Monday, May 28, 2012

Speaking of Research and morality

In my opinion, all discussions about harming animals are discussions about morality. Even pointed debate about the efficacy of using animals as models of human disease and drug response, are, in most cases, arguments about morality: it can be justified only if it works, only if it works well enough, etc.

But those discussions, while interesting from a mechanistic point of view and in spite of the fact that they often expose serious problems with the claimed utilitarian justifications for hurting and killing animals, side-step the heart of the matter.

When I learned that Allyson Joy Bennett, a member of "The Committee," an undefined body that is part of the small provivisection group Speaking of Research had been hired by the university, I had hoped that she would be explaining the group's philosophy. Alas, she's in hiding.

In any case, I've been trying to catch their drift. It appears to me that the group is primarily intended to help pass out industry propaganda. Much like the now-defunct Incurably Ill for Animal Research (iiFAR). Nevertheless, they do say here and there that they think they can justify hurting and killing animals because of their belief that moral status is a sliding or graduated scale. They appeal to authority on this point and sometimes point to the work of David De Grazia.

Unfortunately, De Grazia falls victim to a terminal malady that plagues many if not most or all philosophers and writers who try to defend the use of animals: an appeal to "moral intuition."

A member(?) of Speaking for Research published in an essay in 2011 in the American Journal of the Medical Sciences. (The use of nonhuman animals in biomedical research. Ringach DL.) He tries to explain why it is OK to hurt and kill animals:

Many philosophers agree, he says, that the interests of (normal) humans and animals in life are not relevantly similar.

He writes:
Human life is the execution of an aspiration—a life’s plan. Human life is a process that cannot be reduced to mere living by satisfying our immediate biological needs. Humans are not content with living, they need to live well and realize their ambitions. Among these ambitions is the need to transcend our biological lives in some shape or form, by contributing to science, arts and society, in ways that improve the well being of living beings in our planet. When these needs are denied, and despite having all their biological needs met, humans can willfully terminate their own life.

Interests in life are not relevantly similar among humans and animals—the same things are not at stake.
This is a pretty common argument, but I don't think it holds water for a couple of reasons.

1. It's far from clear that all people have life plans or that life plans have been common for very long. Its hard to imagine what the life plans of someone living in a particularly poor county aspires to other than finding today's food for themselves and their family and a semblance of safety. Or what someone in a pre-civilization extended family group might have been hoping to achieve in life without there being a concept or need for money. There might have been a desire among the males at least for higher social position, but that appears to be somewhat common among some primate and other social species.

2. The aspiration of advancement or a desire to realize our ambitions is contrary to the recommendations of some philosophers:
When speaking of the first hindrance to genuine Dharma practice -- attachment to the happiness of only this life -- the Buddha spoke of the desire or ambition for material possessions, money, fame, praise, approval, and sensory pleasures such as food, music, and sex. Due to our strong desire to have the pleasure we think these things will bring, we often harm, manipulate, or deceive others to obtain them. Even if we strive for these things without directly ill-treating others, our mind is still locked into a narrow state, seeking happiness from external people and objects that do not have the ability to bring us lasting happiness. -- Venerable Thubten Chodron
3. It seems to me that in times of great danger, the desires and interests of humans and members of many other species are exactly the same. If threatened, we run or hide. When our lives are threatened, we don't worry about the possible promotion at work we might have gotten, we hope only to live. We hunker down, find a hole, stay quiet. It is our similarities in these bedrock responses to life and the risk of great pain and death that give meaning to the Golden Rule.

In these fundamental matters -- not whether I will have another paper published, be appointed to a committee, get the loan for the new car, or any other peculiarly human aspiration -- most animals are the same; our interests are identical.

Many humans strive to be content with "just living." In times of great danger, all humans claim that they would be content if they could just survive.

Generally, in spite of rare exceptions, harming or killing a dog, mouse, or monkey is immoral for precisely the same reason it is immoral to kill a human: they don't want to be harmed or killed.

Speaking of Research? Not so much.

Regular readers of this blog will know that the University of Wisconsin, Madison has for the past two years presented a series of presentations they’ve billed as animal research ethics public forums. They haven’t come close to meeting their stated goals. See "'Forum' Keeps Details Hidden."

