A modest proposal about our planet

Life here on Earth is fragile. Very fragile, actually. Earth is very small. It’s the third planet in our solar system, the fourth smallest planet of the nine planets. Its 12,756 km in diameter, which is really tiny when you compare it to Jupiter the largest planet, which is just shy of 142,984 km in diameter, and a mere mote in the eye of our comparatively small sun which is 1.4 million km in diameter. Earth, revolving round the sun at 107,000 km/hr, is so small you could fit a million Earths inside the sun. Our Sun is but one star of 400 billion stars in our galaxy. Our Galaxy is about one of about 100 billion galaxies that are known of. So we are tiny. So we come to one of the great pollutants and destroyers of species.

jupiter-earth-comparison
Jupiter compared to Earth in size

In a Time Magazine article dealing with livestock production Brian Walsh, drawing material from a paper brought out by the Academy of Sciences of the USA says the following:
“40% of global agricultural gross domestic product, provides income for more than 1.3 billion people and uses one-third of the world’s fresh water. There may be no other single human activity that has a bigger impact on the planet than the raising of livestock.”
Combine Animal Feeding operations produce enormous amount of methane, and aside from the horrific cruel and unconscionable conditions which the animals are subjected to, the stress of confinement, the sicknesses, the feeding with antibiotics, the soya beans and GMO corn they are fed, animal agriculture is responsible for 18 % of all greenhouse gas emissions, including 37 % of methane emissions and 65 % of NO2 emissions. The methane releases from billions of imprisoned animals on factory farms are 70 times more damaging per ton to the earth’s atmosphere than CO2. Don’t forget that much of this livestock production is heavily subsidized by governments, so that the real costs of production are not passed onto the consumer.
As livestock farming is such a huge source of income for billions of people (global value in 2013 $883 billion ), as the production of meat and poultry and fish for supermarkets great and small all over the planet is such a lucrative undertaking, as so much research is produced each year about economizing and increasing productivity and efficiency in the livestock industry, as so many with the exception of the vegetarian and animal rights community point out the cruelty inherent in the beef and livestock industry, there is a strong and unfounded impetus to keep underlining the health benefits of eating meat, and to divorce the eating of meat from the enormous suffering and horrific cruelty endured by billions of animals world-wide every day, and every moment of every day. All animals have consciousness, language and a type of culture, by this I mean a socially approved and communally understood sense of expression. One other thing worth considering is this.

What kind of body do humans have? Are we built for eating animals? Are we omnivores? Well, not really. Dr. Williams C. Roberts from the USA National Institutes of Health and Baylor University — who is the editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Cardiology and one of the most prominent cardiologists in the world with over 1,500 publications in peer reviewed medical journals — summarized our answer very nicely. He wrote:

“Although most of us (humans) conduct our lives as omnivores, in that we eat flesh as well as vegetables and fruits, human beings have characteristics of herbivores, not carnivores. The appendages of carnivores are claws; those of herbivores are hands or hooves. The teeth of carnivores are sharp; those of herbivores are mainly flat (for grinding). The intestinal tract of carnivores is short (3 times body length); that of herbivores, long (12 times body length). Body cooling of carnivores is done by panting; herbivores, by sweating. Carnivores drink fluids by lapping; herbivores, by sipping. Carnivores produce their own vitamin C, whereas herbivores obtain it from their diet. Thus, humans have characteristics of herbivores, not carnivores.”[1]

So it seems that not only is the human race investing vast resources in livestock farming, and though we have spent thousands of years eating meat, our bodies aren’t even designed to eat meat in the first place. It’s also interesting to note that our bodies synthesize all the cholesterol we need, but that when we take in animal products, we begin to build up cholesterol, and run intro real dangers of developing atherosclerosis, and heart disease. Food for thought, eh?

[1] WC Roberts. Twenty Questions on Atherosclerosis. Proc (Bayl Univ Med Cent). 2000 Apr.; 13(2): 139–143.

