Saturday, February 13, 2016

Pantai Kasih and Literary Study in Malaysian High Schools

"It is there, where they burn books, that eventually they burn people."

Heinrich Heine

Contain some spoilers for the Harry Potter books.

I am reminded of the uproar I lived through over the Harry Potter books back at the height of their popularity. Predictably, due to witchcraft being an integral element of the series, many folks who are antsy around words like "witch", such as fundamentalist Christians (and Muslims), wanted nothing to do with The Boy Who Lived™ and even sought to ban it from school and library for fear that the books would lead children into ungodly practices of magic. I remember back when I was doing my A-level, I had a coursemate whose parents - strict Christians - forbade her to read any Harry Potter books even though they have not even read the books themselves to see if the writings are as detestable as they were led to believe by their pastor. But that's par for the course: people often complain about things they do have not the slightest clue about.

Now, I want to talk about another similarly controversial, though far less famous book that is facing a similar situation in Malaysia,

The cover art is very reminiscent of the illustrations of school textbooks I used to have.

What it is? Well, it's a novel called Pantai Kasih (Care Beach or Love Beach) by Azmah Nordin. It is the designated reading material for the literary study component of the subject of Malay language for Form 4 students in Malaysian secondary schools.

What's wrong with it? Basically, many people, from teachers to parents to mullahs clutched their pearls and clucked about how it is an inappropriate novel to expose our 16 year old students to because of its "lewd" content and purported "lack of literary merits". They are clamouring for the Ministry of Education to select a more suitable work to put in its stead.

Now, I have not read the novel in question (and I dare wager, neither did most of its detractors). Yet, most people felt that they have formed sufficiently informed opinions on it after reading a passage from Pantai Kasih which have been widely circulated on social media,

Pantai Kasih passage
My eyes!

The offending bit seems to be that paragraph the finger in the picture is pointing to, and translated to English, it goes something like,

It cannot be held back - Doctor Sadiz was unable to control his lust any longer. Raiha became the victim of his rapacity. Without any design or willingness on Raiha's part, Doktor's Sadiz's genetically 'unique' cells made its way into Raiha's body. Those 'special' cells then swam to meet and united with her healthy, fertile ovum in her womb. A zygote was created and it develops in its process of growth, month to month - a process taking place within Raiha's belly.

I was never particularly proficient in Malay but you get the idea. The passage described a sexual act - a non-consensual one - followed by the act of ejaculation. It then became almost clinical in its very brief birds-and-bees description of how babies form.

Now, all caught up? I confess that that's all I know about the novel in question so far. Even knowing so little, I feel confident in challenging the view that Pantai Kasih is devoid literary saving graces.

Firstly, in my opinion, any book no matter how deplorable or detestable has literary value. I would say that even about Mein Kampf or the Holy Bible. The whole point of literary study is to learn how to engage with literature; how to consume it, interpret it, critique it, and understand its relevance to the greater culture around it.

Yes, there is passage in Pantai Kasih in which a character was raped by another but let's discuss that. Rape, I find, is a recurring motif in Malay romance fiction. Take for example the popular local drama film Ombak Rindu (itself adapted from a novel by Fauziah Ashari): it was billed as a hard-won romance between a man and a woman, but in actuality the male protagonist (Hariz) is a rapist who raped the heroine (Izzah), a pious woman sold into prostitution by her uncle, while she was unconscious. She was then bought and kept as a sex slave by him, and must fulfill his sexual needs whenever he wishes it. She fell in love with him and married him eventually.

Another popular Malay novel-turn-TV show in Malaysia is The Wedding Breaker by Evelyn Rose in which Ariana Rose (the female protagonist) - at the behest of Tengku Juwita - pretended to carry the child of Tengku Adam Kamil (the male love interest) in order to break up his engagement with Tengku Juwita, who did not want to marry Adam. In retaliation, Tengku Adam raped Ariana Rose. The story ended with Tengku Adam apparently reforming after his pilgrimage to Mecca and marrying his rape victim. This too is portrayed as a love story.

Most Malay consumers of such fiction, even women, readily accepts male protagonists who are rapists (evident from the popularity of such works). This ties into the motif of rape in Pantai Kasih too. There is much to discuss on the prevalence of rape culture in Malay communities and what inculcated it. Rape culture is a concept in feminist theory that describes a setting in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality. In fact, many religious scholars in Malaysia does not even recognise the concept of marital rape, and the Perak Mufti even said last year that women must submit to the sexual desires of their husbands, even on camel-back. We also see regular news about how rape victims are frequently married off to their rapists as a resolution to such tragedies.

