is their food.

It’s a bit like a brewery down there, admittedly one you wouldn’t want a pint from, where bacteria are fermenting fibre to make a whole load of chemicals.

This includes short-chain fatty acids, which are absorbed and have effects throughout the body.

“We have this organ set up to digest fibre, which a lot of people just don’t use very much,” says Prof Cummings.

Why is this relevant now?

The fact fibre and whole-grains and fruit and vegetables are healthy should not come as a surprise.

But there is concern people are turning their back on fibre, with the popularity of low-carb diets.

Prof Nita Forouhi, from the University of Cambridge, says: “We need to take serious note of this study.

“Its findings do imply that, though increasingly popular in the community at large, any dietary regimes that recommend very low-carbohydrate diets should consider the opportunity cost of missing out on fibre from whole-grains.

“This research confirms that fibre and whole-grain intakes are clearly important for longer term health.”

The study has been done to help the World Health Organization come up with official guidelines for how much fibre people should be eating to boost health and they are expected next year.

Follow James on Twitter

Presentational grey line

Analysis from BBC Reality Check

One of the suggested ways of boosting the amount of fibre in your diet is to switch from white bread to brown or wholemeal.

This is what has been happening to sales of those products, based on a succession of government surveys of household spending since 1974.

Chart showing purchases of white and brown bread since 1974

From the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties, white bread fell while brown and wholemeal rose.

Since then, white bread sales have continued to fall, but brown and wholemeal bread sales have been falling for most of that period, although at a slower rate.

So it looks as if while overall demand for bread has been falling, a higher proportion of bread sold has been higher fibre.

Whole wheat pasta has made less of an impact on sales than higher fibre breads, with a survey for the British Journal of Nutrition finding that pasta accounted for less than 1% of the occasions on which people were consuming whole grains.

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Well nothing much more to be said other than going vegan.

Now here’s a thing!

Dogs eating insects and helping climate change.

I had to look twice at this but it wasn’t April 1st and it appeared to be a serious article. It’s from the BBC website.

Will say no more. You have a read of it.

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Climate change: Will insect-eating dogs help?

By Roger Harrabin, BBC environment analyst

10th January, 2019

Do you fret that your pet pooch is blamed by environmentalists for turning rainforests into poo in the park?

Have no fear – you can now fatten Fido on black soldier flies instead of Brazilian beef.

A pet food manufacturer now claims that 40% of its new product is made from soldier flies.

It’s one of many firms hoping to cash in on the backlash against beef by people concerned that the cattle are fed on soya.

These soya plantations are responsible for the release of greenhouse gases in significant quantities.

Is it good for the dog?

The key question is whether a diet of 40% soldier flies meets the nutritional needs of your beloved canine.

We put the question to a pet diet expert at the Royal Veterinary College, Aarti Kathrani. Her conclusion was a cautious “yes”.

“Insects can be a very useful source of protein,” she told us. “More studies are needed to show how much of these nutrients can actually be absorbed by a dog’s body – but some studies suggest that insects can provide nutrients for dogs.”

Does it help the climate if dogs eat flies?

At first sight it seems obvious that feeding your dog meaty food is bad for the environment. The link between humans eating meat and the allied emissions of CO2 and methane is well established – and pets are estimated to eat 20% of global meat.

It’s also true that flies produce protein much more efficiently than cows – using a small percentage of the water and land.

But actually the analysis is more subtle than that – because as societies become more wealthy, people often turn to muscle meat and reject the animal’s offal.

The flies are brought to maturity in about 14 days

That offal is just as nutritious – and it gets made into pet food. That means that dog food is just as sustainable – or unsustainable – as humans eating meat.

In fact, if dogs were weaned off meat and on to insects, the industry would have to find another purpose for the offal. More sausage, perhaps? Or more humans eating insect protein. Or more going vegan?

Could cat food be made out of insects, too?

Dogs are omnivores – they eat more or less anything. Cats are much more choosy, because they can’t make an essential amino acid, taurine. They find it instead in meat and fish.

But Dr Kathrani says studies show that insects do contain taurine, so it’s possible that insects could also form a useful part of the moggie diet.

The new product is from Yora, a UK start-up. The insect grubs are fed on food waste in the Netherlands.

There are several competitors which also produce pet food incorporating fly protein. They include Insectdog, Entomapetfood, Chippin and Wilderharrier.

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Now I have heard of some strange things but in essence this does make very good sense.

Being a vegan.

I can’t recall whether I have previously shown this to you …

I don’t think so.

(But see my note at the end of the piece.)

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Why people become vegans: The history, sex and science of a meatless existence.

By   Assistant Professor of Marketing, University of Oregon

November 19th, 2018.

At the age of 14, a young Donald Watson watched as a terrified pig was slaughtered on his family farm. In the British boy’s eyes, the screaming pig was being murdered. Watson stopped eating meat and eventually gave up dairy as well.

Later, as an adult in 1944, Watson realized that other people shared his interest in a plant-only diet. And thus veganism – a term he coined – was born.

Flash-forward to today, and Watson’s legacy ripples through our culture. Even though only 3 percent of Americans actually identify as vegan, most people seem to have an unusually strong opinion about these fringe foodies – one way or the other.