Regular readers will also know that the UW-Madison has hired a vivisector from Wake Forest University whose work is based on the crushing results of depriving baby monkeys of love and maternal contact.

These two situations present an opportunity. If the university is genuinely interested in engaging the public in discussion about its use of animals, particularly monkeys, then what better vehicle for doing so could there be than a discussion about the resumption of the most controversial and written about experimental method ever used at the university?

To that end, I recommended to the “Ethics Forum” committee that they ask Allyson Joy Bennett to debate me. This was a reasonable request because I have organized many public discussions in Madison and on campus about the use of animals and have been invited to participate in public discussions on this topic organized by others. I have twice debated the UW Research Animal Resource Center’s Director, Eric Sandgren; I have appeared on a televised panel with him and Waisman Brain Imaging Center Director Richard Davidson; I have debated Ophthalmology Department Chair Paul Kaufman twice, I have spoken in classes and have been on a number of panels on the campus to present the animal rights side of the on-going societal debate about the ethics of using of animals in research.

A debate between Dr. Bennett and me is reasonable too, because Allyson Joy Bennett is a member of a small organized group of vivisectors and animal lab technicians called Speaking of Research. Speaking of Research claims to encourage vivisectors to engage the public in discussions about the use of animals and to defend against efforts by people like me who argue that using animals in science is almost always evil and immoral.

It seems natural that someone with such an organization would relish the opportunity to take me to task. Particularly so given the very large audiences past debates I participated in at the university have attracted.

But, she said no; she isn’t ready. She said that she couldn’t speak in public about her work because she is not yet tenured. (So much for academic freedom.)

She does though, feel comfortable writing PR pieces for her group’s website.

Bennett argues on that site, that research using animals isn’t secretive; that it’s easy to find out what’s going on, that it’s a well-regulated industry, and then provides what she seems to imply is good evidence for her claims (nearly all of which are silly.) Read it here:

Animal Research in the Public Eye
Posted on the Speaking website May 22, 2012

Let me take just a moment to point out that she starts off with matter-of-fact propaganda in her list of examples here:
What are the sources of information about animal research that are freely available to the public? Among them are:

Websites of research institutions, scientists, scientific societies, government agencies, advocacy organizations, educational organizations, laboratory animal research associations, and medical charities.
The first link (I'll leave to readers to follow the others she provides) is to a PR page for the Oregon National Primate Research Center. This is the image visitors are presented with:Such an image is obviously misleading. It seems reasonable to imagine that most people visiting that page, titled: "Caring for Our Animals," might have done so because -- for any number of reasons -- they wonder about the care of the monkeys being used in those labs. Why didn't they have a photo of a monkey dying from SIV or being used in an experiment? Why aren't any such images on that website? Why isn't there an image like this: The answer seems obvious. They don't really want to talk about what they do.

My impression that the industry is very secretive is one that is very widely shared by those who have tried to find out what's really going on inside. An article in the May/June Harvard Magazine about the many problems with animal care at the New England National Primate Research Center (a sister facility of Wisconsin's and Oregon's) noted that: "Animal research is extremely sensitive; institutions are typically secretive about operations at primate centers...".

Essentially, all the evidence for openness cited by Bennett is propaganda, and I don't think even a moderately critical thinker would think otherwise. If this is all the evidence she has to prove that animals are well-cared for: websites produced by people and organizations with deep vested financial interests in the continuation of animal experimentation, it's no wonder she doesn't want to talk about her work in public with me.

Speaking of research? Not so much.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Risks. Chapter 5

The Risks of Empathy, a Novella

Chapter 5

Working in Yu’s laboratory had opened many doors for Karen. Yu’s prestige attracted some of the top biomedical scientists to the Enzyme Interaction Institute and they all came occasionally to Yu for advice. Karen was able to tag along as Dr. Yu toured the various labs, and she learned much about the experiments taking place at Enzyme.

In one lab they were trying to transplant dog kidneys into baboons, and in another, they were trying to transplant baboon kidneys into dogs. Years ago, Karen knew, massive investigation had gone into trying to transplant pig organs into monkeys and that those experiments had always been disastrous failures. She had always imagined that the Diggins Adjustment had ended xeno-transplantation experiments.

In another lab, scientists were using cats to study the way heroin slowed a cat's iris' reaction to sudden bright light. In anther lab, mice were being bred with novel genetic deformities and their abilities to navigate mazes to find food and avoid electro-shock documented and analyzed.