From a literary study perspective, the theme of rape in Pantai Kasih has a lot of sociocultural relevance and how a blurring of lines between rape and love do in fact exist in Malay culture.

Also, it seems that the consumption of such salacious and sexually explicit content is quite common amongst Malaysian readers, in spite of how conservative Malay Muslim culture actually is. Are these works simply a form of acceptable outlet for Malays who are compelled to live in such sexually-repressed lives - lives in which outright pornography and premarital sex are prohibited?

Another thing I noticed about the passage from Pantai Kasih is that the lusty rapist's name is Dr Sadiz, which sounded like a meaningful fictive name. Authors frequently give names to characters which describes said character, or names which hold some hidden significance. One of the most famous examples in contemporary literature is Lord Voldermort, whose name in French means "flight of death" - alluding to the character's commitment to be immortal. Voldemort may have also been inspired by Edgar Allan Poe's M. Valdemar (The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar), a character who also similarly returned from apparent death. Additionally, Lord Voldemort is an anagram of Tom Marvolo Riddle, his real name. Pretty much every character that J. K. Rowling created has a meaningful name.

Dr Sadiz calls to mind the Malay word "sadis" - a loan-concept drawn directly from the English word "sadist" (someone who enjoys inflicting pain on others, sometimes in a sexual sense). The word sadist itself has its etymological root in the name Marquis de Sade, a French aristocrat famous for mistreating women in cruel, unusual and sexual ways.

See? Even Pantai Kasih can provide very relevant and compelling literary lessons in the hands of someone who knows how to approach literature. And that's how you deal with books - you analyse them, not ban them. Sanctimonious puritanical teachers, parents and religious authorities take note.

P.S. Luckily, it seemed like the Ministry of Education is sticking to their guns and is keeping the book in schools.

A rapacious devourer of books,
k0k s3n w4i

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Proof of Najib's Guilt?

"There's letters seal'd, and my two schoolfellows,
Whom I will trust as I will adders fang'd—
They bear the mandate, they must sweep my way
And marshal me to knavery.
Let it work; For 'tis the sport to have the enginer
Hoist with his own petard, an't shall go hard
But I will delve one yard below their mines
And blow them at the moon."

Hamlet (1603) Act 3, scene 4, 202–209
by William Shakespeare

I think this is as clear as day. Najib is guilty. My certainty of it is as strong as the Muslim's faith in the words of Muhammad and the Christian's faith in Jesus' divinity. Why?

Let's pretend for a moment you are Mr Najib Razak, premier of Malaysia. You are political royalty. Your wife has big hair. You once held on to RM2.6 billion of donation money in your own private bank account. What would you do?

You'd foresee that your political enemies may one day question this insanely huge amount of money to throw aspersion on your character, so you'd make damn sure you have proof to produce one day to show that you in fact received that amount of money in good faith.

You'd make sure that every last one your associates know about this money that was pumped into your political coalition. The deputy president of your party should definitely be informed about it so he would not appear in the media now saying that he had no inkling whatsoever previously regarding that RM2.6 billion. In a leaked video no less.

In fact, to be absolutely in the clear, you'd place the money in the hands of trustees, and not in your own private account in the first place - but forget it, that ship had sailed and sunk.
Now fast forward to 2015, The Wall Street Journal, The Edge, Sarawak Report, every newspaper you don't control and their dog are questioning you about this RM2.6b honest donation that sat in your private account. What would you do?

The first thing you'd do is just come clean, say it's a donation from day one. If you are innocent, the truth can only help you, right?

Najib Aliens

Now, what wouldn't you do?

For starters, you wouldn't interfere with the investigation AT ALL. You wouldn't want to touch it with a 10 foot pole. You want it to appear as legitimate as possible to prove your innocence.

You would not reshuffle your cabinet.

You wouldn't promote 4 members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) who were investigating your case to ministerial positions, one week before they start meeting a few of the former Chief Executive Officers of 1MDB to delay or obstruct their process in proving your innocence. In fact, never in the history of the PAC was so many of its members elevated to governmental positions at the same time. It's really bad timing to do something so unprecedented that calls attention to the act itself.

You wouldn't fire your Attorney-General (A-G) a couple of months before his retirement for "health reasons" so suddenly that even he was taken by surprise and expressed that surprise to the press.

