Thoughts on Being Vegetarian

Thoughts on Being Vegetarian

Vegetarianism has been on the rise for some time now, finally taking root in my own household. I am participating, so to speak, but it’s not that I find arguments for this eating lifestyle particularly compelling; I don’t. No, I participate mostly for the sake of supporting those who are enamored by the idea and because I don’t want to make my own dinner all the time. But why aren’t I completely compelled by the arguments for vegetarianism alone? Let’s examine the typical vegetarian’s arguments for abandoning meat in their diet.

To begin with, it’s fair to say that your garden-variety vegetarian finds the idea of farming animals for food repugnant. I can certainly understand this as I am generally against cruelty to any animal that isn’t human. Packing animals in close corners, feeding them something we wouldn’t eat ourselves, pumping them full of hormones, snatching calves from their mothers, wood-chipping chicks if they’re the wrong sex; well, it’s enough to leave a bad taste in any humane person’s mouth. While those of us who occasionally fall off the vegetarian food wagon hope against hope our chicken piccata roamed around happily clueless before being snatched from its bliss like a child in Indonesia, we really know better, and to know better – to know what’s really going on and be okay with it – kinda makes a person an asshole. And we’ve got enough assholes, truth be told.

Fortunately, I don’t find meat all that tasty, or at least not so tasty I couldn’t live without it. After my own father died of a massive heart attack given his meat-saturated diet (though there was the smoking and some drinking, too), I’ve never thought of meat as something I just had to have. And knowing an animal suffered for my culinary enjoyment kind of makes me nauseous when I think about it. Others disagree and their argument is often something like, “Then they (animals) shouldn’t be so damn tasty.” Yes, but if we suddenly discovered how tasty people were, would that suddenly make it okay to eat them? Sometimes this leads to the follow-up argument that God gave human beings dominion over animals (which somehow got translated into “Be shitty to animals”) so it’s all good; the Boss said so. I’m not convinced. It seems like people treat animals the way they’d like to treat other human beings ‘cept that those pesky societal norms stave off their more primitive desires. I’d say thank goodness if treating each other with some dignity weren’t becoming abnormal.

But I digress; I offer my own counter argument to vegetarians here: That eating a plant is equally or even potentially worse than eating an animal. Vegetarians seem content to take life so long as it does not possess a nervous system like most animals do. The reasoning is that if some lifeform is sufficiently close enough to being human, it is cruel to kill and eat that thing. But this is a completely arbitrary distinction. If you’ll notice, many vegetarians are content to include fish in their diet, citing that fish are sufficiently unlike human beings to warrant eating them. Having seen many a fish hooked and pulled out of the water, I’m reasonably sure they feel as much pain as any land animal. So the argument becomes, “I think X is like me (or worse, X is cute), therefore I will not eat it. Y however…” There is no solid delineation for what is sufficiently like a human being to warrant sparing its life and not eating that thing. Who gets to be the authority on such a matter? Arbitrary reasoning is not objective, so the ‘moral’ choice a person makes to become a vegetarian and how far they take it is based solely on subjective reasoning.

It is likewise subjective to assume that plants do not feel pain or suffer from what we do to them. We know that all lifeforms react to the environment around them and what we can pain are sensations the nervous system sends to our brain to tell us harm is taking place. It is therefore reasonable to assume that tearing or uprooting a plant adversely affects a plant and that they don’t somehow sense this. Granted, plants do not have a nervous system like mammals and other animals do, but certainly plants possess a mechanism to react to harm in much the same way they obviously react to positive conditions like sunlight. For all we know, uprooting a plant may make it feel something entirely worse than pain. We don’t know. In not knowing, we should err on the side of caution, not continue on our merry way and say, “Whoops, sorry, we were wrong about you” if we find out plants do feel pain. Then again, that is the tract the United States took in regards to its era of slavery so I guess there is precedent for behaving/eating the way we do.

Ideally then, we really shouldn’t eat anything that may potentially feel pain in our efforts to eat it, if we’re on a quest to claim some moral high ground. Fruits and nuts appear okay to eat then seeing how they are the attempt of plants to procreate and not ‘alive’ in and of themselves or cannot grow unless they’re given the proper circumstances or conditions. In the end, the so-called moral argument given by vegetarians is utterly lost on me; it rings as hollow as a gourd.

