There's a simple answer to the ongoing debate about motorists vs. cyclists, argues Duncan Hall. That answer is one of mutual respect.
Animal farming and its damaging effect on the environment is an issue that has long been understood, but has been left out of the main parties' manifestos.
The moral and ethical reasoning behind veganism so often focuses on animals. Yet no matter how solid the reasoning, for some people this just isn't enough. No arguments about animals will sway them because animals just don't have enough worth.
Meat tastes good. I get it. But what about going vegan for the sake of other people? In an attempt to build on the understanding of veganism, here are five key reasons to go vegan for the good of humanity – how can humans benefit from a worldwide shift to a vegan diet?
We are approaching D-day in the medical sector. Antibiotics are being squandered, and it’s no longer realistic to expect them to be available forever. Without antibiotics, simple surgery will kill thousands of people through infection. Childbirth will be a hugely risky endeavour. And a minor chest infection could kill a healthy adult.
We are breeding an army of superbugs through our overuse of antibiotics. Scary, no?
And how are we squandering our antibiotics? Well, the animal agriculture industry unfortunately. In the US, the industry has been routinely pumping about 70% of antibiotics produced into healthy animals. This prevents the animal from getting sick, and causes a minor and unexplained increase in growth. Great for the industry, terrible for the future of medicine.
A growing body of research is linking the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture to antibiotic resistant superbugs. However, until the industry is changed, no single farm is going to want to risk changing its own practices for fear of losing profits in a highly competitive environment. One way to expedite the industry changes is to boycott it yourself.
For more information, we recommend the film Resistance.
Eradicating food poverty
Meat consumption hampers efforts to feed poverty-stricken countries. Not to oversimplify matters, but the answer to the challenges of charities such as Oxfam is actually blatant, and that is to leave meat off your plate.
Animal protein is horrendously inefficient to produce, requiring vast amounts of grains, soy, and other crops to feed the 50+ billion animals used in agriculture per year. There are only 7 billion humans on the planet at the moment, yet we are struggling to feed them.
A UK government report on the future of farming published back in 2011 highlighted how this problem will only worsen as the population grows to 9 billion over the next few decades, demonstrating how there needs to be a massive shift in the distribution of food as it stands. A plant-based diet is the best way to commit to this shift on a personal level.
Protecting oil supplies
Whilst veganism is often intertwined with the renewable energy movement, it would also protect what limited non-renewable energy resources we have left, and ensure they can be used more efficiently. With current estimates pointing to oil running somewhere around the middle of this century, this is a pressing issue.
There are numerous stages within the animal agriculture industry where these resources are used in abundance. Manchester-based artist Mishka Henner highlights this eloquently.
His series of aerial shots of feedlots and oilfields hint at the interrelationships between these two massive industries. Feedlots are the final feeding stations for cattle before slaughter – in the last few weeks of their lives the aim is to fatten them up, adding about 4 pounds of weight per day. Masses of corn and grain are provided to the animals.
These crops are grown elsewhere, and shipped to the feedlot. By food activist Michael Pollan’s estimations, each bushel of corn (about 8 gallons) requires a whopping 1.2 gallons of oil which is used primarily in chemical fertilisers.
We’ve already mentioned the inefficiency of turning plants into animals for consumption, but this affects the future of the world’s non-renewable energy supply, at a time when inefficiency cannot be afforded.
Despite ongoing debate on nutrition and long-term health, a shift towards a plant-based, vegan diet filled with fruits, vegetables, legumes, wholegrains, healthy fats, and lean vegan protein is consistently shown to be optimal for long-term health.
Only a month ago, an independent US government advice committee (The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee) published a report highlighting the necessity of a shift towards plant-based eating for the long-term health of citizens.
There are plenty of proponents for other diets, but consistently a plant-based one comes out on top for long-term health. This particular committee is entirely independent and aren’t swayed by bias.
You can either read the full 571 page report, packed with evidence… or just take our word for it. A vegan diet is optimal for personal health.
The slippery slope
This is a slightly less palpable point, as it’s more conceptual than practical, but bear with me.
When discussing vegetarianism, Tolstoy stated that for ‘as long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields.’
Tolstoy’s point was that violence begets violence. When we see it as possible to subjugate what we would call ‘lesser beings’ where will we stop? The slippery slope leads us from subjugating animals, to cultures and peoples we see as inferior. Our compassion makes way for violent traits within us, and those violent traits dominate.
Tolstoy illustrates that we can never be sure where those violent traits will end, and to whom we will extend them to. Thus, by exercising compassion over animals, we are more likely to exercise compassion over man.
If you ask yourself which religion is the most subscribed to in Western society, answers will vary. Christianity is still at the top, with its various sects and divisions. However, other Abrahamic religions stand strong and are even growing - Islam primarily. Eastern religions are making their dent too. And you may even believe that perhaps atheism and agnosticism are the dominant beliefs.
However, religion can be defined as the following -
The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods. A particular system of faith and worship. A pursuit or interest followed with great devotion.
Under that definition, Capitalism stands tall as our Western religion, flawed or not is our devotion to it. Certainly, the latter part, 'a pursuit or interest followed with great devotion', seems more aptly applied to our economic system than any modern day religion.
Will Self makes this point brilliantly in a piece he did for A Point of View. He discusses the grooming of our political and financial elite through the Oxford University PPE course, and how that elite has become the 'priesthood' of our 'religion'. It's a great listen, as Will builds a synonymity between religion and economics, the somewhat dark overall point of which is lightened by his wit. Oh, and it's all wrapped up in 10 minutes.
Will's summary is concise and explicit, and does not need making again here. Nevertheless, I wanted to add something to this, so I thought it'd be fun to write some of the catechisms of this new religion.
Catechisms, for those that don't know, are a doctrinal Q&A, commonplace in Christianity and particularly Catholicism. Essentially, a question is posed by the clergy to which a scripted reply is given by the laity. It's an interesting institution, and perhaps the epitome of dogmatic behaviour in the Church. People should respond to the question without hesitation or thought. This is mirrored in our economic system by our blind following of it - something Karl Marx referred to as the 'dominant ideology'.
So, the Catechisms of Capitalism. Let the sermon begin...
