Hugo (June 15, 2009)

Hugo (adopted Wednesday, April 2, 2008; deceased Monday, June 15, 2009) was “a nice old man” black and tan rooroo hailing from the Candycane Forest with an exceptionally moosey disposition and a great fondess for carnuba waxes in all their forms.

Living Dead

This blog is all but defunct. I’ll occasionally post personal updates (mostly relating to the animals, of course) because this is my long-standing internet home, but I will not post any new professional/academic matters here. Should that sort of content interest you, then you can check when I get back to writing, perhaps in a few weeks.

Otherwise, I’ll keep this site online into the foreseeable future: some hapless soul might want to read something I’ve written. Here is a list of some of the better posts I’ve made, so as to facilitate finding that obscure post on animal cruelty and “Game of Thrones” (or whatever).

Animal Welfare in Ontario and Canada

“Critical” Animal Studies

Social & Political Theory & Sociology

Television and Movies

And, of Course, the Pets


As a matter of principle, in recent years I’ve avoided getting involved in the blog-o-sphere controversy de jour. Now that Naomi Schaefer Riley has been fired from Chronicle Brainstorm and has entered the conservative pantheon of–well–whatever you call David Horowitz and Jonah Goldberg, its safe for me to make some comments. Or, more to the point, ask three questions.

Nearly everyone taking NSR’s side has emphasized that a historical study of black midwifery is patently absurd and indicative of the decadent phase of the modern university–one, coincidentally, that has been co-terminus with the radical idea that people without white skin might, in fact, be humans. This view has been to assert that such a study is self-evidently absurd; that it is completely without merit; and that this view requires no justification because it has determined (on what basis?) that black midwifery is obviously silly. It seems that all NSR and her supporters have to do is say something like, “Wow! She’s writing a dissertation on black midwifery! What’s up with that? The end of civilization, that’s what!” And it seems that there is an audience that is willing to accept this line of (for lack of a better word) argumentation. I’m genuinely curious because despite taking what appears to be reflexively reactionary positions, these same people claim to be presenting a serious, intellectual point. I just want to know what is self-evidently absurd about the topic. It might be absurd. I don’t know. I doubt I’ll ever read the dissertation or the book that comes out of the research, which is why I won’t deride it. But I do want to know why “conservative” commentators, like NSR, can assert that such a topic is manifestly absurd and proof that the modern university should be taken over by WalMart (or whatever) thus allowing people like these young dissertators to be jettisoned from the university?

Why is black midwifery, black housing policy in the 1970s, or black conservatives an example of “a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap”? Let’s grant that it is–a generous admission–for the sake of argument. How does this differ from the “collection of right-wing victimization claptrap,” such as NSR’s commentary on the affair in the WSJ? Does NSR see herself as a victim? Is her expression of this ostensible “victimization” also “claptrap”? Why or why not? If “left-wing victimization claptrap” shouldn’t be taken seriously, why should “right-wing victimization claptrap” be taken seriously?

Finally, people like NSR and those who support NSR tend to point to “the market” as the best mechanism to make collective decisions. Let’s assume that this thing, “the market,” really is the best mechanism to make such decisions. Now, what’s interesting that NSR and her supporters make reference to the petition signed by around 6500 people calling for NSR’s dismissal from Chronicle Brainstorm as something like “group think” or “liberal suppression of conservatives” or something. Because the petition is an example of liberal groupthink, it can be safely ignored. But, why is the petition an example of groupthink and not an example of “the market”? Is it only “the market” when it produces certain outcomes–say, those that NSR and her ilk favour?

Let’s call it a “best practice”

Anyone who has spent more than five minutes on a university campus has noticed the ballooning levels of administrative overhead: there is ceaseless and endless money for new administrators administrating stuff that you–say someone who studied at the school for six years and has taught there for the same length of time–have never heard of and have certainly never encountered other than through mysterious emails out of the ether letting you know that a new administrator has been hired or that an old administrator has been promoted to another university. Indeed, despite the proliferation of administrators, it seems that these administrators only administer one another and, fortunately, that means we don’t have to deal with them that often: we can get down to the real business of the university–teaching, researching, and complaining about administration and office space.