If you are innocent, this series of moves at this juncture in time would make you look very, very guilty. If you are innocent, why are you sabotaging yourself so completely?

This is why I feel Najib effectively confessed that he is guilty. I really wrinkled my brain but I can't think of any sane, rational reason why Najib would do the things he did if he is really innocent. Ask yourself, what would you have done in his shoes if you are really innocent?

He is either corrupt or the stupidest man in Malaysia. Either way, he has no business running this country.

A creature of logic,

k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Won't Someone Think of the Children?

"If you still say 'It's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve' as an argument against gay marriage you need to Adam and leave."


There is a particularly deplorable kind of anti-gay argument that keeps popping up whenever same sex marriage is discussed. I call it the "Won't someone think of the children?" appeal to emotions. Basically, the argument is this: the natural arrangement of parenthood is that there should be a male role model and a female role model to aid in a child's growth. Some might even argue that children should have an inviolate RIGHT to one male and one female parent, and that we are somehow selfish or cruel to deprive them of this by advocating for marriage equality.

Anti Gay
And if you ask children what they need, some might even say "triceratops".

Firstly, there is a very contentious claim that the above arguments are predicated upon i.e. gay parents are inherently inferior to heterosexual parents. In what way are they inferior? We are not sure. Claiming that the best parental arrangement is one with a man and a woman in it (and therefore gay marriage is bad) is essentially circular logic. It's a bit like saying that apples are bad because they aren't oranges; because oranges are better than apples; because oranges are totally the best damn fruits in the universe. Aside from that fatal logical flaw, it is also a complete bald-faced lie. A review published last month which looked at 19,000 studies related to same-sex parenting from 1977 to 2013 finds an "overwhelming" consensus that there are no difference in children raised by same-sex or different-sex parents.

And you know what? There are studies which show that gay parents might even be superior to heterosexual parents, statistically speaking. It makes sense if you think about it (and if you actually own a brain in working condition with which to do so): gay parents consciously and purposefully choose to be parents because all avenues available to them, whether they achieve it through adoption, surrogate mothers or donor sperm, necessitates deliberation. I would also imagine that gays who want kids tend to be higher on the social ladder and are already in committed relationships. Meanwhile, it is entirely possible for teenage, non-committal heterosexuals to accidentally produce new life (and they do so very frequently, I must say), thus opening the can to sadly unwanted children being bestowed upon woefully unprepared parents. In case it is still not made abundantly clear, being straight doesn't automatically confer one with adequate parenting skills and if this is news to you, you might possibly be an idiot.

Secondly, this "Won't someone think of the children?!" argument assumes that the only conceivable reason anyone has for marrying is to create teeny, tiny, stickier, less potty-trained versions of themselves. In fact, a anti-gay-parenting gay man went as far as to argue that marriage's purpose is not because of love but rather, it's for the regulation of reproduction. Ipso facto, gays shouldn't marry. But even if we treat marriages as purely loveless social contracts with the state, there are still literally more than a thousand reasons for anyone to get legally hitched including tax benefits, family leave from work, visitation and health care proxy rights in hospitals, immigration purposes, joint insurance, and inheritance in absence of a will. So, if you are against gay marriage, you are spitefully denying a gay person from having all these rights your selfishly enjoy.

Besides, if the inability to reproduce disqualifies one from marrying, then why do we allow infertile or sterile, or even menopausal individuals to marry then?

Thirdly, same-sex couples are about 3 times as likely as opposite-sex couples to adopt. To say that gays cannot be good parents is to say that they shouldn't raise children, even adopted ones who were abandoned by their biological parents. I mean, more gay parents means that more unloved, unwanted children will find a home, right? What is wrong with that? By this fact alone, I am convinced that the anti-gay-marriage people who exhorts us most strongly to think about the children are the ones who give the least thought to children of all. It seems to me that people who opposes same-sex parenting would rather children be raised in orphanages rather than in a family with two loving, doting parents. They only care about children as far as they can exploit them in rhetorics to fight gay marriage and gay parenting, and I find that to be a particularly vile brand of hypocrisy. What they are actively doing undermines the hope of children for better lives, all while they pretend to be concerned for them.

So, really, who are the real abominations here?

P.S. No, I'm not going to put a rainbow filter on my display picture. I daresay I did a wee bit more than that.

Thought about the children,

k0k s3n w4i

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

High Horses Are Meat Too, Vegans, So Stop Riding Them to Death

"In the strict scientific sense we all feed on death - even vegetarians."