Once, while assisting Dr. Yu kill guinea pigs, Karen had unthinkingly asked, “Dr. Yu? Why are we studying dog and baboon kidney transplants now? My uncle injured a kidney in a football accident when he was in high school, and they just cloned a new one for him from his own kidney.”

Karen was startled by Yu’s abrupt response. “Science does not have to have a reason! We study! We Learn! We are scientists!”

Karen had never seen the usually quiet researcher react so spontaneously. She recognized that she had struck a sensitive nerve and was thankful she had not asked why his lab was comparing the ratios of neurons to muscle fibers in hamster and guinea pig thigh muscles. Karen thought Yu was even quieter and more distant during the following few days.


She was falling at about 120 mph at almost two miles above the earth. The wind against her felt like water and she could move through it like she was body surfing in Hawaiian waves. It was as if she could see forever -- even the curvature of the earth was discernable. At twelve hundred feet she pulled the ripcord and the red and blue paraglider inflated behind her slowing her descent as she soared silently over the Grand Canyon peering down at the rapids and an occasional group of deer.

She glided gracefully in and landed with barely a stumble.

The man in the dark sweater appeared again and said, “If you would like to paraglide over the Grand Canyon again, press replay.”


It was the sweetheart deal of all time. Richard Selling had pocketed a cool $100 billion and had acquired the contract for broadcasting the TEs. He had immediately sent people all over the world with the experience recorders and was producing ten to twenty new experiences a month for broadcast. His deal with the government gave him a commission for each new experience Selling Inc. made available. They didn’t seem to care what it was. Because it was virtual, once recorded, no one felt much moral compunction about the experiences they were having. There seemed though, to be high demand for them all, whether sexual, athletic, or even culinary. There was even a demand for entirely cerebral experiences. One of Selling’s agents had gotten the idea to have a mathematician record the experience of solving an especially complex equation. The thrill and understanding of the beauty of the math had never been accessible to the general public. But now, people, albeit a relatively small portion of the entire experiencing public, were actually able to understand and feel what a deep insight into mathematics was actually like. Selling himself found these inner mental and emotional experiences to be quite moving.

An especially popular series was “Falling in Love”. Young adults had been asked to wear the recorders for a period of months. The payoff had come when a few had become infatuated with someone else. The experience of falling in love seemed to be as popular as any that Selling was offering and they continually got requests for more of the series.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Risks. Chapter 4.

The Risks of Empathy, A Novela

Chapter 4

Sarah had prepared a lovely dinner of full-fatted pork loins with her special bacon and cream gravy. The dessert, the richest chocolate mousse made with the thickest cream available, was chilling in the refrigerator.

“Honey! It’s time to eat! Tell the kids to put their videos away now.”

Sarah’s husband stepped into the dining room with the cigar smoke following him into the room like a cloud of exhaust follows a semi. “Ah Sarah, do we have to eat at the table? It is Saturday, and the kids are really having fun with their new TEs. Heck, I’m havin’ fun too. Can’t we just eat and play with the TEs at the same time?”

Sarah looked at the set table and realized that she probably was going to have to give in.

“Well, but you have to promise that we can eat like a real family tomorrow then. I want to make the veal and lard patties that I saw on that cooking show yesterday.”

“Sure Honey, it is Saturday after all.”


Rita stepped into the hall of her apartment building and didn’t notice the old urine smell and the shouts coming from this and that apartment. So many years of living in a rundown hellhole had dulled her sensory organs to the din and olfactory assaults. She made it to the ninth floor and unlocked the graffiti covered door to number 908. The number was not really discernible any longer, but it didn’t matter because she never had guests who might need to find the apartment number anyway. She stepped though the doorway and quickly locked the three dead bolts and latched the three security chains. That done, she relaxed imperceptibly and walked into the kitchen of her small efficiency which was really little more than a sink, hot plate, and small refrigerator.

Cold beer in hand, Rita made her way over to the very worn and stained recliner that might have once been red, but was now decidedly worn brick, and settled into the seat that conformed perfectly to her after three decades of breaking in. She looked at the TE sitting on her coffee table and wondered for the thousandth time, just what the government was up to by giving these things away. The brief directions that had come along with the damn thing had explained that the battery in it was good for at least a year and could be replaced free of charge at any U.S. Post Office. Free! Humph! Rita had never seen anything free in her very long life and wasn’t about to start believing in fairies quite yet.

