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Phillip Morris

Phillip Morris Prose TRANSFORMATIVE TECHNOCRATS - December 2018

Because You Know That They Know

Written By Phillip Morris

When they turned the chip off, her time and body were again her own. There were no locks on her room, no one tried to stop her from leaving the building. But after a few trips into the world, she learned she no longer had a place there.

When they turn off the chip, they take back the wigs and shiny form-fitting clothes. The alluring appeal is an illusion by design, flipped off and on as easily as the lights. They let her roam free because they know she’s smart enough to know that without them, she’s nothing.

Dark hollow eyes. Muscles too atrophied for any real work. Only tufts of once enviable hair clinging in the space between metal plugs.

When the chip was off, she spent a lot of time alone. She thought about her father often, whether she was in her room, or getting wasted at the girls’ bar. He didn’t stay out of her mind for long. She’d ended up exactly as he said she would.

Once she almost called. Connected to the network, got the other end ringing, then hung up before connecting. What was more unbearable than confessing to a parent that they were right?

She knew exactly what he would say and she wouldn’t say much at all. What is there to say when you know that they know everything?

It wasn’t pride that kept her from asking for help. As she caught glimpses of herself in the mirror, she saw nothing to take pride in. She told herself it wasn’t pride that put her on this slow path to an early death.

She wished they would leave the chip on.

FOOD POLITICS - September 2018 Phillip Morris

Greenhouse Gases Fresh From the Farm

Written by Phillip Morris, Editor-in-Chief

Despite the efforts of a few backward individuals, the world has recognized the need to mitigate the impact of climate change by reducing GHG emissions. The world has however been slow to recognize the important part that food will play in facilitating that reduction. Even further behind is the acknowledgment that primarily meat-based diets are unsustainable.

Global agriculture emissions contribute 20-30% of the GHGs annually. The EU has acknowledged that agriculture contributes to climate change, but when it comes to policy the focus has long been on ensuring food security and economic performance, which helps explain why methane was excluded from the National Emissions Ceiling Directive even though methane emissions from livestock are a significant part of overall emissions.

Some of the agricultural emissions come from the CO2 exhausts of machines used in agricultural production; these will be reduced by legislation that limits vehicle emissions, and market forces that encourage hybrid and electric vehicles. What is likely to continue to be overlooked is the amount of GHG produced by the animals raised for food, and specifically bovines. When organic compounds break down in an anaerobic environment, like animals digestive tracts, they produce methane, a GHG 10 times more efficient than CO2 at trapping heat. These then get released in a constant stream of burps and farts.

Agriculture emissions would be significantly reduced by a cultural switch from meat to plant-based diets, yet, in the name of preventing consumer confusion, the EU, Germany, and most recently France have passed policies that make it more difficult to market plant-based alternatives to animal products by preventing the use of terms traditionally associated with animals. It’s such a bad idea, that 45’s head of the US FDA considers it a good idea and is making similar moves to crack down on the use of the term almond “milk”.

These policies hinder the adoption of plant-based diets because consumers are use terms like “burger”, “sausage” or “milk” when deciding between products, even for plant-based alternatives. The European Vegetarian Union has already released a position paper denouncing legislation banning “meaty names” as an arbitrary decision, but denunciations are rarely enough to bring change. When politicians are caving to industry lobbyists over common sense you’ve got to hit them where it hurts.  

Photo by Jez Timms

Taking Action

Article 11 of the TFEU, which it has been argued applies to Member States along with EU organs, requires public policies to balance their objectives with their impact on the environment, but it doesn’t appear that such consideration was given with these restrictive policies. On the other hand, the companies subject to the restrictions actively promote their environmental consciousness.

Professor Johan Rockstrom of the Stockholm Resilience Centre has stated that despite the benefits of a plant-based diet for the environment and human health, eating meat is too culturally embedded in the developed world to be easily changed. Indeed, studies have found that consumer awareness of the environmental impact of animal-based meals in Europe is less than 50%. Still, individuals have recognized that their diet can impact climate change and a growing number are making changes to reduce their contribution by reducing the amount of meat in their diets and reducing food waste. Where the embeddedness of meat consumption comes into play is in government policy, where there has been plenty of acceptance that agriculture overlaps with health and the environment in general, but less so for climate change specifically. Any policy that neglects to consider the industry’s contribution to climate change is worth challenging.