Mr. Spock

For the longest time, more out of pure laziness than any other excuse, I have taken the word of a vegan acquaintance of mine and assumed that veganism is very much better for the environment than eating meat. At first blush, the maths do check out - farm animals belong to a higher trophic level & them smelly cows do fart a lot - so logically, meat production necessitates a higher burden on our resources than, for example, the humble workaday cabbage. The full vegan pitch is far longer and far more irritating, but that's really not my job to present it - or at least, it isn't anymore. While I lack the resolve to commit myself (and my family) to a vegan diet, I do try however to be mindful of the amount of delicious flesh I consume everyday and visit a local vegetarian joint semi-regularly. Whenever the topic of veganism and sustainability comes up, I just repeat what I learned from that vegan acquaintance of mine and shared much of the same references he shared with me. I recognise that I am holding out because bacon is fucking delicious of selfish reasons but I am all for more people embracing veganism if they are willing to take the plunge - though admittedly, I cannot reliably quantify the carbon footprint that will result from the combined annoyance experienced by us omnivores with the population surge of even more vegan prats, so there's that caveat.

Anyway, I have no cause to question what my herbivorous friend had told me (for years) until that same friend confronted me again regarding my choice to stick with a omnivore's diet this week on Twitter. Now, I am aware of the backfire effect - people confronted about their beliefs tended to dig in and double down rather than change their minds - and I am sure that that is precisely what occurred to me as that vegan friend prattled on and on about what a irresponsible jerk I am for not giving up meat.

However, in the process of backfiring and digging my trenches, I was forced to unearth and re-examine a lot of "facts" I had taken for granted and parroted in the veganism slash sustainability debates and in the process, I learned, for one thing, more about how alarmist vegans are great at cherry-picking stats and numbers to inflate their own contribution and sense of importance to the environment. I told that vegan friend that what he was doing to me was probably futile, given that I already agree with him on his talking points but because he couldn't shut up about how shitty a person I am for enjoying a chicken dinner, I went the extra mile to vindicate my own position. The sum result of all his high-horsing is that I now hold a less favourable position on veganism. Nice job breaking it, vegan.

The reason supplied to me for my tongue lashing from the vegan was because I tweeted a photo of my dinner. In the photo was a cut of chicken katsu I fried up myself. The vegan said,

Trigger Idiot
And it triggered an urge in me to punch him in the teeth. True story.

"Trigger" is a word that is appropriated by the internet from psychiatric language and in my line of work, we usually use it to refer to "trauma triggers" and it is a serious thing. Judging from the vegan's words, I sincerely doubt that he was "triggered" in the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder sense of the word (just as I sincerely doubt he was actually diagnosed with PTSD). Furthermore, I pointed out to him that he is completely surrounded by "triggers" everywhere he goes considering that more than 95% of people eat meat and images of meat permeates the world. He should be a nervous wreck by now if he was genuinely triggered. Way to go in cheapening the experience of shell-shocked veterans and victims of sexual assault.

Speaking of "triggers" (in the annoying internet jackasses sense of the word), I went out of my way and ate a huge slab of sirloin steak last night after having abstained from beef for months - as a reward to myself for having suffered a bout of vegan evangelism. In fact, the last time I ate an honest-to-goodness beef steak was literally years ago. I am not even joking here: all that talk about the unsustainability of beef actually "triggered" me to crave for a medium-rare side of cow which I have been missing.

Here is what I had last night,

Sirloin Steak
"Vegetarian: A person who eats only side dishes." ~Gerald Lieberman

But let's get to the meat of this post, which are mostly things which environmento-vegan rangers tend to gloss over or omit in their guilt-tripping sales pitch, in no particular order:


One of the basic things we can all agree on is that when applied intelligently, mixed farming (crops plus livestock) is the more sustainable model in food production. One very obvious advantage is that manure from the animals can be used to fertilise the plants but according to this report by the USDA,  only a measly 5% fraction of total planted acreage even received manure and it's not because manure is in short supply. In fact, the US is drowning in so much shit that it threatens to be an environmental disaster if handled improperly. Manure is cheaper than commercial synthetic fertiliser, so what gives?

The reason why all that poo doesn't get spread around more is because 52% of harvested crop acres in the US are on farms with no livestock production at all and the cost of transporting that much crap is proving to be a deterrent for most farmers. So, they settled on using synthetic fertilisers. And if vegans have their way, we would end up fertilising 100% of our crops with synthetic fertiliser since they want to to put an end to animal farming.