Down at the bar, it seemed like the damn things were all that everyone was talking about. “Did you get yours?” “Have you tried it out?” “Did you try the skiing program? Or the Paris trip? Or the sex show?” it was all anyone could talk about alright, but, noticed Rita, they were all still alive, hell, maybe even a little more alive that she could remember them being in a goodly long time. They didn’t seem to be getting sick or acting like zombies or anything….

The TE worked simply enough. Selling Inc. engineers had refined the original version so that now all there was to it was a very light hairnet. No wires attached the net to the black plastic control box, which was itself about the size of a pack of cigarettes. There was an LED tuner that worked just like a radio tuner. “Channels” or “programs” as Rita had learned from the barroom chatter were transmitted exactly like radio. Only instead of listening to a song, you now experienced something that seemed real. Rita was still suspicious, but she was also very bored. She put the net on her head, and with more than just a little apprehension, she pressed the power button.

An attractive man in a dark sweater and light slacks was suddenly standing about five feet away from Rita. He had his hands up, palms outward in the universal “I mean you no harm” gesture.

“Don’t be alarmed. I’m not real. If at any time you get nervous simply press the power butto..”

And he was gone. Just like that. Rita had almost peed when the man appeared and was shaken by how real he had seemed. She pressed the power button again.

The attractive man appeared exactly as he had first appeared. He had his hands up, palms outward in the universal “I mean you no harm” gesture.

“Don’t be alarmed. I’m not real. If at any time you get nervous simply press the power button and the Total Experience will stop immediately. This is an introduction to the Selling Total Experience, if at any time you would like to skip this introduction simply tune to a new channel. The tuner automatically starts at the beginning of a program, so you will always be able to have a Total Experience.”

He blathered on and on and Rita soon found herself getting a little bored with his prattle, in spite of the novelty of him seeming to actually be in the room with her and his good looks. Then, something caught her attention.

“The Total Experience is not like watching a movie or high definition TV. If it were what you are seeing now might be as much as you could expect. When you tune to the Total Experience experiences you will feel as if you are experiencing an actual event. Remember, this is not real and you can always turn off the power. We recommend that you use the Selling Total Experience only when seated in a comfortable and preferably soft chair or from the safety of your bed. Selling Inc. will not be held liable due to accidents associated with this devise under special agreement with the United States government. Happy Experiencing!

The attractive man appeared exactly as he had first appeared. He had his hands up, palms outward in the universal “I mean you no harm” gesture. “Don’t be alarmed. I’m not real. If at any time you get nervous simply press the power button and the Total Experience will stop immediately. This is an introduction to the Selling Total Experience, if at any time you would like to…”

And he was gone again as Rita shut the thing off.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Good Psychology Research Topic

I've wondered before about the mental characteristics of vivisectors. See for instance: Vivisectionists' disease. The quote below fits pretty neatly with my impressions.
In some children, C.U. [callous-unemotional] traits manifest in obvious ways. Paul Frick, a psychologist at the University of New Orleans who has studied risk factors for psychopathy in children for two decades, described one boy who used a knife to cut off the tail of the family cat bit by bit, over a period of weeks. The boy was proud of the serial amputations, which his parents initially failed to notice. “When we talked about it, he was very straightforward,” Frick recalls. “He said: ‘I want to be a scientist, and I was experimenting. I wanted to see how the cat would react.’”(Can You Call a 9-Year-Old a Psychopath? Jennifer Kahn. New York Times Magazine. May 11, 2012
I don't think most vivisectors would participate in a study of psychological trends in their population, but it'd be worthwhile for someone to attempt the study nevertheless. Maybe some sort of enticement could be used to attract participants; maybe undergrads intending to pursue a career involving experimentation on animals could be used as subjects.

Risks. Chapter 3

The Risks of Empathy, A Novella

Chapter 3

Karen was more excited than she had been in weeks. She had cleaned more hamster and guinea pig cages than she had imagined even existed. That morning, on the magnetic white duty board, she had seen her name stuck in a new location: Dr. Yu’s assistant.