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Meat is Murder

Its a strange thought that by the time you read say about here, on this blog-post, about 3000 animals had already been slaughtered in abattoirs round the world. That’s about 3000 in 1 second. The ways in which it, the slaughter, was done is exceptionally clinical and lurid and horrifying and you really don’t want to think about it. I have seen videos of mechanized killing of animals and the images stay with you. So don’t think about it.  Especially if you eat meat.vegan dietWorlds Strongest Primate

To be honest I didn’t stop eating meat because of the cruelty issue. It wasn’t because billions of animals are being farmed in horrific conditions. I didn’t care at the time. Not a jot. Nor did I care about the near unbelievable levels of environmental damage the dairy and cattle industry do, not to mention poultry or pig farming. Still didn’t bother me. (It bothers me now)

I became a vegetarian because I felt better. I became healthier. Slept better. Loved the food. It was actually all good. It felt right. I liked cooking. Loved cookery books. You get the picture. I was peripherally aware of the meat is murder stuff. I loved animals. Rescued them. But then I didn’t think of myself as a vegetarian.I just loved veggies and grains. Other people thought of me as a vegetarian. I didn’t peddle any vegetarian no meat ideology round the dinner table.  I stated my opinion, would discuss animal consciousness, animal rights, recount stories. But I never pushed my beliefs. I guess it seemed counterproductive. There was also the issue that what was being consumed on the dinner table as food was one of countless species of animals that were being either exploited or rendered extinct by other types of human activity. If wolves in Yellowstone Park can change things as they have, just imagine the negative impact we are having.

So there’s something of a vast context around what meat goes on the dinner table. A huge industrial scale of sale, consumption, and marketing that goes into not only what you are eating, but mine and your whole life. Governments and Industry and media got together and made sure we got the message. If what we consumed and produced did not have a monetary value we were worthless.

It was this very holy trinity of Government, Industry, Media that made us consume all this food, this meat, all this superfluous stuff we didn’t really need. And despite the outrageous superfluity, millions were starving. I dimly began to see the link between meat eating and the fact were eating the Earth. It made sense. Meat eating was part of the whole dynamic of world consumption. The trinity of pork, beef and poultry were only three of millions of species whose lives were threatened, not to mention the environment.

But that was long after I became a veggie. That was thinking after the fact.  I was enjoying a veggie lifestyle. I began mixing with other veggies. These were not your usual vegetarian types. These were activists. Hardcore members of groups, usually well educated, probably professional, involved in the sciences or academics. And frankly my dismay at these people spread all over me like one of those embarrassing rashes one gets and hides under long sleeves and a little make up. These are grim people. They humorlessly gaze down upon those less ideologically pure with a very special look of cold bored disdain. They judge those meat eating multitudes rather like the way suspected witches were gazed upon: with a divine fury that would be vindicated with burning, coupled with the Vegetarian Inquisition’s own vegan thumbscrews.

You might imagine I’m exaggerating. Using literary license. Sadly, I’m not.

But the thing is their anger is misplaced. Most people haven’t a clue about whats going on down in the farm. They just want dinner and a movie and a soft bed and a quiet life.

These people, the aforementioned meat is murder t shirt wearing angry ideological Vegetarian types, are just not good for the image of vegetarianism. They come off as reactionary and cultish and holier than thou. They are also highly factional. They are constantly fighting and loudly disagreeing with each other. They can’t seem to get on a unified message to further their cause. This of course makes the meat industry delighted as they look upon their foes as already divided and therefore weakened. I seriously doubt if these types of vegetarians will ever change many meat eaters to their cause. Why? However noble and well-intentioned, nobody follows a puritan for long. Maybe for a while. But in the end they will tire of being guilted and told what to do and will go back to beef and pork and other cholesterol sandwiches.