As a behavioral scientist with a strong interest in consumer food movements, I thought November – World Vegan Month – would be a good time to explore why people become vegans, why they can inspire so much irritation and why many of us meat-eaters may soon join their ranks.

Early childhood experiences can shape how we feel about animals – and lead to veganism, as it did for Donald Watson. HQuality/Shutterstock.com

It’s an ideology not a choice

Like other alternative food movements such as locavorism, veganism arises from a belief structure that guides daily eating decisions.

They aren’t simply moral high-grounders. Vegans do believe it’s moral to avoid animal products, but they also believe it’s healthier and better for the environment.

Also, just like Donald Watson’s story, veganism is rooted in early life experiences.

Psychologists recently discovered that having a larger variety of pets as a child increases tendencies to avoid eating meat as an adult. Growing up with different sorts of pets increases concern for how animals are treated more generally.

Thus, when a friend opts for Tofurky this holiday season, rather than one of the 45 millionturkeys consumed for Thanksgiving, his decision isn’t just a high-minded choice. It arises from beliefs that are deeply held and hard to change.

Sutton and Sons is a vegan fish and chip restaurant in London. Reuters/Peter Nicholls

Veganism as a symbolic threat

That doesn’t mean your faux-turkey loving friend won’t seem annoying if you’re a meat-eater.

The late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain famously quipped that meat avoiders “are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit.”

Why do some people find vegans so irritating? In fact, it might be more about “us” than them.

Most Americans think meat is an important part of a healthy diet. The government recommends eating 2-3 portions (5-6 ounces) per day of everything from bison to sea bass. As tribal humans, we naturally form biases against individuals who challenge our way of life, and because veganism runs counter to how we typically approach food, vegans feel threatening.

Humans respond to feelings of threat by derogating outgroups. Two out of 3 vegans experience discrimination daily, 1 in 4 report losing friends after “coming out” as vegan, and 1 in 10 believe being vegan cost them a job.

Veganism can be hard on a person’s sex life, too. Recent research finds that the more someone enjoys eating meat, the less likely they are to swipe right on a vegan. Also, women find men who are vegan less attractive than those who eat meat, as meat-eating seems masculine.

The fake meat at one Fort Lauderdale restaurant supposedly tastes like real meat. AP Photo/J. Pat Carter

Crossing the vegan divide

It may be no surprise that being a vegan is tough, but meat-eaters and meat-abstainers probably have more in common than they might think.

Vegans are foremost focused on healthy eating. Six out of 10 Americans want their meals to be healthier, and research shows that plant-based diets are associated with reduced risk for heart disease, certain cancers, and Type 2 diabetes.

It may not be surprising, then, that 1 in 10 Americans are pursuing a mostly veggie diet. That number is higher among younger generations, suggesting that the long-term trend might be moving away from meat consumption.

In addition, several factors will make meat more costly in the near future.

Meat production accounts for as much as 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, and clear-cutting for pasture land destroys 6.7 million acres of tropical forest per year. While some debate exists on the actual figures, it is clear that meat emits more than plants, and population growth is increasing demand for quality protein.

Seizing the opportunity, scientists have innovated new forms of plant-based meats that have proven to be appealing even to meat-eaters. The distributor of Beyond Meat’s plant-based patties says 86 percent of its customers are meat-eaters. It is rumored that this California-based vegan company will soon be publicly traded on Wall Street.

Even more astonishing, the science behind lab-grown, “cultured tissue” meat is improving. It used to cost more than $250,000 to produce a single lab-grown hamburger patty. Technological improvements by Dutch company Mosa Meat have reduced the cost to $10 per burger.

Watson’s legacy

Even during the holiday season, when meats like turkey and ham take center stage at family feasts, there’s a growing push to promote meatless eating.

London, for example, will host its first-ever “zero waste” Christmas market this year featuring vegan food vendors. Donald Watson, who was born just four hours north of London, would be proud.

Watson, who died in 2006 at the ripe old age of 95, outlived most of his critics. This may give quiet resolve to vegans as they brave our meat-loving world.

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Jeannie has been a vegetarian all her life and I willingly adopted the lifestyle back in 2008 when we first started living together. Then in 2017 we took the final step to becoming vegan on account of there being too much uncertainty about fish, chicken and dairy products.

We both feel great on a vegan diet and more and more people seem to be coming across to this position.

(N.B. And this post has been published before – oh well it won’t do any harm in being repeated.)

Back to dogs!

And what a great story!

This article really demonstrates the power of love, good training and inspiration.

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Once unwanted, these dogs are now on the front lines of wildlife conservation

By 

November 6th, 2018.

Photo by Elizabeth Stone

These incredible pups catch poachers, sniff out invasive plants and diseases, and more, thanks to the work of wildlife biologist and conservation-dog expert Megan Parker.

What happens to those dogs that are just too much dog for people to handle? “You know them — you go to your friend’s barbecue, their dog is so happy to see you that she pees on your feet, and she drops a slobbery ball in your lap,” says Megan Parker (TEDxJacksonHole talk: Dogs for Conservation), a wildlife biologist and dog expert based in Bozeman, Montana. “You throw it to get as much distance between you and the dog as possible, but she keeps coming back with the ball. By the 950th throw, you’re thinking, Why don’t they get rid of this dog?” All too often, their owners reach the same conclusion and leave their pet at a shelter.