Notwithstanding the byzantine opaqueness of the administrators, I think they are on to something. At Carleton they’ve introduced academic sounding ranks at the Dean and Vice-President level (not that I really know what the difference is between a Dean and Vice-President and I’ve spent the past fourteen years of my life on campuses, but I’m pretty sure that an Assistant Vice-President outranks a full Dean). Thus, for those of us fortunate to get a permanent academic post, we know that we start as Assistant Professors, are promoted to Associate Professors upon tenure, and some time after that, we are promoted to Professors. Those Professors who distinguish themselves–usually through having marginally unimportant but easily digestible research that makes it onto daytime talk TV or draws the attention of professional idiots like Malcolm Gladwell–get to have other titles, like Distinguished Research Professor or University Professor and so on. Here, at Carleton, we’ve done the same with the Deans and the Vice-Presidents: we have Assistant Deans, Associate Deans, and Deans. We also have Assistant Vice-Presidents, Associate Vice-Presidents, and Vice-Presidents. Let’s grant that these titles mean something–to them, at least. Why not introduce this into other areas of university life? Let’s call it a “best practice.”

Front Office Administration: Assistant Receptionist, Associate Receptionist, Receptionist, Distinguished Receptionist. Really, there’s no difference between the ranks, but it is a way to bring perpetually alienated staff into the fold–a Distinguished Receptionist puts up with as many rude, self-important Full Students as an Assistant Receptionist; the only difference is that they haven’t had to take stress leave yet.

Non-Tenure Track, Non-Permanent Permanent Teaching Faculty (previously called Contract Instructor or Sessional): Assistant Contract Instructor, Associate Contract Instructor, Contract Instructor. What’s the difference between the ranks? Assistant Contract Instructors would be the latest hires–those naive PhD students and newly minted doctors who think this is an entry point into the academy because they will get one of those coveted, non-existent internal promotions. The Associate Contract Instructor teaches more courses than 85% of the full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty combined and has realized that teaching more just makes you sadder. Finally, the Full Contract Instructor is the person who has been in the department for the longest period of time, has the greatest institutional memory, has taught every single course currently on the books (and a bunch that were phased out a long time ago), and who is looking forward to bringing home less than $400 a month from CPP when they “retire after next semester.” The same could be done for those fortunates who get Non-Tenure Track, Permanent Teaching Faculty positions (previously called Instructor I, Instructor II, and Instructor III): Assistant Instructor, Associate Instructor, Instructor.

Why not extend it to students? We need to further monetize the client-base! Assistant Student, Associate Student, Student. How could be make these distinctions? Assistant Students just pay tuition and show up to class from time-to-time. They either walk or take transit to campus and they bring their own lunch, sometimes getting coffee before class. An Associate Student pays tuition, but parks on campus in one of the outer lots, and buys lunch a couple times a week. Finally, a Full Student pays tuition, wears university branded clothing, buys a parking pass to one of the garages, eats on campus everyday and accumulates library fines, but pays them off quickly. The possibilities are endless and it is a win-win situation: the university gets more money to hire administrators and students get prestige titles they can show off to their friends. Perhaps assignments could be marked in accordance with student rank–preferential treatment! Full students could get two free passes each semester on plagiarism!

(This post was inspired by the list of titles appended to the names of the people who are preparing the report of the Provincial Mandate Working Group which is to be distributed next week and which aims to identity “strengths and areas of growth.” I hope it isn’t too late to include this idea!)

Hungry, Hungry Hippos versus Battleship

In what will most likely either be the single greatest movie of all time or the absolute worst movie of all time (of course, these possibilities are not mutually exclusive!), “Battleship”–based upon the children’s (I think!) board game–is set to be released this summer. The plot seems to be rather thin: aliens invade Earth and start taking out battleships. No doubt the alien invasion is entirely unjustified and some band of plucky heroes who survive the initial attack will find a way to save humanity from the aliens by exploiting some technical flaw that aliens, sufficiently technologically advanced to invade a planet, didn’t foresee. No matter the obstacle, plucky human resolve will always overcome the hubris of aliens.

The marketing campaign for the movie has begun, apparently with nonsensical posters to advertise a nonsensical movie. As an idea, it seems genius. One such poster seems to play off on another children’s game, Hungry, Hungry Hippos, and has a giant hippo (I guess Leviathan was unavailable) eating a battleship whole.

