Cowspiracy: When Idiots Make Movies

 

Cowspiracy
Cowspiracy

I’ve spent the past 20 years studying filmmaking and the language of cinema, so when I see it done badly it tends to produce feelings—of a kind—the filmmaker didn’t intend. So I will spare you my feelings of Cowspiracy in this regard and try instead to focus on the content itself. Content is the most important ingredient in any movie and should have been more carefully groomed in this one.

Was this a documentary about global warming? Or ocean life extinctions? Deforestation, environmental damage, or drought? Was it about evil corporate agribusiness? The meager and misplaced foibles of sustainable animal husbandry? Or was it about veganism? Every ten minutes I wanted the filmmakers to make some kind of point. Turns out they only had one point to make so they saved if for last: Cowspiracy attempts to persuade people that veganism is the only reasonable answer to annihilation by bludgeoning the audience with ad nauseum ill-informed outrage activist appeals to emotion.

First let’s talk about the movie’s title, the “conspiracy of cows.” I’m pretty sure the filmmaker intended to mean that it was the cattle industry that was conspiring and not so much the cattle, but we’ll let that slide. I lost count of how many times the filmmaker finds it “odd” that the people he drops in on, unannounced, to talk about global warming wouldn’t be prepared to talk about the cattle industry—a whole other topic. Ignorance, especially your own, is not evidence of a conspiracy. A conspiracy is something that happens in secret. Nothing about the cattle industry is secret, most certainly not any of the filmmaker’s “revelations.” How do you keep something secret that you can literally smell for miles before you actually see it? Just because the filmmaker was ignorant of the practices up until five minutes before he decided to make a documentary does not mean that there was a conspiracy—massive or otherwise—in order to produce his ignorance. Sorry buddy, but that’s all on you. This information has been in the public domain for decades.

If you do a google search for “list of fallacies” you’ll find the shooting script for Cowspiracy on Wikipedia. Let’s start with “slippery slope.” The filmmaker starts with how he became an environmentalist after watching An Inconvenient Truth which predicted in dates now past that we’d all be swimming in the ocean due to the burning of fossil fuels. When that didn’t happen, and it turns out that fossil fuels aren’t as big a contributor as passionately argued, he moves on to “special pleading” to change the culprit from oil to animal husbandry, despite the fact that animal farming is tens of thousands of years old and would have been contributing more towards global warming all this time than Al Gore’s original argument for fossil fuels. And still the dire predictions are yet to be seen.

The filmmaker then uses a hodge-podge of fallacies to ignore any counter argument to his own: strawman, false cause, black-or-white, composition/division, tu quoque, etc. My favorite is when the Sierra Club suggests that eating fish is a great way to protect fish from extinction and the filmmaker objects, “That’s like saying you can protect panda bears from extinction by eating panda bears.” Ok, so two things right here: 1) We don’t eat panda bears and they are going extinct; 2) I wonder if there’s an example of animals that we do eat that are proliferating. Hmm… Let me think. How about: cows, pigs, goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbits and yes even fish. Needless to say it kind of proves the point.

The filmmaker even manages to combine two separate fallacies into one, the anecdotal and the appeal to authority fallacies, where he includes Susan Hartland from Sea Shepherd saying that we are headed towards fish-less oceans and, “this is coming from The Scientists.” Which scientists? We will never know because the filmmaker never bothers to back this up. Are these the same scientists that predicted Florida and New York City would be under the ocean by now? The ninety minutes of this documentary are one gigantic fallacy—an appeal to emotion—wrapped around so many other fallacies it is impractical to cover them all here.

By now you’re probably thinking that 1) I’m a climate denier, 2) I eat steak at every meal, and 3) I hate veganism. The truth is I am none of those things. The Earth is warming up. This is undeniable. However, this is the only part of global warming where there is scientific consensus. My personal position—not being a climate scientist—is to be skeptical about the claims of what is going to happen due to global warming (a discipline separate from taking the Earth’s temperature, btw); to wait and see what other scientists find on that matter; and to allow for more information to come from the scientific community before I start believing in somebody’s agenda. Being reserved about jumping to conclusions (the bandwagon fallacy) has made me more correct on the issue than has been Al Gore, for instance, and is usually enough to land me on the finger-pointing end of outrage activists because I refuse to preach the gospel. I do refuse to preach what I don’t think is fully formed, and I’m fine with people being outraged because of that. They can be the first to be foolish if they want.