And what is synthetic fertiliser made out of? Non-renewable resources like natural gas. That's sustainable alright.

The Emission Impact of Farm Animals Versus Plants.

Cows and sheep are flatulent and they fart more than soy and corn. Agreed. But what are the numbers really like, and how do we come to a more nuanced understanding of the issue without resorting to ultimata of utter meat rejection?

Here is a chart on production emissions (including emissions from processing, transportation, et cetera after the food leave the farms) from the EWG,

Okay, what are people doing to potatoes after they leave the farm?

Lamb meat is the greatest offender here, with the production of 39.2 kilos of CO2 per kilo of consumed food with beef winning silver in the agricultural fart Olympics at 27 kilos. The reason why lamb generate so much emissions per kilo is because they produce less edible meat relative to the sheep's live weight - so, aside from putting a stop to lamb chops we should really boycott wool clothing as well. Also, lamb makes up less than 1% of the meat consumed by Americans anyway so giving up sheep-meat isn't going to matter much at all.

You'll notice immediately that after ruminants (hoofed animals with 4-chambered fart-generating stomachs), the emission levels dropped precipitously when we look at other sources of meat protein like pork and chicken. And just eyeballing the chart, you can tell that pork produces about 6 times and chicken about 3 times as much emissions as most plant-based food. Which is still significant, if you ignore the fact that meat is faaar more calorie-dense compared to vegetables and grains. I mean, if you stop eating beef, you can’t replace a kilogram of it (which has 2,280 calories) with a kilogram of broccoli (340 calories). You have to replace it with 6.7 kilograms of broccoli to make up the caloric difference.

So, a fairer and more science-literate comparison would be to look at emissions per 1,000 calories,

Perspective, bitches.

You'll notice right away that tomatoes and broccoli farming actually produce MORE emissions than farmed salmon, pork, chicken, canned tuna, milk, yogurt, cheese and eggs. But do you hear vegans bothering people who eat brocolli and tomatoes? No. Why? Studies showed that it's because they are oversized, wet, flopping hypocrites.

Of course, vegans will moan "What about methane?!" Yes, methane is way worse than CO2 when it comes to comparative impact on climate change.

I prefer chicken anyway.

You can see in the above graph that chicken produces nil enteric methane emissions. That's because physiologically, birds don't need to fart. While I can sort of see the point for abstaining or decreasing beef intake, I don't see any compelling environmental reason to give up poultry at all.

There is a reason why scaremongering documentaries like Cowspiracy place a lot of focus on beef production (aside from embarrassingly bad puns) because ruminant farming is an order of magnitude worse than poultry farming. While it is not outright lying, it is propaganda that downplays the fact that ruminant farming is exceptional in their negative impact on the environment and presenting numbers which look dire on face value, while playing pretendsies that a vegan diet is always better - ignoring the fact that pork and chicken can actually be better choices than some vegetarian alternatives. But of course, he chose to badger me because of my chicken katsu instead of giving his equally insufferable vegan friends friends pain for their marinara gluten-free pasta dinners.

Will my vegan friend give up tomatoes and broccoli and start eating chicken and pork again when faced with this evidence? I don't think so.

Vegan Culture's Obsession with Organic Farming, Fad Superfoods and Fighting GMO's.

There is no hard way to determine just how many vegetarians and vegans buy into organic farming - and how many of them unfairly malign the use of genetically modified organisms (GMO), but one can't help but notice a huge overlap in ideology there if one frequents blogs or pages which advocate plant-centric diets. It makes sense since they generally approach orthorexic levels of finickiness and scrutiny when it comes to what they stuff their faces with.

Organic farming produces about 20 to 30% less yield compared to conventional farming practices. That means that for every 100 kilos of zucchinis we produce through conventional farming practices, we can only produce 70 to 80 organic zucchinis.

Also, GMO use had also lead to higher yields and more sustainable farming practices like decreased reliance on pesticides and yes, prevented 203 million tonnes of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere from less soil disturbance as well. If anything, I think genetically modifying our food organisms will be how we eventually solve the sustainability problem.

And every new "superfood" that these eat-right clowns buy into (quinoa, chia seeds,
açaí berries, goji berries, et cetera) will in turn create demand for these products and thus, cause the opening of more farms to accommodate these specialised crops. Yes, non-vegans do get sucked into these fads as well but these are all technically plant-based food.