The problem is the tagline: “The Battle for Earth Begins in Africa.” There are a number of interesting equivalences being made. Given that the movie will most likely focus upon American battleships, American sailers, and other sorts of “first world problems” that come about through an alien invasion (“I can’t get a cell signal!”), it is interesting that Earth is being equated with America. Meanwhile, the enemy–the aliens–is being equated with Africa and is represented by the giant hippo. Is the battle for Earth–or America or Earth or…?–one between technology and a unnaturally natural demographic time-bomb exploding out of Africa which American military might will be absolutely unable to resist, let alone contain? Either way, we are certain that the aliens from another planet and the Africans from another continent (or is that country? or planet?) are fundamentally alien. And what a time honoured trope: the “West” represented by technology while Africa is represented by an animal–a giant, incomprehensible animal, but an animal all the same. It’d be nice if the animals rose up, but I doubt they will.

Finally, the battle for Earth begins in Africa. Perhaps my map-reading skills suck, but unless that battle is taking place in the Red Sea, it is unlikely that we have American warships patrolling in Africa–but then, across the Red Sea is Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, so why not in the Middle East? The ocean isn’t in Africa; it is around Africa in the same way that the Pacific Ocean isn’t in North America, but around it. Perhaps it is unfair to criticize the studio’s marketing department on this point when American political leaders persist in believing that Afghanistan is in the Middle East. But, posed in such terms, we have the juxtaposition between Earth, which does not include Africa, and Africa, which does not include the Earth. Perhaps there is some truth to this, at least politically speaking–isn’t Africa part of that part which does not count?

Summer Teaching

I’ll be teaching LAWS 2105 Human Rights and Social Justice [PDF] again this summer. As with last year, the general themes are the underlying theoretical foundations of human rights (that is, what the human is understood to be and how this understanding of human requires or merits certain protections), the political articulation of this conception (for instance, in the French Revolution), and various political reactions to the success of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. We will then turn to how historical circumstances render human rights and justice impossible, looking at the crisis of the nation-state leading up to and following World War I and then the invention of devious ways to get around human rights protections by the Bush administration and the subsequent expansion of this by the Obama administration. Then we will look at rights beyond the boundary of the human–specifically, animals–and we will consider the possibility that life is not worth living and, therefore, that the planned extinction of homo sapiens must be pursued. Finally, we will look at the re-articulation of cosmopolitanism and its emphasis on hospitality.

Teaching and Hal Herzog’s Animal Attitudes Inventory

As an experiment this semester while teaching my third year course on animals, law and society, I decided to have the students take Hal Herzog’s animal attitudes inventory survey [PDF]. I haven’t analyzed the data in any detailed way, but I have put together some rather simple charts [PDF] should anyone be interested. I’ll be going over the results with my students tomorrow in class and I hope to provide some more detailed comments later in the week.

In other news, my students–or, at least, a few of them–are vigorously arguing about the New York Times “Ethicist” contest to provide a coherent defense of the ethics of eating meat on WebCT. The NESSE survey on student engagement tells us that it is important to have students discuss course material outside of class; this must be a success of my teaching–or the intrinsic interest of the question–if nothing else.

Misleading Reporting on Bill 47

The Ottawa Citizen ran a highly misleading and factually inaccurate article on MacLaren’s OSPCA bill today. I wrote the following Letter to the Editor.

Re: “MPP revises his bill to curtail powers of OSPCA”

Dear Editor,

The article on Bill 47 makes constant mention of “animal rights.” This mention is both misleading and false: there is not a single jurisdiction in Canada where animals have any rights at all. (Indeed, this is the case with the entirety of the world.) What the OSPCA Act does is impose an extremely minimal duty of care on people keeping animals as pets. That is, owners of animals kept as pets must provide adequate food, water, shelter, and medical attention when needed. The legislation is explicit that this is not a right of the animal, but a responsibility of the owner. To put this in another context, drivers are required to have their headlights on after dusk. Turning on headlights is not a right of the car. It is a responsibility of the driver. In Canadian law, a car and an animal are both property and, therefore, do not and cannot have rights.

