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What Kills More Unborn Babies: God or Abortions?

October 23, 2012 3 comments

A Disclaimer

This is one of my longer posts.  I’m hoping to bring things back to about 1/3 the length and to lighter subjects in the near future.  But because I don’t post often, consider this to be a few posts worth in one update.

Today I’m going to, as the title says, look at who kills more babies: God or Planned Parenthood/abortions.  I am then going to look at the implications of that information.

Normally I write more traditional, attention-getting introductions.  I like to start with a story that makes this personal and then segue into my topic. Today I’m not doing that.

Sometimes I start with a disclaimer of sorts, and I will do that.

Read the entire post.  I don’t care how it makes you feel.  If you clicked on the link you were interested enough in what I had to say, so read it all.

When I get comments from people telling me that I missed the point I’ll know that they probably didn’t read the whole post.

You’ve been warned.

The Assumptions

Before I begin the showdown, as it were, I’m going to define my terms.

I…I think that counts.

First, so that nobody can accuse me of too much bias, I’m going to define things as follows: life begins at the moment of fertilization, regardless of implantation upon the uterine walls.  Scientifically and medically, implantation is the key moment at which pregnancy starts.  I am using fertilization because it is the most conservative (in all senses of the word) way of defining the issue of “life” and pregnancy.

Second, I will be explaining a lot as I go along, but in strict terms, abortion refers only to human intervention affecting implantation and/or termination of the pregnancy afterwards.  In other words, I am again being conservative and assuming that emergency contraceptives such as Plan B actually end a life, rather than prevent a pregnancy.

Finally, I am taking the strictly and vehemently pro-life stance that any abortion, regardless of the reasons for it, is wrong.  Thus, many of the numbers I will quote will be abortions conducted for the health of the mother or in cases of rape or incest.  However, reasons are irrelevant here, on both sides.

If those of you who are pro-life are sitting there cheering at how this isn’t even a contest because of the way I’ve defined things, hold on to your hats.  Shit is about to get very real for you.

It’s nothing, if not tasteful. Please see my cover letter if you’d like to hire me to do graphic design work for you.

The Throwdown: Planned Parenthood and General Abortions

To start, Planned Parenthood estimates their total abortions per year to be roughly 300,000.

Based upon research conducted by the Guttmacher Institute, it is estimated that the total abortions per year actually numbers at about 1.3 million.

For those keeping tally at home:

Planned Parenthood – 300,000 (23% of total abortions)
Total Abortions – 1.3 million

The Throwdown: God’s Numbers

This, my friends, is where things get complicated.  Those staunchly pro-life and religious that, somehow, are reading this, will probably say there is no way God actually has any numbers to count.  But based upon the strict definitions that the most conservative pro-life standpoints argue (and that I noted above), this is untrue.

God loving the fetus, or lamenting it before it becomes another statistic?

With that said, these numbers were harder to count.  I could easily spin the statistics in favor of abortions by any method, but I figured I’d give a few ways that those numbers work out so as to avoid anybody saying I totally ignored some fact.

So I will start with a first set of numbers, based solely upon “natural” terminations of pregnancy including stillbirth, miscarriage and premature delivery resulting in death.

I included the latter because even with modern medical intervention, some premature babies don’t make it.  With that said, the pregnancy was technically “ended” early by natural means, so this one is on God’s head.  (I could, if I wanted to spin this more, include any premature birth, as prior to modern medicine this would have been a death sentence for the baby.  However, while I may be biased—see below—I do not want to be that blatant about it.)  This, to the best of my ability, only counts those that ended immediately in death.  That is to say, I did not includedeaths a year after the premature birth.

After this, I will include a second set of numbers will be all babies lost due to pregnancy complications.  This number is far wider and harder to keep track of, so I included both numbers because I figure it can provide a more even picture of how much baby death is on God’s hands.

Seeing as the general idea of this post is who kills more babies, it seems only fair to count infant death that results from complications of pregnancy against God.  You may argue otherwise, but if life begins at fertilization, anything related to pregnancy after that point has to necessarily be fair game.  You cannot arbitrarily cut off anything attributed to God after the baby leaves the uterus, as that would not credit him with the variety of problems that result from pregnancy.

One final note on God’s numbers: pregnancy loss can be categorized many ways.  While miscarriages and stillbirths are—it would seem—easily noted and reported, early pregnancy loss can occur well before a woman is aware she is pregnant.  As such, early pregnancy loss numbers are often difficult to compile and may be much higher than reported.  I have thus decided to include an additional section to account for those factors.

All of the following is based upon statistics pulled from these three sources and Wikipedia.

The Guttmacher Institute estimates that about 6.7 million pregnancies are reported in the US each year.  Two thirds are live births, a fifth are abortions and the rest are miscarriage.

This graph from Google, which errs on the conservative side of the numbers, still paints a bleak picture. It’s not looking good for the Big Guy.

Based upon the math that the Guttmacher Institute provides, these numbers are our results for the first category: 6.7 million pregnancies, 4.48 million live births, 1.34 million abortions, 880,000 miscarriages.  hopeXchange estimates about 26,000 stillbirths per year.  Additionally, the American Pregnancy Association estimates that 64,000 women per year lose pregnancies through ectopic pregnancy and 6,000 women through molar pregnancies.

For that second category, statistics indicate that 19,000 infants die in the first month and 39,000 in the first year.  This appears, to the best of my ability to narrow it down, to be limited to those caused by complications resulting from pregnancy in some way.

Finally, the numbers based upon early, underreported or unreported pregnancy loss.  hopeXchange estimates that up to 40% of all conceptions result in pregnancy loss (with many of the women being unaware of a pregnancy in the first place, and thus ending up being unreported).

Other estimates are far less forgiving.  One study found that 25% of all pregnancies abort by 6 weeks, while other studies place that as high as 50% of pregnancies.  In either case, these spontaneous abortions are not recognized by the woman because it occurred so early she was unaware of pregnancy in the first place.

So let’s look at those numbers and work backward to see what number are spontaneous abortions.  If one assumes that 6.7 million pregnancies occur each year and are known, and half of all pregnancies (from conception onward) result in spontaneous abortion, that means that—based upon the 50% estimate—6.7 million pregnancies are lost each year.  Even with the more conservative 25% number, we still end up with about 1.6 million pregnancies are lost before the woman is even aware she is pregnant.

Now let’s recap those numbers and total them for God:

First Set of Numbers:
Miscarriages: 880,000
Stillbirth: 26,000
Ectopic Pregnancy: 64,000
Molar Pregnancy: 6,000
Total pregnancy losses for group 1: 976,000

Second Set of Numbers
Infants lost in first month: 19,000
Infants lost in first year: 39,000
Total infants lost due to complications: 58,000
Total pregnancies lost, including infants: 1,034,000

Third Set of Numbers:
Infants lost in first month: 19,000
Infants lost in first year: 39,000
Total infants lost due to complications: 58,000
Pregnancies lost at 25% estimate: 1.6 million
Pregnancies lost at 50% estimate:  6.7 million
Total pregnancies lost at 25%: 2.6 million
Total pregnancies lost at 50%: 7.7 million

The Throwdown: Who Loses?

Let me be clear here: we are discussing pregnancies ending.  There is no winner.  There is only who does more damage.  That is something I’ll talk about shortly, though.  Let’s focus solely on numbers for now.

Based upon those numbers, I have reached the following conclusions.  I am presenting them in easy-to-digest list format:

  1. If one only does PP vs. God, God loses at 3x as many babies killed.
  2. If one figures total abortions vs. God, abortions lose. God kills 75% of the amount that we do by abortion.
  3. When one includes post-birth deaths, God kills 80% of the babies that people do through abortion.
  4. If you consider the last group of numbers, unreported pregnancies, god kills between two to six times as many babies as all people.  That’s 200-600%.

What’s the point?

Part of the “experimental” nature of this particular post was not equivocating at all in the introductory portion.  Normally, on a subject as particularly contentious as this, I might make the effort to ensure that my intentions are clear.

Also, I consider myself irreverent.  I’m bad at serious, even when I’m being serious.  But to me, this topic isn’t serious.  Neither God nor PP nor abortions, in my mind, kill babies.  So over-the-top and offensive as it may be to some, this post is more an exercise in dark humor, than anything.