I hardly ever eat meat. I never drink milk and I don’t eat cereal, I do enjoy milk-based products from time to time (cheeses, yogurts, butter, whey). I eat a lot of eggs. I eat meat about once a week, if that much, usually chicken, sometimes pork. I’m not a huge fan of beef, honestly, I think pork tastes better. I’ll usually reserve meats for when I cook at home. I don’t eat a lot of grains because Americans eat more grain than is healthy, the same reason it isn’t healthy for cows. A little bit is fine, but as the foundation for every meal? Please.

Where I absolutely avoid meats, as well as any kind of food, is processed and fast foods. This is the culprit—not agricultural industry. As long as there is McDonalds there’s going to be a massive cattle industry and subsidized agriculture. And I agree that Americans should be eating less of it. If the American diet were comprised of 70% fruits and veggies, 20% meats and dairy and 10% grains we would be a healthier population, and the environment would be much more stable.

Lastly, I don’t hate veganism. I just hate Cowspiracy. If you want to watch a documentary that actually makes a decent case for veganism, watch Forks Over Knives. Those filmmakers know how to make a movie, and it gets right to the crux of the issue that fits with most people: the health benefits of a vegan diet. Forks Over Knives is probably the best argument for veganism I’ve ever heard, but unfortunately even that falls short.

I disagree with the philosophy of veganism, but not with the moral practice of boycotting industrial agriculture. Everyone gets to have their own values, and it’s not my place to tell you what to believe or how to feel. If you don’t want to support industrial animal husbandry on the principle of it, that’s fine. And whatever your reason for not supporting sustainable and humane animal husbandry is your business. My objection is to the claim that pure veganism is the most balanced and humane way to live one’s life. It completely ignores the relationship that has been cultivated for thousands of years between humans and animals on the farm. Like it or not, animals are great for farms and safeguarding the health of the land they live on. They provide the best fertilizer and allow for maximized organic output, just take a look at Polyface farms. Even Michael Pollan says this in his book Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Veganism isn’t the most balanced way to live, not by a long shot. Vitamin B12 is essential to life—you will die without it—and it comes most readily from animal products. Without B12 you cannot produce new blood cells, or virtually any cells in your body. Do a search for “vitamin B12 vegan” and you will see that the “vegan source for B12 comes from fortified foods.” Well, where do you think those B12 fortifications are coming from? Animals. While there are non-animal sources of B12, the largest concentration is found in yeast extract. 100 grams of the stuff provides a whopping 8% of your daily value.

Yeast extract—also known as Vegemite to Australians, and BLEGH to Americans—those of us who love it (yup, that would be me) use it sparingly, never enough to make up for animal sources of B12. You would need to consume 2.75 pounds of the stuff every day, and at that point you would have a sodium problem. Most vegans eat B12 fortified foods to get what they need, or take a vitamin supplement to ensure they’re getting the essentials. Making the vitamin pill shaped, or hiding it in your grains only suspends disbelief in the 100% non-animal fairytale.

Balanced living means you survive on the foods you eat without requiring extra processing. In the wild we would hunt and gather. If you have to take a pill every day to stay alive, that isn’t balanced living—that is life support. Until the day Vegans find the magical Vitamin B12 shrub it is highly impractical to live authentically off a 100% vegan diet. There certainly won’t be enough B12 produced to keep everyone in the world alive if we all went vegan and stopped killing animals or consuming their milk and eggs. I certainly don’t want to eat 3 pounds of yeast extract every day. Do you?

I love a good lab

Once upon a time I lived and worked in Los Angeles as a Gaffer. That’s “Chief Lighting Technician” to you. A fellow Gaffer I knew had been dabbling in making custom Steampunk lamps and Nixie Tube clocks. I loved these little light-up-numerical display bulbs, and being a dabbler and an overly curious individual I thought if I could get my hands on a couple of these gadgets that I’d try and see if I could make them myself.