Now, my vegan friend may not necessarily buy into organic farming practices (and all its associated woo) and fad diets nor is he against GMO, as far as I know. I bring this up because this is one of those unquantified elements that put into perspective how the vegan movement isn't necessarily as great as they say it is when it comes to sustainability. Individual vegans may even be worse than an average omnivore like me who is pro-GMO, anti-organic farming and gets most of my meat protein from chicken - particularly if that vegan eats a lot of tomatoes and broccoli.

Vegan Evangelism Isn't Going to Work.

I have no doubt that one day in the distant radiant future, humanity will no longer butcher any animal for their food (I am wagering on flawless, sustainable lab grown meat) but until that day arrives, we will be eating our hoofed and beaked friends for many decades or even centuries to come. So, on a pragmatic and practical level, I asked him how successful he is as spreading the Good News about veganism.

His reply was this:

Vegan Knight Templar
In his mind, rousing inspirational music must be playing while a cape billows dramatically behind him.

That tells me that I am dealing with someone who puts ideology above actually focusing on doing what is actually effective.

After much dodging, he later said he had only convinced just 3 or 4 people to adopt veganism in all the years of his "activism". I have no way of knowing if the converts did so due to his highly annoying proselytising or if those 3 or 4 individuals were going to go vegan anyway, but I will generously give him the benefit of the doubt. Still, at a rate of about one conversion a year, he would still have done almost no good at the end of his life, however prolonged he imagine it would be thanks to his vegan diet. He would have annoyed a great many people though.

We also know that throwing evidence in the face of people largely doesn't work, as this study on the effectiveness of vaccination information campaigns suggests (that article even mentions the "backfire effect"). I mean, I already buy the party line that veganism is more sustainable and environmentally-friendly and I still refuse to adopt vegetarianism because it meant that I would have to sacrifice my quality of life. This is a losing battle. I ought to know - I counsel alcoholics and nicotine addicts everyday in my day job. I am technically at the "precontemplation" stage in regards to giving up meat and if I already agree that meat-eating is less sustainable than eating greens, then the right thing to do is to step back and be available if I actually want more information - but instead, this vegan friend's persistence had actually caused me to be less convinced than before.

Likewise, burning fossil fuels is bad but hardly anyone is willing to give up the convenience of modern transportations or electric lights. The solution to that is creating more fuel-efficient cars (or developing equally good electric cars), inventing more energy-saving light bulbs, investing in nuclear power or resorting to renewable energy sources like solar or wind. Doing the equivalent of screaming on street corners with a sandwich board pronouncing the doom of the world if we do not "repent" by stopping the use of cars or the consumption of meat is actually counter-productive (especially if it comes with insults implying I am irresponsible or evil or smelly) and it belies a fundamental misunderstanding of human nature: most of us will do what is easy rather than what is necessary. So real, practical solutions would have to come at no cost to our comfort in order for them be popular enough to make a significant difference. Adoption rate is key and king.

Veganism is not the Solution.

There are a million aspects of our lives which we can tweak to reduce our impact on the environment and on climate change but vegans like this Twitter friend of mine who harrassed me are disproportionately focused on their personal demons in their advocacy (meat, in this case).

You know what is far, far worse than eating meat? Having children. You can drive all the Priuses and eat all the kale in the world but that is but a drop in the ocean when you compare that to the carbon footprint of reproduction. I think all these vegans making sustainability arguments should sterilise themselves if they think that us omnivores aren't doing enough for the environment because they too are doing a half-assed job as well. It brings to mind this parable that Mencius told about a soldier who ran 50-paces away from the battlefield calling his fellow who ran 100-paces a coward (五十步笑百步).

In fact, I did say as much. I told that vegan friend to go kill himself if he really cares about the environment so much. To that, he said,

Butthurt Vegan
I nearly asked him if it "triggered" him because he attempted or contemplated suicide before,
but I realised that I have stopped caring by this point.

We had been enjoying an omnivorous diet since time immemorial and we never had a problem with animal husbandry until recent times because - get this - meat is not the problem. It is a herring and it is red. The reason why meat farming is unsustainable (and eventually, crops farming as well) is because this is actually the toll that the continuously rising human population is having on this planet.

That's the fucking problem. Fix that.