But I didn’t want people to know whether I considered this actual ironclad logic or just a tongue-in-cheek showdown.  The answer is, really, a tiny bit of the former and a significant portion of the latter.

So then you might ask, what is the point?  Was I just trying to piss people off and get views? Clearly, yes.  But there also is a point buried in those statistics.

My point is that abortion is a ridiculously complex issue that cannot simply be boiled down to when life begins and how to avoid “taking” said life.  Rather, we must consider all aspects of the issue and ultimately, I would argue, leave the decision about abortion in the hands of women.

I could write an entire post about the intricacies and difficulties of this, but I believe that women should decide if abortion is right for them on their own, without the government interfering.  Especially because some women do not see the fetus as being a life, and some women do not believe in the religion that says—somewhere in the Bible, like it always does—how wrong it is.  This is not a decision for the state, but for the individuals involved.

But then, what do we do with the women who, unaware they were pregnant, accidentally caused a miscarriage through consumption of alcohol or punishing physical activity?  Do we try them all as murderers?  Do we ignore that?

But where this leads is neither here nor there.  I do not want to get bogged down in the intricacies of the debate, but rather only what my post might mean for it, if anything at all.

A Short Note on my Biases

There is no possible way this could be biased.

I am a firm believer in laying out my biases.  It is my belief that biases are the author’s most powerful tool.  When they are present but invisible, the audience runs the risk of being swayed in one direction.  When they are present but overly visible, it’s Fox News.

But when they are present, visible and acknowledged it means the author has to, in my mind, step outside of himself and accept that he is seeing things a certain way.  In doing so, the biases remain but, I feel, the power shifts to the reader, who can then decide if the information presented is still appropriate, even when examined in light of a known bias.

For that reason, I’ll openly state that I am not a fan of organized religion.  I am socially progressive, and I believe that abortion should be available to any who feel they need it.  (I’ll get more into that in a little bit.)  It is my belief that were religion to be robbed of its power in terms of this argument that the science and our own ethics would lead us to accept, rationally, that abortion must rightly be available to women as an option in order to maximize social good.

I do not, however, wish to undermine anybody’s belief in religion.  So while I speak harshly of God in the following passages, do not mistake my distaste for his presence in this issue with an attempt to dissuade you of religion.  Rather, I just feel that this is one place where religion needs to either step aside and let humans make the decision free of God, or find a way to cope with the social changes that are taking place.

Let me also be clear that when I sat down to see how these numbers added up I had no idea what it would look like.  Had it turned out the other way I would still have written a post, and it would look much different.  I don’t know that my convictions against religion’s place in this argument would be nearly as strong.  You do not have to believe me, but I am making it clear now that my intentions with this post are, really, the exploration of a new idea toward simply gathering knowledge.

God’s Plan

(Please note, I will capitalize “God” when I speak of the Christian deity, but I will not go to the effort of capitalizing pronouns because he is not my god, and I also just think it’s silly. Call me lazy, but it’s not happening.  It’s not a habit and I don’t care enough about it to take the time.)

I’m glad God things the universe is akin to playing sports.

Ultimately, what I have shown above is that as a result of natural or supernatural influence, more than 0 women per year lose pregnancies.  That is to say, either God or Allah or whatever deity, or nature, decides to terminate the pregnancy.

There is no conceivable rhyme or reason to the people upon whom this potentially devastating turn of events falls.  Sometimes women who were raped end up carrying children to term and sometimes women who want nothing more than a child of their own genes find out they cannot have one, and anytime they do it terminates.

Simply put, there is no outwardly rational decision-making process behind what pregnancies nature/God ends and what stays.  Because of that, many women suffer unnecessarily, either because of pregnancies that should never have happened or because of pregnancies that should have but never came to term.

To the pro-lifer who believes life begins at fertilization of the fetus, every single one of those pregnancies ended a life.  In this sense, the only difference between us doing it and nature doing it is the reason behind it.

For those not familiar with utilitarianism, a grossly boiled down version of it is that what is right is what does the most good for the most people.

Currently, we are not doing that.  Not in the slightest.  My super-boiled-down version of utilitarianism would, then, argue that we provide the option to provide the most happiness to the most people.  In other words, we can control who is forced to carry what child to term.  This means increased happiness (or a better chance at it, perhaps) in the life of the pregnant woman, as well as eliminating the chance of unhappiness on the part of the would-be child.

That may seem somewhat coldhearted, but ultimately we do not know that the child’s life would be all sunshine and giggles.  I cannot imagine the life of a child born of rape being without difficulties, even if he was living in an adopted family.

If all unwanted pregnancies ended in strange and depressing, yet oddly charming, musical numbers maybe we wouldn’t need abortions.

In other words, we have it in us to correct some of the failings of nature.  Pregnancy is indiscriminate and without intent.  It happens when it happens and doesn’t when it doesn’t and it terminates on its own when it does.  What abortion allows is an option for us to provide agency to these outcomes in an attempt to maximize happiness.  That is, of course, assuming there is no intent behind those actions.

Now, the only way that one could reconcile the problems I listed above is to assume that there is a grand design behind these decisions, but that said design is not visible to us.  In other words, that a rapist being pregnant and seeing a reminder of her violation in the face of a child makes sense, while the woman facing perpetual miscarriage is also part of some grand design.  We just can’t see it, but it is all part of some plan.

Since it is unlikely that nature likes to reward rapists—and is unfortunately just as unlikely that it likes to punish them—the only actor whose means and intent could be unknowable would be a deity.  Since America is largely (and in my view, unfortunately) composed of Christians, the presumed “actor” in this case is, well, God.

So this goes into God’s plan.  Because God has one, as most Christians will tell you, and when little kids die of diseases and murderers and rapists live long lives, it’s because he totally intends it that way. I, for one, am not content to assume—in light of all the evidence to the contrary—that God’s plan for us is ultimately benevolent. Consider, the next time we discuss reproductive rights, if God’s plan so far has made any sense.

Ultimately what my little argument above intended to lay out was that God is responsible for greater than 0 deaths every year—deaths that his believers tend to consider unborn children.  Deaths that the same believers consider ultimately sinful to end.  And yet, it is okay for God to do so in His plan, but not okay for us to do so to maximize social good.

Thank you, Philosoraptor, for summing up my post in a meme.

That is the crux of my argument.  That God is ensnared in the same moral quandary that pro-life believers will use to try to dissuade those advocating choice.  That is a life, it is wrong to end a life, and thus we should not end it.

But if God is benevolence, omnipotence and omniscience incarnate, then he could not engage in any act—by definition of those traits—that would be immoral.  He simply could not end those pregnancies if it were wrong.  Pro-life: 0, Pro-choice: 1.

But let’s say that, somehow, we still have a strawman of a pro-lifer that says that even then, killing those babies is wrong.  God knows it, God is still benevolent, but it is part of his plan an ultimately it leads to benevolence, even if the means to that end isn’t necessarily so.

To accept that premise we’d have to accept one of two things: first, that God either does not consider those fetuses as “alive” or that God is capable of immoral actions if the good from it is greater.  Which means that, if we were to live in his example—he is supposedly perfect—we should also be able to engage in actions that are immoral if the good is greater.  Pro-life: 0, Pro-choice: 2.

But let’s say another, different pro-lifer strawman decides to argue that God isn’t benevolent—he cannot be benevolent in order to truly enact his plan, as he must sometimes act immorally even when the ends are not positive in order to, further his plan.  In other words, sometimes God is an asshole.

If that is the case, why would we ever consider his example?  Why would we follow a deity that is ultimately capable of bad things without it leading to greater good?  Why would we, then, follow what he supposedly says about abortion, the argument religions that follow him make?

These are not proofs.  Nor do I believe that somebody couldn’t punch holes in them in the manner I wrote them (or even in a lengthier, more solid format).  But that is to say that these are things to consider, because we have a case where religion is telling us God doesn’t want us doing something and then he does it himself.

It is the classic case of do as I say, not as I do.  Which, let’s face it, is just shitty parenting.  Thanks, God.

Other Things to Take Away

Not that I’d be the first to point this out, but my big reason for giving women the ultimate say in the issue is because it is ultimately mostly their lives at stake.  The more observant out there would probably agree that a small portion of the abortion debate, no doubt, lies in the idea of men controlling women’s reproduction.

