Varun Krishnan

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Animal Testing

Who doesn’t want to live a long and healthy life? We all have science to thank for the increased longevity of the human lifespan in comparison to the years gone by. Medical science is growing in leaps and bounds by the day to conquer the one thing humans fear above all: death. In its ongoing attempt, there have been many discoveries, may it be in the form of medicinal treatment or surgery. But would you be able to accept these medicines and treatments with a clean conscience if it were to come at the cost of somebody’s life? Well, this is where the human moral compass seems to be a little skewed, because at the mention of “somebody”, one only thinks of humans. One would think “we aren’t taking anybody’s life for our own”, but what we don’t realize is that yes, we do. The somebody here is animals. Aren’t they living beings too, sharing the same planet alongside us? Helpless and hapless, these creatures are either bought from pounds or are bred in labs for the sole purpose of being experimented on, and a clear majority of them are later euthanized.

An argument used as early as the 17th century to justify this cruelty (besides no other available technique for medicinal testing) was that animals felt no pain or suffering. In today’s modern age, with all the information available via books and online libraries, falling for this archaic and misleading statement would be an insult to the human intelligence. Twenty-six million; that’s the estimated number of animals in the US alone that are slaughtered for “progress of science and medicine”. Although this number is nowhere close to reality as most of the animals used are rats, mice and birds which aren’t covered by the “minimal protections” of the “Animal Welfare Act”, they go uncounted. Three hundred and twelve million, that’s the estimated “human” population of the US. If the animals were humans, that number would approximately be 10 percent of the populace. How would that make one feel, that a healthy 10 percent of the populace are slaughtered inhumanly for the sake of the rest? Just because they are animals, people don’t flinch at the thought because our kind reaps the benefit. Just because they have no human cognition, don’t they have any rights?

 

While in the past this condition could be justified due to the lack of alternatives, in today’s modern age where science is getting closer to successful cloning of human body parts, this can certainly be changed if there is a will to do so. To make it plain and simple, let’s lay down some pros and cons to get more perspective. Pros of animal testing are: it has contributed to life saving cures and treatments, one of the greatest examples being that of Polio. From 1988 to 2012, the number of cases has gone down from three hundred and fifty thousand to a paltry two hundred and thirty-three. In more modern times, chimpanzees have been man’s best hope for finding cures to cancer, cystic fibrosis, malaria and many more. Animals make better research subjects as compared to humans due to their shorter life cycle. Hence, the entire effect of the treatment can be observed over an entire lifespan, especially if it involves genetic manipulation. Animals are genetically very like us. The human DNA is 99 percent like that of a chimpanzee and 98 percent like that of a rat.

Cons of animal testing are: animal testing is cruel and inhumane, period. Animals used for experimentation are subject to force feeding, forced inhalation, forced restraints being used, deprivation for prolonged periods from food and water, infliction of injuries and burns, and the list goes on. The USDA (US Department of Agriculture) reported in 2010 that approximately one hundred thousand animals suffered pain during experiments due to not being given anesthesia. Animal tests do not necessitate that the medicine may be equally good for humans. 94 percent of the drugs that clear animal tests fail human trials. A study published by the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America” (PNAS) found that nearly one hundred and fifty human trials of treatments to reduce swellings in patients who were critically ill failed despite all being successful in clearing animal tests. While the DNA shared by humans and animals may be highly similar, it doesn’t change the fact that differences such as metabolic and cellular functions exist. The human body is too complex for an animal’s body to be able to match it. Alternatives exist such as “Microdosing” which involves administering a small dose of a test compound to a volunteer to observe the effects it has. There are computer software and other techniques available too, such as “Positron Emission Tomography” (PET) which allows scanning the human brain of a living person. At the end, it all depends on the choice one wants to make. Invest more resources on devising techniques to perform tests without having any collateral by using softwares or doping techniques, or to let the status quo remain as we continue to redden our earth with the blood of the innocent.

Op-Ed: (Anti-) Social Media

“Hey there, what’s your username or handle?” is perhaps one of the most if not the most common way nowadays to socialize with people. You find a random person, like their face, sense of humor, or anything of that sort and boom — you ask their name on Facebook and add them. At least, that’s the case if you don’t know the person at all; if you have mutual friends with the person in question, then these mutual friends become invaluable “friend-finders” to make the connection. It’s common to find friend requests from people you may have just met once or twice or perhaps even seen at some party while hanging out with your friends.

The internet indeed has spun its own web of networking within the cyberweb, making it a reality to network with people in a much easier fashion and making it possible to stay in touch with people from various corners of the earth. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat; these are perhaps the most famous mobile apps and will be found on almost every person’s phone.

While there are numerous advantages of being so active on the virtual world, are we perhaps failing to see the more than obvious short coming of this two-edged sword?