In the laboratory she prepared everything just as she had been taught at the university. She had the gleaming sterile instruments all prepared on the pale green plastic tray and the four tubs of research animals: two hamsters and two guinea pigs, on the cart next to the laboratory table.

Dr. Yu came in wearing a crisply starched white lab coat and latex gloves. His dark hair was combed straight back and seemed covered in some sort of grease. He seemed momentarily surprised by Karen’s presence. She thought he must have forgotten that she had been assigned to assist him, or maybe he had not been told. Yu mumbled something, looked around at Karen’s preparations and seemed satisfied. He turned his attention to the tubs and chose one of the small ones first. Yu popped the blue top off and reached in with one motion. Karen was startled at how quickly he broke the hamster’s neck. Almost before it had quit quivering Yu had cut out a small portion of its thigh and placed it into one of the vials Karen had standing by. In less than five minutes Yu had performed the same procedure on the other hamster and the two guinea pigs.

Karen loved science.


A little over a year after their breakthrough Stan and Earnie’s cerebral transmitter had evolved and been repackaged by the global marketing giant Selling Inc. Selling’s production team had learned that the experiences one had when "plugged in" seemed absolutely real. Volunteers who had watched downhill skiing recordings had broken legs and arms when the person skiing and recording their experience had fallen.


Harry sat on the edge of his bed with his head in his hands. He noticed the darkly stained sheet covering the sagging mattress and wondered idly to himself how long it had been since he had put fresh linen on the bed. Years he figured. “Happy fuckin’ birthday,” he thought to himself. He had turned ninety-eight last night, and as far as he could tell he was going to be around for a very long time. The thought of the endless days of work ahead of him encouraged him to pick up the can on the bedside table and down the stale dregs of last night’s last beer. Harry rose from the bed, walked over to the window and looked out on the gray sky, gray skyline, and gray skyscrapers blocking his view of endlessly more gray buildings. He put his hand down the front of his stained Jockey’s and absently held his penis and testicles. It was Tuesday at 11:00 AM. It was his regular day off. He wondered what he would do to kill the day and walked over to the purring refrigerator for a fresh cold one. And, as luck would have it, there was only one left. Harry popped the tab and downed it in a single gulp. Oh well, the trip to the store would get him out of the apartment.


Dr. Robert sat across from the couple and tried to guess their ages, though he realized it was an impossible task in this day and age. But she appeared to be mid-thirties maybe and him just a little older.

“How old are you two?” An impolite question in recent years but one a doctor could still get away with.

“Sharon’s one forty something doc, and I’m pushing two hundred. How old are you?” the man asked, tit for tat.

”Well, I don’t know if that’s…”

“Look, you asked us, so what’s fair’s fair,” the man snapped back.

Dr. Robert sat for a moment, “I’m one fifty-two.”

“OK then, you can see what we’re sayin’. We don’t want our kid to get Adjusted. We want to have her at home and let her get to grow old and die.”

“You know that’s illegal? I could lose my license if someone found out and reported me. I’m supposed to report you just for asking, you know.”

“Look doc, we came here because someone said you were a good guy and could be trusted. If we got it wrong you can just say we never came in.” The man took his hand off his wife’s still shapely stomach and said, “Let’s get out of here Sharon.”

“No, wait, I’ll help you. I just have to be so careful. I hope you can understand.”

The man settled back down and seemed to shed a few years from his countenance.

“Let’s get you on the table for an exam, Sharon.”


Richard Selling sat across the gleaming walnut conference table from the Secretary of Commerce and wondered to himself just what the feds were actually willing to pay.

“As I mentioned earlier Mr. Selling, our top experts feel that if more people had access to your Total Experience device that there would be far fewer jumpers and ‘accidental’ car and train accidents.” He leaned heavily on ‘accidental’.

“How many is ‘more’ Mr. Secretary? We are in full production now and can barely keep them on the shelves.”

“Yes, well, we think, um, well, everyone should have one.”

“We think so too Mr. Secretary, and we are hoping to increase production by opening a new plant next year.” He could see from the Secretary’s expression that he might have missed the point. “Did you mean, literally, everyone?”

“Well, um, well, say everyone over fifty?”

Selling did some quick mental math. “Mr. Secretary we don’t even begin to have that sort of production capability at the moment…”

“No, no, you misunderstand our proposition. You see, we do have the resources. We want to, well, um, yes, license the product and would be willing to pay some fair amount per unit. We, um, well, I have been authorized to offer you, say, one hundred dollars per unit,” he lied.