If Arnold Schwarzenegger is counted among that 77% then we have to change the percentage. Sup, Junior.

After all, it’s cool when men use contraceptives to prevent pregnancy, but as the argument over the Pill showed, it’s not cool when women do it.  (Admittedly, the Catholic Church is just backwards enough to have never really been in favor of either, really.  Even if they do sometimes change their mind when it is politically expedient to do so.)

Abortion is the ultimate one-up on men.

A man can rape a woman, he can ignore contraception and impregnate the woman.  All of these things are, ultimately, shows of the control.  But when the woman goes to end the pregnancy the rapist forced upon her, she is told that she is wrong.  That she must live with what he did.

Perhaps I’m being excessive, but it does not have to be in situations of rape.  Men can “forget” condoms and be cavalier all they want, and the women must suffer the consequences.  Abortion is an equalizer.

This, too, could be discussed in lengthier posts.  It could also and has also, no doubt, been discussed by far greater minds than I.  But religion has never been noteworthy for being particularly socially progressive, so why would it be any different in the case of pregnancy?  Women should get pregnant when men decide it is okay, and they shouldn’t have a way out, right?

Finally, The End

One of the key parts of my statement is that there should be no real restrictions on abortion, not in the sense of it only being available to rape or incest victims.  That is a politically expedient way for rich, old white men to say that they hate women controlling their bodies but accept that men do stupid shit and they can’t pretend they don’t.

In other words, it’s a cop out.  The act of abortion is no more or less wrong in those cases, really.  The same action takes place, and while the motivation changes that does not mean that the woman who wants an abortion but wasn’t raped doesn’t feel it is any less necessary.  I don’t think any of us could really say.

Recently unearthed science.

But also, when you start adding in restrictions you allow the system to become more restrictive.  Who’s to say that suddenly rich old white men in congress decide that some rapes aren’t legitimate.  What if incest only counts when it’s a parent, not a cousin.  What if harm to the mother only means if there is an absolute medical certainty that the mother would die, and if there is any chance she wouldn’t abortion is off the table?

In my mind, it is far easier to accept abortion as an all-or-nothing.

The problem is that we often hear slippery slope arguments about abortion as a contraceptive.  And you know what, a world where women get abortions instead of using the pill scares me.

Of course with any system we must always run the risk that said system will be abused.  But in my mind if a single woman every year is spared the mental torture of, say, carrying the child of her rapist to term, keeping abortion legal is worth it.  It an expected product that some person will abuse a system in place for good and assistance, but we cannot assume that system is now worthless because of that.  For as long as that system helps a single person, it is doing its job. (I’m looking at you, republicans looking at welfare with greedy eyes and malicious intent.)

In a perfect world, every pregnancy would come to term and there would be no rape, incest or danger to the mother. Ina perfect world a woman could only become pregnant when she really, really wanted it, not just any time one of the guys happened to sneak in past the guards and crash the ball.

But the world is not perfect.  According to the numbers above, neither is God.

I guess my intent is to ask why we cannot, for just this one issue, ignore what the Bible and religions say and discuss this in terms of what it means to women?  Why must abortion be about a grand message in morality?  Why must it, really, all just be about religion grandstanding?

Random Googled pro-life girl is pro-life until she gets knocked up and her parents want to hide it so their friends don’t find out. Or she just won’t get any, making abortion a moot point. Pick one.  Also, is she foaming at the mouth?  Because I could swear she is.

Why must men be so threatened by the idea of women having control over their bodies, something that, really, we have denied them for almost all of human civilization?  Why must men be such a dominant voice in the debate?  Why can’t we simply defer to the women, graciously saying
“you know, it’s kind of all about them” as we do so?

Why can’t the debate over abortion be about what it has always been and should always be about: women making decisions about their health and reproductive rights?

So if I have to call God a mass-murderer—one with death tolls yearly that rival Hitler’s, and that’s only counting unborn children—I’ll do it, even if it’s polarizing, glib and ultimately pointless.  I’ll do it if it stands event the remotest chance of turning this debate back to the women about whom it should be.  I’ll do it even if it changes only one person’s mind.

I’ll do it even if I’m just yet another man talking about something that he, really, probably shouldn’t be talking about in the first place.

As an aside, I rarely ask for comments but I am interested in what women have to say about this.  That is, about the removal of religion, men and morality from the issue and discussing it solely in terms of women’s health.  Am I just talking out of my ass, or do women actually want it to be centered upon the issues of health, rather than what evil jezebels they are?

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What Conspiracy Theorists and Tea Partiers Have in Common

August 25, 2012 Leave a comment

I suppose it was only a matter of time before I gave in to the pressure and blogged about something political.

But before I start, let me first discuss my political beliefs, albeit briefly.  I think I can sum them up in one word: apathetic.  I certainly do my part and vote when the time comes, but I have grown utterly weary of dealing with all things political.  I’ll talk about this in a bit more detail shortly.

Anyway, back to my point.

I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago.  My parents are split down the middle politically—my mother is apolitical and doesn’t vote, my father is a card-carrying member of the “Bill O’Reilly” fan club.  It is slightly surprising, then, that I’ve been staunchly liberal for as long as my brain could understand that concept.

Perhaps Bill should become a Juggalo. MAGNETS.

(One note, I do not really identify with the Democratic Party, nor the greater “liberal movement”.  I am liberal, but I do not consider myself a liberal.  At least, not in the sense of the word that ties me to a group of people with supposedly similar ideologies.  While that may seem a minor semantic difference, I do not derive my views from a party, but rather on my own and they just happen to be described well by the word liberal.)

But while I do my best to respect all peoples’ political beliefs, sometimes it becomes hard.  For example, I think George W. Bush was a horribly misguided President, but have never thought at any time that he wasn’t doing anything that he didn’t think was in our country’s best interest.

This, apparently, separates me from certain people within the political arena.  In the past I think most people viewed political affiliations besides their own as perhaps misguided, but still doing what they think is best.  Lately the rhetoric seems to indicate that there are a number of people who think that some politicians literally want to destroy our nation.  (The rhetoric surrounding Obama is a no holds barred example of this.  Detractors often assume Obama wants to destroy all things American.)

But I digress.  Recently I saw a sign for the “Northern Illinois Patriots”.  I have this unintentional reaction to the use of the word patriot—specifically that of revulsion—because often one only hears it as a means to define anybody who disagrees with them as unpatriotic.

So out of curiosity I looked up this organization.  Turns out that they are affiliated with the Tea Party.  Big surprise.  That’s what led me to this article.

Why I’m Apathetic, Just So We’re Clear

Before I go any further, I feel I should define my political standing so there is no misunderstanding about where I am coming from.  This post, as with everything I do related to politics, has an agenda.

As a teenager I found myself profoundly interested in becoming politically active and making my voice heard.  Perhaps it was the delusion that all teenagers hold—that I had an opinion that had to be heard—or perhaps the realities of college numbed me to that idea, but I no longer care so much about that.

I am liberal.  I am probably as socially liberal as they come, and I think that anything abridging anybody’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is wholly wrong.  That means I am, in fact, pro-choice and think it is despicable that there is even a debate as to whether or not homosexuals can marry.

Moses on the Supreme Court. His depiction is not religious, but rather of him as a lawgiver. An example of religion in government, but not defining government.

I think that religion has no place in how we govern, but I think that it is welcome in the government.  That is, I have no problem with people who wish to be sworn in on the Bible, nor do I oppose “In God We Trust” as a national motto.  What I do oppose is using religion as the basis for legislation, as in the case of every argument that has ever stood against gay marriage.

The 24-hour news cycle, the internet, the rise of blogging and numerous other factors have made it so every person can have his voice heard.  In general, this ends up creating a cacophony of voices, none of which are saying anything but all of whom refuse to stop speaking.  Pundits like Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly cater to a subset of viewers who only wish to have their views confirmed.

(In case you’re wondering why I’m adding to this, I would respond that I feel I have something slightly different to say than most, otherwise I would just shut up and let other people do the work for me.)

If you’re Republican you watch FOX News.  If you’re liberal you watch CNN and bitch about it.  If you’re part of the Tea Party, you believe even FOX News is part of the “liberal media” and find your information in various e-mail forwards, rumors and blogs across the internet.  There is this neat little thing called the confirmation bias, a cognitive bias through which people filter out information that does not fit their hypothesis.