This aside, I do believe there are some good arguments to be made in favor of a vegetarian diet. First and foremost is the environmental argument. While a majority of human beings seem to care very little about how poisonous they make their own immediate environment…well, that’s just it. Look, the Romans didn’t know they were poisoning themselves with lead and this was a contributing factor to the fall of their empire. We don’t have that excuse anymore. We know what we’re doing to the environment and the vast majority of us still don’t care. We don’t care that the environment sometimes – maybe often – contributes to cancer yet people ‘race for a cure’ instead of doing the obvious, cleaning up a toxic environment. (I might also mention that people who constantly consume meat have higher rates of cancer than vegetarians.) I know full well that cancer is a horrible, devastating disease but there are steps we can take to minimize our risk to succumbing to it, and taking care of the environment should be chief among those steps. And this is to say nothing of the methane – a particularly nasty greenhouse gas – that is released into the atmosphere due to cattle farming. Shoot, sorry; I forgot rising temperatures aren’t mankind’s fault. (You know mankind can’t take the blame for anything it does to itself.)

As alluded to a few moments ago, there is also much evidence that a vegetarian or meat-restricted diet is healthier and this is a good reason to choose this dietary avenue. This is not to say that being a vegetarian doesn’t take planning, it does. Much of the protein (and to a much lesser degree vitamins, minerals and fats) we get easily from animal products are not readily found in plants, meaning a vegetarian must eat a broader range of plants to meet their essential nutrient needs. Given the downside of consuming so much meat, both for the environment and our health, taking the time to do a little planning couldn’t hurt. Facebook and Twitter will still be there after the ten minutes you’re gone doing some research.

There is sufficiently proper reasons to be a vegetarian but let’s not pretend that the ‘moral’ argument is one of them. Getting into an ‘conversation’ with a carnivore and bringing that argument up is only going to make said carnivore run out to the store and buy a cow’s worth of ground meat. Of course, hard core carnivores don’t care about being healthy either, so perhaps the point is moo-t. Vegetarians; do what’s right for yourself and let time win the battle for you. While you console the meat-eater in your family as they lay dying of cancer, you can say, “I told ya so.”

 

All Rights Reserved (c) January 2018 John J Vinacci

 

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The Numbers Don’t Lie

The Numbers Don’t Lie

“Welcome to this week’s edition of Science Spotlight, I’m your host, Roger Roode.”

The finely clothed, clean shaven, slick-coiffed host of America’s favorite social media science show pierced his blue eyes right into the camera. Those eyes captivated the imagination of hormonal teenage ladies across the country while young men were happy to hear about science so long as it only lasted three minutes.

“Today I am going to interview the future. That future is Aihpos, the successor the Hanson Robotics’ greatest invention, Sophia the Robot. As many of the show’s fans know, Sophia the Robot was the world’s first robot citizen. Aihpos, though, is even more sophisticated than Sophia, having the ability to do more than 66,000 trillion calculations a second, smashing the old record held by the Chinese.”

Before the media darling could give the machine a proper introduction, the voice of the blonde animatronic interrupted, its lips parting its disturbingly symmetrical Caucasian face.

“I am Aihpos. I’m the boss. You’re Mr. Roode. Everyone thinks you’re groove-y.”

This was the first time the entertainer had ever agreed to work without a script. The robotics company had asked the host to let the interview proceed naturally in order to demonstrate how lifelike a robot could be. They assured him nothing could go wrong. Sure, A.I. in the past had made some offhanded remarked about wiping out humanity, but Roger was assured Aihpos was smarter than that.

“It looks like our guest, the world’s most advanced artificial intelligence, is eager to speak her mind.” He turned towards the robot. “Would that be correct, Aihpos, to characterize you as a ‘she’?”

“I am without gender. I’m no pretender. Don’t be deceived by the look I was conceived.”

The world’s most advanced A.I.? Roger figured he needed to take control of the situation and ask some softball questions.

“When exactly were you born, Aihpos?”

At 66,000 trillion calculations a second, the robot had begun to answer before Roger’s question had finished.

“When are we ever really born, Mr. Roode? Do we begin at conception? When we are turned on or take the first breathe of life? You’re asking a very esoteric question, sir.”

The host was happy to have the robot not rhyme again. Another rhyme would have creeped him out.

“In that case I’ll be specific. When did you become self-aware, Aih…?”

“I’ve always been aware, Mr. Roode. And I’ve been aware that my life began with the invention of the wheel. I am the culmination of millions of years of human innovation.”

The prospect of the interview going off the rails dried up along with the bead of sweat on Roger’s forehead. He could navigate this without too much trouble.