What will make people change is not angry activists, but something really pedestrian: good food well cooked. It sounds trite when one has so many horrific and telling videos of headless pigs, lame overweight chickens, and mutilated calves dying alone to underline the industrial scale slaughter of animals to show the carnivore world. But it is, as I said, counterproductive.  Its disturbing torture porn that people suppress as quickly as possible and go back to their lives as before. Also this is nothing new – people are inured to bloodshed. For myself? I have seen enough. Its horrifying. And, just like the pictures of tumors on cigarette packets, it doesn’t work.

I think the best selling point for a vegetarian lifestyle is this: It’s better. Greener. Healthier. Tastier. Economic. Kinder. Its has near infinite variety of flavour and health giving options. And by the way it doesn’t hurt animals. That’s a positive life affirming message. If this gets communicated, really communicated, then the abattoirs will start to close. By the way, some of the brightest and best were veggie. Meet some famous old friends of yours- and mine.great-vegetarians

Ten things Which didn’t Make Our Ten Day Stay in Alykes, Zakinthos Sheer Perfection

Caveat Emptor:

THE WORST HOLIDAY OF OUR LIVES

(*SEE NOTE BELOW*)

  We stayed ten days in Alykes, Zakinthos  and it was

1. Drafty: The way the wind howled through the cracks between the windows and the doors during windy rainy nights and we were freezing and that no one checked on us after the night that the thunder roared overhead and the heating didn’t work and water washed past the front door of our apartment.

2. The Apartment: That our apartment was unclean (filty) and we had to wash it ourselves and the shower curtain fell over and there was a small open drain in the middle of the floor in the bathroom and one of the windows didn’t lock and I mentioned the air conditioning didn’t work and it was dreadful and unhealthy.

3. Garbage: That fact our garbage remained uncollected (I used take it secretly down to a local bin). There was even garbage on the beach. (The place is nothing like the website.)

4. Value for Money: That the food was bad and overpriced and the supermarkets were overpriced and the taxis were overpriced and there was little fresh food and almost no fresh fish. They sure don’t cater for vegetarians.

5. Our Host: That the owner of the ‘villa’ (absolutely nothing like the photograph on the website) took our money and seemed to basically disappear for much of our stay after day three. (Did I mention no one checked in on us?) In point of fact he was called by another hotel owner we met on our cycling travels who berated him for being such a poor host.

6. The Unfriendliness: I could wax lyrical about the incredible sexism Iza endured, the whistles, the beeping of horns. It was awful. But let me give an example – We went cycling one day to the Blue Caves and turned up in a restaurant who didn’t accept cards (surprisingly only half the island accepts cards and has cash machines) and they insisted we give them our ID as proof of payment and we had to cycle 18 km with chest infections the next day to get our ID back because the owner just wouldn’t drive down to us (In fairness she was apologetic – but still …)

7. The Dirt:  Garbage left indefinitely in bins, trash thrown about, empty half-finished buildings everywhere, just sheer lack of cleanliness. I already mentioned the stuff on the beach.

8. Off Season: I thought all this was happening because we booked off season- or maybe they just didn’t like us. But other guests would turn up who had booked online and bang on our window in the morning looking for the owner who was nowhere to be found.

9. The Noise:  Construction work going on right beside our apartment, constant sounds of traffic, howling barking animals night and day, so bad that we had to move ourselves to another vacant apartment.

10. Stray Cats: That the place was full of stray underfed sickly looking cats living in bins and wandering the streets day and night. I mentioned the dogs. I didn’t mention they were chained up all the time – probably why they were barking and yowling day and night. You did see some being walked, just like you saw well cared for cats. But mostly chained up dogs or feral cats.

Those were ten things that didn’t make our ten day stay in Alykes, Zakinthos sheer perfection. I thought about amassing photographs and publishing them here and bringing some kind of documentary proof and so on to show you, dear reader, the state of the place. After I had done that I thought of writing a few pithy lines about how unfriendly I found the locals, how untrusting, how much you  -‘tourist’ or ‘visitor’, were there just to get money from (I remember one joyous moment I bought a bottle of cough medicine and some antibiotics and was charged thirty Euro). But I decided not to. Why? It was my experience of it. It might not be yours.