Each media source spews the kind of vitriol that would previously be unheard of, accusing the “others” of being the ones who are deluding themselves.  Liberals think they have no bias—CNN is totally balanced—but FOX News spins everything.  On the other hand, the extremely conservative are convinced that anybody who doesn’t agree with them is part of some diabolical “liberal media” out to destroy the American family.

The truth actually lies somewhere in the middle. Nobody wants to seem to admit this, but if we could then maybe we could actually start a dialogue.

That depends on what the definition of “diddle” is.

Beyond all of this, the person behind the policy has become such an obsession within the political arena that our politicians are subject to the same invasions of privacy that every celebrity faces with the paparazzi.  Is it any of my business if a politician decided to diddle a staffer?

Not really. Not as long as he hasn’t impacted his ability to hold the office and/or abused the powers of the office in doing so.  Yet we call for the modern day equivalents of putting politicians in stocks when they should happen to be less than the paragons of moral virtue that, for some reason, we want them to be.

In the “good old days” of politics (if there is any such thing), you got set news from set sources, so you could not just tune in to a channel that confirms what you want to hear.  Now we have that, and it should be no surprise that the partisan gap in the United States has become almost completely polarized.

If you haven’t gathered by now why I consider myself politically apathetic, you probably do not have a career in detective work.  That is to say, I cannot stand any of the above, and in the end I think it gets in the way of policy-making.  At a time when our candidates are too busy insulting each other to actually tell us what they’ll do for the country, I find it safe to say that we have hit perhaps the lowest possible point in the history of American politics.

Besides telling you about me so that you can make up your mind about what my agenda actually is, I think that everything I just said has a fair amount of relevance in this post.

About Conspiracy Theories and Otherness

It may seem strange to lump conspiracy theories in on this, unless you are prescient enough to know where I am planning to go with it.

We probably all know someone who thinks there was a second shooter that took out JFK, or who insists that the Moon landing never happened, or perhaps even someone deluded enough to believe that 9/11 was an inside job.

If you’ve ever dealt with a conspiracy theorist but weren’t, before this post anyway, aware of the confirmation bias, I would imagine that just this sentence can link those two concepts so inextricably together for you that you will never view their behavior in the same light again.

Go ahead and add “and Tea Partiers” to that caption. Plus, I think that “racist” and “are Jesse Ventura” are being underrepresented in this totally reliable pie chart.

What I’m saying is, conspiracy theorists only hear what they want to hear.  Anybody who disagrees is either in on the conspiracy or is part of some group of “others”, those who just haven’t opened their eyes to the truth yet.

Given that trifurcation of the world in the eyes of the conspiracy theorist, one might wonder why they are always so vocal about it.  After all, you’re either in on the conspiracy, you know the secret, or you are just oblivious.  Why bother telling the world about it, especially when the odds are you won’t convince anybody?

The simple-to-the-point-of-glib answer is to feel special or unique and, quite possibly, to give order to things.

Imagine how difficult a time some would have if our world truly were just completely random.  Events like 9/11 have no greater meaning or purpose, but are just random acts perpetrated by evil men.  There is, really, a sense of comfort in knowing that there is a reason or cause behind it.

More than that, there is something that people like about knowing secret information, we like when we are somehow “smarter” or more in-the-know than the masses.  We absolutely love being in that position that seats you with power, while everyone else is just outside of it.  We are the special ones, everyone else is the “others”.

Furthermore, by sharing their knowledge the conspiracy theorists are both bringing people into the fold as well as ensuring that there is an otherness to people who do not accept their ideas.  If the conspiracy theorist held his beliefs quietly, he would not be in defiance of any evil cabal organizing the events, nor would anybody know that he is not an “other”, but special in his knowledge.

The Northern Illinois Patriots and Otherness

What spurred this post is looking at the website of the Northern Illinois Patriots (NIP from here on out).  They are affiliated with the Tea Party, so it’s safe to say they share many core beliefs.  However, they may differ slightly in some aspects, so for that reason I’ll be referring mostly to NIP, with the occasional reference to the Tea Party.

There’s no racism in that at all. I take back my remarks about that pie chart. It should be 90% “racist” and 10% “Sell T-Shirts”. (From NIPatriots.org)

The core purpose of NIP is “to help protect our God-given rights as intended by the framers of the Constitution by being informed, getting involved, and making a difference in our great nation.” (As oen of my soon-to-be-trademarked completely irrelevant asides, I think it’s interesting that their abbreviation doubles as a racial slur.  I’m sure it’s entirely coincidental, but it still makes me slightly uncomfortable.)

At first glance this is a particularly innocuous goal.  But a further look at their “9 Principles” should help clarify their agenda.  I will not reproduce all of them here, but I will give you some of the highlights. (I will also ignore some of their egregious spelling and grammar errors instead of making light of them.  Because I’m just that nice. Also, nobody is perfect.)

The 9 Principles start innocuously enough, stating that America Is Good, God is the Center of My Life, and that we must always try to be more honest and that family is sacred and the spouses are the ultimate authority (not the government), plus some platitudes about not being above the law.

When things get interesting is on number eight, which states:

Good old American Values, like teaching your kids to attack someone’s race the second you disagree with him.

8. It is not un-American for me to disagree with authority or to share my personal opinion.
On your right to disagree “In a free and republican government, you cannot restrain the voice of the multitude; every man will speak as he thinks, or more properly without thinking.” George Washington [Emphasis mine.]

I will not be so kind as to ignore the fact that the quote these people chose is actually a chastisement of the voice of the multitude.  Had they selectively cropped “or more properly without thinking” from this quote, perhaps the sentiment would be another cute touch to their website.  Instead what we get is a self-defeating quote, one that basically states that while the multitude will always try to be heard, those people will often do so without bothering to think about what they’re saying.

Certainly this is an unintentionally appropriate quote from avowed tea partiers, those who seem to so often make statements without vetting them as the truth.  However, I cannot imagine that NIP would have intended that interpretation of the quote.

But I promised a discussion of otherness, and I will deliver. On the website there exists an item called “The Patriot’s Pledge”, a pledge that all members (presumably) must take.  This is where NIP really begins to distance themselves from everyone.

One of the items that the member pledges to be aware of is “[u]nderstanding the infringement on my constitutional rights and the erosion of the American Dream that is currently taking place.”

While I may have poked fun at the lack of thought the NIP put into the Washington quote, let me be clear that I do not underestimate these people.  In this case, what the NIP have done is state clearly that the “American Dream” is eroding.  That part is not even remotely in question.  Rather, what is in question is whether or not you are aware of it.

Presumably if you are aware of it you are one of the selected, while if you are not aware of this you are just “other”.  Just as knowing that there was a shooter on the grassy knoll brings you into the fold, so does its denial make you one of the others.

I won’t bother going into terrifyingly deep detail with the rest of their points because we all know what Tea Partiers stand for, and NIP are nothing if not a part of that movement. Rather, I want to discuss why this otherness is so useful.

As I discussed earlier in the scope of my politics, it seems as though both political parties and most people engaged in politics are so affected by the confirmation bias and yet completely oblivious to it.  Groups like the NIP are, perhaps, the most oblivious of the bunch.

Pictured: Reasonable political discourse for the average Tea Party member.

Normal political discourse, if there is such a thing, may disagree on policy but they may also disagree and actually discuss the fundamental underpinnings of those ideologies.  While liberals and conservatives may disagree about government spending, most of them would agree that the government should spend money on at least certain things. The finer details of what those things might be is a part of what politicians discuss and compromise about.

The Tea Party, NIP and other groups have circumvented this process.  They have assured themselves that the underpinnings of their ideologies are non-negotiable, a feat they accomplish by claiming to believe in the Constitution.

Let’s look back to the example of the American Dream.

Some of us (hopefully most) would question if the dream is even eroding, the NIP has moved beyond that portion and thus made it so that the basic underpinnings of their beliefs are not in question.  The JFK conspiracy theorist doesn’t ask if there was a shooter on the knoll, but if it was a government agent, foreign national or what have you.  Those who deny the second shooter don’t bother with that question, because they do not accept the premise upon which it is based.

This is the same picture the NIP paints with the Constitution.  The question isn’t if its being ignored and circumvented, but rather how any by whom.  They ignore that most people who are not wildly conservative or liberal don’t consider that the truth, and instead just assume it is a fact.  In drawing the lines in this way, they allow their entire set of beliefs to go unchallenged.

