Tag Archives: animals

Colorado, 2006: Wolf and Deer

From 2006, when I was at a conference in Colorado Springs. (Neither shot is great, but they are associated with fond memories.) I ducked out of most of the conference when I found out there was a wolf preserve nearby. I remember how fast they moved, and how hard it was to get a shot. This blessed fellow stopped for about three seconds, though, and looked in my general direction.
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This was taken from a taxi. The driver knew I loved animals (we had been chatting) and he slowed down ever so briefly when he spotted these two on the side of the road.
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Default Positions

I was thinking about default positions, and how they seem mired in very low expectations of humans. For example, this tragic story at the Cincinnati Zoo where Harambe was killed (unnecessarily, it would seem). The parents of the boy involved are responsible, I think, and in a perfect world they would be charged with reckless endangerment. (And yes, I know there is the even bigger issue of whether animals should be in zoos at all. I’ll save that for another time.) That said, what I have found very disturbing in the aftermath of this tragedy are the masses of people saying stuff like, “kids wander off! It happens!” Or “it’s hard to keep your eyes on your kids, you know!” And then there are the defensive (and probably crappy) parents who say, “Well I guess you’re a perfect parent, then!”

Um, no. It isn’t about being a perfect parent or about not understanding that kids can wander off. But there is a world of difference between your kid wandering off and your kid jumping into the gorilla enclosure at the zoo. It seems to me that if you are at a busy, crowded place like a zoo (a place which keeps enclosed wild and dangerous animals) with a young child — your young child — you might want to be, oh, I don’t know, extra vigilant. And yet the default position here is, “Oh well, parents aren’t perfect. Kids run off! No big deal.” The default position should be that we expect vigilance — not negligence — from parents.

It reminds me of the people who say that since they don’t know what they would have done in, say, Nazi Germany, we can’t or shouldn’t criticize people who turned in their neighbours or looked away from the horrors. In other words, the accepted default position for humans is moral bankruptcy. I find this profoundly depressing.

Along similar lines, Mark Steyn wrote about this in regards the Montreal Massacre — why did the men that the murderer ordered out of the lecture hall that day meekly leave?

There’s an expression about ‘the soft bigotry of low expectations,’ an expression which refers to the tendency of the regressive left to make excuses for certain groups of people when they commit crimes, for example. We saw a lot of that nonsense after the Charlie Hebdo massacre (my column on this very topic here). But it also could be said to describe how little we expect of ourselves in so many ways. Our default positions should not be that negligence is understandable or that cowardice and moral bankruptcy are the sorry spots to which we are naturally destined.

The Cow Who…

Meant to post this a while back, but stuff (travels, colds, work) got in the way.  A few weeks ago, Peter Singer wrote about the New York Times’ use of the word “who” in regards a cow, rather than “that” or “which.” To me, it doesn’t seem odd to use “who” regarding an animal, as animals are not only sentient beings, but individuals. Nor is it odd to Singer, though he points out that the Times‘ decision was not the great step forward some of us might like to see.

It would be premature to conclude that the New York Times article indicates a shift in usage. Rather, it seems to show uncertainty, for the first line of the article refers to “A cow that was captured by police.”

I asked Philip Corbett, the standards editor for the New York Times, if the use of “cow who” reflected a change of policy. He told me that the Times style manual, like that of the Associated Press, suggested using “who” only for a named or personified animal. The manual gives the example “The dog, which was lost, howled” and contrasts this with “Adelaide, who was lost, howled.”

I find this noteworthy, not just because I am an animal rights advocate, but because I had a conflict — not a big one — with an editor years ago when I wrote about a whale for the Christian Science Monitor. I referred to the whale as “he,” first of all, and I also referred to the whale’s uncle. Both of these things bothered the editor with whom I was dealing, although she heard me out and graciously printed the article the way I had wanted (for the most part). Newspapers have their style guidelines, and they have to be heeded to a point. They can change, though, as views change.

As Singer writes:
In a language like English, which implicitly categorizes animals as things rather than persons, adopting the personal pronoun would embody the same recognition – and remind us who animals really are.