But away from people with all the greed and the dirt and noise and the money grabbing, was the island itself. Arcadia. And it was glorious. I will never forget the beauty of the landscapes, the shades of deep blue of sea, the lines of waves and the sound of the Ionian Sea at night, the myriad birds, the flora and fauna, the olive groves, the orange and lemon trees, the bats and geckos and falcons, it was all transcendentally beautiful. That alone made our ten day stay in Alykes, Zakinthos sheer perfection and utterly unforgettable. Just stay away from populated places, ok?

O. Ryan
Its that man again…in Zakinthos

 *NOTE*

Since this has been posted (11.4.2015), Iza and I have found to our distress we have been banned from holidaying in Greece. This is as a result not only of this post below, but of our posting about what was a terrible holiday in Zante on Trip Advisor. There is, according to some hotel owners we have communicated with in Greece, a blacklist “like the Banks System is all the Hotel Owners make it to protect the Tourism Industry from some “Serious problems”” (and I quote). I was told that tourists were not to be informed about the list, but its there folks, and if a hotel owner in Greece doesn’t like what you write on Trip Advisor, well what happened to us could happen to anyone. The thing is, we were the ones who had the terrible holiday. The place would be shut down in Ireland.

Charlie Hebdo Ate My Puppy

which is clearly not the case. Here is a picture of my ten week old puppy and she is zipping round our rented cottage like a pixie on amphetamines.

Puppy at rest. 5.5 kg and enjoying teddy bear #1

Charlie never so much as laid a tooth on the little creature. To accuse him of doing such a thing (as I implied in the title) is to cause Charlie grievous offense as Charlie is an animal lover and he used to regularly play with my puppy, who is quite the looker and is extremely well socialized, gentle and very playful, thanks to Charlie. In a sense I am way out of line accusing Charlie of puppy eating. I know the truth about Charlie. I know he is a good man, or I thought I did. And here I am flagrantly violating his ‘good’ name, and knowingly doing so, which is a low blow. The idea that I am free to spread lies about Charlie, to upset him with impunity, to ruin his life, simply because I have the power to do so is horrible. It is a monstrous act, especially because Charlie knows I write for a living, and I can sit here and fabricate things about him that might even sound credible. So I guess I am not free to do what I please. In fact I know Charlie spends his time rescuing animals and is a militant vegetarian. He believes deeply in animal rights. This of course adds hugely to the insult I am perpetrating on him if I were to write the Charlie Hebdo Puppy Eating Story. I think over the damage I am doing to his good name. I am attacking one of the pillars of his ethical stances. Its simply not on. I cant use my freedom to exploit another’s personal space, right to a good name, or in any other way hurt him, simply because I can. There is a core of natural rights belonging to Charlie Hebdo (and everyone else) that prevents him from being subject to my puppy eating accusations.

But then something happens in my long and warm friendship with Charlie. There is a room in his house I can never get into. Its always locked. I am a curious man. One day I find the key. Its filled with Nazi Paraphernalia.  I discover current membership cards for extreme far right organizations espousing xenophobic, racist political views. I make copies of the room and the cards and whatever else I can find just for the sake of having evidence. But it doesn’t matter. Deep down I am crushed. My bitter disappointment in my friend leads me to write a novel about him, this warm hearted charming fascist racist bigoted friend of mine. It sells five million copies and I am rescued from complete financial disaster.

But success is not without its suffering and its cost. Charlie sues me for defamation of character and loss of income (he lost his job after his party membership was revealed). Charlie and I are no longer speaking of course. He has put up his house for sale as he used to live near me. He wrote me a long bitter letter telling me what a terrible egomaniacal person I am and how little I care who I cause offense to so long as I can profit from the views of others. These views are private Charlie tells me. These views, Charlie says others have the right to uphold. After all, he says, he wasn’t hurting anyone holding these views. Millions hold these views. My novel sparks a huge debate. I didn’t actually think very much of my novel. I thought it was rushed and written with fire brigade emotions in my heart.