Just as the conspiracy theorist also feels special for knowing what he knows and considers other people either complicit or ignorant, so too does the NIP member/tea partier.

If you disagree with these basic understandings you will find no compromise (as recent politics has shown us), but rather are just considered an “other”, a person who doesn’t get it.  You haven’t taken the oath.  You aren’t aware that the American Dream is being eroded by ignoring the constitution, so you couldn’t possibly understand what their beliefs are, but you are definitely wrong.

 

About the Constitution

I feel it would be unfair to go through this article without providing even a little justification for why I think the Tea Party and NIP are so wildly misguided.

See also: racism.

A premise that Tea Partiers refuse to accept is that the Constitution is necessarily a fluid document, the interpretation of which must change as the world changes in order to ensure our continued survival as a society.  To these people the Constitution is a one-shot, a document that must never be amended, reinterpreted or circumvented.  The idea that the Founding Fathers could not have predicted various aspects of the modern world is irrelevant, solely because to agree with this would be to undermine the basic premise of everything for which they fight.

To act like the Constitution is not a fluid document, one that must continually be reconsidered in light of technological and societal shifts, is a discredit to the Founding Fathers. While the Constitution (as well as the Bill of Rights, just to be clear) is an extraordinarily resilient document, it can only bend so much with the times before it becomes implausible to uphold it.

What NIP and Tea Partiers suggest is that there is no reinterpreting that document. What I suggest is that there is a way to do so that is in line with what, given access to society as it exists now, the Founding Fathers would have wanted.

A great example is gun control.  Tea Partiers often consider the Second Amendment to be absolute.  You either can bear arms or you can’t (which, besides being a pointless way to interpret it, is incredibly dangerous as I’ll explain near the end of this post).  If we strictly interpret the constitution, as the Founding Fathers intended it, would gun control be even remotely constitutional? No.

But the times change, and so does technology.  At the time of the drafting of the Constitution the average weapon—in the hands of a skilled soldier—could fire two, perhaps three, times per minute.  When the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution they did so with such arms in mind.  That Constitutional protection does not necessarily extend to assault rifles, a type of weapon that the Founding Fathers would likely never have conceived when they drafted our Constitution.

Totally what the Framers meant.

To consider this on an even more extreme level, grenades are an armament.  If one were to read the Second Amendment as the right to bear arms, clearly one must be allowed to have a hand grenade.  And  a jet fighter.  Also, since technically it’s an armament, probably a nuclear weapon.

In a hundred years when our wars are fought with giant mechanical exoskeletons with railguns capable of leveling an entire building, I can imagine that Second Amendment proponents will argue that such a weapon is constitutionally protected.  Plus, it’s only to hunt. Clearly.

I realize I’m creating a ridiculous example, but I have two points from that.  First, that a strict reading of the Constitution as just the words on the page, without considering current social context, is not totally appropriate.

We would have to assume that when drafting the Constitution they sat around and discussed every possible technological and societal change that could happen and, in response, drafted the Constitution with all of those possibilities in mind.

If the Founding Fathers had such foresight, why has a Constitutional amendment ever been necessary? Why, if they were so able to draft an infallible document, wasn’t slavery abolished within the Bill of Rights?  Thomas Jefferson held slaves, and if we are going to interpret the Constitution in the spirit that Founding Fathers such as Jefferson intended it, why have we not repealed the amendments abolishing slavery? If the Founding Fathers predicted (as they must have, if they had the foresight that the Tea Party ascribes to them) that abortion would be such a hot button issue, why does the Constitution remain silent on it?

While I am a huge admirer of the minds that founded our nation, I do not hold them in such high esteem that I consider them to have near omniscience.  To do so is the height of hubris, as well as the true depths of stupidity. If one is going to argue that we can interpret the Second Amendment to be so well crafted and have such foresight to extend to the devastating weaponry of today, we cannot selectively pretend that assumption doesn’t apply to the rest of the Constitution when it is not politically advantageous.

The second point I wanted to make was that even a staunch proponent of the Second Amendment would probably oppose allowing private citizens to own and use a military aircraft and/or nuclear weapons.  They might argue that the Founding Fathers were referring to the arms a single person could use.

What the logic that my straw man opponent reveals says is that the Founding Fathers had intentions, and that those intentions are relevant to how we read the Constitution.  Such an argument is self-defeating, then, as we have to consider what the Founding Fathers would have intended given today’s societal circumstances.

Conclusions

I’ve been hoping that you, my esteemed readers, have been able to draw your own conclusions about the (tenuous) connections I’m making in this post.  If you haven’t, though, allow me to connect the final dot: NIP (and on a larger scale the Tea Party) is a conspiracy theory.

Where conspiracy theorists feel in the know, so do the members of NIP.  These people believe they’re the only ones who are truly trying to uphold the Constitution, and anybody who disagrees is something wholly “other”.  These people may have the best of intentions, but their methodology is to ignore anything that disagrees with their preconceived world view and carry on as if it never existed in the first place.

The issue here is that NIP and the Tea Party are mired in inherent contradictions.  They insist that they have a right to their opinion (and, in theory, so would anybody who disagrees), yet cast crude Us vs. Them distinctions to demonize anybody who would stand against them.

The name “Northern Illinois Patriots” says it all.  You are either a patriot or you aren’t.  You either believe in the Constitution or you don’t.  You’re one of Us or you’re something other.  In the end their tactics are the same as the conspiracy theorist, except that for some reason people take them seriously.

The last part of that statement is what could do the most damage.  Conspiracy theorists never have the best interest of anybody but themselves at heart, despite their admonitions to the contrary.  Those who claim 9/11 was an inside job do not do so to inform the public, but to wield the power of knowledge over the rest.

In the same way, the Tea Party and local groups such as the Northern Illinois Patriots attempt to wield knowledge over the rest of us.  They know something the rest of us don’t and intend to use that to gain their own political advantage.

You may think I’m being extraordinarily harsh, especially for someone who claims to be apathetic about this whole political ordeal.  The fact of the matter is that I find the basic tenets of the NIP and Tea Party to be wholly offensive to Americans.

The world is not black and white, good and evil, etc.  There is no “us” and “them”.  You are not Tea Party or “other”.  To cast the world, and America, in such a light is to stand against everything the Founding Fathers would have wanted.  It is an affront to America and an affront to our Constitution.

Perhaps most of all, though, it is the ultimate irony that those who claim to best understand and want to most faithfully uphold that document are the ones who are the most ignorant the spirit in which it was drafted.

When Beef Isn’t Beef (But It Really Is) Everybody Loses or: ABC News Wikipedias “No True Scotsman”, Misses Point, Slanders Big Meat

April 20, 2012 6 comments

It’s a sad thing when I hear about the latest media shitstorm from Facebook.  About a week ago I noticed a couple posts about pink slime pop up in my feed.  These posts indicated that the ground beef I so love had been, for some time, contaminated by some other and disgusting product in a conspiracy by Big Beef to save money and screw me, the consumer.

Big Beef

I can only assume this is what Big Beef felt like when they realized they'd made us eat rat anus.

Terrified that I was now eating 65% oats and 35% rat anus, I pictured evil beef barons putting raccoon’s they found as roadkill and sewer rats into a grinder while cackling maniacally.  But Scott, I said to myself, you’re kind of a journalist now, what with your opinion blog, and you have a responsibility to be well-informed before you tell people how you feel.

Well, me, I’m right (surprise), and I decided that I should probably exert the minimum of effort before writing a scathing condemnation of Big Beef and at least read the Wikipedia entry for it.  It is, after all, what any major news outlet would do, right?

At this point, having read the whole article, I thought I must be missing something about the outrage.  This stuff is just beef that didn’t make the cut (haha! And my friends say I suck at puns.  Actually, I said that and they agreed, but now who is laughing?!) and was ground to be used that way.

Suddenly I found myself overcome by this strange feeling.  At first I couldn’t identify it, but then I realized what it was: I was ambivalent.  After hearing what little I had in regards to pink slime, I had no feelings on the issue.  This will not stand.