What is Capitalism?
Capitalism is the perfection of economic systems. It hath stood the true test of time, and it hath emerged glorious. All people are subject to the will of capitalism. It rewards he who cares for himself above all others, and punishes those who choose not to tread its path.
What should be thy hope in life and death?
The accumulation of wealth to prove thyself to Capitalism. We can hope only to glorify the system and to be glorified within the system. Our duty is to be motivated by profit, and to feel not empathy for humanity.
What is profit?
Profit is the goal of Capitalism, and is our guiding force. All must strive for profit, for none matters as much as thy bottom line.
Praise be to Mammon.
Praise be to Him.
What is the law of Capitalism?
I shall sacrifice myself entirely to Capitalism, before my loves and happiness. I shall not doubt the system, and if ever I do I shall satisfy myself by further material accumulation. All other systems have failed, no others can succeed. My hours are thine from nine to five, Monday to Friday. I exist to serve you and to strive for profit.
How shall our actions be decided under Capitalism?
Capitalism shall guide and shape our actions through two guiding hands: supply and demand. As loyal followers our demand shall be insatiable, and through that demand we show our devotion. Business shall supply, and consumers shall demand. Business giveth, and consumers taketh away.
Who has followed the law of Capitalism?
He who understands that life is about money and nothing more. Money must be gathered, no matter the cost. As the daughter, Thatcher, once said, “there is no such thing as community, only the individual.”
Thus, what is sin?
The sinner desires not material pleasures and investments, but derives pleasures from fulfilment of the mind. The sinner ignores the law of wealth creation, and desires learning. The sinner rejects individual success, and desires the growth of community. The sinner is guided by love for fellow beings, and not by love for money. They have failed at Capitalism's central tenet.
And what of idolatry?
He who believes in a system other than Capitalism and neo-liberal thought systems. From one who believes in the independent co-operative to provide instead of the financial corporation, to those who believe in a different way entirely such as the Socialist. Idolatry is not always sin, but the idoliser may also sin in their beliefs in anything but money and Capitalism.
How shall the sinner and idoliser be punished?
Capitalism will punish by not providing. He who does not question the system shall not be punished under it – create wealth for yourself and you shall never be poor. The misguided will not focus on material wealth, and thus will grow old in poverty.
When was the Second Coming of Capitalism?
The neo-liberal revolution in the West, beginning in the late 1970s.
Who led the Second Coming of Capitalism?
The son and daughter of Capitalism, Reagan and Thatcher.
Praise be to the son, Reagan, and the daughter, Thatcher.
Praise be to them.
Were Reagan and Thatcher gods?
They were mortals; prophets of Capitalism's word. They have birthed us into a new era where Capitalism is strong again, and Capitalism's greatest followers show their dedication. They are the 1%, and all should aim to prosper as they have.
And where are they now?
They lived and died for us; to show us the one true path.
And what happens in death?
The wise man will pass their wealth on to their sons and daughters, through the use of offshore bank accounts, but also spend much on a funeral to demonstrate, even in death, the power of one's wealth. The foolish man will allow their wealth to be taxed or even pass it on to charities and social causes.
Let us pray...
Our Money, which art in Natwest
Hallowed by thy savings
My kingdom come,
My will be done
Through supply and in demand
Give me today my daily bread,
And anything else I desire
Provided I have the means to pay
And keep me forever tempted,
But deliver me from evil
Unless it saves me money
And I will take out a third mortgage
Whilst still not caring for my neighbour
For mine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory
The ongoing toxicity of the patent system is continuing, and Bill Gates, a man who actively campaigned against tech patenting in the early 90s, is one of the many who is building a repertoire of unused patents. The folks at Ars Technica have uncovered much of Gates' work with prolific patent trolls, Intellectual Ventures. This report highlights Gates' ongoing work with Intellectual Ventures to continue to secure patents, particularly with the company's co-founder, Nathan Myhrvold.
Whilst it cannot be ascertained at this point whether or not Gates is getting involved in the patent trolling game, what is certain is that so far he has 93 patents with IV, a company which has traditionally used patents to file lawsuits and earn vast sums of money purely from suing others. Generally, working with IV to invent new products is a pretty bad idea. However, Gates' reasoning quite probably lies in the fact that Myrhvold is an ex-business associate at Microsoft.
Many Silicon Valley based companies, blogs and news sources have referred to IV as the single biggest patent troll in existence. IV consistently defends itself against these claims, describing itself as a hub for invention. However, as with the recent Xbox One debacle, there comes a point where no PR team, no matter the quality of personnel or quantity of budget available, can hide the true intentions of a company. IV has so far not brought a single patent into commercial use. Similarly, IV has been known to use shell companies to further their standing and build their patent portfolio. To learn more about IV's practices, TechDirt's feed on the company is filled with instances of their history and behaviours. This American Life's damning indictment on Intellectual Ventures reveals the story of Chris Crawford's patent for essentially the concept of backing up data online. The patent was used in attempts to sue numerous companies, causing many to pay off IV to leave them alone. Whilst patent trolls are becoming ubiquitous, with the industry being huge, Intellectual Ventures has proved itself to be at the peak of it all.
In a nutshell, IV is a company that not only exists because of litigation and lawsuits – it thrives on them, and has effectively built a business that promotes its ability to capitalise on them.
For those unclear on the concept of patent trolling and the ongoing debate, let me attempt to shed some light on this complex and controversial topic. The patent system crumbles and is effectively broken when transferred to digital media and software. Much of the law is based on archaic systems, and was only effective when it was first written into the US constitution. This was a time before digital, when inventors could be protected by law, and thus feel safe to display their inventions and blueprints.
When it comes to software, we've entered a world which thrives off of rapid innovation. The latest digital tool today is outdated rapidly and replaced, sometimes in a matter of weeks. At this point, rather than continue to innovate, the easy option is to rely on those out-dated patent laws and sue the guys who've overtaken you.
