The Part-Time Activist

Doing what I can, where and when I can, because there is no planet B

A small moment of direct action

Recently I was wandering by Setubal’s riverfront, taking photos of the boats and the birds when I saw a guy who was trying to touch a pigeon. I took this for a moment of inter-species communication, and took a quick photo, thinking it was a sweet moment.

However my feeling soon turned to horror, when the man grabbed the pigeon by the wing and started shaking it. It was obvious that he was going to try to kill the poor bird so before I had time to think I reacted. I started shouting at him (in English) and grabbing his arm, and quickly drew the attention of another man who also started remonstrating with him. After a few minutes the guy let the pigeon go and started shouting at me instead, in Portuguese, but I gave as good as I got, in English. I guess it was a different type of inter-species communication, but it was effective, as he left the pigeon alone.

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However, the fact that I had rescued the pigeon, or at least got it a temporary reprieve, was lost on the pigeon, which landed between me and the guy who had grabbed it. It showed no signs of moving until I shooed it away. Even then it took several minutes of shooing before it finally made a move. I’m not sure if it was in shock but I’m inclined to believe that pigeons are not the brightest of birds…

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The guy then went back to fishing, although he took the occasional break to shout abuse at me as I walked away. I think what persuaded him to let the pigeon go was the fact that I had my camera right in his face and kept on clicking. The fact that the camera wasn’t working properly and didn’t take any more photos after the first three was lost on him. I was disappointed that I didn’t get a good shot of his face, but I’m mostly just glad that the pigeon got away.

There are a huge number of pigeons in Setubal, and they are commonly regarded as a pest, but even so there was no way I could stand back and watch one being shaken to death. I can live with being thought of as the crazy pigeon lady as long as I managed to save that one small life, and hopefully my reaction will deter the guy from trying this again.

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The minimum wage and people with learning disabilities

I saw the above image on Facebook this morning and hoped it was satire. Sadly, it wasn’t. I tracked down the original article on The Spectator and found that it is actually true. The author, Rosa Monckton, who is the mother of a daughter with Down Syndrome, argues that paying people with learning disabilities less than the minimum wage will allow them to enjoy the dignity of a working life, as the alternative for them would be “a life spent in the shadows, slumped on a sofa, eating the wrong sort of food, watching daytime television.”

A little internet research reveals that Rosa Monckton is a businesswoman – a former CEO of Asprey & Garrard – who is married to a journalist. She was also a friend of the late Princess Diana. This information suggests that she has the kind of comfortable upper middle-class life which shelters her somewhat from the reality of working life as experienced by the majority of people. She also seems to have little concern that vulnerable people, including her daughter, may be at risk of exploitation by unscrupulous employers, who would be happy to employ them for very little money, and bend all sorts of rules to get as much work as possible out of them in return for very little reward.

With all sorts of horror stories in the media about the working conditions endured by seasonal workers, people employed casually or on temporary, or even zero-hours contracts, and even those with stable, permanent employment, what Monckton is suggesting is simply abhorrent. What safeguards could be put in place to protect these vulnerable workers, who often as Monckton herself admits, have little idea of the value of money, from those who seek to exploit them?

The minumum wage exists for a reason, and that reason is to ensure that workers in low-paid jobs are protected from poverty and to stop them being exploited by employers. Any attempt to waive the requirement for employers to pay this wage to a specific group of workers should be resisted, as by weakening the rights of one group, it creates a precedent which can then be used to weaken the rights of others.

Branding people with learning disabilities as not being worth the minimum wage devalues the contribution they make to a variety of working environments, and suggests that they are less able to do their jobs than their colleagues, which often may not be the case. Over the past few years I have noticed people with Down Syndrome working in a variety of places – mainly shops and restaurants, but I also met a young guy who worked as a Dj and could talk fluently about what he did and why he enjoyed doing it.

Monckton’s own website states:

People with a learning disability may chronologically become adults, but, in most cases, will remain mentally as children.  However, because of the current ideology that everyone is equal, and the assumption (because of the Mental Capacity Act 2005) that they are capable of making their own life-changing decisions, people with learning disabilities are being put out ‘into the community’ with insufficient support.  They become lonely, and are ‘befriended’ by people who take advantage of them.  They are bullied, sexually assasulted, have their benefits stolen and – in some cases – are murdered… Yes, we are all equal in that we share a common humanity, but some are more vulnerable than others, and require looking after.

So she’s against putting people into the community with insufficient support because they could be exploited, and need to be looked after, but she’s also happy to allow them to be put into the workplace where they will be equally vulnerable to exploitation? This makes no sense. I think Ms Monckton needs to have another think about what she’s suggesting.

Suggesting that one particular group of people is worth less than another, whether in the workplace or elsewhere, has no place in a civilised society. Sadly, it seems that with every day that passes, society is becoming less and less civilised. At times like this I am reminded of Pastor Martin Niemoller’s famous quote:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Unless people stand together to protect their rights it seems that soon there won’t be any rights left to protect.