And so, encouraged to find some kernel of truth, plant it and let it sprout into a wonderful tree, I read about pink slime for hours.  And then, still unsure of how to feel, I read even more.  Eventually I hit a point where it felt like all I was reading was people saying the same thing in different ways.  I had found all the facts and now it was just opinion.

Now, I hate to let everyone down, especially with me being a liberal and all, but I’m going to stand up for Big Meat.   Seriously.

I guess you’ll want to know why.  Well, it’s simple.  Big Meat, specifically Beef Products Inc., was the victim of a vicious, well-planned smear campaign.  This campaign took the information and twisted it in such a way that there was no way anybody who saw the initial ABC News report could have walked away without hating BPI for their transgressions.

In the end, we all stand to lose.  BPI may lose its business, ABC News lost what little journalistic integrity it had (there wasn’t any to begin with, but I feel like now they’re in Fox News levels of integrity), and the consumers have been misled.  You can file the case of pink slime under B for “bullshit”, and you can stick it right next to other over-hyped public health scares that turned out to be bullshit, scares like living under the power lines.

What Is Beef?

Before I can even talk about the smear campaign, you have to understand where you have been lied to. I understand many of you will probably not be swayed by this post, but if you continue to do research you’ll find that there was no “case” here to begin with.

Anyway, one phrase you keep hearing is “100% beef” or “beef is beef”.  We keep hearing those words, but when it comes down to it what qualifies as beef is the heart of the matter.

Warning: contains beef and pink slime.

You can go to beefisbeef.com and see some of the myths  about pink slime.  As always, however, you have to be careful about your sources.  That site is run by BPI, so they obviously have a vested interest in it.  (Here’s a tip: their resource contains more truth in one sentence than the ABC News investigation in its entirety.)

Anyway, what qualifies as beef? What is beef, according to Webster’s Dictionary?  It is “the flesh of an adult domestic bovine (as a steer or cow) used as food”.  Okay.  But the dictionary definition doesn’t matter much, they don’t have anything to do with how food is labeled or defined.

That’s more the domain of, say, the UDSA. Those guys know their meat and where to put it, so what do they have to say about beef? The USDA defines beef as “meat from a full-grown cattle about 2 years old.”  Well shit, that’s basically the same thing as Webster’s definition.

Beef Cuts

Despite what this image shows, once killed cows do not separate into neat, colored shapes. It is quite messy.

Surprised?  Don’t be.  Beef is the meat from a cow.  There are varying grades of meat, cuts of meat and all of those other things, but the simple fact is this: for it to called beef it merely has to come from a cow.  It’s that simple. But then, I’m guessing you didn’t question that, did you?

What Is Pink Slime?

Alright.  Well beef is an easy one.  But all of the hype about pink slime portrays it like it’s not actual beef–that is, not the actual flesh of a cow.  Clearly they wouldn’t lie to us.  Big Beef are the ones foisting their low-grade slop onto us.

Not Pink Slime

This is NOT pink slime. This image, the top result for a Google Image search for "pink slime" is actually mechanically separated chicken. That's what's in your chicken nuggets. It may look nasty, but god damn if it isn't delicious.

What is pink slime?  Pink slime is the nickname given to “lean finely textured beef” or “boneless lean beef trimmings”.

As an aside, had the media used that name in its smear campaign I’d imagine there’d be less outrage.  After all, the name pink slime is pretty disgusting. The name pink slime comes from the description of one Dr. Gerald Zirnstein—a microbiologist who worked for the USDA in 2002.  In case that name sounds familiar: he’s the “whistle-blower” that informed ABC News about the issue.  Convenient that he happened to coin the disgusting name of the stuff, then happens to be on the news about it later.  Yeah, that’s not fucking suspicious, guy.

But anyway, pink slime is the result of a few things.  First, when they kill that about-to-be-delicious cow and start to cut it up for meat, there is a lot of stuff that doesn’t make it.  You cannot just cut the beef up according to the picture here and then have your cuts.  There are other things in there, and something has to become of them.

Some of the scraps aren’t usable because they come from near the surface of the skin or near various…orifices…of the cow that aren’t clean.  As such, they need to be, say, disinfected, before they could be served to people.  If only somebody could think of a way to use these scraps, you’d have to disinfect them to be safe for consumption, but then you could use every little bit.  That would save money and produce more meat.  Interesting…

Pink slime is, according to Wikipedia, “finely ground beef scraps, sinew, fat and connective tissue”.  These scraps are put into a centrifuge and heated, separating the fat from the good stuff.  It is then ground and run through a process where it is introduced to ammonia gas to kill off all those nasty food-borne illnesses.

Make no mistake, though, that pink slime all comes from a cow—making it all beef.  The process stated above was created by the food industry because otherwise those scraps I described had to be tossed out or used in other ways—such as dog food or cooking oil. (Interestingly, nobody would have an issue with eating cooking oil that is, in essence, partly pink slime.  But get that shit in your beef and it’s wrong?)

(Side note: read up on mechanically separated meat.  It’s in everything and it is goddamn disgusting.  Plus, Cracked has written an article with some interesting facts about the food we eat.  Hilariously, they covered pink slime well before ABC News.

Let me reiterate a point that you’ve heard: beef is beef, pink slime comes from cow meat, thus it is beef.  This point seems to be a contentious one and I simply do not understand why.

The Uproar

Angry mob.

We demand that our 100% beef product have labeling to indicate that it is two different kinds of 100% beef product in one package! Who's with me!

Most of the public attention drawn to pink slime came when ABC News aired a report that showed 70% of ground beef sold  in supermarkets has pink slime. Actually, they didn’t really so much show it as they did “state it without giving a source.”  From what I can tell there are two major arguments against pink slime.  The first argument is something along the lines of either “it’s disgusting” or “it’s not beef and the packaging is lying”.  The other argument surrounds supposedly dangerous chemicals said to be contained within pink slime.

I am, honestly, not even going to justify the uproar with an in-depth breakdown of what’s wrong with it. That is how stupid this outrage against Big Meat really is. Instead, I’ll sum it up with a couple convenient bullet points:

  • The defense BPI is mounting is hilarious in that it is so simple, so ingenious, but also so destined to fail.  Their retort to this mess: “Beef is beef.”  They do not feel they need to label anything because the meat going into your ground beef is, and has always been, beef.  I have never said beef so much in my life.
  • The argument that ammonium hydroxide should be labeled is moot, because it is a chemical used in the production process, not an ingredient.  The FDA monitors chemicals used for this purpose and compiles them into a convenient list of chemicals that may come into contact with food but that are safe for consumption.  See that list here. So yes, even the ammonia argument people are making is kind of pointless.  Ammonium hydroxide makes its way into so much of our food that to remove anything that has it would leave supermarket shelves empty.  Example products include jams, jellies, snack foods, baked goods, etc.

Let me put this another way: there has never been a case of illness in which the exclusion of pink slime would have prevented said illness.  Seriously. If anything our food is safer for it, since E. Coli is still a real problem and the rest of the meat that isn’t pink slime goes through no such disinfectant process.  While normally I would not suggest reading information from the company in question, the defense mounted by BPI is pretty free of propaganda, unlike the arguments against pink slime.  I’m looking at you, fucking Diane Sawyer.

The ABC News “Case”

The true story behind pink slime, the one that has seemed to get no attention at all, is the downright irresponsible and slanderous “investigation” by ABC News.  As I suggested, their investigation seems less like a journalistic foray into the seedy underbelly of Big Meat, and more like they had a slow news day and asked an intern (who happened to be reading Cracked.com) for an idea.

Within the first five seconds you have Diane Sawyer hilariously using the term “whistleblower” to describe their source for this investigation.  Let me make it clear off-the-bat that there was no whistle-blowing involved because there was nothing to report.  The inclusion of pink slime, while not highly publicized, was not hidden or discreet.  It is well within the standards of FDA and USDA regulations.  But this is their first step, and an intelligent one at that.  That said, just because the American public isn’t fully aware of something doesn’t make it a scandal.

South Park News Team

There is more subtlety in this picture than both ABC News reports on pink slime combined.

This “news” segment resembles less anything like journalism and looks more like the episode of South Park where the boys made a news show.  The tabloids were blushing when ABC News issued this report, realizing they’d finally been outdone.  If Diane Sawyer were implying any harder her head would have exploded, coating the screen in pink slime just to hammer home how disgusting we’re supposed to think it is.