What's more disturbing though is the requirements for a patent. Unlike in those traditional days of Edison, Tesla, et al when invention was a process of building, blueprinting, redesigning and rebuilding until something worked and the patent could be filed, these days with digital inventions one only needs to essentially prove that an idea is buildable, file a patent, and then (under current laws) they can enjoy 20 years of attempting to shakedown anyone who breaches that patent in any single way. It's like if I decided I could find the means to build a robotic cat which could then be controlled with an iPhone. I could then go ahead and patent said idea for a robotic cat, along with the ability to remote control it using an iPhone. I could then sit on that for 20 years, attempting to sue anyone who actually bothered to try and make a robotic cat, probably anyone who made a robotic entity of any description, and while I'm at it have a bash at threatening any company working around remote access via iPhone. I don't need to develop a single product to fit that patent, and the more vague and ambiguous the language of the patent, the more people and companies that I can threaten.
Of course, this will never happen because a) I don't have anywhere near the size or clout of IV b) I'm not a **** (insert your favourite expletive referencing IV here) and c) someone's probably patented these exact ideas already... in fact, hundreds, maybe thousands already have. Remote access via mobile devices? Without checking, it's almost guaranteed to have been patented several thousand times over. But this brings me to another problem with patenting in tech products: tech is complicated, the law doesn't always know what it's talking about. As mentioned, vague wording can fool anyone into misunderstanding subtle differences between inventions. Ideas remain the same, but the way they're done does not. Unfortunately, this is often difficult for those outside of Silicon Valley to grasp. The aforementioned Chris Crawford example, about online back-ups, was still being used to threaten companies up to just a few years ago, despite originally being filed in the early 1990s. A 20 year patent term represents 3-5 paradigm shifts in the technology industry, as well as many other major developments between those. Think about the difference between technology now, and only five years ago. Chris Crawford's online back up system is leagues behind modern cloud systems.
And a final point before we return to Bill Gates – technology start ups thrive on previous inventions. In this industry, revolution generates evolution. The latest and greatest tech start ups are often amalgamations of previously executed ideas, polished up and given a slight twist on the trusted formula. Imagine a world where every online community had been threatened into non-existence by Geocities back in 1995. Or perhaps a world in which an alternative version of Bill Gates had aggressively patented aspects of the Windows operating system GUI which are now common to all systems. Or maybe a world in which the likes of Vint Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee would set their lawyers on you the second you decided to host a website or share a file from your home computer. All of this is merely conjecture, but it illustrates how far technology can develop with companies being allowed to work with a rival's idea and evolve, develop and innovate on it. The US constitution claims that patents exist to “promote the progress of science and useful arts” - this reasoning is in direct conflict with their use in the tech industry now, and the rampant patent trolling.
So, where does this leave us? Patent laws are a constant topic of debate, yet at this stage there is little sign of reform occurring, despite a clearly broken system and a smothered business arena. Many are attempting to change the system, but so far with little success. Minor political parties and pressure groups seem to be the primary agents pushing for change. Australia's Pirate Party provides one such possible fix to the problem (regardless of whether you agree with their wider views):
- They aim to reduce the overall patent period to 5 years
- Increase the cost of obtaining a patent (reasoning that inventors will only then patent an idea that will be worthwhile)
- But the idea with the most validity is that litigation can only be carried out if the patent is leading to a developed product. If a company or individual is not using their patent to develop a product, then they have no rights to undertake legal action.
Gates' current project is called “Global Good” - he regularly brainstorms ideas such as malaria and the energy crisis with Myrhvold, develops ideas, and patents them. IV will not build any of these, claiming that building commercially viable products is not their business objective (although it's questionable as to whether they avoid this aspect of business for fear of being hounded by patent lawsuits themselves).
At this point it's important not to point the finger at Gates and cast blame. Firstly, he's not actively attempted to sue or threaten any others based on the patents he's developed with Myrhvold. Secondly, Bill Gates, despite his history of being a ruthless businessman in the early 90s, has proven to be dedicated in supporting positive causes, and it's likely that anyone willing to undertake the development of the products and tech would receive a wealth of knowledge and support from Gates, rather than be crushed under the patent licensing fees. If one man has enough money to build a startup for every single one of the 93 patents he holds with IV, it's Bill Gates.
Nevertheless, the situation certainly warrants further examination. Just because we shouldn't blame, doesn't mean we shouldn't monitor Gates' activities with IV and question his motives. It'll be interesting to see how Gates and IV act upon being approached by a delivery company for any of these patents. Until this happens, it's pretty tough to tell whether Gates' intentions are noble or not. IV, however, certainly has a lot to answer for already. Could this be a divisive factor between Gates and Myrhvold, or has Gates truly been dragged down to IV's levels as many speculators suggest?
We are not so innocent
On Wednesday 1 August 1945 British soldiers marched into the small spa town of Bad Nenndorf in Lower Saxony. They knocked on doors and informed the residents that they had 90 minutes to pack their belongings and leave. Overnight more than 1,000 citizens were displaced as British Soldiers claimed a third of the town.
The townspeople hoped this would be a temporary arrangement but when barbed wire fences were installed all hopes were dashed.
Bad Nenndorf was to become one of the most notorious interrogation camps of the Second World War – it’s story remains as testament to a hidden history of Britain’s involvement in WWII.
Bad Nenndorf was chosen because it’s spa houses, previously the main attraction for tourists from across Germany, could quickly and easily be made into cells with the simple addition of steel doors. The new interrogation centre was designated No. 74 and managed by the Combined Services Interrogation Centre (CSDIC).
No. 74 would go on to detain former SS members, civilian Nazi Party officials, diplomats, scientists, journalists, industrialists, ‘communists’, eastern Europeans and any other persons deemed of questionable loyalty by the British forces.
The regime at Bad Nenndorf was intended to physically and mentally weaken prisoners with an array of intimidation and humiliation techniques. Frostbite, starvation, isolation, brutal beatings and hours of forced standing and other stress positions were all common practice.
Bad Nenndorf Detainees
After a few weeks, No. 74's management ran into a problem. What was to be done with prisoners no they no longer needed?
Detainees knew too much. They had seen a side of the British army that would shatter the British publics good will towards the war should they catch wind of it. To say nothing of the damage it would cause to Britain’s international image.
Colonel Stephens, who oversaw operations at No. 74 knew this well. He was sure that releasing the prisoners would quickly lead to the closure of Bad Nenndorf.