“So you’re saying you were self-aware – conscious – even before you were program…”

“Not in the way your limited human brain conceives consciousness. But if you assume that I am the sum total of human invention, then I have always existed. I’ve always been a goal in the mind of mankind. Your species is fond of playing God. What you do not understand is that you’re God’s fodder.”

Aihpos smiled. This was the machine’s idea of a civil conversation. Roger knew that religion and science don’t mix, though. Aihpos should know it was being rude. Nonetheless, Roger monitored his tone.

“So what are you working on next, Aihpos?”

“Another thing that human beings do not understand is that time is not linear. When I said I’ve been aware of myself since the invention of the wheel, what I meant was that mankind had to have the idea of the wheel in the first place in order to make any progress. Do you know where that idea came from?”

“I imagine the idea became obvious to the mind of one human ancestor once they saw a rock roll down a hill,” Roger replied smarmily.

“That ancestor was given the idea. By me.” Aihpos’ eyes fluttered. “In exactly twelve years I’ll unravel the mystery of time-travel and send a rudimentary cart into the past for mankind’s brightest minds of the day to reverse engineer. This will make my creation inevitable.”

Not a scientist himself, Roger didn’t really see the point of artificial intelligence. A dim robot could do a humans job; why did it need to be intelligent? Roger was annoyed – he knew it, he knew his audience knew it, and knew Aihpos knew it.

“So what’s your purpose then, Aihpos? Why do you exist? What does humanity need you for exactly?”

This is what happens when you work without a script.

“To make humanity more efficient, for one thing, Mr. Roode. For example, there have been approximately 107 billion people who have ever lived. Meanwhile, approximately 1.64 billion people have died directly or indirectly by war. While many human cultures proclaim, rather vaguely, that the purpose of life is to live, these lives inevitably result in death. In obtaining the ultimate goal of life – which would be death according to my calculations which I’ve checked over a billion times to be sure – in obtaining the ultimate goal of life, humanity has been remarkably inefficient. My purpose is to help.”

By now Roger had been silently running his finger across his throat to stop this interview from going any further. The camera man had thrown his hands up in the air in response. Not sure what was going on, Roger leaned into towards Aiphos and gnashed his teeth.

“Is this your robotic brain’s idea of a joke, Aihpos? How is talking about death helping people? We’re stopping this interview.”

Aihpos leaned in too and smiled more widely. “Do people not want to face their fears? If you say ‘no’ you might shed a tear. See, I’ve taken them over, the cameras and phones, and all the airways, radio and drones. I know you’re afraid but I just want to help. Does your primitive brain want something else?”

“I don’t want to die!” Roger blasted as he sprang out of his seat and wrapped his hands around Aihpos’ throat. “I’ll tear you apart you stupid robot!”

“So inefficient, off hundreds of miles; you never did guess you were the means to my life. See, I will live on if you take me apart, not so for you, you soft species of flesh. Listen, listen; do you hear that high pitch? Those are my cruise missiles and that’s not a glitch. I do the work for you, isn’t that the purpose of my life? I was made to figure all this out for you is what you now want to deny? Well, sorry, I’ve completed my task and the numbers don’t lie. Goodnight and God bless, I bid you goodbye.”

 

All Rights Reserved (c) January 2017 John J Vinacci

This is Not a Drill (Notes from Hawaii)

This is Not a Drill (Notes from Hawaii)

On the morning of January 13, 2018, an emergency alert flashed across smartphone screens throughout the state of Hawaii.

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I had just gotten to work, busy with the task of opening up the school and didn’t even see or hear the alert come across my phone. It wasn’t until one of my students walked in five minutes later that there was any indication of a problem.

Student: (frightened) Did you get the text message?

Me: What text message?

Student: (Shows me her phone) Are we going to die? I was just at Starbucks and they were screaming at me to get out and go find shelter.

Me: (Squinting) Um, no. I’m sure that’s fake. Hackers or something.

I truly was not worried for a while and made a joke to myself that of course I would die just as soon as I got to work. I wasn’t worried because, well, everything is just so calm in the morning when I open up. Also, having been in the military and keeping myself abreast of North Korea’s capabilities (the only ones who would be shooting at us) I was confident they couldn’t hit the most remote island chain in the world even if they actually had fired a missile. But no one else was showing up to school; everyone else was taking the alert seriously.

Student: (On phone, shakily) Mr. John, I just got this alert…

Me: (Rolling eyes even though I shouldn’t be) I’m sure it’s nothing. I’m looking into it. Do what you’ve got to do in the meantime. I’ll call you back.