Well, around the same time a guy (also a programmer like me, who also apparently dabbled in filmmaking like I did) had the same infatuation and idea to dabble with them and see if he could figure out how to make them. His name is Dalibor Farny and he lives in the Czech Republic.

Anyway… Dalibor had created an online business that did well enough that he was able to fund his own Nixie tube research lab, and, well… He figured it out (BOY did he!) and I’m insanely jealous. Luckily, he made an awesome video that documents the entire process of making a Nixie tube.

See for yourself.

Automated Deprecation Detection: Coming Soon to an RFC Near You

So, I got my druthers in bunch and decided that the Internet really needed a new standard. So I wrote one.

I build APIs for a living (thats Application Programming Interface to everyone else.) Part of the horror of what I do for a living is cleaning up after tenures of really bad decision making. It is a daily thing for me now.

But as I continuously support these horrid ideas that people previous to myself (and, well, including myself if I am to be quite honest) part of the issue is trying to correct the errors of our ways. The problem, however, is that once you publish a public interface you’re kinda stuck with it. Because people can then use it and write software that depends on your (lets be honest) crappy implementations.

Publicly, all software engineers say our stuff is keen and clean while privately we panic almost daily when we dig up one of our long forgotten gems we thought was a really great idea at the time. Now it stares back at us as we wonder, “What in the hell was I thinking?” If only it were easier to fix things that are publicly facing. If only there was a way to let your customers know about breaking changes and the newer, better way to use your services before they actually break.

Enter Automated Deprecation Detection.

The gist of the RFC I have authored is to introduce a whole new HTTP status code: 286 Deprecated. The whole point of this code is to behave like a 200 OK status code while alerting clients that the service they depend upon may be going away or changing at some time in the future. The 286 Deprecated status code is accompanied by header metadata that indicates when a resource will be removed and where more information about that deprecation can be found.

The idea is that software engineers write software to automate the things we don’t want to monitor ourselves (shocker, I know….) and may actually miss the feeble attempts of API maintainers to warn us of impending doom. But now with the introduction of the 286 status code clients can check for it and alert their maintenance teams accordingly, so that they know well in advance that a dependency will be break before it actually does.

I can’t tell you how awesome this is, unless you’ve ever written any software that depends on some 3rd party system, which was deprecated at some point in a blog like this and you didn’t happen to be reading the blog that day. Then one day, you’re sipping on your coffee and all things are grand, when all of the sudden–WHHHAAAPAA–your shit stops working.

For the laypeople who happen to be gluttons for punishment, when an HTTP client makes a request to an external system they’re usually looking for a 200 OK response code that says, “Yup, I know what the hell you’re asking for and here it is!” But until now there was no way–outside of posting in a changelog blog or sending warning messages when no one is actually listening–that the service being requested was being removed or replaced with anything else.

286 Deprecated means “Ok, but what you’re asking for is being 86d in the near future.” This status code now lets software engineers look for the 2xx SUCCESS portion of the code, but notice the x86 portion of the code which says, “Okay, BUT…” and then let the people who wrote that software know to look into it before it becomes a coffee-spoiling, day-ruining thang.

Of course none of this is official yet. The RFC has been submitted for editorial review and it is up to the IETF to determine if this is as awesome as I say it is or not. But I have my hopes. And I think we very well may be looking at RFC#### in the near future.

Believe me, when that day comes I’ll let everybody know.

Ahoy-hoy!

I’m Austen Hoogen, and I think I’ve probably had a blog or a website in some form of disarray going on 20 years now. I always say I’m going to pay more attention, but they always file for divorce and leave anyway.

Probably for the best, since this last iteration is the most sparse thing I’ve ever put out in quite some time. Hopefully I can make up for that with some stellar content on all things that make me squee. “Cat videos,” you ask? It is very likely that it could happen, but mostly I want to use this blog to track the things I do for a living, the things I wished I did for a living, and all the things I fill my time between.