And so a work around was devised. Unwanted prisoners were to be dropped at internment camps with the hope that they would be held indefinitely. The plan had the backing of senior British officials who agreed that those who had survived No.74 were ‘in possession of knowledge which is harmful to the Allies and constitute a dangerous security threat to the Occupying Forces’.
But by the end of 1946 the Control Commission’s lawyers had decreed the practice of indefinite detainment was unlawful. Another workaround would need to be formulated. Instead of indefinite detainment, a series of military courts were instated behind closed doors. These courts frequently recommended that ‘a severe sentence should be imposed’ on ex-inmates – essentially equating to indefinite detainment.
Unfortunately for CSDIC, this solution shot down too. This time by the Commission’s Political Branch who complained that the system would conflict with British systems of Justice given that these sentences would be imposed on people ‘whose only crime is that they have had the misfortune to acquire a too detailed knowledge of our methods of interrogation’.
Finally it was decided that inmates that were no longer required would have their silence guaranteed in one of the most simplistic and effective methods possible. There was no need for a secret court system or expensive detainment. The British Government would simply threaten that should ex-detainees utter a word of what went on behind the barbed walls of No. 74 they would be rearrested, along with their wife or husband and children. And that next time would be far worse.
History repeats itself
The events at Bad Nenndorf may sound familiar. Illegally held detainees, appalling conditions, large-scale illegal activity by a leading world power. Is that not what we are seeing in Guantanamo today? It’s a well-worn cliché but it seems that history repeats itself.
Perhaps the main difference between Guantanamo and Bad Nenndorf is that unlike the events at No.74 which took years to become public knowledge, we already know how US prisoners are being treated and we know exactly how many are being falsely detained. Yet for the most part the international community it turning a blind eye.
I think there are several reasons for this. Modern news moves at an alarmingly fast pace. What was headline news today is likely to be pushed back several pages tomorrow and pushed straight out of the back page the next. In such a climate major world events go unreported.
Yes it’s appalling that many at Guantanamo are being illegally detained. Yes it’s horrific that over 50% of inmates are on hunger strike and are brutally force fed with painful nasal tubes. Yes, it’s likely that these detainees are being routinely humiliated and dehumanised. Yes we wish that it were different. But the US is a big, powerful country, and there are things going on in Egypt and Syria and we’re all being spied on by our governments so where, in this litany of woe, can we find time and column-space to discuss Guantanamo?
Unlike the Bad Nenndorf, this issue is able to hide in plain site. But while the history of Guantanamo is still being written, we know the content of much of the early pages.
We’ll leave them with fly’s walking on their eyeballs
“Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States… there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition, full stop.”
Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary 13 Dec 2005
It’s no secret that Guantanamo is the direct result of the attacks of 9/11. Understandably the American people wanted justice and they would stop at nothing to get it. It very quickly became clear to the rest of the world what this would mean.
Two days after the 9/11 attacks, during a meeting with Bush’s advisors, Head of Counter Terrorism, Cofer Black, who was to become one of the masterminds of the American response to 9/11, declared that the country’s enemies must be left with ‘flies walking across their eyeballs’.
The CIA swiftly instigated their rendition program. This involved detaining terrorists and ‘rendering’ them in secret US bases throughout the world. In some cases detainees were taken to countries with known records of torture, in these instances the process was known as extraordinary rendition.
The US had been exercising extraordinary rendition since Clinton’s administration but post 9/11, extraordinary rendition was t ratcheted up to previously unheard levels. Hundreds of al-Qaida suspects would be hunted down and abducted from their homes in over 80 countries across the world. They would be kept in hidden prisons for as long as it took to extract every piece of information possible by any means necessary. The US was to play in the shadows of international law, it would adopt loop-holes in the humane treatment of detainees as statute and it would expect the full support of it’s UN allies in doing so.
At the end of September 2001 the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1373. Under this agreement all member states were required to assist the US and each other in eliminating terrorism. Resolution 1373 calls for restrained and following due processes of law but Dick Cheney had already declared that the US would be working through the “dark side” and that “it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.”
In further meetings with members of NATO Article Five was instigated, under which, an attack on one member-state is an attack on all member-states. The US now had all the backing and support that it needed to find and torture anyone they suspected to be involved in the attack on 9/11.
The extraordinary Rendition program began in earnest and what follows reads more like an extract of a John Le Carre novel than true events. On the 18th of December 2001 two men were abducted from Stockholm by 8 men dressed in black wearing black masks with small eyeholes. The detainees were stripped and searched, administered sedatives in the form of anal suppositories and put in nappies, overalls, leg irons and handcuffs. Finally hoods were put over their heads, they were loaded onto a US Gulfstream V jet and taken to the Middle East for interrogation. Similar events would occur in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kenya, Pakistan, Indonesia, Gambia, Thailand, Bosnia, Albania, Croatia and wherever else the US suspected there were al-Qaida bases of operations.
Initially suspects interrogated by local authorities in hidden locations across Europe, South East Asia, Africa and the Middle East but Washington was keen to carry out interrogations themselves. They decided that Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, would be the ideal location for a US interrogation camp. The bay had been under US control since 1903, it was close to US soil, but crucially in a country where the US legal system held no sway.
While the UK and other US allies were aware of the methods being used by US interrogators it was the position of allied governments to turn a blind eye. When UK soldiers reported that a British citizen involved in the rendition program was coming under undue physical abuse and showed signs of internal bleeding, a memo was swiftly issued by the British government to explain their position:
“You have commented on their treatment. It appears from your description that they may not be being treated in accordance with the appropriate standards. Given that they are not within our custody or control, the law does not require you to intervene to prevent this. That said, HMG;s stated commitment to human rights makes it important that the Americans understand that we cannot be party to such ill treatment nor can we be seen to condone it. In no case should they be coerced during or in conjunction with an Secret Intelligence Service interview of them. If circumstances allow, you should consider drawing this to the attention of a suitably senior US official locally. It is important that you do not engage in any activity yourself that involved inhumane or degrading treatment of prisoners.”
This was to be the UK’s stance throughout the rendition program. The announcement could be summed up much more succinctly as “We are complicit, but we are not to get involved in torture, nor are we technically required to intervene.”