The French law is really ripe for challenge because it is based on a misinterpretation of a Judgement of the CJEU. In this instance, the National Assembly states “Names associated with products of animal origin may not be used to market food products containing a significant proportion of plant-based materials…” It then gives “steak”, “fillet”, and “sausage” as examples of such names. It cites June 2017 Judgement of the CJEU for Case C-422/16 Verband Sozialer Wettbewerb eV v TofuTown.com GmbH as the basis for its logic. However, that judgement differentiates between substitutes for meat and substitutes for milk, “In the present case, that the fact that, as regards sales descriptions, producers of vegetarian or vegan substitutes for meat or fish are not, according to TofuTown, subject to restrictions comparable to those to which the producers of vegetarian or vegan substitutes for milk or milk products are subject, pursuant to Annex VII, Part III, to Regulation No 1308/2013, cannot be regarded as inconsistent with the principle of equal treatment.” This should imply that meat substitutes are not prone to causing similar levels of confusion to consumers as substitute milk products and so don’t need to be included in the restriction.

Additionally, Regulation No 1308/2013, and related Regulation No 1305/2013, do not seem to address the relationship between agriculture and climate change, except for mitigating the latter’s impact on the former. This goes against Article 11 of the TFEU, whereby “Environmental protection requirements must be integrated into the definition and implementation of the Union policies and activities, in particular with a view to promoting sustainable development.”

Where I believe the error lies in the Judgement is its test of proportionality which references protecting consumers from confusion and finds restricting the use of the term “milk” appropriate for meeting that objective. I have not yet found a broad study on the level of confusion among EU consumers deciding whether “milk” or “soy milk” are both animal products, but that can serve as evidence that, in general, consumers can tell the difference. Other similar studies would support this conclusion.  In the late 1990s when McDonald’s tried to block the trademark for “McVeg” vegetable burgers, The Australian Trade Mark Office reached the conclusion that “the practical risk of deception or confusion is completely negligible.” In the lead up to Germany’s law, a study conducted by The Federation of German Consumer Organizations found that only 4% of consumers said they bought a plant-based meat substitute by mistake.

New Avenues for Climate Change Litigation

The trend in climate change cases has been to target the biggest and most obvious players: oil and gas companies, and the governments in charge of their regulation and licensing. This, of course, makes sense considering the share of greenhouse gases emitted from their products. These companies are low hanging fruit in terms of their obvious contribution to climate change, but they represent a challenge in securing favorable outcomes due to their deep financial pockets and political connectedness. A cost-effective strategy for fossil fuel companies is to drag litigation out as long as possible to the point where continuing is not a viable option for the plaintiffs, either financially or politically.

While in no way suggesting that these efforts should not continue, I do believe it’s necessary to explore other possible targets. A first step would be for the EU to roll back its unnecessary policies and direct its Member States to follow suit. The next step would be for governments to take the opposite policy position to support efforts to adopt a plant-based diet and in doing so support their citizens trying to make a difference, one meal at a time.

MADNESS - July & August 2018 Phillip Morris

The Thing About Thanos

Written by Phillip Morris, Editor-in-Chief

The last three Marvel movies were my favorites and some of the best examples of the superhero genre. The last two, Black Panther and the Avengers: Infinity Wars, really took things to a new level beating out Spawn for its special place in my heart. The stories were compelling, the action engaging, but more than anything, these are my favorites because they allow for some real critical thought. I’m hard-pressed to think of another superhero film, or any film in the broad spectrum of blockbusters, where it was possible for audience members to come away with diverging experiences. Usually, we’re all strapped in for the same emotional rollercoaster laughing, gasping, and crying on cue, but with these films, it’s possible to feel something rare: sympathy for the villain.

With Thanos and Warmonger, Marvel delivered two of the best antagonists of the current wave of superhero films. They were driven by personal, righteous causes that the audience was meant to sympathize with. They weren’t out to cause chaos and destruction purely for their own sake. They craved power for the good they could do with; Thanos to avert an impending disaster life creates for itself by imbalanced consumption, and Warmonger to stop the injustices faced by the African diaspora. However, rather than bringing balance and equality to the people of the world, Warmonger wanted to just flip the script and put his people in control, so between the two of them Thanos’ cause is more sympathetic, so he’ll be the focus of this piece.