“We are selling them now for two thousand a pop, why would we…?”

“I’m sorry for not making our position a bit more clear. We are talking about a, well, um, yes, well, a lump sum payment.”

“A lump sum payment?” More mental math. “But people turn fifty every day and you said…”

“Yes, well, um, we, uh, our experts tell us that we can expect eight hundred million people to be over the age of fifty within the next ten years. So, um, well, er, how does eighty billion dollars sound? Does that seem fair? We really have to do something about all the suicides we think. Our experts tell us that the strains on the system will be just too great if …” he shut up quickly, realizing that had rambled on in exactly the way he had wished to avoid.

Selling sat enthralled. The government had just offered to cut him an eighty billion dollar check. “My god,” he thought to himself, "they must really think there is a real problem. He had known that the feds had been keeping the number of suicides under-reported, but this suggested that they were keeping them seriously hushed up. He knew he had them.

“Make it one hundred even and you’ve got yourself a deal, Mr. Secretary.”

“You are a true patriot Mr. Selling. The country owes you a real debt of gratitude.” He was secretly quite pleased with himself; he had been authorized to go to one thousand each.

Friday, May 11, 2012



Maternal deprivation -- crushing a monkey’s spirit by raising him or her without a nurturing caregiver -- was invented and promoted by UW-Madison’s Harry Harlow and his students in the 1970s and 80s. Harlow’s experiments with maternal deprivation are widely acknowledged as being profoundly cruel.

Now, well into the twenty-first century, UW-Madison has again embraced the use of Harry Harlow’s cruel and controversial methods.

Recently hired experimental psychologist Alyson Joy Bennett has close professional ties to Harlow’s protégé Stephen Suomi, advocate of the infamous “Pit of Despair” – a device for keeping baby monkeys in profound isolation. Bennett maternally deprives monkeys and then uses them as her research subjects.

Monkeys experiencing these “deleterious early rearing experiences” have abnormally high levels of anxiety and stay huddled in place. They have pronounced cognitive and motor deficits. Emotional problems associated with this rearing method persist into adulthood.

Another UW-Madison researcher, Affiliate Scientist at the Harlow Primate Laboratory, Ned Kalin, has requested permission to take his decades-long monkey fear experiments even further by frightening young maternally deprived monkeys.

This is a giant moral step backwards and a challenge to public sentiments and mores. The UW Madison may have hired Dr. Bennett with the expectation that her research methods would spark public controversy. Maybe they hoped other UW scientists like Kalin would again embrace Harlow’s cruel methods.

Bennett is a leader of Speaking of Research, a group started to "take on animal rights groups" (SourceWatch). She is an outspoken defender of all experimental use of animals – and understandably so given the line of research she has chosen as her specialty.

The Alliance for Animals is asking its members and compassionate people around the world to speak out against this revival of Harry Harlow’s cruel methods by calling and writing Dr. Robert Streiffer, Chair of the university oversight committee responsible for approving these experiments, and urging him to stop them.

For Dr. Streiffer’s contact information and much more detail see:

Thursday, May 10, 2012

It's Just a Matter of Principle

It's really hard to fact check when the facts are intentionally hidden. Errors and mistakes are inevitable in such cases; they come with the territory when one writes about the use of animals in laboratories, even so-called public university labs.

But when the facts aren't being intentionally hidden, fact-checking ought to be something everyone who voices an opinion should do. Of course, in the case of UW-Madison primate vivisectors, the facts hardly matter.

You may be unaware of a legal battle going on right now in Israel over the export of monkeys from the Mazor Primate Breeding Farm to SNBL (Shin Nippon Biomedical Laboratories, Ltd.) a gigantic monkey lab in Washington state.

Israeli law allows the exportation of wild-caught monkeys for biomedical research only in certain cases. See 'Export of 90 monkeys to US legally problematic' JOANNA PARASZCZUK. The Jerusalem Post. 04/04/2012.

Product testing isn't one of the approved reasons for allowing export. SNBL is a contract testing lab -- they'll test anything on a monkey for a price. At the hub of the case is the question of what SNBL intends to do with them, and SNBL won't say.