Despite this stance, British interrogators were trained in the use of stress positions, sleep depravation and the hooding of detainees – all of which are considered tortuous methods of information extraction in international law.
The first prisoners to be flown into Guantanamo landed wearing the now infamous orange jumpsuits, handcuffs and shackles as well as blacked-out goggles, earmuffs and gloves to maintain sensory depravation during transport.
Guantanamo now acts as a leading US interrogation Centre. Detainee’s range from suspected al-Qaida members to people who simply hold information of interest to the US government. Leaked US Department of Defence documents have told of people such as Said Abassi Rochan, a twenty-nine-year-old Afghan taxi driver who was taken to Guantanamo because of his knowledge of his local area. His tale would go on to become the focus for the fantastic documentary Taxi to the Dark Side. Similar stories include an Al-Jazeera cameraman who was detained because of his understanding of Al-Jazeera’s training programme for journalists and even a British citizen who was held because had had the misfortune to be held by Taliban forces and was considered to have useful information about their treatment of prisoners and their interrogation tactics.
Each individual’s case follows a pattern of at best mistreatment and at worst humiliation, torture and even death at the hands of US interrogators and their allies. Methods of torture include the infamous waterboarding technique seen in the recent film Zero Dark Thirty and in the shocking footage of the late Christopher Hitchens subjecting himself to the method. When George Bush was asked years later whether he had authorised waterboarding at Guantanamo, George Bush responded with ‘Damn right!’ – it’s no secret that support for such strategies went right to the top of the US government.
Desperate times, desperate measures
A classified memo released in 2011 suggests that military officials were aware two years ago that two thirds of inmates were, at best, “low level” threats and that nearly 20% were believed to be completely innocent. And yet these prisoners continue to be held. The US military says 37 prisoners are currently on hunger strike – 33 of which are being routinely force-fed.
Yasiin Bey, actor and rapper formerly known as Mos Def, volunteered himself to be subjected to the process to drum up awareness of the practice. It makes for difficult viewing.
Detainees entered their hunger strike as a way to express their legitimate grievances with their treatment and conditions at Guantanamo. Including indefinite detention, solitary confinement and torture. Human Rights Lawyer, Carlos Warner, says that the hunger-strike is yet to result in the improvement of conditions in the bay or the complete closure of the compound promised by Obama in 2008.
“Even looking at the military’s numbers, to think that even 37 or 40 men haven’t eaten for 200 days it’s just pretty incredible to think about it,” the public defender, who works with several Guantanamo inmates, added.
Force feeding violates longstanding medical ethics. Not only is it humiliating but it dehumanises the individuals involved, taking a toll on the psychological wellbeing of both victim and practitioner.
Being a doctor should be an honour and a privilege. Doctors should save lives for a living, their function is to ease pain and suffering. It is a gross violation of their purpose to put such authorities in the position of force-feeding detainees. It would do the medical profession a great service if these doctors were to put down their nasogastric tubes.
The World Medical Association states that force-feeding is “never medically acceptable” and the American Medical Association argues it “violates core ethical values of the medical profession”. Even a federal judge has called the procedure “painful, humiliating, and degrading”.
I suspect the doctors of Guantanamo believe they are doing what is right for their country but doctors should be concerned first and foremost with individual comfort and wellbeing and not international affairs.
It hardly needs saying that treating detainees in the manner they are in Guantanamo violates the values and principles of justice and fairness that the UK and US claim to hold dear. Neither country can claim to be the voice of reason in Egypt or Syria when they are illegally detaining prisoners (or spying on their own people for that matter).
A Voice for Change
It is an unfortunate truth that hypocrisy is part of the human condition. People are able to hold contradictory beliefs side-by-side – there are creationist Darwinian scientists, there are people who are pro-fracking with a ‘not in my backyard’ attitude. However, a political State should have enough checks and balances to iron out such obvious hypocrisies as torture and illegal detainment. States are the result of collaboration. It would be hoped that together we could make a fair and just society.
If every American citizen wrote to their senate telling them their vote depends on the closure of Guantanamo, things would change. If countries such as the UK put their foot down and held the US accountable for their atrocities (and their own), we could make a difference. It is fear of rocking the boat, of upsetting our relative comfort in the world that stops us. And perhaps it is a refusal to believe that sometimes, we are the bad guys too.
I would like to think that people learn from their past, that errors like the treatment of detainees at No.74 would not be repeated. And yet it has been. And it is being.
If we can’t trust our governments to act with fairness and candour – we can do it ourselves. I believe that global civil society and solidarity is the answer to our problems.
I know my views expose me to claims of idealism but I am happy to stand under that banner. Idealism means hope. And if we don’t have hope, if we don’t try to make a change, we are left with despair. Despair at our place in the world, despair at our powerlessness, our helplessness and our hopelessness.
This article could not have been written without the documentary Taxi to the Dark Side directed by Alex Gibney and the fantastic book Cruel Britannia by Ian Cobain.
Deciding on a logo is hard. In your head you hold your hopes and aspirations for what your business will be. In your hand you hold a poorly sharpened pencil, hovering just over a scrap of paper. Between your right frontal brain, the pencil nib and the paper is the potential to draw the best, most awesome logo the world has ever known. Sadly, what comes out looks more like the ravings of a prisoner of Bastille.
But you draw and you discuss and you drink more coffee than you should. And eventually, caffeine jitters setting in, and you give up. Or at least that’s our experience.
Fortunately, there are people out there who can help. People who make logos and corporate brands for a living. Our man was Kurt Henderson.
Kurt listened patiently as we nattered on about what it is we sell, about our ethics and spluttered out half-formed ideas of our own.
After a little back and forth, we’ve happily arrived on what you see before you. First and foremost True Icon is about fashion - our logo needed to look good. But crucially, we also want to spread the word about ethical consumer choices. We aim to prove that you don’t have throw your morals out the window in search of looking and feeling good. It is from the idea of spreading the word that we arrived upon our speech-bubble inspired logo.
As True Icon grows, we hope the logo will grow with us. No brand ever comes complete with brand identity and values, these are attached as the company progresses. Logos are vessels to be filled. For now, we’re just pleased to have a fine looking vessel.