Thanks to Parker and the team at Working Dogs for Conservation (WD4C), some of these dogs have found a new leash lease on life. They’re using their olfactory abilities and unstoppable drive in a wide variety of earth-friendly ways, working with human handlers to sniff out illegal poachers and smugglers, track endangered species, and spot destructive invasive plants and animals.

Chai is shown here with a trainer. After a dog learns to recognize a particular scent, the education isn’t over — their handler works with them regularly so they maintain their skills. These days, you can find this sweet German shepherd protecting wildlife in Zambia, along with her brother Earl.

Parker first considered using dogs in conservation when she worked on the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone Park and was asked how researchers could track wolves through their scat, or droppings. “I started thinking how best to detect their scat off a large landscape, and the idea came up for dogs,” she says. In 2000, she cofounded WD4C to train and use canines in conservation work. Most of their dogs are adopted from shelters or from organizations or work settings where they didn’t quite fit in.

While it’s fair to say almost all dogs love toys, wildlife-detection dogs are obsessed with them. “They’ll do anything to chase a ball or a tug toy,” says Parker. If their preferred plaything is thrown far into the brush or buried in a massive pile of leaves, no worries — they won’t stop looking until they find it. No food, obstacle or distractions can deter them, and WD4C staff have turned this single-minded focus into a powerful incentive. Their canine friends are rewarded with their favorite toy every time they locate a desired wildlife-related scent, anything from elephant ivory and poachers’ guns in Zambia and trafficked snow leopards in Tajikistan to predatory Rosy wolf snails in Hawaii and invasive Argentine ants on California’s Santa Cruz Islands. The dogs are careful not to disturb or touch any specimens they pinpoint; it’s all about the toy.

Lily, a yellow Lab, is one of the group’s many sad-start-happy-ending stories. When the then-three-year-old came to the attention of WD4C trainers, she’d already bounced her way in and out of five different homes. She couldn’t sit still and she never, ever wanted to stop playing. Oh, and she was a bit of a whiner. Since joining WD4C in 2011, she has been trained to recognize a dozen different conservation-related scents and been deployed to track grizzly bears and sniff out the eggs, beetles and larvae of emerald ash borers, an insect that has killed millions of trees in the US and Canada.

Hilo was originally meant to be a guide dog for the blind, but when that didn’t work out, he found a place at WD4C. Here, he wears the standard orange vest that tells conservation dogs it’s time to get to work. Hilo helps detect quagga and zebra mussels on boats.

The three-dozen-strong WD4C pack also includes purebred working dogs who weren’t right for their intended occupations. Orbee, a border collie, had the enthusiasm and live-wire energy required of ranch dogs, but there was one problem: he had zero interest in herding sheep. He also barked a lot. Since joining WD4C in 2009, Orbee has had a globe-trotting career — he has spotted invasive quagga and zebra mussels on boats in Alberta and Montana, monitored the habitats of the endangered San Joaquin kit fox in California, and assisted scientists in northern Africa in counting up Cross River gorillas, the world’s rarest gorilla.

Jax is a Belgian malinois, a sturdy breed frequently used by the police and military. He was in training to serve with the US Army’s special unit, the Green Berets, until his handlers realized Jax doesn’t like to bite people — just toys. And, boy, does he loves toys; he’s even tried to climb trees to reach prized objects. Since 2017, Jax’s athleticism and high spirits have been used by the WD4C to perform tasks such as mapping the movements of bobcats in the western US.

Tule gets to roam the great outdoors for WD4C, using her keen nose — dogs have around 300 million olfactory receptors compared to humans’ 6 million — to track animals such as the endangered black-footed ferret in Wyoming.

“Different dogs have different strong suits,” says Parker. She and the WD4C team try to place their charges in environments that match their skillset, likes and dislikes. Unlike many dogs, Tule (above), a Belgian malinois who flunked out of a job with US Customs and Border Patrol, has absolutely no desire to chase small animals such as cats, squirrels and rabbits. This made her the perfect fit to help researchers monitor black-footed ferrets, which live in the same territory as a large, scampering prairie-dog population. The ferrets, once thought extinct in the US, were reintroduced in Wyoming in recent years. Tule alerts her handlers to the scent of live ferrets or their scat, information that allows state wildlife officials to map their distribution and see if the population is recovering. Without Tule and her pack, researchers would be forced to study the elusive creatures with cameras or live traps, undependable methods at best.

The dogs’ efforts have resulted in positive, substantial changes. The organization teamed up with the nonprofit Wildlife Conservation Society so their dogs could track the scat of four keystone carnivores (grizzly bears, black bears, mountain lions and wolves) through the Centennial Mountains in Idaho and Montana. Five years of doggie data showed that all four species depended on the mountains to move between the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem and central Idaho wilderness areas. Thanks to this information, activists were able to stop construction of a housing development that would have interrupted their migratory pathway.