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Tillikum, free at last

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Tillikum, also known as Shamu, died this week at Seaworld, where he had been held captive for over 30 years. Captured in November 1983, when he was approximately 2 years old, this unfortunate orca, or killer whale, star of the movie Blackfish, was held prisoner in a small tank which held just 0.0001 percent of the quantity of water that he would traverse in a single day in nature.

Tillikum never had a chance to have a normal life, like other killer whales, living with his mother as part of a large pod. Instead, he was kept in captivity, bullied by other whales who were kept with him, mercilessly exploited by Seaworld for breeding purposes and forced to perform to entertain the public. It is estimated that around 54% of orcas currently held by Seaworld have Tillikum’s genes.

Perhaps the saddest thing about keeping a large male orca like Tillikum in captivity is that his dorsal fin, usually proud and straight in adult males, flopped over. This was attributed to his being held in an unnatural environment and being fed an unnatural diet. His lifespan was also cut short, and he died at just 33/34 years old, much less than that of a healthy, wild orca.

Over the course of his lengthy period of captivity, Tillikum was responsible for the deaths of three people. Small wonder that he became aggressive, given that he was kept in unnatural conditions and forced to perform tricks in return for food.

If anything good has come from Tillikum’s captivity and exploitation, it’s that the film Blackfish brought his plight, and that of other orcas held in marine parks, to the attention of the public, and that as a result Seaworld’s income has dropped dramatically, leading them to revise their policy of having orcas perform to entertain the public. However freedom for Seaworld’s orcas is still a long way off.

RIP Tillikum. I’m sorry that you had such a short, sad life.

If you want to learn more about Tillikum, please watch Blackfish

Or read Death at Seaworld

And please, please, never buy a ticket to watch whales, dolphins or any other creatures perform in captivity. Their lives are a misery and they deserve better.

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The horror of puppy mills

Brilliantly described in this article from Rolling Stone magazine. Please, if you’re thinking of getting a dog, adopt, don’t buy. There are lots and lots of dogs waiting in shelters for loving homes, and many of them will be euthanised if homes can’t be found for them.

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Big thanks to for writing this article and bringing this issue to the attention of a wider public.

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Litter rage

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I don’t understand the people who live in my town – Setubal in Portugal. They express pride in living in a beautiful area, with a pod of resident dolphins in the bay, beautiful beaches and hundreds of varieties of birds wintering in the area, but everywhere I go here I’m surrounded by litter. And it can’t be explained by a shortage of rubbish bins. They’re everywhere, and people are employed to pick up the rubbish in parks and along the streets. I got some funny looks in the park the other day when I stepped into the semi-drained fountain to remove a plastic bottle, but I just couldn’t leave it there. But no matter how much rubbish you pick up there’s just more and more of it!

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Yesterday I went for a long walk on the Troia peninsula, just across the river Sado. It attracts lots of tourists during the summer season, but that’s over now and there seem to be mainly Portuguese people using the area for walks, and to do sports. But everywhere you look there’s plastic – lots and lots of it. I picked up at least four tote bags of plastic drink bottles and glasses, various items of packaging, beer bottles (glass) and assorted pieces of styrofoam. There were a lot of tissues lying around too, but I didn’t pick them up because I didn’t have any gloves. I picked up everything I could reach but there was lots of stuff I couldn’t get to.

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Troia is a beautiful place, and there were lots of beautiful birds to be seen. The beaches have lovely white sand with amazing views out over the ocean and back across the bay to Setubal. But I couldn’t enjoy a relaxing walk on the beach because there was so much stuff that shouldn’t have been there and I felt that I needed to pick it up. And if I didn’t, then who would? No-one else on the beach seemed remotely concerned about the plastic everywhere, which I found really bizarre. I don’t know if the problem is apathy, lack of interest in the environment or just plain, old-fashioned stupidity, but it’s a real shame that the local people don’t take care of their environment. If they don’t the birds, dolphins and other creatures will all die because of the pollution, and the tourist industry, on which so many people here depend, will cease to exist.

Please, if you’re heading to the beach, or for a walk, or just going about your daily routine, take a bag with you and pick up any rubbish you see. Don’t just ignore it. Let’s all try to do something to preserve the planet, before it’s too late.

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Taiji’s prisoners

Thanks to the Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians for these updates on the numbers and species of captive dolphins in Taiji, along with the locations in which they are currently held. As it is still early in the hunting season, it is likely that these numbers will increase substantially over the coming months.

Please behave responsibly and do not buy tickets to attractions that display dolphins and other marine creatures in the name of “entertainment”. An animal that can swim up to 150km a day in their natural environment does not belong in a small concrete tank, where they slowly die of depression. Dolphins have been known to commit suicide in places like this. Please don’t contribute to their misery.

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Where is Maria?

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Update 4 September 2016: Unfortunately Maria’s body was found a couple of days after this blog post was published. She has now been buried in Piestany and is missed by her husband and children. RIP Maria.

I am horrified to learn that my former colleague Maria Fox Filova has been missing since going for a walk near her home in Piest’any, Slovakia, last Sunday.  Maria left home at around 7pm on Sunday evening, taking only her purse, her keys and the garage opener with her. She did not take her phone with her. She has not been seen since.