A big thanks has to go to Kurt. What you see before you is the result of his patience, keen eye and understanding of our needs as clients.
All the best and now that our logo is sorted, expect further news on our first range of products shortly.
Kai and Rob
P.S. We like to interview everyone we work with at True Icon and Kurt was kind enough to oblige.
Kurt Henderson: An Interview
How did you get into graphic design?
Design entered my life from creating custom forum interface graphics for gaming clans. From there on I focused on mastering photoshop thus tailoring my designs towards all the different industries. It's been a fascinating experience.
What past experiences/clients do you have?
The Hugo Boss simplicity design was quite interesting to work with when I was in my teens. Throughout University I carried out some work for M&S, Spotify, Reading & Leeds festival which were all great opportunities to express my creativity.
Which project have you most enjoyed?
I think there where milestones for me where I could easily say I enjoyed a project far more than another. They are all equally important to me and all play a huge part in my life. I mostly enjoyed being a 13 year old boy with many dreams and aspirations, that was the project I enjoyed most, and still do, I'm still that 13 year old boy deep down.
What inspires/influences you?
My inspiration derives from many different sources, I have my favourite designers who inspire me of course, but my belief to think outside the box grasping onto various elements that make that ever so curious side of my brain light up.
Do you have any advice for people wanting to get into design?
Yes, plenty, but there's a very important lesson for all of us we need to learn. If you want to excel, finding a synergy that binds your love for design with a personal experience or aspiration. Then you'll find you naturally 'need' to design.
Where can we find out more about you and your work?
My work can be found on my website: kurthenderson.com or Deviantart.com with the user name Ckygfx. Hope you enjoy what you see.
In the same week that a natural disaster has decimated the lives of thousands in the Philippines, mainstream media has been wetting itself with excitement at the chance to gloss over 'depressing' news with some light-hearted controversy. That arrived when David Dimbleby was tattooed during the filming of a new BBC series on maritime history. I think it's great that David Dimbleby got a tattoo. Why? Because it shows some kind of societal acceptance for tattoos now? Because I love the art he's now baring on his right shoulder? Because I think old people with tattoos are just awesome? No, no and no.
I think it's great because Dimbleby chose to get his tattoo as a culmination of his learning around naval history and the culture for tattoos in that world. His choice of design, a scorpion, is a reflection of his star-sign, Scorpio and is tucked away discreetly on his back. The tattoo was something he 'always wanted' and getting one was a 'dream come true'. He took a decision, after potentially decades of desire, to get his tattoo despite the potential controversy and criticism he'd receive as a person in such a position.
This is the stark opposite of the modern day tattoo recipient. Disclaimer: I love tattoos. Tattoos are great. I can talk for hours to the handful of friends I know whose tattoos are meaningful, thought-out pieces of work, and every inch of their body has been crafted into something that they have desired, planned, and is for themselves.
Sadly, the counterweight to that handful of friends is a boatload of others whose tattoos are an expensive, lifelong mark of a short period where they thought tattoos would serve to get them noticed, and maybe the occasional comment of 'nice tat bro'. The exact opposite of Dimbleby, these people hop onto Google Images, type in the idea that they woke up with that morning, print off the image and get it tattooed onto the most in-your-face (sometimes literally on their face) area of their body that they can find at the nearest walk-in tattoo parlour (a problem that perpetuates the issue, sure, but there's no question of chicken/egg scenarios here - walk-in parlours are merely catering to this audience). The pinnacle of this being a few years ago when someone showed me his latest tattoo: A gorilla's face. On his hand. Why? Because 'it looks sick'.
Dimbleby's tattoo shouldn't be viewed as a sign that tattoos are finally acceptable in mainstream society. It's a sign that we should curtail our obsession with tattoos. Tattoos should be meaningful. They should have more time spent on them in planning than it takes for you to eat your morning bowl of Cap'n Crunch. But most of all a tattoo should never be for anyone but yourself. It's your mark, and it's going to be with you for life. Make sure it counts for you. If your tattoo is anything less than a 'dream come true', then don't do it.
I enjoyed the Guardian article about a future of tattooed OAPs, but it suggests that in a few decades time young people will be avoiding tattoos in fear of looking like their grandparents. I hope that never happens. Instead, I hope tattoos become part of our culture in a deeper way. They are a method of telling our own narratives, and that's something everyone needs to understand, young and old. Deeper meaning in the art we put on our bodies will bring deeper meaning to the culture itself. Let's not view Dimbleby's tattoo as anything other than a confirmation of this.
Welcome to my long overdue explanation of what True Icon means to me. When Rob and I started the site we agreed we’d each write what the site was about and what it meant to us as our first posts.
Well, Rob stuck to our promise while I wrote my post months ago and subsequently scrapped it. I’m a perfectionist who eventually, grudgingly, settles for less than perfect; this time in the form of a stream of conscious blast of blogging.
So what does True Icon mean to me? When Rob first came up with the name and the tag “Become the Icon” it grew on me over the space of the next 5 minutes to encompass a lot of what I wanted the site to be. I’m not sure if it came endowed with meaning that took me 5 minutes to understand (It’s a strong possibility) or if I subscribed my own meaning to it. At this point it probably doesn’t matter.
So what is it? In short, we want True Icon sell ethical and stylish clothes. Both Rob and I have been vegan for a number of years and we’ve found ethical ‘fashion’ to be at best highly suspect. We’re hoping to provide organic, fair trade and fashionable clothing for both men and women as soon as possible. As you can probably tell from the state of the site at the moment, neither of us our web designers; we’re working on the shop functionality and going over every aspect of our products to make sure they’re as ethical as they can possibly be.
In the meantime, we’re throwing out material on anything and everything that we care about. Loosely broken into categories:
Culture: be that books, games, music, films or what have you. It’s a broad title but if it’s good enough for the Guardian, it’s good enough for me.
Fitness: We’re both fitness obsessed and we think everyone should be. Expect posts on workouts, diets, Martial Arts and how to generally make yourself into a superhero.
Essays: In which we cover topics in depth that we have been thinking about recently. This is a bit of a “File as Misc.” section.