Tobias is a former stray who was found on the streets of Helena, Montana. He has searched for Argentine ants on California’s Santa Cruz Island, and now he spots invasive mussels on watercraft in and around Glacier National Park.

Some dogs are searching for animals and plants that are most wanted for the opposite reason: they’re invasive species proliferating where they don’t belong and driving out native flora and fauna. There’s the previously mentioned zebra and quagga mussels, which spread by clinging to boats and watercraft, and which clog water and sewage pipes, foul up power plants, and destroy good algae. Tobias (above) is a specialist in finding them. In one test, WD4C dogs identified 100 percent of the boats with mussels aboard (human screeners spotted 75 percent). The dogs did the job more quickly, and they could also detect the mussels’ microscopic larvae.

Former shelter dog Seamus (shown at the top of the post), a border collie, is an expert in searching out dyer’s woad on Mount Sentinel in Montana. Humans have tried to eradicate the invasive weed by spotting its flowers and pulling out plants by hand, but these attempts barely made a dent. By the time it’s found, it’s often already seeded (and a single plant can produce up to 10,000 seeds). Seamus’s keen nose, along with those of three canine colleagues, learned to sniff out woad before it flowered, a time when it’s extremely hard for human eyes to see. They also found root remnants left in the ground. At a recent checkup, just 19 of the invasive plants were found on the mountain. “It will be a complete extermination,” says Parker. “It’s just going to take a long time because we don’t know how long their seeds last in the soil.”

The dogs’ hunting grounds even extend into the water. Although prized in their native habitat, brook trout are an invasive species elsewhere; in some places in the Western US, they are pushing out the native cutthroat trout. WD4C was brought to Montana by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Geological Survey and the Turner Endangered Species Fund to see whether their animals could learn to sniff out live fish in moving water. Reports Parker, “This project confirmed what we long suspected: that dogs can detect and discriminate scents in water.”

Pepin can recognize 20 wildlife scents, including the scat of snow leopards, wolverines and cheetahs. In one cheetah study, he and another conservation dog located 27 scats in a 927-square-mile area. How many did humans find in the same territory? None.

Pepin (above), who worked on the brook trout project, is part of an ambitious charge to train the dogs to detect infectious diseases in animals.“He’s done the first of a lot of things for us, because he’s so game,” says Parker. Some wildlife carry brucellosis, a bacterial disease that is particularly harmful to cattle. It’s difficult to tell when animals are first infected because they typically don’t display symptoms, so in areas where the disease is prevalent, ranchers tend to keep livestock and wildlife as far away from each other as possible — severely limiting the territory and movement of both kinds of animals. The hope is that dogs could provide a fast, reliable way to identify infected herds. So far, Pepin has shown he can discriminate infected elk scat with higher and lower concentrations of the bacteria, and WD4C is eager to explore this use of dog power. “We have proof of concept,” says Parker. “I’d like to move that work forward.”

There are so many other unexplored capacities and environments where dogs could help, Parker believes. To that end, WD4C started a program in 2015 called Rescues 2the Rescue, which aims to help shelters around the world identify would-be detection dogs and place them with wildlife and conservation organizations. What kind of dogs are they looking for? Ones that are, uh, crazy.

To clarify that adjective, we’ll close by telling you about Wicket, a black Lab mix who retired from WD4C in 2017 at the top of her game, having detected 32 different wildlife scents in 18 states and seven countries. Wicket languished in a Montana shelter for six months, barking up a storm and scaring away potential owners, until WD4C cofounder Aimee Hurt found her there in 2005. When she went to adopt her, the shelter director said, “You don’t want that dog — that dog’s crazy!” To which Hurt replied, “I think she might be the right kind of crazy.”

All photos courtesy of Working Dogs for Conservation. 

Watch Megan Parker’s TEDxJacksonHole talk here:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rebekah Barnett is the community speaker coordinator at TED, and knows a good flag when she sees one.

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Dogs give us so much. They are inspiring, loving and happy creatures.

On atheism!

Musings about truth, faith and reason.

One of the Christmas cards that we received said this:

So glad we are friends and neighbors. And I will pray you will have a year full of the peace, love and hope that Jesus promises.

With Love, Hugs and Prayers.

Now I understand to a degree why the sender, a neighbour of ours, would write that. But at the same time I do not. We are clearly atheists. Indeed, back in 2012 on first meeting I happened to say that I was not a believer and it produced a shock; a reaction that how could anyone not be a believer.

And I think yesterday’s post supports the view that the reality of the existence of our solar system, all 2.6 billion years of it, shows that religious beliefs of all forms come from an age where the world beyond one’s doorstep was unknown and scary. Things are different now.

But to go back to the age of things.

That existence of our solar system came about some 9.2 billion years, give or take some 60 million years, after the Big Bang.

In other words, the Big Bang, that started the whole thing off, came about three and a half times earlier than the creation of the solar system.

So read the following by Prof. Jerry Coyne. It makes perfect sense.

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Yes, there is a war between science and religion

   Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago

As the West becomes more and more secular, and the discoveries of evolutionary biology and cosmology shrink the boundaries of faith, the claims that science and religion are compatible grow louder. If you’re a believer who doesn’t want to seem anti-science, what can you do? You must argue that your faith – or any faith – is perfectly compatible with science.

