Sunday, April 20, 2008

Bitter Bikers for Obama

Real Time's Real Reporter Jeremy Scahill reports from some small towns in Pennsylvania. Anecdotal to be sure, but intriguing nonetheless:

The above is the sixth of nine segments from the 18 April 2008 show, all of which may be viewed by following the links on this page. (If you're visiting this page more than a week after this post was published, you may have to click the "See all videos" link.)


Adam said...

I also watched that show, and in addition to the Bikers for Obama rally they went to a gun range where they interviewed Obama supporters (although they also found interviewees who did not support Obama or the Democrats) and they said that they had to go to something like 15 gun ranges before they could find one that would let Bill Maher's show shoot footage there and interview people... so there may have been a sampling bias.

I also enjoyed Maher's reaction at learning that a) so many people in small town America even know who he is and b) that most of those who know him don't like him.

bjkeefe said...

I did note that part about the problem of getting into shooting ranges, and I agree, there well could be sampling bias as a result. On the other hand, I wonder what the people inside those other shooting ranges would have said. It could be the case that the owners just hate Bill Maher for whatever reason, but that the employees and customers might have expressed a surprising range of emotions, similar to the bikers.

What don't you like about Maher? I'll concede up front that he can be ridiculously partisan at times, and also that he sometimes acts like he knows more than he does about specific issues. Anything besides those?

Adam said...

I don't like how Maher paints himself as a libertarian/non-aligned/independent type since he likes to get high. Last time I checked, so do a lot of California liberals.

Also, I think he's unbearably smug, constantly lecturing conservatives on his show (and liberals, too, for that matter) who clearly know much more about what they're talking about than he does. Especially in that forum, where his doting fans come to cheer him on, he gets these huge reactions for these dumb jokes.

Also, he's on PETA's governing board according to Wikipedia, and is an outspoken vegan. Veganism is stupid enough, but to involve yourself heavily in such a loathsome organization, well, not too many people I like who are in the PETA camp.

But again I think the worst thing is how much he plays up his non-partisan, libertarian attitude and then acting like a total lefty. You're not a libertarian if you say you were going to vote for Dole in '96 and then the libertarian candidate in '00 and then you voted for Ralph Nader. In other words, I think he's a self-righteous prick, who wants to be thought of as a "libertarian" because it's more edgy and thought provoking than what he really is: a typical Hollywood liberal sheep.

bjkeefe said...

I can see why you'd think all of that.

My own sense about Maher's libertarian stance is that it's more than wanting pot to be legal. I'd also say that he used to be tougher on liberals back on "Politically Incorrect." I think what drives him most nowadays is his loathing for the Bush Administration, so he's going to come off more as a lefty for that reason.

Overall, while I already acknowledged that he can come off as a know-it-all, I don't find him smug. He will often back down, or at least acknowledge the worth, when one of his guests makes a solid point.

I don't know much about PETA, but I have heard enough anecdotes to be fairly sure they often go too far. I grant that vegans/vegetarians can be more than a little self-righteous, but I also think there's a good case for their side. I do think overconsumption of meat can cause health and environmental problems, and I deplore factory farming for everything from its cruelty to its over-reliance on antibiotics.

For the record, I think veganism is a little extreme, except if you're that way because you hate the factory farm aspect of dairy farms. I've met people who won't even eat honey, and that just seems ludicrous. I also will probably never full give up meat, but I have been making a conscious effort for at least two decades to reduce my consumption, for all of the reasons listed above. I don't think there's anything inherently immoral about eating animal flesh, but I do dislike the practical aspects of the process in the modern world.

Anyway, I'm not really trying to talk you out of disliking Maher. I'm just giving my impression of him. I do like his outspokenness, and will always hold him in warm regard for speaking out after 9/11 and for his strong atheist views. I also just think he's funny.

bjkeefe said...

Oh, and speaking of vegans ...

Adam said...

Don't we hate McArdle for being a smug, factless right-wing toady / 6 foot tall pixie?

Anyways I will concede that I did not watch politically incorrect, so I'm only judging from maybe 10 hours of "Real Time" that I've seen over the last couple years, and I just don't think he's a libertarian... he seems to be pretty solidly on board with even the statist aspects of the Democratic agenda, not just the anti-Bush, let's get out of Iraq aspects. Just my impression.

I won't harp on about vegans; while I find them stupid, personally, I don't hold anything against them. Although there was that really cute blonde girl I went to prom with who had such a bad diet from being a vegan she had to be treated for constant fatigue and anemia. And then there's this girl I currently see who has all sorts of weird food preferences (orange juice makes her nauseous... or nauseated, rather) but she won't eat meat. And that's OK.

But to associate yourself with Ingrid Newkirk-- a domestic terrorist for that ridiculous cause of stopping biomedical research that uses animals-- well that crosses the line from harmless do-gooderism into something far more sinister, in my opinion. In my old lab we used to have a poster that had a picture of animal rights protestors-- you know, the brainless, smelly ones whose eyes are glazed over as if they were zombies-- which said "Thanks to animal research they'll be able to protest for 20 more years!"