Let me be even clearer here: ABC News did jack shit for research.  If they did, they then promptly ignored it in favor of sensationalizing this story.  For me, this issue took many hours research to really be able to write about. I did not slap this post together in ten minutes and call it a night.  Rather, I considered it a process.  First, I read as much as I could.  Second, I considered the sources of the information to take biases and agendas into account.  Third, I formulated an outlook on these events that seemed in line with fact. That is two more steps than ABC News did for this segment.

Instead of information, we’re provided a parade of us countless people who are quick to tell you how evil pink slime is, how it is not good for you and isn’t beef.  The parade pauses, briefly, so that we can learn about how pink slime is made. I’m honestly surprised they provided that slick animation of the process.  I wouldn’t have put it past them to show a picture of a cow shitting as they described the process, just to reinforce that pink slime is bad.

The video shows, numerous times, people saying they wouldn’t feed it to their children. This video is, in terms of composition, a masterpiece of propaganda.  We see someone wrist-deep in beef as the words “real beef” come up, and we get images of industrial factories when they use pink slime.  It’s a classic trick.  In fact, they use pink slime’s actual name all of once in the entire segment, and even then I feel like the volume was turned down and he mumbled it lest we call it anything other than pink slime.

LFTB

"You know, guys, Lean Finely Textured Beef just doesn't have the same slanderous ring to it as pink slime."

And what a powerful name that is.  Make no mistake, had they used its real name throughout the segment opinion may not have been swayed so easily.  I would argue that, out of a sense of journalistic integrity, they owed it to the viewers to use the real name, rather than pink slime, the entire time.  That word alone is propaganda.  Is it any coincidence that a disgusting term for this stuff was coined by a guy who decided to go on the news to get rid of it?  If your answer is anything but yes, you are tragically naive.

But I think, beyond everything, they portray the internal struggle at the USDA amazingly well–at least in terms of suiting their purpose.  ABC News would have us believe that this was a case of a higher-up corrupted by Big Meat versus the little guy, standing up for the consumer.  They link the move that the former undersecretary made from government service to working with the meat companies and imply corruption.  While they openly say that the move was legal before, they point out that ethical standards would not have allowed it now.  Make no mistake, dear readers, politicians that we put in office repeatedly have made far less ethically sound–but legal–moves and never been put under such scrutiny for it.

Now, I understand this was a short segment, coming in at just under three minutes, but ABC News spent more time painting this as a crisis and corruption than describing what pink slime is.   More of the video is devoted to people telling us how disgusting it is than people telling us what it is, and that is telling.  After all, any news outlet with the slightest hint of integrity would have made an effort to inform us of both sides of the topic.  Instead, ABC News opts to skip fairness and go right to the part where their ratings skyrocket because they manufactured a health crisis.

Then you get the follow-up video:

Having done their damage, ABC News continues in the trend of irresponsible reporting by opening up with an organic grocer talking about what his view of meat is.  Now, I may be a little crazy, but doesn’t it seem like an organic grocer would, you know, have an interest in portraying the stuff you get in the supermarket as being disgusting?  Isn’t that the kind of hidden agenda that the reporter should consider before just shoving the guy onscreen?

Beyond all that, what you’ll note is suspiciously absent from both reports is an opposing viewpoint: someone who wants to say that hey, guess what, meat is meat, beef is beef, and this stuff is both of those.

Nixon

That guy wouldn't lie about anything.

Oh wait, they totally did.  But in their fine tradition of journalistic excellence, they show Janet Riley, VP at the American Meat Institute, clearly pissed right the fuck off.  I cannot overstate how hilarious and disheartening their choice of that part of the conversation really is.  You see Ms. Riley, clearly upset, basically yelling at this reporter trying to get it through his thick skull that pink slime is fucking beef.

Short of drawing devil horns on her and implying that she is sexually promiscuous, I don’t know that ABC News could have done much more to paint her as the least credible person they’ve ever interviewed in the history of interviews.  They make her look worse than Richard Nixon, for christ sake.

The desperation and frustration on her face is clear.  To the average viewer it would look exactly like she had something to hide, or perhaps that her discomfort with the situation was a last-ditch effort to cover up the horrible truth of pink slime.

Instead, I have this image of the ABC reporter calling her and, for forty minutes, asking the same goddamn question: “Why aren’t you relabeling the meat?” in the hopes of eliciting from her the exact reaction we see in the video.  The editing on that part is pretty clear, when he is sitting in that sweet video conference room and then we cut to her, it’s a disjointed, jarring cut.  He did not pick up the phone and connect with Ms. Riley already that frustrated.  He provoked her.

It’s the frustration you’d feel if someone points to your dog and says “That’s a cat.”  You try to explain to him, repeatedly, that it’s a goddamn dog, but he won’t listen.  That, my friends, is exactly what Ms. Riley was trying to do to ABC News, but they just wouldn’t stop insisting that goddamn dog was really a cat.

Conclusion

There is so little actual information about this product, to say nothing of the debate, contained within the report that I would hesitate to use the word informative at all.  What ABC has shown us is a collection of interviews with people who are telling us what ABC wants us to think: this stuff is disgusting.  This stuff is not meat.  That dog is a cat.

Fox News

The gold standard of neutrality when compared to ABC News.

When you get down to it, that is what ABC News has done here.  They have managed to redefine beef.  They have taken beef and with all of the force they could muster said “that’s not beef.”   They have called a dog a cat and we, the American public, have bought it.

I don’t know that it surprises me that we did, either.  This is not some small-time news station, but a national outlet.  ABC clearly put their best and brightest behind this cluster-fuck of an investigation, and they produced a slick piece of propaganda.

Before I end this, I want remind everyone here that while Big Meat is portrayed as faceless and callous, and as being in bed with the government to pass off substandard product, there are faces behind this.  In the wake of ABC’s blatant display of journalistic slander BPI closed down three of its four planets.  Because of this report 650 employees of BPI are out of a job.  If production doesn’t resume soon, those 650 people will be permanently unemployed.

It is not their fault they worked for that company, nor should they suffer because of the media outrage.

And in case you are wondering, many of the BPI employees have come out in support for their employer.  I’m sure part of that motivation is to save their jobs, but from what I’ve read some of them just don’t seem to understand why BPI was targeted this way.  Beyond that, many of them have come out to say that they would, and do, eat product containing pink slime.   Amazingly, the news hasn’t bothered to tell us the story of the 650 plant workers out of a job because ABC got a hard-on for taking down Big Meat.  Instead, we hear about the heroic housewives who have saved their children from pink slime at school and supermarkets.  Bless you all, your quest is an honest and noble one.

ABC news has created the next “vaccine causes autism” scare. (By the way, if you believe that vaccines cause autism, I’m sorry.  Then again, if you believe that your children never stood much of a chance anyway–with or without a vaccine.)  They have instituted a full-on firestorm targeting pink slime, a firestorm based upon half-truths and misrepresented information.

But I think the final point is this: this product was cheap.  As a result, you can bet your Sweet Baby Ray’s that prices on ground beef and processed beef products are going up.  That is to say nothing of school districts who now have to replace all of their beef with different, more expensive beef because of the outrage.  While some may argue that it’s a small price to pay for better food, I ask you this: do you honestly think you can taste the difference?  The same burgers your mouth was watering over last summer are the same ones that you’re now deriding as unfit for consumption.

Oh, the winds of change.

The Disturbing Implications of the Trayvon Martin case on Self-Defense Laws

April 12, 2012 2 comments

A note to start this:  It is not often that I will get into current events and politics on this blog.  However, every once in a while something may move me as much as this case, to the point where I feel it necessary to let these things out–call it catharsis, call it wanting to be heard.  I have been following this case since the earliest days that it appeared in the news and have found myself frustrated by it every step of the way–I can no longer just read the news.

The Background

If you currently exist in this world you probably know about the Trayvon Martin case and the disturbing turns it has taken within the media.  I find myself wrestling with the idea of publishing this post at all because I feel enough damage has already been done.  But then, I find myself dissatisfied with the coverage the media is providing it.  They seem so bogged down in the racial issues that they don’t seem to realize that there is another big issue at stake here: gun laws.  I’ll get to that in a bit.