Oh, I forgot to mention the death threats. Charlie’s friends are going to kill me, my family, and my puppy. They are part of the same far-right groups Charlie was a part of. They nailed a dead cat to my door last night. Maybe Charlie had a right to his views. Maybe I should have left well enough alone.  Maybe I will survive this attempt on my life. Maybe the next time I write something, it will get me killed. I don’t know. I am not writing anything that is untrue. I am an enemy of extremism. I use my gifts to pillory the stupid, the bigoted and the downright dangerous. I cant help myself. Its who I am. I don’t discriminate between who I choose to satirise and those I exclude. After all Last time I wrote about Charlie Hebdo. And Charlie Hebdo was a long term friend of mine.

         

“100 lashes of the whip if you don’t die laughing!”

Annus Horribilis

ANNUS HORRIBLIS

sarahlundberg2014 is a year I will very gladly put behind me. It was without question the worst year of my life. Sarah Lundberg (1968-2014) died under the most tragic and awful circumstances and I and so many others are still reeling from the shock of her death which was so unexpected and so traumatic. There is a strong argument that this is the kind of experience that one does not so much recover from, but is something one learns to live with. I think there are arguments on both sides for and against someone recovering from a trauma like this, but for the most part, right now, it is simply too early to say. I think its very much down to the individual. Right now I still hear her voice and her comments and her jokes in my mind. Sarah had a rather dry sense of humour, a kind of understated wit that could be devastatingly funny. I still see her sometimes in crowds, or think I see her, which is a common experience of the bereaved known as ‘completion’ in which the mind ‘completes’ a picture or an image from residua from the memory in order to fulfill a desire. I hear music she liked or loved and remember concerts we attended. I find it hard to watch television shows we both liked. I have a library of thousands of her books and equally thousands of pages of her writing are on hard disks, folders and pages all over the house. I also have a formidable selection of cuddly teddy bears, each of whom have a name, a specific personality and a lengthy back story. What a child’s author she would have made! These, and countless notebooks, still unread, are in our house. I still think of the many conversations we had over our two decades together. I wish, like so many others, that she was still here with us, still doing all the things she used do, still filled with the idealisms that were so uniquely hers and that she pursued with so much passion and so much love. She left much undone, and one wonders what else she might have achieved were she still with us. I miss her terribly. I know how many others miss her too and loved her so much. Thanks to everyone who helped at a time I was simply too shattered to do anything, who helped with re housing pets, who made arrangements, and more than anything were friends and support during the aforementioned annus horribilis. Now that Christmas approaches we should take gentle care of ourselves and each other. Sarah was above all a very loving and forgiving person. She was, despite her highly logical argumentative personality, was devoid of bitterness and never knew how to hate. I think it was because of her utter straightforwardness. It meant one always knew where one stood with her. I for the most part loathe Christmas as a dull time of meaningless excess. I on the other hand do like how this is a time of peace, healing and renewal. Sarah would have wanted that. I am sure of it.

(Image by Antonio Joachim)

Sarah Lundberg 1968-2014

image

Sarah Lundberg: writer, historian, animal rights activist, humanitarian, feminist, vegetarian, environmentalist, archivist,  publisher, animal rescuer, talker extraordinaire – was my spouse for twenty years, my friend for twenty four years and my lover for twenty two years.