Also at that lab we were literally sworn to secrecy about the fact that we had monkeys in that particular building, and also forbidden from transferring any images of the monkeys (who were quite well cared for, I should note) off of lab computers lest they fall into the hands of local PETA activists. Seriously. Aren't there more important causes than hindering life-saving biomedical research?

bjkeefe said...


I don't actually hate McMegan. I don't much care for her thoughts, and I use that term somewhat generously, since they usually strike me as representative of the shallow and glibertarian philosophy common to rich kids who think they're self-made.

You won't get much argument from me about the instinct to dismiss animal-rights extremists who want to ban all such medical research. I would say, however, that I agree with part of their view, that there is entirely too much needless abuse of animals that slides under the excuse of "research." Does every new cosmetic product, for example, need to be injected, fed to, or smeared upon animals? Do we really need to know the LD-50 point for every chemical under the sun? I sometimes think "research" budgets are used up, as they always are -- to ensure their renewal -- in mindlessly repeated trials that result in needless suffering. I am aware that excessive government regulations may well be partly to blame here, as well.

I'm not sure I agree with your rhetorical question about other things being more important than stopping animal abuse. We all have different values and priorities. As I said, it's certainly possible to go too far in trying to right perceived wrongs, but that doesn't make the entire motivation mistaken.

Finally, I think using the term "terrorist" is unnecessary. It cheapens the term and exaggerates the severity of whatever actions these PETA and ALF types engage in. Bandying about this term to include people whose vandalism stems from a philosophy you happen not to agree with is the sort of thing I expect from media blowhards, a standard to which I hold you above.

Adam said...

You're right that perhaps labeling Newkirk herself as a terrorist is over the top, but I would not minimize what ALF has done as simply "acts of vandalism."

I would say that she has associated herself by her words and deed with a movement that has violent factions, and that while this is not the same terrorism that is as serious as say the Timothy McVeigh or Al Qaeda brands, is definitely a violent criminal element. To me, people who think that the lives of animals are worth violence against human beings and destruction of property and interference with biomedical research are lunatics and criminals.

I don't know much about cosmetic testing, and it might cause lots of needless suffering, but I think it's probably a red herring b/c most of the animals who are sacrificed and undergo unpleasant and painful experiments probably do so for much less frivolous purposes.

As for knowing the LD50 of chemicals that human beings are going to work with... this seems pretty damn important to me, and there really is no other way to figure it out than to do it by killing animals.

I'd wonder what your feelings would be about research I personally did that was about debunking these nuts who think that thimerosal (the mercury containing preservative in some multi-use vaccine containers) causes autism. I personally sac'd (killed) dozens of rats to cut out their brains, both neonatal rats that I killed by cutting off their heads with shears, and then adult rats who we killed by transcardial perfusion (opening them up while they're anesthetized and injecting formaldehyde into the still beating heart to fix the brain with its tissue intact).

This research did not directly lead to lives being saved-- it was a small branch of autism research, necessary to free up funds from being diverted down this fool's path. But there was no way to get to more fruitful research and silence these critics who worry about this potentially dangerous substance other than by killing animals. I know what suffering the animals went through; the baby rats would squeal when injected with the thimerosal, and then obviously I decapitated them before I dissected out their hippocampi.

Institutional review boards and the way government funding of medical research works (the way grants get applied for and distributed) may lead to more animals being used in research than if there were less regulation, but I think the order of magnitude would change. In the scheme of things, though, I really can't sympathize with people who think that this is something worth fighting over (even with protests). It's their right, certainly, to spend money and energy and speech on whatever they want, but I just think the whole movement is misguided. In our far from perfect world there is enough human suffering that I find it hard to muster up ideological sympathy with those who want to stymie research because it causes suffering to zebrafish, rats, rabbits, goats, dogs and other non-human animals. Especially since all the IRBs (institutional review boards) that I've dealt with tangentially have had what I see as a fair balance between the requirements required of researchers to prove that they are not causing undo suffering to animals in the course of their legitimate research.

With all the cruel people in the world who intentionally cause human suffering, those who try to ease it, even if it requires killing animals, seem like very strange targets for activists to go after.

bjkeefe said...


I don't have hard numbers at hand, but I remember reading about the cosmetics testing issue, and I assure you, the number of animals involved was far from trivial.

Re LD-50 issues: Agreed that knowing toxicity is important. However, there is an argument to be made that what makes another animal sick or dead does not say a whole lot about the same effects in humans. More importantly, this is another case where the reading I have done in the past suggests the number of trials is highly excessive. There's verifying results, and then there's just using up the budget.

I have no problem with the research you did on the rats. I am not completely against using animals. I am just against needless use. Also, it sounds like your killing methods were humane, and the work overall did not involve prolonged suffering.

I don't condone the extreme acts of ALF, whether it involves violence or gross property damage. As long as you are happy not to call what they do "terrorism," I am happy to call it worse than "vandalism."

I take your point about worrying about animals suffering, compared to the vast amounts of human suffering, seeming like a misplaced sense of priorities. However, it is often human nature to pick a problem that seems soluble when others seem too big.