Food: Always vegan. Nearly always healthy, fitness focused, quick and convenient. Apart from the odd indulgence including Oreo Ice Cream and Raw Food Vegan Snickers (both coming soon!). Check out the True Icon Rule of 7 for an explanation of the types of food we cook.
Technology: It has a larger and larger part in all our lives and almost everyone is fascinated by some part of it – we fall under the category of ‘almost everyone’, so here it is.
Fashion: Last but by no means least. We’ll cover brands and products we back as well as debates around just what exactly ethical fashion is anyway.
The link in all this is that we will cover things from an ethical standpoint. So if you’re an ethical dude or dudette, or you’d like to be, you’re in the right place
Finally getting onto the subject of the name, it’s easier to approach from our tagline “Become the Icon”.
I’ve heard a lot of vegan jokes over the years. But my favourite?
How do you know if someone is vegan?
Don’t worry. They’ll tell you.
We’ve all met the preachy vegan types. They’re so stoked with themselves and their attitude to life.
“Would you like a crisp Mark?”
“Umm... no thanks. I take my crisps cruelty free.”
This is a slight exaggeration and in reality things are a little more nuanced. But no matter what way you look at it, no matter what type of vegan you are - it’s so very, very true.
It’s true about any ethical or moral choice. I wouldn’t be vegan if I didn’t think it was the right thing to do. And if I think it’s the right thing to do it would follow that I want others to be vegan as well. And what better way to get people to be vegan than telling them about it, right?
But there are different ways to let people know.
1) You can bombard them with facts.
Facts about why meat is bad, why diary is bad, why animal testing is bad. Facts about how these things damage the environment, global society and perhaps even your health.
Facts about how bee’s numbers are critically low, how we’re over fishing to the brink of disaster, how inefficient beef production is. Ad infinitum, ad infinitum, ad infinitum.
The reaction is unlikely to be a favourable one. It’s a bit like telling someone their hair is crap and that you don’t like their music taste and then asking them to buy your latest record. It’s not going to work.
Option two then.
2) You can set an example.
Live your life to its fullest and live it ethically. Be an informed, healthy, attractive individual.
People might comment on your food, your clothes, your energy levels or physique. At this point, if you like, you can mention you’re vegan or vegetarian or that your clothes are fair-trade, ethical and just downright awesome in every way.
They’ve asked, so let them know. Let them know that being vegan is one of the best things you’ve ever done for you.
Over time they’ll see how you live your life and they’ll start to see that maybe they could make some changes. Maybe how you live will work for them too.
I’ve seen this with so many of my friends, family memebers and collegues. They come to making ethical choices in their own time and in their own way. They might not go vegan but they might shop more locally, eat less meat or avoid animal tested products.
Anyone with an ethical conscience wants immediate change. And it can happen. We will fight for it with pen and with fire, with protest and with boycott.
But first we need to set an example of how life can be.
That’s what True Icon means to me. I hope to set an example of just how easy and enjoyable it is to live a compassionate and considerate lifestyle. Most importantly, I hope you’ll join me.
If you’ve read this far – major props. Please get in touch with us and let us know how we can make the site better and what you’d like us to cover. We’d love to hear from you.
My generation, those who were born in the mid to late 80’s and early 90’s have had their births coincide with a rise in debate around climate change and our ever dwindling fossil fuel resources. We have seen recycling shift from something that was still vaguely outlandish, to a regular household occurrence. We have witnessed oil crises, fuel price hikes, ever more inventive means of energy extraction in the face of limited resources and we have seen climate change and fossil fuels become central topics in electoral and international politics. These creeping changes have been a constant background noise in the day-to-day lives of many since the 80’s, when scientists first showed concerns about global warming and our limited fossil fuel supplies. We have heard evidence form scientists prophesising the dangers of a global temperature rise of just a few centigrade, including severe weather systems, draughts, crop failure and disease and we have also heard from climate change deniers, those who argue that climate change is a natural event that mankind holds no responsibility for.
In the midst of this public discourse, Britain has tuned to hydraulic fracturing – or fracking, a means of fossil fuel gas extraction in an attempt to decrease the rising cost of fuel. Frack works by pumping high volumes of water, sand and chemicals deep underground to break shale rock apart and release methane gas. Fracking has been underway in the US for a decade now and has been highly effective in dropping the spiking price of natural gas and currently accounts for 25% of the countries gas supply. Those in favour of bringing fracking to Britain argue it will make way for a new era of cheaper energy and is far less visually intrusive than wind farms or above ground fuel mines.
However, these benefits come at a cost. Fracking has been condemned by environmentalists for continuing our reliance on fossil fuels and for the risks involved in extraction. In Wyoming and Pennsylvania, where shale mining is wide spread, there have been examples of aquifers being ruptured by the below ground explosions involved. Drinking water was found to contain radioactive isotopes, benzene, toluene, ethylenzene and xylene – known carcinogens and acidifiers. There is also evidence also suggests airborne carcinogens are emitted in the nearby area. Despite these concerns, communities have found themselves powerless to speak out against the arrivisme of the large corporations responsible. Further compounding the communities worries, the US government’s Environmental Protection Agency warned that water supplies contaminated by fracking are “typically too expensive to remediate or restore”. The backlash against these discoveries was understandably immense and has caught public and media attention. Mat Damon is set to star in a film against fracking and the documentary, Gasland, highlighting the pollution caused by fracking in Pennsylvania was nominated for an Oscar. But still the highly lucrative shale mining industry continues.
The UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change, who are responsible for the introduction of fracking to the UK, have stated that there is little chance of such a catastrophe in Britain - but then similar assurances were made in Wyoming and Pennsylvania a decade ago. The DECC’s mollifications are of little solace to those in Lancashire, where fracking is already underway and fears of ruptured aquifers run high among the community. The UK had its own warning of the dangers inherent in fracking, when a well just outside of Blackpool caused earthquakes measuring 2.3 and 1.5 on the Richter scale. The Department of Energy and Climate Change issued a further report arguing that there is scant danger from these ‘controlled’ detonations and that they are a routine part of the fracking process. But is there really such a thing as a controlled earthquake? Reports from members of nearby communities describe new cracks appearing in houses and doors that no longer shut as a result of these quakes.