More to the point, the current incarnation of the OSPCA Act explicitly excludes the vast majority of animals used in Ontario from its provisions. That is, animals used in scientific research, hunting and fishing, and agriculture are explicitly exempt from the purview of the legislation so long as that use of the animal is in accordance with common practices. Thus, farmers–those in Mr. MacLaren’s riding, for instance–remain free (as they always have) to dehorn and castrate their cattle without anesthetics, incarcerate their sows in gestation crates, force hens into battery cages, and break the tusks and snouts of boars prior to transportation. Where farmers run afoul of the OSPCA Act is when they neglect to provide proper food, water, shelter and medicine to their animals. However, if those farmers are not so inclined as to prevent their cows from starving to death, they are free to kill them on a whim.

The question isn’t why the OSPCA is interfering with small scale farms–the sort of farmers who form Mr. MacLaren’s constituency–but, rather, why the OSPCA is content to leave factory farms absolutely and completely unpoliced. One might also ask Mr. MacLaren why he feels farmers who are already legally entitled to abuse their animals also want the right to starve them to death. Mr. MacLaren’s legislative efforts have one purpose: to further legalize the abuse of animals in a province which is already abundantly friendly to animal abusers.

Yours most sincerely,

Craig McFarlane

The Animal Abuse Authorization Act of 2012 (B-47, Jack MacLaren’s Bill)

It is abundantly clear that I am no fan of the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals nor am I fan of its legislation. Contrary to the views expressed by backwoods rednecks–the very sort of people who are the backbone of Jack MacLaren’s support and are, unfortunately, my immediate neighbours–the OSPCA is not an animal rights organization nor has it ever been and nor will it ever be. The nature of the OSPCA is very clear: pets merit some degree of protections, but they do not merit their lives; meanwhile, all other animals merit no protections at all so long as their use is in accordance with the particular standards of the given industry in question. That is, so long as everyone else does it, then it is humane by definition: keep your hens in battery cages, your sows in gestation crates, break the teeth and noses of boars when you load them up on to the transport truck, dehorn and castrate your cattle without anesthetics. In other words, the OSPCA is content to sacrifice millions of hens, cows, sows, sheep, mice, rats, and so on in order to make it a legal requirement of the owners of cats and dogs (kept as pets) provide them with food, water, shelter, and medical attention should they need it (but, if you don’t want to pay for a two week supply of antibiotics, you can kill your dog if you want).

Despite the obvious weakness of the current system of animal “protection” in Ontario, it is routinely hailed as the “best” in the country: by the OSPCA itself and by the Animal Legal Defense Fund in its annual report. Don’t confuse this status as “the best” with any genuine protections for animals in Ontario; this merely demonstrates that Canada is hell for animals despite our pretentions of civilization.

The very precarious system of animal “protection” that we presently have in Ontario is not served in any way by Jack MacLaren’s bill. Those who are legitimately upset at the OSPCA should remember this. Jack MacLaren’s bill will only roll back any and all existing protections for animals–and, as I’ve pointed out, they are already so weak as to be minimal. No matter how upset you were about the OSPCA invasion of the Toronto Humane Society or the ringworm fiasco at their main branch, this bill is not worthy any support at all. The only people who could reasonably suport this bill are people like Earl Lake of Delta. This is the sort of man you will be standing beside when you cheer for Jack MacLaren’s bill.

As was amply demonstrated in the first version of his bill, MacLaren is either completely ignorant of the existing regulations (given his Mississippi Mills backwoods background, this is to be expected–ever driven through Clayton?) or his intent is to legalize animal abuse in Ontario–even more so than it already is. Of course, neither of these interpretations are mutually exclusive.

B-47 will not pass. It will give an opportunity for the dying breed of “landowners” to drag out their tractors and make some noise, but they’ll once again crawl back to their homes along an obscure concession somewhere outside Delta until the next time some functionally illiterate yokel has sixty beagles seized because they are “hunting dogs” and don’t need to eat.

I call upon Jack MacLaren to be honest: rename your bill “The Animal Abuse Authorization Act of 2012.” If MacLaren isn’t sufficiently honest and respectable to do this, I encourage a brave MPP to stand up and propose this as an amendment. Will Cherie DiNovo stand up?