And so one sees claim after claim from believers, religious scientists, prestigious science organizations and even atheists asserting not only that science and religion are compatible, but also that they can actually help each other. This claim is called “accommodationism.”

But I argue that this is misguided: that science and religion are not only in conflict – even at “war” – but also represent incompatible ways of viewing the world.

Opposing methods for discerning truth

My argument runs like this. I’ll construe “science” as the set of tools we use to find truth about the

The scientific method relies on observing, testing and replication to learn about the world. Jaron Nix/Unsplash, CC BY

universe, with the understanding that these truths are provisional rather than absolute. These tools include observing nature, framing and testing hypotheses, trying your hardest to prove that your hypothesis is wrong to test your confidence that it’s right, doing experiments and above all replicating your and others’ results to increase confidence in your inference.

And I’ll define religion as does philosopher Daniel Dennett: “Social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought.” Of course many religions don’t fit that definition, but the ones whose compatibility with science is touted most often – the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam – fill the bill.

Next, realize that both religion and science rest on “truth statements” about the universe – claims about reality. The edifice of religion differs from science by additionally dealing with morality, purpose and meaning, but even those areas rest on a foundation of empirical claims. You can hardly call yourself a Christian if you don’t believe in the Resurrection of Christ, a Muslim if you don’t believe the angel Gabriel dictated the Qur’an to Muhammad, or a Mormon if you don’t believe that the angel Moroni showed Joseph Smith the golden plates that became the Book of Mormon. After all, why accept a faith’s authoritative teachings if you reject its truth claims?

Indeed, even the Bible notes this: “But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.”

Many theologians emphasize religion’s empirical foundations, agreeing with the physicist and Anglican priest John Polkinghorne:

“The question of truth is as central to [religion’s] concern as it is in science. Religious belief can guide one in life or strengthen one at the approach of death, but unless it is actually true it can do neither of these things and so would amount to no more than an illusory exercise in comforting fantasy.”

The conflict between science and faith, then, rests on the methods they use to decide what is true, and what truths result: These are conflicts of both methodology and outcome.

In contrast to the methods of science, religion adjudicates truth not empirically, but via dogma, scripture and authority – in other words, through faith, defined in Hebrews 11 as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In science, faith without evidence is a vice, while in religion it’s a virtue. Recall what Jesus said to “doubting Thomas,” who insisted in poking his fingers into the resurrected Savior’s wounds: “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

Two ways to look at the same thing, never the twain shall meet. Gabriel Lamza/Unsplash, CC BY

And yet, without supporting evidence, Americans believe a number of religious claims: 74 percent of us believe in God, 68 percent in the divinity of Jesus, 68 percent in Heaven, 57 percent in the virgin birth, and 58 percent in the Devil and Hell. Why do they think these are true? Faith.

But different religions make different – and often conflicting – claims, and there’s no way to judge which claims are right. There are over 4,000 religions on this planet, and their “truths” are quite different. (Muslims and Jews, for instance, absolutely reject the Christian belief that Jesus was the son of God.) Indeed, new sects often arise when some believers reject what others see as true. Lutherans split over the truth of evolution, while Unitarians rejected other Protestants’ belief that Jesus was part of God.

And while science has had success after success in understanding the universe, the “method” of using faith has led to no proof of the divine. How many gods are there? What are their natures and moral creeds? Is there an afterlife? Why is there moral and physical evil? There is no one answer to any of these questions. All is mystery, for all rests on faith.

The “war” between science and religion, then, is a conflict about whether you have good reasons for believing what you do: whether you see faith as a vice or a virtue.

Compartmentalizing realms is irrational

So how do the faithful reconcile science and religion? Often they point to the existence of religious scientists, like NIH Director Francis Collins, or to the many religious people who accept science. But I’d argue that this is compartmentalization, not compatibility, for how can you reject the divine in your laboratory but accept that the wine you sip on Sunday is the blood of Jesus?

Can divinity be at play in one setting but not another? Jametlene Reskp/Unsplash, CC BY

Others argue that in the past religion promoted science and inspired questions about the universe. But in the past every Westerner was religious, and it’s debatable whether, in the long run, the progress of science has been promoted by religion. Certainly evolutionary biology, my own field, has been held back strongly by creationism, which arises solely from religion.

What is not disputable is that today science is practiced as an atheistic discipline – and largely by atheists. There’s a huge disparity in religiosity between American scientists and Americans as a whole: 64 percent of our elite scientists are atheists or agnostics, compared to only 6 percent of the general population – more than a tenfold difference. Whether this reflects differential attraction of nonbelievers to science or science eroding belief – I suspect both factors operate – the figures are prima facie evidence for a science-religion conflict.

The most common accommodationist argument is Stephen Jay Gould’s thesis of “non-overlapping magisteria.” Religion and science, he argued, don’t conflict because: “Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world, and to develop theories that coordinate and explain these facts. Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally important, but utterly different, realm of human purposes, meanings and values – subjects that the factual domain of science might illuminate, but can never resolve.”

This fails on both ends. First, religion certainly makes claims about “the factual character of the universe.” In fact, the biggest opponents of non-overlapping magisteria are believers and theologians, many of whom reject the idea that Abrahamic religions are “empty of any claims to historical or scientific facts.”