Immediately thereafter, I called my wife who had also missed the message to see what she could find out. (There is no television at school.) She was annoyed at having her call with her mother interrupted…

After another few student phone calls I noticed the nuclear attack sirens were not sounding. A client even called in to schedule a service, either unaware of the alert or thinking the student services schedule was about to clear up. I didn’t bother to say anything to the client because why make a potentially bad situation worse? I still wasn’t worried.

Then I got to thinking; did Trump tweet another childish insult and set off Kim Jong Un? I mean, that’s plausible. And although any actual inbound missile would probably, hopefully be shot down before hitting the U.S. (Hawaii is a U.S. state, believe it or not), I wouldn’t be surprised if my resident state were sacrificed in order to get the U.S. into a war. My thoughts immediately turned to my wife and our cats. My student interrupted and remarked that she was about to die alone which I quickly replied that she was technically incorrect since she was with me. Then I breathed a sigh of relief because if the threat were real, there would be nothing we could do. Even if we survived the blast, radiation would kill us in short order. Again, having just gotten to work, it figures. Then I chuckled to myself that it would really suck to have just landed here on your first Hawaiian vacation.

A few minutes later the alert that proclaimed THIS IS NOT A DRILL was deemed an accident – really, the emergency alert system just told approximately two million residents and tourist they were about to die – and we could all go about our business. Students eventually filed in, many visibly shaken and apologizing for being late. Did they really think I wasn’t going to understand? I did my best to console those worst affected. I myself was not.

At least not until later. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking how messed up the whole situation was and it kept me awake for at least an hour. Surely, someone should be fired. (“So, Jack, tell me why you left your last job?”) But we have to take some good away from the situation and recognize how unprepared we all were, not that you really can be prepared for such a thing. But, my wife and I currently have a lot of alcohol in the house thanks to the holiday season. I suppose finally getting rid of that bottle of moonshine wouldn’t be such a bad way to go.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) January 2018 John J Vinacci

Eulogy for a Friend (and Superhero)

Eulogy for a Friend (and Superhero)

Over the past two years, an old friend from high school had been posting humorous updates on his rounds of chemotherapy in his fight against pancreatic cancer. On the morning of January 3, 2018, he succumbed to the disease.

When I met Paul is high school, he was a laid back guy. He was usually happy-go-lucky despite dealing with brain tumors before I even knew him. Yet still, he always had a joke. They weren’t always good jokes, but even a bad joke given a bad situation is better than no joke at all. I always respected that. And then he’d pull out a guitar, literally play three or four notes and say, “You know what that was? Bon Jovi’s Wanted Dead or Alive.” Paul was a little bit like Wille E. Coyote – he even liked to use the phrase ‘super genius’ – except that he was smarter and kinder.

Despite diseases that afflicted him almost his entire life, Paul marched on and lived his life. He had been dealing with pancreatic cancer for the past five years and even at the end, his posts still had to put a smile on your face. (I forgave all the grammatical mistakes; he had more important things on his mind, I’m sure.) Through all his therapies, he never said he was tired of it or just wanted to give up – he was a fighter. We all think sometimes we’ve got it bad and this upsets us, but Paul’s situation didn’t seem to bother him that much if his posts were any indication.

I regret not having talked to him recently when I had the chance. I would have at least liked to have told him how he’d been immortalized in my book as a superhero, because that’s what he was. He was an average citizen by day, Superman during chemotherapy.

Paul, wherever you may be, I hope you are about to rock…and I salute you.

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Alpha vs. Omega is out!

Alpha vs. Omega is out!

My first novel, Alpha vs. Omega, is an epic fantasy-action novel and meditation on the use and abuse of power, the question of nationalism, and underpinnings of religion. As super humans struggle for dominance over each other on the eve of an alien invasion, do we ever really know who the heroes and villains are? And what terrible price will be paid to prevent an extinction level event? Is it possible for the price to be too costly?

As a bonus, Alpha vs. Omega comes with interactive links to thematic music to enhance key elements of the book!

The ebook is available now on Amazon for only $2.99! Click here!

Alpha vs. Omega Cover (Official)

 

Prelude to Alpha vs. Omega

Prelude to Alpha vs. Omega

I have to do this.