It has now been over two months since Avengers came out, and four for Black Panther, so if you don’t know what happens in the movies, that’s on you. By the rules of all polite societies, it’s been long enough that spoilers can be freely talked about. Hell, it’s even been enough time for the subreddit r/thanosdidnothingwrong to gain almost 100K followers. Still, here’s your chance to turn back.

Screen capture from Marvel’s “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018) available at Marvel Studio News.

For the first time in a while the main villain of in a superhero movie unquestionable won (Surthur got to bring about Ragnarok but he wasn’t the main villain; in another universe, Ozymandias reached his goal of world peace, but it isn’t expected to last). Throughout the film, Thanos makes his final push to gather the Infinity Stones. Just before the end, he gets his gauntlet on all six and finally makes his dream come true, killing half of all sentient life in the galaxy. Everyone not protected by theirs magically profitable status as an original Avenger was given a 50/50 chance of blowing away like dust on the wind. As any fan of comics will tell you, death is only a temporary set back for most heroes so I’m still looking forward to Black Panther and Spider-man sequels. I’m also expecting Marvel to keep to the high bar they’ve set for themselves with future villains.  In Thanos, I see a villain I can almost agree with.

Let me just say I don’t think his plan is in anyway a solution to the problems we face in the real world that have broadly been blamed on “overpopulation” or capitalism since those would largely be alleviated by reigning in greed, and properly managing resource distribution. But Thanos doesn’t exist in the real world and in his world, his solution works, despite being the bad guy. Superheroes tend to focus on solving the problem immediately at hand, which tends to be saving the lives of those in danger right now. Thanos is thinking on a larger time-scale, and not without reason.

He didn’t start out wanting to kill half of everyone. When he saw the path his planet was heading towards to tried to warn those in charge. He had to then watch his planet die when they didn’t listen to his advice. That’s what put him on the path of taking matters into his own hands, and successfully so. He mentions how Gamora’s planet was once in so much poverty that much of its population was left to starve to death, but following his culling, it is now flourishing. I don’t think there’s any suggestion he’s lying when he tells Gamora this. I feel the film’s presentation of Thanos’ motivation, as just preventing population growth from exceeding a level sustainable level, as a simplification driven by the fact that Hollywood isn’t really one to blatantly critique the systemic flaws in our society and generally thinks the mass audience is dumber than it is.

If you accept the commonly used definition of crazy as doing the same thing over and over again expecting to get different results, then superheroes are crazier than the villains they fight, and ultimately cause more suffering.  Most heroes don’t kill if they can avoid it (Thanos wouldn’t have won had the Avengers just killed one android). Instead of death, villains can expect to be placed in some form of containment be it in prison, an asylum, or another dimension. Much like how death cannot keep a profitable hero down, neither can any villain be permanently contained. They inevitably escape to wreak havoc yet again. Thanos, on the other hand, offered a permanent fix, then promptly retired. 

The thing about Thanos is he’s a bad guy for the right reasons. Killing half the population of the universe is, of course, traumatic, but trauma induces change. If life across the universe consistently develops in a way that eventually kills itself, then change is necessary. Doctor Stranger saw 14 million futures and still decided it was worth it to give Thanos the Time Stone knowing exactly what it would mean. It could be that ultimately Thanos was right, or more likely that Captain Marvel will be able to undo everything, but the fact that it’s possible to at least for a moment consider that maybe the bad guy has a point is a nice change of pace.

Phillip Morris POLITICAL UTOPIAS - March 2018

Thankful for Trump

Written by Phillip Morris, Editor in Chief

I am thankful for the election of the 45th President of the United States((Trump’s name is also his brand, so it’s better to not use it if you don’t want to inadvertently support him.)). He is forcing everyone to evaluate what they stand for, and this has led to some honest conversations with people who no longer feel comfortable with their political party. It would be great if everyone across the board took the time to re-examine their core beliefs. I know I only registered as a Democrat to vote for Bernie, and if I had to be categorized I’d be in the Bernie or Bust camp.