Nor is religion the sole bailiwick of “purposes, meanings and values,” which of course differ among faiths. There’s a long and distinguished history of philosophy and ethics – extending from Plato, Hume and Kant up to Peter Singer, Derek Parfit and John Rawls in our day – that relies on reason rather than faith as a fount of morality. All serious ethical philosophy is secular ethical philosophy.

In the end, it’s irrational to decide what’s true in your daily life using empirical evidence, but then rely on wishful-thinking and ancient superstitions to judge the “truths” undergirding your faith. This leads to a mind (no matter how scientifically renowned) at war with itself, producing the cognitive dissonance that prompts accommodationism. If you decide to have good reasons for holding any beliefs, then you must choose between faith and reason. And as facts become increasingly important for the welfare of our species and our planet, people should see faith for what it is: not a virtue but a defect.

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I would love to have your views.

Carl Sagan once more!

This is incredible!

I will do no more than to post the description of the film that was provided on Top Documentary Films.

STORYLINE

The long-awaited second part of the unauthorized documentary series based on Carl Sagan’s groundbreaking 1994 book has arrived. The insightful Pale Blue Dot: Humility examines how our perspective on the vastness of the cosmos has shaped our shifting sense of self through the ages.

Pieced together as a mosaic of pop culture clips, historical stills and footage, appealing animations, and Sagan’s own audio commentary, the film is a rebuke against the plague of bloated self-importance, and the need to claim superiority over others for control of insignificant specks of territory. Even the field of science has not immune to these selfish pursuits.

From that foundation, Sagan’s probing commentary provides a brief recap of our understanding of the heavens and the Earth throughout history. This evolution of discovery represents an epic and ongoing battle between our quest for supremacy and the reality of our insignificance. For many generations, the deeply held belief that the Earth was the center of the universe was impervious to reason or to revelations obtained through further investigation. Mainstream thinking was slow to evolve when it came to the correlation between the Earth and the Sun, for example, or the age of our planet in comparison to the universe at large. The widespread and steadfast acceptance of various theologies further clouded our capacity for reasoned judgment.

But the ceaseless canvas of the universe – adorned with hundreds of billions of galaxies, distant planets and brilliant stars – provides the ultimate lesson in humility. Our modern understanding of the universe demands a more nuanced and less conceited perspective. Yet our yearning to give special meaning to our existence is a barrier to these scientific discoveries. After all, we have to be here for a reason. As Sagan states during the course of the film, it is a battle between our quest for “deep knowledge and shallow reassurance”.

It is obvious that great care went in to assembling the film, and the flow of complex information is cleanly and artfully presented. Pale Blue Dot: Humility is an affectionate representation and tribute to Sagan’s trailblazing intellect.

But as well as wanting to share this with you it also serves as an introduction to tomorrow’s post.

Won’t say any more just now.

Watch the film.

Why don’t we do this?

The day of the dogs.

I saw this on the BBC News site back in November and had been meaning to share it with you before now. But it’s still highly relevant.

Do no more than go straight into the article.

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Nepal festival celebrates ‘day of the dogs’

The Nepalese festival Kukur Tihar celebrates dogs by blessing them with a red mark on their forehead

Every dog has its day, and for canines in Nepal that phrase could not be more literal.

The five-day Nepalese Hindu festival of Tihar started this week and the second day is known as Kukur Tihar or “day of the dogs”.

Dogs are celebrated and blessed with a Tika – a red mark applied to their forehead.

The animals are also given flowers, garlands and offered food as part of the festival.

Scooby the Japanese Spitz enjoyed being decorated with garlands of fresh marigold flowers

Hindus believe that dog is the messenger of Yamaraj – the God of death – and by keeping the dogs in good humour they will be able to appease Yamaraj himself.

Sumnima Maudas said Kukur Tihar is one of her “favourite Nepalese festivals” and added the day was all about her chihuahua Sanu

The festival, which shares some traditions with Diwali in India, also celebrates cows and crows.

Dog owner Umid Pokharel celebrated with his labrador Frieza but said “worshipping them for a day is not enough”

It is not just beloved pets who are involved in the celebrations. Stray dogs are honoured on the day too.

Kelsang Ongmu Tamang’s cat Missy joined in with the tradition as well as dogs Sweetie and Milly

Treats given to dogs during Kukur Tihar can range from meat, milk, eggs and good quality dog food.

Pappu the pug has been enjoying the food element of the festival

Tihar is also called Deepavali or the festival of lights.

Throughout this festival, people in Nepal clean their houses and courtyards; light up lamps and pray to Laxmi – the Goddess of Wealth – urging her to visit their houses and bless them.

Daisy Pie certainly looked pleased to be the centre of attention

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Just beautiful!

Dark money.

Back to politics of the bigger order.

I stopped and pondered whether I should share this with you but then I decided to so do. Reason is that this is …. well, let me put it in the words of the essay: “Dark money is among the greatest current threats to democracy. It means money spent below the public radar, that seeks to change political outcomes. It enables very rich people and corporations to influence politics without showing their hands.