Please understand that my intention here is to weigh in on some of the heavier issues of the case, rather than to come to some determination of guilt.  However, I have to admit that I firmly believe that Zimmerman should face the harshest possible penalty for his crime. I am not trying to put up the pretense of being unbiased here. I am firmly of the belief that Zimmerman acted completely irrationally and took a life not out of self defense, but out of some kind of lust for power. But then, considering the facts of this case and trying to be impartial, then listening to a 17 year old dying—sorry, being murdered—on tape tends to rob you of your impartiality.

If you are unfamiliar with the case, I suggest reading the Wikipedia article about the case. It contains, as you’d expect from Wikipedia, more factual accounts of the case than most news outlets.  If you are tempted to listen to the 911 calls, keep in mind that within many of them you will hear someone begging for his life, as well as the gunshot that eventually ended Martin’s life.  It is wholly disturbing, and I found myself in tears, enraged and unable to keep listening after that.

The biggest issue in this entire debacle seems to be that of race.  While Zimmerman’s father wrote a letter stating that Zimmerman could not possibly be racist because he is half Latino, the transcript of and audio recordings of Zimmerman’s call to 911 seem to paint another picture.

 

The Events of the Night and Prejudice

To start, Zimmerman opens the call by stating that he sees someone in his neighborhood and that there had been break-ins lately.  Whether or not race is involved, Zimmerman was not calling 911 because he thought Martin was going to loiter around like some no good teenager is wont to do, kicking cans on the sidewalk and generally being unproductive.  No, he called 911 because he saw this kid and connected him to the string of break-ins.

And what exactly was Zimmerman’s big reason to believe that Trayvon was up to no good?  Trayvon was, and I quote, “just walking around looking about.”  God forbid anybody, you know, look about in Zimmerman’s neighborhood.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Zimmerman laments that “these assholes always get away” (a disturbing thing to hear, given the conclusion we know this reaches) and within seconds of starting the 911 call declares that Trayvon is up to no good, or on drugs.

Racially charged as this case is, I don’t know that I would call Zimmerman’s remarks flat-out racist.  If they were racist, they were veiled enough that it is impossible to know for sure without being in his head.  However, there was at the very least some prejudice (not necessarily racism) involved here, as Zimmerman at no point gives Martin the benefit of the doubt.  Whatever the reason Zimmerman felt threatened, there was little reason to do so other than a strange person in a hoodie walking through the neighborhood. His neighborhood.

Critics who think Zimmerman is being persecuted as a result of the media circus try to slander Martin, who you’ll remember as “the one who lost his life”, paint him as a troubled gangsta who could not possibly have been up to any good in that neighborhood.  He had grills and tattoos, he had been suspended and thus, Zimmerman had every right to take his life away. (His mistake?  Not looking like a clean-cut kid from the 60s in Zimmerman’s neighborhood. Put more bluntly: being black and not being ashamed of it?) Glib as that interpretation may be, that is exactly what conservative outlets are saying in Zimmerman’s defense.  They are painting Trayvon as a thug who deserved to be shot.  If Zimmerman hadn’t done it, someone would have.  Right?

Zimmerman, however, gets painted as this frail older man who couldn’t possibly have hurt anybody in a confrontation.  I even read one article that pointed out that the teenage Martin wouldn’t have had any problem beating the crap out of Zimmerman, and so clearly Zimmerman was justified to bring a gun to a fist fight.  These are the ridiculous arguments flying around the media.  Blame the victim.  And for those of you who might try to argue that Zimmerman is a victim in a way: consider that he is still alive.  I think Martin gets the title of “victim” without qualification.

 

Who Was Actually Defending Himself?

But I think the most disturbing implication of this whole thing is when you look at it from Martin’s point of view.  He was walking to the house in which he was staying, having made a trip to the 7-11 for the very dangerous combination of a pop and candy.  According to a sworn statement from a friend with whom he was speaking on the phone (until the moments just before his murder), Zimmerman started to follow him and he was scared.

Zimmerman began to follow Martin despite the 911 operator saying that he should not.  If you think that he complied, keep in mind that instead of agreeing to meet the police at his own house or at the nearby mailboxes, Zimmerman requested that the police call him when they were nearby so he could give his location.  Play it down any way you want, it was clear at the end of that phone call to 911 that Zimmerman did not intend to let Martin get away, something that Zimmerman lamented happened way too often.  (“These assholes always get away!” he says, moments before he decided that Martin wouldn’t get away, no doubt.)

So you have a scared kid being followed by a man 11 years his senior for no reason.  At some point a confrontation takes place and all that we really know for sure from there is that Zimmerman appeared to be bleeding from the back of the head and nose (even statements about that are conflicting), and Martin was shot dead.

If you listen to the 911 calls you can hear in a few of them someone screaming in the background.  Martin’s mother identified the screaming as that of her sons, and if you listen to Zimmerman’s call as well as the ones in which the screaming is clearest, it sounds nothing like Zimmerman.  It sounds like a terrified 17 year old.  Maybe I’m too biased to truly hear it objectively, but the frantic “Help me! Help me!” sounds too high-pitched to be Zimmerman.  Plus, the moment the you hear the gunshot those sounds stop.

Zimmerman insisted that he was on the ground beneath Martin who was beating the ever living shit out of him, thus justifying murder.  Many of the witness accounts released are conflicting, some putting Martin and others putting Zimmerman on the top of the scuffle.  Regardless of what you believe, the 911 calls are convincing: what sounds like a young man screams for help, terrified.  Then you hear a gunshot, after which everything is silent.

The issue here is whether or not this was truly a case of self defense.  Personally, I think that if Zimmerman spends anything less than the rest of his life in jail that we may as well spit on Martin’s grave.  When you consider Martin’s point of view the picture is terrifying: you’re walking home when a man follows you and, even after you run away, he follows you in his vehicle.  He gets out of that vehicle and confronts you.

I would not argue that, if reports of Martin wailing on Zimmerman are accurate, he was totally justified.  However, if you were a terrified teenager being followed, you might have done the same thing—tried to defend yourself.  Put simply:  Zimmerman hunted down and threatened Martin.  Martin, either defending himself or acting first, may have hurt Zimmerman at which point he was shot for the act.  Despite all of the efforts to paint Martin as the aggressor, he tried to disengage first only to be hunted down by Zimmerman. Let that soak in for a moment, because that is a pretty firmly established fact.

(Many of the calls to 911 place the scuffle behind houses, while Zimmerman’s calls seem to place him on the street.  When Martin runs the other way, Zimmerman initially follows, still apparently near the street.)

One final point:  from the transcripts it sounds like Zimmerman may have fired off a warning shot before shooting Martin.  Now, again, consider this from Martin’s point of view: you are followed and get into it with this guy.  You’re beating him up (I’m assuming the worst-case scenario of Martin’s behavior, but again, it’s not clear who actually had the advantage in the fight), but then he pulls out a gun and fires a warning shot.

Would you continue to beat the shit out of him or would you, as it sounds from the 911 tapes, beg for your life and hope that this man isn’t so batshit insane that he kills you on the spot?

Oh wait.

Conclusions

The problem here is, again, who was actually defending himself, and I think this is where the implications of this case get terrifying. Floridahas some crazy stand-your-ground laws that the NRA endorses, so you know they’re scary as fuck.  Race issues aside, should Zimmerman walk away with anything less than the maximum punishment in this case, it opens the doors for other people to literally track down and kill people that they feel are remotely threatening.

I’m (mostly) leaving alone the race issues because with all of the media and other parties involved, I think there has been enough talk of the race issues that I don’t need to add to it.

So you may think I’m playing the slippery slope card, but consider that again for just a moment.  This whole case, issues of race aside, comes down to self defense and gun laws.  If Zimmerman is let free we are starting down a path into a world where someone who feels threatened in the slightest will be allowed to hunt you down and murder you for that transgression.

I certainly hope that the system has enough justice left in it to prevent us from ever living in a world where you need fear your life for being in the wrong place when some gun nut happens to be passing by.  Because after all of the blustering and posturing by everyone involved in this case, when you really boil it down to the simple reason that Martin lost his life, that’s it.

For more information on the implications of this case, check out the Wikipedia articles on stand-your-ground laws, specifically the concept of duty to retreat.  Additionally, it’s not clear how Zimmerman plans to defend himself, but he does plan to use self defense.  So in some way, he will argue that his deadly force was appropriate and justified based upon the threat imposed by the bare fists of a teenager.

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