I try to minimise my own effect on the environment whenever I can if it does not come at a sacrifice in my quality of life. For example, I reject plastic bags whenever I shop but I'd still accept one if I really need it. I am mindful of the amount of meat I consume, both for environmental and health reasons. After the sialic acid Neu5Gc in red meat was found last year to be implicated in the increased risk of cancer, I have further reduced my already infrequent indulgence in red meat. When I bought home appliances recently for my new house, I tried to get the most energy efficient ones. And I decided to only have one child, and that alone already qualifies me for a higher horse than pretty much every vegan who birthed two kids or more. I make many of these little decisions everyday that counts towards my total impact on our world but to demonise one aspect of my life - my homecooked chicken katsu (which was delicious, by the way) - is incredibly misguided, unhelpful and tone deaf.

I am an atheist and I believe that this is the only life I will ever get to experience. I certainly don't intend to live it without all the reasonable comfort and pleasures I can get out of it. I don't want the trouble of limiting my culinary and epicurean experience, making sure I am getting enough Vitamin B12 through supplementation, or being a perpetual pain of the ass of a guest with "special considerations" at every group meal, party or wedding - all in service of a poorly thought out, mostly masturbatory non-solution to a serious issue.

Thinks vegans are pricks now,
k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Life of Zoë

"I think we are drawn to dogs because they are the uninhibited creatures we might be if we weren't certain we knew better. They fight for honor at the first challenge, make love with no moral restraint, and they do not for all their marvelous instincts appear to know about death. Being such wonderfully uncomplicated beings, they need us to do their worrying."

Troubles With Bird Dogs and
What to Do About Them (1975)
by George Bird Evans 

The day after Benji's tragic and untimely end, Cheryl visited the local animal shelter where we rescued him in search of some solace. Was it too soon? Probably, but there is no salve for loss as soothing as the replacement of the very thing we lost. That is not to say that Benji is so easily replaceable, but we had so much love for him that it would be a shameful waste to direct every ounce of it to grief. Instead we sought to give that love to another creature which deserves it, if only because it is still alive.

On 23rd of August, exactly three days after Benji's passing, we brought a new puppy home.

Zoë at Shelter
At the shelter.

On the way back, Cheryl christened her Zoë, apropos of nothing. When I looked it up later, I found that it is Greek and it means "life" or "alive", which is thought is delightful serendipity. There is nothing more antithetical to the deathly, funereal pall that have settled over our family than bounding, barking, warm, furry life. We needed this. I needed this.

Zoë in Crate
Zoë, in her crate, in the middle of crate training.

Zoë was very different from Benji, both in personality and temperament. To get the most obvious things out of the way first, she was female and was only about 2 months old (compared to 4 months old male Benji). While Benji was calm, confident and deliberate, Zoë was a firecracker - a wilful, hyperactive little bitch. The only time Benji got really excited was when he saw the cats, which he would chase in delight. Zoë however, have never shown any sign of noticing her feline housemates' existence at all. House training her was a more strenuous affair because of her weak puppy bladder so I was forced to wake up every 2 hours at night to let her water (or fertilise) the garden.

While Benji happily accepted his usual mealtime kibbles as training treats, Zoë proved to be a fussy, picky customer. She wouldn't even touch her dry puppy kibbles unless I mix it up with a spoonful of meaty wet food first. And since training treats have to be equal to or more "valuable" than her usual feed, I was forced to train her only at mealtimes, giving her spoonfuls of her food for each time she complied with commands. Eventually, I resorted to baking chicken liver for this purpose and thankfully, she deemed it a worthy enough payment in exchange for tricks.

Zoë & Sophie
Sophie, already plotting Zoë's downfall from day one.

Fortunately, with a bit of persistence, she was house trained and became "accident-free" within 3 days and could even hold it in through the night. Within a week, she learned to sit and lie down on command. She could even stand on her two hind legs for 1 to 2 seconds when asked, a trick I could never get Benji interested in.

Last Friday, a day before my son's one year old birthday, Zoë died. If this came as a rude surprise as you are reading this, it's because it was for us too.

Pretty girl.

On Thursday, 4th of September, Cheryl went to take her out for her evening toilet visit but noticed that there was something very wrong with her. I saw that she was holed up inside her crate and stood up, wagging her tail when I approached. However, I noted that she was not leaving her little sanctuary like she usually did. I peered inside and noticed that she was leaning on her left, her left wrist slack and floppy.

I reached in for her but she freaked out and scrabbled backwards, something she had never done. She had a sweet, outgoing and confident disposition, and had never displayed any neuroses prior to this. I carried her out gingerly and placed her on the floor to get a better look at her - and she immediately panicked and began running in circles, persistently falling to her left. She was also drooling like a faucet. I studied human medicine, but what Zoë exhibited were unmistakably neurological symptoms. But why? Cheryl just took her out a few hours prior but she was perfectly fine! The only thing that happened that day to her was her 2nd ivermectin jab, which she was on because she brought mange home with her from the shelter which had left her mostly bald with lots of sores from scratching (quite unlike her pictures here), but was otherwise completely well and active. We fully expected her to recover from it.

