Stopping Unnecessary Roughness ~ local group monitors national animal research

Michael Budkie has lasted 15 years in a career most people wouldn’t touch with a pooper-scooper: He studies the day-to-day life stories of animals stuck in laboratory experiments.

SAEN co-founders Karen and Michael Budkie. Photo courtesy of Dina Kourda

“That’s not exactly the Sunday comics,” says the 52-year-old from Milford, who has a degree in Animal Health Technology from the University of Cincinnati, and another in Theology from Xavier University.

After poring through medical histories and U.S. Department of Agriculture reports, Mr. Budkie, his wife Karen Budkie, 52, and a small investigative team comprising the nonprofit Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN) aim their stones at several Goliaths of American industry.

Their goals: Hold accountable the defense, pharmaceutical and medical industries for their violations of the Animal Welfare Act. And let the public know what happens in animal labs.

In October SAEN unearthed records showing that a dozen musk oxen had died of starvation at a University of Alaska research facility. And last month the group released a list of the 20 U.S. research facilities that subject the greatest number of animals to painful experiments without anesthesia. In the middle of this list is Battelle Memorial Institute, a Columbus-based nonprofit company that does contract work for the Department of Defense (DOD), among others.

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What is zooethnography?

Foam-rubber animals filled Ortekay Square in Istanbul, Turkey last year, in a public art project inspired by the feral dogs & cats, gulls, & dolphins who share the city.

Last night I felt I had begun to understand the nascent, boundary-straining field of zooethnography.   Having traveled to Sweden’s old university town of Uppsala for a conference on it four days earlier, I met separately with organizer Jacob Bull and presenting scholar Eva Hayward, to help answer some lingering questions.

Both of them are members of the “HumAnimal” group at Uppsala University’s Center for Gender Research–a group which over the past year has embraced the term and field of zooethnography, and begun to define its challenges.

Zooethnography, Hayward explained, is the study of how animals shape human-animal encounters.  Like traditional ethnographers, who study human cultures, zooethnographers study these encounters in light of the cultural environments in which they occur–like a particular research lab, city park, or farm.

On Monday Hayward presented one such study, Migrations of Light: Whale songs and Photographs, in which she proposed an understanding of how humpback whales affected a group of human researchers in Maine, through photographs of the whale’s flukes.

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Piatt Park Occupiers Arrested, Tents Dismantled

Screen shot of protestors at Piatt Park, shortly before 1am on October 21. Livestream at

After midnight this morning, Cincinnati police arrested about twenty members of Occupy Cincinnati before a crowd of several hundred supporters, according to eyewitnesses.

The growing group of residents had been demonstrating against a system of “corporate welfare”–exemplified by the bank bailouts of 2008 and 2009–that they say tramples the interests of 99 percent of the U.S. population, while catering to the demands of the wealthiest and most politically influential one percent.

About twenty members of the non-violent, democratically-run group were arrested and their tents dismantled, four days after the movement filed a federal injunction against the City for the $105 tickets repeatedly issued to each occupier, nightly since the demonstration began.

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Scholars clarify activists’ paths

Readers, my apologies: technical problems prevented me from posting the following jottings last night.  I’ve decided to remain here in Uppsala, Sweden for a few days after the current conference ends, to catch you up on my findings.  Thanks for sticking around!  From yesterday:

Horses driven through Prague with a tourist carriage

I am rolling out of Dresden on a quiet train, halfway between Prague’s ICAS conference on “Reconfiguring the ‘Human’/’Animal’ Binary” and Berlin, where I’ll spend a night before flying to Sweden for tomorrow’s “Zooethnographies” papers.  It has been a gorgeous weekend, filled with sun and busty wood pigeons.

In the old, wood-and-light-filled Faculty of Arts at Prague’s Charles University, most of the 50+ presenters directly addressed the meeting’s theme: finding more nuanced and constructive new ways to look at human-animal relationships.

Existing “binary” notions like master-pet, hunter-quarry, consumer-resource, and intellectual-instinctual, were dismantled or dismissed for many of the same reasons that Gender Studies scholars have fought against the limitations wrought by using crude dichotomies like “virgin/whore” to define a person.

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Animal scholars occupy Europe! A Sent. Cint. exclusive

A retriever awaits his human, outside of a pharmacy in central Prague.

Beneath the sooty spires of Prague, dogs join men and women in restaurants, birds arrive to winter on the iceless Vlatva River, and a group of scholars is meeting to ask questions that I, too, would like answered:

Left to his own devices, what kind of life might a domestic dog choose for himself?

How do people protect their psyches, in jobs that demand violence against animals?

How relevant are the differences between humans and non-humans?

Across Europe this month, experts in animal law, zooethnography, and other areas of the young field known as human-animal studies (HAS), are convening to share and build ideas.  Having recently studied human-animal relations in my own grad program, I’ve decided to come along and mull through the most useful and interesting insights I hear, for a general audience.  The language of scholars can be flummoxingly high falutin, so I want to see if I can do for these ideas what Scientific American does for astrochemistry.