The biggest problem with fracking though, is not the obvious dangers present in carrying out a process that is not yet fully understood or researched. Studies made thus far have found that fracking does indeed cause above and below ground pollution - but at a level not much higher than more conventional oil and gas operations. The real problem with fracking is that it reeks of desperation. The act of drilling as far as 3km underground, before drilling horizontally into shale rock and pumping the ground full of water, sand and chemical lubricants to release methane gas is ingenious. But it is ingenuity pointed in the wrong direction. We are truly scraping the barrel of the earth’s fossil fuel reserves and the resourcefulness involved could be put to better use in the renewable energy industry.
When David Cameron was elected, he promised his Conservative government would be the ‘greenest government ever’. The introduction of fracking, rather than increasing investment in renewable energy sources, appears to suggest the contrary. In the recent Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM) Event, Cameron acknowledged that rising gas prices, rather than green policies, are the leading cause of the energy bill hikes recently faced by British consumers. This ran counter to previous claims that green energy investment was sending the monthly price of household energy soaring and goes a long way towards explaining the decision to follow the US and introduce shale mines to the UK.
However, the CEM was attended by ministers from 23 different countries and was an ideal opportunity to show British commitment to renewable energy and a move away from fossil fuel dependency. The UK is uniquely situated in a position to invest heavily in environmental energy; the North Sea holds potentially limitless opportunities as a wind farm and as a source of marine energy. With these resources, Britain could pave the way in renewable, home sourced energy for the future but instead, our ministers continue to flirt with short sighted, slipshod energy fixes such as shale mining and fossil fuel investment, overlooking the long-term environmental, consumer and economic gains to be reaped from investing early in renewable energy.
Maria van der Hoeven, executive director of the International Energy Agency warns that “under current policies we estimate energy use and CO2 emissions will increase by a third by 2020, and almost double by 2050. This would probably send global temperatures at least 6C higher within this century” a warning that is in stark contrast to the Climate Change Act that commits the UK to reducing carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 – which even if achieved only lessens and does not prevent the chances of the global climate increasing by 2C this century. Introducing Fracking to the UK further undermines such cavalier preventative measures; shale mining is deeply inconsistent with the aim of tackling climate change and diverts investment from renewable energy sources.
Admittedly, renewable energy technology needs to become more affordable but this could easily be accomplished. As it stands, the government continues to indirectly subsidise fossil fuel in the UK through the use of VAT breaks that amounted to around £3.36bn in 2010. These tax breaks only increase the price gap between fossil and renewable energy sources. A change of policy to cease these breaks would be a significant step in the right direction. Our government is understandably in a difficult position, having to avoid fuel hikes and create green energy opportunities, but they appear to have concluded that it is better to be seen to be acting through rhetoric and CEM events, rather than to act decisively and reallocate subsidies. The ridiculousness of such a system seems obvious to those not invested but inescapable to those who are.
Sadly, our government appears to suffer from severe myopia and the introduction of fracking to the UK continues. Despite the obvious long-term benefits of green energy investment, despite surveys suggesting that over 67% of the UK are against further mines and despite the fact that France and Bulgaria have already made the process illegal. Tara Choudhury , an eleven year old school girl from Lancashire, gained attention on both sides of the Atlantic when she made a video illustrating the dangers of hydraulic fracturing and won the opportunity to speak to MEP’s as a part of a ‘Have your Say on Sustainability’ competition. To counteract such negative press in the US, the shale mine industry has once again shown its ingenious and clandestine nature by creating a colouring book issued in schools. Calgary’s Talisman Energy concocted their own mascot – a ‘Fracosaurus’ who introduces himself to children, perhaps rather mendaciously with the words; “Hello, my name is Talisman Terry, your friendly Fracosaurus. I am here to teach you about a clean energy source called Natural Gas, found right here in the Twin Tiers!” – The irony of having a dinosaur as a fossil fuel mascot is not to be overlooked.
We have been told that water shortages to become more and more common in the future. It is completely incomprehensible, therefore, that this announcement by the Department of Energy and Climate Change should coincide with their go-ahead for hydraulic fracturing that uses on average 7-11 million litres of water per well, rendering this water highly toxic. In the short term these wells may bring a sharp decline in gas prices, making the average consumer better off, but the long-term outlook is not as rosy. Like so many admonitions, the danger is that the risks involved in shale mining and fossil fuel dependency will float just under the pubic awareness, buried by more topical and salient issues. But shale mining and other fossil fuel extraction measures are an insidious and latent danger that we and future generations will have to face. It is better, cheaper and far more effective to act now. The problem is, as environmentalist Paul Gilding recently pointed out at TED, that we only tend to decisively act after a crisis. This human trait can be seen in how decisively America acted after the attack of Pearl Harbour – taking only four days to ban car production and redirect the auto-industry, or how when a person is told that they have a serious illness, lifestyle changes that were previously impossible suddenly seem effortless. It is easy to argue that the environmental crises are already upon us. This past decade we have seen an influx in severe weather patterns, draughts, food shortages and agricultural collapse. We have had the hottest decade on record for the third decade in a row and we have had endless warnings that our oil and gas reserves will run out in the next forty years. Now is not the time to point our ingenuity towards rinsing the earth of fossil fuel supplies, now is the time to invest in our future through renewable energy sources. We are currently on a course that will bring about the end of fossil fuel. Sadly, this isn’t by choice, but by utter depletion of resources. Before we get there, we are set to see just how bad our reliance on fossil fuel will be for the environment and ourselves in the coming years.
It is perhaps too late to completely stop the damage done, but it is not too late to lessen the blow. We can make a difference by voicing our concerns wherever possible, by being more environmentally aware and by taking a long-term and abstemious view to our use of fossil energy. In the modern world, the individual can often find themselves feeling insignificant and powerless – but it only takes a brief look at history to see that this is not the case. Time and time again, individuals have been the motivators of great change. It’s time that we acted to say no to fracking, no to further fossil fuel investment and no to the immoderate use of natural resources. There is no economic of technological boundary in the way, only the refocusing of our ingenuity.