The tricky part, of course, is making enough room in all those things to sit at my desk and plunk out stupid messages like this in the hopes that I can attract the attention of frantic Googlers, searching desperately for something else but wind up on this page nonetheless. I’ll do my very best to help them, but I am a procrastinator still searching for my Panic Monster; it may take a while.

I’m a Software Engineer

I work at a company called TUNE where I program things you’ve probably never seen. I am a back-end systems engineer building software that happily chugs along and does lots of work without people needing to see it. I like it that way. Because CSS and Javascript make me cranky, just like PHP. Yeah, yeah… This blog is written in PHP (I DIDN’T DO IT!!) however one of the many, many things on my to-do list is not to write yet-another-blog-platform in Go or Java or Python or C–you know, real programming languages–so this blog will just have to do.

I brew beer

I’ve been doing it for God knows how long (which is 12 years). I love everything about beer and can probably tell you more than you ever wanted to know about the process, its history, the industry, etc.

Someday, I will have a brewery. You should come by my fantasy future brewery and have a beer. No need to bring your own, I’ll sell you one.

No, seriously, I’m crazy about this shit. One time, in between jobs, I decided what was really missing in my living room was a yeast propagation lab. Well let me tell you, my living room is not missing a yeast propagation lab anymore! I have a homemade temperature controlled incubator with heating and cooling (via a homemade propylene glycol chiller housed in the freezer portion of my homemade kegerator) and about as much microbiology lab equipment that one can reasonably fit in their apartment living room. (I super love my 2000x trinocular microscope!)

Burton Ale Yeast at 400x magnification
Burton Ale Yeast at 400x magnification

I dabble in electronics

Microcontrollers, embedded systems and BTLE sensor projects mostly. If I’m working on something it is probably trying to build or automate something in my beer making. Current projects include better temperature sensing and system controls on my incubator, a BTLE in-line thermometer, and other brewery automatia that suits my fancy.

And of course there’s the programming of these things. I like to work on projects making better software for brewers who want to manage their brewing lives. Seriously, with all the engineers out there brewing beer you’d think there’d be better software!

I make food

I love cooking. Especially if it involves fermenting. Yogurt/sour cream/creme fraiche/cultured butter/bread. YUM! And I make a borscht that will bring tears to your eyes.

I dream of having a workshop just like Adam Savage

I like to pretend, quite often, that I am friends with Adam Savage and get to hang out and build lots and lots of shit. What kind of shit? Who cares! And then I like to pretend, quite often, that I had a shop like his, because my apartment really is a terrible place to try and build messy things (no, I didn’t build my incubator in my apartment…)

Also, there’s the things like welding that just don’t go over well with the downstairs neighbors when you roll out your tig on the top-floor balcony. Extra space is all that jazz!

I learn new things

I love reading and learning new things. I have this delusion that I can actually know everything about everything. And I try, oh my God do I try! If it is science fiction, or fantasy, or non-fiction or academic I’m probably reading it. If it has to do with beer I’ve probably already read it.

YouTube and Wikipedia rabbit holes are one of my favorite pass times. Currently I’m in love with Khan Academy. The Internet truly is amazing!

Am I a snob?

In many more ways than one; I’m more than half German in ancestry which adds to the allure, I’m sure. But I’m not an asshole about it, I promise! Pay no attention to my face that looks like I’m ready to murder people! I’m a super nice snob who likes to share, I just can’t help that my face is sending people mixed messages (I am INTJ if you care to follow that). It usually doesn’t change its threatening shape for several encounters at least…. Just give my face some time, eventually you’ll see the signature Hoogen smile!

I’m a snob just because I know what I like, is all. How do I know? Because I try everything. And I will happily report that I prefer Tillamook to Kraft, pFriem Pilsner to Rainier Lager (although I love their commercials, being a NW native and all) and that I prefer a good, crusty loaf of Ken’s Artisan Bread to just about everything.

If we differ? To each their own. Everybody likes what they like. Who am I to tell people what they can and can’t like?

If I went around acting like Fred Phelps I’d be, well, an asshole. “Don’t be like Fred,” my mother used to say! Best advice if there ever was any.

Until next time,

Ciao