In spite of this obvious problem, two vivisectors from UW-Madison's National Primate Research Center have urged Israel to ship this group of monkeys to SNBL no matter what might be done to them. They suppose that SNBL will kill them for a good reason, but they, like everyone else, have no idea what would be done to them.

See this: 'They would wince, scream, tremble and shake': U.S. lab investigated for horrific abuse of test monkeys. By Rachel Quigley. The Daily Mail. December 2011.

To the UW vivisectors, it's just a matter of principle: poisoning and killing monkeys ought not be limited in any way -- even if no one knows what will be done to them or why. Read their letters here.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Risks. Chapter 2

The Risks of Empathy, A Novella

Chapter 2

Harry Mahoney massaged his temples with his right hand and held a paper cup of stale coffee in his left. He felt old, and well he should have, for although he looked like he was about fifty, Harry was ninety-six years old. He had been called out this evening and taken away from a nice dream about kids and the lake he and his parents had visited so many years ago. But now he stood at the base of the old McGreggor Building at the corner of Main and Second. There didn’t seem to be much left of the jumper. The twenty-two-story drop had splashed her for half a block. The roads were slick from the oily wet mist that seemed to hang over the city these days and a trickle of water ran down the back of Harry’s neck.

“Why the hell do they even call us for jumpers anymore?” he asked to no one in particular.

The paramedic with the squeegee looked at him and just shrugged.

Harry signed something for the medic and turned and walked away tossing the mostly empty coffee cup into the gutter along with the rest of the garbage. He had seen four jumpers this week.

Harry looked up at a clock on a building: a little after three. No point in going back to bed; by the time he got home it would almost be time to get up. Harry glanced up and down the street and saw the dim neon sign: Jim’s Lounge.

Walking through the door Harry stepped into a small dark smoky bar with the odor of old plastic, old beer, and old urine combining to create a comfortable womb-like haven. Harry settled into a booth and noticed through the haze that half a dozen other people were seated around the room. The bartender came over and tossed down a coaster and took Harry’s order for an Old Crow highball. What the hell, the day was going to be a long one anyway.

A woman walked up and sat down across from Harry in the booth.

“Startin’ early aren’t ya?” she inquired.

Harry looked at her with the practiced eye of seventy years as a detective. She was small and had a dark mustache that belied the blond of her wig. Her nails were painted a dark blue that failed to entirely hide the dirt under her nails. She smiled at Harry and revealed teeth that had not been brushed in a very long time.

“Buy a girl a drink?”

Harry motioned for the barkeep and she ordered a Pink Lady.

“Name’s Rita. I haven’t seen you in here before?” Rita looked at Harry with veiled interest.

“No, I was on the way home. It’s been a long night. I was called to investigate the jumper down the street. Maybe you heard the sirens.”

“Yeah, I heard them. You a cop or something?”

“Detective Mahoney. Call me Harry.”

“Was it a man or a woman?” asked Rita. “I got a theory that it’s mostly women jumpin’.”

“A woman; what’s your theory?”

“Well Harry, it goes something like this: You might not believe it to look at me, and I know it ain’t polite to say, but I’m a hundred and ten fucking years old and I’m damn tired.”

Harry knew what she was getting at and nodded; he was tired too.

“Well, what’s the fuckin’ point anyway? If I live to be two hundred god-damned years old, I mean what’s the fuckin’ point? See, I think women get it better than men. Men always think that if they just try hard enough, or maybe get the right fuckin’ breaks that they can fix any god damned problem that comes up.”

“Maybe you could find something interesting to take up your time,” began Harry, but Rita cut him off.

“That’s what I’m fuckin’n talkin’ about. I tell you about a problem and you think you got the answer, but you’re full of shit.”

Harry was beginning to realize that Rita had been drinking long before he came in. Alcoholism didn’t really matter any more; you couldn’t tell people they were hurting themselves - sclerosis was one of those ancient concerns like cancer or AIDS. He couldn’t even suggest that she see a priest; churches had disappeared as new bars opened. It seemed people didn’t really care too much about salvation any more in a world where death and disease had been essentially beaten.

Harry stood up and laid a fin on the dark oily tabletop. “Have another on me,” he said as he put his hat back on and headed towards the door.

“Right,” Rita said as he stepped out the door, “like you got somewhere to go and something to do that matters.”