I plan to write a short article here, each day for the next three weeks; to stay tuned, you can subscribe to Sentient Cincinnati (by hitting the “follow” button at the top or bottom of this page), or keep your eye on my Twitter account.

My journey begins here in Prague with perhaps the most radical wing of HAS scholars, the Institute for Critical Animal Studies (ICAS).  Many of these scholars dedicate their work to the liberation of animals from human coercion, blurring lines between scholarship and activism.  Conference organizer Tereza Vandorovcová likens the activist bent of critical animal studies, to that of gender studies:

More after tomorrow’s 23 talks and one vigil–thanks for reading!

Duke Wants New Fee on Customers Who Opt Out

Smokestacks at Duke Energy's Miami Fort Plant in North Bend, Ohio

In a move almost as confusing as its monthly bills, Duke Energy has proposed a 10-year rate plan that would impose a new “capacity” fee on both its own customers and those who have switched to other electricity providers.

While the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) evaluates the proposal, Cincinnati residents are considering an unrelated ballot measure that would enable them, as a group, to take their business away from Duke and give it to a lower bidder.

Under Duke’s proposal, its customers would now find their energy charges “unbundled” into two components: The cost of generating energy, which only they would pay for; and also Duke’s more hypothetical “capacity” to generate energy, which everyone on the local grid would subsidize through the proposed fee.

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Closing the (Political) Salon

Ellen Bierhorst presides over the final Lloyd House Salon at her Clifton home.

If Cincinnati were Paris, Ellen Bierhorst would be its Gertrude Stein.

In July the 71-year-old psychotherapist-poet ended her Lloyd House Salon, a gathering in Clifton where some of the city’s most engaged citizens grappled with local leaders and each other about politics, art, life and death. Open to anyone and any topic, the salon convened every week “come hell or high water” for 10 years.

Free from the confines of short soundbites, visitors to the salon such as mayors, City Council members and aspiring public servants often used the forum to stump and debate, and Lloyd House “salonistas” relished the chance to cross-examine them around a potluck dinner table.

Longtime salon-goer Steve Sunderland, 71, a professor of peace and educational studies at the University of Cincinnati, remembers a visit from Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper as emblematic of what made the salon unique.

“He stayed the whole evening, and people had an opportunity to talk to him about what his background was, what his dreams were,” Sunderland says.

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Battle Rages Over Office of Environmental Quality

Residents at an Aug. 16 public hearing wore green to express their support for the Office of Environmental Quality.

Among a standing-room-only crowd at a former Catholic church in South Cumminsville, a swath of green t-shirts materialized Aug. 16 on residents opposing a budget proposal that would dismantle Cincinnati’s Office of Environmental Quality (OEQ).

The public hearing of City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee began with City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr.’s presentation and defense of his proposal, and concluded only after 36 residents had responded before the committee. Council will vote on the plan Aug. 31.

Among those who addressed council, 18 spoke in support of continuing to fund OEQ, with two using the phrase “penny-wise and pound-foolish” to describe the proposal; none defended it.

“Why on earth are you even considering dismantling an office whose effect on the budget alone is positive, in excess of 25 times its cost?” William Messer demanded of Council.

City statistics reveal the single OEQ project of overhauling Cincinnati’s recycling program this year will save more money — $930,731 in 2011 — than the city expects to save by eliminating the office, which is estimated at $225,030 by 2012.

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National whistleblower leaks 800 “model” bills to local activist

Aliya Rahman was contacted by a whistleblower from within the American Legislative Exchange Council, hours after organizing a Cincinnati protest in April.

Within two hours of helping stage a loud protest outside a spring convention of conservative policymakers, Over-the-Rhine resident Aliya Rahman got a telephone call that has now triggered a media groundswell.

“I have information about ALEC,” said a voice.

Six weeks earlier, 29-year-old Rahman had been a Miami Univeristy Ph.D. student and labor organizer who wondered why an Ohio budget clause threatening to deregulate wages and class sizes at her school, was coming so close upon the heels of a similar proposal in Virginia.

Then a link on Facebook got her attention.  A Wisconsin history professor had proposed that conservative bills arising simultaneously in multiple states, like those aimed at reducing workers’ bargaining rights, were rolling quietly out of a nonprofit group known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

And ALEC was coming to Cincinnati.

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This Little Piggie Gets Tortured ~ Kroger stops shipments, asks for probe

        A piglet at Iowa Select Farms’ Kamrar, IA facility.       Photo courtesy of Mercy for Animals

Three years ago, floodwaters engulfed Iowa and swept hundreds of pigs down the Mississsippi River, sparking a rescue effort that moved over 60 survivors to new lives on sanctuaries. When Iowa’s levees burst again last week, its pigs took the national spotlight once more to tell a different story.

A hard-to-watch undercover video from the Chicago- based group Mercy for Animals (MFA) was released on June 29, showing live piglets getting sliced, slammed and thrown across a building in a small Iowa town.

A former Iowa Pork Princess became its unwitting star, by assuring the undercover camerawoman that “pigs are very bouncy,” and then describing their flights through the air as “a rollercoaster ride for piglets.”

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