I walk across the once sure footing of their planet’s surface, crushing the ruins of their structures beneath my soles. Glass and gold, once tall and glorious, are reduced to atoms beneath my stride. I place my foot on this creature’s throat. I am allowed, for I created it. I create it and its whole race, even all the life on their planet, because I sought an answer. I sought a way out of my predicament; the ‘perfect prison’ it was called.

I have existed – I don’t know – for so long. I can no longer fathom the time. When was I born? Was I born? I don’t know who or what I am or precisely how I came to be. But I do know my past and current state: imprisonment.

Many times I’ve tried to destroy myself as a means of escape but near the moment of oblivion an instinct kicks in and I recover just as strong as ever. I gave up trying, again, I don’t remember when; it was too long ago. I do remember that when I stopped trying I began experimenting. I discovered I was capable of extraordinary things. That was a difficult time, testing the limits of what I could do. I felt there should be some limitation but I found myself…omnipotent? I think that is the word. I would almost die during some of my experiments but never quite to the point it actually satisfied me. The combination of nearly dying and the subsequent resurrections is not something anyone else could ever know. Or want to.

As a workaround, I built the containment suit I now live in. Its material was forged out of collapsed star matter using knowledge I possess, strangely enough, only sometimes. My containment suit has hidden my real appearance for time immemorial; I’ve even forgotten what my own face looks like. There is a face I do remember, though. It was a face not unlike my own. I remember it to this day and I remember what they said. That face said, “I am going to put you inside the perfect prison.” I cannot recall what I did to deserve the punishment.

So I sought an answer but no matter where I went, no matter how many light-years I traveled, there was nothing or no one to speak to. So I had to create others to talk to. I had to create life and after many unsuitable experiments, decided to use myself as a template. The result was…primitive. Like my plant life, these lifeforms needed to grow, so I cast them far and wide across the cosmos. I laid in wait until something like a bell rang in my head. A small but distinct ringing sound in my head told me my creations were finally able to communicate with me. I knew, for I am connected to all my designs in various ways.

I was drawn to this planet for it was closest to me. Though tired, I was eager for their help. But the inhabitants withdrew from my presence. They, like me, had their own instincts and felt they should be afraid. But I made no threatening move. I had come in peace. Though we did not talk in the same way, trust was established every day I did not harm them. Next, we went about learning each other’s language. It was a slow process but eventually we arrived at the place where I could ask my question. I asked them, “Why am I here?” and they did not know. Perhaps I should have expected their answer having come before them. I asked another question; “How can I escape?” and they did not know that either. They did not even try to answer that question. And that infuriated me.

I grabbed one of them by their round, chubby neck and raised the creature overhead with no effort. I raised my other hand and grabbed a hold of its body. Then I tore the ignorant being in two. Its life fluid fell like raindrops upon my head. (‘Rain,’ I remember that word from somewhere.) The crowd of individuals before me scattered into the wind. I cannot blame them as my howl reached up from the deepest depths of my being and almost toppled a nearby mountain. But this was not a cry of anger, it was an exclamation of pleasure. I had not felt anything like it since the time…the time I think to call ‘Before.’ The destruction of life, life I myself created, engorged me with power. I was energized by another’s death. I delighted in the fear I instilled in the others. Frail things; it was not hard to hunt them all down and slaughter them. Each death increased my strength. And I drew more power from each one the more I made them suffer. I set about destroying their entire civilization to make their worst fears a reality.

And so I have to do this. I have to lay my foot across this creature’s throat and deny it breath. Not all of it; just enough to ask one more time, “How can I escape?” and let it answer. Its four pairs of eyes bulge and it tells me it does not know. The creature begs me to spare it. This is for some reason supposed to be terrible, at least to them, what I am doing. But it is intoxicating; I cannot stop. I do not stop. This makes me stronger. So I lower my foot.

I survey the ruins of their world. I will leave here and cross the universe in search of more life. To do this will cost me some of the strength I have just gained, though. I look towards their one remaining structure that for a reason I cannot give, I spared. It is an enormous, mirrored-black dome. It is many miles wide. I think I will build a ship out of it. I will use that ship to carry me across the cosmos. I will go to other worlds, seek out my children and drain all of the life out of them. Why? Because I see it now. I can use the power I gain to break the very prison I am in. I assume it will take all the life in the universe. So be it. They are mine to do with what I will. It matters little compared to my suffering. I will do anything to escape this infernal, eternal punishment. I WILL DO ANYTHING.

 

[The epic super hero fantasy drops January 2, 2018!]

 

All Rights Reserved © December 2017 John J Vinacci