Burns Night

A poem that says it all.

To a Mouse

On Turning up in Her Nest with the Plough, November, 1785

Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
          Wi’ bickerin brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee
          Wi’ murd’ring pattle!

 

I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
          Which makes thee startle,
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
          An’ fellow-mortal!

 

I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen-icker in a thrave
          ’S a sma’ request:
I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
          An’ never miss ’t!

 

Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
          O’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s winds ensuin,
          Baith snell an’ keen!

 

Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
An’ weary Winter comin fast,
An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
          Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
          Out thro’ thy cell.

 

That wee-bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
          But house or hald,
To thole the Winter’s sleety dribble,
          An’ cranreuch cauld!

 

But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
          Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
          For promis’d joy!

 

Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e’e,
          On prospects drear!
An’ forward tho’ I canna see,
          I guess an’ fear!

Ash-Scattering

As regular readers know, my mother died last year. Most of her ashes were scattered in 2014, but for various reasons there were some left to scatter still.  So last week that deed was done, and it turned into quite a lovely nature walk.

First, we met a super polite groundhog who held up his little paw when he coughed/burped.

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Then we saw this lovely guy…

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…who apparently had something to say.

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And that something was “Kiss my backside, humans.”

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And then we met a skittish bunny.

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But he wasn’t so skittish that he couldn’t also manage a loud and clear message, similar to the duck’s.

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Mum would most definitely approve.

Lions

I could rant forever about animals and how we treat them, but I just want to say a few words about the “but brigade” where the cruel slaughter of Cecil the Lion is concerned. The “but brigade” are the people who say, “But what about Syria? You care more about a lion than ISIS? et cetera.

Guess what? I can be upset and outraged about two things at once! More than two things, even. It is not en either/or. We’re all in this together, animals and the human animal. And isn’t empathy for others, including other species, the sign of an evolved society? Isn’t an understanding that murder for sport (and cruelty for sport, when you think of how Cecil suffered for 40 hours) is despicable, the sign of an evolved society?

I’m also quite dubious about the argument that trophy hunters pump so much money into the economies of these poor countries and they actually help conservation. Maybe if the money wasn’t being pilfered by the nightmarish political and tribal leaders in so many African countries, and maybe if they actually produced and sold stuff, then they wouldn’t need to rely on sickos who pay exorbitant sums to murder animals to feed their economy. Admitting that they “need” creeps like the Minnesota dentist and others to engage in barbarism for them seems an admission of failure on their part.

Finally, I am tired of people saying “what about all the other animals killed? Don’t you care about them?” Uh, yes, I do. But I am glad this one is getting some attention from people who usually wouldn’t give a hoot. But of course, humans being as sucky as they are, the first time the world comes together to support an animal, people have to find ways to try and take that support away. This is a chance to have a meaningful conversation — trite as it might sound — about trophy-hunting and cynics have to try and ruin it by saying, “But don’t you care about ISIS?” Sheesh! Of course I do.

To me, it’s about moral values. If you believe they are absolute, which I do, then hunting is repugnant. There is a philosophical basis for according animals the same rights as people, and we should all hope it becomes the norm.

A note about vigilantism: I am disgusted by it. As much as I hate what Walter Palmer did, I’d like to see him dealt with through the law and the free market. And it bothers me that people are threatening physical violence on him. I hope it’s just a lot of puffery because truly, that would not only be wrong, it would not be helpful to the cause of animals.

Now, some links for you: regarding this nonsense asserted about how people who pay to trophy-hunt are actually helping animals, a good piece from the New Yorker. 

Regarding aid to Africa more generally and how it goes to the wrong places/people, read African economist Dambisa Moyo’s book on the matter.

Regarding the “but brigade” in another circumstance, read my Charlie Hebdo piece from January of this year.

Finally, I’d like to end this post with a great quote from Isaac Bashevis Singer, who, when asked if he thought the life of an animal was worth the same as the life of a human being, said, “I see no evidence to the contrary.”

Amen to that.