Enough said!

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You Want It Darker?

10th December 2018

The remarkable story of how the hard-right Koch brothers funded a Trotskyite splinter group.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 7th November 2018

Dark money is among the greatest current threats to democracy. It means money spent below the public radar, that seeks to change political outcomes. It enables very rich people and corporations to influence politics without showing their hands.

Among the world’s biggest political spenders are Charles and David Koch, co-owners of Koch Industries, a vast private conglomerate of oil pipelines and refineries, chemicals, timber and paper companies, commodity trading firms and cattle ranches. If their two fortunes were rolled into one, Charles David Koch, with $120bn, would be the richest man on Earth.

In a rare public statement – an essay published in 1978 – Charles Koch explained his objective. “Our movement must destroy the prevalent statist paradigm.” As Jane Mayer records in her book Dark Money, the Kochs’ ideology – lower taxes and looser regulations – and their business interests “dovetailed so seamlessly it was difficult to distinguish one from the other.”

Over the years, she notes, “the company developed a stunning record of corporate malfeasance”. Koch Industries paid massive fines for oil spills, illegal benzene emissions and ammonia pollution. In 1999, a jury found that it had knowingly using a corroded pipeline to carry butane, which caused an explosion in which two people died. Company Town, a film released last year, tells the story of local people’s long fight against pollution from a huge papermill owned by the Koch brothers.

The Koch’s chief political lieutenant, Richard Fink, developed what he called a three-stage model of social change. Universities would produce “the intellectual raw materials”. Think tanks would transform them into “a more practical or useable form”. Then “citizen activist” groups would “press for the implementation of policy change.”

To these ends the Kochs set up bodies in all three categories themselves, such as the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, the Cato Institute and the “citizens’ group” Americans for Prosperity. But for the most part they funded existing organisations that met their criteria. They have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into a network of academic departments, thinktanks, journals and movements. And they appear to have been remarkably successful.

As researchers at Harvard and Columbia universities have found, Americans for Prosperity alone now rivals the Republican party in terms of size, staffing and organisational capacity. It has pulled ”the Republican party to the far-right on economic, tax, and regulatory issues.” It was crucial to the success of the Tea Party Movement, the ousting of Democrats from Congress, and the staffing of Trump’s transition team. The Koch network has helped secure massive tax cuts, the smashing of trade unions and the dismantling of environmental legislation.

But their hands, for the most part, remain invisible. A Republican consultant who has worked for Charles and David Koch told Jane Mayer that “to call them under the radar is an understatement. They are underground.”

Until now, there has been no evidence that Charles and David Koch have directly funded organisations based in the UK. But a few weeks ago, a reader pointed me to one line he found in a form submitted to the US government by the Charles Koch Foundation, which showed money transferred to a company that appears to be the US funding arm of a UK organisation. Once I had grasped its significance, I set up a collaboration with the investigative group DeSmog UK. We could scarcely believe what we were seeing.

The organisation the Charles Koch Foundation has chosen to fund is at first sight astounding: a US organisation established by an obscure magazine run by former members of a tiny Trotskyite splinter group. Some of its core contributors still describe themselves as Marxists or Bolsheviks. But the harder you look at it, the more sense the Koch donations appear to make.

The name of the magazine is Spiked. It emerged from a group with a comical history of left factionalism. In 1974, the International Socialists split after a dispute over arithmetic in Volume 3 of Das Kapital. One of the new factions formed the Revolutionary Communist Group. In 1976, it split again, and one of the splinters became the Revolutionary Communist Tendency. It was led by a sociologist at the University of Kent called Frank Furedi. In 1981 it changed its name to the Revolutionary Communist Party.

In 1988, the party launched a magazine called Living Marxism (later LM). By then, it had abandoned many of its former convictions. Among the few discernible traces of its revolutionary past was an enthusiasm for former communists in the Balkans, such as Slobodan Milošević. In 2000, it closed after losing a libel case: it falsely claimed that ITN had fabricated evidence of Serb atrocities against Bosnian Muslims. But as soon as the magazine folded, a network of new groups, with the same cast of characters – Frank Furedi, Claire Fox, Mick Hume, Brendan O’Neill, James Heartfield, Michael Fitzpatrick, James Woudhuysen – sprang up to replace it. Among these organisations were the Institute of ideas, the Academy of Ideas, the Manifesto Club and a new magazine, Spiked. It had the same editor as LM (Mick Hume) and most of the same contributors.

We found three payments over the past two years from the Charles Koch Foundation. They amount to $170,000, earmarked for “general operating support”. The payments were made to Spiked US Inc. On Spiked’s “Donate” page is a button that says “In the US? Donate here”. It takes you to the PayPal link for “Spiked US, Inc”. Spiked US, in other words, appears to be its American funding arm. Beyond a postal address is Hoboken, New Jersey, it is hard to see what presence it has in the US. It appears to have been established in 2016, the year in which the Koch donations began.