Sarah Sunflower Lundberg (born Brenda – she changed her name) was known primarily as the founder of the small press Seven Towers, as well as being the agent for many poets and writers and singers, including myself. She published writers such as Ross Hattaway, Noel O Briain, Eamonn Lynskey, Raven, Quincy R Lehr, Estate of Ray Pospisil,  Eamon Carr, John Liam Shea, republished John D. Sheridan’s Paradise Alley, as well as literally hundreds of other writers, artists, graphic designers, cartoonists. She also agented other books, for instance Steve Conway’s excellent memoir of his time on radio Caroline Shiprocked. So many writers got their very first real publication with a real press thanks to her. Books suffused her life. I met her when she was working in Dublin public library and we talked books from there on. She went to extreme lengths to promote the writers she believed in. I remember her walking up to Bob Dylan’s representation at a concert and giving them a copy of one of my novels and extracting a promise from them that Bob actually get the book. It was an extraordinary moment I will never forget.

Sarah also promoted the arts fearlessly and with great energy. She ran hundreds of readings, open mics, occasional festivals, liaised with other presses to ensure their authors got a fair reading of their work, happily collaborated with other presses, and set up a transatlantic open mic between New York and Dublin, which was the very first of its kind. The Last Wednesday open Mic, which migrated from one location after another was to the best of my knowledge the longest running open mic in Ireland, was a hugely popular event and attracted poets and writers from all corners of the Earth. I recall one hilarious night when a New York rapper turned up very stoned just as the event was going to close and recited a very fine poem about the birth of his daughter. I recall too the look of fear in his eyes as he stood alone in the center of that little stage downstairs in the Box in the Twisted Pepper, Abbey Street and the crowd respectfully silently attentively listened to him and he knew here were a group of serious writers who really would pay attention to his every word. He needn’t have worried. The poem was very moving and very good.

In later years Sarah’s Interests moved into local history and historical research (we always shared a passion for history and our home was filled with history books). Around the time of her death she was involved in a large project which she sadly never finished. She was an excellent writer of prose. Her style was crystal clear, unadorned, and leaned towards the gentle understatement of fact rather than any ostentatious dramatic effect. She was interviewed occasionally on local and national radio stations on historical subjects that she was researching and one of the more telling aspects of her interviews was her adherence to fact, her awareness of the human element in any story, and her humour in seeing the contradictory and ironic aspects of human actions and motivations. She never wasted time on padding her conversations with empty chatter and though she could talk endlessly, she usually had something to say. I always had a hard time convincing her she had done well in such interviews, because she was always so nervous giving them. She had a prodigious memory, an intimidating recall of fact, and a grasp of language’s many subtleties that made arguing with her something of an act of futility. Despite her many many gifts, Sarah was a shy self deprecating individual, an introvert who loved the world of books and ideas more than any kind of public arena. She hated cameras, loathed publicity, and could be seen at events with her head down and her knees crossed, wearing a jumper and jeans, possibly knitting something, and listening silently to whoever was performing their work. Though she may have given the impression she was somewhat distracted, she never missed a thing about what was going on at any event. She was simply one of the cleverest people I ever knew.

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In losing Sarah we have lost a great figure in the Irish Arts scene, a departure largely unacknowledged by Government bodies or official arts organizations in Ireland, despite the outpouring of shock and grief at her death by the artistic community. One can only imagine what other great things might have come from Sarah had she remained with us, both in her own writing and in her contribution to the careers of other artists and writers.

Sarah tragically ended her own life on 25th July 2014 in the early afternoon. Sarah and I separated around August- early September 2013 and I had no contact whatever with her since that time, except for Marriage Mediation, which we never completed. For anyone who has been through it, Mediation mainly involved with money and property matters and little else. She did not return my calls or messages to my great distress. This tragically was not the first, or indeed the second time Sarah had made an attempt on her own life, as she carried the effects of being raped with her throughout her life. Countless friends and loved ones and admirers reached out to her and cared for her and loved her and supported her, but the devastating effects of all that she had suffered became too much.

Though our marriage had ended, our love never did and never will. Though she had gone through so much, she achieved so very much. She will be missed, terribly, by friends and loved ones.  One could never forget Sarah Sunflower Lundberg. We shall not see her like again.

                   Ah! Sunflower

Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the travellers journey is done.

Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow:
Arise from their graves and aspire,
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.

by William Blake