We rushed her to a nearby vet who found that her pupils were also dilated and she was exhibiting what he called "knuckling" where Zoë's doesn't notice when her paws were placed in odd, uncomfortable positions - indicating a loss of proprioception. He diagnosed her with ivermectin toxicity, gave her a shot of corticosteroids and a bolus of subcutaneous fluid between her shoulders because she was not eating or drinking. The vet also gave me a syringe loaded with diazepam, in case she started fitting that night. And that night, I learned practically everything there is to know about ivermectin sensitivity in dogs, how it afflicts certain dog breeds that happen to carry the MDR-1 gene defect which impairs a dog's ability to transport certain compounds out of their brains, leading to a build up. I slept in the living room as well so I could hear it if Zoë starts fitting. I fed her some of her favourite wet dog food from a can using a spoon, and was heartened to see that she could still lick it up and swallow. Her tail still wagging like a windmill, which I understand doesn't necessarily meant that she was happy. When I carried her down to the garden to pee, she could still do her half-crouch.

We brought her back to the vet the next morning as advised but found that Zoë's condition worsened. She had started making chewing movements with her mouth. The vet look at that odd behaviour thoughtfully and then swabbed some of the tears streaming out of her eyes, pipetting some of it onto a plastic cartridge that resembles a urine pregnancy test. He showed it to me and told me that it was an antigen test for canine distemper. One very bold line showed on it.

"One line," I said. "That's good news right?"

"That is the 'test' line you are seeing. The 'control' line have yet to appear, but you can see it forming faintly now," he said sadly.

Oh no...

Now all my confusion made sense. Why Zoë did not react to the first ivermectin shot, why she was suddenly struck with very severe generalised mange - which indicated that her immune system was failing. "But she already received her 1st shot of vaccination!" I told the vet but I knew the answer before he even answered. She had contracted it at the shelter before she was vaccinated, and the virus must have been incubating till now.

I am a doctor myself and I knew that we were at a crossroads of hard decisions. "When should we give up?" I asked calmly.

"When she fits non-stop," he told me. "Or when she is completely unable to eat or drink."

By noon, Zoë was a shambles of her former self; blind, highly nervous and likely delirious. Her jaws have started locking up and it was difficult for me to pry them apart and syringe some food into her mouth. Cheryl received word from the shelter that Zoë's litter mates have also started displaying signs of distemper two days ago, which pretty much proved that Zoë was exposed to the canine distemper virus before we took her home. She was a time bomb ticking to heartbreak, but we were completely unaware. I did more reading (as I am wont to do in times of crises) but the more I read, the more hopeless it seemed, and Zoë, at this point, had deteriorated to a state where she couldn't even crouch to urinate. It just dribbled out as she stood there seemingly oblivious to her own bladder movement. Finally, Cheryl and I decided on what we felt was right: we decided to put Zoë to sleep.

We took her back to the vet, who seemed to have been expecting us. This time, we were directed to a different room and in the middle of it was a large stainless steel table. We were asked to sign some papers and after we gave Zoë her last pets, the vet gave her a lethal dose of pentobarbitone - and just like a robot powering down, she slumped down gently onto the table surface, her head flopped to one side unnaturally. The room filled with the smell of faeces as whatever that remained in Zoë's rectum oozed out. Cheryl cried. I was too numb to follow suit. After a minute, the vet checked her for any signs of life and finding none, asked us if we would like him to dispose of her for us.

"No thanks," I said. "We are taking Zoë home with us."

The orderly there offered us a plastic bag - and we refused because it just didn't seem right. I put her back in her crate and drove her back to our house. There, I dug her a grave beside Benji's, and after wrapping her in the blanket she always slept on, buried her with her bright blue collar. I comforted myself with the thought that at least Zoë did not suffer long and had spent her last hours with people who loved her most instead of a cold, harsh metal cage at the animal shelter. In the last two weeks, she ate better than she ever had in her life and had toys (and feet) to chew. Her weight almost doubled under our care. We did everything right by her and told ourselves was not our fault she was already doomed from the get go.

But it was still painful as hell.

Zoë's human,
k0k s3n w4i