Social is defined as an informal social “gathering”; there was a time where gathering very obviously meant people being physically present, unlike now where people “gather” online on social networking sites to chat with each other. Is “social networking” perhaps killing the social? Human beings are known to be social beings, but does that statement still hold? To put forth an example, I need not look far. Walk down the road, take the bus, metro, watch people walk down corridors; anywhere and everywhere you can see people of all ages engrossed into their 6 inch screens. While the internet has given us the power to have the world in our pals, it has perhaps in many ways enclosed our social boundaries to within our palms.

While the power of social networking does benefit those who are socially awkward, introverts, or shy by letting them convey their thoughts and feelings in a way that does not put them on the spot, repeated and constant reliance on the power of virtual networking enslaves us. We take the easy way out and many a times form a split personality without realizing. One persona is our real self, the person we are in the real world. We may be shy in public or have some certain interests we are too shy or embarrasses to convey, online interaction save us from the embarrassment of seeing how the other person reacts. This over-reliance on social networking in many ways is making man more of a recluse.

While one may confidently chat or flirt online, the same person will stutter and stammer upon meeting the person in the real world. This can lead to further disappointment, perhaps you have a much “cooler” and vibrant personality online, one that has a good sense of humor, effuses confidence and the real social interactions shatters that dream.

In today’s fast-moving world, where people seem to barely find time to squash in 3 meals a day, social networking does help us in saving time and effort in finding a friend online and if we do like the person we are free to inform the same. While the upside is so apparent for us to see, we must not neglect the flip side of the fast growing and gripping “social” problem. We must remember that we all do still have lives outside our phones and off social networking.

Los Angeles resident Albert Borrero tries his pair of Spectacles shortly after they went on sale in November 2016. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Los Angeles resident Albert Borrero tries his pair of Spectacles shortly after they went on sale in November 2016. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Op-Ed: Netflix and Ill

How many of us are there who do not have a Netflix account? How many of us imagine ourselves having “fun” watching television shows on Netflix, or perhaps even a movie? How many of us imagine fun as lying in bed all day and surviving on junk even while the sun is shining bright outside, inviting us all to take a dose of Vitamin D. Why tire ourselves out when we can “enjoy” watching shows on our laptops or television, right? In my opinion, no.

First, I do have a Netflix account and enjoyed watching Breaking Bad. It is handy having streaming accounts to watch what you like online at any time of your choice. But my point and question is, must Netflix consume all of our time?

This question actually popped up into my head when I was discussing my undergrad life with one of my present roommates. He named a dozen television shows and I shook my head to all of them as I am not much of a television fan. He practically started laughing at me and asked what I did in my undergraduate life if I didn’t watch television shows. He asked if I was just a nerd who studied all day long to actually get a good GPA. I just laughed back to throw off the topic, while over a thousand images flashed in my head: of those late night highway strolls with my gang of friends, of evening football in the rain and coming back with shoes filled with rainwater and mud, the casual hop over to a friend’s rooms just to pull their leg or just make fun of them while they call with their family or girlfriends. Even something like a late night walk to the highway makes me smile silly. If watching TV shows is life, what did I do?

Technology meant to introduce a convenience, a service and a luxury. But it has now become a “distance-creator” and has made man slaves of laptops and televisions. No longer do children and people wait for holidays, no longer do people call friends to enjoy a sport outside. Gone are the times when people want to plan an outing. The new definition of “fun” has unfortunately been reduced to just watching TV shows. What this has done is that it has created distance amongst people. Not only do people choose the idiot box (over idiot friends, of course), but this has also started to take a hit on people’s social interaction and mental health.

For starters, it is very appealing to sit at home on a cozy day and watch TV shows but doing it all day is not particularly healthy. Followed by that is the tendency of us to bend our back due to our concentration. Add to this our work culture which again is not very back friendly and baam!  Come mid-30s, hello spondylitis.

Now speaking from the “humane” perspective. People have lost the interest in getting to know others, because getting to know people involves hauling your lazy self to places may it be others homes or even a cafeteria. Life is losing its main thing: it’s no longer interactive. Sure, our laptops and televisions have made our “technological” and “virtual” life very interactive by offering a horde of features but a surge of human interaction with “user-interfaces” has seen a dip in the real world interaction between the “users”.

It’s a difference so stark between our generation and the generation just before us that its’ both amazing and shocking. Consider a living situation of 4 people sharing a house. Let’s say 10 years back, you’d find almost at all points of time more than 2 people sitting in the main hall or some room cracking jokes, playing cards or doing something “fun”. Come 2016, enter a house and all you’ll find is 4 closed doors behind which shall be 4 people with their earphones plugged in watching something on their laptops over the internet.

Anything taken to an extreme is too bad and in my opinion, an over-reliance on television shows and movies over people is downright stupidity. My judgement may be critical but it comes from my personal experience and observations. While these online recreations are sure stress-busters, nothing will ever sound more fun to me than having “fun” with friends, even something as silly as playing cards. At least that entails some basic level of human interaction.