A bust is definitely what the US is going through at the moment, but I think that’s better than going along with the status quo. I suspect that had Hillary gotten elected voters would have blindly trusted her and allowed voter turnout to return to being shamefully low. Hillary’s political career shows, for better or worse, that she has been willing to follow the will of the masses. She’s gone from describing black men as “super-predators” to working for the first “black” president. She has transitioned from ardently describing marriage as being between one man and one woman to being a favorite of the LGBT community.

My issue with her and most other politicians is that when the public isn’t up in arms about a particular topic they’ll support the policies that favor their donors, even to the detriment of their constituents and what’s right.

I am not a fan of democracy, but I accept that it’s the best method we have for balancing an efficiently functioning government with a relatively high level of freedom for the average person. That being said, the democratic system has consistently failed to protect significant portions of the population since its inception. Genocide, slavery, concentrations camps, racism, sexism, and pretty much everything else democratic politicians point to as issues in other countries have legally taken place in democratic systems. It’s a constant fight to keep anyone one of those injustices from coming back full force. Nothing 45 has done is really new, because nothing he does is his own idea. Hating immigrants, minorities, the LGBT, or anyone different is standard fare for conservatives. What is new, is having someone so dumb in charge that he doesn’t see the point of subtlety. A traditional politician, like Hillary, would know to hide their, true agenda behind policies that at least seem legitimate at first glance. But a traditional politician is not what we got, so everyone that would like to keep this from happening again should give up their ideological shields and start having honest conversations with each other on what they want for society and how best to achieve it.

My issue with the extreme ideologies I’ve seen develop is that most of the population will never be able to buy into their core beliefs, yet the true believers take their political vision as the absolute truth; making everything else not worth entertaining, even in a no-stakes debate. This is not an approach that can stand against the pressures of having to live in a pluralist society. If freedom of speech and freedom of thought are fundamental rights then you must be willing to at least hear out the opposition. This is not to say that every view is equally valid. Falsehoods, propaganda, and over exaggerations only cloud legitimate streams of information, but if working from the same vetted information someone comes to a different conclusion the proper response should be to figure out why that’s the case.

The reasons why 45 is in office include: racism, classism, sexism, frustration with politicians, Russia, and plain ignorance. Still, these are not really an answer in themselves, no one is born hateful and bigoted, so again we should ask why. I’ve found that 45 made things simple in a world many found was getting too complicated, too fast. For every problem he was able to give an answer any primary schooler could follow, that usually involved pointing the finger. Simplicity and laying the blame at someone else’s feet is very attractive to people too tired for critical thinking, which is inevitable when they’re working 60-hour weeks, between two jobs, and still can’t get ahead. They know it can’t be their fault because they’re working as hard as they can, and it can’t be the system’s fault because that would mean all their efforts up to this point have been wasted. The easier answer to accept is that someone isn’t playing fair, be it Mexico, China, or everyone on welfare besides them.

Despite the results of recent elections, I don’t think the world is going backward. I think people just needed a rude awakening to how things actually work. The biggest revelation being that straight up lying is a totally legal way to run a political campaign; that Cambridge Analytica will still exist after all is said and done will be a testament to this fact. We have gone through this relatively brief period where the truth didn’t matter and I hope we will be better for it. The world hasn’t ended yet, so every election still represents a chance to get things right. What is “right” will always be a subject of debate, but at the very least we should insist that every argument put forward by our potential politicians be based on reasonably objective facts. In such a world traditional conservatives would need to give so much they might as well stay out of the conversation, but the liberals will need to give up some points too.

Society is a construct that we can and should always debate on how to make better, but facts shouldn’t have to compete with pleasant sounding lies. At the end of the day, I don’t care what someone believes as long as they’ve actually thought things through, and have a factual basis. When faced with an undeniable truth the isms and phobias that drive extreme ideologies will fade away, as long as the conversation takes place without patronization. A hero worth looking up to in this regard is the black preacher and activist Wade Watts, who was so steadfast in facing the KKK with humor and love, that the grand duke had to give up his hateful beliefs.

The equivalent of 45 is present in every society, shaming their potential voters won’t keep them from getting elected, honest conversations might.