Although I didn’t know her very well,  I do know that Maria is a lovely lady who has two young sons and they, and her husband Michael, are missing her and are very worried about her. It is not like her to go missing, and despite some searches being carried out, the local police are already becoming less helpful, and the action to find her seems to be scaled down.

One Slovak tabloid has apparently printed a story indicating that Maria may have committed suicide. This has caused a lot of distress to Maria’s family and is not helpful.

Piest’any is a small town, where it is impossible to do anything without other people knowing about it, and talking about it.  Someone must have seen Maria when she was out walking, or seen what happened to her.  And if someone knows what happened to Maria and won’t admit it, someone may be protecting them.

If you know what happened to Maria, or know someone who may know something, then please either contact Maria’s husband Michael via his Facebook page, or contact the Piest’any police on +421 33 / 77 268 02. At this point any detail, no matter how small, may be helpful. So if you have information please tell someone, so that Maria is reunited with her family as soon as possible.

Thanks

 

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How to spin a story of horse abuse in your favour

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Over the last couple of days there have been a number of news stories, including this one, about Adelinde Cornelissen, the Dutch dressage rider, and how she retired Parzifal, her horse, during the Grand Prix event, as he was unwell. By doing this, Cornelissen has received a lot of publicity, with her story about how she pulled out to save “her buddy” leading to her being seen as some sort of heroine, and more deserving of an Olympic Gold Medal than the other riders who took part in the competition.

But in spreading this story, there are some facts that the journalists seem to have overlooked:

Adelinde Cornelissen, has a history of using the cruel Rollkur method to train her horses, including this one. There are numerous photos of her riding this horse with his head tucked in far too close to his chest, with his mouth strapped firmly shut and his mouth foaming. She is closely associated with Sjeff Janssens, the Dutch coach who pioneered this brutal training method. And for those who claim that photos like these represent “just one moment in time” – Adelinde seems to have a lot of these “moments”.


Photographs are in circulation of Cornelissen wearing spurs with rowels (little wheels) on them, the better to dig them into the horse’s sides and ensure a quick response to her aids/instructions. If you dug these spurs into me I’d react quickly too! Just looking at them makes me feel ill.

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Parzifal 19 and has had heart problems, yet he was flown across the world to Rio to participate in the Olympics. He fell ill having been bitten by an insect of some sort. And was then competed him within 24 hours of him being seriously ill and having a temperature of 40 degrees.

None of the above information indicates that Adelinde Cornelissen is in any way a compassionate and caring horsewoman, who loves her horses. As one poster on Facebook pointed out, if this is how she treats her “buddy”, spare a thought for how she must treat her enemies. The photo below shows Cornelissen after her elimination from the 2010 World Equestrian Games, when Parzifal had blood in his mouth.

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So please spare me the comments about her being a true Olympian, compassionate horsewoman, a true winner, etc. She’s anything but. I’m sure there are any number of happy stories about Olympians which will give you warm fuzzy feelings – in my case it’s the brothers from County Cork who won a silver in the rowing event and are so incredibly happy about it, not just for themselves, but for their community back home. Or Fu Yuanhui, the Chinese swimmer and her adorable dorky faces whenever she’s in front of the camera. But this is not one of those stories.

Apparently Parzifal is now to be retired from competition. I hope he looks happier in his future is happier than he did during most of his competitive career.

 

 

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Countdown to another brutal killing season

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With just a couple of weeks remaining before September 1 and the beginning of a new season of slaughter in the Japanese town of Taiji, the figures for this year’s drive hunt quota have been released.

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As the picture above indicates, the aim is to catch 1,820 dolphins and small whales from seven different species. These creatures will be torn away from their families, and part of each species’ culture will be destroyed, along with all of the knowledge that goes with it. And for what?

A few of the dolphins and whales will be condemned to a life of misery in marine parks and zoos. The rest will be butchered, even though there is little demand for their meat, which is laden with mercury and is therefore toxic. Once again the Japanese authorities will use some of the meat to serve to schoolchildren, hospital patients and prisoners, with little regard for their health and well-being. Some will be sold to customers who are unaware of the risks they take in consuming this product. And some will be placed in cold storage, as demand for this tainted meat is low.

You can show your opposition to the slaughter in Taiji in a number of ways: You can attend an event for Japan Dolphins Day on or around 1 September.  You can support Ric O’Barry’s Cove Monitors and the Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians as they watch and document the daily events in Taiji. You can share information and educate people about the events in Taiji – encourage people to read about the killings and to watch The Cove. Send emails, participate in Tweetstorms, dissuade friends from visiting SeaWorld and other marine parks. But above all please do something. Every voice raised against the killing counts. And one day this horrible practice will be stopped.

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Horses and cars are not meant to mix!

It seems that wherever I go recently I see horses pulling carriages full of tourists who are just too damn lazy to get out and walk, or too stupid to know that other methods of transport are safer and do not involve animal abuse. Recently in Vienna I saw two instances where cars just could not wait to pass a horse and carriage by – one of them in a cemetery!

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Is it going to take a tragic accident (or several) before people realise that having horses in traffic is just not a good idea?

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