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Op-Ed: Style at the cost of lives

Co-founders Sarah and Mikey Brannon have started a line of vegan fashion which includes high-end faux leather jackets like the ones they are wearing on Jan. 15, 2015 in Los Angeles. (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Co-founders Sarah and Mikey Brannon have started a line of vegan fashion which includes high-end faux leather jackets like the ones they are wearing on Jan. 15, 2015 in Los Angeles. Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times/TNS

Life has a weird sense of irony about it; it has a way of driving in its point at unexpected times. A few days back my friend and I were discussing a trip he had once made to a particular race track for people to test-drive on. Apparently the only reason why he was denied permit was that he only had a protection jacket on with the knee and elbow caps instead of the required complete leather bodysuit, not unlike the fancy ones we see in movies like “Rush.” My friend grumbled on about how his friends had a good time but what really struck me was that in our so-called modern society leather is still seen as a style statement, and in this case, as a “requirement.”

It’s not exactly a secret that our ancestors used animals for survival. By used, I mean in totality: the meat for consumption, skin for clothing, horns for weapons, and all the works. You get the picture. Come 2016, despite the growth of resources and science why is it that when somebody wears a chic leather jacket, along with it they don a smug smile? Of pride, I suppose, or perhaps satisfaction? Or maybe it’s because they’re gonna look sexy in their next outing!

Bullshit, and that’s the kindest word I’ve got in my repertoire. What that person is wearing is the hide of another living being that shares the same planet as us, which is perhaps the sole sin they may have committed. Technically speaking, we came after them, so we are the ones who encroached. The rosy picture painted in front of the eyes of us “animal-lovers” is that when animals are killed for meat (a topic on which I have more than a few words to share) the left over skin is used for leather. While not totally convincing, this sort of shuts those hypocrite mouths that don’t have the time or energy to expend some effort into finding the truth.

It was my aunt who brought me, somewhat forcibly, down the line of artificial leather. It gave me an easy excuse to shift to a “non-animal” product due to the significantly lower pricing, and due to the added fact of me being a vegetarian, I proudly plastered upon myself the tagline of “animal-friendly.” It was then that I put my lazy self to work into finding out the truth which I eventually found shares has in common only one feature with that of a rose: color.

Red, the color of love (and of the wine I love) is also the color of that blood which stains the walls of the slaughterhouses that house the raw material of perhaps one of the most commercially booming and profitable industries. Unlike what was held as popular belief, animals are specially raised for the sake of being skinned alive. I repeat in simple words, leather is not a by-product, instead in itself is a highly commercialized commodity. Instead of looking for fancy adjectives like macabre or grotesque, use the internet to research out how leather is made, and find words for yourself to describe and reason this senseless and heartless slaughter of these creatures just to don some fancy garment.

A billion and counting: that is the number of animals raised and slaughtered for our fancy leather suits and fur coats. I find it even more disgusting when a salesman pronounces with great pride “pure leather,” which has been made even more repugnant due to the tagging of the type of leather which comprises of almost all animals that were housed in “The Ark.” Cows, buffaloes, bison, elephants, dolphins, seals and many more animals which are meant to grace the oceans and open lands now “decorate” our households or bodies. The even more “exotic” collection includes kangaroos, crocodiles, alligators; the motto has become “you name it you have it.” If you were thinking on my lines then yes, even cats and dogs aren’t spared. To add icing to an already “decorated” blood-bath, the skin also comes from alligators and calves that are barely a year or two old, and in some cases even from animal fetuses.

Enough of my passion. Let me bring down some hard “scientific facts” that may stir you into interest, if the above mentioned alone doesn’t make your skin crawl. Everybody loves alcohol, so even more invited is a cocktail, yeah? Let’s look at the “cocktail” leather gets to gulp during its manufacture in brief. I don’t consider myself Walter White, but what I do know is that tanning (one of the three steps of making hide into leather) constitutes of pretty “friendly” chemicals such as ammonia, cyanide-based dyes and arsenic, which only constitute of few of the toxins released in the land they are made in and water nearby. Blindness and skin diseases only form the trailer of the nightmare that ensues. These cancerous toxins have spelled out these consequences:

– 20-50 percent risk factor of cancer for tanning workers in Sweden.

– 15,000 gallons of water wasted per ton of hide.

– 2,200 pounds of solid waste per ton of hide.

– 50 years of life expectancy for tanning workers.

For those who want to shift to some other form of fashion that looks equally appealing as leather and fur may look at synthetic leather, also called faux/artificial leather or else vegan leather which makes use of polymers, though it is to be noted that not all polymers are made of equally good material. Many of them contain oils and pure plastic that once again is not going to help the “environmental cause.” Science has also cast the die, retrieving cells from living animals in order to engineer the tissue into leather. So if you can’t help the environment at least don’t damage it any further, spare animals. Come on and show some compassion.