When I asked Spiked what the money was for and whether there had been any other payments, its managing editor, Viv Regan, told me that the Charles Koch Foundation has now given Spiked US a total of $300,000, “to produce public debates in the US about free speech, as part of its charitable activities.” She claims the foundation supports projects “on both the left and the right”. The Koch Foundation has funded “a free-speech oriented programme of public debates on campus titled the Unsafe Space Tour” and four live events, the first of which is titled ‘Should we be free to hate?’. She told me “We’re very proud of our work on free speech and tolerance, and we are proud to be part of the programme.”

But I have been unable to find any public acknowledgement of this funding. Neither on the videos of the debates, in the posters advertising them or in reports of the events in Spiked magazine is there any mention of the Charles Koch Foundation. From what I could see of the title slides in the videos, they acknowledged an organisation called the Institute for Humane Studies, but not the Foundation. Spiked has yet to reply to my questions on this matter.

The Koch brothers are famously careful with their money. According to Jane Mayer, they exert “unusually tight personal control over their philanthropic endeavours”. David Koch told a sympathetic journalist, “If we’re going to give a lot of money, we’ll make darn sure they spend it in a way that goes along with our intent. And if they make a wrong turn and start doing things we don’t agree with, we withdraw funding.” So what might have attracted them to this obscure organisation?

Spiked magazine, now edited by Brendan O’Neill, appears to hate left-wing politics. It inveighs against the welfare state, against regulation, the Occupy movement, anti-capitalists, Jeremy Corbyn, George Soros, #MeToo, “black privilege” and Black Lives Matter. It does so in the name of the “ordinary people”, whom, it claims, are oppressed by the “anti-Trump and anti-Brexit cultural elites”, “feministic elites”, “green elites” and “cosmopolitan politicians”.

It repeatedly defends figures on the hard right or far right: Katie Hopkins, Nigel Farage, Alex Jones, the Democratic Football Lads’ Alliance, Tommy Robinson, Toby Young, Arron Banks, Brett Kavanaugh, Viktor Orban. They are portrayed as victims of “McCarthyites” trying to suppress free speech. It demands the hardest of possible Brexits, insisting that “No Deal is nothing to fear”, as it would allow the UK to scrap EU regulations.

But what it appears to hate most is environmentalism. It rails against “climate scaremongering”, and has called for fracking and coal production to be ramped up. It blames the Grenfell Tower disaster on “the moral fervour of the climate change campaign”. It mocks the idea that air pollution is dangerous and has proposed abolishing the planning system. “We need to conquer nature, not bow to it,” it contends. “Let’s make the ‘human footprint’ even bigger”.

Spiked’s writers rage against exposures of dark money. It calls the Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr, who has won a string of prizes for exposing the opaque spending surrounding the Brexit vote,the closest thing the mainstream British media has to an out-and-out conspiracy theorist”. It carries numerous articles by writers from the obscurely-funded Institute of Economic Affairs and from the Cato Institute, that was founded by Charles Koch. Its editor, Brendan O’Neill, also writes for Reason Magazine, owned by the Reason Foundation, which has received $1 million from the Charles Koch Foundation over the past two years.

Bizarrely, Spiked still uses Leon Trotsky to justify its positions. It claims to have built its philosophy on his objective of “increasing the power of man over nature and … the abolition of the power of man over man”. This means, it says, that “we should fight for greater human dominion over the natural world”, and that regulatory power should not be used to prevent anyone from exercising their agency. The result appears to turn Trotsky’s objective on its head: without constraint, those with the greatest agency can exercise uninhibited power over others.

Its enthusiasm for Trotsky is highly selective. As one of Spiked’s writers noted in 2002, his central message was that “the retreat behind national boundaries is a recipe for reaction”. Yet the magazine’s defence of both Brexit and Viktor Orban, Hungary’s right-wing prime minister, is founded on the notion of national sovereignty. Spiked seems to have remembered everything Leon Trotsky wrote that could be recruited to the cause of corporate capital and the hard right, and forgotten all his, shall we say, less enthusiastic musings about those forces.

Above all, its positions are justified with the claim to support free speech. But the freedom all seems to tend in one direction: freedom to lambast vulnerable people. The Unsafe Space tour that the Charles Koch Foundation financed was heavily slanted towards this line. Yet, when I exercised my freedom of speech in sending my questions to Spiked, I was denounced on the front page of the magazine as a “McCarthyite”. This is its favourite insult, which it uses prolifically to dismiss legitimate inquiries and critiques. The usual term for asking awkward questions about powerful interests is journalism. Open information and transparency are crucial to free speech: the more we know, the freer we become. Spiked has also called for schools, universities and governments to be “cleansed” of “the malign influence” of green NGOs, which it denounces as “the environmentalist enemy within.” Some friends of free speech, these.

The Kochs are mentioned in several Spiked articles, but no corresponding interests are declared. An article in 2016, when Spiked received $170,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation, attacked the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, in which the Koch brothers have a major interest.

Is this the extent of the Koch brothers’ funding of groups based in the UK? Who knows? I have not yet had a response from the Charles Koch Foundation. But I see these payments as part of a wider pattern of undisclosed funding. Democracy without transparency is not democracy.

http://www.monbiot.com

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If I was a younger man I would be very active in trying to stop this threat to our open society.

But I am not!

All I can do is to republish this insightful essay by George Monbiot and hope that a few of you didn’t realise this thing was going on, and are concerned!